Alan Barth

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Alan Barth

Alan Barth (Oct. 21, 1906–Nov. 20, 1979) was an American journalist specializing in civil liberties, best known for his 30 year stint as an editorial writer at The Washington Post, from which he retired in 1972, and for his books on historical and contemporaneous politics.

Personal life and education[edit]

He was born Alan Barth Lachheimer to Jacob and Flora (Barth) Lauchheimer. He received his Ph.B. from Yale University in 1929 and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University 1948-49. He married Adrienne Mayer on July 1, 1939.


Barth worked on a paper in Beaumont, Texas, where he had grown up. During World War II, he reported from Washington, DC, and later worked for the Office of War Information. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a fellow New Dealer, recommended Bart to Eugene Meyer, the Washington Post's publisher at that time. Meyer hired him as an editorial writer for a paper that had been essentially conservative at that time. Barth went on to help construct the identity of the Post as an institution dedicated to civil liberties. David Halberstam described him as "more passionate than most intelligent men and more intelligent and reasoned than most passionate men."[1]

His best-known book is probably the posthumously published The Rights of Free Men: An Essential Guide to Civil Liberties, a collection of his articles, editorials, speeches, and other material. In 1951, he was awarded the Hillman Prize for his book, The Loyalty of Free Men.[2] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1952.[3]

He is the earliest known source of the phrase "News is only the first rough draft of history," writing it in 1943 – see Wikiquote article for details.[4][5]


  • The Rights of Free Men: An Essential Guide to Civil Liberties (1984)
  • Prophets with Honor: Great Dissents and Great Dissenters in the Supreme Court (1974)
  • Presidential Impeachment (1974)
  • Government by investigation (1973)
  • The price of liberty (1972)
  • Law enforcement versus the law (1963)
  • Why handle criminals with kid gloves? (September 1959)
  • When Congress investigates (1955)
  • How good is an FBI report? (March 1954)
  • The loyalty of free men (1951)
  • F.D.R. as a politician (February 1945)


  1. ^ David Halberstam (2012). The Powers That Be. Open Road Media. pp. 344–348. ISBN 9781453286098. 
  2. ^ "The Hillman Prize Previous Honorees". The Sydney Hillman Foundation. p. 12. Retrieved 2015-05-21. 
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ Alan Barth, review of The Autobiography of a Curmudgeon by Harold L. Ickes in The New Republic, 1943, collected in The New Republic, Volume 108, p. 677
  5. ^ "Who Said It First? Journalism is the 'first rough draft of history.'" by Jack Shafer, Slate (30 August 2010)

External links[edit]