Richard Norton Smith

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Richard Norton Smith (born 1953) is an American historian and author specializing in U.S. presidents.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, in 1953, Smith graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1975 with a degree in government. Following graduation he worked as a White House intern and as a free-lance writer for The Washington Post. He became a speech-writer for Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, and then Senator Bob Dole, with whom he has collaborated on numerous projects over the years.


Smith's first major book, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times, was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. He has also written An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984); The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986); and Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993).[1] In June 1997, Houghton Mifflin published his biography of Robert R. McCormick The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, which was later reprinted by Northwestern University Press in 2003. It received the Goldsmith Book Prize awarded by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1998.[2] Historian David M. Kennedy called it a "candid and colorful biography".[3]

Smith then started work on a biography of Nelson Rockefeller, involving thousands of pages of documents and more than 150 interviews.

Between 1987 and 2001, Smith updated and expanded several US presidential libraries. He was Director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. He then worked for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the associated organizations in Simi Valley, California; the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When the museum was rededicated in 1997, Gerald Ford called Smith "a true visionary who said it wasn't enough to renovate the Museum-—we would reinvent it."[4] In 1990 he organized the Eisenhower Centennial on behalf of the National Archives.

In 2001 Smith became director of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. In October 2003, he was appointed Founding Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. About the same time, Smith also served as Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, which doubled its endowment. During the 2004 Democratic Convention, Smith correctly predicted that Barack Obama would become the first black president of the United States.

On February 12, 2009, Smith was a featured speaker at the Congressional Bicameral Celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th Birthday, held at the U.S. Capitol. In May 2009 he spoke at a "Weekend with Mr. Lincoln" conference.[5] In September 2009 he also spoke on Lincoln at the Clinton School of Public Service.[6]

As of 2010, Smith was a Scholar-in-Residence in History and Public Policy at George Mason University in suburban Washington, DC.[7] Smith is a frequent commentator on C-SPAN[8] and The PBS NewsHour, often on presidents and presidential campaigns.[9]


  • Thomas E. Dewey and His Times. Simon & Schuster, 1982.
  • Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover. High Plains Publishing, 1990.
  • Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. ISBN 0-395-52442-3.
  • The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick. Northwestern University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8101-2039-6.


  1. ^ "Patriarch". Booknotes interview on C-SPAN. February 21, 1993. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Goldsmith Book Prize". John F. Kennedy School of Government. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ David M. Kennedy (July 13, 1997). "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  4. ^ Gerald Ford (April 17, 1997). "Learning from the Past, Living for the Future". Gerald R. Ford Museum. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Richard Norton Smith". biography on web site. American Heritage Conferences and Tours. 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  6. ^ Richard Norton Smith (September 16, 2009). "Lincoln at 200: The Presidential Standard". The Clinton School Speaker Series. University of Arkansas System. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Richard Norton Smith". Media Sources Guide. George Mason University. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Smith, Richard Norton: Presidential Historian". biography on video library. C-SPAN. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Richard Norton Smith, noted presidential scholar, to speak at annual Hoover banquet". West Branch Times. April 21, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 

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