Robert Morris by Charles Rappleye: a review

A fascinating and well-researched book whose clear intention is to restore Morris to the Founding Fathers pantheon. Not sure the author will succeed, but this is a fine history.

The strongest takeaway, for me, is a reminder about how fragile the American Revolution really was. Rappleye certainly gives Morris too much credit for the Republic’s survival, but what’s clear is that Robert Morris was a key player and that his financial machinations were essential. Rappleye portrays his subject as a master administrator and a master politician, and generally succeeds in bringing him to life.

Morris was a genius at moving money around. The author examines these manipulations in probably more detail than most will find interesting, but I found those sections fascinating. Well worth a study if you want to understand how master financiers work, and think. Much of what Morris did was high-risk, high-reward; that he succeeded so often is far more interesting than the collapse of his personal financial efforts near the end of his life.

I’ve gigged the rating a half-star because the author occasionally pushes his story too far. In particular, the comparisons of Morris’ wartime role as Congress’s Financier to the modern presidency seem to be a bit forced, and calling his colleagues his “cabinet” is certainly misleading.

The book’s epilogue isn’t directly about Morris; it’s about how both popular and academic historians’ depictions of the Financier have changed over two centuries. It’s also, of course, about fashion in American historiography, and worth reading just for that.

Excellent book. Well worth your time.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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