|United States Senator|
from New York
April 3, 1800 - March 3, 1803
|4th United States Minister to France|
June 3, 1792 - April 9, 1794
|Born||January 30, 1752|
Province of New York, British America
|Died||November 6, 1816 (aged 64)|
New York state, U.S.
|Resting place||Saint Ann's Episcopal Church, The Bronx|
|Spouse(s)||Anne Cary ("Nancy") Randolph|
|Children||Gouverneur Morris II|
|Alma mater||Columbia University|
Gouverneur Morris (30 January 1752 - 6 November 1816) was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. He wrote the Preamble to the United States Constitution and has been called the "Penman of the Constitution." 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. He represented New York in the United States Senate from 1800 to 1803.
Morris was born into a wealthy landowning family in what is now New York City. After attending Columbia College, he studied law under Judge William Smith and earned admission to the bar. He was elected to the New York Provincial Congress before serving in the Continental Congress. After losing re-election to Congress, he moved to Philadelphia and became the assistant U.S. superintendent of finance. He represented Pennsylvania at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where he advocated a strong central government. He served on the committee that wrote the final draft of the United States Constitution.
After the ratification of the Constitution, Morris served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France. He criticized the French Revolution and the execution of Marie Antoinette. Morris returned to the United States in 1798 and won election to the Senate in 1800, affiliating with the Federalist Party. He lost re-election in 1803. After leaving the Senate, he served as chairman of the Erie Canal Commission.
Morris was born on January 30, 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, and then to New Amsterdam. According to Abigail Adams, Morris' first name was pronounced "governeer".
Morris' half-brother Lewis Morris 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, and his grandfather, Lewis Morris, was the chief justice of New York and British governor of New Jersey.
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' father, Lewis Morris, was a wealthy landowner and judge. Gouverneur Morris was born on the family estate, Morrisania, on the north side of the Harlem river, which was at the time in Westchester County, but is now part of the Bronx. Morris, a gifted scholar, enrolled at King's College, now Columbia University in New York City, at age 12. 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.
On May 8, 1775, 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. His mother, a loyalist, gave his family's estate, located across the Harlem River from Manhattan, 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 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 no-confidence vote 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.
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 had a carriage accident in Philadelphia, and his left leg was amputated below the knee. 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 of the United States, serving under Robert Morris. He was selected as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. During the 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.
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". 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 voting should be restricted to property owners.
Morris 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. Madison's summary of Morris' speech at the Convention, on 11 July 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 that slavery would predominate in new Western states.
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.
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 8 August 1787, saying that it was incongruous to say that a slave was both a man and property at the same time:
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:
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. Commenting on her grandfather's sometimes Tory-minded outlook of the world, Anne Cary Morris said, "His creed was rather to form the government to suit the condition, character, manners, and habits of the people. In France this opinion led him to take the monarchical view, firmly believing that a republican form of government would not suit the French character." The "French character" in the Age of Revolution was one of two socio-political extremes: absolutism and autocracy.
While Morris was minister, Marquis de Lafayette, who had been an important participant in the American Revolution, was exiled from France and his family imprisoned, and Thomas Paine, another important figure, was arrested and imprisoned in France. Morris' efforts on their behalf have been criticized as desultory and insufficient. After a change of the French government, and after Morris was replaced as minister, his successor, James Monroe, was able to secure Paine's release.
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 and was defeated for re-election in February 1803.
On 4 July 1806, 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."
Until he married late in life, Morris' diary tells of a series of affairs. His lovers included the French novelist Adelaide Filleul and the American poet and novelist Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton.
In 1809, at age 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. Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. 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. 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. Richard stood trial; he was defended by Patrick Henry and John Marshall, who obtained an acquittal. Richard Randolph died suddenly in 1796; both sisters were suspected, but nothing was proven. Nancy remained at Bizarre after her brother-in-law's death but was asked to leave by Judith in 1805.
Nancy traveled north and lived in Connecticut before agreeing in 1809 to work as a housekeeper for Morris, whom she had known previously. They soon decided to marry; Morris was apparently undisturbed by the rumors that had caused Nancy to leave Virginia. By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one; they had a son, Gouverneur Morris Jr., who went on to a long career as a railroad executive.
Morris died on November 6, 1816, after causing himself internal injuries and an infection while using a piece of whalebone as a catheter to attempt clearing a blockage in his urinary tract. He died at the family estate, Morrisania, and was buried at St. Ann's Church in The Bronx.
Morris' great-grandson, also named Gouverneur Morris (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 in 1920.