American Portraits

You May Depend Upon My Exertions: Robert Morris, the Revolutionary War, and Self­‐Sacrifice

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of Robert Morris and his sacrifices for the cause of independence during the American Revolutionary War. They will explore how his selfless actions with his finances helped to preserve that cause. Through his example, they will learn how they can act selflessly in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

On Christmas Eve, George Washington faced one of his greatest crises while serving as General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was planning a desperate attack against the enemy that was encamped across the Delaware River in Trenton. However, there was snow and ice on the ground, and many of his soldiers were hungry and wore rags instead of shoes. As a result, Washington sent a desperate message to John Hancock and the Continental Congress for supplies….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can Robert Morris’ actions during the American Revolution inspire us to be willing to sacrifice on behalf of others?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of Robert Morris and his sacrifices for the cause of independence during the American Revolutionary War. They will explore how his selfless actions with his finances helped to preserve that cause. Through his example, they will learn how they can act selflessly in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Robert Morris’ actions during the American Revolution.
  • Students will understand how acting selflessly can benefit those around them.
  • Students will understand how they can act more selflessly in their own lives.

Background

Robert Morris was born in England in 1734 and was the son of a merchant. Morris immigrated to America in 1747, and his father sent him to apprentice with a Philadelphia merchant to learn the business. Morris had a head for the business and an instinct for seizing business opportunities. Because of his financial genius, he was made a partner in Willing, Morris, and Company at only twenty-one years old.

Morris married a woman from a prominent Maryland family, built a grand estate, and fathered seven children. He built up an impressive array of business contacts in the American colonies, the Caribbean, and Europe. He became the wealthiest man in the American colonies. When the Revolutionary War began, Morris dedicated himself to public service and was appointed to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the Continental Congress. He supported the Patriot cause of liberty and self-government but was a moderate in politics who initially opposed the movement for independence. He abstained from voting on the Declaration of Independence and only signed it after it was adopted.

During the war, Morris served on a variety of committees in Congress, including the critical Committee of Secret Correspondence. This committee was responsible for reaching out to potential allies such as France for a military alliance as well as supplies, funds, and arms for the Continental Army. More significantly, Morris acted as a merchant in a private-public venture in which he routinely used his contacts to procure supplies for the army.

Vocabulary

  • Merchant
  • Bankrupt
  • Desperate
  • Musket
  • Impediment
  • Pledge
  • Recruit
  • Redcoats
  • Continental dollar
  • Mutinies
  • Obligations
  • Prejudice

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Robert Morris?
  • What was Robert Morris’ contribution to the American Revolution?
  • How did the selfless acts of Robert Morris help to shape his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Ellis, Joseph J. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. New York: Knopf, 2015.
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Washington’s Crossing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Rappleye, Charles. Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
  • Ver Steeg, Clarence L. Robert Morris: Revolutionary Financier. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1954.

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