It was the place Solomon built, a place that would foster hopes and bring blessings to the inhabitants of the land. But this was not the fabulously wealthy and wise king of Israel who succeeded his father King David, and the builder of the first Temple of Jerusalem.
It was Haym Salomon (Anglicized from Chaim Solomon) and the place was a simple little shop located on Front Street in the patriot capital of Philadelphia in the 1770s. It was here where discussions of great importance to the independence of the United States took place.
Haym Salomon (1740-1785) was a Polish-born American Jewish businessman and political financial broker who immigrated to New York City from Poland during the period of the American Revolution. A sympathizer with the patriot cause, Salomon joined the Sons of Liberty. He was twice arrested, once in 1776 as a spy, and again in 1778 when he was sentenced to death.
Salomon managed to escape British-occupied New York crossing into New Jersey and then Pennsylvania. He settled in the city of Philadelphia, the center of the independence movement and home to the Continental Congress, the legislative body of the thirteen colonies that had declared their autonomy from Britain in 1776. Salomon spoke before the Second Continental Congress offering his services and requesting a position. He was turned down.
With borrowed funds, he opened an office as dealer of bills of exchange. His little place on Front Street was near to the Coffee House where Colonial Army officers and members of the Continental Congress often gathered.
At the time, the revolutionary cause was in dire financial straits while the colonies were battling against an extremely wealthy enemy, the British Empire. Salomon came to know many leading figures in Philadelphia during this time and brokered a loan of $400,000 that gave George Washington, head of the Continental Army, funds to pay his soldiers in 1779. Salomon was believed to have contributed some of his own funds to the aid package.
From the period of 1781-84, records show Salomon’s fundraising and personal lending helped provide over $650,000 in financing to George Washington in his war effort. His most meaningful financial contribution however, came immediately prior to the final revolutionary war battle at Yorktown.
In August 1781, the Continental Army had trapped Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in the Virginian coastal town of Yorktown. Washington’s army along with sympathetic French troops was poised to deliver the final blow but Washington’s war chest was completely empty, as was that of Congress. Without food and supplies, Washington’s troops were close to mutiny. When told by Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris there were no funds and no credit available, Washington gave him a simple order: “Send for Haym Salomon.”
Salomon raised $20,000 through the sale of bills of exchange and along with a personal loan by Robert Morris allowed Washington to conduct the Yorktown campaign that proved to be the final battle of the Revolution. He also personally supported various members of the Continental Congress during their stay in Philadelphia, including James Madison and James Wilson. He never asked for repayment.
The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 ending the Revolutionary War, but not the financial problems of the newly established country. The war debt to France alone was enormous. It was Haym Salomon who managed, time-after-time, to raise the money to bailout the debt-ridden government.
Prior to the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, Congress did not have the power to levee taxes and the overwhelming debt owed by the fledgling nation far exceeded that of its meager income. The need to provide pensions for those officers and soldiers who had been wounded while serving in the Continental Army was the top priority of Congress. The number of disabled veterans desperately needing governmental support outweighed repaying vast sums to a few creditors like Salomon and Morris.
Haym Salomon died suddenly on January 8, 1785 in Philadelphia. His death was attributed to tuberculosis contracted while he was imprisoned by the British. When he died at the age of 45, he was a bankrupt man with a wife, three children under the age of seven and a fourth on the way. He was buried in the cemetery of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, where in 1782 he made the largest individual contribution towards the construction of its main building.
Overall, Salomon is thought to have contributed over $650,000 (more than $9.4 billion in 2018 dollars) to the Revolutionary War effort. His loans to the cause were never repaid. Attempts made by his heirs over the next few years to obtain some retribution were denied. In 1893, a bill was presented before the 52nd United States Congress ordering a gold metal be struck in recognition of Salomon’s contributions to the United States.
On July 24, 1945, United Nations journalist David Horowitz wrote a letter to Mr. Bernard Samuel, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, questioning why there was not a single memorial erected to the honor of Haym Salomon. Only a plaque marked his gravesite. Horowitz then made this suggestion to the Mayor, “I would suggest that the city of this great American be the first one to establish a lasting memorial to his name. No more fitting memorial could be than the changing of the name of Front Street to Salomon Street.”
Several days later Horowitz received a reply from the Office of the Mayor thanking him for his views and for the considerate recommendation while informing him that the City of Philadelphia had annually commemorated the work of Haym Salomon by appropriate ceremonies held at the cemetery where the patriot was buried and where a plaque was erected. No further municipal action was taken.
The American Revolution was fought not only by soldiers, seamen and politicians; it was also fought by civilians. Some of these civilians bore arms; others provided supplies; still others such as Haym Salomon fought with their wits and their administrative skills.
200 years later, on March 25, 1975, in time for the bicentennial, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp that honored Salomon as a true Revolutionary War hero. It depicted him seated at a desk. On the front side of the stamp are the words “Financial Hero.” And, for only the second time in 143 years of U.S. stamps, a message appeared on the back of a stamp, it read: “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.”
It’s Haym Salomon’s birthday and we all should light a candle in his honor. In 1781 he made his wish and today our lives bear witness to his wish come true.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.