We were walking near Independence Square in Philadelphia, only a couple of blocks from Independence Hall, during one of our visits to that historic city almost 20 years ago, when my wife and I noticed a sign near a long-established Jewish synagogue. It was a historical marker telling about a man named Haym Salomon (1740-1785), of whom we knew nothing at all. (A picture of that marker is shown below.) Why, we asked ourselves, had we never heard of this man who we were informed was a “Financier of the (American) Revolution”? We didn’t recall ever having been taught in our American History courses (in the “dark ages” when actual history was presented) about a Jewish émigré to Colonial America who was one of the major sources of funds to support our patriot cause. Shame on us for being so uninformed. Shame on historians for neglecting this great virtually unknown patriot.
(I’m indebted to an article by Ronda Robinson in “Aish.com” <publication date unknown>, and the great book, America—a Call to Greatness, by John W. Chalfant, published in 2003 by “America—a Call to Greatness, Inc.”, for information on this dedicated but almost unknown patriot, and from both of which I quote freely.)
Everyone today understands that it takes a great deal of money to wage a war. The larger the field of conflict and/or the longer the conflict endures, the more that an ever-increasing amount of money is required. Lack of sufficient money to finance the Revolution was the most dire problem at the beginning of the six (or more) years struggle by the thirteen British American colonies to free themselves from the yoke of Great Britain. So just who was this Jewish man who was born in Poland in 1740, and who spent several of his early years living in Western Europe and England and who became fluent in several languages? How did a youngish man of 32 arrive in New York in 1772, a man who was not wealthy, end up financing a large portion of the cost of the American Revolution? That’s an interesting story.
Soon after his arrival in New York in 1772, Haym became a successful merchant and also dealt in trading foreign securities. It didn’t take long for the unfolding events of the colonists’ rebellion against Great Britain to envelope him, and he slowly became active in the patriot cause. Please understand that Haym Salomon was a committed Orthodox Jew his entire life. However, he came to realize that the War For Independence, waged mostly by Christian colonists, had as one of its principle pillars of belief the conviction that it was the Will of God that all the colonists were to be free to worship according to the doctrines of their respective faiths. He also came to believe that the mostly Christian institutions of our early colonies were the bedrock of their societies, and were protectors of rights mostly denied to people of other lands—hence were worth fighting for and defending, peacefully if possible but with arms if necessary. Many Jews throughout Colonial America and even in other countries contributed significant amounts of money to the American Patriots’ cause over the entire span of the War For Independence. Those funds aided the cause of freedom more than most people living today know.
Our Founders were very clear that the major Christian pillar of liberty was the previously either very restricted or basically unknown freedom to worship God as one chose—or not to do so. But in exchange for that bedrock freedom, it was expected of every citizen to fight for the preservation of all of the institutions which are the source of all of the liberties and blessings enjoyed by Americans of all generations, from our colonial beginnings to the present. This societal duty has never been abrogated from that day to this time, although it appears to be increasingly neglected in modern times.
As Christians we desire that ALL come to a saving knowledge of our LORD and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. However, it is not a non-Christian’s obligation, nor should it ever be, to adopt or convert to the Christian Faith. But it surely is the duty of each and every citizen of the U.S. to defend our Constitution and the Judeo-Christian pillars of freedom and law which have granted us these freedoms, being forged in Magna Charta long ago and codified for Americans in the increasingly vilified Constitution bequeathed to us by the sacrifices of patriots, many of whom were friends and acquaintances of Haym Salomon.
The early years of our War of Independence were times of desperation for its leaders, and for much of the entire war Congress was basically out of funds to supply weapons and food to the men of the various militias and the Continental Army. The newly formed states were as “broke” financially as was Congress. After a fire burned down much of New York City, the British occupiers arrested Salomon in 1776 and accused him of being a spy for the patriot cause, but he was soon pardoned by British authorities who made him an interpreter with their German (Hessian) mercenaries, since Salomon could speak German.
Haym continued to prosper during the next year or so, and in 1777 events took a happy turn for him, culminating in his marriage to Rachel Franks, whose brother just happened to be a Lieutenant Colonel on General George Washington’s staff. Good fortune soon abandoned him, however, and in 1778 Salomon was arrested by the British authorities and sentenced to death by hanging, having been accused and convicted of aiding British prisoners to escape and having encouraged the Hessian troops to desert. But he managed to escape from his British prison and fled to Philadelphia, which was destined to soon become the temporary capital of the newly independent U.S.A.
Salomon was penniless when he fled from New York City, for the British had confiscated all of his property and possessions. His new wife and family were able to soon reunite with him, and in Philadelphia he again became a successful broker and a dealer in securities. He even
became the Paymaster General of the French troops who were fighting with the American forces. Some people seem to be “at the right place at the right time”. Salomon was one of them, for by the time he arrived in Philadelphia in 1778, the Continental Congress was desperate to raise funds to support the American forces in the field. However, Congress at this time had no power to directly tax the people, and had to raise funds in other ways, mostly by borrowing or taking out loans.
Over the next two or three years, Salomon “became a successful broker of bills of exchange to meet federal government expenses. He rose from a penniless fugitive (in 1778) to a respected businessman who helped equip soldiers and gave generously to military units. He also carved a place in history as a philanthropist and defender of fellow Jews and religious freedom”, according to Ronda Robinson in aish.com. Over much of our Revolutionary War, Salomon answered the patriot government’s call for help. John Chalfant claimed that “because of the persecution that his relatives and friends had endured in Europe, (Salomon) believed so strongly in America’s cause of freedom that he committed his personal fortune and appealed to the Jews of both America and Europe for financing. They responded by lending millions of dollars to the Continental Congress without note or interest. Salomon became known as ‘The Financier of The Revolution.’”
Before his untimely death, Salomon helped lead the fight to have the Pennsylvania Council of Censors remove a religious test oath that Pennsylvania had required as a prerequisite for holding public office, thus clearing the way for non-Christians to serve the people of that state.
Sadly, and perhaps ironically, after helping the cause of American freedom to the extent that he did, Salomon died in poverty in 1785, probably as a direct result of his willing purchases of the debts of the Continental Congress and his giving of his substance to the forces of George Washington so they could continue to prosecute the Revolution, and he left his wife and family basically destitute. But Patriot Haym Salomon gave all Americans—from his time to the present—a shining example of SETTING PRIORITIES! America has always been called
a “melting pot” of various cultures and different religions, and all of us live (or at least we used to do so) under a system that, if we maintain it in the vision of our Founders, will guarantee “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. That, as Salomon surely concluded, is our common cause. Regardless of whatever personal religious beliefs we profess (or none at all), Americans must recognize that all of our freedoms are founded in God’s Holy Word. Therefore, it is our solemn obligation and patriotic and spiritual duty to do everything we can to defend those freedoms. That apparently was what Haym Salomon believed. It’s what I believe. I hope it’s what you believe.