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Americans need never fear their government because of the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation… Gouverneur Morris

One of the enduring myths of that school of history that wants to blame white males for everything from slavery to tight underwear is that it was Southern white males who dominated our founding and enshrined slavery in the constitution.

They ignore that slavery – in all of its abhorrence – was a given that the founders had to deal with and that the Constitution did not spring forth from the Declaration of Independence like some sort of afterthought annexe but was the result of trial, error and deliberation that was not ratified and in force until six years after the british had been defeated and driven from the colonies.

Gouverneur Morris is very important because not only do he and his associates from the north prove that the Constitution was not drafted by a slave holding conspiracy of Virginians but he had served as the American minister to France during their revolution and was able to temper our freedoms so that liberty was not license and a republican form of government protected the new nation from the worst excesses of democracy.

The Preamble to the Constitution – We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. – was his, unedited and unvarnished, and if that had been his only contribution it would have been significant refining as it did the Jeffersonian ideals of the Declaration into practical goals in a proper hierarchy.

Understanding how our system came into being may give a better idea of how destructive and revolutionary the actions of Lincoln and the radical republicans really were and Brookhiser has done a wonderful job of the former if he has not yet addressed the latter.

They (the French) have taken genius instead of reason for their guide, adopted experiment instead of experience, and wander in the dark because they prefer lightning to light… Gouverneur Morris

Gentleman revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the rake who wrote the Constitution    New York : Free Press, c 2003 Richard Brookhiser United States. Constitution Signers Biography, Morris, Gouverneur, 1752-1816 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xvii, 251 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 241-244) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Since 1996, Richard Brookhiser has devoted himself to recovering the Founding for modern Americans. The creators of our democracy had both the temptations and the shortcomings of all men, combined with the talents and idealism of the truly great. Among them, no Founding Father demonstrates the combination of temptations and talents quite so vividly as one of the least known, Gouverneur Morris.

His story is one that should be known by every American — after all, he drafted the Constitution, and his hand lies behind many of its most important phrases. Yet he has been lost in the shadows of the Founders who became presidents and faces on our currency. As Brookhiser shows in this sparkling narrative, Morris’s story is not only crucial to the Founding, it is also one of the most entertaining and instructive of all. Gouverneur Morris, more than Washington, Jefferson, or even Franklin, is the Founding Father whose story can most readily touch our hearts, and whose character is most sorely needed today.

He was a witty, peg-legged ladies’ man. He was an eyewitness to two revolutions (American and French) who joked with George Washington, shared a mistress with Talleyrand, and lost friends to the guillotine. In his spare time he gave New York City its street grid and New York State the Erie Canal. His keen mind and his light, sure touch helped make our Constitution the most enduring fundamental set of laws in the world. In his private life, he suited himself pleased the ladies until, at age fifty-seven, he settled down with one lady (and pleased her) and lived the life of a gentleman, for whom grace and humanity were as important as birth. He kept his good humor through war, mobs, arson, death, and two accidents that burned the flesh from one of his arms and cut off one of his legs below the knee.

Above all, he had the gift of a sunny disposition that allowed him to keep his head in any troubles. We have much to learn from him, and much pleasure to take in his company.


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