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In a penetrating evaluation of the men 
who have recorded the story of oar history 
from colonial times to the present, Pro- 
fessor Wish has written an intellectual 
history of America as reflected in the 
work of her leading historians. Starting 
with the Puritan writings of such impor- 
tant colonial figures as William Bradford, 
Cotton Mather, and John Smith, he fo- 
cuses on the changing pattern of social 
and philosophical attitudes so sharply de- 
fined in our country's historiography. 

This hook is the result of an intensive 
reading and re-reading of a great portion 
of significant American historical writing. 
The author discusses in detail such emi- 
nent nineteenth-century historians as 
George Bancroft, Francis Parkman, 
Henry Adams, and Frederick J. Turner. 
Later chapters deal with such prominent 
twentieth-century figures as Charles A, 
Beard, Vernon Parringtoiu and Allan 
Nevins* By setting these men in their his- 
torical perspective Professor Wish shows 

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The American historian 

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The American historian. 



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The American Historian 



JAN ,_J3g. 




A Social - Intellectual History of 
the Writing of the American Past 



New York I960 





Merle Curti 
A Leader in the Social Interpretation of Ideas 



n recent years many historians both here and abroad have displayed 
keen interest in the underlying social and intellectual assumptions as 
well as the questions of craftsmanship in their discipline. The rise of 
intellectual history has stimulated historiography as a field, for it too is 
a study of ideas. As a result, numerous excellent books, articles, and 
dissertations have appeared dealing with currents of historiography, 
interpretive biographies of historians, and even with the long-neglected 
philosophies of history. By providing perspective upon the writing of 
history, the historiographer adds a much-needed dimension of depth 
and sophistication to man's efforts to discover his past. No apology is 
therefore required for a new survey of American historical writings 
treated largely, but not exclusively, from a social-intellectual point of 

Since 1952, the author has made an intensive effort to read (or 
reread) the representative writers in American historiography with a 
primary view to determining their social conditioning. While the 
author is no relativist, but a believer in a reasonable idea of "objectiv- 
ity," he finds that the social determinants are but too intrusive in the 
writings of so many of our leading historians and inspire caution on 
the part of serious readers. But the mid-twentieth century shows a 
more sophisticated historian, much more self-critical and therefore 
more fully aware of the subjective factors in the writing of history. 
He knows that it is very difficult indeed to escape the context of his 
world of social action. 

During these years of research, the writer has tested his hypotheses 
in papers before our national historical societies and in graduate 
seminars in historiography that he has conducted at Western Reserve 
University, the University of Michigan, the University of Hawaii, and 
the Amerika Institut of the University of Munich. 

The larger facets of American historiography are explored and illus- 
trated by concrete examples of the great (and lesser) historians, al- 

viii Preface 

though Prescott, Motley, and other American historians who have dealt 
primarily with non-American themes have been omitted. No effort has 
been made to be truly inclusive of all of the eminent historians of our 
day and no invidious distinction is intended when one is discussed and 
a score of perhaps abler scholars are not mentioned. While the writer 
has concentrated upon the actual books of the central figures, he has 
also taken into account the great volume of the critical secondary 
literature and suggested some of these in the footnotes. But since the 
text material itself offers a discussion of the chief books, gives their 
publication dates, and includes other relevant bibliographical data, 
these titles are omitted in the footnotes. 

Many warm thanks are due to those with whom I discussed various 
aspects of this project, particularly to my colleagues, Dean Carl F, 
Wittke and Professor Mortimer R. Kadish, head of the Philosophy De- 
partment, both of whom read certain chapters, and to my graduate 
students in historiography. Credit is also due to my wife, Anne Wish, 
who assisted me at various stages of this laborious task. 


Western Reserve University 
Cleveland, Ohio 
June 1960 


1 From Bradford to Mather: The Puritan Mission in History 3 

2 The Enlightenment: Hutchinson and the Tory Emphasis 22 

3 Jared Sparks and the Dominance of the Federalist-Whig 
Historians 39 

4 Richard Hildreth, Utilitarian Philosopher 58 

5 George Bancroft and German Idealism 70 

6 Francis Parkman and the Pageant of the Wilderness 88 

7 From Fiske to Gipson: The Rise of Colonial Institutional 
History 109 

8 John Bach McMaster and the Rise of Social History 133 

9 Henry Adams and the Dream of a Science of History 158 

10 Turner and the Moving Frontier 181 

11 Von Hoist to Dunning: Abolitionists and Revisionists 
(1880-1910) 209 

12 Ulrich B. Phillips and the Image of the Old South 236 

13 Charles A. Beard and the Economic Interpretation of History 265 

14 Parrington and the Rise of Intellectual History 293 

15 Allan Nevins and Recent Historiography 321 
Bibliographic Notes 351 
Index 361 

The American Historian 

From Bradford to Mather: 
Trie Puritan Mission in History 

INew Englanders read sympathetically the Old Testament, epic of 
the Israelites wandering through the wilderness to a promised land 
under the guidance of God who transmitted the most minute direc- 
tions to Moses. Calvinists felt that this story, but for a few alterations 
of names and places, was essentially their own. Since the Hebrews 
had forfeited their central role in history, the Puritans were now the 
Chosen People, the Choice Seed, the Elect, for they were guided, as 
Cotton Mather later declared in his history, by a new Moses, William 
Bradford, to Plymouth, and by another, John Winthrop, to the Massa- 
chusetts Bay Colony. God revealed his special providences in daily 
interventions that were now almost exclusively devoted to the Puri- 
tansor so it seemed to New England historians. Only the captious 
might quibble that Massachusetts and Connecticut offered a small 
stage for this latter-day drama of redemption, but even they had to 
concede that the land of Canaan was much smaller. 

These Protestant rebels had inherited the Christian interpretation 
of history and progress from the early church theologians, who saw 
God's design in the whole story of mankind, beginning with the 
Creation, on to the fall of Adam, an event which loosed tragic conse- 
quences for man; after that came the promised redemption by Christ, 
followed by the Second Coming and the Last Judgment, and the even- 


4 The American Historian 

tual triumph of heavenly purposes. It was less important to tell what 
actually happened than to discover the plan of God, whose nature 
could never be known save for the attributes inferred from His deeds. 
In somewhat modified form, this theory of history had been taken up 
and restated by St. Augustine in his City of God. 

At a time when Alaric had sacked Rome, Augustine tried to answer 
those who saw in this event the logical consequence of the desertion 
of the pagan gods. He minimized the importance of the imperial capi- 
tal by pointing out that only the City of God (the spiritual side) was 
everlasting, that the Earthly City (the flesh) was transitory. Between 
the two, there had been a long struggle since the fall of Adam. To 
him the great events of human history had emerged from a predestined 
divine plan. The rise and fall of man-made empires were therefore 
relatively unimportant in the higher scheme of things. He rejected 
the classical theory that history moved in endless cycles and dwelt 
on the idea of Christian progress on the road to final redemption. 
Despite the Renaissance revival of classical culture and ideas, includ- 
ing scientific techniques for rediscovering the past through textual 
criticism based on a secular philosophy, there remained much of this 
superstructure of the Christian interpretation of history for the Brad- 
fords, the Winthrops, the Mathers, and the lesser historians of the 
seventeenth century in America. 

To the Puritans, who followed the teachings of Geneva's theocrat, 
John Calvin, history had been deflected from its divine progress by 
Satan and the "inventions" of the Catholic hierarchy, which had dis- 
placed primitive apostolic Christianity of the first century by Rome's 
worldly power and pagan splendor. To keep to the right course, Puri- 
tans often resorted to unsparing self-examination, recorded faithfully 
in detailed, introspective diaries; and their leaders looked into con- 
temporary history itself for proof that their policies reflected a divine 
purpose. Under these circumstances, history was no ordinary branch of 
literature intended to entertain or to satisfy those who enjoyed the 
past for its own sake; it ranked next to the Bible itself as a revelation 
of God's will. As Thomas Prince, a son of Puritans, once testified in 
his history, "Next to the sacred History, and that of the Reformation, 
I was from my early youth instructed in the History of this country." 
In 1682, the Massachusetts General Court voted fifty pounds to pub- 
lish the Reverend William Hubbard's history of New England's In- 
dian wars and began their preamble with these words: * 

Whereas it hath binn thought necessary and a Duty incumbent upon us, 
to take notice of all Occurrences and Passages of God's Providence towards 

From Bradford to Mather 5 

the People of this Jurisdiction since their first arrivall in these Parts, which 
may remayne to Posterity . . . 

Such uses for history are suggested in the very title of Captain Ed- 
ward Johnson's book, The Wonder -Working Providence of Sioris 
Saviour in Neto England ( 1654 ) . Like other Puritan historians, he saw 
evidences of God's design in the events of everyday life rather than in 
the classical accounts of dominant personalities. To Calvinists, history 
served as functional a purpose as their utilitarian ( though not artless ) 
architecture. It is noteworthy that they were also indebted to St. 
Augustine for their emphasis on predestination, the idea of an in- 
scrutable and arbitrary God, and the total dependence of man on 
God's gift of grace. 

The writing of history with a religious motif was spurred on by the 
vogue for interpretive church histories since the Reformation. Few 
New England home libraries were without some of these controver- 
sial theological histories. The Catholic Counter-Reformation, led by 
the Jesuits who based their narratives upon the rich Vatican archives, 
put the Reformers on their mettle. Jesuit missionaries and explorers 
in the New World were to benefit future historians of the American 
and Canadian colonial period by the voluminous annual reports they 
sent home to France, known to historians as the Jesuit Relations ( 1610- 
1791 ) . German Protestant princes had struck back at the earlier Cath- 
olic historians by sponsoring the monumental and authoritative Magde- 
burg Centuries (1559-74), the first general history of the Christian 
church written from a Reformer's standpoint. In Bradford's time, this 
served as a point of departure for Calvinist histories, since the Magde- 
burg Centuries ended its narrative with the year 1400. Thus the battle 
of the church historians raged alongside the bloody religious wars. 2 

In New England households, as in Old England, Protestants read 
and re-read a popular history of the bitter persecutions suffered by 
their co-religionists under "Bloody Queen Mary" as well as the story of 
earlier Christian martyrs. This was John Foxe's Actes and Monuments 
of these latter and perillous Dayes, better known as The Book of 
Martyrs. An Anglican priest who had become attached to Calvinist 
doctrines, he published his book in 1566, and it caught on so rapidly 
that an eighth English edition appeared in 1641. Unfortunately, ac- 
curacy was not Foxe's strong point, and his book served to embitter 
Protestants still more against Catholics. His history kept before the 
public the agonies of three hundred Protestant men and women who 
had perished in the fires of Smithfield and elsewhere. This detailed 

6 The American Historian 

martyrology strengthened the Puritan idea that their sacrifices had 
rescued primitive Christianity from the Roman anti-Christ. 

But the Puritans and other American settlers were heirs of the Ren- 
aissance as well as of the Reformation. The Puritans, as recent schol- 
ars have shown, were no mere cult of "enthusiasm" which used emo- 
tion to displace logic and classical rationality. They might dismiss 
Aristotle as too "papist" because of his authority among Catholic 
scholastics, but many, among them Increase Mather, read him rever- 
ently nevertheless. Puritan theology had been refined in the universi- 
ties, particularly at Cambridge, whose Emanuel College served as the 
model for Harvard. The logical principles of the Calvinist scholar, 
Peter Ramus (or Ramee) had tightened the inner intellectual co- 
herence of Puritan thought. Out of the Elizabethan Renaissance came 
a mighty intellectual ferment that influenced the middle class, so 
many of whom were Calvinists. The Reformation urge for enough 
literacy to read the Bible was supplemented by the Renaissance ideal 
of the educated man in search of truth about nature. 

Puritan libraries reflected the rich cultural tradition of middle-class 
Calvinism. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth left a library of 
eighty volumes which included not only the popular church histories 
and theology reference works (including Foxe's indispensable The 
Book of Martyrs}, but also such classics as Virgil, Ovid, Livy, Plu- 
tarch, and Thomas More's more contemporary Utopia; among the 
modern histories was the widely read Walter Raleigh's History of the 
World. John Harvard's large gift of books to the college named after 
him was heavily theological in content, but it included the leading 
Greek and Roman historians. At the end of the seventeenth century 
Cotton Mather possessed a library that showed his broad humanistic 
interest. In his writings he made frequent learned references to Thucyd- 
ides, Xenophon, Tacitus, Sallust, Suetonius, and other ancient his- 
torians. 8 

Bradford, more than other Puritans, practiced the scientific ideal set 
down by Thucydides in narrating the Peloponnesian Wars, "It rests 
partly on my own experiences and things I have seen with my own 
eyes, partly on the witness of others, which I have verified by the 
severest and minutest tests possible." Few New Englanders were 
as meticulous as Bradford in treasuring letters and manuscripts to 
refresh their recollections of the facts; nor were they in as favor- 
able a position to know the truth. Plymouth's governor echoed the 
phrases of Thucydides regarding historical research and thought of 
himself too as weighing causes, motives, and processes; he tried to 

From Bradford to Mather 7 

write, as the Greek had put It, "exactly how things happened in the 

While the supernatural bulked too large in Puritan histories to put 
them in the same class as the secular work of Thucydides and Dio- 
nysius, Calvinist historians had a sense of historical purpose and reli- 
gious destiny that the rationalist Greeks lacked. It is true that many 
a classical writer lost his perspective in emphasizing the irrational in- 
trusion of "fate" and chance in human affairs, but this tendency was 
largely minimized in Herodotus, "father of history," Thucydides, and 
Dionysius, among other noted historians; it was Dionysius of Halicar- 
nassus who coined the famous adage that history was "philosophy 
teaching by examples" and minimized the role of accident in explain- 
ing events. Both Greeks and Puritans had in common the idea of a 
Golden Age from which men had fallen. For the Greeks, this meant 
a cyclic theory of history in which the rise and decline of civilizations 
marked the fortunes of men, and no true progress was possible, con- 
sidering the nature of fate and human weakness. Christians, however, 
began with the fall in the garden of Eden, but they retained a reli- 
gious notion of progress which would be fulfilled by the second com- 
ing of Christ, and, as Carl Becker has put it, "then the earthly city 
would be destroyed and all the faithful be gathered with God in the 
heavenly city, there to dwell in perfection forever." While the Greeks 
therefore minimized their own "ancient history" in favor of the more 
contemporary, the Puritans went back to "primitive Christianity" as 
a necessary point of departure in their cosmology. 4 

Sometimes the learned classical references of colonial writers were 
mere affectation intended to impress the reader. The astonishing his- 
torical erudition of the Puritan poet-historian, Anne Bradstreet, hailed 
widely as the Tenth Muse, has turned out upon inspection by a skep- 
tical scholar to be almost completely second-hand. While New Eng- 
land libraries did contain copies of the histories of Berosus, the Bab- 
ylonian annalist, and many more of Plutarch, both of whom she quoted 
too easily, Anne Bradstreet preferred to borrow these citations from 
Sir Walter Raleigh's well-known History of the World (1614). Raleigh 
had written it while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a 
false charge of treason. Like so many medieval chroniclers, Raleigh 
had begun his history with the Creation and treated the past as a 
moral lesson to be derived from his loose miscellany of topics rang- 
ing from politics and law to theology and magic. Anne Bradstreefs 
versified history of the ancient world, The Exact Epitomie of the 
Four Monarchies, was a superficial moralistic treatment of evil kings 

8 The American Historian 

with haughty hearts, palace intrigues, feuds, personal incidents, and 
biblical digressions always, of course, from the Puritan's Bible, the 
Geneva Version. Her facts and interpretations were frequently mere 
paraphrases of Raleigh's History. 

The many Englishmen who liked to read history books were greatly 
stimulated by the Elizabethan vogue for translating the classics. Lit- 
erate Puritans knew Plutarch largely through Sir Thomas North's ren- 
dering of the Lives, with its fascinating accounts of Pompey, Alexan- 
der, Caesar, Anthony, Cicero, and other great leaders of ancient times. 
Exciting geographic discoveries and adventurous voyages inspired 
many contemporary books on history and geography. New World his- 
torians leaned heavily upon the geographic and historical works of 
the Oxford scholar and colonization promoter, Richard Hakluyt. His 
accounts of discoveries by French, Spanish, and English seamen and 
explorers were widely circulated long after his death, as well as within 
his lifetime. In 1589, he had published The Principall Navigations, 
Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation . . . which was later 
praised as "the prose epic of the modern English nation" by James 
Anthony Froude, the historian. Many of Hakluyt's precious manu- 
scripts, together with other original sources were later gathered and 
edited for publication by an uninspired, but very widely read Angli- 
can priest, Samuel Purchas. This prolific compiler left voluminous 
data on sea voyages and land travel by Englishmen since earliest re- 
corded times. Hakluyt's activity as an investor in the London and 
Virginia companies gave his unique geographic and historical knowl- 
edge a promotional aspect; but Purchas's work, which is so often 
coupled with that of Hakluyt, seemed innocent of any motivation 
save the collecting of antiquities. Finally, there were the numerous 
Elizabethan and Tudor plays which frequently referred to New World 
life and discoveries. 

The chance of writing scientific history in that day was naturally 
restricted by the benumbing inheritance of magic, superstition, and 
fable, even among the most literate and sophisticated. Witches and 
mermaids were taken seriously, even by members of the Royal So- 
ciety. While John Milton spoke of a new day of freedom of speech and 
liberal social institutions, he began his History of Britain with a refer- 
ence to the giant Albion and the Trojan War. James Westfall Thomp- 
son, the historiographer, illustrates the lack of critical historical knowl- 
edge during the era of Elizabeth and the Stuarts by taking the case of 
Sir Edward Coke, England's greatest legal mind: 5 

From Bradford to Mather 9 

Coke believed that Britain had been settled by Brut, the grandson of 
Aeneas, about 1000 B.C.; that the common law, much as it was in his own 
time, was established then; that England's system of land tenures and a gov- 
ernment of kings, lords, and commons existed in Britain centuries before 
Rome was founded; and that Alfred the Great established Oxford University. 

Thompson could have said much the same of the brilliant contempo- 
rary of Coke, John Selden, and of other eminent English leaders and 

This mixture of fact and myth, of the critical classical spirit and 
Reformation zealotry, permeated seventeenth-century Puritan litera- 
ture, of which history was a large part. William Bradford drew deeply 
of this compound in writing his odyssey of the Pilgrim Fathers, Of 
Pit/mouth Plantation. It was written in piecemeal fashion while he was 
governor of the colony (1630-46). Although the book circulated only 
in manuscript before 1856, colonial historians borrowed so slavishly 
from it that Bradford's version of the Pilgrim story became substan- 
tially the early American epic. For example, Nathaniel Morton, Brad- 
ford's nephew, in writing the first general history of the province, New 
England's Memoriall (1669), had little more to say about Plymouth- 
even down to the same phraseology that had not already appeared 
in Bradford's work. Cotton Mather had obviously consulted Of 
Plymouth Plantation in preparing his own history of New England, 
Magnalia Christi Americana, published in 1702. This indebtedness to 
Bradford continued among many historians and chroniclers of the 
following century, notably in Thomas Prince's Chronological History 
of New England (1736), a work widely praised, and in Thomas 
Hutchinson's craftsmanlike History of Massachusetts Bay. Thereafter 
the Bradford manuscript disappeared from this hemisphere for sev- 
eral generations, turning up finally in London. Some historians have 
assumed that Hutchinson, the embittered Tory, carried off the manu- 
script in his flight to England, but New England's modern historian, 
Samuel E. Morison, has argued against this theory and suggests that 
perhaps some British soldier took it as a souvenir. Although the manu- 
script was not returned until 1897 after many appeals and delays, a 
copy of it served the American publishers for the two editions issued 
in 1856, one under the imprint of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 
the other (for the general market) by Little, Brown, and Company. 

Bradford, like his fellow-Brownists or Separatists of Plymouth, en- 
joyed little formal schooling, although he did not share the contempt 

10 The American Historian 

for the intellectual life held by the English Brownists. The son of a 
Yorkshire farmer in good circumstances, he had been converted in his 
youth to Calvinist tenets and came under the influence of the erudite 
and deeply devout William Brewster of Scrooby Village. He read the 
Geneva English Bible so closely that many of its literary phrases stud 
the pages of his history of Plymouth. Intensely interested in both 
theology and the classics, he mastered Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. 
Cotton Mather, himself the soul of erudition, wrote enthusiastically 
of Bradford's linguistic talents and claimed that he knew theology 
so well "that he was an irrefragable disputant against the errors, espe- 
cially those of Anabaptism, which with trouble he saw rising in his 
colony; wherefore he wrote some significant things for the confutation 
of those errors/' 6 

After fleeing with the Scrooby congregation to the Netherlands, he 
set himself up successfully as a merchant and a weaver, and eventually 
sailed on the Mayflower to the New World in 1621. On the death of 
Governor John Carver, he assumed the post of head of the Plymouth 
colony, holding it during repeated elections until 1656. At the same 
time he prospered from his investments in fishing and fur trading, but 
did not use his official post to become the great landowner that he 
might easily have been. 

Bradford's "plaine stile" reflected the Puritan ideal of simplicity and 
asceticism, harking back to the example of Christ born in a humble 
manger and also to primitive Christianity. The Calvinists, whose fear 
of Romishness in England led them to remove church images, white- 
wash their "meetinghouse" walls, expel choir singers and organs, and 
avoid other relics of Catholicism, liked to pride themselves upon their 
simple unadorned literary style. Yet literary unpretentiousness, like 
honest Puritan factionalism in architecture and furniture, developed 
its own aesthetic qualities, as Bradford's straightforward style reveals. 
Those who have taken too literally Bradford's profession of a plain 
style have been surprised by his mastery of many literary ornaments 
the balanced sentence, antithesis, alliteration, and a few Elizabethan 
puns. Even in less gifted hands, the plain style among American Puri- 
tan historians usually escaped dullness or crudity and aimed for the 
craftsmanship of the English Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. 7 

Plymouth's governor, as already noted, felt the same solicitude for 
accuracy in history that Thucydides had professed. He evinced "a 
singular regard unto the simple trueth in all things at least as near 
as my slender judgmente can attaine the same." Where he was the 
sole witness for major events, he incorporated many letters by his asso- 

From Bradford to Mather 11 

elates. Certainly, lie was in an ideal position to know the facts, for 
Plymouth started out with no more than a hundred people and rose 
to less than a thousand by 1650 when the history ended. Naturally the 
"trueth" was seen through the eyes of a thoroughgoing Puritan who 
sought in the pages of history God's purpose and the destiny of the 
Pilgrims. He began with the Puritan cosmology: 

It is well knowne unto the godly and judicious, how ever since the first 
breaking out of the lighte of the gospell in our Honourable Nation of Eng- 
land (which was the first of nations whom the Lord adorned ther with, affter 
that grosse darknes of popery which had covered and overspred the Chris- 
tian world), what warrs and opposissions ever since, Satan hath raised, 
maintained and continued against the Saincts [the Puritans], from time to 
time, in one sorte or other. 

He went on to recount briefly Satan's persecutions through the agency 
of Queen Mary of "worthy martyrs," documenting these facts with the 
authority of Foxe's The Book of Martyrs. The historic quarrel, as he 
saw it, was between those who sought the simplicity of the gospel 
without "the mixture of men's inventions" and the papist-minded who 
insisted on bishops and anti-Christian ceremonies. 

His pious desire to reveal the "spetiall providence of God" led him . 
to dwell upon the supernatural intervention of God in the voyage of 
the Pilgrims to the New World. There was, for example, the "proud 
and very profane yonge man" of the crew who cursed the sick during 
an Atlantic storm and was himself struck down by illness and thrown 
overboard. But Bradford seldom allowed his concern for supernatural 
causes to conceal natural reasons for surprising events; thus he spoke 
of the New England earthquake of 1638 as evidence of the arbitrary 
and inscrutable will of the Calvinist God, but he added some pertinent 
comments on the natural aspects of the earthquake. He expressed 
shock at the crime wave of 1642, which included several cases of 
sodomy and other sex cases as well as the more conventional types of 
sin, and speculated that "the Divell may came a greater spite against 
the churches of Christ and the gospell hear" because Satan had more 
power in heathen lands than in Christian ones. But he had more mat- 
ter-of-fact explanations also: 

Marvilous it may be to see and consider how some kind of wickednes did 
grow and breake forth here, in a land where the same was so much wit- 
nesed against and so narrowly looked into, & severly punished when it was 
knowne; as in no place more, or so much, that I have known or heard of, in- 
somuch that they have been somewhat censured, even by moderate and 

12 The American Historian 

good men, for their severitie in punishments. . . . An other reason may be, 
that it may be in this case as it is with waters when their streames are 
stopped or dammed up, when they gett passage they flow with more vio- 
lence, and make more noys and disturbance, than when they are suffered to 
rune quietly in their owne chanels. So wickednes being here more stopped 
by strict laws, and the same more nerly looked unto, so as it cannot rune in 
a comone road of liberty as it would, and is inclined, it searches every wher 
and at last breaks out wher it getts vente. 

However, he concluded that there were not necessarily more crimes 
here than elsewhere, but that discovery and punishment were swift 
and more thorough. 

Bradford's Puritanism was tempered by his own native kindliness. 
Like others of his sect he shared the medieval view that there was no 
freedom to err on doctrinal matters, though one might be charitable 
in judging the misled. He could not go as far toward the ideal of mod- 
ern toleration as did Ms onetime neighbor, Roger Williams, who had 
served briefly as a church teacher at Plymouth but had uttered and 
then practiced "strang oppinions" contrary to Calvinist doctrines. Of 
him Bradford said mildly that he was "a man godly & zealous, having 
many precious parts but very unsettled in judgmente." He could write 
as a partisan, however, when it came to some of the controversies 
which affected his administration of the colony. 

Posterity has not quite forgiven Bradford for his savage condemna- 
tion of what seemed to be innocent fun at Merrymount when Thomas 
Morton, the "petiefogger," and his friends were "dancing and frisking 
together" with the Indian maidens around a Maypole. On this occa- 
sion, Bradford permitted himself one of his rare puns about the "idol" 
or "idle" that the merrymakers worshiped. His Puritan condemnation 
of idleness and paganism appears again in his unfriendly treatment 
of Christmas observance; besides, Puritans did not regard Christmas 
as the true date of the nativity. In the case of Merrymount, so Brad- 
ford's defenders have pointed out, the Puritans had a genuine griev- 
ance in the fact that Morton was arming the Indians. 

In this case, however, Bradford was not the sole historian to give 
posterity his version of the facts and their interpretation. Morton him- 
self, gifted with a ready wit and fluent style, left a history, The New 
England Canaan, which casts ridicule on "Captain Shrimpe" (Miles 
Standish) and the Pilgrim force which came to arrest him and destroy 
his habitation. Morton satirized the Puritans' bigotry (he was an An- 
glican) and their hatred of "revels and merriment after the old Eng- 
lish custome." His book appeared in Amsterdam in 1637, being one of 

From Bradford to Mather 13 

the earliest published histories dealing with the colony and written 
by a resident As for the Indians, whom he befriended and whose 
company he genuinely enjoyed, he observed, "I have found the Massa- 
chusetts Indians more full of humanity than the Christians." Like 
many Englishmen, Morton had an earthy love of things and a sen- 
sualism that his ascetic Puritan neighbors were struggling against. The 
frank words of his verses in praise of Hymen's joys must have nettled 
the Pilgrims. Morton was among the first American historians to de- 
velop the theme of the blue-nosed Puritans; later, another Anglican, 
Samuel Peters, was to write a "lying history of Connecticut" ( as New 
Englanders called it), which exaggerated the myth of the blue laws. 
Finally, Hawthorne and his generation created a stereotype of the 
Puritan in his worst aspects, and then in the days of H. L. Mencken 
the anti-Puritan interpretation became the norm. 8 

While Bradford was too much the medievalist to admire the tenets 
of laissez-faire, he showed considerable satisfaction when the first 
communal experiment in his colony broke down. Believing in the 
Puritan principle of "to each according to his work," he condemned 
the "conceite of Platos" which had sanctioned communism although 
he said nothing about its religious sanction. He pointed out that this 
experiment had overlooked human nature, that men would not work 
for other men's wives, and that the able refused to be satisfied with 
the same returns as the shiftless and incompetent. 

There seems little reason to doubt Bradford's favorable picture of 
Plymouth's relations with the Indians, for his frankness in regard to 
the shortcomings of his people is reassuring. It was under Governor 
Bradford, apparently, that the first case occurred of an Englishman 
being tried and executed for the murder of an Indian. He observed 
that "some of the rude and ignorant sort murmured that any English 
should be put to death for the Indians." However, he was frank enough 
to note the argument for expediency in thus dealing fairly with the 

John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, plays a 
veiy favorable role in Bradford's history of Plymouth, though his own 
writings show a more conservative, aristocratic flavor than is true of 
the other's work. Unlike Bradford, he was college-bred, having stud- 
ied at Cambridge and at Gray's Inn before he became a successful 
attorney and justice of the peace. Unlike the impecunious Puritan 
emigres, he had been a lord of a manor in Groton; his marriage to an 

14 The American Historian 

heiress had definitely improved his worldly lot and perhaps affected 
his social outlook. After a Puritan quarrel with the crown, in which 
he had taken a leading role, Winthrop sponsored the colonization 
project of the Massachusetts Bay Company and arrived in 1630, help- 
ing to found the town of Boston. 

For twelve years, Winthrop was re-elected annually as governor 
until his death in 1649. Like a true Puritan he found time to prepare a 
voluminous diary, the famous Journal which is often referred to as 
The History of New England from 1630 to 1649. He made no secret 
of his inflexible religious and political (and economic) orthodoxy and 
presided with complete lack of sympathy at the trial which forced the 
expulsion of Anne Hutchinson for her heretical opinions in the An- 
tinomian controversy. Anne had leaned toward a kind of "inner-light" 
mysticism that made ministers superfluous and hence threatened the 
very basis of the Puritan theocracy. Defenders of the Puritan position, 
like Perry Miller, believe that Anne Hutchinson's "enthusiasms" played 
havoc with the intellectual foundation of Calvinism and would have 
reduced Puritanism to the level of so many pietistic cults which sub- 
stituted emotionalism for reason and philosophy. In Winthrop was 
combined the Hebraic theocratic beliefs of Geneva and the medieval 
aristocratic views held by a man of substantial property. 

Historians have often quoted Winthrop's dictum that "a Democra- 
tic is, among most civill nations accounted the meanest and worst of 
all formes of Government it hath been allwayes of least continuance 
& fullest of trouble." This judgment was easily reached by classically 
trained officials who thought of democracy in terms of Cleon, the 
demagogic tanner, and of the dangers of the "proletariat" in ancient 
Rome. Like the other middle-class members of the Bay Colony's ruling 
class, he tried to carry over the medieval idea of wage-fixing to the 
New World; as an honest historian, he had to record that this idea 
failed to work in a wilderness offering free lands, diverse economic 
opportunities, and social mobility: 

The court having found by experience that it would not avail by any law 
to redress the excessive rates of laborers' and workmen's wages, etc. (for 
being restrained, they would either remove to other places where they might 
have more, or else being able to live by planting and other employments of 
their own, they would not be hired at all,) it was therefore referred to the 
several towns to set down rates among themselves. This took better effect, 
so that in a voluntary way . . . they were brought to more moderation 
than they could by compulsion. But it held not long. 

From Bradford to Mather 15 

Winthrop's Journal, like Bradford's work, is full of matters of colo- 
nial policy and is also concerned with contemporary customs and man- 
ners. However, his style lacks the grace of Bradford's, though he 
shares the introspective manner of the Plymouth governor and the 
Puritan belief that God revealed his purpose in the most trivial as 
well as in the most weighty everyday events. Winthrop saw a clear 
connection between the fact that a monster was born to the wife of 
a settler and the coincidence that she was "notoriously infected with 
Mrs. Hutchinson's errors." He even had the body of the still-bom 
examined and thought he detected horns, claws, and scales; he re- 
corded his suspicion that the midwife was a witch. In that era when 
science still permitted a belief in witches and the Old World killed 
thousands of suspects charged with practicing black magic (so con- 
temporaries tell us), Winthrop was not unduly naive. The reader must 
therefore not be surprised to read Winthrop's observation that the 
mice in his son's extensive library ate only the pages of the Romish 
Anglican prayer book, but significantly left all else untouched! 

Winthrop also shared the Calvinist faith in the great Puritan epic 
of mankind that was told with such inspiration in John Milton's Para- 
dise Lost, the story of the age-old struggle between God and Satan. 
As Winthrop explains in one passage, "Satan bestirred himself to hin- 
der the progress of the gospel." He saw eye to eye with Bradford and 
his contemporaries in presenting the history of New England as reve- 
latory of God's plan for the Protestant Reformation and the redemption 
of all mankind. Winthrop's Journal, though it was first printed only In 
part in 1790 and then appeared completely only in 1825-26, served 
historians and laymen while it circulated in manuscript. For all its 
drawbacks, it remained for many years the best history of the Massa- 
chusetts Bay Colony. 

The Puritan traits of Bradford and Winthrop reappear in such lesser 
contemporaries as Captain Edward Johnson of Woburn, Massachu- 
setts. This self-made colonial businessman, Indian trader, and official 
was scarcely a whit behind Winthrop in defending Puritan orthodoxy 
and blasting such heretics as Anne Hutchinson. In 1654, a London 
firm published his ultra-orthodox history, The Wonder-Working Provi- 
dence of Sion's Saviour in New England. In his militant style, he 
found fresh illustrations for the fact that the Puritans were God's 
chosen people. He stated confidently, 

. . . here thou shalt find, the time when, the manner how, the cause why, 
and the great successe which it hath pleased the Lord to give, to this hand- 
full of his praying Saints in N. Engl. 

16 The American Historian 

Like Bradford lie deals with social life and the affairs of trade. Al- 
ways God protected His Saints, inflicted smallpox on the Indians while 
leaving the colonists untouched, and singled out evildoers for ex- 
emplary afflictions. The narrative, like the History of Plymouth Colony, 
is interlarded with poetry in the mode of Elizabethan times or after 
the model of Puritan psalms. Because Johnson's frequently inaccurate 
and biased account was the first published general account of that 
colony, his influence upon the historians of New England was far 
greater than his merits deserved. 

Above all, pioneer Americans of this day and their descendants for 
many generations liked to read the histories of Indian wars and the 
captivities of white prisoners, especially those written by facile New 
England storytellers. Sheer intrinsic interest as well as skillful narra- 
tive gave some of these books a long lease on life. As in the case of 
the standard Hollywood version of the ruthless redskin in the American 
West, this era of historians rarely bothered to study the substance of 
the Indian's grievances. While New England had its saint-like defend- 
ers of the rights and humanity of the aborigines in John Eliot, "Apostle 
of the Indians/' and in Roger Williams, beloved by the Narragansetts, 
the ethnocentric Puritan had difficulty in understanding other races 
save as lesser breeds without the Law. Besides, the bitter realities of 
frontier savagery, kidnapings of whites, and callous brutalities on 
both sides made the contemporary historian a hot partisan. Too few 
followed Bradford in recording the aid that the Indians gave to the 
early settlers, and even he could not avoid sounding an occasional 
note of superiority. 

A notable exception to the rule of anti-Indian historians was Daniel 
Gookin, a Puritan emigre from Berkeley's intolerant Virginia, who 
served as a major-general of Massachusetts' militia and as superin- 
tendent of Indians in that colony. Gookin's two books on the Indians, 
which remained unpublished that century, showed a humanity akin 
to John Eliot's. He told of his efforts to save the more pacific tribes 
from the indiscriminate slaughter wreaked upon their race during the 
great Indian wars. Much more in the standard groove of Indian stories 
were the tales of the "perfidious cruel and hellish Monsters" told by 
the Reverend William Hubbard in The History of the Indian Wars in 
New England; this was printed in London in 1677 and covered the 
Indian wars up to that year. Hubbard was an erudite man and wealthy 

From Bradford to Mather 17 

landowner who had been a judge and an acting president of Harvard 
during the absence of Increase Mather. His reputation was to rest 
largely on his A General History of New England, which did not go 
too far beyond the facts of Winthrop's Journal. Hubbard's impatience 
with the Indians was partly due to their annoying resistance to con- 
version, a fact that he attributed to Satan's envy of the prosperity of 
the church. He pictured inoffensive colonists pitted against sadistic 
savages and defended their firing inhabited wigwams in the cold of 
winter, even though this meant killing Indian women and children. 
However, Hubbard recognized that the Indians did have grievances 
against the white man, such as the land piracy practiced by colonial 
leaders. Another popular anti-redskin account left to posterity was 
A History of the Pequot War (1677) written by John Mason, who 
captained a mixed force of colonials and friendly Indians. His story 
of the victorious campaign had the virtue of being a thriller based on 
first-hand experiences. 

Perhaps no colonial raconteur absorbed the interest of so many 
generations of readers devoted to Indian tales as the autobiographical 
writer of the Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary 
Rowlandson (1682). During King Philip's War this daughter of a 
wealthy landowner and wife of a leading minister had been carried 
off, together with her three children, by Indians who burnt her village 
and wiped out most of its inhabitants. For eleven weeks she was held 
captive until released upon the payment of a ransom. During the 
Indian retreat she had to suffer many hardships, but she admitted re- 
ceiving many kindnesses from her captors. This book, she said, was 
intended "to be to her a memorandum of God's dealings" and "to de- 
clare the Works of the Lord." Publishers in London and in Cambridge 
(Massachusetts) eagerly brought out repeated editions of this en- 
grossing account; since then more than thirty editions and reprints 
have appeared. College anthologies of literature have brought Mrs. 
Rowlandson's woes to the attention of present-day youth. 

The most prolific writer of the century was Cotton Mather ( 1663- 
1728), leader of the Old Guard Puritans and the pedantic son of Har- 
vard's president, Increase, who had written a history of Indian wars. 
Cotton had entered Harvard as a child prodigy who had spoken Latin 
and Greek even as a youth; he was graduated at fifteen. No colonial 
writer could match even remotely his output of 468 titles (although 
some of these may be erroneously attributed to him). But his range of 
interests, though heavily theological as one might expect from a Puritan 
pastor, comprised modern science, history, and the classics. The dark- 

18 The American Historian 

est stain on the reputation of Cotton and his father is the fact that 
they contributed the weight of their authority to the witchcraft frenzy. 
Cotton's Wonders of the Invisible World (1693) was perhaps no 
worse than similarly credulous accounts by contemporaries, even by 
members of the Royal Society, but it furnished dangerous ammunition 
for the witchhunters of Salem and elsewhere; however, by 1700 he 
changed his mind on the subject. 

As the eighteenth century began, Mather showed an increasing af- 
finity for the most advanced positions taken by science and a growing 
tolerance for men of other churches. Together with his father he kept 
Harvard abreast of the new Copernican-Galileo science at a time 
when Europe's older universities hesitated to teach the heresy that 
the earth moved around the sun. To say that the earth was not the 
center of the universe seemed to deny the biblical account of Joshua 
praying to keep the sun stationary so that he might have more day- 
light to rout his enemies. Cotton Mather had courageously defended 
the new practice of inoculation for smallpox ( it was a dangerous form 
of treatment) against the charge that the inoculators were murderers. 

In the filio-pietistic vein of Puritan historians, Mather wrote the pon- 
derous Magnolia Christi Americana: or the Ecclesiastical History of 
New England, which appeared in London in 1702 and was so popular 
as to be republished in Hartford in two volumes in 1820. This large 
volume of narrative, sermons, and biographies was intended to stem 
the tide of secularism that had come with the Enlightenment. The 
Magnalia continued the Puritan theme of the Chosen People endeav- 
oring to build a New Jerusalem despite the snares of Satan. Readers 
learned about numerous divine providences by land and sea, the trials 
of witchcraft, the struggle of the upright magistrates against heretics, 
and the remarkable conversions among the Indians. Such an orthodox 
picture (one overlooks his claims to objectivity), reinforced by his 
pride in New England's leaders and institutions, explains his assertion 
that church history ranked above all other historical forms. 

Though the author liked to quote Plutarch and other classical his- 
torians, he did not emulate their critical spirit, for he warmly en- 
dorsed the political and economic orthodoxies of the Puritan fathers 
as well as their religious dogmatism. Governor Winthrop's strictures 
on liberty seemed admirable. However, in discussing Anne Bradstreet, 
Mather revealed a most enlightened attitude toward the role of women 
in shaping civilization. "Reader, America justly admires the learned 
women of the other hemisphere," he said. On this side the oft-reprinted 
poems of Anne Bradstreet "have afforded a grateful entertainment 

From Bradford to Mather 19 

unto the ingenious, and a monument for her memory beyond the 
stateliest marbles/' 

Mather professed to follow the Greek historian, Polybius, in eschew- 
ing "the vices and villanies" of men and in commemorating their vir- 
tues, but he did not apply this rule to those outside the orthodox field 
the "most venomous" Quakers, heretics like Anne Hutchinson, 
"papists," and bloodthirsty or shiftless Indians. He closed with an ap- 
peal that religious backsliders cease their apostasies and that the 
country save itself from the current "degeneracy." The reader closes 
his work with the wish that Mather had not "seasoned" his work with 
so many Greek and Latin quotations, far-fetched classical allusions, 
and lengthy biblical digressions which confuse the narrative. Scholars 
have complained of unforgivable omissions and inaccuracies, but the 
Magnalia is still not without some value, even for the most discrimi- 
nating present-day historian. 

While New England Puritans gloried in their prolific historians, the 
other seventeenth-century colonies had relatively few to boast of, and 
these were more concerned with promoting colonies than in portraying 
the mind of a people. Most of them lagged behind the numerous Span- 
ish and Portuguese historians of the discovery era in describing ana- 
lytically the geography, institutions, customs, ethnography, and devel- 
opments in the New World. Spain and Portugal, unlike England, gave 
material sponsorship to their colonial historians. Literate men in the 
American colonies were well informed regarding the exploits of Cabeza 
da Vaca, De Soto, Coronado, and others not to mention many French 
explorers and colonizers like Champlain through the English transla- 
tions of Purchas or the writings of Richard Hakluyt. 

Scholarly editors of colonial histories, like J. Franklin Jameson, have 
bewailed the dearth of genuine history-writing outside of New Eng- 
land. Diligent translators of the Dutch narratives of New Amsterdam 
find no Bradford or Winthrop, only a miscellany of mediocre accounts 
of Hudson's voyages, the climate, the Indians, wars, and local customs. 
The compiler of the Journal of New Netherland (1647) has this en- 
lightening information about Indian beliefs: 'They have no knowledge 
at all of God, no divine worship, no law, no justice; the strongest does 
what he pleases and the youths are master." Perhaps the best of the 
Dutch accounts are the Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679-1680, which 
is actually a diary rather than a history, but it contains some valuable 

20 The American Historian 

accounts of sects like the Labadists and tells of early Harvard the 
latter a rather derogatory description. Danckaerts observed that the 
smoke-laden atmosphere of Harvard gave a peculiar impression to visi- 
tors. "It certainly must be also a tavern," he thought as he climbed 
the stairs to the study room. 

The most notable exception to the rule of sterility in historical writ- 
ing ouside of New England was John Smith, the noted founder of 
Virginia, global adventurer, and versatile historian. Bradford and other 
colonials kept Smith's books as valued parts of their libraries, espe- 
cially his early description of New England's topography; and the Vir- 
ginian's sympathetic attitude toward the Puritans must have endeared 
him to many New Englanders. The young soldier of fortune who be- 
came the president of the Virginia colony could recount exciting bat- 
tles and hairbreadth escapes that he had known in France, Italy, and 
in Turkish domains before coming to Jamestown in 1607. 

When Captain Smith replied to his London critics in 1608, he was 
instrumental in publishing English America's first book: A True Rela- 
tion of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned 
in Virginia since the First Planting of That Cottony. Much of this 
and other writings were edited together with some new material in 
1624 as The Generall Historic of Virginia, New England, and the 
Summer Isles. Only in this amorphous later work does Smith first tell 
the story of how Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, saved his life 
while he was a prisoner: 

After some six weeks fatting amongst those Salvage Courtiers, at the minute 
of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her owne braines to save 
mine; and not onely that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely 
conducted to James towne: where I found about eight and thirtie miserable 
poore and sicke creatures, to keepe possession of all those large territories 
of Virginia; such was the weaknesse of this poore Commonwealth, as had 
the Salvages not fed us, we directly had starved. 

A host of scholars, led by Henry Adams, have taken the belated rec- 
ord of the Pocahontas episode as proof of the untrustworthiness of 
Smith as a historian; otherwise, it has been reasoned, he would surely 
have included so fascinating a story in A True Relation or told it to 
some contemporary writer on Virginia. However, the charge is ac- 
tually inconclusive. Other attacks on Smith's self-praise, especially his 
habit of dwelling at length on his victories, also do not affect any 
sound judgment of Smith as a historian. The vital role of John Smith 
is vouched for by the journals of contemporaries. Dr. Lyon G. Tyler, 

From Bradford to Mather 21 

editor of Smith's writings, observes, "Smith was often inaccurate in 
his estimates as to time and place and often very prejudiced in his 
judgments of others, but that is far from saying that he could mistake 
plain objects of sense or deliberately concoct a story having no foun- 
dation." 9 Thus Smith undoubtedly exaggerated when he blamed the 
loss of 8000 lives upon the Virginia Company and certain adminis- 
trators rather than upon the effect of climatic diseases and Indian 
massacres. In the fourth volume of Smith's Generall Historie, which 
consists largely of extracts from other men's writings, Smith subjects 
himself to criticism for not having consulted the journals of the Vir- 
ginia Company and for selecting very partisan writers on a highly 
controversial issue. Friends of Smith have called attention to his pre- 
cision in preparing maps and his realistic descriptions of both New 
England and Virginia backgrounds; this has been taken as further evi- 
dence in his favor. Had he been a mere land promoter, he would 
scarcely have written the unflattering descriptions he left of some 
phases of New World life and economic conditions. Thomas Jefferson, 
who wrote a brief colonial history in his Notes on Virginia, came to 
this conclusion regarding Smith, "He was honest, sensible, and well- 
informed; but his style is barbarous and uncouth. His history, how- 
ever, is almost the only source from which we derive any knowledge 
of the infancy of our State/' 

While Smith was no Puritan in outlook, he shared much of the 
Christian interpretation of history, for he saw God's hand in the re- 
peated interventions against the Indians and the expression of divine 
wrath seen in the inflictions of famine and disease. However, he did 
not dwell upon the Augustinian-Puritan theory of God's plan unfold- 
ing through the progress of history. But by the time the century ended, 
the Christian theory of history was to meet a serious rival in more 
secular ideas of human development. 

The Enlightenment: Hutchinson 
and the Tory Emphasis 

Jonathan Edwards and the traditionalists labored mightily to stem 
such Enlightenment ideas as deism, secular rationalism, and material 
progress. The rising middle class, acting through lawyers, journalists, 
and essayists, struck at the intellectual defenses of the large landown- 
ers, princes, and clerics by exalting the supremacy of science and by 
assailing the established churches. In the French Revolution and, to 
a lesser extent, the American Revolution, the middle class captured 
power and proceeded to remold society in its own image. To break the 
hold of absolutism in church and state, they separated the two com- 
pletely and preached religious toleration and secularism while attack- 
ing the power of the clergy. 

This onslaught tended to dissolve the organic unity of the tradi- 
tional Christian state into atoms of self-sufficient, isolated individuals, 
each jealous of his private rights. The eighteenth-century ideal became 
free enterprise, freedom of contract for labor and capital, the abolition 
of serfdom, slavery, and the guild system, and the passage of humani- 
tarian reforms, such as the scientific penal laws which replaced the 
axiom of an eye for an eye with the idea of rehabilitating the prisoner. 
Many a historian of the Enlightenment reflected this program in whole 
or in part. 

Liberalism raised the notion of the individual's worth. Man, accord- 


The Enlightenment 23 

ing to the traditionalists, had been created in the image of God, but 
he had fallen to so depraved a state as to be unworthy of God's gift 
of salvation; now man was raised by the devotees of Reason to the 
status of an intellectually self-sufficient individual guided by the 
sound instincts of self-interest. Such optimistic assumptions were en- 
couraged by the triumphs of Newton and his fellow-scientists in solv- 
ing some of the age-old mysteries of the universe and by the eco- 
nomic expansion of Europe derived from its new frontiers in America, 
Asia, and Africa. 

In this new, mechanically predictable universe, historians were pre- 
pared to secularize every avenue of thought. They rejected both the 
Greek idea of the cyclic rise and decline of civilizations rooted in mys- 
tical ideas of fate and the medieval Christian belief in religious 
progress guided by God's inscrutable purpose to a distant heavenly 
goal. Condorcet and the philosophes glowingly pictured the secular 
stages of progress toward a heavenly city on earth. To them it seemed 
clear that scientific knowledge, unlike the speculative opinions of me- 
dieval schoolmen and Greek philosophers, was cumulative in nature 
and hence must speedily advance men toward well-being and the suc- 
cessful pursuit of happiness. By taking thought man could raise his 
stature, control his destiny, and assure progress. And when Darwin 
and the experimental scientists took the center of the stage in the 
nineteenth century, progress assumed the mantle of inevitability. 

The faith in secular progress raised the prestige of the present and 
the future at the expense of the irrationalist past, and rationalist his- 
torians mirrored this change. Modern history or modern uses for an- 
cient history absorbed the attention of Gibbon, Voltaire, Hume, and 
Robertson. The past did not cease to enthrall rationalist historians, 
but they usually chose to look at history for the "laws of nature" and 
for cosmic generalities at the expense of personalities, the particular, 
and the unique. More than ever the past was enlisted in the battles 
of the present and the future. Gibbon gave ammunition to fellow- 
deists and liberals in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by 
trying to prove that "the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins 
of the Capitol" was a triumph for fanaticism more than a victory for 
superior doctrines and morality. When he reached the Middle Ages, 
he concluded his work with the damning comment, "I have described 
the triumph of barbarism and religion." Thus rationalist historians re- 
placed the Christian interpretation of history by a wholly secular view 
of natural law operating behind the accidents of history; but like their 
predecessors, they proved only what they wished to prove, They felt 

24 The American Historian 

akin to the rationalist Greeks and their classical culture, but the newly 
discovered laws of progress compelled them to believe that cumu- 
lative scientific knowledge would inevitably carry the modern world 
far beyond the achievements of the ancients. 1 

The educated middle class of provincial America was also deeply 
influenced by the doctrines of progress, liberalism, deism, and other 
rationalist ideas. Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson used the 
Enlightenment interpretation of history (in whole or in part) as a 
guide to statesmanship. Men were guided by self-interest, they be- 
lieved, and moved in pressure groups. Franklin wrote in 1731 that 
"the great affairs of the world, the wars, revolutions, etc.," were car- 
ried on by parties which professed the general interest but were mo- 
tivated by the particular interest of each man "whatever they may 
pretend." Franklin believed, however, that he could organize a "United 
Party for Virtue" to transcend self-interest and to govern for the com- 
mon good. 

James Madison, in the oft-quoted Tenth Number of the Federalist 
Papers, made self-interest a cardinal historical factor long before Karl 
Marx although he eschewed the class struggle in the exact sense used 
by the German: 

But the most common and durable sources of factions have been the 
various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who 
are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. ... A 
landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed 
interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, 
and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and 

Thomas Jefferson shared the rationalist view that history should 
serve the present, but he rejected emphatically the propagandist uses 
of the past. He blamed Hume's History of England because of this, 
for it was laden with Tory prejudices. While he believed that the rich 
experience of previous times enabled one to "judge of the future" 
and make wiser decisions, he argued that chance and circumstance 
made it impossible to use history as a tool to predict the future. In 
planning a program of popular education for Virginians, he insisted 
that most of the reading should be historical in nature. Finally, as a 
great liberal of his century, he held that historical truth could exist 
only where opinions were free and tolerance existed. 

The Enlightenment 25 

The shift from the Christian interpretation of history to the ration- 
alist approach of the Enlightenment was reflected in the fact that the 
chief American historians of this era were successful businessmen, 
lawyers, or land speculators rather than ministers or theologically 
minded officials. Virginia's remarkably gifted ruling class of rich, Eng- 
lish-educated country gentlemen and planters furnished two of the 
ablest historians of the early century. Robert Beverley and his brother- 
in-law William Byrd of Westover, planter-aristocrats, were secularized 
men who felt no compulsion to justify the ways of God to men. Angli- 
can Virginians of the previous century had been close to New Eng- 
landers in their adherence to asceticism at least their statute books 
bulged with puritanical punishments for sabbath-breakers but the 
day of the hair-shirt had gone. 

Both Beverley and Byrd, as intellectual spokesmen for Virginia's elite 
of tobacco planters and officials, had been educated in England and 
developed discriminating and voracious reading tastes that led them 
to accumulate vast libraries Byrd's 4000 volumes established a record 
for all the private libraries of America in his time. Although these men 
never forgot their privileged social position, they realized that, for all 
its splendid plantation mansions, Virginia was still overwhelmingly a 
land of small farmers, and that most of the aristocratic planters who 
now studied Renaissance handbooks on the Compleat Gentleman were 
barely once or twice removed from their indentured servant ancestor. 

Beverley was born in 1673, the son of a powerful planter who had 
supported the reactionary Governor Berkeley. Following his educa- 
tion in England, young Beverley returned to inherit a vast plantation 
in Gloucester County and even larger unimproved tracts along the 
frontier. He married a sister of William Byrd II and shared his inter- 
est in history and literature, but he was only mildly interested in poli- 
tics, though for a time he represented Jamestown in the House of 
Burgesses. His decision to write a book (The History and Present 
State of Virginia) came, as it does to many writers, after reading a 
particularly atrocious one in this case John Oldmixon's The British 
Empire in America (1708), which had a wholly inaccurate section 
devoted to Virginia. Beverley's brief history had much to offer, even if 
he had little to add to John Smith's account for the early years. Like 
Byrd, he condemned colonial racial prejudices toward the Indians and 
asserted that Virginians would have escaped many wars had they 

26 The American Historian 

emulated John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas. He derided the current 
affectation for the Noble Savage, but he did recognize that Indian 
grievances were real. 

Faithful to the ruling class, he rejected Cromwell as a usurper and 
portrayed the bigoted Governor Berkeley as an enlightened and even 
popular sponsor of industry, economic improvements, and explora- 
tions. Instead of attributing Bacon's Rebellion to Berkeley's policies, 
he blamed the low tobacco prices, heavy taxes, and imperial trade re- 
strictions. His skillful circumstantial account, however, conveys high 
plausibility; even today, the interpretation of Bacon's Rebellion di- 
vides historians. 

While modern historians note the severe exploitation of slaves and 
servants by the masters who also controlled the courts, Beverley said 
that these servile laborers worked no harder than freemen and always 
had recourse to the courts for redress against a cruel master. His pic- 
ture of the gentry is naturally warm and sympathetic. Servants were 

... to entertain all Visitors, with everything the Plantation affords. And 
the poor Planters who have but one bed will very often sit up or lie upon 
a Form or Couch all Night to make room for a weary Traveller, to repose 
himself after his Journey. ... If there happen to be a Churl, that either 
out of Covetousness, or Ill-nature, won't comply with this generous Custom, 
he has a mark of Infamy set upon him, and is abhorr'd by all. 

Beverley has enough solid and reliable information and observations 
about Virginia's social history to attract readers today. 2 A contempo- 
rary critic, Jefferson, was less convinced of the merit of any work 
that began with Walter Raleigh and ended with the year 1700 by 
compressing the entire period within a very small volume. 

William Byrd II eclipsed his kinsman in wealth and talent, for he 
managed to expand his father's estate of 26,000 acres to nearly 180,000 
acres, reckoned to be the best land in Virginia, and his writings show 
greater acuteness and breadth than those of Beverley. He is honored 
as the founder of Richmond, and for his services of thirty-seven years 
as a member, later as president, of Virginia's powerful Royal Council. 
While his classical learning was broad and deep, his historical works 
actually resulted from the large commercial and speculative ventures 
in which he was engaged. Thus he wrote A History of the Dividing 
Line as the chief member of the official commission which surveyed a 
boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina through the Dis- 
mal Swamp, part of which he hoped to add to his holdings. His simi- 

The Enlightenment 27 

lar Journey to the Land of Eden and Progress to the Mines also were 
by-products of his quest for new investments. 

Byrd's books are journals rather than history in the usual sense, but 
he treats perceptively the small farmers, the highlanders, and poor 
whites whom he met in the backwoods of Virginia and North Caro- 
lina. But in his rollicking History of the Dividing Line, one must read 
between the lines to find the true explanation for the lassitude of the 
inhabitants of Lubberland, their very joy in shiftlessness, the peren- 
nial pregnancies of their wives, the looseness of their young women, 
their suspicion of authority, and their indifference to formal religion. 
As a solid businessman, Byrd ridiculed their reliance upon paper 
money, thus ignoring the need that drove rural folk throughout Amer- 
ican history to solve their problem as debtors by resorting to inflation. 

A History of the Dividing Line begins with a delightfully humor- 
ous (but historically superfluous) account of early colonial develop- 
ment. Jamestown, it seems, was founded by Englishmen, "most of them 
reprobates of good families" and "like true Englishmen, they built a 
church that cost no more than fifty pounds, and a tavern that cost five 
hundred." He belabored the colonists for their refusal to intermarry 
with the Indians: "For, after all that can be said, a sprightly lover is 
the most prevailing missionary that can be sent amongst these, or any 
other infidels." Of the Pilgrims he had this to say: 

These saints conceiving the same aversion to the copper complexion of 
the natives, with that of the first adventurers to Virginia, would, on no 
terms, contract alliances with them, afraid perhaps, like the Jews of old, 
lest they might be drawn into idolatry by those strange women. 

Whatever disgusted them I cannot say. 

This was indeed advanced ground for a Southerner, and, for that mat- 
ter, most contemporary colonials to take. Like Jefferson, Washington, 
and Mason, he was a slaveowner, but hated human bondage and 
wished to see its abolition. His enthusiasm for eighteenth-century doc- 
trines of equality led him to make this striking comment: 

All Nations of men have the same Natural Dignity, and we all know that 
very bright Talents may be lodg'd under a very dark Skin. The principal 
Differences between one People and another proceeds from the Different 
Opportunities of Improvement 

Like so many other manuscripts written in the rural South, publica- 
tion of this book was delayed. It first appeared in 1841, and has gone 
through several editions since, the last in 1928, edited by Mark Van 

28 The American Historian 

Doren. A year later Professor William K. Boyd edited the hitherto un- 
published and largely unknown companion manuscript, The Secret 
History of the Line, which revealed the serious political factionalism 
that existed in colonial ruling circles regarding the future of the prop- 
erty in the Dismal Swamp. Never intending to print this version, Byrd 
allowed his unconventional humor and sensualism full sway, reveal- 
ing literary tastes that he may have acquired from the bawdy plays 
and diaries of the Restoration era. He is mischievously detailed re- 
garding the sex exploits of his associates and of his own desires to- 
ward the women he met on his journeys. 3 

Beverley and Byrd loyally aided other Virginian historians, among 
them the hard-working but uninspired Reverend William Stith, presi- 
dent of the College of William and Mary and a graduate of Oxford. 
Stith in his History of the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia 
(1747) went beyond John Smith and Beverley in using official London 
Company Records, which Byrd had generously made available to him. 
But the result was a partisan account of the colonial struggle against 
James I. Stith's uncritical use of the official records led him into serious 
errors of fact and interpretation, and readers were repelled by his 
monotonous style and the small print of the large octavo volume. 
Jefferson, though a loyal alumnus of Stith's college, gave this unflat- 
tering opinion in his Notes on Virginia: 

He was a man of classical learning, and very exact, but of no taste in 
style. He is inelegant, therefore, and his details often too minute to be toler- 
able, even to a native of the country, whose history he writes. 

The Puritan spirit was compelled to come to terms with the En- 
lightenment. Jonathan Edwards had made Calvinism palatable to a 
new generation by indirectly transforming the doctrine of the Elect 
and the absolute sovereignty of God through the induced conversion, 
but he declared that Newton's theories were part of the divine plan. 
One of New England's historians, the Reverend Thomas Prince, went 
even farther than the others in mediating between Newtonian science 
and theology. He drew a sharp distinction between the supernatural- 
ism of God's immediate hand and the purely natural causes. In the 
early years of the century, before colonial newspapers had been thor- 
oughly established, ministers like the Mathers, Edwards, and Prince 
played a large part in diffusing the latest findings of experimental 

The Enlightenment 29 

science from their pulpits. Yet this zeal for science did not prevent 
Prince from discussing such extraordinary topics as "Agency of God in 
causing Droughts and Rains" and "Earthquakes the Works of God and 
Tokens of His Just Displeasure." 4 

Thomas Prince, grandson of the governor of New Plymouth, was 
born in 1687, educated at Harvard, where he pleased Increase Mather 
as his "praying student," and soon developed an overpowering repu- 
tation for sheer erudition scientific, philological, historical, and theo- 
logicalwhich challenged even the pedantic Cotton Mather. It is diffi- 
cult for moderns to understand the tributes paid by some contempo- 
raries to his poorly conceived history, A Chronological History of New 
England, of which the first part appeared in 1730. Present-day his- 
torians still give too much importance to his long, pretentious dedica- 
tion, preface, and introduction. In them he congratulates himself for 
making acute historical criticisms, for the painstaking way in which he 
had amassed a thousand manuscripts, pamphlets, and books on his 
subject, and for having an enlightened belief in freedom of worship. 
His chief contribution, he said frankly, "is the orderly Succession of 
these Transactions and Events, as they precisely fell out in time, too 
much neglected by our Historians." His book was not "in the specious 
form of a proper History, which admits of artificial Ornaments and 
Descriptions that raise the Imagination and Affections of the Reader; 
but of a closer and more naked Register, comprising only Facts in a 
Chronological Epitome, to enlighten the Understanding." 

This was no mere argument for the "plaine stile" of Bradford but an 
effort to plunge back into the Middle Ages, when the barest of annals 
made up much of history- writing. He quoted and was apparently fas- 
cinated by the flair for annals and chronology shown a century be- 
fore by Archbishop James Usher of Ireland, who had convinced his 
generation that the correct date of creation was 4004 B.C. Prince there- 
fore began with the story of Creation and inserted endless chronolog- 
ical tables with an impressive show of acumen in discussing their ac- 
curacy. He carefully avoided any genuine historical judgments of his 
own. In fact he made a virtue out of quoting his authorities verbatim; 
actually, he compressed rather than reproduced original sources, save 
in the minority of cases. His exhausting efforts compelled him to stop 
when he reached the year 1633, although the indifference of the public 
may also have been a factor. The best that can be said for Prince is 
that he offered a great convenience, judging from contemporary testi- 
mony, to those historians who chose to draw upon his allegedly precise 
chronology and summary of events. 5 

30 The American Historian 

First in craftsmanship and lasting merit among eighteenth-century 
historians of this country was Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massa- 
chusetts, author of the three-volume History of the Colony of Massa- 
chusetts Bay. The tragic end of this distinguished descendant of Anne 
Hutchinson as a Tory exile in England, after escaping from Boston's 
mobs, has been marked by such cruel epitaphs as that of Vernon Par- 
rington: "Thomas Hutchinson was marked for a reactionary. And un- 
happily in his conventional soul there was not the faintest spark of 
idealism." The truth was far more complex than this sweeping judg- 
ment indicates. 

Hutchinson was born in 1711 of a long line of conscientious Massa- 
chusetts officials and prosperous merchants; such a background made 
it easy for him to accept a high tradition of public service as well as 
an inflexible type of economic conservatism. Like so many of the rul- 
ing class, he received an intensive classical education at Harvard, and 
went on to obtain an M.A. Later he wrote, "In the course of my edu- 
cation, I found no part of science a more pleasing study than history, 
and no part of the history of any country more useful than that of 
its government and laws." With this love for the governing process, 
he moved upward in the hierarchy of colonial officials, beginning as 
a relatively popular member of the colonial assembly; in 1758 he be- 
came lieutenant-governor, then chief justice, and finally governor in 
1771, at a time when his unhappy fellow-countrymen were embarking 
upon a revolutionary path. 

In his upward climb he had crossed swords with popular inflation- 
ists, such as the father of Samuel Adams, champion of the soft-money 
"land banks." His own fixed belief in hard money reflected an inability 
to see the need of farmers and small shopkeepers for a more flexible 
and adequate currency than was possible under England's mercan- 
tilistic policies. This attitude inevitably colored his historical treatment 
of the currency controversies. In 1809 ex-President John Adams, who 
was fundamentally conservative himself, paid a high compliment to 
Hutchinson's understanding of the currency problem: 

If I was the witch of Endor, I would wake the ghost of Hutchinson, and 
give him absolute power over the currency of the United States . . . pro- 
vided always that he should meddle with nothing but the currency. As little 
as I revere his memory, I will acknowledge that he understood the subject 
of coin and commerce better than any man I ever knew in this country. 

Sam Adams, of course, had another judgment of Hutchinson's merits, 
"It has been his principle from a boy that mankind are to be governed 

The Enlightenment 31 

by the discerning few, and it has been ever since his ambition to be 
the hero of the few." 

Like the English conservative, Edmund Burke, who sought con- 
ciliation with America, Hutchinson was averse to any break in the 
seamless web of tradition. His reverence for the past, his family's un- 
broken record of governing in behalf of the Empire, and his great 
wealth undoubtedly influenced his decision to stand by Britain, even 
if its policies should take a turn for the worse. Like his Canadian 
neighbors, who welcomed so many thousands of Loyalists, he would 
have liked to see an imperial federation in which substantial home 
rule existed in each part. In fact, he believed that this situation al- 
ready existed in practice. 

The first volume of the History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 
which ended with the year 1730, appeared in 1764 and was only lightly 
touched by the spirit of controversy. It was well received, and Hutchin- 
son was encouraged to cover the years 1730 to 1750 in a second vol- 
ume. This was not published until 1767; meanwhile, an event had 
taken place that may have affected his final decision to leave America. 
During the excitement over the Stamp Act of 1765, at a time when 
he was still lieutenant-governor, he incurred popular dislike by his 
emphatic stand to enforce the wishes of Parliament, even when he 
believed them unwise. One day, while seated at the table with his 
family, he was informed that a mob was approaching. He and his 
family fled, and the mob arrived and thoroughly ransacked his house. 
His precious historical manuscripts, including the yet unpublished 
second volume of the history, were dumped into the streets. The 
change in his attitude from the judicious historian to the polemic 
partisan is obvious in the third volume recounting the stirring events 
of 1750-74; this, however, did not appear until 1828, after his death. 

In the first volume Hutchinson professed no more ambitious aim 
than to save the memory of his ancestors from oblivion; he noted 
proudly that "for four successive generations [they] had been prin- 
cipal actors in public affairs." But as the narrative unfolded, it showed 
an imaginative breadth and scholarly depth that made it not un- 
worthy of the great European contemporaries if not of Gibbon him- 
self, then of Voltaire, Hume, and Robertson. Hutchinson referred to 
the large manuscript collections that he had inherited from his fore- 
bears, as well as to the earlier colonial accounts, since Bradford's time, 
that he had read. Most surprising for a descendant of Anne Hutchinson 
is his unflattering judgment of that learned lady, whose heretical opin- 
ions he attributed to her vanity: 

52 The American Historian 

Countenanced and encouraged by Mr. Vane and Mr. Cotton, she ad- 
vanced doctrines and opinions which, involved the colony in disputes and 
contentions; and being improved to civil as well as religious purposes, had 
like to have produced ruin to church and state. 

As a confirmed law-and-order man he could say ? "Her lectures made 
much noise/* In the orthodox Puritan tradition, he condemned her as 
an "enthusiast," whose emotional views threatened the social and re- 
ligious order. While he does not cite Winthrop's Journal for the 
Hutchinson trial, but relies on much fuller official records, his verdict 
was as unfavorable as Governor Winthrop's had been. But Hutchinson 
is not particularly concerned in upholding the theocracy against 
heresy, but stresses the beliefs of the Enlightenment in civil rights: 

It is evident not only by Mrs. Hutchinson's trial, but by many other public 
proceedings, that inquisition was made into men's private judgments as well 
as into their declarations and practice. Toleration was preached against as a 
sin in rulers which would bring down the judgments of heaven upon the 

But he reminded his readers that such was the temper of the time and 
then quoted, in a footnote, Governor Dudley's ditty on tolerance: 

Let men of God in court and churches watch 
O'er such as do a toleration hatch 

He frankly condemned colonial bigotries, particularly the persecu- 
tion of the Quakers, though he did not forget to upbraid them for 
their sins against public order. His critical conclusion is clear enough: 

The most that can be said for our ancestors is that they tried gentler 
means at first, which they found utterly ineffectual, and that they followed 
the example of the authorities in most other states and in most ages of the 
world, who with the like absurdity have supposed every person could and 
ought to think as they did, and with the like cruelty have punished such as 
appeared to differ from them. 

An enlightened twentieth-century historian could not have put it 

He showed considerable sympathy for the Indians the cynical may 
remark that the Massachusetts Indians were scarcely a menace in 1764. 
Like Bradford he deplored the tendency of colonial juries to dis- 
criminate between the guilt of killing an Indian and that of killing 
an Englishman, "as if God had not made of one blood all the nations 
of men upon the face of the earth." In defending the motives of the 

The Enlightenment 33 

Indian chief King Philip in provoking a bloody frontier war, he ob- 
served kindly, "We are too apt to consider the Indians as a race of 
beings by nature inferior to us, and born to servitude/' His careful 
description of Indian customs and beliefs seems far more convincing 
than that of his predecessors; he contradicted the popular notions that 
the Indians worshiped the devil and that they were the lost ten tribes 
of Israel. 

The last volume is so thoroughly Loyalist in tone that Americans 
have found it intolerable. No objective historian today on either side 
would explain James Otis's valiant fight against the Writs of Assistance 
as motivated solely by a family feud against the governor; or assert 
that John Hancock's principles merely concealed his love for applause; 
or say of John Adams, "His ambition was without bounds. 5 ' Yet 
Hutchinson's interpretation of the Revolution has more adherents today 
than a century ago. His argument that the struggle was caused by the 
colonial fear of events to come rather than current British abuses has 
been upheld by recent historians. Colonists, he thought, began reason- 
ing with the premise that "Interest [was] a governing principle with 
all mankind," and hence Britain would inevitably impose an unequal 
share of the tax burdens, while debarring them from an equal share 
in the benefits of government. He tried to show that this fear was 
groundless. He dwelt upon the unusual prosperity of Massachusetts, 
emphasized the security offered by remaining within the Empire, and 
stressed the military futility and costliness of resisting England. 

Some of his defenses of British acts have already infected American 
textbook writing (a situation long lamented by the Chicago Tribune 
and the late Mayor William Hale Thompson of that city). He pic- 
tured the Boston Massacre as an affair in which an unruly mob at- 
tacked the soldiers, who fired in defense only after they had shown 
exemplary forbearance. His dislike of the new revolutionary vogue for 
tarring-and-feathering critics, hanging suspects, and boycotting or 
ostracizing Loyalists has been shared by innumerable readers of such 
modern historical novels as Kenneth Roberts's Oliver Wiswell. Recent 
historians might agree with his judgment that the propaganda of the 
Boston and New York newspapers played a substantial role in bringing 
about the Revolution. 

Yet he attempted to convey in his narrative, albeit not too em- 
phatically, his own impression that Parliament had misapplied its in- 
dubitable power in such legislation as the Sugar Act and the Stamp 
Act. He argued that no basic principle was actually involved in the 
resistance of the colonial merchants to the enforcement of the mer- 

34 The American Historian 

cantUistic system, and he said o the Sugar Act, "Had it been then re- 
duced to a penny, or three-half pence, it would have been acquiesced 
in by the merchants." 

With the third volume Hutchinson made his last plea for conciliation; 
thereafter he remained in London as an exile from the land that his 
ancestors had called home for a century and a half. England pensioned 
its loyal servant, and Oxford honored him as a scholar and statesman. 
But his roots were still in Massachusetts. Symbolically, the manuscript 
of his second volume shows even today the mud stains made during 
the night that the papers lay in the streets, cast there by a mob of 
erstwhile neighbors who had rejected Hutchinson and all his work. 
Revolutionists seldom feel too kindly toward history and tradition; 
they are too busy breaking with the tyranny of the past. 6 

New York City had its Hutchinson in a partisan Tory historian, 
William Smith (1728-93), whose social background resembled that 
of the Massachusetts governor in many ways. William Smith, like his 
father, was a wealthy lawyer and colonial official. He had been given 
a good classical education at Yale, where he took his B.A. and M.A. 
and developed a genuine scholarly interest in history. As chief justice 
of the province in 1763 and a member of the Royal Council beginning 
in 1769 during the turbulent prerevolutionary period, he tried to avert 
the colonial separation from England by proposing an intercolonial 
legislature with members selected for life by the various assemblies; 
this was a conservative version of Franklin's famous Plan of Union. 
But Parliament was only slightly more interested in the Smith plan 
than in Franklin's idea, and nothing happened. Before the crisis of 
independence came, he had shifted from his onetime Whiggish beliefs 
to the Loyalist side and was exiled to England. In 1786 he was ap- 
pointed chief justice of Canada, a post he held until his death in 1793. 

Smith had been an intimate friend of the popular Scottish historian, 
William Robertson, who shifted his attention from European history 
to this hemisphere when he published a History of America in 1777. 
The New Yorker seems to have read many of the historians of the 
Enlightenment. But his interest in history, as befitting a legal scholar, 
was not in social or economic history, but in the laws and politics of 
New York. He and a partner had been commissioned by the legisla- 
ture to publish the first digest of the colony's statutes. Smith's impor- 
tant two-volume work, The History of the Province of New York, 

The Enlightenment 35 

which, was the model for other regional histories, began with the earli- 
est discoveries and ended with 1762. 7 

Too many o the chapters revealed the author's class bias against 
"persons of inferior station" and the headless "multitude/' He showed 
nothing but contempt for the "demagogues" who led the popular 
party, treated Jacob Leisler as one of these self-seeking irresponsible 
wretches, and ridiculed John Peter Zenger, whose court victory Is 
today considered a landmark in the history of the freedom of the press. 

He dealt with the Zenger case at length, drawing upon the colonial 
records and local information that must have been easy for one in 
his position to obtain. Although he had nothing but scorn for the 
dishonest, landgrabbing royal governor William Cosby, he disliked 
those who fought him even more. After Cosby had been allegedly 
libeled by the faction who were using Zenger's paper anonymously as 
their organ, the Council ordered four numbers of the offending New 
York Weekly Journal to be burned publicly by the common hangman 
or whipper at the pillory in the city. The attorney general, however, 
managed to bring suit against Zenger even after a grand jury had 
failed to indict him. In the trial, the popular party used the press 
effectively, according to Smith, by inciting public opinion, and reached 
the jury itself by publicizing facts regarding the libel that were held 
to be inadmissible as evidence. As for the famous Andrew Hamilton, 
who came forward as the champion of free speech, Smith had this to 

He set out by asserting with a firmness unabashed, and which often goes 
far to persuade, that the matters charged as scandals were true, and there- 
fore no libels; and indulged such a vein of ridicule against the law advanced 
by the Judges, that a libel was the more dangerous for its truth, that the 
ignorant audience . . . thought the refusal of the Judges to permit evidence 
of the truth of the publications added to the tyranny and oppression of the 

And as for Zenger, "a low printer, dandled upon the knee of popular 
applause/' fate punished him (said Smith) by making his indolence 
finally ruin his family. Naturally, there is no appreciation of the far- 
reaching importance of the Zenger case in establishing the liberal prin- 
ciple that "Truth is a Defense against libel." 

Yet William Smith showed some of the Enlightenment virtues of 
tolerance. He decried the dishonest tactics of factionalists who raised 
an anti-Semitic issue regarding the qualification of Jews as electors 
in order to divert attention from genuine issues. His treatment of New 

36 The American Historian 

York's alleged slave insurrection of 1741 actually an arsonist case- 
shows an unusually advanced pro-Negro position. Examining the evi- 
dence carefully, he pointed out how much of it hung upon the un- 
trustworthy testimony of an irresponsible woman. As a result, seven- 
teen Negroes were burned at the stake, eighteen hanged, and seventy 
transported elsewhere. He condemned the panicky legislators who 
hastened to tighten the restrictions upon Negroes and to make manu- 
mission difficult in New York. 

Among the ablest colonial historians, the man who won the greatest 
prestige was another loyalist, Cadwallader Golden. This unusually 
erudite man was born in Ireland of Scottish parents, attended the Uni- 
versity of Edinburgh, and studied medicine in London. Upon arrival 
in America, he engaged with some success in a variety of occupations 
doctor of medicine, botanist, philosopher, mathematician, historian, 
New York legislator, and finally lieutenant-governor. His official rise 
had something to do with the fact that he ranked as one of New 
York's great landowners and remained a conservative, true to the im- 
perial connection, up to his death in 1776. Like Hutchinson, he was 
a colonial executive who had to face a revolutionary mob. 

Golden angrily rejected William Smith's history of the province as 
hopelessly biased (Golden figured unfavorably in some of the situa- 
tions described), despite the fact that Smith had kindly referred 
readers to Colden's two-volume work for information on the Iroquois. 
This account, The History of the Five Indian Nations (1727), lacks 
sufficient narrative continuity for the casual reader to discover Colden's 
own bias. Golden declared in his dedication that he wished to awaken 
the public to the danger of the French in the West, especially if they 
should win over the Iroquois to their side against the English. His 
references to these tribes were usually sympathetic. Their worst vices, 
such as heavy drinking, were borrowed from the whites, he wrote. 

While the narrative seemed loosely integrated, it did have the vir- 
tue of critical analysis, which earlier writers about the Indians rarely 
showed. He pointed out, for example, that "it is not easy to distinguish 
the Notions they had originally among themselves from those they 
have learned of the Christians." His use of official records to supple- 
ment the standard French authorities might have enhanced the value 
of the books a great deal, had they not served largely to bog down 
the narrative with lengthy documentary digressions. He began with 
a careful detailed account of Iroquois customs, took up their wars and 
treaties at too great length, and then interspersed (or else his pub- 
lisher did) innumerable documents, such as Penn's Indian laws. While 

The Enlightenment 37 

it is said that Golden is still useful to anthropologists, the reader will 
suspect that this is due to a paucity of other sources. 

Underlying his thinking was a philosophical materialism rather rare 
in the colonies which made him hostile to the idealistic theories of 
Jonathan Edwards. Like the French materialists of the Enlightenment, 
he believed that Newton had proved that the world was determined 
by mechanical forces and that all existence depended upon matter and 
motion. Unfortunately for his reputation as a philosopher, contempo- 
raries found his speculative writings such as The "Principles of Action 
in Matter ( 1751 ) to be unintelligible. 8 

The near-monopoly of expert history-writing, held by economic con- 
servatives and Loyalists in particular, is further exemplified in the 
career of George Chalmers. Like Hutchinson, William Smith, and 
Golden, this English immigrant was a talented lawyer whose well-to- 
do family assured him of a thorough education he studied at Aber- 
deen and Edinburgh and undoubtedly shaped his class bias. In 1763, 
at the age of twenty-one, he arrived in Maryland with an uncle and 
soon developed a very profitable legal practice. As the revolutionary 
crisis developed, he worked behind the scenes in behalf of Loyalists 
among the official class, the merchant factors of British firms, and 
newcomers still strong in their loyalty to king and Parliament. How- 
ever, when the mobs and the revolutionary acts of proscription struck 
at his friends and came dangerously close to him in 1775, he escaped 
to England. 

The bitterness of Chalmers toward America matched that of 
Hutchinson, whom he may have met in London, and he, too, was 
compelled to fall back on the largess of the Crown for support. Within 
a few years, the British ministry secured him an executive post in the 
Board of Trade, Even before this time, the ministry had started him 
off on a career as a historian by giving him unrestricted access to the 
unpublished and hitherto rarely used American state papers. In 1780 
there appeared the first volume of his Political Annals of the Present 
United Colonies, which ended with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. 
It was moderate in tone, except for a few obvious barbs against the 
religious intolerance of the Puritans. However, two years later, he 
completed a violently anti-American book, An Introduction to the 
History of the Colonies, which, strangely enough, was officially sup- 
pressed and was not published until 1845 in an American edition. 9 

A single theme dominated his books: Colonial leaders had been 
steadily maneuvering politics in the direction of independence from 
the very beginning, while England's statesmen had been too inept or 

38 The American Historian 

indifferent to block this tendency. As a liberal economist, he agreed 
with Adam Smith in rejecting the entire mercantilist system, whose 
enforcement had precipitated the war; he felt that trade should be 
permitted to flow into its natural profitable channels. But as a staunch 
orthodox Whig, following the tradition of a party which had ousted 
a king in 1688, he did not admit that there were limits to the supremacy 
of Parliament. He denied that there was the slightest legal basis for 
the colonial argument against taxation without representation; to him 
Parliament stood for the entire British nation regardless of the locale 
of English subjects, 

In some of his other thirty-odd publications, Chalmers severely 
attacked Edmund Burke and the pro-American faction of Whigs who 
called for conciliation with America. When the French Revolution 
broke out and Burke led the traditionalists against social revolution, 
Chalmers did not need to change his older views to condemn this new 
explosion of the hateful multitude. 

Despite the granite-like, upper middle-class bias of Chalmers and 
his legalistic efforts to use history as a tool to win a case, his histories 
proved to be so rich in solid factual data and thoughtful literary or- 
ganization that many patriots found his books indispensable. Timothy 
Pitkin, for example, frankly admitted that he had not thought it neces- 
sary to use other sources for the early colonial period, because 
Chalmers's work had made it superfluous. Jared Sparks, a nationalist 
second to none, admired the "candor and honesty," as well as informa- 
tive qualities of Chalmers, sufficiently to bring out an American edi- 
tion of the bellicose work, An Introduction to the History of the 

When the Revolution drove out the Loyalists, the young republic 
not only lost some of its ablest historians, but also gave free rein to 
the chauvinism of ardent nationalists. The liberal ideals of the En- 
lightenment, which had been espoused in varying degree by both 
patriots and Tories, continued to affect the writing of history for at 
least a century. But the eighteenth-century idea of cosmopolitanism 
was modified by the belief that a modern democratic nation, such as 
the United States or France, was the true missionary of the highest 
republican virtues. Nationalism gave a secular garb to the Puritan 
notion of a Chosen People whose principles would usher in the 


Jared Sparks and the Dominance 
of the Federalist -Whig Historians 

/Although the Tories were silenced, the writing and publishing of 
history books proved too expensive for mere sans-culottes. The new 
patriotic generation of historians were usually well-to-do lawyers and 
writers, many of them ministers. Besides, publishing was handicapped 
in a new country by the lack of systematic marketing of books, inferior 
typesetting, unusual capital risks, and the conscienceless way in which 
works by successful authors were pirated on both sides of the ocean. 
For all his popularity David Ramsay of South Carolina actually sold 
only small quantities of his histories, and he plunged his savings into 
the gamble of publishing his books here. Since the new American 
copyright law of 1789 protected native writers only against infringe- 
ments within this country, Ramsay judged it expedient to issue a 
British edition as well, in order to forestall literary piracy. But even 
eighteen years were barely enough time to dispose of an American 
edition of 1500 copies. 

Under these circumstances, the writing of American history required 
not only leisure and some talent, but an upper middle-class status that 
usually went hand-in-hand with a conservative social outlook, despite 
fervent expressions of liberal nationalism. Only a few were able to 
forgive agrarian radicalism or to present the facts objectively regard- 
ing Shays's rebellion of 1786 and the background of currency defla- 


40 The American Historian 

tion and farm foreclosures. The selection as to what was important 
amid the endless facts of history lay in the hands of a single social 

Many of the radicals of 1776 John Hancock and Patrick Henry, for 
instancehad turned conservative in the first decade of independence. 
The cautious framers of the Constitution had carefully protected credi- 
tors from inflationist fanners by forbidding the states to issue bills of 
credit or to impair contract obligations. When the French Revolution 
broke out shortly afterwards, Jeffersonians rejoiced at the overthrow 
of aristocracy, but the Hamiltonian men of substance trembled at the 
threat to the social order. For Jeffersonian liberals it seemed that 
American nationalism was a blend of liberty, equality, and fraternity, 
but most of them preferred to write pamphlets, poems, and newspaper 
articles rather than history books. The conservatives who did not have 
to content themselves with the most ephemeral forms of literature had 
the leisure to attempt the writing of the nation's epic based upon a 
type of nationalism that was sterilized from the germs of economic 
radicalism. They could agree with the Jeffersonians in exalting the 
Chosen People, the latter-day Puritans, whose national destiny was 
enhanced by an unusually favorable physical environment. 

An almost unfailing ingredient in the writing of American history 
for this era was the ghost-writing of Edmund Burke, Whig leader of 
the pro-American faction in Parliament. Burke edited the highly in- 
fluential Annual Register during 1759-97 and almost certainly wrote 
the famous "Historical Article" every year up to 1766. Although Burke 
was a traditionalist and warred upon the French Revolution, he did 
not regard the American Revolution as a social revolutionnor have 
most American historians since but as a revolt against unwise im- 
perial legislation and administration. He showed similar sympathies 
to Irish rebels and to natives oppressed by Warren Hastings's rule in 
India. A thorough realist in policy, he refused to argue over dangerous 
abstractions such as the question of Parliament's competence to tax 
the colonies. As an ardent Whig, he had no doubts in his mind as to 
the supremacy of Parliament; but as a practical politician who be- 
lieved that philosophical absolutes must be tempered to meet the 
frailties of human nature, he denied that it was expedient to tax the 
colonies under existing disturbed conditions. In the Opposition he 
attacked the Tories for pursuing a policy leading to war and called 
for compromise. Americans, he believed, were content to remain within 
the Empire as long as no reversal of de facto colonial relations was 

Jared Sparks 41 

Few Englishmen had so profound a knowledge of colonial affairs as 
did Burke. His Annual Register articles were copious, acutely ob- 
servant, and warmly sympathetic. Little wonder that the postrevolu- 
tionary writers naturally gravitated to them. Unfortunately, in that age 
when literary property was so little respected, practically every major 
American writer dealing with the era plagiarized shamelessly from 
the Annual Register. So it was with the most respected namesDavid 
Ramsay, John Marshall, William Gordon, and many more. The less 
pretentious popular historians merely borrowed the Annual Register 
at second-hand, via Ramsay, Marshall, Gordon, et al. These plagiarisms 
were uncovered a half -century ago by Professor Orin G. Libby and 
others, but Marshall's defection was found only in 1948. 1 Each his- 
torian usually began with a virtuous profession of having read the basic 
correspondence. Sometimes, it is true, they conceded that some of 
their volumes included certain verbatim materials from the Annual 
Register, and that they had dispensed with quotation marks. But this 
indebtedness usually involved so many lengthy paragraphs and pages 
that the saving remnant of original research has been difficult to dis- 
cover. Libby, who studied practically all of the histories of the Amer- 
ican Revolution, finally concluded in disgust: 

Will it not be profitable, now that the last of the contemporary American 
historians yields his place of authority, to compile from the Annual Register, 
a history of the American Revolution which shall be known for what it is 
under its true colors? 

No patriotic cult proved so lasting as that of George Washington. 2 
The revered father of his country had faced partisan attacks in his 
lifetime, but ranks were closed now as all joined to pay him homage 
as a flawless symbol of a united nation. Some of the anti-Federalists 
like Thomas Jefferson, whose memories of Washington were still fresh, 
conceded that the first president was "in every sense of the words, a 
wise, a good, and a great man," but added that his mind was not of 
the first order and that his lack of a formal education was too apparent. 

So rapid was the apotheosis of Washington that during the first ten 
weeks following his death 440 printed mortuary sermons were issued. 
All classes hailed his integrity and courage; upper-class Federalists 
exalted his conservatism and classical patriotism. Artists like Gilbert 
Stuart chose him as a subject and capitalized upon the rising invest- 
ment values of Washington pictures, especially those that attitudinized 

42 The American Historian 

in the classical manner. The neoclassical sculptor Horatio Greenough 
later chiseled a totally uninspired twenty-ton figure of Washington 
wearing a Roman toga, which was intended for the Capitol, but was 
hastily pushed from place to place, and finally was lodged in the un- 
influential Smithsonian Institution. 

So it happened that the material advantages of writing a biography 
of George Washington were well appreciated by David Ramsay, John 
Marshall, and Mason Weems, among a host of others. At least five 
hundred biographies of this illustrious subject were issued before the 
new century ended. But the caviar for the millions was Parson Weems's 
biography, especially beginning with the fifth edition, which has the 
immortal cherry tree story in it. 

The amazing Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825) has aroused more 
curiosity than his biographers are able to satisfy. A Marylander by 
birth, he was ordained as an Anglican minister in 1784, and preached 
at least once in the Pohick Church where Washington formerly wor- 
shiped. This distinction was later duly magnified on the title page of 
his famous biography to read, "Formerly Rector of Mt. Vernon Par- 
ish/* His rationalist views, his secular gospel of humanitarianism, and 
his outspoken admiration for Thomas Paine, the deist, estranged the 
local clergy and may have influenced his decision to forsake preaching 
for bookselling, a vocation which he intended to make uplifting. He 
helped French revolutionary refugees and almost bankrupted himself 
for those in distress, but Marylanders and Virginians were unen- 
thusiasric about the special services he conducted for Negroes. Un- 
doubtedly his habits were peculiar; as the eminent Bishop William 
Meade of Virginia put it, Weems was "one of nature's oddities." 

His own adventures on the road between New England and Georgia 
are far more intriguing than his priggish biography of Washington. 
With a stock furnished by Mathew Carey, one of the leading book- 
sellers and publishers, he peddled only "improving" books from his 
wagon and aroused customers by fiddling and by patriotic discourses. 
His best-selling book was the nation's favorite (50,000 copies were 
sold in the United States), Mrs. Susanna Rowson's Charlotte, A Tale 
of Truth, or Charlotte Temple (1791). This adopted the moralist's 
style popularized by Richardson in a melodramatic account of the 
seduction of a girl who was deserted by an unfaithful, dissipating naval 
officer and then driven out by the unfeeling world into a New York 

Weems's Life of George Washington is not now regarded as history, 
but it was creative folklore, even if some of the anecdotes which he 

Jared Sparks 43 

attributed to well-informed contemporaries originated solely in his 
own well-stocked mind. He combined the Puritan's fear of idleness 
with Franklin's ideals of thrift, self-reliance, ambition, and hard work. 
To this was sometimes added the conservative medieval idea of fixed 
classes: Society was a body of which each individual was a part and 
was intended by God to serve forever in a certain station. Some were 
born to direct, others to obey, and hence the lower classes should be 
content to fulfill their duty and to pay taxes. This harsh organic theory 
was tempered by Weems's habitual sympathies for the distressed; but 
it did not change his unalterable belief that great opportunities exist 
for those who work for them. 

Youngsters, including Abraham Lincoln who read the biography by 
firelight in a log cabin, must have enjoyed the Weemsian George 
Washington, even if his virtues and strait-laced qualities depressed 
them occasionally. After all, George was a superb athlete, the fastest 
runner and jumper, and so resourceful that he rose to greatness easily 
by his own efforts: 

See Washington, bom of humble parents, and in humble circumstances- 
born in a narrow nook and obscure corner of the British plantations! Yet 
lo! What great things wonder-working industry can bring out of this un- 
promising Nazareth. 

The cherry tree myth is of course the piece de resistance of his in- 
spirational biography, faithfully perpetuated in school readers. After 
George's father had been tirelessly teaching him morality and warning 
him particularly against telling untruths, he reaped the full fruits with 
the boy's confession of guilt: 

"I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my 
hatchet." "Run to my arms, you dearest boy/' cried his father in transports, 
"run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have 
paid for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth 
than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest 

So Weems concocted a historical whopper to teach American boys 
to tell the truth. In fact, Weems's own inability to satisfy himself with 
mere reality was thoroughly exemplified in another biography of his, 
The Life of Francis Marion. A surviving lieutenant of the famed Swamp 
Fox, who had loaded down Weems with authentic documents and 
letters in order to make the biography fairly truthful (he did give 
permission to add "a few embellishments"), read the book despair- 

44 The American Historian 

ingly and wrote to the ebullient biographer, "Most certainly 'tis not 
my history, but your romance." 

Weems's Washington taught chauvinism as well as morality. The 
Revolution, he said, grew out of the jealousy that British officials felt 
toward American prosperity. "We were not to be treated as brothers, 
but as slaves! over whom an unconditional right was claimed to tax 
and take our property at pleasure!!!" He struck the eighteenth-century 
ideal of America's example enlightening the world: 

The eyes of long oppressed humanity are now looking up to you as to her 
last hope; the whole world are anxious spectators of your trial; and with 
your behaviour at this crisis [This edition appeared in 1809, during the naval 
conflict with Britain] not only your own, but the destiny of unborn millions 
is involved. 

As pictorial illustrations to accompany such rhetoric, he chose to re- 
produce the most patriotic paintings, such as the impressive revolu- 
tionary scenes done by John TrumbulL 

This biography of Washington eventually eclipsed even Charlotte 
Temple in popularity. Six editions were exhausted in five years no 
contemporary American historian could approach this record and by 
1931 more than seventy-five editions had come out. The aura that he 
cast about his hero was not easily removed by later scientific historians. 
Good taste could more readily afford criticism of the Constitution than 
of George Washington. 

While Weems sold his books on the road, he also became an agent 
for a more pretentious biographer of Washington, Chief Justice John 
Marshall, whose publisher was seeking advance subscriptions for what 
became a huge five-volume work. Although Marshall knew Washing- 
ton well and should have been able to produce a meritorious if in- 
evitably biased work, his pressing need for ready cash and his im- 
patience with the painstaking techniques of historical research led him 
to turn out a third-rate, heavily-plagiarized biography. In the first 
volume, which came out in 1804, Washington is not permitted to make 
an entrance, because the author decided that the space was needed 
for background. Even in the later volumes, the hero is so completely 
buried in general history that the reader has to search for Washington 
with the aid of the index. 

Marshall tried the stratagem of anticipating unpleasant criticism by 
admitting at the outset that he had so freely relied upon the Annual 
Register and the works of Gordon, Ramsay, and Chalmers that he had 
frequently used their very words without bothering about quotation 

Jared Sparks 45 

marks. It was then regarded as disarming to say, "Mr Chalmers has 
furnished almost all the facts which the historian of the United States 
would require." A recent historian, William A. Foran, has mercilessly 
exposed the routine plagiarism practiced by Marshall. Entire para- 
graphs, chapters, and even books were abridged without being re- 
worked. In dealing with the Battle of Camden, for example, he copied 
almost twelve pages from Gordon who in his own turn was an arch- 
plagiarist heavily indebted to the Annual Register. Little wonder that 
the Chief Justice tried at first to issue his biography anonymously. 
Although his revised version of 1832 corrected many errors, it could 
not change the fact of bald plagiarism. 

Nevertheless, there was ample evidence left of Marshall's conserva- 
tism in his own contributions to biography, especially in the last vol- 
ume. While Weems had stressed Washington's humble birth and 
simple virtues, Marshall molded him into a lofty Federalist aristocrat. 
He evened scores with one of his critical readers, Thomas Jefferson, 
by explaining that this remote kinsman of his had lived too long in 
France to know America. He presented Washington as a strong na- 
tionalist, praised Hamilton highly, and derogated Jefferson's anti- 
Federalists as a party with "lax notions of honor," while the Federalists 
"protected the faith of a nation" on financial matters. He showed his 
dislike for debtors and inflation in many pages, and his judgments of 
the Sage of Monticello reflected the bitter atmosphere between the 
two created by the war on the judiciary. Jefferson, expecting the worst, 
wrote of the forthcoming biography, "It is intended to come out just 
in time to influence the next presidential election/* His own reply was 
The Anas, a lengthy essay which betrayed his deep unqualified bias 
against Hamilton and the Federalists: 

From the moment ... of my retiring from the Administration, the 
federalists got unchecked hold of General Washington. His memory was 
already sensibly impaired by age, the firm tone of mind for which he had 
been remarkable, was beginning to relax, its energy was abated, a list- 
lessness of labor, a desire for tranquility had crept on him, and a willingness 
to let others act and even think for him. 

Yet this "five volumed libel," as Jefferson put it, won the praise of 
a generation of Federalist historians and such devotees of the Wash- 
ington cult as Noah Webster. More detached critics complained of 
Marshall's deadliness of style, numerous inaccuracies, and flagrant 
bias. It was a tribute to the deep affection for Washington, rather than 
to the intrinsic worth of the biography, that Marshall enjoyed con- 

46 The American Historian 

siderable sales and was able to put out an entirely revised edition 
before his death. 

Among the few Jeffersonians of talent who joined the Washington 
cult was James K, Paulding of New York, a literary satirist who graced 
the circle of another cultist, Washington Irving. Paulding's father a 
sea captain, a perennial debtor, and a patriotic militia man of the 
Revolution had apparently taught his son to dislike Britain, to coin 
chauvinist phrases, and to sympathize with popular causes. A Jack- 
sonian agrarian, Paulding rose to the post of Van Buren's Secretary 
of the Navy. His widely read life of Washington, which was written 
in 1835, the year Marshall died, actually had little of explicit Jeffer- 
sonian philosophy and still less of literary art. Essentially, he followed 
the Parson Weems formula (rediscovered by Horatio Alger) of youth- 
ful indoctrination for morality and ambition, though he aimed more 
consciously for the adult market. Here is a not untypical example of 
his high-flown style in a description of Washington: 

He becomes the great landmark of his country: the pillar on which is 
recorded her claim to an equality with the illustrious nations of the world 
. . . and there is no trait so strongly marks a degenerate race as an indif- 
ference to his fame and his virtues. 

Elsewhere he said, "In no age or country has there ever arisen a man 
who, equally in private as in public life, presented so admirable a 
model to every class and condition of mankind." 

Paulding matched the cherry tree tale with another moralizing story. 
When the active youth broke a favorite horse of his mother's, he nat- 
urally admitted it freely. "Young man," said she, "I forgive you because 
you have the courage to tell the truth at once; had you skulked away, 
I should have despised you." In his biography, Mrs. Washington, 
rather than her husband, is the preceptor teaching the son a love of 
virtue. The supreme heroics come at the hero's death when he says 
stoically to a slave, "Take me to bed, it is high time for me to die!" 

The historian who expanded most the modest stock of facts used 
by Washington's numerous biographers was Jared Sparks of Harvard, 
the first professor of history (other than church history) in the United 
States and the first to make a full-time profession of the subject. He 
began his education under the guidance of a gifted mother who was 
well read and liked to write poetry. In school he was acclaimed the 
local genius and at Harvard, where he was graduated in 1815, his 
sociable nature and scholarly tastes opened the doors of the well-to-do 

Jared Sparks 47 

Among his fellow college students were William Hickling Prescott, 
the future historian of Spain, Mexico, and Peru; George Ticknor, the 
literary historian; and Edward Everett, whose prolific pen later pro- 
duced a mediocre life of George Washington. Another embryo his- 
torian, George Bancroft, was at Harvard when Sparks was graduated. 
At the same time another youth of mark, Richard Hildreth, was pre- 
paring to enter the college; there he would begin plans for a monu- 
mental history of the United States that would eventually compete with 
Bancroft's. Within the next decade of New England's golden age of 
historians, there appeared John Lothrop Motley, Francis Parkman, 
and other noted men who took their training at Sparks's college and 
graced the salons of Boston's well-to-do educated classes. 

At Harvard Divinity School, Sparks put aside the remnants of his 
Calvinism for the fashionable Unitarianism which had recently cap- 
tured that school, and thereafter he became an aggressive pastor of 
liberal Christianity in the pulpits of Baltimore and other churches of 
the South. In 1823, he decided to leave the ministry for a literary 
career and bought and edited the Brahministic North American Review. 
Its former editor, Edward Everett, had been under the spell of the 
new German learning and had stressed European themes. Sparks, how- 
ever, an uncompromising nationalist, insisted upon more and more 
'articles on American themes, especially in biography and economic 
developments, and even added to the distinction of the Revieiv among 
its elite circulation. Another Harvard classmate and apprentice to 
history, John G. Palfrey, who later wrote the History of New England, 
succeeded him as editor. 

Sparks wrote entire libraries of history books and biographies, but 
most of these are now forgotten. His reputation rests upon his prodigi- 
ous labors in collecting, editing, and publishing valuable documents of 
the American Revolution, particularly the letters of Washington 
and Franklin and the diplomatic correspondence- of the war. The 
first book of his twelve-volume The Writings of George Washington 
(1834-37) was actually a biography, but, except for its large reservoir 
of fresh details, it was undistinguished. His claim of utter objectivity 
was the conventional prefatory promise that could not be taken seri- 
ously. How critical could a biographer be who could say of his hero 
that he "cannot be charged with an indiscretion or a vice"? In later 
years, Theodore Roosevelt, who was himself not averse to taking 
liberties with historical facts spoke of Sparks as a "professional 
eulogist." The New Englander took Weems's biography quite seriously, 
believing that stylistic requirements made it necessary for the Parson 

48 The American Historian 

to add obvious fictions to an otherwise sound work. Like Weems, he 
approached history in a moralistic frame of mind, giving only passing 
attention to economic and environmental factors. Here is one of his 
appraisals of the father of his country: 

His temperament was ardent, his passions strong, and, amidst the multi- 
plied scenes of temptation and excitement through which he passed, it 
was his constant effort and ultimate triumph to check the one and subdue 
the other. 

Historical causation dissolved amid the accidents of temperament and 
personality. Nevertheless, he was far more critical of facts and anec- 
dotes than most earlier biographers. The Washington who emerged 
was often believablea meticulous businessman, an able supervisor 
of a large tobacco plantation, and a wise, though not brilliant, general. 

The great controversy of Sparks's life involved the issue of honest 
editorial standards. It centered on a lengthy public exchange of ar- 
ticles and letters with the British historian, Lord Mahon, over "tam- 
pering with the truth of history," as the latter put it, in editing Wash- 
ington's letters. Sparks had undertaken the Gargantuan task of editing 
Washington's manuscripts after persuading Justice Bushrod Washing- 
ton, the owner, to move them from Mount Vernon to the convenience 
of Cambridge. The latter shipped off about seventy volumes of manu- 
script, two-thirds of them dealing with the Revolution, together with 
some 20,000 original letters and a large quantity of miscellaneous 
papers. This ambitious historical enterprise put all subsequent colonial 
and revolutionary chroniclers in his debt. Very appropriately, he chose 
to work in Craigie House, where Washington himself had temporarily 
resided during the Revolution. 

In December 1851 Lord Mahon castigated Sparks for his lax edi- 
torial standards in an appendix to his sixth volume of The History of 
England. Mahon compared certain Washington letters that had been 
reproduced in a biography of the revolutionary hero, Joseph Reed, 
with the same letters in Sparks's edition. He found that the historian 
had bowdlerized Washington, replacing slang and inelegant words 
by stilted speech. Thus he replaced "fleabite," used as a reference to 
a small sum, by "totally inadequate to our demands" and struck out 
"two of a kidney." Washington's grammar, spelling, and style were 
made to conform with Harvard usage. Worse yet, said Mahon, he had 
omitted sentences that put the hero in a less imposing position or 
that reflected upon New England. Wherever omissions were made, 
there was nothing to inform the reader of this fact. 

Jared Sparks 49 

These editorial failings have often been cited by historians, but 
too often they have not weighed these misdeeds by the loose edi- 
torial standards of that age. Sparks met every charge in detailed ex- 
planations printed by the New York Evening Post. "The alterations/' 
he said, "are strictly verbal or grammatical; nor am I conscious that, 
in this process, an historical fact, the expression of an opinion, or the 
meaning of a sentence has on any occasion been prevented or modi- 
fied." Some of the discrepancies between his letters and those printed 
in the biography of Joseph Reed were demonstrated to be due to 
errors in the latter. 

Fundamentally, Sparks based his defense on the common-sense ob- 
servation that he was forced to compress many thousands of letters 
within the relatively brief compass of eleven printed volumes. The 
alleged suppressions of facts were usually items repeated several times 
elsewhere. As for his changes of Washington's sentences, Sparks 
pointed out that he had to rely upon an imperfect letter-book, which 
did not correspond precisely with the actual letters sent out. In later 
years, Washington himself had done his own "stilting" by correcting 
his copies, sometimes revising them so drastically as to change their 
meaning. Sparks continued this process of correcting spelling and 
striking out inelegant phrases. He had to infer from the rough drafts 
exactly what the final letter said. All this is of course unforgivable 
by modern editorial standards, but it was not inferior to the prevailing 
practices of his day. 

Mahon apparently conceded some points, but he was not convinced. 
It seems quite likely that Sparks omitted some of the harsher, critical 
letters that reflected on a deified Washington or threatened to revive 
sectional controversies. His prudishness, which is obvious in his editing 
of Benjamin Franklin's letters by his omission of the sage's unconven- 
tional comments on sex, for example could easily have dictated his 
principles of selection in the case of Washington. Later editors were 
to make amends for Sparks's shortcomings, but his had been the pio- 
neer task. 

Far less defensible, though not altogether novel either, was Sparks's 
peculiar generosity in tearing off pieces of Washington's papers to 
give them away to friends as souvenirs. He offered the extenuating 
circumstance that Judge Bushrod Washington did the same thing. 

After a Boston merchant endowed a history chair at Harvard, Sparks 
became in 1839 the McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History 
and introduced education by lecture, research, and special readings 
rather than by the textbook and recitation method. He selected as his 

50 The American Historian 

first course the American Revolution, a subject that he vainly hoped 
to deal with in a definitive work. In 1849 he was chosen president of 
Harvard, but, after an undistinguished four years of service, he re- 
signed. He lived to see his twelve-volume Washington sell well, even 
in obscure villages of the South and West. More than 600,000 copies 
of his books (about 70) were sold before his death in 1868. Besides 
his mammoth Washington volumes, he prepared a ten-volume col- 
lection of Franklin's papers, including a fairly realistic biographic 
volume, and a twelve-volume Diplomatic Correspondence of the 
American Revolution; most of his numerous biographies proved justly 
ephemeral, however. 3 

Sparks's Washington might be a stolid piece of work, but his service 
in collecting and editing the documents related to his subject paved 
the way for an imaginative and absorbing five-volume life written by 
Washington Irving. The gifted New York litterateur transmuted the 
documents into the best Washington biography up until that time. 
Since Sparks had issued largely official papers, Irving contented him- 
self with these and concluded comfortably, "Washington in fact had 
very little private life, but was eminently a public character." Still he 
kept him in the foreground, not buried in the history of the Revolu- 
tion. Although he hewed away some of the austerity that hemmed in 
the human being, Irving approached his subject with the reverence 
of the cultist, stressing idealistic and ignoring social and economic 
forces. Actually this anecdotal biography betrayed Irving's declining 
mental powers. But his prestige, literary facility, and the renown of 
his subject attracted an entire generation of readers, especially after 
the five volumes had been abridged for school children. 

Washington Irving belonged to the eastern Whig elite of bright 
salon conservatives who shuddered at the mob unleashed by Jack- 
sonian democracy. He was the friend of John Jacob Astor, New York's 
fabulous real-estate and fur magnate, and had even been appointed 
executor of the vast estate. When Irving dealt with the Pacific North- 
west in Astoria, he did not permit his sentimentality for the Indians 
to divert him into showing the actual grievances of the redskins. At 
all times he identified himself with the successful businessman. As a 
consistent Hamiltonian Federalist and Whig, he used his clever satire 
to caricature Jefferson (as Stanley T. Williams has shown) in his A 
History of New York (1809). In it Governor William Kieft is pictured 
as a blundering charlatan affected by puerile ideas of pacifism and 
economy and prone to invent such useless things as weathercocks that 
turned against the wind. 

Jared Sparks 51 

Probably living's best historical work was his Columbus (1828), 
which rested largely on the recent researches of Navarrete and partly 
upon his own studies while a diplomat in Spain; but this, too, like his 
Life of George Washington, was sentimental and idealized, though 
more craftsnianlike. The liberties that he took with the facts and his 
perpetuation o such Columbus legends as the story of the egg made 
specialists wince at the "pure moonshine." Samuel Eliot Morison has 
written, "Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque 
and moving scene took a fictitious account of this nonexistent uni- 
versity council (of Salamanca) published 130 years after the event, 
elaborated on it, and let his imagination go completely." In this way, 
Irving made Columbus's "mere force of natural genius" refute the 
academic pedants who held that the earth was flat. But so great was 
Irving's appeal to his generation that his historical books alone earned 
for him a fortune of $118,000. 4 

In this period there are two indefatigable plagiarists whose books 
on the Revolution are still praised today by discriminating historians. 
They were Dr. David Ramsay of South Carolina and the English-bom 
the Reverend William Gordon of Massachusetts. (Fortunately, they 
had other virtues as historians.) No one has yet discovered how much 
of what these men wrote originated in the Annual Register and kindred 
sources, but Orin Libby and Sidney G. Fisher leave a melancholy im- 
pression of slavish borrowing. Gordon took page after page from the 
Annual Register, including its Whiggish view that the patriots would 
have settled for a compromise short of independence if their com- 
mercial practices and de facto autonomy had been respected. Gordon 
had been a late arrival to the colonies, coming only in 1770, but his 
strong Whig beliefs made it possible for him to take a sympathetic 
view of colonial claims and a corresponding unfriendly view of the 
Tories in power. Contemporaries honored his presumably meticulous 
four-volume work, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establish- 
ment of the Independence of the United States of America. Its sweep- 
ing claims of having consulted innumerable letters, documents, and 
other sources properly awed the readers until the end of the century, 
when Libby exposed Gordon's plagiarism. 

The destruction of Ramsay's historical reputation is still far from 
complete, but the damaging inferences are almost irreparable. A med- 
ical doctor, state legislator, and a delegate to the Continental Con- 

52 The American Historian 

gress, he seemed credible when he, like Gordon, insisted that his re- 
searches had been unique in their extent. "Every letter written to Con- 
gress by General Washington, from the day he took command of the 
American army till he resigned it, was carefully perused, and its con- 
tents noted. The same was done with the letters of other general of- 
ficers, ministers of Congress, and others in public stations." But to 
save space, he explained, he was dispensing with documentation. His 
very popular political and military biography of Washington, which 
offered little that was new, went through several editions; its debt to 
other historians of the Revolution, as well as to the indispensable 
Annual Register, is now painfully clear. The same can be said of his 
two-volume magnum opus, The History of the American Revolution 

Ramsay's judgments, at least, frequently differed from Burke's, and 
his devotion to the tolerant ideals of the Enlightenment added a strong 
personal quality. He showed a realistic appraisal of "the known self- 
ishness of human nature" and made this evaluation of the Puritan 
persecution of minorities: "Human nature is the same in all bodies 
of men, and . . . those who are in, and those who are out of power, 
insensibly exchange opinions with each other in a change of their 
respective situations." He traced colonial self-government back to the 
first settlements, which was only partly true, and pointed out the 
wise early policy of England in refraining from enforcing the mercan- 
tilistic policy. One of the causes for the Revolution he saw in the over- 
extension of the British Empire. "Power, like all things human, has its 
limits, and there is a point beyond which the longest and sharpest 
sword fails of doing execution." 

English jealousy of American "opulence" was another factor, he 
thought (a theme stressed by Parson Weems); and England's chief 
error was in forgetting that the colonies were not originally estab- 
lished for the sake of revenue but on the principles of a commercial 
monopoly. With the objectivity of an American who was making heavy 
use of Burke's Whig arguments, he praised John Adams and the jury 
for understanding that, in the Boston massacre, the British soldiers 
had been goaded beyond endurance. As a good Whig, he blamed the 
English gentry and the aristocratic ruling class for the war. The mo- 
tives of the American Association in boycotting tea were not neces- 
sarily patriotic: "This proceeded as much from the spirit of gain as 
of patriotism/' 

Ramsay's familiarity with medicine and the arts led him to enrich his 
political and military history with a chapter or two of social, cultural, 

Jared Sparks 53 

and economic developments based on first-hand observations. His sec- 
ond volume of the history of the Revolution, devoted to military af- 
fairs, took up also the war-time role of the American Irish and Ger- 
mans, the current spur to business, the battlefield gains for surgery, 
and the flourishing state of literature, music, and education. He dis- 
played keen perception in depicting the revolutionary inspiration of 
excellent satiric verse, learned societies (especially in Pennsylvania), 
and free democratic institutions. 

These volumes had not only to compete with Gordon's work on the 
same subject but ran into such British hostility that his publisher de- 
clined to get into trouble by distributing the books. Too many of the 
chief participants were still alive. From France, Jefferson supported 
the project vigorously: "I should be sorry," he wrote Ramsay., "that 
any circumstances should occasion the disguising those truths which 
it equally seems our honor and the just infamy of our enemies have 
handed down to posterity in their true light" He took the initiative 
of advertising the work as available in Paris, while his protege Freneau 
even wrote a poem on Ramsay's quarrel with England. However, ab- 
solutely nothing, not even controversy, could improve foreign sales. 
Pirated editions in London and Dublin absorbed what overseas de- 
mand existed. The episode reveals how Jefferson's war against Eng- 
land's ruling classes included historiography as well as the effort to 
displace Georgian architecture by French classicism and the attempt 
to keep out the common law. 

Still, Ramsay was actually a confirmed Federalist rather than a Jef- 
fersonian in politics, for, despite many liberal views on slavery and 
the revolutionary tradition, he belonged to the tidewater conserva- 
tives who fought the small farmer in the legislature. While he was a 
state legislator, he opposed paper money and other measures for the 
relief of the debtor class. 

Ramsay's disregard for literary property also injured his renowned 
two-volume History of South Carolina (1809), for the first volume 
was taken in part from Alexander Hewat's history of the state, al- 
though this was written from a Tory viewpoint. Happily, Ramsay's 
second volume so faris conceded to be a much more original work. 5 

Writing for a somewhat less popular audience, the scholarly Feder- 
alist, Timothy Pitkin of Connecticut, combined an anti-Jeffersonian 
career in Congress with a hobby of studying and collecting historical 
manuscripts and state papers. He was one of Connecticut's old guard, 
which kept that state among the last to separate church and state and 
to oust the Presbyterian theocrats. After 1816, the date his chief work, 

54 The American Historian 

A Statistical View of the Commerce of the United States, appeared, 
he gained a reputation as an accurate, if dull, economic historian whose 
statistics were indispensable for scholars, businessmen, and journalists. 
His more ambitious two-volume economic history which covered the 
years 1763 4o 1797 gave the Federalist viewpoint further acceptance 
among the middle class. He drew largely from Chalmers for the facts 
and the interpretations of the colonial years, but there was little anal- 
ysis added, save for occasional expressions of personal opinions. Yet 
he fully recognized the role of our democratic land system and of free 
schools in promoting the American's love of liberty. 

Now and then a Jeffersonian who could afford the necessary leisure 
vied with the Federalists in writing history. Of necessity this resulted 
in quite a different selection of facts and interpretations. Mrs. Mercy 
Otis Warren, one of America's pioneer women of letters, was the sis- 
ter of James Otis, brilliant opponent of the Writs of Assistance, and 
the wife of James Warren, noted Massachusetts patriot. Although her 
father was a well-to-do lawyer, she had actually had little formal 
schooling, but there were ample opportunities for a voracious reader 
like Mercy. Her residence in Thomas Hutchinson's former home ap- 
parently whetted her appetite for a liberty feud against the "Machia- 
vellian" historian; in fact her writings contributed to his discomfiture 
and exile by making notorious his letter calling for "an abridgment of 
English liberties in colonial administration." Most of her prolific satires, 
plays, and verse had wide appeal, but her history tended to be dull. 

Her three-volume History of the Revolution (1805) remained in 
manuscript for seventeen years; eventually it became clear that this 
work too belonged to the progeny of the Annual Register, at least as 
far as some of its chief sources were concerned. It assailed Thomas 
Hutchinson as "dark, intriguing, insinuating, haughty and ambitious, 
while the extreme of avarice marked each feature of his character." 
Her characterization of John Hancock stuck with later historians- 
fickle, fond of applause, and used by those who found his fortune 
useful. Sam Adams, unlike the usual Tory-Federalist portrait of him, 
was praised as quick of understanding, liberal, tranquil, and unruf- 
fled. But she had no use for the hereditary distinction of the Order 
of the Cincinnati and severely arraigned John Adams as too much 
the prejudiced admirer of the British monarchical idea to be recon- 
ciled to republicanism. When Adams vehemently protested, she re- 
minded him of his former harsh comments about the necessity of gov- 
erning the masses. 

Mrs. Warren's liberalism derived from Locke's doctrine of natural 

Jared Sparks 55 

rights. As a pioneer feminist, she argued the mental equality of both 
sexes and the right of women to full educational opportunities. On 
the other hand, she shared the conservatives' aversion to the radical 
agrarian program of paper money inflation. Nor did she permit her 
anti-Federalist liberalism to reconcile her to the religious skepticism 
of Gibbon, Hume, and Paine. 6 

Among a host of state histories, scarcely any eclipsed the craftsman- 
ship of the patriot-historian, the Reverend Jeremy Belknap of New 
Hampshire. Born in 1744 of a well-to-do merchant, educated at Har- 
vard, and valued as a popular pastor for twenty years at Dover, New 
Hampshire, he was intensely involved as a community leader who 
frequently used his pulpit to urge the cause of nationalism. Perhaps 
he learned to love history from Thomas Prince of Old South Church, 
where his family had worshiped. He was a moderate Calvinist, for he 
leaned toward humanitarian doctrines of practical ethics and toler- 
ance rather than to dogmatic theology. A pioneer antislavery leader, 
he worked for the immediate abolition of the slave trade. But like the 
usual eighteenth-century liberal, he was far more interested in eco- 
nomic individualism than in legislative aid for rural debtors. 

These Enlightenment beliefs underlay his three-volume work, The 
History of New Hampshire, begun in 1772 and printed in 1784-92; it 
was based without doubt upon numerous manuscripts, official docu- 
ments, personal correspondence, and interviews. He tried to present 
the characteristics, the passions, interests, and traits of the persons 
discussed and to capture the most striking features of the times. In 
these books, as in later ones, he stressed social and economic history 
rather than political affairs. The sections on New Hampshire topog- 
raphy represented to a large extent his own first-hand explorations 
in the White Mountains and elsewhere. At the same time he also oc- 
cupied himself with a two-volume American Biography. His treatment 
of William Penn, a rather full portrait, showed his enthusiasm for the 
Quaker traits of tolerance, humanitarianism, and even non-conformity. 
So popular were Belknap's histories that William Cullen Bryant paid 
him the compliment of asserting that he was "the first to make Amer- 
ican history attractive." 

Belknap's nationalist fervor grew with independence and the French 
Revolution. In his copious correspondence with Ebenezer Hazard and 
others, he followed Hamilton and the Federalists in calling for a strong 

56 The American Historian 

central government, a high, tariff, industrialization, nationalist indoc- 
trination in the schools, and a copyright to protect American writers. 
The most concrete result of his nationalist propaganda was the organi- 
zation in 1791 of the notable Massachusetts Historical Society, which 
still continues actively to promote historical knowledge by collecting 
sources and issuing publications on American history. One reason for 
this step was the fact that fires had destroyed such invaluable collec- 
tions as Dr. Prince's library in Old South Church. Also, a mob had 
scattered and partly destroyed many of Hutchinson's precious manu- 
scripts. Belknap's scholarly friend, Ebenezer Hazard, the postmaster- 
general, earned the gratitude of historians by diligently collecting 
masses of historical documents relating to New England, published as 
Historical Collections ( 1792-94 ). 7 

Another Federalist historian and nationalist who did much for Amer- 
ica's declaration of cultural independence was Noah Webster. Like 
Jefferson, Belknap, Jedidiah Morse, the historian-geographer, and so 
many of his contemporaries, he decried effete Europe and urged in- 
doctrination in things American. The idea of unspoiled republican 
America illuminating the world spurred him on to most effective propa- 
ganda. This "schoolmaster to America" earned a lasting reputation as 
a maker of dictionaries, grammars, and school readers which empha- 
sized native pronunciations, spelling, and background. Through his 
widely distributed readers, a moralistic history made its way into the 
curriculum of American schools. Instead of honoring the grand British 
themes, schoolboys declaimed "Warren's Oration on the Boston Mas- 
sacre," Washington's speeches, or Freneau's patriotic poems. 

Noah Webster's full-length History of the United States first ap- 
peared in 1787 and expanded with each subsequent edition for many 
years. It stressed the nationalist theme in a narrative which began with 
"The Dispersion at Babel" of our English ancestors; in medieval style, 
it even included some essential information on the biblical origin of 
the world. His textbook questions, heavily laden with the American 
point of view, made certain that the schoolboy knew only the pa- 
triot's version of the Revolution: 

What jealousy did the English Court entertain respecting the American 

When was the first blood shed by the troops in Boston? 

Jared Sparks 57 

When and where did the British first fire on the Americans? How many 
men were killed? 

Webster, like Belknap, Mercy Warren, and so many other contempo- 
rary historians, made no effort to be fair to Daniel Shays's cause; in 
fact, he was even less plausible than they in explaining the farmer's 
rebellion, declaring that "the habits of the people had become lux- 
urious and licentious." Thus he ensured that the new generation es- 
caped some of the "Jacobinical opinions" of the Revolution. Though 
he had broken away from the institutional Christianity of the Puritans, 
he still emphasized the hand of God in the unfolding of human 
events. 8 

Also in the forefront of the Federalist textbook writers was the Yale- 
educated preacher, Jedidiah Morse, "father of American geography.** 
He was a Calvinist conservative who vigorously attacked the infiltra- 
tion of Unitarianism into Harvard and other Congregational strong- 
holds. His geography texts, which monopolized the schools, stressed 
American illustrations and encouraged regional pride in New Eng- 
land's past. He was the chief collaborator in the textbook, A Com- 
pendious History of New England (1804), which combined Calvinist 
morality and nationalism. "Idleness/ 3 he wrote, "even in those of inde- 
pendent fortunes, is universally disreputable." History, he thought, 
was essentially intended to improve morals: 

[History] brings to view the exact fulfillment of scripture prophecies; she 
displays goodness in real life with all its felicities, vice with all its miseries. 
Examples of individuals, great and good, of communities distinguished for 
integrity and success, peacefully persuade to an imitation of their virtues. 

Morse's histories, such as Annals of the American Revolution (1824), 
were usually patriotic compilations. All of his energies seemed con- 
centrated upon the task of preserving Calvinist orthodoxy in New Eng- 
land and uncritical loyalty to the nation. 9 

The exile of Hutchinson, Chalmers, William Smith, and other tal- 
ented loyalist historians during the Revolution left a vacuum for a 
generation that even Jared Sparks and Jeremy Belknap could not fill. 
Out of the new ruling class came only mediocre historians, Weemsian 
sentimentalists, and inept Washington cultists who offered a parochial 
interpretation of the nation's past. The impressive historical tradition 
from Bradford to Hutchinson was shattered. But this postrevolution- 
ary record of futility in historiography was shortly to be redeemed by 
two gifted young men, Richard Hildreth and George Bancroft. 


Richard Hildreth, 
Utilitarian Philosopher 

/\mong the historians who lent distinction to the New England Ren- 
aissance was the shy but versatile Richard Hildreth (1807-65), ex- 
ponent of utilitarianism in his philosophy and in his theory of history. 
Unlike Prescott who sought exotic civilizations, or Bancroft and the 
elder Morse who gaily romanticized the American tradition, Hildreth 
applied to history the hard-headed tests of philosophic utility and 
shaped the result with his spirit of social protest. Then as if pur- 
posely to mystify biographers and historians, he engrafted upon his 
basically democratic outlook a Whig interpretation of history in which 
Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans fared most cruelly. 

The best key to Hildreth's theories lies in his adaptations of the 
novel English utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and his fol- 
lowers. They expected that their ideas would replace the vague ab- 
stractions of metaphysics and morality with a kind of scientific em- 
piricism that could be precisely measured. Their chief principle of 
social action lay in the idea that men seek pleasure (good) and avoid 
pain (evil). Thus they calculated the maximum of these pleasures 
and pains for a specific situation in order to determine "the greatest 
good of the greatest number/' 

The conclusions derived from this "principle of utility" are easily 
recognizable in Hildreth's histories and philosophical discussions: So- 


Richard Hildreth 59 

ciety is ruled by interests and classes. Man by pursuing his "enlight- 
ened self-interest" is thereby serving all society. Utility in economics 
favored the doctrines of free trade, free competition, antimonopoly 
in business and finance, the removal of restraints on labor organiza- 
tions, and low taxes. In the field of penology it called for punishments 
that would seek mainly to deter crime and rehabilitate the criminal. 
Universal secular education and political democracy, not violent up- 
heavals like the French Revolution, should guide the individual. And 
religion must be rationalistic, devoid of superstition. 1 The emphasis 
on action, upon squaring experimental theories with radical practice, 
would justify what later historians called the New Historywhich 
was in large part the use of historical facts and theories to reform 

Another key to Hildreth lies in his biography. Living on a farm in 
rural Massachusetts the Hildreths shared the pioneer tradition of 
many of their neighbors; they, too, could easily trace their ancestry to 
the area's seventeenth-century beginnings. Richard's father, the Rev- 
erend Hosea Hildreth, had emancipated himself from Puritan literal- 
ism by preaching liberal Congregational sermons, then turned to 
school teaching, and eventually becoming a professor of mathematics 
and natural philosophy at Phillips Exeter Academy. He also lectured 
upon American history and even wrote textbooks in geography and 

Richard, born in 1807, was raised in Federalist Connecticut and 
studied under 'his father at the Academy. Later at Harvard, his inter- 
ests were strongly in history; he admired especially Gibbons, Hume, 
and the other leading rationalist historians of the Enlightenment. He 
tried school teaching and even practiced law for a few years, but his 
urge to write decided him upon the career of journalism and he joined 
the staff of the Boston Atlas. Later, in his own paper, the Boston Spy, 
he wrote prolifically in behalf of the Whig cause and even did a cam- 
paign biography for William Henry Harrison in the Log Cabin elec- 
tion of 1840. Like his father, as well as other Whig leaders, he propa- 
gandized for prohibition and against slavery. 

He was no opportunistic Whig, for his lengthy attacks on slavery 
absorbed much of his energies. He pictured the slavocracy of the 
South as conspirators intent upon the annexation of Texas. Frankly 
considering himself as the exponent of a middle-class social outlook, 
he attacked the Democratic party as a coalition of reactionary plant- 
ers and demagogic working-class radicals. "The alliance of a rich and 
ambitious aristocracy with the corrupted and most degraded portion 

60 The American Historian 

of the populace to oppress and trample upon the great middle-class 
is the natural course of things/' he asserted. 

Hildreth is credited with writing the first antislavery novel in the 
United States, The Slave, or Memoirs of Archy Moore (Boston, 1836), 
which may easily have furnished grist to the mill of Mrs. Stowe. But 
the book was premature, for no mass audience was ready for aboli- 
tionism. In 1840 he published another arraignment of slavery in Des- 
potism in America, a title which revealed his intention to draw an un- 
favorable contrast with De Tocqueville's Democracy in America. He 
would solve the problem of slavery by offering compensated emanci- 
pation on the British West Indies model. 

His ideas on finance showed how far he was from orthodox Whig 
doctrine on party essentials. In 1837, he published The History of 
Banks and insisted so uncompromisingly upon the utilitarian idea of 
free competition and anti-monopoly that he left no room for the fun- 
damental Whig party banking program. He could not accept the Clay- 
Webster-Biddle idea of government-sponsored banking monopolies 
and went so far as to defend Jackson's war on the bank and his Specie 
Circular, which had the virtue of checking speculative inflation. 

Bentham's philosophy of utilitarianism gave Hildreth's historical 
theory much of its clarity and consistency. 2 He absorbed this philoso- 
phy through his translation of the writings of French utilitarians, who 
were concerned with the reform of legislative practices. Unfortunately 
for Hildreth's style, he took too literally Bentham's advice to avoid 
literary art. Had not the great one declared flatly: "The partisan of 
the principle of utility is in a position by no means so favourable to 
eloquence. His means are as different as his object. He can neither 
dogmatize, dazzle, nor astonish. He is obliged to define all his terms, 
and always to employ the same word in the same sense." Although 
this formula actually permitted ample room for good writing, Hil- 
dreth often interpreted this in a strict sense, and the result was mo- 
notony for pages on end. 

From Bentham, too, Hildreth borrowed readily the reformist slogan 
of the greatest good of the greatest number and the rationalist sep- 
aration of ethics from formal religion and theology. Utility in action, 
not theological axioms, was the pragmatic test of right motives. He 
agreed with Bentham that property was the chief foundation of gov- 
ernment, and he arrived at the distinctly non-Whig conclusion that a 
more equal distribution of property would actually enhance its se- 
curity and the stability of society. Such beliefs and borrowed theories 
explain his unique mixture of Whiggism and what seemed at times to 

Richard Hildreth 61 

be outright Jeffersonian agrarianism, anticlericalism, and middle-class 
radicalism. But he felt confident that his brand of radicalism was as 
scientific as the mathematics table, whereas similar ideas to the left 
were mere demagogy. This, it will be recalled, was also an abiding 
belief of Karl Marx. 

The book which put him in the forefront of American historians 
was his History of the United States of America (1849-52), a six- 
volume work for which he did the research mainly in the Boston 
Athenaeum library and used only printed sources. Hildreth's anti-liter- 
ary approach guaranteed that his book would not reach the highly 
dramatic level of Bancroft. The advances made in philology in Ms time 
strongly influenced Hildreth's dedication to the scientific ideal. The 
European philologists and folklorists were teaching a painstaking 
method of internal and external criticism of documents which histor- 
ians soon took up. Comte and the positivists had insisted that science 
required the search for facts which would be used later as the raw 
materials for scientists who were pioneer sociologists. 

Like Thucydides (as well as Bentham), Hildreth made the un- 
adorned style his vehicle of scientific history, but, fortunately for his 
readers, he frequently departed from his ascetic rule and created vivid 
pictures and made emphatic judgments. There was even humor in his 
work, though largely the mild "dead-pan" variety which easily es- 
caped readers. It is not surprising that he made only small inroads into 
Bancroft's public, although, by the end of the century, when scientific 
history was in vogue, readers rediscovered the merits of Hildreth and 
showed dissatisfaction with the "spread-eagle-ism" of his competitor. 
By that time, Hildreth's volumes were winning warm praise from such 
discerning historians as Edward Channing, James Schouler, and G. P. 
Gooch. But during the first seven years, Hildreth's total royalties were 
less than $4500 scarcely comparable to Bancroft's earnings. 

The advertisement of 1849, strangely enough, promised to present 
"living and breathing men'* a phrase which probably meant strict 
realism in contrast to dramatic picturization. The work was intended 
"to trace our institutions, religious, social, and political from their 
embryo state" up to the present. This suggested the author's adherence 
to the doctrine of historical development, if not organic historicism. 
He claimedquite honestly to have used recently published letters 
and memoirs, but renounced any "parade of references" which would 
increase the size and cost of the book. More promises were implied in 
his gibe at the chauvinistic historians of the Bancroft type: 

62 The American Historian 

Of centennial sermons and Fourth of July orations, whether professedly 
such or in the guise of history, there are more than enough. It is due to , 
our fathers and ourselves, it is due to truth and philosophy to present for 
once, on the historic stage, the founders of our American nation unbedaubed 
with patriotic rouge, wrapped up in no finespun cloaks of excuses and 
apology, without stilts, buskins, tinsel, or bedizenment, in their own proper 
persons, often rude, hard, narrow, superstitious, and mistaken, but always 
earnest, downright, manly, and sincere, 

New Englanders squirmed at his treatment of colonial times. "It 
was attempted/' he wrote intolerantly, "to make the colony, as it were, 
a convent of Puritan devotees except in the allowance of marriage 
and money-making." Furthermore, he said, the Catholics had far 
more reason to emigrate from England because of persecution than 
did the Puritans. His vigorous dislike of racialism was reflected in his 
sardonic comment on the Puritans' view of the Indians. Hildreth called 
it the mere rationalizing of bigots to justify the persecution of the 
redmen. He agreed heartily with William Byrd II that the refusal of 
the English to intermarry with the Indians despite the shortage of 
white women tended to widen the gap between the races and insure 
Indian wars. "But the idea of such an intermixture was abhorrent to 
the English, who despised the Indians as savages, and detested them 
as heathen." 

It is not surprising that Hildreth frankly reported, in the 1853 edi- 
tion of his work, "The undress portraits which I have presented of our 
colonial progenitors . . . have given very serious offense, especially 
in New England, region of set formality and hereditary grimace . . ." 
Defiantly, he said that he was "too proud to bask in the sunshine of 
national vanity," striking out apparently at the irritatingly successful 
Bancroft and his imitators. In case anyone missed this reference, the 
next words were clear enough: He felt only contempt for "all kinds 
of cant, especially the so fashionable cant of a spasmodic, wordy rhet- 
oric and a transcendental philosophy." 

His anticlericalisrn, which was strongly supported by the utilitarians, 
was reflected in his criticism of the Puritan theocracy. He spoke of 
"that everyday supernaturalism which formed so prominent a feature 
of the Puritan theology." Like a modern psychologist he probed the 
minds of the Mathers: "The secret consciousness of these doubts of 
their own was perhaps one source of their great impatience at the 
doubts of others." Yet, this time like present-day historians, he had 
only praise for Cotton Mather's courage and enlightenment in support- 
ing smallpox inoculation against popular superstition, the violent 

Richard Hildreth 63 

threats of the mob, and the stubborn resistance of the doctors. When 
he came to the episode of the French Catholics exiled from Acadia by 
the British, he openly avowed his feelings, "Such is religious and na- 
tional antipathy. May we not hope that hatreds so atrocious are fast 
dying out?" He showed similar sympathies for the persecuted when 
he came to the arrival of Jewish refugees to Georgia. 

His rationalist outlook led him to denounce emphatically the sway 
of extreme emotionalism in religion, notably in the way he dealt with 
the Great Awakening. Caustically, he concluded, "As the necessity 
of education to qualify men to be teachers of religion and morals di- 
minished in the popular view, reason and learning, not needed in the 
pulpit, found other avenues to the public mind." He theorized that 
politics became more secularized as the revivalists deserted it for the 
camp meeting. Triumphantly he argued that despite the undeniable 
success of the revivalists, religion had thenceforth declined in political 
and historical importance while religious freedom had gained. Natu- 
rally he showed only condemnation for the Puritan theocracy and their 
union of Church and State, To a good rationalist they represented only 
anachronistic survivals of medievalism. 

Interestingly enough, he found a convenient explanation for dis- 
crediting Jefferson's type of anticlericalism. Jefferson, by opposing 
public aid to religious teaching, had thereby removed the check 
against the fanaticism of the shouting preachers provided by a well- 
educated clergy, strengthened by decent salaries. The result was the 
fanatical camp meeting of the South and the West. Ordinary rationalists, 
who had not been introduced to the utilitarian deviations from their 
faith, must have been surprised to read Hildreth's attack on the free- 
thinkers of the French Revolution: "Free-thinkers denounce prevail- 
ing opinions, and appeal to first principles, and religious enthusiasts 
do the same thing." Like the later pragmatists he rejected a priori 

Along utilitarian lines he relied upon a basic economic interpreta- 
tion of history to explain fundamental movements like the American 
Revolution. Britain's error, he thought, lay in her failure either to 
conciliate the colonists or to attach them by the ties of self-interest, 
since "mere authority" could not control them. The struggle, he felt, 
had taken on the aspect of inevitability since the victory of the com- 
mercial and manufacturing classes in the Glorious Revolution of 1688: 

By strengthening the Parliament, and increasing the influence of the 
manufacturing class, it exposed the American plantations to increased danger 

64 The American Historian 

of mercantile and parliamentary tyranny, of which, in the acts of trade, 
they already had a foretaste a tyranny far more energetic, persevering, 
grasping, and more to be dreaded than any probable exercise of merely regal 

Hildreth's protracted military history o the Revolution was mo- 
notonous and did not have any guiding hypothesis. Nevertheless, his 
objectivity must have been annoying to a generation of Americans 
raised on "spread-eagle" history. Speaking of Bunker Hill, he remarked 
that all of the Americans engaged were not heroes. "The conduct of 
several officers on that day was investigated by court martial, and one, 
at least, was cashiered for cowardice." He was one of the few Amer- 
ican historians to mention patriot atrocities against the Tories, par- 
ticularly the "barbarous and disgraceful practice of tarring and feath- 
ering, and carting Tories." On the other hand, he did not permit the 
British to escape their share of the blame. 

There is a striking similarity between Hildreth's explanation of the 
economic forces making for the Constitution and Charles Beard's 
Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. Beard, of course, shared 
Hildreth's pragmatic temper and distrust of a priori rationalism. For 
both men, concerned with the dominant drive of self-interest in his- 
tory, the paramount theme was the conflict between creditor and 
debtor. Both stressed the pivotal significance of Shays 's Rebellion as 
an indication of populist pressures, together with the role of other 
protest movements elsewhere at the time. Hildreth went as far as to 
say, "The democracy had no representatives" in the Convention. It was 
actually a conservative body which looked upon property "not so much 
as one right, to be secured like the rest, but as the great and chief 
right, of more importance than all others." In language that Beard 
might have used later, he said, "The public creditors, especially, de- 
manded some authority able to make the people pay; and among a 
certain class, even monarchy began to be whispered of as a remedy 
for popular maladministration." Their victory was marked by the con- 
stitutional provision forbidding the states to emit bills of credit, thus 
reviving the anti-paper-money policy of Britain before the Revolution 
but in a more stringent form. 

Beard must have read at some time Hildreth's observation that "it 
was exceedingly doubtful whether, upon a fair canvass, a majority of 
the people, even in the ratifying states, were in favor of the new 
constitution." In later years Beard and O. G. Libby were to document 
this statement. Like Hildreth, Beard, and Libby, modern historians 
tend to agree that the heart of the ratification vote lay in the com- 

Richard Hildreth 65 

mercial towns. Hildreth anticipated Beard's conclusion that the new 
Constitution worked because a solid core of self-interest held the new 
nation together. For Hildreth, with his fear of inflation and unsecured 
paper money, there was no alternative to the new Constitution. Simi- 
larity of interpretations makes it easy to understand why Beard so 
greatly admired Richard Hildreth. 

Such opinions led him to write approvingly of Hamilton's program 
of funding the national debt and assuming the state debts: TBy the 
restoration of confidence in the nation, confidence in the states, and 
confidence in individuals, the funding system actually added to the 
labor, land, and capital of the country a much greater value than the 
amount of the debt thereby charged upon them." Thus, as a good utili- 
tarian, he calculated that the Hamfltonian system served the greatest 
good of the greatest number. Still, Hildreth was honestly disturbed by 
the crass bias underlying Hamilton's reforms; he conceded the justice of 
Madison's idea of keeping the speculator's gains down to the low market 
value of the government securities prevailing before the fiscal reform. 
He felt that Hamilton went too far in his desire "to attach the most 
wealthy and influential part of the community to (the Constitution) 
by the ties of personal and pecuniary advantage." While the Secretary 
was motivated by "an exalted sense of personal honor and patriotic 
duty," he tended "like many other men of the world, to ascribe to 
motives of pecuniary and personal interest a somewhat greater in- 
fluence over the course of events than they actually possess." Having 
but little confidence either in the virtue or the judgment of the mass 
of mankind, he thought the administration of affairs most safe in the 
hands of the select few. But Hildreth as a utilitarian was not too far 
from the assumptions of Hamilton regarding the basic role of class 
and self-interest in history. Moreover, Hildreth's genuine reformist 
fervor on such issues as slavery kept him out of the camp of those who 
left human affairs to automatic self-correcting devices. 

Hildreth was least plausible when he dealt with Jefferson. The Sage 
of Monticello appeared to him to be a bookish man, a rashly specu- 
lative bigot in politics, and a narrow politician who was always jealous 
of Hamilton. Even Jefferson's methodical habit of keeping a journal 
was taken by Hildreth as evidence of a desire to spy upon and censure 
his colleagues. He sneered at Jefferson's "affectation of indifference to 
office" and "ultra-Republican prudery." 

On the impact of the French Revolution upon American affairs, he 
managed to combine the strong opposition that Benthamites felt for 
social changes by violence with a contempt for the alleged incom- 

66 The American Historian 

petence o the Jeffersonians, particularly for their toleration of the 
abuses practiced by the French revolutionaries. His evaluation of the 
French Revolution is characteristic: "The idea of a short cut to liberty 
and equality by killing off kings and aristocrats was quite too fas- 
cinating to be easily abandoned." As for Jacobinism, this he summed 
up as a new "horrible despotism, not to be paralleled except by the 
worst passages in the history of the worst times." It seemed to him 
justifiable, therefore, for the Federalists to look to England as cham- 
pion of law, order, religion and property, against what seemed the 
"demoniac fury" of the French Revolutionists. 

As a good civil rights man, he condemned the Alien and Sedition 
Acts, but he hastened to lighten the onus against Adams and the fram- 
ers of these laws by saying, "It is sufficient to suggest here that the 
act was a temporary one, passed at a moment of threatened war, and 
while the government was assailed in print with a malice and ferocity 
scarcely paralleled before or since." 

Critical historians have found Hildreth's explanation of parties to 
be downright partisan. He pictured the Federalists under Washington 
and Hamilton as representing "the experience, the prudence, the prac- 
tical wisdom, the discipline, the conservative reason and instincts of 
the country." This left Jefferson's party with a monopoly of quixotic 
ideas and undisciplined individualism; it was the crude beneficiary 
of numerical majorities in the uncivilized West and the despotic slave- 
holders' South. He explained away the presence of the Southern tide- 
water aristocrats within the Federalist party as due to a combination 
of talent, English culture, and wealth. 

Jefferson's commercial policies were also misinterpreted by Hildreth, 
who took literally some of the oft-quoted strictures on trade that ap- 
pear in the Virginian's letters. The president, he thought, desired to 
destroy commerce and navigation, as befitted one who reflected the 
popular envy of the profits of merchants. On this matter of commerce, 
the Embargo, and the responsibility of the Jeffersonians in bringing 
about the War of 1812, Hildreth was a completely partisan New Eng- 
lander. He held that the United States was heavily indebted to British 
trade and that the Embargo meant war. The War party of 1812, he 
thought, consisted of anti-British elements raised on the hatreds of 
the Revolution, Irish and French refugee editors and printers, Re- 
publican manufacturers in infant industries anxious to exclude British 
products, those affected by the current war spirit in Europe, and finally, 
the ambitious Clay and Calhoun, who wished to destroy the Federalists 
and to dominate the Madison administration. 

Richard Hildreth 67 

Hildreth's sixtli and last volume appeared in 1851 and ended the 
narrative with 1821, the last year of Monroe's presidency and the 
completion of the Missouri Compromise struggle. The termination 
date, he said, marked a new era in American history, resulting from 
the new states carved from the Louisiana territory. The old party his- 
tory was now fundamentally changed by the injection of the slavery 
issue. The old quarrels over the Embargo and the War of 1812 had 
been replaced by the bank controversy, the internal improvements 
issue, and the tariff question. With the Missouri issue, he concluded, 
"the slave interest, hitherto hardly recognized as a distinct element in 
the American social system, had started up portentous and dilated 
disavowing the very fundamental principle of modern democracy, 
threatening the dissolution of the Union, unless allowed to dictate 
their own terms." 3 

Reading over some of his critical reviews, he was nettled by those 
who said that his history had "no philosophy" in it, so he proceeded 
to show that he had one. In his next book, The Theory of Politics 
(1854), which he claimed to have composed a dozen years before, he 
used the language of utilitarianism to explain that the nature of gov- 
ernment was based on the "pleasure of superiority" enjoyed by the 
ruling class and the "pain of inferiority" which marked the ruled. 
Natural human equalijy was merely a fiction, anarchic when it was 
applied; men were kept down by fear, admiration of their rulers, and 
the assumed duty of obedience; but fraud and fear could be replaced 
by conviction and consent. 

Like many writers of our day, he gave considerable attention to 
the role of power in politics and history and redefined it to include 
intellectual, psychological, and material ingredients. But he rejected 
all efforts to reduce social science to a simple monistic explanation; 

The circumstance, indeed, that political power is so generally used as a 
means of accumulating wealth, so that wealth and power are almost always 
found in company, has led to the idea of a more intimate relation between 
them than actually exists . . . 

Nor is there any more fruitful source of error, whether in philosophical 
inquiries or in the ordinary affairs of life, than the disposition to refer 
every effect to a single cause; whereas almost all the phenomena of human 
society result from a combination, and often a very complicated combination, 
of causes. 

In typical utilitarian language, he illustrated the meaning of power, 
"He who possesses the means of conferring pleasures, or inflicting pain, 

68 The American Historian 

upon others, possesses a power over them proportioned to the potency 
of those means." 

As a true Benthamite, he put his reliance upon representative gov- 
ernment, social reform, and the progress of knowledge and thought 
"to raise the mass of the people to a more equal participation in the 
goods of life." But he denounced clerical and mystical influences as 
most reprehensible from the utilitarian point of view: "The most dia- 
bolical actions recorded in history have originated in the influence of 
mystical ideas." 

In his chapters devoted to the course of world history, he showed 
a clear understanding of social development and surprised those who 
assumed that he was merely an erratic Whig. Modern history, he 
thought, was already revealing brief glimpses of the rise of a new social 
phenomenon, the masses: 

The clergy, the nobles, the kings, the burghers have all had their turn. 
Is there never to be an Age of the People of the working classes? 

Is the suggestion too extravagant, that the new period commencing with 
the middle of this current century is destined to be that age? Certain it 
is, that within the last three quarters of a century, advocates have appeared 
for the mass of the people, the mere workers, and that movements, even dur- 
ing this age of the deification of money, and of reaction against the theory 
of human equality, have been made in their behalf such as were never 
known before. 

Then in language which convinced some readers that he was a 
socialist, he went on to suggest that more power be given to the 
masses; this meant more education, as well as wealth and the right 
to combine. He denied that he favored any redistribution of wealth, 
but only an increase of productivity amid conditions of peace and 
social order. In fact he asked for little more than a comprehensive and 
careful study of social relations. "This socialist question," he asserted, 
"is not to be blinked out of sight. . . . It is a question for philosophers." 
Therefore he ended with a plea for more deliberation and piecemeal 
reform, as any Benthamite might have done. Revolution was distaste- 
ful to the utilitarians. 4 ' 

For all his drawbacks, Hildreth showed much more realism and in- 
tellectual sophistication than most American historians of his day. He 
was among the few to escape the New England chauvinism and Anglo- 
Saxonism of Bancroft, Palfrey, and Parkman, and he could treat con- 
troversial topics like the American Revolution with modern objectivity. 
Unlike middle-class writers who ignored the ordinary man, he showed 
a social consciousness that was novel. A half-century later, his pioneer 

Richard Hildreth 69 

economic interpretations were to impress men like Beard, who thought 
of history in terms of interest groups. He wrote too early to be afflicted 
by the vogue for biological analogies and evolutionism in history, and 
he was too critical to swallow the non-Darwinian "germ theory" of 
Bancroft that history developed from roots cultivated by a guiding 
Providence, Always ahead of his age, he was an ardent abolitionist, 
even before it became respectable in New England. If he did not 
fully appreciate the virtues of history as art, he managed indeed to 
reach the perceptive mind. 

George Bancroft 
and German Idealism 

In the flowering of New England, historians played an important part. 
Their literary romanticism found a warm response from the readers 
of that day. The best-sellers of 1830-70 were the histories or biog- 
raphies by Prescott, Bancroft, Motley, Parkrnan, and Washington Irv- 
ing. Their works not only sold more than 5000 copies shortly after 
publication, but maintained a steady sale over the years. Romantics 
of all ages idealized George Washington and other great men of the 
young republic; or they sought to escape to Prescott's Aztec civiliza- 
tion or to the adventurous West of Parkman. Emerson published his 
lectures on history, great men, and kindred themes, and in his Tran- 
scendentalist variety of romanticism, portrayed history as an idealistic 
form of self-revelation, though he warned against imitating the past. 
Americans might not always understand the Platonist or Hindu mys- 
ticism that the Transcendentalists talked about, but they appreciated 
the idea of self -trust and self-help as indigenous to the American ex- 
perience. Bancroft's heavily Teutonic ideas of history quite missed 
the mark for most readers, but his exciting romantic picture of Amer- 
ican progress and his eulogy of the common man struck a favorite 
theme of his era. Even in the twentieth century, Bancroft's histories 
have frequently appeared on college reading lists for history. 
In Bancroft's time, the rationalist history books of Gibbon and Hume 


George Bancroft and German Idealism 71 

were partly replaced by the basically mystical and intuitive works of 
the romantics. However, the eighteenth-century approach did not lose 
out completely, for the doctrine of progress remained, and the natural 
rights beliefs of the Enlightenment commanded almost a mass alle- 
giance. The Jacksonian cult of the Common Man, as exemplified by 
manhood suffrage, public schools, abolitionism, and trade unions, went 
far beyond the narrow confines of eighteenth-century liberalism. Secu- 
larism was stronger than ever, although the bellicose anticlericalism 
of Voltaire had declined before a wave of millennialism and Utopian- 
ism, which was reflected in a profusion of sects Shakers, Mormons, 
Millerites, and many more. The romantics did not have the prejudices 
against the past that the Enlightenment had, but they found that self- 
discovery was rendered possible by re-examining the distant, the exotic, 
and the unknown. It was also in keeping with the new times that the 
Puritan interpretation of history, as exemplified by Bradford, should 
be levied upon for its idea of a Divine Providence shaping the destiny 
of America as His Elect among all nations. This was the background 
for Bancroft's nationalist bias and the chauvinism of those like him 
who espoused the expansionist doctrine of Manifest Destiny. 

While the eighteenth-century historians had sometimes neglected 
the notion of development in history, since they regarded the present 
as an abrupt break from an irrational past, the nineteenth-century 
romantics stressed the iron law of continuous development often to 
dubious extremes. They were much concerned with tradition, emo- 
tion, the irrational, and the ideal of humanity. American romanticists 
like Bancroft, as well as the next generation of "scientific historians" 
who studied in the Johns Hopkins seminar of Herbert Baxter Adams, 
were dominated by fresh historiographical impulses from Germany. 
Although Americans usually tended to look upon abstract "philosophies 
of history" with suspicion, few historians escaped the sweeping de- 
velopmental hypotheses that came out of the German states, par- 
ticularly from Kant, Fichte, Herder, Hegel, and Ranke. Prussia's rapid 
strides toward unification were spurred on by the nationalist feeling 
during the War of Liberation against Napoleon, by the work of folk- 
lorists such as the Grimm brothers, and finally, as Bismarck himself 
testified, by her historians. The French Revolution, with its ardent 
nationalistic slogans, awakened an interest among European peoples 
in their national origins and encouraged governments to sponsor 
archival collections. In Prussia, the historically minded statesman, 
Stein, who had organized the mighty struggle against Napoleon, 
patronized the publication of newly edited source materials dealing 

72 The American Historian 

with the history of medieval Germany. Out of this vast co-operative 
effort was born the noted Monumenta Germaniae Historica, which 
became an indispensable quarry of data. 1 

Harvard College sent some of its most gifted graduates to acquire 
the new German learning in history, literature, theology, and pedagogy. 
Among the young men were George Ticknor, whose trips to Spain 
stimulated his interest in things Spanish and induced him to write an 
outstanding history of Spanish literature; Edward Everett, another 
of a long line of New Englanders to study at Gottingen, who eventually 
became president of Harvard and a United States Senator from Massa- 
chusetts; Joseph Cogswell, bibliographer and educator; Henry Wads- 
worth Longfellow; and, of course, George Bancroft. 

Few took so readily to the speculative Teutonic ideas as Bancroft, 
a representative of the Boston Brahmin class but unlike them in his 
radical faith in the Common Man. Harvard was fast coming under the 
influence of liberal Christianity as the century began, but Bancroft 
had already imbibed from his father a nearly creedless form of Chris- 
tianity. The Reverend Aaron Bancroft of Worcester, where George 
was born, had seceded from his orthodox Calvinist brethren and or- 
ganized a liberal church; eventually he became a leader among Amer- 
ican Unitarians. He had even written a very popular historical work, 
deeply tinged with the hero-worshiping mood of the day, entitled The 
Life of Washington (1807). His preface frankly stated that the book 
was intended for the "unlettered portion of the community." 

Like many other Harvard graduates, George Bancroft studied in 
Gottingen's famed university, with a library that dwarfed those of 
American institutions and represented the center of educational efforts. 
The young scholar was transported by the current German enthusiasm 
not only for historical studies but also for other social studies and for 
classical and theological subjects: 2 

The darkest portions of history become almost transparent, when reason and 
acuteness are united with German perseverance. It is admirable to see with 
what calmness and patience every author is read, every manuscript col- 
lected, every work perused, which can be useful, be it dull or interesting, the 
work of genius or stupidity, to see how the most trifling coins and medals, 
the ruins of art and even the decay of nature is made to bear upon the in- 
vestigated subject. 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 73 

He also followed the current practice of attending lectures at other 
universities as well. At the University of Berlin, he may have listened 
very attentively to Hegel, the noted philosopher of history, despite his 
reputation for poor lecturing. However, the Hegelian ideas which seem 
to penetrate Bancroft's writings could very well have come from other 
lectures or writings to which Hegel himself was deeply indebted. One 
looks vainly in Bancroft's books for any discussion of Hegel, for the 
references seem mostly to be to the philosophies of history of Kant, 
Fichte, Heeren, and Herder. 

Hegel had once admired the French Revolution and Napoleon, but 
he was shifting now to a type of state worship in which Prussia and 
the State incarnated the spirit of the Absolute moving through history. 
The newly orthodox philosopher of the University of Berlin went far 
beyond Kant in establishing a vogue for a "philosophy of history" 
not merely a reflective attitude toward history (although Hegel ac- 
cepted this definition also), but an integrated intellectual system. 
Bancroft was to quote Kant and his cosmopolitan ideas of erecting 
a "universal history" rather than the nationalistic Hegel Kant hoped 
that such a universal history would show how the human race has 
advanced In rationality and hence increased its freedom; the history 
would unfold the development of the mind and spirit of man. From 
Herder, too, whom Bancroft acknowledged freely, he could have bor- 
rowed the idea of universal history and the theme of history as the 
record of the development of man's freedom, the moral reason of man. 

In the Christian philosophy of history espoused by the followers of 
St. Augustine, divine purpose had been substituted for the classical 
notion of cyclic decline and fall. History was a revealing drama of 
Christ's redemption of man which followed in an inevitable process, 
culminating with the end of the world. Now the German proponents 
of a "philosophy of history" (Voltaire had originated the term), such 
as Herder, Heeren, and Hegel, offered a newer variety of "universal 
history" in which divine purpose would remain, but in a more secular- 
ized form, and be subordinated to "primordial ideas" and an under- 
lying spirit of rationality which affected human events. 

These Germans, whom Bancroft so extravagantly admired and fol- 
lowed, offered a schematic philosophy of history as a guide for man- 
kind; for, as Hegel put it, the study of the mere facts of history might 
prove that vice is superior to virtue, since its triumph occurs so fre- 
quently. By making man a mere instrument of the evolving divine 
Idea, the German idealist historians and philosophers greatly reduced 

74 The American Historian 

the importance of environmental factors as explanations of develop- 
ment. Bancroft's histories, too, showed this tendency. The American 
was also influenced by the notion of evolving "primordial ideas," the 
famous germ theory of historical growth which captured the American 
universities during the second half of the century. 

Hegel's lectures on history, published later many times as The Phi- 
losophy of History, called for a universal history that was not merely 
the record of a single people or region but could reveal the logic and 
the principles of rational historical development, since Hegel believed 
that God ruled the world through reason. The goal of historical change 
was the "moral reign of freedom" attained through "the objective spirit 
of the State." He went on to say, "The history of the world is none 
other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress 
whose development according to the necessity of its nature it is our 
business to investigate." Hegel's celebrated "dialectic" apparently came 
from Fichte, who explained progress and change by the struggle of 
conflicting ideas and their reconciliation into an ever-changing "thesis" 
which in turn disintegrates into new conflicts. Thus the conflict of 
absolutism and democracy, a central theme, was logically and his- 
torically resolved into constitutional monarchy. This kind of thinking, 
without the explicit technical Fichtean-Hegelian apparatus, affected 
Bancroft, Motley, and Parkrnan, among many others. Hegel expressed 
it thus: 

... it may be said of Universal History, that it is die exhibition of Spirit in 
the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially. 
And as the germ bears in itself the whole nature of the tree, and the taste 
and form of its fruits, so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the 
whole of that History. The Orientals have not attained the knowledge that 
Spirit Man as such is free; and because they do not know this, they are 
not free. 

At the University of Gottingen, Bancroft absorbed much from the 
distinguished historian, Arnold Heeren. In fact, while Bancroft was 
running the Round Hill School a few years later, he found time to 
translate Heeren's writings. In the History of the Political System of 
Europe and Its Colonies (1829), Heeren made a number of sugges- 
tions regarding the relation of the New World to the old which Ban- 
croft found usable. The German's emphasis upon the need for a philo- 
sophic "universal history" brought praise from the translator. But, 
while critics praised Heeren's pioneer leadership in the economic in- 
terpretation of history, this left no impression upon the American 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 75 

whatever. Actually Heeren (like Ranke) was a rebel against the ex- 
cesses in Germany of "our speculative historians," who regarded the 
European political system only as a link in a mystic chain of events 
and tried to measure the progress of humanity. Master and disciple 
differed also upon another fundamental: Heeren distrusted the po- 
tential despotism of the masses even more than he did the tyranny 
of monarchs, while Bancroft repeated over and over that the voice 
of the people was the voice of God; and the German rejected the idea 
of inevitable progress. 

Perhaps Bancroft's debt to Herder (1744-1803) was more substan- 
tial, judging from his essays on this German poet and philosopher, 
who had published a monumental four-volume work upon the phi- 
losophy of history during 1784-91; there are also clear-cut similarities 
of ideas. Herder felt that history developed organically. He saw his- 
tory as a process in which an entire folk matured with the inevitability 
of a flower. The notion of an evolving "folk spirit" affecting all facets 
of culture can also be found in Bancroft's work. 

Bancroft's histories reflected many of these romantic tendencies as- 
sociated with the German historians: the germ theory that made 
American institutions the flowering of ancient Teutonic folkways, the 
idealistic course of progress, and the teleological Divine plan of his- 
tory which encompassed much more than the human will. But he was 
too imbued with the Christian interpretation of history even if his 
Deity no longer acted as capriciously as the God of William Bradford 
and Cotton Mather to believe that historical events should be judged 
solely by the morals and circumstances of their time. He was not a 
relativist, as were the late nineteenth-century "historicists," so many 
of whom (wrongly perhaps) hailed Ranke as their master. Unlike 
Ranke, Bancroft liked to make strong moral judgments, for he was 
perhaps constitutionally unable to take Ranke's passive attitude to- 
ward the victories of right or wrong in the pageant of history. The 
American was certain that justice lay with Jacksonian Democracy and 
the Common Man. However, like so many of the romantics, he often 
engulfed the personality of the individual within a blurred nation- 
group whose fate was already determined long ago in the "germ" of 
remote folkways and superior racial characteristics. 3 

After five years abroad, Bancroft came back to Boston in 1823, 
tutored Harvard boys briefly and unenthusiastically in Greek, and 

76 The American Historian 

turned for a short time to the pulpit. His German enthusiasms irri- 
tated students, who groaned beneath his demands for thoroughness, 
and his sermons seemed too pagan even for reconstructed Puritans. 
He joined his talented friend Joseph Cogswell in introducing the new 
German-Swiss pedagogy through their preparatory school, Round 
Hill, a German "gymnasium" at Northampton, Massachusetts. A cen- 
tury before John Dewey, their school had foreign language tables, 
supervised play, individualized instruction, and pleasant varied assign- 
ments, as well as the classics, which were advertised as the school's 
outstanding feature. Unfortunately, this type of school proved too 
expensive and, besides, Bancroft became restless for literary work. 
He translated Heeren, wrote articles on German literature, and in 
1831 severed his connection with Round Hill. He married a girl from 
a rich Whig family, which helped him financially, especially in se- 
curing assistants to transcribe documents. 

Boston's Brahmins felt scandalized to observe Bancroft's upward 
march in radical politics and to read his populistic speeches delivered 
before Democrats and artisans of the Workingmen's party. Soon he 
became Collector of Customs in Boston, and the resulting patronage 
power gave him leadership in the state Democratic party. He told 
Orestes Brownson, "It is now for the yeomanry and the mechanics to 
march at the head of civilization. The day for the multitude has ar- 
rived." He held the radical Jacksonian anti-Bank views and even wrote 
a eulogistic campaign biography for Martin Van Buren. He helped to 
maneuver Polk into the Democratic nomination for President and was 
rewarded with the post of Secretary of the Navy. In office, he fought 
the flogging of sailors, made promotion contingent on merit rather 
than seniority, and successfully sponsored the building of a Naval 
Academy to train and indoctrinate an officer class. Few were more 
fervent than he in demanding the annexation of California in the name 
of Manifest Destiny. As Acting Secretary of War under Polk, he set 
the armed forces in readiness for action the moment war began. One 
of his major tasks was the planning of John Fremont's expedition into 
California, which was to be ready to strike in behalf of the American 
rebels in that Mexican province should war break out. 

After the war, Bancroft became our minister to England, and he 
used that time to gather historical sources as well as to conduct diplo- 
macy. After returning for a time to the writing of history, he emerged 
again in politics as the ghost writer for Andrew Johnson's message to 
Congress, a secret well-kept until revealed much later by William A. 
Dunning. Johnson rewarded him with the post of minister to Prussia, 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 77 

which lie held during 1867-74. There he was able to meet Ranke and 
other great historians, as well as Moltke and Bismarck, the latter ad- 
mired by him as a liberal conservative with a great love of liberty. 4 

Those years in Prussia were the stirring ones of the Franco-Prus- 
sian War and German unification. The patriotic historians came to 
the fore and repudiated Rankean objectivity for the idea that his- 
tory must be interpreted in the light of present needs, which meant 
to the advantage of the German Empire. Johann Droysen, who had 
many American students at his lectures and seminars, had been deeply 
influenced by Hegelian idealism and by the scientific method and 
archival techniques of Ranke, but he led the attempt of Prussian his- 
torians to advance their nation's cause by interpreting the past in a 
favorable historical light. Heinrich von Treitschke, then at Heidelberg 
and Berlin, had also studied with Ranke but repudiated his principles 
of objective history. His colonial imperialism, which mixed Machia- 
vellian ethics, racialism, and a Darwinian struggle for power made 
non-German historians apprehensive. His reward came as Ranke's suc- 
cessor to the post of historiographer of Prussia. Much more restrained 
than Treitschke was Heinrich von Sybel of the University of Bonn, 
a student and onetime colleague of Ranke, but he, too, stressed na- 
tionalist ideas in politics and religion. Bancroft, also, was a nationalist, 
but he never gave up his democratic, cosmopolitan sympathies. 

Over in France, Bancroft's spiritual counterpart, Jules Michelet, had 
been dismissed from his history position at the College of France, 
presumably for offending Louis Bonaparte's regime by his advocacy 
of democratic movements. Like Bancroft, he was an enthusiast for 
the masses, romantic in his assumptions, and gifted with a lyrical 
style. His popular seven-volume history of the French Revolution 
taught the same lesson that Bancroft's history did; that the genius of 
a great historical movement was the common man. 5 His death in 1874 
marked the end of a romantic era, though George Bancroft was to live 
on into another epoch, for he died in 1891. 

For forty years, Bancroft's histories appeared regularly; they came 
to be regarded as national events. In 1834, he issued the first o his 
ten-volume (it was twelve volumes, if one includes his constitutional 
history) History of the United States from the Discovery of the Amer- 
ican Continent (1492-1660). He began with the founding of the colo- 
nies and intended to come up to the mid-nineteenth century at least, 

78 The American Historian 

but he stopped short seven years of the time that the United States 
became a nation. The last volume appeared only in 1874 and together 
with the previous work aggregated no less than 1,700,000 words, 
which made it even longer than that of his prolific competitor, Richard 

With the aid of research assistants, Bancroft examined mountains 
of original materials and copied many of the documents. He perused 
the documents in the British Record Office, manuscripts in the British 
Museum, public collections, and family letters. To the present-day 
historian, however, his sources for the later volumes seem inadequate, 
for he did not make sufficient use of newspapers and magazines. As 
a result, he emphasized political history at the expense of social de- 
velopments. However, in Bancroft's own day, "scientific" historians 
like Freeman and Ranke were making politics the central, if not the 
total content of history. 

In later volumes, he expanded his sources considerably, aided by his 
political contacts with the heads of foreign governments as well as 
those in Washington, by his mounting reputation, which opened the 
doors of the owners of large private collections, and by his private 
means, which allowed him to find the sources he needed (in his day 
there were very few major collections located in easily accessible 
places). While his research energies exceeded those of his predeces- 
sors, his emphatic claims to objectivity could not be taken seriously, 
for there were glaring examples of where he failed to be objective. 
He was not above suppressing unpleasant facts. Something of a snob, 
despite his encomiums to the masses, he was hypercritical of manners 
and dress and even wanted a frontispiece changed in order to remove 
the homely warts on Franklin's face. 

Bancroft's Teutonic myth was dressed up in the attractive optimistic 
guise the mid-century Americans expected. He was willing to give the 
Prussians their due share of credit for the emergence of modern lib- 
erty, providing that it was understood that they came as John the 
Baptist for an even greater personage the American whose destiny 
to enlighten the world seemed above dispute. Among his numerous 
digressions and he was apt to go off for a dozen pages or so on the 
Reformation or even less relevant themes were thirty pages of volume 
ten devoted to German history pure and simple. Here Frederick the 
Great received credit for being the outstanding champion of colonial 
independence because of some very roundabout contribution he made 
to America. Here was a typical compliment to the Teutons: "Of the 
nations of the European world, the chief emigration was from that 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 79 

Germanic race most famed for the love of personal independence." 
He portrayed most sympathetically the mission of the Anglo-Saxon 
people in early Virginia to achieve the final goal of spiritual freedom: 

The Anglo-Saxon mind, in its serenest nationality, neither distorted "by 
fanaticism, nor subdued by superstition, nor wounded by persecution, nor 
excited by new ideas, but fondly cherishing the active instinct for personal 
freedom, secure possession, and legislative power, such as belonged to it 
before the Reformation, and existed independently of the Reformation, had 
made its dwelling place in the empire of Powhatan. 

Bancroft frequently reiterated the idea of an all-determining Divine 
Providence. He began his first volume with these words: 

It is the object of the present work to explain how the change in the con- 
dition of our land has been accomplished; and, as the fortunes of a nation 
are not under the control of blind destiny, to follow the steps by which a 
favoring Providence, calling our institutions into being, has conducted the 
country to its present happiness and glory. 

God whispers to Columbus that the world is one and, at once, Co- 
lumbus's purpose becomes not merely to open new paths to islands 
or to continents "but to bring together the ends of the earth, and join 
all nations in commerce and spiritual life." Thus he projects the un- 
folding of God's mind from its idealistic inception to its modern ma- 

Although he quoted approvingly Kant's views on history, particularly 
the emphasis on the creation of a "universal history," in which certain 
favored nations hold the stage for a time, he could not escape obvious 
ethnocentrism. To him, as to so many Jeffersonians, the United States 
was the agent of Providence in promoting universal freedom: 

The authors of the American Revolution avowed for their object the 
welfare of mankind and believed that they were in the service of their own 
and of all future generations. Their faith was just; for the world of mankind 
does not exist in fragments, nor can a country have an insulated existence. 
All men are brothers; and all are bondsmen for one another. All nations, 
too, are brothers, and each is responsible for that federative humanity which 
puts the ban of exclusion on none. New principles of government could not 
assert themselves in one hemisphere without affecting the other. The very 
idea of the progress of an individual people, in its relation to universal 
history, springs from the acknowledged unity of the race. 

The cosmopolitan fagade for his nationalism drops away somewhat 
in a later discussion of the Revolution, 'These British American colo- 

80 The American Historian 

nies were the best trophy of modern civilization; on them for the next 
forty years rests the chief interest in the history of man." Apparently 
Europe with its Enlightenment could not hope to share in the lime- 
light of eighteenth-century history. His idea is even more emphatically 
stated elsewhere: "America knew that it involved for the world all 
hope of establishing the power of the people." 

It is not surprising, therefore, that Bancroft will take an incident, 
the "germ/* and make it the initial point for developments of world 
consequences. For example, in dealing with the preliminaries of the 
French and Indian War, he made young Washington's skirmish with 
the French the "signal for the first great war of revolution," marking 
the end of the Middle Ages here and in Europe. Unlike other historians 
of the subject, Bancroft argued that Britain was thus dragged into war 
by her colonies in what became a basic conflict between the Reforma- 
tion and medievalism. "The successes of the Seven Years War," he held, 
"were the triumphs of Protestantism." He considered the Protestant 
right of private judgment to be "a principle of all-pervading energy." 

His loyalty to New England involved him in a clash between the 
Calvinist intolerance, which he had perforce to portray, and the 
eighteenth-century virtues of reason and tolerance, to which he was 
strongly committed. He solved the conflict, as Harvard's historians 
have since done, by extolling the high intellectuality of the early 
Massachusetts ruling class. "Calvinism invoked intelligence against 
Satan, the great enemy of the human race; and the fanners and seamen 
of Massachusetts nourished the college with corn and strings of wam- 
pum, and in every village built the free school." Ignoring the role of 
economic interests in the colonizing of New England, he flatly de- 
clared, "Purity of religion and civil liberty were the objects nearest 
the wishes of the emigrant." 

Bancroft's idealistic interpretation of history led him to minimize 
all economic causes and to insist that civil liberty was the goal of man- 
kind's progressive development. For example, although he devoted 
quite a few pages to the workings of Britain's navigation laws, he made 
their effects wholly incidental by explaining the Revolution as pri- 
marily a conflict between tyranny and freedom. Into the warp and 
woof of his narrative went the Hegelian dialectic. The progress of 
truth and freedom emerged from successive struggles between tyranny 
and liberty, with each battle fought on a higher level than the pre- 
vious one. There was, however, no echo of his populistic Fourth of 
July orations or his Jacksonian radicalism in the passages in which 
he justified the creditor class against the debtors in colonial America. 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 81 

Even in 1882, when he issued his two final volumes, Histonj of the 
Formation of the Constitution of the United States of America, he gave 
little attention to economic pressures and dealt almost wholly with 
abstract constitutional doctrines operating in a social vacuum and re- 
sponding to the divinely ordered love of Union. In discussing slavery 
and the slave trade, he said emphatically that they were immoral and 
hostile to the inevitable goal of civil liberty, but he added nothing 

Bancroft's idealistic view of history appears in passages such as this: 

But the eternal flow of existence never rests, bearing the human race on- 
wards through continuous change. Principles grow into life by informing 
the public mind, and in their maturity gain the mastery over events; follow- 
ing each other as they are bidden, and ruling without a pause. No sooner 
do the agitated waves begin to subside, than, amidst the formless tossing 
of the billows, a new messenger from the Infinite Spirit moves over the 
waters. . . . 

Inspired by Kant's conception of universal history, he explained its 
purpose as the recording of the progress of the human mind: 

While the world of mankind is accomplishing its nearer connection, it is 
also advancing in the power of its intelligence. . . . The faculties of each 
individual mind are limited in their development; the reason of the whole 
strives for perfection, has been restlessly forming itself from the first moment 
of human existence, and has never met bounds to its capacity for improve- 

His notion of "reason," it must be pointed out, was the Kantian or 
"transcendental" view of what he called "an internal sense which 
places us in connexion with the world of intelligence and the decrees 
of God." 

Those of Bancroft's generation who were enthusiastically committed 
to the democratic dogma in its Jacksonian sense could appreciate his 
emphatic dictum that the voice of the people was indubitably the voice 
of God. His argument, which made the ultimate victory of truth com- 
fortingly certain, began with the constitution of the human mind and 
the inevitable tendency of reasonable men to agree finally. In an age 
when universal manhood suffrage was an exciting and inspiring demo- 
cratic novelty, Bancroft could find a wholly sympathetic audience for 
such assertions: 

If reason is a universal faculty, the universal decision is the nearest cri- 
terion of truth. The common mind winnows opinions; it is the sieve which 
separates error from certainty. . . . Thus there can be no continuing uni- 

82 The American Historian 

versal judgment but a right one. Men cannot agree in an absurdity; neither 
can they agree on a falsehood. . . . 

To put the case even more emphatically for "the sagacity of the many," 
he went on to say, "The common mind is infinite in its experience; 
individuals are languid and blind; the many are ever wakeful. . . . 
The decrees of the universal conscience are the nearest approach to 
the presence of God in the soul of man." 

It is not surprising therefore that his histories should ring with the 
certainty that the common man was destined to ultimate victory: 

The great result of modern civilization is the diffusion of intelligence 
among the masses, and a consequent increase of their political consideration. 
The result is observable every where. In the field, the fate of battles depends 
on infantry, and no longer on the cavalry. Influence has passed away from 
walled towns and fortresses to the busy scenes of commercial industry, and 
to the abodes of rustic independence; an active press has increased, and is 
steadily increasing, the number of reflecting minds that demand a reason 
for conduct, and exercise themselves in efforts to solve the problem of ex- 
istence and human destiny. . . . Every where the power of the people has 
increased. . . . 

One of his early expressions of this idealistic faith appears in an 
oration of 1835 on "The Office of the People in Art, Government, and 
Religion." He said that "the best government rests on the people and 
not on the few, on persons and not on property, on the free develop- 
ment of public opinion and not on authority. ... A government of 
equal rights must therefore rest upon mind, not wealth, not brute 
force, the sum of the moral intelligence should rule the State." 6 Above 
all, Bancroft usually practiced what he preached. In his eulogistic 
campaign biography of Van Buren, he presented a thoroughly pro- 
Jackson interpretation. He denounced Biddle's United States Bank, 
upheld Jackson's eviction of the civilized Indian tribes from the South- 
east, and praised Van Buren's device of the Independent Treasury. 

Among the few environmental forces in American history that Ban- 
croft was willing to recognize was the influence of the frontier, a fact 
which gives him distinction among the contemporary historians, who 
tended to identify the Eastern seaboard with America. In discussing 
the colonial Virginians he declared that his countrymen were "children 
of the woods, nurtured in the freedom of the wilderness," struggling 
against isolation, unlike the peasants in Europe's compact farm villages. 
"The boundless West became the poor man's City of Refuge, where 
the wilderness guarded his cabin as inviolably as the cliff or the cedar- 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 83 

top holds the eagle's eyrie." Here was a suggestion of Frederick Jack- 
son Turner's idea of the West as a safety valve for labor. He dwelt 
warmly and at length upon the virtues of the pioneers in the Missis- 
sippi Valley. His treatment of the Indians, however, varied from vol- 
ume to volume. Sometimes he was cognizant of their rights; at other 
times, he dismissed them as ignorant savages. 

It was not enough for Bancroft to present history as a mystical con- 
tinuity; he also had to show by means of moral judgments what di- 
rection Providence was taking in history. He dismissed France's right 
to share in the New World by asserting that "a government which 
could devise the massacre of St. Bartholomew was neither worthy nor 
able to found new states." He spoke of Virginia's first colonists as dis- 
solute gallants, broken tradesmen, rakes, and libertines, but he added, 
with the prescience of hindsight and the wisdom derived from his 
philosophy of history, "It was not the will of God that the new state 
should be formed of these materials; that such men should be the 
fathers of a progeny born on the American soil, who were one day to 
assert American liberty by their eloquence, and defend it by their 

Inevitably Bancroft's tendency to put his facts within an idealistic 
formula nullified much of the interpretive worth of his monumental 
histories. Critics like the acute New Englander, Thomas W. Higgin- 
son, found that Bancroft also fictionized history instead of adhering 
to his professed scientific standards. He charged that Bancroft emu- 
lated Jared Sparks in his utter disregard for the sanctity of quotation 
marks in order to enhance dramatic effect. In one notorious instance, 
when Bancroft wished to dramatize the protest of New York's colonists 
against the arbitrary action of a royal commission, he went even fur- 
ther than usual. "Bancroft," said Higginson, "has simply taken phrases 
and sentences here and there from a long document and rearranged, 
combined, and in some cases, actually paraphrased them in his own 
way. Logically and rhetorically, the work is his own. Like Thucydides 
he composed speeches for his heroes, but unlike the Greek historian 
he did not have the privilege of participating in the events described/' 

Bancroft's tireless search for epic values in history, which was in 
keeping with the effort of New England literary historians to stress 
drama and pageantry, did not always jibe with scientific trustworthi- 
ness. His florid style may have been vastly popular in this age of 
Carlyle and romanticism, but it did not properly lend itself to making 
exact distinctions or balanced judgments. His style made much use of 
literary devices which were fashionable then: the balanced sentence, 

84 The American Historian 

the poetic phrase, the use of the present tense to enhance dramatic 
effect, and the crescendo-effect of mounting emphasis. Although these 
stylistic ornaments irritated conservative tastes John Quincy Adams's, 
for instance and are nearly intolerable to modern readers, they un- 
doubtedly contributed to his books' popularity in his own day. The 
reasons for his popularity were best expressed by his famous fellow- 
historian, John Lothrop Motley, who had learned history from Ban- 
croft himself at the Round Hill School: 

The secret of Bancroft's success is that by aid of a vigorous imagination 
and a crisp, nervous style, he has been enabled, by a few sudden strokes, to 
reveal startling and brilliant pictures, over which the dust had collected and 
hardened, as it seemed, forever. It is a work rather of genius than of laborious 

But a great modern master of style, Carl Becker, while willing to con- 
cede Bancroft's sound scholarship, made this apt criticism: "Still, one 
wonders a little why a Harvard man with sufficient independence to 
become a Jacksonian democrat, should not have realized that a "style* 
suitable for telling the story of the Trojan War or the Fall of Lucifer 
is not the best for relating the history of the United States." 

Becker, writing in 1917, could praise Bancroft's research as distinct 
from his style almost as warmly as Prescott and Parkman did. The 
great Arnold Heeren himself had already praised the first volume 
profusely for its meticulous care, extensive sources, and warmth. On 
the other hand, Bancroft was not sure that he liked Ranke's odd com- 
pliment (for a conservative) when they met in Berlin: 

I tell my hearers that your history is the best book ever written from 
the democratic point of view. You are thoroughly consistent; adhere strictly 
to your method, carry it out in many directions but in all with fidelity, 
and are always true to it. 

Privately Bancroft fumed: "I deny the charge; if there is democracy 
in the history it is not subjective, but objective as they say here, and 
so has necessarily its place in history." Actually, the disciples of Ranke 
had introduced a form of scientific history which went far to break 
the grip of the philosophers over history. Ranke had been critical of 
those who so loved generalizations that they forgot that these could 
emerge only from a grouping of concrete facts. 

Fortunately for Bancroft's reputation, he lived long enough to revise 
the style of his first edition and also to shear away many of the super- 
fluous mystical interpretations. His revision of 1883-85 was therefore 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 85 

much closer to modem ideas of objectivity than the original edition. 
However, he denied that he had surrendered "the right of history to pro- 
nounce its opinion/' but he had now taken care "never unduly to fore- 
stall the judgment of the reader, but to leave events as they sweep 
onward to speak their own condemnation." Bancroft had decided to 
recognize the newer historical trends, at least in part. Thus his works 
managed to survive into the new century. A younger historian, James 
Ford Rhodes, leaned heavily on Bancroft for the background to his own 
monumental series. He knew that Bancroft was not the man to in- 
corporate the Annual Register into his work in order to tell the story 
of the American Revolution. There was no humbug about his claim 
to having used extensive original sources. 7 

In recent years high praise has been given Bancroft for his work 
on the Revolution. Professor Edmund S. Morgan declared that Ban- 
croft knew the sources better than any historian has since that day. 
Despite Bancroft's naive idealism, Morgan said in The Birth of the 
Republic, 1763-1789 (1956), the New Englander was the greatest his- 
torian of the revolutionary period. Few historians had dealt so directly 
and successfully with the central question of how the United States 
came into being as a nation dedicated to principles of liberty and 
equality. By the mid-twentieth century when a new idealistic emphasis 
upon principles and ideas in history had begun to replace the old 
economic interpretation of the Great Depression years, the revolu- 
tionary synthesis of Bancroft had regained some of its vitality. 

Bancroft was the first major historian to act as a bridge between 
the creative world of German historiography and American historians. 
This came at a time when the idealistic philosophers and their Hege- 
lian or post-Hegelian formulas dominated German history- writing. Only 
Herbert Baxter Adams and his famous Johns Hopkins seminar of the 
'eighties and 'nineties could vie with Bancroft as a carrier of the germ 
theory which dominated German historical thinking. Overemphasis 
on the unique mission of the Anglo-Saxon peoples was to affect many 
American historians, among them Woodrow Wilson. Bancroft's phi- 
losophy of history stands out favorably when compared with the timid- 
ity and extreme restraint of later historians afraid to make value judg- 
ments on the facts they had assembled. 

Bancroft's social ideas are easily gleaned from his histories. The 
Jacksonianism of his political life has its verbal counterpart in his 

86 The American Historian 

long digressions about the common man. Although his speeches often 
dealt with economic opportunity for all and the primacy of human 
rights over property rights, his politics were usually much more cir- 
cumspect; his historical writings, in keeping with his idealistic phi- 
losophy, refused to consider the role of economic interests as a mo- 
tivating force in the development of civilization. Always, ideas came 
first as a transforming agent in society. His unfriendly treatment of 
the debtor class in describing Shays's Rebellion was no different from 
what one would find among Whig historians. The conflict of classes 
is therefore lost amid the exposition of a hypothetical mass-man driven 
to act because of cumulative knowledge and a transcendental "rea- 
son." Too often, then, the common man is an abstraction rather than 
a person of flesh and blood. 

In that optimistic nineteenth-century atmosphere, he found it easy 
to accept the doctrine of perfectibility and progress. A consistent son 
of a confirmed Unitarian, he showed more than ordinary tolerance to 
unorthodox believers. Quakers enjoyed the most friendly, even en- 
thusiastic, treatment in his pages. His hatred of slavery, though held 
in abeyance during certain of the years in which his volumes ap- 
peared, was genuine indeed. 

While the mid-twentieth century can appreciate his fervent em- 
phasis upon the Kantian goal of individual freedom and cosmopolitan 
values, few will deny his strong ethnocentrism of word and deed. He 
regarded the history of the United States as the decisive part in mod- 
ern times of that "universal history" of all mankind in which events 
flowed continuously in a single process toward human freedom; the 
pattern and direction had been determined by the germinal origins 
of human institutions created by a beneficent Providence. What hap- 
pened in America changed the entire world at least in modern times. 
The Americans were destined to take over the reins of history among 
the favored Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon peoples and so bring freedom 
and morality to the world. Both as politician and as historian he re- 
flected the strong force of Manifest Destiny. As Folk's Secretary of 
the Navy and Acting Secretary of War on the eve of the War with 
Mexico, he felt he was applying his underlying principles when he 
took energetic steps to fulfill America's destiny to absorb California. 

Quite a few American historians educated in Germany felt grateful 
for the guidance of George Bancroft. In 1870 the aging Minister to 
Prussia urged young John W. Burgess, subsequently a noted historian 
and political theorist at Columbia, to come at once to study in the 
German universities. Burgess was the son of a pro-Union Tennessee 

George Bancroft and German Idealism 87 

slaveholder and himself a Union veteran; his philosophic training at 
Amherst College had led him to Hegel and a Teutonized Bancroft 
type of history marked by the progressive unfolding of civilization 
under Anglo-Saxon dominance, Bancroft had planned Burgess's pro- 
gram to include Ranke, Droysen, and Mommsen as his professors. 
From these able mentors Burgess carried away the German seminar 
method and the new scientific history, with its emphasis upon the 
critical handling of first-hand documents and empirical research, al- 
though he was to turn increasingly to political theory. Like Bancroft, 
he too was to send talented young historians to earn their apprentice- 
ship in the German universities, as he had done at Gottingen, Leipzig, 
and Berlin. 8 

Francis Parkman and the Pageant 
of the Wilderness 

Jlrancis Parkman blended the charm of the literary historians with 
an upper-class unawareness of the personality of the common man. 
Like the Whigs of 1840 and 1848 who glamorized conservatism and 
the strenuous life by offering a military hero for the presidency, Park- 
man substituted the excitement of marching men, Jesuit explorers, and 
aristocratic leaders for the bare annals of farmers, hunters, workmen, 
and petty tradesmen. After the Civil War, few Republican presidential 
aspirants lacked the appeal of a military record. From General Grant 
to Major McKinley, economic stand-pattism and the soldierly virtues 
usually went hand in hand. 

Francis Parkman, born in Boston on September 16, 1823, conformed 
to the pattern of the Brahmin historians, for he was the son of a Uni- 
tarian minister, the descendant of English immigrants of Winthrop's 
day, and, on his mother's side, the descendant of the theocrat, John 
Cotton himself. Like so many other Brahmins, he reacted to this heri- 
tage by developing marked anticlericalism. The paternal grandfather, 
Samuel Parkman, had risen from rural poverty to mercantile riches 
and been able to endow a professorship of theology at Harvard, where 
Francis's father was an overseer. Inevitably, the youth went to Harvard 
College, where he concentrated upon rhetoric and history, became 
a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and made an early resolve to be a his- 


Francis Parkman 89 

torian of the Old French War. After all, Harvard's sons such as Pres- 
cott (whose partial blindness paralleled that of Parkman ), Motley, 
Hildreth, Palfrey, Bancroft, and other noted men had also made bril- 
liant careers of history. Francis was greatly influenced by Jared Sparks, 
the first to occupy a chair of history in any American college. Sparks 
had recently finished the first series of his American Biography and 
had expressed a deepening interest in the early French explorations 
of the Great West. 

With "Injuns on his brain," as Parkman later said of himself, he 
embarked upon a thorough preparation for a career in history. Already 
his penchant for the strenuous life had set a mark that even Theodore 
Roosevelt could not eclipse. As a child he spent five years on his grand- 
father's farm. At Harvard he practiced energetically the physical edu- 
cation ideas newly imported from Germany. He became an excellent 
shot and rode a horse skillfully. During the summers he hiked at a 
grueling pace and observed the historic invasion routes of French 
Canada and New England. To understand the European background 
of international diplomacy and institutional Catholicism, he kept a 
journal of his Grand Tour to Europe and closely observed the Church 
in Italy, where he was most impressed by a powerful hierarchy and 
an ignorant laity a situation which later he thought he saw duplicated 
in Canada. 

The pinnacle of his self-development was the trip that he took along 
the Oregon Trail in 1846. Accompanied by his cousin, Quincy Shaw, 
who expected quite a lark, and a skillful French guide, he observed the 
Sioux and Pawnees and kept detailed notes on their customs and be- 
havior. He even met old Pierre Chouteau, founder of St. Louis and 
an acquaintance of Pontiac, the Indian leader of the Conspiracy of 
1763, about whom Parkman decided to write a full account. With a 
fixed belief that all life was a struggle, it is not surprising that he 
eventually made his lifework not merely a study of Indian character, 
as he had intended, but an epic of the titanic struggle between Eng- 
land and France for the mastery of the continent. Even his volume, 
The History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851), is no biography of 
an Indian, but offers, in its early chapters at least, a resume of the 
entire Anglo-French conflict, the core of his other seven historical 
titles. And his efforts to discover objective reality, romanticist though 
he was in certain respects, led him to depart from the pattern of the 
eighteenth-century Noble Savage, even if he did admire extravagantly 
the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. 

The Oregon adventure set him back physically. Parkman's health 

90 The American Historian 

had been failing for some time and while studying law at Harvard 
his eyesight showed alarming symptoms of weakness, which led him 
increasingly to employ a reader. Determined to try a kill-or-cure rem- 
edy, he had embarked upon this trip where the primitive life had 
already laid low many an emigrant. But his eyesight became worse, 
dysentery enervated him, and chronic complications ensued insomnia, 
rheumatism, arthritis, and worst of all, a painful nervous condition 
which took the form of a viselike pressure around his head and also 
produced semi-blindness. As the years went by, he hired more readers 
and assistants to take dictation. He even constructed an ingenious 
writing tablet which was guided by horizontal wires a half -inch apart. 
This made it possible for him to ease his eye strain and to do some 
of his writing while in a darkened room. He never knew the exact 
nature of his ailment, for the mystified specialists predicted insanity, 
impending death, and other frightening prognoses. 

The tragedies which befell him could have terminated the career 
of a man of less iron. In 1850, he married his secretary, Catherine 
Bigelow, the daughter of a prominent physician, but their son died 
in infancy, and she did not survive the second child. He lived with 
the everyday realities of long periods of forced inaction, loneliness, 
and discomfort he, the apostle of struggle and the vigorous life. But 
he made marvelous adjustments, and he was able to call upon a rich 
imagination to re-create long-forgotten scenes of the first wilderness 
in his great historical works. Every effective moment counted, and he 
occasionally was able to take a trip to some historical spot. Even out- 
of-doors, where his vision had to be carefully shielded from the glare 
of the sun, he found an absorbing vocation in horticulture. He pro- 
duced new plant varieties and wrote scientific articles that won him 
praise and honors internationally. The wealth of his family and the 
increasing returns from his publications made it possible for him to 
escape the painful complications that poverty would have brought. 1 

Above all, encouragement came from the immediate popularity of 
his early books. The Oregon Trail (1849) was no history but a pene- 
trating autobiographical sketch of his experiences along that route. 
Its focus was upon Indian life and habits among the Sioux and their 
tribal neighbors and on the rugged white hunters and trappers, but 
there was very little upon the parties of emigrants, whom he looked 
down upon as low, ignorant, and dirty. Eastern readers were cap- 

Francis Parkman 91 

tivated by the keen descriptions of the primitive frontier, the Plains 
Indians, and the thundering herds of buffalo. 

The History of the Conspiracy of Ponfiac was dedicated to Jared 
Sparks and began with a preface in which the author explained that 
he had chosen the subject because it afforded better opportunities 
than any other portion of American history to portray forest life and 
Indian character. He succeeded very well in capturing the atmos- 
phere of the forest primeval, but his view of the Indian was preju- 
diced and reflected the racial errors of the day. Too much was said 
of Indian treachery and savagery in the manner of the embittered 
Puritan historians. To him the Indian owned no other authority than 
his "own capricious will." The Indian seemed to be hewn of rock and 
was unable to learn the arts of civilization, because he was bound by 
ancient usages and a veneration for the sages and chiefs of his tribe. 
Parkman conceded that the Indian was generous, ready to lay down 
his life for a comrade, and true to his own sense of honor. He went 
so far as to extenuate in part the Indian brutalities of the Seven Years' 
War by pointing out the provocations to which they had been sub- 

Parkman developed the central theme that Bancroft and the disci- 
ples of the German historians had emphasized: History reveals the 
progressive advance of civil liberties by peoples, such as the Anglo- 
Saxons, who were prepared to win them. Contemporary Protestants 
looked upon their own history as exemplifying the great modern vic- 
tory of individual freedom over Catholic authoritarianism. This was 
the basic struggle that Parkman saw in the long drawn-out duel for 
empire between Catholic France and Protestant England. Almost 
every volume in the Parkman series repeated the theme of the Pontiac 

Feudalism stood arrayed against Democracy; Popery against Protestant- 
ism; the sword against the ploughshare. The priest, the soldier, and the 
noble, ruled in Canada. The ignorant, light-hearted Canadian peasant knew 
nothing and cared nothing about popular rights and civil liberties. Born to 
obey, he lived in contented submission, without the wish or the capacity 
for self-rule. Power, centered in the heart of the system, left the masses inert. 

He portrayed the French-Canadian as buoyant and gay, happy in 
the midst of poverty, lying side by side with his Indian mistress and 
his hybrid offspring, and forgetting his wife in France. The fur trade 
lent color and ferment to life in the wilderness. Behind this happy-go- 
lucky appearance, however, was an insecure economy due to arbi- 

92 The American Historian 

trary state meddling, a ruinous system of monopoly, and feudal exac- 
tions. The seemingly virile expansion of New France was due to the 
zeal of priests and soldiers who spread missions and forts, but these 
settlements lacked real roots and eventually declined. 

Contrasting with the paternalistic French-Canadian state was Puri- 
tan New England, "where the spirit of non-conformity was sublimed to 
a fiery essence, and where the love of liberty and the hatred of power 
burned with a sevenfold heat." The Englishman called no man master, 
yet bowed reverently to the law which he himself had made. While 
the French Jesuit was often a martyr for the faith and a staunch ally 
of the imperial power, he was superficial in his contact with the In- 
dian, because he was content with a few drops of water sprinkled in 
hasty baptism, while the English Protestant missionary like John Eliot 
sought to wean the Indian "from his barbarism and penetrate his sav- 
age heart with the truths of Christianity/' Here one sees clearly the 
Protestant and Anglo-Saxon bias of Parkman. 

Parkman's activism made him intolerant of the quietism of the Quak- 
ers. In this volume and in later ones, he criticized the Friends for 
failing to lend aid to the harassed Germans and Scotch-Irish along the 
exposed frontier. He argued that the Quaker policy of paying for 
Indian lands was inspired by opportunism and that they had little to 
fear from the disarmed Delawares who had been crushed by the 

When the Indian allies of the French attacked the English colonists 
in the usual "treacherous" onslaught, Parkman made it clear where his 
sympathies lay amid the burning of houses and scalpings and "chil- 
dren snatched from their mothers' arms to be immured in convents and 
trained up in the abominations of Popery." Still he admitted that one 
source of French strength was not merely centralized religious-politi- 
cal power, but greater tolerance of Indian customs. Indian communi- 
ties under French control usually enjoyed protection. Parkman, even 
in revising his later editions, continued to make a virtue of Anglo- 
Saxon racial exclusiveness. He blamed racial intermixture upon "the 
renegade of civilization," the coureur de "bois. 

Parkman dealt with the exploits of outstanding men rather than with 
social forces, although it is true that Pontiac does not even appear 
in one edition before page 165, and then only briefly. In fact the tre- 
mendous story of imperial conflict which occupied the next seven vol- 
umes (some were two-volume works) was summarized here to such 
an extent as to steal nearly all the chief scenes. Yet the most recent 
scholarly criticism of this volume, that of Howard H. Peckham, argues 

Francis Parkman 93 

that Parkman has made too much of Pontiac and that the Indian chief 
was no more than the commander o three villages surrounding Fort 
Detroit and later on only a consulting chief of the Chippewas and 
Potawatomies. Peckham believes that in default of written evidence 
Parkman relied upon unsubstantiated Indian tradition. In doing this 
the New Englander followed a contemporary view of William Smith 
the historian and others that Pontiac was behind the entire series o 
frontier attacks of 1763. 2 

If one recalls that many of Parkman's prejudices are those of his 
time, nationality, and class, the favorable present-day estimate of his 
Pontiac may still be fully justified. Even Peckham has some praise 
for the book as surpassing everything previously written on Pontiac's 
War in wealth of detail and readable style. "It is Parkman's incom- 
plete and not altogether accurate picture of Pontiac that has fasci- 
nated later writers on Indian topics/* Critics of that day showed 
enthusiasm and the book enjoyed popularity from the beginning. Jared 
Sparks, to whom the book was dedicated, was naturally pleased, but 
complained that some moral judgments upon the brutality of the 
Paxton Boys had to be made: 

Although you relate events in the true spirit of calmness and justice, yet 
I am not sure but a word or two of indignation now and then, at such un- 
natural and inhuman developments, would be expected from a historian 
who enters deeply into the merits of his subjects. 

Such was the judgment of the dean of American historians in 1850: 
Parkman was not going far enough in making moral judgments! 

On the other hand, the acute reformer and disciple of Emerson and 
Channing, Theodore Parker, who had been a companion of Parkman 
on his European travels, took advantage of the overwhelmingly favor- 
able press to make a few honestly critical comments. He complained 
that Parkman had unjustly stigmatized the Indians as "treacherous" 
by taking the facts out of context, especially the context of Indian 
custom and the depravities of such white cutthroats as the Paxton 
Boys, whose deeds are mitigated by the author. Some mention should 
have been made of the white practice of intoxicating the Indians, tak- 
ing their women and then deserting them, and finally betraying the 
Indians. Reference to the Quakers was also unjust. He suggested that 
in a future edition Parkman might point out that the various Teutonic 
peoples are exclusivist in race relations while the Celts, Greeks, and 
Italians tend to assimilate with others. (This suggestion was never car- 
ried out.) Furthermore, he complained that the central conspiracy was 

94 The American Historian 

buried beneath extraneous facts and that the narrative suffered from 
poor organization. Finally, he called for a general summary that would 
contain more philosophical reflections. 

John Fiske, the historian and philosopher, who became a great ad- 
mirer of Parkman, praised the realistic portrait of Pontiac. He was 
indeed no Noble Savage. Unlike Prescott's Indians, Pontiac and his 
fellow-Indians appeared almost in the flesh, quite different from the 
pale image of the Aztecs that the historian of Mexico re-created from 
his Spanish sources. After all, Parkman had interviewed an acquaint- 
ance or two of Pontiac himself, and he had observed the tribes across 
the Mississippi who had but recently emigrated from the Eastern 

Parkman's virtues as a historian are monumental even when his seri- 
ous defects are kept in balance. Historians who have gone over the 
ground appreciate his gargantuan appetite for original sources and 
do not question that his Pontiac alone required over 3400 manuscript 
pages of sources taken from European as well as American public 
and private sources; to this was added many contemporary news- 
papers, magazines, and pamphlets. Little wonder that the particular 
subjects that he stressed have been retold with a major reliance upon 
his pioneer work. As the years progressed he was to show a greater 
awareness of the multiple factors which determined the Anglo-French 
imperial rivalry and a keener critical sense in handling social factors. 

In 1856, the historian wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, Vassall 
Morton, which proved a failure in the world of fiction, but revealed 
much to his biographers regarding his social ideas and philosophy. 
Vassall Morton is a wealthy Boston youth whose imprisonment and 
escape suggests the trials of Parkman with his health. The triumph of 
will over fate is emphasized in his philosophy of life as an eternal 
struggle for the spirit of man. "Whatever new disaster meets me, I 
will confront it with some new audacity of hope. I will nail my flag 
to the mast, and there shall it fly till all go down, or till flag, mast, 
and hulk rot together/' Later, he wrote, "Action, action, action! all 
in all! What is life without it?" When the Civil War came, it was not 
the abolitionist cause that struck him particularly, but the fact that 
his hand was left "holding the pen that should have grasped the 
sword." The novel also revealed his dislike of the coonskin democ- 
racy that had taken over the party of gentlemen the Whigs. He dis- 
liked the nouveau riche, too: the ultra-fashionable set at Saratoga, 
the ruthless financial oligarchy, and the parvenu industrialists. Too 
much an admirer of the eighteenth-century New England commercial 

Francis Parkman 95 

aristocracy, lie clung to outmoded chivalric concepts and condemned 
the new trend toward women's rights and utilitarianism. 

The first of Parkman's seven absorbing volumes on the Anglo-French 
conflict appeared in 1865 as Pioneers of France in the New World. It 
began with the story of the Huguenot settlers in Florida and the Span- 
ish attack on the Protestant French; the rest of the work dealt with 
Champlain and New France. Despite the copious and reliable sources, 
Parkman was far from objective in judgment, for he revealed his so- 
cial values throughout. The story of Spanish atrocities against the 
Protestant French in Florida lost nothing in the telling. He struck at 
Catholic Spain for the brutalities of Menendez, the mutilation of the 
Huguenots, and the barbaric despotism of the Spanish empire: 

Gloomy and portentous, she chilled the world with her baneful shadow. 
... A tyranny of monks and inquisitors, with their swarms of spies and in- 
formers, their racks, their dungeons, and their fagots, crushed all freedom 
of thought and speech. . . . Commercial despotism was joined to political 
and religious despotism. 

The theme of free New England and absolutist New France that 
had been initiated in his book on Pontiac was elaborated the former 
was a "vanguard of the Reform/' the latter "an unflinching champion 
of the Roman Catholic reaction." This time he added an evolutionary 
interpretation: "Each followed its natural laws of growth and each 
came to its natural result. Vitalized by the principles of its founda- 
tion, the Puritan commonwealth grew apace." But even in praising 
New England, he slyly poked fun at its acquisitiveness: 

New England was preeminently the land of material progress. Here the 
prize was within every man's reach; patient industry need never doubt its 
reward; nay, in defiance of the four Gospels, assiduity in pursuit of gain was 
promoted to the rank of a duty, and thrift and godliness were linked in 
equivocal wedlock. 

While New England was free politically, she suffered from the tyranny 
of an intolerant public opinion. Besides, said the adventurous -minded 
writer, she was hopelessly prosaic. Despite the expansive energy of 
her people, who attracted the attention of the entire world, she lacked 
the striking forms of character which often gave a dramatic life to 
far less prosperous nations. New England had grown out of the aggre- 
gate efforts of "a busy multitude, each in his narrow circle toiling for 

96 The American Historian 

himself to gather competence or wealth," On the other hand, New 
France grew out of "a gigantic ambition to grasp a continent." 

He so loved antithesis that he took some liberties with history to 
show how completely different New France was from New England: 

Here was a bold attempt to crush under the exactions of a grasping hier- 
archy, to stifle under the curbs and trappings of a feudal monarchy, a people 
compassed by influences of the wildest freedom, whose schools were the 
forest and the sea, whose trade was an armed barter with savages, and whose 
daily life a lesson of lawless independence. 

But this fierce spirit had its vent in war, straggles with savage tribes, 
an untamed forest, heretics, and the British. The "brave, unthinking 
people" developed soldierly virtues and soldierly faults. Their leaders 
displayed the energies and passions of those entrusted with absolute 
power. However, he could not help feeling intensely fascinated by the 
romantic setting of New France: lords and vassals, black-robed priests, 
savage Indian warriors, impenetrable forests, and heroic explorers. 
Yet Parkman resisted the tendency to fictionize, for no one knew the 
objective facts and events of the Anglo-French duel as well as he did. 
In his mind's eye, he re-created a sound picture which did not conflict 
with the documents. To him Champlain is an adventurous leader with 
all of the virtues and the faults of the ruling class, ever a courageous 
explorer, an intrepid warrior, and an indefatigable builder of magic 
Quebec towering over the cliff. Parkman felt convinced, though, that 
Champlain had meddled fatally in the war feuds of the Algonquins 
and the Iroquois and hence was solely responsible for the Iroquois 
feud against France a somewhat oversimplified interpretation of a 
famous fact in history. The primitive forest setting of Champlain's 
adventures allowed Parkman excellent chances to use his own Indian 
and wilderness background to give a realistic setting to the story. 

Two years later he issued The Jesuits in North America in the Sev- 
enteenth Century (1867) and profited greatly from his imaginative use 
of the rich sources, The Jesuit Relations, which contained numerous 
letters and reports written by Jesuit missionaries in the field. Park- 
man's attitude toward Catholicism was ambivalent. No higher compli- 
ment to the bravery and dedication of the Jesuits appears even in 
Catholic histories. Once, during his visit of 1843 to a Benedictine 
church in Messina, he observed: 

This church and others not unlike it have impressed me with new ideas 
of the Catholic religion. Not exactly; for I reverenced it before as the re- 
ligion of generations of brave and great menbut now I honor it for itself. 

Francis Parkman 97 

They are mistaken who sneer at its ceremonies as a mere mechanical farce. 
They have a powerful and salutary effect on the mind. 

Yet, almost at the same time, his journal lapsed into unflattering ref- 
erences to Italian churchmen, particularly to a "fat hog of a priest* 3 
he had seen in Florence. His anticlericalism led him to draw a sharp 
line between Catholic dogma, which he apparently respected, and in- 
stitutional religion. 

He believed that the best side of the Jesuits was in the founding 
of New France; here there was no "end justifies the means Jesuitry. 7 ' 
His story-telling ability went to good purpose when he unfolded the 
many episodes of martyrdom by the Jesuit missionaries. Naturally, the 
Indians had to provide the villainous foil for all this goodness. Of tibe 
Hurons, he said, "In regard to these atrocious scenes, which formed 
the favorite Huron recreation of a summer night . . ." Elsewhere^ 
thinking better of his shabby treatment of the Indians, he threw in a 
few instances of Indian kindness: The principle of honor was not ex- 
tinct in their wild hearts." But ever a moralist, he paused frequently 
to complain of the immodest sex life of the Indian women and of the 
nakedness of their men. 

Parkman was very alert to the role of dramatic accident in history. 
"It was an evil day for new-born Protestantism when a French artil- 
leryman fired the shot that struck down Ignatius Loyola in the breach 
of Pamplona." He referred of course to Loyola's subsequent conversion 
to the religious life and his organization of the militant Society of 

Fundamentally he was hostile to the mission of the Church, "now 
a virgin, now a harlot." He put it strongly several times: 

Holy Mother Church, linked in sordid wedlock to government and thrones, 
numbered among her servants a host of the worldly and the proud, whose 
service of God was but the service of themselves, and many too, who in 
the sophistry of the human heart, thought themselves true soldiers of Heaven, 
while earthly pride, interest, and passion were the lifesprings of their zeal. 

He saw the missionary as the ally of the fur trader: 

The zeal of propagandism and the fur-trade were, as we have seen, the vital 
forces of New France. Of her feeble population, the best part was bound to 
perpetual chastity. While the fur-traders and those in their service rarely 
brought their wives to the wilderness. 

The fur trader, he thought, was opposed to any real settlements in 
the forest because it opposed the interests of the fur business. 

98 The American Historian 

Essentially, the Jesuit missionary was to him a tool in the service of 
the wrong side in the contest between liberty and absolutism. While 
the triumph of liberty was never in doubt, it could have been dearly 
bought because of the Jesuit efforts. "Populations formed in the ideas 
and habits of a feudal monarchy, and controlled by a hierarchy pro- 
foundly hostile to freedom of thought, would have remained a hin- 
drance and a stumbling-block in the way of that majestic experiment 
of which America is the field." The defeat of the missionary was due 
to the Iroquois resistance. Had they been converted or curbed, the 
French and their rich commerce would have blocked the expansion 
of the English colonies. 3 

Two years after the book on the Jesuits was published, Parkman 
issued the equally adventurous La Salle and the Discovery of the 
Great West ( 1869 ) . The numerous French and American sources for 
this work were augmented by Jared Sparks's own collection. Sparks 
had once written a biography of La Salle and his quest for materials 
had gone on since. The book is largely a wilderness narrative with a 
minimum of those large generalizations which reveal Parkman's social 
ideas. The personality of La Salle and the detailed narrative of his ex- 
plorations leave little else upon the historical canvas. The man stands 
out in clear relief, striving against the Jesuits as well as a hostile en- 
vironment to win control of the Mississippi Valley. 

After a somewhat greater interval, he finally brought out the lengthy 
institutional history, The Old Regime in Canada (1874). Although this 
contained plenty of adventurous episodes in the life of Canada's three 
settlements "gasping under the Iroquois tomahawk," he concentrated 
in part upon the paternalistic system of old Canada, focusing atten- 
tion upon the powerful intendant Jean Talon and the transplantation 
of French feudalism. The extreme centralization that beset the French 
empire simplified the historian's task also. "The king and the minister 
demanded to know everything; and officials of high and low degree, 
soldiers and civilians, friends and foes, poured letters and memorials, 
on both sides of eveiy question, into the lap of the government," he 
declared in a preface. In addition there were the voluminous records 
of the Superior Council of Quebec and many more preserved in the 
civil and ecclesiastical depositaries of Canada. Within the American 
state archives, particularly those of Massachusetts and New York, were 
many copied documents; and Parkman read fresh documents from 
France, copying these into his classified note system. 

He described the minute administrative regulations that covered 

Francis Parkman 99 

markets and inns, marriages, family quarrels, Sabbath observance, tibe 
kind of flour to be used in bread, the pay of chimney sweeps, and 
the handling of mad dogs. It must have pleased him to quote a letter 
of the intendant in 1685: "It is of very great consequence that the 
people should not be left at liberty to speak their minds." The priests 
also preached against parties and card games, much to the distress of 
the mighty as well as the simple habitant. Pillories existed for the 
stubborn offenders. Actually, as Parkman might have learned from 
colonial New England statute books, life on the American side was 
not too different, and many of the same restraints on daily life existed 
on both sides of the border. He was eager to establish a flawless pic- 
ture of utter subservience and illiteracy on the French side in contrast 
to free Anglo-Saxon institutions. 

This work gives many clues to Parkman's theories of history. "Not 
institutions alone," he wrote, "but geographical position, climate, and 
many other conditions unite to form the educational influences that, 
acting through successive generations, shape the character of nations 
and communities/' Much more significant was his pioneer effort to 
develop a theory of the influence of the West upon civilization. The 
Canadians became much more than a docile people trained to sub- 
jection and despotism and planted in the wilderness by authority. 
Once the young man left his family to live as a fur trapper and hunter 
in the West, he was transformed into a savage coureur de bois. Church 
and state were not always able to control him. Unfortunately, while 
Parkman frequently made reference to the transforming effects of the 
frontier, he usually stopped with the same observation regarding the 
transformation of the tame habitant into an adventurous individual. 
He drew no inference here as to the possible democratic effects of 
this experience. The frontier theories of Frederick Jackson Turner 
were yet unpublished and the predecessors of Turner were apparently 
unknown to Parkman. 

Like the contemporary American historians who had studied in Ger- 
many, Parkman was fertile in racial explanations of history. He wrote: 

The Germanic race, and especially the Anglo-Saxon branch of it, is peculiarly 
masculine, and, therefore, peculiarly fitted for self-government. It submits 
its action to the guidance of reason, and has the judicial faculty of seeing 
both sides of a question. 

The French, he thought, were excitable, went to extremes, tended to 
embrace abstractions, and to look upon life romantically. They, unlike 
the English, were unfit for freedom, and hence the free institutions 

100 The American Historian 

of New England were inapplicable to New France. Parkman, however, 
made it clear that he was no admirer of the Puritans either: 

Children are taught that the Puritans came to New England in search of re- 
ligious liberty. The liberty that they sought was for themselves alone. . . . 
Their mission was to build up a western Canaan, ruled by the law of God; 
to keep it pure from error, and, if need were, purge it of heresy by perse- 
cution, to which ends they set up one of the most detestable theocracies 
on record. Church and State were joined in one. . . . There was no choice 
but to remain politically a cipher, or embrace, or pretend to embrace, the 
extremest dogmas of Calvin. Never was such a premium offered to cant and 

Still, they were apparently much further along the path of freedom 
than the French Canadians. 

Parkinan's tendency to identify masculinity with the capacity for 
self-government is but the counterpart of his entire philosophy of 
action and virility. It helps explain why he considered women suffrage 
particularly debased. Elsewhere he had written that war was very 
important in civilization and in the development of individual and na- 
tional character. His journal shows him as a Stoic in endurance and 
his early life displays him as a thoroughgoing Spartan. In a newspaper 
article, he asserted: 

In every well-balanced development of nations as of individuals, the war- 
like instinct and the military point of honor are not repressed and extin- 
guished, but only refined and civilized. It belongs to the pedagogue, not to 
the philosopher, to declaim against them as relics of barbarism. 

In back of his mind were undoubtedly Montcalm, La Salle, and Cham- 
plain, refined agents of the chivalric military point of view, though 
representative of a lost cause. 

Parkman's final books rounded out the pattern of the imperial con- 
flict between England and France. Count Frontenac and New France 
under Louis XIV (1877) continues the tragedy of France's collapse in 
the New World as reflected in the politics of the homeland and the 
decisions of a powerful leader. Of the entire series, Montcalm and 
Wolfe (1884) pleased the critics most, partly because it had the dra- 
matic advantage of reaching a great climax in the siege and fall of 
Quebec and the death of two heroic leaders. Parkman was at his best 
when he unfolded the complicated turns of action in an epochal strug- 
gleand here his accuracy was on a far higher plane than were his 
dubious social interpretations. 

Long before one comes to the last volume, A Half Century of Con- 

Francis Parkman 101 

flict (1892), it dawns upon the reader that few of the plain French 
Canadian folk are to be resurrected from the dim pages of the manu- 
scripts. Parkman speaks disparagingly of the Acadian peasants, **Not 
one of their number stands out prominently from among the rest." To 
him history was a private affair of the elite; there was little room for 
supemumeries in a good dramatic tale. As for the humble Acadians, 
he kept the hostile Anglophile interpretation that he had already used 
in Montcalm and Wolfe. Apparently, he was unimpressed by the popu- 
lar sentimental efforts of his fellow-New Englander, Longfellow, to 
depict in Evangeline (1847) personality as well as tragedy in the 
wholesale forced emigration of the Acadians. Parkman chose docu- 
ments that were probably bowdlerized by the English editor, which 
suggested that the Acadians were disloyal. Much later, the historian 
yielded in part at least to evidence to the contrary that had long been 
urged upon him. 4 

From the craftsman's standpoint, A Half Century of Conflict had the 
virtue of placing the American aspect of the Anglo-French wars in its 
proper position within the complex of power politics. The author 
forged a tight chain of historical consequences which began with the 
ambitious schemes of Louis XIV, his exhausting wars, his revocation 
of the Edict of Nantes, the bankruptcy of the middle classes, the 
French Revolution, and the current revolutions of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. Each event precipitated the next. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc 
was the obvious fallacy of this line of thought. History was an organic 

Parkman clarified his Whiggish idea of a democratic elite in history 
when he wrote "The Tale of a Ripe Scholar," published in the Nation 
in 1869. He pointed out that the need for exceptional men in democ- 
racies had nothing in common with the rising plutocrats or the politi- 
cal demagogues. While he praised the evolution of American scholar- 
ship since the futile days of the colonial clerical monopoly over learn- 
ing, he feared that the new popular education actually depreciated 
sound scholarship and leadership. Like Emerson and Carlyle, he urged 
democracy to bring forth its men of thought: 

In a country where the ruling power is public opinion, it is above all 
things necessary that the best and maturest thought should have a fair share 
in forming it. Such thought cannot exist in any force in the community with- 
out propagating its own image, and a class of strong thinkers is the palladium 
of democracy. They are the natural enemies of ignorant, ostentatious, and 
aggressive wealth, and the natural friends of all that is best in the popular 

102 The American Historian 

There was no substitute for brains in the mere aggregate of average 
intelligence. Without a natural elite, our civilization would remain "a 
creature with a small and feeble head, a large muscular and active 
body, and a tail growing at such a rate that it threatens to become 
unmanageable and shake the balance of the vital powers." A similar 
theme is argued in "The Failure of Universal Suffrage/' which ap- 
peared fittingly in the Brahminist North American Review in 1878. 
"The history of the progress of mankind," he asserted, "is the history 
of its leading minds." The masses, left to themselves, were incapable 
of progress; only the beneficent vitality of a few gifted men in history 
could do this. 

Parkman disavowed any intention to weaken existing democratic in- 
stitutions, though he questioned the value of the current panaceas. 
He was no aristocrat, for he shared the American faith in social mo- 
bility and he asked for a free society "where all men have equal op- 
portunities of development according to their several qualities." So 
far universal suffrage had failed to elevate men, but this did not mean 
that oligarchy, autocracy, or aristocracy could do better. He had Car- 
lyle's contempt for a nose-counting democracy of mediocre men, "a 
barren average," and "a weary conformity." In practice, as a citizen, 
Parkman went along with the antislavery movement, joined the Union 
Republicans during the Civil War, and later expressed his contempt 
for Grantism by voting with the reformist, middle-class Mugwumps 
whose appeal for a civil service merit system strongly attracted a 
man who believed in a democratic elite. 

Although Parkman's elitism made a true history of the people im- 
possible, he escaped the naive enthronement of King Mob suggested 
in the later social historians. He was no Bancroft to equate the voice 
of the people as the voice of God. Like the Emersonians, he attacked 
"the ascendancy of material interests" among the people. He loved 
the forest primeval, but he disliked the individualistic frontier spirit 
which made clearing lands and building railroads the sum and sub- 
stance of civilization. This materialistic spirit would "improve" our 
colleges into schools of technology. Already, public schools were in- 
terfering with the free development of the highest intelligence by 
emphasizing the trivial, the sensational, and the ephemeral. They did 
not inculcate a sense of moral and political duty or promote the feel- 
ing that the voter's interests were connected with those of the com- 
munity. Education must cease cramming and develop instead the in- 
dividual's powers of comparison, analysis, and observation. "The other 
remedy," he said, "consists in a powerful reinforcement of the higher 

Francis Parkman 103 

education and the consequent development of a class of persons, 
whether rich or poor, so well instructed and so numerous as to hold 
their ground against charlatanry and propagate sound and healthy 
thought through the community. 5 

Another apostle of the strenuous life, elitism, and the Whig ideal 
of civic duty was Parkman's historical disciple, Theodore Roosevelt. 
On July 13, 1889, the enthusiastic aspiring historian wrote to his hero: 6 

I have always had a special admiration for you as the only one and I 
may very sincerely say, the greatestof our two or three first class his- 
torians who devoted himself to American- history; and made a classic work- 
not merely an excellent hook of references like Bancroft or Hildreth. 

Roosevelt's review of Parkman's works in The Independent expressed 
a current and even lasting judgment: 7 

Mr. Parkman has done a great work which there is no need of any one 
trying to do again. He has shown all the qualities of the historian, capacity 
for wide and deep research, accuracy in details combined with power to 
subordinate the details to the general effect, a keen perception of the essen- 
tial underlying causes and results, and the mastery of a singularly clear, pure 
and strong style. 

Henry Adams praised Montcalm and Wolfe highly: "The book puts 
you in the front rank of living English historians. . . . The book is a 
model of thorough and impartial study and clear statement. 8 The same 
book drew the praise of literary leaders like Henry James and James 
Russell Lowell. The highest tribute was the fact that so many writers 
drew heavily from Parkman's pages for their narratives. Herbert L. 
Osgood, leading colonial historian, referred his readers to Montcalm 
and Wolfe for the entire story as to "what happened among the 
French" during Braddock's defeat and again for the full story of "the 
wild and lawless life of the forest." The Canadian authority, Professor 
George Wrong, said in 1938 of the lasting value of Parkman's writings: 9 

Though he wrote half a century ago, his account of the Jesuit martyrs, of 
Frontenac, of La Salle and other explorers, of British Wolfe and French 
Montcalm in the last struggle for Canada, remains the standard narrative. 

A. L. Burt, author of books on Canadian history, wrote in 1942 that 
"For the period since the British conquest, there is no historian com- 
parable to Parkman." 10 Even Catholic writers, quite deeply offended 
by Parkman's anticlericalism, found much that was good in his his- 
tories. Laval University came close to offering him an honorary de- 
gree; as it turned out, Protestant McGill University gave it to him in- 

104 The American Historian 

stead. So the reputation of Parkman, for all his sins of omission and 
commission, has continued to stand high, and his works have been 
made available in new handsome editions. 

The fact that Parkman has survived while the "literary historians" 
of his day are quite dead suggests that his histories retain elements of 
universal appeal, particularly his reportorial skill, despite a dramatic 
rhetoric almost as obsolete as that of Bancroft and Carlyle. He lacked, 
as C. W. Alvord, the historian of the West, and others have pointed 
out, an awareness of the significance of economics in history, and his 
social science framework is wholly untenable, but his accuracy and in- 
tensity of original research, put at the service of his masterly creative 
imagination, brought the past alive vividly for the reader. He had not 
traversed the battlements of Quebec and the course of Braddock's 
march for nothing; he had lived among the Indians and had tramped 
over many historic French and English imperial paths. In his later 
semi-blindness and invalidism these impressions had clung most tena- 
ciously. For in these reportorial facts, as distinct from social synthesis, 
he had an overwhelming advantage over other historians. Even the 
best of his scientific successors were not as gifted as he in transmuting 
the moldy records into live impressions: marching men, Wolfe ap- 
proaching Quebec, Jesuit martyrs facing Indian tomahawks, and Pon- 
tiac plotting to overthrow the Anglo-American forts. 

The admiration of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) for Parkman 
was no casual compliment, for he dreamed in 1888 of becoming a sec- 
ond Parkman able to capture the adventurous spirit of the West. What 
the New Englander did for the colonial Northeast, the New Yorker 
hoped to do for the Old Southwest and perhaps the lands beyond the 
Mississippi up to the period of the war with Mexico. He, too, loved 
the out-of-doors, the atmosphere of the primitive, the psychology of 
action and heroes; the company of wild animals thrilled him and the 
tales of Indian wars fascinated him. He admired virility, loathed 
weakness, and even as President was concerned that country life might 
lose its ruggedness and attractiveness for Americans. He overcame a 
frail childhood by sheer will power, cultivated the lore of the natural- 
ist, and gave up for several years the comfortable New York City en- 
vironment for a cattle ranch in western Dakota. 

His upper-class family background sent him to Harvard, where he 
earned good grades and became a lifelong friend of Henry Cabot 

Francis Parkman 105 

Lodge, the scholar in politics who taught and wrote in the field of 
American history with a strong jingoist emphasis. Thereafter the young 
man studied law at Columbia but quickly decided to make a career 
out of a combination of politics and history-writing. He rose quickly 
to party leadership not only in New York state politics but on the na- 
tional scene as well. After his wife and his mother died in 1884, lie 
spent three years on his ranch and helped organize a battle against 
cattle rustlers. His apparently inexhaustible energies made it possible 
for him to turn out several biographies, usually in essay style not too 
steeped in adequate sources. For a short time he was even a pub- 
lisher, having acquired a silent partnership in the firm of G. P. Putnam, 
whom he expected to issue the many books he was planning. 

As early as 1882, he completed a workmanlike and readable book, 
The Naval War of 1812 ( 1882), based on excellent sources, and showed 
such technical knowledge as well as dramatic skill in depicting sea 
battles that an English firm specializing on British naval history even 
invited him to write the 1812 section of a projected series on the Brit- 
ish Navy. Reviewers praised Roosevelt's accuracy and objectivity. 
Throughout his life (as was to be true of his kinsman, Franklin D. 
Roosevelt), he believed in the primacy of seapower in history and al- 
most worshiped the noted strategist and apostle of big navies, Alfred 
Thayer Mahan, whose highly influential books on the role of seapower 
appeared during the nineties. 

In 1889, Roosevelt issued the first two volumes of his best-known 
work, The Winning of the West, and he managed to get the final and 
fourth volume out in 1896 while he was busy fighting against the 
menace of Bryanism and "that anarchist" Governor John P. Altgeld. In 
a year or two he became so involved in making history that he had 
little time to write it. Naturally, the dedication was to Parkman, *'to 
whom Americans who feel pride in the pioneer history of their coun- 
try are so greatly indebted." Like Parkman, he was no academic his- 
torian but a self-trained industrious researcher, one of the "literary 
historians." He probably did not exaggerate when he claimed to have 
journeyed through the entire country in order to consult manuscript 
and printed collections. 

Roosevelt was not a social scientist like Frederick Jackson Turner, 
and his plain but highly readable style could not compare with Park- 
man's. However, he had the ability to identify himself with such dra- 
matic situations in frontier history as the conquests of George Rogers 
Clark; as a result, his history is still very much worth the attention of 
present-day high-school and college students. Hamlin Garland enjoyed 

106 The American Historian 

the literary quality and novelty of the material and what he regarded 
as the fair-mindedness and understanding of the author. The Middle 
Western novelist thought that Roosevelt expressed himself too clearly 
and realistically to be called a romantic, and he saw no evidence of 
tall writing. This is probably too generous, for Roosevelt's emphasis on 
dramatic incidents, the atmsophere of action and conflict, and the role 
of heroic personalities among frontier leaders and Indian chiefs put 
him very much in the tradition of Parkman and the other romantic 

Roosevelt shared the Anglo-Saxon Protestant interpretation of Park- 
man and the prevalent theory that Teutonic forest roots were funda- 
mental in the evolution of Anglo-American democracy. The rise of the 
United States was the latest stage in this development, and among the 
great frontier creators of this civilization were Daniel Boone and 
George Rogers Clark. Roosevelt always stressed the importance of 
heroes and personalities in history. "They were doing their share of a 
work that began with the conquest of Britain, that entered on its sec- 
ond and wider period after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, that 
culminated in the marvellous growth of the United States." Bancroft, 
too, had stressed the idea that all world history had providentially 
moved toward the present high point of Anglo-Saxon civilization in 

The author pictured the French habitants very much as Parkman 
did: "Hospitable, but bigoted to their old customs, ignorant, indolent, 
and given to drunkenness, they spoke a corrupt jargon of the French 
tongue." Though he feared that some of the poor-white characteristics 
came from the American frontiersmen, he gave his gratifying approval 
on the whole to the superior American contribution: 

The Spaniards, the Portuguese, and the French, not to speak of the 
Russians in Siberia, have all enjoyed and yet have failed to make good use 
of, the same advantages which we have turned to good account . . . None 
but heroes can succeed in the work. . . . Looked at relatively, it must also 
be said that we have done better than any other nation or race working 
under our conditions. 

The four volumes were well constructed and laid especial stress on 
the story of the West during the Revolution, the development of the 
Northwest Territory, the wars in the Northwest during 1787-90, and 
the rise of new western states. Roosevelt thought that the frontiersmen 
had played a large part in winning the Revolution, especially in the 
mountain campaigns, but he felt no great animus against the British. 

Francis Parkman 107 

Only later did he take them to task for inciting the Indians. The or- 
dinary American histories, often so absurdly unjust to England, are 
right in their treatment of the British actions on the frontier in 
1793-94." Like the staunch moralist that he was, he sifted the villains 
from the heroes and flayed the traitor, James Wilkinson; but he had 
only admiration for the conquests of George Rogers Clark, who seemed 
so neglected by his state and nation. Much as he tried he could not 
altogether conceal a privately expressed dislike of the Indians. He 
admitted that the whites might have been at fault at times in vio- 
lating their agreements, but he felt that the Indians would certainly 
have been even more unjust and brutal, had they only been in a posi- 
tion to strike back. Although he paid little attention to economic mat- 
ters, he went beyond other writers in recognizing the significance of 
land speculation in western history. Naturally he preferred tales of 
combat such as border-fighting, and he told them with dramatic skiU, 
just as he was at home in relating famous sea battles in his earlier 

The Winning of the West was certainly successful in bringing his- 
tory to the layman, and the newspaper and magazine critics recog- 
nized the history's worth. Even Professor Albert Bushnell Hart of 
Harvard, who reckoned himself to be of the scientific history school, 
praised it as a work of careful research, and he wrote a friendly intro- 
duction for the handsome 1924 edition of Roosevelt's writings. The 
work did not seem to show the haste that characterized T.R/s bi- 
ographies. 11 

The man who did most to divert frontier history into scientific chan- 
nels, Frederick Jackson Turner, thought that Roosevelt deserved more 
credit than to be labeled as a mere adventure writer. Turner's com- 
ments were critical and guarded but far from unfavorable, even if 
he believed that Roosevelt was really a romantic who neglected such 
vital themes as government land policies. He wrote appreciatively in 
the Nation after three volumes had appeared: 

Mr. Roosevelt had the historical insight and good fortune to make use 
of a vast amount of original material. These abundant materials lie has used 
with the skill of a practiced historian, writing with appreciation of the fact 
that he is describing a phase in the general movement of civilization. 

Roosevelt did not altogether deny his flare for the romantic, even 
though he once criticized Carlyle for this defect while still adopting 
the pose of hero-worship. In fact, he was rather proud to single out his 
popular book, Hero Tales of American History, which he wrote with 

108 The American Historian 

Henry Cabot Lodge to depict the virile military man and Indian 
fighter. But because of the mounting influence of Turner and his dis- 
ciples, the Parkman-Roosevelt literary tradition of narrative frontier 
history sustained a severe blow. Roosevelt complained to his friends 
that the younger scientific historians demanded such things as that a 
historian must not take sides, or decide what was right or wrong, or 
permit literature to interfere with objectivity. It seemed that drama 
and the pulsations of life had become suspect. 

Parkman and Roosevelt reflect certain tendencies also evident in 
the widely read books of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), whose best- 
known work, The French Revolution., appeared in 1837. These liter- 
ary historians rebelled against the mediocrity, conformity, and imper- 
sonal qualities attributed to the democratic leveling process and found 
an antidote in hero-worship, dramatic deeds of warriors, and a gospel 
of action. The Americans also reflected some of the elitist philosophy 
and aristocratic radicalism so vigorously upheld by Carlyle. Together 
with the noted Scot, they attacked the materialistic tendencies of 
their day and disassociated themselves in varying degree from the al- 
leged coldness of "the cause-and-effect" historians whom Carlyle 

While they flatly rejected Carlyle's dictum that "History is the es- 
sence of innumerable biographies," the Scot himself also greatly quali- 
fied this view in an essay, "On History/' by insisting upon the primacy 
of philosophy in history-writing and the need for a broad concept of 
social history that would recognize creative energies among all classes. 
The three men were stern moralists in appraising the men of the past 
(and the present), and none took the trouble to conceal their social 
prejudices. While Carlyle is too complex, inconsistent, and controver- 
sial a personality to fit within an actual equation, the many similarities 
between him and the American literary historians are indeed signifi- 
cant. The romantic hero-worshiping attitude in varying degrees 
seemed to be a natural reaction to the growing impersonal quality of 
urban, commercial-industrial life, Europeans, too, reacted somewhat in 
the same way as Americans to the dehumanizing threat of science and 


From Fiske to Gipson: The Rise 
of Colonial Institutional History 

hen John Fiske began writing American colonial history in the 
1880s and 1890s, he found that the social interpretation of the period 
had been firmly set by previous historians. The orthodox view, ex- 
pressed in the best-selling histories of Bancroft and Parkman and by 
lesser men, was patriotic, liberal, and Protestant, based on native Puri- 
tan roots. It celebrated the providential emergence of free English 
colonial institutions after a mortal combat with French and Spanish 
feudal paternalism. The American historians, like their contemporary 
British colleagues, took for granted the superiority of the alleged Teu- 
tonic origins of Anglo-American democracy and commonly regarded 
American history as the ultimate stage of universal history. 

The story of the American Revolution was still patterned after 
Edmund Burke's Annual Register, whose Whig point of view con- 
demned George III and his Tory cronies. Burke had not regarded the 
Revolution as a social movement but as a political revolt against un- 
wise Tory policies; his ideas and even language had been plagiarized 
by David Ramsay, John Marshall, William Gordon, and others. A few 
independent-minded historians such as Richard Hildreth had made a 
class analysis of the Revolution and had seen economic pressures be- 
hind the movement for the Constitution; but John Fiske ignored this 


110 The American Historian 

One of Fiske's older contemporaries, John Gorham Palfrey (1796- 
1881 ) of Boston, was then writing popular filio-pietistic books on New 
England; they had the merit of thorough researchindeed, much more 
than Fiske cared to do in his histories. Palfrey, too, came of early sev- 
enteenth-century New England stock. He was graduated from Har- 
vard, succeeded Jared Sparks as editor of the conservative North 
American Review, held a post as a Unitarian minister, and then served 
as Harvard's Dexter Professor of Sacred Literature. During his long 
life, he worked with Horace Mann in advancing public education 
in Massachusetts, was elected as an antislavery Whig to Congress ( and 
even freed a few slaves that he had inherited), and then rather late 
in life turned to a noteworthy career as a historian. His magnum opus 
was a traditionalistic five-volume History of New England, the first 
four volumes of which appeared between 1858-75 and the last post- 
humously in 1890. 1 

The footnotes indicated he had done considerable research both in 
colonial and British records, and his facts tended to be relatively ac- 
curate. However, he put together his research mechanically; the only 
synthesis it reflected was that of a proud son of New England. Fiske 
too was to bear down upon the geographic setting, the aboriginal cus- 
toms, and the Anglo-Saxon virtues, but he avoided Palfrey's tedious 
organization, which treated successive colonial administrations and 
concentrated on local and imperial politics. As a good traditionalist, 
Palfrey saw no flaws in the Puritan theocracy and even sided with the 
entrenched clericals against such foes as Anne Hut chins on. He ad- 
mired the land of his ancestors for its pure English stock, struck an 
optimistic tone in his outlook, and told the story of the coming of 
the Revolution from the patriotic point of view. 

Ever sensitive to middle-class views, Fiske shared the new Brahmin 
mood of hands-across-the-sea that called for conciliation with Eng- 
land, now that the Alabama Claims and the Venezuela Boundary 
Crisis had been settled. Like Bancroft, Parkman, Palfrey, and Roose- 
velt, he felt that the future belonged to the superior English-speaking 
peoples. He shared the British emphasis (also popular among Brah- 
mins) on free trade, civil service reform, and hard or sound money. 

The new hereditary societies like the Sons of the American Revolu- 
tion (1889) and the Daughters of the American Revolution (1890) 
were not particularly exercised over the Red Coats, but many such 
members felt, as Fiske did, that the real danger lay in the immigrant 
tide of Italians, Slavs, and foreign radicals that threatened to engulf 
Boston and outvote the descendants of the Puritans. Fiske voiced these 

From Fiske to Gipson 111 

fears in Ms histories and on the lecture platform, and in 1894 he even 
accepted the honorary presidency of the Immigration Restriction 
League, whose persistent agitation finally led to the Literacy Test law 
of 1917, despite the vetoes of two presidents. He and his fellow-Brah- 
mins admired the pursuit of genealogy, read Dugdale's startling book 
on the Jukes family, which implied the biological inheritance of crim- 
inal and asocial traits, and expressed concern over the alleged inferior 
stock arriving with the New Immigration after 1880 from southern and 
eastern Europe though Fiske seems to have escaped the burgeoning 
anti-Semitism of so many other Brahmins. 

Like the literary historians, Fiske hoped to write history for the 
educated layman without the ponderousness of the German-style mon- 
ographs. However, unlike Parkman, Bancroft, or Roosevelt, he lacked 
funds for archival copyists and became so deeply involved in popular 
lectures as a mode of earning a living that he could not spare the 
time, even if he had the inclination, to peruse large quantities of origi- 
nal sources patiently. Too often his books were mere arrangements of 
lectures that he delivered in Boston, New York, Chicago, New Or- 
leans, and sometimes to collegiate audiences at Washington University 
and Harvard. The rising vogue for women's clubs, headed by well- 
to-do dowagers, affected the style and content of his lectures. Yet his 
books did not sell as well as those of the famed and more substantial 
literary historians. Even his best-known book, The Critical Period of 
American History, took ten years to dispose of 34,000 copies, though it 
had a sustained sale thereafter. This was not too impressive for a man 
who was devoting himself to popularized history. The ovations to Fiske 
the historian did not quite equal the enthusiasm for Fiske the popu- 
lar lecturer, who spoke to his elite audiences fluently and informally, 
scarcely looking at his notes. Yet he tried to please his readers as well 
as his auditors, for he avoided difficult concepts and even toned down 
his adverse opinions on slavery and the Civil War in deference to the 
South and his publishers. 

The early education of John Fiske gave every promise of a great 
career. Born Edmund Fisk Green in 1842 in Hartford, Connecticut, of 
Puritan descent, he was a child prodigy who read Shakespeare and 
the English classics before his ninth year. By the time he was seven- 
teen, he knew the Latin and Greek classics in the original as well as 
considerable literature in Portuguese, French, Italian, German, and 
even some Hebrew and Sanskrit. His reading led him to reject the 
Calvinist orthodoxy of his home and to drop the idea that the Bible 
was of divine authority. 

112 The American Historian 

At Harvard his heterodoxy was fed by Comte's positivism and the 
evolutionary ideas of Spencer and Darwin. Linguistic subjects fas- 
cinated him, law attracted him sufficiently so that he earned a law 
degree, philosophy absorbed him, but history finally became his fa- 
vorite field. Perhaps he might have become a solid academic historian 
had not an outraged Harvard Board of Overseers canceled his appoint- 
ment as history instructor on the ground that he held objectionable 
positivist and presumably atheist views. During the 1870's, he held a 
librarianship at Harvard, wrote a severe critique of Buckle's theory of 
civilization, and attracted attention for his four-volume Outlines of 
Cosmic Philosophy with Criticisms on the "Positive Philosophy. In this 
and in other writings, he espoused the view, then popular, of the pro- 
gressive evolution of society; and in his very popular lectures he ex- 
pressed the spirit of liberal Protestantism as he tried to show the har- 
mony of religion and science. Professor George Louis Beer, the colo- 
nial historian, thought that this championship of Darwinism in the 
'seventies required courage. "What Huxley did for the doctrine of 
evolution in England, Fiske did for America." Besides, he made science 
comprehensible for the layman. 

Philosophy could not support Fiske and his family, however, and 
so, with the example of the successful literary historians in mind, he 
turned to writing history. He scrutinized the praiseworthy and popu- 
lar model of John Richard Green's A Short History of the English 
People, but he made no great effort to follow Green in emphasizing 
social history; instead, he continued down the familiar road of politi- 
cal history. He published no less than eleven books on colonial history 
and still others on the later periods. 2 

One of Fiske's most original histories was The Discovery of America 
(1892), dedicated to Edward A. Freeman, the English "scientific his- 
torian" who regarded history as past politics. As a confirmed social 
evolutionist who believed that human development moved along fixed 
stages, Fiske stressed the evolution of primitive society in aboriginal 
America-it took him 147 pages to furnish an instructive example of 
ethnic evolution operating in isolation from the Old World for more 
than 50,000 years. "'It was the study of prehistoric Europe and of early 
Aryan institutions that led me by a natural sequence to the study of 
aboriginal America." He stressed the comparative point of view: "The 
house-communities of the southern Slavs are full of interest for the 
student of the early phases of social evolution, but the Mandan round- 
house and the Zuni pueblo carry us much deeper into the past." He 

From Fiske to Gipson 113 

hoped that his book would bring an awareness of how archaeology 
could help explain the evolution of early American society. This pre- 
occupation with genesis required over a hundred pages on pre-Colum- 
bian voyages of discovery and over two hundred on the conquest of 
Mexico and Peru. While Fiske claimed to draw heavily from original 
sources, the total product did not seem as novel as this suggests. Like 
Parkman, Bancroft, and Roosevelt, he stressed the superiority of the 
individualistic and buoyant English over the French and the Spanish, 
so the outcome of the race for colonization could be easily foreseen: 
"Wherever, in any of the regions open to colonization, this race [the 
English] has come into competition with other European races, it has 
either vanquished or absorbed them, always proving its superior 

Fiske's two-volume Old Virginia and Her Neighbors (1897) seems 
to have been taken largely from his lectures at Washington University, 
where he had a visiting professorial status. His reliance on secondary 
sources deprived the narrative of freshness, and his political emphasis 
meant the neglect of essential social and economic history. He saw 
the Cavaliers as a dominant superior factor in Virginia's history, thus 
ignoring the fact that relatively few Cavaliers came to that colony. He 
paused to praise genealogy as a tool for the historian: 

By no possible ingenuity of constitution-making or of legislation can a 
society made up of ruffians and boors be raised to the intellectual and moral 
level of a society made up of well-bred merchants and yeomen, parsons 
and lawyers. . . . Without genealogy the study of history is lifeless. 

Thus, the president of the Immigration Restriction League argued that 
those who migrated to Virginia and New England were indeed picked 
men and women. To leaven his political history, he inserted a large 
chapter on "Society in the Old Dominian," a topical review of crime 
and punishment, indentured servants, slaves, planters, antislavery feel- 
ing, the country store, roads, architecture, home furnishings, schools, 
and libraries. The dramatic tale of how Pocahontas saved John Smith 
was accepted in toto by Fiske, despite the doubts of contemporary 
historians such as Henry Adams. (Recent writers tend to credit the 
story, but for better reasons.) As for the Cavalier legend, it had been 
bolstered by proslavery propagandists; it remained for T. J. Werten- 
baker and other younger historians to demolish it completely. 

The two-volume history, The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America 
(1899), is of minor importance. Since Fiske regarded the Dutch as a 

114 The American Historian 

part of the Teutonic world, he hastened to claim kinship between the 
Dutch and the Anglo-American peoples. New France and New Eng- 
land (1902) had little to say that Parkman had not said better. The 
most informative section dealt with the Salem witchcraft craze. De- 
spite his religious liberalism, he praised some of the results of the 
Great Awakening, and spoke of Jonathan Edwards as "one of the won- 
ders of the world, probably the greatest intelligence that the western 
hemisphere has yet seen." Here and elsewhere, he tried to offset the 
theocratic intolerance of the Puritans by emphasizing their ethical and 
intellectual contributions. Like Perry Miller and other present-day 
cultural historians, he singled out their essential emphasis upon reason 
and distrust of fanatical interpretations of the Bible. But his sources 
seemed few indeed. 

The American Revolution (1891) is informal and superficial mili- 
tary history almost devoid of documentation, though studded with 
maps, illustrations of weapons, and caricatures. It showed tolerance for 
the Tories and a good deal of pity for the Loyalist Governor Thomas 
Hutchinson: "None has been more grossly misrepresented by his- 
torians/' He held the Burke view that the Revolution was not social 
but political and devoid of radical doctrines; and of course he placed 
the chief guilt upon George III. Like the institutionalist historians who 
succeeded him, Fiske closed with a hope for lasting understanding be- 
tween the English-speaking peoples. Unlike them, however, he de- 
nounced the mercantilist system that had divided mother country and 
colonies as "barbarous superstitions about trade." After all, he was an 
ardent free trader who liked to inject present-day economic doctrines 
into the past. 

His most influential book was The Critical Period of American His- 
tory, 1783-1789 (1888), which was to remain popular even after World 
War I. It grew out of lectures but had considerable substance, for 
there was convincing material on the breakdown and weakness of the 
newly independent states under the Articles of Confederation. The 
implication was that the Constitution saved the nation and that it was 
a popular reaction to chronic anarchy. The phrase "critical period" 
was inspired by Tom Paine's remark in 1783 that the crisis was over, 
but, said Fiske, "so far from the crisis being over in 1783, the next five 
years were to be the most critical time of all." He stressed such themes 
as the "unparalleled grandeur" of Washington, the long-term influence 
of technology on unification, the germs of national sovereignty within 
the setting up of the Northwest Territory, and the pettiness of the 
states. He even outdid Gladstone's famous praise of the Constitution 

From Fiske to Gipson 115 

as "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the 
brain of man." Fiske called it "this Iliad, or Parthenon, or Fifth Sym- 
phony of statesmanship/' 

Charles Beard, among others, was to disintegrate the "critical era" 
thesis in his An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, for he 
found these postwar years neither critical nor chaotic; furthermore he 
(and O. G. Libby) showed that the Constitution was the product of 
minority pressures. In 1940, in The Articles of Confederation Merrill 
Jensen condemned the Fiske theory as a tradition established by the 
Federalists whose interests were blocked by the Articles. But even by 
the 1950s, there were historical specialists who rejected the Beard and 
Jensen views in favor of an interpretation not far from that of John 

Professional reviewers usually pointed out that Fiske was a popu- 
larizer rather than a researcher, but they liked his ability to reach the 
masses, who were ignored by the academicians. James Schouler wrote 
in 1901 that this popularization should not be minimized; 3 

For an easy and captivating style, for philosophical insight into the rela- 
tion of events and rare skillfulness in bringing a wealth of general learning 
and general historical study to bear upon the . . . topic in hand, I consider 
John Fiske the chief of our native historians, living or dead. Others may 
have excelled him in original research, in continuity of effort prolonged in 
a single direction, . . . but few ever equalled him in the power to gener- 
alize or elucidate from materials already gathered. 

That same year as Fiske's death 1901 George Louis Beer, the noted 
colonial historian, also discovered virtues as well as weaknesses in 
him, in fact he even compared Fiske with Lecky and John Morley. 
Fiske was not a great philosopher or a great historian, but a great 
educative force for the people. Unfortunately, thought Beer, Fiske had 
paid too little attention to social forces and too much to drama; politi- 
cal and military themes were overemphasized. 4 Such a judgment was 
largely reiterated in 1931 when Professor Jennings B. Sanders wrote a 
full-length essay on Fiske. 5 By that time, the New Englander's reputa- 
tion had declined further among professionals, and the layman had 
found other interesting interpreters of colonial America. The ethno- 
centric and class prejudices of Fiske and his generation were no 
longer respectable, at least not in so overt a form. Fiske, it was gen- 
erally agreed, was not a model for scientific historians, but he had ex- 
ercised considerable influence upon the mind of his own generation. 

116 The American Historian 

From John Fiske to Herbert L. Osgood is a long step in colonial his- 
toriography. Each lacked what the other enjoyed in abundance: Fiske 
was unable temperamentally to match Osgood's meticulous historical 
scholarship, but Osgood did not possess even remotely Fiske's talents 
for communication, unless one thinks of him, as his admirers did, as *a 
historian's historian." Fiske also lacked the stabilizing influence of a 
permanent academic post, which made it possible for Osgood to train 
able disciples about him and to escape the money pinching that came 
with irregular public lecture contracts; too often Fiske was forced to 
turn literary hack to meet expenses. Whatever the reasons, Fiske 
dabbled in the original sources while Osgood sought them out at great 
expense and trouble to himself. Osgood, who was often given to writ- 
ing critical reviews, did not spare epithets when reviewing Fiske's 
books. Committed to a systematic institutional point of view which 
looked upon the colonies as an organic part of an evolving British im- 
perial administration, Osgood had little patience with historians like 
Fiske who confined their view to the narrow limits of the colonies and 
to dramatic events alone. He assailed The American Revolution be- 
cause he felt that Fiske did not even try to explain the British colonial 
system up to 1776 and had no understanding of England's aristocratic 
society or the maturing American democracy: 

We learn nothing in this work of the efforts which the home government 
had long made to establish a tolerable administrative system here, or of the 
opposition with which it had met. The objects aimed at by the British 
ministers are not supposed to have been even relatively justifiable. 

He thought that Fiske had even gone beyond Bancroft in his par- 
tisanship and quarreled with the former's justification of the slogan, 
"no taxation without representation," and his insistence that Britain 
should have admitted that the taxing power lay only in the colonial 
legislatures. Actually, he said, these were completely revolutionary 
doctrines which no British government could accept. Osgood rejected 
much of the Burke thesis, and also did not think that George III was 
a war criminal. His own interpretation was what has been called the 
view of the "imperial school*': 

Through a long course of development toward independence a crisis had 
been reached in the relations between the colonies and the mother country 
from which there was no issue except through war, and when the gauntlet 

From Fiske to Gipson 117 

was thrown down by Massachusetts, the King was bound by the most sacred 
obligations to suppress the revolt if possible. 

Herbert Osgood was born in 1855, the son of a hard-working Maine 
farmer in modest circumstances and the descendant of seventeenth- 
century English emigrants. At Amherst College, his instructor John 
W. Burgess persuaded him to follow his example by studying in Ger- 
many. At the University of Berlin, Osgood listened to Adolf Wagner's 
socialistic theories and Schmoller's historical approach to economic in- 
stitutions, and even wrote a dissertationan adverse interpretation 
upon scientific socialism and Proudhon's anarchism. There is little of 
this influence apparent in his lifelong work on colonial history except 
for his central emphasis on institutional studies very popular in the 
Germany of the 1880s. 

Germans of the "Historical School" like Wagner, Schmoller, and 
Sombart had rebelled against the inadequacy of abstract economic 
theory such as laissez-faire and sought to further social reform by 
studying the history of actual social institutions guilds, municipalities, 
mercantilism, capitalism, and imperialism. Schmoller, like Osgood, used 
a political and administrative analysis of economic institutions. There 
was prevalent an "historicist" assumption which in one of its many 
meanings implied that the truth of anything was to be found in its 
history. Usually, these institutionalists leaned heavily upon social evo- 
lution to guide them to the various "stages" of development. (So did 
Osgood. ) The young American scholar was also attracted to and ap- 
parently influenced by the archival science and seminar method which 
German scholars such as Von Sybel and the disciples of Ranke were 
emphasizing. The "scientific historians" learned from philologists how 
to determine the authenticity and meaning of documents. If Osgood 
did not learn these methods directly from the Germans, he could have 
learned them from American scholars who had acquired this approach 
in German universities. 

Columbia University, then developing its graduate program, in- 
vited him to become a faculty colleague of Burgess, Dunning, and 
E. R. A. Seligman. For a time he taught general European history, 
but soon he took charge of an ambitious graduate program in colonial 
studies. Students found that his thorough, original lectures required 
careful note-taking. It must have aroused the patriotic ire of some 
to hear objectivity go so far as a defense of the ministers of George III : 

There was nothing that can be called tyrannical or unconstitutional in 
the plans of Grenville, Townshend or Lord North. Severe measures were not 

US The American Historian 

resorted to till they were provoked by colonial resistance. The most that 
we can say of the policy is that it was blundering and vacillating. 

Liberty and progress were not the issue, but independence, and he 
conceded the legal rightness of the British position. The break arose 
because English traditional policy came into conflict with Puritan 
ideas and frontier conditions in America. 

Osgood prepared for his magnum opus by examining at length the 
British and American local archives neglected by Hildreth, Palfrey, 
Bancroft, and Fiske. Even his inadequate professorial salary did not 
deter him from making first-hand intensive researches into the sources 
in London and those scattered around the United States. Fortunately, 
by this time, the British government (and also the American) aided 
such efforts through manuscript guides and published sources. 6 

The first volume of his major work appeared in 1904 as The Amer- 
ican Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, which ultimately comprised 
three volumes; then came the four volumes of The American Colonies 
in the Eighteenth Century. Osgood's history was quite unlike the usual 
narratives, for it omitted much human-interest material in order to 
focus upon English colonial institutions in America, particularly their 
political and administrative aspects. Although he said that he would 
interpret colonial history in terms of public law, he was well aware 
of the dynamic social origins of political institutions, for he held that 
"political events and forms of government are very largely the product 
of social causes, while institutions are the avenues through which 
social forces act." 

He dwelt upon the forms of colonial government as they grew out 
of English and colonial experience, the relations between the church 
and the civil power, the legal relations between the colonies and the 
mother country, and similar questions. The volumes on the seven- 
teenth century were specially concerned with the dominance of the 
proprietary provinces, while the others dealt with the development 
of the royal provinces presumably to furnish the thread of colonial 
institutional history. By the time he reached the eighteenth century, 
monograph literature was so limited on institutional themes that he 
had to rely largely upon original sources. 

One major Osgood theme in his early volumes was the importance 
of private initiative as against state-directed colonial enterprise: 

The voyages of discovery, the commercial enterprises, the single experi- 
ment in colonization of the reign of Elizabeth, were the results of private 
enterprise. Individuals, associations, and companies furnished the means, 

From Fiske to Gipson 119 

the state giving the requisite authority and verbal encouragement or guid- 


But the bulk of the work centered on the history of colonial admin- 
istrations, beginning with that of Sir Thomas Smith. While Ms work 
was leavened by many acute observations, including the notion that 
the colonies were founded for profit and managed by absentees, Os- 
good avoided value judgments whenever possible. Unlike Adolf Wag- 
ner, Schmoller, or Sombart, he did not think that institutional history 
should be subordinated to the theme of social reform. 

Had Osgood allowed himself a freer hand in dealing with social 
history, the burdensome synthesis might have been more tolerable 
for readers. He appreciated even if he passed over these matters hur- 
riedlythe influence of social factors in frontier life, the isolation of 
the colonists, and the role of Calvinist ideas which he even exag- 
gerated. Massachusetts was a theocracy, although democratic in form, 
and the clergy reincarnated the biblical Jewish theocracy and gath- 
ered strength from the support of the civil power. He made a shrewd 
analysis of heresy as a social factor, particularly in the cases of Roger 
Williams and Anne Hutchinson, and dwelt upon the intellectuality 
of Puritan culture. 

The manuscript volumes on the eighteenth century were almost done 
when Osgood died in 1918 only a chapter on slavery was missing 
but his friends and heirs discovered that the publishers were unwilling 
to take a chance upon a project that could attract relatively few read- 
ers. Only after one of Osgood's most affluent students, D wight W. 
Morrow, a Morgan partner and Coolidge's Ambassador to Mexico, 
offered to underwrite publication did the Columbia University Press 
go ahead with publication ( 1924 ) . 

On the whole, as the author pointed out, the treatment and inter- 
pretation were the same as in the earlier volumes, except that such 
worn topics as the land system, the judiciary, finance, and the defense 
systems were dropped. He discussed the intercolonial aspects of the 
wars, immigration, Indian affairs, and church relations. Like Fiske, he 
was especially interested in the Great Awakening and had a high 
opinion of its leader: "The name of Jonathan Edwards came to stand 
for what was highest and most enduring in the great revival of 1740." 

For all his stylistic drawbacks and woodenness of organization, Os- 
good had a creative influence among the rising generation of colonial 
historians, particularly George Louis Beer, Charles Andrews, and Law- 
rence H. Gipson through his emphasis on scientific interpretation and 

120 The American Historian 

on the basic imperial context of colonial history. Under his guidance, 
Columbia University became a productive center for systematic stud- 
ies of the colonies and the ideal of exact and objective scholarship, 
As for his style, some felt as The Nation did: "He was not interested 
in making learning attractive to those who needed to be persuaded." 
In 1933, a very competent critic in the Mississippi Valley Historical 
Review was still able to offer high praise; *lt is safe to assert that no 
other period of American history has yet been treated in so detailed 
and scientific a manner. Osgood stands today, in these particulars, the 
American historical scholar without a peer." However, the same ad- 
miring critic said that Osgood's vaunted emphasis on manuscript 
sources was offset by the fact that perhaps 90 per cent of the seven 
volumes was actually based on printed sources. He was indifferent 
to newspaper sources (except in writing on the Zenger Case), but 
then he needed them less for legislative and administrative history. 
Osgood minimized personality, seeming to care little for either the 
great man or the common man, although he did on occasion depart 
sufficiently from the objectivity of the scientific historian to make moral 
judgments and to display undue severity toward the Quakers. The 
same Mississippi Valley Historical Review critic complained of tire- 
some detail and of a lack of unity which left the burden of assimilation 
on the reader. But he concluded with a favorable estimate: 7 

Osgood was ever the stern Puritan, holding himself and those under his 
direction tenaciously to the task. . . . He may be compared ... to a 
consecrated monk, shutting out other interests (for he was aware of the 
world around him) in order to accomplish a great and high purpose. He 
mapped out for himself a pathway of difficult but worthwhile service and 
held courageously to it to the end. . . . 

Osgood had a most distinguished doctoral student in George Louis 
Beer, who even outdid his master in defending British imperial policy 
and in elaborating upon the commercial rather than the purely ad- 
ministrative aspects of the Empire's record in North America. Yet 
Beer could claim no British ancestors, for he was the son of a Jewish 
merchant in Hamburg and identified himself with the leadership of 
Jewish welfare groups. Like James Ford Rhodes, he earned enough 
as a businessman, particularly in tobacco imports, to enable him to 
retire early and devote his life to historical research and public serv- 

From Fiske to Gipson 121 

ice. Academically, he was content to serve as a part-time lecturer in 
history at Columbia. 8 

In 1887, the year before Beer began Ms studies at the university, 
Osgood published his seminal article, "England and the Colonies/' 
which attacked the patriotic school and argued that the colonies must 
be studied as an organic part of an integrated imperial administrative 
system that aimed at over-all efficiency. This point of view conse- 
quently dominated Beer's brief doctoral thesis, published in 1893 as 
The Commercial Policy of England Toward the American Colonies. 
His own lifelong thesis was emphasized in a prefatory quotation from 
William E. Lecky, an English historian of the Revolution: 

How often have the English commercial restrictions on the American 
colonies been treated as if they were instances of extreme and exceptional 
tyranny, while a more extended knowledge would show that they were 
simply the expression of ideas about the relation of dependencies to the 
mother country which then almost universally prevailed. 

Beer and Osgood and their followers thought that a study of the 
colonies in a total imperial context would necessarily exonerate the 
government of George III of major responsibility for the Revolution. 
To Beer (and to the others as well) the Fiske-Bancroft patriotic school 
assumed that England consciously pursued an egotistic, tyrannical 
policy and then made the facts conform to their preconception. 

Like so many scientific historians, Beer used the concepts of social 
evolution. Thus, he spoke of progressive advances and occasional 
retrogression in the evolution of mercantilism, which he regarded as 
a system superior to its predecessors. Only in the light of modern 
laissez-faire and free trade could this be condemned, and, he implied, 
it was unfair to use the standards of the present as an index of the 
past. Yet, it was obvious that his admiration for Victorian England 
influenced his admiration for Stuart and Restoration England. The 
worst that he thought could be said about mercantilistic abuses was 
that it was a policy of unconscious ignorance, not of conscious malice. 
In its everyday workings it was understandable and even desirable. 
Furthermore, it seemed quite natural and reasonable in 1763 for 
England to expect the colonies to pay for the defensive costs and sac- 
rifices of the homeland. Mercantilism itself seemed to offer many posi- 
tive benefits, such as the stimulation of colonial shipbuilding and the 
carrying trade. 

Going far beyond Osgood, Beer became practically a historian of 

122 , The American Historian 

the British Empire with a focus as much on London as on the sea- 
board colonies. In 1908, he published The Origins of the British Colo- 
nial System, 1578-1660 and defined his subject as "that complex system 
of regulations by means of which, though to a different extent, the 
economic structures of both metropolis and colony were moulded to 
conform to the prevailing ideal of a self -sufficient empire." He began 
with an explanation of English overpopulation and emigration, though 
he attributed the dislocation of population to political and religious 
conflicts rather than to economic causes. Throughout he showed a 
high opinion of British purpose and administrative wisdom and as- 
serted that the cardinal doctrine of mercantilism was that private 
interest should unquestionably yield to public welfare. As a confirmed 
evolutionist, he saw everywhere an organic process of imperial growth: 
"In all of its phases this elaborate system implied an adjustment of 
the economic life both of the metropolis and of the colony to the 
gradually developing ideal of a self-sufficient empire." 

In 1912 he published a detailed two-volume work, The Old Colonial 
System, 1660-1754, which continued his emphasis on the development 
of administrative machinery. Beer prided himself on a total objectivity 
in dealing with foreign trade that avoided the assumptions of free 
traders or protectionists a rather difficult feat. In practice this forced 
his narrative into narrow descriptive channels. His broad canvas in- 
cluded the workings of mercantilism in the British West Indies and 
Newfoundland as well as the main American colonies. 

Colonial historians usually prefer his book on British Colonial Policy, 
1754-1765 (1907), which was drawn from a mass of British state papers 
and deals exhaustively with the problem of imperial defense. Beer's 
viewpoint did not change. The American colonies were pictured as 
tending toward virtual autonomy, but they could not be relied upon 
to provide their due proportion of the armed forces and the imperial 
costs. Besides, they injured the war effort against France by persist- 
ently trading with the enemy. Although he never quite came up to 
the Revolution, he made it clear that he believed that it was a war 
for independence, not a struggle for civil liberty. He even believed 
that it was anachronistic in view of the evolution of the western world 
into ever larger political entities. He must have startled many readers 
(except those familiar with Osgood) with this conclusion: 

It is easily conceivable, and not at all improbable, that the political evo- 
lution of the next centuries may take such a course that the American Revolu- 
tion will lose the great significance that is now attached to it, and will ap- 
pear merely as the temporary separation of two kindred peoples whose in- 

From Fiske to Gipson 123 

herent similarity was obscured by superficial differences, resulting from 
dissimilar economic and social conditions. 

Despite the changes wrought by younger revisionists and better 
writers, Beer had greatly extended Osgood's idea of the influence of 
English imperialism on American history. Actually, he opposed the 
oppressions of imperialism, but believed that the English colonial sys- 
tem of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries worked on the whole 
for the welfare of the people. His Anglophih'sm grew. At the outbreak 
of World War I, he sympathized with Britain rather than his father's 
Germany and wrote The English Speaking Peoples to urge a lasting 
union against aggression. However, he had little to say about the Irish 
question and other restive areas in the Empire. 

After the war, he accompanied Colonel House and Wilson to Paris 
and served as an expert on colonial questions. His basic belief in the 
progressive evolution of colonial peoples to freedom under interna- 
tional supervision is reflected in his coinage of the term "mandate" and 
his recommendation that the United States share some of this world 
responsibility in behalf of undeveloped areas. But his heavy public 
services and advancing age made it impossible for him to bring his 
history of the old colonial system to 1776. 

Charles McLean Andrews did not study under Osgood and Beer 
at Columbia but under Herbert B. Adams at the Johns Hopkins Uni- 
versity. However, his approach was almost identical with the Colum- 
bia historians. He, too, perused thousands of manuscripts and printed 
documents both here and abroad in preparing his vast institutional 
and political history of the colonies. Like the Columbia leaders, he 
attacked the Bancroft-Fiske patriotic school, though he was more 
apt to recognize the shortcomings of British imperial policy. He was 
no less determined than the Columbia men to focus his long and 
sometimes dreary narrative on London and on the manipulations of 
colonial affairs by the bureaucrats and statesmen of Westminster and 
Whitehall. But he did not accept the Osgood-Beer thesis that London 
had steadily evolved an increasingly efficient administrative system. 

Critics were to complain that all these three colonial historians were 
conservatives at heart, so lost in the minutiae of patents, charters, 
regulations of trade, and formalities of settlement that they forgot 
to deal with ordinary men and their everyday concerns, and the large 

124 The American Historian 

issues of wages, prices, frontier life, Indians, and everyday customs. 
All tried vainly to forestall such critics by insisting that they had chosen 
so vast a subject that it was necessary to impose rigid limitations on 
the theme, 

By the 1950s, another generation of historians complained that 
this thoroughly Teutonized school of "scientific historians" had ig- 
nored social ideas and seemed unwilling to recognize the fact that 
every historian deals with a past through the colored spectacles of 
the present. Osgood, Beer, and Andrews, proud of their English and 
German historiographical roots, believed that they were indeed ob- 
jective and insisted that they did not permit the present to intrude 
on their image of the past. They perpetuated the Rankean tradition 
of emphasizing archival science and the techniques of textual criticism. 
And like so many social scientists at the end of the nineteenth century, 
they thought that their science was steeped in the solid foundations 
of Darwinism and that historians should try to solve real problems 
and not be overly concerned with narration. Style was a minor con- 
sideration. As for the controversies of the day, they were left un- 
touched by the Populist and Progressive movements, though they 
showed interest in Anglo-American plans of international amity. 

As a scientific historian, Charles Andrews echoed the prejudices 
against philosophy held by so many of his school. In 1924, in a presi- 
dential address before the American Historical Association, he ex- 
pressed doubt whether there was such a thing as a philosophy of 
history, since so many of these systems had failed. He was unaware 
of the underlying philosophical assumptions that lay behind evolution- 
ism, but drew freely, nevertheless, on the ideas of historical progress 
and evolutionary adjustments. 

Andrews believed that he had escaped his social conditioning, for 
he dealt no undeserved favors to his Puritan ancestors. After all, he 
was the son of a Congregational father and had been born in 1863 
in a Calvinist household in Wethersfield, Connecticut. His graduate 
work was completed at the Johns Hopkins University, the citadel of 
scientific history, where Herbert Baxter Adams and his pioneer, Ger- 
man-inspired seminar inculcated the idea that democratic institutions 
evolved from Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic roots. Institutional history 
dominated the dissertations. Andrews, like so many graduate class- 
mates, concentrated upon village institutions and wrote a dissertation 
upon The River Towns of Connecticut, but after a year he dropped 
the notion of Teutonic origins and criticized the prejudice that "Anglo- 
Saxons were the salt of the earth and heralds of freedom." Still, he 

From Fiske to Gipson 125 

never gave up the Osgood-Beer hope that the future belonged to the 
unified English-speaking peoples and a democratic commonwealth 
of nations. 

After teaching at Bryn Mawr and the Johns Hopkins University, he 
began in 1910 his noteworthy career at Yale, where he remained until 
1931 training able researchers to continue the history of the Anglo- 
American past, writing textbooks in European and English history, 
and publishing essays. Andrews did have some talent for writing social 
history, had he chosen to take this seriously, as can be seen from one 
of his short volumes for Yale's Chronicles of America series entitled 
Colonial Folkways (1921). Here he dealt interestingly with topics 
that he neglected in his later institutional studies: ethnic groups, colo- 
nial architecture, libraries, schools, recreations, labor, clothes, and 
travel. He appreciated the impact of the frontier: "Where hundreds 
sought for freedom of worship and release from political oppression, 
thousands saw in the great unoccupied lands of the New World a 
chance to make a living and to escape from the landlords at home." 9 

Always consistent, he anticipated the main tenets of his subsequent 
books of the next few decades in The Colonial Background of the 
American Revolution (1924). Much more critical than Beer of British 
statesmanship, he pointed out the elements of accident, planlessness, 
improvisation, and inflexibility in the management and control of the 

With characteristic opportunism, and with an eye only to the needs and 
obligations of the kingdom itself, her statesmen faced the problem of what 
to do with a colony and how to adjust its interests to those of the mother 
country without higher aim than that of business profit. 

The authorities seemed to him generally better in intention than in 

Except in a few instances, second-rate men conducted the government 
of England during these years, while the part that civilians took in the 
management of the army and navy was characterized not only by incom- 
petence but also by peculation and bribery, often on an enormous scale. 
Such were the leading features of British colonial policy and conduct down 
to the year 1763. 

The Revolution, as Beer had also suggested, grew out of two con- 
trasting and apparently inevitable developments. The colonies were 
moving toward increased self-government, while the mother country 
went in the other direction aimed at empire; hence the conflict. 
Andrews lived long enough to publish his main research work, the 

126 The American Historian 

four-volume The Colonial Period of American History (1934-38). It 
approached the subject, as he said, "from the English end" and con- 
centrated on a legal and historical unit which comprised all of Eng- 
land's colonial possessions in the West that had been founded in the 
seventeenth century. Thus, he examined thirty rather than thirteen 
colonies and maintained that they held in common a similar colonial 
experience. The standing of these settlements as colonies rather than 
as independent states seemed to Andrews to be the fact of greatest 
significance and the key to the whole colonial situation. 

Three of the volumes were labeled "Settlements" and dwelt upon 
trade, constitutional questions, and legal matters with a minimum of 
personalities and continuous narrative. He pictured the era before 
1660 as a period of a highly decentralized relationship between colo- 
nies and mother country which made possible American self-suffi- 
ciency. British statesmanship appeared to better advantage than in 
his earlier books, for he found that by 1700 there was a more clear-cut 
purpose at Westminster and Whitehall; however, time brought defects 
and weaknesses of policy. Volume four, "England's Commercial and 
Colonial Policy," stressed the fulfillment of British directives in the 
various colonies, Anglo-Dutch rivalry, England's system defined, the 
Enumerated Commodities, the Methods of Enforcement, the Customs 
Service, the Vice-Admiralty Courts, the Board of Trade, and related 
topics. This strong emphasis on formal colonial institutions appeared 
"fascinating," to Andrews, as well as relatively little-known. 

He concluded with a dozen or more suggestions as to the contribut- 
ing causes for the Revolution: England's determination to centralize 
her imperial authority, to keep her colonies subordinate politically and 
commercially, to refuse privileges asked for or to deny many that had 
been enjoyed, to put her own prosperity and security before that of 
her dependencies, and to belittle protests from America as the work 
of agitators. This was certainly not the thinking of a Tory. 

In a lengthy and final footnote he paid his respects to the "economic 
determinists" as he called them people like Beard, Hacker, Nettels, 
and similar writers who objected to his neglect of economic forces. 
He took specific issue with Louis Hacker of Columbia, who had argued 
that the Revolution was an attempt of American merchant and planter 
capitalism to win release from the fetters of the English mercantile 
system. He defended his lifelong emphasis upon institutional and 
structural history and attributed the new economic interpretations 
to Marxist class conflict ideas and the tendency to interpret the past 
in the light of the present. 

From Fiske to Gipson 127 

A resume of Andrews's shortcomings by a younger generation in- 
evitably misses his solid contributions to colonial historiography. His 
brilliant disciple, Lawrence H. Gipson, thought that the master had 
not only attained a unique knowledge of vast sources of colonial his- 
tory but had brought about a gradual reorientation of the study of 
early American history from the imperial standpoint which made 
America the transatlantic frontier for England. 10 Of course, Osgood 
and Beer had opened the door for this development. In many respects, 
Andrews clearly anticipated the contributions of later scholars. For 
example, his own study of the colonial merchants and the Revolution 
contains some of the elements in the fuller and analytical account of 
the subject by Arthur M. Schlesinger. On numerous technical prob- 
lems he corrected or amplified earlier presentations. Unfortunately, 
his weakness in expository writingthough he was superior to Osgood 
or Beer dimmed some of the glory that rightfully belonged to him. 

In 1905, one year after Osgood had published the first volume of 
his major work, Edward Channing (1856-1931) of Harvard attracted 
wide attention with his own first volume of a six-volume series A His- 
tory of the United States ( 1905-25 ) . The author had intended to carry 
this study from the era of discovery to the end of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, but his death prevented him from going beyond the Civil War. 
He proposed to continue the London emphasis, the institutional treat- 
ment, and the evolutionary outlook of Osgood, Beer, and Andrews. 
To this he added his favorite theme: that "the most important single 
fact in our development has been the victory of the forces of union 
over those of particularism." 

He, too, was a "scientific historian" who stressed original sources, 
social Darwinism, and objectivity; however, he admitted that "the 
time and place of one's birth and breeding affect the judgment, and 
the opportunity for error is frequent." This qualification was needed, 
for any reader could note that his world revolved around New Eng- 
land, although he was more generous than his Brahmin neighbors to 
the Middle Colonies (or states) and to the South, albeit from an 
antislavery point of view. After all, the Channings had been busily 
making New England history since they arrived in 1720 from England, 
and the Harvard-trained, Dorchester-born man could hardly escape 
notice of this fact. 

Again, as a scientific historian, he agreed completely with Osgood, 

128 The American Historian 

Beer, Andrews, and many of their followers that historical events must 
be judged by the standards of their time. "To estimate them by the 
conditions and ideas of the present day is to give a false picture to 
the reader and the student." In his evolutionist theory he was teleo- 
logical in his optimism: "I have tried to see in the annals of the past 
the story of living forces, struggling onward and upward toward that 
which is better and higher in human conception." Fortunately he did 
not permit his "scientism" to handicap his style, which, if not dis- 
tinguished, was eminently readable and worthy of the successive edi- 
tions that found readers even in the 1950s. 

Channing attended the lectures of Henry Adams and of Henry Cabot 
Lodge, but did not share their anti-Jeffersonian bias. He also dis- 
regarded Lodge's jingoism and admired the early evolutionary em- 
phasis of Adams. After a grand tour of Europe and a few minor 
appointments at Harvard, Channing received a professorial appoint- 
ment in 1897 and earned a reputation as a sound though not popular 
teacher, an inspirer of research, and a very productive scholar. Even- 
tually he learned to be less impatient with undergraduates, lectured 
informally, and came to class with fresh discoveries taken from his 
most recent research. His teaching in Tudor and Stuart England gave 
him an excellent background for American colonial history. One of 
his early one-volume American histories, covering the years 1765-1865 
in the Cambridge Historical Series, was so well received that it was 
even translated into Russian. The novelist Maxim Gorki once told the 
author that the revolutionary foes of the Czar discussed the book at 
their meetings. It would be surprising if this intelligentsia discovered 
any radical flavor in the book, though it was democratic in outlook. 

Channing's main work reflected a vigorous personalized style, tinc- 
tured by humor or irony, and a varied subject matter which rounded 
out institutional history with social developments. For a scientific his- 
torian he had more than the usual small quota of moral judgments, 
but he kept to a descriptive narrative. Though he noted the narrow 
class basis of the Puritan oligarchy, he thought that the Bay Colony 
marked a definite rise in the tide of human aspirations toward some- 
thing better than the world had yet known. His facts were drawn from 
a variety of sources (except newspapers) American manuscripts, 
transcripts from British archives, and a good number of dissertations 
and monographs. 

Channing was not content with using a narrowly institutional ap- 
proach to explain the coming of the Revolution, for he took notice 
of the new economic interpretation. He referred to class conflicts, 

From Fiske to Gipson 129 

British oppressions, and economic forces. While Osgood and Beer 
recognized that the colonies existed for imperial profit, they would 
not say as Channing did, "The governing classes of the old country 
wished to exploit the American colonists for their own use/' and that 
Parliament taxed the colonists in order to enrich the West Indian 
sugar planters. These facts were usually explained away in the books 
of the Columbia men. They were not concerned, as Channing was, 
over the alleged despotic power of unreformed parliamentarians and 
"an unreformable king." 

Channing's approach to social history reflected his personal beliefs 
and prejudices. Speaking of the era after 1789, he was nostalgic for 
the simple and natural existence of men and women of that day. He 
could have strengthened the novelty of his social history by using 
newspaper sources, as McMaster did, although, as it was, he injected far 
too much trivia into his narrative. When he came to the War of 1812, 
he spoke as a New Englander, indignant at our quasi-alliance with 
Napoleon and "the blindfolded policy of the [Madison] administra- 
tion as to commerce and impressment, and the undue truckling to 
France." Indifferent to the West, he thought of Jackson as primarily 
a Southerner and skipped the early sectional struggles. 

Despite these defects, however, Channing was able to illuminate 
this vast period and to reach both the scholar and the general leader. 
Historians have continued to praise his work and to note that even 
his footnotes often were valuable starting points for other men's re- 
search. One of his gifted students, Samuel Eliot Morison, who mastered 
the art of writing cultural history, appreciated his literary skill and 
also respected his diligence as a well-equipped researcher. 11 Carl R. 
Fish, a political historian writing in the early thirties, was more un- 
qualified in his praise, for he admired the objectivity, acumen, vigor, 
dry humor, personality, rich background, and synthesis of the man. 12 
Claude Van Tyne, historian of the Revolution, also admired many of 
these traits and wrote of the second volume that "it stands in the 
forefront of scholarly efforts to tell the history of this country"; but 
Van Tyne complained that the third volume lacked evaluation and an 
awareness of social forces. In general, the series was acclaimed. Charles 
Beard, for instance, recognized Channing's unusual industry, penetrat- 
ing judgments, and mental powers. This reputation had not disap- 
peared by 1952, despite an accumulation of criticisms, for John A. De 
Novo, in an essay on the series twenty years after, spoke of Channing 
as one of the giants of American historiography. However, he criti- 
cized the author's Anglo-Saxon prejudices and said Channing seemed 

130 The American Historian 

to have a mystical faith in England's world missionthis justified the 
elimination of French and Spanish power, for instance. 13 But this had 
been an extremely common interpretation by American historians 
since the middle of the nineteenth century. Channing shared the view 
of such men regarding the importance of chance, providence, and 
free will in history despite the impact of social Darwinism. Newer 
intellectual interests and social theories did not make Channing ob- 
solete, although the next generation gave much more attention to non- 
political forces and made more frequent use of social interpretation. 


By the mid-twentieth century, the Whig interpretation of the Revo- 
lution, which made George III and his Tory associates the chief vil- 
lains, was having trouble even in the elementary and secondary schools. 
English and American historians had found common ground in under- 
mining this point of view. Foremost among the scholarly revisionists 
was Sir Lewis B. Namier, a professor of Modern History at the Uni- 
versity of Manchester and an active Zionist leader whose parents 
lived in Austrian Galicia. Apparently congenial to the task of re- 
habiliifating the Tories, he described himself as a conservative by 
instinct and demonstrated how little George III had actually altered 
British\ constitutional practices in behalf of personal power. Party 
distinctions between Whigs and Tories were nebulous on the eve of 
the Resolution. So the trouble apparently did not begin with the 
famous^ maternal injunction, "George, be a king!" Other distinguished 
British; historians developed similar themes. 

The/ imperial perspective upon pre-revolutionary America had a 
most industrious and plausible scholarly proponent in Professor Law- 
rence Henry Gipson ( 1880 ) , who studied with Andrews at Yale. He 
wr<ote at least eight volumes on the British Empire during the eight- 
eenth century and sought to bring the narrative close to the opening 
of the Revolution. He shared Namier's skepticism regarding George 
Ill's alleged usurpation of power, but decided that a true perspective 
upon such problems required a comparative study of imperial policy 
in Africa and the Caribbean as well as in the mainland American 
colonies. The subtitle of his series, "Provincial Characteristics and Sec- 
tional Tendencies in the Era Preceding the American Crisis," suggests 
his painstaking survey section by section, beginning with Great Britain 
and Ireland. His treatment of social history showed perceptive analysis 
and genuine over-all synthesis; yet he took up such varied facets as 

From Fiske to Gipson 131 

the farms, towns, schools, sports, arts, religion, and social welfare. The 
second and third volumes dealt similarly with the southern and north- 
ern colonies. Trade and the workings of the mercantile system were 
major themes. 

He defended mercantilism by saying that its basic good points 
became clear only after a study of the objectives and the achieve- 
ments of the British Empire and after an assessment of the total 
benefits derived by all its members. Mercantilism was no system 
of tribute but an effort to provide imperial protection "for all those 
great interests that were sources of material wealth and power." He 
conceded its inconveniences and occasional gross injustice, but such 
results were inherent in even the most modern legislative system that 
imposed national or imperial restrictions. For each restraint he saw a 
reciprocal benefit either direct or indirect. 

Viewed in a large perspective, Britain's wars against France in the 
New World were not motivated by a lust for empire but by a natural 
desire to save her American colonies from seizure by France. The 
beneficiaries had to pay the bill. Thus the Americans, it was cogently 
argued, enjoyed a far lower tax burden and per capita public debt 
than the English and could easily have afforded the new taxes of 
Parliament to meet the imperial emergency after 1763. 

While many reviewers were enthusiastic about Gipson's prodigious 
researches, others criticized his sweeping pro-British interpretations. 
For example, Professor Edmund S. Morgan, a colonial specialist, 
charged that the reasoning often showed bias and that some of these 
pro-British conclusions were based on a misinterpretation of docu- 
ments. He questioned the author's belief that at the time of the Stamp 
Act the colonists claimed an exemption from internal taxes only. Too 
little was said about the repeated abuses by British customs officers 
and other imperial agents. However, he conceded the magnitude of 
the work and admired the graceful style. Scholarly committees gave 
Gipson at least four national historical awards, and he was appointed 
Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford. 14 

By mid-century, colonial historiography had its tourist symbol in 
Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., which reproduced (with decided im- 
provements) the streets, houses, and costumes of seventeenth-century 
Virginia's capital. Specialists in colonial history came together through 
the Institute of Early American History and published sources, ar- 
ticles, and books in this field. Various official and academic agencies 
undertook the publication of the innumerable Jefferson and Franklin 
letters as well as those of earlier American figures. Microprinting 

182 The American 

made possible such a source duplication project as that of the Readex 
Microprint Corporation. Co-operating groups intend to make available 
ultimately the texts of every existent book, pamphlet, and broadside 
printed in this country* from 1839 through 1800. Among the active 
presses increasingly concerned with ethnic groups or minorities, the 
Jewish Publication Society of America issued many original studies 
of Jewish colonial communities and personalities. 15 Outstanding among 
a host of books on colonial life was Columbia professor Richard B. 
Morris's Government Labor in Early America (1946), which drew 
upon local legislative and judicial records to depict the actual wage 
and price policies of the colonists and the effort of various classes to 
control supply and demand in those days before laissez-faire. Louis 
B. Wright examined the social structure erected by "the first gentle- 
men of Virginia" and showed how the favored 5 per cent of the people 
dominated a society of yeoman farmers. Aided by increased source 
materials and more sophisticated social science understanding, his- 
torians sharpened realistically their portrait of colonial life. 

Colonial historiography had traveled far since the days of John 
Fiske and George Bancroft. The standard Whig interpretation of the 
Revolution held by Burke and his imitators had almost disappeared 
among scholars. It is true that the Anglo-Saxon ethnocentrism of Fiske 
and Bancroft was not so quickly dissipated but held on to some extent 
even in the mid-century work of Gipson. The imperial perspective of 
Osgood and his successors continued to stand even in 1960, despite 
certain persuasive dissidents who believed that mercantilism had in- 
jured colonial interests. 

These "scientific historians" and the definition of this term varied 
with time and place had been trained directly or indirectly in the 
Rankean seminar and archival techniques. They passed on to their 
disciples a respect for arduous industry in uncovering manuscript 
sources, in testing their reliability, in making every effort humanly 
possible to reduce the intrusive human equation, and in treating his- 
tory as institutional development rather than as a static enterprise 
of remotely related topics. Their social evolutionism had become obso- 
lete, their ideas of "objectivity" had met the attack of philosophers 
(especially relativists) and social scientists, and their Anglo-Saxon 
bias seemed out of place in an age when internationalism commanded 
new prestige. But they had labored too well in erecting a vast his- 
torical structure and techniques of craftsmanship to forfeit quickly 
the respect and emulation of the maturing younger generation of 


John Bach McMaster and the Rise 
of Social History 

in 1883, during the optimistic times of Chester Alan Arthur and 
Queen Victoria, there appeared the first volume of an engrossing 
eight-volume work by Professor John Bach McMaster entitled A His- 
tory of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the 
Civil War. It awakened a vogue for social history that added a new 
dimension to the writing of man's past. McMaster ran full tilt against 
the dictum of Oxford's chief historian of the "scientific school/* Ed- 
ward A. Freeman, who had stated "history is past politics, and politics 
is present history." Germany's leader in scientific history, Leopold von 
Ranke, was saying much the same thing to his disciples. 

McMaster., of course, had not invented the idea that the historian 
must tell the story of society and not merely of its leaders. However, 
modern historians tend to credit Voltaire with being the pioneer of 
social-cultural history, notably in The Age of Louis XIV (1752) and 
in the Essay on the Manners and Customs of Nations (1757). In the 
first, he assigned only one chapter to the private life of Louis XIV, 
about four to administrative matters, and half a dozen to the history 
of the arts and the sciences. "In this history," he asserted in an intro- 
duction, "only that which merits the attention of the ages will be 
dealt with that which depicts the genius and manners of men, or 
which serves to instruct and inculcate the love of country, of virtue 


134 The American 

of art." McMaster never went beyond the simple descriptive "man- 
ners and morals" type of social history, for lie lacked the integrative 

approach that Voltaire used. However, he agreed that history should 
teach useful lessons and seek to foster national loyalty. 

Even before Voltaire, William Bradford in his classic, Of Plimoth 
had made the daily life of the people not merely the cul- 
ture of the elite the staple of his history. Most important in the tra- 
dition was Edward Eggleston, the author of The Hoosier School Mas- 
ter, who was a journalist and a Methodist circuit rider. He had written 
to his brother just three years before McMaster's first volume appeared 
and told of his plan for a comprehensive social history: 

1 am going to write a series of volumes which together shall constitute 
a History of Life in the United States not a history of the United States, 
bear in mind, but a history of life there, the life of the people, the sources of 
their ideas and habits, the course of their development from beginnings. 

Only two volumes of this project were completed before Eggleston's 
death in 1902, but they showed far more synthesis and reflective 
analysis in their portrayal of colonial life than McMaster possessed. 
In 1900, when Eggleston gave his presidential address before the 
American Historical Association, "The New History," a pioneer state- 
ment of an American kulturgeschichtehe called for a cultural history 
that would be "the real history of men and women." 

McMaster, Eggleston., and their disciples drew upon the enthusiasm 
of the romantic movement which had deified the Common Man in 
Europe and America. The German folklorists, like the Grimms, had 
discovered the national roots of their people in the primitive Teutonic 
forest. Jaclcsonian democracy thrived on the frontier myth of the 
Common Man. During his lifetime, McMaster was fascinated by the 
ferment of religious communities and urban crowds, by the successes 
of abolitionism, feminism, pacifism, mass education, millennialism, and 
other panaceas based on the faith that the innate goodness of man 
could be reclaimed by reforming evil institutions based on force or 
outworn traditions. 

The rise of the Common Man was reflected in the kingly position 
of the Fourth Estate, especially the sensational penny press which 
ministered to the needs of the newly literate and enfranchised masses. 
As an instrument of power, the press had proved its might during the 
European revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and in the upward struggle 
of workmen and farmers for enfranchisement and reform. McMaster 
was one of the first American historians to pursue the logic of this 

Jo Jin Bach McMaster 135 

situation by making considerable use of the newspaper as a prime 
source in social history. Historians complained that it was impossible 
to apply all the tests of external criticism that were customary for the 
use of such official documents as treaties, laws, and court decisions. 
But if this were a nation of newspaper readers, as contemporary ob- 
servers agreed, then some historical rules must be devised for the use 
of newspapers as sources. Social historians learned to appreciate the 
value of advertisements as mirrors of custom, as economic indices, and 
for other purposes. Libel laws kept rash editors in check to a certain 
extent, and the reporting of speeches as well as the letters to the edi- 
tor often had as high a degree of authenticity as the traditional manu- 
script sources. 1 

Among those who made a hero of the people, none eclipsed the 
English historian, John Richard Green, who had published his Short 
History of the English People in 1874 and, following a tremendous 
international wave of popularity, completed by 1880 a four-volume 
History of the English People. It was a novel experience to find a 
history book which gave more space to Chaucer than to the Battle 
of Crecy. Strangely enough, McMaster knew little of Green's work 
in these years, although John Fiske, among others, was inspired to 
plan a similar work in the American field. 

If the direct link between Green and McMaster seemed almost non- 
existent, the indebtedness to Thomas Babington Macaulay was most 
embarrassingly evident, even to the extent of entire plagiarized para- 
graphs in the first volume. Macaulay's History of England, a five-vol- 
ume work covering the years 1685-1702, had appeared during the 
mid-century and captured the enthusiasm of many thousands for its 
artistic style, its narrative qualities, and its generally high critical 
standards. Although Macaulay was no demagogue, but a middle-class 
conservative who lacked sociological synthesis, he could depict an 
entire generation in superb prose. His famous third chapter on the 
condition of England in 1685 so impressed McMaster that the Amer- 
ican determined to concentrate upon social history. McMaster, un- 
fortunately, lacked the literary craftsmanship of Macaulay and too 
fully shared the latter's indifference toward philosophical generaliza- 
tions. 2 

The powerful hold that natural science exercised upon historians 
and other literati did not leave McMaster untouched. In fact, his train- 
ing as an engineer and his interest in the advance of technology are 
reflected in his books. The dogma of progress which he shared with 
his generation was reinforced by the triumphs of the New Physics and 

188 The 

the New Biology, He felt a sympathy for the Baconian ideal of 

inductive science and experiment, greatly admired the English 
historian, Henry Thomas Buckle, author of the two-volume History 
of in (1857-61), who felt he had discovered sci- 

entific physical, moral, and intellectual laws* While McMaster was 
indifferent to philosophical history, lie was as greatly interested in 
the impact of soil and climate upon material wealth as Buckle was; 
the Englishman had furthered social history by emphasizing large 
groups rather than exceptional individuals. Both men were believers 
in the of progress. 

The facts of McMaster's own life give the surest clue to his par- 
ticular brand of history. He was born in 1852 in Brooklyn, attended 
New York's public schools, and received his degree at what is today 
the City College of New York. His lifelong residence in the middle 
states was reflected in the shift in emphasis that he gave the nation's 
history from the traditional New England focus to an unusual amount 
of attention to New York state, Pennsylvania, and their neighbors. His 
father, whose background was Scotch-Irish, had been a trader in 
Mexico, a banker in New Orleans, and a sugar planter in Louisiana. 
Although the son was an ardent anti-slavery man, he reflected this 
Southern background in his treatment of the South and the West. 
He went far beyond the hurried treatment, given in stereotypes, that 
previous general historians had applied to these regions. Also his 
middle-class background was reflected in his Whiggish sympathies 
for Hamilton, Webster, and Lincoln. 

McMaster served in the Army Engineer Corps and then went to 
Princeton as an instructor in civil engineering. However, almost im- 
mediately after the publication of the first volume of his History, he 
became professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. His 
undergraduate teaching was undistinguished, but his seminar became 
noted for the scholars who later attained national stature. He con- 
tinued an active life of teaching, public lecturing, and writing almost 
up to his death in 1932. 

The point of view and general pattern of the series is clear in the 
first volume. He promised that his history of America would show 
"how the ingenuity of her people became fruitful of wonders far more 
astonishing than any of which the alchemists had ever dreamed." Fur- 
thermore, he pointed out that our ancestors had been a highly favored 

Bach McMaster 187 

people: 'They were descended from the most persevering, the most 
energetic, the most thrifty of races. They enjoyed the form 

of civilization. . . . The consequence has been such a moral and 
social advancement as the world has never seen before." He mildly 
shared the contemporary interest in race and heredity, though he gave 
high praise to the Anglo-Saxon for the virtues of sobriety, dignity, 
and love of law and order that he showed, even in his national up- 
risings. Correspondingly, he had unfavorable judgments about the 
Irish, the Indians, and the newer immigrant peoples. Nevertheless, he 
showed sympathy for the Negro, both slave and free, and championed 
his rights eloquently. 

More than anyone since William Bradford, he dealt with ordinary 
people, events of everyday interest and importance, and recreational 
activities. But such diverse themes were difficult to integrate, and 
McMaster failed to escape a rambling, topical approach. Here, for 
example, are the varied page labels for pages 17 to 29: 

Fruits and Vegetables Unknown in 1784 

Streets and Houses of Boston 

Books read in New England 

The New England Fanner 

The School-Master 

Money Units 

New Branches of Knowledge 

Lack of Scholarship in the South 

The Country Doctor 

His narrative was too often static and was often held together only 
by chronology and geography, but he did make revealing observations. 
The facts buttressed his philosophy of inevitable progress. Much of 
this philosophy and method was obviously borrowed from Macaulay's 
optimistic History of England. Macaulay had shown the march of 
progress since 1685 by comparing the darker past with the glowing 
present "then and now" as he put it. McMaster's treatment of society 
and times displayed his own "then-and-now" approach, which proved 
that the nation was advancing in every direction. Such contrasts with 
the backwardness of former times were comforting to the reader, even 
if the author was at times brashly critical of colonial and early na- 
tional cultural achievements. For example, his evaluation of architec- 
ture in 1784 reads: "There did not then exist in the country a single 
piece of architecture which when even tried by the standard of that 
day, can be called respectable. . . . The houses which made up the 

138 Tin? American Historiafi 

towns and cities were of the low-brow, hip-roofed order, strung along 
the in disorderly array." In the same first volume, after critical 

comments about social conditions, he goes on to cheer the reader: 
*There can, however, be no doubt that a wonderful amelioration has 
taken place since that day in the condition of the poor." As for the 
literary judgments, written to suggest that things were getting better- 
and-better, they can scarcely be taken seriously, even if one agreed 
with sweeping opinion: "There is Indeed, no portion of our his- 
tory which presents a spectacle of so much dreariness as our literary 
annals during the two hundred years which followed the landing at 
Jamestown. In all that time no one great work of the imagination was 

The Buckle emphasis upon geography and climate in history is 
clear enough in his writing, even when they stand as unspoken as- 
sumptions. Just a few years before, in 1876, he had published such 
an article in the National Quarterly Review entitled "The Influence 
of Geographic Position in the Civilization of Egypt and Greece." Pro- 
fessor Eric Goldman quotes a revealing letter that McMaster wrote 
at the time that volume one appeared: 

Nobody can deny that the Indians of the Six Nations, the Indians Cooper 
knew, were much above the Indians of the South. They lived in a cold cli- 
mate, they were human beings, and must therefore have been both physically 
and mentally as much above the Natchez and CMckesaws [sic] as the 
northern men of our time are above the southern. All the push, energy, 
mechanical skill, business, wealth of the land lies north of the Potomac and 
the Ohio. 

This geographic determinism goes far to explain some of his severe 
judgments on the South: its lethargy, frontier violence, wretched inns 
and small unpaved roads, and the decayed Virginia churches. The 
constant unfavorable contrast with life in the Northern states could 
not escape the reader. 

In 1898 (his eight volumes were not complete until 1913), he pub- 
lished an essay, "The Social Function of United States History" that 
made this sectional contrast even more explicit than his History does. 
He urged educators to teach students to study the westward move- 
ment to the Pacific so they could see the emergence of two different 
peoples and institutions and hence understand the reasons for the 
Civil War: 8 

He [the student] should see the northern stream engaged in a thousand 
forms of diversified industry, and the southern stream ignoring commerce 

John McMaster 139 

and manufactures and devoting its energy to growing cotton and tobacco, 
and he should be made to see how from these two opposite economic condi- 
tions grew in time two separate and distinct people with utterly different 
ideas, institutions, customs, and purposes In life, and when this has "been 
made clear to him lie will understand the Civil War, 

Whether he intended to say at this point that these basic economic 
differences sprang from climatic and geographic origins is not clear, 
but it is a fair inference. However, McMaster also used economic in- 
terpretation (or economic assumptions) so frequently throughout his 
work that the reader is not certain whether he actually believed that 
the source of economic differences was always geographic. 

McMaster followed Francis Parkman, Theodore Roosevelt, and the 
other literary historians in emphasizing the West. His treatment of 
the Indians was far less friendly than that of Simms and Cooper and 
much closer to that of the literary historians. McMaster thought of 
the Indians as savages who had little reason to complain of their treat- 
ment at the hands of the government. Like Parkman, he greatly ad- 
mired the explorers and the Jesuit missionaries. As an ardent national- 
ist, given to Manifest Destiny statements, he said that Northern ex- 
pansionism was superior in motive to the South's narrow desire to 
acquire more slave territory. He had no difficulty in justifying the war 
with Mexico or the annexation of Texas, and he felt so enthusiastic 
about Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana that he departed from his 
rule of saying nothing favorable about that Virginian. He even wrote 
that wars had their beneficial aspects because they stimulated men 
to their utmost depths; and he speculated that eras of disorder and 
violence were usually followed by periods of intellectual activity. In 
public addresses, he showed his jingoism by vigorously supporting the 
aggressive Olney-Cleveland interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine in 
1896 and used his lecture-room to exhort students to fight for Cuba; 
later he was impatient for immediate action after the sinking of the 

These obvious evidences of partisanship did not loom large in the 
eight volumes of his history, though; indeed, it was often difficult to 
discover McMaster's actual opinions on certain major issues. To 
achieve objectivity, he would quote at length the contemporary opin- 
ion on both sides, leaving the reader caught between two highly 
plausible positions. Besides, he wrote social history as pageantry, and 
thus many pages could go by without any evaluation appearing in 
the narrative. It has been suggested that McMaster was so concerned 

140 The American Historian 

with depicting history from the standpoint of the generation that 
lived it and he tried to do it with the aid of newspapersthat he ac- 
tually subordinated the present to the past, quite reversing the posi- 
tion of present-day historians. This judgment is misleading, for it is 
clear that the author, in relying so frequently upon the then-and-now 
comparisons to demonstrate progress 3 was anxious to teach the reader 
lessons from the past and to inculcate admiration for the present social 
order. In doing this, he would often select revealing controversial 
issues, such as the perennial hard-money versus soft-money question, 
As a good Republican in the Whig tradition, he was as concerned 
as Hildreth had been that the currency be safeguarded against rural 
inflationists and paper-money advocates. Therefore he did not try 
to be impartial on incidents involving currency tinkering, whether 
Shays's Rebellion, the struggle for the Constitution, the western at- 
tacks on sound banking, or the controversies connected with the Sec- 
ond United States Bank. On such issues he parted from "the multi- 
tude/ 9 as he termed the people. He could draw a fascinating picture 
of the hatred between debtors and creditors in 1786: 

The mere sight of a lawyer as he hurried along the street was enough to 
call forth an oath or a muttered curse from the louts who hung around the 
tavern. The reason is plain. During the war debts had increased to a frightful 
extent. . . . The lawyers were overwhelmed with cases. The courts could 
not try half that came before them. For every man who had an old debt, or 
a mortgage, or a claim against a Tory or a refugee, hastened to have it ad- 
justed. . . . Every young man became an attorney, and every attorney did 
well. . , . They were denounced as banditti, as blood-suckers, as pick- 
pockets, as windbags, as smooth-tongued rogues. 

He described the popular newspapers as busily filling their columns 
with inflammatory arguments and spoke of '"Shays, with the spirit of 
a craven.** The inflationists of Rhode Island and New Hampshire fared 
no better at his hands. He made no effort to understand the case for 
the hard-pressed farmer, although he felt sympathy for his plight. In 
the Whig reform tradition he was opposed to imprisonment for debt, 
and, like many a middle-class citizen he held that poverty's main 
cause was intemperance; against this evil, philanthropy was helpless. 
In discussing the banking panic of 1818, he quoted approvingly from 
one editorial which put the blame upon the people: 

Let them not speculate; let them stop importing the needless trappings of 
luxury from abroad; let rich men spend their surplus on home manufactures; 

Jo/in McMaster 141 

let the middling class live within Its means; let young live by labor, and 
not by their wits. 

This was probably not far from McMaster's moralistic economic phi- 
losophy. Hard money, low tariffs, and prudence offered the best 
panaceas. In later years he called for more historians of ideas and 
customs like Lecky. They were to trace the history of public morality, 
the principle of full faith and credit, the sanctity of contracts, and the 
pernicious effect of cheap money on manners and morals. 

Committed as he was to the triumph of hard money, McMaster 
proved to be completely Federalist on the issue of constitutional ratifi- 
cation* Here he dropped the objective facade and condemned the 
stupidity of the multitude for failing to appreciate the document: 

Men who had neither the patience nor the wit to wade through the scholarly 
arguments of the Federalist, and who could see nothing but dry facts and 
barren statements in the pleasing letters of Tench Coxe, would read and 
re-read with increasing delight a piece of foolery by Francis Hopldnson, or 
a neatly turned allegory by John Mifflin. 

He thought that the framers were "a most remarkable assemblage of 
men, to whom, under God, we ewe our liberty, our prosperity, our 
high place among the nations." With an emphasis upon economic 
motivations., he denied that the Constitution was, as Gladstone thought, 
a fortuitous product of a moment. "It grew out of business conditions; 
it was a business necessity; it was a product of the experience and 
daily life of a thoroughly practical people, and cannot be understood 
without a knowledge of that experience." This he asserted in an essay 
of 1898 on "The Social Function of United States History." (In Ms 
History the same idea appears differently phrased.) 

In the quarrel between Hamilton and Jefferson, he was definitely 
for the former. He defended Hamilton's policy of invading Pennsyl- 
vania during the Whisky Rebellion, and at the same time neglected 
to explain the economic motives of the rebellious farmers but dwelt 
only on their heavy drinking, the tarring and feathering of excise 
collectors, and other abuses. As for Jefferson, said McMaster in an 
oft-quoted judgment, "He was saturated with democracy in its rank- 
est form, and he remained to the last day of his life a servile wor- 
shipper of the people." His attack was personal rather than broadly 
based. He pictured Jefferson as a troublemaker who kept a journal of 
gossip to prove that his Republican enemies were actually monarchists 
and aristocrats. Jefferson's Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were de- 

142 The American Historian 

clared to be "filled with foolish declamation." He gave tills wholly 
partisan picture of the opponents of the Allen and Sedition laws: 

County politicians and liberty-pole orators, citizens who had once been 
aliens, aliens who could not yet be citizens, good men who honestly be- 
lieved that liberty was in danger, bad men enraged that licentiousness was 
restrained, tricksters hungry for place, all joined In one renewed shout of 

After denouncing the calumny and falsehood which these opponents 
expressed, McMaster admitted that the laws were "most untimely and 
unwise." Hamilton saw how It would hurt the Federalists and had 
begged them to avoid any tyranny; and partly as a result of disre- 
garding this advice the Federalist party began Its march to ruin. But 
the historian did not mince words In condemning the French Revolu- 
tion, which he said "was fast reducing all men to an equality by 
cutting off the head of each citizen who rose above the mass." French 
democracy, as exemplified in the Democratic societies of the Jeffer- 
sonians, was, he explained, "mob tyranny joined to everything that 
was immoral, indecent, profane." He blamed the violence and wan- 
ton destruction of property by the Revolution on the racial char- 
acter of the Celtic people. He defended John Jay, the Federalist 
diplomat; censured Monroe and Madison, the friends of the French 
Revolution; and branded the Jeffersonlan, Joel Barlow, as "the author 
of some of the most detestable verses in the English tongue." 

He thought that after the War of 1812 American history consisted 
largely of economic issues: 

Henceforth, for many years to come, the questions of the day were to be the 
state of the currency, the national bank, manufactures, the tariff, internal im- 
provements, interstate commerce, the public lands, the astonishing growth 
of the West, the rights of the States, the extension of slavery, and the true 
place of the Supreme Court in our system of government. 

Aside from some pet economic views, which do not intrude into the 
narrative very often, he brought an excellent critical intelligence to 
bear on complex economic problems. 

McMaster retained his basic enthusiasm for the advance of the Com- 
mon Man in history, despite his carping observations regarding the 
prejudices and ignorance of the "multitude." He surveyed the social 
progress in welfare Institutions, prison reform, the abolition of slavery, 
the growth of trade unions, women's rights, free schools, factory laws, 
manhood suffrage, and the general level of economic betterment. Even 

John Bach McM aster 143 

In his favorite domain of hard money, he could be charitable regard- 
Ing populistic vagaries, as for instance In a lecture, ls Sound Finance 

Possible under Popular Government?" While lie tried to show that 
legislative panaceas had failed to change basic economic principles* 
he expressed faith in the "hard common sense of the people, who In 
their own good time and way have hitherto adjusted difficulties wisely.** 
He coold have been speaking of the Deity! He regarded the rise of 
trade unions and the right to strike as major gains, but expressed fears 
of contemporary "social agitators/* For their edification he told the 
story of the early wage-earning class so that all might see how hard 
life was in early times. Yet he could express the most advanced 
democratic sympathies, as in his account of manhood suffrage in New 

In 1820 the people of Massachusetts amended their constitution and there, 
too, in her convention was the same hostility to universal suffrage, the same 
distrust of the plain. people, and the old struggle between the rights of prop- 
erty and the rights of man. 

Such equalitarianism was worthy of Bancroft. 4 

His Whig beliefs led him to criticize government by a strong man 
or genius, but at times he expressed a Whiggism of the log cabin and 
hard cider type. The average man was good enough for President as 
long as he represented the popular will, but two terms in office were 
ample. The explanation that he gives for his faith in newspaper 
sources is that they are the truest index of the public mind, the pulse 
of democratic life. Apparently, he did not think that such opinions 
conflicted with his admiration of the conservative Daniel Webster or 
Alexander Hamilton or with his keen dislike of Jefferson. There was 
much here of the peculiar elements of Richard Hildreth's Whig-Radi- 
cal views. 

Eric Goldman, McMaster's able biographer, believed that his in- 
consistencies can be partly explained by the fact that the historian of 
the people used basically conservative assumptions beneath his oft- 
expressed enthusiasm for the growing social progress of people. "Mc- 
Master's new Federalism/' he writes, "accepted political democracy 
and those economic and humanitarian changes which had long since 
been made, and it stopped there." To bolster this statement, he cites 
the historian's unfavorable comments on contemporary Bryan radical- 
ism and the newer labor ideas; he was too ready to believe that the 
ten-hour day advocated by Van Buren ended the struggle for shorter 
hours forever. This analysis is borne out in McMaster's fatuous declara- 

144 The American Historian 

tion In The Social Function of United States History": "There is no 
land where the people are so prosperous, so happy, so Intelligent, so 
bent on doing what is just and right as the people of the United 

McMaster's craftsmanship has been carefully studied by William 
Hutchinson 5 and Eric Goldman. An analysis of footnotes reveals seri- 
ous shortcomings, despite a wide use of original sources printed docu- 
ments, pamphlets, and some manuscripts as well as numerous news- 
papers. Goldman writes, "The inaccuracies in the History are frequent 
enough to suggest that no fact or quotation should be taken from 
McMaster without independent corroboration." Yet he points out that 
the historian was regarded as a model by such critics as Brooks Adams, 
William Dean Howells, Barrett Wendell, and Walter Hines Page. 
Many historians built their research upon McMaster's footnotes (Ban- 
croft had warned him to be more chary of giving such generous aid). 
Readers have complained that McMaster is so eager to dwell upon the 
newsworthy side rather than the long-run significance of his subjects 
that he often pours forth streams of trivia. He spent considerable time, 
for example, on President Monroe's desire to delay his second term by 
a day because of the Sabbath. 

McMaster is vulnerable to the criticism that he acted improperly in 
promoting his popular School History of the United States by request- 
ing the text committee of the Grand Army of the Republic to tell him 
what kind of history would be satisfactory to them and by submitting 
this manuscript to them for comments and endorsement. Yet John 
Fiske and other text writers of that day followed the same practice. 
Readers have also complained that McMaster spends too much time 
on military history. In volume four of his History, for example, which 
seems to be devoted to social history, at least 279 pages actually deal 
with army and navy affairs. Perhaps more serious is his tendency to 
ignore parallel European social and economic trends, thus giving the 
impression that American developments are wholly unique. 

McMaster's contributions to his generation actually outweigh his 
defects and these weaknesses are usually shared with Bancroft, Park- 
man, and Schouler. He still holds a respected place on college reading 
lists, although Allan Nevins and Edward Channing gained upon him 
in social and political history. 

John Bach McMaster 145 

McMaster's heir apparent and doctoral student at the University of 
Pennsylvania was the somewhat erratic Ellis P* Oberlioltzer, who re- 
fused to heed the reviewers when they warned that the loosely de- 
scriptive social history formula was now obsoleteat least by the 
1930s. He completed before his death in 1936 five large volumes, 
HMory of the United States Since the Civil War, with the first having 
appeared in 1917. While the last two volumes might be regarded as 
superior to Rhodes's treatment of the end of the nineteenth century, 
the work was scarcely of the calibre of McMaster's, and the author's 
social prejudices against Negroes, the new immigrant peoples, and 
the labor unions were much more intrusive. 

Born in 1868 of a merchant family, of a mother who was a poet and 
novelist, Ellis Oberholtzer was well educated and had entree to the 
upper-class circles of Philadelphia. Out of his tour of Germany came 
some articles on travel and a book on journalism. At various times, he 
edited a Philadelphia trade journal, the literary page of two city news- 
papers, and the popular American Crisis biographies dealing with 
Civil War leaders. His own biographies on Lincoln and Henry Clay 
added little to existing knowledge, and his life of Jay Cooke has now 
been replaced by Henrietta Larson's expert study based on extensive 
records and sound economic analysis. At one period, he served as an 
obviously heavy-handed motion picture censor, planned historical 
pageants, and took a leading part in the English-Speaking Union. But 
at the same time he worked industriously alongside of McMaster in 
the local historical society. 6 

His volumes begin with 1865 and end at a sharply accelerating pace 
with 1901. The McMaster formula was there: a history of the Amer- 
ican people as a social entity told descriptively rather than analytically. 
But the proportion devoted to politics was far greater than the master 
permitted. Although he made very little acknowledgement to the 
parallel researches of Schouler, Rhodes, Dunning, and others, he did 
not alter the total picture of Reconstruction and its aftermath very 
much. There was the familiar Revisionist pattern of the vindictive 
Radicals using the Negroes as an instrument of power over the white 

However, he knew how to select fascinating details about the so- 
cial setting: the plight of the poor whites, the uneasy social contacts 
between Northern visitors and Southern whites, the boycott of the 

148 The American Historian 

Yankee schoolmarms, and the vindictive Southern belles. Drawing 
some details concerning the Negro from Southern newspapers, he pic- 
tured Loyal League meetings at midnight whereby freedmen yielded 
to the blandishments of the Radicals through incantation and African 
fetishism. The entire Negro race was savage and shiftless. The treat- 
ment of lynchings and other brutalities against the Negroes in later 
years was quite candid, but the context of explanation stressed not 
only bitter economic rivalry between the races but also Negro crimi- 

Similarly he dealt fully with the rather numerous lynchings of Ital- 
ians that he discovered, but he made apparent that Americans of Brit- 
ish descent faced a serious problem of a "horde" of southern and east- 
ern Europeans who descended upon them. These newcomers were un- 
assimilable. As for labor and the unions, these usually appeared only 
in an explanatory context of violence and threats to property, although 
the severity of the great depressions was briefly mentioned. The In- 
dians were by nature "stealthy, treacherous, and vengeful." Much better 
were the discussions of industrial growth, the mushrooming cities such 
as Chicago, and the oil booms. 

While there were and remain admirers of Oberholtzer, and his pub- 
lishers have reprinted his works, the scholarly reviewers in both the 
American Historical Review and the Mississippi Valley Historical Re- 
view were for the most part severely critical toward each volume. 
William A. Dunning of Columbia, whose anti-Radical interpretation 
had preceded the Oberholtzer work, began by praising the interesting 
style, judicial spirit, and sound judgment of the author, and the useful 
chapters on social conditions in the South, North, and West; but he 
greatly diluted this pleasant estimate by saying that the first volume 
was mostly political history written by a man who never saw more 
than one side of a controversy, belittled the motives of those on the 
other side, assassinated reputations, and used sensational vituperative 
epithets (like "Grant's low example"). 7 The competent reviewer of 
the second volume disliked the exaggerated emphasis upon the scan- 
dalous tendencies of the time. 8 The third volume went to a disciple 
of Dunning, Walter L. Fleming, who politely conceded that numer- 
ous sources had been consulted, but that there was no evaluation of 
economic and social factors and there was besides a good deal of 
superficiality. 9 The fourth volume did no better, for the reviewer criti- 
cized the author's Victorian moralizing as well as his superficiality. 10 
And the final volume went to Allan Nevins, then at work on a multi- 
volume history of the coming of the Civil War in all its social, eco- 

John McMasfer 147 

nomic, political^ diplomatic, and cultural phases. He found almost 
nothing to praise and a good deal to attack undigested facts, upper- 
class bias, jingoism, failure to understand the farmer and the laborer, 
superficiality, and deep prejudices. 11 

By the time the last volume was out, scholars agreed that 

the work was out of step with twentieth-century historiography. Some 
charitably suggested that there remained some reference use for it- 
although this implied a low opinion of works of reference. But Ober- 
holtzer had already died, and no new McM aster was in sight 

The social history ideal of McMaster and Eggleston attracted an in- 
creasing number of historians, who were also influenced by a similar 
trend from abroad. Especially noteworthy were the ideas of Germany's 
leading cultural historian, Karl Lamprecht (1856-1915) of the Uni- 
versity of Leipzig, and his brilliant disciples, such as the influential 
Belgian, Henri Pirenne. Lamprecht took issue with Rankers overem- 
phasis on national political history and demanded that politics be in- 
tegrated with the facts of social, economic, and intellectual history. 
He borrowed some of his concepts regarding the central role of the 
history of classes, mass movements, and related intellectual trends from 
Marx. He helped to inspire the New History, particularly at Columbia 
University, where James Harvey Robinson wrote and lectured on this 
theme alongside colleagues in the social-intellectual history field such 
as Charles Beard, Carlton Hayes, and many more. 

Robinson in his New History called for the same breadth of subject 
matter that Lamprecht did, "every trace and vestige of everything 
that man has done or thought." Critics disparaged this as "the past 
everything" which placed an impossible burden on the scholar. This 
comprehensiveness required, he said, the co-operation of the historian 
with new allies, the social scientists. Finally, Robinson held that the 
New History would guide men to social reform and a better world and 
that the interests of the present would provide a guide to the selection 
of what was relevant in the past. Here he reflected the current prag- 
matic spirit of the Progressive movement 

One of the New History circle, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., was a 
chief editor of the thirteen-volume series, A History of American Life, 
which began to appear in 1928. Unlike Lamprecht, all contributors 
excluded political history save as an incident of social development. 
The titles usually revealed an effort to discover an integrating theme 

148 The American Historian 

for the limited period covered; The Revolutionary Generation, The 
of the Common Man, The Impressible Conflict, The Emergence 
of Modern America, The Nationalizing of Industry, The Rise of the 
City, The Quest for Justice, The Great Crusade and After, etc. 

As one critic put it, this was an achievement that went beyond the 
historian's usual effort to investigate a particular people living in a 
particular area at a particular time. The problem now was how to co- 
ordinate the bulk of facts regarding the diverse social and economic 
facets of society still continue to emphasize flux and direction. 
Bernard De Voto, the literary historian, praised the series as far su- 
perior to previous histories. "They are the first history of America that 
the student of literature can count on to assist in his trade." Some his- 
torians complained that the series was too heavily descriptive, too 
little analytical or integrative, and lacking in philosophic substance. 
Others missed the famous names that seemed to be replaced by ob- 
scure ones. 

Schlesinger issued an able defense of the series at a session of the 
American Historical Association. He pointed out the multiplication of 
original sources for social history diaries, personal correspondence, 
newspapers, travel accounts, advertisements, artifacts, museum relics, 
etiquette books, cookbooks, popular songbooks, as well as scientific 
publications. As for the presence of more obscure figures and the al- 
leged tendency to omit unusual facts, he stated that social history 
emphasized "the uncommon importance of common folk and common 
things/' Furthermore, he added, "Social history does not ignore the 
exceptional but focuses on processes rather than problems." 12 This em- 
phasis on "social processes" reflected the early influence of Darwinism 
and its use by Ogburn and other sociologists. Younger historians were 
to try to advance social history toward greater philosophic and "inter- 
disciplinary" integration. However, they did not usually go as far as 
American historians of the European scene did (like Hayes, for ex- 
ample), in integrating political history closely with social and intel- 
lectual history. However, they gave increased attention to the com- 
mon bond of social experience between the United States and Europe. 

Schlesinger's own volume in the series, The Rise of the City, also 
reflected a developing category of social history, urbanization, in 
which McMaster had also been interested. There are various explana- 
tions for the vogue of urban historians (and urban sociologists and 
political scientists): the spectacular increase of population and the 
rise of large cities by the turn of the century; maladjustments, "the 
shame of the cities," and the festering slums publicized by the muck- 

John McMaster 149 

rakers Lincoln Steffens and Jacob Riis; the antimonopoly movement, 
which found outlet in the municipal reform and municipal ownership 
movements; the rapid coun try-to-city migration; the influence of the 
automobile upon the metropolitan community; and various related 
factors. If most Americans now lived in cities, as the census of 1920 
indicated, then the quality of American life was indeed changing in 
conforraance with urban patterns. 

Frederick J. Turner once wrote Schlesinger that there would soon 
be an urban interpretation of history, just as there had been a fron- 
tier synthesis. 13 Sociologists were showing the way. At the University 
of Chicago, Robert E. Park and Ernest \V. Burgess opened up a 
promising area of "ecological research" during the 1920s and 1930s. It 
resulted in a very revealing, though primarily descriptive, series of 
books on Chicago's distinctive areas the Gold Coast and the Slum, 
Hobohemia (the Madison Street section), and other neighborhoods. 
The Lynds of Columbia published a major urban classic, a case study 
of a medium-sized city, Middletown ( 1925), which used the techniques 
of cultural anthropology to discover the unifying factors in the culture 
of Muncie, Indiana. Through their questionnaires, interviews, observa- 
tions, and other methods the Lynds pictured the pressures for small- 
town conformity and intolerance that were described also In the novels 
of Sinclair Lewis and the essays of H. L. Mencken. 

To a large extent, the historians of the city followed the narrowly 
descriptive tradition of McMaster and tended for many years to ignore 
the dynamic techniques of the University of Chicago sociologists of 
the "ecological school," the political scientists who studied urban be- 
havior, and the imaginative Lynds. Journalists seemed particularly 
successful in depicting the political pressures and personalities of the 
large cities. But by the 'thirties, the influence of the social scientists 
upon urban historians affected many academicians. Among the best of 
the urban histories were those dealing with Rochester, New York, 
Chicago, Milwaukee, Holyoke, Norfolk, and Memphis. Carl Briden- 
baugh showed the importance of cities for colonial civilization in three 
fascinating volumes depicting Boston, Newport, New York, Philadel- 
phia, and Charleston; the first volume was Cities in the Wilderness 
1938). But of all branches of social history, the problem of integrating 
the numerous facets of urban institutions and city life seemed to be 
the most difficult. It was too easy to be loosely topical and encyclo- 

During the Great Depression, when environmental interpretations 
of history proliferated, there were social historians who showed dis- 

150 The American Historian 

satisfaction with the seemingly impossible demands of the New His- 
tory. They felt It expected historians to master too many social sciences 
in addition to the traditional auxiliary subjects; besides it added a 
flood of subject matter without offering a basis for selection and or- 
ganization. At a meeting of the American Historical Association in 
December 1989, a group of historians and other social scientists called 
for a "cultural approach to history." They were enamored of the unity 
and symmetry of cultural anthropology and social psychology, which 
provided a relatively integrated view of patterns of social behavior. 
They hoped that historians could utilize these methods of culture 
study to understand the basic assumptions of individuals and their 
frame of reference for living. 

Caroline Ware, whose book Greenwich Village (1935) sought to 
exemplify these ideals, edited the papers and essays of the group in 
The Cultural Approach to History (1940). She stressed the value of 
local history as the life history of a community and called attention 
to such integrated regional studies as Walter Prescott Webb's The 
Great Plains and Rupert B. Vance's ecological interpretation of the 
South. Other contributors, some of them students of Schlesinger, 
stressed the need for the study of folklore, folk music, population 
movements, and other strands of social behavior. Within the next 
decades, the new vogue for American studies in university programs 
encouraged many interdisciplinary experiments. One such ambitious 
project was that of Merle Curti and others in The Making of an 
American Community; A Case Study of Democracy in a Frontier 
County (1959). This demonstrated the applicability of Turner's lead- 
ing frontier theses to a Wisconsin county during 1840-80. By that time 
Curti could cite his indebtedness to various interdisciplinary confer- 
ences, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at 
Stanford, and his experience in the developing field of American civ- 
ilization at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere. 

McMaster had opened the door wide to the study of immigration 
history, and within a brief compass had used immigration statistics 
and immigrant letters, as well as occasional European newspapers. 
Usually he emphasized native reactions to the foreigner rather than 
any internal view of immigrant life and institutions. Like so many 
of the Old Americans, he doubted the assimilability of the Irish and 
other groups, for he belonged to the New England Brahmins who 

John Bach McMaster 151 

felt threatened by the influx of Catholics and Jews into Boston, De- 
scendants of the Puritans like Henry Cabot Lodge, also a historian 
who had been trained under Henry Adams himself, united to secure 
federal laws restricting immigration particularly from southern and 
eastern Europe. Among historians of the period from 1SSO to 1924 
(die date of die major immigration restriction act), the myth pre- 
vailed that Anglo-American institutions grew out of Teutonic in- 
stitutions and that "Nordic" peoples were superior to other races. 
Henry Adams, who preferred to stress Norman rather than Teutonic 
origins, nevertheless outdid the others in virulent anti-Semitism, for 
he identified the evils of finance capitalism with international Jewish 
machinations. Woodrow Wilson showed his edmocentrism in an early 
edition of his general history by prejudiced comments on the Italians 
and other southern Europeans; this embarrassed him during the elec- 
tion of 1912 when the Republicans used this material against him. 14 

Journalists, lawyers, and businessmen among the Italians, Greeks, 
Slavs, and eastern Jews took up the defense of their people. The stakes 
were high, since the outcome of the great debate would influence 
the long-pending legislation restricting southern European immigrants. 
Most of these books were either filio-pietistic or obviously designed to 
combat the prejudices of the Nordic propagandists. The results too 
often were merely a list or a general discussion of immigrants who 
had made good in some outstanding way. Enlightened social-service 
leaders like Edith Abbott of the University of Chicago wrote favorable 
books on the immigrant and published documentary collections on 
immigration that had historical merit as well as practical policy Impli- 
cations. Professor Mary R. Coolidge, a sociologist, disposed of many 
West Coast myths regarding Chinese traits in a most searching and 
sympathetic study, Chinese Immigration (1909); and University of 
Chicago sociologists, following the reformist tradition of Albion Small, 
published studies that opposed the older ethnocentrism. Louis Wirth, 
for example, a German-Jewish sociologist, published a noteworthy 
dissertation, The Ghetto (1928). He pictured the West Side Chicago 
Jewish community with its amazing medley of eastern European traits, 
the peddlers ("the lapel-pullers") of Maxwell Street, and the surviving 
orthodox customs; he showed the interaction of the new Jewish immi- 
grant from Poland and Russia with the older Occidentalized German 

American historians were largely of northern and western European 
descent and often mastered the language of these immigrants. Scandi- 
navians and Germans in particular produced many scholars capable 

152 The 

of using the tools of social research. The Swedes and Norwegians, for 
example^ were among the first to the benefits of a well-equipped 

band of historians to tell the story of their impact upon American 
society. At the University of Minnesota, George Stephensom wrote ar- 
ticles and published letters and records dealing with the Swedish- 
American colonies, made a special study of The Religious Aspects 
of Swedish Immigration (1932), and even attempted in 1926, with only 
limited success 9 a general history of American immigration. His col- 
league, Theodore Blegea, explored numerous facets of Norwegian- 
American life; Norwegian emigrant songs and ballads, the early Nor- 
wegian press, and other pioneer studies that were finally incorporated 
in a definitive work. The Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1880 
(1931). Augustana College, too, had its able historians of Scandi- 
navian America. These men used numerous immigrant letters, the 
Scandinavian newspapers, the formal records, and artifacts. Historians 
were at a disadvantage in competing with the sensitive pen of the im- 
migrant novelist, Ole Rolvaag, who wrote Giants in the Earth and 
other revealing novels about the titanic struggle of the Norwegian 
pioneers of South Dakota during the 1870s. The Norwegian emigrant 
also had a noted literary interpreter at home in Johan Bojer, author 
of The Emigrants (1925). 

German-American historians had been active since the mid-nine- 
teenth century, but the most ambitious and comprehensive work came 
in 1909 from a Germanic scholar at Cornell, Professor Albert B. Faust. 
His two-volume study, The German Element in the United States, 
which received several literary prizes, added a great deal to the pic- 
ture of German-American civilization, though its emphasis tended to 
be filio-pietistic. 

Several decades later, a more scientific historian, Carl F. Wittke of 
Oberlin and Western Reserve University, did much to stimulate the en- 
tire field of immigration history, as well as to tell much more accurately 
and fully the story of the German-American. In his study German- 
Americans and the World War (1936), he dealt with the mob spirit 
that had led to the indictment of an entire people, stamped out the 
long-established teaching of German in many schools, and intimidated 
thousands with false blanket accusations of disloyalty. He contrasted 
the historical record of general wartime loyalty of the so-called "hy- 
phenate" (German-American) with the charges made against them. In 
later books he traced the influence of German socialism upon the Amer- 
ican labor movement, notably in two well-written biographies of two 
stormy "Forty-eighters," Karl Heinzen and Wilhelm Weitling. In the 

Joint 153 

'fifties, lie drew together many little-known facets of German- American 
liberalism In Refugees of Freedom, wrote a pioneer history of the 
German-American press, and issued a rounded history of the 
Irish-American immigration. 

In 1939, Carl \Vittke published We Who which was 

later voted by scholars in a survey printed in the Valley 

Historical Review as an outstanding work. It went far beyond George 
Stephenson's History of American Immigration in its broad treatment 
of social and cultural history, its depth, and Its extensive sources, 
which drew heavily on the contemporary press. It began with the 
immigrant traffic of colonial times, stressed the reasons for emigration, 
gave particular attention to the Irish, the Germans, the Scandinavians, 
and the eastern Europeans, and discussed the "closing of the gates" 
through native pressures and discriminator}' legislation. Among the 
varied facets covered were the immigrant press, distinctive cultural 
contributions, political behavior, the distribution of the immgrant 
groups, education, recreation, the churches, and the interaction of im- 
migrant and native. The tone was sympathetic though objective. For 
the author, the son of a German immigrant of 1SS9, the story was 
partly one of self-identification with the entire stream of immigration 
regardless of origin. Speaking of his father, he said, ^Unpretentiously, 
simply, and harmoniously, his life blended into the American stream, 
and became a humble but honorable fragment of forgotten thousands 
who have helped to build this nation." This was his central theme. 

The south Italian had his most interpretive and objective scholar in 
Phyllis H. Williams, who possessed a background in social work. Her 
fascinating narrative, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America 
(1938), showed specifically the interaction of cultures between the 
homeland and the new countryan adjustment process that sociolo- 
gists referred to as acculturation, as distinct from mere assimilation, 
in which one group adopts the culture of the other. 

Among the younger social historians, Oscar Handlin of Harvard, 
himself of Jewish immigrant extraction, wrote an analytical history 
of the Boston Irish before the Civil War, and raised fresh questions 
regarding ethnic groups in several books and in Commentary maga- 
zine dealing with the Jews and other groups. He won a Pulitzer prize 
for The Uprooted (1951), which pictured the emigrant's painful break 
with his age-old native community and culture and his persistent sense 
of alienation in an individualist world of "separated men." The new- 
comer was adrift in a fluid society in which roots were difficult to 
grow; but the perceptive discovered that here men could enjoy the 

154 The American Historian 

exhilarating experience of utilizing one's dormant capacities. Research 
on the Jewish immigrant was prolific and some of it had been spon- 
sored since 1S92 by the Jewish Historical Society. The most ambitious 
co-operative project of all came in the 1950s when Jewish community 
agencies aided interested historians to write individual histories of 
Jewish communities in the larger cities, a work that was co-ordinated 
under the direction of Allan Xevins of Columbia. The early volumes 
revealed a painstaking use of numerous local records, family letters, 
Jewish newspapers, and other fresh sources. 

The Slavs and other eastern European groups also had their trained 
historians, such as Professor Joseph S. Roucek of the University of 
Bridgeport, who came of Czech origin; but this group had fewer his- 
torians than the older immigrant groups, for the general scholars were 
discouraged by the linguistic difficulties. Talented journalists like 
Louis Adamic of Yugoslavia and the contributors to his popular series 
on immigration covered most major nationalities, and made up in 
enthusiasm what they lacked in original source materials and scholarly 
method. Adamic's very human autobiography, A Native's Return, 
which depicted unforgettably the Slovene native and his naive no- 
tion of America, was a best-seller; his phrase, "a nation of nations" 
expressed the idea of a federated culture. Native Americans of older 
ancestral groups took up the cause of the newcomer against the preju- 
diced native. Many scholarly histories were written on such related 
topics as nativism^ "the Protestant Crusade/' and the social and intel- 
lectual forces behind restrictionism. Merle Curti encouraged scholars 
to approach the subject from the immigrant's view, notably in studies 
of "the image of America" held by various European nationalities. 

Before mid-century, the uncritical concept of Americanization and 
assimilation which did not always indicate exactly what native stand- 
ards were being held up for imitation had been severely challenged. 
Native impatience with the slow process required for the immigrant 
to lose his cultural identity had been reflected in the popular phrase, 
"the melting pot." "Cultural blend" was increasingly preferred to the 
melting pot label as less destructive of worthwhile ethnic contribu- 
tions. A sensitive representative of the Jewish immigrant intellectual, 
Horace Kallen, professor of philosophy of the New School for Social 
Research, who had been born in Silesia, pleaded for the concept of 
"cultural pluralism/' He suggested the human need for a rich diversity 
in machine-age America and for a federative rather than a tightly 
amalgamated culture. In the New Deal years, this tendency toward 
cultural pluralism was reinforced by the growing strength of all ethnic 

John Bach McMasfer 155 

minorities, Including the Negro and the American Indian. Cultural 
anthropologists, led by Franz Boas of Columbia and his prolific dis- 
ciples, gave scholarly prestige to the ideal of cultural diversity working 
in democratic unity, and they successfully combatted the forces of 
racialism. Even the forgotten American Indian became the recipient 
of "A New Deal for the Indian," as Commissioner John Collier's pro- 
gram for the Indian was called. Respect for tribal culture was ad- 
vanced through laws protecting Indian communal lands and a type 
of Indian education that recognized the creative values in traditional 
Indian life. All this had its equivalent in new histories of the Indian, 
which reflected a changed point of -view. 

The vast literature of American Protestantism was similarly en- 
riched. William Warren Sweet of the University of Chicago focused 
upon the frontier as a force in church history, and his students pub- 
lished studies of the carnp meeting and other institutions. Mormons 
competed with non-Mormons to write a history of that denomination. 
Alice Felt Tyler's Freedom's Ferment (1944) related the sectarian 
history of the ante-bellum years to Utopia-building. Very influential 
from the standpoint of methodology was The Social Sources of De- 
nominationalism (1929) by H. Richard Niebuhr, which showed the 
evolution of sectarianism from an early stage of social protest to a 
more conservative position in keeping with the advancing prosperity 
made possible by the very tenets of hard work and thrift preached by 
the early leaders. 

Especially important in the literature of the social gospel, which 
Ernst Troetsch had examined sociologically in 1912 in Germany, was 
C. H. Hopkins's The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protes- 
tantism, 1865-1915 (1940), which was actually a contribution to in- 
tellectual history, particularly in its explanation of the "doctrine of im- 
manence." God's presence in secular society broke down the distinc- 
tion between the secular and the spiritual and suggested a large role 
for the church in welfare, labor, and reform. Most enlightening in 
showing the historical origins of the principle of the separation of 
church and state was the monumental work of A. P. Stokes, Church 
and State in the United States (1950). 

Catholic history advanced beyond the limited ecclesiastical studies 
to reflect the impact of the social studies. It was not uncommon for a 
Catholic professor like Aaron Abell, who dealt with the church and 
the labor movement, to write on a Protestant theme: The Urban Im- 
pact on American Protestantism (1943); nor wholly unusual for a 
Protestant historian like Robert D. Cross to write an excellent sym- 

156 The 

pathetic volume on The of in America 

(195S). Catholic historians developed a vigorous press, as well as a 
center for historical studies at the Catholic University of America, 
and various Catholic historical societies and national Journals. Ec- 
clesiastical historians were enriched by the expanding resources of 
the Baltimore Cathedral Archives and die University of Notre Dame 
Archives. Catholic leadership in America proved so popular a theme 
that biography became a dominant trend by mid-century. Especially 
well received was the outstanding two-volume life of James Cardinal 
Gibbons by John Tracy Ellis. Father Charles BL Metzger encouraged 
the organization of the extensive John Carroll papers and wrote on 
such themes as the Quebec Act and the Franco-American Alliance of 
1778, both concerned with the role of Catholic influences in American 
history. 15 

Thus, the writing of American history took on larger dimensions due 
to the social historians. Each ethnic group helped to make America, 
as Carl Wittke had emphasized. Pennsylvania Germans, for example, 
as an entire historical literature demonstrated, had a decisive effect on 
colonial culture through their farming techniques, their music and 
art, their religious idealism, and their customs. Nineteenth-century 
Germans of the educated classes promoted progressive education, sym- 
phonic music, the adoption of calisthenics in the YMCA and the public 
schools, tlie antislavery crusade, reformist labor doctrines, Utopian 
colonies, and a high level of journalism. 

Irishmen took the pick and shovel jobs in such numbers that native 
workers rose rapidly to take higher positions, while the new abundance 
of Irish domestic workers raised the social status of New England 
families. The Irish captured Tammany Hall and influenced the politics 
of the Empire State through New York City, especially in close na- 
tional elections involving controversial British issues. They were fore- 
most in shaping the organization and the parochial schools of Ameri- 
can Catholicism. Two World Wars raised the "hyphenate issue" in 
varying degrees and tested the loyalty of ethnic groups affiliated with 
Germany and her allies. 

Scandinavians played a significant role in the pioneer civilization of 
the Upper Mississipi Valley, as well as in twentieth-century social and 
political life. First-generation Italians brought their gift of song as 
well as their commercial skills. Eastern European Jews made the im- 
portant garment industry influential in the history of welfare union- 
ism, shaped the motion-picture industry for mass entertainment, intro- 
duced new techniques in vast department stores, while many of their 

John McMaster 157 

children achieved in the law, academic life, commerce, and 

medicine, 16 

Thus, the long and Important story of America's diversity unfolded 

from thousands of books, monographs, theses, and articles. While much 
of the writing, as the younger historians complained, was largely de- 
scriptive rather than analytical, the quality steadily advanced, and the 
ethnocentric bias declined. The new generation of professional social 
historians were better equipped than McMaster, Eggleston, and even 
James Harvey Robinson in the interdisciplinary fields and methods, 
and improved results naturally followed. 

Henry Adams and the Dream 
of a Science of History 

lew historians of the nineteenth century seemed as determined as 
Henry Adams to share the prestige of the natural scientists by borrow- 
ing their methods. He was a friend of Sir Charles Lyell, the geologist, 
who had demonstrated the antiquity of the earth far beyond the brief 
span suggested by certain tiheologists. For years Adams lived in the 
London of Darwin, Spencer, and Huxley and was tempted, like other 
students of the social studies, to transform evolution into a precise 
historical process of stages and social adaptation, moving in some 
teleological way. Above all, he was aware of the revolutionary physi- 
cists, Thomson, Helmholtz, and Josiah Gibbs who were uncovering 
startling implications for the concepts of thermodynamics. 

In his later years Adams took the idea of the dynamo from thermo- 
dynamics and applied it as a symbol of force to the field of historical 
development. "To historians/* he thought, "the single interest is the 
law of reaction between force and force between mind and nature 
the law of progress." He found the social doctrines of Auguste Comte, 
"father of sociology," grist for his philosophy of history. Comte's posi- 
tivism offered a theory of social reform that seemed scientific. It was 
based on the idea that society had evolved from its two earliest stages 
of theology and metaphysics into a scientific or "positive'" stage. Adams 
spoke of "phases" instead of stages and was anxious to assign mathe- 


Henry 159 

matical values to them. Like so many otlier social scientists, lie ad- 
mired the posltivists because they to be working toward a 
science of society based on Irrefutable laws. 

For a time lie felt that the theories of Karl Marx and the socialists 
might actually have found the large measure of predictability In his- 
tory which they claimed. "By rights/ 5 he wrote of himself In his auto- 
biography, The Education of Henry Adams, "he should have been also 
a Marxist, but some narrow trait of the New England nature seemed 
to blight socialism, and he tried in vain to make himself a convert" 
During the long years after he had written his monumental History^ 
his philosophy of history gradually moved toward scientific pessimism 
and determinism. He saw society as moving through calculated phases 
which would inevitably lead to collectivism and technological effi- 
ciency. He called publicly for a "law of phase" for history which 
would be the equivalent of GIbbs's celebrated law of phase In physics. 
But by that time he had ceased to write history. 

This dream of transferring scientific certainty to history and the 
other social studies had influenced Richard Hildreth, whose History 
of the United States wavered between Jeremy Bentham's counsels to 
achieve mechanical objectivity and his own emotional bias. Long be- 
fore Adams died in 1918, his original contemporary, Frederick Jackson 
Turner, had transmuted social Darwinism Into a formula whereby 
western history was seen through the evolution of the frontier. Turner 
avoided outright prediction, but his Idea of ever-evolving frontier 
stages left their clear Implications of inevitable development. By 1890 
the social sciences tended to emphasize the inevitable evolution of so- 
cial institutions (property, law, the family, religion, capitalism, etc.) 
from a simple stage to a complex one. Social scientists were usually 
optimists, believers in progress, quite unlike Adams, who thought that 
social and racial energy would inevitably be dissipated. 

There was another concept of scientific history which was more 
congenial to the optimistic free-will atmosphere of western Europe 
and America. This was the idea of historical objectivity belonging to 
the critical tradition of Thucydides. Henry Adams himself had been 
an American pioneer in harnessing critical principles to history-writing 
through the new seminar methods. Instead of borrowing generalized 
principles from physics or biology, the seminar historian invoked the 
searching questions of the courtroom to establish evidence, demon- 
strated a large measure of personal detachment, and handled the 
sources critically, particularly in the matter of meaning, authenticity, 

160 The American Historian 

dependability. He followed the highly fruitful example of the 
German philologists. 

Natural history, like physics and biology, also left its imprint upon 
"scientific"* historians tlirough the monograph. Early in the nineteenth 
century German and French botanists, zoologists, and mineralogists 
had popularized the "monographic" or monograph which was a treatise 
on a single species, genus, or larger group of plants, animals, or min- 
erals. It was an attempt to turn away from the general treatise in the 
interests of specialization and the division of labor. So it was with 
historians. Increasingly they rebelled against the broad encompassing 
histories of Bancroft, McMaster, and others and singled out a single 
institution or event for isolated study. Often the results were profitable 
and enriched historical knowledge and understanding. But very often 
the monograph afforded an easy escape from philosophic integration. 

Adams was totaly innocent of that type of "scientific" monograph 
which consisted solely of unrelieved factualism. He never tolerated 
the kind of unimaginative writing that was devoid of hypotheses and 
conclusions. While he was indeed a Comtian positivist in search of 
the laws of society, he did not believe that his fellow-historians should 
become mere fact-collectors as Comte expected. To those willing to 
become hewers of wood and drawers of water for the sociologists, 
there was the temptation to present discrete facts heavily bolstered by 
footnotes, to put together a narrative indifferent to literary charm, and 
to deny responsibility for integration on a high level. For such allegedly 
scientific historians, who might invoke the current relativistic anthro- 
pology in their defense, value judgments were obsolete. 

In so far as the factual monographists had any philosophy of his- 
tory, it was the easy notion that every historical event was unique and 
that the very idea of a philosophy of history was an anachronism. Even 
before the twentieth century began, these historians not only rebelled 
against the tight syntheses borrowed directly from physics and biology, 
such as those of Adams and Turner (later), but dismissed the search 
for "laws" and even the concept of historical causation as futile. The 
factualists had little use for the comparative method so fruitful in so- 
ciology, anthropology, and biblical criticism. History was too little an 
art to be a branch of literature and lacked most of the qualifications 
for a social science. Literally taken, the idea that history consisted of 
wholly unique facts made even history itself impossible, for at the 
core of historiography was the idea of change and development a 
process assuming some continuity, direction, and meaning. Aristotle 
had long ago exposed the fallacy of uniqueness by demanding a con- 

Henry 101 

text of classification to make each fact meaningful. Uniqueness was a 
half-truth useful for the unimaginative. 

The academic historians of Henry Adams's to 

hail Leopold von Ranke ( 1795-1SS6 } as the great master and pioneer 
of scientific history In the sense of objective, critical narrative. Born in 
Saxony, Ranke studied theology and classical philology at Leipzig. 
He became interested in Roman history, in which Niebuhr had intro- 
duced new concepts of research; then he made German history his 
specialty during a long lifetime. In 1833 he introduced the noted 
seminar method at the University of Berlin and attracted brilliant 
students, who later became leading historians in various countries. 
His seminar methodology stressed legal rules of evidence, the rejec- 
tion of mere hearsay, and a reliance on the witness closest to the event. 
Under his inspiration archival studies became a major discipline. 

Ranke and his circle represent a turning point in historiography. 
Not only did they make scientific methods the cornerstone of a new 
professionalization of history, but they broke the iron grip of the 
philosophers on their discipline. To them such philosophers of history 
as Hegel and others who superimposed formulas like progress on the 
actual events of the past had to be replaced by craftsmen of empirical 
research. This war against pseudo-history led Ranke to overstate his 
case to such an extent as to give the impression that he was childishly 
naive in his epistemology; critics charged that he believed that the 
past could be completely recaptured by the scientific historian. He 
had written in his early years too emphatically: 

History has Lad assigned to it the task of judging the past, of instructing 
the present for the benefit of the ages to come. To such lofty functions this 
work does not aspire. Its aim is merely to show what actually occurred. 

Furthermore, he continued to say even in his old age that he had 
tried "to avoid all invention and imagination in my works and to 
stick to the facts." Admirers pointed out that Ranke's famous History 
of the Popes must have been uncommonly objective because the work 
pleased both Protestants and Catholics. 

Ranke's objectivity has been misunderstood because of his insistance 
that the historian must not intrude his judgments upon the narrative. 
He was after all a devout man who believed in eternal moral standards 
and in the idea that God acted through history. It was very important 
to the development of historiography that Ranke stood successfully 
against the use of the new natural sciences as a tool of deterministic 
historical interpretations and against the ideas of extreme philosophic 

162 The American Historian 

necessity or inevitability. As a moral man, lie believed in the existence 
of free will. Each epoch was to him "immediate to God" and hence 
contained essential qualities of individuality and uniqueness as be- 
Itted God's will. This emphasis oa the uniqueness of facts and the 
idea of "irreducible individuals" was takt^n by many disciples here and 
abroad to sanction the total elimination of philosophy as an ally of 
history. Such superficial practitioners reduced history to a surface 
narrative, to the dry monographs and pedantic footnotes associated 
with the "scientific school," and lent color to the charge of Beard, 
Robinson, and the "relativists" that Rankean objective history was 
history* without an object. 

The same insistence upon suspending moral judgments as irrele- 
vant encouraged the rise of an amoral historicism. This made history 
the measure of all values and disregarded outside ethical judgments 
imposed upon the flow of recorded events. "Scientific" disciples among 
the Prussian school chose the road of Realpolitik, which permitted the 
end to justify the means by ignoring ethical value judgments. These 
liistoricists often saw the lives of great men as expressions of mere 
impersonal social forces. Ranke's emphasis on the primacy of foreign 
policy and the state, which he thought of as a search for a peaceful 
equilibrium between the great powers, became transformed by certain 
disciples into a nationalist, imperialist, and militarist formula. Few 
historians have seen the tragic influence of Ranke as well as the Dutch 
scholar, Pieter Geyl, who rejects historicism but recognizes that Ranke 
was no historicist. 

Henry Adams owed much to Ranke. As already noted, he was a 
pioneer in teaching the meticulous critical methods of the German 
and introduced the scientific seminar and the archival diligence so 
popular in the German universities. However, he devoted years to 
diplomatic history not because of Ranke but because he became in- 
terested in the subject when his father was American minister to Eng- 
land. Taking Rankeism at face value, he took issue with the statement 
that history could show what actually occurred. Being too closely 
wedded to the natural science ideal, he disagreed with Ranke's in- 
junctions against historical predictability and imaginative generaliza- 
tions. But Adams's actual histories were well within Ranke's canons 
of scientific history; and his own formulas derived from natural science 
produced no history whatever. 

Rationalism was a major ingredient in the new scientific history, 
despite Ranke's mysticism, and Henry Adams shared fully in this 
trend. Even in later years, when he wrote so appreciatively of the age 

Henry Adams 

of faith and the cult of tlie Virgin in Mont-Saint-Michel and 
lie regretted that he could not find salvation in the certainties of the 
church. The "higher criticism" movement of the nineteenth century 
hud gone far to shake the historicity of the Bible even before Darwin 
went to work. Comparative religion as a discipline the inspired 

uniqueness of the Bible by showing parallel accounts of the Creation, 
the flood, and rituals in various religions. Early anthropologists, some 
of them products of Ranke's seminar, depended wholly on rational ex- 
planations of social institutions. Among the laity, there were many 
thousands of admiring listeners for the lectures OB agnosticism of 
Robert Ingersoll, disciple of Thomas Paine. 

The well educated had at least a bowing acquaintance with the 
books of the dogmatic Irish rationalist, William E. H. Lecky (1S3S- 
1903), author of History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in 
Europe ( 1865) and the even better-known History of European Morals 
from Augustus to Charlemagne (1S69). Suggestive of Adams's plan 
for his History was Lecky *s most-praised work, the eight-volume His- 
tory of England in the Eighteenth Century (1578-90), which the 
American greatly admired. Adams, too, was then working on a po- 
litical history which contained significant chapters on social and cul- 
tural developments. 

Lecky liked to depict the decay of theology, the triumph of ration- 
alism, and the warfare between reason and theology. Within the same 
tradition was the English-born American scientist and historian, John 
William Draper (1811-82), a New York University research chemist 
in radiant energy, and the author of rationalist works on topics similar 
to those dealt with in Lecky 's books. His History of the Intellectual 
Development of Europe (1863) used an evolutionary approach (then 
novel in history), and the popular and rationalistic History of the 
Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874) inspired numerous de- 
bates in the lyceums of that era. 1 To him the Catholic Church was 
the chief foe of science throughout history. Andrew D. White, another 
early disciple of Darwin and Spencer, was trained in history under 
German and French scholars, gave research courses in scientific his- 
tory at the University of Michigan, and became one of the first presi- 
dents of Cornell University. He served as a minister to Germany and 
Russia and became in 1884 the first president of the new American 
Historical Association. He called for a philosophic approach that 
would not be "value-free." Like Draper, he depicted the clergy as 
allies of obscurantism, but included both Protestant and Catholic 
churches in his indictment. 

164 The American 

This rationalist stimulated Adams's interest in science. It also 

strengthened his desire to use deterministic interpretations of history 
and left nothing but contempt for the great man theories of his- 
tory. He wrote emphatically ia 1SS2 to William James 9 "With hero- 
worship like Carlyle's 1 have little patience. In history heroes have 
neutralized each other, and the result is no more than would have 
been reached without them." One can therefore understand his en- 
thusiasm for the English physical environmentalist, Henry Thomas 
Buckle, who set aside any biographic approach to history for an 
inductive study of large masses of men which afforded so Buckle 
thought the possibility of discovering physical, moral, and intellec- 
tual laws of universal validity. This was good doctrine to Adams. He 
lamented the failure of historians to embrace natural science, except 
for such rare geniuses as Buckle, In his Education Adams wrote with 
his usual exaggerated pessimism: 

Since Gibbon, the spectacle was almost a scandal. History had lost the 
sense of shame. It was a hundred years behind the experimental sciences. 
For all serious purposes, it was less instructive than Walter Scott and Alex- 
andrc Dumas. 

Henry Adams shamelessly misled his own readers in his classic auto- 
biography, The Education of Henry Adams, by picturing himself as 
a failure in life who had learned little of value in school and college 
to equip him for the new age of science. His younger brother Brooks 
was amused (if he was amused at anything) by this pose and ex- 
plained after Henry's death, **He was not a failure, for lie succeeded, 
and succeeded brilliantly, in whatever he undertook, where success 
was possible/' Although Henry loved to affect pessimism in his writ- 
ings and he sustained a great shock in the suicide of his wife, his many 
years were spent among unusually devoted and talented friends in 
Cambridge and Paris. Unlike his Mnfolk, he had not the slightest 
desire for public office, not even the presidency of the American His- 
torical Association that was thrust upon him. His wealth, inherited 
largely from his Brooks grandfather, made it easy for him to travel 
and study abroad and to carry on his vast and expensive archival re- 
searches comfortably and to follow his inclinations generally. 

His Education dwelt on the abiding influence of noted ancestors 
upon his life. Born in Boston in 1838, he knew his grandfather, John 
Quincy Adams, during impressionable early years; and the tradition 


of John Adams, who died finally In 1S28, of Abigail 
fresh. His father, Charles Francis Adams, was also a major 
who ran in IS4S as the vice-presidential nominee of the Free Sellers 
and won a seat in Congress as a Republican in 1&59. When Lincoln 
appointed him minister to Great Britain, he took Henry with as 
his private secretary. Minister Adams proved so effective as a diplo- 
mat that he helped to win support for the Union at a 
Anglo-American relations determined in part the fate of the United 

Brooks Adains offers a clue to the pessimistic interpretation held 
by his brother ( and to some extent himself also ) regarding the down- 
ward trend or "degradation" of the democratic dogma. In the ^heri- 
tage of Henry Adams" to use Brooks's chapter titlewas revealed 
John Quincy Adams's lasting shock at his defeat in 182S by Jackson 
and the unlettered hosts of Democracy. The defeated president, who 
believed that his program alone advanced the welfare of the people, 
even confessed privately that the defeat shook his faith in God an 
inconceivable thing for a family so steeped in religious tradition. 
Brooks and Henry, who subscribed to the idea of the steady deterio- 
ration of "social energy/* following an analogy from the second law 
of thermodynamics, saw in all this the decay of democracy. The high 
level of public morality and intellectuality in Washington's day had 
deteriorated under the spoils system of Jackson and reached the bot- 
tom under Grant. In fact, Henry even used the theme of decline in 
his popular novel Democracy, which portrayed the cynicism of cor- 
rupt men in the nation's capital. 

Harvard of course was the only college for an Adams, and it left 
a decisive intellectual influence on him, despite all of Henry's flat 
denials in The Education. Among his teachers were James Russell 
Lowell, Louis Agassiz, and Professor Francis Bowen, who also specu- 
lated upon the possibility of a science of history. Nor did Harvard show 
the bad judgment that Adams attributed to the president when the 
latter invited him to teach medieval history (to which was added 
American) in 1870. When he introduced the seminar in history at 
Harvard, he had as an assistant, Henry Cabot Lodge, and his students* 
papers were published as Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (1876). It is 
apparent from these essays (he wrote the introduction) that Adams, 
like other prominent historians of his day, taught the "germ theory/* 
with its emphasis on how democratic institutions evolved from the 
Anglo-Saxon peoples. He advised Lodge, "Learn to appreciate and to 
use the German historical method, and your style can be elaborated at 

166 The American Historian 

leisure." Here was the Ranke tradition. From medieval history, Adams 
turned to lectures and seminars in American colonial and early national 
history. He even assured friends that history as a profession paid well 
in money and prestige, as witness the examples of the New Englanders 
Prescott, Motley, Parkman, and Bancroft. But he failed to make the 
money they did. 

Like other distinguished New England historians, he edited the 
North American Review and contributed articles and book reviews. 
In a lengthy paper on Captain John Smith he raised a controversy by 
questioning the story that Pocahontas had interceded dramatically 
to save him from imminent death. He thought it suspicious that Smith 
had omitted this tale in his earliest narrative, one written soon after 
the event, and published it first in a much later history. When he 
reviewed George Bancroft's History, he criticized its chauvinistic tone 
and its naive support of man's inherent democratic faith and its belief 
in human perfectibility. One of his early books, Documents Relating 
to New England Federalism (1877)., included the first publication of 
a polemic of John Quincy Adams, who had courageously voted for 
Jefferson's Embargo (which hurt New England commerce) and at- 
tacked the Essex Junto of his section and party for their plot to secede 
from the United States. 2 

Looking about for a large historical era to make his own after the 
fashion of the great New England historians, he chose the fourteen 
years following the time that John Adams left office in 1801. After 
a dozen years of research both here and in several European coun- 
tries, he published nine volumes during 1889-91 as The History of 
the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas 
Jefferson and James Madison. He had served a special apprenticeship 
for this work by writing detailed biographies of Albert Gallatin, Jef- 
ferson's secretary of the treasury, and John Randolph, erratic gadfly 
of the Virginian Republicans. Gallatin appeared as a man of high 
integrity, a gifted economist, and an energetic organizer and leader 
(like J. Q. Adams) in internal improvements. Adams believed that the 
basic practical questions of history were usually economic. Privately, 
he asserted that Gallatin "was the most fully and perfectly equipped 
statesman we can show." But Gallatin's later biographer, Raymond 
Walters, Jr., feels that Adams neglected the private life of the states- 
man and permitted the book to follow the documents so mechanically 
as to forsake the critical duties of the historian. The Randolph biog- 
raphy was much less successful because of the eccentric personality 
involved and Adams's desire to show the inconsistencies of the men 

Henry Adams 167 

who had replaced Washington and John Adams. By the time that 
Adanis had been fairly launched into his researches for the Jefferson 
and Madison administrations, his prejudices became cumulative. He 
wrote to Samuel J. Tilden: 8 

To do justice to Gallatin was a labor of love. ... I cannot say as much 
for his friends Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, about whom I have been 
for years hard at work. In regard to them I am incessantly forced to devise 
excuses and apologies or to admit that no excuse will avail. I am at times 
almost sorry that I ever undertook to write their history, for they appear 
like mere grasshoppers kicking and gesticulating on the middle of the Missis- 
sippi River. There is no possibility of reconciling their theories with their 
acts, or their extraordinary foreign policy with dignity. 

Meanwhile he searched arduously for material in the archives of 
England, France, and Spain, aided by generous government policy. 
In the United States, he enjoyed unrestricted access to diplomatic 
papers. The British government, remembering his father, even changed 
official rules to allow Adams to examine the most confidential files. 
While recent critics have sometimes held that Adams left the bulk 
of the then available sources untouched, it is difficult to imagine how 
one would go about exhausting the enormous sources of such a vast 

The nine volumes of the History focused on a central diplomatic 
and military theme the coming of the War of 1812 and the actual 
conflict itself. For the sake of public curiosity, as he privately ad- 
mitted, he gave the Burr Conspiracy disproportionate space. And only 
a New Englander could feel justified in devoting so large a part of 
the Jeffersonian section of the work to the Embargo. 

Yet historians single out the all-too-brief 155 pages of introductory 
social and cultural history in volume one as most revelatory of the 
genius of this work. These early chapters actually portray the relative 
backwardness of the nation in 1800, not too far removed in some re- 
spects from the technology of Saxon times, especially in rural com- 
munities. Even in intellectual New England, where the schools were 
comparatively excellent, the educational system was antiquated in 
many ways, he thought. Harvard "resembled a priesthood which had 
lost the secret of its mysteries, and patiently stood holding the flick- 
ering torch before cold altars, until God should vouchsafe a new dis- 
pensation." A narrow alliance of clergy and magistracy then domi- 

168 The American Historian 

nated New England, even though orthodoxy had been reduced to a 
shell. New York, Virginia, and South Carolina were ruled by family 
oligarchies. Newspapers flourished, but their quality was depressing. 
With his caustic humor, he observed: "The student of history might 
search forever these storehouses of political calumny for facts meant 
to instruct the public in any useful object/' He felt no need to mince 
words over the prevailing intellectual poverty; for even Philadelphia, 
the literary as well as political capital of the United States, lacked an 
intellectual society. His conclusion was not unexpected: "The labor 
of the hand had precedence over that of the mind throughout the 
United States." 

On the other hand, he defended the average American of 1800 from 
the charges of crude materialism and greed leveled by English poets 
and travelers. He was struck by the American faith in the future, a 
highly imaginative belief for which no underlying substance seemed 
to exist. He said that "the average American" was more intelligent 
than the average European of that day and that his gift for invention 
was converting the democratic instinct into practical shape. Beneath 
the forces of natural selection America was evolving into an advanced 
technical society. But there was still "a disproportion between the 
physical obstacles and the natural means for overcoming them." Con- 
servatism struggled with the force of the innovating spirit: 

The task of overcoming popular inertia in a democratic society was new 
and seemed to offer peculiar difficulties. Without a scientific class to lead 
the way, and without a wealthy class to provide the means of experiment, 
the people of the United States were still required by the nature of their 
problems, to become a speculating and scientific nation. 

Adams enriched his picture of 1800 with significant questions that 
he loiew so well to ask, with the hypotheses that underlay his phi- 
losophy of history, and with his intensive reading and thinking about 
the Jeffersonian epoch. He showed unusual subtlety in the evaluation 
of psychological factors and tried to probe the inmost motives of 
Jefferson the man at the time of his central decisions. Unfortunately, 
he regarded Jefferson as a failure and manipulated the facts in order 
to prove that the Virginian contradicted almost all his principles in 
practice and that those principles he did retain were so contrary to 
the facts of political life that they cost the nation dearly. Adams con- 
ceded that the Sage of Monticello had integrity and faith in democracy 
and that he furthered the cause of science. In fact, he stated flatly, 
"According to the admitted standards of greatness, Jefferson was a 

Henry Adams 169 

great man." But there Adams left the reader waiting vainly for ade- 
quate examples of this statement. 

The historian felt and modern historians would disagree that Jef- 
ferson's reforms while governor had "crippled and impoverished the 
gentry, but did little for the people, and for the slaves nothing/ 7 In 
a letter to George Bancroft, who was reading the Adams manuscript 
evidently from a good Democratic point of view, Adams gave his frank 
appraisal of Jefferson: "My own opinion is that J. was a coward, as 
he proved by resigning his governorship of Virginia in the face of a 
British invasion." This judgment was strongly implied in the volume 
itself when Adams dealt with Jefferson's Embargo as an unmanly 
evasion of the duty to fight when the national honor was at stake. 
Even Richard Hildreth could not surpass Adams in such derogations 
of Jefferson. 

Adams considered Jefferson to be narrowly Virginian in his preju- 
dices against centralized government. Such ideas of limited govern- 
ment were imposed on the nation in "as real a revolution in the prin- 
ciples of our government as that of 1776 was in its form." Thus spoke 
the grandson of John Quincy Adams, the champion of internal im- 
provements for the nation and strong congressional action against 
slavery. The historian made it obvious that he had little sympathy 
for the agrarian philosophy of Jefferson. The idea that the farmers were 
a chosen people "clashed with his intellectual instincts of liberality 
and innovation." Yet this Moses, as Adams described him, leading the 
forces of democracy, showed no aptitude whatever for mixing with 
the multitude. 

In his catalogue of inconsistencies, Adams liked to point out that 
this man whose inaugural address called for "Absolute acquiescence 
in the decisions of the majority" was none other than the recent co- 
author of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which Adams took 
to be an extreme statement of the states' rights philosophy. Jefferson 
the strict constructionist later found constitutional authority for the 
purchase of Louisiana and other measures requiring a liberal inter- 

Like his distinguished grandfather, Adams looked upon the New 
England way of life as the best, derogated the South, and neglected 
the West "During the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, the 
national government was in the main controlled by ideas and interests 
peculiar to the region south of the Potomac and only to be under- 
stood from a Southern standpoint." Again, like his grandfather, he 
sympathized with an enlightened Indian policy even if this meant 

170 The American Historian 

praise for Jefferson. Adams made it clear that lie saw no real solution 
possible for the Indian question and disposed of it by invoking the 
law of nature and the "survival of the fittest." 

But unlike John Quincy Adams, who supported the Embargo, Henry 
Adams flatly denounced it as Jefferson's mistaken policy of "peaceable 
coercion," involving withdrawal without dignity and imposed upon 
a people without any explanation as to the motives of the government. 
Measured by Jefferson's states' rights theory, it was not even consti- 
tutional. Henry saw these events through the spectacles of his own 
diplomatic years in England during the Civil War, when Lincoln and 
Charles Francis Adams displayed Yankee firmness toward British 
provocations. Thus the Jefferson-Madison policy of Embargo and 
commercial boycott seemed not only ineffectual, but most likely to 
precipitate war. "Jefferson and his government had shown over and 
over again that no provocation would make them fight; and from that 
moment that this attitude was understood, America became fair prey." 
Such a policy, he thought, was even more destructive than war. Echo- 
ing the Spencerian idea of struggle, Adams asserted vigorously ,his 
admiration for the martial spirit: 

If war made men brutal, at least it made them strong; it called out the 
qualities best fitted to survive in the struggle for existence. To risk life for 
one's country was no mean act even when done for selfish motives; and to 
die that others might more happily live was the highest act of self-sacrifice 
to be reached by man. War, with all its horrors, could purify as well as de- 
base; it dealt with high motives and vast interests; taught courage, discipline 
and a stern sense of duty. Jefferson must have asked himself in vain what 
lessons of heroism or duty were taught by his system of peaceable coercion. 
. . . Jefferson lost his vast popularity. America learned that she must fight 
with the weapons of other races. . . . She could not much longer delude 
herself with hopes of evading laws of nature and instincts of life. 

The Embargo seemed of such overwhelming importance to Adams 
that he devoted 322 pages out of 474 in volume four. Madison, the 
ostensible subject of the second four volumes, is almost buried as a 
colorless man, "among the weakest of Executives," an irritating man 
who had a "feminine faculty of pressing a sensitive point." This un- 
worthy successor of Jefferson tried to turn the clock back by vetoing 
internal improvements and by surrendering national powers. Usually 
Madison confined himself timidly to the policies laid down by Jeffer- 
son and to the wishes of Congress. All this differs markedly from the 
much more convincing picture of Madison presented recently by a 

Henry Adams 171 

careful biographer, Irving Brant. By this time, as Adams admitted 
privately, he was rapidly losing interest in his History. 

Finally, when Adams reached his denouement, the military story 
of the War of 1812 (which he obviously enjoyed), he devoted over 
a hundred pages of volume six and practically all of volumes seven 
and eight to it. His military and naval history was of high professional 
quality, judging from the praises of military historians. In 1944, the 
Infantry Journal assembled this material on the War of 1812 and made 
a book of it. 

Especially significant, in view of his dream of achieving a science 
of history, is the final concluding chapter on social and cultural history 
at the end of this period. He felt that the story of Jefferson and Madi- 
son was interesting to Americans as types of character rather than as 
sources of power. Once more, he was back to the Greek scientific 
search for permanence behind change, an anti-historical outlook. If 
consistently carried out and it was notthis meant that Adams looked 
upon the record of the past as mere raw data for the really important 
task of discovering social laws. This was worthy of Comte and the 
positivists who had done so much to teach this ideal. 

In this chapter Adams wrote that America was a vast stage, a labo- 
ratory in which one could study undisturbed the social evolution of 
democracy. Europe's fierce struggles and class conflicts confused the 
picture and made it impossible to use its experience as material for 
a science. It gave prominence to the hero, the dramatic individual, 
and scarcely featured society as an organism. If history were to be- 
come a true science, it must seek its laws not in the complicated story 
of rival European nationalities, but from the economic evolution of 
a great democracy. He lamented the lack of a scientific history along 
the lines of natural science: 

No historian cared to hasten the coming of an epoch when man should 
study his own history in the same spirit and by the same methods with which 
he studied the formation of a crystal. Here were the best opportunities to be 
scientific and study the evolution of a race, not merely an individual. . . . 
In a democratic ocean science could see something ultimate. Man could go 
no further, The atom might move, but the general equilibrium could not 

He thought that Americans were especially worth study "if they were 

to represent the greatest democratic evolution the world could know/' 

It was understandable that Adams paused to criticize another keen 

historian and observer of American ideas and institutions, Alexis de 

172 The American Historian 

Tocqueville, who studied history by methods not at all analogous to 
those used in studying the formation of a crystal. His Democracy in 
America., which appeared in English translations in 1835 and 1862, 
offered a scientific comparative method devoid of the determinism 
of natural science. De Tocqueville could have been speaking of Henry 
Adams when he took issue with the historical determinists: 

If this doctrine of necessity, which is so attractive to those who write 
history in democratic ages, passes from authors to their readers till it infects 
the whole mass of the community and gets possession of the public mind, 
it will soon paralyze the activity of modern society and reduce Christians 
to the level of Turks. 

Adams's History largely escaped the determinism expressed in the 
final chapter. Jefferson and Madison are not merely "types" but human 
beings, and the choices of that time were very real choices, not mere 
reflections of some collective necessity. Good and evil were standard 
ideas in every Adams household. 

While the History's art has a timeless quality and has been appre- 
ciated not only by historians but by other discerning readers, it failed 
to reach the mass audience of Bancroft, Parkman, and McMaster. Only 
three-thousand sets were sold during the entire first decade of pub- 
lication. The work was on too high a level of analysis to interest 
readers content with a simple dramatic narrative. 

The History has continued to be praised by important critics. Carl 
Becker has written, "A history which for clarity, tight construction, 
and sheer intelligence applied to the exposition of a great theme, had 
not then, and has not since been equalled by any American historian." 
Henry Steele Commager, who edited one version of the History, com- 
mented, "With the exception of Francis Parkman's France and Eng- 
land in North America, it is the only major work yet produced by an 
American historian of which it can be justly said that age cannot 
wither it nor custom stale its infinite variety." 4 Its aspiration toward 
a scientific philosophy of history attuned to the analogies from Dar- 
win, Spencer, Thomson, and Gibbs has interested professional critics 
and biographers, but usually passes over the head of the average 
reader. Adams wrote in a succinct, concise prose, in the intellectual 
tradition of the Puritan "plaine stile," which was enlivened by his own 
intimate identification with the men and problems of their day. His 
understanding of personality has even been compared with that of 
his gifted friend, the novelist, Henry James. 

Adams's success in depicting social history is so great, despite his 

Henry Adams 173 

untenable preconceptions, that one regrets that his magnum opus de- 
votes so little space to it. He chose the familiar path of politics, di- 
plomacy, and military affairs so well trodden by the Adams family. 
Within this sphere, he showed such prodigious industry and such keen 
understanding that a generation went by before revisionists had made 
serious inroads on his work. While the books of Adams's illustrious 
New England contemporaries are now obviously dated, the History 
can still be, and is, assigned by professors to students mature enough 
to read it. 

The reputations of Jefferson and Madison have now been refur- 
bished through many histories and biographies. Julius Pratt in his 
Expansionists of 1812 (1925) converted most historians to the thesis 
that the War Hawks had much more to do with the coming of the 
war than commercial causes. The Burr Conspiracy is now interpreted 
according to far more complex motives and facts than the History 
suggests. Adams had described Burr only in terms a Hamiltonian 
might have used. Despite these and even more serious revisions, much 
remains that is usable the War of 1812 in its various phases at home 
and on the battlefield, the chapters on social and cultural history, and 
the intricacies of diplomacy during the Jefferson and Madison ad- 

One of Adams's appreciative critics, Max I. Baym, has seen reflected 
in him the whole romantic tradition in Europe through his pose of 
aesthetic pessimism, particularly his idea of heroic failure. Adams's 
preoccupation with science in the History, Education, and essays is 
set against the French-inspired sentirnentalism and subjective ro- 
manticism which appears notably in Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. 5 

In 1904 he published privately this book-length essay on the medie- 
val world of the great cathedrals of France. It is easy to agree that 
this was his greatest literary achievement, although it was not history 
in its usual developmental form. It is indeed a tour de force in aes- 
thetics, combining the historian's insight into the medieval spirit with 
Adams's own lifelong search for certainty. Ralph Adams Cram, the 
noted American architect of the Gothic revival movement, wrote an 
enthusiastic introduction to the edition of 1913 sponsored by the 
American Institute of Architects. His praise was unqualified: "Mont- 
Saint-Michel and Chartres is one of the most distinguished contri- 
butions to literature and one of the most valuable adjuncts to the study 
of medievalism America has thus far produced." Though it was cast 

174 The American Historian 

in the misleadingly simple form of a travel guide, its intellectual and 
aesthetic depth became clear almost at the outset. Cram believed that 
Adams had captured the spirit of the age by projecting himself into 
its thought, emotions, and art-expression. 

Even in a study of American history-writing, one cannot neglect 
this outstanding work. Before writing this book, save for his early 
teaching of medieval history at Harvard and his long residence in 
Europe, Adams had been largely concerned with the American scene. 
The era of cathedral building and famous shrines afforded him an 
opportunity to probe men's motives as he had in the History. He con- 
tinued to ask questions about the influence of energy and force in 
history. He also probed the role that women had played as a unique 
force for civilization, and contrasted the power of the Virgin for the 
age of faith with that of the dynamo for the era of the Chicago World's 
Fair of 1893: 

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, studied in the pure light of political 
economy, are insane. The scientific mind is atrophied, and suffers under in- 
herited cerebral weakness, when it comes in contact with the eternal 
woman Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and the last and greatest deity 
of all, the Virgin. Very rarely one lingers, with a mild sympathy, such as 
suits the patient student of human error, willing to be interested in what he 
cannot understand. 

He saw in the seeming structural instability of the Gothic cathedral, 
especially its delicate equilibrium tending to endanger the line of 
safety, a symbol of "the uncertainty of logic, the inequalities of the 
syllogism" that were propped up by faith and human aspirations. He 
found a basic parallel between theology and science. The law of en- 
ergy tended toward an ultimate unity, just as religion sought it in 
the nature of God. 

The classic autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, pri- 
vately printed in 1906, was intended as a kind of sequel to Mont- 
Saint-Michel, with, as he explained, "the three last chapters of the 
Education being Q.E.D. of the three last chapters of Chartres." Biog- 
raphers tended to discount Adams's confession of failure, his constant 
self-deprecation, and even his scientific pessimism. Written when 
Adams was committed to a mechanistic philosophy of history, the 
autobiography depicts the tragedy and failure of an eighteenth-cen- 

Henry Adams 175 

tury man in an iconoclastic nineteenth-century world. Educated to 
believe in progress and human perfectibility, he was upset by Grant's 
inefficient and corrupt administration and by the policy of drift. 

Much of the volume throws fresh light on significant historical in- 
cidents and trends. There is much on our diplomatic relations with 
England during the Civil War, when he wrote articles for the press 
while acting as Minister Adams's private secretary. His picture of the 
Grant era and of Congress represented much research as well as good 
reporting. Above all, his survey of changing intellectual fashions- 
allowing for his increasing bent toward mechanical scientism at the 
time has challenged the interest of readers ever since. His final chap- 
ters presented a plan for a science of history which would make old- 
fashioned descriptive and literary history obsolete: "A Dynamic Theory 
of History** and "A Law of Acceleration." He thought that he had 
found an excellent illustration of the historical dissipation of energy 
in the dissolution of the Roman empire, and he leaned upon analogies 
taken from Newton's principles of gravitation: 

A dynamic theory, assigning attractive force to opposing bodies in pro- 
portion to the law of mass, takes for granted that the forces of nature cap- 
ture men. . . . The result might have been stated in a mathematical formula 
as early as the time of Archimedes, six hundred years before Rome fell. The 
economic needs of a violently centralizing society forced the empire to en- 
large its slave system until the slave-system consumed itself and the empire 
too, leaving society no resource but further enlargement of its religious sys- 
tem in order to compensate for the losses and horrors of the failure. For a 
vicious circle, its mathematical completeness approached perfection. 

But when Adams tried to convert professional historians to the 
cult of scientism, they balked, even though they were quite willing 
to make him president of the American Historical Association a posi- 
tion that he accepted without appearing personally to deliver the an- 
nual address. Not even the adverse criticism of physicists, who indi- 
cated that Adams had misapplied his analogies from science, could 
deter the "physicist-historian" to use his own phrase. While social 
Darwinism was distorting the aim and methodology of sociology, 
ethnology, law, and other social studies for an entire generation, Adams 
tried to wed historians to dubious analogies from the second law of 
thermodynamics. Fortunately, the very complexity of physics to the 
lay mind undoubtedly deterred any of his admirers from becoming 
pioneer devotees of scientism, despite the fact that most historians of 

176 The American Historian 

the time, of whatever philosophical persuasion, thought of themselves 
as scientific historians. 

In 1910 Adams must have mystified many historians at least those 
who had not taken his Newtonian vocabulary too seriously by a little 
volume entitled A Letter to American Teachers of History. This ap- 
pealed to them to throw off their "inertia" and to consider the inevi- 
table future relationship between history and physics. He surveyed 
the history of recent contributions to physics since the formulation 
of the law of conservation of energy. This had held that the quantity 
of matter in the universe remained invariable, the sum of movement 
remained constant, and that energy was indestructible. But since the 
1850s a new school of physicists had announced a second law of 
thermodynamics. This did not deny that the universe was a closed box 
from which energy could not escape, but added that "the higher pow- 
ers of energy tended to fall lower, and that this process had no known 
limit" In other words, there was a constant dissipation of energy to 
do useful mechanical work in closed systems. This was the law of 
"entropy." In biological evolution, he believed, the ascent of man 
occurred at the expense of energy. Thus, he denied the optimistic 
implications of Darwinian evolution. Similar conclusions regarding 
man, he said, were being reached in the various social studies. What 
would be the future of history in a world that was running down and 
had been running down for some time? Certainly the doctrines of 
upward progress and human perfectibility made no sense. 

He went on to speculate upon a new chronology with "changes of 
phase" such as a "Mechanical Phase of 1600-1900" fixed by a certain 
mathematical value expressed in numbers. One could measure the 
time phase when society moved from one form of thought to an- 
other. This type of speculation, with many of the same illustrations 
and arguments, had appeared a year before in his essay, "The Rule 
of Phase Applied to History." He ended on an obscure note, which 
indicated how little progress he had made in creating a history shaped 
in the image of the second law of thermodynamics: 

Always and everywhere the mind creates its own universe, and pursues 
its own phantoms; but the force behind the image is always a reality, the 
attractions of occult power. If values can be given to these attractions, a 
physical theory of history is a mere matter of physical formula, no more 
complicated than the formulas of Willard Gibbs or Clerk Maxwell; but the 
task of framing the formula and assigning the values belongs to the physi- 
cist, not to the historian. 

Henry Adams 177 

The erratic assumptions beneath Adams's scientism have been thor- 
oughly explored by Professor William Jordy. Adams's results could 
scarcely have been better, even if he had been more expertly equipped 
in physics than was the case. He failed to recognize the inferential 
nature of historical facts as compared to the immediate data, subject 
to check, that scientific facts involve. Considering the highly subjective 
quality of historical facts and not the least those culled by Adams 
himself the dream of a science of history in the image of mathema- 
tical physics seemed doomed from the beginning, 6 

Adams's determinism seems to have colored, even if it did not orig- 
inate from, the surprising anti-Semitic doctrines that Adams expressed 
most emphatically in his correspondence during the Bryan free silver 
campaign (which he supported financially) and the depression of the 
'nineties. This was an era when he was warned by his family that his 
large inherited wealth was in jeopardy. His reaction was to condemn 
the capitalism of England and France as Jewish-dominated. To the 
Jewish financiers, he attributed an all-pervasive force. His flare for 
comprehensive formulas of a mechanistic nature led him to accept 
the current cosmology of the anti-Semites, who made the Jewish 
financier a focal source of energy in the deterioration of the world of 
the small entrepreneur. Therefore, Henry Adams actually thought of 
three primary sources of pervasive historical energy the Virgin for 
the religious impulse, the Dynamo for the spirit of technology, and 
the International Jew for modern finance capitalism. 

By the 'nineties, hundreds of Boston Brahmins had yielded to anti- 
Semitism, tormented by the spectacle of the new immigration with 
its Jewish and Italian elements. Thus they organized the first ef- 
fective immigration restriction league since the days of Chinese ex- 
clusion. The Populists, too, in many cases, associated their hatred of 
the hard-money creditor class with the machinations of the Bank of 
England and the scheming of the Rothschilds. It is therefore not sur- 
prising that Adams showed no sympathy for Captain Alfred Dreyfus 
when his trial for treason took on the form of an anti-Semitic plot. 7 

Brooks Adams shared with his brother Henry not only prejudices 
against Wall Street and Jewish capital (though both expressed these 
largely in private letters) but also a determination to create a science 
of history based at least in part on the principle of the dissipation 
of energy. In 1896, he published an analytical historical work, The 
Lato of Civilization and Decay, which began with the downfall of 
Rome a tragedy that he ascribed to capitalistic usury; the book went 
on to trace the conflict of debtors and creditors up to modern times. 

178 The American Historian 

Henry contributed many suggestions and did some actual editing, but 
he disagreed on many basic points of interpretations. The Bryan free- 
silverites hailed the book as a scientific exposition of their cause. 
Brooks explained his underlying science of history in a preface: 

The evidence, however, seems to point to the conclusion that, when a 
highly centralized society disintegrates, under the pressure of economic com- 
petition, it is because the energy of the race has been exhausted. Conse- 
quently the survivors of such a community lack the power necessary for re- 
newed concentration and must probably remain inert until supplied with 
fresh energetic material by the infusion of barbarian blood. 

In 1943, Charles Beard wrote an appreciative introduction to a new 
Knopf edition of The Law of Civilization and Decay. He did not dis- 
miss the hope that history might some day become a science, but he 
rejected Brooks Adams's cyclic theory of history, just as Beard had 
previously quarreled with Oswald Spengler's idea that history moved 
in endless cycles. He could not agree with Brooks that society moved 
from barbarism to civilization and then back again from "a condition 
of physical dispersion to one of concentration and then disintegration/' 
Brooks had suggested that cosmic energy inspired this social treadmill 
in which fear, greed, and the domination of priests and soldiers were 
the main factors. His somber view of the Middle Ages contrasted de- 
cidedly with the exhilarating aesthetic one that Henry Adams offered 
in Mont-Saint-MicheL Brooks Adams confessed to his brother that his 
own books were neither history nor literature but brochures intended 
to throw light on specific current crises such as the free-silver fight. 

In the end Henry Adams drew back in fear from the radicals and 
the portent of socialism dominating the next generation. Besides, he 
disliked the prospect of southern and western fanners allied with 
city laborers trying to run modern society. "Much as I loathe the re- 
gime of Manchester and Lombard Street in the nineteenth century," 
he wrote privately, "I am glad to think that I shall be dead before 
I am ruled by the Trades Unions of the Twentieth. Luckily society 
will go to pieces then." In another letter, he identified the Jew with 
capitalism. "It is the socialistnot the capitalist who is going to 
swallow us next, and of the two, I prefer the Jew." 

Henry Adams's distrust of corporations and speculation Lombard 
Streetwent back a full generation. In 1870, while denouncing the 
crimes of Jay Gould and James Fisk, he had declared ominously in 
an article for the Westminster Review on "The New York Gold Con- 
spiracy**: 8 

Henry Adams 179 

The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations 
far greater that the Erie swaying power such as has never in the world's 
history been trusted in the hands of mere private citizens, controlled by 
single men like Vanderbilt, or by combinations of men like Fisk, Gould, and 
Land, after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption- 
will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. . . . The corporation 
is in its nature a threat against the whole world. 

His eldest brother, Charles Francis Adams, a prolific part-time his- 
torian with Comtian beliefs in a scientific history, a man who had 
fought at Antietam and Gettysburg and had become an economist and 
business administrator hostile to railroad buccaneering, had much the 
same to say. Writing in 1869 for the North American Review, he freely 
predicted the dire consequences of Gouldism: 

As the Erie Ring represents the combination of the corporation and the 
hired proletariat of a great city; as Vanderbilt embodies the autocratic 
power of Caesarism introduced into corporate life, and as neither alone can 
obtain complete control of the government of the State, it, perhaps, only 
remains for the coming man to carry the combination of elements one step 
in advance, and put Caesarism at once in control of the corporation and of 
the proletariat, to bring our vaunted institutions within the rule of all historic 

The remedy, he thought, lay in "a renovated public opinion/' but 
he saw no hope of this. Later he urged partial public ownership of 
the railroads as the only effective alternative to corporate abuses, but 
he did not favor government regulation. Unlike his more sedentary 
brothers, he entered the speculative world of Jay Gould and even 
became president of the Union Pacific during 1884-90 until Gould 
forced him out and head of the Kansas City stockyards. But after 
retirement, he devoted himself to history and educational reform. 
With Brooks and Henry, he shared a common interest in the history 
of Massachusetts and in the role of the Adams family; especially 
original was his two-volume work, Three Episodes of Massachusetts 
History ( 1892 ) , which examined the Puritan theocracy with a critical 
eye. 9 

The three remarkable brothers also shared to a considerable extent 
similar social ideas and philosophies of history, especially the belief 
that history should record a past usable for future reformers. Brooks 
and Henry Adams were almost monists in their belief that natural 
science would reveal the underlying principle of history. Yet when 
it came to their social principles their faith in mechanistic laws was 

180 The American Historian 

overruled by an even stronger faith in men. They had much of Grand- 
father John Adams's suspicion of the rising world of speculative 
finance heralded by Alexander Hamilton. As it was, their reformist 
sympathies led them to the Mugwumps. Their father, Charles Francis 
Adams, had been a rallying symbol for the Mugwumps, those Re- 
publican independents who rejected the unbearable Grantist corrup- 
tion and hoped that a civil service controlled by an enlightened pub- 
lic opinion would promote justice. Possibly, Henry Adams had lost 
some of this original fervor with the years, but the Bryan campaign 
of 1896 succeeded for a brief time in reviving these dormant sym- 

No formula can easily dispose of the versatile and often inspired 
Henry Adams (and of Brooks Adams). Even historians who brush 
away his untenable historical analogies from physics are often awed 
by his strange gifts of prophecy. Although the predictions regarding 
the future course of world affairs are often quite wide of the mark, 
many of his impressions have turned out correctly and show a rare 
perceptive quality. Otherwise, what else can one say of a man who 
forecast a coming conflict with an expanding Germany, her alliance 
with Russia, an "Atlantic System" consisting of the United States, 
England, and France aimed at central and eastern Europe, the rapid 
growth of revolutionary socialism, and even the bifurcation of the 
world between the United States and Russia? Historians, for all their 
justified impatience with prophecy, especially when it is based on 
dubious premises, nevertheless turn prophet when they construct their 
image of the past. The nature of written history derives form not only 
from past and present considerations but often from its presumed 
meaning in the present light of an anticipated future. Henry Adams 
contemplated power politics without mysticism but with flashes of 
historical insight into the future as our generation is now aware. 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 


Jtrederick Jackson Turner of the University of Wisconsin and Harvard 
believed with Henry Adams that it was possible to make history a 
science with methods similar to those of the natural sciences. He 
would make Darwinian evolutionism rather than the second law of 
thermodynamics the mainspring of his system. Both men also sought 
analogies in geology. On at least two occasions, Turner quoted Adams 
approvingly for the observation that history should aspire to the kind 
of precision that marked the study of the formation of a crystal. 
Darwinian assumptions in biology underlay his famous concepts of 
frontier and section. Fortunately for history, both fell far short of 
converting their discipline into a non-humanistic science. Both men 
became president of the American Historical Association and won 
an enviable professional reputation. Each in his important writing 
revealed that he viewed history not as a rudimentary type of biology, 
geology, or physics, but as a wholly different kind of discipline con- 
cerned with men who frequently upset admirable 'laws" and predic- 
tions by simply choosing to act in unforeseeable ways. The two his- 
torians believed that by studying masses of men (rather than ruling 
elites ) in the unspoiled New World environment they could discover 
certainties akin to those of the scientists. 

Turner far exceeded Adams in influence. In fact no man shaped 
twentieth-century histories of the United States as much as Turner 
did. His reputation grew even after social evolution, upon which he 


182 The American Historian 

depended so much, lost its respectability among social scientists. Yet 
his output was rather modest by academic promotional standards, 
and his writings were burdened with needless repetition and seemed 
quite vulnerable to criticism. His brief seminal paper of 1893, "The 
Significance of the Frontier in American History," delivered before 
the American Historical Association at Chicago's famed Columbian 
Exposition, contained most of what he had to say during his entire 
career. His later writings were mere commentary upon the theme that 
America was overwhelmingly the product of frontier social -forces. 
But even critics felt that somehow Turner's greatness transcended 
their bill of particulars. 

The facts of his early life go far to explain his frontier interests. He 
was born in 1861 in a Portage, Wisconsin, frontier community between 
the historic Fox and Wisconsin rivers, where the old fur-trading routes 
were common knowledge and a youth might even meet an occasional 
Indian. He loved outdoor sports, fishing especially, learned some- 
thing of journalism from his father, a newspaperman and Republican 
politician, and even gathered a year's experience as a Madison re- 
porter. He took his first two degrees at the frontier-minded University 
of Wisconsin and in later years lectured on the theme that the state 
university was the best hope for replacing the vanishing frontier in- 

His master's thesis, not surprisingly, was on "The Influence of the 
Fur Trade in the Development of Wisconsin." His learning had not 
been parochial because among other things he had been closely asso- 
ciated with Professor William F, Allen, a specialist in Roman history 
and a man of broad interests who had studied with Heeren of Gottin- 
gen Bancroft's teacher and now taught the critical methods of the 
new German historiography. Allen had also introduced Turner to in- 
tensive readings in western history. 

In 1888, Turner temporarily left his alma mater to work toward a 
doctoral degree at the pioneer graduate institution, the Johns Hopkins 
University, where Herbert Baxter Adams, his future thesis sponsor, 
had successfully introduced the Ranke-type historical seminar. Adams 
had studied with the foremost historians of Heidelberg and Berlin 
and, following the trend in Germany and in England, became con- 
cerned with the evolution of social, economic, and above all, political 
institutions. Thus, his doctoral dissertation dealt with the European 
as well as colonial origins of the New England town meeting. 1 

Like so many of the budding American historians who took their 
Ph.D.s in Germany, H. B, Adams found a starting point in the flatter- 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 183 

ing account given by Tacitus of the primitive German tribes within 
the Roman empire. He sought to discover the origins of western demo- 
cratic institutions in certain alleged equalitarian practices of the an- 
cient Germans. Tacitus had marveled at the strength and bravery of 
these tribesmen; he had been impressed by the majority rule of the 
Germans, who brandished spears to indicate assent or openly mur- 
mured their dissent. German nationalists like the historian "Vater" 
Jahn encouraged the social-athletic Turnverein to help remold the 
modern German into the heroic form of the tough tribesmen. Scholars 
both here and abroad looked to the Teutonic forest for the origins 
of parliamentary institutions, trial by jury, and other democratic prac- 
tices. To Tacitus, as to Turner, it was significant that the great open 
spaces of the forest frontier lands had produced this independent, 
democratic folk. 2 

Schoolboys, familiar in those days with Caesar and the Commen- 
taries, knew something of those German frontier tribes, which had 
destroyed five consular armies and three of Caesar's legions in a pro- 
tracted but hopeless struggle for independence that lasted 210 years 
before mighty Rome won. Turner was already bent upon the idealiza- 
tion of the American frontier and forest, but it would be a grave 
mistake to assume that he rejected the forest myth of Tacitus and 
H. B. Adams. He rebelled in 1893 merely at the current exclusive 
emphasis on Teutonic origins, although he did not quarrel with the 
chauvinistic Anglo-Saxon overemphasis in history and international 
affairs. This is quite clear from his famous essay of 1893: 3 

In the settlement of America we have to observe how European life en- 
tered the continent, and how America modified and developed that life and 
reacted on Europe. Our early history is the study of European germs de- 
veloping in an American environment. Too exclusive attention has been 
paid by institutional students to the Germanic origins, too little to the 
American factors. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Ameri- 
canization. The wilderness masters the colonist. . . . Little by little he 
transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply 
the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon 
was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is that here is a new 
product that is American. 

So while Adams taught or wrote about the Germanic origins of 
New England towns or on Saxon tithingmen in America, Turner gave 
only formal lip service to the idea that early American institutions 
required a basic Germanic origin. He made some concession to the 
Adams "germ theory" school while writing his dissertation on the Wis- 

184 The American Historian 

consin fur trade, subtitled "A Study of the Trading Post as an Insti- 
tution/' by tracing it back, even to Phoenician days! The thesis also 
showed its debt to almost all the books of Francis Parkman on the 
West. Except for the first few pages on transatlantic origins of the 
trading post, the book is wholly within an American context with little 
reference to other factors. 

Turner entered Johns Hopkins at a time when history was becoming 
a professional study, not a mere adjunct to literature. The American 
Historical Association was formed in 1884, local historical societies 
multiplied, archival collections in Washington and the states were 
amassed and classified, and Congress showed greater solicitude over 
the record of the past. In fact the AHA in its second annual meeting 
of 1885 formally called for more research aids for students of the 
West: "Resolved, That it is especially important that the beginnings 
of history in our newer Territories and provinces should be fully and 
carefully recorded." They specified the need for more local historical 
societies, the preservation of local newspapers and documents, and the 
encouragement of town activities to preserve records and maps. Ten 
years later at another AHA session, Turner scoffed at this step as 
hopelessly inadequate, as "mere antiquarianism." What was needed, 
said the student of H. B. Adams, was more training in institutional 
and social investigation. 

Some of the new enthusiasm for history both here and abroad sprang 
from nationalist sources. Turner witnessed the rise of such patriotic 
societies as the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of 
the American Revolution, the Colonial Dames of America, and the 
United Daughters of the Confederacy. The East had led the proces- 
sion of states eager to record their past, beginning with the Massa- 
chusetts Historical Society founded in 1791. Most of them stressed 
the antiquarian and genealogical approach that Turner abhorred. They 
were usually privately supported, unlike the societies of the Mississippi 
Valley, which flourished generally on state grants. 

Turner and his friend Reuben G. Thwaites, another frontier his- 
torian, helped to found the new State Historical Society of Wisconsin 
in 1887 as a sponsor of far more humanistic researches than those usu- 
ally associated with genealogy and antiquarianism. Thwaites, for ex- 
ample, translated or edited such vast collections as the Jesuit Relations 
and Allied Documents (1896-1901). He also edited the eight-volume 
Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1904-05), and 
put all students of the West in his lasting debt by the monumental 
thirty-two-volume series of Early Western Travels (1904-05). Other 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 185 

states in the Mississippi Valley followed this dynamic leadership. The 
culmination to this activity came in 1907, when secretaries of the his- 
torical societies of the Mississippi Valley states met in Lincoln, Ne- 
braska, to organize the Mississippi Valley Historical Association. By 
1914, it was to have its own journal, and its original regional emphasis 
(which began with the expectation of affiliation with the AHA) gave 
way to a comprehensive national program. 4 

Literary history did not yield without a struggle to the German- 
inspired scientific historians. It was difficult for Turner and his school 
to compete in fine writing with Prescott, Motley, Bancroft, Irving, 
Parkman, and others of that generation. New editions of these masters 
were usually available and popular. The writing of western history, 
the public had been led to expect, must be dramatic and exciting. 
"Much has been written from the point of view of border warfare 
and the chase," complained the man from Wisconsin in 1893, "but as 
a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has 
been neglected." Largely to the category of literary historian so 
Turner thought of himbelonged the versatile Theodore Roosevelt. 

One of Turner's close associates at Johns Hopkins was another future 
president, Woodrow Wilson. He had given up in disgust an uninspir- 
ing and profitless Atlanta law practice to pursue a history doctorate. 
Wilson's own historical talents were none too much for the critical 
role that awaited him, but he was acute enough to be among the first 
to recognize the importance of Turner's theory of the moving frontier. 
This appreciation of the West enriched Wilson's histories, such as the 
five-volume A History of the American People, which was also inspired 
by Green's social-political history of the English people, and Division 
and Reunion (1918). However, even the generous application of the 
Turner thesis did not save Wilson's historical writings from mediocrity. 
Wilson, together with such Southern liberals as John Spencer Bassett, 
William P. Trent, and Walter Hines Page, represented a University 
that was then staffing most of the Southern colleges. After Adams left, 
Southern scholars deserted Johns Hopkins for the conservative Dun- 
ning seminar at Columbia. 

Turner returned to Wisconsin from Johns Hopkins with his new 
doctorate and remained there until 1910, when he went to Harvard. 
At Harvard he brought large numbers of graduate students to the 
study of history. In the classroom his warm personality and freedom 
from dogmatism charmed students. Besides, he had something definite 
to offer in the way of method as well as factual instruction. He made 
fruitful and imaginative use of maps and statistical charts to show 

186 The American Historian 

significant relationships between frontier sections and national legis- 
lation or the significance of population trends. His seminars stressed 
the critical Ranke test for the trustworthiness of witnesses. He called 
attention to transferable methods from geography, economics, politics, 
religion, psychology, and other disciplines. His students found his 
approach unique for breadth and inspiration. 


In the education of Turner, as in that of Henry Adams, the natural 
sciences were basic. The prestige of Darwinism during the 1880s and 
afterwards led many social scientists to borrow the ideas of primordial 
germs, evolutionary stages, recurrent social processes, natural selec- 
tion, environmental adaptation, and the survival of the fittest. Con- 
dorcet and other social evolutionists had depicted long before Darwin 
the advance of cultural history as a series of progressive stages; 
Montesquieu saw national traits as a product of the physical environ- 
ment, climate particularly; Auguste Comte's positivism had its law 
of the three (cultural) stages; and Buckle, among many others, had 
tried to make a science of geographic determinism. 

Turner was particularly impressed by the researches of Professor 
Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), evolutionary zoologist and geographer 
of the universities of Munich and Leipzig, who had won wide ac- 
ceptance for his "anthropogeography" or Tiuman geography." But he 
did not feel that geography alone modified society, for he stressed 
cultural "diffusion'* concepts which explained how social growth oc- 
curred through rivers, trade routes, and population movements. He 
not only spoke of evolutionary social processes but originated the 
"culture area" concept, which is somewhat similar to Turner's "sec- 
tion," with its relative internal homogeneity of culture. Even more 
specifically, Ratzel had written on the influence of the West on the 
American character and institutions. 5 

In his paper of 1896 read before the American Historical Associa- 
tion, "The West as a Field for Historical Study," Turner praised the 
new (1893) edition of Ratzel's geography, of the United States, par- 
ticularly his significant chapter on "Space as a Factor in the United 
States." In examining the influence of the sense of space, Ratzel said 
of the West, "The breadth of land has furnished the American spirit 
something of its own largeness." He went on to stress, as Turner was 
to do, the problems of western settlement, land cultivation, the utiliza- 
tion of resources, and the political importance of these processes. 6 At 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 187 

that 1896 session, the commentator on Turner's paper was Professor 
Andrew C. McLaughlin, substituting for Theodore Roosevelt, who 
failed to come. McLaughlin fully shared Turner's enthusiasm for 
Ratzel and called attention to the influence of the West in fostering 
a sense of destiny among Americans, and in affecting politics, home 
Life, and national development. 

RatzeFs chief disciple in America, Ellen C. Semple, was a stimulat- 
ing contemporary who knew Turner's work as well as the German's, 
even if she stressed diffusion far more than social evolution. In her 
influential book, American History and Its Geographic Conditions 
(1903), she acknowledged part of Turner's thesis: "The acquisition 
of the new West prolonged greatly the most distinctive feature of 
American anthropo-geographic conditions the abundance of free 
land." Her own emphasis on diffusionism led her to accept only so 
much of Turner: "American soil and the barrier of the Atlantic had 
modified European institutions and character in the hands and persons 
of the colonists somewhat; but their gaze was seaward towards the 
English palace and council hall where their destiny was decided." 
But she, like Turner, emphasized the influence of western waterways 
and the Appalachian barrier upon colonial history; to them the sense 
of American nationality grew out of frontier isolationism. 

Turner's specific frontier stages, ranging from the nomadic to the 
settled community, were not unlike those of the famous German econo- 
mist, Karl Bucher, who recognized three universal stages of economic 
development: the hunting stage, the pastoral stage, and the agricul- 
tural stage. Even Turner's "section" develops like the noted recapitu- 
lation idea of the evolutionists widely quoted in support of Darwin- 
ismwhich said that ontogeny (the life history of an individual organ- 
ism) recapitulates phylogeny (the history of the race). Culturally ap- 
plied, this would mean that each frontier section would repeat the 
social processes from primitivism to a sedentary society. 

Many of Turner's key generalizations were founded on the results 
of graphs and map studies which showed the lines of the advancing 
frontier, the sectional influence on politics, population movements, 
and other major problems. He owed a good deal to the techniques 
and findings of Francis A. Walker, a federal statistician, an economist, 
and a former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who published census 
studies while superintendent of the ninth and tenth censuses (1870, 
1880), taught at Yale, and then in 1881 became president of the Massa- 
chusetts Institute of Technology. No less important to Turner were 
the geographic charts of Henry Gannett, the chief geographer of the 

188 The American Historian 

United States Geological Survey after 1882 who won acclaim as "the 
father of American map making." One of Turner's outstanding semi- 
nar students, O. G. Libby, used the political map-making technique 
most effectively in his oft-quoted study of the geographical distribu- 
tion of the state votes on the proposed federal constitution. Charles 
Beard was to base much of his argument in An Economic Interpreta- 
tion of the Constitution upon Libby's evidence. 

Perhaps the most fundamental fact in Turner's background was his 
obvious acquaintance with much of the literature and with the central 
ideas that made up the image of the West since colonial times. While 
he was too sophisticated to accept the Noble Savage idea that the 
French philosophes talked about or the Puritan notion of "choice seed" 
planted in the wilderness, he accepted the popular belief that the 
frontier had a beneficent transforming influence upon eastern migrants. 
The Turnerian theory that cheap lands meant an outlet and "safety- 
valve" for urban labor surpluses can be traced back as far as Benjamin 
Franklin. George Fitzhugh, proslavery propagandist, wrote in Canni- 
bals All! (1857) that class war was checked in America by the fact 
that "in forty-eight hours, laborers may escape to the West and be- 
come proprietors." Jefferson, friend of the West and sponsor of the 
Lewis and Clark explorations, often speculated on the significance of 
the frontier and cheap land for a democratic self-reliant nation of 
small farmers; and he had commented on the various stages of the 
frontier advance westward. 

Professor Henry Nash Smith has portrayed the history of the sym- 
bols and myths of the American West in Virgin Land (1950), reflect- 
ing so many of the underlying themes in Turner's writings: The west- 
ern hero, the West as the Garden of the World, the Utopia of yeoman 
farmers, primitivism, and some of their variations. When Turner de- 
livered his paper of 1893, Americans had already reached the stage of 
nostalgia for a vanished frontier, and its myths were treasured as a 
national heritage. Dime novels and western theme melodrama had 
created an exciting stereotype of the West. It would be most surpris- 
ing, indeed, if quite a few of Turner's auditors at Chicago's World's 
Fair did not walk over to the stellar attraction of Buffalo Bill and the 
Wild West show. 

Turner stated part of the frontier thesis in his doctoral dissertation 
on the Wisconsin fur trade. There is, for example, the social evolu- 
tionary notion of recurrent social processes: "The occupation of the 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 189 

backlands of the South affords a prototype of the process by which 
the plains of the far West were settled, and also furnishes an exem- 
plification of all the stages of economic development existing contem- 

Surprisingly, when Turner published a paper in 1891 on The Sig- 
nificance of History" in the Wisconsin Journal of Education, he not 
only had little to say about the frontier influence, but he seemed to be 
stressing the germ theory and diffusionist viewpoint of the eastern 
scholars like his sponsor, Herbert B. Adams. He praised the English 
economist, Thorold Rogers, author of The Economic Interpretation of 
History, for opening up the possibility of rewriting history from an 
economic point of view. Only in this way could historians write of the 
masses and of the rise and fall of nations. They must drop their con- 
cern with "the brilliant annals of the few," the court intrigues, and 
palace life. As for the historians* ideals of history, whether they were 
moralistic, philosophic, religious, or political, these depended on the 
particular age. Schelling had emphasized the philosophic idea of "a 
moral order of the universe ruled by cosmic forces from above/ 5 Herder 
taught the doctrine of growth and the historical development of cul- 
tural germs. Niebuhr had helped to found the modern historical school 
by reconstructing Roman history from institutions of known reality 
"as the botanist may infer bud from flower." Today, an era of technol- 
ogy fostered "an age of socialistic inquiry," an inquiry into the eco- 
nomic basis of society. "Each age writes the history of the past anew 
with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time/* Herder 
was right that society grows, and Comte was right that society was an 
organism. This meant that history was a comprehensive "biography of 
society in all its departments." 

He did not believe that the "real event of our age" changed, but 
that our conceptions of them did. From his strong organic viewpoint, 
he held that history was ever "becoming" but never completed, and 
that the aim of history was to know what came into the present from 
the past. This idea was restated in his theory of two histories: The 
"objective" side were the events themselves; the "subjective" was our 
conception of them. His idea, sometimes called "presentism," was 
neatly put: "For the present is simply the developing past, the past the 
undeveloped present. . . . The goal of the antiquarian is the dead 
past; the goal of the historian is the living present/* 

Despite this emphasis on the present as the principle of selection, 
Turner was too rarely explicit as to where he stood on current issues, 
and then he did not always appear consistent. Yet he held (as so many 

190 The American Historian 

Greek and Roman historians had said) that history afforded a train- 
ing ground for statesmanship, which would in turn lead to the ameli- 
oration of society. Later he was to indorse generally the western de- 
mands for democratic reform but with exceptions. 

Theoretically, Turner seemed committed at every essential point to 
what James Harvey Robinson later called the New History: the ex- 
pansion of historical subject matter to include practically every phase 
of social development, the use of techniques drawn from all the rele- 
vant social studies, and the belief that this kind of history would im- 
prove the social order. Turner concluded, "Historical study has for its 
end to let the community see itself in the light of the past, to give it 
new thoughts and feelings, new aspirations and energies. Thoughts 
and feelings flow into deeds.'* 

There is only the briefest reference to the protest movements of his 
day in the seminal essay of 1893, "The Significance of the Frontier in 
American History." He was concerned with the theme of the closed 
frontier. His starting point was the fact stated by the census superin- 
tendent of 1890 that the decennial frontier line had become so broken 
by isolated bodies of settlement by 1880 that it could no longer have 
any place in census reports. He went on to show how pivotal the fron- 
tier had been hitherto in shaping the nation. He declared his independ- 
ence of eastern historians who had overstressed the germ theory of 
American institutions or had been preoccupied with slavery or some 
other special theme: 

Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history 
of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, 
its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, 
explain American development. 

Our history had an evolutionary basis, first in institutions along a lim- 
ited area such as the Atlantic Coast, and, secondly, in the recurrence 
of the processes "in each western area reached in the process of ex- 
pansion" a reference to the frontier "section" which he developed 
in later years: 

This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion west- 
ward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of 
primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. 

This frontier, which must now be studied scientifically, was no mere 
fortified boundary line running through a dense population, as in Eu- 
rope, but moved always "at the hither edge of free land." 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 191 

He quickly traced the successive frontiers, beginning with the tide- 
water region, then the piedmont beyond the "fall line," and thence to 
the trans-Allegheny settlements. Like Ratzel, he held that regional 
isolation increased the peculiarly American traits. Each frontier met 
its problems by an experience in part gained from previous frontiers, 
thus fostering continuity and development, as in the case of the min- 
ing experience of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, which was applied to 
the mining laws of the Sierras. 

Ever attentive to the geologists, Turner compared the method of 
analyzing the successive frontiers to the technique of geology in com- 
paring older and newer rock formations. He saw "much truth" in the 
observations of the economic determinist, Achille Loria, who believed 
that the study of colonial life would clarify European development, 
presumably by revealing various recurrent historical processes that 
moved in inevitable stages. This currently popular aspect of "inevita- 
bility" was of course part and parcel of the social evolutionary errors 
of that day. Thus, in speaking of the various frontier stages. Turner 
could say that "the evolution of each into a higher stage has worked 
political transformations." Perhaps the most quoted sentences of this 
essay hinge on the social evolutionary idea: 

Stand at Cumberland Gap and watch the procession of civilization, march- 
ing single file the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, 
the fur trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer fanner and the 
frontier has passed by. Stand at South Pass in the Rockies a century later 
and see the same procession with wider intervals between. The unequal rate 
of advance compels us to distinguish the frontier into the trader's frontier, 
the rancher's frontier, or the miner's frontier, and the farmer's frontier. 

This was no less than a mechanical process so a reader would infer. 
"Thus," he observed, "civilization in America has followed the arteries 
made by geology, pouring an ever richer tide through them, until at 
last, the slender paths of aboriginal intercourse have been broadened 
and interwoven into the complex mazes of modern commercial lines." 
Following the suggestions of certain geographers (e.g. Ratzel), he 
argued that the Indian frontier was a consolidating agent in our his- 
tory, because the colonial need to meet such dangers overcame par- 
ticularism and hence fostered nationalism. Besides, he thought, the 
increasing distance of the moving frontier from England encouraged 
self-reliance and independence. He stressed the East- West transfer of 
culture, together with the frontier influence on these customs and in- 
stitutions: 'The experience of the Carolina Cowpens guided the ranch- 

192 The American Historian 

ers of Texas." Here he ignored the overwhelming Spanish- American 
influences of the Southwest: the vaquero (cowboy), the rancho, the 
lariat, the chaparejos ("chaps"), the rodeo, and even the juzgado 
("hoosegow"). Again, following the inspiration of contemporary geog- 
raphers, he pointed out such neglected social factors in history as the 
role of the salt springs in Kentucky settlement-founding and the in- 
fluence of favorably situated soils and the mines. 

He offered this major proposition: "The legislation which most de- 
veloped the powers of the national government, and played the largest 
part in its activity, was conditioned on the frontier. Writers have dis- 
cussed the subjects of tariff, land, and internal improvements, as sub- 
sidiary to the slavery question." But he weakened this highly plausible 
remark in the extravagance of the next sentence: "But when American 
history comes to be rightly viewed it will be seen that the slavery 
question is an incident." His favorite whipping boy in this regard was 
Professor Hermann von Hoist of the University of Chicago, the popu- 
lar author of the recently published seven-volume Constitutional and 
Political History of the United States (1876-92). This man, who fled 
the hated czarist autocracy to which he was born a subject, had so 
intense a hatred of slavery that Turner ( and others ) felt he had con- 
verted six of his volumes on constitutional history from 1828-61 to a 
mere history of slavery. Von Hoist's dubious theory that the war was 
a slaveowner's conspiracy had a moralistic basis that Turner's scientism 
avoided, despite his insistence that history should serve social ameli- 

American nationalism was fostered by the frontier, urged Turner, 
not only by its pressures for national legislation in regard to land, 
tariffs, and internal improvements, but also by the frontier assimila- 
tion of nationalities derived from the East and Europe. On the other 
hand, New England was sectional because it represented an intensive 
English quality in Puritanism; tidewater English planters also retained 
their regional quality through their English heritage. By moving west- 
ward, these qualities declined, although Turner thought that the 
"greater New England" influence all the way to the Great Lakes, as 
in the Western Reserve, was a transplantation of the Puritan con- 
science. Otherwise he held to this argument for nationalism: "Mobility 
of population is death to localism." Even the fierce struggle of the 
sections over slavery did not diminish except by way of exception 
the fact of nationalism. 

Like many others before him, Turner believed that the frontier s 
most important effect was in promoting democracy and individualism 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 193 

both here and abroad. Frontier individualism, often anarchic and re- 
bellious, produced manhood suffrage and equalitarianism through new 
state constitutions and assured the triumph of Jackson and William 
Henry Harrison. Free land gave strength to individualism because 
"economic power secures political power." On the unfavorable side 
was the fact that the frontier was intolerant of administrative experi- 
ence and education and hence gave rise to the spoils system, "lax busi- 
ness honor, inflated paper currency and wild-cat banking." In recent 
times, Populist agitation had revived these traits, which Turner looked 
upon as survivals of an earlier barbaric state. "A primitive society," he 
said, "can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of 
the complexity of business interests in a developed society." Bryan and 
Altgeld were not for Turner. 

Yet Turner seemed sympathetic to the frontier debtor classes in 
their recurrent struggles against the eastern creditors a struggle that 
was not altogether unlike the Populist and Bryan battles. In fact he 
made the East-West struggles of each frontier a frequent theme of his 
writings. Even frontier primitivism, aside from lawlessness, is described 
most sympathetically: 

That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitive- 
ness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that 
masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to 
effect great ends; that restless nervous energy; that dominant individualism, 
working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance 
which comes with freedom these are traits of the frontier, or traits called 
out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier. 

But he concluded his address for the Columbian Exposition quite 
soberly by reminding his auditors that after four centuries from the 
discovery of America, the frontier was gone. He expected that the in- 
tensive frontier experience of America would leave lasting results, even 
though "never again would such gifts of free land offer themselves." 
The frontier would no longer be "a gate of escape from the bondage 
of the past." Therefore, the first period of American history had closed. 
He let others speculate in after years as to the implications of his 
"closed space" theory. He had no suggestion as yet to offer regarding 
social planning, despite the unmatched opportunity for him to dem- 
onstrate his theory that history had its uses as a tool of social action. 

The thirty-two-year-old historian had laid out the fruitful hypotheses 
which were sufficient to occupy the research years of many disciples. 
Obviously he had not reached these conclusions independently, for 

194 The American Historian 

his empirical research had been small and fragmentary before 1893 
merely a few articles in fact. He was heavily indebted, as already 
noted, to Ratzel and other geographers, geologists, sociologists, phi- 
losophers, and, of course, historians. All were saturated with social 
evolutionism. In the next few decades, even after Darwinism was 
driven back to the confines of biology, Turner retained the basic theses 
of 1893 with surprisingly few modifications. One can only infer that 
many of these hypotheses were for him acts of faith whose truth must 
be assumed. 

Turner's evolutionism, at the turn of the century, was based on the 
analogy between cultural growth or social inheritance and plant in- 
heritance. He supplemented the non-Darwinian "germ" theory of the 
German idealistic philosophers and their American disciple, George 
Bancroft, who clung to the mystical notion that Teutonic institutions 
"unfolded" into modern Anglo-Saxon institutions of parliaments, juries, 
and equal suffrage systems. Turner's moving frontier quite eradicated 
the faintest traces of the ancient Teutonic forest by creating anew the 
genus Americanus. He wrote as if these newly born frontier traits 
would be transmitted like the evolving species of the French zoolo- 
gist, Lamarck. These organisms evolved in response to the stimulus of 
the environment, and the changes were carried on through the in- 
heritance of acquired characteristics. Darwin built upon this idea but 
emphasized the selective agency of the environment in creating new 
species. Frontier traits would evolve in the Lamarckian way in re- 
sponse to environmental stimulus, but surviving remnants would re- 
main even after the frontier was gone. This Lamarckian viewpoint is 
evident in Turner's essay of 1896 for the Atlantic Monthly, "The Prob- 
lem of the West": 

The history of our political institutions, our democracy, is not a history of 
imitation, of simple borrowing; it is a history of the evolution and adaptation 
of organs in response to a changed environment, a history of new political 
species. In this sense, therefore, the West has been a constructive force of 
the highest significance in our life. 

Again, evolutionary thought is at the core of his theory of the "sec- 
tion" as expressed in an essay-lecture of 1904, "Problems in American 

The American physical map may be regarded as a map of potential na- 
tions and empires each to be conquered and colonized, each to rise through 
stages of development, each to achieve a certain social and industrial unity, 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 195 

each to possess certain fundamental assumptions, certain psychological traits, 
and each to interact with the others, and in combination to form that United 
States, the explanation of the development of which is the task of the 

However, he made a major exception to the rule of independent 
(American) social evolution in the case o New England where he 
relied upon the diffusionist idea that cultural institutions and atti- 
tudes were borrowed from abroad. Thus in "Dominant Forces in West- 
ern Life/' he traced Populist traits back to New England's Shays's 
Rebellion and even to Old England's Cromwellian revolution. But he 
stopped short of Herbert B. Adams's Teutonic Forest. 

In an essay of 1895, "Western State-Making in the Revolutionary 
Era," published in the American Historical Review, he tried to make 
clear that each frontier section did not evolve independently of others. 
"The frontier did not proceed on the principle of tabula rasa; it modi- 
fied older forms, and infused into them the spirit of democracy." He 
tried to forestall the criticism (which came anyway from Benjamin 
Wright, Jr., in later years ) that the frontier did not actually foster new 
political institutions, for he was quite aware that western states usually 
accepted the laws and constitutions of the older states. He recognized 
the existence of sharp class antagonisms in frontier sections between 
debtors and creditors, small farmers, and planters, even if he preferred 
to emphasize geographic lines. 

In "Problems in American History/' Turner called for an evolution- 
ary historical science based on a comparative study of social changes. 
Hence he urged the fullest co-operation of all social scientists, emu- 
lating the example of the men in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. 
Henry Adams, too, had forecast a future science of history, and both 
men urged a developmental study of masses of people in the New 
World. Thus the laws and tendencies of history could be derived if 
historians ceased to bury themselves in "the complicated story of rival 
European nationalities." 7 

When Turner was elected president of the American Historical As- 
sociation in 1910, he elaborated further upon his theories of history 
in "Social Forces in American History/' 8 This contained much fa- 
miliar material expressed in his 1891 essay on "The Significance of 
History," but it went on to show the elements of subjectivism in his- 
tory. Each age served itself by writing its own history, and he hoped 
that "history may hold the lamp for conservative reform." He asked 
for more scientific hypotheses based on fruitful analogies between his- 

196 The American Historian 

tory and geology and dwelt upon the "multiple hypotheses" of the 
geologist, Thomas C. Chamberlin, and others: "He (the geologist) 
creates a whole family of possible explanations of a given problem, and 
thus avoids the warping influence of partiality for a simple theory." 
This approach made Ranke's idea of sticking to the facts and seeing 
the past "as it actually was" misleadingly simple. Turner argued for a 
much larger relativist element in historical interpretation: 

Those who insist that history is simply the effort to tell the thing as it was, 
to state the facts, are confronted with the difficulty that the fact which they 
represent is not planted on the solid ground of fixed conditions; it is in the 
midst and is itself a part of the changing currents, the complex and interact- 
ing influences of the time, deriving its significance as a fact from its rela- 
tions to the deeper-seated movements of the age, movements so gradual 
that often only the passing years can reveal the truth about the fact and its 
right to a place on the historian's page. 

To him the facts could be understood, then, only in a clear-cut frame 
of reference. 

In 1902, Turner looked ahead beyond the passing frontier to specu- 
late upon the new economic stages of capitalism, economic co-opera- 
tion, and monopoly in his Phi Beta Kappa address at Northwestern, 
"Contributions of the West to American Democracy." 9 He said that 
the frontier was not only individualistic but also fostered co-operation 
and helpful governmental intervention, such as aid to the states for 
education by gifts from the public domain and federal aid to the west- 
ern railroads. The arid Far West required large-scale irrigation and 
hence stimulated both private and governmental co-operation. "In a 
word, the physiographic province itself decreed that the destiny of 
the frontier should be social rather than individual." 

With the passing of the frontier came the need for social control. 
Class cleavages appeared "accentuated by distinctions of nationality" 
a reference to the New Immigration. Socialism, Populism, and Bryan 
democracy had disturbed politics and a new global phase of American 
history had begun with the Spanish-American War. But instead of 
urging progressive panaceas, he clung to the frontier emphasis upon 
the ideal of individualism. He argued that the new captains of in- 
dustry, the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Marshall Fields, the Mark 
Hannas, were the successors of the frontier heroes, George Rogers 
Clark, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison: 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 197 

Long after the frontier period of a particular region of the United States 
has passed away, the conception of society, the ideals and aspirations which 
it produced, persist in the minds of the people, . . . Even those masters of 
industry and capital who have risen to power by the conquest of Western 
resources came from the midst of this society and still profess Its principles. 

So, to answer his own question, he was apparently not worried whether 
democracy could survive under such enlightened industrialists and 
merchants. It could. 

This line of reasoning led him to make a cheerful forecast of the 
coming victory of Bigness, in which industrial geniuses, as the path- 
finders of democracy, would achieve the kind of consolidations best 
adapted to democratic social control: 

Socialistic writers have long been fond of pointing out also that these 
various concentrations pave the way for and make possible social control. 
From this point of view it is possible that the masters of industry may prove 
not so much an incipient aristocracy as the pathfinders for democracy in 
reducing the industrial world to systematic consolidation suited to demo- 
cratic control. The great geniuses that have built up the modern industrial 
concentration were trained in the midst of democratic society. They were 
the product of these democratic conditions. Freedom to rise was the very 
condition of their existence. 

He even quoted the conservative authority of President Charles Eliot 
of Harvard, who said that the corporation was a strong supporter of 
democratic institutions. (Did he know that Eliot had denounced 
unions as hostile to liberty? ) 

Elsewhere, however, he expressed a fear that millionaires might 
dominate the private college, and he urged support of the state uni- 
versity as a democratic antidote. To him the state university offered 
a check against uniformity of thought, because it represented all 
classes. Had Turner been consistent and used his previous argument 
that Rockefeller, Hanna, and other latter-day "pathfinders of democ- 
racy" systematized monopoly and thus assured democratic control, he 
would have said that, since these wealthy men came out of an erst- 
while frontier community, they could not possibly change the demo- 
cratic quality of the private college. But he did not trust this line of 
reasoning, for he and such socially minded colleagues of the Univer- 
sity of Wisconsin as Professor Richard T. Ely were concerned about 
the fate of Rockefeller's University of Chicago, where President Harper 
had ejected a critic of the great utilities by the name of Professor 
E. W. Bemis. While Rockefeller's biographer, Allan Nevins, denies that 

198 The American Historian 

the oil magnate meddled with the institutions that he endowed and 
this seems borne out by the minutes of the University contemporaries 
like Ely believed that the Bemis case proved that the private univer- 
sity was dominated by the captain of industry. 

In 1906, after publishing so many stimulating essays and addresses, 
Turner Issued his first book, The Rise of the New West, 1819-1829, 
which appeared in Albeit Bushnell Hart's comprehensive American 
Nation series of twenty-eight volumes (1903-18) few of them in the 
same creative class as Turner's. (In the 1950s this series was replaced 
by Harper & Brothers with books that were much more analytical, 
readable, richer in sources, and rounded in subject matter in the New 
History tradition than the books they supplanted.) The period of 
1819 to 1829 signified to him the American victory of economic and 
political independence, marked by westward expansion along the Gulf 
of Mexico, the rapid extension of the plantation system, the unilateral 
statement of the Monroe Doctrine, and the revolution in transporta- 
tion and industry. The seemingly contradictory chapter title of "Na- 
tionalism and Sectionalism" reflected his idea that the United States 
"was more like an empire than a nation/' He elaborated upon his fa- 
mous idea of "sections" that these regional units, not the states, were 
the basic federal components of the country. Each had its interests, 
demands, and leaders and often combined with other sections in a 
struggle for power. Changing political doctrines, as in the case of 
Calhoun and Webster, merely reflected changing sectional interests. 
By 1829, Calhoun led sectionalism upon the offensive against national- 
ism through his nullifying philosophy in the South Carolina Exposition. 
Most of the book was a period survey according to sections, though 
he admitted that the growth of American democracy, strongest in the 
West and the Middle region, cut across all sections and divided the 
people "on the lines of social classes." But his brief class analyses were 
usually buried in his quasi-geographic determinism. 

As in his previous essays, he depicted New England as unique be- 
cause of its non-frontier origins across the sea, particularly the social 
inheritance of Puritanism. He described the shift of the industrial cen- 
ter of gravity from the harbors to the waterfalls, from commerce and 
navigation to manufactures. Agriculture was in decline, and old set- 
tlers were deserting their worn-out lands that could not compete with 
the lands of the newer West. In church polity, the newer rural com- 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 199 

munities of Baptists and Methodists were assailing the conservative 
rule of the Congregationalists and Unitaiianism, and liberalizing so- 
cial reforms were gaining. 

The Middle region was "a zone of transition" between East and 
West, North and South, involving a cultural mediation or interaction 
between sharply distinct areas. He mentioned the large non-English 
groups but made no attempt to explain their cultural influence, and 
he attributed the democratic reforms such as the public schools, mod- 
ern prisons, and civic gains to western influences. As usual, Turner 
ignored parallel developments in England and elsewhere in western 
Europe, leaving the impression of frontier uniqueness. 

In dealing with the South, Turner consulted his colleague and dis- 
ciple, Ukich B. Phillips, for his intimate knowledge of that area, and 
applied a strict sectional concept. This meant a changing, evolving 
series of "Souths." He showed how the former diversity of the South 
in population and economy gave way to assimilative influences and the 
extension of the cotton plantation to the Southwest. Politics reflected 
this transformation: Charleston, the center of the old plantation area 
and now in competition with the Southwest, led the revolt. 

The chapters on western colonization, trade, and politics were more 
factual than was Turner's habit, but he repeated his characteristic 
generalizations. "The wilderness ever opened a gate of escape to the 
poor, the discontented, and the oppressed," The forest myth was given 
an uncompromising nationalistic form: "Western democracy was no 
theorist's dream. It came, stark and strong and full of life, from the 
American forest." He also described the colonization routes, the mode 
of travel, and the invasion of southerners into the Old Northwest. 

Turner's scientism did not exclude personality altogether, even if 
free will and choice seem lost at times beneath deterministic environ- 
mental factors. He tried to understand the outlook and whims of John 
Quincy Adams and accepted the old Puritan's derogatory self-estimate, 
"I am a man of reserved, cold, austere, and forbidding manners." He 
preferred the more "engaging personalities" of Clay and Jackson, 
spokesmen for the West. Adams did not quite conform to the correct 
sectional pattern of New England, because he was an enthusiastic sup- 
porter of centralizing policies. Furthermore, Turner could not rob 
Adams of the honor of issuing the Monroe Doctrine, even though this 
policy seemed to belong to the western tradition of "pushing back 
Europe" from American borders. He offset this by dwelling on the 
role of Henry Clay of Kentucky, the real leader of our hemispheric 
policy through his Pan-Americanism. 

200 The American Historian 

The Rise of the New West was extravagantly praised by The Inde- 
pendent of June 28, 1906: "No more profound study of any period of 
American history has been written." This high judgment was shared by 
innumerable historians decades after the book appeared. Roosevelt 
and Wilson, Rhodes and McLaughlin were among the early enthusi- 
asts, although they noted stylistic shortcomings. 

During the 'twenties Turner lectured and wrote articles on the fron- 
tier section and other related concepts and added important modifica- 
tions of his theories. These were collected in a posthumous volume in 
1932 under the title, The Significance of Sections in American History, 
and awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The essays discussed the experience of 
sectional conflict and compromise, suggesting that postwar Europe had 
a model for federation in the history of the frontier sections. In "Sec- 
tions and Nations," originally published in 1922, he insisted that he 
was not an extreme environmentalist but allowed for the diversity of 
human motives: 10 

No single factor is determinative. Men are not absolutely dictated to by 
climate, geography, soils, or economic interests. The influence of the stock 
from which they sprang, the inherited ideals, the spiritual factors, often 
triumph over the material interests. There is also the influence of personality. 
Men do follow leaders, and sometimes into paths inconsistent with the sec- 
tion's material interests, But in the long ran the statesman must speak the 
language of his people on fundamentals, both of interests and ideals. Not 
seldom the ideals grow out of the interests. 

This fresh emphasis upon free-will factors in history was indeed 
needed to offset the overwhelming impression of scientific determinism 
gained by readers from his previous writings. He was now concerned 
with the need for cultural diversity for a federated Europe, and for 
social experimentation. Thus, he interpreted the frontier-bred sections 
as possessing traits that acted as "restraints upon a deadly conformity." 
Yet a reader of his earlier writings might be led to expect that the re- 
current revolutionary process and a frontier indifference to the fine 
arts could only lead to a growing sameness of culture. He had usually 
ignored the rich cultural borrowings from Europe and even now took 
a condescending attitude toward effete Europe, chided her addiction 
to force, and offered to teach her the democratic lessons to be learned 
from the frontier. 

For fifteen years before his death in 1932, Turner gathered notes on 
a major work, The United States, 1830-1850, but he died before he fin- 
ished his final chapters or revised his earlier material. Fortunately, his 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 201 

devoted student, Avery O. Craven, edited and brought out the volume 
in 1935, permitting no important changes from the original. Its 591 
pages were almost double the size of The Rise of the New West. It 
gave much more descriptive factual detail than he usually offered 
alongside of imaginative generalizations. The Darwinian emphasis on 
"successive stages" was far less pronounced than before. Apparently 
thinking of his critics who were suspicious of his heavily patterned 
history, he said disarmingly, "Not all regions of property and pros- 
perity voted Whig and not all the poor regions of rough country were 
predominantly Democratic. There were exceptions that prevent the 
historian from formulating a law of political distribution on physical 
or economic grounds." At this stage of his intellectual development, 
he could probably have added "or any other law." 

Consistently, however, as in his first book, he used a regional and 
sectional approach. His sections of 1830-50 were now New England, 
the Middle Atlantic states, the South Atlantic states, the South Central 
states, the North Central states, and Texas and the Far West. As ever, 
he was alert to show relationships between physical environment and 
social institutions: "For example, the Disciples of Christ were propor- 
tionately strongest in the areas of rough country settled by the South- 
ern-upland pioneers, and especially in the driftless area of southern 
Ohio and Indiana." Once more he used the theme of a Puritan New 
England conscience transmitted westward to greater New England; 
this time he showed the influence of the receding frontier on the 
older section: 

Beyond any other New Englander, Emerson caught the spirit of the 
New West, America's youthful buoyancy, faith, and exaggeration, the belief 
in the perfectibility of the common man, the connection of wagon and star, 
the appeal to the imagination made by vast spaces, affording opportunity 
for a newer and finer society. 

In dealing with the South Atlantic states, he rejected the notion of 
the "solid South," but he apparently agreed with U. B. Phillips in mak- 
ing the presence of the Negro the most important and determining 
social factor. He saw the South Central states mediating between a 
rising plantation society and a declining frontier, as the eastern plant- 
ers brought their slaves into that area. For the North Central states, 
he called attention to the recurrent frontier types of the cowboy, 
lumberman, and the lawless character of the Far West, 

He gave much more attention than before to European influences. 
When he discussed the coming of the Germans, he dipped into origi- 

202 The American Historian 

nal German accounts concerning the reasons and background of emi- 
gration. The Irish, too, received more space. In dealing with Horace 
Mann's educational reforms, he devoted two sentences to the borrow- 
ings from Prussia (omitting Switzerland, France, and England), but 
minimized this by saying that the original autocratic assumptions were 
set aside by "distinctive marks of American democratic and individual- 
istic ideals." Later, he retreated from the constant reiteration of in- 
digenous frontier democracy: "But, far too frequently, the new West- 
ern commonwealths paid only lip tribute to the relations between 
liberty, democracy, and the public schools." Possibly he was thinking 
of the Hoosier schoolmaster and the hickory stick. 

His final political chapters continued the usual frontier section theme 
connecting regional issues with national politics and legislation. Jack- 
son, of course, was his hero, and his triumph was a pivotal fact for 
social democracy: 

The instincts of the American people in supporting him conformed to 
the general drift of the tendencies of this New World democracy a de- 
mocracy which preferred persons to property, an active share by the people 
to the greater system and efficiency of a scientific administration by experts 
or by an established elite who dealt with the people from above. 

The last reference was probably to John Quincy Adams's ideal of scien- 
tific administration by the government of public lands and transpor- 


The year of Turner's death, 1932, witnessed a most impressive adop- 
tion of the theory of the closed frontier by the Democratic presiden- 
tial candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose Commonwealth Club ad- 
dress, delivered in San Francisco, was said to be the product of the 
social planner, Adolf A. Berle. The author had obviously read Turner's 
essay of 1893, and probably his plea for social planning as well. Here 
the ideas appeared unmistakably in their pessimistic form: n 

Our last frontier has long since been reached, and there is practically no 
more free land. More than half of our people do not live on the farms or 
on lands and cannot derive a living by cultivating their own property. 
There is no safety valve in the form of a Western prairie to which those 
thrown out of work by the Eastern economic machines can go for a new start. 

This argument afforded a theoretical introduction to the NIRA based 
on the pessimistic assumptions of a relatively declining population, a 
finished industrial plant, and inevitable monopoly. 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 203 

Meanwhile, social evolutionism had relaxed its iron grip over the 
social studies and angry critics felt encouraged to attack the master's 
theories. Besides, the depression years offered an intellectual climate 
favorable to class conflict theories, rather than geographic determin- 
ism. Louis Hacker of Columbia charged that Turner neglected the 
growth of monopolistic capitalism and imperialism, and fiat he dis- 
regarded the basic class antagonisms in American history and the Eu- 
ropean equivalents to American experience. Hacker considered the 
concept of the section as misleading. "Turner and his followers," he 
wrote in Sections or Classes?, "were the fabricators of a tradition 
which is not only fictitious but also to a very large extent positively 
harmful/' Turner, as has been noted, did use the idea of class con- 
flict as an integral part of his sectional analysis, and did discuss the 
rise of big business but the regional emphasis tended to blur the class 

Professor Fred Shannon, another friend of social planning, marshaled 
census data in approved Turnerian fashion to undermine the safety- 
valve theory of surplus labor. He cited the facts that American eco- 
nomic crises and strikes had not been averted by cheap or free lands, 
not even by the Homestead Act. He saw in the census figures proof 
that few industrial laborers became homesteaders. Migrants to the 
farms usually lacked capital and became tenant farmers or farm wage 
laborers. Cities were much better safety outlets for depressed farmers, 
judging by the heavy migration to the cities in the decades before 

Benjamin F. Wright, Jr., a Harvard political scientist, made few 
concessions to Turner's idea that the frontier was an innovating po- 
litical force a position that Turner had actually qualified a good deal. 
It was obvious that western constitutions imitated eastern models, ad- 
hering to the single executive, bicameral legislature, the system of 
checks and balances, the court hierarchy armed with the power of 
judicial review, and the standard bill of rights, Wright took specific 
exception to the statement that the West was the leader in manhood 
suffrage. However, he conceded that the West accelerated the growth 
of the democratic movement while not changing its direction. He held 
that frontiersmen were among the underprivileged of the older states 
and hence chose to imitate those constitutional devices most calcu- 
lated to increase their share of political power. Besides, the frontiers- 
men were so far from a radical outlook that they did not tinker with 
contractual rights, property safeguards, slavery, or the status of 

204 The American Historian 

women. But actually, there were many exceptions to Wright's as- 

From Yale, George Wilson Pierson attacked both the contradictions 
and lacunae in Turner's theses. How could the frontier be simultane- 
ously a sectionalizing and a nationalizing force, he asked. Was it not 
crude geographic determinism to make inert minerals transform an 
entire society into new forms of economy? Was it not a gross ma- 
terialist tendency to omit or minimize the force of tradition or habit? 
Yet Pierson admitted that he would not discard Turner's entire thesis 
nor overlook his insights. Too much remained that was quite reason- 
able and corresponding to fact. 12 

Turner's idea (borrowed from Loria) that the frontier had creative 
innovative force was given fresh application by a "disciple," Walter 
Prescott Webb of the University of Texas, who scarcely knew Turner 
but shared in the mainstream of frontier thought. His book, The Great 
Plains (1931), was the product of a man reared in that section and 
convinced of its uniqueness. He professed to tell "what happened in 
American civilization when in its westward progress it emerged from 
the woods and essayed life on the Plains," and concentrated on this 
flat, treeless, and semi-arid expanse of cattle frontier, mining frontier, 
and homesteaders' lands stretching from the 98-degree meridian on 
the East to the Rockies. Instead of using the Turnerian idea of repeti- 
tive sectional processes, he dwelt upon anotherand primarily Lorian 
suggestion: the idea that each physical environment draws forth 
unique cultural results: 

The frontier experiences on the Great Plains were not, moreover, a repeti- 
tion of frontier experiences in the region from which the settlers came. A 
frontiersman from the woodland region found on the Great Plains many 
novelties, many new experiences. Woodcraft was there displaced by plains- 

Thus, he showed how the Great Plains, which had baffled the 
colonizing efforts of the Spanish, had been conquered by Americans 
by such inventions as the six-shooter, which enabled the armed horse- 
man to overcome the Indian mounted on a swift steed. Webb recog- 
nized the many contributions of the Spanish to the cattle industry, 
but he stressed the newer range techniques of the Americans. The 
homesteader used newly invented barbed wire to keep cattle away 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 205 

from Ms crops and thus was able to dispense with the prohibitively 
expensive wood fences. He mastered the semi-arid soil through irriga- 
tion devices such as windmills and by dry-farming techniques. Webb 
pictured briefly and simply the cultural aspects of the story of the 
Great Plains for instance, cowboy ballads and novels of adventure. 

Among Turner's disciples was Avery O. Craven of the University 
of Chicago. He developed the suggestions of Turner and the geogra- 
phers regarding the significance of soil exhaustion as a factor in his- 
torical change. First, he published a monograph on the influence of 
soil exhaustion in Virginia upon the life of that state and then wrote 
a biography of the Virginian, Edmund Ruffin, a distinguished agri- 
cultural reformer, as well as the fire-eating politician who claimed the 
honor of firing the first cannon at Fort Sumter. Ulrich B. Phillips of the 
University of Michigan, as noted elsewhere, also applied the Turner 
theories to the South by treating that region as an evolving frontier 
and plantation section. 

In the Far West, Herbert E. Bolton of Stanford trained western 
historians to transcend the Anglo-American synthesis of Turner with 
an Anglo-French or an Anglo-Spanish viewpoint based on archives in 
Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City, as well as collections within the 
United States. The interaction of the Americas as a unit absorbed his 
attention and became the core of his most popular academic lectures. 
In this spirit he wrote several volumes on the significance of the Span- 
ish borderlands in the light of frontier conditions, the colonization of 
North America, and the advance of Spanish conquistadors like Coro- 
nado or missionaries like Father Kino, ever stressing the role of geogra- 
phy, topography, and anthropology. 

In 1911, Professor Bolton left Stanford for the University of Cali- 
fornia where he was not only a history professor but also the curator 
of the special Bancroft Library, which claimed over a million volumes 
by the 1940s. This involved a huge collection of Far Western and 
Latin American (particularly Mexican) materials in history and an- 
thropology acquired from the successful California bookseller, pub- 
lisher, and historian, Hubert H. Bancroft (1832-1918), who had spent 
much of a lifetime collecting manuscripts, rare books, maps, news- 
papers, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and numerous reminiscences of old 
settlers that had been dictated to him or his assistants. Bancroft 
boasted of the authorship of at least sixty volumes of histories and 
pamphlets dealing with California, other parts of the Far West, and 
Latin America. He made no secret of his "factory" of history-writing. 
Scores of untrained assistants prepared a master index of the collec- 

206 The American Historian 

tions or took notes copiously, while others wrote up assigned topics. 
The results were turned over to Bancroft, who could then take up the 
task of composition or could turn it over to his staff. Other historians 
had used assistants, but none in quite this manner. Yet the Pacific 
Coast branch of the American Historical Association avowed in 1919, 
the year Bancroft died, that *Tie created the conditions which made 
possible the first scientific treatment of the history of one-half of our 
continent." And his sympathetic biographer, John Caughey, a special- 
ist in California and western history, notes that many of the Bancroft 
volumes remain the best reference books in certain areas. 13 

Turner's ideas inspired men of stature to embark on investigations 
of new frontier questions: the influence of the frontier on diplomacy, 
land speculation, railroad colonization of public lands, conservation, 
agrarian discontent, the "sod-house frontier," fur trade problems, In- 
dian influences, transportation studies, and the impact of sectionalism. 
At Harvard, Turner's former assistant, Frederick Merk, produced many 
frontier scholars as well as certain writings in this tradition. 

One of Turner's contemporaries, Clarence W. Alvord (1868-1928) 
of the University of Illinois (and Minnesota) joined the master (and 
many others ) in demonstrating the influence of the West upon British 
imperial diplomacy. He was born in Massachusetts of old stock and 
had studied in Berlin as well as with the rising history department of 
the University of Chicago. His chief work was The Mississippi Valley 
in British Politics: A Study of Trade, Land Speculation, and Experi- 
ments in Imperialism Culminating in the American Revolution ( 1917) . 
He stressed the Imperial Perspective which looked to decisions made 
in London regarding the fate of the transmontane West acquired from 
France in 1763. Most important were his arduous efforts to discover 
and publish innumerable documents, such as the Kaskaskia Records 
(1909) for the old French settlements in Illinois, and the fourteen 
volumes of the Illinois Historical Society Collections. He was not only 
editor of the excellent Centennial History of Illinois but wrote the 
first volume in that series. Finally, he was one of the chief founders of 
the (originally) regional journal, The Mississippi Valley Historical Re- 
view. However, another disciple of Turner, James Alton James, took 
issue with Alvord's imperial perspective when the latter maintained 
that it was Lord Shelbourne's good intentions rather than George 
Rogers Clark's conquest which gave the United States the Old North- 
west at the peace table in 1783. James's own biography of Clark mini- 
mized the transatlantic factor. 14 

At the University of Wisconsin the Turner tradition continued to 

Turner and the Moving Frontier 207 

dominate graduate studies under Frederic L. Paxson, author of The 
Last Frontier (191G), 15 John D. Hicks, and Merle Curit Hicks took up 
the theme of the passing frontier in The Populist Revolt (1931), an 
interpretation of rural revolt behind the Farmers* Alliance and the 
People's party. He declared that "it was only as the West wore out 
and cheap lands were no longer abundant that well-developed agrarian 
movements began to appear." The first chapter, "The Frontier Back- 
ground," concluded that the building of the transcontinental railroad 
was the beginning of the end of frontier conditions. He dwelt upon 
the rural parts of the Central states, where farmers struggled with 
failing crops, low prices, debts, and taxes. Populism left a heritage 
of democratic electoral devices, currency reform, rural credit, and the 
national control of business. The Populist Revolt won scholarly ac- 
claim, but its sales were modest (like most history books of the time). 
It was readable, comprehensive, and based on large amounts of let- 
ters, government materials, representative newspapers, pamphlets, and 
special studies. 

Merle Curti tested parts of the Turner thesis successfully in The 
Making of an American Community: A Case Study of Democracy in 
a Frontier County (1959). Aided by a very competent staff and vast 
amounts of local records, diaries, newspapers, correspondence, and 
interviews, he constructed the most analytical study of a county ever 
done by a historian. Trempealeau County in southwest Wisconsin 
illustrated Turner's frontier stages of early development, showed that 
frontier individualism existed side by side with social planning, and 
pictured the social mobility of the New Immigration as well as the 
Old. Here New England institutions such as the township were car- 
ried over and permitted democracy to flourish vigorously at the grass 

Turner's disciples often spoke of striking analogies to the frontier 
process discernible in the forests and plains of other countries but 
failed to convince the generality of historians. Russian Siberia of the 
nineteenth century, with its cheap lands, primitive settlements, and 
great resources, displayed some democratic traits among the peasantry 
that marked them off from their fellows in other parts of the Czarist 
domain; but their cultural inheritance, tight government controls, and 
special environmental factors overcame the latent democratic qualities. 
New France of colonial times also showed wilderness independence 
for a time before it yielded to the conservative and centralizing quali- 
ties of church and state. Australia, too, seemed to resemble superficially 
a frontier environment, but its vast arid section and national policies 

208 The American Historian 

favored monopolistic ranch owners and irrigation companies rather 
than the small fanner pictured by Turner. 16 Besides, the younger his- 
torians were much more suspicious of analogies based upon geo- 
graphic determinism than their elders had been. Too few were willing 
to accept Walter Webb's imaginative theory of a world-encircling 
frontier developing since 1500 and conditioning the rest of the globe 
in the style suggested by Turner. The cultural approach to history, 
with its idea of the diffusion or borrowing of culture, seemed more 


By the mid-twentieth century, courses in western history were not 
as popular as during the 1930s, but they continued to reflect the in- 
fluence of Turner. His scientism, particularly his social evolutionism, 
aroused critics, but none could deny the amazing amount of ideas 
that were still usable. It was no longer necessary for anyone to point 
out the importance of the West as a key to American development. 
If anything, the danger remained that teachers of American history 
would ignore European influences and seek historical explanations 
solely in indigenous frontier developments. Few textbooks troubled 
to point out that European equivalents existed for the allegedly unique 
democratic movements stemming from western experience. The ad- 
vance of intellectual history, it is true, inevitably suggested some 
affinities with the European mind. 

Turner had stimulated economic and technological studies of 
America. Hundreds of theses and general books had traced the in- 
fluence of land policy, transportation, and the economic bases of sec- 
tional pressures on state and local politics. The story of the struggle 
of creditor and debtor classes, going far beyond Bryan to colonial 
times, was now easily recognizable for the various "sections" of 
America. His ideal of the New History had been reinforced by James 
Harvey Robinson and his followers, and his focus on the present as 
the point of departure for historians had become a commonplace, de- 
spite protests that violence was being done to the integrity of the past. 
Map and graph studies had become so prolific that few thought of 
them as particularly Turnerian. With the passing of the Great De- 
pression and the New Deal, fears receded that the Closed Frontier 
had ended American dynamic growth. Like Turner in his later years 
a new generation believed in the need for social planning to meet 
urban conditions. 


Von Hoist to Dunning: 
Abolitionists and Revisionists 

JLiistorians of the 'eighties and 'nineties discovered their epic in the 
Civil War. The war-guilt controversy North and South gathered fuel 
from the publication of numerous relevant autobiographies, reminis- 
cences, biographies, private letters, and official collections. GAR com- 
mittees and patriotic societies, as vigilant sentinels of the Union cause, 
perused history textbooks, while Southern historical societies spurred 
on teachers and research men to examine the Lost Cause. Although 
Congressmen had kept historians on short rations since those distant 
years when they aided Jared Sparks in publishing revolutionary rec- 
ords, they were now eager to respond generously to the insistent de- 
mands for the publication of Civil War records. 

Therefore, Congress voted ample funds to publish and distribute 
widely entire sets of the 128 volumes of the Official Records of the 
Union and Confederate Armies (1880-1901). Nor did the Congressmen 
neglect the Navy, for they financed the publication and free distribu- 
tion of a parallel naval series of thirty volumes which appeared during 
the years 1894-1922. Southerners preferred the term "War Between 
the States" as more in keeping with the rightness of the state sov- 
ereignty position than the derogatory label of "War of the Rebellion" 


210 The American Historian 

attached to the official volumes, but they were content with the huge 
quantity and objective presentation of the Confederate documents. 

Hermann Eduard von Hoist (1841-1904), one of the most vehement 
abolitionist historians of this era, reflected the European tendency to 
see the sectional struggle almost entirely in moral terms centering 
upon the evil of slavery. He was born into the decayed German gentry 
of the Baltic provinces of Russia, one of ten children in a Lutheran 
minister's household. Financial difficulties did not prevent him from 
supporting himself through gymnasium and the University of Heidel- 
berg. He was trained by the Prussian school of historians, among them 
Treitschke, which meant he received a large dose of German unifi- 
cation and of the virtues of Prussian centralization as against states' 
rights. In his History he was to cite approvingly a comment of Bis- 
marck made in 1872 that the lesson of the American Civil War was 
unification: "Sovereignty can only be a unit and it must remain a unit." 
He transferred to America the lesson that Germany was best served 
by unification and escape from petty state sovereignties. 

Von Hoist could not remain in Russia. His hatred of Czarist autoc- 
racy grew following the attempt on the life of Alexander II in 1866, 
when the police arrested numerous suspects. In Leipzig he published 
an attack on the regime which promptly led to an order for his arrest, 
but von Hoist chose to go to America rather than Siberia. In New York 
City he encountered great difficulties in finding suitable work. He 
turned to manual labor, lived in a cold room with other laborers, and 
finally took up tutoring. Fortunately he secured a historical research 
commission from Bremen merchants, and well-wishers aided him to 
obtain a teaching post at the University of Strasbourg, which was re- 
organized as a German institution following the Franco-Prussian War. 
There he began his ambitious multi-volume work, The Constitutional 
and Political History of the United States. The first volume was such 
a success that he gained a professorship at the University of Freiburg. 
This position enabled him to continue his research in London and in 
the United States. 

President William R. Harper of the University of Chicago sent him 
a generous offer in 1892 to come as chairman of the history department 
in the newly established institution. His vigorous lecturing style and 
emphatic opinions won him student enthusiasm, but his sweeping gen- 
eralizations and references to American naivete and superficiality an- 
noyed others. Ill-health led to his early retirement. 1 

The first volume in the German edition of von Hoist's History cir- 
culated in 1874, and the American translation came two years later; 

Von Hoist to Dunning 211 

thereafter, the German and American editions of the other six volumes 
appeared about the same time until the last was printed in 1892. Dur- 
ing the 'eighties he also published biographies of John C. Calhoun 
and John Brown. Primarily concerned with political and constitutional 
history, he depended upon such political sources as the Congressional 
Globe; his use of newspapers, though not too extensive by present-day 
standards, was novel enough to inspire Rhodes. 

The History reflected von Hoist's dogmatic nature, his use of ab- 
solute moral judgments, and his tendency to praise or arraign key 
historical figures. The collective "slavocracy," however, was the chief 
villain of his piece. His analytical approach, largely topical, often re- 
sulted in profitable insights, but it sacrificed the art of narrative. More 
of a political scientist at heart than a historian, he neglected historical 
development for constitutional philosophy. 

In the first volume, State Sovereignty and Slavery., he stressed the 
binding nature of sovereignty and argued that the Union was actually 
older than the states. In fact he condemned practically all particularist 
tendencies in American constitutional history, seeing in them factors 
causing the Civil War. To him the Constitution was filled with dan- 
gerous ambiguities; yet, Americans tended to think of that document 
as the divine product of the unique wisdom of the founding fathers 
rather than of economic and political necessities. This reference to 
divine inspiration, he said in a caustic aside, "is one of the standing 
formulas in which the self-complacency and pride of a people who 
esteem themselves special objects of the care of the Ruler of the Uni- 
verse, find expression/' His own belief was clear enough: "The 
historical fact is that the Constitution had been extorted from the 
grinding necessity of a reluctant people." The political thinking of 
Americans seemed to him more superficial and immature than that 
of Englishmen or Germans, though superior on concrete questions. 
Furthermore, in the United States the masses were moved by vague 
maxims of inconsistent idealism, while their leaders worshiped the 
masses. The poison of state sovereignty and localism led political par- 
ties and leaders to represent localities rather than the nation and to 
act as "the mere mouthpieces of their immediate constituents/* Cal- 
houn and his disciples did not invent nullification and secession, for 
these grew out of the life and circumstances of the people and the 
ambiguities of the Constitution. There was at least a residuum of 
truth in many of his critical comments about the course of American 

The second volume, Jackson's Administration Annexation of Texas, 

212 The American Historian 

showed how a sinister manipulative slavocracy absorbed Texas, pro- 
voked the war with Mexico, and tried to spread slavery westward. 
Presidents Polk, Pierce, and Buchanan were mere "doughfaces" serv- 
ing every bidding of the slavocracy. Of Folk's war declaration he wrote, 
'The very school boys laughed at the fable of the 'urgent necessity' 
of defending Texas/' The next volume, The Annexation of Texas 
Compromise of 1850, pictured slavery as a parasite which devitalized 
the South: "She [the South] saw the North, like the giant in the fable, 
filled with fresh strength at every contact with the earth, while her 
own flesh shrivelled on her bones and her sinews relaxed." 

The preface to his fourth volume, Compromise of 1850 Kansas- 
Nebraska Bill, stated confidently that "other investigators will have 
to reckon with my labors" and launched on the theme of the irre- 
pressible nature of the conflict between slavery and freedom. How- 
ever, as he was too much the moralist to deny personal guilt and 
responsibility in history, he did not stress the inevitable. The Kansas- 
Nebraska Act came as a climax in a highly moral drama, and its chief 
proponent, Stephen A. Douglas, was pictured as a liar, an irrespon- 
sible manipulator, and a cheap politician. Von Hoist believed that 
Douglas was motivated by a desire to defeat Pierce; he hoped to win 
southern support for the presidency by repealing the Missouri Com- 

The final volume concluded with von Holsf s central theme of "the 
dark powers which unbound the furies of civil war." These were the 
doctrine of non-coercion (of a state by the federal government), the 
slavocratic interpretation of state sovereignty, and slavery. Much as 
he admired Lincoln as a democrat and opponent of slavery, he felt 
that the President tended to follow the same non-coercion theory that 
had paralyzed Buchanan into dangerous inactivity. However, Lincoln 
had been able to act because the Southern Confederacy provoked 
actual war. He looked sympathetically upon John Brown's attack on 
Harpers Ferry as an act that awakened the conscience of a nation. 
Brown was no lunatic but, as his behavior under interminable ques- 
tioning revealed, a man of great dignity and calm bravery, quite con- 
scious that his enterprise was doomed from the beginning. 

Von Hoist's brilliance did not win him a large or lasting following, 
for his weaknesses were too great. However stimulating his insights 
and syntheses and meticulous the accuracy of his facts, he lacked 
attractive literary qualities and he held ex parte theses that became 
quickly outdated early in the twentieth century. He gave only the most 
cursory attention to the economic and social forces beneath constitu- 

Von Hoist to Dunning 213 

tional developments and produced oversimplified explanations of 
great historical movements. But unlike the next generation of "scien- 
tific historians" at least a large branch of them he had no fear of 
expressing a definite philosophic position or of reaching conclusions. 2 

Much more urbane in temperament, but no less sincere in his anti- 
slavery sentiments, was James Schouler (1839-1920), a New Eng- 
lander educated at Harvard. The son of a Scottish immigrant who 
edited a Whig newspaper and of a mother belonging to an old New 
England family, he had studied law, volunteered in the Civil War, 
and enjoyed a lucrative law practice until progressive deafness led 
him to make a career of writing legal treatises and histories. He com- 
menced research in the 1870s on what became a seven-volume His- 
tory of the United States of America under the Constitution, but the 
publishers were wary and the first volume did not appear until 1880; 
four more were issued by 1891, a sixth in 1899, and a seventh, after 
an even longer wait, in 1913. Meanwhile, in 1891, Herbert Baxter 
Adams of Johns Hopkins invited him to give a course of lectures in 
American history, and he remained there until 1908. 

Like von Hoist, he chose to write on the era between the formation 
of the government and the Civil War; later he advanced into the Re- 
construction period. The "venerable" Bancroft's ten volumes, which 
Schouler admired, began with colonial foundations but never went 
beyond the writing of the Constitution. McMaster's eight volumes 
from the Revolution to the Civil War began to appear in 1883 and 
were completed in 1913. More important was the inspiration of Richard 
Hildreth's History of the United States, covering the colonial and early 
national period to 1821. Schouler's preface of 1880 rated Hildreth 
above the others: 

We can find but one work, that of Mr. Hildreth, which shows the diligent 
research of a scholar among the accumulated records of 1783-1821, a work 
of whose high merits as to the three final volumes I may be permitted to 
speak after a minute comparison of almost every page with authentic mate- 
rials elsewhere gathered. 

But he quicHy added that he differed from Hildreth in many par- 
ticulars and estimates; and he had consulted many new collections 
dealing with key figures. 

Schouler anticipated Ulrich B. Phillips's thesis regarding the racial 

214 The American Historian 

factor in Southern history. He said that slavery "came to exist purely 
as a race institution; as the subjection, not of debtors or vanquished 
enemies, but of an alien, uncouth-looking people, whom the Caucasian 
could hardly regard without mirth and contempt, even when moved 
to compassion for their wrongs/' He did not necessarily share this 
opinion and added his observation, "Americans boasted their descent 
from Indian chiefs, but none took pride in an Ethiopian pedigree." 
Like von Hoist he frequently made moralistic judgments. He liked 
to contrast the freedom-loving, progressive Northern states with the 
medieval, reactionary South. 

Like von Hoist and Hudreth, he felt that economic pressures were 
the chief forces behind the Constitution. But he would not accept the 
extreme centralizing philosophy of the German or the ideas expressed 
by Hamilton in calling for more power at the Capitol. While he con- 
ceded the ability of the secretary of the treasury, he criticized his 
distrust of the people, his conceit, and personal weaknesses. "Hamilton 
frankly avowed his conviction that mankind were vicious, except a 
few choice spirits, and should be ruled upon that theory," he wrote, 
adding that Hamilton showed "eccentricity of thought, that confident 
reliance upon his unaided judgment, and that equally confident way 
of impressing his convictions upon others as truth eternal, which aided 
so greatly to benumb his capacity for successful leadership in a re- 
public like ours." Yet Schouler spoke of Hamilton's "truly noble dis- 
position," while he was criticizing his neglect of the nation's welfare: 

To Hamilton belongs the lasting honor of founding the national credit of this 
new Union at the outset upon the firm rock of punctilious good faith. But 
State credit was not placed by his endeavors on an equally sound basis, his 
controlling purpose being to make the influence of the thirteen common- 
wealths wholly and forever subsidiary and dependent upon the nation. 

Just as Schouler was ready to disparage Hamilton's extreme cen- 
tralization, he had only praise for Jefferson's policies, denying that the 
states' rights sentiments of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions re- 
sembled the nullificationism of Calhoun. When he wrote volume two 
dealing with the Jefferson-Madison administrations, he took notice 
of the recent History of Henry Adams, whose anti- Jefferson comments 
annoyed him: 

An extensive and valuable work, which shows much scholarly research, and 
brings to view many important facts from foreign archives hitherto inac- 
cessible; but which appears to be written, one must regret to add, in quite 
a disparaging strain. 

Von Hoist to Dunning 215 

When Henry Adams read this, he chose to distort this comment grossly 
in his own inimitable way: 

Happening to take up a volume of a certain Mr. Schouler's history, I was 
struck' the other day by finding a prefatory remark in which Mr. Schouler 
said that he had stolen out of my books all that seemed to Mm worth taking, 
and that anyway, my history was not good for much, because of its de- 
preciatory spirit. 

Totally unlike Adams's judgment of Jefferson is Schouler 's admiring 
observation. "A parting radiance, indeed, lingers about this second 
administration of Jefferson, to be remembered like that of the last 
sunset before a storm at sea; it was a miniature golden age of Amer- 
ican history." 

His fears of Hamiltonian institutions did not prevent his criticizing 
Jackson's methods of waging war on the second United States Bank, 
for he considered that institution far less severe in its regulatory poli- 
cies than similar central banks abroad; despite certain abuses, it had 
rendered very useful services to the financial structure of the country. 
Jackson's naive policy of fostering the state banks merely created a 
composite monster: 

We have found no fault with Jackson's policy of suppressing the Bank by 
vetoing its recharter, but with his meddlesome transfer of the deposits, and 
most of all because he battered away at this old temple of the faith without 
the least conception of what new one should be erected in its stead. 

By the time Schouler reached his final volume in 1913, which cov- 
ered the years 1865-77, he had to compete with James Ford Khodes's 
extensive history, which began with the Compromise of 1850 and also 
halted temporarily, as it turned out with 1877. Schouler was gener- 
ous in his evaluation: 

I have relied greatly upon the judicious and accurate recital of Mr. Rhodes, 
with whose general views I find myself in harmony. But I have studies and 
recollections of my own to present for those eight important years. 

Later, in the same volume, he added: 

James Ford Rhodes, who has composed the standard narrative covering 
this Reconstruction period, is justly considered a fair-minded and pains- 
taking historian, accurate and resourceful in his general work. But I think 
his chapters which relate to the years 1865-1869 are quite unjust to [Andrew] 

This disagreement about President Johnson grew out of Schouler's 
use of new correspondence and a logical reassessment of the evidence 

216 The American Historian 

cited by Rhodes and by William Dunning, who had discovered that 
Johnson's first congressional message had been written by George 
Bancroft. Schouler revised downward the older friendly treatment of 
the Radical Republicans. He rejected Rhodes's emphasis on Johnson's 
crude frontier antecedents and character and said that the same could 
be said of Lincoln. In defending the moderate Lincoln-Johnson Re- 
construction policy, he attacked Thaddeus Stevens as "coarse and 
abusive" and minimized Charles Sumner's sympathy for the Negro. 

Schouler's animated style was most effective amid these numerous 
controversial issues, but he lost many readers by his incredibly ill- 
advised chapter organization. While he improved upon von Hoist by 
inserting at least a chapter on social history in each volume and satis- 
fied any reader's desire for political detail, he chose to arrange each 
chapter according to congressional sessions and presidential admin- 
istrations, thus imposing a most unconvincing political synthesis within 
brief two-year periods. Fortunately, Schouler wrote too well to lose 
himself in the bare annalistic organization characteristic of the medie- 
val chronicles, but his organizing principle was not too far from it. 
He did not apologize for his overemphasis on politics: "History, in 
short, is the record of consecutive events of consecutive public 

The narrative suffered at times from eccentric language and flagrant 
anti-Irish prejudices. When he dealt with the anti-Catholic riots of 
1834, he was much more incensed by the riots promoted by the Irish 
themselves. "Here in the earliest riots, Irish Democrats, an unwashed 
crowd, were the aggressors/' Speaking of their anti-abolitionist and 
election riots, he observed tartly, "Unlettered and boozy foreigners, 
the scum of European society, made a large fraction in the commo- 
tions we have mentioned." 

In this volume, as in later professional papers, he stated his belief 
that the historian must make evaluations according to his own per- 
ceptions and judgments. "It is not in nature to be impartial as be- 
tween right and wrong, honorable and dishonorable public conduct." 
The historian, he made clear, must commit himself throughout but 
must also seek to discover the atmosphere of the time and its stand- 
ards. No neutrality was possible. His aim, he said, was to furnish "in 
the true sense a history of the people of the United States, their vir- 
tues, their errors, and their wonderful development." 

Like McMaster, he held no brief for radical panaceas but glorified 
the "common people" and extolled the gains of Progress. "Progress is 
the law of our being." He did not deny the role of the great hero of 

Von Hoist to Dunning 217 

the age in creating achievement, but he attributed a far more basic 
influence to the common man in making these gains possible. It was 
not the individual mind that swayed American politics but the "ma- 
jority or average mind." The leader who unites the highest expression 
of thought and action, he said, rarely appears in modern days. 

In various addresses and essays assembled later in Historical Briefs 
(1896), Schouler offered interesting insights into history. In 1889 he 
told his colleagues of the American Historical Association that he dis- 
agreed with the positivists who believed in the possibility of forecast- 
ing history. He believed that the complex interaction of persons and 
things which affected thought and feeling made historical forecasts 
forever uncertain. "Let us reject, therefore/' he said, "the idea of an 
a priori history and whatever conception conjures up a human mind 
planning history in advance and then executing it. ... There is no 
rigid scientific development to the human race/' But the complex 
times did call for more specialization in the study of history. "In the 
present age one must be ignorant of much if he would be proficient in 
something." 8 

Schouler shook the confidence of critics by using an unusually large 
amount of secondary writings as well as a preponderance of formal 
political sources. Professor Lewis E. Ellis, who has made a careful 
analysis of Schouler's sources, shows that in the volume dealing with 
the years 1865-77 Rhodes is cited 235 times, while the second most- 
quoted source, Gideon Welles's Diary, is cited 53 times; and too much 
reliance was placed upon biographical sources. In the volume cov- 
ering the Constitutional era 1783-1801, the United States Statutes at 
Large, a rather formal political source, is cited 123 times, with Ham- 
ilton's Works in second place with 53 citations and the Federalist 
Papers at the very bottom with one. 4 Schouler would not have been 
perturbed by these facts, for he had always paid homage to the primacy 
of politics and the great usefulness of secondary sources: 

Original records and information are preferable to all others; hut secondary 
sources of knowledge I have largely accepted as a labor-saving means, 
where I could bring my own accumulated knowledge and habits of verifica- 
tion to hear upon them so as to judge fairly of their comparative worth. 

His writings, indeed, show eagerness to discover and use manuscript 
collections and other new sources unknown or ignored by other his- 
torians and biographers. But his methods did not permit him to make 
the novel revisions of historical evaluations and facts that his abler 
contemporary Rhodes did. Still, he could construct a fresh vivid pic- 

218 The American Historian 

ture of men and events by carefully reconsidering familiar facts and 
judgments; but this virtue was not "research." 

Far more skillful and successful as a narrative historian was the 
retired Cleveland coal and iron executive who was Schouler's favorite 
James Ford Rhodes (1848-1927). His family came from New Eng- 
land, and he was bom in Cleveland, where Puritan ideas and institu- 
tions continued to exist. His father, Daniel P. Rhodes, was a native 
of Sudbury, Vermont, and a lifelong friend of his neighbor and cousin, 
Stephen A. Douglas, whom young Rhodes knew as a frequent visitor. 
Like Douglas, the elder Rhodes was a staunch Democrat a "copper- 
head" his son called him who soon became a wealthy real-estate man 
and a pioneer in the Ohio coal and iron ore industry. Eventually, 
James trained himself to enter the business with a brother and a dis- 
tinguished brother-in-law, Marcus Alonso Hanna, who had married 
his sister. Altogether the prosperous Rhodes family belonged to the 
scintillating and conservative Cleveland elite, which included John 
Hay, the novelist and future secretary of state, and John D. Rocke- 
feller, who organized the Standard Oil Company in 1870, both of 
whom the future historian admired. 

Rhodes did not go to Harvard but enrolled in various collegiate 
courses as a special student (he ignored the standard classics and 
mathematics requirements for the degree) at New York University and 
the University of Chicago. He attended history lectures at the Sor- 
bonne, studied metallurgy in Berlin, and observed various iron and 
steel works in Europe. He read widely, and thought of a career in 
journalism. Although he preferred concrete narrative to abstract or 
philosophic books, he claimed to have discovered inspiration in 
Draper's Intellectual Development of Europe and Thomas Buckle's 
analytical History of Civilization. 

"One evening in 1877, while reading Hildreth's History of the United 
States,," he afterwards recalled, "I laid down my book and said to 
myself why I should not write a history of the United States." Then 
he embarked on a plan of note-taking and study and planned retire- 
ment. By the age of 37 he had earned sufficient wealth to support 
himself in the expensive career of historian, and was still young 
enough to begin a new vocation. Soon he moved to Boston, city of 
eminent historians and outstanding historical collections at Harvard 

Von Hoist to Dunning 219 

and the Athenaeum, where he could also meet the Brahmins whom 
he admired. He could afford to hire assistants to copy documents both 
here and abroad, and he even found time to serve on Rockefeller's 
General Education Board. Among his stimulating dinner guests were 
Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Francis Adams, Jr. 5 

Beginning in 1887 he devoted his entire time to the first two vol- 
umes of his History of the United States from the Compromise of 
1850 to the Final Restoration of Home Rule at the South in 1877. By 
1906, when all seven volumes had appeared, he decided to go ahead 
with the next period from Hayes to McKinley, and finally, in 1922, he 
brought forth volume nine, which ended the story with the Roosevelt 
administration. Reviewers lavished generous praise on the first seven 
volumes, but were less enthusiastic about the histories since 1877, 
despite the obvious advantage Rhodes had in a personal knowledge 
of so many of the chief participants. Like Schouler, he concentrated 
on political history, except for a single chapter devoted to social history 
in each volume. He wrote clearly and vigorously in a plain style that 
his Puritan ancestors would have approved of, although his rationalist 
outlook, apparently affected by his father, Buckle, and Lecky, sug- 
gested the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

He began his first volume with a long background survey, drawing 
much of his material from Bancroft and to a lesser extent from Hildreth 
as well. In fact, Bancroft's name appears at least twenty-four times in 
the footnotes of the first forty pages. When Rhodes came to slavery, 
which he treated as a central theme in the antislavery spirit of von 
Hoist and Schouler, he made his abolitionism unmistakable: 

In spite of misrepresentation, obloquy, and derision, the abolitionists con- 
tinued to apply moral ideas and Christian principles to the institution of 
slavery. The teachings of Christ and the Apostles actuated this crusade, and 
its latent power was great. 

He stressed the influence of William Lloyd Garrison. "It was due to 
Garrison and his associates that slavery became a topic of discussion 
at every northern fireside." His picture of slavery was the standard 
abolitionist one: Planters lived in fear of insurrections, practiced slave- 
breeding, used cruel overseers, broke up slave families by sale, and 
earned great profits. Cotton fostered slavery and slavery was the cause 
of the Civil War. Uncle Toms Cabin he praised as substantially true. 
"The South could not in 1861 justify her right to revolution, for there 
was no oppression, no invalidation of rights. She could not, however, 
proclaim to the world what was true, that she went to war to extend 

220 The American Historian 

slavery." The only unusual note for an abolitionist was Rhodes's oc- 
casional reference to the racial inferiority of the Negro. 

Scores of pages were devoted to the controversial Kansas-Nebraska 
Act and to the base motives of Stephen A. Douglas. To the surprise 
of anyone who expected that the link between the Rhodes family 
and Douglas would be reflected in a favorable interpretation of that 
statesman, James Rhodes indicted the "Little Giant" in no uncertain 
terms. He quoted approvingly from a letter of 1854 written by John 
Van Buren, "Could anything but a desire to buy the South at the 
presidential shambles dictate such an outrage?" The Clevelander could 
see no other motive because the Democrats needed no fresh issue, 
preferring to let things drift along, and Douglas was therefore not 
helping his party. All that the Democrats needed to succeed in 1856 
were such mild programs as tariff reduction, economy, and "a just 
foreign policy." Douglas wished to dominate his party nationally, just 
as Clay had done among the Whigs. As an abolitionist, Rhodes had 
no use for Douglas's popular sovereignty doctrine, which meant to 
him that a few thousand uneducated territorial pioneers could compel 
Congress to abdicate its right to decide a question that demanded the 
most sagacious national statesmanship. 

It is possible, as some have suggested, that Rhodes was now preju- 
diced against Douglas by the fact that the historian was personally 
a losing party in a lawsuit brought by Douglas's heirs. But actually, 
Rhodes had long broken with his father's political beliefs and had 
come to share the dominant views of von Hoist and Schouler regard- 
ing the guilt of Douglas. Later historians, beginning with Professor 
Frank H. Hodder of Kansas, produced evidence to show that Douglas 
may have been influenced to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 
as embodied in the Kansas Bill by his need for Southern votes to open 
the territory for a transcontinental railway. Besides, it is clear that the 
current sectional quarrel over the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave 
Act was making the Compromise of 1850 partly inoperative and re- 
awakening a new slavery crisis even before the passage of the Kansas- 
Nebraska Act. Therefore, Douglas is not usually given the full onus 
of responsibility for precipitating the crisis that led directly to the 
Civil War. Others have pointed out how little in fact Douglas actually 
profited from the Deep South in the struggle for the presidential 
nomination of his party in 1860 or in winning the election. In 1934, a 
journalist, George Fort Milton, revised the von Holst-Schouler-Rhodes 
assessment of Douglas and the causes of the Civil War in The Eve 
of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, which showed 

Von Hoist to 'Dunning 221 

the senator as a great compromiser and pragmatic statesman who 
sought to avert conflict between the extremists. As a result of this re- 
visionist trend, the Rhodes-Schouler view had few academic support- 
ers by mid-century. 

Rhodes had little but praise for the new Republican party and John 
Brown. "Never in our history/' he wrote of the Republican Convention 
of 1856, "and probably never in the history of the world, had a more 
pure, more disinterested, and more intelligent body of men banded 
together for a noble political object than those who now enrolled 
themselves under the Republican banner." They were an elite of 
clergymen, college professors, writers, scientists, and school teachers. 
Like von Hoist and Schouler, he denied that John Brown was insane, 
even if he did not comprehend government by discussion, and that 
his martyrdom strengthened the public opinion behind Lincoln's war 
on slavery. 

Rhodes minimized economic factors, despite his industrial and tech- 
nological background and the fact that he was the author of a short 
treatise on Cleveland's coal and iron industry which glorified the 
industrialists. One exception, however, was the tariff, which lie dis- 
cussed in order to argue for the abstract advantages of free trade, 
although he had called for protection for the iron and steel industry 
in 1883. He surprised those who expected a former industrialist to 
espouse a high protective tariff, although Andrew Carnegie was also 
coming around to free trade in his Autobiography. Instead, Rhodes 
tried to show that economic paternalism invited inefficiency; he attrib- 
uted the sensational progress of industry to a competitive situation in 
which the brilliance of the engineer and the manager's ability and 
patience promoted economies, efficiencies, and new inventions. He 
deplored the "ignorance" of the businessman on the tariff issue. In a 
later volume he extolled the technological contributions of John D. 
Rockefeller and of other entrepreneurs whom he knew well. Other- 
wise, Rhodes was an economic conservative who opposed inflationism, 
blamed labor troubles on agitators and foreigners, and assumed that 
it was the essential duty of the enlightened businessman to provide 
national leadership. He confused his economics at times with ethnic 
prejudices and a class bias: 

If it be true that, with this growth of enormous fortunes, poverty has be- 
come more abject, this tendency had begun before the war, and has been 
the result rather of the constantly deteriorating character of the European 
immigration than of industrial changes on our own soil. 

222 The American Historian 

Generally, Rhodes clung to the story of political machinations and 
maneuver that he understood so well. He gave many pages to the 
controversial Crittenden Compromise, which offered Lincoln a deal 
by which the slavery crisis and perhaps the impending war itself 
could be averted in return for a guarantee to the South that slavery 
would be forever safe below a line of 36 degrees 30 minutes all the 
way to the Pacific. 

Southerners were usually pleased at his conciliatory references to 
their people, a fresh note among historians since 1861. Jefferson Davis 
was sympathetically pictured on the eve of war as a man distraught 
by the crisis and by insomnia, and as praying for peace. It was also 
pleasant for ex-Confederates to read that secession was a popular 
movement, not a conspiracy. Neither side, he said, avowed its true 
aim: "The North went into battle with the preservation of the Union 
blazoned on its banner, the South with resistance to subjugation." 

Rhodes's account of the Civil War is a major part of the History, 
for it occupied most of volumes three to five. He benefited greatly, 
as Schouler had done, from the newly published official records of 
the Union and Confederate armies. Later, in 1913, he prepared a book 
of Civil War lectures, and four years later wrote an entirely new 
history of the war, in which he ignored most of the criticism of his 
earlier presentation. When he dealt with life behind the lines, he went 
hastily over social developments and concentrated at length on do- 
mestic and foreign politics. Much as he admired Lincoln, he did not 
feel that his restraints upon civil liberty were justified; in fact, the 
President accustomed Congress and the people to arbitrary power, 
which was "relished by each party or faction if exercised to further 
its particular ends." He likened the North to a dictatorship and the 
South to a vast socialist state both evil. 

Rhodes left his most lasting influence on historiography by his 
circumstantial account, based on fresh sources, of the errors of Radical 
Reconstruction. In 1902, John W. Burgess in his Reconstruction and 
the Constitution had already started reassessment of the Radicals and 
their motives. Rhodes's racism, like that of Burgess, put an extremely 
low estimate on Negro potentialities and hence expressed itself in a 
willingness to take the Southern side in the controversy over the 
freedmen. Rhodes relied on the current racial errors of the anthropolo- 
gist, Daniel G. Brinton, for the "fact" that the Negroes suffered arrested 
mental development after the age of thirteen or fourteen. "Three and 
a half million persons of one of the most inferior races of mankind 
had through the agency of their superiors been transformed from 

Von Hoist to Dunning 223 

slavery to freedom/* said Rhodes. He argued that the North acted 
without knowing anything about the Negro uprisings the Black Ter- 
rorthat Southerners feared, but his honesty led him to report that 
the large-scale Louisiana race riot grew out of direct white attacks 
rather than Negro provocations. 

Although the Negro historian, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, was to use 
many of Rhodes's facts regarding Carpetbag legislatures to reach 
quite different conclusions, the Clevelander had little to say about 
the solid welfare achievements of the Negro legislators and their white 
allies, for he preferred to dwell on their corruption. 6 Radical Repub- 
lican leaders like Thaddeus Stevens appeared only as bitter and vin- 
dictive. Andrew Johnson appeared as crude, semi-literate, and so 
incompetent that he played right into the hands of the extremists. 
His great error lay in failing to persuade the South to ratify the Four- 
teenth Amendment, thereby inviting the Radicals to do their worst. 
As for the Reconstruction Acts of March 1867, Rhodes could not find 
enough words of excoriation: "No law so unjust in its policy, so direful 
in its results had passed the American Congress since the Kansas- 
Nebraska Act of 1854." This meant "negro rule forced on the South 
at the point of the bayonet," while Negro suffrage "consolidated nearly 
all decent white men into the Democratic or conservative party." 
Rhodes did favor the Lincoln- Johnson idea of granting limited Negro 
suffrage based on educational qualifications, but his facts raised doubts 
whether this objective would be fully acceptable to the South. He 
praised the Southern people for their integrity and courage under the 
Carpetbag yoke. 

According to his detailed analysis of the disputed election of 1877, 
the Electoral Commission had acted in a partisan manner, but Hayes 
was legally entitled to the presidency, while Tilden had the moral 
title. He was disappointed in the latter: "Tilden did not rise to the 
emergency. In quiet times he would have made a good President but 
he was entirely lacking in both the physical and moral courage needed 
in a leader during the turbulent times which succeeded Election." 
But the country would have preferred him to Hayes. 

With the appearance of his volumes dealing with the Hayes-Mc- 
Kinley years and with the Roosevelt era, Rhodes thought of himself 
as a historian of contemporary times after the model of Thucydides 
and Herodotus. He showed himself the conservative businessman in 
discussing the railroad strikes of 1877, the Haymarket Riot, the Pull- 
man Strike, and the inflationist movements. His heroes were Grover 
Cleveland and his fellow-Ohio conservatives McKinley, Mark Hanna, 

224 The American Historian 

and John D. Rockefeller. He refused to probe the labor conditions 
behind the Haymarket Riot, but stated without evidence since it does 
not exist that the actual anarchist bomb-thrower was known, because 
he had been arrested and released for lack of evidence. He thought 
it significant that six of the eight who stood trial for the bombing were 
Germans, and so, he said, was the original bomb-thrower. 

Again, he took the conservative side in defending Cleveland for 
selling government bonds disadvantageous^ (from the national view- 
point) to Morgan to maintain gold payments, admired his sound money 
policies, and supported his dispatch of federal troops to Chicago dur- 
ing the Pullman Strike. Reminiscences and full-length portraits char- 
acterized these final volumes. He could draw a fresh -portrait of 
brother-in-law Mark Hanna, and he praised him as a foe of the Cleve- 
land urban political machine, an active friend of the labor unions, 
a civil service reformer, and a public-spirited kingmaker. But he 
severely criticized President McKinley (as the Spanish ambassador 
had done) for his ineptness in yielding to the jingoes and in provoking 
"the unnecessary war." Here was a combination of the economic con- 
servatism and anti-imperialism taught at the time by William Graham 
Sumner, the sociologist. Rhodes's anti-imperialism, it will be recalled, 
was previously expressed in his condemnation of the annexing of Texas 
and the war on Mexico. 

He had only praise for Rockefeller and condemnation for the anti- 
Standard Oil muckrakers like Henry D. Lloyd and Ida Tarbell. "The 
management of the Standard," he said, "was one of efficiency in every 
direction. . . . For efficient cooperation the United States never saw 
the equal of the Standard." Toward the end, his use of original sources 
declined markedly, and when he came to Roosevelt he supplemented 
his memory by recent biographies. 

While Rhodes was as subjective in approach as von Hoist or 
Schouler, he went beyond them in the detective work of historical 
research. This is clear from his solutions of problems that he published 
in Historical Essays (1909). Present-day readers still find it fascinating 
to follow his convincing logic in the paper, "Who Burned Columbia?" 
Here he took up the puzzle as to whether General Sherman or the 
Confederate General Wade Hampton burned this capital of South 
Carolina. Rhodes demolished both theories and then demonstrated 
that the fire was due to marauding Confederate soldiers aided by 
convicts and escaped Union prisoners, all of whom helped to sack 
the city. 

In 1899, when Rhodes was elected president of the American His- 

Von Hoist to Dunning 225 

torical Association, lie discussed some of Ms historical theories and 
paid his respects to the progress of scientific methods in teaching and 
research, singling out the influence of Darwin. Yet Rhodes, unlike 
his contemporaries Frederick Jackson Turner and John Fiske, made 
only the most cursory use of social evolution. Nevertheless, he held 
forth: 7 

Evolution, heredity, environment, have become household words, and their 
application to history has influenced every one who has had to trace the 
development of a people, the growth of an institution, or the establishment 
of a cause. Other scientific theories and methods have affected physical 
science as patently, but none has entered so vitally into the study of man. 

This promising line of speculation only led him to raise another 
question, "But do we write better history than was written before the 
year 1859, which we may call the line of demarcation between the 
old and the new?" To him the classical historians Herodotus and 
Thucydides were among the best, and one reason for their superiority 
was the fact that what they wrote was practically contemporary his- 
tory. "It is easier to describe the life you know than one you must 
imagine, which is what you must do if you aim to relate events which 
took place before your own and your father's time." This argument 
of course was intended to raise his own stock academically and to 
meet the criticisms of those who doubted that contemporary history 
was really history at all. The man who knew so many of the chief 
characters in American history since the time of Stephen A. Douglas 
was indeed a part of all that he had transcribed, just as Thucydides 
had been. The Greek historians whom he regarded as the greatest of 
all time had long ago refuted the hasty dictum that history within 
the memory of men living cannot be truthfully and fairly written. 

Rhodes shared with McMaster the honor of being a pioneer in the 
regular use of newspaper sources for history, although he gave most 
credit to von Hoist. He explained how the paucity of political ma- 
terials had led him to turn to newspapers for source information: 

Boy though I was during the decade of 1850 to 1860, I had a vivid re- 
membrance of the part that the newspaper played in politics, and the thought 
came to me that the best way to arrive at the spirit of the times was to steep 
my mind in journalistic material. 

The ephemeral nature of the newspaper did not deter him: "Take 
the newspaper for what it is, a hasty gatherer of facts, a hurried com- 
mentator on the same, and it may well constitute a part of historical 

226 The American Historian 

evidence.'* Besides, newspapers made history, as is evident in the case 
of the Spanish-American war in this country and in the Crimean war 
for England. Like McMaster, he believed that all studies of public 
opinion, especially during political campaigns, were best studied 
through the newspaper. He felt no superior reverence for moldy, often 
anonymous letters, which required the most meticulous handling by 
experts. "Some men have lied as freely in private letters as in public 
speeches," he observed. Newspapers could and should be checked for 
the same basic purposes as other documents. "The duty of the his- 
torian/* he said, "is, not to decide if the newspapers are as good as 
they ought to be, but to measure their influence on the present, and 
to recognize their importance as an ample and contemporary record 
of the past." Yet Rhodes, unlike McMaster, missed the best potentiali- 
ties of the newspaper its great value in social history. In fact, the 
Clevelander once described social history cruelly as "the routine of 
work and the round of pleasures of the majority those blank pages 
of history which, if written over, could indeed be tiresome." Yet he 
made exceptions in his actual History for random pages on manners 
and morals, schools and churches, sports, and everyday life. But Mc- 
Master, too, for all his emphasis on social facts, did all too little in 
making them an integral part of the entire American scene. 

John William Burgess (1844-1931) of Columbia, once the protege 
of George Bancroft, was no ardent abolitionist like von Hoist, Schouler, 
or Rhodes, but he had always been an antislavery man and to a large 
extent he shared their research interests in the same historical periods. 
The son of a Tennessee slaveholder, but reared in the strong Unionist 
tradition of Henry Clay and the Whig party, he disliked slavery and 
secession, fought as a Union volunteer, and now wrote disparagingly 
of slaveholders as a class. Like Schouler and Rhodes he contributed 
heavily to the new "revisionist" and racist interpretation of Recon- 
struction, which assumed that the biracial legislatures failed because 
Negroes were inherently inferior and incapable of understanding their 
true interests. 

From his education at Amherst, Burgess had acquired an Hegelian 
philosophy of history which was to permeate his writings. This was 
reinforced with an admixture of Prussian centralization theory and 
scientific historical method from Gottingen, Leipzig, and Berlin, where 
he studied during the 1870s. Thus, he retained Hegel's idea of history 

Von Hoht to Dunning 227 

as an idealistic unfolding of God's mind at a time when American 
historians (and Europeans, too) were showing increased suspicion 
or distaste for philosophic speculation in historical narratives. Never- 
theless, he was devoted to genuine empirical research and the Rankean 
scientific method which stressed objectivity, the critical handling of 
documents for authenticity, and a careful evaluation of testimony as 
to reliability. He went beyond the average "scientific" historian, who 
was content with "facts" and looked askance at unimaginative syn- 
theses, for he used a large interpretive canvas in the philosophic 
tradition. 8 

After teaching political science at Amherst from 1873 to 1876, he 
went on to a distinguished career at Columbia, where he organized 
graduate work in history and political science and was soon appointed 
dean of the faculty of political science. His influential disciples in- 
cluded William A. Dunning and ULrich B. Phillips. Burgess and Dun- 
ning both published treatises that were important in American po- 
litical theory. 

Burgess's first history book, The Middle Period, 1817-1858 (1898), 
contained no footnotes or bibliography, except for a short list of rec- 
ommended books, which included Rhodes, von Hoist, Schouler, and 
Hildreth. His facts and interpretations showed such little novelty that 
it seemed certain that he relied heavily on secondary sources. How- 
ever, Burgess insisted that he had sedulously avoided all the histories 
written after 1865 and "all rehashes of them of later date." Proudly 
he declared, "In fact I have made it an invariable rule to use no sec- 
ondary material; that is, no material in which original matter is min- 
gled with somebody's interpretation of its meaning." 

He liked to employ the Hegelian dialectic in history with its pendu- 
lum movement: "But in all the convulsions of political history, de- 
scribed as advance and reaction, the scientific student of history is 
able to discover that the zigzags of progress are ever bearing in the 
general direction which the combined impulses toward nationalism 
and humanism compel." He might have shown empirically, had he 
attempted a brief investigation, that European and American reform 
movements were closely related, but he was content to infer these facts 
from Hegelian principles: 

While no actual connection can be established between the Revolution 
of 1830 in Europe and the Rise of Abolition in the United States, yet they 
belong to the same period of time, and harmonize in principle. The impulses 
which move the human race, or those parts of the human race which stand 
upon the same plane of civilization, are not broken by mountain heights or 

228 The American Historian 

broad seas. Their manifestations appear spontaneously and coetaneously in 
widely separated places. 

To him as to Hegel the history of civilization was an evolution toward 
individual liberty, equality, and fraternity. According to his version 
of Hegel's dialectic movement as applied to America, the period of 
1800-30 had been one of selfishly conceived tariffs and of race domi- 
nation, while the next thirty years were a swing toward world inter- 
course and human rights. Actually his own facts did not wholly sup- 
port this formula. 

Again like Hegel and Bancroft he relied upon a supernaturally in- 
spired morality and presented history as "the reconciliation of men 
to the plans of Providence for their perfection." His preface made this 
very clear indeed: 

Any interpretation of this period of American history which does not demon- 
strate to the South its error will be worthless, simply because it will not be 
true. In a word, the conviction of the South of its error in secession and 
rebellion is absolutely indispensable to the establishment of national cor- 

There was no effort to qualify his judgment that "the Northern view 
is, in the main, the correct view." While he condemned slavery as an 
evil, he pointed out only environmental reasons for its existence, rather 
than any personal guilt. The climate, soil, and swampland diseases 
were the chief culprits. Georgia's founders, he said, had outlawed 
slavery, but geographic and economic factors had reinstated it. He 
could speak of slavery's champion, Calhoun, as "grave, pure, and 
patriotic," ranking him with the greatest Americans of his day and 
regarded slavery as ethically wrong but a necessity in the early de- 
velopment of the South after which it became increasingly an 

Curiously, like the proslavery philosophers, he attacked the intellec- 
tual basis of the antislavery movement, namely the natural rights 
philosophy, which produced the Declaration of Independence, "a 
humanitarian outburst," as he called it. He threw his heaviest shafts 
at abolitionism, "the literal interpretation of the Declaration of In- 
dependence," the Radicals' disregard of consequences. Abolitionists 
like John Brown ignored the constitutional pathways for progress, 
increased the tensions between the sections, and worsened the con- 
dition of the slaves. Individual freedom, he believed, could only be 
reached in gradual evolutionary fashion as part of a larger social 
development from barbarism to civilization. 

Von Hoist to Dunning 229 

Since lie was primarily concerned with constitutional and political 
history, he dwelt at length on the nature of states' rights and its evo- 
lution under changing conditions. "Personally, I never had regarded 
the Union under the Constitution of 178? as a confederation of sov- 
ereign states/' he wrote in his Reminiscences. Even in boyhood he had 
learned the lesson from his Henry Clay Whig father and grandfather 
that the Union was "a nation holding exclusive sovereignty and ex- 
ercising government through two sets of organs, each having Its own 
constitutional sphere of action and limitation/* This theme of national- 
ism versus particularism runs through the volume beginning with the 
first chapter, "The Nationalization of the Republican Party" and is 
stressed in another chapter, "The Beginnings of the Particularistic 
Reaction/* dealing with the influence of slavery upon national poli- 

The sequel to this crowded volume of politics and constitutional 
struggles which ended in 1858 was a two-volume work published in 
1901 as The Civil War and the Constitution, 1859-1865. This stressed 
military history, except for the long, early section on the secession 
crisis and several brief chapters on domestic and international ques- 
tions. An unusual chapter about antislavery sentiment in the South 
pictured a class war between townsfolk and planters, but on the social 
rather than the economic plane. He thought that the Southerners were 
moved by a general fear of slave insurrections and that the planters 
played upon this fear, for which there was some substance, in pro- 
moting the movement for secession. No evidence for this interpreta- 
tion of the planter was given. 

The third work in this series, Reconstruction and the Constitution 
(1905), had far more influence than the others, for it converted many 
to the revisionism which severely condemned the Radical Republican 
view of Reconstruction on racist grounds. Burgess may have written 
this about the same time that Rhodes was preparing his own revision- 
ist views on Reconstruction. Burgess's fundamental racism, for all his 
antislavery sentiments, was basic. Like so many of his fellow-Hegelians 
who espoused the germ theory of cultural evolution, he believed in 
the superiority, uniqueness, and high civilizing mission of the Anglo- 
Saxon or Teutonic peoples. Imperialism was part of this pattern. The 
revisionists felt Reconstruction had failed because it had endangered 
white civilization. 

His facts regarding Reconstruction greatly resembled those of 
Schouler and Rhodes, and his primary emphasis on constitutional ques- 

230 The American Historian 

tions was not enriched by any examination of economic determinants. 
In his preface he reminded his readers that he had previously insisted 
that the South must admit that secession was an error; now he called 
for a similar acknowledgment from the North regarding Reconstruc- 
tion. The product of this error was the solid South. At this point he 
made clear his imperialistic and racist assumptions: 

And now that the United States has embarked on imperial enterprises under 
the direction of the Republican Party, the great Northern party, the North 
is learning every day by valuable experiences that there are vast differences 
in political capacity between the races, and that it is the white man's mission, 
his duty and his right, to hold the reins of political power in his hands for 
the civilization of the world and the welfare of mankind. 

He tried to be objective on many individual facts and judgments, 
but his over-all bias remained apparent. Sometimes his inconsistency 
was certain to confuse readers. In the beginning of his volume Presi- 
dent Johnson was a man "of considerable intellectual power and of 
great will power," but within a few chapters he deteriorated into a 
low-born, low-bred, violent, obstinate, coarse, and vindictive man. Un- 
like later revisionists, Burgess defended the passage of the Civil 
Rights Bill, which Johnson vetoed, on the ground that it simply pro- 
vided for equality before the law and granted no social equality or 
political privileges. Johnson blundered in opposing the bill, because 
he thereby encouraged Southerners to continue their discriminations 
against freedmen and provoked the Republicans to take extreme 

He agreed with Johnson and the South in opposing the way in 
which Congress tried to force the Fourteenth Amendment upon the 
former Confederacy. "The Southern statesmen knew that Congress 
had no power under the Constitution to require of new States obedi- 
ence to anything as a condition of their admission to the Union but 
the Constitution as it was at the moment of their admission." As for 
the biracial Carpetbag legislatures, Burgess like Rhodes was denuncia- 
tory, calling attention to the plunder of state treasuries, the increase 
of taxes, the corrupt sale of franchises, and the celebration of "high 
carnival everywhere." 

Not all scholars were pleased by Reconstruction and the Constitu- 
tion. One eminent Southern historian handled it quite roughly in the 
American Historical Review, characterizing the book as a futile exer- 
cise in unrealistic political theory. Dogmatic assertions buried the ac- 
tual Reconstruction narrative, and a colorless style made it worse. 

Von Hoist to Dunning 231 

While the reviewer found a few interpretations worthy of commenda- 
tion, he challenged specific facts and inconsistencies in a most caustic 
way. 9 


Burgess had his most influential follower in William A. Dunning 
(1857-1922), whose interests and professional career paralleled that 
of his master in both history and political theory. The son of a cul- 
tured small town manufacturer in New York state, he came to Colum- 
bia, where he took up Burgess's favorite topic the constitutional as- 
pects of the Civil War and Reconstruction and picked up some of his 
mentor's race interpretations. Like Burgess, too, he studied abroad at 
the University of Berlin and other places, where the Prussian en- 
thusiasm for political centralization was in the ascendant, and he be- 
came a political theorist of note. However, he not only dropped the 
Bancroft-Burgess use of Hegelian historical theory but sought that 
particular variety of "scientific history" which eliminated as far as 
possible moral judgments. The positivists of Comte's day had hoped 
that the fact-collectors and the synthesizers would somehow come to- 
gether to write a scientific history or a science of society, but the re- 
action against controlling philosophic formulas encouraged the his- 
torian to stop with mere fact-collecting. Dunning was too thoroughly 
trained in philosophy to operate without a conscious hypothesis, but 
he differed from Burgess in refusing to make the theoretical element 
too manifest at the expense of the historical narrative. Still, the care- 
ful reader could discover wherein lay his moral judgments, even with- 
out the aid of the Burgess-type asides and prefaces. He earned a sur- 
prising reputation for objectivity. James W. Garner, who was one of 
the ablest of his productive seminar students and the author of an 
outstanding monograph study of Reconstruction in Mississippi, paid 
this tribute: 

By his detached objective treatment he succeeded in removing the many 
prejudices which hitherto had prevented an accurate analysis of the recon- 
struction period, and by his influence on other scholars he cleared the way 
for a thoroughgoing reinterpretation. 

The fact that Dunning was not as dogmatic or aloof as Burgess un- 
doubtedly enhanced this impression of detachment. 

Dunning modified the Reconstruction story of Schouler, Rhodes, and 
Burgess but did not reverse it. In fact, he gave the highest praise to 
them in 1907: "The appearance of Dr. James Ford Rhodes's last 

232 The American Historian 

two volumes, covering the years 1866-1877, in time to be used in the 
final revision of my manuscript, is a mercy the greatness of which 
cannot in a preface be adequately expressed/* As far as social ideas 
were concerned, he had imbibed the Rhodes-Burgess view of racial 
determinism, as had his influential seminar student, Ulrich B. Phillips. 
In 1897, almost at the same time that Burgess published The Middle 
Period, Dunning republished a revealing article "The Undoing of Re- 
construction** in Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction. He at- 
tributed these ideas to Jefferson, Clay, and Lincoln: 

This was that the ultimate root of the trouble in the South had been, 
not the institution of slavery, but the coexistence in one society of two races 
so distinct in characteristics as to render coalescence impossible; that slavery 
had been a modus Vivendi through which social life was possible; and that, 
after its disappearance, its place must be taken by some set of conditions 
which, if more humane and beneficent in accidents, must in essence express 
the same fact of racial inequality. The progress in the acceptance of this idea 
in the North has measured the progress in the South of the undoing of re- 
construction. In view of the questions which have been raised by our lately 
established relations with other races, it seems most improbable that the 
historian will soon, if ever, have to record a reversal of the conditions which 
this process has established. 

The rest of the volume was far less revealing of social ideas than 
this suggests; it mainly consisted of technical formulations of consti- 
tutional problems. He traced the way in which the Civil War, by de- 
stroying the right of secession, thereby destroyed the doctrine of state 
sovereignty. One of his few value-laden phrases refers to the "reckless 
enfranchisement of the freedmen and their enthronement in power." As 
he put it, "To stand the social pyramid on its apex was not the surest 
way to restore the shattered equilibrium of the South." 

He showed surprising concessions to the Carpetbag regime, in his 
second book, Reconstruction Political and Economic, 1865-1877 ( 1907), 
far more than either Rhodes or Burgess had been willing to make. 
With the aid of seminar-inspired monographs by Garner and Walter 
Fleming, he pointed out that there was quite another side to the 
extravagance of the Carpetbag legislators: Their deficits were partly 
due to highly useful but expensive projects, such as public schools 
and welfare institutions. To the whites, the significant fact was that 
the Negroes benefited most, since the ante-bellum planter had ignored 
such welfare needs for the Negro; hence the whites were angered. 
Besides, he observed, the heavy financial burden imposed by the 
Carpetbag legislatures could be partly attributed to their use of state 

Von Hoist to Dunning 233 

credit in undertaking the costly but useful task o rebuilding the 

Furthermore, Dunning even had an explanation for Carpetbag cor- 
ruptionalthough he did not change his mind that Negro incapacity 
and ignorance was at the bottom of the failure of Reconstruction. "The 
form and manner of this corruption, which has given so unsavory a 
connotation to the name 'reconstruction* were no different from those 
which have appeared in many another time and place in democratic 
government." He cited the notorious Tweed Ring as an example of 
large-scale contemporary graft in the North. Quite acutely, he made 
this basic observation, "The really novel and peculiar element in mal- 
administration in the South was the social and race issue which under- 
lay it and which came to the surface at once when any attempt at 
reform was instituted." Since the Northern white carpetbaggers were 
enabled by Washington to make more concessions to Negro power 
than loyal white Southerners (the so-called scalawags) could, the lat- 
ter lost out in the competition and eventually joined the conservatives. 

All this, however, was within a racist framework of his own. Dun- 
ning was clear enough on this point. The negro had no pride of race 
and no aspirations or ideals save to be like the whites," he said. For 
this "reason" the Negro wished the privileges of social equality, de- 
manded mixed schools, and equal entree into hotels and theaters. 
Little wonder that Dunning attracted so many students with strong 
opinions on race. 

His judgment on the Radicals did not differ greatly from the un- 
favorable views of other revisionists. There was little of scientific ob- 
jectivity in this emotional attack on Charles Sumner, who had been 
warmly praised by Emerson and others: 

However remote his doctrines from any relation to the realities of human 
affairs, he preached them without intermission and forced his colleagues by 
mere iteration to give them a place in law. He would shed tears at the bare 
thought of refusing to freedmen rights of which they had no comprehen- 
sion, but would filibuster to the end of the session to prevent the restoration 
to the Southern whites of rights which were essential to their whole con- 
ception of life. He was the perfect type of that narrow fanaticism which 
erudition and egotism combine to produce and to which political crises 
alone give the opportunity for actual achievement. 

On certain other controversial judgments, too, he did not differ greatly 
from Rhodes or Burgess. For example, he could not see that the so- 
called Black Codes passed by the unreconstructed Southern legisla- 

234 The American Historian 

tures should have angered the North, for they seemed quite unlike 
slavery or peonage. 

Thus, the second decade of the twentieth century opened with the 
revisionists well entrenched. Rhodes, Schouler, Burgess, and Dunning 
agreed that slavery was a sin but that racism was not. They gave aca- 
demic respectability to the racism of the unreconstructed Southerner 
at a time when Negro disenfranchiseinent, lynchings, and racial dis- 
criminations were in full flower. Thomas Dixon's racist book, The 
Clansman (1905), became the enormously popular movie, Birth of a 
Nation (1915), depicting Southern Reconstruction as a movement led 
by Negro barbarism. In 1915 a second Klan was organized, and ten 
years later, its four millions were intimidating Negroes, Catholics, 
Jews, foreigners, and radicals and it was even becoming a major issue 
in party politics. The revisionists, often in the name of scientific his- 
toriography, colored the school textbooks as well as the newer biogra- 
' phies and histories of the Reconstruction era. Among the best-sellers 
was the revisionist book, The Tragic Era of Claude Bowers, and there 
were a host of friendly Andrew Johnson biographies. 

By mid-century, historians apparently favored an economic interpre- 
tation of the undoing of Reconstruction, judging from the favorable 
reviews of C. Vann Woodward's Reunion and Reaction: The Com- 
promise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (1951). While Paul 
Buck's The Road to Reunion (1937), a Pulitzer Prize winner, had 
stressed the social and cultural contacts between the sections after 
Reconstruction, Woodward dwelt upon the economic formula sug- 
gested by the New South of Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Con- 
stitution, who had pleaded with Northern merchants to cooperate with 
the South and to leave the race question to Southerners. Woodward 
thought that the old ante-bellum alliance of Northern and Southern 
Whigs was in effect revived on the plane of self-interest. Thus the 
Radicals were willing to abandon the Negro and to restore the con- 
servative "Redeemers" in return for Southern votes not only to elect 
Hayes over Tilden but to secure congressional votes to sponsor trans- 
continental railroads, internal improvements, and other economic 

But there were scholars left with the impression that the non-eco- 
nomic explanation for the union of the Blue and the Gray might still 
have validity. The frustrating Reconstruction struggle had already 
blunted the Radical will to resist a Southern solution to the race ques- 
tion. The racial cracks in the righteous armor of the North, especially 
in the Old Northwest, were revealed by the strong resistance to the 

Von Hoist to Dunning 235 

passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and by the hostility to Negro 
migrants from the South (or anywhere else). Much of the fervor of 
the ante-bellum crusade had spent itself, and erstwhile antislavery 
men even of such high character as Rhodes, Schouler, Burgess, and 
Dunning seemed convinced on racial grounds that Radical Recon- 
struction was a grave error. 


Ulrich B. Phillips and the Image 
of the Old South 

Southerners had long been unhappy over the Yankees* monopoly of 
American history-writing. School-textbook writers like Professor 
George F. Holmes of the University of Virginia began shortly after 
the Civil War to present the Confederate case against the angry New 
Englanders who pictured a slaveholder's conspiracy or a traitorous 
rebellion. The former vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander H. 
Stephens, hurried to show that the South had fought for the "Grecian 
type of civilization against the Asiatic" in his two volumes of The 
Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States (1868-70). 
Belatedly, the harassed ex-president himself, Jefferson Davis, was at 
work on his own version, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Gov- 
ernment (1881). Mark Twain, who had informally and promptly sev- 
ered his service with Confederate troops during the war, visited the 
South again and reported in Life on the Mississippi, "Mention of the 
war will wake up a dull company and set their tongues going when 
nearly any other topic will fail. In the South the war is what A.D. is 
elsewhere; they date from it." 

Nostalgic Confederates quickly collected funds to start the filio- 
pietistic Southern Historical Society of New Orleans in 1869; a more 
critical later generation in 1896 set up the Southern History Associa- 
tion, which encouraged research and college teaching about the Old 


Ulrich B. Phillips 237 

South. Many bright Southern scholars clustered around Columbia Uni- 
versity to study American history under William A. Dunning, who was 
not only stimulating but quite sympathetic to the Southern point of 

The road to reunion between North and South, as already noted, 
consisted of economic bedrock as well as a growing racism in the 
North and the return of fraternal sentiment. Southern Bourbons the 
planters and rising industrialistswere firmly in the saddle during the 
years between Reconstruction and the coming of the Dixie dema- 
gogues such as Ben Tillman of South Carolina. They had resumed the 
ante-bellum Whig alliance in Congress of merchants and planters. 
Their New South brought the cotton mills to the cotton fields, erected 
large factories making the popular "bright tobacco" cigarettes, at- 
tracted Northern capital for industry, and secured a plain understand- 
ing in the North that the race question was to be handled exclusively 
by Southerners. This Bourbonism, in the name of Retrenchment, 
Reconciliation, and Reform, partly undid the social gains of Recon- 
struction by strict economies at the expense of schools and welfare in- 
stitutions for Negroes and the poorer whites. One of its persuasive 
spokesmen, Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, offered 
Northern audiences of merchants the benefits of sectional co-operation 
and offended few by asserting, "The South has nothing for which to 
apologize." But he argued that just as Americans had refused to quar- 
rel over the status of the Chinese, so they must not dispute the treat- 
ment of the Negro accorded by the Southern white. The old Radicals 
were tired and failed to shake the new spirit of conciliation, while the 
Supreme Court decided that the Fourteenth Amendment did not offer 
social equality. The disfranchisement of the Negro proceeded apace 
(save where the Bourbons could count on his vote). Northern pub- 
lishers gratified innumerable Northern readers by sponsoring the 
Southern sentimental "local color school," which pictured the Negro, 
when he was introduced at all, as a simple, kindly Uncle Remus. 
Ulrich Phillips, despite his intense awareness of race conflict, liked to 
think of the Negro in the sentimental terms of his fellow-Georgian, 
Joel Chandler Harris, assistant to Henry Grady. 

The young Southern liberals who grew up after the Civil War might 
dislike industrial monopoly, protective tariffs, illiteracy, and backward 
social conditions, but they had little to say against the racial prac- 
tices of the South except for the unhappy expatriate George Wash- 
ington Cable of New Orleans who protested against the convict lease 
system which bore heavily on the Negro, the economic discrimination, 

238 The American Historian 

and the tendency to treat the Negro as a perpetual alien. Woodrow 
Wilson, a lifelong Jeffersonian, though sympathetic to many Bourbon 
ideas, shared the common hatred of Radical Reconstruction, but he 
could say, "I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy. . . . We can- 
not conceal from ourselves the fact that slavery was enervating our 
Southern society and exhausting to Southern energies." He, too, 
showed a relative blind spot to Negro issues, both as a historian and 
as a statesman. Josephus Daniels, later Wilson's liberal Secretary of 
the Navy (and Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to Mexico), was 
a North Carolina editor who attacked James B. Duke's monopolies, 
but he campaigned also to oust an outspoken history professor at 
Trinity College, John Spencer Bassett, who had blamed the South 
for its own backwardness and said that Booker T. Washington was 
the greatest man, next to Lee, who had been born in the South for the 
past century. Little wonder that Bassett left for Smith College in 1906. 
Another liberal critic of the South, Dean William P. Trent of the 
University of the South, was ostracized for his frank but carefully 
considered criticism of Southern reactionary ideals, and he, too, found 
it politic to leave in this case for Columbia. Replacing the Bourbons 
came the demagogues who treated the Negroes as tools of the upper 
classes, disfranchised most of them, and permitted mobs to lynch or 
intimidate the freedmen. 

The vogue for Southern history written by Southerners coincided 
with a racialism that was not confined to the South, but on a lesser 
scale common in the North and in Europe. Scholars, as already noted, 
had made the idea of Anglo-Saxon superiority part of their controlling 
assumptions. They shared to a surprising extent the enthusiasm for 
Spencerian ideas of the survival of the fittest, colonialism, immigra- 
tion restriction of the lesser breeds without the law, and the Kip- 
ling refrain of the white man's burden. In those areas of the South 
where the plantation system had concentrated the Negro population, 
racialism was buttressed by the insecurity felt by white minorities. 
But by 1900 Southern historians could point out that even the chief 
Northern writers like Rhodes, Dunning, and Burgess were hostile to 
Radical Reconstruction. Reputations of such abolitionist heroes as 
Charles Sumner suffered during these years (Emerson had once said 
of him, "I never knew so white a soul/'). 

While it did not become fashionable to praise slavery and secession 
outright, a sense of nostalgia for the Lost Cause grew. Even more than 
before, the plantation South aroused romantic emotions, for this image 
contrasted pleasantly with the prosaic realities of industrialism. As far 

Ulrich B. Phillips 239 

back as the 1830s, novel-readers had been given an attractive intro- 
duction to a semi-idealized plantation society by John P. Kennedy 
in Swallow Barn, and William A. Caruthers in The Cavaliers of Vir- 
ginia. George Fitzhugh, proslavery extremist, had drawn a popular 
antithesis between the planter as an aristocratic descendant of the 
cavalier and the Puritan Northerner as the mean offspring of Saxon 
serfs. Post-bellum Southern romantics like Thomas Nelson Page of 
Virginia sounded the fresh nostalgic note that the glory was departed. 

The patriarchal plantation image was given wide currency by Philip 
A. Bruce of Virginia (1856-1933), who wrote a large shelf of books 
about Virginia's institutional, social, and economic history during the 
seventeenth century. His father was the wealthiest tobacco planter in 
the state, and one of his uncles was James A. Seddon, Secretary of 
War under the Confederacy. As a planter's son he went to a tradi- 
tional "old field" school, graduated from the conservative University 
of Virginia, and took a law degree at Harvard. He studied the county 
and parish records, the British State Papers dealing with the colonies, 
and the Peter Force Historical Tracts. He shared Phillips's enthusiasm 
for the planter class and their civilization; for he believed that the 
plantation, like Turner's frontier, bred self-reliance, independence, and 
hospitality. Bruce concluded that seventeenth-century Virginia, at a 
time when slaves were relatively few, was "a duplication of the Eng- 
lish rural communities of that day" and that the Virginia gentry de- 
scended from the English squire ruling class. With the coming of 
slavery on a large scale, the small aristocratic class rose greatly over 
the non-slaveholding whites. Furthermore, he held that the gentry 
filled every public office of influencea judgment which contemporary 
historians tended to accept. Phillips, too, believed that while most 
Southerners were small farmers referring of course to the nineteenth 
century political power inhered largely to the planters. 

In 1910, Bruce was challenged by Professor Thomas Wertenbaker of 
the University of Virginia, who was later to become president of the 
American Historical Association. Wertenbaker's Patrician and Plebeian 
in Virginia and later books on similar topics drew proof from the land 
records that fully 90 per cent of the Virginians were simply hard- 
working small farmers. They had enough political strength, he argued, 
to act as a democratic check on aristocracy through their control of the 
lower houses of the colony and to halt the encroachments of the 
Stuart monarchs as well. However, this effort to posit a basic yeoman 
democratic force in the South, even if the discussion was limited to 
the seventeenth century, met considerable criticism. Louis B. Wright's 

240 The American Historian 

The First Gentlemen of Virginia (1940) showed both evidence and 
sound logic for the contention that small as the elite was perhaps a 
hundred wealthy planter families- they clearly held dominance and 
cultivated the aristocratic tradition. 

By 1890 Northern and Southern historians usually agreed that Radi- 
cal Reconstruction had been a failure and that it had not squared with 
racial realities. Bruce went even further; he wrote in 1889 that the 
freedman showed little desire to work hard and his children even 
less so; so serious was the mortality rate among Negroes that the near- 
extinction of the race could be envisaged. Politicians of the Progressive 
movement, whether following the banner of Bryan, La Follette, Theo- 
dore Roosevelt, or Woodrow Wilson, reflected this atmosphere by 
their silence on the desperate status of the Negro in the South. This 
controversy had been settled once and for all, they thought, in 1877, the 
year of Ulrich B. Phillips's birth, by the great sectional compromises. 

U. B. Phillips was born in the small community of La Grange, Geor- 
gia, where he had ample opportunity to work under the sun in the 
cotton fields, to watch the excitement of the camp meeting, to meet 
numerous ex-slaves as well as whites, and to acquire the traditions of 
the Deep South. In later years, he pointed out the effect of his early 
experiences upon his historical outlook: 

A sympathetic understanding of plantation conditions was my inevitable 
heritage from my family and from neighbors, white and hlack, in the town 
of La Grange and Troup County, Georgia, where I was born and grew up. 
A deepening appreciation of the historical significance of the plantation and 
of the preceding frontier regime I owe to Dr. Frederick J. Turner of the 
University of Wisconsin, whose constant disciple I have been since 1898. 

At the University of Georgia, he learned a good deal about the 
ante-bellum history of his state and the institutionalist approach and 
wrote his M.A. thesis on Georgia politics. His thesis sponsor was Dr. 
J. H. T. McPherson, who had taken his doctor's degree at the Johns 
Hopkins University where the institutionalists were dominant and had 
written on Liberia as the focus of Negro colonization movements. Most 
opportunely, Phillips attended the University of Chicago summer 
school where he studied with a visiting professor, Frederick J. Turner, 
who gave a seminar on American colonial institutions and offered lec- 
tures on the West. Out of Turner's lectures on sectionalism, particu- 

Ulrich B. Phillips 241 

larly his observations on the effect of Nullification on Georgia politics, 
came PhilKps's idea for his doctoral thesis published in 1902 as Georgia 
and State Rights. The study was completed under William A. Dunning 
at Columbia. It represented intensive research in numerous private 
letters, various local collections in Georgia libraries, and the collec- 
tions of the Library of Congress. 

At Columbia in 1902, while he was publishing his dissertation, one 
of his mentors, John W. Burgess, issued his revisionist Reconstruction 
and the Constitution. From the books and lectures of Burgess, Phil- 
lips carried away ideas that reappear in his own works as central as- 
sumptions: Slavery was an evil but grew inevitably as a product of 
climate and geography. Southerners had an exaggerated fear of slave 
insurrections, for slaves were usually contented. The real "bete noire 
was abolitionism, which produced race tensions and drove Southern- 
ers to secession and war. Above all, the races differed in capacity, 
and, as Burgess put it, "it is the white man's mission, his duty, and 
his right, to hold the reigns of political power in his own hands for 
the civilization of the world and the welfare of mankind/* 

But the Hegelianism of Burgess had less influence on Ulrich Phil- 
lips than did the "scientific history" and cult of objectivity claimed 
by William A. Dunning, the young man's dissertation sponsor. The 
Dunning school, despite certain racist assumptions, offered a good 
deal of historical craftsmanship, for many a monograph of merit began 
in the noted seminars of this Columbia professor. The young students 
explored new state, county, and town records and forgotten local 
newspapers, as well as national sources. But even these illuminating 
sources could not overcome the preconceived racist assumptions of 
Walter Fleming, J. D. Hamilton, and other Dunning students. Some 
of the details of the story of Reconstruction that these seminars un- 
foldedlarge aspects in fact did not agree with the Rhodes-Schouler- 
Burgess-Dunning accounts, but the total and unfavorable synthesis 
remained. Dunning (like Schouler) even anticipated Phillips's main 
idea that race was the central fact in Southern life and that slavery 
was primarily an institution of racial accommodation. 

However, Phillips's graduate instruction was not limited to Burgess 
and Dunning; he also attended the lectures of other seminal teach- 
ers, notably those in European history under James Harvey Robinson, 
then the enthusiastic apostle of the New History, which expanded the 
subject matter of history to something as broad as the sociologist's 
idea of "culture." Phillips did give some attention to social history in 

242 The American Historian 

later years, but he preferred Turner's emphasis on economic, geo- 
graphic, and political factors. 

Between 1902 and 1908, Phillips taught history at the University 
of Wisconsin, where he was associated with Turner and apparently 
derived his central concepts of plantation and frontier from the older 
man. At the same time Turner acknowledged his own debt to Phillips 
for the application of the frontier idea to the South and particularly 
for the role of the Negro as a modifying factor. Phillips continued his 
steady researches and publications on the South while he taught for 
two years at Tulane University (1908-11) and at the University of 
Michigan (1911-29), where he found a number of gifted graduate 
students. He then went to Yale where he stayed until his death in 
1934. 1 

One brief but revealing experience in his life took place during 
World War I when he was Educational Director of the YMCA at 
Camp Gordon, Georgia, and later a captain of military intelligence. 
He was then writing his magnum opus, American Negro Slavery 
(1918). Apparently looking about him at Camp Gordon, he wrote in 
his preface regarding the psychology and behavior of the Negro troops, 
using language that reflected his kindly, paternalistic, and stereotyped 
picture of Negroes: "The negroes themselves show the same personal 
attachments to white/ men, as well as the same sturdy lightheartedness 
and the same love of laughter and rhythm, which distinguished their 
forebears." He compared the Negro non-commissioned officer with 
the ante-bellum plantation foreman and the white officer with the 
planter noted for tact and firmness. Freedom had made little change. 
The Negroes, as in the days of the Gold Coast slave traders, loved 
colors and finery, were obedient and humorous. Phillips thought that 
the West African climate prohibited mental effort of a severe or sus- 
tained character, "and the negroes have submitted to that prohibition 
as to many others, through countless generations, with excellent grace." 
He knew little about the contemporary Negro movements for racial 
equality nor about the reform programs of Negro organizations, 

Phillips won his greatest praise from historians for his industrious 
use of newly discovered plantation records. He concentrated upon 
the plantation, although many others had dealt with it less analytically. 
Both the Southern frontier and the plantation were to him evolution- 
ary forms in the Turner sense. But he did not go as far as Turner in 
creating historical theories, for he stressed the historian's task of act- 
ing as custodian of concrete facts. His racialist concepts were far milder 
than those of so many of the social scientists and politicians of his day 

Ulrich B. Phillips 243 

and did not intrude directly upon Ms description of the plantation, 
but they did present controlling assumptions. 

The books that Phillips wrote reveal that he was indebted more 
than he cared to admit to the classical trilogy on the Old South writ- 
ten during the 'fifties by Frederick Law Olmsted and compressed in 
two volumes as The Cotton Kingdom (1861). Although Phillips criti- 
cized this Northern observer as prejudiced against the South, lie fre- 
quently drew upon the facts of Olmsted and used them to strengthen 
certain of its main theses, such as the inefficiency o slavery. Olmsted 
also had anticipated the central theory of Phillips that slavery did not 
pay but survived as a mode of race policing. The famous special 
correspondent for the New York Daily Times, later also noted as "the 
father of American landscape architecture," had spent fourteen months 
in the South and declared that not only was slavery inefficient, but 
that many Southerners he had met would have liked to see emancipa- 
tion but dreaded the prospect of racial conflict thereafter. 

Phillips and Olmsted differed in at least one basic way: Olmsted 
believed that if the planters could be convinced that slavery did not 
pay, they would take steps to end it. But Phillips, for all his emphasis 
on economic forces, believed that in the final analysis, it was not only 
the dollars and cents of slavery that mattered to the average South- 
erner but also the fact that the institution preserved the security of the 
tenuous biracial system. Both men blamed abolitionism for arousing 
sectional tensions, although Olmsted was an active Free-Soiler who 
worked privately with the New England Emigrant Society to create a 
free state in west Texas on the Kansas model. Both agreed that slaves 
were better off in bondage than in their original African home. But 
Olmsted vigorously disagreed with those (like Phillips) who attributed 
slavery to the necessities of climate; and he denied that the plantation 
was a kindly patriarchal institution as Phillips maintained later. De- 
spite these differences, the two men did a great deal to create the 
modern image of the Old South. 2 

Phillips's first book, Georgia and State Rights, traced the recalcitrant 
attitude of that state toward federal power since statehood. He held 
that Georgians acted as a united group, whether in ratifying the Con- 
stitution, condemning the iniquitous sale of the Yazoo lands, or in de- 
manding the lands of the Creeks and the Cherokees. In Turner style, 
he drew his theme from a frontier determinant, Georgia's two fron- 

244 The American Historian 

tiers. These acted as separate centers of emigration, one to the South 
in the direction of Savannah along the seaboard and the other at the 
edge of the Virginia and North Carolina settlements which overflowed 
into middle Georgia. Throughout his book, he related the political 
factions to the pressures of frontier and settled areas of Georgia. 
Again, as befitted a Turner disciple, he made frequent use of county 
charts and maps to illustrate the sectional and economic basis of party 
conflicts. With the skill of a craftsman, he showed the changing sec- 
tional bases of planter-small farmer rivalry throughout the state's his- 
tory. Eventually the planter-aristocrat won dominance by infiltrating 
the frontier, west and southwest. 

While Phillips was mildly critical of the Georgia frontiersmen who 
disregarded Indian rights, he had little love for the red men. The 
Cherokee, he thought, while not savage, were "heavy and stupid," ex- 
cept for the more intelligent half-breeds. He believed it rather peculiar 
for the federal government to treat Indian tribes as sovereign. 

Secession and war, he made abundantly clear, grew out of the race 
question. He recorded the sustained conciliatory efforts of Georgia's 
planter-leaders, Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, and Howell Cobb 
to avert a break, but admitted that the South had not been consistent 
or thorough in its original desire to get rid of slavery. He defended 
the resentment against incendiary abolitionism: "There was a perpet- 
ual fear of slave insurrections," he asserted, but added that slavery 
was a mild patriarchal institution of generous masters whose kindness 
was reinforced by self-interest. Colonization of the Negroes in West 
Africa and the West Indies had grown out of fears of the Negro, and 
John Brown's attack on Harpers Ferry converted Georgia's non-slave- 
holders to secession. When the state debated secession in 1861, the 
difference between slaveholders and non-slaveholders was not pro and 
con but revolved around the question of immediate versus delayed 
withdrawal. He did not think that insurrections were common, but that 
Southerners held an exaggerated idea of them. "A slave insurrection 
was the one thing most dreaded by the Southern people. The improb- 
ability of its occurrence did not lessen its theoretical horrors." 

In 1909, Phillips published two volumes of documents, Plantation 
and Frontier, to initiate a ten-volume series edited by his Wisconsin 
colleague, Professor Richard T. Ely, entitled The Documentary His- 
tory of American Industrial Society. Here were little-known records 
of the large plantations, many from ante-bellum planter's manuscripts 
dealing with management, routine, staples, supplies, "vicissitudes/' 
overseers, slave labor, fugitives, slave conspiracies and crimes, Negro 

Ulrich B. Phillips 245 

qualities, free Negroes, poor whites, immigrants, migration., frontier 
society, manufacturing, and, very briefly, artisans and town labor. 
Many of the sources were drawn from newspapers advertisements, 
editorials, news items, and letters to the editor. 

The preface introduces his theory that the plantation was a unit de- 
veloping inevitably under economic pressure and then, as the frontier 
disappeared, remolded the entire South into its cultural image as far 
as attitudes, customs, and beliefs were concerned. The plantation was 
not merely another institution dwarfed by the far more extensive non- 
slaveholding, small farm economy but the dominant institution of the 
South. "The plantation system was evolved," he said, "to answer the 
specific need of meeting the world's demand for certain staple crops 
in the absence of free labor." In doing so, it trained "a savage race" to 
fit to some extent within an Anglo-Saxon community and shaped the 
industrial, commercial, and social system as well as political policy of 
a vast section. While small farms existed in great numbers, the general 
order of life was determined by either the plantation system or the 
frontier. "Hence the antebellum South is peculiarly the region of planta- 
tion and frontier and a study of those systems may largely coincide 
with a study of Southern industrial organization and society." 

In Turner style, he traced the historical stages of the plantation 
system in the W6st Indies and upon the mainland. When the stage 
of maximum productivity and prosperity was reached, there was a 
declining fertility of the soil and an increasing pressure of costs. Com- 
paring the frontier and the plantation, he found that while the former 
had a lasting influence in giving a stamp of self-reliance and aggres- 
siveness to men's character, the plantation had a more lasting in- 
fluence locally and in giving a tone of authority and paternalism to 
the master class and one of obedience to the servants. After the close 
of the seventeenth century, the plantation problem was mainly the 
Negro problem and therefore of concern to both races. While the 
frontier and the Indian were transient factors, the staples and the 
Negro were permanent and had an intensified influence on Southern 
philosophy as the years passed. "It eventually overshadowed the whole 
South and forced the great mass of the people to subordinate all other 
considerations to policies in this one relation/' So it would appear that 
Turner's frontier was far less important than Phillips's plantation in 
explaining the South. 3 

Phillips emphasized the planter's pivotal role in the South when he 
wrote a dedication in his next volume, A History of Transportation in 
the Eastern Cotton Belt to I860, published by the Columbia Univer- 

246 The American Historian 

sity Press in 1908. Here was a lyric endorsement of ante-bellum Bour- 

To the Dominant Class of the South who in the Piping ante-bellum time 
schooled multitudes white and black to the acceptance of higher standards 
who in the wartime proved staunch and who in the troublous upheaval and 
readjustment which followed wrought more sanely and more wisely than the 
world yet knows. 

The "higher standards" could not refer to formal education, since the 
planter's record on public schools was less than mediocre. His refer- 
ence to Reconstruction suggests that he had an enthusiastic regard 
for the anti-Radical Dunning school 

The eastern cotton belt was mainly in South Carolina and Georgia, 
and it extended from the southern edge of Virginia to central Ala- 
bama; it was the most active part of the ante-bellum South in trans- 
portation development and united a piedmont region of many hills 
and rapid streams. Phillips was interested primarily in the social con- 
sequences of transportation. He showed that the railroad actually in- 
tensified the one-crop system by enlarging the cotton-growing area. 
It helped some cities and towns to become "trade catchers" rather 
than "trade makers." An interior city like Atlanta gained at the ex- 
pense of the older local seaports. In addition, the coming of the rail- 
road demoralized the Negroes and influenced many of them to start 

Also very important as an obstacle to diversification was the plant- 
er's utter dependence on Negro labor and the slavery system. Since 
the plantation used "unfree, unwilling, stupid, and half -barbarous la- 
borers, a premium was of necessity put upon routine." Besides, such 
a regime was safer in view of possible slave disturbances. In addition, 
slave labor was not only inefficient, but it "locked up" vast amounts of 
capital in labor that could have been better utilized under a diversified 
crop system worked by free labor. But slave prices, reflecting market 
and speculative factors, rose much faster than cotton prices. Phillips, 
however, implied that the passing of slavery aided the South econom- 
ically and that slavery's justification depended on the policing ar- 

In 1911, he edited for the American Historical Association many 
hitherto unpublished letters of Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, 
and Howell Cobb, Georgia's leading ante-bellum statesmen. These 
letters together with an intensive use of the Congressional Globe 
helped him to write a fairly interesting political history of one of the 

Ulrich B. Phillips 247 

largest slaveholders, the federal senator, Robert Toombs. Phillips 
showed sympathy for the Georgia State Rights faction of James Jack- 
son, Crawford, and Troup and their successors, which eventually in- 
cluded Toombs. They were staunch supporters of Indian eviction, a 
low tariff, government economy, and finally secession. Toombs had 
attended the University of Georgia when it was the planter's favorite 
school, before going to Union College, New York, and then he studied 
law at the University of Virginia. The author used much of the ma- 
terial and conclusions from his first book, Georgia and State Rights, 
but the planter's point of view seemed even more intrusive. He saw 
Toombs as a conscientious moderate who tried for years to avert war 
through Whig compromises, despite the risks that his delaying tactics 
meant for the South. Only on the eve of war did Toombs as a Demo- 
crat join Jefferson Davis "to strike for Southern independence." Phil- 
lips usually justified Toombs's decisions, even to the extent of sup- 
porting the extremists. He thought that Toombs was too cautious in 
1851 and that he was inclined to minimize the danger that the North 
would interfere with slavery. He revealed his own position in these 

If the great sectional conflict was indeed irrepressible (and no man could 
then nor can any man now nor hereafter be sure that it was by human 
means avoidable) wisdom required that the South should hasten the issue. 
The policy of Rhett, Yancey and Quitman was quite possibly the wisest 
for the South to adopt. Stephens said in after years that he would have ad- 
vocated extreme measures of resistance in 1851 except that he did not be- 
lieve the people could be made unanimous in its support nor that their lead- 
ers were sufficiently statesmanlike. Toombs was doubtless influenced by tibe 
same thoughts. 

Phillips portrayed Toombs at the opening of 1861 as keenly aware 
that war would jeopardize everything and confident that Southern 
war preparations against the federal forts would intimidate the North 
and avert civil war. He hoped and expected that all the Southern 
states, including the border states, would secede and thus leave the 
Union with a fait accompli that would make coercion ridiculous. When 
his calculations failed, he held out to the end against the decision to 
fire upon Fort Sumter, an act which he said would amount to murder 
and suicide. 

Once more Phillips won the praise of reviewers, above all the kind 
words of his master, Frederick J. Turner. His book's moderate pro- 
Southern view was no longer a novelty to Northern historians; indeed, 

248 The American Historian 

in temperate tones Phillips seemed to be reprimanding the extremists 
on both sides. Some critics regretted that the biography submerged 
so much of Robert Toombs's colorful personality beneath a flood of 
political detail. 

In 1918 Phillips wrote his most comprehensive book, American 
Negro Slavery. By this time, his command of new original sources 
such as letters, private records, and journals guaranteed a fresh treat- 
ment. He began with the background of the West African slave trade 
and went on to deal with colonial slavery, the impact of the cotton 
revival on slavery extension, the domestic slave trade, the plantation 
system in all its aspects, the business side of slavery, the town slaves, 
the free Negro, and slave crimes. While the Negro appeared occasion- 
ally as an insurrectionist as well as a docile plantation worker, the 
sources did not permit Phillips to gain much insight into the aspira- 
tions of the Negro (assuming that the author was genuinely inter- 
ested). The chapter on the Westward Movement in the South after 
the American Revolution utilized the Tumerian idea of the evolving 
section, beginning in this case with the eastern cotton belt. 

One of Phillips's major contentions was that the plantation offered 
the best school yet invented for the mass training of "that sort of inert 
and backward people which the bulk of the American negroes repre- 
sented." But he admitted that the pupils seldom graduated. He 
thought that the Africans kidnaped as slaves were possibly better off 
than those who remained in the jungle which he assumed had been 
their common home. Nor did he miss the opportunity to point out 
that it was the New Englander who imported the slaves in the first 
place and inflicted cruel punishments on them. Phillips even went so 
far as to adopt the proslavery writer's argument that Jefferson's Dec- 
laration of Independence and the natural rights philosophy were 
merely "the more glittering doctrines current in the philosophy of 
the time/' He seemed relieved to observe of the post-revolutionary 
era: "On the whole the glamor of revolutionary doctrines was passing, 
and self-interest was regaining its wonted supremacy." Along these 
lines, he quoted favorably Thomas R. Dew's comment that slavery 
was more or less essential for the advancement of civilization where 
population was scant and currency little used. 

Elsewhere he repeated his earlier arguments that slavery was more 
costly than free labor; that it involved overcapitalization for the sake 
of controlling labor; and that the planter was caught in a treadmill 
where he was compelled to buy land and slaves to grow cotton with 
which to buy slaves to grow more cotton. Rising slave prices did not 

Ulrich B. Phillips 249 

enrich planters unless they sold slaves speculatively. Besides, slavery 
handicapped the productivity of the whites who had to undertake 
supervisory tasks. Altogether, slavery prevented the growth of the 
real wealth of the South; population remained sparse, land values 
low, money scarce, and natural resources largely neglected. Only the 
control over the Negroes was assured through slavery. Otherwise the 
peculiar institution had as many drawbacks as attractions. 

While he gave much more attention to slave insurrections than 
most historians did in his day, he minimized their importance, except 
to admit that they were sufficiently serious "to maintain a fairly con- 
stant undertone of uneasiness." Furthermore, he said, "their result 
was to restrain the progress of liberalism derived from economic 
causes." A generation later, historians of both races-and both sections 
were to discover the existence of far more slave insurrections and 
plots than Phillips noted. 

When he came to sum up American Negro slavery, he betrayed the 
emotionalism of one who was committed to a painfully defensive 

There were injustice, oppression, brutality, and heartburning in the 
regime, but where in the struggling world are these absent? There was also 
gentleness, kind-hearted friendship and mutual loyalty to a degree hard for 
him to believe who regards the system with a theorist's eye and a partisan 

Therefore he concluded that "it is impossible to agree that its basis 
and its operation were wholly evil, the law and the prophets to the 
contrary notwithstanding." 

Except for the offended Negro scholars like Dr. Carter G. Woodson 
and contributors to his Journal of Negro History, the journals were 
usually very favorable. There seemed little question as to the author's 
contribution to the economics of Southern ante-bellum agriculture, 
his main emphasis. A competent specialist in the American Historical 
Review found it comprehensive, objective, and convincing; he was 
also impressed by the thesis of the contented slave. ''The evidence of 
the confidence of the slaves in the integrity of the ruling race comes 
up as a fact too constantly to be ignored," he wrote. 

In 1930, Phillips published his most attractive and illuminating book, 
Life and Labor in the Old South, which bore considerable resemblance 
to American Negro Slavery. He had pursued his researches in numer- 
ous Southern libraries, as well as in the Library of Congress. By this 
time the Southern literary renaissance of the 1920s had taken place, 

250 The American Historian 

and Southern novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists had made 
a sympathetic rediscovery of the Negro as art material. The Negroes, 
too, had had their literary expression in the Harlem renaissance, al- 
though this expressed a rather pessimistic note of racial frustration, 
marked by the occasional "back to Africa" theme that Marcus Garvey, 
the Jamaican race leader, had sounded. Phillips expressed his own 
sympathetic appreciation of these developments, though in language 
that suggested a link with the outmoded local color school of Uncle 
Remus's day. He regretted that he was "content to delve rather than 

When I read of Howard Odum's Black Ulysses, of Du Bose Heyward's 
Porgy, of Stephen Benefs plantation mammy and her mistress, esteem for 
their creations is mingled with chagrin that my fancy is restricted by rec- 
ords. The characters portrayed by these writers are as true as the men and 
women who figure in my pages. 

Actually, Odum, Du Bose Heyward, and Benet were closer to the 
actual Negro than Phillips, although in those days the treatment of 
the Negro, even by the best-intentioned, did not go much beyond the 
lyric phase. 

Phillips's first chapter, "The Land of Dixie," begins with a summary 
of his entire interpretation of the ante-bellum South compressed within 
a single paragraph and introduced by his idea of climatic influence: 

Let us begin by discussing the weather, for that has been the chief agency 
in making the South distinctive. It fostered the cultivation of the staple 
crops, which promoted the plantation system, which brought the importa- 
tion of negroes, which not only gave rise to chattel slavery but created a 
lasting race problem. These led to controversy and regional rivalry for 
power, which produced apprehensive reactions and culminated in a stroke 
for independence. Thus we have the house that Jack built, otherwise known 
as the Confederate States of America. 

He pointed out the various climatic belts of the South and used these 
to explain the various regions which were controlled by growing 
seasons of varying length and different crops. But he went far beyond 
this reasonable position for the role of climate, and attributed to heat 
an entire array of Southern habits and problems: languid appetites, 
indolence, slow, slurred speech, soft manners, easy-going ways, and 
hookworm infestation. However, he was not much behind his noted 
but extreme Yale colleague in geography, Ellsworth Huntington, who 
found climate an all-powerful determinant on culture. 

Ulrich B. Phillips 251 

Life and Labor in the Old South was written in an engaging literary 
style, used a great deal of interesting narrative material, and offered 
more social history than Phillips had previously used. It began with 
the settling of the Old Dominion, went on to picture frontier ex- 
pansion, then the coming of the cotton belt, and finally gave a de- 
tailed discussion of everyday plantation life. Unlike the previous works 
of Phillips, there was no explicit racialist statement. He approached 
closer to that aspect of scientific objectivity which avoids self -identi- 
fication with the issues under discussion. His new urbanity even found 
expression in a favorable comment on George Washington Cable, the 
ex-Confederate writer who had forsaken Louisiana for Massachusetts, 
presumably because the South would no longer tolerate his criticisms 
of racial injustices. 

In a chapter on "The Peculiar Institution," Phillips went much fur- 
ther than before in showing the drawbacks of slavery. He did not 
stack the cards so obviously in favor of the planter class. Actually, 
he had not changed his mind on the fundamentals of ante-bellum 
society, though he may have reflected the influence of teaching North- 
ern students and of his association with Yankees. The chief theses of 
American Negro Slavery were all there: the unprofitableness of slavery, 
the plantation as a civilizing agency, and the cultural and economic 
unity of the patriarchal plantation. He gave the usual brief treatment, 
though with fresh illustrations, of "the plain people." 

Specialists as well as general readers applauded the work. The 
eminent William K. Boyd of North Carolina, a student of Dunning, 
wrote in the American Historical Review, "Realism rather than ro- 
manticism, actuality instead of tradition, is the dominating motive 
throughout." To Boyd the book was "a delightful reconstruction of 
the antebellum plantation regime/' 4 Charles W. Ramsdell, another 
Southerner who had studied with Dunning and became a president 
of the Southern Historical Association, liked the Phillips book, even 
though it lacked his favorite thesis that the South had been a colonial 
province of the North; he wished that Phillips had examined such 
questions as the increasing influence of Eastern financial power over 
southern agriculture before 1860. He also missed any adequate treat- 
ment of certain important industries and complained that only fifteen 
pages were devoted to the six-million non-slaveholders. But all this 
was offset in his mind by the immense solidity of the book, its ob- 
jectivity mixed with sympathy, its easy style, unfailing humor, and 
apt quotations. 5 

That Phillips never changed his mind regarding the racial factor 

252 The American Historian 

in Southern history became doubly apparent in 1939, five years after 
his death, when the American Historical Association published his 
series of public lectures delivered at Northwestern University, The 
Course of the South to Secession. The editor was his disciple, Professor 
Merton Coulter of the University of Georgia, whose own works re- 
flected Phillips's defensive viewpoint. These lectures elaborated upon 
the same social interpretation that Phillips had written a generation 
before in his doctoral dissertation under Dunning on Georgia and State 
Rights and in his biography of Robert Toombs. 

He looked upon the American Revolution as an act of secession, for 
the Enlightenment ideas of "the extreme left" behind the Declaration 
of Independence had nothing to do with the causes of the conflict, 
but were "philosophical gloss/' Yet Phillips depended on an ideological 
interpretation that ran counter to this minimization of the weight of 
ideas in history. He deplored the evil consequences of eighteenth- 
century liberal "agitation" and, above all, of abolitionism in stirring 
up the sections against each other. John Taylor's abstractions, par- 
ticularly his philosophical objections to the centralizing tendencies of 
Hamilton and the Federalists, were sympathetically reviewed along- 
side of the states' rights ideas of the later realistic Jefferson. 

One of the longer lectures, "An Answer to Race," showed the 
planter's reaction to the race wars of San Domingo and to the Southern 
slave revolts and plots. Phillips tried to impress his audience with the 
needs of a white civilization and security in a heavily Negro area. 
Apparently he had changed his mind on one important fact, for he 
intimated that the Southerner's fear of race war was justified by actual 
outbreaks. He blamed the antislavery societies for creating an explosive 
situation. On the other hand, he was sardonic in speaking of the "so- 
cialistic acrobatics" of the extreme proslavery propagandists, George 
Fitzhugh of Virginia and Henry Hughes of Mississippi. The wisest 
ideological course for the South, he thought, was to take up the line 
developed by Edward A. Pollard, namely that the retention of slavery 
was "the crux of Southern purpose in the maintenance of white su- 
premacy as a safeguard of civilization and orderly government." 
Slavery was primarily insurance against race conflict. 

Phillips left his listeners without any doubt that he identified him- 
self with the Southern Rights program and its obvious contemporary 

The doctrine of Southern rights was in essence that the community must 
possess, and be assured of possessing control of its own domestic regime, 

Ulrich B. Phillips 253 

that the South must be and remain a white man's country not menaced with 
the turmoil sure to corne from an incautious, extraneous elevation of the 
millions of Negroes out of their necessary subordination. 

To him the Southern demand for congressional sanction of slavery 
was a "questionable dogma" intended merely to test Northern purpose. 

This "white man's country" view of the road to secession had already 
been presented by Phillips in 1928 for general discussion before the 
American Historical Association as "The Central Theme of Southern 
History/' He contended that the South had never had a "focus" in any 
geographic sense and that "Southernism" did not arise from any se- 
lectiveness of migration, or of a distinct religion or language, or a 
one-crop tillage, or the agricultural way of life. Beyond these factors, 
the Southerners were "a people with a common resolve indomitably 
maintained that it [their section] shall be and remain a white man's 
country." As the Negroes became numerous enough to be a race prob- 
lem, they were policed "in the interest of orderly government and the 
maintenance of Caucasian civilization." Only by such an explanation, 
he felt, could one account for the fervid secessionism and war sac- 
rifices of the non-slaveholders. 

He concluded that the Southern belief that the Negroes in the mass 
were incompetent for any good political purpose had led to dis- 
franchisement of the blacks; furthermore, he implied that the senti- 
ments and symbols of the Tillmans, the Vardarnans, and the Watsons 
were "not wholly divorced from reason." His opposition to any pro- 
gram of racial civil rights may be inferred from his reference to the 
similarities of the Japanese and Negro questions. California with a 
small Japanese population had secured federal support for its dis- 
criminatory legislation, but the South, he complained, with 10,000,000 
Negroes in their midst, could not expect more at best from the federal 
government than "a tacit acquiescence in what their state govern- 
ments may do." Thus, the Solid South had emerged, "Political solidarity 
at the price of provincial status is maintained to keep assurance 
doubly, trebly sure that the South shall remain "a white man's coun- 
try.' " He made it clear, as he had in earlier writings, that the Road 
to Reunion was based on the acquiescence of the federal government 
to Henry Grady's formula of a New South co-operating with the North 
economically if the race question was left to Southern whites. During 
Phillips's lifetime, the Northern historian's readiness to be "objective" 
was not wholly a reflection of the age of science or of Ranke's in- 
junctions. He, too, was slow in accepting the full implications of race 

254 The American Historian 

equality as lie observed the huge influx of Southern Negroes, the Chi- 
cago Race Riot of 1919, and the tendency to use informal means of 
segregation in housing and schools. But the search for democratic 
alternatives to domination and force was making progress when 
Phillips died in 1934. 


The influence of Ulrich B. Phillips on Southern historiography, de- 
spite the challenge of recent critics, has been profound. With all his 
limitations, he raised the level of history-writing about the South and 
stimulated Southerners to write about their section. The movement 
led to the founding (at the time of his death) of the Southern His- 
torical Association, and the appearance in 1935 of the first issue of 
the Journal of Southern History, which maintained high standards of 
research. Many a Northern scholar, too, had become an enthusiast 
of Southern history. Secondly, he probably interpreted the Southern 
white's mind more accurately than some of his successors; his Georgia 
environment helped him to see that the "white man's country" con- 
cept had far more influence on the ante-bellum Southerner than sec- 
tional economic rivalries alone. But, like the Southerner of 1861, he 
could not visualize the possibility that the race question could be 
handled in any other way than by force. Thus, by 1934 he had not 
budged from the traditional position that had kept the Negro waiting 
several centuries for complete naturalization as an American citizen. 
As we have seen, he shared the dominant racist views of his time, 
particularly those held by a number of eminent historians and other 
social scientists North and South. 

Among his shortcomings was that he ordered his evidence in such 
a way as to justify slavery; the initial sin of the slave trade had been 
committed by others. He did not trouble to reconcile his argument 
that slavery was a civilizing institution with his factual finding that 
Southern states forbade the teaching of reading and writing to the 
slave obviously for security purposes. Instead, he would contrast the 
alleged jungle origins of the Negro (slave ship records indicate that 
he came from the diversified West Coast, not from the primitive in- 
terior of central Africa) with the mild advances made by his sedentary 
descendant of 1861. The fact that Phillips could enumerate many 
brutalities in the slave system from sound historical sources did not 
prevent his drawing a predetermined conclusion that nothing must 
be done to disturb slavery as long as the race problem existed. The 
case of Ulrich B. Phillips illustrates how the subjective values of a 

Ulrich B. Phillips 255 

historian may neutralize the most meticulous empirical research. To 
buttress his case, he had to fall back upon the dubious intellectual 
weapons of the notorious proslavery propagandists. 

While most historians agree that Phillips oversimplified the "South'" 
to mean little more than a plantation process of development succeed- 
ing an earlier Turnerian frontier process, he had a sound nucleus of 
reality to offer. Obviously he went too far in neglecting the life and 
influence of at least five million Southern whites out of eight million 
in 1860 who belonged to the small farmer class, but there was much 
to be said for his contention that the Black Belt concentrations of 
Negroes, where whites were in the minority, did much to generate 
race fears and suspicions which infiltrated the non-slaveholding areas 
or those with relatively few slaves. (This assumption, for example, is 
similar to the actual conclusions of Professor V. O. Key, who has 
proved by statistical methods that the racial attitudes of the South 
today are most intense in the Deep South and then taper off in the 
more heavily white communities of the upper South. ) Plantation South 
Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia therefore could 
be expected to provide the most militant leaders for secessionism and 
war. Phillips recognized a number of other causes for secession, but 
he regarded them as quite secondary. 

Therefore, Phillips, with all his racist misconceptions, seemed closer 
to a convincing explanation of why Southerners took the road to war 
than did later historians who assumed that somehow rival industrial 
and agricultural societies must fight. He refused to take stock in the 
theories of an "irrepressible conflict"; certainly he was too good a 
Bourbon to be interested in the theories of Charles Beard, Louis 
Hacker, and others who held that Northern capitalists and rival 
planter-aristocrats stood in mortal combat. He could have accepted 
the theories of Professor James Randall, and George Fort Milton, that 
emotionalism and "a blundering generation" had precipitated the war 
providing that they understood that the fundamental basis for sec- 
tional peace to a Southerner would have been the continued accept- 
ance of the Grady formula for compromise. Thus, the upgrading of the 
reputation of Stephen A. Douglas (and later of Andrew Johnson) by 
the Randall-Milton revisionists of the 1930s could be fitted into the 
Phillips's thesis. To this Georgian, who held no brief for strict deter- 
minism, the Civil War was indeed a needless war, as the revisionists 
and admirers of Douglas contended. 6 

Phillips's tendency to put heavy blame on the abolitionists ( and to 
a lesser extent upon the Southern fire-eaters) for awakening the South- 

256 The American Historian 

ern fear that Northern interference in the race question was imminent 
would have made him at least moderately receptive to those who later 
emphasized the psychological and ethical factors, though he paid 
little attention to Northern public opinion as a factor. The vogue for 
psychology developed somewhat after the turn of the century, by 
which time Phillips had made up his mind to a large extent on pri- 
mary and secondary issues of the Civil War. Thus in the 1940s and 
1950s, Avery Craven of the University of Chicago blamed the war 
partly on a dangerous psychological stalemate between two irrecon- 
cilable sections to whom "slavery had come to symbolize values in 
each of their social-economic structures for which men fight and die 
but which they do not give up or compromise." (Italics his.) Craven 
added in this book, The Growth of Southern Nationalism (1953), 
"These values had been emphasized and reinforced by two decades 
of emotional strife, name-calling, and self-justification. Right and 
wrong, justice and injustice were in conflict. The destiny of mankind 
was at stake." Craven, however, traced these emotions to concrete 
issues such as expansion, lands, and tariffs which had come to be 
misrepresented by emotional abstractions and principles that could 
not be yielded. Craven and other historians went beyond Phillips in 
analyzing the Northern will to resistnationalism, growing economic 
and social interdependence, the development of a new financial-in- 
dustrial capitalism, and the incompatibility of Christianity, democracy, 
and progress with slavery. But this mid-twentieth-century position 
would in all likelihood have been inadequate by the Phillips test of 
the primacy of the Southern desire for a "white man's country." Slavery 
to him, as we have seen, was almost a sine qua non for Negro domina- 
tion, although he was also interested in getting the same result by 
the post-bellum road that the South finally took. 

The image of the Old South of Ulrich Phillips was often but not 
always reinforced by his doctoral students. His emphasis on the in- 
cendiary influence of abolitionism in greatly arousing the fears of race 
war among Southern whites led his disciple, Gilbert H. Barnes, to 
investigate the impetus behind the abolitionist leaders. His Antislavery 
Impulse, 1830-1844, which disposed of the myth that Garrison was the 
fountainhead of abolitionist activities, demonstrated a link between 
the evangelical fervor of the camp meeting and the techniques of 
Theodore Weld's abolitionists. Through the popular textbooks the 
Phillips point of view reached many undergraduates. 

By the time of Phillips's death in 1934, the abolitionist interpreta- 
tion of the Civil War had few academic supporters and the Lost Cause 

Ulrich B. Phillips 257 

enjoyed the keen sympathy of popular novelists and moviegoers. Lib- 
erals and Negro leaders had protested in 1915 the showing of The 
Birth of a Nation, which pictured the old Klan (newly resurrected 
that same year) as the shield of Southern womanhood. Thereafter 
Hollywood found that their audiences liked the sentimental view of 
the plantation aristocrat, the portrait of the contented slave, and the 
minstrel interpretation of the Negro. Even the depression did not 
change this stereotype. 

However, there were eminent Southern historians who preferred 
Jefferson to Jefferson Davis, Lincoln to Lee. The kindly William E. 
Dodd, who received his Ph.D. at the University of Leipzig and had 
left the University of North Carolina to teach at the University of 
Chicago, produced many graduate students who published liberal 
interpretations of Southern history. Dodd's own writings were un- 
fortunately too hastily written to rank high as empirical research, but 
they provided many keen insights into the ante-bellum society. While 
he stressed the role of the democratic frontier in Southern history, 
he shared Phillips's idea that the plantation dominated the South. But 
he looked on the planters as oligarchs analogous to certain Northern 
industrialists of his own day; they had shaped the aristocratic phi- 
losophy of the Cotton Kingdom and led the way to a war against the 
Northern and Western democratic forces under Lincoln. Like other 
Southern historians, he felt suspicious of Northern financial and in- 
dustrial exploitation of the agricultural economy of the South. 

Dodd was no political historian in the narrow sense, although he 
understood the workings of power coalitions, for he also dealt with 
many everyday facets of Southern life, developed the theme of a 
popular small farmer's struggle for democracy against the planter ( as 
in The Old South and Expansion and Conflict), stressed economic 
determinants such as soil exhaustion, and wrote many biographies and 
essays on Southern leaders from a democratic point of view. On the 
activist Negro, however, he had little to say. In most respects his lib- 
eralism dwelt upon Jeffersonian agrarian values (like Parrington), 
low tariffs, the rights of small nations (like his friend Woodrow Wil- 
son), and kindred viewpoints. In later years, as Franklin D. Roose- 
velt's ambassador to Hitler's Germany, he proved a vehement foe of 
racialism and spoke to German audiences of that "other Germany" 
of the democratic Carl Schurz. 

At Vanderbilt University, Frank Owsley and certain of his colleagues 
challenged the idea of Phillips and Dodd that a planter aristocracy 
had driven small farmers and poor whites into poorer lands. They 

258 The American Historian 

emphasized the independent and relatively prosperous small farmers 
("the plain people"), the wide diffusion of land ownership among 
them, the opportunity to rise to planter status, and the lack of class 
friction between yeoman and planter. Their critics argued that the 
planter did monopolize the best soils, produced most of the money 
crops, and lived much more prosperously than did the yeoman, who 
tended to cultivate subsistence crops such as wheat and corn on a 
far larger scale than cotton. 

In 1940, Clement Eaton of the University of Kentucky arrested con- 
siderable attention for his anti-Confederate interpretations in Freedom 
of Thought in the Old South, which showed how the dominant pro- 
slavery forces erected an intellectual blockade against the inroads of 
the new liberal ideas. Free speech, popular education, and science 
suffered, while white illiteracy, shouting preachers, and duelists flour- 
ished. His excellent volume, A History of the Old South (1949), syn- 
thesized the newer researches and rejected U. B, Phillips's emphasis 
on climate, geography, and the struggle for "the white man's country" 
as the prime cause of the plantation system and the Civil War. How- 
ever, like other historians, he appreciated many of Phillips's contribu- 
tions to the economic history of the South. 

Louisiana State University and its active press, although a bene- 
ficiary of Huey Long's largess to education, showed nevertheless the 
same objectivity as the Northern university presses and became a 
leading sponsor of Southern historical studies. One of its able his- 
torians, the indefatigable Wendell H. Stephenson, edited the note- 
worthy Southern Biography Series during the 1940s. He also became 
one of the chief editors of the scholarly series, A History of the South, 
issued mostly during the late 'forties and 'fifties and devoted to social, 
economic, and cultural as well as political history. At the same high 
level, Louisiana State University published for many years The Journal 
of Southern History, which at once took a leading place among re- 
gional journals of national interest. Scarcely of less importance for 
Southern studies and with no less devotion to the newer liberal spirit 
in the South was the University of North Carolina and its outstanding 
university press. Here Howard Odum, the sociologist, influenced his- 
torians as well as sociologists in regional studies; in fact, he and his 
colleagues sponsored so many "ecological" studies as to rank the Uni- 
versity of North Carolina second in this field only to the leader, the 
University of Chicago. While scholarly liberalism in the South still 
tended to be economic and pro-New Deal rather than representing 
any frontal attack on segregation (as was generally true of Northern 

Ulrich B. Phillips 259 

scholars as well), the naivete o U. B. PMlips's racism retreated from 
the great centers of learning. 

Even Phillips's unfailing urbanity toward individuals of both races 
did not charm the newly trained professional Negro historians like 
the rebels Dr. William E. B. Du Bois of Atlanta, Dr. Carter G. Wood- 
son of Washington, Dr. Charles Wesley of Howard University, and 
many other able and outspoken young academicians of that race. They 
looked upon history as an instrument of racial salvation as well as a 
source of pride in race achievements. Therefore, they condemned 
Phillips's racialism, his stereotype of the happy-go-lucky Negro, and 
his assumption that Negroes had few cultural contributions to make 
in either the New World or in Africa. Unlike Burgess, Dunning, and 
Rhodes, they felt a keen sympathy for the Reconstruction experiment 
in political and social equality. 

The brilliant and belligerent radical, Dr. Du Bois, came of mixed 
Negro and French ancestry and was reared in Great Barrington, Massa- 
chusetts, a small community with few Negroes. After he went South 
to study at a Negro college in a white community, Fisk University in 
Nashville, he rebelled against the ritual of Jim Crow. Finally, he dis- 
covered a haven at Harvard and earned all three degrees there, with 
his doctoral dissertation which remained his best original work there- 
afteron The Suppression of the African Slave Trade from Africa to 
the United States (1895). Before taking his doctorate, he used a Slater 
Fund award to study at the University of Berlin, where he listened 
to the lectures of Weber, Schmoller, Treitschke, and other leaders in 
economic and political history. For thirteen years he taught at Atlanta 
University and quarreled with Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee 
conservatives. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) set forth his uncom- 
promising stand on racial equality and castigated Booker T. Wash- 
ington's acceptance of segregation, emphasis on vocational education 
for Negroes, alliance with business, and willingness to forgo the 
strategy of agitation. His own solution was embodied in the new Na- 
tional Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which he 
helped to found, and its outspoken organ, The Crisis, which he edited. 
The NAACP labored through the courts to secure the Negro's fullest 
rights under the Constitution. 

By 1927, Du Bois felt captivated by the Russian Revolution, visited 
that country when Russian-Americans financed his trip, and emerged 
a confirmed Marxist who placed the slavery struggle and the Negro's 
current problems in a world setting of class conflict. These ideas were 
embedded in his widely read Black Reconstruction (1935), which de- 

260 The American Historian 

pended more on the researches of Rhodes and other antislavery writers 
than on original sources. He reversed the Dunning interpretation by 
praising the racial contributions of Stevens, Sumner, the Freedmen's 
Bureau, and the Radical program. Above all, he showed in detail the 
positive achievements of the Negro in the so-called Carpetbag legis- 
latures. While some reviewers complained of distortions and bitter- 
ness, others were persuaded that he had opened the door to a valu- 
able reassessment of Reconstruction. 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson did not follow the radical panaceas of Du 
Bois, but he was no less firm in fighting for racial equality. He was 
born in 1875, the son of a Virginia freedman, and he worked as a coal 
miner in his youth, deriving his education by home study until the 
opportunity came to enter high school and the University of Chicago, 
where he earned the first two degrees. Like Du Bois he entered Har- 
vard; he wrote his dissertation on The Disruption of Virginia & fitting 
subject for a son of West Virginia. He gave up a deanship at Howard 
University to devote the rest of his life (except for teaching at a 
Washington high school) to the promotion of Negro history by ama- 
teurs as well as professionals. In 1915 he established the Association 
for the Study of Negro Life and History, which introduced Negro 
History Week, Negro history bulletins, and conferences dealing with 
the subject. Most important, he founded that same year The Journal 
of Negro History, with an editorial board of scholars and literary con- 
tributors drawn from both races. Woodson urged historians to search 
for the historical role that Negroes had played in freeing themselves 
and in shaping their own destiny. He helped to raise the status of 
Negro historical studies to a high professional level. Not least among 
his intensive activities was the sponsorship of a special outlet for books 
about the Negro, the Associated Publishers. 

Dr. Woodson emphasized his dislike for Phillips's American Negro 
Slavery by reviewing it adversely not only for the Mississippi Valley 
Historical Review but also this time in an unsigned review for his 
own Journal of Negro History. While he conceded that the book was 
better than most histories of slavery (at least in extent of subject 
matter), he thought that it was primarily an economic treatise con- 
cerned only with the Negro as property and definitely biased. He 
commented upon Phillips's "inability to fathom the Negro mind" and 
his tendency to emphasize the kindly planter and the contented slave. 7 
Woodson's friend and successor as editor of the Journal, William M. 
Brewer, in another review, had much the same complaints against 
Life and Labor in the Old South. He added with obvious bitterness 

Ulrich B. Phillips 261 

that the slaves were lumped together as a group "which Is still the 
policy of white Americans in thinking of Negroes and prescribing a 
place for them." While he thought that this hook was better than 
American Negro Slavery, it neglected the poor whites and free Ne- 
groes and showed that "Phillips is a disciple of the color line and a 
staunch defender of the faith in the South." 8 

Among the young gifted Negro historians was the Fisk-Yale-Har- 
vard educated Dr. Charles H. Wesley of Howard, later president of 
Central State College at Wilberforce, Ohio. Like many talented Ne- 
groes, such as those of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, he 
joined Dr. Woodson in calling for greater attention to the role of 
Africa in history and a more intimate interpretation of the Negro's 
past. His Collapse of the Confederacy (1937), unlike so many histo- 
ries by Negroes, did not focus upon slavery alone but dealt with the 
entire Southern society and argued that the Confederacy lost the war 
because of weakness in morale rather than a shortage of weapons and 

Another Harvard-trained doctor of philosophy in history was John 
Hope Franklin, a thoughtful, soft-spoken scholar who reflected the 
temperateness of the younger generation without sacrificing the ac- 
tivist Negro. His book, The Free Negro in North Carolina (1943), 
grew out of his dissertation and won very favorable notice; and his 
From Slavery to Freedom (1947) easily became the best textbook in 
the field because of its balance, thoroughness, and accuracy. Like 
Wesley (and some Negro novelists as well), he turned to a general 
picture of Southern society in The Militant South, 1800-1861 (1956), 
which traced the tradition of violence and the martial spirit in that 
section's emphasis on filibustering expeditions, secret militant societies 
such as the Knights of the Golden Circle, dueling, and race police. 
Dr. Franklin's appointment to the History chairmanship of Brooklyn 
College, a large and outstanding city college in New York City, was 
an event in the history of racial integration. 

Negro historical studies attracted innumerable whites as well. At 
Emory University, in Phillips's own state, Bell Wiley published South- 
ern Negroes, 1861-65, which depicted genuine Negroes in wartime 
singing songs of freedom and quite familiar with the issue of emanci- 
pation. The standard picture of the loyal slave hating the Yankee and 
defending his master was challenged by the facts of wartime slave 
insurrections and plots, fifth-column activities behind the lines, and 
other evidences of a repressed people. At the extreme left were Marx- 
ist writers like Dr. Herbert Aptheker, author of American Slave Re- 

262 The American Historian 

volts (1943), who not only demonstrated the frequency of slave re- 
volts and sabotage but interpreted them as an expression of class war. 
Aptheker and other Marxists published narratives of Negro abolition- 
ists. The Marxist novelist, Howard Fast, in the best-selling story, 
Freedom Road, offered a fictional (and grossly exaggerated) class 
struggle interpretation of Reconstruction along the lines of Du Bois's 
Black Reconstruction. 

While Negro sociologists like Franklin Frazier and Charles Johnson 
stimulated Negro historical studies, the proponents of race relations 
studies secured the sponsorship of the Carnegie Corporation in 1937 
for a "comprehensive study of the Negro in the United States, to be 
undertaken in a wholly objective and dispassionate way as a social 
phenomenon." They found an outstanding scholar, a social economist 
acceptable to both races in Gunnar Myrdal of the University of Stock- 
holm. The result was the monumental study, The American Dilemma 
(1944), which showed with considerable detail drawn from history 
as well as sociology the ambivalence of a society ideally dedicated to 
the equalitarianism of the Declaration of Independence but committed 
to practices quite at variance with equality. It ended optimistically 
with the statement that "we have today in social science a greater 
trust in the improvability of man and society than we have ever had 
since the Enlightenment." The ensuing enthusiasm for race relations 
studies and courses and the Supreme Court integration decisions of 
1954 showed that a new phase of Negro history had begun. 

The central importance of Africa in Negro studies, which had been 
emphasized by the Harlem Renaissance and dramatized by Marcus 
Garvey's Back to Africa movement of the 'twenties, had its leading 
white scholarly exponent in Northwestern's noted anthropologist, Mel- 
ville Herskovits. He emphasized the provenience of New World Negro 
culture in West Africa, made pioneer studies of African "culture 
areas/* and published interpretive descriptions of Negro societies in 
Haiti, Brazil, and the Caribbean. He was a disciple of Franz Boas 
of Columbia, who had led the scholars to defeat the racists of the 
'twenties by dispelling the confusion over the nature of race and cul- 
ture. Herskovits's challenging book, The Myth of the Negro Past 
(1941), took issue with the social scientists who had assumed that 
the Negro came to the New World "culturally naked," and it showed 
evidences for considerable cultural borrowing from Africa. Among his 
students were many apprentice historians as well as anthropologists; 
he made Northwestern a center for a noteworthy African program. 

While a new image of the Negro and his African past began to re- 

Ulrich B. Phillips 263 

place the Phillips interpretation, younger scholars took issue with the 
entire plantation hypothesis as well. One of the most analytical refu- 
tations of essentials in the Georgian's position came from Professor 
Kenneth M. Stampp of the University of California, although this was 
not the primary purpose of his book, The Peculiar Institution (1956). 
Stampp denied that climate and soil inevitably created the planta- 
tion; besides, it was older than slavery and survived its prohibition. 
Reasons of profit, rather than deterministic factors, led the colonial 
South to prefer the plantation to the non-slaveholding farm. 

Stampp utilized the recent findings on Negroes and African studies 
by the anthropologists to demonstrate how relatively advanced the 
original African cultures were. He dismissed the plantation myths of 
the Negroes' inherent inferiority and submissive temperament. Phillips 
had made the Negro at once submissive and prone on occasion to 
slave plots, insurrections, and crimes. Stampp disagreed with Phillips 
and with those historians who followed this view that slavery did not 
pay economically. There were ample details of profitable slaveholding 
supported by efficient workers who were spurred on to do extra work 
by incentives of extra pay and positions of prestige among fellow- 

So far from the truth was the idea that slaves were fit only for 
crude farm labor that Southerners talked about the desirability of 
greatly increasing the use of slaves in new Southern factories. Stampp 
went beyond Phillips in portraying the mistreatment of slaves, for he 
did not find that self-interest and humanitarianism were quite the 
checks that the older historian had imagined. From this analysis it 
followed that slavery would not necessarily die a natural death soon, 
even if left alone. One might logically infer from Stampp's facts that 
nothing short of force could dislodge slavery. However, Stampp did 
not press this latter point and tended to use a multiple approach freely 
in another book on the causes of the war, And the War Came (1950). 
His chief argument in The Peculiar Institution rested on the assump- 
tion that Southerners had freely made their choice to set up the slave 
plantation despite other less profitablealternatives. 

Another acute Northern-bred critic, Richard Hofstadter of Colum- 
bia, pointed out in an article, "U. B. Phillips and the Plantation 
Legend," what a serious error the Georgian had made in drawing the 
materials for his picture of the Old South from the records of the 
largest plantations which Phillips had done partly for the reason that 
these papers were the best preserved. Phillips magnified this error by 
depending on the case method, thus assuming that he was dealing 

264 The American Historian 

with typical plantations. By omitting the smaller units, he was actually 
using a sample of about 10 per cent of all the slaves and less than 
1 per cent of all the slaveholders. "For the most part/' said Hofstadter, 
"lie was concentrating upon the upper crust of the upper crust," Yet 
the critic added a compliment, albeit a heavily qualified one, that 
"so thorough was his work that granted the same purpose, the same 
materials, and the same methods, his treatment of the Old South is 
unlikely to be altered in fundamental respects." Possibly this comment 
was intended as a tongue-in-cheek appraisal. 9 

No other area in American historiography reflects so baldly the in- 
fluence of subjective influences on historians as in the case of the Old 
South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Even those who did not 
go as far as Phillips in marshaling the evidence to establish an a priori 
thesis could not wholly escape taking a stand either overt or implied 
on the corrosive race issue. More than in other fields, the writer tended 
to draw conclusions that did not actually emerge from the evidence 
presented. Human values of course are not an indigenous part of the 
historical narrative; they are put there by a moralist disguised as a 
historian, and the conclusions are partly shaped by this fact. The mid- 
twentieth-century historian of the South could only claim that his 
facts are more accurate than Phillips, that he recognized many facets 
that had been neglected, that he used far more sources than seemed 
to exist a generation ago, and that he felt under greater compulsion 
to be objective, recognizing more than ever the grave likelihood that 
he would not wholly succeed. 


Charles A. Beard and the 
Economic Interpretation of History 

Hjconomic history in the form of a chronological summary of facts 
was quite common in the nineteenth century, and indeed was attrac- 
tively presented by McMaster and others, but, on the other hand, only 
an elitist few like Richard Hildreth and those within the socialist or 
Marxist ranks had attempted a genuine economic synthesis of society. 
The bright young men of 1900-1920 seeking economic determinants 
for history, like Charles Beard and others in the Columbia School of 
the New History, felt the pragmatic urge to make history serve so- 
ciety by curing its social ills. It was not enough to commemorate the 
past and to assume like Tacitus that the great models of antiquity 
would suffice to teach an inspiring lesson for statesmen and ordinary 
citizens. One must apply the current lessons of the Industrial Revo- 
lution, experimental science, finance capitalism, and materialist factors 
to history rather than depend upon the ineffectual idealistic concep- 
tions held by the Bancroft school. 

European economic historians, some of them Marxists, led the way 
toward an economic synthesis. Since the 1870s, Marxians had followed 
their master's injunction to cease dwelling on personalities and iso- 
lated events and to make "personifications of economic categories." 
Non-Marxians were unwilling to go so far, but they shared in the 
search for the evolution and meaning of economic institutions. In 


266 The American Historian 

Germany, Werner Sombart produced studies of capitalism which tried 
to explain the motivations and methods of the entrepreneur. Richard 
Ehrenberg analyzed the origins and development of the great entre- 
preneurial fortunes as reflected in the rise of the Fugger bankers. Such 
studies had their American counterpart in Gustavus Myers, The His- 
tory of the Great American Fortunes (1907) and, much later, in Mat- 
thew Josephson's influential volume, The Robber Barons (1934). Brit- 
ish economic historians like Toynbee (the elder), the Webbs, and 
Thorold Rogers won the plaudits of American scholars for their per- 
ceptive historical analyses of economic influences in industry and 
agriculture. Christian socialism especially inspired European (and 
American ) scholars to pioneer in "social economics." The Social Gospel 
was in its heyday. 

The vast protest literature of Populism and Progressivism is too well 
known to require summary. At the University of Wisconsin, these cur- 
rents were evident in the labor histories of John R. Commons and the 
reformist books of Richard T. Ely, the economist. Frederick J. Turner, 
while critical of the paper-money panaceas of the Populists, turned 
to the virtues of government planning and focused attention on the 
economic as well as geographic determinants of the frontier. He and 
his students thought of American history as partly determined by the 
struggle of debtor farmers and creditor merchants. Another region- 
alist, Ulrich B. Phillips, resisted the reformers, but helped to make 
Southern history a product of primary economic as well as racial 

At Columbia University, many students learned to interpret history 
from an economic point of view in the classes of Edwin R. A. Seligman, 
the son of a well-to-do banker, but a reformer nonetheless. He had been 
lecturing since 1886 on financial and industrial history. In 1903 Selig- 
man published a very popular little book, The Economic Interpreta- 
tion of History, which explained the inadequacy of Hegel's idealistic 
theories and urged the need for systematic "laws of history" which 
recognized that economic conditions were the foundation of life. But 
he rejected "economic determinism" or any other kind of determinism 
as false and argued that it was wholly unnecessary to embrace the 
socialist program in order to profit from the economic interpretation. 
Charles Beard read this book and apparently agreed with its main 

One of Turner's students, Algie M. Simons, became for some years 
an ardent socialist committed to an economic interpretation of history 
that was definitely Marxist. His Social Forces in American History 

Charles A. Beard 267 

(1911) circulated for years as a pamphlet and used a vituperative 
Marxist jargon to describe class conflict in American history. He saw 
the Revolution as an economic struggle led by colonial merchants. 
When he came to the movement for the Constitution, he anticipated 
to a surprising degree Beard's thesis that four interest groups repre- 
senting the industrial and mercantile creditors of the East imposed 
that document upon the farmer-labor debtors of the interior. (Hildreth, 
Libby, and J. Allen Smith also expressed similar economic interpreta- 
tions.) "The wageworking, farming, and debtor class naturally had 
no desire for a strong central government," observed Simons. Like 
Beard after him, he argued that due to wholesale disfranchisement, 
the Constitution was ratified by a minority. Even his conclusion bore 
some resemblance to Beard's, although couched in offensive language: 

To sum up: the organic law of this nation was formulated in secret session 
by a body called into existence through a conspiratory trick and was forced 
upon a disfranchised people by means of a dishonest apportionment in order 
that the interests of a small body of wealthy rulers might be served. This 
should not blind us to the fact that this small ruling class really represented 
progress, that a unified government was essential to that industrial and social 
growth which has made this country possible. 

Simons, like Beard in The Rise of American Civilization, looked upon 
the Civil War as a struggle between rival capitalisms, one industrial, 
the other agrarian. Both agreed upon the economic outcome: 

Out of the Civil War was born the elements of present society. It created 
the great capitalist and the great industrialist and the mechanical foundation 
upon which these rest. It placed these in control of the national govern- 

But, as a good Marxist, Simons went on to predict the ultimate seizure 
of political power by labor. Beard never subscribed to the Marxist 
dialectic of class struggle, though he stressed the role of interest 
groups in molding politics. 1 Neither Simons nor Beard knew how much 
businessmen hated abolitionists and worked for peaceful compromises 
to avert war. 

Charles Beard became closely identified with a brilliant Columbia 
colleague, James Harvey Robinson, and with the New History, which 
became the creed of so many other distinguished men of that univer- 
sity. In fact, both men published a very popular two-volume textbook, 
The Development of Modern Europe (1907-08). They protested the 
overemphasis upon politics and wars and called for more attention 
to such fundamental economic matters as the Industrial Revolution, 

268 The American Historian 

commerce and the colonies, the internal social reforms of the Euro- 
pean states, and the general advance of science. Since Robinson did 
all too little research, the exemplification of this program could be 
claimed only by Beard. 

In this text, both writers took up the pragmatic idea that history 
should justify itself by its usefulness for the present. They complained 
that text writers usually failed to connect the past with the present, 
sometimes with the excuse that we should avoid distortion or bias. 
Their own position was made crystal-clear: 

In preparing the volume in hand, the writers have consistently subor- 
dinated the past to the present. It has been their ever-conscious aim to en- 
able the reader to catch up with his own times; to read intelligently the 
foreign news in the morning papers. 

There has been no distortion of the facts in order to bring them into rela- 
tion to any particular conception of the present and its tendencies. Even if 
certain occurrences of merely temporary prominence have been omitted as 
irrelevant to the purpose of the work, this cannot mean any serious loss. 

Here was the emphatic expression of what came to be called "present- 
ism," which had certain relativist tendencies. They became more mani- 
fest in Beard's later years. 

Robinson complained in The New History (1912) that historians 
seemed to justify facts for their own sake. Mere name-listing and an 
emphasis on extraordinary events destroyed perspective, even when 
the narrative was told interestingly. To him the true principle of 
selection was, "Is the fact or occurrence one which will aid the reader 
to grasp the meaning of any great period of human development or 
the true nature of any momentous institution?" But he rejected the 
idea that reliable "lessons" could be learned from past events. Such 
beliefs assumed that conditions remained sufficiently uniform to give 
precedents a perpetual value. Actually modern conditions changed 
so rapidly that it would be risky to apply past experience to solve 
current problems. Like Beard he castigated the oft-repeated claim as 
to "what history teaches." 

Instead of seeking lessons from the past in this uncritical way, 
Robinson urged a pragmatic evolutionary approach to history that 
would enable people to understand themselves and the problems of 
mankind. One would use history just as one applied personal history. 
In both cases the present was not self-explanatory but required the 
aid of experience and memory. Thus a "Godlike knowledge of all 
history" afforded a corresponding insight into the best methods of 

Charles A. Beard 269 

alleviating mankind's ills, but not because the past offered "lessons." 
History would serve us because our present institutions and ideals bad 
an evolutionary continuity from the past. Without history we would 
lose effective adjustment to our environment. Through this pragmatic 
New History, especially through intellectual history, we would over- 
come anachronisms in our attitudes and understand how to dissolve 
the bonds of prejudice. 

Robinson also urged historians to ensure practical results by using 
the discoveries of the anthropologists, economists, psychologists, and 
sociologists. As in the case of Turner's similar ideas, this implied the 
integration of cultural processes. Thus, he expanded the subject mat- 
ter of history to benefit human society now and in the future. The 
common man would occupy a large part of this story, and he, too, 
would study history. 2 

As a partial relativist, Robinson attacked the alleged objectivity of 
the Ranke school. Beard afterwards recalled his bon mot that "objec- 
tive history is history without an object." To Robinson history was not 
an accretion of fixed truths, but a changing organic thing in the Dar- 
winian sense. It was bound to alter its ideals and aims with the gen- 
eral progress of society and the social sciences. Ranke had theoretically 
at least subordinated the present to the past, for he held that every 
epoch was "immediate to God" and hence important for its own sake. 
Unlike Robinson, he called for the primacy of foreign policy in his- 
torical interests with a focus upon the state as the central fact of human 
existence; yet, he taught the virtues of objective history which had 
universal validity. 

Mid-twentieth-century critics feared that Ranke's value-free objec- 
tivity had weakened the resistance of the German intellectual to the 
immoralities of Hitlerism, but this was scarcely fair to a highly civ- 
ilized man, nor a correct estimate of his influence. On the other hand, 
not a few "presentists" felt so shocked by the Nazi horror that they 
saw practically all of modern German history, from Luther to Hitler, 
telescoped in a totalitarian pattern. 

Charles Austin Beard was born in 1874 in Knightstown, Indiana, the 
son of a successful town banker, newspaper publisher, and large-scale 
farmer. His parents belonged to the conservative Whig-Republican 
tradition, with its emphasis on property rights, but their son did not 
quite receive the conservative Methodist education which they ex- 

270 The American Historian 

pected DePauw College would give him, for while there the young 
Beard came under the unsettling influence of the faculty radical, 
James Weaver, the Populist leader. Thereafter, the young man spent 
four stimulating years in Europe, where he learned a good deal about 
Bismarck's pioneer welfare laws, which were intended by its sponsor 
to kill socialism with kindness. More important, in England he came 
into intimate contact with the Christian socialists, the reformist Fabi- 
ans, the semi-socialist British Labour party, and the Settlement move- 
ment inspired by Oxford. John Ruskin's books on social reform im- 
pressed him greatly. While actively engaging in reformist projects 
such as workers' education, he took up studies at Oxford under dis- 
ciples of Stubbs and wrote a thesis on the Justice of the Peace. How- 
ever, Beard would not subscribe to Stubbs's notion of the Teutonic 
origins of democracy. 

In 1904, he took his doctor's degree at Columbia and studied with 
John W. Burgess, but his independent mind made him reject the lat- 
ter's emphasis on the state and his Hegelianism; instead he sought 
economic explanations from such men as E. R. A. Seligman, and also 
learned much from William Dunning and James Harvey Robinson. 
Beard was a professor of politics from 1907 until 1917, when he re- 
signed because of friction with the high-handed trustees and because 
of the dismissal of some of his colleagues. The classroom lost a gifted 
teacher, because his warm personality, stimulating questions, unortho- 
dox yet well-balanced mind, and rich background left a lasting im- 
pression on his students. 

Meanwhile Beard became actively engaged in public administration 
work and in urban and state planning, particularly as a staff member 
of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research and its Training 
School for Public Service. He was an enthusiast for city planning dur- 
ing these pioneer years and even went to Tokyo as a consultant to 
assist in the reorganization of that city's administration after an earth- 
quake. Later he published an important book on this experience. As a 
political scientist, he wrote books which stressed the dynamics rather 
than the pure mechanics of governmental structure. This was reflected 
in his widely used textbooks American Government and "Politics ( 1910) 
and American City Government (1912), among others. It was still not 
uncommon for a versatile man to win distinction as a historian and a 
political scientist simultaneously. After all, Beard's own Columbia 
mentors, William Dunning and John W. Burgess, had done so. 3 

In 1912 Beard published The Supreme Court and the Constitution 
and inadvertently delighted conservatives by proving that the Su- 

Charles A. Beard 271 

preme Court under John Marshall had not usurped the right to de- 
clare national laws unconstitutional. On the contrary, as he demon- 
strated, this idea of judicial review had been affirmed by the authors 
of the Federalist Papers, accepted by the other founding fathers, and 
pressed by members of the pre-Marshall court, as well as by those 
who ruled on Marbury vs. Madison. Afterwards Beard recalled the 
tense atmosphere of Progressive controversy at that time. Ex-President 
Theodore Roosevelt in the name of the New Nationalism had attacked 
the court's right to declare laws unconstitutional and had proposed 
the recall of judicial decisions. The same political background also 
was widely associated with An Economic Interpretation of the Con- 
stitution (1913), which was quickly picked up by both Progressives 
and the Old Guard as grist for their propaganda mill. But Beard in- 
sisted, "I had in mind no thought of forwarding the interests of the 
Progressive Party or of its conservative critics and opponents." Yet, 
he issued a new edition of his book on the Supreme Court in 1938, 
and saw it offer ammunition to those opposed to Franklin Roosevelfs 
court reform proposals. Apparently, Beard was too good a Whig philo- 
sophically, too staunch a believer in the balance of social interests 
through a system of checks and balances, to aid even Progressive fac- 
tions if they threatened it. 

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, for all its indebted- 
ness to previous writers, retained a fresh Whig synthesis of its own 
that was by implication friendly to the rights of property. Its air of 
detachment and ultra-scientific guise was presented in a style so flat 
that it fitted Jeremy Bentham's prescription for scientific history. The 
author made considerable use of the actual Treasury records in order 
to discover the individual security holdings of the members of the 
Convention. However, he made no pretense to exhaustive research, 
frankly pleading that this was a fragmentary study intended to sug- 
gest new lines of historical inquiry for others. Besides, he hoped to 
persuade scholars to drop narrowly political history in favor of "the 
real economic forces which condition great movements in politics." 

To make clear where he stood, he began with an evaluation of the 
chief contemporary schools of historical interpretation. Obviously he 
was not with those who pursued Bancroft's mystic conception of the 
movement for the Constitution "the movement of the divine power 
which gives unity to the universe and order and connection to events." 
Next, he disposed of the Teutonic hypothesis of Stubbs as productive 
of little besides narrow studies of local government. Finally, he showed 
little enthusiasm for the so-called objective or scientific writers who 

272 The American Historian 

deliberately avoided hypotheses, dwelt upon neutral facts, and seemed 
absorbed in critical editions of documents. Apparently Beard did not 
even then consider himself a member of the objective school of his- 
torians in the current sense, for he used the term in a special way 
when he spoke of his own writings. Against the pretensions of these 
three schools, he set up the virtues of the various economic interpre- 
tations of history conceived in social controversies. Too few besides 
Turner and his disciples had done much with such a synthesis, and 
the majority seemed content to ignore it or to treat it with contempt. 
The "theory of economic determinism," he said, had not yet been tried 
out in American history. 

Later he tried to explain away his unfortunate phrase "economic 
determinism" as too sweeping. What he had written, he said, was "an 
economic interpretation," not the only one, nor did he pretend that it 
was the history of the formation and adoption of the Constitution. In 
1935, he was to say retrospectively and emphatically, "I have never 
been able to discover all-pervading determinism in history. In that 
field of study, I find, what Machiavelli found, virtu, fortuna, and 
necessita, although the boundaries between them cannot be sharply 
delimited." But one should always ask of those who urged abstractions 
like national power or states' rights, "What interests are behind them 
and to whose advantage will changes or the maintenance of old forms 
accrue?" One of his major contributions to historians and political 
scientists was the central importance of pressure groups. 

Beard noted a tendency, developing since the Civil War, to forget 
the realistic economic interpretations of the Constitution that had been 
stressed in John Marshall's biography of Washington, in Hildreth's 
writings, and in other ante-bellum books. Instead, the academicians 
were absorbed in a superficial and abstract interpretation of states' 
rights and national sovereignty. They saw the Constitution as a popu- 
lar product of all of the people after a sectional debate in which 
"straight-thinking national men" defeated "narrower and more local 
opponents." When he investigated the economic interests behind the 
convention members, he received, as he later recalled, "the shock of 
my life." 

In this book, and many times afterwards, he attributed his economic 
philosophy in part at least to that eighteenth-century realist, James 
Madison, and his Tenth Number of the Federalist Papers. Beard usu- 
ally chose to quote the economic emphasis of Madison, without noting 
other parts of that essay which contain non-economic implications: 

Charles A. Beard 273 

The diversity in the faculty of men, from which the rights of property 
originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. 
The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the 
protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the pos- 
session of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and 
from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective pro- 
prietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties. 
. . . The most common and durable source of factions has been the various 
and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are 
without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who 
are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A 
landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed 
interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized na- 
tions and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments 
and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms 
the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party 
and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government. 

Beard said admiringly, "Here we have a masterly statement of the 
theory of economic determinism in politics." It was no European im- 
portation, and it came straight from a man who had played a large 
role in the Constitutional Convention. Pointing out that the Madi- 
sonians disregarded ultimate motives in order to concentrate upon 
economic advantages, Beard concluded, "The whole theory of the eco- 
nomic interpretation o history rests upon the concept that social prog- 
ress in general is the result of contending interests in society some 
favorable, others opposed to change/* 

Following the quantitative approach o Libby and Turner and the 
scientific methods of the positivists, he set about discovering the 
amount and geographical distribution of money and public securities 
held by the men who sat in the Constitutional Convention. Their se- 
curities, it seemed fair to conclude, would appreciate in value under a 
strong federal constitution which protected creditor interests. This did 
not mean that Beard had any desire to write a muckraking volume in 
the contemporary mode, for he mentioned the "names of hundreds of 
patriots who risked their money in original certificates or received 
certificates for services rendered." He was primarily interested in show- 
ing that the founding fathers were fully aware of economic realities. 
"Did they," he asked, "represent distinct groups whose economic in- 
terests they understood and felt in concrete, definite form through 
their own personal experience with identical property rights, or were 
they working merely under the guidance of abstract principles of 
political science?" Furthermore, he considered their handiwork a great 

274 The American Historian 

success, not a sinister or undesirable document. "As a group of doc- 
trinaires, like the Frankfort assembly of 1848, they would have failed 
miserably; but as practical men they were able to build the new gov- 
ernment upon the only foundations which could be stable: funda- 
mental economic interest." So spoke the disciple of James Madison. 

At the conclusion of what he termed with some justice a "long and 
arid survey/* he described the movement for the Constitution as a 
product of four interest groups: money, public securities, manufac- 
tures, trade, and shipping. It was made possible by excluding repre- 
sentatives of a large propertyless mass who were disfranchised. The 
convention members were with few exceptions "immediately, directly, 
and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, 
the establishment of the new system." Examining the various parts 
of the Constitution, he stated flatly, "The Constitution was essentially 
an economic document based upon the concept that the fundamental 
private rights of property are anterior to government and morally be- 
yond the reach of popular majorities." Thus, he held in his neutral 
language that the chief architects were "a consolidated group whose 
interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their 

Beard's interpretation aroused much more attention than that of 
Simons or of J. Allen Smith, for he was already a widely known his- 
torian. Some academicians cut him altogether. Beard later recalled the 
tempest he had evoked: 

When my book appeared it was roundly condemned by conservative Re- 
publicans, including ex-President Taft [who attacked it as another muck- 
raking book] and praised with about the same amount of discrimination, by 
Progressives and others on the left wing. Perhaps no other book on the 
Constitution has been more severely criticized, and so little read. Perhaps 
no other book on the subject has been used to justify opinions and projects 
so utterly beyond its necessary implications. 

An aggrieved New York Bar Association even summoned him to ap- 
pear before them, and, when Beard declined, they expressed deep re- 
sentment. The austere Albert Bushnell Hart of Harvard looked upon 
the book as something almost indecent, as did President Nicholas Mur- 
ray Butler of Columbia, who had never enjoyed Beard's bold opinions. 
On the other hand, a rapidly increasing band of eminent historians like 
William Dunning praised it highly. Others who did were William E. 
Dodd, Edward Channing, Max Farrand, and the brilliant journalist, 
Walter Lippmann. Despite its radical flavor, the main ideas of the 

Charles A. Beard 275 

book gained general acceptance in college textbooks and even in high- 
school texts during the next two decades. For the progressive New 
Republic as well as for the younger scholars, it was a classic. Beard 
apparently did not change his mind on essentials, for in the 1935 
edition he felt it necessary to make few changes. 

A generation later, in 1956, Robert E. Brown of Michigan State 
University aroused angry critics by assailing the scholarship and bal- 
ance of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. He com- 
plained of the heavy reliance on secondary and fragmentary sources 
for such crucial facts as those concerning the property interests of 
convention members, the exaggerated estimate of the proportion of 
disfranchised citizens, and the unproved assumption that farmers were 
a debtor class. There were few extremes of wealth and property in 
that day, and the class differences were not as sharp as Beard had 
suggested. Brown's book may well have inspired a fresh revision 
movement seeking a new balance between economic and non-economic 

Historians came to show special favor for Beard's next important 
work, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915). His frontis- 
piece contained a significant quotation from Frederick J. Turner, "We 
may trace the contest between the capitalist and the democratic pio- 
neer from the earliest colonial days." He also quoted a prediction by 
one of the most brilliant of the younger historians, Carl L. Becker, 
that "American history would shortly be rewritten along economic 
lines." To Hildreth was given credit for raising the question whether 
a majority in the ratifying conventions actually favored adoption and 
for pointing out the economic interests of the supporters of the Con- 
stitution. Now, in this new book, Beard argued that the capitalist- 
agrarian party divisions over ratification were the same as those which 
created Federalists and Republicans after 1789. He showed the con- 
tinuity of party beliefs among the founding fathers before and after 
the Constitution and tried to establish the fact that Washington and 
his government were partisan. Thus he explained the struggle over 
Hamilton's program and the Jay Treaty, though he identified the con- 
tending Congressmen with the interests of their constituents rather 
than their own. 

There is a striking section on John Taylor and the democratic poli- 
tics of agrarianism, which is set against John Adams's theory of the 
ruling aristocracy of wealth. While Taylor called for a republic based 

276 The American Historian 

on substantial equality as against Adams's theory of ineradicable in- 
equality, he was himself a well-to-do planter and federal politician 
of Virginia. Taylor held the radical theory that the older aristocratic 
ruling classes originated by exploiting the masses and sustained their 
power by psychological devices such as loyalty to the throne and 
altar. Recently, he argued, a new capitalistic class came into existence 
out of Hamilton's system with its inflated public paper, bank stock, 
and a protective tariff; they relied on new psychological devices of 
"public faith, national integrity, and sacred credit/' Their wealth grew 
at the expense of "productive labor," particularly labor on the land. 
Thus developed the capitalist-agrarian conflict which originated the 
party system. 

To counter what he regarded as the parasitic activities of the stock- 
jobbers, Taylor recommended the drastic cure of outright confiscation 
without compensation. As it happened, even Jefferson's alliance of 
landholding and laboring classes did not, in Beard's analysis, mean 
any fundamental break with the Federalist philosophy. He tried to 
demonstrate that the Federalists had learned enough about Jefferson's 
intentions to feel that even with the Virginian there was no danger 
that the Hamilton economic system would be destroyed. Politically, 
Jefferson's idea of political democracy was far from radical "The fact 
is that, notwithstanding his generous use of the phrase 'popular rule' 
Jefferson was as anxious as any Federalist to guard against 'the tyranny 
of majorities.'" He wished to see the election of a Virginia senate 
based on property and indirect election, though he was advanced 
enough to favor the ratification of the state constitutions by the 

Beard said that Jefferson recognized that his party was based on 
agrarian interests, but he favored practical concessions to the opposi- 
tion and distrusted "the mobs of the great cities." Neither Republi- 
cans nor Federalists were "enamored of an equalitarian political de- 
mocracy" as far as suffrage was concerned. The final evaluation showed 
no warmth for the Jeffersonian position: 

Jeffersonian Democracy simply meant the possession of the federal gov- 
ernment by the agrarian masses led by an aristocracy of slave-owning plant- 
ters, and the theoretical repudiation of the right to use the Government for 
the benefit of any capitalistic groups, fiscal, banking, or manufacturing. 

This volume, like its predecessor, had the same quality of detach- 
ment and objectivity; the author avoided taking sides or expressing 
value judgments. Though Beard later earned a fine reputation as a 

Charles A. Beard 277 

stylist, he chose the arid form of one who was trying to make a scien- 
tific demonstration "upon a statistical basis," as he put it. Like so many 
rising social scientists, he had faith in the possibility of using meas- 
urable qualities in historical analysis. Gradually, he changed his mind 
in these matters until he was ready to make overt judgments. His ef- 
forts suggest those of one phase of Hildreth's development when the 
historian's ideal was a scientific objectivity presented in a fiat exposi- 
tory style. 

In 1927, Charles A. Beard and his wife Mary Hitter, a gifted De 
Pauw graduate he had married in 1900, collaborated in a fascinating 
two-volume work, The Rise of American Civilization, which fully ex- 
emplified the spirit of the New History. His introduction reflected the 
pragmatic spirit of Robinson, "The history of a civilization, if intelli- 
gently conceived, may be an instrument of civilization." Furthermore, 
*lf the history of a people is a philosophy of the whole social organ- 
ism in process of becoming, then it ought to furnish material with 
which discernment can be whetted." As an example of this social phi- 
losophy, he pointed out that modern business enterprise rested upon 
the whole heritage of western civilization religious, legal, moral, crafts 
and skills, and the arts and sciences. Business enterprise would fail 
if left to cogs and robots. He cited Buckle for authority that material 
advances, such as the invention of gunpowder, changed the moral and 
intellectual order. 

Although Beard acknowledgedbut all too briefly that there were 
non-economic determinants in the history of colonizationreligion, love 
of adventure, curiosity, restlessness, domestic unrest, and personal am- 
bitionhis chief guideposts remained economic, with the rivalry of 
social classes playing a large part. He quoted approvingly Sombart's 
idea that history was a world struggle over feeding places on the earth 
and the distribution of the earth's resources. 

When he came to the Revolution, "The Clash of Metropolis and 
Colony/' he made it an organic part of rival imperialisms of that era: 

Out of the interests of English landlords and merchants, illuminated no 
doubt by high visions of empire not foreign to their advantage, flowed acts 
of Parliament controlling the economic undertakings of American colonists 
and measures of administration directed to the same end. These laws and 
decisions were not suddenly sprung upon the world at the accession of 
George III in 1760. 

278 The American Historian 

To him, as to Simons, Schlesinger, and others before and after him, 
the American merchants furnished the mainspring of resistance. Most 
colonists were voteless or apathetic. He pressed this point, just as 
he had pressed the role of disfranchisement in defeating the popular 
will over the Constitution: "As far as balloting was a measure of popu- 
lar support, not more than one-third of the adult white males in 
America ever set the seal of their approval on the Revolution by vot- 
ing for its committees and delegates." With Lecky he felt that the 
Revolution was a product of "an energetic minority who succeeded in 
committing an undecided and fluctuating majority to causes for which 
they had little love and leading them step by step to a position from 
which it was impossible to recede." 

Such interpretations challenged the older view of George Bancroft, 
who simplified the effects of mercantilism to mean English exploita- 
tion of the colonists, which led the latter to make war (though Ban- 
croft stressed the influence of ideas). Louis Hacker, whose book The 
Triumph of American Capitalism (1940) paralleled many of Beard's 
views of rival capitalisms at work in history, applied this idea to the 
pressures on colonial mercantile capitalism. Hacker insisted that the 
breakdown of the mercantile system reflected the inability of both 
English mercantile capitalism and colonial mercantile and planter capi- 
talism to operate within a contracting sphere in which clashes of in- 
terest were becoming sharper. Other historians like Charles McLean 
Andrews and Lawrence Henry Gipson found much to say in defense 
of mercantilism and saw benefits as well as drawbacks in the system. 

Beard was so interested in the historiography of the American Revo- 
lution that he paused to poke fun at the World War I propagandists 
who helped the alliance with England by suggesting that the Revolu- 
tion "was more or less a moral and tactical error on the part of the 
Patriot Fathers." The real question regarding the motive of the his- 
torian should be, he said, "Is he preparing to unite the English-speak- 
ing peoples in the next war?" For himself, he avowed only the ob- 
jective ideal of seeking the facts which conditioned the struggle be- 
tween the men who governed England and those who ruled the 
colonies. In later years, he ceased to be certain that it was as simple 
as that. Finally, the Revolution appeared to him as a major social 
change from which many important social changes flowed emanci- 
pation, penal reform, religious freedom, and the abolition of entails 
and primogeniture. 

While Beard might dislike the Hegelian tendencies of Bancroft, in 
which motivating ideas often had a disembodied form, he did not deny 

Charles A. Beard 279 

the power of ideas and the diffusion of attitudes from abroad. In this 
respect, he limited his heavily economic interpretations. Thus in an 
excellent chapter in The Rise of American Civilization, "Democracy: 
Romantic and Realistic," he showed a full appreciation of the impact 
of European thought on America, the effect of romanticism, the new 
concept of progress, and evolution. His anti-monistic position was em- 
phatically stated: 

Had there been no significant changes in the economic structure of the 
nation, had there been no novel social forces let loose in the national arena, 
had there been no additional impacts from Revolutionary Europe, the great 
concepts of human rights and human equality, professed if not always fol- 
lowed by the Fathers, would have altered the intellectual climate for phi- 
losophy, letters, and the arts. 

But he added that there were technological and scientific changes 
which had their effects on the mind. 

Just as Turner stressed sectionalism more than slavery as a major 
cause for the Civil War, so Beard (like Simons) turned to a class 
analysis the irrepressible struggle between industrial-commercial in- 
terests and the planters. Abolitionist agitators alone could not bring 
about war, because propertied interests did not respond to mere ap- 
peals and the anachronistic planters were after all "fighting against 
the census returns." War was bound to come between these factions 
who sought a redistribution of power while echoing moral pronounce- 
ments. The Republican platform of 1856 avoided special favors to in- 
dustry and attracted free farmers who opposed the plutocracy of the 
East and the planting aristocracy of the South. So far was the nation 
from any crusade for the antislavery cause that in 1856 they repudi- 
ated even the mildest antislavery program. Therefore, like the Revo- 
lution and the Constitution, the Civil War was promoted by minority 
interests. He did not ignore other factors: John Brown's raid aggra- 
vated "the jangling nerves of a people already excited by fears of a 
race war and continued disturbances over the seizure of slaves under 
the fugitive slave act." 

More significant to him was the fact that in 1860 the planter's pro- 
gram stood diametrically opposed to the measures which business en- 
terprise deemed essential to its progresstariffs, ship subsidies, and a 
national banking and currency system. "Many an orator who might 
have forgiven the South for maintaining a servile labor system could 
not forgive it for its low tariff doctrines and its opposition to central- 
ized finance." Thus he disposed of the popular Rhodes interpretation 

280 The American Historian 

of the Civil Wax as the product of a moral struggle over slavery, since 
the slave system did not stand in isolation from other factors. Slavery 
was a labor system upon which rested the Southern aristocracy op- 
posed to industrial capitalism. Self-interest, not abstractions, alone 
counted as a consistent factor. 

Logically, therefore, the war appeared to him as "the second Amer- 
ican Revolution/* because "the capitalists, laborers, and farmers of the 
North and West drove from power in the national government the 
planting aristocracy of the South." In so doing they gained protective 
tariffs, the immigration of contract labor, and a northern transconti- 
nental railroad route. Fond of economic interpretations based on the 
collusion of interest groups, Beard explained the Fourteenth Amend- 
ment as a conspiracy of Radicals and the new corporate interests. 
This meant that business was to be specially protected in the federal 
courts against state regulation. 

He found the thesis of triumphant capitalism useful in explaining 
the Gilded Age as a cultural expression of an imitative American plu- 
tocracy. "Imperial America" had devised a system of acquisition and 
enjoyment by industrialists and well-to-do farmers encouraged by gov- 
ernment favors. Americans raided foreign lands on predatory expedi- 
tions in the name of moral purposes. When he came to America's en- 
trance into World War I, he leaned heavily on the conspiratorial thesis 
of Senator Robert La Follette, long before it was reinforced in 1934 
by the Nye Munitions Investigation. Here was the sinister situation 
in 1917 as he saw it: 

At best, American investors who had staked money on the Anglo-French 
side, munition makers who had accepted the paper of London and Paris in 
return for supplies, merchants and manufacturers who had huge Entente 
credits on their books were placed in a serious dilemma; they were in dan- 
ger of immense losses unless the United State government carne to their 
rescue. No doubt the war dirge raised by these selfish factions was ade- 
quately financed, astutely managed, and effectively carried into strange out- 
of-the-way places as well as into the main highways. 

As a good New History man, he brought his two volumes right up 
to the morning newspaper and offered a convincing synthesis of the 
Harding-Coolidge era of business leadership. Despite his criticisms of 
America's shortcomings, he was then as always optimistic about his 
country's future. His final chapter, "The Machine Age," offered en- 
couragement and drew its inspiration from Thorstein Veblen's admira- 
tion for creative technicians as against the parasitic leisure class. The 

Charles A. Beard 281 

present current of mass opinion reassured him as to the future of 
America the faith in democracy and in the ability of the undistin- 
guished masses (not heroes or classes alone) to meet issues as they 
arose. Through "the invention of invention" would come an ever-wider 
distribution of the blessings of civilization. He was ever a believer in 
the possibilities of social planning and of materialist progress. "If so, 
it is the dawn, not the dusk, of the gods." 

The Great Depression upset this relatively optimistic mood and led 
him to excoriate the illusions of the 1920s and the "rugged individual- 
ism" of Hoover. His new volume covering the 1930s, America in Mid- 
passage (1939), suggested the skeptical view of his literary contempo- 
rary John Dos Passos, whose USA was a left-wing social history of a 
generation. Beard had always been a social planner opposed to the 
laissez-faire assumptions of Adam Smith. New Deal controls over pro- 
duction, he said, were not less consistent or unfamiliar than similar 
objectives of corporations in the past. It did not represent a class 
revolution, for conservatives, too, were driven by the cataclysmic 
events to support government enterprises. A new democratic social 
conscience was born. "In the realm of gentility a primary assump- 
tion had long prevailed to the effect that, in the main, idleness and 
poverty were due to defective minds or bodies, or to congenital im- 

More emphatically than ever, he proceeded to treat foreign affairs 
as organically linked with domestic policies. For a half-century before 
1929, he pointed out, Americans had been told that prosperity de- 
pended on operations abroad rather than at home. Imperialism had 
been justified to dispose of agricultural and manufacturing surpluses. 
Beard as a social planner apparently did not believe that capitalism 
required the urgent disposal of "surplus value" abroad, as the Marx- 
ists insisted. When imperialism and "money-lending adventures" failed, 
liberal internationalists had urged that free trade could work a mir- 
acle for the economy. But these alternatives were no longer usable by 
the 1930s. Pressure groups were busily at work to advance steel and 
shipbuilding interests by combatting disarmament movements, such 
as in the Shearer lobby of 1929-30. They used ingenious propaganda 
methods in the newspapers, lecture halls, and organization presses. 
Other pressure groups the sugar lobby, for instance now sponsored 
Philippine independence. 

282 The American Historian 

The startling revelations of the Nye Committee of 1934 regarding 
the war pressures of the munitions industry had already absorbed 
Beard when he wrote on this theme for The New Republic, although 
his thinking as already noted had long flowed in this channel. Nye 
did not need to convince Beard that the pressures for America's en- 
trance into World War I had originated in ties of patriotism, salesman- 
ship, corruption, and international lobbying. The Senator had even 
reported sinister plans for a coming war. Said Beard: "For a nation 
that liked to think of itself as pacific, non-militaristic, and dedicated 
to liberty and democracy, the vision of the coming 'day' was inform- 
ing, to some extent shocking, in any event educative." As for the 
League of Nations, the author blamed the "Collective International- 
ists" under Wilson's leadership for using a war born of imperialist 
rivalries to impose an idealistic scheme of permanent peace, thus dis- 
regarding the actual imperialist settlement in Paris. The unrealistic 
Collective Internationalists drew their "world image" from the inter- 
national free-trade system of Cobden and Bright. They disliked the 
current unilateral agreements and managed currencies. But the fact 
was that England and the United States were abandoning the free 

As an alternative to the imperialists and internationalists he saw the 
rise of a new critical school which sought vast welfare advances in the 
United States and a much more modest national defense "under pru- 
dent policies by small but appropriate military and naval establish- 
ments/' Instead of urging the white man's burden type of imperialism, 
he was concerned with keeping out of war and avoiding foreign com- 
mitments, with substituting abundance for scarcity, and in establish- 
ing a sound and efficient domestic economy. This was obviously 
Beard's program; he denied that it was isolationist in the Lodge- 
Harding-Coolidge sense or chauvinistic. He preferred the term "Con- 
tinental" or American civilization for this school. He believed in a 
plural universe free from evangelistic exhorters who would attempt to 
impose their ways on others, and he rejected wars for trade promo- 
tion, colonial expansion, or ideologies. His "continentalism" rested on 
the assumption that science and technology had broken Adam Smith's 
theory of regional specialization and regional monopoly. The machine 
and invention had greatly lessened the dependence of nations on im- 
ports of manufactures and raw materials. Furthermore, the Continen- 
talists were not necessarily opposed to a league of nations so long as 
it was "constituted for other purposes than the perpetuation of his- 
toric wrongs." 

Charles A. Beard 283 

Actually, lie greatly preferred the isolationism of Ambassador Joseph 
Kennedy to the interventionist foreign policy of Franklin D. Roose- 
velt, who disturbed him by moral diatribes against Germany, Italy, 
and Japan. Beard of course was no fascist, but he was ever suspicious 
of efforts to reawaken Wilson's missionary diplomacy. He suspected 
that the Administration was pursuing policies and making bellicose 
statements ardently desired by bureaucratic interests, rabid peace so- 
cieties, and belligerent labor elements. These were strong enough to 
override middle-class liberals and Middle West agrarians. Labor was 
in danger of being destroyed by the peacetime mobilization act of 
1938 and by the influence of the armament industry. 

In an unusually large section devoted to social and cultural history, 
he applied vigorously the Veblenian analysis of the corruption of cul- 
ture by finance capitalism. He made no effort to conceal exactly where 
he stood on these controversial questions. He showed how the enter- 
tainment world had succumbed to block booking, with its tendency 
toward commercial concentration; exhibitors were forced to take a 
complete set of motion pictures good or bad as a condition for get- 
ting any films. Movie themes reflected the morals of "pecuniary re- 
spectability," but this involved sex, fantasy, war propaganda, crime, 
wealth, and splendor. Movie competition and the Depression injured 
the legitimate theater. Despite the mediocrity of the Federal Theater, 
he showed a sympathetic attitude because it symbolized the obliga- 
tion of the government toward the arts. The state of literature seemed 
much more wholesome than that of the radio and movies. In one sec- 
tion devoted to social-intellectual history, "Frames of Social Thought," 
Beard stressed the advent of collectivism over laissez-faire. He closed 
with a hope that "the humanistic wing of American democracy" would 
provide the economic and cultural foundations indispensable to a free 

Beard combined his economic syntheses increasingly with studies in 
the history of ideas, a pioneer field in which he was a master. Unfortu- 
nately, his study of the "idea of civilization in the United States" in 
The American Spirit (1942), a sequel to his Rise of American Civili- 
zation, seemed to lack informing direction, though it contained many 
shrewd insights. In 1934, he had published a more successful book in 
the history of leading concepts, The Idea of National Interest: An 
Analytical Study in American Foreign Policy. The title was inspired 
by reading a volume of 1918, "What Is National Honor?" Beard took 
his cue from Secretary of State Hughes, who had frankly stated, "For- 
eign policies are not built upon abstractions. They are the result of 

284 The American Historian 

practical conceptions of national interest arising from some imme- 
diate exigency or standing out vividly in historical perspective." Beard 
often said much the same thing. 

Significantly, as a "realist," Beard also sought authority in the hard- 
bitten propositions of Alfred Thayer Mahan, strategist of seapower: 
"Self-interest is not only a legitimate but a fundamental cause for na- 
tional policy, one which needs no cloak of hypocrisy." Beard's view 
had much in common with Mahan, Washington's Farewell Address, 
and the realistic axioms of the younger political scientists and theorists 
such as George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau. 

The task as he saw it was to explore the use of the formula of "na- 
tional interest" by responsible statesmen and publicists, to discover the 
patterns of conduct embraced by the formula, and to examine the 
social and economic conditioning of this historical development. He 
began with his favorites, the founding fathers, whose conception of 
national interest appeared in the Federalist Papers., the Constitution, 
and in Washington's Farewell Address. He showed how the whole 
weight of government activities eventually came into play to protect 
the material basis of national interestconcessions, privileges, invest- 
ments, trade promotion, tariffs, armaments, merchant marine subsi- 
dies, and immigration restriction. Wilson had been the most active foe 
of the idea of national interest, in so far as he made a conscious ef- 
fort to limit it by invoking an abstract moral purpose, as in his famous 
Mobile Speech and in the idea of "peace without victory." But his 
moral individualism pushed the United States into war. 

Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover induced American businessmen to be- 
lieve that their interest depended upon the continuous expansion of 
foreign trade, but they were refuted by the Depression, which dem- 
onstrated that expanding outlets for surpluses would not exist for- 
ever. At this time Beard believed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt 
had forged a new conception of national interest. In it was the cen- 
tral idea that "by domestic planning and control the American eco- 
nomic machine may be kept running at a high tempo supplying the 
intra-national market, without relying primarily upon foreign outlets 
for 'surpluses' of good and capital." But Beard's suspicions of the New 
Deal had akeady been aroused, for he noted that the Roosevelt Ad- 
ministration had made no corresponding adjustment of foreign poli- 
cies; instead, it was spending more money for naval construction, which 
implied the older policies of international relations. The author ex- 
panded this theme later in America in Midpassage in the semi-isola- 
tionist form of ContinentalisiEu 

Charles A, Beard 285 

Many readers enjoyed Beard's venture into political theory in 1943, 
The Republic: Conversations on Fundamentals. This revealed both 
his perennial faith in America's future and his undeviatrng confidence 
in the realistic wisdom of the founding fathers. Now he gave much 
more attention to the principle of checks and balances, which was 
after all a central theme of his friend James Madison. "I believe that 
our Republic, with authority and liberty constantly readjusted under 
constitutional principles, will long endure, forever, I hope." He saw 
the United States as unique, not a product of cyclic development, nor 
an imitation of Europe. To those who still thought of Mm as an eco- 
nomic determinist, he said; 

But according to my world-view, our universe is not all fate; we have 
some freedom in it. Besides fate or determinism there is creative intelligence 
in the world, and there is also opportunity to exercise our powers, intel- 
lectual and moral. America is well endowed with such powers. 

Beard lost many of his admirers by opening a severe revisionist at- 
tack on the alleged role of Roosevelt, Stimson, and Hull in bringing 
this country into World War II. He was not alone (nor was he the 
first) in this movement, but his prestige gave his words wide notice. 
President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948) was 
bolstered by the unusual quantity of revealing sources made available 
through the various official reports on Pearl Harbor, Secretary Stim- 
son's diary, and other current records. 

He called attention to the antiwar pledges of Roosevelt in the cam- 
paign of 1940, implying a deliberate violation of faith, but he did not 
mention that the President could scarcely guarantee against an actual 
attack by a foreign foe. Like other revisionists, he concentrated on the 
presidential provocations given the Axis nations and the Administra- 
tion effort to maneuver the Japanese into firing the first shot an idea 
that seemed to be implied in Secretary Stirnson's diary. Did Roosevelt 
force the issue of war on the theory that the Axis must be defeated 
and that the end justifies the means? If so, all expectations of perpet- 
ual peace and security derived from this assumption had been dis- 
appointed. The argument that Hitler's victory would turn this country 
into an armed camp meant nothing, because these evils including a 
large permanent conscript army, heavy outlays for arms, a huge na- 
tional debt, and grinding taxes came anyway. Beard's severe attack 
on Roosevelt as the arch-plotter of war almost repudiated the theme 
of his New Republic articles on "The Devil Theory of War," which 

286 The American Historian 

blamed relatively impersonal social-economic forces rather than sin- 
ister politicians for provoking war. 

His book lent prestige to those congressional and newspaper isola- 
tionists who opposed the supremacy of the Executive in foreign pol- 
icy. He assailed the current practice of giving power to the President 
to effect commercial treaties and entangling international loans at will. 
"At this point," he charged, "the American Republic has arrived under 
the theory that the President of the United States possesses limitless 
authority publicly to misrepresent and secretly to control foreign pol- 
icy, foreign affairs, and the war power." 

Isolationist historians were encouraged by Beard's volume to ex- 
pand his indictment of the Roosevelt regime before Pearl Harbor. 
Professor Charles C. Tansill, who had shown anti-Wilsonian interpre- 
tations in a previous book, America Goes to War (1938), a relatively 
plausible account of our neutrality policies of 1914-17, now dropped 
all restraints in his Backdoor to War ( 1952 ) in an effort to place the 
responsibility for a war policy on Roosevelt. Like Beard, he believed 
that the President took a major provocative step in his Quarantine 
Speech against Japan to cover up the shortcomings of the New Deal 
and to divert attention from his blunder in appointing a former Klans- 
man, Hugo Black, to the Supreme Court. Even the disgraced Admiral 
Husband E. Kimmel and his counsel each published books for the 
defense, which charged that the attack on Pearl Harbor came because 
Roosevelt had "planned it that way." William Henry Chamberlin, once 
a decided "liberal" historian but now a conservative columnist for the 
Wall Street Journal, developed the Beard arguments in America's Sec- 
ond Crusade (1950). Critics frequently described TansiU's book, as 
well as those of other revisionists, as a mere diatribe against the 
Roosevelt Administration. Historical opinion clung to those labeled 
by Harry Elmer Barnes, a "revisionist" critical of the Allied point of 
view in two world wars, as "court historians." This referred particularly 
to the well-documented and circumstantial account of William L. 
Langer and S. E. Gleason, The Challenge to Isolation, 1937-1940 
(1952), and its sequel, The Undeclared War, 1940-41 (1953). Langer 
and Gleason, together with other academic writers, demolished many 
of the sinister charges of the revisionists. Among other evidences, they 
cited the public opinion polls to show that Roosevelt did not move 
as fast toward interventionism as public opinion demanded. Coming 
not long before his death, Beard's intemperate volume cost him dearly 
in reputation. 

Charles A. Beard 287 


Charles Beard undoubtedly stimulated the interest of some if not 
most of his fellow-professionals in the philosophy of history, for he 
loved to explore the unspoken assumptions that lay behind the facade 
of history-writing. During the 1930s, when seminars tended to pay 
homage to Leopold von Ranke's ideal of objectivity and the tradition 
of "scientific history," historians sometimes labeled Beard and Robin- 
son historical relativists who denied the belief in historical certainty. 

Historical relativism meant different things to various historians, 
for none denied that photographic truth regarding the past was im- 
possible. Usually it offered the skeptical idea that a historian could not 
escape the vast array of conditioning forces that stood between Mm 
and total objectivity: his culture, class, "frame of reference" (the domi- 
nating and often uncritical assumption from which he operated), and 
his psychological make-up. Therefore, each generation had to write a 
new history, even without important new facts, and no one could say 
if it was a "true" history. The past was dead and one knew only the 
present; therefore, the historian engaged in the subjective pastime of 
reconstructing the past in his mind with blunted tools. The inherent 
skepticism of this position drove away most historians; and Beard, 
among other thoughtful historians, looked for self -critical procedures 
and verifiable methods to escape the relativist's dilemma. He would 
redefine "objectivity" to conform to man's potentialities. 

Beard's views were elaborated in his presidential address, "Written 
History as an Act of Faith," delivered before the American Historical 
Association at its meeting in Urbana, Illinois, during late December 
1933. 4 His argument was tightly knit. The raw materials of history, 
"history as actuality," consisted of everything done and thought in the 
past; it differed from "history as record" found in documents and 
archaeological remains. But the final inescapable definition of history 
was history as thought. "It is thought about past actuality, instructed 
and delimited by history as record and knowledgerecord and knowl- 
edge authenticated by criticism and ordered with the help of the 
scientific method." 

He went on to argue that his own idea of historical knowledge had 
been commonly held for a century or more by those who had stated 
that each historian was a product of his age, the spirit of the times, 
his nation, race, group, class, and section; therefore, the selection and 
arrangement of facts were determined by this. Obviously, selection 
as an act of thought was also an act of choice, conviction, and inter- 

288 The American Historian 

pretation respecting values. But this supportable view had been over- 
thrown by Schoolmen, and particularly by Leopold von Ranke, who 
believed that it was possible to describe the past as it actually was. 
(Present-day students of Ranke deny that the German had so naive 
a conception of historical knowledge. ) Falling back upon a social in- 
terpretation of ideas. Beard accounted for this by arguing that Ranke 
was a member of the ruling classes who wanted to overthrow history 
as a vehicle of revolutionary propaganda and to transform it into a 
cold, factual value-free narrative. 

The Rankeans later received reinforcement from the vogue of nat- 
ural science which invaded history and which implied a neutral atti- 
tude. "Truths of nature, ran the theory, are to be discovered by main- 
taining the most severe objectivity; therefore the truth of history may 
be revealed by the same spirit and method." But later developments 
changed the attitude of historians, particularly when it became ap- 
parent that "one is more or less a guesser in this vale of tears." To 
escape this unpleasant truth, the "objective" historian turned to minute 
historical subjects, such as the price of cotton in Alabama between 
1850 and 1860 or the length of wigs during the reign of Charles IL 
They held the pleasing but false assumption that this made possible 
history as it actually was, for by dealing with an isolated area they 
escaped all the ramifications of it. 

Although he was aware that natural science no longer hypnotized 
historians as in the days of the younger Turner and of Henry Adams, 
Beard thought that a strong warning was justified now: 

The supreme command is that he [the historian] must cast off his servitude 
to the assumptions of natural science and return to his own subject matter- 
to history as actuality. The hour for this final declaration of independence 
has arrived: the contingency is here and thought resolves it. 

Applying a social interpretation of ideas, he said that natural science 
dominated Western thought only for a brief period and as an out- 
growth of the conflict between theologians and scientists. Ten years 
later, in 1943, Beard took a much more benign attitude toward the 
tyranny of natural science over history, for he wrote a rather sympa- 
thetic introduction to a new edition of Brooks Adams's The Law of 
Civilization and Decay, which reflected the inspiration of the second 
law of thermodynamics. While he rejected Adams's cyclical theory of 
history, he seemed quite complaisant about the possibility that history 
might become a science. But now he denounced thinking by analogy 
as a form of primitive animism and singled out Oswald Spengler 

Charles A. Beard 289 

(whom he had recently criticized at length) as an example of a man 
who had abused biological analogies in creating an elaborate cyclic 
history. As for physics, he said that its data was not identical in nature 
with historical occurrences. Besides, the facts of history were beyond 
the reach of mathematics, which was powerless to assign meaningful 
values to "the imponderables, immeasurables, and contingencies of 
history as actuality/* 

He then turned to attack the new school of historical relativism: 

[Historical relativism] was the formula that makes all written history 
merely relative to time and circumstance, a passing shadow, an illusion. 
Contemporary criticism shows that the apostle of relativity is destined to be 
destroyed by the child of his own brain. If all historical conceptions are 
merely relative to passing events, to transitory phases of ideas and interests, 
then the conception of relativity is itself relative. When absolutes in history 
are rejected, the absolutism of relativity is also rejected. 

He predicted that the skepticism of relativity would also disappear 
like the earlier formulas. However, his own insistence that historical 
knowledge was heavily conditioned and hence relative to many en- 
vironmental factors, made it difficult to be certain just where Beard 
parted company with the relativists. 

Against relativism he projected an "absolute'' "the absolute totality 
of all historical occurrences, past, present, and becoming to the end of 
all things." Beard, like Carl Becker, had two main histories: history 
as actuality and history as thought. Presumably the historian should 
aspire to bring the two as close together as possible. Examining the 
various aspects of historical knowledge, he concluded that only a 
mixture of subjective and objective procedures was possible in the 
search for certainty: 

The historian who writes history therefore, consciously or unconsciously 
performs an act of faith, as to order and movement; for certainty as to 
order and movement is denied to him by knowledge of the actuality with 
which he is concerned. . . . His faith is at bottom a conviction that some- 
thing true can be known about the movement of history and his conviction 
is a subjective decision, not a purely objective discovery. 

All this did not mean that the historian must abandon the scientific 
method. "The inquiring spirit of science, using the scientific method, 
is the chief safeguard against the tyranny of authority, bureaucracy, 
and brute power. It can reveal by investigation necessities and possi- 
bilities in any social scene and also offerings with respect to desira- 
bilities to be achieved within the limits of the possible." 

290 The American Historian 

Beard therefore still clung to the meliorist New History of his friend 
Robinson and the reformism of John Ruskin, William Morris, and his 
Oxford preceptors. While he had pointed out that even the scientific 
method possessed limitations for historians and that a history of sci- 
ence was an illusion, he urged all to continue their "tireless inquiry 
into objective realities, especially economic realities and relations." He 
recommended the concept of "frame of reference" for all historical 
knowledge, thereby suggesting how close he came to that historical 
relativism that he denied. Any selection or arrangement of historical 
facts, he declared, was "controlled invariably by the frame of refer- 
ence in the mind of the selector and arranger." The address ended 
with his own "guess" that the world was moving toward a collectivist 
democracy rather than toward a dictatorship of the right or left. 

These ideas of historical knowledge were further elaborated in an 
article, "That Noble Dream," which appeared in the American His- 
torical Review in 1935. Once more he took up the cudgels stoutly 
against "so-called objective history" of the value-free variety and urged 
the New History (this would seem to be the inference) which threw 
light on "the quandaries of life" to facilitate adjustment to reform. 
Particularly, he took sharp issue with a critic, Theodore C. Smith, who 
had deplored the efforts of innovators quasi-relativists presumably 
to destroy "that noble dream" of objective history by using economic 
interpretations flowing from Marxist inspiration. Again, Beard raked 
Rankeisni over the coals and called attention to the mistaken assump- 
tion of the objective historians that history existed as a discrete object 
outside the mind of the historian and could be reproduced objectively 
independent of the writer's conditioning influences. What were the 
consequences of this kind of history? 

It condemns philosophy and throws it out of doors. As practiced, it ig- 
nores problems of mind with which philosophers and theologians have wres- 
tled for centuries and have not yet settled it to everybody's satisfaction. As 
developed into historicism, it takes on all the implications of empiricism, 
positivism, and, if not materialism, at least that rationalism which limits his- 
tory to its purely experiential aspects. 

The American Historical Association, he held, was never committed 
to Ranke, for at its very inception in 1884, the president, Andrew D. 
White, declared that he wished no "neutral value-free history" but 
sought philosophic synthesis. Besides, Ranke was not objective but 
a Prussian reactionary who dwelt upon mystical concepts of God's 
dominating presence in history and neglected social and economic 

Charles A. Beard 291 

factors. Beard denied once more that his own economic interpreta- 
tion was based on Marx but said he drew directly from James Madison 
and the founding fathers, among others. It was without the Marxian 
insistence upon an inevitable conflict of classes. No historian acquired 
"the colorless, neutral mind" merely by declaring his intention to do 
so. Like Mannheim, Beard went on to say, "Rather do we clarify the 
mind by admitting to cultural interests and patterns interests and 
patterns that will control or intrude upon the selection and organiza- 
tion of historical materials/' 5 

While historians generally remained suspicious of integrated phi- 
losophies of history and philosophical abstractions in general, many 
were quite enthusiastic about economic history and even economic 
interpretations of history during the Great Depression. The influence 
of Turner and Beard was manifest in the college classroom of those 
years; and there seemed little danger that any revival of natural sci- 
ence analogies would invade history-writing and teaching. By mid- 
century, it became clear that Beard had led many of the younger 
historians, particularly those in intellectual history, to re-examine the 
lessons and errors of their craft through the study of historiography, 
a subject which steadily increased in academic popularity and sophis- 
tication. 6 


Over the years, Charles A. Beard was not only creative, but unusu- 
ally prolific and versatile. A careful survey of his writings by Howard 
Beale and his associates shows that in European history alone not 
counting textbookshe completed eight volumes totaling 3510 pages, 
while in American history he finished twenty-one volumes of 8443 
pages altogether nearly 12,000 pages. His fifteen textbooks aggregated 
nearly 8500 pages and brought the total of all his books to forty-nine 
volumes and over 21,000 pages. His writings had both high quality 
and tremendous popularity. In a day when able historians congratu- 
lated themselves if their trade sales exceeded 2000 copies and college 
texts reached a 50,000 sale mark, Beard's publishers (usually Mac- 
millan) disposed of over 11,352,000 books, about half of them text- 
books. At least three Book-of-the-Month Club adoptions, together with 
many foreign editions and a huge Life edition of over 4,000,000 copies 
of The Republic, swelled his sales. 

His magnum opus, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, 
did not quite sell 8000 copies, though, while his books on American 
foreign policy alone sold almost 170,000. Aside from massive Book- 

292 The American Historian 

of-the~Month Club adoptions, the regular edition of The Rise of Amer- 
ican Civilization sold over 71,000 copies and the regular edition of 
America in Midpassage reached almost 34,000. Extraordinarily popular 
both here and abroad was a short one-volume history intended for the 
general reader and written with Mary Beard's collaboration, A Basic 
History of the United States (1944), which was eventually distributed 
to over 649,000 people. Japan and Germany led the procession of for- 
eign readers. Some of the earlier judgments regarding pressure in- 
terests were tempered. Besides these and many other books, he edited 
influential volumes or symposia on American civilization and poured 
forth a steady stream of thoughtful articles in professional, popular, 
and social action journals. Little wonder that Beard's point of view 
penetrated so many books about the United States, especially during 
the critical years of the Great Depression when the economic view- 
point was uppermost. 


Charles Austin Beard, whatever his shortcomings and these were 
far from overwhelming was indeed a giant in our midst. He practiced 
in the New History what his colleague James Harvey Robinson merely 
preached for the most part. His study of the origins of the Constitution 
was far more influential than other histories of his day in applying the 
concept of pressure or interest groups to a document that had seldom 
(outside of Hildreth, Allen, and certain socialists) been scrutinized 
in this way. He contributed, inadvertently perhaps, to the tradition 
of native radicalism by locating the idea of conflicting interest groups 
within an American (Madisonian) framework. Like Jane Addams, 
pioneer of the settlement house movement, he helped to carry the 
social idealism of the Oxford reformers to America. He made a new 
generation of American historians more aware of their philosophical 
assumptions and more understanding of scientific method, and he 
stimulated the study of historiography. His well-stocked mind, freed 
of teaching obligations, wandered in search of a synthesis amid the 
fields of political behavior, social forces, diplomatic history, political 
theory, and social and intellectual history. He did not confine his 
analysis to economic interpretation, although he usually stressed it, 
but he encouraged many to embark upon this fruitful path and to 
escape the aridity of formal narrative. Thus he helped to keep his- 
torians abreast of parallel advances in the other social studies and to 
increase the dimension of depth among his fellow craftsmen. 


Parrington and the Rise 
of Intellectual History 


y the time World War II began, historians of the American past 
were no longer so suspicious of the academic standing of intellectual 
history, although many complained with some reason that it was ill- 
defined and amorphous. They were often quite willing to give en- 
thusiastic praise to the intellectual historian, as well as to the historian 
of philosophy, literature, or art, but the bulk of monographs and 
graduate theses continued to fit within the well-worn grooves of po- 
litical, constitutional, economic, and narrowly descriptive social his- 
tory. The current attacks on democratic thought by communists, fas- 
cists, and Nazis galvanized social scientists, literary historians, and 
art historians to reformulate the meaning of freedom. As to the defini- 
tion of intellectual history, apart from the older and similar disciplines, 
many historians tended to agree with Crane Brinton: "The intellectual 
historian is interested in ideas wherever he finds them, in wild ideas 
as well as in sensible ideas, in refined speculation and in common 
prejudices; but he is interested in these products of men's mental ac- 
tivity as they influence, and are influenced by, men's whole existence." 
Abstract ideas for their own sake, then, were not enough. 

Cultural nationalism, developing during an age of rapid national 
maturity, stimulated hundreds of books and articles on American 
thought, attitudes, folklore, philosophy, and literature. Reputations 


294 The American Historian 

like that of Henry James, who had once been classified with the 
genteel tradition, and evaluations of art movements like the Hudson 
River school, once treated as merely derivative, soared to a high plane. 
Sometimes the leaders in this movement for intellectual history were 
specialists in European currents of thought like Arthur O. Lovejoy 
and Crane Brinton, although teachers abroad were not too far ahead 
of their American confreres in dropping the traditional subject mat- 
ter. In one area of intellectual history political theorists of course 
had long been concerned with the historical meaning of technical con- 
cepts like sovereignty and natural rights. 

The movement for modern intellectual history was stimulated by 
Karl Lamprecht's Kulturgeschichte, which offered an evolutionary 
integration of social and intellectual history. In this country, Turner, 
Robinson, Beard, and the New History group sought a systematic in- 
tegration, or at least co-operation between the disciplines, and some- 
times invoked such magic terms as "cross-fertilization," a phrase that 
Beard himself decried as hopelessly infected with outmoded biological 
analogies. The new Journal of the History of Ideas (1939), edited by 
philosophers, welcomed qualified contributors from all the social 
studies. During the period from 1930 to 1935, the interdisciplinary 
approach was greatly aided when ten constituent national societies 
sponsored the ambitious Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, edited 
by Edwin R. A. Seligman and Alvin Johnson. For this, American and 
European experts in practically every social science were invited to 
use highly sophisticated methods of analysis and to emphasize in- 
tellectual trends. The whole project was integrated by long introduc- 
tions, particularly in the first volume, and by frequent cross references, 
although no effort was apparently made to impose any particular 
theories upon the writers. 

Philosophers and theologians had long been absorbed by the history 
and meaning of certain ideas, but intellectual historians invoked inter- 
disciplinary methods in co-operation with literary historians. In the 
late 1940s they sponsored at least fourteen regional societies and pub- 
lished the official journal, American Quarterly, through a Committee 
on American Civilization at the University of Pennsylvania. Their ar- 
ticles frequently reflected the writer's efforts to draw together the 
techniques of several academic disciplines. 

Intellectual history, as already shown, was not new. Historians of 
both Europe and America wrote significant books on the ideas of 
progress, Calvinism, capitalism, romanticism, and the guiding assump- 
tions behind social and economic institutions. Charles Beard had pio- 

Parrington 295 

neered in exploring the axioms and uncritical assumptions behind the 
serious ideas as well as the catch phrases in our history. The results 
were often devastating. 

Finally, social historians of the New History school hastened the rise 
of intellectual history by including at least a survey of intellectual and 
aesthetic movements, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., as we have seen, had 
been an editor and contributor of the History of American Life series 
(1928-43) which touched at least upon the chief intellectual trends 
and personalities. Such Schlesinger doctoral students as Merle Curti 
often chose to penetrate into the social analysis of ideas and attitudes. 
Increasingly, it became difficult for social historians of a perceptive 
type to deal with their specialty without a theoretical framework of 
leading ideas and scientific hypotheses, and a genuine awareness of 
the controlling assumptions behind their work. Like the relativists, 
they spoke of "a frame of reference" which gave specific meaning to 
ideas and attitudes by providing the social context. 

Among the Americans who prepared the way for Vernon L. Par- 
rington's type of intellectualized literary history was Professor Moses 
Coit Tyler (1835-1900), although the two men differed in many essen- 
tials. Tyler was born in Calvinist Connecticut, educated in the Detroit 
public schools, and studied theology at Yale and Andover. After 
graduation, he served as a Congregational minister at Oswego, New 
York, in 1859, but apparently found the orthodoxy too confining and 
left for an active career as a reform journalist in the fields of tem- 
perance, abolition, and women's rights, among others. Only in 1867 
did he find a congenial career as a professor of rhetoric and English 
literature at the University of Michigan, where he proved himself an 
able teacher, and studied deeply in colonial history. He was influenced 
toward an environmental approach to history by reading Buckle in- 
tensively and appreciating the "civilization" point of view of man's 

In 1881 Cornell invited him as professor of American history one 
of the first in this country and here he remained until his death. Using 
original sources and approaching his subjects in the current German 
critical fashion he wrote A History of American Literature during the 
Colonial Time (1878) and The Literary History of the American 
Revolution (1897). He also published critical biographies of George 
Berkeley, Timothy Dwight, and Joel Barlow and devoted some of his 

296 The American Historian 

efforts to the founding of the American Historical Association. Tyler's 
chief biographer, Howard Mumford Jones, noted for books on the 
relationship of American literary history and ideas, praised him: "His 
power of portrait painting, sympathetic analysis, and clear synthesis 
of ungrateful material is immense." Tyler's attractive style as well 
as scholarly synthesis led to a vogue for his chief work as late as the 
mid-twentieth century. 

He left an interdisciplinary method for intellectual historians, though 
he dealt with a sequence of writers in a political setting expressing 
ideas of "the spirit of the age," quite unlike the agrarian economic 
approach of Parrington. He was inspired by the keen French literary 
critic, Sainte-Beuve; some felt he had been influenced by Taine, but 
Professor Jones finds that Taine was too prone to oversimplification 
of literary history to have served as Tyler's model. 1 

By the time Tyler died at the end of the century, young Vernon L. 
Parrington (1871-1929) had already tested agrarian ideas and found 
to his liking the rebellious Populist spirit of his fellow-Kansans. He 
was born of Scotch and English ancestry in Aurora, Illinois, the son of 
a school principal who became a Union captain and a Kansas judge. 
He attended the Presbyterian-affiliated College of Emporia for sev- 
eral years and then finished at Harvard. He was later to discount his 
years at Harvard because of its alleged genteel tradition, and indeed 
his writings revealed that his experience in the Populist center of dis- 
content had been far more influential. 

Emporia recalled him to become an instructor of English and French 
during 1893-97; from there he went to the University of Oklahoma 
(1898-1908), until, as he put it, a 'political cyclone" cost him his job. 
Thereafter he found a more fruitful and congenial atmosphere at the 
University of Washington, where he remained until his death. Students 
admired his original comments in literature, and his name became a 
proud tradition of the University, for he was also a poet and a writer 
of fine prose. His friend and colleague, J. Allen Smith, who had left 
his impress on Beard also, influenced his emphasis on economic de- 
terminants in literature. In fact, Parrington was to dedicate his mag- 
num opus to this man, "Scholar, Teacher, Democrat, Gentleman." 2 

Parrington did not attract national attention until in 1927 when he 
won a Pulitzer Prize for the first two volumes of his Main Currents 
in American Thought. The third volume, tragically, was suddenly 
shortened by his death. Although he had finished only half of it, his 
publishers wisely decided to construct a book out of his early com- 
pleted chapters and the illuminating notes and comments. By a striking 

Parrington 297 

coincidence, the first two volumes appeared simultaneously with the 
Beards' venture in kulturgeschichte, The Rise of American Civilization, 
which included several substantial chapters on American cultural his- 
tory, also written from an economic point of view. Both shared the 
reformist temper of the Populist-Progressive era, even though it was 
now the age of Calvin Coolidge, 

Those who looked for a history of American literature in the usual 
belletristic tradition were bound to be disappointed, but instead they 
learned a great deal about the social ideas of American literary men, 
politicians, journalists, and diverse writers of influence. The judgments 
were striking and original, but unfortunately quite vulnerable to the 
researchers of the next few decades; too often Parrington was cruel 
to constructive conservatives or overgenerous to agrarians. But even 
by the mid-century, after revisionists had taken a heavy toll of these 
interpretations, there remained a vast amount of trustworthy intellec- 
tual history. 

Parrington made his position clear at the outset: "The point of view 
from which I have endeavored to evaluate the materials is liberal 
rather than conservative, Jeffersonian rather than Federalistic, and 
very likely in my search I have found what I went forth to find, as 
others have discovered what they are seeking." He acknowledged a 
special debt to the critical historians of the past twenty years, who 
had been so successful in studying the revolutionary and constitutional 
periods. Furthermore, he wished to offer "some account of the genesis 
and development in American letters of certain germinal ideas that 
have come to be reckoned traditionally American/* This meant that 
he would "follow the broad path of our political, economic, and social 
development, rather than the narrower belletristic.'* He was concerned 
with the social forces that were "anterior" to literary schools and 
movements and were their source. 

The first volume began with the rise of Puritan New England up 
to the triumph of Jeffersonianism and back-country agrarianism. The 
next volume stressed the creative influence in America of French ro- 
mantic theories, the rise of capitalism, and the transition from an 
agricultural to an industrial order. The third and incomplete volume 
tried to show the "beginnings of dissatisfaction with the regnant mid- 
dle class, and the several movements of criticism inspired by its re- 
puted shortcomings." 

The French romantic theory which he emphasized so much meant 
equalitarianism and the rejection of the Puritan conception of de- 
graded human nature for the idea that it was potentially excellent 

298 The American Historian 

and almost perfectible. It provided an intellectual justification for 
native agrarianisin. Competing with it was realistic, materialistic Eng- 
lish liberalism emanating from the commercial towns; this considered 
human nature as acquisitive and demanded that social and political 
philosophy conform with capitalism rather than the rights of man. 
Its principle of laissez-faire "reduced the citizen to the narrow dimen- 
sions of the economic man, concerned only with buying in the cheapest 
market and selling in the dearest." The kind of colonial liberalism that 
Parrington held dear was a strain that ran through Roger Williams, 
Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Their opponents were John 
Cotton, Jonathan Edwards, and Alexander Hamilton. "The Carolinian 
Seeker [Williams] and the Jacobean theocrat, the colonial democrat 
and the colonial Calvinist, the Physiocratic republican and the capi- 
talistic financier embody in concrete form the diverse tendencies of 
primitive America." 

Quite proud of his realism, Parrington accused previous literary 
historians of leaning too heavily upon the genteel tradition to permit 
themselves "to enter into a world of masculine intellects and material 
struggles." By ignoring the polemics of colonial literature in favor of 
mediocre verse, they missed the creative thinkers of the time. He, too, 
began with Puritan New England, but he felt its first democratic in- 
fluence was the freehold tenure system of landholding and believed 
that the mercantile spirit acted as a favorable creative factor. Puri- 
tanism itself was no friend of equalitarianism: 

It was rooted too deeply in the Old Testament for that, was too rigidly 
aristocratic. It saw too little good in human nature to trust the multitude of 
the unregenerate. . . . That the immigrant Puritans brought in their intel- 
lectual baggage the system of Calvin rather than of Luther must be reck- 
oned a misfortune, out of which flowed many of the bickerings and much of 
the intolerance that left a stain on the pages of early New England history. 

Luther was more mystical and more practical than Calvin partly 
because his inspiration came from the New Testament, which fostered 
tolerance of opinions among believers. Calvin was "ardently Hebraic 
exalting righteousness above love, seeking the law in the Old Testa- 
ment and laying emphasis on an authoritarian system. The one was 
implicitly individualistic, the other hierarchical in creative influence." 

This analysis scarcely rested on the bedrock of history and con- 
vincing theological philosophy. But Parrington was building on opin- 
ions of Luther and Calvin widely held in his day; unfortunately too 
much of his Puritan analysis depended on this dubious antithesis. He 

Parrington 299 

drew little distinction between the mild English seventeenth-century 
Calvinism and its harsher Genevan variety. Thus, his hero, Roger 
Williams, drew his libertarianism from Luther's idea of justification 
by faith with its favorable implications for political liberty*, On the 
other hand, John Cotton and the Mathers belonged to Calvin's rigid 
system and to the foes of democratic liberalism. Calvin's reactionary 
theology represented "a composite of oriental despotism and sixteenth 
century monarchism, modified by the medieval conception of a city- 
state." It lingered on because it rigidly suppressed free inquiry. 

When Parrington spoke of the principles of Separatism, he praised 
its ideal of Congregationalism allied with the separation of church 
and state; and he contrasted it with the Presbyterian synodical or- 
ganization favorable to a theocracy. But for the Calvinistic Massachu- 
setts Bay Colony he had a consistently unflattering characterization 
based largely on an anti-capitalist economic analysis. The Boston lead- 
ers were the product of a caste society laden with class prejudices: 
"They were potential capitalists, eager to accumulate ample land- 
holdings, keen to drive a bargain, given to trade and with as sharp 
an eye to the main chance as any London merchant" 

As for the origin of the theocratic principle itself, he charged that 
it grew out of the self-interest of the lay and clerical leaders who 
plotted in advance to endow their charter prerogatives with divine 
sanction. Even the famed town meetingwhich was not contemplated 
under the charter did not hamper the power of these magistrates, 
because the right of voting was limited to freemen subject to veto. 
Eventually, as Parrington interpreted it, the opportunistic leaders 
would transform their clerical provincial aristocracy into a secular 
power. He had little that was favorable to say about the cultural 
achievements of the theocratic oligarchy: "A world that accepted 
Michael Wigglesworth for its poet, and accounted Cotton Mather its 
most distinguished man of letters, had certainly backslidden in the 
ways of culture." 

The tragedy of Puritanism was reflected in the "anachronism of 
Jonathan Edwards/' a great but futile thinker who lived darkly in 
the bright eighteenth century of Benjamin Franklin: "Cut off from 
fruitful intercourse with other thinkers, drawn away from the stimu- 
lating field of philosophy into the arid realm of theology, it was his 
fate to devote his noble gifts to the thankless task of re-imprisoning 
the mind of New England within a system from which his nature and 
his powers summoned him to unshackle it." This gross underestimate 
of Edwards, which ignored his use of Enlightenment philosophies, 

300 The American Historian 

was later revised by historians of philosophy and intellectual history. 
Edwards was a true Calvinist, but he did not depend upon the seven- 
teenth century for intellectual sustenance. In contrast with this por- 
trait, the author pictured the liberal Franklin enthusiastically, admir- 
ing his modesty, open-mindedness, charity, and devotion to the com- 
mon welfare. 

In depicting the American Revolution, he drew obviously upon the 
economic interpretations of Algie Simons and J. Allen Smith, although 
he insisted that the Revolution was basically a popular movement. 
Present-day historians tend to agree with this judgment: "The move- 
ment of resistance thus set on foot by the class conscious merchants 
eventually slipped from their control and passed into the hands of 
the Sons of Liberty, who drove faster and farther than conservative 
businessmen would willingly follow." Unlike later historians, however, 
he idolized Sam Adams as a "pure democrat" and a militant idealist 
who had long been unappreciated. 

When he came to agrarianism and capitalism during 1783-87, he 
made considerable use of Beard's economic interpretation and his own 
favorite theme of French physiocratic influences upon the small free- 
holder's democracy. The economic basis of politics, he held, was not 
seriously questioned until French romanticism popularized the ideal 
of social equalitarianism. Neither England nor America, as their suf- 
frage restrictions showed, challenged the fact of property rule. While 
the rising middle class established a new philosophy of capitalism 
evolving from Locke to Adam Smith, French intellectuals like Rous- 
seau fostered "a passionate social idealism" based on a much higher 
opinion of human nature than competition revealed. 

There is more resemblance to Beard in The Great Debate, dealing 
with the framing of the Constitution, for both men stressed and quoted 
at length from the economic philosophy of politics and history con- 
tained in James Madison's Tenth Number of The Federalist Papers. 
Not only did Parrington take seriously An Economic Interpretation 
of the Constitution, but he agreed with its sequel, Economic Origins 
of Jeffersonian "Democracy, in which political parties are shown to 
have emerged in an economic setting from the debate over the Con- 
stitution. As a product of French, and English liberalism and the 
democratizing influence of the frontier, Jefferson naturally fares much 
better than Hamilton, the architect of capitalism and industry, "but 
from whom our democratic liberalism has received nothing." 

The second volume gives unusually generous and thoughtful at- 
tention to the ante-bellum South. Here again, as in the first volume, 

Parrington 301 

the high value of the individual characterizations is sometimes marred 
by sweeping syntheses which do not fit all the known facts. Jefferson's 
Virginia, its liberal leaders, and its agrarian philosophy attracted him 
except for its older and fortunately passing Federalist elements: 

The history of the Old Dominion is an easy chapter in the textbook of 
economic determinism. . . . Established as a slave economy, it adopted an 
agrarian economy, espoused a republic, and accepted the doctrine of demo- 
cratic equalitarianism. . . . During the noonday of its power its influence 
was always on the side of local democratic freedom and the common well- 
being. It opposed the encroachments of the centralizing state and the spirit 
of capitalistic exploitation. 

All this was changed after 1830. "A new generation, trained in the 
school of Sir Walter Scott, fell to the pleasant task of portraying the 
familiar plantation life in glowing colors and investing it with romantic 
charm." This plantation tradition, he felt, grew out of the writings 
of the Virginia romantics. Parrington here exaggerated the weight of 
the alleged early democratic Virginian tradition and the supposed 
role of Sir Walter Scott in shaping the aristocratic ante-bellum South. 
He conceded that Virginia's generous outlook did not take root in the 
exploitative and imperialistic black belt. Apparently he admired the 
genius of Richmond's Edgar Allan Poe, even if he refused to consider 
him as a suitable subject for social-economic analysis. Poe was too 
puzzling for convenient social formulas. Maryland's Whiggish John 
Pendleton Kennedy also attracted him, despite his conservative eco- 
nomics and politics. 

One striking philosophy that Parrington attributed to reactionary 
Southern leaders like Calhoun was the peculiar ideal of a Greek de- 
mocracy. It held: "Democracy is possible only in a society that recog- 
nizes inequality as a law of nature, but in which the virtuous and 
capable enter into a voluntary co-partnership for the common good 
accepting wardship of the incompetent in the interests of society." 
Applying this to slavery Calhoun greatly injured agrarian democracy; 
and William Gilmore Simms of Charleston, for all his picaresque real- 
ism and talents, also fell under the sway of the same Charleston aris- 
tocracy that snubbed him. Parrington could have borrowed this notion 
of a Greek democracy for slaveholders from George Fitzhugh's Soci- 
ology for the South, published in 1854 as a justification for slavery. 

Andrew Jackson naturally served him as a symbol of the authentic 
agrarian tradition of Jefferson and John Taylor, because his fight on 
the Bank and internal improvements nullified "the victories gained 

302 The American Historian 

by the middle class during the boom period of nationalism." Increas- 
ingly, Parrington distrusted the methods of capitalistic finance. He 
saw redeeming features in the conservatism of James Fenimore 
Cooper: "An individualist of the old English breed, he could not be 
intimidated or coerced in the matter of his rights by any clamor, 
whether of newspapers or mobs." Cooper had a mediating mission: 
"He must discover some working agreement between the old America 
and the new, between the reputed excellencies of the traditional aris- 
tocratic order, and the reputed justice of the democratic ideal." Horace 
Greeley was forgiven his ties to Whiggery because he championed 
the great exploited classes of farmers and wage-earners against the 
middle class. 

The third volume (again suggestive of Beard's analysis) tried to 
show the triumph of the coercive centralizing state controlled by the 
Jay Cookes and the Vanderbilts and the slow decay of romantic op- 
timism and decentralization. At the same time, the author explained, 
the rise of mechanistic science and the emergence of a spirit of skepti- 
cism led to doubts regarding the ideal of democracy. History had 
again changed the definition: "Interpreted by the coonskin Jacksonians 
it meant political equalitarianism; by the slave economy it meant 
Greek democracy; by the industrial economy it meant the right of 
exploitation. It has changed service with each new master." He pro- 
posed to show the conquest of America by the middle class, its cus- 
todianship of democracy, and its philosophy. This overlordship was 
challenged by democratic agrarianship organized in third party move- 
ments; and a new proletarian philosophy came out of the ferment of 
the French Revolution. Finally, the agrarians were defeated by the 
victorious middle class. 

The final volume of the trilogy included an addenda with many 
revealing and often pessimistic selections regarding the intellectual 
drift of the 1920s. None exceeds in bitterness the critique of our con- 
temporary civilization, with Sinclair Lewis used as an exponent of the 
hollowness of our materialistic-urban-industrial-capitalist culture. In 
a sardonic essay, Parrington paid high tribute to this novelist's view 
of the tawdriness of our mass culture. Lewis had exemplified the thesis 
"that the genus Americanus is cousin-german to the scoffing Mr. 
Mencken's lately discovered boobus Americanus. 9 ' Parrington was dis- 
mayed by the younger intellectuals, who thrived on the wartime dis- 
covery of the moron by the army intelligence tests, thus urging the 
futility of mass democracy and the need for a Nietzschean elite group 
of rulers. He hoped that this view of human nature would not turn 

Parrington 303 

out to be the last word in social philosophy for the next generation. 

Boldly he essayed sweeping judgments upon recent figures. He 
looked upon Henry James, the idol of the next generation of critics, 
as rootless: "No other American has so hated and feared contamina- 
tion from the vulgar. He was thus the last flower of the Genteel Tra- 
dition transplanted to an environment more congenial." Like Mencken, 
he admired the mediocre James Branch Cabell "The Incomparable 
Mr. Cabell" best known for his fanciful tales. He praised the basic 
economic interpretations of Charles Beard and of J. Allen Smith as 
the guide to Progressive doctrine, and thought that the muckrakers had 
proved that America was not the equalitarian democracy that it pro- 
fessed to be. From the beginning, he maintained, democracy and prop- 
erty had been at odds in a ceaseless conflict between man and the 
dollar. The recent critical studies of the Constitution revealed un- 
democratic premises in conflict with the idealism of the Declaration 
of Independence, and this was also reflected in the current drift to- 
ward plutocracy. But Parrington had no real solution for the night- 
mares that he had raised. 

A product of the Progressive era, he shared to a large extent the 
indictment of the great American fortunes held by Gustavus Myers 
and the arraignment of business and politics offered by the muck- 
raker. His strictures on capitalism were not, as is obvious, those of the 
socialists, but of an obsolete agrarianism. Greatly outweighing his 
faulty economics were his flashes of insight into American writers 
and political leaders. He was ever alert to the impact of European 
upon American culture, and he brought to light in all his volumes 
many a neglected poet, novelist, essayist, critic, and seminal thinker, 
whose contribution to belles-lettres was small but who offered great in- 
sights into the American mind. Like Taine, whose critical method influ- 
enced him, he constantly sought a large synthesis sometimes, it is true, 
at the expense of sound history and his emphasis was usually heavily 
weighted upon American political and social theory. Still, with all his 
shortcomings, he had much to say of worth even to a generation en- 
tering the second half of the twentieth century. Few could deny that 
he had stimulated immensely the search for the interdisciplinary as- 
pects of American studies. 

The immediate reception of Parrington's work was usually enthu- 
siastic, and the award of a Pulitzer Prize to this comparatively un- 

304 The American Historian 

known middle-aged writer surprised even his University of Washing- 
ton administrative superiors no admirers of his in any case. Henry 
Seidel Canby wrote in the Saturday Review of Literature that this was 
a work of the first importance, lucid, comprehensive, accurate, vivid, 
challenging, original, and sometimes brilliant. He believed that the 
patent Jeffersonian partisanship was actually a source of strength, not 
weakness, and he liked particularly the fresh appraisals of the less- 
noted writers. The least successful evaluations were the aesthetic ones. 3 

Kenneth Murdock, Harvard's specialist in Puritan literature, was 
greatly impressed by this use of literature as a source for historians 
and admired many of the biographical and critical sketches. To him, 
Parrington's application of new tests to familiar figures led to real 
revelations. On the other hand, he was not satisfied that Parrington 
had read enough of the original writingshe wanted all of the writ- 
ings of a subject read and he felt that too often the author had with- 
held evidence unfavorable to his judgments, as in the case of the Tory, 
Thomas Hutchinson. 4 

Professor T. V. Smith, philosopher at the University of Chicago, did 
not think that the author's bias would prevent this work from remain- 
ing the best history of American literature, one that would discourage 
the dry-as-dust emphasis in English in favor of a lively expression of 
human emotions, passions, and interests. 5 A lengthy but unsigned New 
York Times review gave unqualified praise to the author, even ranking 
the book above the Beards' current The Rise of American Civilization. 
The reviewer refused to concede that Parrington had ever permitted 
his sympathies to betray him into a flagrantly unjust judgment. "Bio- 
graphically," he wrote, "it is unquestionably the best historical study 
that this country has yet produced." 6 Such high evaluations of Par- 
rington certainly carried over through the Great Depression, when 
social and economic interpretations were uppermost even in belles- 
lettres and were encouraged by liberals, leftists, and doctrinaire radi- 

Marxist literary and historical critics were not altogether satisfied 
with Parrington's version of "economic determinism." The acute leftist 
critic, Granville Hicks, wrote an extensive critique for Science and 
Society in 1939 which criticized Parrington for failing to recognize 
the logical ultimate of his devastating social analysis some form of 
socialism. Early in his career, the professor had revealed his attitude 
when he spoke of Harvard as "the apologist and advocate of capitalist 
exploitation." But his "economic determinism" was most contradictory, 
for, while his villains showed excesses of property consciousness, his 

Parrington 305 

heroes were usually idealistic, individualistic, or collectivistic, and 
cast in no consistent economic mold. Thus, Sam Adams was a man 
of reason, Jefferson a free soul, Freneau an idealist, and Joel Barlow 
a man with a sensitive social conscience. Parrington, said Hicks, "is 
forced to admit that Jefferson's plan for an agrarian democracy could 
not have been realized, and that Hamilton's labors for the establish- 
ment of capitalism were in effect progressive." This, it will be noted, 
was also the conclusion of later biographers of Hamilton. 

Hicks ( and others, too ) considered Parrington in error for arbitrarily 
creating a dichotomy between English liberalism and French humani- 
tarianisrn. Actually the terms were not mutually exclusive, and both 
expressed middle-class economic factors. The persistent dual classi- 
fication of conservatives and liberals disregarded the biographic and 
historical facts. Hicks was perhaps the first critic to note that Parring- 
ton operated from a prejudice in favor of the alleged orderliness of 
the Enlightenment and showed a bias against the machine. This 
seemed to him to account for the savage onslaught upon the Gilded 
Age. Finally, he found many of the biographic analyses wrong. 7 

Lionel Trilling, a less doctrinaire critic of the mid-century, also took 
exception to Parrington's biographic judgments, particularly the flat- 
tering comparison of Cabell with Melville, the dismissal of Henry 
James as an escapist, and the refusal to deal with Edgar Allan Poe at 
length because he could not conveniently be fitted within the author's 
theory of American culture. Trilling's evaluations, often severe, re- 
flected the reaction against Parrington after the Great Depression: 

Parrington was not a great mind; he was not a precise thinker, or, ex- 
cept when measured by the low eminences about him, an impressive one. 
Separate Parrington from his informing idea of the economic and social de- 
termination of thought and what is left is a simple intelligence, notable for 
its generosity and enthusiasm but certainly not for its accuracy or originality. 

Yet, Trilling actually conceded quite a bit to the claim for Parring- 
ton's originality, for he stated flatly that the University of Washington 
professor "had an influence on our conception of American culture 
which is not equalled by any other writer of the last two decades." 
Furthermore, he added along this line, "whenever the liberal historian 
of America finds occasion to take account of the national literature, 
as nowadays he feels it proper to do, it is Parrington who is his stand- 
ard and guide." 8 

Another latter-day critic who was apparently impressed by the stud- 
ies of Hicks and Trilling was the historian, Richard Hofstadter. Then 

306 The American Historian 

at City College of New York, he showed that Parrington had exag- 
gerated the influence of French economic thought on the Jefferson 
tradition. Actually, Jefferson had "only toyed" with the physiocratic 
theories and had rejected the central idea of taxing agriculture pri- 
marily as inapplicable to American thought and conditions. While 
there still remained the central Jeffersonian and physiocratic idea of 
the primacy of agriculture, this notion was far older than the physio- 
crat philosophy. Hofstadter remarked on how impotent the economic 
thought of the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians had been to produce a 
design for American agrarianism: 9 

At best their philosophy led to a negative conclusion: abandon the na- 
tional banking system, reduce expenditures, cut taxation, divorce govern- 
ment from finance, democratize incorporation, keep hands off. Such devices 
might impede the advance of capitalism, but never prevent it. 

Yet, neither Hofstadter nor any other responsible historical critic was 
prepared to remove Parrington's work from its pedestal as a great 
classic on American civilization. Even by mid-century, the scholarly 
process of riddling books that had once changed our minds had not 
quite disposed of Main Currents in American Thought. 

At Harvard, particularly, where the Puritan tradition stood high and 
cultural nationalism there as elsewhere had replaced the skeptical 
Mencken spirit of the 1920s, revisionists displayed a keen apprecia- 
tion for colonial New England that Parrington had lacked. In the re- 
searches of Kenneth Murdock, Perry Miller, Samuel Eliot Morison, 
and Ralph Barton Perry, the Massachusetts Bay Colony reappeared 
in an inspiring humanistic light, quite different from the portrait of 
gloomy misanthropes associated with the myth of American Puritan- 
ism. They discarded the grim caricature of Calvinist fanatics which 
Hawthorne had fastened upon his readers and in which H. L. Mencken 
had delighted. 

The younger critics did not agree with Parrington or Max Weber, 
who would make Calvinism a force for exaggerated economic indi- 
vidualism or capitalism. Likewise they denied the historicity of the 
fanatical Puritan soured by a rigid theology lampooned in Oliver 
Wendell Holmes's "One Hoss Shay/' Miller was impressed by the 
essential agreement between Puritans and Anglicans on basic dogmas 
and said that "about ninety per cent of the intellectual life, scientific 

Parrington 807 

knowledge, morality, manners and customs, notions and prejudices, 
was that of all Englishmen." Puritan preachers did differ from Anglican 
priests in their concern with more technical theological theories for 
the layman, their rejection of the hierarchy, and their belief that the 
Bible contained a complete constitution for church organization. Ex- 
treme Puritans like Cotton Mather thought of the Bible as a guide 
for the minutiae of daily life. 

Perry Miller, who wrote a biography of Jonathan Edwards that 
showed him to be almost the antithesis of the same man discussed by 
Parrington, described the Puritans as humanists, heirs of the Renais- 
sance as well as the Reformation. The Massachusetts Bay leaders, in- 
spired by the philosophers of Cambridge University, thought of Chris- 
tianity as a religion of cultivated reason rather than a sponsor of "en- 
thusiasms." For them, therefore, a learned clergy was a necessity. 
They shared the Englishman's love of beauty; their "plaine stile" and 
meetinghouse had a beauty of their own. Above all, their asceticism 
was not wholly unique for their day and fell far short of the saintly 
hair shirt. Nor was the witchcraft craze and other intolerant practices 
limited to this people, as other historians showed. 

Most impressive to Miller was the rich intellectual life of early New 
England, which Parrington had minimized. The heritage of Cam- 
bridge, from which so many Puritans came, was transmitted to Har- 
vard, the Cambridge Press, the private libraries, and, even beyond 
this, to the efforts of the leaders to initiate tax-supported schools that 
would offer more than the mere ability to read and write. By the 1940s 
the revisionists had raised the reputation of the Puritans to new 
heights. Many of the Harvard group discounted the heavy social em- 
phasis of Parrington's intellectual history and implied that ideas in 
themselves were far worthier of study than mere attitudes or beliefs 
confined in a rigidly deterministic framework. They did not neglect 
scientific interpretations, however, and were hardly less sparing of 
basic value judgments than Parrington had been, even if their style 
was more circumspect. 


Out of the progressive Middle West of Beard, Turner, and Parring- 
ton came another rebel, Carl Lotus Becker. Born in 1873 in Blackhawk 
County, Iowa, he went on to academic training at the University of 
Wisconsin, where he acquired an admiration for Turner, studied his- 
tory at Columbia, and taught in this field during 1902-16 at the Uni- 
versity of Kansas. His really distinguished professorial career began 

308 The American Historian 

in 1917 at Cornell University, where this serious and kindly man 
attracted large undergraduate classes in European history and turned 
out some of the best-known graduate scholars on the French Revo- 
lution. One of his most thoughtful books dealt with the Enlightenment, 
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932). 
Like Charles Beard, with whom he was often compared, he enjoyed 
a reputation as a historian of European as well as American history, 
though his total output was slender indeed by comparison. Beard once 
considered Becker to be a pioneer exponent of the economic interpre- 
tation of history, but this judgment scarcely holds true of most of 
Becker's writings. 

Of Beard's work, which he admired, Becker singled out The Amer- 
ican Leviathan as one of the best, particularly for its realistic descrip- 
tion of actual government. "The real Leviathan is not government, but 
societythis amazing and arresting and formidable phenomenon we 
call American civilization." As a relativist (at least he came close to 
it), he agreed with Beard that subjective elements made up a large 
part of historical theory. Beard had this in mind when he observed, 
"The theory that the Constitution is a written document is a legal 
fiction." It was always changing, for the judges constantly reinter- 
preted it. 

There were important differences as well as similarities between the 
two: Beard stressed an economic interpretation of history, while 
Becker emphasized the role of ideals in most of the early chapters 
of The United States: An Experiment in Democracy (1920). Becker 
used Lecky's work a good deal, but he disagreed with the Irishman's 
notion of the Revolution as sordid and a "mere money dispute." Very 
different was his own statement: "American patriots came to think 
of themselves as hazarding their lives and their fortunes for the sake 
of a new social order, the ideal society founded upon the enduring 
principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity." The Revolution, then, 
was not a minority movement of interest groups but a contest for the 
rights of man. This idea was universalized in the Declaration of In- 
dependence, which appealed to the rights of all men. He idealized 
Washington as heroic, admirable, and broad in vision. However, 
Becker did recognize the colonial class divisions which gave the 
Revolution something of the character of civil war. 

Becker's treatment of the Constitution, like Beard's, gave most at- 
tention to the checks and balance system as a key to liberty. "The 
whole history of the United States has been a process of trying to 
get more democracy," he wrote. Little, however, was said of the eco- 

Parrington 809 

nomic origins of parties, or the "moneyed class of Federalists," or of 
other factors stressed by Beard. His interpretation of the Civil War 
sounded as moralistic as that of Rhodes. 

However, he leaned upon Frederick Jackson Turner and even in- 
sisted that "It is partly to the credit of the government that America 
is, as yet at least, a nation of small freehold landowners." His image 
of this country consisted of quiet towns, villages, and fanning com- 
munities, where immigrants could be diverted from the crowded east- 
ern cities. He quoted Turner approvingly in stating that westward 
expansion involves in every generation a return to simple and primi- 
tive conditions of life "a perennial rebirth," Out of this process had 
come traits and ideals such as individual initiative, self-confidence, con- 
tact with hard realities, and mobility free from provincialism. In these 
latter chapters he reverted to economic analyses and accepted the 
pessimistic implications of the passing of the frontier, particularly the 
disappearance of the old equality of opportunity, the concentration of 
industrial power, the creation of a permanent class of wage-earners, 
and the rise of slums among exploited immigrants; "Political democ- 
racy we have; but the old economic democracy is rapidly becoming a 
thing of the past." The common faith in the eighteenth-century ideal 
of equality, he thought, reflected a cultural lag, because the solid base 
of our equality was not free government but a fortunate economic 

Surprisingly, in view of his earlier idealistic treatment, he ended up 
with an economic indictment that could have been written by Algie 
Simons or Beard: 

In the economic sense, there is for the great mass of men and women 
neither liberty nor equality. Without a much greater degree of both than 
now exists, the personal and political liberties which have been so hardly 
won through a century of struggle lose half their importance, and democracy 
itself is scarcely more than a pious hope. 

He feared that the concentration of economic power in the hands of 
a few would lead to their control of the state and to the subversion 
of democracy. But he saw hope in the growing power of the trade 
unions as a corrective to the power of capitalism. So his book on 
American democratic ideals ended well within the realm of the eco- 
nomic interpreters of history. 

In 1910 Becker wrote an interesting essay, "Kansas," which tried to 
show that there was an intellectual "West" as well as a territorial 
"West." He spoke of Puritanism as a kind of frontier in the perennial 

310 The American Historian 

rebirth of the intellectual frontier. Kansas and the Middle Border had 
inherited this return to the primitive in the evolution of the frontier. 
Yet, their strong individualism, which stressed achievement and re- 
belled against machines and "mortgage fiends," also contained large 
elements of conformity. Real toleration in fact seemed foreign to 
America. 10 

Becker's next book The Eve of the Revolution (1921), an outstand- 
ing contribution to the Chronicles of America Series, combined politi- 
cal and intellectual history. At the very outset, he suggested a rather 
subjective idea of history. It yesembled the imaginative psychological 
techniques which Thucydides used to re-create a historical situation: 

In this brief sketch I have chiefly endeavored to convey to the reader, 
not a record of what men did, but a sense of how they thought and felt 
about what they did. To give the quality and texture of the state of mind 
and feeling of an individual or class, to create for the reader the illusion 
(not delusion, O able Critic!) of the intellectual atmosphere of past times, 
I have as a matter of course introduced many quotations; but I have also 
ventured to resort frequently to the literary device (this, I know, gives the 
whole thing away) of telling the story by means of a rather free paraphrase 
of what some imagined spectator or participant might have thought or said 
about the matter in hand. 

The result was not at all fictional, nor an abuse of quotations, but a 
sound, objective, and fascinating narrative of the coming of the Revo- 
lution. His explanations do not seem economic or materialistic though 
he apparently believed that these qualities underlay intellectual reali- 
tiesbut rested upon the power of motivating ideas. He described 
both personality and environment, but he seemed most interested in 
the power of the mind in directing history. This is exemplified in his 
comment on the Declaration of Independence: 

It is to these principles for a generation almost obscured, it must be con- 
fessed, by the Shining Sword and the Almighty Dollar, by the lengthening 
shadow of Imperialism and the soporific haze of Historic Rights and the 
Survival of the Fittest it is to these principles, these "glittering generalities," 
that the minds of men are turning again in this day of desolation as a refuge 
from the cult of efficiency and from faith in that which is just by the judg- 
ment of experience. 

This idea was the central theme of his next and most famous book 
in the American field, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in 
the History of Political Ideas (1922). In this long essay, he analyzed 
the structure, drafting, and philosophy of the Declaration. He recog- 

Parrington 311 

nized that it was not intended as an objective historical statement of 
the causes of the Revolution, but merely furnished a moral and legal 
justification for rebellion. Step by step, the colonists modified their 
theory to suit their needs. 

Whenever men become sufficiently dissatisfied with the existing regime 
of positive law and custom, they will be found reaching out beyond it for 
the rational basis of what they conceive ought to be. This is what the 
Americans did in their controversy with Great Britain. 

Becker, like his fellow-scholar of the New History school, James Har- 
vey Robinson, author of The Mind in the Making (1921), then re- 
cently published, fully appreciated the tendency of men to rationalize, 
but he also respected the innate value of moral ideas. 

Becker's fondness for Turner did not prevent him from dropping 
the frontier approach and making a thorough analysis of the impact 
of the French Enlightenment and of British and Continental ideas upon 
the Declaration. In comparing the underlying assumptions of the 
French and American Revolutionary philosophers, he pointed out that 
nineteenth-century democracy tended to be anti-revolutionary on the 
whole, even though the abolitionists appealed to a revolutionary higher 
law. Elsewhere, Becker used Turnerian ideas to show how the bounti- 
ful New World environment produced sturdy American roots for its 

His philosophy of history is clearly given in a presidential address, 
"Every Man His Own Historian," before the American Historical As- 
sociation of December 1931. It contained his subjective emphasis, his 
considerable relativism, and the New History idea that the present 
should be the central guide of the historian. "Let us admit that there 
are two histories," he said, "the actual series of events that once oc- 
curred; and the ideal series that we affirm and hold in memory.'* The 
first was absolute and unchanged, but the second was relative, "al- 
ways changing in response to the increase or refinement of knowl- 
edge." Historians sought to make the two histories correspond as 
much as possible. 

As for the present, it was gone before full awareness took place. 
One had only a "specious present" which actually telescoped successive 
events in a single instant; the first event is past before the last took 
place. Only rhetorically can we speak of the "present hour,'* for it is 
already in the past. "In this sense all living history," as Croce says, "is 
contemporaneous; insofar as we think of the past ... it becomes an 
integral and living part of our present world of semblance," We seek 

312 The American Historian 

the past so that what we are doing may be judged in the light of what 
we have done and what we hope to do. This is living history the 
present memory of events that have occurred in the past, things said 
and done. From these assumptions he concluded with a quasi-relativist 
interpretation regarding historical knowledge: 1X 

It must then be obvious that living history, the ideal series of events . . . 
since it is so intimately associated with what we are doing and with what 
we hope to do, can not be precisely the same for all at any given time or the 
same for one generation or for another. History in this sense cannot be re- 
duced to a verifiable set of statistics or formulated in terms of universally 
valid mathematical formulas. It is rather an imaginative creation. 

History, he believed, is the artificial extension of social memory 
springing from impulse to enlarge the range of immediate experience. 
It was a mistake to think of history in every age as valid if the facts 
related were true, or invalid solely because the facts were inaccurate 
or inadequate. The subjective factor was denied respectability. "To 
select and affirm even the simplest complex of facts is to give them a 
certain place in a certain pattern of ideas, and this alone is sufficient 
to give them a special meaning/* Historical facts, he argued, were not 
material substances like bricks. Even more clearly, he went on to 
elaborate the subjective nature of history: 

Since history is not part of the external material world, but an imaginative 
reconstruction of vanished events, its form and substance are inseparable: 
in the realm of literary discourse, substance, being an idea is form; and 
form, conveying the idea is substance. It is thus not the undiscriminated 
fact, but the perceiving mind of the historian that speaks. 

Like Beard he protested against the tendency of "scientific histori- 
ans" to be discouraged by the "debris of exploded philosophies" and 
to turn away from interpretation altogether in favor of a rigorous ex- 
amination of facts on the assumption that the facts speak for them- 
selves: "Thus the scientific historian deliberately renounced philosophy 
only to submit to it without being aware. His philosophy was just this, 
that by not taking thought, a cubit would be added to his stature." 
He must renounce omniscience. Each generation will see the past and 
the future in the light of its own restricted experience. 

Again, like Beard, he stressed the fact that the historian could not 
escape his conditioning. From the philosopher Alfred North White- 
head he borrowed the felicitous term "a climate of opinion," the at- 
mosphere in which we live and think. Man and his world were ever 
in the process of becoming. Even the most striking events, he thought, 

Pamngton 813 

"must inevitably, for posterity, fade away into pale replicas of the 
original picture, for each succeeding generation losing, as they recede 
into a more distant past, some significance that once was noted in 
them, some quality of enchantment that once was theirs." 

Historians were not only suspicious of philosophy, as Becker and 
Beard had charged; they were also unhappy over the relativist posi- 
tion. Charles H. Mcllwain, the noted political theorist and historian, 
was not alone in objecting to the selection of facts in the light of the 
present rather than the past. He feared that it endangered objectivity 
and impartiality; besides, the past could and should be written in the 
light of the pastits values, proportions, and modes of thought. The 
present must not be read into the past 

Becker discounted the Marxian philosophy of history. He believed 
that an intelligent person might regard the Marxist approach as an 
illuminating interpretation of the past without subscribing to it as a 
law of history. Secondly, that even if one were convinced that Marx- 
ism was valid, he might still have excellent reasons for refusing to sup- 
port the communist cause. As a liberal, he rejected the idea of an in- 
evitable class conflict, though he believed that history did reflect the 
fact that each new ruling class represented the mode of property 
owning. He had no faith, he said, in force and repression as the 
primary means of achieving the good life: "I have no faith in the in- 
fallibility of any man, or of any group of men, or of the doctrines or 
dogmas of any man or group of men, except in so far as they can 
stand the test of free criticism and analysis." 12 

Altogether, Becker, Beard, Turner, and Parrington represented a 
pragmatic revolt in which history served the statesman and reformer 
of each era by an even more deliberate design than that envisaged by 
the classical historians. Where they dealt with ideas, concepts, and 
attitudes, they made intellectual history serve the goal of social action. 
Like many other progressives, they found a subjective emphasis the 
best key to a changing world, but they did not permit their limited 
relativism or scholarly skepticism to undermine a serviceable idea of 
historical truth or knowledge. In the era of Stalin and Hitler, men like 
Carl Becker strengthened the ideological props of democracy. 


Within the same pragmatic and reformist revolt, but perhaps more 
influential in encouraging historians to offer new courses in social- 
intellectual history, was Merle Eugene Curti, another Mid- Westerner. 

314 The American Historian 

He was born in Papillion, Nebraska, and attended the Omaha high 
schools; thereafter he was an eager student at Harvard, learning 
much about the New History from Morison, Turner, and Schlesinger, 
and dedicating his best-known book, The Growth of American Thought 
(1943), to Turner. His doctoral thesis, published as The American 
Peace Crusade, examined the ideas, personalities, organization, and 
history of the peace movement. For his comprehensive book, The 
Growth of American Thought, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and, 
most fittingly, the Frederick Jackson Turner professorship at the Uni- 
versity of Wisconsin. 

Students of method in the social analysis of ideas profited much 
from his earlier book, The Social Ideas of American Educators ( 1935 ) , 
written while he was a professor at Smith College. Like Parrington, 
he tried to examine the social beliefs that underlay the technical work 
of influential men. He considered the extent of social and economic 
conditioning that affected the leading American educators time, place, 
class, currents of ideas, social and economic tendencies, and tempera- 
ment. In addition, like Beard, Becker, and others he gave close atten- 
tion to the impact of European ideas upon America. 

Curti used the relativist emphasis of the other progressives: "Much 
of the confusion and inconsistency in the social thinking of educators 
has been due to the fact that they have been for the most part un- 
aware of their own frame of reference." By making these ideas and 
half -hidden assumptions clear he hoped to help those trying to bring 
equalitarian measures to education. Apparently his yardstick in this 
field was John Dewey, philosopher of instrumentalism, although he 
did not fail to survey the criticisms of Dewey. He liked this quotation: 
"Democracy has to be born anew every generation and education is 
the midwife." 

Dewey's faith in intelligence and the school as a guide to a demo- 
cratic order was reflected in a critical attitude toward economic com- 
petition, although he definitely rejected class war. He wished the 
school to cease overemphasizing the mere symbols of knowledge, to 
make first-hand contact with experience, and to encourage the child 
to make a critical adjustment to social life. Thus, the school would be- 
come an agency to break down class barriers and distinctions. All this 
was very far indeed from the colonial conception of schools as means 
of preserving orthodoxy in religion, trade, and social life. To a large 
extent, the nineteenth century had not changed this goal. 

Some of Curtfs most original analyses dealt with conservative edu- 
cators. He was very critical of America's leading Hegelian, William T. 

Parrington QI5 

Harris, the United States Commissioner of Education who cast him- 
self as the chief interpreter of German philosophical thought in Amer- 
ica. To Curti, Harris's HegeHanism helped to standardize the Amer- 
ican school system within a conservative ivory tower: "It rationalized 
the victory of nationalism, imperialism, and industrial capitalism by 
insisting that true individualism could be realized only by subor- 
dinating the individual to existing institutions." Likewise suspect were 
the theories of the dominant psychologist of Columbia, Edward Lee 
Thorndike, who implied that heredity is more important than environ- 
ment and taught a restricted idea of "transfer of training" which en- 
couraged a more utilitarian emphasis in the schools. 

Curtfs The Growth of American Thought (1943) is too comprehen- 
sive for summary here, but it was immediately recognized as a pioneer 
effort to integrate American social and intellectual history in a single 
volume, stressing the viewpoint of liberal democracy. Drawing upon 
an unusual variety of sources, the author went beyond Parrington and 
others in seeking ideas and popular attitudes in records of cultural 
agencies, folklore, theological treatises, essays of all types, novels, 
poems, newspapers, and, not least, in dime novels. Curti described his 
book as a social history of American thought, perhaps a socio-eco- 
nomic history of American thought. He believed that intellectual his- 
tory should deal not only with the great thoughts of Americans but 
with their informal notions, dominant beliefs, values, and even cas- 
ual attitudes. These were usually related to their institutional frame- 
work and the interaction of European and American influences. 

The young intellectual historians, he pointed out, had quite a dif- 
ferent task from the traditional philosophers. The former dealt to a 
large extent with the "exterior" of ideas in their social setting, while 
the latter were concerned with the intrinsic validity of the Interior" 
of ideas. Curti did not renounce either purpose for himself but ad- 
mitted that the limited nature of the book did not furnish an oppor- 
tunity for an exhaustive analysis of the "interiors" of the ideas and 
systems of thought discussed. Others like John Bury wrote profitably 
upon the interior of a single idea, Progress, and Curti hoped for simi- 
lar studies of liberty, security, militarism, collectivism, and loyalty. By 
the 1950s he and his associates were absorbed in a social analysis of 
the history of philanthropy. 

316 The American Historian 

Ralph Henry Gabriel of Yale, an older contemporary of Curti's, en- 
riched intellectual history by somewhat different methods. He had 
dropped his early vocation for the ministry, first in order to study 
geology, then to become a historian. In 1940, he published The Course 
of American Democratic Thought, in which he traced the vicissitudes 
of certain social ideals in our history since the mid-nineteenth century. 
A second edition, more optimistic than the first, which had appeared 
during the fall of France, was issued in 1956. He chose these three his- 
torical tenets of American democracy for scrutiny: 

Americans by 1815 had formulated three major beliefs, each a complex 
of ideas. The first tenet assumed the dignity of human personality and 
asserted the conviction that that dignity could be realized only when the 
individual was free to express himself and to participate in decisions of 
vital import to him. The second tenet assumed that principles of universal 
validity underlie the common life of men in society, the application of which 
to affairs makes possible the realization of freedom and dignity. The third 
tenet asserted that the nation created in 1776 exists as a corporate entity 
not only to further the peace and security of its citizens but to aid at home 
and, by example, abroad the cause of freedom and humane living. . . . 
Their history after 1815 provides the theme of this book. 

His religious background explains in part at least his attack on eth- 
ical relativismthe idea that truth varied from individual to individ- 
ual (or group) and had no objective standard. This did not mean 
that he rejected altogether the epistemological relativism of the mid- 
nineteenth-century intellectual historians. As a student of William 
Graham Sumner, he early recognized that historians were conditioned 
by their culture: "Ideas arise out of social situations and persist be- 
cause they have utility," he wrote. He was particularly concerned with 
the idea of a fundamental moral law which had dominated the nine- 
teenth century, had been secularized during the scientific era, and then 
had declined under the ethical relativism of Sumner. Herman Melville 
was rejected by his own century because he denied its belief in the 
free individual and the moral law and insisted that evil was perma- 
nent. But the twentieth century understood him and bought his books. 
Gabriel thought it noteworthy that, while Europeans turned to doc- 
trines of class struggle, Americans were attracted by a religion of hu- 
manity and a new rationalism based on the fundamental moral law. 

In his criticism of scientific relativism, Gabriel examined the skep- 

Parnngton 317 

tical assumptions of legal realists from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to 
Thurman Arnold and Jerome Frank The author had no sympathy 
for political realists like his colleague Nicholas Spykman, who found 
the ultimate reality in the power struggle. Total war, said the latter, 
was the result of a long historical process. This cumulative power 
struggle tended to wipe out the historic distinction between peace 
and war, because it went on without pause. 

Gabriel saw victory in the struggle against ethical relativism. In- 
tellectuals who had yielded to the relativism of William Graham Sum- 
ner were aroused by the war and realized that they lacked a sound 
democratic faith from which to denounce Hitlerism and Stalinism, 
Gabriel declared. Fortunately, gains had been made in securing the 
rights of minority peoples, despite the evolution of McCarthyism. 
Legal realists who had once portrayed the goal of law as the mere 
arbitrary will of judges now conceded that the goal was justice. Power 
politics was now being put in a context of moral law, and more reli- 
ance was being put on ideals rather than empiricism. 

The Course of American Democratic Thought interpreted intellec- 
tual history largely as an expression of the urban elite. Hence, it omit- 
ted rural reactionary movements such as the Klan, the Fundamentalist 
crusade, the persecution of minorities, and various facets of King Mob. 
Within its designated limits, however, the book presented certain his- 
torical ideals effectively and in an attractive literary form. 


By mid-century, the literature of American intellectual history had 
reached great volume and high quality. The influence of Darwin on 
social ideas was expertly described in Richard Hofstadte/s Social Dar- 
winism in American Thought, 1860-1915 (1944). Hofstadter began 
with the reception of evolution in America, its enthusiastic champions 
John Fiske and Asa Gray of Harvard, the scientific contributions of 
O. C. Marsh to Darwin's proofs, the influence of Spence/s ideas of 
the survival of the fittest, and the use of Social Darwinism by re- 
formers and conservatives. 

Historians trained in science issued analytical narratives of the New 
Geology, the New Physics, and the New Biology. Broadly trained so- 
cial scientists published outstanding biographies of William James, 
Thorstein Veblen, Henry George, and Edward Bellamy. Historiogra- 
phy took on richer dimensions as historians and graduate students 

318 The American Historian 

sought to understand the social ideas and assumptions as well as the 
craftsmanship of American historians. 

Parrington still had enthusiastic and discriminating disciples by mid- 
century. Henry S. Commager of Columbia wrote this high praise in 
The American Mind (1950): "My deepest intellectual debt is to Ver- 
non Louis Parrington whose great study of American thought has long 
been an inspiration and whose disciple I gladly acknowledge my- 
self." Commager looked upon him as a historian who struggled to 
rescue liberalism from the dead hand of the neo-Manchesterians and 
espoused a native radicalism "a tough-minded radicalism on which 
protestants and rebels could confidently draw." Far from regarding 
Parrington's agrarianism as anachronistic, Commager asserted that the 
ideals of Jefferson and Emerson were more relevant to the problems 
of the twentieth century than anything that we could import. 

The American Mind, purporting to be "An Interpretation of Amer- 
ican Thought and Character since the 1880s," continued the liberal 
interpretation of Parrington without the exaggerated agrarianism; be- 
sides, it forsook emphasis upon individuals for the analysis of definite 
cultural movements. In his chapter on historians, Commager took issue 
with Beard's ( and presumably Becker's ) subjectivism and uncertainty, 
not because they were untrue basically but because they were harm- 
fully exaggerated and unconstructive: 

The real objection to Beard's historism was not that it repudiated cer- 
tainty but that it was sterile, and in a literal sense inconsequential. The 
doctrine of subjectivity and uncertainty like the doctrine of economic mo- 
tivation was not a conclusion but a point of departure and everything de- 
pended on the route and the destination. That history was subjective and 
fragmentary and inconclusive like almost everything in life would be 
readily acknowledged, but if history was to be written at all it was necessary 
to go on from there. 

Commager had already written an important original work in intel- 
lectual history in his biography Theodore Parker (1936), which pic- 
tured and interpreted the varied and influential career of the noted 
disciple of Emerson and Channing who tried to revitalize Unitarianism 
and to liberate it from its formalism. Parker, an eloquent and erudite 
lecturer and writer, fought against slavery, the exploitation of labor, 
unjust restrictions upon women, backward schools, and war. To 
him, as to many fellow-reformers, society rather than the individual 
created crime and poverty. 
Inevitably, younger gifted scholars eclipsed Parrington's limited 

Parrington 319 

methods and rewrote political and economic, as well as cultural, his- 
tory from the standpoint of ideas, attitudes, and class determinants. 
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., of Harvard, son of the pioneer social historian, 
attracted attention as a youth with an excellent biography of the con- 
troversial author, Orestes A. Brownson. Later, in a vigorous and ma- 
ture style, he analyzed the complex ideological skeins of Jacksonian 
democracy in The Age of Jackson (1947) and gave labor a major part 
in the creation of this new order. With an eye upon the revival of 
strong government under the New Deal, he criticized the surviving 
"Jeffersonian inhibitions" of weak government and pointed out the 
socially democratic heritage of Jacksonism which served the people 
by energetic measures against private monopoly. By the 1950s, log- 
ically enough, he turned to a multi-volumed history of the New Deal 
that probed into the intellectual assumptions as well as the deeds of 
the chief characters of the Age of Roosevelt, While his controversial 
reformist point of view, his syntheses, and his novel analogies aroused 
critics, few could dispute his brilliance. 

The social study of ideas added a new dimension to diplomatic his- 
tory, hitherto largely restricted to formal archival sources as in Ranke's 
day. Previously foreign affairs had been seen as the exclusive busi- 
ness of State Department officials, subject of course to Presidential in- 
tervention. There were those like the scholarly Samuel F. Bemis of 
Yale who elaborated most successfully upon the older archival tradi- 
tion. But Charles A. Beard, ever given to a dynamic view of society, 
refused to confine his economic interpretation of history to domestic 
affairs, and studied interest groups as determinants of foreign policy. 
Among his lengthy ideological studies was The Idea of National In- 
terest (1934); later he dwelt upon the "continentalist" or semi-isola- 
tionist theory which would preserve peace by minimizing internation- 
alistic economic and political ties. 

Beard decried Wilson's and Franklin D. Roosevelt's international 
idealism as unrealistic and provocative of war. A decade or two later, 
George Kennan, a onetime State Department expert and a diplomatic 
historian, offered many historical evidences of a moralistic idealism 
which ignored true national interests in dealing with Japan up to 1941 
and with Russia since 1917. This antithesis between moralistic di- 
plomacy and the necessities of power politics was elaborated so ef- 
fectively by Hans Morgenthau of the University of Chicago Political 
Science staff that it awakened a national controversy over whether 
relativism was to run rampant in foreign affairs. Those historians who 
tested the charges of moralistic naivete usually concluded that Amer- 

320 The American Historian 

lean diplomacy, including that of Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, 
showed a realistic awareness of concepts like the balance of power 
and the national interest. 

Hard-boiled diplomatic realism had its devotees among those who 
applied the seapower doctrines of Admiral Mahan or their equiva- 
lents in airpower as a basic determinant of diplomatic policy. A few 
historians of note even borrowed a controversial tool (somewhat tar- 
nished by the Nazis) from geopolitics, which had won a separate 
maintenance suit against political geography, and studied the politi- 
cal community as a growing organism determined by pressures of 
population, living space considerations, and economic needs. Some, 
like Julius Pratt of the University of Buffalo, explained the coming 
of the Spanish- American War partly in terms of the impact of chauvin- 
istic ideologies, as in Expansionists of 1898 (1936); 13 and Albert K. 
Weinberg also made an ideological analysis of national expansionism 
in Manifest Destiny (1936). 

Especially successful among those diplomatic historians who looked 
for social determinants was Thomas A. Bailey of Stanford, who sup- 
plemented archival resources by a variety of informal sources dealing 
with domestic pressures. Most expressive of his point of view was a 
general discussion in The Man in the Street (1948) which pointed 
out the damage done to consistency, wisdom, and security in foreign 
affairs by pressures from ethnic groups, domestic politics, chauvinism, 
isolationist prejudices, Manifest Destiny ideas, and newspaper and 
radio interests. Such warnings were at least partly heeded in the years 
ahead. By mid-century, the conduct of foreign affairs reflected this dy- 
namic approach, in which ideological factors were recognized as of 
major importance. The State Department struggled to find the intel- 
lectual tools with which to combat the spread of subversive isms in 
the uncommitted parts of the world. The United States Information 
Agency and other official groups sponsored cultural programs in a 
cold war that could not be won with conventional weapons. 


Allan Nevins and Recent 

Pew American historians of the mid-twentieth century represented 
so effectively and in such varied ways the chief trends of recent history- 
writing as Professor Allan Nevins of Columbia. His retirement in 1958 
did not cut off a prolific and productive lifetime of creative writing in 
biography, business history, social and cultural history, and the back- 
ground of the Civil War. Without sacrificing scholarly standards he 
made history an adventure for the many. 

This hard-working son of an Illinois farmer was born in 1890 in 
Camp Point, Adams County, not far from the banks of the Mississippi 
and the state line of Missouri. As a boy he knew the tedium of farm 
work, the rounds of rural life, and the long hours of labor; and as a 
historian he continued to work endlessly, often without pausing for 
lunch. A Galvinist background and somewhat Victorian inclinations 
(or so he thought) shaped his outlook. 1 Fellow-historians marveled at 
his industry and some intimated without evidence that his nineteen 
volumes of history, eleven of biography, and scores of other volumi- 
nous writings on which he had collaborated must have been due to 
a corps of anonymous assistants and graduate students. Only Charles 
Beard, who had not been handicapped by numerous academic chores 
once he had left Columbia, was among the able few who could rival 
Nevins in the output of first-rate history. 


322 The American Historian 

Like other local sons of middle-class farmers, he had the opportunity 
of attending the University of Illinois, where he earned two degrees by 
1913, taught English there for a year, but did not go on to the Ph.D. 
Thereafter, until 1927, he turned to newspaper work, became an edi- 
torial writer for the New York Evening Post and The Nation, a literary 
editor for the New York Sun, and a member of the editorial staff of 
the New York World. While living in New York City he managed to 
write the first history of his alma mater, Illinois (1917), by examining 
newspaper files, interviewing officials and alumni, reading state re- 
ports and student publications, and gathering other materials. His ob- 
vious devotion to the University did not prevent him from being ob- 
jective, and he did not resort to anecdotes or trivia in tracing the 
state university movement as against its sectarian rivals. He began 
with the influence of the federal land grants, noted the unique serv- 
ices of Governor John Peter Altgeld in helping to transform the "cow 
college" to major status, and ended with the emerging institutional 
activities. Finally, Nevins saw in such progressive state schools the 
means of disseminating practical idealism, for they worked as a leaven 
upon the social mass. This early book was undistinguished in style, 
but it set a high standard of informative analysis for future college 
histories a research area which Nevins always urged scholars to in- 

Out of his extensive newspaper experience came one of the best 
histories of journalism, The New Jork Evening Post (1922). It was 
no mere technical summation or hasty portraits of editors but illumi- 
nated metropolitan journalism since 1800 and the influence of the 
Post in national affairs. The William Cullen Bryant papers and other 
family papers, as well as the New York press, enabled him to show 
intimately the role of the Post in such crusades as the war against the 
Tweed Ring and its part in party politics. Here again he added new 
dimensions to the writing of a history of the press, for he dealt with 
the Post as an organic thing, shaping as well as being shaped by the 
metropolitan environment. 

While still a newspaper man, he wrote a number of books in Amer- 
ican history that continue to circulate actively in libraries and college 
courses. In 1923, he published American Social History Recorded Tbij 
British Travellers, a most revealing book, and the next year appeared 
a major work in the neglected field of state history The American 
States During and After the Revolution 1775-1789. He called attention 
to the need for expanding the subject matter and method of the field: 

Allan Nevins 323 

In general, American historiography has treated each Colony separately 
till 1775, but with the year of independence has suddenly ceased to regard 
the thirteen commonwealths as separate entities, and followed only their 
collective fortunes. No real attempt has been made to synthesize State his- 
tory for this period, or any other. 

He showed that, while the states retained a colonial heritage of suf- 
frage and religious restrictions, the new states also preserved much 
of seventeenth-century English democracy and experimented success- 
fully in the forms and principles of government. Although Nevins did 
not carry out his plan to write a series of state histories, others ( some 
of them his graduate students ) published excellent books in this field. 

For several years more he combined his editorial duties with his- 
tory-writing and sporadic college teaching. Then in 1931, he became a 
professor of American History at Columbia University, remaining 
there except for distinguished visiting professorships both here and 
abroad and special war-time duties until his retirement. Despite his 
activities in directing graduate students, he found time to travel in 
search of source materials and to write books, which gained ever-in- 
creasing prestige. Steadily his style improved, especially by the 1930s, 
until the discriminating reviewers praised him for his ability to re- 
create historical situations vividly, yet without poetic license. Twice he 
won the Pulitzer Prize, in addition to academic prizes. Publishers 
sought him out to write readable textbooks or to edit entire series of 
biographies and histories. 

Nevins was also among the early contributors in social history to 
the History of American Life Series with the issuance of The Emer- 
gence of Modern America, 1865-1878 (1927). This period had been 
covered from the political and constitutional viewpoints by Rhodes, 
Dunning, and Burgess, but the versatile young author followed the 
scries pattern of avoiding politics to the extent of omitting Charles 
Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens; and, like most of the other contrib- 
utors, he tended to be descriptive or impressionistic rather than ana- 
lytical There was no doubt of his dislike of Radical Reconstruction 
and the use of Union bayonets in controlling the postwar South. The 
chapter headings are revealing: The Darkest Days in the South; Hie 
Industrial Boom in the North; Urban Living; The Taming of the 
Wast, etc. 

He contrasted the booclling and financial recklessness of the era 
with the virility of other Americans, such as the hardy and picturesque 
cowboy, pointed out our growing intellectual maturity., and showed 

324 The American Historian 

sympathy for the farmer's revolt against monopoly while deprecating 
his erratic reform ideas. Newspapers, railways, and public schools 
cemented the unity of post-bellum America, while the reconstructed 
South adjusted itself to "the healthful competitive forces, economic 
and social, of American life." A decade later Nevins seemed more dis- 
turbed over the chaos of competition and justified the necessity for 
economic consolidation, even semi-monopoly. His favorable view of 
business was already evident, for he held that the corrupt Fisks and 
Goulds were not typical of the American businessman. He preferred 
to think of Peter Cooper, the ironmaster and philanthropist, and of 
Abram Hewitt, steelmaker and reformer, as much more representative. 
Although he felt sympathetic towards labor and the unions, he was 
fascinated by the leadership of the new entrepreneurs. As yet, at this 
stage of his development, he seemed unable to make his social his- 
tory absorbing, but his social outlook was already determined. 

The art of biography fascinated Nevins throughout his life and led 
him to make his most noteworthy historical achievements. His ideal 
was not the notion of Carlyle or Emerson of history as a projection 
of the great man, though he left ample room for the role of personal- 
ity. Biography was to him supplementary to history, and his desired 
objective was a life-and-times treatment which gave insights into com- 
plex movements. "It [biography] humanizes the past," he wrote in 
his Gateway to History (1938), "while at the same time it enriches 
the present by showing us life with a vividness and completeness that 
few men experience in life itself." In the 'twenties, the vogue for biog- 
raphy stemmed in part from the stimulating example of the English- 
man, Lytton Strachey, who depicted eminent Victorians like Florence 
Nightingale and John Henry Newman with a realism in which sym- 
pathy and understanding were also present. Strachey was no "de- 
bunker" like the cynical New York businessman, William E. Wood- 
ward, who thought of George Washington as a cold-hearted land spec- 
ulator and an inferior general. 

Although Nevins believed that Strachey was an essayist rather than 
an historian, he shared his enthusiasm for honest biography, but his 
own portraits frequently revealed more moralistic judgments than psy- 
chological analysis. Some biographers of the 1920s like Dr. Katharine 
Anthony went so far as to interpret their subjects in semi-Freudian 
terms. Psychology was then the queen of the social sciences and re- 

Allan Nevins 325 

fleeted the Introspective atmosphere and individualistic emphasis of 
the Lost Generation. Closer to Nevins in spirit was the former Pro- 
gressive Senator from Indiana, Albert J. Beveridge, whose very sym- 
pathetic and successful Life of John Marshall (1916-19) reflected the 
business philosophy of the 'twenties; that generation admired the con- 
servative outlook of Alexander Hamilton, the model for Secretary of 
the Treasury Andrew Mellon. This decade ended with the inaugura- 
tion of the twenty-nine volume Dictionary of American Biography 
(1928-44). Written by over two thousand specialists, it was inspired 
by England's noted Dictionary of National Biography. In the second 
great wave of biographies during the prosperous 'forties and 'fifties, 
again an era of business leadership, Nevins found his milieu. 

While still a newspaperman, Nevins tried to blend an interest in 
the romantic West with his interest in biography. He secured hitherto 
unused papers of John C. Fremont from his heirs and published in 
1928 Fremont, the West's Greatest Adventurer. It delighted Willa 
Gather and other novelists of the frontier, and its tone was much live- 
lier than conventional historical writing. Eleven years later (1939), 
"chastened in style and much enlarged in content," as the author 
wrote, he produced a much more critical book on the same man. He 
seemed fascinated by the dashing, scintillating personality of the ver- 
satile, adventurous Fremont. Yet, Nevins made no flattering claims 
for his hero, whom he spoke of as very rarely a Pathfinder and mostly 
a Pathmarker. Like certain previous writers, he concluded that it was 
fortunate that this man never became President, for he was too rash, 
tactless, and erratic in judgment. Fremont became a legend with a 
name that was to evoke "the fragrance of one of the truest love stories 
in American history." While an occasional specialist on the trans- 
Mississippi West like Professor Cardinal Goodwin complained that 
the book was too long and had little to say that was new, Carl Fish 
and other historians thought that it was an ideal biography. 

In 1930, Nevins emerged from his studies in diplomatic history as 
well as biography to publish Henry White: Thirty Years of Diplomacy. 
This was the only authorized biography that Nevins ever wrote, but 
he denied that the family had influenced him and insisted that "the 
responsibility for every part of it rests exclusively with myself." The 
very wealthy White family turned over many new letters which made 
possible a somewhat different account of the diplomacy of Richard 
Olney and John Hay as well as White. While Henry White was no 
major figure, his biographer recognized this fact and did not go be- 
yond praising his sterling character and diplomatic skill. One acute 

326 The American Historian 

reviewer thought that the lavish use of personal correspondence did 
not make up for the failure to study the available archival sources, 
and, as a result, the diplomatic history lacked depth of penetration. 
The author revealed unmistakable Anglophile tendencies, though 
his references in this and in other books to the creative Anglo-Saxon 
were cultural and not racial. "A life-long believer in a close friendship 
between Great Britain and America," he said, "he [White] lived to 
see the old hostility banished forever, and the two nations associates 
in war and partners in promoting disarmament and peace/' White had 
served as an ambassador to Italy and to France; he headed the Amer- 
ican delegation at the crucial Algeciras Conference, where he helped 
to prevent a conflict between Germany and France over Morocco. 
Like Nevins, he was an internationalist eager to see the United States 
enter the League. It was not easy for the biographer to be detached 
in dealing with a man who had died only recently; besides, Nevins 
almost never escaped the temptation to align himself with his subject 
in his various biographies, although his honesty led him to enumerate 
his heroes* drawbacks. Nevertheless, Henry White was a satisfactory 
performance. A very competent reviewer, Professor James A. Wood- 
burn, considered this the most readable of volumes and concluded, 
"No student of the recent years, or of American diplomatic history, 
can afford to neglect this volume , . . the most important and valu- 
able historical production of the year." 2 

The Great Depression did not greatly affect Nevins's pro-business 
outlook even when he took a sympathetic attitude toward the New 
Deal. His new heroes were the conservative Grover Cleveland, the 
reformist but wealthy ironmaker Abram Hewitt, the traditionalist 
Hamilton Fish, and the super-entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller. Ob- 
viously he had no desire to satisfy the current demand for anti-busi- 
ness biographies. Gustavus Myers came back into notice in 1936 by 
arranging for a Modern Library edition of his History of the Great 
American Fortunes, which had been grist for the muckraking mill of 
a generation before. Myers had challenged the idea that "the great 
private fortunes were unquestionably the result of thrift and sagacious 
ability," but he regarded his own analysis as scientific, in contrast to 
the "sheer sensationalism" of muckraking. In 1907 reviewers had casti- 
gated his treatment of the Vanderbilts, the Jay Goulds, the Morgans, 
the Hills, and the Rockefellers as "Plutophobia." Now he had become 

Allan Nevins 327 

a classic among liberals and leftists. Along similar lines, Matthew 
Josephson, a Columbia graduate, was popularizing a most derogatory 
term in The Robber Barons (1934) and The Politicos (1938). A vogue 
for economic history was then in full blossom, the disciples of Fred- 
erick ]. Turner were directing attention in books and college courses 
upon economic aspects of western history, and Charles A. Beard's 
economic interpretation of history had become almost orthodox among 
the younger generation. 

In 1932, Nevins chose to subtitle his Grover Cleveland "A Study in 
Courage" and thus subordinated somewhat the emphasis on the basic 
economic questions to the factor of Cleveland's strength of character, 
although the bulk of the narrative was devoted to the two presiden- 
tial administrations. Aided by a vast unpublished correspondence, both 
personal and official, he was able to keep close to the private reactions 
of Cleveland, his alternations of exuberance and puritanical sternness, 
his simple and powerful emotions, his integrity, common sense, physi- 
cal and mental strength, and cautious sagacity. He never surrendered 
"an iota of principle to expediency." But the biographer stated frankly 
that these qualities would not have been enough "but that the stars 
were with him." He was to express similar judgments on Rockefeller 
and Ford. Luck or chance and favorable environmental factors counted 
for a great deal in Nevins's interpretation of history, despite his con- 
cern for character and personality. 

Cleveland's first term was successful because the "settled democ- 
racy" did not desire a new Jackson: 

Men expected Cleveland to display not an excursive boldness, but simply 
a greater honesty and earnestness than his predecessors, and he understood 
this perfectly. . . . Reconstruction was safely in the past, the agrarian prob- 
lem, the labor problem, and the trust problem were only slowly coming to 
national attention, and belonged to the future. 

While his first term, as Nevins saw it, stressed honesty and tariff re- 
form, the second added to this "the principle of unyielding conserv- 
atism in all that affected finance and business." He observed acutely 
that to the support by reformers was joined the allegiance of "fright- 
ened Eastern capitalism/" particularly bankers, utility magnates, large 
merchants, and railroad owners. Cleveland's low tariff ideas and inter- 
nationalist leanings were very congenial to the author. 

Nevins believed that Cleveland's anti-imperialistic philosophy, par- 
ticularly as expressed in his rejection of the annexation of Hawaii, was 
much more important than his jingoistic language in the Venezuela 

328 The American Historian 

boundary dispute with England. The latter message he attributed to 
the bad advice of Secretary of State Olney. Cleveland's firm anti-ex- 
pansionism eventually led to better relations with Great Britain, a goal 
ardently desired by the writer, who liked to speak of "the great Eng- 
lish-speaking nations" and the Anglo-Saxon heritage. The biographer 
also blamed Cleveland's friend, Olney, while he was attorney-general, 
for the misconception of the Pullman Strike that led the President to 
send federal troops to Chicago and to invoke the labor injunction. 
While Kevins sympathized with the progressive Governor John Peter 
Altgeld of Illinois, who protested Cleveland's military intervention, 
he argued that the governor should have moved faster in using the 
state militia. This statement overlooked the fact that Altgeld had con- 
sistently used militia that same year in the coal strikes whenever 
needed to preserve order, but never to break strikes; besides, the 
Chicago disorders began after and not before the arrival of Cleve- 
land's troops. The author's admiration for the President did not pre- 
vent him from taking the labor side and from severely arraigning the 
labor policies of George M. Pullman and the organized railroad ex- 

While other historians of the 'thirties sympathized with the Popu- 
listic demands for currency reform and inflation, Nevins preferred 
Cleveland's "sound money" gold theories and praised his courage in 
withstanding the storm of criticism that befell his hard-money poli- 
cies. "He belonged to the Anglo-Saxon race which values character 
above everything else; and his career shows why that valuation is a 
just one." Thus, in the biographer's view, the President had saved the 
nation from abandoning the gold standard "'an abandonment that 
would have meant heavy loss and perhaps economic chaos." A few 
years later, undoubtedly, Nevins could have noted that the latter-day 
Bryanites among the New Dealers had embarked on similar inflation- 
ist currency experiments, which succeeded neither in raising prices nor 
in precipitating the economic chaos feared in 1896. 

Arthur Cole and Elbert J. Benton, both eminent historians in this 
field, were impressed by the fairness, thoroughness, and brilliance of 
the Cleveland biography. "Mr. Nevins," said Cole, "has produced in 
every sense a stimulating volume such as might well have set the 
standard for the series of biographies which he edits and to which 
the work belongs." Benton as well as Cole liked Nevins's frankness in 
discussing the errors of his hero and added strong words of commen- 
dation, 8 "Probably no one will arise to deny that the author's objective 
has been brilliantly achieved." William Allen White of Emporia, writ- 

Allan Nevins 329 

ing in the Saturday Review of Literature, praised the book's scholarli- 
ness, honesty, charm, and intelligence. 

In 1936, Nevins published Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the 
Grant Administration, another life-and-times study based on a huge 
diary and many archival sources. While it exceeded 900 pages, it com- 
pressed the first sixty years of Fish's life in one hundred pages and 
the last twenty in thirty pages; the remainder dealt revealingly with 
the Grant administration. Although the author modestly stated that 
his book was intended for the general reader not the specialist and 
that he had left many problems for the monograph writers, the pro- 
fessional as well as general reviewers were usually enthusiastic. 4 

Grant's Secretary of State Hamilton Fish emerged from the book 
as a giant among cabinet pygmies. "Again and again he saved the 
government from misfortune, once or twice even from disaster/' Yet 
Fish lacked quick perception, originality, or brilliance and was plainly 
a Whig-Republican conservative with a strong property consciousness. 
But he had clarity and soundness of judgment. He knew how to block 
the "sentimental imperialism" of Seward, Grant, and Sumner and the 
trend toward expansionism in Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Canada. *"He 
helped to prevent a reckless realization of the doctrine of Manifest 
Destiny. The thoughtless masses were ripe for another movement of 
national expansion, or if not ready, could quickly have been made so." 
Fish's crowning achievement was of course in fostering good relations 
with Britain during the hot Alabama dispute and in bringing about a 
fair settlement. 

With the lifting of the Great Depression and the coming of pros- 
perity attendant and following World War II, the prestige of the 
businessman rose even higher than during the 1920s. Newspapers, 
magazines, and books told the prodigies of production wrought by 
the wartime industrialist that did so much to defeat the Nazis and 
fascists. The Robber Baron epithet did not fit those at the helm of 
General Motors, United States Steel, and the projects of Henry J. 
Kaiser. Nevins was now more in tune with his age when he set him- 
self to the task of writing sympathetic biographies of Rockefeller and 

The new vogue for business history was much more analytical than 
in the past without muckraking overtones. Businessmen arid their pub- 
lie relations men were solicitous of academic as well as popular 
opinion. Business archives were organized under the direction of 

330 The American Historian 

trained historians and opened to social science research. Fortune 
magazine and the President's Economic Advisors under the Maximum 
Employment Act issued many penetrating analyses of American busi- 
ness. These efforts were no longer solely the panegyrics that Bruce 
Barton had written of the businessmen during the 1920s. Objective 
studies of the entrepreneur and the philanthropist were fostered 
through generous scholarly grants at Harvard, Columbia, Wisconsin, 
Chicago, and elsewhere. The well-established The Business History 
Review., founded in 1927, issued many excellent articles on manage- 
ment and the entrepreneur, and The Journal of Economic History, 
begun in 1941, printed a number of evaluative articles on the social 
status of the top American business leaders. William Miller's study, 
"American Historians and the Business Elite," considered the careers 
of 190 corporation presidents at the opening of the century and ques- 
tioned the Horatio Alger myth of easy social mobility among these 
men. Three-fourths came from old colonial families, not immigrants, 
four-fifths were sons of business and professional people; and a mere 
2 per cent came out of the working class. Two-fifths had gone to col- 
lege, and most of the rest to high school at least. 5 Even in the Horatio 
Alger stories, it will be noted, the hero usually rose out of a humble 
origin because of some wonderful stroke of luck, such as rescuing 
the daughter of a millionaire, rather than because of his ability and 
a favorable social environment. 

But an increasing number of able historians, following the early 
European scholars like Richard Ehrenberg, student of the Fugger 
bankers, had lost interest in the Robber Baron approach and chose to 
concentrate on the history of managerial methods, technology, busi- 
ness and financial contributions, and the biographies of single banks, 
insurance companies, railroads, and industries. Nevins and Dr. Stanley 
Pargellis, a historian who headed Newberry Library in Chicago, urged 
businessmen to combat the anti-business prejudices of some historians 
by opening many more industrial and commercial archives. Not a few 
of the new business historians were associates, students, or friends of 
Nevins. Thus the Columbia professor revised the well-defined unfa- 
vorable image of the Standard Oil Company that came from Henry 
Demarest Lloyd's Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894), Ida Tar- 
bell's History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), and John T. 
Flynn's God's Gold, the latter a more tolerant presentation which 
Nevins found partly salvageable. His associates, Ralph W. and Muriel 
E. Hidy, examined the technological history of this enterprise in Pio- 
neering in Big Business,, 1882-1911: History of the Standard Oil Com- 

Allan Neuim 331 

pany (1955). The Hidys were not directly concerned with moralistic, 
political, or social issues but focused on the technological and eco- 
nomic phases. In 1949, Ralph Hidy had made a close objective study 
of the complex international ties of finance in The House of Baring 
in American Trade and Finance. Business was now to be studied 
clinically under the microscope, not with the lenses of moral judg- 
ments alone. 

In 1940 Nevins brought out both volumes of John D. Rockefeller: 
The Heroic Age of American Enterprise. He began by stating his in- 
tensive effort to be as objective as possible upon this controversial 
subject; "If the author brought any bias to his work, it was that of 
a convinced believer in a free competitive economy," he wrote, and 
added that the full account of Rockefeller's philanthropies was being 
told for the first time. Apparently the Rockefeller family felt no qualms 
about entrusting the family papers to this particular historian; critics 
and defenders of the oil tycoon were interviewed by the author; legis- 
lative reports, now duly tempered by personal and company corre- 
spondence, were not ignored. The facts were obviously meticulously 
examined, for Nevins took pride in correcting the presentations of 
previous writers, and the style remained absorbing throughout the 
entire long narrative. 

Like John T. Flynn, he pointed out that Rockefeller's competitors 
were often worse in their business morals than Standard Oil; besides, 
this company had a remarkable story of solid pioneering contribu- 
tions to industrial technology: 

It was to be vehemently denounced throughout most of the next genera- 
tion and in part with good cause. But its success was not built upon dis- 
honesty. The rebate contracts of 1877 were deplorable; the "massacre" of 
independent refineries had indefensible features. . . . The practices by 
which it earned merited castigation were fairly congenial to its contempo- 

He thought that Standard Oil was entitled to recognition as "one of 
the most impressive industrial fabrics ever erected in any part of the 
globe" and that "impartial observers" had come to feel admiration for 
this creation. The Age of Enterprise ( 1942 ) by the business historians 
Thomas C. Cochran and William Miller accepted the Ncvins-Flynn 
view that Rockefeller was not hated by his contemporaries primarily 
for his methods but because lie was more adept than his rivals in using 
the means that lay close at hand. 
Nevins was unstinted in his praise for Rockefeller's philanthropies 

332 The American Historian 

and their administration. He did not agree with Flynn that Rockefeller 
was wholly naive in his notion of stewardship for "God's Gold." 
"Rockefeller always dealt with his wealth in humility, not in arrogance. 
He never used it to minister to his vanity or power. Regarding it 
objectively, he never let personal prejudices or predilections impair 
the wisdom of its employment." Unlike Carnegie, Stanford, or Duke, 
he did not meddle with the men who directed these expenditures but 
kept his gifts on the very highest plane. Nevins of course knew that 
his own views were not held by contemporaries: 

The American people, as we have said, felt no great gratitude to Rocke- 
feller for the distribution of a fortune which many regard as largely a his- 
torical accident. But reflecting citizens have properly felt a very warm grati- 
tude to him and his son for the painstaking care, the wisdom, the unselfish- 
ness, and the fine public spirit with which the distribution has been made. 

During his lifetime, Rockefeller gave to the public over $550 millions 
and left most of the remaining fortune to his son for the continuance 
of his philanthropies. 

Whenever the evidence went against the Rockefellers, as in the case 
of the violent Ludlow, Colorado, strike, where their absenteeism en- 
couraged gross abuses of labor by the manager, Nevins stated all of 
the relevant facts quite honestly, though he mitigated the charges by 
the most sympathetic treatment of the circumstances involved and 
went on to show that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., inaugurated reforms 
thereafter. The elder Rockefeller is usually treated much better than 
Standard Oil and praised as an organizing genius, keen mind, firm 
character, bold innovator, and "one of the most impressive figures of 
the century which his lifetime spanned." 

Thirteen years after a very warm reception of this work, Nevins 
decided to revise it as Study in Power: John D. Rockefeller, Indus- 
trialist and Philanthropist. The second two-volume biography seemed 
to him practically a new book, because, while it preserved the main 
facts, it contained a great deal of hitherto unknown and highly illu- 
minating material derived from recently discovered letters. This made 
possible a more intensive view of the organizing methods of the oil 
business and the personalities involved. Nevins was more convinced 
than ever that those who used the Robber Baron interpretation of 
1865-1914 knew but one facet of the truth. '"The constructive aspects 
of the transformation were in the long run more important than the 
destructive; the development of new wealth far outweighed the wastes 
of existing wealth." 

Allan Nevins 333 

One of Nevins's able Columbia colleagues in economic history, Louis 
Hacker, had collaborated with European historians to show that his- 
torians had erred in depicting the Industrial Revolution and early 
capitalism unfavorably, because they gave exclusive attention to the 
parliamentary investigations of the gross abuses of labor. Nevins 
agreed with this criticism: 

Modern students of the Industrial Revolution in England have long ago 
agreed that early historians did it an injustice by writing their books out 
of the inquiries of the Parliamentary commissions which accumulated evi- 
dence of abuses as a foundation for reform legislation. That was part of the 
valid evidence but only part. 

He could have added that the anti-business portraits of Gustavus 
Myers had depended upon legislative investigations. Yet, Nevins 
echoed a judgment on the wealth of these entrepreneurs that did not 
differ much from that of Myers: 

In no true sense of the word did he [Rockefeller], Carnegie, and Henry 
Ford earn the huge accumulations which came to them. Only the special 
economic, legal, and fiscal situation of the United States 1865-1917 rendered 
it possible to make and keep so much money. Recognizing this fact, Rocke- 
feller always regarded himself as a trustee rather than an owner. 

Those who reviewed the Rockefeller biographies in either edition 
(although particularly the Study in Power) were frequently generous, 
if sometimes qualified, in their praise. Reginald C. McGrane, the eco- 
nomic historian of the University of Cincinnati, was impressed by 
Nevins's arduous research, the noteworthy revisions of so many phases 
of the Rockefeller story, and the absorbing style, but he felt that the 
author had contradicted himself to present the oil man favorably: 
"While Professor Nevins has not failed to criticize the Standard Oil 
and Rockefeller at times/' he concluded, "he has written a very com- 
forting history of the oil industry and of the rise of one gigantic cor- 
poration." 6 John D. Hicks shared much of this judgment. While he 
conceded that Nevins had made a most important contribution to 
American history, one of which the author might feel proud, there 
was obvious bias also: "The observer is apt to believe that if Rocke- 
feller's critics have overplayed their hands, so also has his chief de- 
fender, Mr. Nevins." 7 Not all of the academicians were converts to 
Nevins's Rockefeller. 8 

No less ambitious in scope and sources than the Rockefeller biog- 
raphy was Iris two-volume work on Henry Ford, also cast in the life- 
and-times form, with considerable attention to the technology and 

334 The American Historian 

entrepreneurial factors behind a leading industrial firm. 9 Ford's pub- 
lic relations men had not been idle in circulating the picture of an 
attractive industrial giant who might have become president, but in 
1948 came a thoughtful but severe arraignment of the automobile 
magnate by Keith Sward, The Legend of Henry Ford. This showed a 
ruthless autocrat, sharp in his dealings with agencies and rivals, harsh 
in his labor relations, defiant of national authority in the guise of the 
National Labor Relations Board, and an irresponsible purveyor of 
anti-Semitism through his organ The Dearborn Independent. But 
Nevins did not wholly agree with Sward, of whose work he had this 
to say: 

The first attempted formal study, based on extensive research in printed 
sources and equipped with scholarly apparatus, of Henry Ford and the 
Ford Motor Company. While often perceptive, it suffers from bias, and from 
conclusions based on insufficient evidence. The heavily weighted pro-labor 
viewpoint of the author, a former CIO public relations counsel, governs the 
tone and character of the volume. 

While Sward drew to a considerable extent from investigative ma- 
terials aimed at Ford's abuses, Nevins went far beyond this to consult 
the vast Ford archives newly reorganized for the use of historians. 
One of Nevins's Columbia students who had been trained in his Oral 
History Research Office held a key position in the archives. As in 
previous books, Nevins began with an emphatic denial that this was 
in any sense an authorized work, but a product of a grant from the 
Ford Motor Company Fund to Columbia University in the interests 
of general business history and a project supervised by a special faculty 
committee. In fact, "the research has been done by University em- 
ployees, working under ordinary academic conditions and with the 
usual academic salaries; all royalties on the volume are paid to the 
University." This statement also suggested the extent to which the 
author was accepting collaboration, though he insisted that he was 
responsible for the final product: "For all the faults and shortcomings 
of the history, the author alone is responsible." One of his chief col- 
laborators in this and in previous works was the scholarly Frank E. 
Hill, whose name appears on a co-equal basis in volume two. 

The book began with a vivid story of the pioneer development of 
transportation since the early stagecoach and came up to the rise of 
modern vehicles. Henry Ford's childhood in a rural setting was told 
in visual language: 

Allan Nevins 335 

The child Henry Ford toddled about on the Dearborn farm amid pleasant 
surroundings. The land, though a stiff clay and somewhat hard to work was 
fertile. Beyond the yard with its pump, beyond the evergreen shrubs and 
the orchard, well-cultivated fields were broken by patches of timber. 

Nevins of New York City had not forgotten his rural past. 

One of the chief episodes which pictured Ford in a most favorable 
light was the battle of his young struggling company against the 
arrogant patent claims of George Selden and the wealthy financiers 
and industrialists behind him: "Millions of dollars and the right to 
produce freely were at stake." Ford's victory in the courts not only 
opened his own path to great riches but freed automobile production 
for all, as against the payment of tribute in the form of large license 
fees to a monopolistic group: "To him it had been a fight for freedom 
in the deepest and most satisfying sense." 

Up to 1914, Ford is an admirable man to his biographer, because 
he seemed to excel in all the traits that made American entrepreneurs 
examples for businessmen everywhere, There was well-directed hard 
work which led to the manufacturing and improvement of the early 
car models. He showed creative independence and initiative in de- 
signing, selling, and financing. His adaptation of the assembly line 
reflected an honest desire to enrich the masses by making cheap cars. 
Labor shared in the benefits that he dispensed. Especially praise- 
worthy to the author was the history of Ford's leadership in establish- 
ing the basic five-dollar day at a time when such a rate seemed fabu- 
lous. Sward had seen this as an effort to halt a costly turnover of labor 
in an industry marked by dreary repetitive manual operations; be- 
sides, it was expected to check radicalism and unionism and was 
minimized in actual operation. Nevins went into considerable detail 
to refute this view* The new wage scale was the capstone to "the most 
advanced labor policies yet known in large-scale American industry" 
at a time when Detroit was an open shop town. The Ford Company 
had long avoided the speed-up piece work system, led in the use of 
safety devices and regulations, checked the power of autocratic fore- 
man and supervisors, paid efficiency bonuses, and instituted an eight- 
hour clay. Even when his fellow-directors protested, Ford insisted on 
sharing profits with his men. 

Nevins was much more impressed with Ford's "sociological" or wel- 
fare department than Sward, who regarded it as unjustified intrusion 
into the homes of employees. To the Columbia professor, this depart- 
ment deserved credit for its Americanization work, its vocational re- 

336 The American Historian 

training o men, and the struggle against the slums. Furthermore, 
Henry Ford's philanthropies included work for the handicapped and 
even for large numbers of former convicts on parole. To Sward, these 
ex-convicts represented a group of necessity loyal to Ford himself 
and ready to do his bidding in fighting incipient unionism. 

Ford's naivete on matters outside of auto-making led him to trust 
his own intuitive judgments in areas quite foreign to him. He never 
outgrew the habit of making startling and irresponsible statements to 
the press, and he was eager to believe the emotional pacifists who 
urged upon him the Peace Ship venture to end the World War. He 
had been influenced by the peace movement and the peace sentiments 
of his beloved McGufey Readers. Much more understandable were 
internationalist and pro-League sympathies which led him to support 
Woodrow Wilson and James Cox. While his growing popularity 
brought him a surprising number of supporters for the United States 
Senate and even for the White House, it seemed to Nevins that he was 
motivated by much more than a desire to sell more cars. 

After 1916, Ford displayed autocratic tendencies toward his asso- 
ciates and his workers, and his increased reliance on intuition in social 
issues led him into strange bypaths. His worst and most injurious ad- 
venture was the manufacture of anti-Semitic charges and legends by 
staff members of his Dearborn Independent. They collected, elaborated 
upon, or invented a large stock of anti-Semitic canards, such as the 
alleged world conspiracy in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." 
Even when it was demonstrated that this conspiracy had been con- 
cocted by Czarist agents, the Dearborn Independent editors were not 
disturbed. Eventually, these Ford writers, who were not all enthusiastic 
about this assignment, overreached themselves by making conspira- 
torial charges against an able Jewish lawyer, Aaron Sapiro, who 
promptly began a heavy libel suit which attracted embarrassing na- 
tional notoriety to Ford, who had been accustomed to newspaper 
praise in the past. Ford settled the case out of court at the first oppor- 
tunity, especially when it became evident that his car sales might 
suffer. Although Nevins, with his customary urbanity, explained Ford's 
anti-Semitism as rural loutishness rather than bigotry, he did not 
minimize the facts themselves; in fact, he explored a variety of theories 
regarding the manufacturer's behavior. He showed that Ford was 
obviously lying when he pretended publicly that he had paid no at- 
tention to the activities of the Dearborn Independent. Furthermore, 
Nevins was quite aware that the injury inflicted on the Jews could 
not be ended by Ford's apology; these articles were widely read and 

Allan Nevins 337 

translated by anti-Semites abroad. (Sward even linked this influence 
with the Nazis.) Ford's very prestige in rural America and abroad 
gave this hate literature validity and perpetuated its life. 

Both Nevins and Sward were severely critical of Ford's use of the 
unsavory ex-prize fighter, Harry Bennett, as head of the Ford Service 
Department. Bennett's picked men intimidated alleged labor agitators 
and won a reputation as a local Gestapo. Nevins preferred to think of 
Ford's motives as merely naive rather than sinister; his family was 
concerned about threats to their safety. Although the second volume 
did not go much beyond 1932, Nevins did stigmatize Ford's labor 
policies during the Depression as indefensible. Sward, who brought 
the story through the entire New Deal years, had much more to say 
about Ford brutality and defiance of the National Labor Relations 
Board during these years. Nevins and Hill made their second volume 
much more critical than the first: "Since 1919 he [Ford] had been 
one of the last great despots of the industrial world, his dictatorial 
sway backed by complete ownership and large financial reserves." 

When the books appeared, the reviewers seemed more impressed 
than ever. Even Harold U. Faulkner, an economic historian of Smith 
College who had always been critical of industrial monopoly and big 
business, gave the biography unqualified praise. In his judgment the 
work superseded all others on the subject because of its comprehensive 
research, accuracy, tone, and style. "It is no glorification of Ford or 
big business," he believed. 10 A more detailed review in the Mississippi 
Valley Historical Review held a similarly high estimate. The reviewer 
was especially impressed by the fact that Nevins and his aides had 
to peruse archives containing over six million manuscripts and 100,000 
photographs. But he thought that even more explicit value judgments 
could have been expressed by the biographer. 11 

Perhaps the best-written and most valuable historical work of Allan 
Nevins were the Ordeal of the Union (1947) and The Emergence of 
Lincoln (1950), each a substantial two-volume set. With all his facility 
in research, he was able to go over the much-worn period of 1847-61 
and emerge with a fresh, lively narrative. Nevins's contributions did 
much to clarify the picture of ante-bellum America. He shared with 
Ulrich Phillips the belief that the race problem was the central one 
for a people irrevocably committed to "a white man's country"; both 
agreed that the abolitionists were incendiaries. But while Phillips jus- 

338 The American Historian 

tified the planter's point of view, Nevins did not, though he went along 
in pointing out that the North, with its exclusion of free Negroes, did 
nothing to alleviate the race issue and much to aggravate it. Neither 
of these historians was content with the view of James Ford Rhodes 
that the Civil War was a moralistic crusade over slavery. 

These volumes were also unique in the way they exemplified Rob- 
inson's New History idea in fact, much better than the older Colum- 
bia professor had done. The subject matter was as broad in social, 
cultural, intellectual, and political history as any devotee of this school 
could require. Nevins did not have the reformist emphasis that the 
older leaders of the New History had had, but he was not unconcerned 
with the present-day significance of historical situations, Besides, his 
use of cultural history had close relevance for the main theme and 
was an effort to acquire deeper understanding of the Civil War by 
synthesizing the various strands of historical development. 

As in previous volumes, Nevins could refer quite honestly to his 
extensive labors in tracking down letters and other sources, this time 
through wide travels both North and South. Once more he invoked 
the goddess of objectivity as his ideal and stated frankly that this work 
would be primarily a narrative history. Only this, he thought, could 
"lay bare the inner meaning of the crisis," though room would be found 
for purely analytical and descriptive elements in the nation's civiliza- 
tion. He looked for a number of dominant themes or clues: 

Most of the forces created by science, invention, and business technology 
thrust toward unification. This tendency had to contend against centrifugal 
impulses born of the wide spaces of the land, the varied national origins of 
the people, and the existence of two utterly different labor systems. 

Sometimes the slavery theme seemed too narrow to contain the entire 
narrative structure, and the author was led to observe how the every- 
day life of the nation was not concerned with the political struggle 
over human bondage. 

The first chapter began with a sensitive literary narrative that re- 
flected the author's belief that historians must develop a feeling for 
the physical setting as part of the malleable whole. He was with Scott 
at Chapultepec: 

On the high Mexican plateau the September nights are chill The first 
gray glimmer of day was appearing outside Winfield Scott's headquarters 
on the craggy height of Taeubaya, less than a mile from Chapultepec on 
its sister hill, when the sentries' challenges rang out to halt a group ascend- 
ing thelslope. 

Allan Nevins 339 

Imaginative as this paragraph is, Nevins could actually document 
practically all of it. The sources exist. Irrefutable common sense fills 
in the gaps. 

Nevins had far too much to cover of an area traversed by so many 
specialists for him to attempt an entirely new story. But there were 
few topics to which he did not add new facts and often interpretations. 
Besides, his selection of monographic theses were usually well blended 
into a total picture that was his own. He examined the growing fac- 
tionalism within the Democratic party after the Wilmot Proviso pro- 
posal and concluded that the politicians of the Old Northwest had not 
conspired to induce David Wilmot to present an incendiary measure 
barring slavery from all lands acquired from Mexico as a result of the 
war. President Polk seemed wise to the author in following Calhoun 
and his Southern lieutenants in fixing the Oregon northern boundary 
at 49 degrees, instead of resorting to the dangerous slogan of "Fifty- 
four-Forty or Fight"; Polk had bravely disregarded the resentment of 
the Northwest. In fact Nevins regarded Polk as one of America's great 
presidents, and he had published a diary which put a favorable light 
upon the man. As an inveterate seeker for moderate solutions, he 
praised the architects and the ideas of the Compromise of 1850, par- 
ticularly Clay and Webster. a No man loved the Union more strongly 
than Webster, and none had done more to instill in Americans a noble 
spirit of nationality." 

Douglas, who has been praised by so many revisionist historians as 
no less important in achieving the Compromise than Clay and Web- 
ster, was not exonerated for his part in upsetting that settlement 
through the Kansas-Nebraska Act. However, Nevins constructed a 
single strand of complex motives, borrowed largely but far from 
exclusively from previous historians. As a businessman long interested 
in railroads, Douglas desired a northern transcontinental railroad from 
Chicago, his home; he may have believed that he could thus please 
the South and advance his presidential dream; he hoped to quash the 
slavery question in the territories by applying the squatter or popular- 
sovereignty idea to them; he had to appease the followers of Senator 
Atchison of Missouri; and he may have hoped to resolve the chaos 
in the Democratic party that had been induced through President 
Piercers ineptitude. 

Shrewdly and skillfully, Nevins reconstructed the elusive Atchison- 
Douglas maneuvers leading to the passage of the Kansas Act. He dis- 
missed as a transparent rationalization the argument of Douglas that 
the principle of slavery restriction as expressed In the Missouri Com- 

340 The American Historian 

promise of 1820 had been dropped in the Compromise of 1850. Pierce, 
who had blocked Douglas's efforts to get a genuine test of popular 
sovereignty in Kansas, appears in a most unflattering light: "He was 
one of the quickest, most gracefully attractive, and withal weakest, 
of the men who have held his high office/' For the imperialistic for- 
eign policies of Pierce, such as the efforts to force Spain to sell us 
Cuba, he had only contempt: "Had our policy shown more honesty, 
more simple decency, it would have been both more reputable and 
more effective." 

The author underlined the basic race factor as the prime cause of 
the sectional conflict, although he did not ignore other factors: "Every- 
where, North and South, the free Negro offered a demonstration of 
the fact that the racial problem underlay the slavery problem, and 
that abrupt action in dealing with the "peculiar institution' might well 
complicate the task of race-adjustment." Here again was the moderate 
speaking, the foe of violence; but he did not agree with Ulrich B. 
Phillips that slavery had much in its favor: "Slavery was the greatest 
misery, the greatest wrong, the greatest curse to white and black 
alike that America has ever known." 

Like Frederick Law Olmsted, who visited the South during the 
1850s (and quite unlike his friends Morison and Commager), he re- 
jected the standard portrait of kindly planter paternalism: 

In reality, Southern kindliness was chiefly for Negroes in slavery and was 
that type of amiability always engendered in superior groups by an im- 
mutable caste system. It seldom extended to free Negroes, who were re- 
garded with even greater hostility than in the North. 

It was the caste system, then, which led planters to hate free Negroes. 
"If they grew numerous, educated, and economically secure, they 
would arouse the envious discontent of the slaves, become a rallying 
point against the existing order, and ultimately reduce slavery to 
atoms/' The sectional quarrel between both sections over slavery and 
race adjustment was worsened by a schism in American culture: 

Differences of thought, taste, and ideals gravely accentuated the misunder- 
standings caused by the basic economic and social differences: the differ- 
ences between a free labor system and a slave labor system, between a 
semi-industrialized economy of high productiveness and an agrarian economy 
of low productiveness. 

The Emergence of Lincoln, two volumes which dealt with 1857*59 
and 1859-61, continued the prologue to the Civil War. Nevins spoke 

Allan Nevins 341 

highly of his predecessors who had worked in the field Rhodes, Mc- 
Master, Schouler, and Edward Charming, "who brought a finished 
scholarship to bear upon a succession of issues and aspects." But he 
thought that historians put such an excessive emphasis on the politics 
of this era that they regarded it too exclusively as one of turmoil. 
"Yet in a broad view, the period stands conspicuous for a peaceful 
growth and prosperity greater than any that Americans had previously 
seen." California was now one of the wealthiest of states; Colorado had 
become a rich mining frontier; scientific farming replaced subsistence 
farming; and the East had become more intensely urbanized. "The 
main impression given by American life in the fifties was of health, 
strength, and constructive force." 

Nevins hated war ( though he supported the Roosevelt foreign policy 
in World War II ) and condemned the Civil War particularly, although 
his precise reasons were not clear: "Secession had to be resisted; but 
it would never have occurred had Americans realized what a great 
war meant." Too many felt the lust for martial excitement, and some 
from both sections later admitted that they would not have supported 
a solution by war had they known of the horrors. Nevins had insisted 
that the war was in part an utter failure of leadership to present the 
facts of race adjustment in their true light. But he does not make clear 
what the actual alternatives were for a confirmed Unionist or anti- 
slavery man in 1861. In fact he pointed out at length that the South 
could not visualize race equality and that the North had no intention 
of permitting large numbers of free Negroes to move there and to share 
the benefits of integration. Not even compensated emancipation at- 
tracted more than scattered minorities. By 1859, as the author saw the 
situation after John Brown's raid, there was little hope: 

The temper of both North and South had grown worse. At this eleventh 
hour, could the conservative forces of the nation be awakened? It clicl not 
seem likely. The country might yet regain the partial concord won in 1850 
or it might slip swiftly toward disunion and war. 

National leadership in the era between the two able presidents 
Polk and Lincoln was at a low ebb. Pierce and Buchanan acted as if 
they were paralyzed by the Kansas war and the presence of a mere 
hundred slaves in a vast area. Nevins philosophized: 

Much that happens in human affairs is accidental. When a country is 

guided by true statesmen the role of accident is minimised; when it is not, 

unforeseen occurrences are numerous and dangerous. 

342 The American Historian 

That great accident was John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry; it divided 
North and South more tragically than ever. The story of John Brown 
is told in detail, and Nevins indicated that this man was far more 
fanatic than saint, although not a madman in the usual sense. Brown 
was sane on all subjects but one slavery and the possibility of ending 
it by a sudden stroke which would provoke slave uprisings. On this 
matter there was "a paranoiac flaw in John Brown's mind, the key 
to his type of reasoning insanity." So frightened was the entire South 
by John Brown that Democratic moderates like Douglas were de- 
stroyed politically. The aroused land of Dixie would only tolerate 
the presidential nomination of a man "whose friendliness to slavery 
was more fervent and unbending than Douglas's." 

Nevins made his chief argument regarding the cause of the war 
clear through elaboration in each volume. Slavery and its comple- 
mentary problem of race adjustment were the main causes of the 
war; had it stood alone, the slavery issue would have been resolved 
as an alternative to war: 

Had it not been for the difference in race, the slavery issue would have 
presented no great difficulties. But as the racial gulf existed, the South in- 
articulately but clearly perceived that elimination of this issue would still 
leave it the terrible problem of the Negro. 

Southern leaders refused "to nerve the people to pay the heavy price 
of race adjustment while the Southern rank and file would not pay the 
price of a rising social status for the Negro." But he confuses his 
reader at times by speaking of slavery as an "inevitable" or "irre- 
pressible" cause of the war, particularly in Ordeal of the Union. 

He rejected as almost wholly untenable the prevailing economic 
interpretations of the Civil War: "One fact needs emphatic statement: 
of all the monistic explanations for the drift to war, that posited upon 
supposed economic causes is the flimsiest." It was certainly not the 
tariff factor, because the South had secured most of its demands here, 
and its other economic grievances did not differ materially from those 
of the rural Northwest. He also saw nothing in the Republican plat- 
forms of 1856 and 1860 to incite the South to war. Undoubtedly the 
North felt that its political power was not commensurate with its social- 
economic strength, while the South feared that this power would be 
turned against slavery, thus endangering the white man's supremacy. 

More than other historians of ante-bellum America, Nevins paid 
attention to the world setting of the slavery and the racial struggle, 
noting the abolition of serfdom or slavery in various parts of the world. 

Allan Nevins 343 

One great difference existed in the fact that the white South most 
feared racial amalgamation, while Latin America did not. Britain and 
France abolished slavery in their colonies, but only a very small frac- 
tion of the population consisted of a white elite, and presumably the 
social distance was so great that amalgamation was not feared. 

Nevins felt that Lincoln understood the basic issues and correctly 
demanded that slavery be placed in a position where the public mind 
could rest assured of its ultimate extinction. Here were the questions: 

Was the Negro to be allowed, as a result of the shift of power signalized 
by Lincoln's election, to take the first step toward an ultimate position of 
general economic, political, and social equality with the white man? Or was 
he to be held immobile in a degraded, servile position, unchanging for the 
next hundred years as it had remained essentially unchanged for the hun- 
dred years past? 

The Columbia professor was raising the ultimate questions which few 
had been quite ready to meet in 1861, There was little of the "re- 
visionist" thinking which dwelt upon power factors, economic deter- 
minants, and psychological explanations. 

Although rival economic and moral interpretations were still too 
strong to be swept away, even by Nevins *s four massive volumes, the 
reviewers agreed in honoring their high literary and human interest 
qualities. John D. Hicks, reading Ordeal of the Union, was pleased to 
note that Nevins had not straddled the issue of the evil of slavery and 
had outdone himself by a very magnificent work. 12 Yale's distinguished 
intellectual historian, Ralph H. Gabriel, warmly endorsed these two 
volumes in detail, especially their richness of color and style, 18 Roy 
F. Nichols of the University of Pennsylvania, whose Disruption of 
Democracy, dealing with the 'fifties, had won a Pulitzer Prize, ad- 
mired the books, though he deplored the tendency of Nevins to mini- 
mize the role of emotionalism as a cause of the war. 14 Two well-known 
Southern historians complained sharply of abolitionist bias and gross 
errors, but this reaction could have been foreseen. 15 Another severe 
critic, Avery Craven of the University of Chicago, a specialist in 
Southern history, who used a multiple approach to the causes of the 
Civil War, was unwilling to concede much more than literary and 
dramatic facility to the author. He regarded his interpretation as 
shallow and biased and, like Roy Nichols, preferred to stress the role 
of emotionalism: 

Moral issues, and issues having to do with the fundamental structure of 
society, had arisen and gotten into politics. Such issues do not lend them- 

344 The American Historian 

selves to toleration, rational discussion, and compromise. They crowded 
reason aside and gave emotions full play. 

To Craven, the conflict was much more "repressible" than it was to 
Nevins, although the latter saw some possibilities for solution before 
John Brown's raid. 16 

On the whole, the reviews were overwhelmingly favorable. The 
writer himself was encouraged to plan an extension of the history to 
1877, the end of Reconstruction, and thus to replace the numerous 
volumes dealing with this entire period by James Ford Rhodes, 


Those who thought of Allan Nevins as an industrious journalist (he 
even spoke of himself in this modest way) gave him little credit for 
abstract thinking or for any philosophy of history. They ignored the 
logical construction of his historical thought and his thoughtful anal- 
ysis of historical method and theory in The Gateway to History ( 1938 ) . 
In this book he gave considerable thought to the nature of history, 
showed familiarity with European as well as American historiography, 
and discussed many aspects of history as an art. His Columbia grad- 
uate course on American historians afforded him an outlet for his 
studies in this field. The Gateway to History did not offer mere counsel 
of perfection but stated ideas that were clearly practiced in his own 

Nevins's love of literary art and of imaginative, vivid language made 
him enthusiastic about the great literary historians Prescott, Bancroft, 
Motley, Parkman, and Irving. Without compromise on quality, they 
made books on history the fare of multitudes of intelligent readers. 
Such work not only illuminated the past, but suffused a glow which 
more than anything else"more than the work of sociologists, econo- 
mists, or political experts" cast light on the immediate future. By the 
1950s, as he noted, the writing of history and biography was very 
frequently in the hands of men who had mastered the art of good 

His admiration for the literary historians of the past did not imply 
old-fogeyism, for he recognized the constant need for new historians 
and perspectives to revise the viewpoints of an age that had gone: 
"The lenses through which we look at the past must be refocused from 
generation to generation." History-writing reflected the form and spirit 

Allan Nevins 345 

of its age and recorded the stages through which thought and feeling 
have passed. 

On the question as to whether history is a science, Nevins offered 
a very qualified answer. He dismissed natural science analogies, al- 
though he liked to borrow Darwinian metaphors; but he believed that 
history was not inferior within its disciplined confines to the sciences 
as a critique of man. It was too "violently personal" to be a natural 
science although it was not behind biology, which also was incapable 
of discovering laws of "a purely timeless and mathematical character." 
Historians could discover certain uniform tendencies in human affairs: 

The steady accumulation of data, together with an increasing ability to 
classify and analyze facts bearing upon individual psychology, communal 
psychology, economic changes, and the growth of institutions and mores, 
enables us to lay down more "laws" and to do so less tentatively. 

But Nevins was too strongly a believer in the element of chance in 
history to leave much room for alleged laws of history. Events fre- 
quently presented themselves not as a logical chain "but a fortuitous 
string of occurrences, affected by chances of a thousand kinds." 

His attitude toward the various types of history- writing was eclectic. 
He was ready to concede an element of truth in Carlyle's alleged 
emphasis on the role of the hero, but he thought that this individual 
became important largely as an expression of the Zeitgeist. He dis- 
liked relativism, but admitted, "Facts cannot be selected without some 
personal conviction as to what is truth, and cannot be arranged with- 
out the same conviction and this conviction is a bias." Nevertheless, 
he stopped short of Beard's relativism, as revealed in "That Noble 
Dream." As he understood it, "The implication is that one set of 
assumptions would be chosen as sounder than another set, and an 
effort would be made to organize historical writing upon this set of 
preconceptions." This seemed to him no better than fascist pragmatism: 
"Those who have a higher ideal of truth will, while admitting that 
their effort to attain it is often doomed to failure, never give up the 

Like most American (and even West European) historians, he felt 
suspicious of general philosophies of history such as that of Hegel, 
as distinct from specific interpretations of historical materials. "Gen- 
eral philosophical concepts of history," he said, "will not bend to 
pragmatic tests." One such untenable concept was Oswald Spengler's 
idea of history moving in regular cycles of development. Nevins dis- 

346 The American Historian 

cussed at some length the various leading philosophies of history, but 
showed that he preferred the sophisticated common-sense view that 
it sufficed to have a generally reflective attitude toward history. Like 
Ranke, he did not reject the usefulness of philosophy, but opposed the 
tendency of so many formal philosophies of history to force the facts 
into a preconceived formula that was apt to run against the test of 
historical experience. He was quite willing to give careful thought to 
such reflective theses as Beard's synthesis of the Civil War as a sharp 
collision between a business civilization and an agrarian one ( although 
Nevins never believed that this was a major "cause" for the war), 
because this theory could be tested. 

He felt sympathetic to the broad social-science approach of the 
New History if this were not overdone. Any history that went too 
far in the direction of sociology fell into a limbo in which it lacked 
form and value. Sociology was certainly useful, but it offered no master 
key to history. There was danger that history turned over to sociologists 
would mean that it would be laid out in artificial and dogmatic pat- 
terns. Interpretation was essential, but so were facts, and the result 
of applying a pound of interpretation to an ounce of facts was dis- 
appointing. At the other extreme of narrowly descriptive social his- 
tory, he deplored the lack of integration in McMaster, Oberholtzer, 
and certain of the authors in the A History of American Life Series. 
Finally, biography was a valuable supplementary element for history, 
with which it should be combined. It gave insights into complex move- 
ments: "It humanizes the past, while at the same time it enriches the 
present by showing us life with a vividness and completeness that few 
men experience in life itself." Thus spoke a highly successful biogra- 
pher who took his own advice. 

When Allan Nevins retired from Columbia University in 1958, he 
could look back upon a lifetime of achievement. He had opened 
many new facets of historyinstitutional research into the University 
of Illinois and the New York Evening Post, a venture into state his- 
tory treated as a synthesis, and a decided revision of the Robber Baron 
portraits and business history through the greater use of personal and 
company correspondence, instead of reliance on expose-type sources 
alone. Civil War revisionism had been enriched and given better 
balance through a fuller consideration of the race factor. It is sur- 
prising that in an age when the race adjustment factor in contempo- 

Allan Nevins 347 

rary civilization had become so evident that there still remained so 
many "revisionists" who doubted that it could have been so impor- 
tant in the coming of the Civil War. 

Nevins was a popularizer in the best sense of the word. He knew 
how to communicate a feeling for the past even to those whose in- 
terests lay far afield. His reviews and essays in The American Heritage, 
the New York Times, and the Saturday Review of Literature height- 
ened the interest in American history for countless readers. Entire 
bookshelves of edited letters, usually made available for the first 
time, added freshness to the subject. He trained archivists through his 
Oral History project, which made tape recordings of important con- 
temporaries permanently available and directed the theses of innu- 
merable able graduate students. Faced by the rapid multiplication 
of historical sources, he called for more co-operative scholarship. His 
own life was one of such constant self-development, whether in lit- 
erary style, historical method, or philosophical understanding, that his 
retirement year seemed to coincide with the apogee of his powers. 

The success of Allan Nevins as a man who could make history live 
was cited in 1953 by a connoisseur of good writing, Professor Samuel 
E. Morison of Harvard, whose history department was studded with 
Pulitzer Prize winners. Morison had written histories of New England's 
life and culture, the biography of Columbus, and a monumental history 
of United States naval operations during World War IIall of them 
presented attractively as well as authoritatively. Like Nevins (and 
Theodore Roosevelt before him), he complained that history-writing 
in this country had descended to a mediocre level since the days of 
the craft-conscious William Bradford and Robert Beverley and the 
great literary historians of the nineteenth century. One side effect of 
German seminar training had been to produce dull monographs and 
uninspired scholars who toiled so that journalists, novelists, and free- 
lance writers might spin. The public now preferred to learn their his- 
tory through Margaret Mitchell and Kenneth Roberts: 

The few professional historians who have had a popular following or 
appeal during the last thirty years are either men like Allan Nevins who 
were trained in some juicier profession like journalism, or men and women 
like the Beards who had the sense to break loose young from academic 

Although this was too harsh a judgment by 1953, considering the num- 
ber of stylists among historians, there was substance in the charge. 
Morison called upon young historians to cultivate style and a disci- 

348 The American Historian 

plined imagination; to express themselves with clarity, vigor, and ob- 
jectivity; to train themselves by such means as reading the ancient and 
English classics; and to enhance realism by making a direct contact 
with life through personal experience. 17 


The story of American history-writing may well conclude with the 
productive career of Allan Kevins. Although his students liked to 
speak of him admiringly as a maverick indifferent to the glories of 
the Ph.D. degree which he never attained and equally indifferent to 
the inner politics of the historical associations, he prepared a genera- 
tion of Columbia scholars for professorial posts and he did become 
president of the American Historical Association in 1959. Preferring 
accurate narration to ambitious syntheses, he avoided the integrative 
approach of certain other noted Columbia historians Beard, Osgood, 
Robinson, Burgess, Dunning, and Hacker. Like most historians of this 
era, he felt suspicious of abstract philosophies of history, of those who 
used "a pound of interpretation for an ounce of fact," or of those who 
emulated Spengler or Toynbee in a search for ultimates in historical 
meaning. He preferred to recapture the panorama of the past rather 
than to focus upon pressing social issues. 

He and the average historian of the 1950s were no longer in search 
of scientific determinants in history. The Darwinian analogy in history 
(and in most of the social studies) had died within his lifetime, and 
the friends of Frederick Jackson Turner were trying to save the Mas- 
ter's teachings by stripping his theories of outworn evolutionary de- 
terminants. Beard's economic emphasis was under severe attack from 
younger historians, and even the Soviet Union's spectacular rise failed 
to make the Marxist economic synthesis palatable to the academician 
of the mid-century. Nevins's erstwhile colleague, Henry Commager, 
might speak of himself as a disciple of Parrington, but he carefully 
avoided the naive Jeffersonian agrarianism as a leitmotif. Nevins and 
his generation gave much more attention to the role of accident and 
human personality as factors in a complex of multiple causation. 

Attractive narrative drawn from rich sources and tempered by 
shrewd insights was the Nevins forte and the working ideal of many 
historians. He lamented the lack of stylists like Parkman or Bancroft, 
but it was indeed fortunate that their naive ethnocentrism had greatly 
declined. Although Nevins showed sympathies for the role of the 
Anglo-Saxon, the day of the racist had gone. If Nevins was indeed 

Allan Nevins 349 

the successor of James Ford Rhodes as the monumental historian of 
the Civil War, he and his fellow-historians were increasingly free 
of the anti-Negro or imperialist assumptions of Rhodes, Dunning, 
Burgess, and Phillips. While he might share the Phillips thesis that 
slavery and race adjustment were the main causes of the Civil Wax, 
he rejected the basic prejudices with which the Georgian had sur- 
rounded his total analysis. Thus, the historian had come abreast of 
the more enlightened concepts of race relations in the decade after 

Nevins could claim greater consistency of interpretation in his books 
on the entrepreneurs than those who swung to conservatism only in 
the Eisenhower years. He built on an optimistic faith in the continuing 
material and moral success of a civilization that was heavily indebted 
to the ingenuity of the businessman and technicians. But he laid no 
similar emphasis upon the constructive energies of organized labor, 
for he usually observed a passive though sympathetic role. In dealing 
with businessmen or politicians like Cleveland for that matter, he was 
concerned particularly with moral questions of character; Rockefeller 
and Ford (up to 1914) met his test, just as Cleveland did as a man 
of courage. By mid-century, few historians cared to defend the 
Robber Baron stereotype. 

Although Nevins did his share of hasty writing ( especially on diplo- 
matic history) and was accused of a lack of penetration, his later 
works show a developing maturity that was far above the professional 
level. He did not scintillate like Henry Adams, but he also escaped 
the trail of erratic judgments that the brilliant New Englander left 
behind. His own personal values and beliefs are far less intrusive than 
those of most American historians since William Bradford's day. But 
they are present and direct his selection of materials. He is clearly on 
the side of late nineteenth-century liberalism free enterprise ( though 
unopposed to bigness), low tariffs, co-operative internationalism some- 
what favorable to England, conservative credit policies, the ideal of 
objectivity, moderation, rational compromise, and the central role of 
integrity as a guide in politics and business. 

Nevins has been as industrious as any famous historian in the utili- 
zation of monumental manuscript and archival sources, even intro- 
ducing the "oral history" approach. While he has enjoyed the aid of 
competent assistants on a scale unavailable to most historians, none 
could minimize his amazing industry; those who sought him were apt 
to find him buried for many hours at a reader's desk in a library or 
an archives building. He cut long luncheon meetings short to hurry 

350 The American Historian 

to do his research with the same personal application that he had 
made at his chores as a farm boy in Illinois. 

But even as Nevins retired, there were young historians building 
upon the type of craftsmanship that he represented and going beyond 
him in the tools of analysis. Thus, it was clear that his skill as a 
biographer, which had lacked the psychological depth of a Lytton 
Strachey, would be supplemented by the new emphasis upon psy- 
chology and psychiatry although the latter was not yet so clearly 
in evidence. The growing preoccupation with intellectual history 
meant added meaning by stressing the role of ideas in all aspects of 
history an area that the narrative emphasis had neglected. Philoso- 
phers focused their attention on interpretations of history and helped 
historians to remove some of the naive illusions of mechanical ob- 
jectivity. Historiography demonstrated the wreckage of elaborate in- 
terpretations that told more about the historian than about the event. 
And such warnings could only spur on a more meticulous and critical 
search for a reasonable view of the past. 

Bibliographic Notes 


1. Samuel G. Drake (ed.), William Hubbard's The History of the Indian 
Wars in New England (Roxbury, Mass., 1865), Introduction, xxiv. 

2. James W. Thompson, A History of Historical Writing (Macmillan, 1942), 
I, passim; Herbert J. Muller, The Uses of the Past (Oxford, 1952), 

3. Thomas G. Wright, Literary Culture in Early New England, 1620-1730 
(Yale, 1920), passim. 

4. Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Greek Historical Thought (Mentor, 1952), 
Introduction, 53-9, 185-9. 

5. Thompson, op. cit. I, 626. 

6. "The Diary of Cotton Mather," Mass. Hist, Society Collections, 7th 
Series, VII, Part I (Boston, 1911), 548. 

7. See S. E. M orison's Introduction to his modernized version Of Plymouth 
Plantation, 1620-1647 (Knopf, 1952); E. F. Bradford, "Conscious Art 
in Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation," The New England Quar- 
terly, I (1928), 133-57. The Bradford text used here is the 1920 edi- 
tion of William T. Davis. 

8. See Introduction to Perry Miller and T. H. Johnson (eds.), The Puri- 
tans (American Book, 1938). Background material appears in Harvey 
Wish, Society and Thought in Early America (Longmans, Green, 1950), 

9. L. G. Tyler (ed.), Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625 (Scribner's, 
1907), 326. Michael Kraus discusses many lesser-known colonial his- 
torians in The Writing of American History (Univ. of Oklahoma, 1953), 


352 Bibliographic Notes 



1. Carl Becker, "Progress," Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. 

2. In 1947 Dr. Louis Wright edited an attractive edition and wrote a use- 
ful introduction to Robert Beverley's The History and Present State of 
Virginia for the University of North Carolina Press. 

3. R. C. Beatty, William Byrd of Westover (Houghton Mifflin, 1932). 

4. Theodore Hornberger, "The Science of Thomas Prince," The New Eng- 
land Quarterly, 9 (March 1936), 26-42; Max Savelle, Seeds of Liberty 
(Knopf, 1948). 

5. Taken from a microfilmed copy of Thomas Prince's A Chronological His- 
tory of New England (in Western Reserve University Freiberger Li- 
brary) . 

6. L. S. Mayo (ed.), Hutchinsons The History of the Colony and Province 
of Massachusetts Bay (Harvard, 1936), 3 vols.; James K. Hosmer, The 
Life of Thomas Hutchinson (Houghton Mifflin, 1896), 85. 

7. "William Smith," Dictionary of American Biography. 
S. "Cadwallader Golden," ibid. 

9. Grace A. Cockroft, The Public Life of George Chalmers (Columbia U., 



1. Orin G. Libby, "Ramsay as a Plagiarist," Amer. Hist. Rev., 7 (1901), 
697-703; S. G. Fisher, "The Legendary and Myth-Making Process of the 
American Revolution," Amer. Philosophical Society Proceedings, 51 
(1912), 53-75; William Foran, "John Marshall as a Historian," Amer. 
Hist. Rev., 43 (1937-38), 51-64; A. J. Beveridge, John Marshall (Hough- 
ton Mifflin, 1916-19), 4 vols., Ill, chap, 5. 

2. W. A. Bryan, George Washington in American Literature, 1775-1865 
(Columbia U., 1952); Harold Kellock, Parson Weems of the Cherry 
Tree (Century, 1928). 

3. H. B. Adams, The Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (Houghton Mifflin, 
1893), 2 vols. 

4. S. T. Williams, Washington Irving (Oxford, 1935), 2 vols. Probably the 
greatest George Washington biography came in Douglas S. Freeman's 
six volumes issued by Scribner's during 1948-54. Freeman's exhaustive 
researches and well-known dramatic presentation made Washington and 
his environment most convincing. The author dwelt upon the great crises 
in Washington's life in a more optimistic atmosphere than that of the 
tragic subjects in his definitive R. . Lee (4 vols., Scribner's, 1934-35) 
and Lee's Lieutenants (3 vols., Scribner's, 1942-44). With Washington, 
said Freeman, "Disaster is never without hope." 

5. Robert L. Brunhouse, "David Ramsay's Publication Problems, 1784- 
1808," The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 39 (1945), 

Bibliographic Notes 353 

6. Alice Brown, Mercy Warren (Scribner's, 1896); Maud M. Hutcheson, 
"Mercy Warren, 1728-1814," William and Mary Quarterly, 10 (1953), 

7. C. W. Cole, "Jeremy Belknap, Pioneer Nationalist," The New England 
Quarterly, 10 (1937), 743-51. 

8. Harry R. Waif el, Noah Webster, Schoolmaster to America (Macmillan, 

9. James K. Morse, Jedidiah Morse, A Champion of New England Ortho- 
doxy (Columbia U., 1939). 


1. Martha M. Pingel, An American Utilitarian: Richard Hildreth as a Phi- 
losopher (Columbia U., 1948). 

2. Donald E. Emerson, Richard Hildreth (Johns Hopkins, 1946). 

3. Idem, "Hildreth, Draper, and Scientific History," in Eric F. Goldman 
(ed.), Historiography and Urbanization (Johns Hopkins, 1941); Alfred 
H. Kelly, "Richard Hildreth," in William T. Hutchinson (ed,), The 
Marcus W. Jernegan Essays in American Historiography (Univ. of Chi- 
cago, 1937). 

4. See Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., "The Problem of Richard Hildreth," The 
New England Quarterly 13 (1940), 223-45. 


1. "Romanticism," Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. 

2. M. A. De Wolfe Howe, The Life and Letters of George Bancroft (Scrib- 
ners, 1908), 2 vols. 

3. D. E. Lee and R. N. Beck have thoroughly explored the meanings of 
a confusing term in "The Meaning of Historicism," Amer. Hist. Rev., 59 
(1954), 568-77. 

4. The best biography is Russel B. Nye's George Bancroft, Brahmin Rebel 
(Knopf, 1945). 

5. Pieter Geyl has written a critical appraisal of Michelet in Debates with 
Historians (Meridian Books, 1958), 70-108. 

6. This appears in George Bancroft's Literary and Historical Miscellanies 
(Harper, 1855), 408-35. 

7. Among the more useful modern evaluations of Bancroft are N. H. Dawes 
and F. T. Nichols, "Revaluing George Bancroft," The New England 
Quarterly, 6 (1933), 278-93; Orie W. Long, "George Bancroft," Literary 
Pioneers (Harvard, 1935); Watt Stewart, "George Bancroft," in the 
Jernegan Essays, op. cit. 

8. John W. Burgess, Reminiscences of an American Scholar (Columbia U., 

354 Bibliographic Notes 


1. Most basic is Mason Wade's excellent edition of The Journals of Francis 
Parkman (Harper, 1947), 2 vols.; still useful is Charles H. Farnham, 
A Life of Francis Parkman (Little, Brown, 1900) and Wilbur L. 
Schramm's introductory essay to Francis Parkman (American Book, 

2. Howard H. Peckham, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (Princeton, 

3. J. H. Kennedy expresses qualified praise for Parkman's treatment of the 
Jesuits in Jesuit and Savage in New France (Yale, 1950). 

4. The most detailed of recent evaluations of Parkman's histories appear 
in O. A. Pease, Parkman s History (Yale, 1953); Joe P. Smith, "Francis 
Parkman," in the Jernegan Essays, op. cit. 

5. Parkman in The Nation, December 23, 1869; Farnham, Parkman, 242- 
51, 268-9. 

6. Theodore Roosevelt to Parkman, July 13, 1889, in Elting E. Morison 
(ed.), The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt I, 172-3. 

7. The Independent, November 24, 1892. 

8. Henry Adams to Parkman, December 21, 1884, in Harold D. Cater 
(ed.), Henry Adams and His Friends (Houghton Mifflin, 1947), 133-7. 

9. George M. Wrong, The Rise and Fall of New France (Macmillan, 
1928), I, 491. 

10. A. L. Burt, A Short History of Canada (Univ. of Minn., 1942), 264. 

11. Raymond C. Miller, "Theodore Roosevelt, Historian," in J. L. Cate and 
E. N. Anderson (eds.), Medieval and Historiographical Essays in Honor 
of James W. Thompson (Univ. of Chicago, 1938); H. J. Thornton, 
"Theodore Roosevelt," in Jernegan Essays, op. cit. 


1. "John Gorham Palfrey," Dictionary of American Biography. 

2. See the thorough study of Fiske in Patrick D. Hazard, "John Fiske as 
American Scholar," (doctoral dissertation, Western Reserve Univ., 

3. James Schouler, "John Fiske," Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 
2nd Ser., 15 (1901-2), 193-200. 

4. George L. Beer, "John Fiske," Critic 39 (1901), 117-18. 

5. J. B. Sanders, "John Fiske," Jernegan Essays, 144-70. 

6. Dixon R. Fox, Herbert Levi Osgood (Columbia U., 1924)'. 

7. Homer J. Coppock, "Herbert Levi Osgood," Miss. Vail. Hist. Rev., 19 
(1932-33), 394-403. 

8. Grace A. Cockroft, "George Louis Beer," in Herman Ausubel et al, 
(eds.), Some Modern Historians of Britain (Dryden Press, 1951). 

9. A. S. Eisenstadt, Charles McLean Andrews (Columbia U., 1956). 

Bibliographic Notes 355 

10. Lawrence H. Gipson, "Charles McLean Andrews and the Re-orientation 
of the Study of American Colonial History/ 7 The Pennsylvania Maga- 
zine of History and Biography, 59 (July 1935), 209-22. 

11. S. E. Morison, "Edward Charming," Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 64 
(1930-32), 250-84. 

12. C. R. Fish, "Edward Charming/ 7 Current History 33 (1931), 862-7. 

13. J. A. De Novo, "Edward Channing's 'Great Work' Twenty Years After," 
Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 39 (1952-53), 257-74; Ralph R. Fahrney, "Ed- 
ward Channing," Jernegan Essays. 

14. Review in Amer. Hist. Rev., 60 (1955), 614-15; also review by Stanley 
Pargellis, ibid. 60 (1955), 596-8. 

15. L. B. Wright, New Interpretations of American Colonial History (Amer. 
Hist. Assoc., 1959). 


1. Lucy M. Salmon, The Newspaper and the Historian (Oxford, 1923). 

2. Eric Goldman, John Bach McMaster, American Historian (Univ. of 
Penn., 1943). 

3. J. B. McMaster, "The Social Functions of United States History," The 
Fourth Yearbook of the National Herbert Society (Chicago, 1898), 30. 

4. See his lectures at Western Reserve University in 1903 along this line, 
"The Acquisition of Political, Social, and Industrial Rights of Man In 
America," (Cleveland, 1903); and his "Old Standards of Public Morals," 
Ann. Rep. of the Amer. Hist. Assoc. I (1905), 57-8; and his With the 
Fathers (Appleton, 1896). 

5. William Hutchinson, "John Bach McMaster/' Jernegan Essays, 122-43 

6. R. F. Nichols, "Ellis P. Oberholtzer," Dictionary of American History 

7. Review in the Amer. Hist. Rev., 23 (1918), 676-8. 

8. Edward Stanwood in ibid. 28 (1923), 337-9. 

9. In ibid. 33 (1927), 162-4. 

10. T. C. Smith in ibid. 37 (1932), 569-70. 

11. In ibid. 44 (1939), 412-14. E. D. Ross in the Miss. Vail Hist. Rev. 2 
(1937), 341-50 and J. D. Hicks in the same journal, 24 (1937), 266-7 
were no more enthusiastic than those in the AHR. 

12. In William E. Lingelbach (ed.), Approaches to American Social His 
tory (Appleton-Century, 1937). 

13. See William Diamond, "On the Dangers of an Urban Interpretation oi 
History," in Eric Goldman (ed.), Historiography and Urbanization 
(Johns Hopkins, 1941). 

14. E. N. Saveth, American Historians and European Immigrants, 1875- 
1925 (Columbia U., 1948). 

15. J. P. Cadden, The Historiography of the American Catholic Church, 
1785-1943 (Catholic U., 1944). 

16. Summarized from H. Wish, Society and Thought in Modern America 
(Longmans, Green, 1952), chapters 10 and 11. 

356 Bibliographic Notes 


1. For the historiographical background in Europe see G. P. Gooch, His- 
tory and Historians of the Nineteenth Century (Longmans, Green, 1913), 
87, 572-4; for a critical but well-balanced view of Ranke see Pieter 
Geyl, Debates with Historians (Meridian, 1958), chap. 1; much more 
favorable is Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past (Cambridge U., 1955). 

2. J. C, Levenson, The Mind and Art of Henry Adams (Houghton Mifflin, 
1957); Elizabeth Stevenson, Henry Adams (Macmillan, 1955); Ernest 
Samuels, The Young Henry Adams (Harvard, 1948) and Henry Adams, 
the Middle Years (Harvard, 1958); and the excellent Introduction in 
Harold D. Cater, Henry Adams and His Friends (Houghton Mifflin, 

3. Letter of Jan. 24, 1883, in Cater, op. cit. 125-6. 

4. Henry S. Commager, "Henry Adams," Jernegan Essays. 

5. Max I. Baym, The French Education of Henry Adams (Columbia U., 

6. William Jordy, Henry Adams, Scientific Historian (Yale, 1952). 

7. For numerous references to Adams and the Jews see the Index in Cater, 
op. cit. as well as other printed collections of Adams's letters. 

8. For this and related essays see Charles F. Adams, Jr., and Henry Adams, 
Chapters of Erie and Other Essays (Holt, 1886). 

9. Charles F. Adams, An Autobiography (Houghton Mifflin, 1916). 


1. Fulmer Mood, "Turner's Formative Period," in E, Edwards (ed.), The 
Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner (Univ. of Wisconsin, 1938), 
3-39; Carl Becker, "Frederick Jackson Turner," in Howard W. Odum 
(ed.), American Masters of Social Science (Holt, 1927), 273-318; and 
Ray A. Billington's informative historiographical survey in The Amer- 
ican Frontier (Amer. Hist. Assoc., 1958); Wilbur R. Jacobs, "Frederick 
J. Turner-Master Teacher," Pacific Historical Review, 23 (1954), 49-58. 

2. Cornelius Tacitus, "Germany and Its Tribes," in Complete Works of 
Tacitus (Random House, 1942), 709-32. See also James Malin, "The 
Turner-Mackinder Space Concept of History," Essays in Historiography 
(Lawrence, Kansas, 1946). 

3. F. J. Turner, "Significance of the Frontier in American History," The 
Frontier in American History (Holt, 1921), 1-38. 

4. J. L. Sellers, "Before We Were Members-The MVHA," Miss. Vail. 
Hist. Rev., 40 (1953-54), 3-24. 

5. Friedrich Ratzel, The History of Mankind (Macmillan, 1896), 3 vols. 
The first edition appeared during 1885-88. 

6. In Annual Report of the Amer. Hist. Assoc., 1896, I, 281-96. 

7. F. J. Turner, "Problems in American History," Aegis, VII (1892), 72. 

Bibliographic Notes 357 

8. Reprinted in F. J. Turner, The Frontier in American History, 311-34. 

9. Reprinted in ibid. 243. 

10. F. J. Turner, The Significance of Sections in American History, 315-39. 
For an analysis o Turner's methods by one of his eminent students 
see Merle Curti, "The Section and the Frontier in American History," 
in Stuart Rice (ed.), Methods in Social Science (University of Chicago, 

11. See Curtis Nettels, "Frederick Jackson Turner and the New Deal," 
Wisconsin Magazine of History, 17 (1934), 257-65. 

12. The critical articles mentioned here are conveniently collected in G. R. 
Taylor (ed.), The Turner Theses (D. C. Heath, 1949). 

13. John Caughey, Hubert Howe Bancroft: Historian of the West (Univ. 
of Calif., 1946); H. H. Bancroft, Retrospection, Political and Personal 
(New York, 1912). 

14. Solon J. Buck, "Clarence W. Alvord, Historian," Miss. Vail. Hist. Rev., 
15 (1928-29), 309-20; Marion Dargan, Jr., "Clarence Walworth Al- 
vord," Jernegan Essays, 323-38. 

15. Earl Pomeroy, "Frederick L. Paxson and His Approach to History," 
Miss. Vail. Hist. Rev., 39 (1952-53), 673-92. 

16. For the application of the Turner ideas abroad see Ray Billington, The 
American Frontier, 22-9. An English historian, H. Hale Bellot, makes 
some cogent comments upon the recent historiography of the frontier 
in American History and American Historians (University of Oklahoma, 



1. E. F. Goldman, "Hermann E. von Hoist," Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 23 
(1937), 515; C. R. Wilson, "Hermann Eduard von Hoist," Jernegan 
Essays, 60-85; "Hermann E. von Hoist," Dictionary of American Biog- 

2. The best surveys of Civil War historiography appear in Thomas J. Pressly, 
Americans Interpret Their Civil War (Princeton, 1954) and Howard K. 
Beale, "What Historians Have Said about the Civil War," Theory and 
Practice in Historical Study: A Report of the Committee on Historiog- 
raphy (Social Science Research Council Bulletin 54, 1946); and Louis 
Ruchames, "Charles Sumner and American Historiography," The Journal 
of Negro History, 38 (1953), 139-60. 

3. For a thoughtful evaluation of this and other presidential addresses of 
the American Historical Association up to 1945 see Hermann Ausubel, 
Historians and Their Craft (Columbia U., 1950). 

4. Lewis E. Ellis, "James Schouler," Jernegan Essays, 84-101. Some of the 
best illustrations of the Reconstruction theories of the leading historians 
appear in Edwin C. Rozwenc (ed.), Reconstruction in the South (D. C. 
Heath, 1952). 

5. The best biography of Rhodes is Robert Cruden, "James Ford Rhodes, 
Middle Class Historian," (doctoral dissertation, Western Reserve Uni- 
versity, 1958); see also M. A. De Wolfe Howe, James Ford Rhodes, 

358 Bibliographic Notes 

American Historian (D. Appleton, 1929) and Raymond C. Miller, 
Ford Rhodes," Jernegan Essays, 171-90. 

6. One critical reviewer, John R. Lynch, declared in The Journal of Negro 
History that ". . . so far as the Reconstruction period is concerned, it 
is not only inaccurate and unreliable but it is the most biased, partisan, 
and prejudiced historical work I have ever read." Ibid. II (1917), 345. 
There are some relevant comments on these race attitudes in John A. 
Garraty (ed.), The Barber and the Historian; the Correspondence of 
George A. Myers and James Ford Rhodes, 1910-1923 (Ohio Historical 
Society, 1956). 

7. In James F. Rhodes, Historical Essays (Macmillan, 1909), 2-14. 

8. John W. Burgess, Reminiscences of an American Scholar (Columbia U., 
1934); Bert James Loewenberg, "John William Burgess, the Scientific 
Method, and the Hegelian Philosophy of History/' Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 
42 (1955-56), 490-509. 

9. W. G. Brown in Amer. Hist. Rev., 8 (1902-3), 150-52. 


1. Wendell Holmes Stephenson, The South Lives in History (Louisiana 
State U., 1955), 58-94; Wood Gray, "Ulrich B. Phillips," Jernegan Es- 
says, 354-73. 

2. See Introduction by Harvey Wish (ed.), Frederick Law Olmsted, The 
Slave States (G. P. Putnam, 1959), 7-37. 

3. See Avery O. Craven, "The 'Turner Theories' and the South," Journal 
of Southern History, 5 (1937), 291-314. 

4. In American Historical Review, 35 (1929), 133-5. 

5. In Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 17 (1930-31), 160-3. 

6. T. J. Pressly, Americans Interpret Their Civil War, op. cit. 

7. Carter Woodson in Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 5 (1918-19), 480-2 and in 
The Jour, of Negro Hist., 4 (1914), 102-3. 

8. In Jour, of Negro Hist., 14 (1929), 534-6. 

9. For recent historiography see Otis A. Singletary, The South in American 
History (American Hist. Assoc., 1957). 


1. William A. Glaser, "Algie Martin Simons and Marxism in America," 
Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 41 (1954-55), 419-34. 

2. Harry Elmer Barnes, "J ames Harvey Robinson," in Odum (ed.), Amer- 
ican Masters of Social Science, op. cit. 321-408. 

3. Howard K. Beale (ed.), Charles A. Beard (Univ. of Kentucky, 1954). 
A very valuable symposium. 

4. In Amer. Hist. Rev., 39 (1934), 219-29. 

Bibliographic Notes 859 

5. Very useful for the controversy over relativism, in addition to those 
sources mentioned, are Lloyd R. Sorenson, "Charles A. Beard and Ger- 
man Historiographical Thought," Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 42 (1955-56), 
274-87; Chester McA. Destler, "Some Observations on Contemporary 
Historical Theory," Amer. Hist. "Rev., 55 (1950), 503-29. 

6. Somewhat in the Beard-Parrington-Curti tradition of studying social and 
economic ideas among representative Americans, Joseph G. Dorfman has 
made the most comprehensive survey of the economic ideas, attitudes, 
and beliefs of influential Americans since colonial beginnings. In so do- 
ing, he had added depth to American history. The Economic Mind in 
American Civilization (Viking, 1946-59), 5 vols. 


1. Howard M. Jones, The Life of Moses Colt Tyler (Univ. of Michigan, 
1933); John Higham, "The Rise of American Intellectual History," 
Amer. Hist. Rev., 56 (1951), 453-71. 

2. W. T. Utter, "Vernon Louis Parrington," Jernegan Essays, 399-408. 

3. In Saturday Review of Literature, 3 (1926-27), 925-6. 

4. In Yale Review, 17 (1927-28), 382-4. 

5. In International Journal of Ethics, 38 (1927-28), 112-15. 

6. New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1927, 32 (1927), 3. 

7. Granville Hicks, "The Critical Principles of V. L. Parrington," Science 
and Society, 3 (1939), 443-60. 

8. Lionel Trilling, "Reality in America," The Stature of Theodore Dreiser, 
(Indiana U., 1955), passim. 

9. Richard Hofstadter, "Parrington and the Jeffersonian Tradition," Jour, 
of the History of Ideas, 2 (1941), 391-400; Oscar Cargill, who em- 
phatically rejects Parrington's Jeffersonian agrarianism as oversimplified, 
proposes a new "Ideodynamics," a descriptive study of ideologies and 
of the forces which they exert, in Intellectual America; Ideas on the 
March (Macmillan, 1948), Introduction. 

10. This and other significant essays appear in Carl Becker's Everyman His 
Own Historian (Crofts, 1935). 

11. Ibid. 233-55. 

12. Ibid. "The Marxian Philosophy of History." 

13. Pratt's able colleagues at the University of Buffalo, Richard Heindel 
and Selig Adler also wrote from a cultural point of view. 



1. "Allan Nevins," in Stanley J. Kunitz (ed.), Twentieth Century Authors 
(H. W. Wilson, 1955); Robert J. Terry, "The Social and Intellectual 
Ideas of Allan Nevins" (master of arts dissertation at Western Reserve 
University, 1958). 

360 Bibliographic Notes 

2. In Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 18 (1931-32), 10841; see also Henry B. 
Learned's more qualified estimate in Amer. Hist. Rev,, 36 (1930-31), 

3. Elbert J. Benton in the Miss. Vail Hist. Rev,, 19 (1932-33), 597-8; 
and Arthur C. Cole in the Amer. Hist. Rev., 39 (1933-34), 351-3. 

4. J. G. Randall praises Nevins's skill, readability, knowledge of the 
sources, and familiarity with the period in the Amer. Hist. Rev., 42 
(1936-37), 802-4 

5. Jour, of Economic History, 9 (1949), 184-208; see also critical view 
of Chester Destler, "Entrepreneurial Leadership among the Robber 
Barons," Jour, of Economic Hist., 6 (1946), 28-49. 

6. In Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 28 (1941-42), 119-21. 

7. In Amer. Hist. Rev., 47 (1941-42), 163-5. Elmer Ellis thinks that the 
Study in Power excels the previous work on Rockefeller and "is certain 
to be a significant authority for many years." Miss. Vail. Hist. Rev., 40 
(1953-54), 751-2; Vincent P. Carosso praises its dispassionate quality 
among other virtues in Amer. Hist. Rev., 59 (1953-54), 157-9. 

8. Chester Destler upholds H. D. Lloyd's unfavorable picture of the Stand- 
ard Oil Company against Nevins's favorable view in "Wealth Against 
Commonwealth 1894 and 1944," Amer. Hist. Rev., 50 (1944), 49-72; 
and Thomas C. Cochran raises some fundamental questions concerning 
the "social desirability of monopoly through successful competition and 
the support of medical research and education from the tax levied on 
consumers by monopoly-supported prices." From "Inquiries into Amer- 
ican Wealth/* The Virginia Quarterly Review, 17 (1941), 310. 

9. Twovols., (Scribner's, 1954, 1957). 

10. In Amer. Hist. Rev., 59 (1953-54), 956-7. 

11. Reynold M. Wik in Miss. Vail Hist. Rev. 3 41 (1954-55). 

12. J. D. Hicks on two vols. of Ordeal of the Union in Amer. Hist. Rev., 53 
(1947-48), 845-6. 

13. In Yale Review, 37 (1947-48), 343-5. 

14. Roy F. Nichols, "The Kansas and Nebraska Act: A Century of His- 
toriography," Miss. Vail Hist. Rev., 43 (1956-57), 196-7. 

15. See reviews in Miss. Vail Hist. Rev. 9 35 (1948-49), 128-9 and South 
Atlantic Quarterly, 47 (1948), 387-92. 

16. Avery Craven on The Emergence of Lincoln in Yale Review, 40 (1950- 
51), 722-5. 

17. S. E. Morison, "History as a Literary Art," By Land and By Sea (Knopf, 
1953), 289-98. 



Abbott, Edith, 151 

Abell, Aaron, 155 

Adams, Brooks, 144, 164, 177, 178, 179 

Adams, Jr., Charles F., 179, 219 

Adams, Sr., Charles F., 165, 180 

Adams, Henry, Ch. 9; 20, 103, 113, 

128, 151, 195, 214-15, 349 
Adams, Herbert Baxter, 71, 123, 124, 

182, 183, 184, 185, 189, 195, 213 
Adler, Selig, 359 
Allen, William F., 182 
Alvord, Clarence W., 104, 206 
American Historical Association, 184, 

185, 290 
Andrews, Charles M., 119, 123-7, 128, 

130, 278 
Anglo-Saxon emphasis, 79, 99, 106, 110, 

124-5, 132, 165, 183 
Anthony, Katharine, 324 
Anti-Semitism, 177 
Aptheker, Herbert, 261-2 
Augustine, St., 4, 10, 21, 73 
Ausubel, Hermann, 357 

Bailey, Thomas A., 320 

Bancroft, Aaron, 72 

Bancroft, George, Ch. 5; 47, 57, 61, 68, 

69, 104, 118, 123, 160, 166, 169, 194, 

213, 226, 265, 278 
Bancroft, Hubert H., 205-6 
Barnes, Gilbert H., 256 
Barnes, Harry Elmer, 286, 358 
Bassett, John Spencer, 185, 238 
Baym, Max I., 173, 356 
Beale, Howard, 291, 357, 358 
Beard, Charles A., Ch. 13; 64, 65, 115, 

126, 129, 147, 178, 188, 255, 319, 

Beard, Mary R., 277, 292 

Beck, R. N., 353 

Becker, Carl Lotus, 7, 84, 172, 275, 

289, 307-13 
Beer, G. L., 112, 115, 119, 120-23, 124, 

125, 127, 129 
Belknap, Jeremy, 55-6, 57 
Bellot, H. Hale, 357 
Bemis, S. F., 319 
Bentham, Jeremy, 58, 60, 61, 65, 68, 


Benton, Elbert J., 328 
Beveridge, Albert J., 325 
Beverley, Robert, 25 
Billington, Ray, 356, 357 
Blegen, Theodore, 152 
Boas, Franz, 155 
Bolton, Herbert E., 205 
Book of Martyrs, 5 
Boyd, William K., 28, 251 
Bradford, William, Ch. 1 
Bradstreet, Anne, 7-8, 18-19 
Brant, Irving, 171 
Brewer, William M., 260 
Brinton, Crane, 293, 294 
Brinton, Daniel G., 222 
Brown, Robert E., 275 
Brace, Philip A., 239, 240 
Bryant, William C, 55 
Bucher, Karl, 187 
Buck, Paul, 234 
Buckle, Henry T., 112, 138, 164, 219, 

Burgess, John W., 86-7, 117, 222, 226- 

31, 234, 241, 270 
Burke, Edmund, 31, 38, 40-41, 52, 109, 


Burt, A. L., 103 
Bury, John, 315 



Business history, 329-37 
Byrd, William, 25, 26-8, 62 

Calvinists, Ch. 1 

Canby, Henry S., 304 

Cargill, Oscar, 359 

Cariyle, Thomas, 101, 104, 107, 108, 


Carosso, Vincent P., 360 
Cater, Harold D., 356 
Caughey, John, 357 
Cavalier legend, 113 
Chalmers, George, 37-8, 44, 54, 57 
Chamberlin, Wm. H., 286 
Chance, role of, 7, 130 
Channing, Edward, 61, 127-30, 144, 

Christian interpretation of history, 1, 

4T., 75 
Civil War interpretations, Ch. 11, 12; 

267, 279-80, 337-44 
Cochran, Thomas C., 331, 360 
Cockroft, Grace A., 352, 354 
Cogswell, Joseph, 72, 76 
Coke, Sir Edward, 8-9 
Golden, Cadwallader, 36 
Cole, Arthur, 328, 360 
Colonial historiography, Ch. 1, 2, 6, 7; 

40-57, 62-4, 77-85, 297-300 
Commager, Henry S., 172, 318, 340, 


Comte, Auguste, 158. See Positivism 
Coolidge, Mary R., 151 
Coulter, Merton, 252 
Cram, Ralph Adams, 173, 174 
Craven, Avery O., 201, 205, 256, 343-4, 

358, 360 

Croce, Benedetto, 311 
Cross, Robert D., 155 
Cruden, Robert, 357 
Cultural approach to history, 150 
Curti, Merle E., 150, 154, 207, 295, 

313-15, 357 
Cyclic theories, 7, 23, 178, 345 

Danckaerts, Jasper, 19-20 
Darwinism, 112, 158, 159, 175, 176, 
181-4, 186-91, 194-7, 208, 269, 348 
Davis, Jefferson, 236 

De Novo, J. A., 129-30 

Destler, Chester McA., 360 

DeVoto, Bernard, 148 

Dionysius, 7 

Dodd, William E., 257, 274 

Dorfman, Joseph G., 359 

Draper, John W., 163 

Droysen, J., 77, 87 

Du Bois, W. E. B., 223, 259-60 

Dunning, William A., 76-7, 117, 145, 

146, 185, 216, 227, 231-3, 241, 246, 

270, 274 

Eaton, Clement, 258 

Economic interpretation of history, Ch. 

13; 64-5, 68, 69, 74, 126, 128-9, 189 
Edwards, Jonathan, 114 
Eggleston, Edward, 134 
Ehrenberg, Richard, 266, 330 
Eisenstadt, A. S., 354 
Elitist interpretation of history, 101-3, 


Ellis, Elmer, 360 
Ellis, John Tracy, 156 
Ellis, Lewis E., 217, 357 
Ely, Richard T., 244, 266 
Emerson, Donald E., 353 
Emerson, Ralph W., 70, 101 
Enlightenment, Ch. 2; 71 
Everett, Edward, 47, 72 

Farrand, Max, 274 

Faulkner, Harold U., 337 

Faust, A. B., 152 

Federalist- Whig historians, Ch. 3 

Fichte, J. G., 71, 74 

Fish, Carl R., 129, 325 

Fisher, Sidney G., 51 

Fiske, John, 94, 109-16, 118, 123, 135, 


Fleming, Walter L., 146, 232, 241 
Flynn, John T., 330, 331 
Folklorists, 134 
Foran, William A., 45 
Foxe, John, 5, 11 
Franklin, Benjamin, 24, 49 
Franklin, John Hope, 261 
Frazier, Franklin, 262 
Freeman, Douglas S., 352 



Freeman, E. A., 78, 112, 133 
Frontier theories, Ch. 10; 82-3, 99, 106, 
107, 139 

Gabriel, Ralph H., 316-17, 343 

Gannett, Henry, 187 

Garland, Hamlin, 105-6 

Garner, James W., 231, 232 

Garraty, John A., 358 

Geographic emphasis, 99, 186-7, 191 

Germ theory of history, 75, 80, 85, 86, 

165, 183, 190, 229 
German influence on historiography, 

Ch. 5 

Geyl, Pieter, 162, 353, 356 
Gibbon, Edward, 23, 70 
Gibbs, Josiah Willard, 158, 159, 176 
Gipson, L. H., 119, 127, 130-31, 278, 


Gleason, S. E., 286 

Goldman, Eric, 138, 143, 144, 355, 357 
Gooch, G. P., 61 
Goodwin, Cardinal, 325 
Gookin, Daniel, 16 
Gordon, William, 41, 44, 45, 51 
Gorki, Maxim, 128 
Green, John R., 112, 135 

Hacker, Louis, 126, 203, 255, 278, 333 

Hakluyt, Richard, 8, 19 

Hamilton, Alexander, 65, 142, 180, 214 

Hamilton, J. D., 241 

Handlin, Oscar, 153 

Harris, W. T., 314-15 

Hart, Albert B., 107, 198, 274 

Hayes, C., 147, 148 

Hazard, Ebenezer, 55, 56 

Hazard, Patrick D., 354 

Heeren, Arnold, 73, 74-5, 76, 84, 182 

Hegel, G. W. F., 73, 74, 85, 87, 226, 

227-8, 266, 270, 278, 314-15 
Herder, J. G, von, 71, 73, 75 
Herodotus, 223, 225 
Herskovits, Melville, 262 
Hewat, Alexander, 53 
Hicks, Granville, 304-5 
Hicks, John D., 207, 333, 343, 355, 360 
Hidy, Ralph W., 330-31 
Higginson, T. W., 83 

Higham, John, 359 
Hildreth, Hosea, 59 
Hildreth, Richard, Ch. 4; 47, 57, 78, 

109, 118, 140, 143, 159, 169, 213, 

214, 218, 219, 227, 265, 267, 272, 

275, 277 

Historical prediction, 180, 217 
Historicists, 75, 117, 162 
Hodder, Frank H., 220 
Hofstadter, Richard, 263-4, 305-6, 317, 


Holmes, George F., 236 
Hoist, Hermann von, 192, 210-13, 214, 

221, 224, 227 
Hopkins, C. H., 155 
Howells, W. D., 144 
Hubbard, William, 4, 16-17 
Hume, David, 23, 24 
Huntington, Ellsworth, 250 
Hutchinson, Anne, 14, 15, 19, 31-2, 110 
Hutchinson, Thomas, 9, 30-34, 37, 54, 

114, 304 
Hutchinson, William, 144, 355 

Idealism, German, Ch. 5 
Immigration history, 137, 146, 150-55 
Imperial school, 116-27 
Institutionalists, 117-32 
Intellectual history, Ch. 14; 283-91 
Irving, Washington, 46, 50-51, 70 
Israelites and historiography, 1 

James, Henry, 103 

James, James A., 206 

James, William, 164 

Jameson, J. F., 19 

Jefferson, Thomas, 24, 28, 40, 41, 45, 

53, 63, 65, 66, 141, 168-73, 188, 276, 


Jensen, Merrill, 115 
Jesuit Relations, 5, 96 
Jewish Publication Society, 132 
Johns Hopkins University, 185 
Johnson, Alvin, 294 
Johnson, Charles, 262 
Johnson, Edward, 5, 15-16 
Jones, Howard M., 296 
Jordy, William, 177, 356 
Josephson, Matthew, 327 



Kallen, Horace, 154 

Kant, Immanuel, 71, 73, 79, 81, 86 

Kelly, Alfred H., 353 

Kennedy, J. H., 354 

Key, V. O., 255 

Kraus, Michael, 351 

Lamprecht, Karl, 147, 294 

Langer, William L., 286 

Larson, Henrietta, 145 

Lecky, W. E. H., 115, 121, 141, 163, 

278, 308 
Lee, D. E., 353 
Libby, Orin G., 41, 51, 64, 115, 188, 

267, 273 
Liberalism, 22-3 
Lippmann, Walter, 274 
Lloyd, H. D,, 330 

Lodge, Henry C, 104-5, 108, 128, 165 
Loewenberg, Bert J., 358 
Longfellow, H. W., 72 
Loria, Achffle, 191, 204 
Lovejoy, Arthur O., 294 
Lowell, J. R., 103 
Lyell, Charles, 158 
Lynch, John R., 358 
Lynd, R. and H., 149 

Macaulay, T. B,, 135, 137 
McGrane, Reginald C., 333 
JMcIlwain, Charles H., 313 
'McLaughlin, Andrew C., 187, 200 
McMaster, John B., Ch. 8; 160, 216, 

225, 226, 265 
McPherson, J. H. T., 240 
Madison, James, 24, 170-71, 272-3, 274 
Magdeburg Centuries, 5 
Mahan, Alfred T., 105, 284 
Mahon, Lord, 48, 49 
Mannheim, Karl, 291 
Marshall, John, 41, 42, 44-6, 272 
Marxism, 126, 159, 265, 266-7, 291, 

304, 313 
Mason, John, 17 

Massachusetts Historical Society, 56 
Mather, Cotton, 1, 6, 9, 17-19, 29, 62 
Mencken, H. L., 13 
Merk, Frederick, 206 
Metzger, C. H., 156 

Michelet, Jules, 77 

Miller, Perry, 14, 114, 306, 307 

Miller, Raymond C,, 354, 358 

Miller, William, 330, 331 

Milton, George F., 220, 255 

Mississippi Valley Historical Associa- 
tion, 185 

Mommsen, T., 87 

Monograph, the, 160, 162 

Mood, Fulmer, 356 

Morgan, E. S., 85, 131 

Morgenthau, Hans, 319 

Morison, Samuel E., 9, 51, 129, 306, 
340, 347-8, 351, 360 

Morley, John, 115 

Morrow, Dwight W., 119 

Morse, Jedidiah, 57, 58 

Morton, Nathaniel, 9 

Morton, Thomas, 12, 13 

Motley, John L., 47, 70, 84 

Midler, Herbert J., 351 

Murdock, Kenneth, 304, 306 

Myers, Gustavus, 266, 303, 326, 333 

Myrdal, Gunnar, 262 

Namier, L, B., 130 

Natural science and history, 135-6 

Negro Life and History, Association for 

the Study of, 260 
Nettels, C., 126 

Nevins, Allan, Ch. 15; 144, 154, 197 
New England, 1, 4-19 
"New History," The, 134, 147, 208, 

265, 267-9 ff., 280, 290, 294, 338, 


Newspapers as a source, 134-5, 225-6 
Nichols, Roy F., 343, 355, 360 
Niebuhr, H. R., 155 
Nye, Russel B., 353 

Oberholtzer, Ellis P., 145-7 

Odum, Howard, 258 

Oldmixon, John, 25 

Olmsted, Frederick L., 243, 340 

Osgood, H. L., 103, 116-21, 122, 123, 

127, 129 

Owsley, Frank, 257 
Oxford reformers, 290, 292 



Palfrey, John G., 47, 68, 110, 118 

Pargellis, Stanley, 330 

Parker, Theodore, 93-4 

Parkman, Francis, Ch. 6; 47, 68, 84, 

139, 184 

Parrington, Vernon L., 30, 295-307 
Paulding, James 1C, 46 
Paxson, F. L., 207 
Pease, O. A., 354 
Peckham, H. H., 92-3 
Perry, Ralph Barton, 306 
Peters, Samuel, 13 
Phillips, Ulrich B., Ch. 12; 199, 201, 

205, 213-14, 227, 232, 266, 337, 


Philosophy of history, 160 
Physics in history-writing, 174-80 
Pierson, George W., 204 
Pirenne, H., 147 
Pitkin, Timothy, 53-4 
Polybius, 19 
Positivism, 61, 112, 158-9, 160, 186, 


Pragmatism, 313 
Pratt, Julius, 173, 320 
Prescott, William H., 47, 58, 70, 84, 

89, 94 

Presentism, 268, 269 
Pressly, Thomas J., 357 
Prince, Thomas, 4, 9, 29, 55, 56 
Progress, 23, 24, 71, 74, 75 
Purchas, Samuel, 8, 19 
Puritan interpretation of history, Ch. 

1; 71 
Putnam, G. P., 105 

Racist interpretation, 226, 228, 238, 

241-3, 248-64 
Raleigh, Walter, 6, 7, 8 
Ramsdell, Charles W., 251 
Ramsay, David, 3, 41, 42, 44, 51-3 
Ramus, Peter, 6 
Randall, James G., 255, 360 
Ranke, Leopold von, 75, 78, 84, 87, 

117, 124, 133, 147, 161-3, 166, 186, 

196, 269, 287, 290, 346 
Ratzel, Friedrich, 186, 187, 191 
Reconstruction historiography, 145-6, 

215-35, 237, 238, 240, 241, 253, 

259-60, 280, 323 

Relativism, historical, 75, 162, 195, 196, 

269, 287-91, 308, 311-13, 314, 316-17 
Revolutionary historiography, Ch. 7; 

30-34, 37-57, 64, 79, 85, 277-8, 310 
Rhodes, James Ford, 85, 120, 145, 200, 

215, 216, 217, 218-26, 229, 231, 234, 

260, 338, 344, 349 
Roberts, Kenneth, 33 
Robertson, William, 23, 34 
Robinson, James H., 147, 190, 241, 

267-9, 270, 311 
Rogers, Thorold, 189, 266 
Romanticism, 71, 75, 83 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 202, 271, 284 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 47, 89, 103, 104- 

8, 139, 185, 200, 219, 271, 347 
Ross, E. D., 355 
Roucek, Joseph S., 154 
Rowlandson, Mary, 17 
Rozwenc, Edwin C., 357 
Ruchames, Louis, 357 
Ruffin, Edmund, 205 

Sanders, J. B., 115 
Savelle, Max, 352 
Saveth, E. N., 355 
Schlesinger Jr., A. M., 319, 353 
Schlesinger St., A. M., 127, 147-9, 278, 


Schmoller, G., 117, 119 
Schouler, James, 61, 115, 145, 213-18, 

221, 224, 226, 227, 229, 234 
Science of history, Ch. 9; Ch. 10 
Scientific history, 112, 124, 127, 132, 

161, 231, 241 

Seligman, E. R. A., 117, 266, 270, 294 
Sellers, J. L., 356 
Semple, Ellen C., 187 
Shannon, Fred, 203 

Simons, Algie M., 266-7, 274, 278, 300 
Singletary, Otis A., 358 
Smith, Henry Nash, 188 
Smith, J. Allen, 267, 296, 300 
Smith, Joe P., 354 
Smith, John, 20-21, 25, 113, 166 
Smith, T. V., 304 
Smith, Theodore C., 290 
Smith, William, 34-6, 57, 93 
Social evolution, 117, 127, 132, 159. 

See Darwinism 



Social History, Ch. 8 

Sombart, Werner, 117, 119, 266 

Sorenson, Lloyd R., 359 

Southern Historical Association, 254 

Sparks, Jared, Ch. 3; 38, 89, 91, 93, 


Spengler, Oswald, 178 
Stampp, Kenneth M., 263 
Stephens, Alexander H., 236 
Stephenson, George, 152, 153 
Stephenson, Wendell H., 258 
Stith, William, 28 
Stokes, A. P., 155 
Strachey, Lytton, 324 
Stubbs, William, 270 
Sward, Keith, 334, 337 
Sweet, William W., 155 
Sybel, H. von, 77, 117 

Tacitus, 183, 265 

Tansill, Charles C., 286 

Tarbell, Ida, 330 

Thompson, James W., 8-9 

Thucydides, 6-7, 61, 83, 159, 223, 225, 

Thwaites, Reuben G., 184-5 

Ticknor, George, 47, 72 

Tocqueville, Alexis de, 60, 172 

Toynbee, Arnold J., 351 

Treitschke, H. von, 77, 210 

Trent, William P., 238 

Trilling, Lionel, 305 

Turner, Frederick J., Ch. 10; 83, 99, 
105, 107, 108, 149, 159, 160, 240, 
242, 244, 245, 247, 266, 273, 275, 
279, 291, 294, 311, 327, 348 

Twain, Mark, 236 

Tyler, A. F., 155 

Tyler, Lyon G., 20-21 

Tyler, Moses Coit, 295-6 

Universal history, 73, 74, 79, 81, 86 
Urban history, 149 
Utilitarianism, Ch. 4 

Van Tyne, Claude, 129 
Voltaire, 71, 73, 133-4 

Wade, Mason, 354 

Wagner, Adolf, 117, 119 

Walker, Francis A., 187 

Walters, Raymond Jr., 166 

Ware, Caroline, 150 

Warren, Mercy, 54-5, 57 

Washington, Bushrod, 48, 49 

Washington, George, 70, 72; the biog- 
raphies of, 41-51 

Weaver, James, 270 

Webb, Sidney and Beatrice, 266 

Webb, Walter P., 150, 204-5, 208 

Weber, Max, 306 

Webster, Noah, 56-7 

Weems, Mason ("Parson"), 42-4, 46, 

Weinberg, Albert K., 320 

WendeU, Barrett, 144 

Wertenbaker, Thomas J., 113, 239 

Wesley, Charles H., 259, 261 

Whig interpretation, 58, 60, 101, 109 

White, Andrew D., 163, 290 

White, William Allen, 328 

Whitehead, Alfred N., 312 

Wik, Reynold M., 360 

Wiley, Bell, 261 

Williams, P. H., 153 

Williams, Stanley T., 50, 352 

Wilson, Woodrow, 85, 151, 185, 238, 

Winthrop, John, 1, 13-16, 32 

Wirth, Louis, 151 

Wittke, Carl F., 152-3, 156 

Woodburn, James A., 326 

Woodson, Carter G., 249, 259, 260, 358 

Woodward, C. Vann, 234 

Woodward, William E., 324 

Wright, Benjamin F. Jr., 195, 203-4 

Wright, Louis B., 132, 239-40, 352 

Wrong, George, 103 

how the social and intellectual conditions 
of the time influenced their writing. Com- 
menting on the two central events in 
American history the American Revolu- 
tion and the Civil War he describes how 
historians' attitudes toward these conflicts 
changed from generation to generation, 
with each man reflecting the spirit of the 
age in which he lived. 

Emphasizing the need * 4 for a more me- 
ticulous and critical search for a reason- 
ahle view of the past," The American His- 
torian is an important study of a rela- 
tively neglected field. It makes a major 
contribution to a better understanding of 
how Americans have interpreted their 
own history. 


Harvey Wish, Professor of History at 
Western Reserve University, was born in 
Chicago, 111., and received an M.A. degree 
from the University of Chicago. He was 
awarded a Ph.D. from Northwestern Uni- 
versity and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at 
Harvard University. Professor Wish has 
taught at De Paul University and Smith 
College, and was Fulbright Lecturer at the 
Universities of Munich and Copenhagen. 
His books include Contemporary America 
and Society and Thought in America, and 
his articles have appeared in the Ameri- 
can Historical Review, the American 
Journal of Sociology, and the Mississippi 
Valley Historical Review. 

Jacket Design by AI Lichtenberg