Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris spoke on the floor of the Constitutional Convention 173 times. Morris addressed the members of the convention more than any other delegate. As chairman of the Committee on Style, Morris drafted the document and was directly responsible for most of the wording of the Constitution.

He was born on January 31, 1752 to a prominent family in Morrisania, New York. Morris enjoyed sports in his youth and was educated at a French Huguenot school in New Rochelle, New York. While attending King's College (Columbia) he studied law and began his law practice at the age of nineteen. Tragedy struck him at the age of twenty-four when he lost his leg in an accident. His use of a wooden leg became a distinguishing mark throughout his life.

Gouverneur Morris served the New York Assembly from 1775 till 1777. In that era, Morris drafted a Constitution for the State of New York with Robert R. Livingston and John Jay. He was 35 years old when he served as a member of the Continental Congress. Although he served in the Continental Congress from 1777 till 1779; Morris wasn't reelected for he was an opponent of lawlessness. Hence, he was suspected as being pro-British.

Morris settled in Philadelphia to practice law; eventually being selected by Robert Morris (of no relation) in 1780 to hold the position of assistant superintendent of finance for the American War of Independence. Morris continued to hold the post until 1785.

He was chosen to be a delegate from the State of Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Gouverneur Morris was the originator of the phrase “We, the People of the United States.”

Morris became a powerful advocate of a strong central government. He supported positions which include a president elected to serve for life and senators chosen by the president having lifetime tenure. Furthermore, he supported the idea of independent appellate judges serving life tenure.

Gouverneur Morris was a staunch opponent of slavery.

“I will never concur in upholding domestic slavery. It is the curse of heaven on the States where it prevails.”

After Washington sent Morris to France in 1789; he was eventually named U.S. Minister to France. Morris was scornful of the morality of the French and disgusted by what was occurring in France during the French Revolution. He was a positive asset as U.S. Minister to France representing American interests. Morris became the only foreign minister to remain in France throughout the Reign of Terror. His house was thoroughly searched several times and he was arrested once for not having a 'citizen card' in his possession. At each instance Morris would vigorously protest and received a rude apology. Morris attempted to shelter members of the French aristocracy but failed in his attempt to arrange for the escape of the king and queen. Consequently, he was disliked and feared by members of the fledgling French government. President Washington became disgusted with the French minister to the United States and demanded that “Citizen” Genet be recalled. In response to Washington's position concerning Genet; the Revolutionary French government demanded that Washington recall Morris.

Washington reluctantly recalled Morris as minister to France. Afterward, Morris chose to travel for four years throughout Europe and in 1798 he returned to Morrisania, New York.

New York elected Morris to serve an unexpired term to the United States Senate in 1800. He served as a senator from New York till 1803. Morris was a strong Federalist who was critical and opposed Thomas Jefferson. He did support Jefferson in the purchase of Louisiana. Morris supported plans for the construction of the Erie canal which he proposed twenty years earlier.

Morris held the biblical view of the depravity of man yet held great faith in his country. Gouverneur Morris was a man of acute foresight. He had a positive belief in the future of his country and predicted America's greatness.

“The proudest empire in Europe is but a bauble compared to what America will be, must be, in the course of two centuries, perhaps one!”

He felt the War of 1812 was unjust. Consequently, Morris felt America was giving aid to the French by waging war with Great Britain. He firmly believed that aiding the French was an offense to “Christian civilization.”

Hence, he encouraged New York and New England to secede from the Union to form a new confederation. Morris believed that secession was the right of each state based upon his experience within the Constitutional Convention.

Morris wasn't a deist and had a deep enduring faith in God whom he believed interacts in the affairs of the nation. Morris spoke to the New York Assembly concerning the tense relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain before the Declaration of Independence was written.

He wrote to his mother: 
“There is one Comforter who weighs our Minutes and Numbers our Days.”
“Providence has kindly interfered so far for our preservation.”

He wrote to his mother on April 17, 1778 declaring:

“I look forward serenely to the course of events, confident that the Fountain of supreme wisdom and virtue will provide for the happiness of his creatures... 
Whenever the present storm subsides, I shall rush with eagerness into the bosom of private life, but while it continues, and while my country calls for the exertion of that little share of abilities, which it has pleased God to bestow on me, I hold it my indispensable duty to give myself to her.”

His faith in God was expressed in a letter to George Washington dated January 24, 1789:

“I hope in God, my dear Sir, that you may long continue to preside.”

In a letter to George Washington dated June 25, 1793; he expressed his hope that Washington would seek reelection.

“It will be time enough for you to have a successor, when it shall please God to call you from this world's theater.”

Morris consoled his sister Ephemia Ogden in a letter dated June 23, 1793 at the death of her child with these sentiments:

“His bounty is as unbounded as His power! Confiding in the one, be resigned to the other; and accepting with gratitude what it may please Him to give, surrender with respectful obedience what He shall think proper to take away. O God! Thy will be done.”

When asked by David Humphreys what he foresaw for revolution torn immoral France he made the following remarks on June 5, 1793:

“Guerre, famine, peste (war, famine, pestilence).” Furthermore, Morris declared: I pray God the prediction be not fully accomplished.”

His keep perception into the spiritual realm is seen in his remarks concerning the defeat of Napoleon's invasion of Czarist Russia. In a letter to Harrison Gray Otis dated April 29, 1813, he declared:

“The signal victories of Russia (over Napoleon) demand our thanks to Almighty God, by whose Providence they are ordered.”

Furthermore, when speaking of God's intervention on behalf of the French refugees in Dresden, Germany; Morris declares the goodness of God. An entry in his personal diary dated August 19,1796 Morris declared:

“...This ground of hope in the kindness of that Being, who is to all his creatures an indulgent father...
O God! It is thy wisdom which hath ordained, and thy hand which heavily hath inflicted this blow, consistent most surely with those just decrees, which we may not presume to measure, nor ever dare to know, but yet we know, for we feel, that thy mercy will season to those, who suffer them, the sharpness of these affections. Yes, we feel! And it is this consciousness, which, precious and paramount to all reasoning, has diffused through the whole human race, and impressed in the heart of each individual, the same conviction of his own existence, and the existence of God. Yes, we feel! And it is in the strict accordance between our finest feelings, and the principles of the religion we profess, that this stands demonstrated by their evidence to be of divine origin.”

In correspondence to Timothy Pickering dated October 17,1814 he wrote: 

“The Almighty will work out his wise ends by means of human folly.” 

Morris recognized that God uses the foolish things of this world for his glory as stated in I Corinthians 1:18-31.

Toward the end of his sojourn in this world he thanked God for his manifold blessings declaring:

“I descend towards the grave full of gratitude to the Giver of all good.”

Madame de Damas was a close friend of Morris who wrote:

“If instead of a simple error, an opinion is ventured in his presence offensive to religion, good morals, or sound political principles, it is no longer a regard for truth alone, it is the passion of virtue, the ardor for justice, the love of humanity, which inflames his generous soul... 
The idea of a Deity is always present, the habit of contemplating him in his works, of imitating his goodness, of submitting to his will, with that calm resignation which arises from a belief that God can will nothing but what is good; such is the fountain from which his soul derives a confidence full of serenity, a boundless charity, and a hope...”

Jesus Christ is seldom mentioned in his correspondence. Hence, it is difficult to determine Morris' personal thoughts concerning Christ. He was an Episcopalian and the Episcopal church of his day held an orthodox view of the divinity Christ and the Trinity. There isn't evidence that he disagreed or rejected the doctrines of the Episcopal church to which he was a member.

Morris opposed a proposal in1785 which would abolish the charter of the Bank of North America. The Pennsylvania State Assembly was considering an action which Morris though would violate commitments which were made by the State of Pennsylvania. The following statement is from “An Address on the Bank of North America” Pennsylvania State Assembly, 1785:

“How can we hope for public peace and national prosperity, if the faith of governments so solemnly pledged can be so suddenly violated? If private property can be so lightly infringed? Destroy this prop, which once gave us support, and where will you turn in the hour of distress? To whom will you look for succor? By what promises or vows can you hope to obtain confidence? This hour of distress will come. It comes to all, and the moment of affliction is known to Him alone, whose divine providence exalts or depresses states and kingdoms. Not by the blind dictates of arbitrary will. Not by a tyrannous and despotic mandate. But in proportion to their obedience or disobedience of his just and holy laws. It is he who commands us that we abstain from wrong. It is he who tells you, “do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you.”

Morris is referring to Jesus Christ when he speaks of “Him” who “exalts or depresses states or kingdoms.” It is Christ who ordains “his just and holy laws.” It is Jesus Christ “who commands us that we abstain from wrong.” Finally, the declaration “do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you” is a quotation of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.

Hence, Gouverneur Morris utilized the same pronoun for Jesus Christ and God. To Morris when he speaks of God; he is speaking of Jesus Christ.

Morris often used biblical allusions which demonstrates his knowledge of the Holy Bible. He speaks of Aaron while in Egypt utilizing his rod which swallows up the others. He alludes to Jesus declaration of a certain burden which is easy and whose yoke is light. He mentions to one that he hopes a person will remember his creator in the days of his youth. Morris speaks of the trumpets of Joshua. Furthermore, he speaks of “peace in our time, O Lord!” He utilizes and allusion declaring that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He uses a phrase concerning people who will not listen because if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

In a letter to John Murray, Jr., dated September 22, 1811, Morris referred to the “Holy Writings” a clear reference to the Holy Bible. In a letter to David B. Ogden dated April 5, 1813, he declared:

“ which I reply, in the language of the Holy Writ, thou shalt not do evil that good may come of it.” 
The point here one should understand is that Gouverneur Morris recognized special revelation – the inspired Word of God – which a deist would deny.

He had no naive view of human nature concerning the goodness of man or the doctrine of the perfectability of man embraced by the French. He did not see human nature as evil but fallen from an original state of grace.

“There is always a counter-current in human affairs, which opposes alike both good and evil. Thus the good we hope is seldom obtained, and the evil we fear is rarely realized.”

He had an excellent sense of humor which is revealed in this satirical statement concerning Jefferson's faith in the human goodness of the common man.

“It is the fashion with those discontented creatures called Federalists, to say that our President [Jefferson] is not a Christian; yet they must acknowledge that, in true Christian meekness, when smitten on one cheek he turns the other, and buy his late appointment of Monroe has taken special care that a stone which the builders rejected should become the first of the corner. These are his works; and for his faith, it is not a grain of mustard' but the full size of a pumpkin, so that while men of mustard-seed faith can only move mountains, he finds no difficulty in swallowing them. He believes, for instance, in the perfectability of man, the wisdom of mobs, and moderation of Jacobins. He believes in payment of debts by diminution of revenue, in defense of territory by reduction of armies, and in vindication of rights by the appointment of ambassadors.”

Morris believed that man's evil tendencies must be restrained through strong government. He believed the type of government suitable to a particular nation varied from nation to nation. Hence, the French were not suited for the same type of government as the Americans.

“They [the French] want an American constitution, with the exception of a King instead of a President, without reflecting they that have not American citizens to support that constitution.”

As early as 1789, Morris realized that the French Revolution would eventually lead to “probable tyranny” as he records in his diary. A fundamental reason for his conviction was the immorality of the French people. In a letter to George Washington dated April 29, 1789, he declared:

“The materials for a revolution in this country [France] are very indifferent. Everybody agrees that there is an utter prostration of morals; but this general proposition can never convey to an American mind the degree of depravity. It is not by any figure of rhetoric, or force of language, that the idea can be communicated. A hundred anecdotes, and a hundred thousand examples, are required to show the extreme rottenness of every member. There are men and women who are greatly and eminently virtuous. I have the pleasure to number many in my acquaintance; but they stand forward from a background deeply and darkly shaded. It is however, from such crumbling matter, that the great edifice of freedom is to be erected here. Perhaps, like the stratum of rock, which is spread under the whole surface of their country, it may be hardened when exposed to the air; but it seems quite as likely that it will fall and crush the builders. 
...there is one fatal principle which pervades all ranks. It is a perfect indifference to the violation of engagements. Inconstancy is so mingled in the blood, marrow, and very essence of this people, that when a man of high rank and importance laughs to day at what he seriously asserted yesterday, it is considered as in the natural order of things. Consistency is a phenomen. Judge, then, what would be the value of association, should such a thing be proposed, and even adopted. The great mass of the common people have no religion but their priests, no law but their superiors, no morals but their interest. These are the creatures who, led by drunken curates, are now in the high road a la liberte, and the first use they make of it is to from insurrections everywhere for the want of bread.”

It is evident through his personal correspondence and diary that Morris deplored the immorality of the French people. To him, the French Revolution was established on a false foundation doomed to failure – a monstrosity. The rampant lawlessness and disregard for human life were the consequences of a revolution not established on the true principles of divine law. Morris recognized the fundamental problem of the French was the flawed world view on which they attempted to establish a democracy. Hence, the fundamental problem was the lack of sound religious principles on which to establish a national government.

He wrote to Thomas Jefferson on January 21, 1792 while in Paris:

“The open contempt of religion, also, cannot but be offensive to all sober minded men.”

In a letter to Thomas Pinckney on December 3, 1792 Morris declared:

“Since I have been in this country, I have seen the worship of many idols, but little of the true God.”

Furthermore, he declared to Pinckney in the same letter that he hoped for a French constitution as “the principle means, under Divine Providence, of extending the blessings of freedom.” Morris doubted that this would occur, “because I do not yet perceive that reformation of morals without which liberty is but an empty sound.”

Despite his objections to the immorality of the French people; Morris hoped for the best possible government for the French people. He firmly believed that a constitutional republican government as found in America would not be possible in France. He believed the nature of government would vary according the moral character of the people within a nation. Morris spoke of the absolute principles of the law of nature and the law of nations. In his work “Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France” he writes:

“...the tranquility and liberty of nations can only be sustained upon the basis of justice.”

The principles of which he speaks apply differently in different conditions. Hence, a system of government designed to work for a highly moral ethical religious people would not work in an immoral society. Since these principles vary from nation to nation:

 “The true object of a great statesman is to give to any particular nation the kind of laws which is suitable to them, and the best constitution which they are capable of.”

In order to govern themselves; nations must first learn the supremacy of laws. If not they are easily led astray and victimized by demagogues leading them into radical causes.

In correspondence to Robert R. Livingston dated October 10, 1802, Morris declared:

“The engine by which a giddy population can be most easily wrought on to do mischief, is their hatred of the rich.”

Concerning proposals in America for a constitution, he declared: “Give the votes to the people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich.” or vote to themselves property and possessions of those persons who are more affluent.

Education and training are necessary before societies are ready for self-government. People within society must learn to revere laws above the arbitrary whims of men and democratic majorities.

Morris wrote “Observations on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France” in July of 1789 while in France.

“ free governments the laws being supreme, and the only supreme, there arises from that circumstances a spirit of order, and a confidence in those laws for the redress of all injuries, public and private, The sword of justice is placed in the hands of a constitutional magistrate and each individual trembles at the idea of wresting it from his grasp, lest the point shall be turned upon his own bosom, or that of his friend. In despotic governments the people, habituated to behold everything bending beneath the weight of power, never possess that power for a moment without abusing it. Slaves, driven to despair, take arms, execute vast vengeance, and then sink back to their former condition of slaves. In such societies the patriot, the melancholy patriot, sides with the despot, because anything is better than a wild and bloody confusion. Those, therefore, who form the sublime and godlike idea of rescuing their fellow creatures from a slavery, they have long groaned under, must begin by instruction, and proceed by slow degrees, must content themselves with planting the tree, from which posterity is to gather the fruit.”

When speaking of the law as supreme, Morris is stating that the citizen must hold law in high regard respecting it. No one is in a position to exploit or manipulate law to his or her personal advantage. Only after careful deliberation can majorities, minorities, rulers and commoners change the law.

Judges are to interpret and apply the law disregarding possible personal motivations concerning reelection and reappointment. In a Speech Prepared for the King of France, Morris declared the reason he favored life tenure for appellate court judges: 

“Those who are charged with the important duties of administering justice, should, if possible, depend only on God.”

In “Notes on the Form of Constitution for France” Morris stated the major role that religion plays in educating the people of France in order to prepare them for self-government.

“Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God. 
These duties are, internally, love and adoration: externally, devotion and obedience; therefore provision should be made for maintaining divine worship as well as education. 
But each one has a right to entire liberty as to religious opinions, for religion is the relation between God and man; therefore it is not within the reach of human authority.”

Morris proposed that a Council of Education and Worship be established for each district in France. Furthermore, each council would be formed and headed by a local bishop and various ecclesiastical and educational persons in positions of authority. He also proposed that the state collect tithes for the financial support of education and worship. He proposed a legislature be composed of ninety senators. Twenty of the senators would be bishops and other persons of authority within the church.

Note that although Morris believed that a church establishment was suitable in France; he did not believe that such an establishment would work in the United States.

He believed that state funding and maintenance of education and divine worship and “entire liberty of religious opinions” could co-exist.

Gouverneur Morris died on November 6, 1816 after witnessing the restoration of the Bourban dynasty in France.

Although it is not certain that Gouverneur Morris was a Christian he expressed himself on religious doctrines. He had a profound faith in the providential superintendence of an immutable God. The Episcopal church to which he belonged affirmed the Triune God, the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, and the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The public and private declarations which he made conform to those doctrines. He recognized the human sinfulness of mankind. His political beliefs were formed upon his view of the fallen nature of mankind. He firmly believed that religion and morality were essential prerequisites to a society free from arbitrary rule. Gouverneur Morris formed his political philosophy around an essential world view founded upon the Bible.

This essay is gleaned and condensed from:
Christianity and the Constitution – The Faith of Our Founding Fathers by John Eidsmoe

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