Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America
These revelatory stories of American heroes and their undaunted courage will forever alter our understanding of American history.
The last two decades have witnessed an explosion of interest in the founding fathers so intense that a reader or television viewer of today might imagine that America was the creation of beings who were flawless in their wisdom and courage. As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edmund S. Morgan shows here, Americans have long been obsessed with their heroes. But, drawing on a lifetime of scholarship, he presents a different cast of characters—among them Indians, witches, heretics, and naysayers—men and women who went against the grain, in addition to the stock figures of our national hagiography.
Morgan has mined the seventeenth century and has identified several new heroes, among them Giles Cory and Mary Easty, accused witches, who were put to death when Puritanism went wrong at Salem in 1692. Pressured to reprieve herself by admitting her guilt and naming friends and neighbors as confederates in witchcraft, Easty declared, “I dare not belie my own soul.” Her humble statement stands as the ultimate expression of the religious principles that led to the founding of New England, principles temporarily abandoned by the rulers of Massachusetts Bay who tried and sentenced her.
While American Heroes celebrates the lives and principles of ordinary Americans, the book also considers the legacy of some of our most prominent colonial and Revolutionary leaders, among them William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. Franklin and Washington are best known for standing against the repressive and often brutal regime of Great Britain’s colonial policies, but here Morgan makes the case for their heroism in standing up to their own countrymen. When Americans were demanding precipitate action, Washington and Franklin got the nation off to a good start by knowing when to say no.
Whether presenting the scandalous story of a Puritan husband whose on-and-off marriage to a beleaguered Puritan heiress illustrates the nexus between property and sex, or assessing the power of books to subvert the standing order and alter the course of history, American Heroes rises above hagiography in challenging the reader to conceive of American individuality and idealism in new terms. Morgan, who credits his mentor Perry Miller “with the best historical mind of his generation,” has shown throughout his own career an unrivaled originality and intellectual courage. American Heroes demonstrates Morgan’s fascination with our national identity and his abiding affection for the men and women whose character, honesty, and moral courage make plain that heroism in America can be found in unexpected places.
- May 2009
- 6.7 × 9.6 in
/ 304 pages
- Territory Rights: Worldwide
Endorsements & Reviews
“About [Harvard's Perry] Miller, an authority on early America, Mr. Morgan writes that his 'distinction lay in an extraordinary ability to discover order where others saw chaos, and to express his deepest insights without uttering them, by tracing unsuspected patterns in the raw materials of the past.' The same might be said about Mr. Morgan, whose virtues as a historian are testified to in this wise, humane and beautifully written book.” — Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal
“This book is a perfect gem....Both specialists and general readers will find this book both authoritative and fun to read. Highly recommended.” — Library Journal
“These essays are like a tour of what history at its best can be: portraiture, social commentary, moral inquiry, weather vane for our sense of where we have been and where we are headed. There is something here for everyone with even a passing interest in a past that remains, somehow, present.” — David Waldstreicher, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Whether in gentle praise or cutting criticism, Morgan’s utter immersion in the world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is so palpable as to be a gift to those who experience it through him....you owe it to yourself to read American Heroes and remember the pure pleasure great history by a consummate artist affords.” — Jim Cullen, History News Network
“Starred Review. Intelligent, opinionated essays on American between 1600 to 1800....all are up to the standards of this wise, venerable (now 93) and deeply thoughtful historian.” — Publishers Weekly
“Starred Review. This uniformly strong collection boasts an insightful, even startling, observation—'Government requires make-believe'—on nearly every page. If the concluding appreciation of Harvard’s famed historian Perry Miller seems out of place, Morgan may be forgiven for honoring a man who, like Morgan himself, has left us with the 'record of a mind' that has thought deeply and creatively about our history. Outstanding.” — Kirkus Reviews
“The book is vintage Morgan, and it showcases the trademark range and depth for which he is celebrated. From the Salem witch trials to the Constitution, Morgan shines whatever the century or topic....As so many times before, Morgan proves himself one of our deftest thinkers about race—what he once called 'the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom.' But then, Morgan has always found himself ahead of his time.” — Kirk Davis Swinehart, Chicago Tribune
Also by Edmund S. Morgan