Gouverneur Morris: The Charming Nationalist

Gouverneur Morris was a delegate from Pennyslvania who participated in the Second Constitutional Convention. Richard Beeman introduces Morris in his book, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of The American Consitution, as an intelligent and oratorically gifted man. Born into wealth and prestige, Morris studied law as a young man and eventually found himself working for the wealthy and powerful Robert Morris. Gouverneur Morris was known for being a charmer and ladies man, whose eloquence, intelligence, and wit made him both a natural speaker and formidible opponent on the floor of the Convention (51).

Morris was one of the most vocal delegates and also one of the most opinionated. He argued tenaciously for a strong and supreme national government and emphasized the need for a single, powerful executive (56). Beeman claims that Morris was one of the men most instrumental in forming the executive branch that is the American presidency. Morris was a committed nationalist and was insistent that the Articles of Confederation be done away with as they were irreparably insufficient. He was unwavering in his views that a strong government be installed and that even a system of federalism would not be enought to adequately manage the new United States.

Beeman presents Gouverneur Morris in a way that I found curious. Beeman says that Morris was the second most vocal member of the Convention behind Madison, but he says comparably little about him. Beeman specifically notes that Morris was known for his “oratorical pyrotechnics” but also seems to imply that Morris was more of a conversational speaker and less of a logical, argumentative figure like Madison or Wilson (51). He describes Morris as tending towards “recklessness,” and describes him as having a “mercurial” temperment and cites William Pierce as describing him as “fickle and inconsistent” (48-9, 109). Beeman’s descriptions make it seem like Morris was vocal and opionated speaker, but that he didn’t have the kind of logic or genius ideas that Madison presented.

Frank Harmon Garver wrote an article entitled “The Constitutional Convention as a Deliberative Assembly” that paints Morris as a great orator who argued fiercely for his viewpoints. Garver make sit clear that Morris was adamant that the country must be united nationally, even threatening the smaller states on occasion (415). Morris was unhappy with the small states refusal to agree to proportional representation and did not hold back his opinions about them.

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