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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
THE HISTORICAL work of James Ford Rhodes proves, what is oftentimes denied, that it is possible to record fully a contemporaneous period, with impartiality and with due regard to perspective. In his ‘History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850’ he has not only done this: he has treated one of the most intricate periods in the history of this country, or of any country, with a degree of insight into its complex forces not always attained by historians of remoter events, from which the mists of partisanship have faded. The treatment of the Civil War, and of the causes which led to it, requires delicate but firm handling. It demands of the historian not alone penetrative scholarship: for its satisfactory accomplishment, he must be inspired with that spirit of Americanism which is in no sense local or partisan. Mr. Rhodes has performed his difficult task well, because he is constantly guided by a luminous patriotism. His historical acumen is synonymous with the American temper.  1
  His early training fostered those qualities by which he was developed into an American historian. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 1st, 1848, of parents who had come from New England. His father, who was engaged in the coal and iron business, was a man of strong character and of decided opinions, a Democrat, and a kinsman of Stephen A. Douglas, whose printed speeches in the Congressional Globe were read eagerly by James Ford Rhodes, then a boy of ten. It was his good fortune to be constantly under the guidance of those whose interest in public affairs was deep and vital. When the Civil War broke out, his teacher in the Cleveland High School accustomed the scholars to read aloud in turn every morning the political news of the day, explaining to them that they were living in times fraught with history. In 1865, Mr. Rhodes, who had already shown his preference for history and literature over the classics and mathematics, entered as a special student in the University of the City of New York. There he devoted himself to historical work under Professor Benjamin N. Martin, and to science under John W. Draper. Under Professor Martin, his enthusiasm for history was further awakened. His textbooks became guide-books; especially Buckle’s great ‘History of Civilization,’ which first inspired him with the ambition to become himself a historian. The following year he entered a university in Chicago, where he studied metaphysics and rhetoric, and read largely in the works of Sir William Hamilton, Mill, McCosh, and Herbert Spencer.  2
  In 1867 he went to Paris, with a mind keenly alert, through training and influence, to political situations and conditions. The spectacle of the Second Empire reinforced his democracy, and deepened his love of civil liberty. His studies of the conditions then existing in France led to his becoming the Paris correspondent of the Chicago Times. About this time it became evident to him that he was expected to engage in his father’s business, so he put aside for the time his dream of a literary career; but before returning to the United States he attended lectures at the Collège de France, going afterwards to Berlin to study iron metallurgy under Dr. Wedding; he further prepared himself for his new interests by making a tour of the iron and steel works of Western Germany, and of South Wales, England, and Scotland. In 1868 he entered into business life. In the following year he was obliged to travel extensively through the South: he was thus brought in contact with the fermenting forces of a region struggling out of one stage of its existence into another. His desire to write history was re-awakened, and he now ordered his life to that end; accumulating a large historical library, and laboring to render himself financially independent, that he might have time and opportunity in the future for the labors of scholarship. After fifteen years of successful business enterprise, he entered upon his life’s work at the end of the year 1885.  3
  In 1893 the first two volumes of his great work were issued, and in 1895 the third appeared. Seven volumes have now appeared, extending from the Compromise of 1850 to the final restoration of home rule in the South in 1877. The first volume deals primarily with slavery,—its history, its nature, and its effects upon the political and social development of the United States; there having been, as Mr. Rhodes states, “no other than a single cause for secession and the war that ensued,—slavery.” The question of State Rights entered into it only incidentally, and if slavery had not existed, could never have precipitated the war; since the unification of the United States was being constantly effected by the forces of growth. Steam and electricity, immigration, intermarriage, and the multiplying business interests, were constantly obliterating sectional differences, and molding the many into the one by a slow, silent, but organic process. Over the institution of slavery, however, the forces of civilization and progress had no power. They could not make organic use of it, because it was a moral evil, and as a moral evil was directly in the path of honorable national advancement.  4
  Mr. Rhodes’s discussion of this subject is in the spirit of the patriot rather than of the Northerner; at the same time, it is impersonal. He is in the sweep of the historical movement, but no prejudice nor blindness disturbs the even course of his record.  5
  His scholarship is singularly conscientious and painstaking. He has consulted a vast number of sources, giving special attention to the utterances of the press; thus recognizing the truth that newspapers, being obliged to say what the public wishes them to say, are as fair indices as may be found of the popular temper. He has verified his statements step by step, with a diligence worthy of Teutonic scholarship; yet his work is in the best sense popular. It is clear, straightforward, and inspiriting. From the appearance of the first volume, the history won a recognition from scholars and from the public which succeeding volumes have enhanced. Mr. Rhodes has been the recipient of honorary degrees from many universities and was awarded the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1909 he published a volume of ‘Historical Essays,’ and in 1913 the ‘Lectures on the American Civil War’ which he had delivered at Oxford.  6

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