Ohio History Journal

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The Early Historical Writings of

The Early Historical Writings of

James Ford Rhodes, 1885-1886






JAMES FORD RHODES, the Cleveland-born historian of the

Civil War and Reconstruction periods, is perhaps Ohio's

most significant contribution to American historiography.

His seven-volume History of the United States from the

Compromise of 1850 to the Final Restoration of Home Rule

at the South in 1877 (New York, 1892-1906), written in a

spirit of sectional reconciliation, remains an impressive work.1

In its own day, the History impressed scholars with its ap-

parent objectivity and fairness. A larger reading public

looked upon it with almost reverential awe as an infallible

source of historical judgment, an attitude enhanced no little

perhaps by Rhodes's furnishing the weight of scholarship to

buttress the patriotic faith in the superiority of American

character and institutions, the middle class belief in the

virtues of free enterprise, and the well-nigh universal as-

sumption of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Such views evidently

derived from Rhodes's forty years of experience and reflec-

tion in Cleveland, for we find them stated quite succinctly in

a little-known series of reviews and articles which appeared

before he began his work on the History.

Rhodes's initial historical writings appeared during 1885


* Robert Cruden is an assistant professor of history at Baldwin-Wallace College.

1 For example, Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager cite it as

"still the best detailed history of that period although shot full of holes by the

research of the last fifty years." The Growth of the American Republic (New

York, 1950), I, 780.