Gouverneur Morris: Wikis


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Illus. in: Portraits of generals, ministers, magistrates, members of Congress, and others, who have rendered themselves illustrious in the revolution of the United States of North America / Du Simitière. London : R. Wilkinson and J. Debrett, 1763, no. 9. After a drawing by Pierre Eugène Du Simitière.

Gouverneur Morris (January 31, 1752 – November 6, 1816) was an American statesman and a native of New York who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was also an author of large sections of the Constitution of the United States and one of its "signers". He is widely credited as the author of the document's preamble: "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union ... " and has been called the 'Penman of the Constitution.'[1] In an era when most Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their respective states, Morris advanced the idea of being a citizen of a single union of states.[2]

A gifted scholar, Morris enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) at age twelve, in 1764. He graduated in 1768 and received a master's degree in 1771.


Political career

On 8 May 1775,[3] Morris was elected to represent his family estate, in southern Westchester County (now Bronx County), in the New York Provincial Congress, an extralegal assembly. As a member of the congress, he, along with most of his fellow delegates, concentrated on turning the colony into an independent state. However, his advocacy of independence brought him into conflict with his family, as well as with his mentor, William Smith, who had abandoned the patriot cause when it pressed toward independence. Twenty-five-year-old Morris was largely responsible for the 1777 constitution of the newborn state of New York.

After the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, the British seized New York City and his family's estate across the Harlem River from Manhattan. His mother, a loyalist, gave the estate to the British for military use. Because his home was now in the possession of the enemy, he was no longer eligible for election to the New York state legislature; instead, he was appointed to be a delegate to the Continental Congress.

He took his seat in Congress on 28 January 1778, and he was immediately selected to a committee in charge of coordinating with General Washington reforms of the military. After witnessing the army encamped at Valley Forge, he was so appalled by the conditions of the troops that he became the spokesman for the Continental Army in Congress, and he saved the army by pushing for substantial reforms in its training, methods, and financing. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778.

In 1779, he was defeated for re-election to Congress, largely because his advocacy of a strong central government was at odds with the decentralist views prevalent in New York. Defeated in his home state, he moved to Philadelphia to work as a lawyer and merchant.

In 1780, at age twenty-eight, Morris's left leg was shattered and replaced with a wooden pegleg. Reportedly, he liked trains and turtles, and he managed to dance well on his wooden leg. Morris's public account for the loss of his leg was that it happened in a carriage accident, but there is evidence that this was a false story concocted to cover for a dalliance with a woman, during which he jumped from a window to escape a jealous husband.[4] Morris was well-known throughout much of his life for having many affairs, with both married and unmarried women, and he recorded many of these adventures and misadventures in his diary. Despite an automatic exemption from military duty because of his handicap and his service in the legislature, he joined a special "briefs" club for the protection of New York City, a forerunner of the modern New York Guard.

In Philadelphia, he was appointed assistant superintendent of finance (1781-1785), and he was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He resumed his residence in New York in 1788.

Before the Constitutional Convention, Morris lived in Philadelphia where he worked as a merchant for some time. After that, he began to become interested in financial affairs, so he started to work with Robert Morris (no relation). Robert Morris and George Washington then recommended him for the convention because of what he did.

During the Philadelphia Convention, he was a friend and ally of George Washington and others who favored a strong central government. Morris was elected to serve on a committee of five (chaired by William Samuel Johnson) who drafted the final language of the proposed constitution. Catherine Drinker Bowen, in Miracle at Philadelphia, called Morris the committee's "amanuensis," meaning that it was his pen that was responsible for most of the draft, as well as its final polished form.[5]

"An aristocrat to the core," Morris believed that "there never was, nor ever will be a civilized Society without an Aristocracy".[6] He also thought that common people were incapable of self-government because he feared that the poor would sell their votes to the rich. Consequently, he thought that voting should be restricted to property owners. Morris also opposed admitting new western states on an equal basis with the existing eastern states, fearing that the interior wilderness could not furnish "enlightened" statesmen to the country.[7]

At the convention he gave more speeches than any other delegate, a total of 173. Morris has been categorized as a "theistic rationalist"[8] because he believed strongly in a guiding god and in morality as taught through religion. Nonetheless, he did not have much patience for any established religion. As a matter of principle, he often vigorously defended the right of anyone to practice his chosen religion without interference, and he argued to include such language in the Constitution.

Gouverneur Morris was one of the only delegates at the Philadelphia Convention who spoke openly against domestic slavery. According to James Madison who took notes at the Convention, Morris spoke openly against slavery on August 8th:

He [Gouverneur Morris] never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed. ...with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other states having slaves.... Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included?[9]

He went to Mexico on business in 1789 and served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France from 1792 to 1794. His diaries during that time have become an invaluable chronicle of the French Revolution, capturing much of the turbulence and violence of that era, as well as documenting his affairs with women there.

He returned to the United States in 1798, and he was elected in April 1800, as a Federalist, to the United States Senate, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of James Watson. He served from May 3, 1800, to March 3, 1803, but was defeated for re-election in February 1803.

After leaving the U.S. Senate, he served as Chairman of the Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1813. The Erie Canal helped to transform New York City into a financial capital, the possibilities of which were apparent to Morris when he said "the proudest empire in Europe is but a bubble compared to what America will be, must be, in the course of two centuries, perhaps of one."[10]

Family and legacy

At the age of 57, he married Anne Cary ("Nancy") Randolph, who was the sister of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., husband of Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph.

He died at the family estate, Morrisania, and he is buried at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Morris and his wife had a son, Gouverneur Jr., who eventually became a railroad executive.

Morris also established himself as an important landowner in northern New York, where the Town of Gouverneur and Village of Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County are named for him.

Morris's half-brother, Lewis Morris (1726-1798), was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Another half-brother, Staats Long Morris, was a loyalist and major-general in the British army during the American Revolution. His nephew, Lewis Richard Morris, served in the Vermont legislature and in the United States Congress. His grandnephew was William M. Meredith, United States Secretary of the Treasury under Zachary Taylor. Morris's great-grandson, also named Gouverneur (1876-1953), was an author of pulp novels and short stories during the early-twentieth century. (Several of his works were adapted into films, including the famous Lon Chaney, Sr. film, The Penalty.)[11][12]

In 1943, a United States liberty ship named the SS Gouverneur Morris was launched. She was scrapped in 1974.


  1. ^ [1] Documents from the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress at the Library of Congress
  2. ^ "Gouverneur Morris". http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/RevWar/ss/morrisg.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  3. ^ ANB "Gouverneur Morris"
  4. ^ "Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist, by Gregg Frazer. Page 26". Allacademic.com. http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/2/8/1/1/2/pages281125/p281125-25.php. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  5. ^ Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia. 1986 edition. p. 236.
  6. ^ "Toward An American Revolution". Cyberjournal.org. http://cyberjournal.org/authors/fresia/. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  7. ^ Bowen. p. 178.
  8. ^ "Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist, by Gregg Frazer". Allacademic.com. http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/2/8/1/1/2/pages281125/p281125-1.php. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  9. ^ James Madison (1787). "James Madison, The Debates in the Several State Conventions of the Adoption of the Federal Constitution vol. 5 [1827"]. http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1909&layout=html#chapter_112488. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  10. ^ Will Wilkinson from the July 2004 issue. "The Fun-Loving Founding Father. Gouverneur Morris, the first modern American. Will Wilkinson, Reason Magazine, July 2004". Reason.com. http://www.reason.com/news/show/29197.html. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  11. ^ "Browse By Author: M - Project Gutenberg". Gutenberg.org. 1916-07-01. http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/m#a1721. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  12. ^ "Gouverneur Morris". Imdb.com. 2009-05-01. http://imdb.com/name/nm0606563/. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 


  • Brookhiser, Richard (2003). Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2379-9. 
  • Crawford, Alan Pell (2000). Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman—and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-century America. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-83474-X.  (A biography of Morris's wife.)
  • Fresia, Jerry (1988). Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution & Other Illusions. Cambridge: South End Press. 
  • Miller, Melanie Randolph, Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution (Potomac Books, 2005)
  • The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, Minister of the United States to France; Member of the Constitutional Convention, ed. Anne Cary Morris (1888). 2 vols. online version
  • Swiggert, Howard (1952). The Extraordinary Mr. Morris. New York: Doubleday & Co.. 

External links

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William Short
U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to France
1792 – 1794
Succeeded by
James Monroe
United States Senate
Preceded by
James Watson
United States Senator (Class 1) from New York
1800 – 1803
Served alongside: John Armstrong, Jr., De Witt Clinton
Succeeded by
Theodorus Bailey

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GOUVERNEUR MORRIS (1752-1816), American statesman, was born in the old Morrisania manor house, in what is now the city of New York, on the 31st of January 1752. He graduated at King's College (now Columbia University) in 1768, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1771. New York, then in. the midst of the political disturbances which preceded the outbreak of the War of American Independence, offered a good opportunity for a public career, and Morris had the aristocratic connexions which tradition required.' An extreme aristocrat ' His great grandfather, Richard Morris, having fought in Cromwell's armies, emigrated to America on the restoration of Charles II., and founded the manor of Morrisania, in what was then New Netherland. His grandfather, Lewis Morris (1671-1746), inherited this in his political views, he distrusted the democratic tendencies of the Whigs, but a firm belief in the justice of the American cause led him to join their ranks. His half-brother, Staats Long Morris (1728-1800), was a Tory, fought in the British army, and became a major-General. Gouverneur served in the New York Provincial Congress in 1776-1777, was perhaps the leading advocate in that body of a declaration of independence, and after the Congress had become (July 1776) the "Convention of the Representatives of the state of New York," he served on the committee of that body which prepared the first draft of the state constitution. He served in the Continental Congress in 1 7771 779, and was enthusiastic in his support of Washington. In 1778 he was selected chairman of the committee to treat with Lord North's conciliation commissioners, and as such presented the famous report, adopted by a unanimous vote of Congress, which declared that the recognition of independence must precede any negotiations for peace. He settled in Philadelphia as a lawyer, and in February 1780 he published in Philadelphia a series of essays on finance, in which he criticized the issue of legal-tenders, denounced laws passed for the benefit of the debtor class, and urged the people to tax themselves for the common good. From 1781 to 1785 he was assistant to Robert Morris, superintendent of finance. In 1782 he prepared an elaborate report on the coinage, suggesting the use of the decimal system and of the terms dollar and cent. With some modifications introduced by Jefferson, notably the adoption of a higher unit of value (the dollar instead of one-tenth of a cent), this plan constitutes the basis of the present American system. Morris was one of Pennsylvania's representatives in the constitutional convention of 1787, and took an active part in the debates. His influence was weakened, however, by his cynicism and by his ultra-aristocratic views. He favoured a strong executive holding during good behaviour, an aristocratic senate appointed by the president for life, and the restriction of the suffrage to freeholders. The struggle which the frontier settlers of Pennsylvania had made in the state legislature to secure unlimited issues of paper money and the enactment of laws favourable to the debtor class prejudiced him against the West, and he tried to introduce into the constitution a clause guaranteeing forever the political supremacy of the states east of the Alleghanies. He was instrumental .. in securing the executive veto and in defeating the proposal that the legislature should elect the president. He also gave able support to the nationalistic and anti-slavery factions in the convention. He was the member of the committee of revision selected to draft the constitution in its final form, and that document is a monument to the vigour and simplicity of his literary style. In 1787 he bought Morrisania from Staats Long Morris, and returned to New York to live.

He went to France in February 1789 on private business, and remained abroad for nine years, passing most of the time in Paris, London, and the German capitals. In 1792 he acted as financial agent in a daring attempt to secure the escape of the king and queen from Paris. He was appointed United States minister to France in 1792, and was the only representative of a foreign country who remained at his post throughout the Reign of Terror; but his ill-concealed attitude of hostility to the Revolu manor and also a large estate from his uncle in Monmouth county, East Jersey. He was an influential advocate of the surrender of the proprietary government of the Jerseys to the Crown (1702), became a member of the New Jersey Council in 1703, was suspended 'by Governor Cornbury in 1704, was elected a member of the Assembly in 1707 and led that body in opposition to Cornbury, was reappointed to the Council under Governor Lovelace in 1708, was again suspended in 1709 by Lieut.-Governor Ingoldsby, was made President of the Council in 1710 under Governor Hunter, and in 1711, during Hunter's administration (1710-1719), of which he was a staunch supporter, was made a justice of the supreme court of New Jersey. He was chief justice of New York from about 1720 until 1733, was sent to England by the popular party late in 1734 to present their grievances to the king, and was governor of New Jersey from 1738 until his death on the 21st of May 1746. Gouverneur Morris's father, Lewis Morris (1698-1762), closed a long public career as judge of the vice-admiralty court of New York; his mother was descended from a French Protestant refugee, who had come to America to escape the persecution of Louis XIV.

tion gave offence, and in return for the recall of Genet, at the request of the United States, the French government, in 1794, asked for the recall of Morris. Business and pleasure, however, still detained him in Europe for four years longer. He returned to New York in 1798, resumed the practice of his profession, re-entered politics, and sat in the United States Senate as a Federalist from 1800 to 1803. As early as 1801 Morris became interested in projects for improving the communication between the Hudson river and Lake Erie, and from 1810 to 1816 he was chairman of the board of canal commissioners, which after exploring the country prepared plans for the Erie Canal. He was bitterly opposed to the war of 1812, and openly advocated the formation of a northern confederacy to escape the rule of the "Virginia dynasty." He died at Morrisania on the 6th of November 1816.

His half-brother, Lewis Morris (1726-1798), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was educated at Yale, served in the Continental Congress from 1775 until early in 1777, and went on a mission to the western frontier in 1775 to win over the Indians from the British to the American side. He joined the army as brigadier-general of militia in June 1778,, and served in the New York Senate in 1777-1781 and 1784-1790.

See The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris (2 vols., New York, '888), edited by Anne Cary Morris; Jared Sparks, Life of Gouverneur Morris (3 vols., Boston, 1832), the first volume being a biography and the second and third containing Morris's miscellaneous writings and addresses; and Theodore Roosevelt, Gouverneur Morris (Boston, 1888), in the "American Statesmen" series.

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Simple English

Gouverneur Morris (January 31, 1752 – November 6, 1816) was an American politician and diplomat from New York City. He was a delgate to the Contintental Congress. He was very active at the Constitutional Convention, giving more speeches than any other person and writing the Preamble. Later, he served as ambassador to France, Senator, and head of the group building the Erie Canal. He had a wooden leg.


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