Robert Morris, Jr. a Founding Father of the United States, was a Liverpool-born American merchant who financed the American Revolution, oversaw the striking of the first coins of the United States, and signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Perpetual Union, and the United States Constitution. Along with Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, he is widely regarded as one of the founders of the financial system of the United States.
Born in Liverpool, Morris migrated to the United States in his teens, quickly becoming a successful businessman. In the aftermath of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Morris became a prominent opponent of unpopular British policies like the Stamp Act in 1765. He was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, became the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, and was chosen as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He served as chairman of the “Secret Committee of Trade” and as a member of the Committee of Correspondence. Though reluctant to break with Britain, he ultimately came to support the independence movement and emerged as an important financier of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
From 1781 to 1784, he served as the Superintendent of Finance of the United States, a forerunner to the position of U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. As the central civilian in the government, Morris was, next to General George Washington, “the most powerful man in America.”2 His successful administration led to the sobriquet, “Financier of the Revolution.” At the same time he was Agent of Marine, a position he took without pay, and from which he controlled the Continental Navy. He successfully proposed numerous policies including the creation of a national bank, but many of his ideas were not enacted. In 1783, Morris oversaw the creation of the first US coins, the Nova Constellatio patterns, which illustrated his plan for a national decimal coinage; although the plan was not adopted, his coins were examined by both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, influencing both men in their creation of the decimal monetary system that is used by the United States today3. In 1787, he was elected as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, which created a more powerful federal government.
Morris declined Washington’s offer to serve as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, instead suggesting that Washington appoint Hamilton to the position. Morris represented Pennsylvania in the Senate from 1789 to 1795, during which time he aligned with the Federalist Party and supported Hamilton’s economic policies. Morris invested a considerable portion of his fortune in land shortly before the Panic of 1796–1797, which led to his bankruptcy in 1798, and he spent several years in debtors’ prison, until the United States Congress passed a bankruptcy act to release him. After he left prison in 1801, he lived a quiet, private life in a modest home in Philadelphia until his death in 1806.