A third form of economic patriotism came to the fore in the spring of 1780. Those months were particularly difficult and desperate times for the Revolution. When, if ever, substantial French assistance might arrive was unknown, and mutinies and desertions had meanwhile whittled away Washington’s army. Savannah, Georgia, had fallen, and Charleston was on the brink of being lost. It was questionable whether the United States of America could survive another year, let alone win the war. At this important juncture, 97 wealthy Philadelphians stepped up to help the army.
Led by the merchants Robert Morris, Thomas Willing, and William Bingham, as well as the lawyer James Wilson, they raised £315,000—an average of £3,250 each, which was more than the ordinary American worker earned in a lifetime—to buy supplies for the troops. The supplies lasted the army for a crucial three months, during which time General Rochambeau’s troops arrived in Newport and a path to eventual victory became discernible.
Read: America’s fragile Constitution
After the war, the remnants of the bank that had been set up to buy supplies for the army were rolled into the Bank of North America; its practices were so geared toward augmenting the wealth of the wealthy and refusing credit to all others that the Pennsylvania State Assembly sought to de-charter it. Many Americans became convinced that, as the patrician Gouverneur Morris put it at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, “The Rich will strive to establish their dominance and enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. They will have the same effect [here] as elsewhere if we do not by the power of government keep them in their proper spheres.”
Morris supported confining the rich to a Senate and the masses to a House of Representatives to balance each other’s interests, and further offsetting the power of both legislative branches through a strong president and an independent judiciary.
The convention’s delegates were wealthy, although fewer were heirs to fortunes than at the Continental Congresses of 1774–75, and they included a substantial number of self-made men. Yet as a group, they too practiced economic patriotism. While they agreed that the Constitution should protect contracts and private property and facilitate capitalism in other ways, they also championed the rights of those who possessed little or no property. Of course, they were only thinking in terms of white men in that regard—excluded from the benefits of the Constitution were women, enslaved people, Native Americans, and, in some states, those who practiced religions other than Protestantism. Even worse, slavery was embedded in the Constitution, a compromise deemed necessary to induce enough states to adopt it.
In the final strophe of the Founders’ era, the War of 1812, a handful of wealthy men practiced a new form of economic patriotism. While a few, like William Gray of Salem, paid for repairs to “Old Ironsides” (the USS Constitution), and other commissioned ships and donated them to the Navy, in 1813, a handful risked their entire fortunes in service of the country.