Press Releases: Historiography Edition
Constructing America’s History: The Impact of Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom
American History, Cultural History, Social History, Quantitative History
Within the book, Morgan focuses on the American Colonies, specifically Virginia
Citation for First Edition/Printing
Historian Edmund Sears Morgan was a professor at Yale University from 1955 to 1986, specializing in the fields of American colonial history and English history. Being a distinguished figure in the field of American history, he has published several significant books and articles related to his research that has established colonial America as a dominant field that has shaped the study of American history. He combines the use of American history, cultural history, social history, and quantitative history to argue that while establishing freedom for the colonist of America, it was supported through the practice of slavery which impacted human relations throughout society.
American Slavery, American Freedom examines the Colony of Virginia from the start of being a democratic republic to becoming one of the largest territories in the United States of slaveholding.  Morgan first explains the desire of settlers to bring freedom to the New World and establish their own form of government. Within this new form of government which was established based on rights and liberties, the country’s fathers maintained and executed the practice of slavery. The author notes that George Washington alone owned 277 slaves at the time of his death. The relationship between slavery and freedom in the United States contradicts one another based on the values on which the country was founded on. This creates conflicts throughout history such as Bacons Rebellion in 1676.  The different forms of slavery are also outlined throughout the book such as the use of indentured servant’s, Indians, and African Americans. The beginnings of exploitation of work began due to a demand for labor and the interests of whites to establish a form of “top” class within the socioeconomic structure. Morgan asserts that because of the use of slavery in the history of the country, it formed a status quo that shaped the social structure and virtues during early America, creating lasting impacts into todays society.
Morgan uses the methods of American history, cultural history, social history, and quantitative history to research the relationship between slavery and freedom within colonial America. Throughout the book, he relies on the history behind the founding of America beginning from the New World, the colonization of Virginia, establishment of government, and the Revolutionary War. The inclusion Indians during the early years depicts the cultural differences among the two groups and the feel of superiority over one another. The question of how a country founded based on the rights and liberties of freedom can condemn the use of indentured servitude and slavery is explained through the social developments and structures at the time. The increase and organization of the economy led to a dire need of laborers and the increase of wealth among Englishmen led to the perceived notion of who exactly should be doing the work; commodities that could be bought and sold that would be worked and worn out. Morgan also uses quantitative data throughout his work such as population growth, comparison of amount of slaves between different colonies, and amount of African Americans.
Throughout the book, Morgan extensively goes into detail about the history behind the New World and the creation of the colonies. Within this information, he tends to leave out the main purpose behind the book which is the correlation between freedom within American and the use of slavery. Much of this information could have been condensed and focused more on interactions between freemen and slaves.
Impact on Historiography
The impact of American Slavery, American Freedom is seen as a work that connects American history to the paradox of white freedom and slavery that lasted well into the future of America. Morgan’s research provides answers as to how a country was being built on the notion of freedom while also using the practice of slavery to advance the nation for those who were creating it. Historian J.H. Plumb stated Morgan’s work was one of the greatest contributions to the history of slavery in the 1970s.  Being written in 1975, the book American Slavery, American Freedom paved the way for researching the theory that the establishment of American freedom values within the creation of government were made possible through the practice of slavery.
- Butler, Jon. "Edmund Sears Morgan." (Washington D.C.: American Historical Association, 2013). ↵
- Morgan, Edmund. "American Slavery, American Freedom." (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 5 ↵
- Morgan, Edmund. "American Slavery, American Freedom." (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 4 ↵
- Morgan, Edmund. "American Slavery, American Freedom." (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 250-270 ↵
- Carr, Lois. "Reviewed Work: American Slavery American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan." (Oxford University Press, 1977) ↵
- Plumb, J.H. "How Freedom Took Root in Slavery." (New York: New York Review, 1975) ↵