George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Morris, 8 February 1790

From Robert Morris

New York Feby 8th 1790.


The Memorial which you will find inclosed herewith,1 Speaks so plain a Language as not to stand in need of Explanation, and the occasion such as not to require appology. The request which it contains being supported by considerations of public Justice, will I am sure from that Motive, meet your favour.2 With Sentiments of the most perfect Esteem and respect. I have the Honor to be Sir Your most obedient and Most humble Servant

Robt Morris

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1Morris’s enclosure of the same date reads: “To the President, The Senate, and House of Representatives, of the United States of America.

“The Memorial of Robert Morris late Superintendant of the Finances of the said United States.

“Humbly Sheweth.

“That, on the twentieth Day of June in the Year One thousand Seven hundred and Eighty five, and subsequent to your Memorialists resignation of his Office of Superintendant, The Congress passed a Resolution in the Words following ‘Resolved that three Commissioners be appointed to enquire into the Receipts and Expenditures of public Monies during the Administration of the late Superintendant of Finance, and to Examine and Adjust the Accounts of the United States with that Department during his Administration and to Report a State thereof to Congress’ which Resolution to Persons unacquainted with the Nature of the Office, and the Mode of Conducting the Business of the Department, gave occasion to the Supposition, that your Memorialist had Accounts both difficult and important to Settle with the United States in Respect to his Official Transactions. That though your Memorialist foresaw the disagreable Consequences which might result to himself, from the Diffusion of such an Opinion, He notwithstanding, not only forbore any Representation on the Subject, but Scrupulously avoided every Species of interference direct or indirect, lest it should be imagined eitheir that He was actuated by the Desire of obtaining from Congress, those marks of Approbation which had in repeated Instances been bestowed on the Servants of the Public, or that He feared to meet the proposed Investigation. Respect for the Sovereign of the United States, concurring with Motives of delicacy, to forbid even the appearance of Asking what if merited it was to be presumed would be conferred, (as being the proper Reward of Services not of Solicitation) and a firm Confidence in the Rectitude of his Conduct, leaving your Memorialist no inducement to evade any enquiry into it which it might be thought fit to Institute.

“That your Memorialist taking it for granted, that the reasons which had produced a Determination to Establish a mode of Inquiry into the Transactions of the most Important office under the Government, would have ensured a prosecution of the object till it had been carried into effect; long remained in silent Expectation of the Appointment of Commissioners, according to the Resolution which had been entered into for that purpose. But it has so happened, from what cause your Memorialist will not undertake to explain, that no further Steps has ever been taken in relation to it. And your Memorialist has remained exposed to the Surmises, which the appearance of an Intention to enquire into His Conduct, had a Tendency to excite, without having been afforded an opportunity of obviating them.

“That the unsettled condition of certain Accounts of a Commercial nature between the United States and the late House of Willing Morris & Company and your Memorialist prior to his appointment as Superintendant of the Finances, having been confounded with his Transactions in that Capacity, Your Memorialist has in various ways, been subjected to injurious Imputations on his official Conduct, the only Fruits 6f Services, which at the time they were rendered, he trusts he may without incurring the charge of presumption, affirm, were generally esteemed both Important and Meritorious, and were at least rendered with ardor and Zeal, with u[n]remitted attention, and unwearied application.

“That your Memorialist desirous of rescuing his reputation from the Aspersions thrown upon it, came in the Month of October 1788 to the City of New York as well for the purpose of urging the appointment of Commissioners, to Inspect His official Transactions, as for that of procuring an Adjustment of the Accounts which existed previous to his Administration. But the first object was frustrated by the want of a sufficient Number of Members to make a Congress, and the last was unavoidably delayed by the Preliminary investigations requisite on the part of the Commissioner named by the late Board of Treasury towards a competent Knowledge of the Business. That in the Month of February 1789 Your Memorialist returned to New York for the same purposes, but the obstacles which he had before experienced still operated, to put it out of his Power to present the Memorial which had been prepared by him in October, praying for an Appointment of Commissioners. That He was therefore obliged to confine himself to measures for the Settlement of his Accounts respecting the Transactions antecedent to his Appointment as Superintendant, which he entered upon accordingly with the Commissioner appointed by the Board of Treasury, and in which as much progress as time and circumstances would permit was made, untill the fourth of March last, when that Commissioner conceiving His authority, by the Organization of the New Government to have ceased declined further Proceedings, and of course your Memorialist was obliged to wait the Establishment of the New Treasury Department for the further prosecution of that Settlement, which has been accordingly Resumed, and He hopes will speedily be accomplished. But in as much as no mode of enquiry into his Official Conduct has hitherto been put into operation, and as doubts of its propriety have been raised by an act of the Government, Your Memorialist conceives himself to have a Claim upon the Public Justice for some method of Vindicating himself which will be u[n]equivocal, and definitive; Wherefore, and encouraged by a consciousness of the Integrity of his Administration, your Memorialist is desirous that a Strict Examination should be had into his Conduct while in Office, in order that if he has been guilty of Maladministration it may be detected and Punished, if otherwise, that his Innocence may be manifested, and acknowledged.

“Unwilling from this motive that longer Delay should attend the object of the Resolution which has been recited, Your Memorialist humbly Prays, that an Appointment of Commissioners may take place to carry the said Resolution into Effect. And your Memorialist as in Duty bound will Pray &ca” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2Morris had been plagued by congressional investigations even before his resignation as superintendent of finance in 1784. The widely held belief that he engaged in speculation in his own notes, his commercial activities during the war, and his connection with the Bank of North America led many Americans to view his administration of finances with suspicion, although during the Revolution he had apparently left much of his vast financial empire to the management of his partners. On 20 June 1785 Congress adopted a resolution calling for an investigation of Morris’s conduct as superintendent. No such investigation was pursued, but the resolution left Morris under a cloud of suspicion that he was anxious to dispel. His petition was received by the House of Representatives on 8 Feb. 1790 and referred to a committee composed of James Madison, Theodore Sedgwick, and Roger Sherman on 10 February. The next day the Senate agreed to a resolution calling for the appointment of three commissioners by the president to inquire into Morris’s conduct, but the House declined to act on the resolution (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:288, 291–93, 294). As chairman of the House committee, Madison reported on 9 Mar. that “regular official examination has been already made into the transactions of Mr. Morris, as Superintendent of the Finances of the United States; and that it is inexpedient to incur the expense of a re-examination by Commissioners, as proposed by the resolution of the Senate on that Subject.” The report was discussed on 19 Mar. and a committee of five, consisting of Madison, Sedgwick, Sherman, John Laurance, and William Loughton Smith was appointed to conduct a fuller inquiry (“Report on Robert Morris’s Petition,” [9 Mar. 1790], in Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 13:95–96). This committee did not report until 16 Feb. 1791. Madison, as chairman, reported: “That it being evidently impossible for the Committee to examine in detail, the public accounts under the administration, and unnecessary, as the same have been examined and passed in the proper offices, they have thought their duty would best be discharged by obtaining from the Register, the statements of receipts and expenditures, and other extracts from public records, herewith submitted, along with a more particular statement of the public Accounts, during the same period, made out in the year 1784, in such a number of printed copies of both, as will furnish to each member of Congress, the best practicable means of appreciating the Services of the Superintendant, and the utility of his administration” (“Report on the Financial Administration of Robert Morris,” [16 Feb. 1791], in Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 13:392–93). The first of these printed reports was published as Statements of the Receipts and Expenditures of Public Monies, during the Administration of the Finances by Robert Morris (Philadelphia, 1791). Although the committee did not find evidence of maladministration, critics continued to charge that Morris had made improper use of public funds.

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