Edmund Sears Morgan
|Died||July 8, 2013 (aged 97)|
|Alma mater||Harvard College|
|Institutions||University of Chicago, Brown University, Yale University|
|Doctoral advisor||Perry Miller|
Edmund Sears Morgan (January 17, 1916 – July 8, 2013) was an American historian and an eminent authority on early American history. He was the Sterling 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. Thomas S. Kidd says he was noted for his incisive writing style, "simply one of the best academic prose stylists America has ever produced." He covered many topics, including Puritanism, political ideas, the American Revolution, slavery, historiography, family life, and numerous notables such as Benjamin Franklin.
Morgan was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 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 that faith. His father, descended from Welsh coal miners, taught law at the University of Minnesota. His sister was Roberta Mary Morgan, better known as Roberta Wohlstetter, also a historian and, like Edmund, a winner of the Bancroft Prize. In 1925 the family moved from Washington, D.C. to Arlington, Massachusetts to allow the father to take a position as professor at Harvard Law School.
Morgan attended Belmont Hill School near home. He then enrolled in Harvard College, intending to study English history and literature, but after taking a course in American literature with F. O. Matthiessen he switched to the new major of American civilization (history and literature), with Perry Miller as his tutor, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1937. Then, at the urging of the jurist Felix Frankfurter (a family friend), Morgan attended lectures at the London School of Economics.
Returning to Harvard, in 1942 Morgan earned his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization, with Miller as his adviser.
Although a pacifist, Morgan became convinced after the fall of France in 1940 that only military force could stop Hitler, and he withdrew his application for conscientious objector status. During World War II he trained as a machinist at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where he turned out parts for radar installations.
In 1939 he married Helen Theresa Mayer, who died in 1982.
Morgan died in New Haven on July 8, 2013 at the age of 97. His cause of death was pneumonia. He was survived by two daughters—Penelope Aubin and Pamela Packard—from his first marriage; his second wife, Marie (née Carpenter) Caskey Morgan, a historian; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Morgan was profoundly influenced by historian Perry Miller, who became a lifelong friend. Although both were atheists, they had a deep understanding and respect for Puritan religion. From Miller, 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.
Morgan's many books and articles covered a range of topics in the history of the colonial and Revolutionary periods, using intellectual, social history, biographical, and political history approaches. Two of his early books, The 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.
Morgan's trio The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in 17th-Century New England (1944), The Puritan Dilemma (1958), and Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963) restored the intellectual respectability of the Puritans, and exposed their appetite for healthy sex, causing a renaissance in Puritan studies, the more so because both Morgan and his mentor Miller were Ivy League atheist professors, adding to their credibility. Visible Saints, dedicated to Miller, was a reinterpretation of the Puritan ideal of the "Church of the Elect." Morgan argued that the criterion for church membership was not fixed in England. Soon after their arrival the Puritans changed membership to a gathered church composed exclusively of tested Saints.
Morgan's 1958 book The Puritan Dilemma made him a star, becoming the most-assigned book in U.S. history survey courses, documenting the change in understanding among Puritans of what it means to be a member of a church, "doing right in a world that does wrong": "Caught between the ideals of God's Law and the practical needs of the people, John Winthrop walked a line few could tread."
In The Stamp Act Crisis (1953) and The Birth of the Republic (1956) Morgan rejected the Progressive interpretation of the American Revolution and its assumption that the rhetoric of the Patriots was mere claptrap. Instead Morgan returned to the interpretation first set out by George Bancroft a century before that the patriots were deeply motivated by a commitment to liberty. Historian 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.
Human relations among us still suffer from the former enslavement of a large portion of our predecessors. The freedom of the free, the growth of freedom experienced in the American Revolution depended more than we like to admit on the enslavement of more than 20 percent of us at that time. How republican freedom came to be supported, at least in large part, by its opposite, slavery, is the subject of this book.
Morgan claimed that large Virginia plantation owners exerted an outsized influence on poorer white Virginians and their attitude toward the racial divide (color line) which made it possible for Virginian white men as a group to become more politically equal: ("Aristocrats could more safely preach equality in a slave society than in a free one").
In a controversial passage, Morgan suggests Virginia's poor whites felt no racial superiority to poor blacks. He does this by providing evidence that, in 17th-century Virginia, poor white indentured servants and black slaves frequently cooperated with each other and worked together. Morgan cites the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion as evidence of a surprising racial egalitarianism among the poor, since Bacon incorporated runaway black slaves into his army.
However, despite the assertions of such writers as Michelle Alexander, Morgan does not state that Bacon’s Rebellion was the reason that rich landowners stopped purchasing white indentured servants and started increasing their purchase of black slaves; rather, regional changes in labor economics was the reason black slaves began to replace white servants: during the early 1600s, white servants cost less per unit labor than black slaves did; but by the latter 1600s, the situation reversed itself, and black slaves became the more economical investment. And, as Morgan states, “The planters who bought slaves instead of servants did not do so with any apparent consciousness of the social stability to be gained thereby. Indeed, insofar as Virginians expressed themselves on the subject of slavery, they feared that it would magnify the danger of insurrection in the colony.” As events evolved, however, the rising number of black slaves and the almost virtual end to the importation of indentured servants did stabilize Virginia society. And as time went on, according to Morgan, Virginia politicians learned to further pacify poor whites by fostering a sense of white superiority. "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, according to Morgan, white men in Virginia were able to become much more politically equal and cohesive than would have been possible without a population of low-status black slaves.
Anthony S. Parent commented: "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."
In 2002 Morgan published a surprise New York Times Bestseller, Benjamin Franklin, which dispels the myth of "a comfortable old gentleman staring out at the world over his half-glasses with benevolent comprehension of everything in it", revealing his true mental makeup.
With a wisdom about himself that comes only to the great of heart, Franklin knew how to value himself and what he did without mistaking himself for something more than one man among many. His special brand of self-respect required him to honor his fellow men and women no less than himself.
After examining his writings, David T. 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.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology American history professor Pauline Maier wrote:
As a historian of colonial and revolutionary America, he was one of the giants of his generation, and a writer who could well have commanded a larger nonacademic audience than I suspect he received. He characteristically took on big issues and had a knack for conveying complex, sophisticated truths in a way that made them seem, if not simple, at least easily understandable.
Benjamin L. Carp described Morgan as "one of the great historians of early America, with a formidable influence on academic and popular audiences." Jill Lepore called Morgan "one of the most influential American historians of the 20th century." According to Joseph Ellis, Morgan was "revered" by other members of the profession.
William Hogeland affirms Morgan's success in enshrining a "consensus approach" to US history, where colonists' ideas, rather than their possible economic interests, were worthy of inspection by twentieth century historians. "He was out to define something essential in the American character and thereby create a new master narrative, and to achieve that end, he concocted a false portrayal of the colonists’ petitions," Hogeland wrote.
In 1971 Morgan 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. 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. In 1965 he became a Sterling Professor, one of Yale's highest distinctions. Morgan was awarded the 2000 National Humanities Medal by 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." In 2008 the American Academy of Arts and Letters honored him with a gold medal for lifetime achievement.
- The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in 17th-Century New England (1944) read online
- 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; 4th ed. 2012) read online
- The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958) read online
- 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) read online
- 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) read online
- The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653–1657: The Conscience of a Puritan (1965)
- The Puritan Family ( 1966)
- Roger Williams: The Church and the State (1967) read online
- 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 (Yale University Press, 2002) read online
- The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America (2004), selected review essays from New York Review of Books read online
- American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America (2009), biographical essays read online
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1937). "The Case against Anne Hutchinson". The New England Quarterly. 10 (4): 635–649. doi:10.2307/359929. JSTOR 359929.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1942). "The Puritans and Sex". The New England Quarterly. 15 (4): 591–607. doi:10.2307/361501. JSTOR 361501.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1948). "Colonial Ideas of Parliamentary Power 1764-1766". The William and Mary Quarterly. 5 (3): 311–341. doi:10.2307/1923462. JSTOR 1923462.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1948). "Thomas Hutchinson and the Stamp Act". The New England Quarterly. 21 (4): 459–492. doi:10.2307/361566. JSTOR 361566.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1950). "The Postponement of the Stamp Act". The William and Mary Quarterly. 7 (3): 353–392. doi:10.2307/1917228. JSTOR 1917228.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1954). "Ezra Stiles: The Education of a Yale Man, 1742-1746". Huntington Library Quarterly. 17 (3): 251–268. doi:10.2307/3816428. JSTOR 3816428.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1957). "The American Revolution: Revisions in Need of Revising". The William and Mary Quarterly. 14 (1): 3–15. doi:10.2307/1917368. JSTOR 1917368.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1957). "Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 72: 101–117. JSTOR 25080517.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1967). "The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution". The William and Mary Quarterly. 24 (1): 4–43. doi:10.2307/1920560. JSTOR 1920560.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1971). "The First American Boom: Virginia 1618 to 1630". The William and Mary Quarterly. 28 (2): 170–198. doi:10.2307/1917308. JSTOR 1917308.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1971). "The Labor Problem at Jamestown, 1607-18". The American Historical Review. 76 (3): 595–611. doi:10.2307/1851619. JSTOR 1851619.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1972). "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox". The Journal of American History. 59 (1): 5–29. doi:10.2307/1888384. JSTOR 1888384.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1983). "The World and William Penn". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 127 (5): 291–315. JSTOR 986499.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1986). "Safety in Numbers: Madison, Hume, and the Tenth 'Federalist'". Huntington Library Quarterly. 49 (2): 95–112. doi:10.2307/3817178. JSTOR 3817178.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1987). "John Winthrop's 'Modell of Christian Charity' in a Wider Context". Huntington Library Quarterly. 50 (2): 145–151. doi:10.2307/3817255. JSTOR 3817255.
- Feeney, Mark (2013-07-10). "Edmund Morgan, 97; professor, leading historian of Colonial era". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Thomas S. Kidd (2013-07-16). "The Historical Genius of Edmund Morgan". Anxious Bench. Retrieved 2018-02-25.
- Associated Press (2013-07-10). "Edmund S. Morgan dies at 97; scholar on early America". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Murrin, John M. (2000). Edmund S. Morgan. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945–2000. University of Missouri Press/Google EBook. ISBN 9780826213167.
- Grimes, William (2013-07-09). "Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Schudel, Matt (2013-07-10). "Edmund S. Morgan, historian of early America, dies at 97". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Hattem, Michael D. (2013-08-05). "Roundtable: The Legacy of Edmund S. Morgan". The Junto. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Courtland, pp 349–50
- Morgan, Edmund S. (2004). The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America. pp. ix–x. ISBN 0393059200.
- Van Beek, Elizabeth T. (1999), "Morgan, Edmund S.", in Kelly Boyd (ed.), Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, 2, p. 837, ISBN 1-884964-33-8
- Butler, Jon (December 2013). "In Memoriam: Edmund Sears Morgan (1916-2013)". Perspectives on History. American Historical Association. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Marc Egnal (2010). A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution. Cornell University Press. pp. 3���5. ISBN 978-0801476587.
- Morgan, Edmund S. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom. p. 5.
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom. pp. Preface.
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom (2nd ed.). p. 380.
- Alexander, Michelle (2012). The New Jim Crow. The New Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1595586438.“The systematic enslavement of Africans… emerged with all deliberate speed – quickened by events such as Bacon’s Rebellion…. In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves.”
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom. pp. 297–99.“Why… did Virginians not furnish themselves with slaves as soon as they began to grow tobacco? Why did they wait so long [to import large numbers of black slaves]? The answer lies in the fact that slave labor… was actually not as advantageous as indentured labor during the first half of the century… The point at which it became more advantageous for Virginians to buy slaves was probably reached by 1660.”
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom. p. 308.
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom. p. 328. “If freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything Bacon had done. The answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism.”
- Morgan. American Slavery, American Freedom. p. 386.
- Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom p. 386
- Anthony S. Parent (2003). Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660–1740. University of North Carolina Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780807854860.
- David T. Courtwright, "Fifty Years of American History: An Interview with Edmund S. Morgan", William and Mary Quarterly (1987): p. 336.
- Carp, Benjamin L. (March 2016). "Edmund S. Morgan and the Urgency of Good Leadership". Reviews in American History. 44 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1353/rah.2016.0014. S2CID 147313665. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Jill Lepore (2013-07-10). "Tell Me What You See: Jill Lepore Salutes Historian Edmund S. Morgan". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Joseph Ellis (2013-07-10). "Author Joseph J. Ellis Pays Tribute to Edmund S. Morgan". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 2018-02-25.
- Hogeland, William (25 January 2021). "Against the Consensus Approach to History". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
- "Past Officers of the OAH". Organization of American Historians. Archived from the original on 2012-06-10.
- "2006 Special Award". Pulitzer Prize.
- Carp, Benjamin L. "Edmund S. Morgan and the Urgency of Good Leadership." Reviews in American History 44.1 (2016): 1-18.
- Courtwright, David T. (1987). "Fifty Years of American History: An Interview with Edmund S. Morgan". The William and Mary Quarterly. 44 (2): 336–369. doi:10.2307/1939669. JSTOR 1939669.
- 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.
- Middlekauff, Robert. “In Memoriam: Edmund S. Morgan 1916-2013.” New England Quarterly 96#4 (2013), pp. 685–687. online.
- 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
- Nawotka, Edward (December 2002). "Edmund Morgan: The Historian's Historian". Publishers Weekly. 249 (49): 57.
- Grimes, William (9 July 2013). "Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97". The New York Times.
- Washington Post obituary
- Boston Globe obituary
- American Historical Association obituary
- Obituary by Thomas Kidd
- Obituary by Jill Lepore