On the ceiling of the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in the chamber where every U.S. senator since 1865 has sat, a fresco depicts Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, giving a bag of gold to Robert Morris. But who was he? According to biographer Charles Rappleye, Morris was “an unabashed global capitalist—a man ahead of his time” and one “who shaped the destiny of a new nation, helping to make America what it is today.”1
At age thirteen, Morris sailed from the busy British seaport town of Liverpool, where he was born. He crossed the Atlantic, landing in America and settling in what was its largest city, Philadelphia. His father, a tobacco merchant, set him up as an apprentice at the shipping and banking firm, Willing & Co. He began by sweeping floors and sorting goods, but over the next seven years, he learned every facet of the business. Books did not interest him as much as markets, and he demonstrated an aptitude for mathematics. He rose to the role of counting house clerk (essentially an accountant), where he began to reveal his growing talent for business. Once, when his boss was away, Morris heard from a ship captain that the price of flour had spiked in European markets. The teenager purchased all of the flour available in Philadelphia and shipped it to Europe, where it would bring his company a premium.
A few years later, he was promoted to partner, and the firm changed its name to Willing Morris & Co. By the time Morris was twenty-one, it was the largest mercantile house in Philadelphia. . . .
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1. Charles Rappleye, Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 3–4.
2. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 26.
3. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 26.
4. Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 37.
5. Ellis, The Quartet,37.
6. Ellis, The Quartet, 40.
7. Rappleye, Robert Morris,239.
8. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 407.
9. Rappleye, Robert Morris,52.
10. James Alton James, Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1937), 356.
11. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 353.
12. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 455.
13. Rappleye, Robert Morris, 529.