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Lewis Morris (15 October 1671 – 21 May 1746), chief justice of New York and British governor of New Jersey, was the first lord of the manor of Morrisania in New York (in what is now the Bronx).

Biography

Born on the estate of his parents, Richard Morris (originally from Monmouthshire, Wales) and Sarah (Pole) Morris in 1671, this Lewis Morris was the first in a lengthy string of men with the same name to inherit the prominent estate of Morrisania in the southwest section of today's Bronx. Richard and Sarah moved their estate from Barbados to the Bronx after buying the estate from Samuel Edsall in 1670 when it was still known as Broncksland. As the name suggests, Broncksland was the original settlement of Jonas Bronck and his wife, for whom the borough is named. In the fall of 1672, both Richard and Sarah died, leaving only the infant Lewis, barely a year old, as the lord of the manor.

Although the manor was left in the trust of five prominent Westchester citizens until Lewis could rightfully inherit the estate, Matthias Nicoll, secretary of the colony, sent word to Colonel Lewis Morris, the infant's uncle in Barbados. Col. Lewis immediately made plans to move to Morrisania to care for his young nephew and his nephew's estate, which had been somewhat embezzled. Col. Lewis made great pains to secure his nephew's lost property, including a few slaves that had been captured and resold. He was even successful in petitioning for an additional land grant with the help of family friend, Walter Webley. When the childless Col. Lewis and his wife, Mary, died, the now fully-grown Lewis inherited the estate in 1691.

Career

New Jersey

Lewis Morris showed a passion for politics from an early age, and first appears on the political scene in 1692, serving in the East New Jersey Provincial Council during the administration of Governor Andrew Hamilton.[1] After the late 1690s the government of East and West Jersey became increasingly dysfunctional. This ultimately resulted in the surrender by the Proprietors of East Jersey and those of West Jersey of the right of government to Queen Anne. Anne's government united the two colonies as the Province of New Jersey, a royal colony, establishing a new system of government.

On July 29, 1703, in the instructions to Governor Viscount Cornbury Morris was appointed to the New Jersey Provincial Council, and would serve, with several suspensions, through the administrations of seven governors. During much of this time Morris was President of Council.

Morris and Cornbury soon found themselves at opposition, and Cornbury responded by suspending Morris from the upper house. The first time, in September 1704, Morris apologized to the governor and was reinstated, but in December 1704 Cornbury suspended him.[2]

Morris was elected to a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly in 1707, representing an at-large constituency within the Eastern Division of New Jersey.[3] After the recall of Cornbury by the Crown, Lewis Morris was reinstated to the Council in the June 27, 1708 instructions to Baron Lovelace; Lovelace died eleven months later, and Morris was again suspended, this time by Lt. Gov. Richard Ingoldesby.

Morris was again reinstated to the Council in the instructions to Governor Robert Hunter, with whom he had a good relationship.

Sir William Cosby, who served as governor of New York and New Jersey (as did all governors beginning with Viscount Cornbury), showed little interest in New Jersey politics, started a feud with Morris because of a decision of the New York Supreme Court. Morris was Chief Justice, and wrote a dissenting minority opinion which Cosby found deeply offensive. Cosby recommended Morris' removal from the New Jersey Council on February 5, 1735.[4]

In 1738, New Jersey petitioned the crown for a distinct administration from New York, and Lewis Morris served as Governor of New Jersey until his death in 1746.

New York

On March 16, 1715, Morris was appointed Chief Justice of New York. When William Cosby was appointed Governor of New York and New Jersey in 1732, his opponents were called "Morrisites" as Lewis Morris was a prominent critic. In 1733 Morris presided over the case of Cosby v. Van Dam. Although the case was decided in favor of Gov. Cosby, Morris wrote the minority opinion, which infuriated Cosby.[5] Cosby demanded the written opinion from Morris. Morris complied with the Governor, but also had the opinion printed for public distribution, along with an explanatory letter stating,

"If judges are to be intimidated so as not to dare to give any opinion, but what is pleasing to the Governor, and agreeable to his private views, the people of this province who are very much concerned both with respect to their lives and fortunes in the freedom and independency of those who are to judge them, may possibly not think themselves so secure in either of them as the laws of his Majesty intended they should be."[6]

This even further angered Cosby, who removed Morris from the court. His dismissal led directly to the John Peter Zenger trial [7] affirming Freedom of speech in the United States.

Death

Gov. Lewis Morris died on May 21, 1746. His remains are in the Morris family crypt at St. Ann's Church in the Bronx.[8]

Morristown, New Jersey is named in Morris's honor.

Family

Lewis Morris was married to Isabella Graham, and was the father of New Jersey Chief Justice Robert Hunter Morris.

He was the grandfather of Signer Lewis Morris (1726–1798), Gen. Staats Long Morris (1728–1800), New York Chief Justice Richard Morris, New Jersey Chief Justice Robert Morris (1745-1815) (1730–1810) and U.S. Senator Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816).

References

  1. ^ Manual of the Legislature of New Jersey, date: various (pre 1950)
  2. ^ The Path to Freedom: The Struggle for Self-Government in Colonial New Jersey 1703-1776; Donald L. Kemmerer; Princeton University Press; Princeton, 1940; p. 358
  3. ^ Manual of the Legislature of New Jersey, date: various (pre 1950)
  4. ^ The Path to Freedom: The Struggle for Self-Government in Colonial New Jersey 1703-1776; Donald L. Kemmerer; Princeton University Press; Princeton, 1940; p. 358
  5. ^ "Cosby v. Van Dam"
  6. ^ "Lewis Morris Biography at Historical Society of the New York Courts"
  7. ^ http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/zenger/keyfigures.html
  8. ^ Elizabeth Spencer-Ralph and Gloria McDarrah (October 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: St. Ann's Church Complex". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
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