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“a Representative Of America”
Vain, snobbish, distinctly upper-class in his libertine social habits, Gouverneur Morris nevertheless saw himself justifiably as
June 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 4
The inevitable sequel to Genêt’s recall was that in the late summer of 1794 the French government demanded Morris’ recall too. In spite of the complaint of some of his compatriots that he had lost touch with America, no one could have served his country better. He was the only foreign emissary who remained in Paris throughout the Reign of Terror. In the face of repeated insults he vindicated the full rights of his countrymen with dignity and courage. In sheltering refugees from the guillotine, and still more in helping to draw up plans for the king’s escape, he may not have been as strictly nonpartisan as a diplomat should be, but these are not sins posterity is likely to hold against him.
Though he was only forty-two when he reluctantly gave up his post, Morris played no further part in world affairs. The European scene fascinated him, and he was in no hurry to return to his own country. He finally sailed from Hamburg in October, 1799. By the time he landed in New York on December 23, 1799, he had been abroad ten years.
His Federalist friends welcomed him with open arms. Washington had died while he was still at sea, but John Jay, the governor of New York at the time, and Alexander Hamilton, a leading light of the party, urged him to re-enter politics. When one of the New York senators resigned his post in April, 1800, Morris was elected to fill the remaining three years of his unexpired term. Though he was one of the strong pillars of the Federalist Party, he was too independent to act always within strict party lines. Unlike many of his colleagues he supported Jefferson’s Louisiana policy, but he was never in sympathy with Jefferson himself, whom he considered a theorist, a man who believed in the wisdom of mobs and the moderation of Jacobins. As long as Jefferson was in the saddle, he felt there was no future for him in Washington. Accordingly, on the expiration of his term in 1803 he retired to Morrisania and spent the remaining thirteen years of his life there.
There was plenty to keep him busy in Morrisania, which he found in a “leaky and ruinous condition.” He spared no expense in putting his house in order, for he was a rich man and his investments in land had proved highly successful. Having rebuilt Morrisania, he found himself a suitable wife, Anne Gary Randolph, who, though she belonged to a great Virginia family, had fallen on hard days. They were married on Christmas Day, 1809. Miss Randolph had come to him first as his housekeeper, and there were some raised eyebrows when he announced his impending wedding. Nevertheless it was a happy marriage.
Meanwhile he worked to forward the plans for the Erie Canal and served as chairman of the canal commission for years. By the time he died, on November 6, 1816, Napoleon had been banished to St. Helena, and a Bourbon king was once again ruling in the Tuileries. The War of 181 a had come to an end without solving any of the issues for which it was fought. Morris had opposed it bitterly from the beginning. Many years earlier, with perhaps a prophetic vision of this war in his mind, he had asserted that new western states would be “little scrupulous of involving the Community in wars the burdens and operations of which would fall chiefly on the maritime states.” By now, at the age of sixty-four, a ripe one for those days, he had few illusions about anything. The man who had had such a robust faith in the future of the American Republic in the days of the Constitutional Convention was beginning to wonder whether the Union, with such men as Jefferson and Madison at the helm, could possibly survive. Gouverneur Morris had been a great patriot, but he had not been able to move into the nineteenth century.
As for France, the country he had learned to love so dearly and whose agonies he had watched with his own eyes, he was delighted to see it once more at peace. The fat and unprepossessing but shrewd-wilted Louis XVIII represented stability; and to Morris, who had lived through the fall of the monarchy, the Reign of Terror, the Directory, and the Empire, stability was a very important thing. It was all very well for Jefferson to talk glibly about “the tree of liberty being refreshed with the blood of tyrants,” but that, after all, was before the outbreak of the French Revolution. Jefferson might well have retracted that statement had he stayed in France and watched the guillotine at work.