Robert Morris the Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution Robert Morris: The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution
By William Graham Sumner
2000/03 - Beard Books
Volume I - 319 pp.
1893122972 - Paperback
Volume II - 340 pp.
1893122980 - Paperback
US $34.95

A financial history of the American Revolution and one of the few books written on the subject. The work adds considerably to the body of knowledge known at the time it was first published.

Publisher Comments

Category: Biographies & Memoirs

This title is part of the Business Histories list.

Of Interest:

Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution

Originally published in 1891, this two-volume work combines the biography of Robert Morris, the Philadelphia financier who became Superintendent of Finance during the American colonial period, with a financial history of the American Revolution. While not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, the book adds considerably to the body of knowledge known at the time it was written. A fascinating irony is that Robert Morris, the trustee of American finances, spent three years in prison near the end of his life for personal debts.

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William Graham Sumner was born in Paterson, New Jersey on October 30, 1840. An American sociologist and political economist, he was schooled in Hartford's public school, entering Yale in 1859. Between 1863 and 1866 Sumner studied theology at Göttingen and at Oxford, before returning to Yale for almost three years as a classics tutor. 

He was ordained an Episcopal minister and from 1872 was professor of political and social science at Yale. In economics he advocated a policy of extreme laissez-faire, strongly opposing any government measures that he thought interfered with the natural economics of trade.

In A History of American Currency (1874), his first book, Sumner focused on the money issue, then agitated by calls for the retirement of the Civil War "greenbacks" and later the establishment of a "bimetal" standard of gold and silver. Although he paid little attention to the demonetarization of silver in 1873 (a move critics later called the "Crime of '73) he was distressed to see leading classical economists support international bimetallism, among them his Yale colleague Francis Amasa Walker. Holding his fire, he initially called only for a sound currency, but in 1878 finally attacked bimetallism publicly.

As a sociologist he did valuable work in charting the evolution of human customs—folkways and mores. He concluded that the power of these forces, developed in the course of human evolution, rendered useless any attempts at social reform. He also originated the concept of ethnocentrism, a term now commonly used, to designate attitudes of superiority about one’s own group in comparison with others. His major work was Folkways (1907). 

In 1890 Sumner fell victim to what was termed a "nervous illness," the result of a punishing work schedule that had resulted in sixty articles and two books in the previous three years.  Although he resumed his duties at Yale in the fall of 1892, the collapse took a permanent toll on his energies and output. Between 1876 and 1890, he had published some 108 articles and seven books. In the five years following his breakdown, he wrote "only" four articles and two books. Although in 1896 he added another dozen articles and a book, he averaged but two articles a year during the rest of his career.

Whatever his intellectual shortcomings, Sumner's hardheaded honesty and bold address of underlying issues has kept alive interest in his thought and career in recent decades. 

He died in April 10, 1910.

Other Beard Books by William G. Sumner

Volume I.
Chapter I. Morris's Father; His Birth; Marriage; Earliest Public Activity 1
Chapter II. The Organization of the Treasury 5
Chapter III. Taxation until 1781 11
Chapter IV. Paper Currencies; Price Conventions; Forced Circulation; Specie in 1780; The Lottery 35
Chapter V. Commerce as an Engine of Coercion and commerce as a Means of supply 103
Chapter VI. Embargoes 132
Chapter VII. Impressment 141
Chapter VIII. Supplies from Europe; History of the Missions there until 1781 156
Chapter IX. 1775-77: Morris in the Council of Safety, the Pennsylvania Assembly, and the Continental Congress 188
Chapter X. 1777-81: Morris in the Pennsylvania Assembly; Thomas Morris; Silas Deane and Parties in Congress; the Ship "Farmer;" the Committee of Philadelphia; the Fort Wilson Riot; the Tender Laws of Pennsylvania 209
Chapter XI. Specific Supplies 239
Chapter XII. Bills on the Envoys until 1781 247
Chapter XIII. The Situation in 1780; Morris becomes Financier, his Views and those of Others about the Office  258
Chapter XIV. The Tasks of the Financier; his Means, Plans and Devices; his Appeals to the states and Proposals to Congress 277
Chapter XV. Borrowing in Europe by the States; Appeals of Congress to France; Mission of John Laurens; the Yorktown Campaign 292

Volume II.

Chapter XVI. Loan by Spain; Attempt to Get Specie from Havana; Remonstrances of France against undue Dependence on her; Jay's Distress; Gillon and the Supplies from Holland; the End of  1781 1
Chapter XVII. The Bank of Pennsylvania and the Bank of North America 21
Chapter XVIII. Exchange, Mint and Coinage 36
Chapter XIX. 1782: Peremptory Refusal of Aid by France: Morris's Discontent; Charges against him; Arthur Lee's Accounts; Morris Expected to Default; the Loan of 1782 in Holland; State Borrowing; Contracts 48
Chapter XX. The Impost; Taxation until 1789 64
Chapter XXI. Morris's Unpopularity in the Southern States; More Heterogeneous Tasks; The Memorial of the Army Officers; the Overdraft of January, 1783; More Appeals to France 81
Chapter XXII. Morris Resigns; Consents to continue in order to pay off the Army; Issues Notes for that Purpose; Fault-finding with him; Last Vain Appeals to France; the Loan in Holland; the Overdraft of 1784; Morris quits Office; the Subsequent Organization of the Treasury 94
Chapter XXIII. Review and Summary of Morris's Administration; the Cost of the War 125
Chapter XXIV. The Burden of the War upon the People 135
Chapter XXV. The Notes of Robert Morris 149
Chapter XXVI. Morris's Business Enterprises and Lawsuits, 1783-1793 162
Chapter XXVII. The Bank War of 1785-1786 178
Chapter XXVIII. The Commercial Convention and the Constitutional Convention 193
Chapter XXIX. The Accounts of Robert Morris as Agent of the State of Pennsylvania, as Superintendent of Finance, and with the Old Committee of Commerce 205
Chapter XXX. Morris's Social Position and Relations 221
Chapter XXXI. Morris in the Senate of the United States 230
Chapter XXXII. The Federal Capital 235
Chapter XXXIII. Morris's Land Speculations 251
Chapter XXXIV. Was Robert Morris ever Rich? 271
Chapter XXXV. "Confidence has Furled her Banners, which no longer wave over the Heads of M. and N." 279
Chapter XXXVI. Morris's Account of his Property; his Wife's Pension; his Death; his Family; his Estate 293
List of Authorities 307
Index 319

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