"Robert Morris's Folly" by Ryan K. Smith

Robert Morris's Folly The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder Ryan K. Smith

The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History
Publication date:
23 Sep 2014
Yale University Press
360 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
56 b-w illus.
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In 1798 Robert Morris - 'financier of the American Revolution', confidant of George Washington, former U.S. senator - plunged from the peaks of wealth and prestige into debtors' prison and public contempt. How could one of the richest men in the United States, one of only two founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, suffer such a downfall?

This book examines for the first time the fabulously extravagant Philadelphia townhouse Robert Morris built and its role in bringing about his ruin. Part biography, part architectural history, the book recounts Morris's wild successes as a merchant, his recklessness as a land speculator, and his unrestrained passion in building his palatial, doomed mansion, once hailed as the grandest and most expensive private building in the United States but later known as 'Morris’s Folly'. Setting Morris's tale in the context of the nation's founding, this volume refocuses attention on an essential yet nearly forgotten American figure while also illuminating the origins of America's ongoing, ambivalent attitudes toward the superwealthy and their sensational excesses.

Ryan K. Smith is associate professor of history, Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives in Richmond, VA.

“Sharply focused, wonderfully engaging documentation of the 'ruins' of this American Ozymandias.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in Robert Morris's Folly . . . . It is an amazing story, and Mr. Smith tells it well."—Charles R. Morris, The Wall Street Journal