Morris, Gouverneur (1752–1816)

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A lawyer and businessman descended from a wealthy, landed family, Gouverneur Morris was elected to New York's first provincial congress in 1775. The next year, he was a member of the committee that drafted the state's first constitution and wrote the message to New York's delegates to the Continental Congress instructing them to vote for the declaration of independence. He was himself sent to the Continental Congress in 1778 and was a signer of the articles of confederation. In 1780 he moved to Philadelphia and served as assistant superintendent of finance under robert morris. In this last capacity, he drafted a report to Congress that contained the first official proposal for a national currency: a decimal coinage based on the Spanish dollar.

Gouverneur Morris was elected to Pennsylvania's delegation to the constitutional convention of 1787. In the debates of the Convention he spoke more frequently than any other delegate. He was an advocate of strong national government, but also of aristocratic privilege. His view of humankind was extraordinarily cynical, and, distrusting any higher motives, he desired to institutionalize private interests as a guarantee of liberty. Although, like Robert Morris, he proposed a senate chosen for life from men of great wealth, the proposal arose partly out of fear that otherwise the rich would corrupt the democratic elements of the regime. He favored a provision to allow Congress to veto state laws and wanted to unite the executive and judiciary in a council of revision to veto national legislation. He favored direct election of the President and congressional representation proportional to taxation; he opposed any constitutional protection of slavery or the slave trade. He was against giving Congress the power to admit new states on terms of equality, and throughout his life he advocated governing the western territories as provinces while retaining power in the East.

Morris was elected to the Committee on Style, along with william samuel johnson (its chairman), james madison, james wilson, and rufus king. The committee entrusted Morris with the duty of preparing its report, and so Morris became the principal author of the actual words of the Constitution. He also devised the formula for signing the document—the signatures bearing witness to the unanimous consent of the states—and drafted the letter by which the Convention transmitted its work to Congress.

alexander hamilton asked Morris to collaborate in writing the federalist, but Morris declined. He served as a senator from New York from 1800 to 1803, supporting the judiciary act of 1801 and advocating the annexation—by force if necessary—of Louisiana. His public career also included a brief term as minister to France and the founding chairmanship of the Erie Canal Commission.

Morris opposed the War of 1812 as sectional and ill-conceived. The former champion of strong national government became an advocate of states ' rights; he even counseled secession of New York and New England from the Union. Morris was disappointed when the hartford convention resolutions failed to embody that step.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Mintz, Max M. 1970 Gouverneur Morris and the American Revolution. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Roosevelt, Theodore 1888 Gouverneur Morris. (American Statesman Series.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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Morris, Gouverneur (1752–1816)

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