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Morton, John

Morton, John

Morton, John, 1420?-1500, English prelate and statesman, archbishop of Canterbury (1486-1500). He studied law at Oxford and practiced in the London ecclesiastical courts. A supporter of the Lancastrian party in the Wars of the Roses, he received a number of church livings, but after the Yorkist victory at Towton (1461) he was attainted and lived in exile at the court of Margaret of Anjou. He returned to England in 1470, taking an active part in the coalition against Edward IV, but after Edward's victory at Tewkesbury (1471), his attainder was reversed. He was made a master of the rolls in 1473, was sent (1474) on a mission to Hungary, and became bishop of Ely in 1479. Arrested in the reign of Richard III, he escaped to Flanders and was recalled by Henry VII on his accession (1485) to the throne. Morton became the king's principal counselor, was made archbishop of Canterbury (1486) and lord chancellor (1487), and was created a cardinal in 1493. He was probably the author of the original Latin version of the History of Richard III, which is usually ascribed to Sir Thomas More.

See biography by R. I. Woodhouse (1895).

Morton, John, c.1724-1777, political leader in the American Revolution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Chester co., Pa. He was a member of the Pennsylvania assembly (1756-66, 1769-75), the Stamp Act Congress (1765), and the Continental Congress (1774-77).
A Morton's Fork is a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives (in other words, a dilemma), or two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion. It is analogous to the expressions "between the devil and the deep blue sea" or "between a rock and a hard place."

The expression originates from a policy of tax collection devised by John Morton, Lord Chancellor of England in 1487, under the rule of Henry VII.

His approach was that if the subject lived in luxury and had clearly spent a lot of money on himself, he obviously had sufficient income to spare for the king. Alternatively, if the subject lived frugally, and showed no sign of being wealthy, he must have substantial savings and could therefore afford to give it to the king. These arguments were the two prongs of the fork and regardless of whether the subject was rich or poor, he did not have a favourable choice.

Elected officers (MPs and councillors) sometimes may have recourse to a variant on Morton's Fork when dealing with uncooperative non-elected officers (civil servants). This variant asserts that a non-elected officer's non-compliance with the directive of their elected officer must be due to one of two equally unacceptable causes: either the civil servant is lazy or incompetent, or the civil servant is acting willfully or maliciously against the instructions given by his/her elected officer.

"Morton's fork coup" is a manoeuvre in the game of Bridge that uses the principle of Morton's Fork.

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