Richard B. Morris

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Richard B. Morris
Born(1904-07-24)July 24, 1904
DiedMarch 3, 1989(1989-03-03) (aged 84)
Alma materCity College of New York (B.A.), Columbia University (PhD), Columbia Law School (JD)
Spouse(s)Berenice Robinson Morris (1930–1989; his death)

Richard Brandon Morris (July 24, 1904 – March 3, 1989) was an American historian best known for his pioneering work in colonial American legal history and the early history of American labor. In later years, he shifted his research interests to the constitutional, diplomatic, and political history of the American Revolution and the making of the United States Constitution.

Education and early career[edit]

Morris attended high school at Towsend Harris Hall in New York City and received his B.A. degree from City College in 1924.[1] He attended Columbia Law School and at the same time earned his Ph.D. degree in history at Columbia University, with Evarts Boutell Greene as his dissertation advisor. His dissertation, published by Columbia University Press as Studies in the History of American Law, with Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1930), still defines the research agenda for historians working on early American law, though at the time it attracted the bitter denunciations of such law-school practitioners of legal history as Julius Goebel, Jr., and Karl Llewellyn, both on the faculty of Columbia Law School. Morris taught at City College until in 1946 he was named to the faculty of Columbia University, after having published his massive and definitive Government and Labor in Early America (1946).

Columbia University[edit]

Eventually becoming Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia (he was no relation to the Revolutionary and founding father Gouverneur Morris), Richard B. Morris continued his pioneering research and writing. His Columbia University colleague Henry Steele Commager enlisted him as co-editor of the influential New American Nation series, a collaborative history of the United States published by Harper & Row. In 1966 he won the Bancroft Prize in History for his book on the diplomacy of the American Revolution, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence (1965). This project, and the acquisition by Columbia University of the papers of John Jay, led him into one of his most productive scholarly ventures. Two volumes of an unfinished four-volume edition of the previously unpublished papers of John Jay followed (1976, 1980), taking Jay's life from his birth in 1745 to his return to the United States in 1784 to become the Confederation's Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Morris also quarried from his work on Jay a series of lectures in the Gaspar G. Bacon Lecture Series at Boston University, which in 1967 he published as John Jay, the Nation, and the Court, focusing on Jay as a committed nationalist in his work as a diplomat and as the first Chief Justice of the United States. Morris's Phelps Lectures at New York University resulted in his 1966 book The American Revolution Reconsidered, which he followed in 1970 with his The Emerging Nations and the American Revolution. In 1973, preparing for the impending bicentennial of the American Revolution, he published Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries, a collection of biographical essays about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.[2]

Morris was opposed to the Columbia University protests of 1968, and the agenda of the radicals.[3]

In 1976, following the general scholarly disappointment with the bicentennial of the American Revolution, Morris, then president of the American Historical Association, joined with James MacGregor Burns, then president of the American Political Science Association, to found Project '87—a joint effort to mark the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Project '87 brought together historians, political scientists, and legal scholars and managed to salvage the Constitution's bicentennial as an occasion for the publication of groundbreaking new historical and legal scholarship on the Constitution and its origins. Morris's own contribution to the Bicentennial, and the culmination of his life's work as a historian, was The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789, his 1987 volume for the New American Nation series.

In 1930, Morris married Berenice Robinson, and their marriage lasted the rest of his life; she died in 1990. They had two sons, Jeffrey B. Morris, a constitutional and legal historian who teaches at the Touro Law School in New York, and Donald R. Morris, a teacher in Wyoming.[4]


  • Richard B. Morris, Studies in the Early History of American Law, With Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press, 1930; reissue, with new foreword, Philadelphia: J. M. Mitchell Co., 1959.
  • Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early America, 1946. -- originally published, New York: Columbia University Press, 1946.
  • Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
  • Richard B. Morris, John Jay, the Nation, and the Court. Boston: Boston University Press, 1967.
  • Richard B. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Richard B. Morris, The Emerging Nations and the American Revolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
  • Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • Richard B. Morris, ed., John Jay: Unpublished Papers, 1743-1780. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
  • Richard B. Morris. "The American Revolution as an Anti-colonial War." Conspectus of History 1.3 (1976): 29-44.
  • Richard B. Morris, ed., John Jay: Unpublished Papers, 1780-1784. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
  • Richard B. Morris, Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay and the Constitution. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Windston, 1985.
  • Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
  • Philip Ranlet, Richard B. Morris and American History in the Twentieth Century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004.
  • Alden T. Vaughan and George Athan Billias, eds., Perspectives on Early American History: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Morris. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.


  1. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1995). Encyclopedia of the City of New York. Yale University Press. p. 772.
  2. ^ "In Memoriam", Perspectives, American Historical Association, May-June 1989
  3. ^
  4. ^ PETER B. FLINT (March 6, 1989). "Richard B. Morris, Colonial Historian, Dies at 84". The New York Times.

External links[edit]