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Scene of Gouverneur Morris's Accident
(Dock Street)

Gouverneur MorrisGouverneur Morris spoke more than anyone else at the Convention and has been viewed as having one of the most brilliant intellects of all the American Founders, yet his status as Founder is somewhat tarnished by his sexual escapades. One recent biography referred to him as "the rake that wrote the constitution."

Dock Street is one of many difficult alleys to traverse in the eastern section of Philadelphia between Walnut and Chestnut. Logan's Alley, next to the City Tavern, was among the most difficult for Philadelphians to negotiate in the evening.

Historian Dave Kimball, an Independence Hall historian, first alerted me to the approximate site of Morris's accident; it turns out to be near where Logan's Alley joins Dock Street right in front of what became the Philadelphia Merchants' Exchange Building in the early 1800s. Rumor has it that Morris was quite attracted to women and they to him. Moreover it didn't seem to be crucial as to their marital status. In 1780, his carriage ran over his leg during an attempt to flee from an irate husband. Apparently the amputation of his leg did not make Morris—who never took himself too seriously—less attractive to women.

Historian Forrest McDonald tells the story of Morris's escapades in Revolutionary France fifteen years after his initial accident. He had replaced Thomas Jefferson as U. S. Ambassador to France during the time of mass uprisings against the aristocracy and the monarchy. Morris was apparently with a lady friend in an ornate carriage, when an angry mob approached and started shaking the carriage. Thinking quickly, Morris whipped off his peg leg, shoved it through the window, and waving it shouted: "Vive la Révolution." He was cheered by the sans-culottes as the carriage sped into the night.

According to Carl Van Doren, author of The Great Rehearsal, the rumor was that Gouverneur Morris jumped from a balcony to avoid an irate husband and, thus, had to have his leg amputated. Van Doren, as does McDonald above, says Morris actually lost his left leg being thrown from a carriage. According to Van Doren: "There were no amorous balconies in Philly." A friend is said to have written to Morris that the loss of his leg might have a good effect on his morals, since it would reduce his inclination to engage in "the pleasures and dissipations of life, into which young men are too apt to be led." The young Morris responded: "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." John Jay apparently wrote to Morris that he was "tempted to wish" that Morris "had lost something else."

That Gouverneur Morris lost one leg in the 1780s is not in dispute. But which leg did he lose? Was it the left leg or the right leg? Check out the Artistic Interpretations of the Constitutional Convention page.

Site of Gouverneur Morris's AccidentSite of Gouverneur Morris's Accident