GENTLEMAN REVOLUTIONARY: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution

Richard Brookhiser, Author . Free Press $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2379-9

This biography ought to rehabilitate an appealing, major if second-ranking figure of the early nation. Gouverneur Morris has been overlooked, surmises Brookhiser (America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918), because he was among "the solid rather than the glittering." If so, Morris had a more penetrating mind, a more buoyant disposition and a more lusty character than most of his contemporaries. He may have been a rake, but he appears to have been a lovable and admirable one—a thoughtful lover (greatly loved in return by women, including Talleyrand's mistress, whom he shared with the Frenchman), a keen observer of history, an early opponent of slavery, and an optimistic and unembittered man despite grievous bodily injuries. More important, he played key roles in the nation's first years. We owe the Constitution's great preamble, as well as many of the document's key phrases and all of its style, to Morris's pen. Observing the French Revolution up close in Paris and serving as ambassador to France at the height of the Terror, he recorded what he saw in a classic diary. The author's characteristic strengths are on display here, no doubt because he's writing of another of the founding generation's conservative figures, his longtime subjects. Sometimes letting facts suffice for interpretation, Brookhiser, a senior editor for the National Review and a columnist for the New York Observer, leaves a reader unsure of where to place Morris, how to understand his significance. But no one will fail to be charmed by this man of fortitude and achievement who "savored life." (June 3)

Reviewed on: 03/24/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4391-0408-8
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-7432-5602-5
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