By Dr. Richard Booker
In 1975 the United States Postal Department issued a commemorative stamp honoring a Jewish man named Haym Saloman for his contribution to the cause of the American Revolution. This stamp was uniquely printed on the front and the back. On the glue side of the stamp, the following words were printed in pale, green ink.
Financial Hero – Businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse. Historians who have studied the story of Haym Salomon all agree that without his contribution to the cause there would be no America today.
When Dr. David Lewis, a minister friend living in Saint Louis, read that Haym Salomon raised most of the money to finance the American Revolution and later saved the new nation from collapse, he was shocked that our schools and textbooks, our teachers and politicians did not mention a figure so important in the founding of our nation.
Dr. Lewis began a search to learn more about this forgotten patriot. That search took him ten years to document the story of Haym Saloman, which he published in a booklet entitled, Israel and the USA: Restoring the Lost Pages of American History.
The information presented here is taken from that publication.
Who was Haym Saloman? And how did this forgotten patriot become a hero of the Revolution? Haym Saloman was born in Poland in 1740. He came to New York around 1772 and soon joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of revolutionary patriots. He was arrested by the British in 1776 and became ill with tuberculosis due to exposure suffered in prison. Before he could be executed, Saloman bribed his guard and escaped to Philadelphia, which at that time was the seat of the American government.
Salomon became a wealthy financial broker and the financial. agent in America for the French Government, which was assisting the American revolutionaries. He bought and sold financial papers to raise money for Robert Norris who was the Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress. The Continental Congress had no power to tax the Colonists in order to raise money for Washington’s troops, and the war effort was continually on the brink of disaster. The revolutionary fighters were barely surviving against the superior British forces. It looked as if defeat was imminent.
Washington Irving gives the following account in his book The Life of George Washington, The winter set in early, and was uncommonly rigorous. The transportation of supplies was obstructed; the magazines were exhausted, and the commissaries had neither money nor credit to enable them to replenish them. For weeks at a time the army was on half allowance; sometimes without meat, sometimes without bread, sometimes without both. There was a scarcity, too, of clothing and blankets, so that the poor soldiers were starving with cold as well as hunger (Washington Irving, The Life of George Washington, vol. 1 (NY: The Cooperative Publication Society, 1858, 263-265).
When Haym Salomon saw the condition of Washington’s troops, he was shocked. He determined to do all that he could to finance the Revolution. This is because Salomon believed that America would be a safe haven for the Jews. But this son of a rabbi, also believed that one day in the future, Jerusalem would once again rise from the dust, the Jews would return to their ancient homeland, and Israel and Jerusalem would be the home of the wandering Jew. He knew he must give his fortune to help America survive for the sake of his own people.
The Congressional Record dated March 25, 1975 reads, “When Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance, he turned to Salomon for help in raising the money needed to carry on the war and later to save the emerging nation from financial collapse. Salomon advanced direct loans to the government and also gave generously of his own resources to pay the salaries of government officials and army officers. With frequent entries of ‘I sent for Haym Salomon,’ Morris’ diary for the years 1781-84 records some 75 transactions between the two men.”
In his book, George Washington’s Son of Israel, Charles Spencer Hart writes, Haym Saloman not only helped keep the nation in finances through the sale of subsidies to France and Holland, he turned over to the United States all the commissions he thus earned. He also pledged his personal fortune to the Bank of North America, which would have otherwise closed; paid the salaries of James Madison and at least two other future Presidents of the United States; and neither he nor his heirs ever collected a dime of what was due him from the Government. He never even received a medal for his services!
Charles Spencer Hart continues, “How this came about is a most amazing story of unselfish service and of a government’s ingratitude (a story without a known counterpart in any nation’s history, and an example of utter lack of appreciation of what the Jewish race has meant to this and other countries” (Charles Spencer Hart, George Washington’s Son of Israel (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1937, 6).
Charles Edward Russell writes in Haym Salomon and the Revolution, “He produced the money; he delivered it … He was the regular reliance of the poor haunted Superintendent of Finance, relieving with timely advances a situation that had become more than threatening. He played the fairy godfather in the drama; he came in the nick of time to avert disaster … Salomon deserves a golden page in the history of the United States, for his means and his services were at the disposal of the government” (Charles Edward Russell, Haym Salomon and the Revolution (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1930, 276-277).
David Lewis tells of one last appeal by Robert Morris. He writes, “After the war was over, and George Washington became president of the United States of America, it seemed that disaster loomed on each horizon. One last time Robert Morris appealed to Haym Saloman for aid.” “But this time Saloman was laying on his deathbed in his home in Philadelphia.
Salomon could not refuse. Though dying of tuberculosis, he dragged his pain racked body out of bed, left his home, went to the coffeehouse and opened his brokerage operation one last time… Haym was able to raise the money needed to save the new nation from disastrous bankruptcy” (David Lewis, Israel and the USA: Restoring the Lost Pages of American History (Springfield, NO: Menorah Press, 1993, 41-42).
The Encyclopedia Britannica reads, “Among his many contributions to the Colonies, Salomon subscribed heavily to government loans, endorsed notes, gave generously to soldiers, and equipped several military units with his own money. Robert Morris records in his diary that between 1781 and 1784 Salomon lent more than $200,000.”
“In addition he made private loans to prominent statesmen such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, from whom he would not take interest. In all, the government owed Salomon more than $600,000. Generations of his descendants tried in vain to collect some portion of these loans, which had helped to impoverish Saloman in his last years” (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropedia, vol. 8 Chicago: 1981, 817).
The $600,000 debt mentioned in the above quote is considered a conservative estimate. Jacob Bader Marcus writes in Early American Jewry that the sum owed to Saloman was $800,000. He says Salomon, “was the real financial hero of the Revolution: the man that stood behind Morris and actually produced the actual sums with which the Revolution moved on. He advanced to the government, in one form or another, about $800,000 of his own money, but when he died, leaving a young widow and helpless children, nothing was left for them” (Jacob Bader Marcus, Early American Jewry, (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953, 133).
David Lewis writes, “Suppose the USA were to pay the debt today. Calculate the sum of $800,000 at 7 percent interest, compounded quarterly over a period of 217 years.
The sum is astronomical (due to the exponential factor of interest increase). We have had various mathematical and computer experts calculate the amount for us. The most conservative figure offered us is that the USA owes the heirs of Haym Saloman two and a half trillion dollars.”
Lewis continues, “The next time some congressman whimpers about aid to Israel, ponder these facts.” Having given his fortune to the cause and with failing health, Haym Salomon died sick and penniless at the age of 45, January 6, 1875. He left behind a young widow, Rachel, and four children all under the age of seven.
David Lewis reports, “Rachel tried for months after Haym’s death to collect on personal loans that he had made to Robert Morris, to the Congress and others. She was requested to turn all her securities and certificates over to the State Treasurer of Pennsylvania for evaluation. After several months she made further inquiries and was informed that all of the papers relating to her inheritance had been lost.”
Haym Salomon was buried in Mikveh Israel Cemetery in Philadelphia in a grave which is now unmarked Since we don’t know which is his grave, we cannot even pay our respects at his grave side nor erect a marker.
But the story of Haym Salomon doesn’t end with an unmarked grave. There is a plaque on a brick wall bordering the cemetery that was placed by Haym’s great-grandson, William Salomon in 1917. It says, “To the Memory of Haym Saloman… interred in this Cemetery the location of the grave being now unknown…”.
Was it just a coincidence that the year this plaque was erected was the same year of the Balfour Declaration issued by the British which begins, “His majesty’s Government views with favor the establishing in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”?
Was it just a coincidence that in 1975 when the U.S. Postal Department issued the stamp honoring Haym Salomon, that same year the Israeli government issued a stamp honoring Harry Truman, the American president who was the first head of state to recognize Israel?
As Haym Saloman believed, America has been that safe haven for the Jewish people and Israel has been reborn. As we celebrate America, may we remember the great debt we owe to Haym Saloman. While we may not be able to repay him personally, we can honor him by standing firm in our support and prayers for a safe Israel and a united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Haym’s descendants, the Jewish people.