By Bill Korach. The Report Card in cooperation with Jacksonville’s First Coast Tea party presents profiles of the 39 signers of the Constitution in honor of its 224th Anniversary Today Gouverneur Morris, man of strong Christian principles is profiled.
Gouverneur Morris was born on January 31, 1752 on a King’s grant estate on what is now the Bronx. Despite his unusual first name, he was not a governor, but he did come from an upper class family descended from Welsh soldiers. He was a gifted scholar, and remarkably precocious. He entered Kings College, later renamed Columbia University, at the age of 12. He received a master’s degree in 1771 at the age of 19.
During the revolution, his family was divided, his mother remaining loyal to the King. She lent the family estate to the British Army. Morris joined the New York militia although exempt from service because he was a legislator. Morris was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and took his seat in Congress on 28 January 1778. He was immediately selected to a committee in charge of coordinating reforms of the military with George Washington. After witnessing the army encamped at Valley Forge, he was so appalled by the conditions of the troops that he became the spokesman for the Continental Army in Congress, and subsequently helped enact substantial reforms in its training, methods, and financing. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778.
In 1779, he was defeated for re-election to Congress, largely because his advocacy of a strong central government was at odds with the decentralist views prevalent in New York. Defeated in his home state, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to work as a lawyer and merchant.
As a Constitutional Convention delegate, he is acknowledged to have given final form to the U.S. Constitution, paring the original draft of 23 articles to seven and writing the document’s preamble. He also inserted the famous phrase “We the people” at the beginning. As James Madison said, “The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris.”
Morris later served as a diplomatic agent in England, as U.S. minister to France during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and as a U.S. senator. In 1811, he chaired a three-man commission that transformed Manhattan Island by designing its 12-avenue, 155-street grid above Houston Street. He also chaired the Erie Canal Commission for three years, but did not live to see the canal’s completion.
Morris was a devout practicing Christian whose beliefs in drafting the Constitution reflected his faith in God. In 1816, he said to the New York Historical Society: “The most important of all lessons from the Scriptures is the denunciation of rulers from every state that rejects the precepts of religion. Those nations are doomed to death who bury in the corruption of criminal desire the awful sense of an existing God.”
Gouverneur Morris died in 1816.