Jon Meacham

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Jon Meacham
Photo of Jon Meacham
Jon Ellis Meacham

(1969-05-20) May 20, 1969 (age 53)
EducationUniversity of the South (BA)
Margaret Keith Smythe
(m. 1996)
AwardsPulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
WebsiteOfficial website

Jon Ellis Meacham (/ˈməm/; born May 20, 1969) is an American writer, reviewer, historian and presidential biographer who is serving as the current Canon Historian of the Washington National Cathedral since November 7, 2021. A former executive editor and executive vice president at Random House, he is a contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review, a contributing editor to Time magazine, and a former editor-in-chief of Newsweek. He is the author of several books. He won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Endowed Chair in American Presidency at Vanderbilt University.

Early life[edit]

Meacham was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee.[1] His parents are Jere Ellis Meacham (1946–2008), a construction and labor-relations executive who was decorated for valor during the Vietnam War,[2] and Linda (McBrayer) Brodie. His paternal grandparents, Ellis K. Meacham and Jean Austin Meacham,[3] raised him after his parents' divorce.[4] When he was a child, his grandfather had discussions each morning with a group of men about local and national politics. As a result, Meacham developed an interest in politics. He received an invitation to Ronald Reagan's 1981 inauguration in Washington, D.C., in response to a letter that he sent to the president-elect.[4]

Meacham attended The McCallie School,[1][a] where he developed an interest in the civil rights movement.[6] He then went on to attend Sewanee: The University of the South where he graduated salutatorian and summa cum laude in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.[1][7]


Journalist and editor[edit]

After college, he worked at The Chattanooga Times,[7] until he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1993 and became co-editor of Washington Monthly.[4] In 1995, he worked for Newsweek as the national affairs editor, and became managing editor in late-1998.[8][6][b] In 2006, he became editor-in-chief of Newsweek's print and online formats.[9]

A former executive editor and executive vice president at Random House,[10] he is a contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review and The Washington Post,[10] and a contributing editor to Time magazine.[11][c]

Biographer and book author[edit]

He was the editor for Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement which was released in 2001. Spanning the period from 1941 to 1998, the book includes writings of noted civil-rights leaders, novelists, and journalists, like John Lewis, James Baldwin, William Faulkner, and David Halberstam.[6] His book, Franklin and Winston, Partners of an Intimate Relationship about Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, was released in 2003.[4]

Meacham has explored America's leaders in such works as Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power as well as his biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.[9][13][a] Jill Abramson writing in a book review in The New York Times states that Meacham's books are "well researched, drawing on new anecdotal material and up-to-date historiographical interpretations" and presents his "subjects as figures of heroic grandeur despite all-too-human shortcomings". In his biography of Jefferson, Meacham identifies qualities that would be helpful in the current political arena, "Jefferson repeatedly reached out to his enemies and showed ideological flexibility." Regarding the former president's stance on slavery, Meacham states, "Slavery was the rare subject where Jefferson's sense of realism kept him from marshaling his sense of hope in the service of the cause of reform."[9]

Selected by the Bush family to be the official biographer for George H. W. Bush, Meacham's book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, was published in 2015. He gave eulogies for both President Bush and Barbara Bush when they died in 2018.[14]

Other appearances[edit]

Meacham speaking at the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute in 2016

Over the years Meacham has been a frequent guest on various talk shows such as Charlie Rose, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher.[15][16] From May 2010 to April 2011, Meacham was co-host with Alison Stewart of Need to Know on PBS. He is also a frequent guest on CBS This Morning, Face the Nation, MSNBC's Morning Joe and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.[17][18]

In 2014 Meacham appeared in Ken Burns' documentary series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History on PBS. He also appeared in a cameo in the 2018 film The Front Runner.

Meacham taught history at his alma mater, the University of the South, in 2014.[1] He was a visiting professor of political science at Vanderbilt University[19] before being appointed to the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in American Presidency.[20] Meacham is also the co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy at Vanderbilt University.

Meacham was asked to speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention on the Soul of America. He endorsed Joe Biden, saying, "history, which will surely be our judge, can also be our guide. From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, we're at our best when we build bridges, not walls".[21] According to The New York Times, Meacham was part of the team writing some of Joe Biden's speeches for the 2020 United States presidential election, including Biden's acceptance speech.[22]

Awards and honors[edit]

Meacham has also been awarded honorary doctorates from several universities:

Personal life[edit]

As of 2014, Meacham resides in Belle Meade, Tennessee.[33] He married Margaret Keith Smythe, called Keith, in 1996.[3][6] At the time of their marriage, she was a teacher, having studied at University of Virginia and the University of Provence. She taught in Metz, France under a Fulbright Scholarship.[3] They have three children.[33]

Meacham is an Episcopalian, and was chosen as Canon Historian of Washington National Cathedral in 2021.[34][35]



  1. ^ a b He read Robert V. Remini's three-volume biography of Jackson while in high school. Remini read Meacham's biography of Jackson in manuscript.[5]
  2. ^ The Star-Herald reported that Meacham became Managing Editor after three months on the job.[4]
  3. ^ Meacham has been strongly critical of President Donald Trump; in a 2018 New York Times article, he compared Trump to the Rev. Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest known for his passionate radio sermons sprinkled with antisemitism. Meacham also drew an unfavorable comparison of Trump's manner of speaking with the more eloquent styles of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d "Jon Meacham (C'91) returns to Sewanee as a history professor". The Sewanee Purple. February 15, 2014. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  2. ^ "Meacham, Jere Ellis". October 1, 2008. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Smithe-Meacham engagement told". The Star-Herald. November 14, 1996. p. 24. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Journalist is topic for 21st Century Club". The Star-Herald. January 23, 2003. p. 18. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  5. ^ Yardley, William (April 5, 2013). "Robert Remini, Exhaustive Andrew Jackson Biographer, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Cass, Michael (February 5, 2001). "Meacham: Success no surprise to peers". The Tennessean. p. 15. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "University of the South marks 150 years". The Tennessean. October 11, 2007. pp. B2. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  8. ^ Cass, Michael (February 5, 2001). "Sewanee grad scales magazine heights". The Tennessean. p. 14. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Abramson, Jill (November 2, 2012). "Grand Bargainer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Kelly, Matt (September 23, 2014). "'Art of Power' Author Jon Meacham to Speak on Jefferson". Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  11. ^ Adweek, November 11, 2010 (September 9, 2011). "Jon Meacham Becomes Time Contributing Editor". Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  12. ^ Meacham, Jon (May 3, 2018). "Why Trump Is More Father Coughlin Than Franklin Roosevelt". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  13. ^ a b "The 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Biography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  14. ^ Tackett, Michael (December 4, 2018). "Jon Meacham, Bush's Biographer, Will Also Deliver a Eulogy". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  15. ^ Real Time with Bill Maher (January 22, 2016), Real Time with Bill Maher: Overtime – January 22, 2016 (HBO)
  16. ^ Real Time with Bill Maher (April 17, 2015), Real Time with Bill Maher: Overtime – April 17, 2015 (HBO)
  17. ^ "Joe: Donald Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party". MSNBC. March 2, 2016. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  18. ^ "Meacham: Bush knew exactly what he was saying". MSNBC. November 6, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  19. ^ Elliott, Stephen (September 4, 2019). "Haslam joining Vanderbilt faculty for leadership course". Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  20. ^ "Historian Goodwin Says Look to Past Presidents for Easing Current Political Divide". Tennessee Tribune. November 7, 2019. Archived from the original on 8 November 2019. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  21. ^ Hains, Tim (August 20, 2020). "Historian Jon Meacham Speaks On Final Night Of Democratic Convention". Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  22. ^ Karni, Annie (November 9, 2020). "The historian Jon Meacham, who wrote of 'the soul of America,' has been working on Biden's speeches". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  23. ^ Gregg, Becca (May 23, 2010). "Dickinson College sends graduates into the world". The Sentinel. Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  24. ^ Mercer, Monica (May 16, 2010). "Sewanee honors Bush, Meacham". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  25. ^ "Sewanee announces honorary degree recipients". Episcopal Church. May 13, 2010. Archived from the original on April 23, 2018. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  26. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Loyola University New Orleans. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  27. ^ "Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham to address Loyola's centennial class". Loyola University New Orleans. March 20, 2012. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  28. ^ "2017: Honorary degrees". Wake Forest University. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  29. ^ "Jon Meacham to Give Middlebury College Commencement Address". Middlebury College. April 6, 2017. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  30. ^ "Board of Trustees Approves Honorary Degree for Pulitzer Prize Writer Meacham". University of Tennessee. March 30, 2017. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  31. ^ "Pulitzer Winner, Congresswoman to Address Class of 2018". University of Massachusetts Lowell. May 18, 2018. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  32. ^ "Millsaps announces honorary degree recipients: Jon Meacham, Jesmyn Ward, Dr. Lamar Weems". Mississippi Today. May 2, 2019. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  33. ^ a b Reed, Julia (July 15, 2014). "House Tour: Is This The Chicest Home In Nashville?". Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  34. ^ Paulsen, David (2021-03-10). "Washington National Cathedral names Jon Meacham canon historian". Episcopal News Service. Retrieved 2021-11-06.
  35. ^ Jenkins, Jack (12 March 2021). "Washington National Cathedral names Jon Meacham canon historian". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 November 2021.

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