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"Anecdote." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.


When the Convention to form a Constitution was sitting in Philadelphia in 1787, of which General Washington was president, he had stated evenings to receive the calls of his friends. At an interview between Hamilton, the Morrises, and others, the former remarked that Washington was reserved and aristocratic even to his intimate friends, and allowed no one to be familiar with him. Gouverneur Morris said that was a mere fancy, and he could be as familiar with Washington as with any of his other friends. Hamilton replied, "If you will, at the next reception evenings, gently slap him on the shoulder and say, 'My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well!' a supper and wine shall be provided for you and a dozen of your friends." The challenge was accepted. On the evening appointed, a large number attended; and at an early hour Gouverneur Morris entered, bowed, shook hands, laid his left hand on Washington's shoulder, and said, "My dear General, I am very happy to see you look so well!" Washington withdrew his hand, stepped suddenly back, fixed his eye on Morris for several minutes with an angry frown, until the latter retreated abashed, and sought refuge in the crowd. The company looked on in silence. At the supper, which was provided by Hamilton, Morris said, "I have won the bet, but paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.1
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 This is doubtless the same story told in another form by W. T. Read in his Life and Correspondence of George Read(1870, p. 441 note):"But it appears from the following anecdote, communicated to me by Mrs. Susan Eckard, of Philadelphia, daughter of Colonel James Read, that Mr. Morris was once frightened, embarrassed, and sensible of inferiority in the presence of a fellow-mortal:"Gouverneur Morris, a very handsome, bold, and — I have heard the ladies say — very impudent man. His talents and services are part of American history. He wore a wooden leg. He was not related to the great financier, who was said to be a natural child. The office of Mr. [Robert] Morris was only divided from papa's by a small entry, and was constantly visited by Mr. Gouverneur Morris, and papa's also. One day the latter entered, and papa was so struck by his crest-fallen appearance that he asked, 'Are you not well?' He replied, 'I am not, — the devil got possession of me last night.' 'I have often cautioned you against him,' said papa, playfully, 'but what has happened to disturb you?' 'I was at the President's last night; several members of the Cabinet were there. The then absorbing question, ('I forget,' Mrs. E. writes, 'what it was') 'was brought up. The President was standing with his arms behind him, — his usual position, — his back to the fire, listening. Hamilton made a speech I did not like. I started up and spoke, stamping, as I walked up and down, with my wooden leg; and, as I was certain I had the best of the argument, as I finished I stalked up to the President, slapped him on the back, and said, 'Ain't I right, general?' The President did not speak, but the majesty of the American people was before me. Oh, his look! How I wished the floor would open and I could descend to the cellar! You know me,' continued Mr. Morris, 'and you know my eye would never quail before any other mortal.' "
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