Report on Staff of Superintendent of Finance
MS (NA: PCC, No. 19, IV, 323). Written by JM. Docketed, “Report of Com. on the letter 28th. June from R. Morris Passed July 6th. 1781.” Charles Thomson wrote “pasd.” at the bottom of the manuscript.
[6 July 1781]
The Committee appointed to confer with the Superintendt. of Finance on the subject of his letter of the 28th. of June1 report,
That the Superintendt of Finance be authorised to appoint an Assistant in his Department,2 who shall be entitled to an annual Salary of 1850 Spanish milld dol, to be paid quarterly from the Treasury of the U States, and two clerks who shall be entitled each to the annual salary of 500 Spanish milld dollars3 to be paid in like manner4
1. On 2 July JM was appointed chairman of a committee consisting also of James M. Varnum and Roger Sherman. In his letter to the president of Congress, Robert Morris had pointed out that, because he was spending more time writing dispatches and reports than he should spare from other duties, he needed “three or four Clerks” and also the advice and assistance of at least one “Gentleman of Character and Abilities” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 714; NA: PCC, No. 137, I, 61). It will be recalled that he was also performing the duties of agent of marine (Motion on Management of Navy, 28 June 1781, n. 1).
2. JM at first wrote “Office.” Robert Morris had already assured his friend, Gouverneur Morris of New York, that he would be appointed to the new position if it were authorized by Congress (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, p. 81).
3. In each case the reference to Spanish milled dollars was inserted above the line by JM. Although this addition may have been especially in point because of the chaotic state of American paper currency at this time (Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 5 May 1781), the Spanish milled dollar or “piece of eight” had been a coin well known to the specie-starved English colonists and was recognized as something of a standard by the Continental Congress as early as 23 June 1775. After voting on that day to emit $2,000,000 in bills of credit, the delegates stipulated that each certificate should read “This bill entitles the bearer to receive Spanish Milled dollars or the value thereof in gold or silver” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , II, 105–6). Up to 1777 Congress in its journal customarily equated the continental dollars in British money, but the Spanish milled dollar tended more and more to replace pounds and shillings (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , VIII, 454; Pendleton to JM, 6 July 1781, n. 15), until August 1786 when Congress established a currency in which the basic unit would “be worth as much” as the Spanish dollar (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXX, 163; XXXI, 503–4).
4. Hearing that President U. S. Grant was having trouble in gaining Senate approval of his nomination of the merchant-prince Alexander T. Stewart to be Secretary of the Treasury, George Bancroft informed the President in a letter of 25 March 1869 that the merchant-shipowner Robert Morris had been elected superintendent of finance in 1781 by Madison’s deciding vote. “So you see,” wrote Bancroft, “you have on your side, the Congress of the Revolution in its most trying period, and James Madison in particular, the wisest of our statesmen” (Parke-Bernet Galleries, Catalogue No. 2054 [17 October 1961], pp. 43–44, item 182). On the contrary, the journal of Congress records, as already mentioned (Pendleton to JM, 28 May 1781, n. 4), that Morris was “unanimously” elected on 20 February 1781. In his letter Bancroft may have been recalling what he was told by JM at Montpelier during a visit there for several days in the spring of 1836. Assuming this to be the case, and that neither Bancroft’s nor JM’s reminiscence was wholly inaccurate, JM may have mentioned the decisiveness of one of his votes during the four months following the election of Morris when he declined to accept the office unless Congress would permit him to continue much of his private business, clothe him with ample authority, and, as the present report makes clear, provide him with an assistant and a clerical staff. The members of Congress acted upon these requests without having their votes entered in the journal. Interesting, in view of Bancroft’s statement, is the undated note in Thomas Rodney’s diary that “I prevailed in getting Mr. Morris Financier” (LC).