Magazine article Humanities
Making a Difference: Puritans and Slaves
"Curiosity is the principal motivator of all important work, " says historian Edmund S. Morgan.
Whether he is overturning common wisdom about the American Revolution or debunking the myth of "the American people," Morgan is quick to wade into controversy.
"There is no way there's such a thing as the American people expressing a wish," Morgan says. "Wishes must be expressed through representatives who have their own views. But we need the fiction of the 'American people' as an entity with a will and expressed views. Our American government is based on this fiction."
In his book, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, Morgan says the popular control of government is largely a fictional concept, inherited from the notion of the divine right of kings. "No society is governed by the many," he says. "All societies are governed only by the few, whether the government is a monarchy or a democracy." But it is a concept that has worked well over the centuries and the continued belief in it, he asserts, is essential to our system of government.
The author and editor of eighteen books, Morgan has written on the Puritans and the intellectual foundations of early American life. Still active in the field at the age of eighty-four, Morgan says, "The more familiar you become with a subject, the more you realize you don't know, so there's a reason to go on."
Morgan taught at the University of Chicago and Brown University before joining the faculty at Yale in 1955. He is the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale. …