"We the People of the United States" is perhaps the most famous phrase in the Constitution - and it was penned by one of the most mysterious Founding Fathers. Gouverneur Morris, who was born in the Bronx and spent many years in Europe, might not top the list of the best Founding Fathers, but he was one of the wildest of the bunch. None of the Founding Fathers were saints, but Morris arguably led the craziest life.
From engaging in trysts at the Louvre, to losing a leg in an adultery-driven accident, to vehemently opposing slavery, Morris never failed to fascinate.
Morris didn’t marry until he was 57. During his bachelor years, he had quite a few romantic escapades - one of which cost him a leg. In a different escapade in France, Morris carried on an extended affair with a married woman who lived in the Louvre.
Before it became one of the most famous art museums in the world - home to the Mona Lisa - the Louvre was a palace for the French king. And Morris’s lady friend also happened to live there. Morris recorded their love affair in his diary, using the word “celebrating” as code for sex. If his diary is any indication, apparently the two liked to take risks. One of the diary entries describes the pair having sex in the hallway with the doors open:
Go to the Louvre… we take the Chance of Interruption and celebrate in the Passage while [Mademoiselle] is at the Harpsichord in the Drawing Room. The husband is below. Visitors are hourly expected. The Doors are all open.
He didn’t record whether they were caught.
Late in life, Morris experienced a blockage in his urethra that gave him trouble urinating. Today, scholars believe he may have been suffering from prostate cancer. The crafty Founding Father took a DIY approach to the problem - he attempted to treat the blockage by sticking a piece of whalebone up his urethra. In the process, he caused a great deal of damage that ultimately contributed to his death.
Days after he died, a Boston newspaper reported that Morris died from "a short but distressing illness."
For years, Morris never settled down, preferring instead to spend his time romancing married women. But he shocked the world when, at the age of 57, he married his housekeeper - and that was only the beginning.
At a Christmas party in 1809, Morris announced his marriage to Anne Gary Randolph, 22 years his junior. Anne - known as Nancy - had a reputation dating back to 1792, when she was accused of adultery and murder. Nancy, just 17 at the time, reportedly slept with her brother-in-law. The illicit union produced a baby who died shortly after birth. Nancy was tried for murder, though she insisted the baby had been stillborn. She was eventually acquitted.
On the day he married Nancy, Morris wrote in his diary, “I marry this day Anne Gary Randolph. No small surprise to my guests.”
Morris lost his leg at age 32 after being hit by a carriage. But what sounds like a simple accident goes much deeper. The incident happened in Philadelphia at the intersection of Logan's Alley and Dock Street, according to historian Dave Kimball. Morris, a reputed ladies' man, found himself in hot water after a furious husband learned the Founding Father was sleeping with his wife.
Morris was running from the scorned husband when a carriage ran over his leg. Unfortunately, it had to be amputated. After the accident, one of Morris's friends optimistically hoped that the new peg leg might help Morris avoid the "the pleasures and dissipations of life, into which young men are too apt to be led." In response, Morris quipped, "You argue the matter so handsomely, and point out so clearly the advantages of being without legs, that I am almost tempted to part with the other."