The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

October 23, 2017

REFERENCE DESK
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Morris, Gouverneur
Forrest McDonald - 01/04/12
Lifespan: (1752–1816)

Gouverneur Morris displayed an unsentimental view of human nature, remarking that “[h]e who wishes to enjoy natural rights must establish himself where natural rights are admitted. He must live alone.” And yet, his perception that government should “depend upon the established institutions and the political maturity of the people” was moderate and prudential. At base, his philosophy rested on the premise that the sanctity of property was the “main object of Society.”

Morris graduated from King’s College in 1768 and was admitted to the bar in 1771. He represented Westchester County in the Provincial Congress of New York (1775–77) and helped draft the New York Constitution. He served in the Continental Congress (1777–78), where he sponsored military reforms and supervised diplomatic missions. And he aided Robert Morris (no kin) as assistant superintendent of finance from 1781 to 1785. As a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention, Morris urged the creation of a strong central government. During the Convention his bold style caused some discomfort, but his frankness also broke some deadlocks. His reputation as a literary craftsman won him immortality: he wrote the final draft of the Constitution.

Morris went to Europe on private business in 1789 and remained there until 1798; his diary is a major source for the study of the French Revolution. He served in the United States Senate as a High Federalist from 1800 to 1803, and his last national political involvement came with the publication of an antiwar, secessionist pamphlet, “Address to the People of the State of New York” (1812).

Further Reading
  • Brookhiser, Richard. Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution. New York: Free Press, 2003.
  • McDonald, Forrest. “The Political Thought of Gouverneur Morris.” Continuity: A Journal of History 22 (1998): 39–54.
  • Mintz, Max M. Gouverneur Morris and the American Revolution. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
  • Sparks, Jared. The Life of Gouverneur Morris with Selections from his Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. 3 vols. Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1832.
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