Skip to Main Content

Convention: A Daily Journal

Center for Civics Education

Convention: A Daily Journal

Convention: A Daily Journal is a day-by-day journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention convened by twelve of the original thirteen states to amend the Articles of Confederation and create a “more perfect union.” It chronicles the daily activities of the Convention, profiles the delegates and their interactions with each other, and looks back to life in America in the 1780s. Writing in the first person, the story is told from an “observer” hearing events as told in contemporary newspaper accounts and delegates’ personal notes and letters.

Monday, July 30, 1787

July 30, 2020 - 5 minute read


George Washington recorded in his diary that he spent today “in company with Mr. Govr. Morris, and in his Phaeton with my horses went up to one Jane Moore’s in the vicinity of Valley Forge to get trout.” In short, they went fishing.

The relationship between George Washington and Gouverneur Morris dates to the early days of the Revolutionary War. Morris’s family had been sharply divided; his mother remained a Loyalist while his half-brother, Lewis Morris, signed the Declaration of Independence. By April 1776, Gouverneur was expressing his support for Washington’s troops, continually advocating for more resources and funding for the Continental Army. As a member of the Continental Congress, he visited Washington at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78 and witnessed the precarious state of an under-funded and ill-equipped army.  

Writing to New York’s Governor Clinton, he begged for provisions, describing “the American army, in the heart of America on the point of deserting, having nothing to eat.” Between April and November of 1778, corresponding almost weekly with Washington, Morris constantly pressed Congress on Washington’s behalf. In 1781, Morris became assistant superintendent of finance under Robert Morris, “the financier of the revolution.” Together the unrelated Morrises worked independently of Congress to secure funding for the war effort.

Morris and Washington have retained a close friendship based on common interests and mutual respect, but there are limits to familiarity with Washington. Sometime during the Convention, Morris, Washington, Alexander Hamilton and others were dining together when Hamilton discretely remarked that Washington was reserved and allowed no one to be familiar with him. Morris disagreed, bragging that he could be as familiar with Washington as any of his other friends. At that, Hamilton challenged him. “At the next reception,” he said, “gently slap him on the shoulder and say, ‘My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well.’” Hamilton even placed a bet on it – a supper and wine!

Morris accepted the challenge. Performing exactly as Hamilton had instructed, Morris laid his left on Washington’s shoulder and uttered his greeting. Washington withdrew his hand, stepped back, and fixed his eyes on Morris with an angry frown until Morris retreated. Morris won the bet, but confessed he “paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.” Apparently the incident was soon forgotten (although perhaps not by Morris) and the two men remained friends.

On May, 13 Washington arrived in Philadelphia for the Convention in his carriage accompanied by two slaves, Giles and Paris.  Because his carriage is “in the shop,” Washington and Morris went to the countryside in Morris’s phaeton, pulled by Washington’s horses. Now, in modern America, people do not purchase “a car,” they purchase a Ford, a Toyota, a Lexus, or a Mercedes…In the 18th century, buyers had a similar range of carriages, although some were more purposeful than others.

A phaeton, such as that owned by Gouverneur Morris, is simply a light, open four-wheeled carriage, drawn by two to four horses. Its strange name is the French form of “Phaethon,” ancient Greek for the planet Jupiter. It was said Phaethon sought assurance from his mother that his father was the sun god Helios. Eventually, Helios promised Phaethon he would grant him whatever he wanted. Thereupon, Phaethon insisted on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for the day. The myths of Phaethon vary, but the origin of the phaeton carriage is certain.

Phaetons are for recreational drives rather than long distance travel. Some have no top while others have one that can be rolled back during good weather – the “convertible version.” The “chair” is even smaller and lighter than the phaeton. Pulled by one horse, it does not have a top and used primarily for recreation. Then there is the “curricle,” a light, two-wheeled carriage pulled by two horses and used for short trips. The main difference between a phaeton and a curricle is the number of wheels. Curricles have two wheels and phaetons have four. Curricles may or may not have a top that can be lowered. In the future, curricles might be described as the equivalent of a “teen sports car.”

A ”gig” is similar to a curricle but a gig is normally pulled by one horse and a curricle by two, making the gig a little slower and less expensive. A gig is also suitable for two passengers and is the most common vehicle on the road. The barouche, on the other hand, is an elegant, expensive vehicle with a collapsible hood at the back, perfect for summer touring through the park. Drawn by a pair of fine horses, it makes a statement about its owner.

Coaches are large, four-wheeled carriages with enclosed seats inside and on the roof, generally accommodating four to six passengers. These are used for traveling longer distances and stop at fixed locations to change horses and allow passengers to eat and refresh. Each segment of the trip is called a “stage,” hence the name “stagecoach.” Seats outside on top are not always for the “shotgun rider,” but may be purchased for less than inside seats: definitely less comfortable and often precarious! Some large wealthy families own their own coach. Of course, simple wagons and carts are also available.

How fast do these vehicles travel? Obviously, their horses do not generally run at a gallop, except in unusual circumstances, but George Washington gives us a clue. He prefers to travel at a relatively quick pace and recorded in his journal that his “usual travelling gate is about five miles an hour.”

In 1780, Gouverneur Morris had a literal run-in with a carriage. Stories of the incident vary  from his being the victim of a run-away carriage to racing into the path of an oncoming carriage as he fled from the angry husband of one of his married lovers. In either event, his left leg was shattered, requiring amputation. For the rest of his life he used a peg leg. The day after his surgery, a friend tried to cheer him up, prompting Morris to reply, “My good sir, you argue the matter so handsomely and point out the advantages of being without legs, that I am almost tempted to part with the other!”

Morris also retained a close friendship with Hamilton. Years later, after Hamilton lost a duel with Aaron Burr, Morris sat at his bedside until he died. Called Hamilton’s best friend by his wife, Eliza, Morris delivered Hamilton’s eulogy on July 14, 1804 at Trinity Church in New York City, “overcome with grief” for “the man of whom all others he loved most on earth.”

Back to top