Edmund Morgan: Revered author and authority on early US history

 

Edmund Morgan, who died on 8 July aged 97, was a leading scholar of the US colonial era who helped reinvigorate the reputations of the founding fathers, probed the country's racial and religious origins and, in his 80s, wrote a bestselling biography of Benjamin Franklin.

A professor emeritus at Yale University, he was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and author of more than a dozen books. His awards included a National Humanities Medal in 2000 and an honorary citation from Pulitzer Prize officials in 2006 for his "creative and deeply influential body of work."

Morgan wrote several books and essays about the country's founders, especially Franklin and George Washington, praising them not just as men of action but of inaction. He cited the "genius" of Washington in declining to seize power after the surrender of the British and found the seemingly sloppy Franklin a far more effective diplomat overseas than John Adams.

An informed and accessible prose stylist, Morgan liked to imagine his readers as "ignorant geniuses"; the public knew him best for Benjamin Franklin, published in 2002, when Morgan was 86. It was a short, lively summation that began with the unlikely image of a young, athletic Franklin – and sold more than 100,000 copies.

But Morgan never imagined that the founders were perfect or that the country's early history was unscarred by racism or sly intentions. In American Slavery, American Freedom, he documented how demands for greater freedom in colonial Virginia were influenced by the rise of slavery, which gave whites a heightened sense of entitlement.

Furthermore, in Inventing the People, Morgan stated that politicians often used democratic language as a cover for maintaining power. "Government requires make-believe," Morgan wrote. "Make believe that the people have a voice or make believe that the representatives of the people are the people... Make believe that all men are equal or make believe that they are not."

Morgan approached his work as both scholar and hobbyist. He had no agent and didn't accept advances because he disliked deadlines.

After studying at Harvard under Perry Miller, Morgan became fascinated by the Puritans and wrote about them in his first book, The Puritan Family (1944). "Miller was an atheist, and so was I, but we both had this tremendous regard for the intellectual grounding of their theology," Morgan said in 2002.

Morgan's restless mind often led him well away from scholarship. After retiring as a Yale professor, in 1986, he took up flying, set up both a wood and metal shop in his basement and put together a lathe in his garage.

News
Lily Allen performs on stage at Splendour In the Grass 2014 on 27 July, 2014, in Byron Bay, Australia
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin