Gouverneur Morris

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Gouverneur Morris I
Gouverneur Morris.jpg
"Gouverneur Morris Member of the Federal Convention of 1787." Engraver: J. Rogers.
United States Senator
from New York
In office
April 3, 1800 – March 3, 1803
Preceded by James Watson
Succeeded by Theodorus Bailey
Personal details
Born (1752-01-31)January 31, 1752
City of New York, Province of New York, British America
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Saint Ann’s Episcopal Church, The Bronx
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Anne Cary ("Nancy") Randolph (1774-1837)
Children Gouverneur Morris II
Alma mater Columbia University
Profession Attorney

Gouverneur Morris I (January 31, 1752 – November 6, 1816) was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. Morris 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, 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]

Early life

Coat of Arms of Gouverneur Morris

Morris was born in New York City in January 31, 1752, the son of Lewis Morris, Jr. (1698-1762) and his second wife, Sarah Gouverneur (1714-1786). Morris' first name derived from his mother's surname; she was from a Huguenot family that had first moved to Holland then to New Amsterdam.[3] According to Abigail Adams, Morris' first name was pronounced "governeer."[4]

Lewis Morris was a wealthy landowner and judge. A gifted scholar, at age 12 Gouverneur Morris enrolled at King's College, now Columbia College of Columbia University in New York City. He graduated in 1768, and received a Master's degree in 1771. He studied law with Judge William Smith, and attained admission to the bar in 1775.

Political career

On May 8, 1775,[5] Morris was elected to represent his family household in southern Westchester County (now Bronx County), in the New York Provincial Congress. 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. Morris was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1777–78.

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.

Morris was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and took his seat in Congress on 28 January 1778. He was immediately selected to a committee in charge of coordinating reforms of the military with George Washington. 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 subsequently helped enact substantial reforms in its training, methods, and financing. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778.

In 1778, when the Conway Cabal was at its peak, some members of the Continental Congress attempted a vote-of-no-confidence against George Washington. If it had succeeded, then George Washington would have been court-martialed and dismissed as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. At that time, Gouverneur Morris cast the decisive tie-breaking vote in favor of keeping George Washington as Commander-in-Chief.[6]

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, Pennsylvania, to work as a lawyer and merchant.

In 1780, Morris's left leg was shattered and had to be amputated, resulting in him using a wooden pegleg. His contemporary account was that he broke his leg when mounting or driving his carriage, and that the leg then got caught in the spokes of one of the wheels. Morris was well known for having many affairs, with both married and unmarried women, and jokes (some by Morris himself) and gossip caused some observers later to suggest that he injured his leg while fleeing a jealous husband.[7]

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.[8]

It is said by some that Morris was "an aristocrat to the core," who believed that "there never was, nor ever will be a civilized Society without an Aristocracy".[9] It is also alleged that he thought that common people were incapable of self-government because he feared that the poor would sell their votes to the rich, and that, consequently, 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" national statesmen.[10] Madison's summary of Morris's speech at the Convention, on July 11, 1787, said that his view "relative to the Western Country had not changed his opinion on that head. Among other objections it must be apparent they would not be able to furnish men equally enlightened, to share in the administration of our common interests." His reason given for that was regional: "The Busy haunts of men not the remote wilderness, was the proper school of political Talents. If the Western people get the power into their hands they will ruin the Atlantic interests." In this fear, he turned out to be in the minority. Jon Elster has suggested that Morris' attempt to limit the future power of the West was a strategic move designed to limit the power of slaveholding states, because Morris believed (incorrectly) that slavery would predominate in new Western states.[11]

At the convention he gave more speeches than any other delegate, a total of 173. 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.[12]

Gouverneur Morris was one of the few 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 8, 1787, saying that it was incongruous to say that a slave was both a man and property at the same time:

He [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. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & 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? The Houses in this city [Philadelphia] are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice swamps of South Carolina.

According to Madison, Morris felt that the U.S. Constitution's purpose was to protect the rights of humanity, and that to promote slavery was incongruous with it:

The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N. Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.[13]

He went to France on business in 1789 and served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France from 1792 to 1794. His diaries during that time have become a valuable chronicle of the French Revolution, capturing much of the turbulence and violence of that era, as well as documenting his affairs with women there. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, Morris was far more critical of the French Revolution and considerably more sympathetic to the deposed queen consort, Marie Antoinette.[14]

He returned to the United States in 1798, and 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.

On July 4, 1803 he was elected an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.

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."[15] There have been publishers who have described Morris' religious affiliation as deism.[16]

Morris was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814.[17]

Marriage and child

At the age of 57, he married 35-year-old Anne (or Ann) Cary ("Nancy") Randolph (1774-1837), who was the daughter of Ann Cary and Thomas Mann Randolph Sr., and the sister of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.[18] Thomas Mann Randolph was the husband of Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. Nancy lived near Farmville, Virginia with her sister Judith and Judith's husband Richard Randolph on a plantation called Bizarre.[19] In April 1793 Richard Randolph and Nancy were accused of murdering a newborn baby which was said to be Nancy's; presumably she had been having an affair with Richard.[20] Richard stood trial; he was defended by Patrick Henry and John Marshall, who obtained an acquittal.[21] Richard Randolph died suddenly in 1796; both sisters were suspected, but nothing was proven.[22] Nancy remained at Bizarre after her brother-in-law's death, but Judith asked to leave in 1805.[23]

She traveled north, and lived in Connecticut before agreeing in 1809 to work as a housekeeper for Morris, whom she had known previously.[24] They soon decided to marry; Morris was apparently undisturbed by the rumors that had caused Nancy to leave Virginia.[25] By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one;[26] they had a son, Gouverneur Morris Jr., who went on to a long career as a railroad executive.[27]


Morris' 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' 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 film, The Penalty.)[28][29]

Death and legacy

Morris died on November 6, 1816 after causing himself internal injuries and an infection while using a piece of whale bone as a catheter to attempt clearing a blockage in his urinary tract.[30][31] He died at the family estate, Morrisania, and was buried at St. Ann's Church in The Bronx.[32]

Morris also established himself as an important landowner in northern New York, where the Town of Gouverneur[33] and Village of Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County are named for him.

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


  1. Documents from the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress. Library of Congress.
  2. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  3. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  4. http://www.city-journal.org/html/12_2_urbanities-the_forgotten.html
  5. ANB "Gouverneur Morris"
  6. "The True George Washington", written by Paul Leicester Ford, published by J. Lippincott, the printing of the year 1900
  7. Richard Brookhiser, Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, 2008, pp. 61–63
  8. Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia. 1986 edition. p. 236.
  9. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  10. Bowen. p. 178.
  11. Jon Elster, Securities Against Misrule, (2013), pp. 79-80
  12. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  14. Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, (2002), p. 476; Vincent Cronin, Louis and Antoinette, (1974), p. 295.
  15. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  16. Deism and Social Ethics: The Role of Religion in the Third Millennium, page 67, Robert Corfe, 2007
  17. American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  18. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  19. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  20. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  21. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  22. Kirschke, Gouverneur Morris, p. 263
  23. Kierner, Scandal at Bizarre, pp. 91-92
  24. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  25. Kirschke, Gouverneur Morris, pp. 263-264
  26. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  27. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  28. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  29. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  30. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  31. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  32. Gouverneur Morris at Find a Grave
  33. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.


  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (A biography of Morris's wife.)
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • 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
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links

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