James Ford Rhodes

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Rhodes in 1902.

James Ford Rhodes (May 1, 1848 – January 22, 1927), was an American industrialist and historian born in Cleveland, Ohio. After earning a fortune in the iron, coal, and steel industries by 1885, he retired from business. He devoted his life to historical research and publishing a seven-volume history of the United States beginning in 1850; his work was published from 1893-1906. He published an eighth volume in 1920. His work, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918), won the Pulitzer Prize for history that year.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Ohio, Rhodes attended New York University, beginning in 1865. After graduation, he went to Europe, studying at the Collège de France. During his studies in Europe, he visited ironworks and steelworks. After his return to the United States, he investigated iron and coal deposits for his father.

Career[edit]

In 1874, with his father, Rhodes started in the iron, coal, and steel industries at Cleveland. Having earned a considerable fortune in this business, he retired in 1885.

Rhodes moved to Boston for access to its libraries. He devoted the rest of his life to historical research and writing United States history. His brother-in-law was Mark Hanna, a leader of the Republican Party. Rhodes developed his own political viewpoint.

His major work, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, was published in seven volumes, 1893–1906; the eight-volume edition appeared in 1920. His single volume, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918), earned him a Pulitzer Prize in History that year. (This work is available online at History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918).)

Rhodes focused on national politics. Working from primary sources of newspapers and published memoirs, Rhodes reconstructed the process by which major national decisions were made. He evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of all the major leaders. Rhodes emphasized that slavery and the anti-slavery movement were the chief causes of the Civil War. He detailed what he classified as corruption in the Reconstruction Republican governments in Washington, DC and the Southern states. He said that granting of unqualified suffrage to blacks after emancipation was a mistake and added to the problems during Reconstruction.

Reception[edit]

Rhodes' work was highly praised by many historians. He is well regarded for his lack of bias.[citation needed] In papers written in 1954 and 1960, historians Russell, Sheehan and Syrett described him as a Republican historian and noted for criticizing his own party in his work.[1][2] Howe described Rhodes as a Democrat in his 1929 biography of the historian.[3]

Rhodes was challenged for his assertions of fact and his interpretation, including by John R. Lynch, former Congressman from Mississippi, who directly participated in Mississippi's Reconstruction and wrote some books about the period.

Lynch challenged Rhodes in a 1917 article, "Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes".[4] For instance, he wrote:

"the reader of Mr. Rhodes' history cannot fail to see that he believed it was a grave mistake to have given the colored men at the South the right to vote, and in order to make the alleged historical facts harmonize with his own views upon this point, he took particular pains to magnify the virtues and minimize the faults of the Democrats and to magnify the faults and minimize the virtues of the Republicans, the colored men especially."[5]

In book VI, pp. 35–40, Rhodes stated, "[Thaddeus] Stevens' Reconstruction Acts, ostensibly in the interest of freedom, were an attack on civilization...[and] did not show wise constructive statesmanship in forcing unqualified Negro Suffrage on the South".[6] To this assertion, Lynch responded that the acts allowed some time for transition away from the society that was built on slavery. He wrote,

"But for the adoption of the Congressional plan of Reconstruction and the subsequent legislation of the nation along the same line, the abolition of slavery through the ratification of the 13th Amendment would have been in name only, a legal and constitutional myth."[7]

Lynch noted that Rhodes concluded that Reconstruction had failed. He disagreed, saying that not all its goals had been accomplished but he believed that ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments made it a success, as all people of color were granted citizenship, which could not be restricted by race or color, and they were granted suffrage nationally.[8] Lynch had already published his own book, The Facts about Reconstruction (1913).

Rhodes became a member of the American Historical Association. He was elected as its president in 1899 for the customary one-year term.

In the latter half of the 20th century, major new histories were published about the Civil War and Reconstruction that presented additional documentation for differing points of view from that of Rhodes.

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James Russell, "Lincoln’s Successor: President Andrew Johnson," in History Today 4 (1954), No. 9, p. 626
  2. ^ Donald Sheehan/Harold C. Syrett, Essays in American Historiography, Papers presented in Honor of Allan Nevins. New York: 1960, p. 38
  3. ^ Mark Antony De Wolfe Howe, James Ford Rhodes, American Historian (1929), pp. 21 and 24
  4. ^ John R. Lynch, "Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes", The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, No. 4, Oct., 1917
  5. ^ Lynch (1917), "Errors", p.353
  6. ^ Rhodes 1920
  7. ^ Lynch (1917), "Error", pp. 362-363
  8. ^ Lynch (1917), "Error", p. 365
  • Cruden, Robert. James Ford Rhodes: The Man, The Historian, and His Work (1961)
  • Howe, M. A. De Wolfe. James Ford Rhodes: American Historian (1929)
  • Raymond Curtis Miller. "James Ford Rhodes: A Study in Historiography" The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, (1929) Vol. 15, No. 4, 455-472 online at JSTOR
  • Lynch, John R., "Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes" The Journal of Negro History, vol.2/4 (October 1917).

Books by Rhodes[edit]

  • History of the Civil War, 1861–1865 (1918), one-volume version; Pulitzer Prize online
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 1 online
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 2 online
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 3
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 4
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 5
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 6 online
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 7 online
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 - Vol. 8 online
  • The McKinley and Roosevelt Administrations, 1897-1909 (1922) online
  • Historical Essays (1909)
  • Lectures on the American Civil War (1913), delivered at Oxford University in 1913.

External links[edit]