Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution

Overview

The story of Gouverneur Morris, the brilliant and unconventional Founding Father from New York, is a forgotten jewel in the crown of early American national history. Although he was an important contributor to our Constitution, Morris has generally received little respect or attention from historians. The reason for this long indifference lies primarily in the most powerful but misunderstood episode of Morris’s life: his experience as American minister to France during the height of the French Revolution. Envoy ...
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Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution

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Overview

The story of Gouverneur Morris, the brilliant and unconventional Founding Father from New York, is a forgotten jewel in the crown of early American national history. Although he was an important contributor to our Constitution, Morris has generally received little respect or attention from historians. The reason for this long indifference lies primarily in the most powerful but misunderstood episode of Morris’s life: his experience as American minister to France during the height of the French Revolution. Envoy to the Terror is the first in-depth study of Morris’s time in France (1789-94), and it convincingly discredits many longstanding myths about his performance as a diplomat.

Morris arrived in Paris on business in 1789, just before the Revolution began. He quickly became involved in French politics and soon was advising not only the reformers, led by the Marquis de Lafayette, but King Louis XVI himself. His empathy for France deepened when he fell passionately in love with a beautiful aristocrat, and by the time of his appointment as U.S. minister he was too deeply enmeshed in French affairs to extricate himself. During the turbulent summer of 1792, Morris was involved in plots to help the king escape. When Louis was dethroned, Morris was the only diplomat to remain in Paris, and he coped single-handed with a flood of pleas for help from people in danger from the Terror.

Melanie Randolph Miller’s research reveals that, contrary to the charges of Morris’s contemporaries, which have been adopted by many historians, Morris conducted himself throughout one of history’s greatest cataclysms with superb diplomatic skill, compassion, and a determination to preserve French-American amity. While conventional wisdom has been that Morris was recalled due to misconduct and inability, this book establishes that it was instead the result of unfounded denunciations by secret adversaries, including Thomas Paine and John Adams’s son-in-law, who viewed Morris as an obstacle to their ambitions and schemes in France.

Envoy to the Terror brings to life the fascinating and dangerous intrigues of the French Revolution and provides a profound reinterpretation of Morris’s role in one of the most important periods of America’s early diplomatic history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In the hands of Melanie Miller, Gouverneur Morris's dramatic story as a diplomat in Paris during the French Revolution has finally been told by someone with the discipline of a historian but a novelist's eye. It's a 'page turner' in the best sense."

"Miller's sprightly, authoritative account of Morris's experience in revolutionary France is the most recent effort to rehabilitate the reputation of a neglected Founding Father. It successfully refutes the unfair charges of Jefferson and Hamilton that his mission was a failure."

"Envoy to the Terror is not only a perceptive study of the diplomatic career of one of the least known Founders, it makes critical contributions to our understanding of American diplomacy during the Federalist Era."

"Melanie Randolph Miller's spirited account of Gouverneur Morris's career in Paris from 1789 to 1794 is a welcome addition to the literature. Fully exploiting Morris's private and offical correspondence as well as his extraordinarily revealing diary, Miller offers a rounded and appealing portrait of a relatively neglected founder during the least well understood years of his career."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574887860
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/31/2004
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Melanie Randolph Miller holds a Ph.D. in American history from George Washington University, a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from MIT. She spent many years as an attorney, most recently in international law and policy at the Federal Aviation Administration. She has also taught at Ithaca College and lives in Ithaca, New York.
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Table of Contents

Dedication List of Illustrations Introduction: The Revolutionary from New York
Chapter One: Before Paris
Chapter Two: Morris Appraises Paris
Chapter Three: “Ces Indignes Français”
Chapter Four: “I Had Better Leave This Alone, But” --Zeal Gets the Best of Morris
Chapter Five: Agent for Washington, Provocateur for France
Chapter Six: Once More into the Breach
Chapter Seven: The Opponents
Chapter Eight: Thomas Paine
Chapter Nine: Hidden Antagonists
Chapter Ten: The End of the Monarchy
Chapter Eleven: Morris Confronts the New Republic
Chapter Twelve: The “Heart burnings”
Chapter Thirteen: The Recall
Chapter Fourteen: Coda
Chapter Fifteen: Conclusion
Bibliography
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2005

    A Must-Read for American Revolution Buffs

    This excellent biography of one of the lesser-known founding fathers is a wonderful companion to the recent biographies of Adams, Franklin, and Washington. It describes the relationship of the fledgling democracy in the U.S. to the then-new and terrible events of the French Revolution and the Terror. A must-read for anyone interested in American history.

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