To Jared Sparks
Montpellier, April 8, 1831.
I have duly received your letter of March 30. In answer to your
enquiries "respecting the part acted by Gouverneur Morris (whose life, you
observe, you are writing) in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the political
doctrines maintained by him," it may be justly said that he was an able, an
eloquent, and an active member, and shared largely in the discussions
succeeding the ist of July, previous to which, with the exception of a few of
the early days, he was absent.
Whether he accorded precisely "with the political doctrines of Hamilton"
I cannot say. He certainly did not "incline to the Democratic side," and was
very frank in avowing his opinions when most at variance with those prevailing
in the Convention. He did not propose any outline of a Constitution, as was
done by Hamilton; but he contended for certain articles, (a Senate for life,
particularly,) which he held essential to the stability and energy of a
Government capable of protecting the rights of property against the spirit of
Democracy. He wished to make the weight of wealth to balance that of numbers,
which he pronounced to be the only effectual security to each against the
encroachments of the other.
The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution
fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris; the task having been probably handed
over to him by the Chairman of the Committee, himself a highly respectable
member, with the ready concurrence of the others. A better choice could not
have been made, as the performance of the task proved. It is true that the
state of the materials, consisting of a reported draught in detail, and
subsequent resolutions accurately penned, and falling easily in their proper
places, was a good preparation for the symmetry and phraseology of the
instrument; but there was sufficient room for the talents and taste stamped by
the author on the face of it. The alterations made by the Committee are not
recollected. They were not such as to impair the merit of the composition.
Those, verbal and others, made in the Convention, may be gathered from the
Journal, and will be found also to leave that merit altogether unimpaired.
The anecdote you mention may not be without a foundation, but not in the
extent supposed. It is certain that the return of Mr. Morris to the Convention
was at a critical stage of its proceedings. The knot felt as the Gordian one
was the question between the larger and smaller States on the rule of voting in
the Senatorial branch of the Legislature; the latter claiming, the former
opposing, the rule of equality. Great zeal and pertinacity had been shewn on
both sides; and an equal division of the votes on the question had been
reiterated and prolonged till it had become not only distressing but seriously
alarming. It was during that period of gloom that
Dr. Franklin made the proposition for a religious service in the
Convention, an account of which was so erroneously given, with every semblance
of authenticity, through the National Intelligencer, several years ago. The
crisis was not over when Mr. Morris is said to have had an interview and
conversation with General Washington and Mr. R. Morris, such as may well have
occurred; but it appears that on the day of his re-entering the Convention a
proposition had been made from another quarter to refer the knotty question to
a committee with a view to some compromise; the indications being manifest that
sundry members from the larger States were relaxing in their opposition, and
that some ground of compromise was contemplated, such as finally took place,
and as may be seen in the printed Journal. Mr. Morris was in the deputation
from the large State of Pennsylvania, and combated the compromise throughout.
The tradition is, however, correct that on the day of his resuming his seat he
entered with anxious feelings into the debate, and in one of his speeches
painted the consequences of an abortive result to the Convention in all the
deep colours suited to the occasion. But it is not believed that any material
influence on the turn which things took could be ascribed to his efforts; for,
besides the mingling with them some of his most disrelished ideas, the topics
of his eloquent appeals to the members had been exhausted during his absence,
and their minds were too much made up to be susceptible of new impressions.
It is but due to Mr. Morris to remark, that to the brilliancy and
fertility of his genius he added, what is too rare, a candid surrender of his
opinions when the lights of discussion satisfied him that they had been too
hastily formed, and a readiness to aid in making the best of measures in which
he had been overruled.
In making this hastened communication, I have more confidence in the
discretion with which it will be used, than in its fulfilment of your
anticipations. I hope it will at least be accepted as a proof of my respect for
your object, and of the sincerity with which I tender you a reassurance of the
cordial esteem and good wishes in which Mrs. Madison always joins me.
I take for granted you have at command all the printed works of Mr.
Morris. I recollect that there can be found among my pamphlets a small one by
him, intended to prevent the threatened repeal of the law of Pennsylvania which
had been passed as necessary to support the Bank of N. America, and when the
repeal was viewed as a formidable blow to the establishment. Should a copy be
needed, I will hunt it up and forward it.