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Judy's Page Tuners: Interview With Richard Brookhiser

Aired July 3, 2003 - 15:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: As we head into the 4th of July, there's renewed interest in the publishing world and beyond about the Founding Fathers. But some lesser known figures from that era are also fascinating. The book "Gentleman Revolutionary" tells the story of Gouverneur Morris. Now that was his first name, not his title. I asked the author, Richard Brookhiser, to tell me about it.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD BROOKHISER, AUTHOR, "GENTLEMAN REVOLUTIONARY": He was a rich New Yorker from a rich and powerful New York family. He was very young when the revolution began. He was only 23 when the battles of Lexington and Concord happened. He got an early start in New York politics. Then he worked in the Finance Office during the Revolutionary War, trying to figure out ways to pay for the war, which was tough since the government was essentially broke throughout the war.

The main service he did after the war was in the summer of 1787, when he was one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. And at the end of that process, all the resolutions that they voted on were given to a committee of style to be put into its final form. And there were heavy hitters on this committee. Madison was on it, Hamilton. But they gave the job to Gouverneur Morris so the words of the Constitution we now have are his words. And the preamble is written essentially from scratch.

WOODRUFF: It's a fascinating story. I mean, his personality is enough to take one all the way from the front of the book to the end of it. Do you think there's a resurgence of interest in the Founding Fathers, Richard Brookhiser?

BROOKHISER: Yes, I think there has been. And I think, you know, even more so since 9/11. And the reason I say that is that the last time New York City had been attacked before 9/11 was 1776. I mean, we are now going through an experience that we really haven't gone through for a long, long time. And we can maybe understand a little bit more some of the trials and some of the desperation that they went through.

WOODRUFF: Well, we have these new books out about Ben Franklin. We talked to Walter Isaacson a few days ago. There's been of course the Adams book. You yourself have written about the Adams family. You wrote about George Washington, about Alexander Hamilton. Are these lives that are worth examining and examining again and again? BROOKHISER: Well, most of the founders, I think, can tell us how to be citizens. They can give us examples of that, of what it's like to take public life seriously and to realize that a lot rides on your choices from the voting booth on up.

What Gouverneur Morris can give us is a little different from the other founders because, you know, as I say, even though he does the public thing very well, what's most interesting about him is his private life and how he handled that.

And this was a man who lived through a lot of very rough things. He lived through two revolutions, our revolution and the French Revolution. He saw friends of his in both revolutions driven into exile. Some of his French friends were executed. Personally, he lost his left leg in a carriage accident, and he burned most of the flesh off his right arm in a kitchen accident.

But despite all these setbacks and trials, he had a wonderful equanimity. He rolled with the punches, he always had high spirits, he always enjoyed living, he enjoyed his lovers until he got married, and then he settled down and was very happy with his wife.

It's really a lesson in how to get through the trials and tribulations of daily life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Richard Morris (sic) with some good advice and his biography about Gouverneur Morris.

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