THE CHALLENGE OF WRITING A PLAY ABOUT ROBERT MORRIS

Robert M. Image

Robert Morris

By Anthony E.  Gallo

Each time I   decide to write a new play I ask myself that same question: Why am I writing this play?  I went into the craft of playwriting with one objective in mind: spiritual growth.  By and large I have worked within the limits of that objective. I define myself as Judeo -Christian playwright

Each project I write is set up in a pattern I have used for twenty years.  First comes inspiration followed by a mental writing of the first and last scenes, and then basic research if the drama is historical. Twenty two of my twenty-four dramas are historical

The selection of subject matter is another story.  My decisions are generally based on has been made some time ago, generally on some incompressible quirk that catches my fancy.  I then get hooked and begin writing. 

Why should I write a play about Robert Morris, the somewhat obscure financial father of our country?  Is that sufficient reason. I did not choose to write this play as I usually do.  One of Mr. Morris direct descendants saw my play The Eaton Woman, and said that his life ambition was to have a play written about Robert Morris.  As a favor to Bob, I told him I would look into the situation and proceed.   I was fairly certain that my response to him would be negative.   And Oh yes.  I was once a professor at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

BACKGROUND

I next did basic research.   Who is Robert Morris?    Every American history knows he was the financial father of this country.  But is that enough to write a play about?        

Founding Father Robert Morris showed he was an entrepreneur when the newly arrived 13-year-old British immigrant   single-handedly purchased flour in Philadelphia and exported it to England at triple the price.  He died in poverty at age 74 after speculating on 6 million acres of American land to be sold to French settlers who never did arrived.   In the meantime, he became America’s Founding Financial Father, the richest man in the new world, signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation. and the U.S. Constitution. As Superintendent of Finance he financed the American Revolution.   Morris was, next to General George Washington, the most powerful man in America in the opinion of many historians.  One won the battles, the other raised the money to finance those battles.

He took charge of financing and procurement for the American Revolution by bolstering the value of otherwise valueless currencies of the colonies and the Continental Congress, raising taxes, borrowing from the French and Dutch, privateering (pirating British vessels)  In the process, he acquired the gratitude of the new Nation, and the support of George Washington, John Adams and but others including Thomas Jefferson, Arthur Lee, much of the press and Thomas Paine felt the Robert Morris did not fiancé the Revolutionary War.  Instead the Revolutionary War financed Robert Morris.

 

He fulfilled a role no one else was capable of fulfilling. Necessity is the mother of invention.  And he found the means.   

That was still not enough to titillate my interest.  I called Bob and told him so.   He persisted, which I appreciate.  I reconsidered.   What did he face?   England was the world’s strongest economy versus a bunch of colonies?    He succeeded.  How? 

  • He was loved and despised by the other founding fathers
  • Used his own wealth to finance the War.
  • Begged and borrowed from the other Europeans
  • Stole: he owned 150 privateer sips
  • He made money for himself in the meantime
  • Arbitraged and made money for himself in the meantime

I then looked at his personal attributers and conflicts:

  • He was motivated by greed. Some call him a financial genius!   Others an embezzler
  • He told jokes
  • He sold slaves and stopped.  Never profitable. 
  • He was illegitimate and had an illegitimate daughter, Polly
  • He built the largest home in North America.
  • He was the wealthiest man in North America and ended out in poverty, the same fate that awaited Haim Salman wo also helped finance the War

OBJECTIVE

What am I trying to accomplish with this play? To some viewers means comedy, to others learning something and to others facing a challenge in interpreting the playwright’s objective

First and foremost, I want the play to be enjoyable. I use several techniques.  First to make the play relatively short. Second, humor always helps.  And third, plenty of conflict.  The play must also be easy to understand.

Second, I want to teach their audience all about Robert Morris so that they know this man and his contribution to the American landscape.  Very few people do, and in fact I am still learning after using at least thirty sources of material about him.

Third I want to show what lessons we learn from is life.  First, we learn that was truly America’s first capitalist which   allowed us to finance and fight the Revolutionary He became the richest an I in the world m and then the poorest with debts into the millions of dollars.  Yes, America is capitalism, and he teaches us what risk and capitalism are about.

CRAFTSMANSHIP:

Each of my plays is two acts, and run from 70 to 90 minutes.  The first draft is usually 150 pages.  

Each act will have ten to 12 scenes.  Each scene is short.  I use the age-old formula of setting, disturbances and resolution.  Critics have said my scenes are too short.  But no one falls asleep.

I will not use eighteenth century English, but twentieth. English with contemporary idioms so that it is easier to understand. 

 

CONFLICT

Conflict is the essence of all plays.  No conflict, no play. There was plenty of conflict in Robert Morris’ life.

  • He had to fiancé the War with very little help from anyone. Yet he found a way.  In the process he had many adversaries, including Tomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
  • He had inner conflict in himself. He was very involved in the slave trade, until he stopped in 1762.  He opposed the War, but then changed his mind and was involved in
    acts of war.

CHARACTERS

  1. Robert Morris: Financial father of the United State. Signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Constitutional Convention, Singer of the Articles of Confederation.  Only one of the Founding Fathers to be a member of all three.
  2. Mary White: Robert Morris wife. From a prominent Philadelphia family, she married Robert Morris when she was 20 and he was 3, and by some accounts the wealthiest man in the colonies Stood solidly behind her husband in both adversity and prosperity.
  3. Bishop White: First American Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Mary White Morris brother.
  4. Thomas Morris: RM father.
  5. Benjamin Franklin: Founding father and strong supporter of Robert Morris. Much correspondence with RM.
  6. George Washington: Robert Morris strongest supporter and first President of the United States
  7. Haim Salman: Polish immigrant and helped finance the Revolutionary War with RM. Died penniless like RM
  8. Sherriff: Led RM to prison. They become friends
  9. Thomas Jefferson: Third President of the United States, and was skeptical of RM. An opponent.
  10. John Nicholson: RM partner.  Both went bankrupt.
  11. Thomas Paine: Activist and RM Opponent
  12. Arthur Lee: Virginian founding father and RM opponent
  13. John Adams: Second President of the United States and RM supporter
  14. Mercy Otis Warren: Pamphleteer activist and skeptical about RM
  15. Governeur Morris: Governor of New Jersey and very strong RM supporter

Cameo roles and members of ensemble, along with rest of cast

  1. Martha Washington
  2. Abigail Adams
  3. Dolly Madison
  4. Silas Dean
  5. Henry Laurens
  6. Polly Morris

DIALOGUE:

Eighteenth Century English is vastly different from Twenty -First Century English.  Per usual I will opt for contemporary language and idiom    Perusing through writings of the founding father,,,,, the style was cumbersome and dull.   Will Use current idioms, for which I have been both praised and condemned. 

EXCERPTS

ACT 1, SCENE 1 PORT OF PHILADELPHIA  184

Thomas Morris embraces his son, Robert Morris.

THOMAS MORRIS

My son.

ROBERT MORRIS

My father.

THOMAS MORRIS

Is what I hearing true?

ROBERT MORRIS

Yes. Father.

THOMAS MORRIS

And therefore, you know what I heard.

ROBERT MORRIS

You tell me, Father.

THOMAS MORRIS

You sent a boatload of flour to England.

ROBERT MORRIS

Yes, Father.

THOMAS MORRIS

And why did you send a boatload of flour to England.

ROBERT MORRIS

When I arrived in America last week, I saw that the price of flour is now a fourth of what it is in England. I knew we could make a lot of money.

THOMAS MORRIS

And why did you not wait for me to return to Philadelphia?

ROBERT MORRIS

I was afraid the price would go back up.

THOMAS MORRIS

As it surely did.

ROBERT MORRIS

I know father.  I keep track of all prices.

THOMAS MORRIS

Not bad for a 13-year-old lad.

ROBERT MORRIS

I won’t be 12 until next week.

THOMAS MORRIS

And you know that you could have caused a lot of us financially.

ROBERT MORRIS

But I did not.

THOMAS MORRIS

In fact, you made us 5000 pounds.

ROBERT MORRIS

Yes, Father.

THOMAS MORRIS

I see you have that Morris trait in you.

ROBERT MORRIS

What is that Father.

THOMAS MORRIS

Cunning, manipulation and making money.

ROBERT MORRIS

I like to make money.

THOMAS MORRIS

And what will you do after you make money?

ROBERT MORRIS

Make more money/

THOMAS MORRIS

And after that?

ROBERT MORRIS

Even more money.

THOMAS MORRIS

What for?

ROBERT MORRIS

To help everybody, my country, my church and my friends.

THOMAS MORRIS

And yourself?

ROBERT MORRIS

That always comes first.

THOMAS MORRIS

My Son!  My Son!  What can I say.   Do you want to remain here or go back to England?

ROBERT MORRIS

I will always stay here.

THOMAS MORRIS

Why?

ROBERT MORRIS

I can make more money.

THOMAS MORRIS

Is that all?

ROBERT MORRIS

And I have you, Dad.

ACT 1, SCENE 2 WEDDING  1869

The Stage is set for a wedding. We hear offstage voices.

WOMAN (O.S.)

Philadelphia’s wedding of the Century

MAN (O.S.)

I wouldn’t go that far.

WOMAN

Philadelphia’s most prominent family marries the Pennsylvania’s wealthiest man.

MAN

Some say the Richest man in the Colonies.  Others say the richest man in the world.

WOMAN

H, suffice it to say he has done well.  Look over there.   His daughter Polly has arrived.

MAN

You mean his bastard?

WOMAN

OH hush.  You’re so evil.  He has been a very good father to her.  The result of a youthful indiscretion.

MAN

Hush!  The music begins.  Look, there’s Benjamin Franklin.

WOMAN

These fellas stick together.

We hear wedding music and then Morris and Mary White walk up the Aisle.  Bishop White, Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania.  

BISHOP WHITE

Do you Mary White take this man Robert Morris to be your lawful wedded husband.

MARY

I do.

BISHOP WHITE

And do you Robert Morris take Mary White to be your wedded wife.

MORRIS

I do.

BISHOP WHITE

I now pronounce you man and wife

ACT 1 SCENE 7   FRANKLIN HOME

Franklin, Washingtonian and Morris are seated

FRANKLIN

There is no one else.

MORRIS

I cannot and will not take this job.

FRANKLIN

Why?

MORRIS

I did not ask for it.

DEANE

I have great expectations from the appointment of Mr. Morris.  For they are not unreasonable ones for I do not suppose that by any magic act you can do more than recover us by degrees from the labyrinth we are in.

FRANKLIN

You will have censured by malevolent critics and Bug Writers who will abuse you while serving themselves and destroy your character in nameless pamphlets.   They resemble little dirty stinking insects that attack in the dark disturb our r repose.

MORRIS

I will not accept.

FRANKLIN

Yes, you will.

MORRIS

What makes you…

WASHINGTON

You are one of only three men to have signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the articles of Confederation.

MORRIS

Hat is correct.

WASHINGTON

And now you will give up the battle.

MORRIS

Others can do this.

HAMILTON

No way.

MORRIS

You of all people Mr. Hamilton.

HAMILTON

I can write I can conceptualize and I can someday be Secretary of Treasury.  But we need something more than.  We need financial genius with experience.  You are man with extensive contacts.  And a man of considerable wealth.  For surely you know that you will be dipping into your pocket

MORRIS

Mr. Hamilton.  All of us in this room have great admiration for you.  And you flatter me.   I cannot accept this powerful position not only for the onerous responsible, but the thankless nature of the job.   And above all I will have to give up my financial practice and trade because tongues will wag.

FRANKLIN

We will nominate you and part of the condition is that you will be given the right to manage not only the American economy but oversee your personal needs.

WASHINGTON

Is that more palatable to you.

HAMILTON

The nation will always be indebted to you.  So as General Washington will be the father of our nation.

FRANKLIN

You will be the Founding Father and Founding Capitalist

HAMILTON

Will you abandon us now?

FRANKLIN

I will discuss with Mary and get back to you.

WASHINGTON

Thank you, Superintendent Morris.

FRANKLIN

He accepts.

ACT 2 SCENES 2 PRESIDENTIAL MANSION   1790

George and Washington, Robert and Mary Morris, James and Dolly Madison, James Monroe, Governeur Morris, and Thomas Jefferson are seated around a table with a large birthday cake. 

ALL

(singing)

Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday Robert Morris!  Happy Birthday to you! (Followed by heavy applause.   

WASHINGTON

Happy 56th Birthday, Mr. Morris!

JEFFERSON

Now Blow out the candles.  If you have enough strength.

MORRIS

Here I go.

He extinguishes all 56 candles with one blow.  Applause follows

JEFFERSON

Becoming the North America’s wealthiest man has not sapped Founding your strength. 

WASHINGTON

And now a toast to our Honoree.  Let us raise our glasses to the Nation’s founding Capitalist Father.  The financial Father of the United States. 

ALL

Toast!

WASHINGTON

My one regret is that Robert Morris’ staunchest admirer is not here.

JEFFERSON

Who is that?

WASHINGTON

Why Benjamin Franklin of course.  Now three months gone.

JEFFERSONIN AWE.

Ah, yes. Indeed.

ADAMS

We are all aware that without Mr. Morris we would all be British today.

MADISON

More likely we would be dead.

MORRIS

My contribution was so little.

MADISON

You stand proudly next to General Washington here without whose military genius we would not be the United States of America today.

DOLLY MADISON

How did you do it, Mr. Morris?  I stand in awe

MADISON

Quite easy Mrs. Madison.

MONROE

He begged, he borrowed, and he stole.

MADISON

Stole?

MORRIS

Well sort of, James

JEFFERSON

Privateering British ships.  I never considered that stealing, not against the British.

MORRIS

I pirate no more.  Nor involved in that messy slave trade.

BISHOP WHITE

Blessed be God and his angels.

WASHINGTON

Have I heard right?

MORRIS

About Mr. Morris?

WASHINGTON

That he now intends to purchase the United States of America?

MORRIS

No way, Mr. President.  I am buying acreage mainly in the southern states to resell to the deluge of French settlers who will be coming here.

MONROE

Speculation.

MORRIS

That’s the name of the game.

DOLLY MADISON

Ten million acres?  I hear

MORRIS

Not even 6.

DOLLY MADISON

Are you sure they will come?

MORRIS

Beyond any reasonable doubt.

ADAMS

You realize that if you succeed we no longer will be an English-speaking country?

MORRIS

They will learn English.

ADAMS

Don’t bet on it!

JEFFERSON

Would that be such a bad idea –I love the French language.

ADAMS

Ah yes.  French is indeed an amorous language. 

JEFFERSON

Mr. Franklin not only loved the French, they also loved him.

ADAMS

I understand he did not speak the amorous language.  But was quite successful anyhow.

JEFFERSON

Indeed.

ADAMS

I understand you speak French quite well.

JEFFERSON

Passably.

ADAMS

Did you ever think of writing the Declaration of Independence in French?

All laugh.

ALL

Good Luck.

ACT 2 SCENE 7     MORRIS HOME

Morris makes decision to buy 6 million acres of land. John Nicholson, Mary and Morris are seated.

NICHOLSON

That was such a delicious dinner.

MARY

Let me go off.  You too have some business to attend to

She exits.

NICHOLSON

Are you ready to proceed Mr. Morris?

MORRIS

We now own two million acres.

NICHOLSON

And we can purchase 4 million more for half the price that we purchased the first two million.

MORRIS

An offer to tempting to turn down.

NICHOLSON

I have never known you to shy away from risk.

MORRIS

Worth thinking about at least.

NICHOLSON

There are a lot of Frenchmen who will be coming to the new world/

MORRIS

And you and I will have all of them living on our land.

NICHOLSON

My decision is made.  My question is financing. Who has better contacts than you.

MORRIS

You

NICHOLSON

The bank will lend us      dollars, and the stockholders are all over the United States and the World

MORRIS

We will make our investors richer.

NICHOLSON

We will make ourselves especially rich.

MORRIS

More important we will make America great. 

NICHOLSON

And now let us get to it.

MORRIS

Amen.

NICHOLSON

We will be two of the richest men in the world

ACT 2 SCENE 10 FRONT OF THE MORRIS HOME “THE HILLS”

Morris and Mary, are standing.  The sheriff enters

SHERRIF

Are you Robert Morris?

MORRIS

I am.

SHERRIF

You are under arrest.  You are to come with me.

MORRIS

I have lost everything My one is gone, my furniture is to be sold. Take me.

SHERRIF

I do so reluctantly.

MORRIS

You will parade me through the streets.

SHERRIF

It’s only two blocks.

MORRIS

You must do your duty.

MARY

I will walk with you.

SHERRIF

You may not ma’am.

MARY

Why?

SHERRIF

The prisoner comes with me alone.

MARY

Make this one exception.

SHERRIF

I make no exceptions, neither for the richer man in the world nor the poorest.

MORRIS

Now let us continue on our journey.

SHERRIF

And now I must remind you of one thing.

MORRIS

Yes Mr. Sherriff.

SHERRIF

You realize that you are required to pay for your room and   board

MORRIS

Ah yes.

SHERRIF

And?

MARY

(Handing him an envelope) Here it is for you

SHERRIF

You can visit him when you want. 

MORRIS

And she will.

ACT 2 SCENE  12 

Mary and Morris are seated.

MORRIS

Free at last.

MARY

A free man at last!

MORRIS

Three and one half years is a long wait

MARY

Better than 4 years.

MORRIS

We start anew.

MARY

And it is exciting.  And yesterday you dined with Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe,

MORRIS

Yes, I did.

MARY

Is that all you say?

MORRIS

The food was good.

MARY

And Jefferson and Madison?

MORRIS

They were very polite, very attentive e, but that was all.

MARY

I hear knocking at the door.

MORRIS

I can tell. That is your brother’s knock

MARY

Come in

Bishop White enters.

BISHOP WHITE

Hello.  Hello.  Sister, Brother

MORRIS

Welcome, Brother.

BISHOP WHITE

This is a historic day.

MARY

Yes.  The financial father of our country is home

BISHOP WHITE

Well that too, but I was referring to something else.

MORRIS

What is that?

BISHOP WHITE

No Butler.   Seem even more welcoming.

MORRIS

Perhaps I shall have a butler the next time you come.

Actually seems.  I am now down on my luck.

BISHOP WHITE

Actually, I prefer no butler.  The house feels warmer.

MORRIS

You always have a sense of humor Brother.  

BISHOP WHITE

But now is a new day.

MORRIS

I won’t be able to contribute to the church.

BISHOP WHITE

If we count what you have given to the Anglican Communion to date I believe you would find that you have contributed more than man or woman on earth.

MORRIS

Satisfying to know

BISHOP WHITE

You have made great wealth and shared great wealth.

MORRIS

No other way.  And now I have no wealth to share.

BISHOP WHITE

And your friend’s real friends will not forsake you.

MORRIS

I have had a few disappointments. 

BISHOP WHITE

Then they were not real friends. President Washington stood by me. 

MORRIS

Ah yes.   But now he too is dead.

BISHOP WHITE

And the Nation and the World are grateful to both of you

MARY

Yes, My husband.

MORRIS

He died a national hero at Mr. Vernon praised and mourned by the whole word as the father of America.  And a wealthy man.

BISHOP WHITE

And that same man said that without Robert Morris there would be no America today.

MORRIS

Ah yes.   But today I have nothing.

BISHOP WHITE

Do you regret anything you have done?

MORRIS

I cannot.

BISHOP WHITE

Why?

MORRIS

I made millions of dollars.  I lost millions of dollars. I became what some people called the richest man in the Americas. And I am now the poorest man. And I had a choice.

BISHOP WHITE

And you accept this?

MORRIS

Providence has been kind to me.

MARY

And don; forget that we have my little pot of gold.  So, our needs are taken care of.  

MORRIS

Will you ever tell me where you got this money?

MARY

No.

MORRIS

Why won’t you tell me.

MARY

I never asked where the millions you made came from, so don’t ask where our little pot of gold came from.  It is there for us to enjoy.

MORRIS

I will love you always my queen.

MARY

I was your queen then and am your queen now.

BISHOP WHITE

And a Nation is grateful to you.

MARY

Your name will always be in our American history books.

MORRIS

Most people do not know who I am.   And tomorrow I will need both of you.

BISHOP WHITE

What for

MORRIS

To attest to my last will and testament.

BISHOP WHITE

Oh yes.

MORRIS

I see the way you two are looking at one another.   I have few possessions, but what I have I bequeath.   Like this gold watch that my creditors did not get to.

BISHOP WHITE

I will be here. 

MORRIS

And now let us toast what will be the greatest nation in the world.

BISHOP WHITE

Let toast.  GOD BLESS AMERICA.

MORRIS

GOD BLESS AMERICA.

MARY

GOD BLESS AMERICA.

 

 

 

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