Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) Signer of the Constitution

His first name means governor in French; Abigail Adams said it is pronounced “Gouveneer.”He was a ladies man and considered a rogue by some of his peers, at least until he married at fifty-seven. He lost his leg in a carriage accident at thirty-two fleeing an irate husband. The woman he married was his house-keeper and a relative of Thomas Jefferson, accused of adultery and murder at her sister’s plantation known as Bizarre. He beat off a French Revolutionary mob with his crutch. He died from a self-inflicted wound attempting to install a whalebone catheter. And, he also signed the Articles of Confederation and gave 173 speeches at the Constitutional Convention. Morris was a close friend of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, wrote the Preamble and was considered the “pen” of the Constitutional Republic—he is one of the most important Founding Fathers, feet of clay, roving eye, and all.

Gouverneur Morris was born to privilege and wealth in New York, the only child of a second marriage. He enrolled at King’s College (later Columbia) at the age of twelve. He was admitted to the bar after learning from one of the best legal minds in the colony and an opponent of English tyranny. He joined with patriots John Jay and Alexander Hamilton in the incipient rebellion and was thus forced to go against his mother (who gladly turned over the estate to the British army for their use), half-brother who was a British General, and many men of his social strata whose wealth depended on British trade and loyalty to the crown. He joined a local militia company in 1776 but left to serve in the political end of the “revolution.” His polemical skills and outspokenness, as well as his absolute devotion to the cause made him indispensable to New York’s remaining in the fight. The new state constitution was mostly his work, the political solutions to military problems his specialty.