Joseph Lyon Miller.

American monthly review online

. (page 51 of 54)
Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 51 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

debates. It was discussed accordingly in presence of a throng-
ed audience, and Mr. Morris's speech on that occasion was
listened to with admiration, and looked upon as an extraordi-
nary display of argument and eloquence in a young man of
twenty-three. The knowledge he manifested of a most intri-
cate subject, which is seldom mastered by years of experi-
ence, the force of his reasoning, the ingenuity of his illustra-
tions, a manner at once dignified and persuasive, an elocution
smooth and unembarrassed, confidence in his own powers, and
a deep sense of the importance of his subject, all these con-
spired to quicken his energies and strengthen his efforts, till
he found his way to the hearts of his hearers, and carried cap-
tive their understandings. It was a day of glory and auspicious
moment to the young orator, long remembered and treasured
up in the minds of the people, as a precursor of future success
and eminence." p. 3^.

In May, 1776, Morris was again a member of the Provin-
cial Congress, and this was by far the most memorable ses-
sion of that body. We find him here the leader in debate
on almost every important question, and perhaps the most
Influential man in that Assembly. Grave matters were to
be discussed, viz. the assuming of independence, and the
formation of a new plan of government. The forming of a
new government was in reality a declaration of independen^.
On both topics Morris was the most prominent in debate.
Some ten or eleven pages from the fragments which have
been preserved of his speech on the subject of a new Con-
stitution, are inserted by Mr. Sparks, and they do justice to
the early fame of the orator, who in the course of his remarks
urges with power and zeal the necessity of entire separation
from Great Britain, and of assuming independence. This
was in June, 1776, after the Virginia resolves had been re-
ceived, but before it was known what ground would be taken

Digitized by


1889.] SparJct's Life of M&rr%8. 491

in the Continental Congress, where the question was under
discussion with closed doors. Morris reasoned well from the
faith that was in him ; and from an intimate acquaintance
with the character of the American people, he partially drew
aside the veil that separates the future from the present, and
pointed out to his audience something of the coining strength
and greatness of his country. We find him again distin-
guishing himself in the Convention of 1777, that framed a
form of government for the new State, and endeavouring to
infuse a sufficient degree of strength into the constitution to
preserve its continuity and duration.

We do not purpose to mention in detail the various offices
he held during the war, where all his labors were active, en-
ergetic, and sagacious, but pass directly to the winter of
1778, when he first took his seat in the Continental Con-
gress. " He had now," says Mr. Sparks, " been nearly three
years in public life, and he entered Congress with a reputa-
tion for talents, general intelligence, zeal, and activity in
business, probably not surpassed by that of any other person
of his age in the country, being not yet twenty-six yeare
old." Here he manifested the same unremitting industry,
the same learning, zeal, and forecast that had already given
him weight and consideration in the community. On the
very day of taking his seat he was appointed on the commit-
tee that was directed to proceed to the head-quarters of the
American army, and consult with the commander-in-chief
upon the best means of putting the army on a good footing
for the next campaign. Our readers will recollect that this
was at the most disastrous period of the American war. The .
troops after the long and almost disheartening campaign of
1777, were in winter-quarters at Valley Forge, suffering
from the want of food and clothing, and from exposure to the
severities of the winter. The regiments were fast wearing
away under the wretched system of short enlistments, and
the army in general was badly organized from the circum-
stance that so much of its detail was necessarily entrusted to
subordinate officers, who were not possessed of the requisite
skill or experience. Morris, with the other members of the
committee, repaired to the camp, and remained there nearly
three months, and at that time formed an intimate friendship
with General Washington, that ever after continued warm
and unwavering. General Washington laid before the corn-

Digitized by


498 Spw'h^i Life ofShrru. [Joae,

mittee a full account of the conditioo of the amiy " poiotiBg
out the dborders and deficiences together with their causes^
and suggesting in detail such reforms and improvements as
be considered essential to put the military establishoient on
a respectable footing." The plan of Washington, luminous,
comprehensive, and minute, embracing not merely tke miii*
tary arrangement, but the entire economy of the armyy was
adopted by the committee, and made the basis of their report,
which was approved by Congress. Washiogtoa was also
very anxious that some permanent provision should be made
for the officers of the army by the nation ; not on his own
account, for every bne knows that he declined receiving any
compensation beyond the mere payment of his expenses
during the war, but because of the deep interest he felt in
the army, and the desire he had that it should be command-
ed by faithful and competent men. Morris entered jfiilly into
the views which extended to half-pay for life, and urged
them, but unsuccessfully, in Congress; and all that coukl
be obtained was a pitiful vote ^^ that the half-pay to officers
should continue only seven years, and that each non-com*
missioned officer and soldier who remained in the army till
the end of the war should receive a reward of eighty dol-
lars." Soon after his return to Congress from Valley Forge,
he prepared a very long report upon the actual state of pub-
lic affiurs, and took up the subject of the finances and the
Seat waste in disbursing the public money. ^^ It is," says
r. Sparks, ^^ a remarkable evidence of his industry, cleae
observation, and the minute knowledge he bad acquired of
the proceedings m all the civil and military branches of the

A highly important service rendered by Morris while in
Congress, and the one considered as the most im{)oltant by^
Mr. Sparks, was that rendered by him as one of the commit-
tee to meet the British commissioners, the bearers of Lord
North's celebrated conciliatory propositions. The eyes of
the British ministry were a little opened to the difficulty of
subjugating the colonies after the bad success of Burgojnate
and Clinton, and the ^^ empty victories " of Howe. 'The
ministry were willing to give up the old claim to a right of
taxation^ and authorized the commissioners to treat on sdl the
fjuestions in dispute ; and two bills were introduced in Par-
liameol in pursuance of this object. In Congress these bilk

Digitized by


1880.] SparJci'sLifiofMorrU, 498

were referred to a committee consisting of Morris, Drayton,
and Dana. The report was drawn up by Morris, and was
unanimously adopted by Congress. The committee saw
nothing in the bills but an insidious design, under the spe*
cious pretence of conciliation, to divide the country and
injure the cause of liberty ; and further reported that Con«
gress ought not to treat with Great Britain, << unless, as a pre**
liminary, the British fleets and armies should be withdrawn,
and the independence of the United States acknowledged in
express and positive terms. This last was the same prelimi*
nary that Mr. Jay, one of our conunissioners, that concluded
the treaty of peace with Great Britain at the close of the
war, required, before he would consent to treat, and which,
by perseverance in his resolution, he finally succeeded in

Lord North's commissioners made the matter worse in
their first letter to Congress, by venturing upon some re&eo
tions on the conduct of France in joining the United States*
This of course was highly offensive, and it was some time
before Congress would condescend to take notice of the let-
ter. But at length, when an answer was given, it was much
to the same effect as the report of Morris, with the additiom
that no treaty of peace could be made without the. assent
of France.

" In the management of the business in Congress, and in the
views of the subject which went abroad, and made impressions
on the public, Mr. Morris must be considered as having a chief
share. He penned the reports and resolves, that were from
time to time issued; and when the matter was brought te a ^"^

close, he drew up, as one of a committee appointed tor the
purpose, a sketch of the whole proceedings, which was pal>-
Uvhed. This performance was entitled ' Observations im $ifi
American Revolution,* and extended to a hundred and tweoty-
two closely printed pages. In addition to an account of the
^ doings of Congress, in regard to the Commissioners, there is a
' condensed and well written introduction, containing an outliqe
of the causes of the war, the means used by the Americans to
avert it, their unavailing efforts to secure a recognition of their
rights, and the chief events that had hitherto occurred. The
whole was executed with address and ability, manifesting a
deep knowledge of the principles and reasons on which the
contest was founded, and an ardor of patriotism not surpassed
in any writings of the day." pp. 187, 188.


Digitized by


494 Sparki's Life ofMorrii. [June,

Among other prominent subjects to which Morris devoted
much time, while in Congress, may be mentioned the im-
portant instructions prepared by him in behalf of Congress
to be sent to Dr. Franklin, our Minister in Paris, and the
first instructions that *' had ever been sent to an American
Minister Plenipotentiary at a foreign court." We may also
add the report from his pen, in February, 1779, on the sub-
ject t>f the terms of peace. This report was the basis of the
peace as subsequently concluded, and ^' embraced all the
points then deemed essential or advisable to be urged in a
treaty with England, when the time for such an arrangement
should arrive." In the debate that ensued, Morris took a dis-
tinguished and leading part ; aud was appointed to draw up
the instructions to our ministers, embodying its results.
He also entered the lists warmly in defence of that much
injured man, Silas Deane, who was far from describing the
harsh treatment he received from Congress, and from numer-
ous bitter enemies throughout the country.

Notwithstanding his invaluable services, Morris was drop-

Eed from Congress in 1780. We are not informed from
istory what was the occasion of this apparent fickleness in
the legislature of New York. But tradition assigns as tbm
reason, that ^^ he neglected the concerns of the State and
gave himself too roach to the business and politics of the
nation." Mr. Sparks treats this charge, and very properly,
as a frivolotu pretext. But it is probably true, that New
York was somewhat dissatisfied because he was unwilling to
go all lengths with that state in forcing Vermont to submit to
her jurisdiction. The controversy between New York and
New Hampshire in relation to the territory, now Vermont,
had lasted many years, and had assumed a very angry ai4
threatening aspect. Vermont insisted on comins into the
Union as an independent state. New York would not allow
her claim, and Morris clearly saw that his state must quietly

S've up the point or else insist upon fighting " the Green
[ountain boys." It was folly and worse than folly to think
of being empaled on this latter horn of the dilemma, and Mor-
ris therefore, as we have reason to suppose, was on the
whole of opinion that New York had better relinquish her
claim with what grace she ifiight. And for this measure of
peace and necessity he, '' the observed of all observers," was
banished firom the halls of Congress.

Digitized by


188S.] aparkt's Life ofMrnrU. 486

Id 1781, he was appointed by Bx^bert Morrisi the cele*
brated financier, his assistant in the office of Secretaiy of
Finance. In this department for three years and a half he
labored most assiduously, in connexion with the Secretary,
to restore the finances of the nation to a comparatively sound
and healthy state. To say that they managed well is but
faint praise ; they managed wonderfully well, considering
their means and the circumstances of the country. To their
exertions is due the establishment of the Bank of North
America, which was of vast service in their financial schemes.

Judge Johnson, in his quarto " Life of General Greene,"
charges Morris with being a monarchist, and also with having
written those inflammatory productions so well known as the
Newburgh Letters. As to the Letters it is idle at this day
to say any more than that they were written by Armstrong,
whose acknowledgment of the fact destroys the feeble ar-
gument of the accuser, an argument that was never enti-
tled even to the questionable merit of plausibility. As to the
charge of being a monarchist, Mr. Sparks repels it with
abundant success in a very few words ; and we will add only,
that while such charges are easily made by demagogues, and
are now become quite stale with all decent people, we feel
somewhat surprised that so grave a gentleman as the biogra-
pher of Greene should stoop to take them up, and give them
credence, and publish them to the world. The fame of Mor-
ris is precious ; it belongs to the country ; and whoever un-
justly assails it should '^ stifle in his own report, and smell of

Every subject that Morris undertook, he managed with
talent and skill. In 1783 he wrote forcibly on the matter of
-the West India trade, and in opposition to the policy of
restrictive regulations, both in regard to England and France.
Recent events have given this subject no small share of in-
terest. To Morris also belongs the entire praise of propos-
ing the money unity which was the foundation of a new plan
for an American coinage, and was the basis of the system
afterwards adopted and now in use. We regret that we
have not room to enlarge upon this subject.

When Morris became Assistant Financier, he took up his
residence in Philadelphia, and, as far as his other engage-
ments permitted, resumed the practice of his profession. In
1787, he was chosen one of the delegates from Pennsylvania

Digitized by


496 Sparks' $ Life ofMarrtM. [Joae,

to the CooTention for forming the Constitution of the United
States. That he was a zealous and industrious member of that
body we should of course infer from the well known charac-
ter of the man ; and in confirmation of this belief we will add
the testimony of Mr. Madison, the only surviving member of
the Convention^ in his very interesting letter to Mr. Sparks,
from which we make the allowing extracts. In speaking of
Morris, he says,

** It may be justlv said, that he was an able, an eloquent,
and an active member, and shared largely in the discussions
succeeding the 1st of July, previous to which, with the excep-
tion of a few of the early days, he was absent

" The^fit5ft given to the style and arrangement of the Con*
stitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris ; the task, hav-
ing, probably, been handed over to him by the chairman of the
Committee, himself a highly respectable member, and 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
draft in detail, and subsequent resolutions accurately pennedi
and falling easily into their proper places, was a good prepara-
tion 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 fVom the JournaJ,
and will be found also to leave that merit altogether unim-

'* It is but due to Mr. Morris to remark, that, to the bril-
liancy of his genius, he added, what is too rare, a candid sur-
render of his opinions, when the lights of discussion satisfied
him, that they had been too hastily K>rmed, and a readiness to
aid in making the best of measures in whicli he had been over-
ruled." pp. 284-286.

While residing in Philadelphia, Gouverneur Morris had
been concerned with Robert Morris in extensive mercantile
operations. These had become not only very important, but
somewhat intiicate and perplexed, and it became necessary
for the subject of this bic^raphy to visit Europe to attend to
the affairs of the concern. He accordingly sailed in Decem-
ber, 1788, and reached Paris early in February following, at
a period of great interest in the history of France. During

Digitized by


1688.] SpmrJa's Life ofMarrii. 491

his residence in that country and in other parts of Europe,
he kept a Diary, which, as a Diary should be, is very easy,
spirited, and interesting, and contains a fund of informa-
tion, as to individual characters, public measures, and suc-
cessive adventures* His observations from time to time on
the progress of the French Revolution, are in general mark-
ed with great good sense and wide forecast. In the winter
of 1790, he was appointed by General Washington private
aeent to proceed to England and transact important business
of national concern with the British ministry. The subject
of bis commission met with prompt attention on his part, and
he pursued it with earnestness and zeal, and paved the way,
so uir as individual exertions and the circumstances of the
times would permit, for the subsequent successful negotiation,
by Mr. Jay, of the commercial treaty of 1794.

While in France as a private individual, Morris took a
deep interest in the political affairs of that nation. As a
friend to good government he deprecated the excesses of the
Revolution, and was very bold and free in bis remarks to the
leading politicians on both sides. He was above all conceal-
ment, and would neither compromise truth nor his own opin-
ions. Hence, when bis advice was sought, as it frequently
was, he disdained all disguise or evasion. A republic he
knew was adapted to the genius of his own country ; but for
France, mercurial France, as she then was, the spirit of that
form of government was not well suited. It was with the
French a beautiful day-dream, and not as with us a real, liv-
ing, practical principle of light and liberty. Morris, with pro-
phetic accuracy, foretold the result, and often repeated his
conviction that on the breaking down of the ancient dynasty
a military despotism would soon rise upon its ruins. These
opinions rendered him popular with the aristocratic party,
and equally perhaps an object of dislike with the friends of
the revolution. After his appointment as Minister Plenipo-
tentiary to the French Court in 1792, as successor to Mr.
Jefferson, it is due to him to say, that he abstained entirely
from taking side with either party in that distracted country,
and conducted himself with great prudence, firmness, and

The situation in which he was placed was full of difficul-
ties and embarrassments. The authority of the king was
suspended in a few months after Morris was appointed min-

Digitized by


498 Spttrki^s Life of M&rris. [June,

ister, and within a year the unhappy monarch was put ta
death by his subjects. The new government, if su(«h it may
be called, was continually shifting, and one set of ruffians
brought to the guillotine by another set more ferocious, if
possible, than the former, and soon to yield to successors of
the same abandoned principles and character. Amid these
creatures, Morris haa to sustain the honor and dignity of his
country, to resist their depredations upon our commerce, de-
fend our imprisoned citizens, and compel, so far as was prac-
ticable, the faithful execution of treaties. The task- was
ungracious and difficult ; but he did not shrink from it ; and
although after the death of the king all the other ambassa-
dors from foreign powers quitted the country, and he was
urgently entreated to do the same, he resolutely determined
to remain, and execute his official functions to the extent of
his power. He continually met with vexations and annoy-
ances from the subordinate agents of the revolutionary gov-
ernment, and even the sanctity of his house was invaded.
Previous to this he had received an insulting letter from
Lebrun, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. His reply was
firm, but calm and judicious, and closes by requesting his
passport, since the style of the Minister's letter was such as
not to warrant his longer remaining in Paris. Lebrun, how-
ever, fearing to offend the government of the United States,
the only remaining friendly power, sent an apologetical let-
ter to our ambassador, which induced him to remain in the
country. Morris had the confidence of the king, who felt
grateful for the friendly advice received firom him, and in a
time of great danger entrusted him with the care of his funds
to a large amount. He was also active at that time, and at
a subsequent period, when at Vienna, in his endeavours to
obtain the release of Lafayette from the gloomy dungeons of
the Emperor, where he had been confined in the most bar-
barous manner, contrary to the law of nations, and in outrage
of the spirit of humanity. But we cannot give in greater detail
an account of the various and indefatigable efforts of Morris,
while he represented this nation in France. He was recalled
in 1794, at the request of the French Ministry, not because
any just exceptions were taken against him, for he was ever
highly esteemed by Washington, but simply as an act of
national comity, then more particularly to be observed to-
ward France, as the notorious Genet, the French Minister to

Digitized by


1888.] i^Mirlrt'j Life ofMorru. 499

thb country, had been recalled at the request of Washing-
ton, having forfeited his character as a public minister in
ways which are too well known to need any comment. We
will only add the opinion of Mr. Sparks, with which we fully
agree, as to the manner in which Morris performed his offi-
cial duties as ambassador. *

'' That his opinions, and the bold manner in which he had
expressed them on all occasions, were a serious obstacle to the
sntcessful exercise of his official duties, especially afler the
overthrow of the monarchy in France, and the triumph of
the disorganizing factions, cannot be denied ; but he is enti-
tled to the full credit of caution and circumspection, and to
the praise of maintaining with dignity and firmness the inter-
ests of his country, in circumstances extremely vexatious and
trying. It may with truth be affirmed, that no Amercian Min-
ister abroad ever had a more difficult task to perform, or exe-
cuted it, considering the situation in which he was placed, with
more skill and ability.

*' His official correspondence, while he was Minister to the
French Court, was with Jefferson, then Secretary of State, and
occasionally with Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury. To
Washington he wrote constantly, as to a private friend, and
presented a more detailed narrative of affairs, than was con-
tained in his public despatches. It would be difficult to find,
within the same compass, so full an account of the political
progress and changes of the French Revolution for nearly five
years, as may be gathered from his letters, private and official;
He viewed the great panorama of passing events with a pene-
trating and comprehensive mind, and sketched what he saw
in a style of bold and graphic accuracy. Allowance is to be
made for the bias of his opinions, and his settled aversion to
the principles of the revolutionists ; but his judgment seldom
deceived him, and his sincerity may always be relied on. His
speculations are uttered as speculations, and may be distin-

Suished as such. No one ever need confound them with the
eliberate convictions of his understanding, his deductions
from argument, or his statement of facts. Frankness, honesty^
and a fearlessness in expressing his sentiments, were promi-
nent features of his mind, and appear in all his writings." pp.
371, 372.

After the termination of his official functions, Morris trav-

Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 51 of 54)