Arthur S. Link

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Not to be confused with American politician Arthur A. Link

Arthur S. Link (August 8, 1920 - March 26, 1998) was a leading American historian and a scholarly authority on Woodrow Wilson.


Born in New Market, Virginia, to a German Lutheran family, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received a B.A. in 1941 and a Ph.D. in 1945. He was the leading specialist on Woodrow Wilson, with a five volume biography of Wilson (to the start of the First World War), and edited 69 volumes of Wilson's papers. Although he wrote numerous textbooks, he concentrated his scholarship on the politics and diplomacy of the decade 1910-1920. As a historian of the Progressive Era, Link made three major contributions.

The first was to stress the importance of progressivism in the South (a theme developed by C. Vann Woodward) and the importance of the South to progressivism nationally. Link saw Wilson as a southerner with a Southern base, who thus broadened the scope of the politics of progressivism.

The second was to locate the heart of progressivism in Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism platform of 1912, not in Wilson's New Freedom. The point was that Wilson was a conservative until 1913, when he suddenly accepted the core values of Roosevelt's proposals to use the federal government to reform the economy.

The third was to argue that progressivism collapsed after World War I because of internecine conflicts among reformers and uncertainties about how to pursue their agendas further. The progressives an out of ideas and left the field to Warren G. Harding. Nevertheless, Link also argued that progressivism was stronger in the 1920s than was generally acknowledged and that the underground currents formed the heart of the New Deal in the 1930s.[1]

As Link delved into the manuscripts, he changed his mind but usually did not try to rewrite his books. The one exception was Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (1979) (a revision of Wilson the Diplomatist). Link softened his criticism of Wilson's responses to the Mexican Revolution and German submarine warfare and gave the president higher marks than before as a war leader and articulator of war aims in the Fourteen Points. Link had previously stated that Wilson would have taken the same unbending stand against ratification of the Versailles Treaty with Henry Cabot Lodge's reservations if he had enjoyed perfect health. In Link's revision, he stressed Wilson's deteriorating cardiovascular condition and massive stroke. The medical deterioration made it hard for Wilson to compromise with Lodge and explains, in part, Wilson's earlier actions at the peace conference and his dealings with the Senate over the treaty. Link incorporated his new ideas in elaborate notes in his edition of the Papers.

At one point, Link was attacked by some scholars for his medical interpretation of Wilson, and Princeton and the funding agencies seemed unsupportive to Link. The long relationship ended on a sour note, as Princeton gave less and less support.[2]

Link taught at Princeton University (1945-1949 and 1960–92), and Northwestern University (1949–60). He directed numerous PhD dissertations, including those of William Harbaugh (who worked on Theodore Roosevelt); Gerald Grob (who studied mental health); and George McGovern (who wrote labor history and whom Link supported when he was the 1972 Democratic candidate for president.) His relations with his colleagues at Princeton were sometimes strained, as with Eric F. Goldman.[3] Princeton did not eagerly invite his return in 1960,: the Wilson Foundation insisted on it as a condition for financing the Papers. Link was distant from the administration and faculty but enjoyed working with undergraduates; his star pupil was Bill Bradley, who later became a senator and presidential aspirant.

He served as president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. He wrote 30 books, including history textbooks. Link was the recipient of numerous awards, including 10 honorary degrees and two Bancroft Prizes. An active Presbyterian, he served as vice president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in America. He married Margaret Douglas Link in 1945; they had four children (one of whom is now a historian) and four grandchildren. He died of lung cancer at 77.[4]

Writings and editions by Link[edit]

  • Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (1954).
  • American Epoch (1st ed. 1955), textbook
  • Wilson the Diplomatist: A look at his major foreign policies, New Viewpoints, (1957)
  • "What Happened to the Progressive Movement in the 1920's?" The American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Jul., 1959), pp. 833–851 JSTOR 1905118
  • Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (1979) (ISBN 0882957996)
  • Wilson a biography in 5 volumes: Princeton University Press: Volume I: "The Road to the White House, 570 pages (1947); Volume II: "The New Freedom", 504 pages (1956); Volume III: "The Struggle for Neutrality", 733 pages (1960); Volume IV: "Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916", 386 pages (1964); Volume V: "Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace, 1916-1917", 464 pages (1965) (ISBN 0691045763); no more published
  • editor, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Princeton University Press, 69 volumes 1966-1994
    • v. 1. 1856-1880—v. 2. 1881-1884—v. 3. 1884-1885—v. 4. 1885—v. 5. 1885-1888—v. 6. 1888-1890—v. 7. 1890-1892—v. 8. 1892-1894—v. 9. 1894-1896—v. 10. 1896-1898—v. 11. 1898-1900—v. 12. 1900-1902—v. 13. Contents and index, vols. 1 to 12, 1856-1902—v. 14. 1902-1903—v. 15. 1903-1905—v. 16. 1905-1907—v. 17. 1907-1908—v. 18. 1908-1909—v. 19. 1909-1910—v. 20-21. 1910—v. 22. 1910-1911—v. 23. 1911-1912—v. 24-25. 1912—v. 26. Contents and index, vols. 14-25, 1902-1912—v. 27-28. 1913—v. 29. 1913-1914—v. 30-31. 1914—v. 32-34. 1915—v. 35. 1915-1916—v. 36-38. 1916—v. 40. 1916-1917—v. 41-44. 1917—v. 45. 1917-1918—v. 46-48. 1918—v. 50. The complete press conferences, 1913-1919—v. 51. 1918—v. 52. Index, 1916-1918—v. 53. 1918-1919—v. 54-63. 1919—v. 64. 1919-1920—v. 65-66. 1920—v. 67. 1920-1922—v. 68. 1922-1924.

External links[edit]


  • John Milton Cooper, Jr., "Arthur S. Link", in Robert Allen Rutland, ed. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000, U of Missouri Press (2000), pp 111–125. online edition
  • John Milton Cooper, Jr. and Charles E. Neu, eds. The Wilson era: essays in honor of Arthur S. Link, 1991.
  • William A. Link, Links: My Family in American History, University Press of Florida, 2012.

  1. ^ Cooper 2000; Link 1959
  2. ^ Cooper (2000) p 118
  3. ^ Cooper (2000) p 120
  4. ^ Cooper (2000) p 121