American Heroes

American Heroes

Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America

By Edmund S. Morgan

W. W. Norton & Company, Hardcover, 9780393070101, 278pp.

Publication Date: May 1, 2009

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.

About the Author
Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. His many books include "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia" and "Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America".