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Gouverneur Morris, often addressed as Gouv Morris (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. Gouverneur (pronounced GOU VER NEHR) 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: "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 in 1764 at the age of twelve at King's College, now Columbia University in New York City. He graduated in 1768 and received a master's degree in 1771.


ContentsEdit

[hide]*1 Political career

  • 2 Family and legacy
  • 3 References
  • 4 Sources
  • 5 External links

[edit] Political careerEdit

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 was immediately selected to a committee in charge of coordinating reforms of the military with General 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 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, Pennsylvania, 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. 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 8:

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 France 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 4, 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]

[edit] Family and legacyEdit

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 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.[11]

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.)[12][13]

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

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