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Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution Hardcover – Sep 2004


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"In the hands of Melanie Miller, Gouverneur Morris's dramatic story as a diplomat in Paris during the French Revolution has finally been told by someone with the discipline of a historian but a novelist's eye. It's a 'page turner' in the best sense." --William Howard Adams, author of GOUVERNEUR MORRIS: AN INDEPENDENT LIFE "Miller's sprightly, authoritative account of Morris's experience in revolutionary France is the most recent effort to rehabilitate the reputation of a neglected Founding Father. It successfully refutes the unfair charges of Jefferson and Hamilton that his mission was a failure." -- Lawrence S. Kaplan, university professor emeritus of history, Kent State University, author of ALEXANDER HAMILTON: AMBIVALENT ANGLOPHILE "ENVOY TO THE TERROR is not only a perceptive study of the diplomatic career of one of the least known Founders, it makes critical contributions to our understanding of American diplomacy during the Federalist Era." --Dorothy Twohig, editor in chief emerita, Papers of George Washington, University of Virginia

About the Author

Melanie Miller holds a Ph.D. in American history from George Washington University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She has taught American history at Ithaca College and lives in Ithaca, New York.

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Amazon.com: 8 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
So you thought you knew the Founding Fathers. 9 Feb. 2005
By M. Jennison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Gouverneur Morris may be the virtually unknown, underrated key to understanding the American Revolution, and this exciting new book tells his story from a fresh viewpoint. Thorough-going scholarship combines with bright and lively prose to bring Morris to life and set the record straight on his role in the establishment of the American Experiment. Dr. Miller shows that the conventional view of Morris has been much too limited and is due for thorough revision. This study is much more thorough than the recent popularizing biography of Morris by Richard Brookhiser. If you liked that book, which acknowledges Miller's ground-breaking research, you should read this one to learn the whole story. This book is invaluable for serious students of the Revolutionary period.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Understanding Gouverneur: A Compelling Read 27 Jan. 2005
By Janet C. Hart PhD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Gouverneur Morris has been a long underrated yet instrumental figure during important times. He took a critical part in the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, and he played as crucial a role as his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, in his position as U.S. ambassador to France during the Terror, when French and American citizens alike sought his intervention, hoping to avoid losing their heads by guillotine. The author provides plausible explanations for this strange obscurity. Melanie Randolph Miller does much to humanize Morris's daily life, times and dilemmas, not to mention the big and small events of the French revolutionary era, deftly weaving into her text original and previously unknown sources, such as his own meticulously kept diaries, letters to and from his mistress, Adele Filleul, comtesse of Flahaut and other paramours, and urgent communications with key protagonists: the falling and fallen royal couple, Danton, Robespierre and the Girondins, among many others. The author's prose is brilliantly precise, enhanced by a dry and intelligent wit, and I agree with reviewers that the book is written with "the discipline of a historian but a novelist's eye," "a page turner." I admit that I found myself dragging my heels as I read along because, truth be told, I didn't really want to finish. In the final stretch, I stayed up way past my bedtime, skimming excitedly to learn what happened in the end, even though of course I already knew. I recommend Envoy to the Terror to anyone with more than a passing interest in the events of revolutionary Paris.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Revisionist View of Morris 10 Feb. 2005
By Richard B. Stott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This well-written and lively book should go a long way in restoring Gouverneur Morris to his rightful place among the Founding Fathers. The prickly Morris has had a pretty bad press over the years, but Envoy to the Terror provides a vigorous, in places brilliant, and ultimately convincing defense of Morris' conduct. Miller shows how Morris energetically defended America's interests under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and successfully disproves charges made both at the time and by later historians that his term as minister to France was a failure.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
We learn that the principle of arbitrary government is... FEAR 19 Jun. 2009
By M. Heiss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I did myself a favor when I read this book. It is an immediately captivating page-turner and an outstanding piece of scholarship.

Teddy Roosevelt wrote in 1898 that Morris's service "stands by itself in diplomatic history." If you have no sense for Governeur Morris yet, this book is an excellent place to start. And if you are curious about the French Revolution, or looking for a fresh perspective on how a financial crisis can lead to corruption, anarchy, despair, and depravity, this is 250 pages of fascinating reading.

Morris is witty, sharp, and realistic. He understands that human nature is not good, but rather bad beyond measure, and that civilizations develop to control human impulses. When civilization breaks down, the result is hideous, inconceivable cruelty.

This stands in contrast to Thomas Jefferson, the US Secretary of State at the time of Morris's service (and indeed, Morris's predecessor in France). His uninsightful and imprudent pushes for revolution in France abetted the catastrophe. Jefferson remained staunchly in favor of the Revolution and willfully denied every fact against his wishes regarding the turmoil. One of the major benefits of this book is to round out this aspect of Jefferson, a man who had very little understanding of cause and effect.

The book gets a little bogged down in several chapters about the motivations and personal enmity of Morris's detractors. It's interesting information, and well-researched, but there's not much story there. Those chapters are important in order to reestablish Morris as a powerhouse founding father... still I found myself wanting to skip ahead.

This book highlights Morris's many excellent character evaluations and predictions about the Revolution. Circumstances proved him right again and again. The excerpts from his letters and diary are sparkling and funny, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Morris must have been fun to converse with.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Still Relevant Today 4 Mar. 2005
By Kristin Baldwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We learn to see our future by looking at our past, and contemporary French and American relations--as they relate to French censure for America's enlarging foreign policy and the U.S. zeal for "democratization" of the larger world--can be viewed in greater focus by narrowing in on the history of our two countries during the French Revolution and the French `Terror' that followed it. The American diplomat pivotal to this period-the only one on whom Washington could depend for analysis of what was happening abroad-was Gouverneur Morris, today one of the lesser known founding fathers, who as United States Minister to France from 1789-92, during the height of the atrocities taking place there, turned out to be profoundly perspicacious in seeing the terrible future of this, one of America's first adventures in `democracy building,' and its unpredictable, and sometimes terrible results. In Dr. Melanie Miller's insightful revisiting of the historical record of relations between the United States and France during this fateful and terrible period, as set down in her recent biography of Gouverneur Morris, Envoy to the Terror, Dr. Miller tells us much that is relevant to French and American relations today.
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