Gouverneur Morris


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An Independent Life

William Howard Adams

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An engrossing biography of one of the most colorful and least well-known of the founding fathers

A plainspoken, racy patrician who distrusted democracy but opposed slavery and championed freedom for all minorities, an important player in the American Revolution, later an astute critic of the French Revolution, Gouverneur Morris remains an enigma among the founding generation. This comprehensive, engrossing biography tells his robust story, including his celebrated love affairs during his long stay in Europe. Morris’s public record is astonishing. One of the leading figures of the Constitutional Convention, he put the Constitution in its final version, including its opening Preamble. As Washington’s first minister to Paris, he became America’s most effective representative in France. A successful, international entrepreneur, he understood the dynamics of commerce in the modern world. Frankly cosmopolitan, he embraced city life as a creative center of civilization and had a central role in the building of the Erie Canal and in laying out the urban grid plan of Manhattan. William Howard Adams describes Morris’s many contributions, talents, sophistication, and wit, as well as his romantic liaisons, free habits, and free speech. He brings to life a fascinating man of great stature, a founding father who receives his due at last.

William Howard Adams is also the author of The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson, published by Yale University Press.

Support for this book has been provided by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund

“This forgotten founder was as large and multifaceted as the Revolution itself. Marvelously idiosyncratic, he had a fiery imagination that went along with his unabashed taste for women. Alternately ambivalent and industrious, he was a cranky political genius. William Howard Adams’s biography is essential reading.”—Andrew Burstein, author of The Passions of Andrew Jackson

“There is little doubt that Adams has a firm grasp of his subject’s distinctive gifts and his importance to American history.”—Douglas L. Wilson, author of Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln

“At last a biography of Gouverneur Morris worth reading! W. Howard Adams does full justice to this amazing founder, whose career took him from the constitutional convention to the boudoirs of Paris to the wilds of upstate New York.”—Herbert Sloan, Barnard College

"Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! Meet Gouverneur Morris, a founder of the United States of America you’ve probably never heard of. All who read this superbly researched and written book about this extraordinary man will never forget him. That’s a prediction—and a promise."—Jim Lehrer (of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer)

“At last, Gouverneur Morris has found a biographer capable of capturing his sassy mixture of irreverence, energy, and wisdom. William Howard Adams has painted a brilliant full-length portrait of the only peg-legged genius in American history."—Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

“At last we have an authoritative biography of this intriguing man so important in the early history of American diplomacy, finance, and constitutionalism. It’s an added dividend that his life was spiced with dramatic personal episodes, and that the book is written with such grace by a lively guide who knows his terrain so well.”—Michael Kammen, Professor of American History and Culture, Cornell University and past-president of the Organization of American Historians

“Adams deserves high praise for this insightful, revealing, and wonderfully well-written account of Gouverneur Morris, a largely forgotten yet important and compelling founder. Morris comes alive as never before—within a very rich, very carefully crafted historical context.”—Robert M. S. McDonald, United States Military Academy, West Point

"A solid scholarly work that will long be the standard biography, providing readers a welcome introduction to the man whom Alexander Hamilton called an 'exotic genius.'"—Philander D. Chase, American Historical Review

“Far and away the best account of Morris’s life ever published.”—Michael J. Birkner, Journal of the Early Republic

"[A] searching, thorough, and authoritative work. . . . Adams’s book is really half a history of an entire epoch, and yet it never loses its focus on Morris. . . . A compelling portrait of an admirable conservative. . . . This full, sympathetic, engrossing yet clear-eyed biography of a near-great forgotten founder, a work whose graceful prose only enhances its deep scholarship, will now be the standard biography of its subject."—Publishers Weekly

"[A] comprehensive, authoritative biography. . . . An intelligent, thoughtful portrait of a politically significant figure by a historian who knows and understands his subject very well indeed.  Adams offers the reader a valuable insight into the wit and wisdom of this extraordinary founder through his correspondence and private diary.  It is unlikely that Gouverneur Morris will remain forgotten for long."—Kirsten E. Phimister, The Historian

“Adams is scrupulously fair in his treatment of this irascible but fair-minded figure who is generally omitted from the pantheon of the founding fathers. Out-spoken, rakish, and honest to a fault, Morris deserved better and at last has received the attention of a skillful biographer. This book will delight both the serious student and the reader out for a colorful yarn.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Until William Howard Adams tackled the remarkable life of Gouverneur Morris, . . . the New Yorker's multifaceted contributions to shaping the early American nation remained largely unheralded. . . . William Howard Adams aimed to rescue Gouverneur Morris from obscurity and to place him properly among the giants of nation-building . . . In this he has succeeded. . . . Adams has crafted many wonderful word pictures and his best prose absolutely lilts. . . . makes marvelous use of Morris's candid journals. . . . A welcome addition to the lengthening shelf of founder biographies."—Kathleen Smith Kutolowski, New York History

Won honorable mention for the 2004 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award
ISBN: 9780300099805
Publication Date: October 11, 2003
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.
The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

William Howard Adams; Original Photography by Adelaide de M

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