When it comes to money, some people brag about having it, but they rarely put their money to use that reflects their bragging. That is from which the old saying, “put your money where your mouth is,” has evolved. Interesting thing to note nearing America’s July 4th Independence Day celebrations is that Founding Father Robert Morris put his money where his mouth was.
Having emigrated to the colonies in 1734 at the age of 13 to live with his father, a tobacco factor, Robert Morris learned shipping and banking from a family friend. The friend’s son, Thomas Willing, made Morris a full partner of his father’s prominent shipping-banking firm after his father’s death.
The name of the new firm was called Willing, Morris & Co. As a company, its ships traded with India, the Levant, the West Indies, Spanish Cuba, Spain, and Italy. The firm’s business of import, export, and general agency made it one of the most prosperous in Pennsylvania. The partnership lasted until 1779.
As a business merchant, Robert Morris banded with other colonial merchants to oppose the Stamp Act of 1765-1766. Although still loyal to Great Britain at the time, Morris saw the Stamp Act as taxation without representation and violated the colonist’s rights as British citizens.
Over time and because of other taxes like the taxes on tea, Morris became more sympathetic toward the revolutionary movement. Robert Morris eventually was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. He also served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
During the war, Robert Morris put his money where is mouth was. He personally loaned 100,000 Lira to pay the Continental troops under Washington. This helped to keep the Army together just before the battle of Princeton. He later paid Washington’s troops out of his own fortune by issuing what came to be known as “Morris notes.” This enabled Washington the ability to continue to wage war because there was no official currency for the wannabe nation.
After the War, Robert Morris served as the powerful Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784. With his long time association with General George Washington, he became renown as the “Financier of the Revolution.” He was rewarded by being assigned as the Agent of Marine, a position that allowed him to control the Continental Navy.
Morris’ business speculations were not all rewarded. After investing in land in Washington DC and six million acres in the rural south, the Panic of 1796-1797 drove him into bankruptcy. Morris owned more land than any other citizen of America at the time, but he didn’t have enough cash to pay his creditors.
Although Morris attempted to avoid creditors by staying outside Philadelphia in his country estate, his creditors literally pursued him to his gate. He was later sued by a former partner and arrested for owing a debt. He was imprisoned for debt in the Philadelphia Prune Street prison from February 1798 to August 1801. After his release in 1801, he lived a quiet and private life in a modest home in Philadelphia. He died in 1806.
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