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March 22, 2006

La Salle Alum-Author Kirschke Speaks on Gouverneur Morris, the Forgotten Founding Father

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock are all widely known as some of our country’s Founding Fathers. But what about Gouverneur Morris?

Shedding new light on this often forgotten leader is a new biography, Gouverneur Morris: Author, Statesman, and Man of the World written by La Salle alumnus James Kirschke, ’64. Despite being responsible for much of the language of the U.S. Constitution, and one of only six men to have signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, Morris is often forgotten as a Founding Father. It is his words “We the People of the United States…” that are famous today.

Kirschke spoke at La Salle University on Monday, March 27. He discussed the new biography as well as his 2001 book Not Going Home Alone: A Marine’s Story based on his experiences in Vietnam.

Through his studies, and as an English and history professor at Villanova University, Kirschke became a fan of Morris, but believed there was no good biography written about him. He explains, “Most Morris biographies were done by historians focusing strictly on the historical aspects of his life. Morris was a literary stylist, and no other biography has focused on Morris as a political figure and as a writer.”

He considers Morris one of the more colorful personalities of our Founding Fathers but believes he was often misrepresented. Most biographers characterize Morris as a cartoon-like personality—very passive and inconsistent, but Kirschke found him to be very strong and tenacious, despite his disabilities. As a child, Morris was scalded on the right side of his body, leaving heavy scar tissue and limited use of his right arm. Then, at age 28, Morris was in a carriage accident, losing his right leg.

Kirschke himself was wounded during the Vietnam War, losing his entire left leg and his right leg below the knee. He wrote the biography hoping to discover how Morris dealt with his disabilities, and how he was able to rise above them, becoming one of the more successful citizens of his day.

--Amy Gardner