Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale. His most recent book is The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America. (June 2011)

The American Who Spied for the British

Edward Bancroft; artist unknown
Edward Bancroft (1744–1821), the subject of Thomas Schaeper’s engaging biography, was an American who became a singularly well-situated spy for the British. By providing a wealth of detail about the life and times of this much-execrated man, Schaeper balances and softens what has conventionally been seen as Bancroft’s harsh character.

How Black & White America Took Shape

Members of the Ku Klux Klan parading in Washington, D.C., September 1926
As Ira Berlin tells it, an American, born in Ethiopia, confronted a hostile audience of other black Americans. “I am African and I am an American citizen,” he said; “am I not African American?” The answer, “No, no, no, not you,” came from men and women who claimed the name …

Jefferson’s Concubine

Monticello in its present incarnation is an American showplace, the visible projection of its creator, Thomas Jefferson, architect, naturalist, diplomat, and president of the United States. Apart from Abraham Lincoln, who himself quoted Jefferson in the Gettysburg Address, no American ever wrote or said anything as eloquent as the preamble …

Jefferson & Betrayal

Liberty had many friends in the eighteenth century. Here, in the book by Gary Nash and Graham Hodges, are three who took a stand for it in the American Revolution. Agrippa Hull of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a free black American, fought for it in the Continental Army as an orderly to …

A Very Satisfied Survivor

In John Boorman’s charming movie Hope and Glory (1987), young Billy Rohan is carrying on being British in spite of the Blitz, with barrage balloons overhead and a gas mask tucked beneath his school desk. Pointing out “the pink bits” on the world map, his teacher grandiosely catechizes the students …

Our Shaky Beginnings

In the procession of anniversary celebrations by which we congratulate our predecessors for begetting us, 2007 is the year to honor our shaky beginnings at Jamestown, Virginia. The 108 men and boys who stepped ashore on May 14, 1607, and the four or five thousand who followed them in the …

Inventing the ‘Liberal Republican’ Mind

In 2003, just as the United States embarked on the war in Iraq, Robert Kagan published a long essay that could be read as a preemptive response to the criticism the war would provoke. Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order[^1] was, of course, much …

Barbara Epstein (1928–2006)

Barbara Epstein, my friend and fellow editor for forty-three years, died on June 16. She did much to create The New York Review and she brought her remarkable intelligence and editorial skill to bear on everything that appeared in these pages. We publish here memoirs by some of the writers …

The Unread Masterpiece

In a recent discussion of American literary classics in these pages, none of the writings of Henry Adams was mentioned. Probably no one missed them, or if anyone did, there might have been some sort of homage to The Education of Henry Adams. The guardians of the canon have often …

The Other Founders

For the past ten or twelve years we have been celebrating the well-known Founding Fathers of the American Revolution in the biographies of Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Franklin that have graced the best-seller lists. Is there an element of self-gratification here, of self-congratulation, in a wishful identification with great …

Bill of Wrongs

Of the innumerable expressions of patriotism in America, “My country, right or wrong!” is surely the most succinct. Geoffrey R. Stone sets it at the head of his history of free speech in a time of war, not for the truth of it but as exemplifying a much-loved conception of …

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

The Whirlwind

Americans, perhaps more than most people, have pondered the question of who they are and what their country is. In recent years the question has grown perplexing. Hence, I think, a new attention to the Founding Fathers, who presumably knew what they were founding. Here now is a superb study …

A New Kind of War

What was the American Revolution? The people who joined to carry it out had different views of what they had done. In 1787 Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and ardent patriot, reflected that “the war is over, but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution. On …

A Tract for the Times

Gore Vidal occupies a unique position among American men of letters. By birth and social position he is an insider, given to invoking his personal relationships with the rich, the well-born, and the famous: the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, Anthony Burgess. The afterword to this new book …

A Very Popular Penalty

Not all Americans approve of the death penalty, but apparently most of them do. Prosecuting attorneys, state and federal, score points by showing their zeal for it, as they did when it was announced that the two alleged snipers who terrorized the Washington area—John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo—had …

Those Sexy Puritans

If there was a sexual revolution in early America, it was not because people had revolutionary ideas about sex. In their new communities the settlers made sex outside marriage illegal, as it had been in the world they left behind. But the New World presented new situations that invited defiance …

The Fastest Killer

As a species, human beings have always been distressingly assiduous in devising ways to kill each other. Until recently, however, their best efforts have not equaled the random operations of disease. Disease has seldom been thought of as part of the human arsenal of destruction, probably because it once lay …

The Price of Honor

Few words in any language carry such a load of meaning as “honor.” It is an old word, unchanged even in its spelling from classical Latin to modern English. Spoken or written it does not seem to require much explanation; most people think they know what it means. But why …

In Love with Guns

There is something about guns that inhibits understanding. It is not just that they can put an end to argument. They somehow generate beliefs that are obviously contrary to observable fact. It is a fact that Americans today own more guns per capita than people in other countries. But it …

Back to Basics

Thomas Jefferson, as Garry Wills recently suggested in these pages, is memorable for a vision of human equality that has moved later generations to achieve more than he did or even tried to do.[^1] Near the center of that vision was a belief embodied in every social revolution and articulated …

Who’s Really Who

Two people named John Adams, one born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1735, the other about twenty miles west of Braintree in Medway in 1812. The first was a leader of the American Revolution, helped write the Declaration of Independence, and succeeded George Washington as president of the United States. The …

Just Say No

Between 1776 and 1789 Americans replaced a government over them with a government under them. They have worried ever since about keeping it under. Distrust of its powers has been more common and more visible than distrust of the imperial authority of England ever was before the Revolution. Garry Wills …

Persuading the Persuaded

With the publication of a volume of sermons ranging over three and a half centuries, the Library of America enters new territory. None of the previous 107 volumes in the series, which “is dedicated to preserving America’s best and most significant writing,” has included anything religious or theological. Until now …

Plantation Blues

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger announce at the outset of their study of runaway slaves that “even today important aspects of the history of slavery remain shrouded in myth and legend.” The myths and legends are not only those that still romanticize the old plantation but also the contrary …

Mr. W. on Show

On October 6, when “The Great Experiment” opened, people were lined up by the hundreds outside the great hall of the Huntington Library where it is on display until next June. Before it is packed up and moved to the Morgan Library in New York in September, probably as many …