MORRIS, Robert (1735-1806), Signer, (Pennsylvania). Autograph letter signed ("Robt Morris"), as member of Congress, to Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia, 17 February 1777. 1 page, 4to, autograph address panel.
ONE LAST PEACE OVERTURE FROM GENERAL HOWE AND CORRUPTION PROBLEMS IN WASHINGTON'S ARMY
A fascinating, revealing letter on the state of the American war effort. Morris writes to fellow Congressman (and fellow Signer) Benjamin Rush in Baltimore, where the Congress had fled to escape advancing British forces. Morris remained behind principally to superintend supply efforts through his contacts with the Philadelphia merchants. "I send you enclosed," he writes, "a letter from our Friend Genl. Lee directed to you or me. His request must be complied with. I don't know who the Congress will send, it will be very inconvenient should they think of me, but their Commands must be obeyed. Pray inform Congress that since sealing the public letter Carpenter Wharton has been here & says his credit is totally ruined if we do not give him an immediate supply of 100,000 Dollars. I am in great haste."
Lee's letter conveyed a request from British General William Howe to have "two or three gentleman" from Congress sent to New York to negotiate a peace settlement. Washington and the Congressional leaders did not share Morris's eagerness to comply. With fresh memories of the abortive negotiations with Howe on Staten Island in 1776, they dismissed this new gambit for what it probably was: an effort to sabotage the Franco-American negotiations underway in Paris.
The Americans were determined to continue their fight against the British, but their means for waging it remained somewhat messy and disorganized. Morris's letter touches on that problem as well. Carpenter Wharton had long been angling to become the Army's principal procurement agent in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey theatre, and Jonathan Trumbull, head of the Commissariat General, made him his deputy--to Washington's great annoyance. With Trumbull frequently called before Congress to audit the Commissariat's accounts, Wharton was left in charge. He "proved unsuccessful in provisioning the troops at the very time [Washington] was attempting to capitalize on the military advantage gained at Trenton...Washington charged that he had to delay for two days before crossing the Delaware and then had to permit the troops to 'victual themselves where they could'" (Risch, Supplying Wshington's Army, 167). At Washington's insistence, Congress investigated, found extensive corruption, and began shifting procurement from a commission to a contractual basis.