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Memoir of a Republican Royalist: Gouverneur Morris, Chronicler and Actor of the French Revolution

The Paris sojourn of the author of A Diary of the French Revolution is possibly the most fascinating period of his eventful life. As George Washington’s informant and emissary (official and unofficial) in both Paris and London, Gouverneur Morris discreetly contributed to the United States’s policy toward France and England. Upon his arrival in Paris in February 1789, Morris became the privileged witness of the outbreak of the French Revolution, of which he would become an invaluable chronicler and a discreet actor for five years. A self-appointed advisor on revolutionary matters, he would interfere in French politics as a republican royalist of sorts and become the darling of the constitutional noblesse and the Jacobins’ beˆte noire. From 1792 to 1794, he served as minister plenipotentiary of the United States. As the only foreign diplomat to remain in Paris during the Reign of Terror, Morris judiciously used his astonishing network of personal relationships with the various factions to defend American interests and to help his compatriots involuntarily caught in the maelstrom of sanguinary ideological excesses. This article re-examines Gouverneur Morris’s participation in the second earth-shaking upheaval of the late eighteenth century and ponders the New York revolutionist’s reasons for involvement, as well as the nature and significance of that engagement.