Lin Manuel-Miranda has shown that if you look hard enough, there is Broadway-worthy drama everywhere from Washington Heights to the non-Rushmore faces of the founding fathers.
But, Alexander Hamilton is hardly the only founder deserving of his own musical. You may not have ever heard of him before, but once you get to know Gouverneur Morris, you will wonder why he doesn’t have his own Broadway musical and his own prestige-TV limited series drama. He was brilliant, arrogant, in the middle of all the action, and died a strange, tragic death.
Here are 14 incredible facts about Gouverneur Morris:
- Gouverneur Morris Was the Pen of the Constitution
James Madison may be the father of the Constitution, but even he admits that Morris was the one who did most of the writing. Morris is the one who crafted the most famous words from the world’s most famous document, “We the People of the United States…”
Morris was responsible for drafting the entire Preamble to the Constitution. While the Preamble may not have much legal stature as the rest of the document, there is no doubt that it the most eloquent summary of what the American experiment was all about.
2. He Lost His Left Leg Under Mysterious Circumstances
The official story was that Morris was run down by a carriage. His left ankle was shattered. Morris was primarily known for two things in his day, being an unapologetic aristocrat and being a man who loved the company of women, regardless of their current marital status.
Many of Morris’s contemporaries believed that he was actually injured fleeing from an angry husband after one of his late night-trysts. The rumor was he broke his ankle jumping into the street from a balcony, just before the enraged husband of his lover could lay his hands on him.
Morris’s own private doctor was not available on the night of the incident. The doctor that did see Morris told him the leg could not be saved and that he would die of an infection without an amputation. Morris agreed to the procedure.
When Morris’s regular doctor finally saw Morris, he told him that the leg probably could have been saved.
Morris’s friend John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wryly commented that it was too bad that Morris hadn’t lost “something else” in his accident.
3. Morris Made Sure General Washington Kept His Job
During the Revolutionary War, Gouverneur Morris served in the Continental Congress. Many in Congress were politically jealous of Washington. They used his frequent retreats as cover to try and get rid of him and replace him with another general. When it came for a vote, Morris broke a tie and cast the deciding vote for maintaining Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
If Washington has been replaced, it’s hard to imagine that the colonies would have won the war. More direct conflict, which was favored by Washington’s detractor, would have made the undermanned and under-trained Continental Army easy targets for the British regulars.
4. Morris Was the Most Frequent Speaker at the Constitutional Convention
Alexander Hamilton famously spoke at length about his own plan for governing the former colonies on the first day of the convention. But, after that initial outburst, Hamilton was fairly quiet. Morris missed Hamilton’s speech. He arrived at the convention a month late.
However, Morris still managed to speak more frequently and more often than any other delegate. One of the topics he spoke about most passionately and most frequently was the evils of slavery and the necessity of eliminating the practice in the new country.
5. His Romantic Exploits Were Legendary on Two Continents
Morris was a bachelor until he was in his early fifties. But, that didn’t mean he was celibate. He was frequently in the company of women of all ages and often linked romantically to several different women at one time. He was notorious for having affairs with married women in New York and Philadelphia.
While he was serving as a Minister to France, Morris had an affair with the same women as the Prime Minister of France, Charles Talleyrand, the same man who would later finagle the Louisiana Purchase. The affair took place in what is now the Louvre.
6. He Married His Housekeeper
When Morris did eventually get married, he continued to showcase his disregard for what others considered propriety. At a Christmas party, Morris announced he was marrying his long-time housekeeper, Anne Randolph. She was 22 years younger than he was. The two were married on the spot by a clergyman in attendance.
Randolph was also notorious — but for very different reasons than her new husband. Many suspected that she had killed her own baby son several years earlier.
7. Morris Was on the Right Side of History When It Came to Slavery
Morris was no fan of the common man. He also had regressive ideas about women. But, he was on the right side of history when it came to slavery. He felt that the practice was genuinely evil. He believed it was incompatible with the ideals of the new nation. He also distrusted slaveholders.
He believed they would do anything politically to hold onto power. He even had misgivings about the so-called three-fourths compromise that would write slavery into the Constitution and give the South outsized power for generations in the new government.
8. Morris Was on the Wrong Side of History During the War of 1812
When the U.S. declared war on England again, Morris, and many other Federalists, wanted no part of Madison’s folly. Morris was not only a vocal critic of the war, but he also worked hard to lead a secessionist movement in the New England area.
Morris’s efforts fail. Historians debate how close to treasonous activity Morris got. The motivating factors in Morris actions were the desire to build a nation without slavery and one that was less democratic than the United States.
9. Morris Helped Create the New York We Know Today
Gouverneur Morris was born to a wealthy family in New York. New York City was growing fast and was soon going to be the largest city in the country, bigger than either Boston or Philadelphia. But, it was a mess.
Morris was instrumental in creating the grid system that New York uses today. He explained that houses with square sides were cheaper to build and easier to maintain. If there were going to be square houses, a square system of roads to go around the houses made sense.
Morris was also a champion for the Erie canal. He believed that a canal from the Hudson to Lake Erie would be more economically advantageous in the future than a canal to Lake Ontario, even though Lake Ontario provided the shorter route.
10. He Represented Both New York and Philadelphia
Morris represented the state of New York, where he was born and where his family had been for generations, in the Continental Congress. But, he lost a re-election bid. Angry at his hometown and estranged from much of family because they were Loyalists, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia isn’t called the city of brotherly love for nothing. It had a strong reputation for welcoming people from other states and countries. Morris was chosen, without his knowledge, to represent the state at the Constitutional Convention. He was the only founder to play such a major part in the fight against England and the effort to build a new nation that served two different states so prominently.
11. Theodore Roosevelt Wrote One of the Few Biographies of Gouverneur Morris
Theodore Roosevelt was a fellow New Yorker and was also known to have the gift of gab. He admired Gouverneur Morris and felt that his character and contributions should be more well known.
Roosevelt’s biography of Morris is seldom read today, and It didn’t do much to make Morris more well known. However, the fact that TR seemed to recognize a similarity between himself and Morris makes Morris all the more interesting.
12. Morris Saw a Lot of War and Grief
Despite being extremely wealthy, Morris didn’t lead a life absent of sorrow. During the Revolutionary War, he was estranged from most of his family, including his mother, because they were loyal to the crown. He was unable to go home because his mother had turned over their estate to the British. Morris constantly worried about what would happen to his Loyalist family members when the colonies won.
During the Revolutionary Way, while serving in Congress, Morris toured Washington’s camp and was appalled and dismayed at the lack of adequate food and clothing for the soldiers. He went back to Congress and worked hard to get Washington the supplies he needed to keep shoes on his men’s feet and food in their bellies.
Morris was serving as Minister to France during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. He saw many of his French friends killed on the guillotine. His experiences in France during their revolution helped strengthen his dislike of democracy. He believed It would inevitably descend into mob rule and chaos.
13. He Never Surrendered His Abhorrence of Slavery or Democracy
Morris may have been willing to flout social conventions, but he was firm in his convictions. Until the day he died, he continued to rail against both slavery and democracy. He believed slavery was evil and that longer it was allowed to exist in the United States, the weaker it made the country.
He also feared the rule of the mob. He felt that pure democracy had ruined the Greek and Roman civilizations. He also believed that aristocrats were essential for a smooth-running government. He worried that the followers of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia would use slavery and populism to gain greater and greater power until America blew up like the French Revolution.
14. He Died as a Result of Self-Surgery
Morris never forgot how his bad advice from a young doctor had cost him a leg. When he later had a severe infection and urinary tract blockage, he took matters into his own hands.
Unable to urinate without extreme pain, he used a whale bone to try and create a catheter. Things went badly, and he subsequently died a painful death as the result of an infection from his own botched catheter insertion.
Many people believe his underlying condition was caused by a sexually transmitted disease, which wouldn’t be surprising given his lifestyle.