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Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution Hardcover – June 3, 2003
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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.
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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The charms of the book are:
Good use of quoted letters and diaries.
Good-humored and inspiring portraiture.
Brookhiser calls a spade a spade -- he lauds Morris's strengths and deplores his weaknesses, showing the reader both without flinching. And the result is an honest and engaging portrait of a person that I would wish to know.
Morris was generally a peripheral character in the Revolutionary Era, but he did play a significant role in the drafting of the Constitution. His writing skills put the Constitution into its essentially final form, and the Preamble is almost entirely his creation. Beyond this, however, he was a more minor political player.
A lot of this was by Morris's own choice, since he wasn't all that interested in higher office. He was an interesting enough person, in many ways more human than the semi-immortals with whom he worked with. Relatively easy-going and with a good sense of humor, Morris was also - despite a maimed hand and a missing leg - quite the ladies' man, even having an affair with one French woman who was not only married, but already the mistress to another. When he finally married late in life, he successfully avoided social pressure by choosing a wife with a bit of a reputation.
Brookhiser - a rather politically conservative writer - has a lot of sympathy for the Federalists such as Hamilton and Morris. He, nonetheless, has written a good, objective book, the best of the three of his I read (the other two were on Hamilton and the Adams family). While Morris is rightly accorded a lesser light in history, he does deserve some illumination and Brookhiser's book does the job well.