Cover: John Gorham Palfrey and the New England Conscience, from Harvard University PressCover: John Gorham Palfrey and the New England Conscience in E-DITION

John Gorham Palfrey and the New England Conscience

Available from De Gruyter »

Product Details


$65.00 • £54.95 • €60.00

ISBN 9780674281608

Publication Date: 01/01/1963

337 pages


Harvard University Press has partnered with De Gruyter to make available for sale worldwide virtually all in-copyright HUP books that had become unavailable since their original publication. The 2,800 titles in the “e-ditions” program can be purchased individually as PDF eBooks or as hardcover reprint (“print-on-demand”) editions via the “Available from De Gruyter” link above. They are also available to institutions in ten separate subject-area packages that reflect the entire spectrum of the Press’s catalog. More about the E-ditions Program »

The New England of his day regarded John Gorham Palfrey’s life as blameless and exemplary, a nineteenth-century “monument to the Puritan ideal of rectitude.” Yet he himself once called it “his personal tragicomedy.” At least, it was diverse, for Palfrey had been historian, Harvard educator, Unitarian minister, Massachusetts politician, editor of the North American Review, and crusader against slavery, and himself an emancipator. During his lifetime, from 1796 to 1881, Palfrey participated, sometimes reluctantly, in revolutionary changes in the political, economic, and intellectual climate of New England.

In his stormy political career, Palfrey not only was Massachusetts Secretary of State, member of Congress, and Postmaster of Boston, but also played a key role in the formation of the Free Soil Party. When the Whigs, in the name of national unity and compromise, seemed to ignore the moral necessities of the slavery question, he joined with such men as Charles Francis Adams, Charles Sumner and Richard Henry Dana, Jr., to reaffirm traditional moral values. From this struggle, Palfrey emerged a political loser. Hampered by inflexibility, he later retreated to his study to write his massive history of New England, nursing his disappointment and cherishing his sense of rectitude. We are left with the image of a man whose achievements were substantial, perhaps because he insisted upon making his life a Bay State morality play.

For this biography of Palfrey, Gatell has used papers of Palfrey’s contemporaries and of the Palfrey family manuscripts, among them an unpublished autobiography, itself a search for meaning in a long and perplexing life.

From Our Blog

Jacket: How To Be Gay, by David M. Halperin, from Harvard University Press

Celebrating Pride Month, Part II

To celebrate Pride Month, we are highlighting excerpts from books that explore the lives and experiences of the LGBT+ community. This second excerpt comes from How To Be Gay, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, in which David M. Halperin, a pioneer of LGBTQ studies, dares to suggest that gayness is a way of being that gay men must learn from one another to become who they are.