American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

An Unappreciated Patriot

Two days before the battle of Bunker Hill the Continental Congress was sitting in the state house at Philadelphia.

The king of Great Britain had declared the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion and had sent soldiers to reduce them to subjection. It was for the Congress to provide some way of defense.

On this particular day, therefore, it passed the following resolution;—

"Resolved, That a General be appointed to command all the Continental Forces, raised or to be raised for the defense of American liberty.

"That five hundred dollars per month be allowed for the pay and expenses of the General."

Who should the General be?

A delegate from Maryland arose and nominated George Washington of Virginia.

On the following day the president of the Congress informed Washington officially that he had been unanimously chosen to be commander in chief of all the forces of the American colonies.

Washington arose and thanked the Congress for the honor which it had conferred upon him; and while declaring that he did not think himself equal to the duties required of him, he asserted his readiness to do all that he could for "the support of the glorious cause."

"As to pay," he continued, "I beg leave to assure the Congress that as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. These, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire."

Thus, the united American colonies entered upon a long and precarious war with the mother country. They had as yet no efficient army; they had no money; but they felt a supreme faith in the righteousness of their cause.

Upon George Washington of Virginia devolved the task of organizing, equipping, and conducting the army. Upon Robert Morris of Pennsylvania devolved the task of supplying the funds for the carrying on of the war. Without the patriotic labors of both these men, it is not unreasonable to believe that the colonies would have failed to achieve their liberty and the war would have ended in disaster.

Robert Morris was at the head of the largest commercial house in Philadelphia; he was the leading man of business in America. In the congress of 1775 he was active in pushing forward and sustaining the war, and people soon perceived that the country must very largely depend upon him for financial aid.

When the Declaration of Independence was proposed, Robert Morris voted against it. He was in favor of independence, but he did not believe the time was ripe for it. When the day came for adopting the Declaration, however, he signed it, and thus pledged his life and his fortune to the cause of liberty.

The months that followed were months of trial and great perplexity. How should the money be obtained for feeding and clothing and arming the patriot forces under Washington? It required all the skill and experience of Robert Morris to provide for the necessities of the new government. It required, also, an amount of self-sacrifice which few other men would have been willing to make. Often he was obliged to borrow large sums of money, for which he became personally responsible. Through his exertions, three million rations of provisions were forwarded to the army just at the moment when such aid was most needed.

In the following year he was appointed superintendent of finance, or, as we should now say, secretary of the treasury, for the United States. But the treasury was empty; the Congress was in debt two and a half million dollars; the army was destitute; there was no one who would lend to the government; without some immediate aid the war could not go on. Nevertheless, people had confidence in Robert Morris, and it was that confidence which saved the day.

He began by furnishing the army with several thousand barrels of flour, pledging his own means to pay for it.

When Washington decided to make a bold campaign in Virginia against Lord Cornwallis, it was to Robert Morris that he looked for support.

"We are in want of food, of clothing, of arms," said the general. "We have not even the means of transporting the army from place to place or subsisting it in the field."

"I myself," said Robert Morris, "will see that you are provided."

He hastened to borrow of his friends all the money they were willing to spare for the cause of liberty. He pledged his own means to the last shilling. He directed the commissary to send forward all necessary supplies for the army in Virginia. He procured boats for transporting troops and provisions. He left nothing undone; he spared no pains to make the campaign in Virginia a successful one. Washington's victory at Yorktown was to a large degree the result no less of his own skill and courage than of the energy and self-sacrifice of Robert Morris.

At the close of the war there was no money to pay off the soldiers and there was great dissatisfaction on every side. Robert Morris came forward, and by endorsing certificates to the amount of three quarters of a million dollars, relieved the public distress and made it possible to disband the army. While doing this, he again pledged himself personally to see that all the obligations that he had made in behalf of the government were properly satisfied.

It is pleasant to remember that the money which he had so generously advanced in aid of the cause of liberty was finally paid back to him, and that his faith in the honesty of the government was not misplaced.

On the other hand, it is sad to relate that the last years of this doer of golden deeds were clouded with misfortune. He had invested largely in lands, believing that he would be able to sell at a great profit. He was disappointed, however. There was no demand for the lands, and Robert Morris was unable to pay his debts. He was sent to prison, and for four years was shut up in a debtor's cell.

While all patriotic Americans join in honoring General Washington for his victories in war, how few there are who remember the services of the man who made these victories possible!