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The Meaning of Independence

John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson
Edmund S. Morgan

BUY Cloth · 96 pp. · 5 × 8 · ISBN 9780813906942 · $22.00 · Dec 1976
BUY Paper · 96 pp. · 5 × 8 · ISBN 9780813922652 · $15.00 · Aug 2005

Americans did not at first cherish the idea of political severance from their mother country. In just a few years, however, they came to desire indepen-dence above all else. What brought about this change of feeling and how did it affect the lives of their citizens? To answer these questions, Edmund S. Morgan looks at three men who may fairly be called the "architects of independence," the first presidents of the United States. Anecdotes from their letters and diaries recapture the sense of close identity many early Americans felt with their country’s political struggles. Through this perspective, Morgan examines the growth of independence from its initial declaration and discovers something of its meaning, for three men who responded to its challenge and for the nation that they helped create.

The Meaning of Independence, first published in 1976, has become one of the standard short works on the first three presidents of the United States—George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. When the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and the Organization of American Historians asked 1,500 historians to name the ten best books about George Washington, this book was one of those selected. In this updated edition, the author provides a new preface to address a few remaining concerns he has pondered in the quarter century since first publication.

Tag:A classic work on the founding by the author of the bestselling Benjamin Franklin


With the wit, grace, and sense of irony we have come to expect from him, Morgan seeks to discover 'the meaning of independence' for the Revolutionary generation and indeed, for our own.... Morgan is not only a brilliant historian but a superb storyteller as well.


 There's simply no better way of comprehending Washington and Adams than reading this book....Morgan is a supremely artful historian. Masking his commanding authority (in this and his other books) is a puckish ease and an utterly smooth prose style that manages to be at once conversational and incisive.


About the Author(s): 

Edmund S. Morgan is Professor Emeritus at Yale University, a recipient of the 2000 National Humanities Medal, and past president of the Organization of American Historians. Among his many distinguished books are The Birth of the Republic, 1763–89, The Challenge of the American Revolution, and American Slavery, American Freedom. His most recent book, Benjamin Franklin, has been a national best-seller.

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