Memorials: Edmund Morgan
Edmund Morgan served on the Council of the Omohundro Institute during the following periods:
1953–1956, 1957–1960, 1962–1965, 1968–1972.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Marsland, Yale University
Remembering Edmund Morgan
It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to overstate the importance of Edmund Morgan to American history. He was also important and inspirational to me personally. I remember a chat he and I once had in the nave of Yale’s library. I told him I was working on slavery in early New England. He immediately smiled broadly, and said, “Oh, surely you know they didn’t have slavery!” The mischievous twinkle in his eye let me know that this was a man who understood that humans were flawed, and had forgiven them for it. We had a fascinating conversation that day, with Ed referring casually to documents and arguments as if he had read them only the day before, instead of decades ago. His knowledge was extraordinary.
I spoke to him last in November 2012, on election day, when he was 96 years old. He came in to the polling place well after us, and since the line was at least an hour long, we offered to let him join us at the front, or at least take our place, and we would start over. But he refused, and said he didn’t mind waiting, and then slowly walked off to the very back of the queue. I was very touched to see him, and to see him there. It seemed such an appropriate venue for him: the great scholar of American democracy, insisting on participating in the institution’s most basic event, taking no favors from anyone to do so.