Who Was Gov. Morris, The Founding Father Who Led A Salacious Life Of Intrigue?

Perhaps one of the most interesting and least talked about founding fathers is a man known as Gouverneur Morris. Born on January 31 in 1752, Morris studied law and served in the New York Provincial Congress (via Britannica). He was part of the Continental Congress, and he fought for a clause for religious toleration in America's first constitution — the Articles of Confederation, of which he was an original signer. He also served as minister to France and penned the infamous "We the People" preamble to the Constitution, per Penn Today.

Morris' detailed diaries reveal a life filled with romantic encounters, flirtations, gossip, and meetings with heads of state and other important figures. Morris lived abroad for several years, including a stay in Paris that lasted five years. He also traveled to Switzerland, Germany, Europe, and Austria. He even spent time in London, where he met with Parliament and cabinet members about the growing problems associated with the French Revolution, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

He lost part of his leg in a carriage accident

When Gouverneur Morris was 28, he was involved in a carriage accident that left his left leg badly injured, according to Penn Today. The accident occurred in 1780 when Morris reportedly fell from a carriage either while getting into it or just after stepping inside (via Founder of the Day). When he fell out of the carriage, his left leg got caught in between the spokes of one of its wheels, resulting in several fractures. An attending doctor thought amputating the leg from the knee down was necessary, and Morris agreed. However, Morris' personal doctor did not think amputation was necessary.

There is another more salacious tale about how Morris lost his leg. The story goes that he broke his leg after jumping from the second-story bedroom of a married woman with whom he was having an affair to avoid being caught by her husband. Either way, he was left using a wooden peg leg, which is on display at the New York Historical Society, per The Gouverneur Museum.  

Morris had several affairs

According to PBS, Gouverneur Morris — a bachelor — was quite a ladies' man and mentioned many of his encounters in his diaries. His lovers included several affluent women from New York and Pennsylvania. While he was abroad, he also had several sexual relationships, many of which were affairs with married women. These include a relationship with the marquise de Litta, a married noblewoman from Milan (via National Endowment for the Humanities).

Morris also had an encounter with Henriette von Crayen, the wife of a German banker and diplomat. She even followed him to Berlin, where they spent three weeks with each other. While in Paris, Morris had a years-long affair with Adélaïde de Flahaut, who was married to a count 30 years her senior. While in Frankfurt, he had a brief relationship with Madame Ishlaer. When Morris was 57, he settled down and married 35-year-old Anne Cary Randolph on Christmas Day (per American Heritage)

He spent a few years abroad

In 1788, Gouverneur Morris visited France to sell land and tobacco to help his family business (via NEH). Shortly after, he witnessed the early stages of the French Revolution. In fact, the revolution would be the eventual reason why he parted ways with Adélaïde de Flahaut. In 1792, George Washington appointed Morris as Minister Plenipotentiary to France, and while there, he met with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and the Marquis de Lafayette (via Fraunces Tavern Museum).

Morris also advised King Louis XVI for a short while and even wrote speeches and a constitution for him, according to Oxford Bibliographies. He helped the family plan an escape, but it was not meant to be, as later that year, revolutionaries executed the king. Morris helped many other people, including de Flahaut and her son, escape France. As war broke out, he never left his post and was able to sympathize with the monarchy as well as the people. He wrote that he "felt a profound contempt for both sides," reports the Plymouth Rock Foundation.

He continued serving the public

Gouverneur Morris' political career was far from over after he returned to the U.S. in 1798. In 1800, he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Federalist, where he served until 1803. He did not win reelection and then served as chairman of the Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1813 (via Office of the Historian). He even helped design a street grid for New York City, which took about four years to develop, reports the New York Public Library.

Morris was opposed to the War of 1812, and he wrote an address to the people of New York, advocating for New York and New England to secede from the Union, reports the National Constitution Center. He thought the war was the result of slaveholders who only wanted more political power via the three-fifths compromise (via Fraunces Tavern Museum), an agreement that recognized three out of every five enslaved people would be counted for taxation and representation for each state, according to Britannica.  

Morris was opposed to slavery

Gouverneur Morris' feelings about the War of 1812 might have been rooted in his belief that slavery was wrong. He considered it a "nefarious institution" and the "curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed," according to PBS. He thought slavery damned men to the "most cruel bondages" and said so during a speech at the Constitutional Convention. 

James Madison wrote that if Morris had to choose between the "dilemma of doing injustice to the Southern States or to human nature," he would choose the former, reports the Constitution Center. Morris even said that he would rather pay taxes for all enslaved people in the country than burden future generations with a Constitution that allowed the enslaved to be taxed like property (via Lillian Goldman Law Library). Years later, in the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln would recognize Morris as one of the "most noted antislavery men of those times" along with Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin (via The Review of Politics).