Edmund Morgan (historian)

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Edmund Sears Morgan
Born (1916-01-17)January 17, 1916
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died July 8, 2013(2013-07-08) (aged 97)
New Haven, Connecticut
Residence United States
Citizenship United States
Nationality American
Institutions University of Chicago, Brown University, Yale University
Alma mater Harvard College
Doctoral advisor Perry Miller
Doctoral students David S. Lovejoy, Joseph Ellis

Edmund Sears Morgan (January 17, 1916 - July 8, 2013), an eminent authority on early American history, was Emeritus Professor of History at Yale University, where he taught from 1955 to 1986. He specialized in American colonial history, with some attention to English history, and was noted for his incisive writing style. He covered many topics, including Puritanism, politics, slavery, historiography and family life.


Morgan was the second child of Edmund Morris Morgan and Elsie Smith Morgan. His mother was from a Yankee family that practiced Christian Science, though she distanced herself from the faith. His father, descended from Welsh coal miners, taught law at the University of Minnesota.[1] In 1925, the Morgan family moved from Washington, D.C. to Arlington, Massachusetts when Morgan was a professor at Harvard Law School.[2]

Morgan attended Belmont Hill School near home, His fascination with history emerged at Harvard College, where he worked closely with Perry Miller. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization there in 1942, studying under Miller. He taught history at Brown University (1946–55) before becoming a professor at Yale, where he directed about 60 PhD dissertations in colonial history.

He died in New Haven, on July 8, 2013, at the age of 97. He is survived by two daughters, from his first marriage, Penelope Aubin and Pamela Packard; his second wife, the former Marie Caskey, a historian; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.[3]


As an undergraduate at Harvard, he was profoundly influenced by historian Perry Miller, who became a lifelong friend. Morgan was an atheist, as was Miller, but they both had a deep understanding and respect for Puritan religion.[4] From him Morgan learned to appreciate:

the intellectual rigor and elegance of a system of ideas that made sense of human life in a way no longer palatable to most of us. Certainly not palatable to me....He left me with a habit of taking what people have said at face value unless I find compelling reasons to discount it....What Americans said from the beginning about taxation and just government deserved to be taken as seriously as the Puritans' ideas about God and man.[5]

Morgan's many books and articles covered a range of topics in the history of the colonial and Revolutionary periods, using intellectual, social, biographical and political history approaches. Two of his early books, Birth of the Republic (1956) and The Puritan Dilemma (1958), have for decades been required reading in many undergraduate history courses. His works include American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), which won the Society of American Historians' Francis Parkman Prize, the Southern Historical Association's Charles S. Sydnor Prize and the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Award, and Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988), which won Columbia University's Bancroft Prize in American History in 1989. He has also written biographies of Ezra Stiles, Roger Williams, and Benjamin Franklin.

In The Stamp Act Crisis and Birth of the Republic Morgan rejected the Progressive interpretation of the American Revolution, and its assumption that the rhetoric of the Patriots was mere claptrap. He returned to the "Whig" interpretation first set out by George Bancroft that the patriots were deeply motivated by commitment to liberty. Mark Egnal argues that:

The leading neo-Whig historians, Edmund Morgan and Bernard Bailyn, underscore this dedication to whiggish principles, although with variant readings. For Morgan, the development of the patriots' beliefs was a rational, clearly defined process.[6]

Morgan in 1975 argued that Virginians in the 1650s—and for the next two centuries—turned to slavery and a racial divide as an alternative to class conflict. "Racism made it possible for white Virginians to develop a devotion to the equality that English republicans had declared to be the soul of liberty." That is, white men became politically much more equal than was possible without a population of low-status slaves.[7] Anthony S. Parent has commented that, "American historians of our generation admire Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom more than any other monograph. Morgan resuscitated American history by placing black slavery and white freedom as its central paradox."[8]

Examining these books, David Courtwright finds that:

they are based on exhaustive research in primary sources; emphasize human agency as against historicist forces; and are written in precise and graceful prose. This combination of rigor, empathy, and lucidity is intended for, and has succeeded in capturing, a broad audience. Morgan is read by secondary school students, undergraduates, and graduate students, as well as by his specialist peers--some

sixty of whom were trained in his seminars.[9]


In 1971 he was awarded the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa's William Clyde DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching and scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious teaching prizes for Yale faculty. In 1971-1972 Morgan served as president of the Organization of American Historians.[10] In 1972, he became the first recipient of the Douglass Adair Memorial Award for scholarship in early American history, and in 1986 he received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Historical Association. He has also won numerous fellowships and garnered a number of honorary degrees and named lectureships. He became a Sterling Professor, one of Yale's highest distinctions, in 1965. Morgan was awarded the 2000 National Humanities Medal by the U.S. President Bill Clinton at a ceremony for "extraordinary contributions to American cultural life and thought." In 2006, he received a Pulitzer Prize "for a creative and deeply influential body of work as an American historian that spans the last half century." [11]


  • The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in 17th-Century New England (1944)
  • Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century (1952)
  • The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (1953), with Helen M. Morgan
  • The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956)
  • The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958)
  • The American Revolution: A Review of Changing Interpretations (1958)
  • The Mirror of the Indian (1958)
  • Editor, Prologue to the Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764-1766 (1959)
  • The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795 (1962)
  • The National Experience: A History of the United States (1963) coauthor of textbook; several editions
  • Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963)
  • Editor, The Founding of Massachusetts: Historians and the Sources (1964)
  • The American Revolution: Two Centuries of Interpretation (1965)
  • Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794 (1965)
  • The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657: The Conscience of a Puritan (1965)
  • The Puritan Family ([1944] 1966)
  • Roger Williams: The Church and the State (1967)
  • So What about History? (1969)
  • American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975)
  • The Meaning of Independence: John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson (1976, reprint with new foreword, 2004)
  • The Genius of George Washington (1980)
  • Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988)
  • Benjamin Franklin (2002)
  • The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America (2004), selected review essays from New York Review of Books
  • American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America (2009), biographical essays

Selected articles[edit]

  • "The Case against Anne Hutchinson", New England Quarterly 10.4 (1937), pp. 635–49 in JSTOR
  • "The Puritans and Sex", New England Quarterly 15.4 (1942), pp. 591–607 in JSTOR
  • "Colonial Ideas of Parliamentary Power 1764–1766", William and Mary Quarterly 5.3 (1948), pp. 311–41 in JSTOR
  • "Thomas Hutchinson and the Stamp Act", New England Quarterly 21.4 (1948), pp. 459–92 in JSTOR
  • "The Postponement of the Stamp Act", William and Mary Quarterly 7.3 (1950), pp. 353–92 in JSTOR
  • "Ezra Stiles: The Education of a Yale Man, 1742–1746," Huntington Library Quarterly 17.3 (1954), pp. 251–68 in JSTOR
  • "The American Revolution: Revisions in Need of Revising", William and Mary Quarterly 14.1 (1957), pp. 3–15 in JSTOR; influential review of the historiography
  • "Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight", Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 72 (1957–60), pp. 101–17 in JSTOR
  • "The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution", William and Mary Quarterly 24.1 (1967), pp. 3–43 in JSTOR
  • "The First American Boom: Virginia 1618 to 1630", William and Mary Quarterly 28.2 (1971), pp. 169–98 in JSTOR
  • "The Labor Problem at Jamestown, 1607–18", American Historical Review 76.3 (1971), pp. 595–611 in JSTOR
  • "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox", Journal of American History 59.1 (1972), pp. 5–29 in JSTOR, presidential address to Organization of American Historians
  • "The World and William Penn", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 127.5 (1983), pp. 291–315 in JSTOR
  • "Safety in Numbers: Madison, Hume, and the Tenth 'Federalist'", Huntington Library Quarterly 49.2 (1986), pp. 95–112 in JSTOR
  • "John Winthrop's 'Modell of Christian Charity' in a Wider Context", Huntington Library Quarterly 50.2 (1987), pp. 145–51 in JSTOR


  1. ^ Murrin, John M. "Edmund S. Morgan". Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000. University of Missouri Press/Google EBook. 
  2. ^ Grimes, William (9 July 2013). "Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  3. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/us/edmund-s-morgan-historian-who-shed-light-on-puritans-dies-at-97.html?pagewanted=all
  4. ^ Courtland, pp 349-50
  5. ^ Edmund S. Morgan, The Genuine Article (2004) pp ix-x
  6. ^ Marc Egnal (2010). A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution. Cornell University Press. pp. 3–5. 
  7. ^ Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975) p 386
  8. ^ Anthony S. Parent (2003). Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. U of North Carolina Press. p. 1. 
  9. ^ Courtwright, David T. "Fifty Years of American History: An Interview with Edmund S. Morgan." William and Mary Quarterly (1987) p. 336
  10. ^ "Past Officers of the OAH". Organization of American Historians. 
  11. ^ "2006 Special Award". Pulitzer Prize. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Courtwright, David T. "Fifty Years of American History: An Interview with Edmund S. Morgan." William and Mary Quarterly (1987): 336-369. in JSTOR
  • Liddle, William D. "Edmund S. Morgan (1916- )" in Clyde N. Wilson, ed., Twentieth-Century American Historians (Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. XVII) (Detroit, 1983), pp 285–95.
  • Murrin, John M. "Edmund S. Morgan," in Robert Allen Rutland, ed. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000 U of Missouri Press. (2000) pp 126–137

External links[edit]