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Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution Paperback – Bargain Price, November 1, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
The first full-length modern biography of an extraordinary, forgotten founder of the American republic, Rappleye's book, the best ever about its subject, is an effective work of rehabilitation. Morris (1734–1806)--a gifted, enterprising, and skilled merchant, banker, and political figure in Philadelphia--was key to the financing of the American Revolution and American government into the 1790s. But because he had many political and business enemies, was a rich Federalist elitist, and ended in debtors' prison for overspeculation in land, he has always remained in the shadows. So has the fact that while deeply committed to the American cause, like many others of his time, he mixed public service with an eye on gain. Rappleye (Sons of Providence) brings Morris and his world brightly alive. Nothing of the financier's full life (his privateering for the war effort; his pioneering trade with China; the "overconfidence" that brought his downfall) escapes Rappleye, and his judgments are balanced and astute. Unfortunately, the work is overstuffed. But perhaps that's necessary to gain Morris the standing he so much deserves among the great figures of the founding era. (Nov.) (c)
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Important in the American Revolution but obscure in popular history, Robert Morris is here introduced to a general readership and also defended from aspersions from preceding academic biographers. The author’s first intent is well met in a fluid narrative of Morris’ mercantile acumen, which made him the choice of the Continental Congress to find the money for the War of Independence. When the American government morphed into the Articles of Confederation in 1781, Morris filled the same financial shoes and devised a debt-service plan that prefigured Hamilton’s under the succeeding Constitution. As he shows how well connected the genial Morris was, Rappleye develops Morris’ participation in factional politics, which naturally earned him enemies whose accusations supplied source material for criticisms of Morris by twentieth-century historians. Accused of embezzlement, Morris survived all investigations into his financial management. Shoehorned as a capitalist into economic interpretations of the American Revolution, Morris, this author counters, was essentially a pragmatist. Within a well-structured, readable account of Morris’ eventful life, Rappleye ably brings forth the financial substrate of the American Revolution. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Rappleye does not shy away from Morris’s flaws, e.g., his intense love of luxury, even in difficult times. Morris was a close friend of Washington and a highly congenial man who cared deeply for his family but above all he was the ultimate American deal-maker in the last half of the 18th century. As Rappleye points out, many historians as well as many of Morris’s contemporaries did not approve of his methods but it was Morris’s incredible financial skill that gave the shaky new United States an economic future. Evidence clearly shows that he was ten years ahead of Hamilton in proposing debt relief, the structure of a national bank, and the role of a more centralized federal government. As he approached his 60th birthday, Morris seemed to lose his incisive skills when it came to large investments. His land schemes, along with international factors beyond his control, landed Morris in debtors’ prison and he died not in prison but bankrupt.
Rappleye has a fascinating last chapter about how Morris’s reputation fluctuated after his death from Morris the financial genius to Morris the corrupt politician who ended up where he belonged. This biography is a dramatic and well-told story of a critically important Founder whom few know about. When Morris is mentioned today, it is often in a few paragraphs or as a footnote. This is the full story of the most important figure in the early finances of America. I highly recommend the book.
The book helps to put all of this in an historical perspective, particularly regarding the interactions and politics of all of the important players involved in our nation's founding. It's obvious that the author, Mr. Rappleye, did a lot of research and worked quite hard to provide this important detail in order to immerse the reader in the tone and texture of early America and colonial life.
I had issues with the author's writing style, a bit too much repetition regarding Mr. Morris' standup reputation, and particularly with his handling of sequencing and time lines. The interesting character and depth of Mr. Morris easily overcomes these short comings and pulls you back in.
I'm now reading Brand's book on Franklin. Another extraordinary character.
There are really two books here intertwined. One that explains the practical basis on which the colonies were able to wage war against the best military machine on the planet. The other the tale of a financial genius who kept the house of cards standing just long enough for the English to think they were beaten. Only to be vilified by those who knew only that mercantile wealth was by definition undemocratic, and thus this man must be inherently evil. In my view, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to really understand the American Revolution, including the fact that ugly politicians whose careers are but one smear campaign after another have been with us from the very start.