Marie Morgan, author of Chariot of Fire, is a historian of nineteenth-century America who frequently collaborates with Edmund Morgan in writing history. (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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …