Self is the Sahara of the human heart where all the noble powers of the soul are buried in its scorching sands. We may pour upon it floods of human woe and streams of melting kindness without producing the least appearance of sympathy or gratitude. The blighting sirocco of cold indifference sweeps over this desert mind, increases the powers of absorption--annihilates all that is cheering and lovely.
The keenest miseries of a fellow man cannot move it--the mournful obsequies of his death cannot shame it. It is one of the foul blots imprinted on human nature by Lucifer and should be hurled back to Pandemonium. It dwells only in little minds and pinches them as dandy boots do the feet--covering them with excrescences as painful as corns and chilblains. He who is a slave to self could calmly look on the "wreck of matter and the crash of worlds" if it would add one item to his sordid gains.
Man was created a social being--benevolent, sympathetic, kind, affectionate--quick to feel and prompt to alleviate the misfortunes of his fellow man. But for the soul-killing influence of self these noble germs of human nature, as originally cast in the mould of creative wisdom, would bud and blossom as the rose and crown the human family with millennial glory.
On the pages of history we find many bright spots of self sacrifice and blooming benevolence. Individuals have lived who banished self and devoted their lives, fortunes and sacred honors to promote the best interests of the human race--men whose motives, impelling them to action, were chastened by purity, who aimed to promote public good and personal happiness.
In the history of the American Revolution we find a cheering catalogue of such philanthropists whose memories we delight to honor. No one among them did more to accomplish the great end in view than Robert Morris. He was born at Liverpool, Lancashire, England on the 20th of January 1734. His father was a respectable merchant and settled at Oxford on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1746. He then sent for this son who arrived at Oxford at the age of thirteen. He received only a good commercial education. At the age of fifteen he lost his father by death. He was then in the counting house of Charles Willing one of the most thorough and enterprising merchants of Philadelphia. After having served a faithful apprenticeship Mr. Willing set him up in business and remained his fast friend and adviser. For several years he prospered _alone_ but finding the cares of life pressing upon him he wisely resolved to take a partner to accompany him in his pilgrimage through this vale of tears. That partner was the meritorious Mary, daughter of Col. White and sister to the pious and learned Bishop White. She possessed every quality that adorns her sex and renders connubial felicity complete. What is _now_ more than _then_ considered by too many heartless bipeds a _sine qua non_--she brought with her--WEALTH. This _desideratum_ is often a blighting substitute for genuine affection--too often the corroding mildew of matrimonial happiness. No man or woman with a good heart, clear head and sound discretion--ever married _riches_ instead of the _person_. It is the quintessence of self.
Not so with Mr. Morris and his partner. Their richest treasure was mutual esteem flowing from the pure fountain of their kindred hearts anxious to promote the reciprocal happiness of each other and the felicity of all around them. Nothing occurred to mar their refined enjoyments until the revolutionary storm burst upon the Colonies.
Mr. Morris was a sterling patriot and did not look upon the commoving political elements with indifference. He had inhaled the atmosphere of inherent freedom--his soul was roused to god-like action--he resolved to hold his life and fortune subject to the drafts of LIBERTY. If self had held her withering sway he would have remained a loyal slave. His interests were entirely commercial--his wealth was exposed to the destructive power of the mother country. He amassed it only to do good. He was not fastidious as to the manner it was distributed so that his noble aim might be accomplished--the salvation of his country.
He was a member of the Congress of 1774 and took an unflinching stand against British oppression. Extensively and favorably known--his influence was of high importance to the friends of justice. Being an able financier he was hailed as the most efficient manager of the monetary department. To provide ways and means he was fully authorized. Most nobly did he discharge his duty. Unfortunately no office of finance was then created to enable him to control the disbursements. The money he continued to provide--often from his private funds. When Congress fled before the conquering foe to Baltimore in 1776 Mr. Morris remained in Philadelphia some days after his colleagues left, for the purpose of raising government funds. In so doing he periled his life, as he had placed his name upon the Declaration of Independence--then sneeringly called the death warrant of the signers by the Tories and their coadjutors--the British. During his stay it became necessary for Congress to raise a specific sum. The treasury was empty. Notice of the wants of the army was communicated to him. Shortly after he met a member of the Society of Friends whose confidence he had. "What news friend Robert?" "The news is--I am in immediate want of----dollars hard money and you are the man to obtain it for me. Your security is to be my note of hand and my word of honor." "Robert thou shall have it." The money was promptly forwarded to Washington which enabled him to meet the enemy at Trenton with signal success.
Mr. Morris made no parade or vain show in the performance of his duties and often furnished funds through agents under the injunction of secrecy who then had the credit of affording relief on their own account. When Gen. Greene took command of the troops in S. C. they were deplorably destitute of food, clothing and ammunition. To the agreeable astonishment of the army and people Mr. Hall of that state advanced the money to purchase supplies and enabled the General to commence vigorous operations. After the war had closed the accounts of disbursements showed that Mr. Hall had acted under Mr. Morris who furnished the needful from his private purse and saved the army from dissolution. On being made acquainted with the fact at the finance office, General Greene was at first displeased with the act but on analyzing it applauded the wisdom of this secrecy and said--"If I had known that I might have drawn on Robert Morris I should have demanded larger sums and effected no more than was accomplished with the means placed in my hands." His advances to the Southern army nearly produced his pecuniary ruin.
As a financier his genius was of the most prolific kind. When he found every government resource exhausted--the credit of the infant Republic paralyzed--the army writhing under the keenest privations--had his mind been of ordinary calibre he would have abandoned the ship of state amidst the breakers that were dashing over her and reported her to the underwriters as wrecked. But he had resolved never to desert her so long as a plank remained upon the hull or a beam retained its fastenings upon the keel. His own resources were large and his credit upon a firm basis. These were thrown in the breach and warded off the threatened destruction. To save himself and his country he proposed the plan of establishing the Bank of North America. This was sanctioned by Congress and a charter granted on the 7th of January 1782. This bank has ever stood firm amidst all the pecuniary panics and revolutions that have occurred to the present time.
As astounding as the fact may appear the office of Finance was not created until 1781. Up to that time there was no disbursing agent and large sums of money were placed in the hands of irresponsible agents and never reached their legitimate destination. When established it was placed under the control of Mr. Morris who reduced the expenditures of military operations three millions in a single year, showing that self can convert ostensible patriots into knaves no matter how sacred the cause engaged in or how binding the obligation to do justice. Avaunt! thou thing infernal! Had the office of Finance been established at the commencement of hostilities and Mr. Morris made the disbursing agent, the means of prosecuting the war would have been ample--our army would have been full and saved from the dreadful privations endured--our country would have been saved from a large portion of the devastations committed by the enemy--the struggle would probably have been terminated in half the time and the government been able to redeem every dollar of its paper issues. With so much concentrated talent and wisdom as were in the Continental Congress at all times, the problem of this disastrous omission cannot be solved by any approved rules of government or legislation. I have ever looked at it with deep regret and surprise.
Mr. Morris was the Roman Curtius of America, pledging his own fortune to save his country and deliver her from worse than Egyptian bondage. As a demonstration I will particularize one other instance of supplies furnished upon his private credit, which was the means of closing the unequal contest.
When the expedition against Cornwallis was planned by Washington the government treasury was empty and her credit shivering in the wind. The army was in a destitute situation and without the means of prosecuting a siege. Impressed deeply with the importance of the plan Mr. Morris undertook the herculean task of providing supplies for the expedition upon his private credit. Such confidence had Washington in this able financier that he at once took up the line of march. In the short space of four weeks he furnished near eighty pieces of battering cannon and one hundred pieces of field artillery with other necessary supplies not furnished by the South. Although aided by the patriotic Richard Peters he gave his own notes to the amount of one million four hundred thousand dollars which were all paid at maturity. This enabled the Americans to triumphantly close the long and bloody struggle of the Revolution and lay firmly the foundations of the prosperity and government we now enjoy. There was disinterested benevolence crowned with all the majesty of pure devotion to the interests of country and the human family--as free from self as angels are.
Under cover of the firm in which he was a partner--Willing, Morris & Co. many important and advantageous transactions were made for government although apparently for the firm, the large profits of which were placed to the credit of the public treasury. This was conclusively shown by an investigation instituted in Congress on motion of Mr. Laurens at the instance of Mr. Morris in order to repel base slanders put in circulation 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 are without foundation in fact and out of the record. From the numerous documents I have examined, I am fully convinced that Robert Morris was one of the most disinterested patriots of the Revolution and one of the most efficient instruments in consummating that glorious enterprise. He was so considered by the illustrious Washington--the Continental Congress and by all who were and are properly posted on the subject. General Greene was one of his most ardent admirers, whose biographer--long after the SAGE and the HERO had gone where none but slanderers dare rake up the sacred ashes of the dead, published a tirade of abuse against Mr. Morris that has impaired his dignity as an impartial writer so as to render his envy abortive--his malice powerless. His extracts from public documents are garbled--his conclusions are based on false premises--his innuendos are ungenerous--his attack gratuitous and has justly recoiled upon the proud escutcheon of his literary fame.
The shafts of slander can never mar the fair reputation of this benefactor of our country although hurled like lightning thunderbolts from the whole artillery of malice and revenge. Upon the enduring records of our nation his acts are written. There they stand in bold relievo, bright as the moon, clear as the sun and as withering to his enemies as the burning sand of Sahara.
Congress elected Mr. Morris Superintendent of Finance on the 20th of February 1781. It was only from a deep sense of duty he could be urged to accept the office. It was at a dark and fearful period of the Revolution. His duties were onerous and multiform. He immediately instituted an examination of the public debts, revenue and expenditures--reduced to economical system the mode of regulating the finances and disbursing the public funds--executed the plans of Congress relative to monetary affairs--superintended the action of all persons employed in obtaining and distributing supplies for the army--attended to the collection of all monies due the United States--held a supervision over all the contractors for military supplies--provided for the civil list--corresponded with the Executive of each state and with ministers of our government in Europe and transacted business with all the public departments. Through the agency of the Bank of North America and with his own proverbial responsibility he improved the national credit so far that money was obtained from Europe on loan and a brighter prospect opened before the desponding patriots. He introduced rigid economy through all the avenues of public operations. He boldly entered the Ægean stable and was the Hercules to cleanse it. Corrupt agents and corrupting speculators fled before his searching scrutiny--hissing like serpents disturbed in their dens. Perfect system pervaded all his transactions reducing them all to writing so that he was able to produce a conclusive voucher for each and every public act during his term of service. He believed system to be the ballast, main-mast and helm of business.
At the time of his resignation he placed himself in the crucible of an examining committee of Congress before whom he exhibited a schedule of all his public transactions. The report of the committee placed him on a lofty eminence as an able and skilful financier--a patriotic and honest man. President Washington tendered him the office of Secretary of the Treasury, which he respectfully declined. He was a member of the convention that framed the Federal Constitution and a Senator in the first Congress that convened under it. He seldom spoke in debate but when he did he was eloquent, chaste and logical. He was heard with profound attention and had great influence with his colleagues. He possessed an inexhaustible store of useful information applicable to all the relations of public and private life. When the peace of 1783 was consummated Mr. Morris again entered largely into commercial business. He favored every kind of improvement and did all in his power to promote general good and individual happiness. He first introduced ice and hot-houses in our country. He was a rare specimen of industry, system, punctuality and honesty.
After spending a long life in skilfully wielding a capital of millions he at last foundered upon the 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 most deeply lamented by those who knew him best. He met the grim messenger of death with resignation and calmness--bid a cheerful farewell to friends, the toils of earth and all sublunary things.
Mr. Morris was a large man with an open countenance, pleasing in his manners and agreeable in all his associations. His private character was as pure as his public career was illustrious. Dying poor, no marble monument is reared to his memory but his name is deeply engraved upon the tablet of meritorious fame and will be revered by every true American and patriot until the historic page shall be blotted from the world--social order submerged by chaos.