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British Banking History Society

Morton Rose

Levi Parsons Morton (1824-1920) was an American whose career commenced as a storekeeper and in 1855 progressed to opening his own firm of wholesalers in New Hampshire. This collapsed at the outbreak of the Civil War which rendered his Southern States debts worthless, but he paid his debts and in a remarkable change of direction, in 1863 opened simultaneously in America and London, his international bank Morton Bliss & Co. Primarily devoted to American railway finance, the Bank grew over the years to rival Jay Cooke and other leaders in that field.

Sir John Rose was born in Scotland in 1820 and in 1836 emigrated with his family to Canada. He became a leading commercial lawyer in Montreal, a director of banks and other companies and legal adviser to the Hudson Bay Company. Much later, 1880-1883 he was Deputy Governor. Persuaded to enter politics, after 1857 he held a variety of Government posts, with mixed success, but as Commissioner of Public Works was responsible for organising the Prince of Wales' (Edward VII) Canadian Tour which resulted in a lasting friendship with the Prince, and later to honours and posts in the Princes' household organisation.

In 1867, Sir John became Minister of Finance in the first Canadian Dominion parliament. He determined to replace the country's privately issued banknotes by a United States type state currency note but his bill was defeated and he promptly left Canada for London intent on a career in international finance.

Previously, he had been the British representative on the commission to settle compensation to the Hudson Bay Company following the cessation to the United States of part of Oregon territory. By now he was well known in Canadian, British and American political circles and even as a private citizen he was usually involved in some international negotiations on behalf of the first two countries. He represented Britain on the Geneva award commission (compensation to America for English support for the Confederate states in the Civil War, particularly the Alabama incident). This involved close liaison with President Grant which led not only to the firm handling the compensation monies, but to Morton entering American politics. He entered Congress in 1878, was Minister of Finance for a long period, became Vice-President of the United States 1889-1892 and finished his political career as Governor of New York.

Morton Rose cheque

Meanwhile, Walter Burns, the head of the London office, had blighted his career by marrying the daughter of J Pierpont Morgan, so in 1869 the English business was reorganised as an independent partnership, Morton Rose & Co with Rose in charge. It was a business of considerable substance: financial agent for Quebec and Montreal and (with others) Canada, also for America in the 1870's and 1880's. Predominately, it financed American and Canadian railways (notably Canadian Pacific), sold US Government and other stocks in Europe and dealt in currencies.

Sir John resigned his partnership in 1876 in favour of his son, Charles Day Rose, but remained involved until his death in 1888. In the same year the first organised the Salt Union, which bought most of the salt mines in England and Ireland. It is remembered as one of the few industrial organisation to result from a banking initiative and also as a classic lesson in the wrong way to reform a troubled industry.

By this time the first had lost its North American government agencies and was fading from prominence. In 1900, the bank passed into other hands and was converted into a public limited company. This suspended payment in 1914, suggesting difficulties with international debts as war approached, and the winding up was not complete until 1939, just in time for the next war.

Click here for a picture of a Morton Rose cheque.

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