Gouverneur Morris – Founding Father

By Martin Kelly

American History Expert

Updated August 15, 2016.

Reprinted from About.com/Education

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . .” was written by Gouverneur Morris. Morris was a Founding Father of the United States and he represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Although Morris was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation, he is more well known as the “Penman of the Constitution”, as he authored its Preamble as well as large section of the U.S. Constitution. Morris was a proponent of the concept of being a citizen of a single union of states.

Gouvernuer MorrisEarly Life

Gouverneur Morris I was born on January 31, 1752 in New York City to Lewis Morris, Jr. and his Sarah Gouverneur Morris. Morris’ father was a very wealthy man and a judge. Morris was a gifted student and he enrolled at King’s College (now Columbia College of Columbia University in New York City) at the age of 12, graduating in 1768.

Founding Father

In 1778, several delegates to the Continental Congress moved to court martial and dismiss George Washington as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Morris would end up casting the decisive vote which resulted in retaining Washington as Commander in Chief. Morris was not re-elected to the Continental Congress in 1779 due to his views in favor of a strong central government which was in contravention to the prevailing view in New York at the time. After being defeated, Morris moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he practiced law.

Morris served as the as the assistant superintendent of finance in Philadelphia from 1781 until 1785.  In 1787, Morris became one of Pennsylvania delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The Constitutional Convention held its sessions in Philadelphia and resulted in Pennsylvania having more delegates than any other state.

During the Convention, Morris allied himself with George Washington and other delegates who were in favor of a strong central government. Morris became the chairman of the “Committee of Five” which was responsible for drafting the final language of the proposed Constitution for the United States. It is widely believed that Morris drafted the bulk of the language in the Constitution; as well as final version of the document. In addition, it was Morris who drafted the language to the Preamble to the Constitution.

During the Convention, Morris gave 173 speeches, more than any other delegate. Morris was very outspoken on the issues of the right to vote, domestic slavery and the admission of western states to the United States.

James Madison was the only delegate to take continuous notes of daily speeches and debates of the Convention.  Madison wrote that Morris spoke openly in opposition to domestic slavery, stating that is was “a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & the other States having slaves.”

It was Morris’ belief that a major underlying purpose of the U.S. Constitution was the protection of individuals which was inconsistent with domestic slavery. The issue of slavery also underpinned Morris’ belief that the U.S. should not admit western states with equal rights to the existing states because Morris thought that the western states would favor slaveholding.

Post-Constitution Convention

From 1792 to 1794, Morris served as the U.S. Ambassador to France (which was known at the time as the “Minister Plenipotentiary to France”). While in France, Morris wrote his view of the political currents underlying the French Revolution and was somewhat supportive of Queen Marie Antoinette.

Morris returned home to the U.S. in 1798 with a desire to remove himself from public service; however it was short lived as he was elected in 1800 as a U.S. Senator to fill a vacant seat. He served in this position until 1803 when he was not re-elected.

Morris served as the Chairman of the Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1813. This Commission proposed a route for Erie Canal which would be built to create a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean at New York City to the Great Lakes leading into Michigan. The Erie Canal helped make New York the financial center of the United States, as well as cementing New York City as the entry point for immigrants.

Private Life

In 1809, the 57 year old Morris married Ann Cary Randolph, who was 35 years old.  Ann’s brother Thomas Mann Randolph was married to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter – Martha. The Morris’ had a son Gouverneur Morris Jr. in 1813. Morris’ son was not active in politics but helped to found the Republican Party in 1854.

On November 6, 1816, Morris died due to an infection caused by an internal injury. Morris is buried at St. Ann’s Church in the Bronx.


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