Morris, Gouverneur

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Morris, Gouverneur

Gouverneur Morris (gəvərnēr´,–nŏŏr´), 1752–1816, American political leader and diplomat, b. Morrisania, N.Y. (now part of the Bronx); a grandson of Lewis Morris (1671–1746), he was born to wealth and influence. He studied law and was admitted (1771) to the bar. At the outbreak of the American Revolution he adopted the colonial cause (although several members of his family were Loyalists). A superb orator, eloquent writer, and fine literary stylist, he was a member (1775–77) of the provincial congress of New York, helped to draft the first state constitution, and served on the Council of Safety. Morris sat (1778–79) in the Continental Congress, where he was prominent in financial, military, and diplomatic affairs. In 1779 his book Observations on the American Revolution was published.

After failing to win reelection to the Congress Morris moved to Philadelphia and resumed his law practice. A series of newspaper articles on finance secured him the post of assistant to Robert Morris (no relative) in handling the finances of the new government (1781–85). In this position he planned the U.S. decimal coinage system. As a member of the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 Morris played an active role, defending a strong centralized government and a powerful executive, opposing concessions on slavery, and putting the Constitution into its final literary form. He remained, however, a champion of aristocracy who distrusted democratic rule.

In 1789 Moris went to France as a private business agent, remained in Europe, and was appointed (1792) U.S. minister to France. During the French Revolution his sympathies lay with the royalists; he even helped plan a scheme to rescue Louis XVI. His recall was requested in 1794, but he traveled for several years before returning to America in 1798. From 1800 to 1803, Morris, a Federalist, was a U.S. senator from New York. He then retired to his estate. He condemned the War of 1812, going so far as to recommend the severance of the federal union. Morris was a strong advocate of the Erie Canal and served as chairman (1810–13) of the canal commission.

See his Diary of the French Revolution (1939), edited by his great-granddaughter, Beatrix Cary Davenport; biographies by T. Roosevelt (1888, repr. 1972), D. Walther (tr. 1934), and R. Brookhiser (2003); M. M. Mintz, Gouverneur Morris and the American Revolution (1970).

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