Gouverneur Morris - The One-Legged Ladies' Man and 'We the People'
Gouverneur Morris is one of those rare specimens in history who lived a life many people, then and now, scratch their heads about. He was a strange mix of Elvis and Hunter S. Thompson, living like a King while at the same time blatantly ignoring societies norms.
Morris came of age in one of the wealthiest families in New York. He was tall, hansom and well educated.
Much like today, these characteristics made him attractive to most. Throw in charisma and charm and you have a man who spent many enjoyable nights with surprisingly high-class women.
In modern America it is not too surprising for a rich and famous man to be ‘single’ until his mid-50’s. During the late 18th century, however, this was seen by most as very crude.
In 1780, Gouverneur Morris survived a serious carriage accident but was left with a broken leg. The doctors recommended amputation.
After the procedure, his normal doctor returned to town and was shocked. He believed he could have saved the leg.
Morris would walk with a peg attached at the knee for the rest of his life.
Uniting A Nation
Morris had spent time working with Robert Morris (unrelated) on financing the American Revolution. He was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, but grew unhappy with its powers.
Gouverneur was one of the earliest proponents of a national government. He thought this would be the easiest way for the elites in America to govern.
Yes, much like his buddy John Jay, Morris believed ‘those who own the country ought to govern it.'
This is even more interesting when you realize Morris went to the Constitutional Convention, where he was appointed to the Committee of Style.
The Committee of Style was tasked with taking the agreed upon elements of the Convention and writing them down.
Gouverneur Morris was asked to author the preamble to the Constitution. Perhaps you are familiar with his opening line…
We the People of the United States
Yes, an elitist wrote ‘We the People.’ This was no accident.
All the members of the Convention (many of whom were much more democratic than Morris) knew that to get the Constitution ratified, they would need to phrase the wording in such a way. This would imply the new government was an agreement between all the free, independent citizens.
Although the ratification was often close (especially in Massachusetts and Virginia), this tactic worked.
Morris’ language in now a part of the very fabric of what it means to be an American.
Just because Gouverneur Morris was an elitist doesn't mean he was a bad guy.
Quite the opposite, actually.
Being the outspoken, confident, opinionated man he was, Morris was one of the only delegates to speak out against slavery on the floor of the Constitutional Convention.
There is so Much More
I hope you understand the character of Gouverneur Morris and a bit about his main accomplishment. This man played many other important roles in the Founding but unless I write a book I need to stop here.
Morris already has a book: 'The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution' by Richard Brookhiser. It is one of my favorites that I have read 6 times since it was first recommended to me in 2005. There's also a bio by none other than Teddy Roosevlet!
No spoilers but the way he died is absolutely unbelievable.