The Money Men of the American Revolution
Robert Morris was known as the Financier of the Revolution. Without the efforts of Robert Morris and Haym Salomon, America would not have survived.
One of the unsung heroes of the young nation, Robert Morris was the richest man in America at the end of the Revolutionary War. At that time, the battles were over but America faced an even greater crisis. Because of the States’ fears of oppression by a federal government, Congress was virtually powerless and had no way to raise money to take care of business. The troops had not been paid in years and now that the war was over, they wanted the money due them so they could go home, support their families and get on with life. But the fledgling government had no money to pay them. Protests insued. Some officers even surrounded Congress and held it ransom trying to get what was promised them for years of hardship, struggle and deprivation.
Congress entreated the states to send funds, but the states were under no obligation to do so and there was no power in Congress to demand funds from the states. So after all those years of bloodshed, sacrifice, valiant honor and commitment to a dream, our young country was very near imploding from within.
It was at that time that Robert Morris, with a profound understanding of what was happening, approached General George Washington about raising money to pay for the war. He brought along his friend Haym Salomon – and these two largely unknown patriots saved the United States of America from certain doom. Both men sacrificed their entire personal fortunes to breathe life into the American nation as it was born, and died paupers.
Haym Salomon was born the son of a rabbi in Poland in 1740. Growing up his family was persecuted for being Jews. He traveled all over Europe for 10 years only to find that the Jews were persecuted in every country. He earned an international reputation as an exceptionally skilled banker, merchant and financial broker and could speak 8 languages.
In 1775 Haym immigrated to America hoping to find a place where Jews weren’t persecuted. He established himself in New York City as a financial broker for merchants engaged in overseas trade.
Haym was overwhelmed by joy at the sense of freedom and liberty that was growing in the colonies. He joined the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty. In Sept 1776, he was arrested as a spy but the British pardoned him so they could use him as an interpreter for the Hessian soldiers. In this position he helped prisoners of the British escape and encouraged Hessians to desert.
In 1778, he was arrested again and accused of planning to burn the British royal fleet in New York harbor, which was punishable by hanging. He managed to bribe some guards and escaped. He secretly moved his family to the rebel capital in Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, Haym resumed his activities as a broker and his reputation for absolute honesty and integrity spread rapidly. He offered his services to the Continental Congress. In 1779 he responded to George Washington’s desperate request by raising $400,000 to pay the soldiers and save the Continental army. He quietly arranged for loans and grants to assist James Madison, James Monroe and other rising stars in the quest for American independence.
When Robert Morris was appointed Superintendent for Finance for the 13 colonies in 1780, he knew he would need Haym to help him raise funds to save the Revolution.
One day Morris arrived at Haym’s office and told him that the situation was desperate and “unless hundreds of thousands of dollars was raised immediately, the war was lost.” When Haym asked him how long they had, Morris said “days.”
Two days later, Haym arrived at Morris’ office with a satchel in hand and drew out 2 documents. “Will this help?” he asked. Morris scanned the documents and discovered that they were negotiable notes for more than $92,000. “You have no idea,” Morris said. “The government must pay a debt of $100,000 by noon tomorrow. “I will be back soon,” Haym said.
Five days later, Haym arrived with another $350,000 in notes. When Morris asked how he raised that much money so quickly, Haym told him that “they were subsidies from Holland and France. They are much interested in our revolution and want us to succeed.”
Morris said, “It takes weeks to communicate with brokers in Europe. How did you acquire these subsidies?” “I know their representatives here in Philadelphia. They were gracious enough to accept by personal guarantees in these matters.”
Morris shook his head in disbelief, “How much is your commission in these transactions?” Haym tossed a hand indifferently, “Nothing, No commission.”
“You’re giving your commission to the cause?”
“This is my country, my home. It is little enough that I do. I’ll be back next week.”
During the weeks and months that followed, Haym returned regularly to the office of Robert Morris with more funds. In the 3 years from 1781 to 1784, he brokered more than 75 financial transactions that provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for food, blankets, ammunition, medicine, muskets, and cannon for the Continental Army as well as pay for the soldiers and the government officials who were carrying the war on their shoulders.
He committed his own personal fortune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cause. He worked long, arduous hours traveling to New York, Boston and other cities to meet with representatives of foreign banks and institutions. Solomon went to France and raised an additional 3.5 million British pounds from the Sassoon and Rothschild banking houses and families.
In the last weeks of 1784, Haym’s health began to fail. Doctors diagnosed him with TB and ordered complete bed rest. Still he worked on, driven by his love for liberty and his new country. Haym died on January 6, 1785 at the age of 45. Only George Washington, Robert Morris and a handful of patriots knew how much Haym Salomon had done to save the new nation.
Both men sacrificed their entire personal fortunes to breathe life into the American nation as it was born, and died paupers.
Robert: http://bioguide.congress.gov, www.ushistory.org, http://en.widipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Morris
Haym: Unlikely Heroes by Ron Carter, www.nps.gov/revwar/about_the_revolution/haym_salomon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haym_Salomon