« ZurückWeiter »
at the office of finance, was at first displeased with the measure, but upon reflection, greatly applauded and admired the wisdom of this secrecy, "because," said he, "if I had known that I might have drawn upon Robert Morris, I should have demanded larger sums, and effected no more than was accomplished with the means placed in my hands." The advances of Mr. Morris to the southern army were near accomplishing his pecuniary ruin.
As a financier his genius was of the most prolific kind. When he found one resource after another exhausted; the American troops writhing under the keenest privations; the credit of the infant Republic paralyzed, and her treasury drained of the last dollar, had his mind been cast in an ordinary mould, he must have fainted by the way. But amidst the embarrassments that surrounded him, he stood calm and undismayed upon the firm basis of his own resources. When he found that they were becoming crippled, he submitted to congress the plan of chartering the Bank of North America, which, after much discussion, was approved and adopted on the 7th of January, 1782.
The year preceding, the office of finance had been established, and Mr. Morris appointed financier. Previous to that, it appears he had not, at any time, been the disbursing agent of the public monies; and that no system had been adopted by Congress that gave any one individual the control, under them, of this important department. The consequence was, that the monies raised for the supplies of the army often fell into the hands of irresponsible agents and never reached their pristine destination.
After Mr. Morris was placed in authority over this vital branch of government, he reduced the expenditures for military operations from eighteen millions of dollars a year, to about five millions; and thus enabled the continental congress to prosecute the war successfully, when, without this retrenchment, its means would have been inadequate to meet the increasing demands, and the cause of liberty, to all human appearance, must have been abandoned. Like a Roman Curtius, he pledged his own fortune to save his country, and disenthral her from the chains of tyranny. To demonstrate this, I will mention one of the many instances of supplies being obtained upon his private credit.
When the expedition was planned by Washington against Cornwallis at Yorktown, the government treasury was empty, and her credit shivering in the wind. The army was in a destitute situation: the means of prosecuting a siege were to be provided, and Mr. Morris informed the commander-in-chief that unless he arrived at the conclusion that the necessary supplies could be raised on his (Mr. Morris,) credit, the expedition must fail. Washington expressed his entire confidence in the ability of the financier, and immediately took up the line of march.
In the short space of four weeks, Mr. Morris, aided by the patriotic Richard Peters, furnished near eighty pieces of battering cannon and one hundred pieces of field artillery, and all other necessary supplies not furnished from other sources, and became personally responsible to the amount of ONE MILLION FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, upon his own notes, which were promptly paid at maturity.
This, united with aid from Virginia and some of the other states, enabled the American army to give the finishing stroke to the revolution, and triumph, in victory complete, over a proud and merciless foe.
Under cover of the firm of Willing, Morris & Co., of which our financier was a partner, many important and advantageous transactions were made for government, but ostensibly, at the time, for the firm. Being accomplished in this manner, a great saving was secured for the public, in the profits of which the firm did not participate one dollar, as was conclusively shown by an investigation instituted by Mr. Laurens, in Congress, at the instance of Mr. Morris, in order to repel the base slanders that were circulated against this pure and honest patriot. All the accusations that have been brought against Robert Morris, before and since his death, charging him with peculation or speculation in government funds, or of any improper conduct towards his country as a public agent, I pronounce to be basely false; they have no foundation in truth or in fact. Judging from the numerous documents that I have carefully examined, Robert Morris was not only one of the most disinterested patriots of the American revolution, but was one of the most substantial instruments in consummating that glorious enterprise. He was so considered by the illustrious Washington, the Continental Congress, and by all those who were correctly informed of his proceedings. Even general Greene was one of his most ardent admirers, whose biographer, long after the SAGE and the HERO had mouldered beneath the clods of the valley, published a tirade of abuse against Mr. Morris that has sunk Judge Johnson so far below the true dignity of an impartial writer, as to render the efforts of his envy abortive, and of his malice, powerless. His extracts from public documents are garbled, his conclusions are based upon false premises, his innuendoes are ungenerous-his attack is gratuitous and uncalled for, and has justly recoiled upon the proud escutcheon of his own fame. The shafts of slander can never indent the fair reputation of Robert Morris, although hurled like thunderbolts from the whole artillery of malice and revenge. Upon the enduring records of our nation his actions stand in bold relievo, bright as the moon, clear as the sun, and as withering to the opposition of his enemies as the burning sands of Sahara. His honest fame will endure, unimpaired, the revolutions of time.
From the day he assumed the high charge of superintendent of finance, his duties were onerous and multifarious. It was some time after the strong solicitations of Congress were urged upon him before he consented to undertake the delicate and difficult task of managing this department, to which he was elected on the 20th of February, 1781, a dark and dismal period of the revolution. A deep sense of public duty finally induced him to undertake the gigantic work, and in a masterly manner did he execute it. He immediately instituted an examination of the public debts, revenue, and expenditures; he reduced to an economical system the mode of regulating the finances, and of disbursing the public funds; he executed the plans of Congress relating to all monetary matters; he superintended the action of all persons employed in obtaining and distributing supplies for the army; he attended to the collection of all
monies due to the United States, either by loans from Europe, from the states, or otherwise; he held a supervision over all the contractors for military supplies; he provided for the civil list; he corresponded with the executive of each state, and with the ministers of the United States, then in Europe for the purpose of obtaining aid, urging upon them the necessity of raising money, and necessarily transacted much business with every department of the government. At the same time he was an active member of the legislature of Pennsylvania. The effects of his powerful financial mind soon invigorated the desponding cause of liberty. Through the agency of the bank of North America, united with his personal responsibility, he improved the national credit, and introduced a rigid economy through all the avenues of public operations. He found himself in an Augean stable, but was the Hercules that could effectually cleanse it. Corrupt agents and corrupting speculators fled before his searching scrutiny, hissing like serpents retiring to their dens.
In all things he acquitted himself nobly, and stood approved by Congress, by his country, his conscience and his God. It is a lasting eulogium upon his name, that he reduced all his transactions to so perfect a system, committing them all to writing, that he was able to produce a satisfactory voucher for each and every public act during his whole career-a circumstance worthy of remark and of imitation. System is the helm, ballast, and mainmast of business.
At the final close of the war, Mr. Morris, fatigued in mind and body, tendered his resignation, which was not accepted by Congress until November, 1784. A large amount of his own notes, given on account of supplies for the government, were then out. To impart confidence to those who held them, he issued a circular, pledging himself to meet them all at maturity, which pledge he faithfully redeemed. At the time of his resignation, he placed himself in the crucible of an examining committee appointed by Congress, before whom he exhibited a perfect map of all his public acts. After the investigation closed, the report of the committee placed him on a lofty eminence, as an able financier and an honest man.
He was solicited by President Washington to accept of the appointment of secretary of the treasury, which he respectfully declined.
Mr. Morris was a member of the convention that framed the federal constitution, and was elected to the first national senate that convened after its adoption. He seldom entered into debate, but when he did, he was truly eloquent, chaste, and logical. He was always heard with great attention, and exercised a powerful influence in the legislative body. His speech in the Pennsylvania legislature against the continental currency, was a specimen of eloquence and conclusive reasoning, seldom surpassed. He also wrote with great facility and strength of language. Although not a classical scholar, he possessed an inexhaustible store of useful and practical information, derived from the richest sources, and applicable to all the public and private relations of life.
When the peace of 1783 proclaimed his country free from further invasion, Mr. Morris again entered largely into commercial specula
tions. In 1784 he sent a ship to Canton, which was the first that displayed the star spangled banner in that port. He was also the first who attempted the "out of season" passage to China, by doubling the south cape of New Holland, and astonished the English navigators by the arrival of his ship at a season of the year before deemed impracticable. He was the first man who introduced hot and ice houses in this country. He was a friend to every kind of improvement, and did all in his power to promote the interests of his fellow men and of his country. After spending a long life in managing, most skilfully, millions upon millions of capital, he at last split upon the fatal rock of land speculation, and closed his eventful career in poverty, on the 8th of May, 1806, at the city of Philadelphia, sincerely mourned by his country and deeply regretted by his numerous and devoted friends. He had long been afflicted with the asthma, and suffered much during the last years of his useful life. He met the grim messenger of death with fortitude and resignation, and bid a final adieu to earth and its toils, without a murmur or a sigh.
The private character of this public benefactor was, in all respects, amiable, pure, and consistent. He was a large man, with an open, frank, and pleasing countenance, gentlemanly in his manners, and agreeable in all his associations. He was most highly esteemed by those who knew him best. Although no proud monument of marble is reared over his ashes, his name is deeply engraved upon the tablet of enduring fame, and will be revered by every true American and patriot until the historic page shall cease to be read, and civilization shall be lost in chaos.
THE man who places his confidence in the Supreme Ruler of revolving worlds, leans upon a sure support, that earth can neither give nor take away. When we can appeal to Heaven with clean hands for aid in our undertakings, faith bids us fear no danger. A large portion of the patriots of the revolution were pious men; and I am not apprised that one among them, who became conspicuous, was a disbeliever in an overruling Providence. Several of them were devoted ministers of the Gospel, among whom was JOHN WITHERSPOON, a native of the parish of Yester, near Edinburgh, Scotland, born on the 5th of February, 1722. He was a lineal descendant of the celebrated John Knox, the heroic reformer of Scotland. The father of John Witherspoon was the minister of the above named parish, and was instrumental in moulding the mind of his son in the paths of wisdom, virtue and science. He placed him at an early age in the Haddington school, where his young mind unfolded its rich beauties, with all the fragrance of a spring flower. He soared above the trifles and allurements that too often lead child
hood and youth astray, and made his studies his chief delight. He manifested a maturity of judgment, a clearness of conception, and a depth of thought rarely exhibited in juvenile life. At the age of fourteen years he entered the university of Edinburgh, where he fully sustained the high anticipations of his friends, and gained the esteem and admiration of his fellow students and the professors. His acquirements in the theological department were of a superior order. At the age of twenty-one, he passed the ordeal of his final examination, and received a license to proclaim to the world the glad tidings of the everlasting Gospel.
He immediately became the assistant of his revered father, and gained the affection and confidence of his parishioners, and the admiration of all who heard him and delighted in plain practical piety.
In 1746, on the 17th of January, he was a "looker on in Venice" at the battle of Falkirk, and was seized by the victorious rebels, with many others whose curiosity had led them to the scene of action, and imprisoned in the castle of Doune. After he was released from this confinement, he resided a few years at Beith, and subsequently at Paisly, rendering himself highly useful as a faithful and exemplary preacher. During his residence at the latter place, he received urgent calls from the people of Dublin, Rotterdam and Dundee, in Europe; and an invitation to accept of the presidential chair of the college of New Jersey, in America, to which, at the suggestion of Richard Stockton, then in London, he was elected on the 19th of November, 1766. A general demurrer was entered against his acceptance by his numerous relations and friends, with whom his wife at first participated. The delights of his native home and the horrors of the American wilderness, were held up before him in fearful contrast. A bachelor relation of his, who was very wealthy, offered to will to him his large fortune if he would decline the solicitation of the trustees of the college. For more than a year he refused to accept of the invitation. During that time, his lady caught what was called "the missionary fever," and not only freely consented to embark for the new world, but exerted herself to remove every impeding obstacle. On the 9th of December of the following year, Mr. Stockton had the pleasure of communicating to the board of trustees the acceptance of Dr. Witherspoon, which was most joyfully received.
He arrived with his family in the early part of the ensuing August, and on the 17th of that month was inaugurated at Princeton. His literary fame, which had been previously spread through the colonies, gained an immediate accession of students to the institution, and gave a new impetus to its action, although it had been ably conducted by his worthy predecessors. The high reputation of the new president gave him an extensive influence, of which he prudently availed himself to resuscitate and replenish the empty treasury of the college by obtaining donations from private and public sources. He also introduced the most thorough and harmonious system throughout all its departments, and fully answered the most sanguine anticipations of his warmest friends. His mode of instruction was calculated