Gouverneur Morris Part 11

These men were peculiar to neither section. In 1803, Aaron Burr of New York was undoubtedly anxious to bring about in the Northeast[4] what sixty years later Jefferson Davis of Mississippi so nearly succeeded in doing in the South; and the attempt in the South to make a hero of the one is as foolish as it would be to make a hero of the other in the North. If there are such virtues as loyalty and patriotism, then there must exist the corresponding crime of treason; if there is any merit in practicing the first, then there must be equal demerit in committing the last. Emasculated sentimentalists may try to strike from the national dictionary the word treason; but until that is done, Jefferson Davis must be deemed guilty thereof.

[4] People sometimes forget that Burr was as willing to try sedition in the East as in the West.

There are, however, very few of our statesmen whose characters can be painted in simple, uniform colors, like Washington and Lincoln on the one hand, or Burr and Davis on the other. Nor is Morris one of these few. His place is alongside of men like Madison, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry, who did the nation great service at times, but each of whom, at some one or two critical junctures, ranged himself with the forces of disorder.

After the peace Morris accommodated himself to the altered condition with his usual buoyant cheerfulness; he was too light-hearted, and, to say the truth, had too good an opinion of himself, to be cast down even by the signal failure of his expectations and the memory of the by no means creditable part he had played. Besides, he had the great virtue of always good-humoredly yielding to the inevitable. He heartily wished the country well, and kept up a constant correspondence with men high in influence at Washington. He disliked the tariff bill of 1816; he did not believe in duties or imposts, favoring internal, although not direct, taxation. He was sharp-sighted enough to see that the Federal party had shot its bolt and outlived its usefulness, and that it was time for it to dissolve. To a number of Federalists at Philadelphia, who wished to continue the organization, he wrote strongly advising them to give up the idea, and adding some very sound and patriotic counsel. "Let us forget party and think of our country. That country embraces both parties. We must endeavor, therefore, to save and benefit both. This cannot be effected while political delusions array good men against each other. If you abandon the contest, the voice of reason, now drowned in factious vociferation, will be listened to and heard. The pressure of distress will accelerate the moment of reflection; and when it arrives the people will look out for men of sense, experience, and integrity.

Such men may, I trust, be found in both parties; and if our country be delivered, what does it signify whether those who operate her salvation wear a federal or democratic cloak?" These words formed almost his last public utterance, for they were penned but a couple of months before his death; and he might well be content to let them stand as a fit closing to his public career.

He died November 6, 1816, when sixty-four years old, after a short illness. He had suffered at intervals for a long time from gout; but he had enjoyed general good health, as his erect, commanding, well-built figure showed; for he was a tall and handsome man. He was buried on his own estate at Morrisania.

There has never been an American statesman of keener intellect or more brilliant genius. Had he possessed but a little more steadiness and self-control he would have stood among the two or three very foremost.

He was gallant and fearless. He was absolutely upright and truthful; the least suggestion of falsehood was abhorrent to him. His extreme, aggressive frankness, joined to a certain imperiousness of disposition, made it difficult for him to get along well with many of the men with whom he was thrown in contact. In politics he was too much of a free lance ever to stand very high as a leader. He was very generous and hospitable; he was witty and humorous, a charming companion, and extremely fond of good living. He had a proud, almost hasty temper, and was quick to resent an insult. He was strictly just; and he made open war on all traits that displeased him, especially meanness and hypocrisy. He was essentially a strong man, and he was an American through and through.

Perhaps his greatest interest for us lies in the fact that he was a shrewder, more far-seeing observer and recorder of contemporary men and events, both at home and abroad, than any other American or foreign statesman of his time. But aside from this he did much lasting work. He took a most prominent part in bringing about the independence of the colonies, and afterwards in welding them into a single powerful nation, whose greatness he both foresaw and foretold. He made the final draft of the United States Const.i.tution; he first outlined our present system of national coinage; he originated and got under way the plan for the Erie Ca.n.a.l; as minister to France he successfully performed the most difficult task ever allotted to an American representative at a foreign capital. With all his faults, there are few men of his generation to whom the country owes more than to Gouverneur Morris.

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