When yankees Liked Session Too- Gouverneur Morris in 1812

Northern secession was openly in the political brew again. Eleven (11) years before, Jefferson had cautioned New England’s desire to secede while accepting their sovereignty to choose as they wished. Since then extensive changes had come about. Jefferson was retired and Hamilton deceased. Our landmass more than doubled with the Louisiana territory. 2 more States, Ohio and Louisiana, were added to the Union and more than 2 million people. But the greatest difference was that in 1801 we were at peace. In June 1812 we went to war and in July invaded Canada. The country was in upheaval. In Baltimore near July’s end several Federalist editors, supporters of Morris’s party and opposed to the war, were taken into protective custody. A mob broke into the jail, took them away and beat them. One died of his wounds. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island refused the call for militia except to defend their own States. The fleets of New England and New York suffered great commercial losses. New York had become the preeminent commercial State in the Union. The war brought another showdown between the Hamiltonian (Federalist) and Jeffersonian (Democratic Republican) parties. Madison had hit a beehive and the bees were out to sting.

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Gouverneur Morris was forthright, sturdy, even unflinching in his opinions, especially his “commitment to the sanctity of property as the basis of civilization.” Founding Fathers, 2d Ed. revised by M.E. Bradford, University Press of Kansas, 1984, p. 75. At once an honest and honorable man, he considered human nature near rancid. But he was eminently practical and compromise was not beneath him. He understood every particular interest in politics is a venture for governmental power. He was “devoted to the concept of liberty as achieved through law“, that is, only those concepts evolved and enunciated in the law. So far as the rights of humankind, he refused to accept natural rights. As he once said, “He who wishes to enjoy natural Rights must establish himself where natural Rights are admitted. He must live alone.” Ibid. 74 – 75 He was no Jeffersonian.

A formidable patriot of the 1776 American Secession from England, Morris came from an established, wealthy and aristocratic New York family. Both extremely outspoken and extremely literate, he advocated a strong central government, with life tenure for the president and the presidential appointment of senators. He served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the New York militia. In 1775 – 77 he was in the New York Provincial Congress where he participated in the writing of the New York Constitution of 1777. He served in the Continental Congress 1778-79 and was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. In 1780 he lost part of his left leg due to misadventure within an amorous adventure when the lady’s husband returned unannounced. Fleeing, he ran into a coach flying by. He was peg-legged the remainder of his life.

From 1781 – 1785 he was Assistant to the Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris (no relation), and with him first proposed a coinage system. In 1787, by happenstance a delegate from Pennsylvania rather than New York, he spoke more at the Convention than any other delegate and was the only one to threaten the smaller States with war if they did not agree to a new confederation. He was the prime draftsman of the 1787 Constitution, including the Preamble with its deliberate obfuscation of its original meaning. He was “audacious enough” to write by sleight of pen other changes, not all of which he got away with. (See discussion of General Welfare wording in Novus Ordo Seclorum, The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, Forrest McDonald, University Press of Kansas, pp. 165 and 172-173. See also, “But Morris was admired more than he was trusted …”, in The Fathers of the Constitution, Max Farrand, Yale University Press, 1921, pp. 112-113, in private printing for The Library of American Freedoms, combining The Framing of the Constitution of the United States with The Fathers of the Constitution into one volume, pagination separate for each work. The Palladium Press, 2000, Birmingham)

From 1800 to 1803 he was a Senator from New York. Then he largely retired from public life. In 1810 he became Chair of the Erie Canal Commission, a position he held till 1815 before leaving this world in 1816.

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In August 1812 his mind was focused on the continual and foreseeable depreciation of New York and New England’s commercial world due to the administrations of Jefferson and Madison culminating in war. He called into question the justness of the war.

On August 26, 1812 in the New-York Evening Post and August 29, 1812 in the New York Herald, Gouverneur Morris published “An Address to the People of the State of New York on the Present State of Affairs”. He signed it simply ‘An American‘, but the Evening Post declared, “… the reader will probably recognize the superior endowments of a writer who, some years since, more than once adorned our columns … Dull indeed must be the apprehension, and great the want of sagacity, of him who does not soon find that he is engaged with one of the master spirits of the nation.” In To Secure the Blessings of Liberty, Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris, edited by J. Jackson Barlow, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 2012, pp.537-549

Gouverneur wrote to the heart of the matter: “… the general current of events, for some years past, drives us rapidly towards a condition in which no human power can prevent these States from separating into two, or more sections, independent of each other … there are diseases in the body politic which become mortal before they are evident to cursory observation … in a Republic, the people alone, can save themselves …” (p. 538)

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Gouverneur Morris in 1812