Photo credit: Portrait: Anthony Morris, from Moon, 1909.
After the death of Samuel Powel, the deceased senator’s uncle and fellow Federalist Anthony Morris assumed leadership of the upper house, December 4, 1793. Born in Philadelphia on February 10, 1766, Morris was the son of Captain Samuel and Rebecca Wistar Morris and the husband of Mary Pemberton, daughter of prominent Quaker merchant James Pemberton.[i] Anthony’s early business and academic pursuits involved the East India trade, the study of law, and an intense commitment to agriculture. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, joined the Philadelphia bar in 1787, and founded the Agricultural School at Bolton Farm, Bucks County.
Morris’s impressive social connections extended to all quarters of the Philadelphia aristocracy, particularly boasting intimate “old and dear friends” Dolly Todd and husband, President James Madison.[ii] From 1813 through 1815, Morris served as Madison’s ambassador to the Court of Spain, laying the groundwork for the ceding of Western and Eastern Florida to the United States.[iii] President Madison highly regarded Samuel’s “intelligence, integrity, and the respectability belonging to his character.”[iv]
Filling Judge Peters’ vacant Senate seat in 1792, Morris served the remainder of the first Speaker’s term, becoming the body’s third leader in 1793. Speaker Morris represented an instrumental force in guiding a militia bill to passage, providing $500,000 in mortgage money to the Bank of Pennsylvania for funding programs necessary for continued, orderly Western land settlement, military security at Presque Isle, and other matters relevant to property protection. Morris’s quick action constituted the indispensable component needed for passage, ultimately leading to securing Presque Isle for the Commonwealth and providing the deployment of militia to Northwestern Pennsylvania.
The impeachment trial of John Nicholson and Francis Hopkinson represented a key Western issue confronting Speaker Morris. In January 1794, corruption and land-fraud allegations dogged Comptroller General John Nicholson, resulting in the lower house’s proffer for the official’s expulsion from office. Accusations cited Nicholson with bond fraud and embezzlement of $60,000, relevant to the sale of Western Pennsylvania settlement lands; and Hopkinson, with accepting bribes. The ex-radical Constitutionalist Nicholson adamantly declared his innocence, and although few members of either house doubted his culpability, Morris and a predominantly Federalist Senate granted Nicholson and Hopkinson acquittals.[v]
During the 1794 extraordinary session, Morris signed a bill providing consent for President Washington’s military suppression of the Whiskey Insurrection. The Society of Friends subsequently expelled the Quaker for aiding federal military efforts. After legislative service, Morris served as director of the Bank of the United States, 1800-06, and trustee of the University of Pennsylvania from 1806 through 1817. Anthony turned down an 1801 nomination as a return Federalist candidate for the state’s upper house.[vi]
After Senator Morris’s Speaker term, the Federalist embarked upon a public career spanning a half-century. Retiring from government service about 1840, Morris spent his last years studying agriculture at his Highlands estate in Montgomery County, often traveling to Washington, DC where he entertained friends at his Georgetown Mansion, also called Highlands. The Honorable Anthony Morris died in Georgetown, Washington DC, on November 3, 1860, age 95, the last surviving member of the Madison wedding party.
Robert Charles Moon, The Morris Family of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: R.C. Moon, 1898-1909), 480.
[ii] Ibid., 533.
[iv] Moon, 534.
[v] Guide to the Microfilm of the John Nicholson Papers, proj. dir. Donald H. Kent (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1967), 3-4.
[vi] Ibid., 532.