At first blush, Gouverneur Morris seems like a carbon copy of Alexander Hamilton. Each began his career in politics as a brash, young New Yorker who favored the Federalists and cozied up to George Washington. Each argued for grand, and at times outrageous, political ideas. Each had a mind for money and worked to build the American colonies into a commercial republic with a strong national government. Each balanced, or rather unbalanced, his political career with a vibrant, oftentimes scandalous, personal life.

But Hamilton burst onto the scene only after the Revolution; Morris helped shape New York State’s constitution and was already a force to be reckoned with by 1776. Hamilton had a career-ending affair; Morris was an unabashed philanderer. Hamilton was Washington’s protege; Morris was his fishing buddy and delivered his eulogy—and, for that matter, Hamilton’s. Most of all, although Hamilton is remembered for his passionate defense of the Constitution, Morris shaped its most important features—including the Preamble, which he wrote.

Yet for all this, Morris languishes in relative obscurity, and has for most of American history. He is not considered the author of the Constitution in anything like the way Thomas Jefferson is credited with the Declaration of Independence. Nor have Morris’s rakish charm and modern temperament earned the peg-legged founder

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