Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist

Another repost from The One Best Way here.

This is from Gregg Frazer on Morris' "kinky" behavior:

There is another factor separating Morris from Christianity, or at least highly inconsistent with Christian faith – Morris’s immoral conduct. As to reputation, when he was nominated to be minister to France, Roger Sherman said of Morris that “with regard to moral character I consider him an irreligious and profane man.” James Monroe said: “Upon the grounds of character he was twice refused as a member of the Treasury Board.” Though he publicly defended his appointment of Morris, George Washington wrote to Morris about his “imprudence of conversation and conduct” and asked him to display “more caution and prudence” and “more circumspection.” A few years later, Monroe referred to Morris as “a man without morality.” Of course, this could have simply been a matter of political partisanship or personality conflict, but, in Morris’s case, the reputation was well-earned. Morris once threatened to kill a man if he spoke disrespectfully of him, and he frequently got “very drunk” while in France. His most conspicuous moral problems concerned women, however.

Morris had numerous illicit affairs with married and unmarried women and, by his own admission, was constantly trying to initate new ones. One of his earliest dalliances may have cost him one of his legs. One account of the loss of the leg, which is reported as fact by most biographers, is that it happened as a result of a cart accident. There is a good chance that this was merely a cover story, however. There is reason to believe that Morris lost his leg jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband. John Jay joked about it in a letter of consolation to Morris and Lord Palmerston testified that Morris told him the whole story at breakfast a decade later. There is also circumstantial evidence surrounding the woman involved which lends credence. Morris denied the story in a letter to Jay, but not very convincingly. If true, the unfortunate event did not dissuade Morris from similar activity in the future. In fact, he used the curiosity afforded by his one-legged status to attract and seduce other women.

Morris’s diary entries during his time in France are filled with sexual escapades. He had an ongoing affair with Madame de Flahaut for more than three years. She and Morris were eventually so “wanton and flagrant” that they engaged in intercourse “in the passage … at the harpsichord … downstairs … the doors are all open,” and in a coach with the coachman staring straight ahead. They became so shameless that they engaged in intercourse inside a convent and even tried to conceive a child while she denied her husband conjugal rights. Morris’s diary contains at least eighteen references to their sexual liaisons, but Morris claimed that they had made love “several hundred” times. In addition to Madame de Flahaut, Morris reported having affairs with Madame Simon, an unnamed “damsel,” Madame de Lita, Madame de Crayen, Miss Matthiesen and her “young sister,” Miss Gehrt, and Mrs. Perez Morton. According to the diary entries, he tried to seduce – or thought of doing so – Madame de Flahaut’s niece, Lady Webster, the “daughter of a Frenchman,” Madame Foucault, the daughter of his landlord, Madame de Nadaillac, Madame de Fontana, and even Dolley Madison! Everyone except Jesus sins, but the extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit.


King of Ireland said...

What does his behavior have to do with Frazer's dispassionate 10 point theory? This is where his beliefs run into his history. It would have been more credible to leave this out in that it has absolutely nothing to do with Frazer's thesis.

Not that it really matters because you have failed, after repeated requests by Tom, to produce and link between the sotierology and political theology.

Without that link, at best, all you can do is prove some facts of Barton wrong and be a pest to the Religious Right.

The more intellectual agruments for Christian Influence on America remain untouched at this blog and elsewhere.

It is a shame because I think when you look back you will find that their was a libertarian stream of thought not that disimilar to yours. Yes, some kinks were there in regards to freedom of worship at times but overall the more rational branches seem to oppose at least some of the premises of the modern religous right."

The Culture Wars go on...

Mark David Hall said...

There seems to be little doubt that Morris did immoral deeds.

I wonder if anyone can provide a clear instance where Morrris rejects a basic tenet of orthodox Christianity (e.g. the incarnation, trinity, etc.)?


King of Ireland said...

Dr. Hall,

Great job on the essay by the way. Is it published yet?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Turning to Morris’s relationship to Christianity, we know that Morris belonged to an Episcopalian church and that he attended it regularly when in New York. Beyond what may have been essentially club membership, however, there is little evidence connecting him to belief in Christianity.

The public man Gouverneur Morris gave his assent to Christianity by his regular church attendance. The. End.

The rest is academic curiosity. What he believed [or didn't] in his heart of hearts is no man's business but his own. As for his conduct, judge not lest ye be judged.

“Religion is the solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.”---GMorris

That quote is enough to enlist him in the culture wars.

That said, I don't have a problem that Morris wasn't down with orthodox doctrine: the case by negative inference is solid. But contrary to hyper-Christian and non-Christian belief, a lot of Christians don't fuss over the details of doctrine and dogma that much. And his sybaritic lifestyle indicates Morris didn't fuss over any of it too much.

[But let's not discount the possibility that Morris, like many men in bars and locker rooms, might have exaggerated his sexual prowess more than a little.]

"The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history. They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is: a contradictory creature that seeing and approving of what is good, pursues and performs what is evil. All of private and of public life is there displayed. ... From the same pure fountain of wisdom we learn that vice destroys freedom; that arbitrary power is founded on public immorality."--- Gouverneur Morris, "Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821", (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), p. 30, from An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on September 4, 1816.

Mark David Hall said...

Thanks for the kind words, KOI. Hopefully the essay Jon was kind enough to put on AC will come out in a book edited by Daniel Dreisbach and myself entitled Faith and the Founders of the American Republic. We hope to have Gregg's essay on Morris in the same book. It probably won't be out until 2012, but I'll be sure to let folks on AC know when it is available.

King of Ireland said...

I learned a lot thanks.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Everyone except Jesus sins, but the extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit.

You know, I keep reading this, and that's how Holy Rollers talk. That's not how historians talk. I got a real problem with the line this "historical analysis" takes.

bpabbott said...

I'm with you Tom. For me this historical vs holly roller speak collides with Daniel's comment on religious essence.

What does it meant to be Christian, if there is no lowest common denominator?

I get the benefit of society having a common ethos, but that works just as well if the majority all believe a lie ... provided the "lie" is one that manifests a society in which its citizens are able to pursue life, liberty and happiness.