Wachovia Bank has now issued an apology for its “past indiscretions“, although the bank’s representative has refused to “atone” for them. What in the world is this all about? Well … Once upon a time, in the long ago past of two and a half centuries, in a “city of brotherly love”, there lived a financier named Robert Morris. He built the house that became the Philadelphia home of President Washington. Morris is credited with having done more than any other of the early patriots to fund the Revolutionary War. It all began long before the American Revolution, when Morris was a signer in the fight against the Stamp Act. In 1775, he served as vice-president of Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety and at the same time he was elected to the provincial assembly, and became a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress, where he was vitally involved in many committees. In 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence and began his role as the emerging nation’s chief financial agent. He risked his business reputation as well as his own finances and credit to keep the new government afloat. He served our nation at a very complicated and difficult time in its history. On several occasions he personally rescued the Revolution from collapse. As the Revolution progressed, Morris was reelected to the Pennsylvania assembly, attended the second Continental Congress, signed the Articles of Confederation, and founded the Bank of North America, the first incorporated national bank. In 1787, he helped in the drafting of the United States Constitution. He served as Pennsylvania’s first senator to the United States Congress, and served on forty-one committees while there. While performing all of these services to the new nation, Morris managed to serve as a trustee of the Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) from 1778 until 1791.
After all of these illustrious accomplishments and financial successes, Morris left the Senate, and returned to commercial pursuits. This time he became engaged in land speculation which resulted in financial ruin through the dishonesty of his partner. Robert Morris, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Patriot of the Revolution, was imprisoned for debt from 1798 until 1801, when the federal bankruptcy law was passed. His letters from prison reveal that he continued his generosity and good will and did not become vindictive. Five years after his release from Debtors Prison, he died in Philadelphia, in 1806.
One would expect the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, to be proud and boastful of such an early inhabitant. Think again. One of the accomplishments of Robert Morris was that he founded the first incorporated national bank, The Bank of North America. Although that bank no longer exists, Wachovia Bank of North Carolina is now its direct descendant, and, as we were warned by the poet Stephen Crane;
"... the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the heads of the children, even unto the third and fourth generation ...."
Morris and another merchant, Thomas Willig, purchased an indigo plantation in Mississippi, and with it were conveyed ‘a number of Negroes.’ In 1791, Morris and Thomas Willig used their profits from the slave trade to fund the establishment of the historic Bank of North America – now 200 plus years later, known as Wachovia Bank.
Wachovia Bank acknowledged and apologized for its historical links to slavery. This action was required by a recently passed City Council ordinance for corporations doing business with the city of Philadelphia. According to research by the bank, two of its predecessor institutions, the Georgia Railroad and Banking Co. and the Bank of Charleston, owned slaves, and five others had indirect links to slavery. Great Balls o’ Fire – Who would have guessed?
Philadelphia Daily News | 06/02/2005 | Bank acknowledges, and apologizes for, links to slavery: “‘That means they did not directly own slaves as the other two did, but the people that founded them, or directors of the bank, or account holders owned slaves or profited directly from slavery,’ said Wachovia spokeswoman Barbara Nate. ‘Or, they may have invested in or done business with companies that owned slaves or they may have invested in the bonds of slave states or municipalities,’ Nate said.
“In a statement, Wachovia chairman and chief executive Ken Thompson said: ‘We are deeply saddened by these findings. We apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent. While we can in no way atone for the past, we can learn from it, and we can continue to promote a better understanding of the African-American story, including the unique struggles, triumphs and contributions of African-Americans, and their important role in America’s past and present.”
Does this apology make a difference? Not really, if you closely read the reply of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, co-sponsor of the bill which makes the apology mandatory. When asked if the new found links to slavery will be used as the basis for lawsuits seeking reparations for descendants of slaves she said: “This is not the intent of this bill. Reparations is an issue that, when it takes place, has to happen at a federal level. The message sent is that companies are willing to abide by the terms of a social contract and to be collectively responsible for their behavior.” Other cities that have passed similar ordinances are Chicago, Detroit, and the Capital of the Old Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia.
We now return to long dead Signer and Patriot, Robert Morris, a-moldering and a-turning in his grave. Would he have just stayed back in old England, where he was born, and not come to this new land and foment dissent and shouts for freedom. Without him, the Revolutionary War would have failed. We would be living under the rule of a British monarch or some other potentate, and all descendants of slaves would be happy and content. Whether they would now be free or in bondage, we will never know. Robert Morris was imprisoned for three years for debts, but he was never punished for owning slaves. Some sixty years after his death, a war erupted over the right to own slaves, and virtually every family in the American South suffered horrendous losses of lives and property. Northern families sacrificed their sons as well. The American president was assassinated. We know not the beginning of history, nor do we kin its ending. We know only that history travels on.
May God bless you Robert Morris, as your countrymen heirs will not.
Trackedback at Mudville Gazette