BOOK REVIEW: Robert Morris: Inside the Revolution by Robert M. Morris (Waterville, OR: Trine Day LLC, 2022)
Entrepreneur and inventor Robert M. Morris (no relation to the book’s subject) is the perfect channel to present the story of the American Revolution’s “forgotten” hero, Robert Morris. George Washington is Father of the Nation, James Madison is the Father of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton is the Father of the Government, but Robert Morris can easily claim the title of Father of American Free Enterprise. His story is presented in this lengthy tome, and he really does come across as the often-ignored American hero. The book begins opposite the Table of Contents with a picture of a painting by Alonzo Chappel, and the engraving to the painting is included to give the reader an idea of the subject’s importance: “Americans owe, and still owe, as much acknowledgement to the financial operations of Robert Morris, as to the negotiations of Benjamin Franklin, or even to the arms of Washington.” Morris was a “businessman, a correspondent, an investor, an administrator, and a visionary.” (page 2) He was involved with the events that led to the Revolution. He signed the three great documents: The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. So, why isn’t there a monument to him in the nation’s capital?
The author, Robert M. Morris, proceeds to deliver a history lesson in a compact introduction, going back to the days of William the Conqueror and Runnymede. He writes about the beginnings of empire in different parts of the world, with an emphasis on how England used trade to become wealthier. That pursuit continued in the North American colonies. At first the Introduction seemed to be too long, but it actually proved very informative and provides an important background to the events that played out in America. The subject Robert Morris, as recounted in the first chapter “Last Days of Colonial Life,” started life in the port city of Liverpool and emigrated to Philadelphia. During the tense days of the Imperial Crisis, he kept a correspondence with his connections in England, providing a play-by-play account of the events leading to the Revolution. Once the Revolution began, illustrated in the second chapter “Into the Continental Congress,” Morris became a member of the Second Continental Congress, working closely with many familiar names (Franklin and Adams, for example) and serving on committees. He joined the other delegates in committing treason by signing the Declaration of Independence, elaborated on in chapter three, “The War Begins.”
A rather interesting and unexpected anecdote is included in the fourth chapter, “Changes in the Political Wind.” One of Morris’s business partners was George Ross, whose wife was commissioned by General Washington to design a naval flag. An illustration shows Morris and Washington watching Betsy Ross sewing the famous flag with thirteen stripes and stars. For anyone who doubted the classic story as apocryphal (including this reviewer), Robert M. Morris disproves the myth.
The remaining chapters, four of which cover the events of the years 1781-1784, examine the business investments of Robert Morris and how he instrumental he was in financing the American Revolution. The Epilogue explores how Morris “faltered” and ended up deeply in debt. His downfall into obscurity in debtor’s prison is viewed as a primary reason that Morris is not more well-known by many Americans. History students usually never hear Morris’s name when they learn about the Revolution, but the success of the Americans would have never happened, were it not for the instrumental vision of Robert Morris in creating a nation.
Robert Morris: Inside the Revolution is a valuable resource on the life of an instrumental member of the Revolutionary generation. It is perhaps too long, at over six hundred pages and one chapter with over five hundred endnotes. The author has an encyclopedic knowledge of Robert Morris, and his reliance on Morris’s letters is thorough. There is a great deal to learn, however, and potential readers will be able to get some valuable knowledge if they remain patient and continue reading.