Key free-speech test involving second U.S. president is focus of book by North Huntingdon man
Many of Richard Lyon Morgan's 20 published books have drawn upon his experience as a counselor and chaplain to help people cope with issues of aging.
“Resist Tyranny” — his latest volume, written with his brother, John — reaches back in time to explore a little-known episode of early American politics. Focusing on Matthew Lyon, a distant relative of the brothers, it speaks to an issue that remains a point of contention — freedom of speech.
“His political views were what intrigued me,” Richard Morgan, 88, of North Huntingdon said of the brothers' chosen subject. “It's quite a story.”
“We felt we were bringing back to life someone that most people didn't know,” said John Morgan, 76, a philosophy professor at Albright College and former news reporter and editor who lives near Reading.
The Morgans have collaborated before on writing projects — including a biography of their grandfather, well-known British minister and Bible scholar G. Campbell Morgan — written with a third brother, Howard, of Chicago.
For the Lyon book, John Morgan said, “Dick and I would talk a lot. There were a lot of things he would fill me in on and vice versa.”
As recounted by the siblings, Lyon, a newspaper publisher and congressman in Vermont, was fined $1,000 and jailed for four months in 1798 — for criticizing political enemy President John Adams in print, a crime under the recently passed Alien and Sedition Acts.
“It all started when Adams wanted every congressman to go by his home after his inauguration, and Lyon refused,” Richard Morgan said. “He called him pompous. From then on, there was antagonism between them.”
Lyon may have had the last laugh when he was re-elected, while still behind bars, and later cast the deciding vote that turned the presidency over to his friend, Thomas Jefferson — under whose administration the Alien and Sedition Acts were repealed in 1804.
Morgan began researching Lyon's life almost a decade ago, as a personal genealogical study. When he and his brother discovered the price their relative paid for speaking out about his political convictions and some letters he wrote from prison, they decided the topic was worthy of a book.
“I think his resistance to John Adams is the most important thing, that someone stood up to Adams and said you can't prohibit freedom of speech,” Richard Morgan said.
Unlike other books each brother has written, they self-published an initial version of “Resist Tyranny.” To make it more desirable for a traditional publisher, Morgan is adding a chapter on Lyon's later life in Kentucky while his brother is delving into their subject's early days in his native Ireland.
With 10 grandchildren to command his attention, Richard Morgan vows this will be his last full book project.
“It just takes too much effort, time and stress,” he said.
But he plans to help edit and write a chapter for a book provisionally titled “Worship for People with Alzheimer's.”
Morgan is a founder of a local Alzheimer's support group and the group Clergy Against Alzheimer's. Teaming with a gerontologist in 2009, he co-wrote “No Act of Love is Ever Wasted: The Spirituality of Caring for Persons with Dementia.”
He is a volunteer counselor at the Redstone Highlands at North Huntingdon retirement community, where he and his wife reside, and has organized teams of caring visitors to spend time with those who live in the facility's memory care unit.
Dementia, he noted, is “one of my great concerns. My mother had Parkinson's disease and vascular dementia in 1966, and she died one year later. From that time on, it's been a major passion in my life.”
A native of Lexington, Ky., Morgan lived in Philadelphia and North Carolina before joining the retirement community in North Huntingdon.
Morgan served in the Naval Reserve and has earned a number of academic credentials including a master's degree in counseling from Wake Forest University and three degrees from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va.
“I've had five careers,” he said, including stints as a sports reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a sports information director at two colleges, director of counseling at Wake Forest and a hospice chaplain.
His work with hospice patients inspired the 2014 volume “At the Edge of Life,” which is his best-selling title based on orders through Amazon. “I wrote about conversations I had with people who were dying and their families,” he said. “It tries to help a family member talk with someone who is dying and feel good about it.”
His favorite book, another he co-authored with gerontologist Jane Marie Thibault, is “Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life: Seven Gateways to Spiritual Growth.”
“That's another of my concerns,” he said. “There's very little that's been written on people in my age category, 80 and beyond.”
Morgan suffers from neuropathy and has organized a support group for that condition as well. He's also survived three small strokes and takes medication to help prevent another.
“Fortunately, I haven't had any loss of speech or mobility,” he said. “But you never know. I'm living on the edge, so to speak.”