America’s Strangest Founding Father Gouverneur Morris

Saying that Gouverneur Morris may not have been the most interesting man in the world could be a slight understatement. He was one of the most, unique, and unusual founding fathers of our country that you probably haven’t heard of. He was an unconventional man, right from his odd-sounding first name (no he wasn’t a governor, and that’s not some fancy foreign spelling of “governor”. That’s his first name.).

Although he wasn’t a governor, Gouverneur served in the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Senate. Here are some more facts about the founding father you never heard of.

He Died After Performing Self-Surgery

After dealing with a crippling form of gout all throughout the Fall of 1816, Gouverneur Morris’ pain grew even worse when he started to experience urinary tract blockage. Now it should come as no surprise that you shouldn’t ever attempt this at home, but we’ll just put that warning out there. Morris attempted to clear the obstruction by using a piece of whale bone as a catheter. The obviously unsuccessful procedure led to further internal injuries and an infection. Morris died on November 16, 1816, in the same room where he was born 64 years later on his family’s estate, Morrisania, in today’s South Bronx area.

He Had A Peg Leg

Pain was nothing new to Morris, which could be why he tried to perform his own surgery. When he was 14-years old, he accidentally dropped a kettle of boiling water on his arm which scalded him and forced him to miss an entire year of classes at King’s College (present-day Columbia University). He was able to successfully avoid gangrene, which would have required amputation of the limb.

But he wasn’t as fortunate in 1780, when reportedly a carriage accident left him with a mangled left ankle and several broken leg bones. With his regular doctor out of town at the time, the attending physician suggested that Morris have his leg amputated on his left leg below his knee.

Morris went along with the idea, however upon his return, his regular physician stated that Morris’ leg could have been saved. According to rumors, Morris was a bit of a ladies’ man, and some say that he injured himself while jumping from a paramour’s balcony to escape the wrath of an irate husband.

But the founding father didn’t allow the loss of a limb to slow him down. According to Richard Brookhiser, the author of “Gentlemen Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris-The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution”, he continued to ride horses, climb church steeples, shoot river rapids and shake his wooden leg while dancing. Nor did it diminish his trysts with married women, so much so that friend John Jay wrote that he wished Morris “had lost something else.”

He Had an Affair in the Louvre

Gouverneur traveled to Paris on business in 1789 and three years later, President George Washington appointed him as minister to France. Morris saw the worst violence of the French Revolution during his five years in Paris, bt he was the only diplomat to remain the city during the Reign of Terror.

His French liaisons included a three-year love affair with the novelist Comtesse Adelaide de Flahuat, who was married to a count 35 years her senior. She lived in an apartment inside the Louvre before it was converted into an art museum. Morris shared his mistress with the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who would later sell the Louisiana Purchase to the United States as Napoleon’s foreign minister.

He Wrote What is Probably the Most Famous Seven Words in US History

As a member of the Constitutional Convention’s five-man Committee of Style, Morris polished the final draft of the U.S. Constitution. “The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris,” reported Madison. A gifted writer called the “Penman of the Constitution,” Morris tightened the text and made it sing. Perhaps his biggest contribution was to change the document’s preamble from “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts…,” which continued with a litany of individual states listed from north to south, with simply “We the People of the United States.”

At age 57, the long-time bachelor married his housekeeper, who had been previously accused of killing her newborn child.

In 1809 the ladies’ man turned a Christmas party into a surprise party by making the shocking announcement that he had wed his new housekeeper, Anne Cary “Nancy” Randolph, who was 22 years his junior. The marriage was particularly scandalous because Nancy and her brother-in-law Richard Randolph had been accused in September 1792 of killing a newborn baby who was suspected of being their illegitimate child. Nancy forever insisted that the child had been stillborn. Morris became a father for the first time at age 61 when Nancy gave birth to a boy in 1813.