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Morris, Robert, 1734–1806, American merchant
Morris, Robert, 1734–1806, American merchant, known as the “financier of the American Revolution,” and signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Liverpool, England. Morris emigrated to America in 1747 and was soon apprenticed to the merchant Charles Willing in Philadelphia. He showed an unusual aptitude for business and by 1754 became a partner in the firm with the son, Thomas Willing, after the elder Willing's death. He opposed British restrictions prior to the Revolution and served (1775–78) as a member of the Continental Congress. Morris voted against the original motion for independence in July, 1776, as premature, but signed the declaration in August. A member of various committees in Congress, Morris was particularly important in obtaining munitions and other supplies and in borrowing money to finance George Washington's army. Although Morris's vast mercantile interests profited greatly from his congressional activities, both he and his firm were acquitted by Congress of charges of fraud. After leaving Congress, Morris expanded his mercantile and investment operations independently of Willing and by 1781 was almost universally acknowledged as the most prominent merchant in America. The collapse of public credit led to his being appointed superintendent of finance (1781–84) by Congress. Morris labored hard and well in this office; he pressed the states for contributions, retrenched expenditures, took steps toward the establishment of a national mint, guided the organization of a national bank, and extensively used his personal credit to raise funds for the government. He framed, but failed to get Congress to approve, a fiscal program including funding at par of the national debt and the assumption of state debts; it paralleled Alexander Hamilton's program of 1790. Morris was later a member of the U.S. Constitutional Convention (1787) and served (1789–95) as U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. His private business, continued in his terms of office, ultimately ended in bankruptcy as a result of the collapse of extensive land speculation. Morris was in debtors' prison from 1798 to 1801 and never recovered his fortune.
See biographies by E. P. Oberholtzer (1903, repr. 1968) and C. Rappleye (2010); W. G. Sumner, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution (1891, repr. 1968); C. L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier (1954, repr. 1972).
Morris, Robert, 1931–2018, American artist
Morris, Robert (Robert Eugene Morris), 1931–2018, American artist, b. Kansas City, Mo., studied Kansas City Art Institute, California School of Fine Arts, Reed College. He settled in New York City in 1959. He was allied in his early work with the simple, impersonal forms of minimalism, e.g., an untitled 1965 sculpture consisting of four blocks of gray fiberglass; he often used mirrored surfaces in his sculpture. Implicit in his work is the idea that art can be made of anything. Morris's style and media changed many times during his career. He used nonrigid materials such as cut, folded or draped felt and even steam—precluding reproducible forms and emphasizing the process of art—and was also involved in conceptual art and land art. He is known for his enormous multipart sculptures of the 1980s, which include a wide variety of materials, notably casts of body parts and skeletons suggestive of nuclear destruction. Morris also experimented in performance art, incorporating dance, theater, and the plastic arts. He was a rigorous theorist of art and an influential teacher.
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Morris, Robert(1734–1806) merchant, banker, public official; born in or near Liverpool, England. He came to Maryland about 1747 to work for his father, a tobacco exporter, then went to Philadelphia where he joined the Willings' shipping firm; by 1754 he had formed a partnership with Thomas Willing, and their mercantile firm became one of the most prosperous in the colonies. Although by no means a radical patriot, he objected to the Stamp Act of 1765; by 1775 he was recognizing a need for some action, but sent to the Continental Congress he only reluctantly signed the Declaration of Independence (1776). During the war, he remained in Philadelphia and provided crucial support, both moral and material, to George Washington; although Morris personally ended up profiting, he risked much of his own money in buying needed armaments for the colonial forces; he was acquitted (1779) by a congressional committe of charges that he had engaged in improper financial transactions. When the colonies realized they were on the brink of bankruptcy, the Continental Congress appointed him superintendent of finance and for three and one-half years (1781–84) he instituted strict financial policies—collecting taxes from the colonies, arranging for a loan from France, and securing the money to transport Washington's army to Yorktown, Va.; again, though, he mixed his own finances with those of the government—buying military supplies, for instance, with notes backed only by his own fortune. He remained active in public life, attending the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and then serving a term as one of Pennsylvania's first two senators (Fed., 1789–95). His speculations in western land led to the collapse of his financial empire and he spent three and one-half years in debtors' prison in Philadelphia (1798–1801). On his release he lived out his final years in poor health and was all but forgotten by his countrymen.
Morris, Robert(1931– ) sculptor, mixed media artist; born in Kansas City, Mo. He studied engineering and art, moved to San Francisco (1950), was active as a painter and in improvisatory theater, then settled in New York City (1961). There he specialized in minimalist works, earthwork projects, and scatter pieces.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.