Volume 21

Nationalizing "the Curse of Heaven": Gouverneur Morris on the Constitution and the Slave Power

by J. Jackson Barlow

Gouverneur Morris was the dazzling but “inconstant” Framer—the womanizing, peg-legged, irresponsible, and irrepressible one, “better known for his blunt-ness than for originality.” Recent biographers have improved our knowledge of Morris’s life, but his political orientation and outlook remain elusive: he never wrote a political treatise, his forays into elective office were few, and his arguments often speak to the moment without touching on larger principles. He was a conservative but not an ideologue, an aristocrat who criticized aristocrats. He was also a keen and prescient student and observer of political life, and he was consistent in his belief that the institution of slavery would poison American politics. At the Constitutional Convention, Morris gave the most powerful denunciation of slavery and the clearest prophecy of disaster from its power to occupy Americans’ minds.


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