Lot 156

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Robert Morris
Philadelphia, PA, March 23, 1785
Robert Morris LS on Recovering Funds & European Relations, One of Finest Known
A lengthy and important letter signed by former Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris. 11pp, measuring 7.25" x 9", Philadelphia, dated March 23, 1785. Written in another hand but signed "Robt Morris" while serving as a Pennsylvania legislator, and addressed to Mathew Ridley. In one of the finest known letters, Morris spends eleven pages reflecting on events in both his life and the world around him. The letter is in outstanding condition with fine paper, dark writing. Expected mail folds. Boldly signed.

Highlights from the letter, in which Morris discusses sons' education, his dire financial situation and the poor relationship between England and America:
"...The good Character you give [my sons], the good opinions you entertain of them and of their Tutor make us very happy. I am determined to keep them where they are untill [sic] they are perfectly Masters of the Learned Languages and at the same Time they will be making proficiency in the Sciences and various other Branches of Education...I will...bring them here to study Law the knowledge of which I think is become essential to such Americans as mean to have any share in the Government of their Country…

…the quarrell [sic] between Mr Holker and me...I was sincerely and warmly attached to Mr Holker...He is the most vindictive and the most selfish man I ever met…You will have heard that Mr. [John] Jay is Secretary of Foreign Affairs. I heard from him Yesterday, he and his Family are well...Altho [sic] I am freed of Public business, yet I am more employed than ever, I confine myself closely to the adjustment of my old affairs which had been much too long neglected, it is owing to that neglect that I am now involved in a dispute with Holker and in settlements and searches after money so long due that the Holders of it, begun to think it their own and cannot prevail on themselves to part with it so readily as they ought to do, or rather some of them have parted with it where it ought not to have gone, and I shall probably be the sufferer: it has been owing to my keen application to things of this kind ever since my resignation [as Superintendent of Finance] that you have not heard from me. Gouverneur Morris is now Down in Virginia settling accounts and trying to secure and recover some large Sums that are due to me there and I owe much to his friendship for undertakinging [sic] it. I find the Temper and prejudices of the People in England are much against every Thing American, and the Troubles in Holland unfavorable to our Views there; so that Mr Rucker has gone over in an unlucky moment. I give up all Thoughts of Selling any part of the Ship Empress of China, and will take the Chance of the Voyage but hope the Insurance has been effected…

…Green was apprized [sic] of the opposition he might expect from the Europeans at Canton, and we had fears which he never knew that the Ginsang [sic] was too much so that I expect yet a tollerable [sic] voyage. We have never seen Mr Haydon I believe he has not been this way since his arrival in America. We wish to see him very much and hope it will happen before long...The Habits of Industry were almost annihilated in this Country during the War, and I find it is much more difficult and tedious to reclaim mankind from Expense and Idleness than to lead them into it. Frugality however is appearing again amongst us, necessity leads on Industry, and the practice of these two Virtues will soon lead to Wealth. I think the English are playing a ridiculous Game against there [sic] own Interest, and I sincerely wish that France who deserves it, may reap the advantage; indeed I think our Commerce will come back to them in a greater degree than many People expect or wish...I am buying some [tobacco] and have taken infinite pains to lower the Price, but others will not suffer it, I believe however that loosing [sic] accounts from Europe and the Scarcity of Money will bring it down at last..."

It is understandable that Anglo-American relations were poor in the 1780s. The English Navy continued to harass American merchant ships in the Atlantic, so in 1784, a new trade passage was attempted. A boat named the Empress of China left from Sandy Hook with a cargo of ginseng, sailed around South America, and on to Canton, China. Although the voyage took a year, it was very profitable and deemed a success. By 1789, eighteen American boats had gone to China by the Pacific, and Salem, Massachusetts had become the leading port for the Chinese trade.

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), who was not related to Robert Morris, was a signer of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution and wrote the Preamble to the United States Constitution. In the 1780s, he was appointed Robert Morris's assistant and devised the American system of coinage. Perhaps Gouverneur Morris wanted to repay Robert Morris for his employment and had volunteered to go to Virginia and collect Robert's debts.

Robert Morris (1734-1806) came to America at age thirteen and worked for his father as a tobacco exporter. In 1754, he became a partner in a large shipping firm and made a large fortune. When the American Revolution began, Morris tirelessly raised money for the army, going as far as to obtain personal loans to keep the army supplied despite the risk to his own financials. As Superintendent of Finance, Morris would also borrow on his personal credit when he needed money for the government. However, all his borrowing, combined with slow payments from debtors, eventually led to his ruin. His fortunes continued to decline until he was put finally put in Philadelphia's debtors prison in 1798. When he was released in 1801, his property was gone and his health was had greatly suffered.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


  • 7.25" x 9"
  • Artist Name:
  • Robert Morris
  • Medium:
  • LS

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