Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789


Portrait of Arthur Lee.
enlarge image icon Arthur Lee (1740-1792).
Henry Bryan Hall (1808-1884).
Engraving, 1869.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-2741.

The Board of Treasury

During the Revolutionary War, America's finances were administered by the joint efforts of a Board of Treasury and a congressional Committee of Finance. In 1781, striving for efficiency, the Continental Congress appointed a single officer - - the Superintendent of Finance -- to replace the Board of Treasury. They created similar executive officers in many other departments; these positions became the direct forerunners of America's current executive departments, such as the Department of State, and the Department of Treasury.

Robert Morris was the Superintendent of Finance from 1781-1784. However, the granting of this much financial power to one man provoked a great deal of distrust. Several Congressmen accused Morris of being "Ambitious of becoming the first Man in the United States." In March 1784, when Morris indicated that he would soon resign, Congress immediately replaced the position of Superintendent of Finance with a Board of Treasury consisting of three commissioners. The problem of finance was so controversial, however, that it took Congress a full year to name the three members of the board -- Arthur Lee, Samuel Osgood, and Walter Livingston.