To Secure the Blessings of Liberty
Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Liberty Fund
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Title Page, Copyright
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It seems to be customary to begin any discussion of the life and legacy of Gouverneur Morris by lamenting his neglect by later generations, as all four of his recent biographers have done. But however shameful posterity’s treatment of Morris may be, it is about what he expected. ...
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This project has benefited from the help of many people. Foremost among them have been the staffs of the many libraries that I have consulted. Bernard Crystal, and later Jennifer Lee, of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University facilitated my access to the Morris manuscripts deposited there, ...
A Note on the Texts
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1 • To the Inhabitants of the Colony of New-York (1769)
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The first of Morris’s works that has come down to us is his oration on “Wit and Beauty” for the King’s College commencement exercises upon completing his B.A. in 1768. Three years later, receiving his M.A., he delivered an address on “Love.”1 ...
2 • Political Enquiries (1776)
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The precise occasion for these “Political Enquiries” is unknown, but at the time of their composition these themes would have been very much on Morris’s mind. As events moved toward American independence, people’s thoughts naturally turned to questions of the purposes and origins of government. ...
3 • Oration on the Necessity for Declaring Independence from Britain (1776)
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Morris did not serve in the second New York Provincial Congress, which was elected in November 1775. The following spring, however, he was elected to the third. By this time he had abandoned any hope for reconciliation with Britain. ...
4 • Public Letters to the Carlisle Commissioners (1778)
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On January 20, 1778, Morris took his seat in the Continental Congress, then meeting in York, Pennsylvania. Almost immediately, he was sent on a fact-finding trip to Washington’s army at Valley Forge and did not return until mid-April. On his return, he served on a number of committees simultaneously and chaired several. ...
5 • Proposal to Congress Concerning the Management of the Government (1778)
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Sometime after his return from visiting the Army at Valley Forge, Morris turned his attention to a systematic overhaul of Congress’s way of doing business. The result is this document, which may have been prepared for delivery as a speech, although there is no record of it being delivered. ...
6 • Report of the Committee on the Treasury (1778)
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Creating an effective public administration from the materials available to Congress in 1778 was a formidable problem, as the previous document suggests. Not only was there no executive to speak of, but there were no systematic procedures for doing simple things like paying for supplies. ...
7 • Some Thoughts on the Finances of America (1778)
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After his report on reorganizing the Treasury in August 1778, Morris turned his attention to the daunting problems of public finance. Congress and the states had resorted to currency finance in order to carry on their operations, and by 1778 the paper was depreciating rapidly. ...
8 • To the Quakers, Bethlemites, Moderate Men, Refugees, and Other the Tories Whatsoever, and Wheresoever, Dispersed (1779)
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By late 1778, serious factional divisions had appeared in Congress, particularly in the controversy over Silas Deane’s service as a U.S. commissioner in France. Deane was accused by one of his co-commissioners, Arthur Lee, of misappropriating public money and of engaging in commercial activities of his own while an official representative of the country. ...
9 • To Governor Johnstone (1779)
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After Congress snubbed the Carlisle Commission, George Johnstone returned to Parliament to defend his conduct. He gave a long speech in the House of Commons on November 27, 1778, in which he blamed just about everyone for the commission’s failure. ...
10 • “An American” Letters on Public Finance for the Pennsylvania Packet (1780)
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Morris’s tenure in the Continental Congress ended in November 1779. He decided to stay in Philadelphia and establish his law practice there; he also embarked on a number of business ventures. But he did not give up his interest in public finance. ...
11 • Righteousness Establisheth a Nation (1780)
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As Congress struggled with its financial problems in 1780, it was seriously handicapped by its inability to levy taxes and thus support the paper money it had issued. In March 1780, Congress decided to retire all of its existing paper currency and replace it with a new issue. ...
12 • Observations on Finances: Foreign Trade and Loans (1781?)
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This paper is difficult to assign a date. No published version has been found, nor has the “former paper” Morris cites in the first sentence. The conclusion—that Congress needs an independent revenue—could describe his thinking at any time from 1778 until the Constitutional Convention nine years later. ...
13 • Ideas of an American on the Commerce Between the United States and French Islands As It May Respect Both France and America (1783)
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When Morris arrived in France in early 1789, he already had a reputation for knowledge of economics and finance. In large measure, this reputation rested on several letters that he had written in 1783 and 1784 concerning American trade with the French West Indies, which had been circulated among French policy makers.1 ...
14 • Address to the Assembly of Pennsylvania on the Abolition of the Bank of North America (1785)
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Robert Morris’s 1781 appointment as superintendent of finance brought the beginnings of order to America’s finances. In May 1781, the Continental Congress approved Morris’s proposal for a national bank, and in December of that year Congress incorporated it as “the President and Company of the Bank of North America.”1 ...
15 • The Constitution of the United States (1787)
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Morris was, by his own admission, a surprise choice to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, but he proved to be one of its most active members. On September 10, 1787, the convention adjourned to allow the Committee of Style and Arrangement to put its handiwork in order. ...
16 • American Finances (1789)
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Morris had long wanted to go to Europe, and in 1788 his business ventures with Robert Morris at last gave him a reason to do so. Robert’s fortunes began their long decline in 1787 when his London agent suddenly defaulted. Gouverneur’s mission was to try to pick up the pieces as best he could, ...
17 • Observations on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France (1789)
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The Estates-General convened on May 5, 1789, amid royal pageantry and unrealistic expectations. Morris attended the opening session with Thomas Jefferson and later commented to Mrs. Robert Morris: ...
18 • Memoir Written for the King of France, Respecting the New Constitution (1791)
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By mid-1791 the National Assembly had been deliberating a new constitution for France for two years. Along the way, however, it had taken some radical steps, including abolishing the feudal system, issuing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and nationalizing the property of the Catholic Church. ...
19 • Observations on the New Constitution of France (1791)
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Morris prepared this speech for the king’s use in accepting the National Assembly’s Constitution of 1791. It reflects the understanding of the king’s political position developed in the previous document. ...
20 • Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France (1791?)
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Sparks says of this document, “The date of this paper has not been ascertained. The only copy, which has been found, is in the French language and in Mr. Morris’s handwriting, with the following endorsement on the envelope, ‘Notes on a Form of a Constitution for France.’” There are no internal clues about its composition; ...
21 • Remarks upon the Principles and Views of the London Corresponding Society (1795)
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Morris left France in October 1794 and spent the next four years traveling in Europe. In mid-June 1795 he arrived in England, where he stayed for a year. Although he did some touring in the country, much of his time was spent in and around London, where he met and conversed with just about everyone of consequence. ...
22 • Oration on the Death of George Washington (1799)
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The only man among his contemporaries for whom Morris could be said to have unqualified admiration was George Washington. They first became acquainted in the very early stages of the Revolution, but Morris’s respect for Washington grew into something approaching hero worship during the years he spent in the Continental Congress. ...
23 • Speeches in the Senate on the Repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801
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On April 3, 1800, Morris became a member of the U.S. Senate as a Federalist from New York. His Senate term lasted until March 3, 1803, and thus spanned the transition from Adams and the Federalists to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans—the first peaceful transfer of power between rival parties. ...
24 • Letters to the New York Evening Post on the Louisiana Purchase (1803)
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When the Jefferson administration discovered that Spain had secretly given Louisiana back to France in 1800, they worried about having an ambitious and restless great power for a neighbor. As if to underscore those concerns, in fall 1802 the Spanish—then still in possession of the territory— suddenly suspended the American right of deposit in New Orleans, ...
25 • Funeral Oration for Alexander Hamilton (1804)
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On July 11, 1804, Morris received word that “General Hamilton was killed in a duel this morning by Colonel Burr.” When he went into town the next day, he discovered that Hamilton was still alive and rushed to his bedside, where he stayed until Hamilton died. ...
26 • Oration on the Love of Wealth (1805)
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This essay and the ones that follow all date from 1805 and seem to have been designed as school exercises. On the last page, Morris has endorsed this manuscript: “Oration on the Love of Wealth. June 1805, for young Fleming. The Subject had been anticipated by a Senior Student.” ...
27 • Oration on Patriotism (1805)
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Among the many Subjects which present themselves for the Exercise of youthful Talent none seemed so proper as Patriotism. I am sure that none can be more congenial to your Feelings; and tho my Genius be feeble, my Heart is warm with that Sentiment which glowed in the Breast of my Father. ...
28 • On Prejudice (ca. 1805)
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The manuscript is clearly a draft, of which the first and last pages are missing. Sparks’s note on the manuscript says “Fragment on Prejudice. Date uncertain.” The Columbia library information indicates “probably 1805.” Given its similarity of theme and treatment to the other essays from 1805 (which also include an “Oration on Music” ...
29 • An Answer to War in Disguise (1806)
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War in Disguise, or the Frauds of the Neutral Flags appeared in October 1805, the same month that Admiral Nelson won his great victory at Trafalgar. Nelson gave Britain control of the seas, and in War in Disguise, James Stephen gave her a doctrine for using that power. ...
30 • Notes on the United States of America (1806)
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After his return from Europe in 1798, Morris maintained a steady correspondence with friends and acquaintances from the Old World. That correspondence often turned to the subject of investments—a subject on which Morris was acknowledged an expert—and especially investments in American land. ...
31 • The British Treaty (1807/1808)
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As the Answer to War in Disguise shows, American arguments for the rights of neutral shipping under international law fell increasingly on deaf ears as the British tried to inflict economic damage on France. In fall 1806, Napoleon retaliated with the Berlin Decree, forbidding all commerce with Britain, whether in French, allied, or neutral ships. ...
32 • On the Beaumarchais Claim (1807–1808)
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The Beaumarchais1 case was one of the most contentious episodes of the Revolutionary War. As Morris explains in these letters, not only were the claims themselves potentially embarrassing to both France and the United States, but they also gave rise to a factional fight in Congress over the conduct of American agents Arthur Lee and Silas Deane ...
33 • To the People of the United States (1810)
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American relations with England continued to deteriorate after Madison succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809. Morris had long thought that Madison’s handling of foreign policy as secretary of state was incompetent. As this essay indicates, he was coming to believe that as president Madison had surpassed himself. ...
34 • Election Address (1810)
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This address was probably given to a group of New York voters sometime in April 1810, when Democratic-Republican Governor Daniel D. Tompkins was running for reelection against Jonas Platt. Party competition in New York was keen in this era, because it was a swing state and thus key to the national fortunes of the Democratic-Republican party. ...
35 • Letters to the Evening Post on Albert Gallatin’s Plan for Enforcing the Non-Importation Act (1811)
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Beginning in 1806, the Jefferson and Madison administrations enacted a series of measures restricting American commerce. They intended to use economic pressure to force Great Britain to end its practice of impressing American sailors, and to force the British and the French to respect the neutrality of American shipping. ...
36 • Erie Canal Commission Report (1812)
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As early as 1777, Morris advocated building canals to connect the Great Lakes with the eastern seaboard. Morgan Lewis later recalled that on a visit to General Schuyler’s headquarters after the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga, “Mr. Morris, whose temperament admitted of no alliance with despondency,” ...
37 • An Address to the People of the State of New York on the Present State of Affairs (1812)
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For Morris, the War of 1812 was more than simply the result of diplomatic ineptitude on the part of the Madison administration. The war was the end of a chain of measures, beginning with the Non-Importation Act in 1806, that had seriously damaged the commerce of the Northern states. ...
38 • Discourse Before the New-York Historical Society (1812)
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Although the War of 1812 had made Morris pessimistic about the future of the American union, it did not diminish his faith in the great potential of New York state. In this discourse he sets forth his evidence for that faith. Appropriately for this audience, and consistently with his long-held views, Morris argues here that the past is the key to the future. ...
39 • Oration Before the Washington Benevolent Society (1813)
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The Washington Benevolent Society was founded in New York in 1808 as a Federalist counterweight to the Democratic-Republican Tammany Society. Within a few years there were many such societies across the New England states, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. ...
40 • Essays for the Examiner (1814)
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These essays cover a range of fiscal and foreign policy topics. Their common theme is a critical appraisal of the Republicans’ stewardship of the nation since 1801. ...
41 • Oration on Europe’s Deliverance from Despotism (1814)
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In the essay for the Examiner published four days before this speech, Morris had described the British move to restore the Bourbon dynasty as “a political sin.” This is probably a reference to the fact that the British had acted without consulting, and indeed against the wishes of, the other allied powers. ...
42 • To the Legislators of New York (1815)
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Morris had expressed reservations about the justice and efficacy of the federal government raising revenue through direct taxes as early as 1789 (see chapter 16). As it happened, however, Congress used this power only once before the War of 1812, in 1798. ...
43 • An Inaugural Discourse (1816)
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Morris became the second president of the New-York Historical Society in 1816. In this inaugural discourse, he reflects on the lessons of history. This theme had been on his mind at least since the beginning of the French Revolution. ...
44 • To the Bank Directors of New-York (1816)
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The War of 1812 brought back to the fore an issue that Morris had first treated almost a half century earlier, that of paper money. In 1769 he had argued against an issue of bills of credit by the then New York colony. In this letter, he urges the banks of New York to reconsider a reported plan to start reducing the amount of circulating paper. ...
45 • Address on “National Greatness” (no date)
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This was evidently a draft for an address, but the audience and the occasion are not recorded. The classical references suggest that it was to be given to an educated audience, and the absence of topical commentary implies a non political occasion. Morris had become thoroughly discouraged in his later years about the direction of American politics. ...
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Page Count: 702
Publication Year: 2013