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States: General History and Description >> Revolution to Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Individual Biography, A-Z
the man responsible for the decimal system of coinage and the word "cent," as well as for the Constitutional provision allowing for a presidential veto of legislation
Gouverneur Morris was born at Morrisania, in what is now New York City, on January 31, 1752. He graduated from King's College (now Columbia University) in 1768, studied law under William Smith (historian of the colony), and was admitted to the bar in 1771.
Morris entered politics as a delegate to New York's Provincial Congress, serving from 1775 to 1777; during this period he served on the committee that prepared the first draft of the State Constitution. In 1777 he served as a member of a committee from the New York Congress whose mission was to determine the causes of the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga. He then represented New York at the Second Continental Congress before moving to Pennsylvania in 1779.
In 1780, Morris published a series of essays on finance, in which he criticized the issue of legal tenders, denounced laws passed for the benefit of the debtor class, and urged the people to tax themselves for the common good. These essays led to his appointment the following year as assistant to the federal superintendent of finance, Robert Morris. In this position, he devised a plan for a decimal system of coinage and suggested the word cent.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Morris was responsible for giving the Constitution its final literary style. He was instrumental in securing the executive veto and in defeating the proposal that the legislature should elect the President. In 1787 he returned to New York, taking up residence at the family's Morrisania estate, which he had purchased from his brother the previous year.
In December of 1788, Morris sailed for France, where he was occupied in selling lands and pursuing money speculations until March of 1790, when he went to London as private agent of the American government. He was appointed Minister to France in 1792, and served in that capacity until the French Revolution erupted in 1794. He spent the next four years traveling around the European continent.
Morris returned to the United States in 1798, resumed his law practice, and re-entered politics. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1800, and served in that body until 1803. From 1810 to 1816 he was chairman of the Board of Canal Commissioners, which prepared plans for the Erie Canal.
Gouverneur Morris died at Morrisania on November 5, 1816.
This page was last updated on January 30, 2017.