Murrin, John Matthew 1935-

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MURRIN, John Matthew 1935-


Born August 20, 1935, in Minneapolis, MN; son of Francis H. (a grain merchant) and Rose (Pitzl) Murrin; married Mary C. Roach (a public historian), June 7, 1967. Education: College of St. Thomas, B.A., 1957; University of Notre Dame, M.A., 1960; Yale University, Ph.D., 1966.


Office—Princeton University History Dept., 137 Dickinson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian. Washington University, St. Louis, MO, assistant professor, 1963-68, associate professor, 1968-73; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, associate professor, 1973-80, professor, 1980—, professor emeritus. Columbia University seminar in early American history, 1983-84; American Historical Association program committee, chair, 1985.


American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Southern Historical Association.


Junior fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1969; Charles Warren Center fellow, Harvard University, 1978-79.


(Editor with Stanley N. Katz) Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983; revised edition, McGraw-Hill (Boston, MA), 2001.

(Editor with David D. Hall and Thad W. Tate) Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays on Early American History, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor with Eugene R. Sheridan) Congress at Princeton: Being the Letters of Charle Thomson to Hannah Thomson, June-October 1783, Princeton University Library (Princeton, NJ), 1985.

Essays on Liberty and Federalism: The Shaping of the U.S. Constitution, Texas A&M University Press (College Station, TX), 1988.

Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Harcourt Brace College (Fort Worth, TX), 1996.


John Matthew Murrin is professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, where he specializes in colonial American history and Revolutionary America. Murrin told CA: "Most of my historical writing has explored the ramifications of one central theme, that there was nothing inevitable about the appearance of an independent American nation on this continent before 1800. Until the nineteenth century, the Atlantic united peoples: the continent divided them. An American union under these conditions had to be artifical and precarious, if only because the most conspicuous feature that the settlers shared in common was their English heritage."

Murrin has published numerous works on the subject of colonial America, including Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays on Early American History and Essays on Liberty and Federalism: The Shaping of the U.S. Constitution. Saints and Revolutionaries, which he edited with David D. Hall and Thad W. Tate, focuses on the transformation of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century America. William S. McFeely wrote in the Washington Post Book World that Murrin writes "on the Puritans' legal system with welcome attention to the fact that real peoples' lives were on the line in these proceedings." Peter Marshall, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, also addressed Murrin's essay on this legal system, stating that it is one of three essays in the book "particularly successful in [its] examination of [a] specific theme that can reveal larger issues." Marshall added that Murrin "demonstrates both variety and change in the workings of an institution that has been all too readily assumed to have been transferred and introduced intact from England."

In Murrin's Essays on Liberty and Federalism, constitutionality is examined as a practice and a complex idea. In the Journal of American History, Richard B. Bernstein commented that the essays in the book "are the work of historians who are sensitive to the importance of political ideas and practices in American history." Bernstein wrote that Murrin "argues that federalism, as embodied in the Constitution, was an extraordinary political invention. Murrin concedes that the constitutional formula of federalism was far from perfect; even so, he shows, it was vital to the success of the Constitution."



Journal of American History, March, 1990, Richard B. Bernstein, review of Essays on Liberty and Federalism: The Shaping of the U.S. Constitution, pp. 1242-1244.

Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 1985, Peter Marshall, review of Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays on Early American History, p. 661.

Washington Post Book World, February 12, 1984, William S. McFeely, review of Saints and Revolutionaries.*