Name: Gouverneur MORRIS
Given Name: Gouverneur
Suffix: Signer Of The U. S. Constitution
Birth: 31 Jan 1752 in Morrisania, Bronx, NY 1
Death: 2 Nov 1816 in Morrisania, Bronx, NY 2
Burial: 15 Nov 1816 St. Anne’s Episcopal Churchyard, Bronx, NY 3
Baptism: 4 May 1752 NY, NY; Trinity Church 4
Change Date: 6 Jan 2006 at 05:35
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Title: Gouverneur Morris
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Title: Gouverneur Morris
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Title: US Constitution
Note: Governeur Morris
Gouverneur was one of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, was the Minister to France in 1789 for President Washington and was a U.S. Senator. Certainly he was the most well-known member of the Morris family and is mentioned in many books of the founding of the United States of America. He followed Franklin and Jefferson as the Ambassador to France, remaining there during the terrors of its Revolution. He attempted to help Louis XVI escape from Paris, but of course failed.
Housed in the Morris-Popham Papers in the Library of Congress (Manuscripts, Box #1, file 3) is a letter from Gouverneur to Richard Morris dated 20 August 1782, "Dear Brother, I enclose you an excellent pamphlet written by Payne - I think you will like it."
The Signers of the Articles of Confederation
John Wentworth, Jr.
Jonathan Bayard Smith
Nicholas Van Dyke
Richard Henry Lee
John Harvie Francis Lightfoot Lee
William Henry Drayton
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
John Walton Edward Telfair
The Forgotten Founding Father
Gouverneur Morris, author of the Constitution and the most famous forgotten man in New York, is buried on a remnant of the 1,900-acre estate his family once owned in what is now the South Bronx. When the Number Six train stops at Brook Avenue and 138th Street, it leaves you on a poor but bustling main drag, dotted with fast-food restaurants and cheap clothing and furniture stores. If you walk a block east and three blocks north, you come to St. Ann's, an old Episcopal church, built by Gouverneur Morris II in 1841 in honor of his mother. In the yard behind a fence stands a tablet erected by the State of New York in honor of Gouverneur Morris, listing his dates (1752-1816) and his accomplishments: his hand in two constitutions (New York's and the United States's), George Washington's minister to France, projector of the Erie Canal. Before I visited, I had called the rector to tell her that I was a biographer, and she kindly showed me the stained glass, the list on the sanctuary wall of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Morrises, and Gouverneur's mausoleum, whose half-sunken entrance is sheltered by a huge elm, the shape of a golf umbrella. There is nothing else to see.
The congregation, like the neighborhood, is almost entirely Hispanic, and I cannot imagine that they give much thought to the father of their church's founder. In this they are not alone. Only the most comprehensive guides to the city mention Morris's grave. Morris himself has been the subject of only nine books (two of them in French). Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, probably gets nine books written about him every five years. Amazingly, there are now three biographies of Morris in the works, including one by me, so his ship may be coming in at last. But for almost 200 years, he has been off the map of our minds.
One small but important barrier to appreciation is surely his first name, which was his mother's maiden name. Those exotic u's give no clue to their pronunciation. If we attempt French vowels, we sound clumsy or pretentious. If we Americanize the name, people will ask what state he was governor of. Abigail Adams, who spelled phonetically, wrote him down as "Governeer." That will have to do for an answer-it is the best clue we are likely to find.
Another barrier to Morris's reputation is the curse of New York. If the author of the Constitution had been born in Boston or Virginia, his grave would be on walking tours and heritage trails. There would be a statue by Houdon, and docents in ruffled shirts and mobcaps. New York, which produced great Founding Fathers-Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with Morris-counts its daily returns and moves on.
Yet there is a deeper reason for Morris's obscurity. He does not fit the template of what we think a Founding Father should be.
Morris was a funny man. The Founders mostly were not, and we would not wish them to have been otherwise, for they had serious work to do. Franklin could be funny when he chose to be, and John Adams was funny when he couldn't help it, usually when he was enumerating the vices of some enemy. But Washington leading his troops, Jefferson and Madison contemplating their theories, and Hamilton balancing the books were all earnest men, not to be distracted from their duties.
A good joke always distracted Morris. The one story about him that everyone knows is about a humorous bet. At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton, a fellow delegate, offered to buy Morris dinner if he would go up to George Washington, president of the Convention, hero of the Revolution, and father of his country, slap him on the shoulder, and say, "My dear General, I am glad to see you looking so well." Morris slapped his slap and won his dinner, but said afterward that the look Washington gave him had been the worst moment of his life. The story is probably not true-when it first appears, years after the fact, it is already in two versions, one of them not set at the Convention. There is yet a third version, in which Morris slaps the back of Baron von Steuben. Like many an apocryphal tale involving Churchill or Lincoln, this is a play in search of characters. The story does, however, tell a truth about Morris-he is cast as the backslapper because his contemporaries expected impudence and a light heart from him. For years the sober-minded called him "fickle" and "inconstant," while those who were bored or oppressed with overwork appreciated his good humor. "Mr. Morris," wrote one Philadelphia belle, "kept us in a perpetual smile."
Another way in which Morris stands out from his peers is not evident to us, though it was to him, and that is his background-all those forefathers listed on the wall of St. Ann's. Most of the Founders were men of wealth or at least middling means. Several of them had been involved in colonial politics before the imperial system began showing its pre-revolutionary strains in the mid-1760s. But Morrises had belonged to the governing elite of three colonies. Gouverneur's grandfather, Lewis Morris, was the leader of one of the two factions that divided the New York colonial assembly between them (broadly speaking, the lineup pitted merchants and Anglicans vs. landowners and other Protestants). In this role, Grandfather Morris tormented colonial governors of New York so successfully that London had to buy him off by making him governor of New Jersey. Gouverneur's uncle, Robert Hunter Morris, became governor of Pennsylvania. When he took his job he asked a leading politician, Benjamin Franklin, how he would get along with the colony's legislators. Franklin told him he would get along well, so long as he did not quarrel with them. "You know I love disputing," the new governor answered. "It is one of my great pleasures." For Gouverneur Morris, power lacked the charm of unfamiliarity. It was something he could always take or leave, because his family had taken so much of it.
A third distinguishing characteristic of Gouverneur Morris can only be called affliction. Morris was handsome, intelligent, rich, and successful. But he also lived through more than his share of troubles, two of them especially painful and disfiguring. When he was home from school at age 14, he upset a kettle of boiling water on his right side, burning his arm so badly that the doctor feared gangrene. The arm was saved, but one man who saw it, or heard of it, described the limb as "fleshless."
As if to emphasize some point about the frailty of the flesh, fate next deprived Morris of a leg. When he was 28 years old, he was mounting a carriage in haste when the horses started up. His left foot was caught in the spokes of the wheel, and the ankle was mangled. The doctors who attended him-his own was out of town-removed the leg below the knee. When his own doctor returned, he opined that the leg could have been saved.
Morris never complained, except when he occasionally slipped on muddy cobblestones. His injuries never slowed him down-he danced, rode, and sailed all his life, and pursued other sports to which we shall turn-and his arm at least could be concealed. But every day when he looked at himself, he saw what he lacked. The Founders who fought in the Revolution saw death and destruction, but that is what soldiers expect. Franklin and Hamilton rose from poverty, and Hamilton from shame, but they could imagine that they had put it all behind them. Morris bore the inescapable mark of two heavy blows. Perhaps as a result, he believed even less than his realistic colleagues that all problems could be fixed by human ingenuity.
He was certainly unusually sympathetic to fellow sufferers. In the stress of the American Revolution, one of Morris's friends, by no means a die-hard Tory but unwilling to become an active rebel, felt obliged to move to England. "I would to God," Morris wrote him, "that every tear could be wiped from every eye. But so long as there are men, so long it will and must happen that they will minister to the miseries of each other. . . . It is your misfortune to be one out of the many who have suffered. In your philosophy, in yourself, in the consciousness of acting as you think right, you are to seek consolation." To his aged mother, at a time when public business kept them apart, he offered a measure of grave hope. "There is enough of sorrow in this world, without looking into futurity for it. Hope the best. If it happens, well; if not, it will then be time enough to be afflicted, and at any rate the intermediate space will be well filled."
When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, Morris had been living in Philadelphia, first as a congressman and assistant superintendent of finance, then as a lawyer and businessman, for nine years; he was chosen to serve as a delegate from Pennsylvania rather than his native New York. He had not sought the appointment, which took him by surprise, but he threw himself into the Convention's work, giving more speeches than any other delegate, even though he missed a month of meetings, and serving on the Committee of Style, which gave him the job of putting all the resolutions into words. Unlike Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration, Morris mostly worked up preexisting material, though he did it very well. "The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris," said James Madison. "A better choice could not have been made." The preamble, however, was altogether Morris's own. The draft supplied by the Committee of Detail simply began: "We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts . . . " and so on, through Georgia. Morris transformed this into a little essay on the ends of government, whose authority he derived from "the people of the United States," as citizens of the whole, not of its parts.
His first experience of constitution writing had come in 1777, when he was a member of the New York Provincial Congress that had the task of writing the state's first post-independence constitution in Kingston, New York. (The Provincial Congress had fled New York City, White Plains, and Fishkill steps ahead of British armies and would flee Kingston for the tiny villages of Marble Town and Hurley.)
At 25, Morris was one of the youngest members, but he and his good friends John Jay and Robert Livingston took leading roles in the deliberations.
At neither the state nor the national convention-nor at any time in his career-was Morris a democrat. His first political letter, written when he was 22, described a turbulent New York City meeting in 1774 to discuss British iniquities. Young Morris, observing the scene from a balcony, wrote this haughty description. "The mob being to think and reason. Poor reptiles! It is with them a vernal morning, they are struggling to cast off their winter's slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite." He never changed these views. In Kingston in 1777, he moved to raise the property qualifications for voting in Assembly elections to £20, or about $780. In Philadelphia in 1787, he argued that the few and the many were inevitable rivals, and that each be given a house of the legislature to dominate, to prevent their contentions from rending the state.
In Philadelphia, Morris gave his anti-reptilian politics an additional twist, arguing that enfranchising the poor would empower the rich. "Give the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them." Anyone who would dismiss this argument out of hand should be required to explain what the endless battles over campaign finance reform are about, if not the fear that rich contributors will buy lawmakers. And how do they buy them? Seldom by outright bribery: generally by footing the bills for their campaigns-campaigns that have swollen in cost in the effort to woo the mass of often indifferent voters. Today reformers attack the demand side, proposing to restrict spending. Morris looked at the supply side and proposed to restrict voting. But it is the same problem.
Though he doubted the efficacy of the franchise, Morris was a dogged defender of rights. Even though the Morris family had owned slaves for generations, Morris unsuccessfully moved that the New York constitution condemn slavery and he gave a blazing anti-slavery speech at the Constitutional Convention, attacking his home state, among others. "Travel through the whole continent and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave the eastern states [New England] and enter New York, the effects of the institution become visible; passing through the Jerseys and entering Pennsylvania [which forbade slavery] every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly and every step you take through the great region of slaves presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings."
Morris was ahead of his time in these views. He had more luck in Kingston defending the rights of Roman Catholics. John Jay's grandfather had been a Huguenot refugee from the anti-Protestant persecutions of Louis XIV, and Jay vowed to "erect a wall of brass" against Catholicism in New York, tirelessly advancing restrictive measures. Morris just as tirelessly shot them down, not out of sympathy for Catholicism-when he lived among European Catholics in the 1790s, he found the clergy corrupt and the laity superstitious and stupid-but out of a conviction that men should be allowed to believe what they would. "[M]atters of conscience and faith, whether political or religious, are as much out of the province, as they are beyond the ken of human legislatures."
Morris defended rights because he believed his social position obliged him to. In 1775, James Rivington, a Loyalist printer in New York City, drew the hostile attention of the Sons of Liberty, who sicced both the law and the mob on him. Morris intervened with powerful friends on Rivington's behalf, ending one letter with this credo: "I plead the cause of humanity to a gentleman." Here the Enlightenment and the class system both speak at their best. As a political thinker, Morris believed that humanity had rights; as the descendant of governors, he believed that a gentleman should defend the rights of others, even of those whom in other contexts he called "reptiles."
The Rivington episode highlights a truth about the American Revolution that we have forgotten, but that the participants knew well-that both the war and the politics had their dark side. Morris knew it better than many revolutionaries, since New York, thanks to multiple British invasions and a divided populace, had the bitterest wartime experience of any northern state. In October 1777, the British burned Kingston, then New York's third-largest town, for no military reason except to terrorize a place where the state legislature had sat. Morris and his fellow lawmakers escaped a few days ahead of the British force, and Morris wrote a letter describing the local Dutch families weeping as they loaded their possessions on wagons. Morris's own family was politically split: one elder half-brother signed the Declaration of Independence; another was a general in the British army. Morris's mother was a Loyalist throughout the war; two of his sisters married Loyalists; a third sister married a patriot, but her father-in-law turned Loyalist. Morris kept in touch with his family members on the other side throughout the Revolution, even though his political enemies, who included a crazy brother of John Jay, questioned his loyalty for doing so.
For all the destruction of war and the pain of divided loyalty, Morris never doubted the justice of the American cause or its eventual triumph. In the darkest days of the Valley Forge winter, he wrote Robert Livingston: "This is the seed time of glory as of freedom."
Morris saw revolutionary politics at its worst when he lived in Paris from March 1789 to October 1794. He first went to Paris as a businessman, and in 1791, Washington appointed him minister to succeed Thomas Jefferson. Morris kept a detailed diary, which French and American historians have quarried ever since portions of it were first published in 1832.
Morris knew the liberal aristocrats who led the Revolution in its early phase, some of whom, like the Marquis de Lafayette, he had met when they served in the American Revolution. He found them intelligent, well-read about politics, and pleasant company. But he never thought that they had the slightest chance of successfully reforming, or even running, the state. His savage estimate of Lafayette-"there is no drawing the sound of a trumpet from a whistle"-is typical.
The French Revolution would fail, Morris believed, because the French elites lacked political experience. Versailles had sucked all initiative to itself, and there were no tried and tested Frenchmen-no Morrises-to rule in its stead. Ten days before the fall of the Bastille, he wrote an American friend that "our American example has done [the French good]; but like all novelties, liberty runs away with their discretion, if they have any. They want an American constitution . . . without reflecting that they have not American citizens to support that constitution." Morris predicted the revolution would end in despotism, either through a royalist reaction or revolutionary tyranny. In time, France would get both.
The first taste in Morris's diary of what is to come occurs on July 22, 1789. After a day of business, Morris has dinner and coffee at his club. "After dinner walk a little under the arcade of the Palais Royal waiting for my carriage. In this period the head and body of M. de Foulon [an unpopular government minister] are introduced in triumph. The head on a pike, the body dragged naked on the earth. Afterwards this horrible exhibition is carried through the different streets. . . . Gracious God what a People!" The next entry goes back to business, as normality seemingly returns. But the horrible outbreaks recur, more and more rapidly, until they are the norm. By December 1793, Morris is writing: "Some days ago a man applied to the [government] for damages done to his quarry. . . . The damage done to him was by the number of dead bodies thrown into his pit and which choked it up so that he could not get men to work at it." Morris's diary is like the Berlin novels of Christopher Isherwood, on a higher social plane, but with the same sense of descending into a political and social whirlpool.
Like Isherwood's novels, Morris's diary is also full of sex. Morris's father had been 54 when Morris was born, and the age gap must have imprinted him, for he would not marry until he was 57. Until then, he pursued a series of love affairs. His friends Livingston and Jay teased him about his frequent "oblations to Venus," and Jay even wrote, after he lost his leg, that it might have been better if he had lost "something else." Morris was tall and handsome, which helped him cut a swath; in a perverse way, the peg leg apparently helped too. But the real key to his success with women was that he liked them, and he listened to them. (When I told a male friend this, he urged me not to reveal it, lest such behavior set the bar too high.) Morris's preferred lovers were married women with dull or vicious husbands. One of his American conquests, Sarah Apthorp Morton, was a wealthy poet and novelist, painted by Gilbert Stuart. Her life was not unclouded, however, for in 1788 her husband, Perez Morton, had seduced her sister, Frances, who then killed herself. Fifteen years later, Morris heard all this from Mrs. Morton as he was seducing her. Morris describes one dinner à trois with his lover and her brutish husband: "Monsieur was cordial all things considered."
But his most thoroughly documented affair is his relationship with another novelist, Adélaide de Flahaut. Her husband was a count, 30 years older than she. He held a no-show royal job, whose perks included two apartments in the Louvre, one for him and one for Adélaide and her many visitors.
Adélaide's lover when Morris first met her, and the father of her child, was Talleyrand, at that point in his career the bishop of Autun and a novice politician. Morris freely gave his rival political and constitutional advice, which caused Adélaide to say, "Enfin, mon Ami, vous et moi nous gouvernerons la France" (Well, my friend, you and I will govern France). "The kingdom is actually in much worse hands," he noted dryly in his diary.
Adélaide told Morris she wanted to leave her husband, marry him, and move to America. Morris refused, and also refused to see her only as a friend. So they kept snatching intimate moments-in her apartment, in the halls of the Louvre, in carriages, and in the convent where Adélaide's old governess lived.
The count was finally guillotined (he nobly turned himself in when the revolutionaries made a hostage of his lawyer). Adélaide fled the country, and Morris, the only diplomat to stay in Paris through the Terror, was asked to leave after the United States demanded the recall of the bumptious Citizen Genêt, the French diplomat who insulted George Washington and meddled in American politics. Morris never took his lover to America, and she finally married a Portuguese diplomat, who treated her well.
The reason for studying this affair, apart from its novelistic and prurient interest, is that sexual politics intersected with actual politics in the early stages of the French Revolution. The Revolution was an uprising of manly virtue against a corrupt and effeminate old regime, its court dominated by royal mistresses. Even the liberal wing of the aristocracy took its tone from the salons of bluestockings. The power and prominence of women seemed part and parcel of a decadent system. Rousseau had set the misogynistic tone in his Letter to D'Alembert. "Follow the hints of Nature, consult the good of society, and we will find that the two sexes must meet occasionally, but live apart." The chief victim of such talk would be Marie Antoinette, who became the subject of a flood of revolutionary pornography, in which the kindest epithet bestowed on her was "L'Autri-chienne," or the Austrian bitch (she was by birth a Hapsburg). This political gynophobia culminated in her trial in 1793, when she and her sister were accused-fantastically-of molesting her son.
Morris thought little enough of Louis XVI and his queen as political actors, but this campaign of vilification revolted him. As early as May 1789, at the opening of the Estates-General, he wrote of the first signs of public disrespect that "I cannot help feeling the mortification which the poor Queen meets with for I see only the woman and it seems unmanly to break a woman with unkindness." Two and a half years later, when things are very far gone, Morris sees her at another public function. This time, like the hero of a Hitchcock movie, caught in an indifferent crowd, he tries to show her sympathy and support. "I sit directly over her head and somebody I suppose tells her so, for she looks up at me. . . . My air, if I can know it myself, was that of calm benevolence with a little sensibility." In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke, no stranger to sensibility, noted that the revolutionaries regarded Marie Antoinette as a mere woman-and thus an animal "and an animal not of the highest order." For Morris, women were valued equals, and in the awful atmosphere of revolutionary Paris, his erotic life, however chaotic, made a political statement.
Morris stayed in Europe until 1799, earning the money that would enable him to buy the Morris estate from his half-brothers. He returned to the United States in time to witness the demise of the Federalists, his political party. When Jefferson and the victorious Republicans attacked the judiciary, the last Federalist bastion, by cutting down the number of federal judges and impeaching a Federalist justice of the Supreme Court, Morris became alarmed. When they launched the War of 1812, he despaired. He felt contempt for President Madison, whom he called a sexless drunkard; he thought the war was immoral and unwinnable, and when die-hard Federalists in New England began to plot secession, he cheered them on. The man who wrote the Constitution judged it to be a failure and was willing to scrap it-the one great error of his career.
Counterbalancing this misjudgment, however, were two autumnal achievements. Morris was an early and zealous advocate for the Erie Canal. He served as a commissioner and explored possible routes himself, trekking through the swamps of western New York. Lewis and Clark went farther and saw more, but DeWitt Clinton, Morris, and the other projectors of the Erie Canal, accomplished more, and their handiwork, by linking heartland farmers, East Coast merchants, and foreign markets, gave economic reality to the union whose political arrangements Morris had despaired of.
On Christmas Day 1809, Morris hosted a dinner party, which he described in his diary. "I marry this day Anne Cary Randolph, no small surprise to my guests." Well might they have been surprised, since Nancy Randolph was 22 years younger than her new husband, and his housekeeper.
Her story was as interesting as his. As a Randolph, Nancy belonged to a first family of Virginia. But in 1793, when she was 19, she was rumored to have conceived a child by Richard Randolph, her cousin and brother-in-law, and then to have killed it the night it was born. She claimed that the father was yet another Randolph, who had (conveniently?) died, and that her baby was stillborn. When Richard was indicted for the affair, he hired the first and greatest Dream Team-Patrick Henry and John Marshall. He was acquitted; but, the double standard being what it was, Nancy lived under a cloud until her relations, tiring of her, banished her from the Dominion State. She found her way to New York, where she taught school, until Morris hired her and wooed her. The late marriage enraged his nieces and nephews, who had hoped to be his heirs. One was unwise enough to tell him so by letter. His answer was pure Morris. "If the world were to live with my wife, I should certainly have consulted its taste." Nancy and Gouverneur had a devoted marriage and one son; she survived him by 21 years.
In the last year of his life, Morris corrected even his great political mistake. The Battle of New Orleans ended both the War of 1812 and the secessionist movement, and Morris advised his fellow Federalists not even to contest the election of 1816. "If our country be delivered, what does it signify whether those who [save it] wear a federal or a democratic cloak?"
Morris died in November 1816, in the same room in which he had been born. The house is long gone, as is the estate, except for the son's church. If Morris could come back and see the little that remains of his patrimony and his reputation, I think he would be less disturbed by the prospect than any other Founder. He had enjoyed his life; let the strangers on 138th Street enjoy theirs.
Morris, as a champion of religious freedom at the New York Constitutional Convention, and as author of the preamble of the American Constitution, was an important Founding Father, but he was also something less important but still necessary-a gentleman. The Founders can show us how to live as citizens. Morris can show us how to live our daily lives-how to enjoy its blessings and bear its hurts with good spirit and humanity.
The ablest man among the New York delegates in the Continental Congress was Gouverneur Morris. He was born at Morrisania, near the city of New York, on the 31st of January, 1752. Being of a wealthy family, he enjoyed the advantages of a complete classical education. He graduated at King's College, in May, 1768. Immediately after he entered the office of William Smith (the historian of the colony) as a student of law. In 1771, he was licensed to practice law. His proficiency in all his studies was remarkable. He acquired early much reputation as a man of brilliant talents and various promise. His person, address, manners, elocution, were of a superior order. In May, 1775, Mr. Morris was chosen a delegate to the Provincial Congress of New York. In June of that year, he served on a committee with General Montgomery, to confer with General Washington respecting the manner of his introduction to the Congress. He entered with zeal and efficiency into all the questions and proceedings which referred to a vigorous resistance to the pretensions of the mother country.
In December, 1776, Mr. Morris acted as one of the committee for drafting a constitution for the State of New York, which was reported in March, and adopted in April, of that year, after repeated and very able debates, in which Jay, Morris, and Robert R. Livingston were the principal speakers. 'in July, 1777, he served as a member of a committee from the New York Congress, to repair to the headquarters of Schuyler's army, to inquire into the causes of the evacuation of Ticonderoga. In October of that year he joined the Continental Congress at York, Pennsylvania, and, in 1778, wrote the patriotic and successful pamphlet called Observations on the American Revolution, which he published at the beginning of 1779. We must refer to the journals of Congress for an account of his many and valuable services, rendered in that body to the Revolutionary cause. In July, 1781, he accepted the post of assistant superintendent of finance, as the colleague of Robert Morris. He filled every office to which he was called with characteristic zeal and ability.
After the war of the Revolution, this active man embarked with Robert Morris in mercantile enterprises. In 1785, he published an Address to the Assembly of Pennsylvania on the Abolition of the Bank of North America, in which he cogently argued against that project. In December, 1786, he purchased from his brother the fine estate of Morrisania, and made it his dwelling-place. Here he devoted himself to liberal studies. In the following year, he served with distinction as a member of the convention for framing the constitution of the United States. December 15, 1788, he sailed for France, where he was occupied in selling lands and pursuing money speculations until March, 1790, when he proceeded to London as private agent of the American government with regard to the conditions of the old treaty, and the inclination of the British cabinet to form a commercial treaty. In November, 1790, he returned to Paris, having made a tour in Germany. In the interval between this period and the beginning of the year 1792, he passed several times on public business between the British and French capitals. February 6, 1792, he received his appointment as minister plenipotentiary to France, and was presented to the king, June 3d. He held this station with great eclat until October, 1794. He witnessed the most interesting scenes of the Revolution in the capital, and maintained personal intercourse with the conspicuous politicians of the several parties. The abundant memorials which he has left of his sojourn in France, and his travels on the European continent, possess the highest interest and much historical value, he made extensive journeys after he ceased to be minister plenipotentiary, of which he kept a a full diary.
In the autumn of 1798, Mr. Morris returned to the United States, to engage in politics, with enhanced celebrity and a large additional stock of political and literary knowledge. He was universally admitted to be one of the most accomplished and prominent gentlemen of his country. In 1800, he entered the Senate of the United States, where his eloquence and information made him conspicuous. The two eulogies which he pronounced--one on General Washington, and the other at the funeral of General Hamilton--are specimens of his rhetorical style. His delivery was excellent. Mr. Morris, at an early period, gave special and sagacious attention to the project of that grand canal by which the State of New York has been so much honored and benefited. In the summer of 1810 he examined the canal route to Lake Erie. The share which he had in originating and promoting that noble work, is stated in the regular history which has been published of its conception and progress. In May, 1812, he pronounced a public and impressive eulogium on the venerable George Clinton; in the same year, an oration before the New York Historical Society; in 1814, another on the restoration of the Bourbons in France; in 1816, a discourse before the New York Historical Society. Mr. Morris died at Morrisania, November 5, 1816. He passed the latter years of his life at Morrisania, exercising an elegant and munificent hospitality, reviewing the studies of his early days, and carrying on a very interesting commerce of letters with statesmen and literati in Europe and America. The activity of his mind, the richness of his fancy, and the copiousness of his eloquent conversation, were the admiration of all his acquaintance.
Source: Marshall, James V. The United States Manual of Biography and History. Philadelphia: James B. Smith & Co., 1856. Pages 137-139.
MORRIS, Gouverneur, 1752-1816
Senate Years of Service: 1800-1803
MORRIS, Gouverneur, (half brother of Lewis Morris and uncle of Lewis Richard Morris), a Delegate and a Senator from New York; born in Morrisania (now a part of New York City), N.Y., January 31, 1752; instructed by private tutors; graduated from Kings College (now Columbia University), New York, in 1768; studied law; was admitted to the colonial bar in 1771 and commenced practice in New York City; member, New York provincial congress 1775-1777; lieutenant colonel in the State militia in 1776; member of the committee to prepare a form of government for the State of New York in 1776; member of the first State council of safety in 1777; member, first State assembly 1777-1778; Member of the Continental Congress in 1778 and 1779; signer of the Articles of Confederation in 1778; moved to Philadelphia in 1779; appointed assistant superintendent of finance 1781-1785; Pennsylvania delegate to the convention that framed the Constitution of the United States in 1787; returned to live in New York in 1788; went to Europe on business in 1789; Minister Plenipotentiary to France 1792-1794; returned to the United States in 1798; elected in 1800 as a Federalist to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of James Watson and served from April 3, 1800, to March 3, 1803; unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1802; chairman of the Erie Canal Commission 1810-1813; author on legal and political subjects; died in Morrisania, N.Y., November 6, 1816; interment in St. Anne's Episcopal Churchyard, Bronx, N.Y.
Birth: 31 January 1752, at "Morrisania," Westchester County, New York
Death: 6 November 1816, at Morrisania, New York
Interment: St. Anne's Episcopal Church Cemetery, The Bronx, New York
Gouverneur Morris, who represented Pennsylvania at the Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, was the author of much of the Constitution. The noble phrases of that document's Preamble—"We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union"—sprang from his gifted mind, and, like the finely wrought clauses that followed, clearly mirrored his personal political philosophy. Morris was perhaps the most outspoken nationalist among the Founding Fathers. Although born into a world of wealth and aristocratic values, he had come to champion the concept of a free citizenry united in an independent nation. In an age when most still thought of themselves as citizens of their sovereign and separate states, Morris was able to articulate a clear vision of a new and powerful union. He was, as Theodore Roosevelt later put it, "emphatically an American first."
Morris witnessed two of history's greatest revolutions, and both had a profound influence on his idea of government. His service as a soldier and as a key member of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution convinced him that a strong central government was needed to preserve and enhance the liberties and boundless opportunities won in the war. As ambassador to Paris during the cataclysmic French Revolution, he came to fear the excesses of power that could be perpetrated in the name of liberty. Influenced by these events, he would later reject what he saw as unjustified assertions of authority by his own government.
Morris was an indifferent politician. His career suffered repeatedly from his frankness and impulsive and caustic tongue. Nevertheless, his personal contribution to the cause of union exceeded that of many of his colleagues. Devoted to the ideal of a united country, he fought wholeheartedly for it despite his certainty that the new political and social order he was helping to shape would have little use for patricians like himself.
The Morris family of New York, descended from Welsh soldiers, represented the closest thing to an aristocracy that could be found in colonial America. Morris' father had inherited a large manor in Westchester County, but his economic and political interests extended to nearby colonies as well. He raised two families. Gouverneur, the only son of the second marriage, knew that he would inherit only a small share of the estate and would have to work to retain the comforts and privileges of his forebears.
Morris attended local preparatory schools, and then enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) in New York City at the age of twelve. Here the young scholar, displaying flashes of academic brilliance, along with a streak of laziness, graduated in 1768. His speech on receiving a master's degree in 1771 reflected the ideals of his Enlightenment education as well as his own emerging political philosophy when he asserted that "love of country, for a British subject, is based on the solid foundation of liberty."
Morris was admitted to the bar after three years of study with William Smith, one of New York's leading legal minds and a strong opponent of British policies toward the colonies. The new lawyer's social status, combined with his natural wit and aristocratic grace, gave him ready access to the colony's leaders. His mentor, who had successfully instilled in Morris a greater sense of mental discipline, urged him to exploit these contacts and introduced him to rising young Patriots like John Jay and Alexander Hamilton.
Morris' political career began in 1775 when he was elected to represent the family manor in New York's Provincial Congress, an extralegal assembly organized by the Patriots to direct the transition to independence. He soon discovered that the cauldron of revolutionary events imposed a personal choice from which there could be no drawing back. Class identity and family ties should have inclined him away from revolution. Morris' half-brother was a senior officer in the British Army, his mother remained a staunch Loyalist, and Smith, now with almost a father's influence, has precipitously abandoned the Patriot cause when he saw it heading toward independence. Like many of his contemporaries, however, Morris adhered to the principle that, as he put it, "in every society the members have a right to the utmost liberty that can be enjoyed consistent with the general safety.
Morris could have avoided military service. He was physically handicapped—scalding water had badly damaged his right arm in a childhood accident—and as a legislator he was automatically exempted from militia duty. But he viewed active service as a moral obligation and joined one of the special militia companies proliferating in New York City. These units, predecessors of the modern National Guard, trained in uniforms the members purchased themselves and acted as the city's Minutemen. By early 1776 they formed two complete regiments. Morris was asked to serve as second in command in his regiment, but withdrew when it declined transfer to the Continental Army.
Morris' major contribution to the Patriot cause lay in the political realm. As a member of the Provincial Congress, he concentrated on the formidable task of transforming the colony into an independent state. The new states constitution was largely his work. He also displayed hitherto unsuspected financial skills, emerging as chairman of the legislatures Ways and Means Committee, which was charged with funding the state's war effort. This newfound interest in detail and his willingness to undertake hard work led to numerous other assignments, including revitalizing the militia and restraining suspected Loyalists. His knack for providing a political solution to military problems led to a series of special missions. In May 1776 the state picked him to coordinate defense measures with both George Washington's main army and the Continental Congress. When the British invaded New York City and overran much of Westchester County in the fall, Morris found himself a refugee. His mother, whom he would not see for seven years, turned the family estate over to the enemy for military use. During this campaign his old regiment saw duty, and Morris probably rejoined it as a volunteer.
In 1777 he served as a member of the New York Committee of Safety. In this capacity Morris visited the northern front in the aftermath of the British capture of Fort Ticonderoga to coordinate state support of the continentals operating in that area, and then journeyed to Washington's headquarters to plead for reinforcements. In October he again took to the field as a militia volunteer, serving as an aide to Governor George Clinton during the unsuccessful American defense of the strategic Hudson Highlands fortifications.
Since his home was in enemy-occupied territory, Morris was ineligible to seek election to the new legislature. He rejected appointment to that body as an undemocratic procedure, but agreed to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress. His major contribution to the American military effort began on 20 January 1778, the day he took his seat in Congress, when he was selected to serve on a committee being sent to Valley Forge to coordinate military reforms with Washington. The sight of the troops in the snow-he called them "an army of skeletons . . . naked, starved, sick, discouraged" shocked him, for he considered the continentals "the heart of America." Morris threw himself into this organizational work, serving as the Continental Army's spokesman in Congress. His support for Washington, Nathanael Greene, and Frederick von Steuben contributed directly to the success of the training and structural reforms thrashed out in the snows of Valley Forge and in the meeting rooms of Congress.
Other assignments quickly established him as a leading proponent of stronger central authority, but these nationalist views were more advanced than the thinking of most of his New York constituents. This growing estrangement, compounded by his often unstatesmanlike frankness and sarcasm, cost him reelection to Congress in 1779. Political rejection led him to resettle in Philadelphia, where he took up the life of lawyer and merchant. His interest in financial matters led to an association with the noted Patriot financier Robert Morris (no relation), and when the latter was appointed in 1781 as Minister of Finance-a sort of treasury secretary under the Articles of Confederation-Gouverneur Morris became his assistant. Together the two men participated in the informal cabinet system that arose during the closing years of the war. Through their efforts, Congress' finances were stabilized and logistical arrangements were successfully made for the crucial Yorktown campaign. In 1782 Morris introduced the idea of decimal coinage (he invented the word "cent") that later became the basis of the nation's currency.
During the years immediately following the Revolution, Morris continued to live and work in Philadelphia, although he visited the family estate and reconciled with his mother. In fact, he made a special effort to encourage former Loyalists to participate in political affairs, arguing that as Americans they should cast their lot with the new nation. Although he remained a leading spokesman for nationalist issues, he seemed genuinely surprised when the Pennsylvania legislature selected him to represent the state at the Constitutional Convention.
The sessions of the Convention held in Philadelphia during the summer and early fall of 1787 represented the high point of Morris' public career. He went to the Convention viewing himself not just as a delegate from a particular state or even as an American, but, in his own words, "in some degree as a representative of the whole human race." For once in his life he avoided the bluntness and sarcasm that so often had diluted his usefulness to the cause of nationalism. He employed his considerable social and verbal skills to help smooth over issues that threatened to divide the delegates, and then subtly used his position as primary draftsman to strengthen the final version of the Constitution (much as Jefferson had done as author of the Declaration of Independence). During the Convention debates, he defended ideas that had been associated with him ever since he had helped write the New York constitution in 1776: religious liberty, opposition to slavery, the right of property as the foundation of society, the rule of law, and the consent of the governed as the basis of government. His aims were ambitious and reflected his vision of a government that would serve as an example to the rest of the world.
Morris' later career never matched the level attained at the Convention. In 1789 he left for Europe on business, where he remained for a decade. During that time he twice served the new government. In 1790 he acted as a diplomatic agent for President Washington in London to resolve issues left unsettled by the peace treaty. He later replaced Jefferson as ambassador to France, then in the throes of its own revolution. Neither mission proved successful, although he did display great personal courage as the only diplomat who refused to flee Paris during the bloody Reign of Terror.
Morris returned to New York in 1798, settling in the family manor that he had purchased from an older brother. He became active in the Federalist party, allying himself with his friend Alexander Hamilton. The party secured his appointment to fill an unexpired term in the United States Senate, but he lacked the political popularity to win the position in his own right at the next election. Once again a private citizen, he helped lead the effort to create the Erie Canal, a project that dramatically altered the history of western development.
During the last decade of his life Morris became increasingly disenchanted with the policies of President Jefferson and his successors. Although he supported the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory, he was particularly virulent in his condemnation of the government's restrictive economic policies and controls during the War of 1812. But no matter how angry he became with the new generation of political leaders, he never lost sight of the values of nationhood. In 1802 Morris summarized his best sentiments in a letter to fellow signer John Dickinson: "In adopting a republican form of government, I not only took it as a man does his wife, for better for worse, but what few men do with their wives, I took it knowing all its bad qualities."
Father: Lewis MORRIS b: 25 Sep 1698 in Tinton, Monmouth, NJ
Mother: Sarah GOUVERNEUR b: 14 Oct 1726 in NY
Anne Cary RANDOLPH b: 16 Sep 1774 in Tuckahoe, Henrico Co, VA
25 Dec 1809
in Morrisania, Bronx, NY; St. Ann's 5
- Change Date:
5 Jan 2006
- Gouverneur MORRIS b: 9 Feb 1813 in NY
- Abbrev: Source
Theodore Roosevelt, Gouverneur Morris (Boston, 1889), p.
- Abbrev: Source
Fred Bowman, "10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York 1777-1834" (Baltimore, 1987), p.
- Abbrev: Source
Robert R. Hall, "St. Ann's Church of Morrisania," THE BRONX COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY JOURNAL, XVIII (Fall, 1981), pp. 54-55. A photocopy is in my possession.
- Abbrev: Source
Family Bible Record of Lewis Morris of Morrisiana, NY (Amsterdam: Pieter Rotterdam, 1714), New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 7 1875- 1876, pp. 16-18.
- Abbrev: Source
Fred Bowman, "10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York 1777-1834" (Baltimore, 1987), p.