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Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution Hardcover – June 3, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This biography ought to rehabilitate an appealing, major if second-ranking figure of the early nation. Gouverneur Morris has been overlooked, surmises Brookhiser (America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918), because he was among "the solid rather than the glittering." If so, Morris had a more penetrating mind, a more buoyant disposition and a more lusty character than most of his contemporaries. He may have been a rake, but he appears to have been a lovable and admirable one-a thoughtful lover (greatly loved in return by women, including Talleyrand's mistress, whom he shared with the Frenchman), a keen observer of history, an early opponent of slavery, and an optimistic and unembittered man despite grievous bodily injuries. More important, he played key roles in the nation's first years. We owe the Constitution's great preamble, as well as many of the document's key phrases and all of its style, to Morris's pen. Observing the French Revolution up close in Paris and serving as ambassador to France at the height of the Terror, he recorded what he saw in a classic diary. The author's characteristic strengths are on display here, no doubt because he's writing of another of the founding generation's conservative figures, his longtime subjects. Sometimes letting facts suffice for interpretation, Brookhiser, a senior editor for the National Review and a columnist for the New York Observer, leaves a reader unsure of where to place Morris, how to understand his significance. But no one will fail to be charmed by this man of fortitude and achievement who "savored life."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Acclaimed historian Brookhiser provides an absolutely delightful biography of America's least renowned Founding Father. Revisiting the life and times of Gouverneur Morris, he has also added a new chapter to the history of the Constitution. Born to an aristocratic New York family, Morris was exposed to the politics of both the loyalists and the revolutionaries at an early age. Opting to throw his weight behind the cause of liberty, he became a member of the Constitutional Convention, reshaped and reworded the proposed Constitution, and penned the celebrated Preamble. Equally as interesting as his political contributions was his colorful private life. An inveterate womanizer, the witty, fashionably attired, one-legged Mr. Morris entertained a string of mistresses across two continents. The third installment in Brookhiser's series of tributes to the Founding Fathers (Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, 1996; Alexander Hamilton, American, 1999) offers another fascinating portrait of a man at the crossroads of American history. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743223799
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402568718
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Good use of quoted letters and diaries.
M. Heiss
Clearly a lightweight wouldn't have been entrusted to draft the Constitution, yet Morris has been left in the corner to gather dust for the last two centuries.
Brookhiser gives us the opportunity to learn about this man and his role in early U.S. history.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery Steele on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Does Richard Brookhiser plan to write a biography for every single Founding Father? Based on the three books of his I've read so far (on George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and now Gouverneur Morris), one can only hope so.
Brookhiser's latest biography is of a somewhat neglected Founding Father, whose greatest accomplishment was his authorship/editorial work of much of the U.S. Constitution. Late in his life, Morris also played an invaluable, but often overlooked role in pushing the U.S. to create a system of canals linking New York State's Atlantic coast with the northern interior of North America. (These canals were, once created, as important for the young country's economic growth in the early nineteenth century as railroads would be for it in the late nineteenth century.)
For a major public figure, Morris led a balanced life. His serious pursuits did not keep him from enjoying women, travel and outings, or a well-told joke. He was a good friend, especially towards those who he felt were unfairly treated by others. As Morris would drift in and out of public service throughout his life, much of the biography focuses on this personal side of the man.
Brookhiser's skill as a biographer is to reveal aspects of his subject's character with just a well-written phrase or two. He does this in a straightforward way without the need for any conceptual baggage (such as Freudianism). Few biographers nowadays are willing to be so concise or risk interpreting their subjects in such a direct manner.
But unlike with two of his previous and better-known subjects (Washington and Hamilton), Brookhiser is perhaps too brief in dealing with Morris's life.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on June 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With his well-written and highly entertaining biography, "Gentleman Revolutionary," author Richard Brookhiser has resurrected the memory of founding father Gouvernor Morris for the modern reader. Among his many accomplishments, as the book's subtitle points out, it was Morris who wrote the final version of the American Constitution, the single greatest document of governance in world history. For that accomplishment alone, his memory should not be allowed to fade in comparison to his contemporaries.
Morris's career encompassed, among much else, two terms in the Continental Congress during the height of the American Revolution. His financial expertise was vital to keeping the war effort afloat until the victory at Yorktown secured American independence. He also served as America's Ambassador to France during the French Revolution, keeping a meticulous account of events as they unfolded. Much of the rest of his life was spent as a successful lawyer and financier, who occasionally enagaged in such acts of public service as championing the Erie Canal and laying out the streets of Manhattan.
All of this Brookhiser captures with his lively narrative prose. The book is a relatively quick read at just over 200 pages of narrative, and Brookhiser concentrates his efforts on those periods of Morris's life that were devoted to public service. A generous helping of illustrations are also provided. Brookhiser also avoids being too overly fawning of his subject, pointing out those ideas of Morris's that were either dangerously flawed or just plain wrong.
Overall, a fascinating biography that can be enjoyed by history buffs as well as general readers.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Guillaume on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Most accounts of the American Founding are filled with tales of prim and proper Puritans or unremarkable commercial men. Not so with Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), a New York aristocrat whose ancestral roots in this country went back to Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam. His family owned much of the Bronx in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Morris had an astonishingly varied career. A friend of George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and Thomas Paine, Morris was the primary architect of the U.S. Constitution. He was a successful ladies' man, enjoying a succession of lovers before finally marrying in his late 50s. An expatriate in France during the French Revolution, he advised Louis XVI and wrote a constitution for that troubled nation. A senator from New York, he opposed the War of 1812 and advocated the secession of Northern states. Back in New York, while practicing law and tending to business interests, he found time to establish Manhattan's street grids and begin work on the Erie Canal. He started a family in his early 60s. Above all, he enjoyed life.
Observers make much of the fact that as a teenager Morris sustained severe burns to his right arm and later lost part of a leg in a carriage accident, but these are arguably the least interesting things about the man.
The one black mark on an otherwise admirable record was his anti-Catholicism. Brookhiser says little about it apart from arguing that Morris, a deist, wasn't as anti-Catholic as some of his Protestant colleagues. In other words, "Morris could have been worse," the author seems to say.
This is a quick and easy read. Brookhiser writes well. Still, it's not altogether clear why the author, a senior editor at the neoconservative National Review, would want to write about someone like Morris.
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