Haym Salomon (1740-1785)

The Financial Hero of the American Revolution

Haym Salomon stamp

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Postal Service called Haym Salomon Financial Hero of the American Revolution when a commemorative stamp was issued hailing his contribution. He was born in Poland, and after extensive travels arrived in New York in 1772. He quickly became a successful merchant and dealer in foreign securities. He got involved in the Sons of Liberty in New York. When war broke out he used his wealth to supply the American troops.

Escape to Philadelphia

When the British occupied New York City, Salomon was arrested and imprisoned. Because he was multilingual, thanks to his early life in Europe, the British employed him to aid in communication with their Hessian mercenaries. Taking advantage of access he gained as translator, Salomon covertly helped prisoners of the British escape. When he was caught urging the German Hessians to desert the British cause, he was promptly re-arrested. His property was confiscated, and he was sentenced to hang. Assisted by the Sons of Liberty, Haym Salomon escaped from the British and fled to Philadelphia.

Contributions to Early American Financial Footing

In Philadelphia, though he began penniless, he resumed his brokerage business. The French, who had allied with the American colonial army, employed him as their paymaster. He helped secure loans from the Dutch and Spanish governments for the struggling Continental Congress, eventually helping the fledgling nation get onto a sound financial footing. He also provided personal interest-free loans to many of the leaders in the Continental Congress, so that they were free to pursue leadership in the revolutionary struggle.

Fight Against Jewish Stereotyping

Throughout his career in the patriotic cause he fought against the prejudices and stereotypes of Jewish financiers as profiteers. His personal honesty and integrity was so well known that his mere signature could act as a sufficient guarantee. He would back up all commitments even at personal cost to himself if need be. Salomon died with more debts than assets because he gave so much for the birth of his country, many of his debts coming from the purchase of government debt. He passionately and directly countered those negative stereotypes of Jews, sometimes bringing criticism upon himself, but he never surrendered his ideals. Though his descendants in the 19th Century tried to obtain compensation from the U.S. Government, none was ever forthcoming because all documentation had disappeared or was in depreciated continental currency.

Philanthropy

Haym Salomon sketch

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Haym Salomon provided leadership in the Jewish community both in Philadelphia, where he was on the governing council of Congregation Mikveh Israel, and for the national Jewish community. He personally contributed a quarter of the cost for building the Mikveh Israel synagogue. He used his wealth as a philanthropist, becoming treasurer for the Philadelphia society to assist indigent travelers passing through the region. He based his assistance on a person’s need and his own ideals of liberty and freedom for all people.

Fight for Religious Liberty

As the new government was taking shape, Salomon fought against laws that prohibited non-Christians from serving in public office, successfully leading the fight to repeal the test oath in Pennsylvania. He was a pioneer in establishing religious liberty for all people as one of the foundations for the United States.

Issues of Historical Accuracy

Salomon often preferred to remain in the background, so the exact role he played seldom came into the public light. As a result many legends developed around him, and historical verification of some of the stories has sometimes been difficult. Poor documentation of the financial records of that time also makes accurate accounts impossible. However, there can be no denying that at key points in the Revolution and then in the development of the young United States, Haym Salomon played a pivotal role in enabling the movement to go forward.

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