George Bancroft (1800 - 1891)

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Birthplace: Worcester, Massachusetts
Death: Died in Washington DC
Managed by: John G Miner
Last Updated:

About George Bancroft

George Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bancroft

George Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.

Early life and education

His family had been in Massachusetts Bay since 1632, and his father, Aaron Bancroft, was distinguished as a revolutionary soldier, a leading Unitarian clergyman and author of a popular life of George Washington. Bancroft was born in Worcester, and began his education at Phillips Exeter Academy and entered Harvard College at thirteen years of age. At age 17, he graduated from Harvard and went to study in Germany. Abroad, he studied at Heidelberg, Göttingen and Berlin. At Göttingen he studied Plato with Arnold Heeren; history with Heeren and Gottlieb Jakob Planck; Arabic, Hebrew, New Testament Greek and scripture interpretation with Albert Eichhorn; natural science with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach; German literature with Georg Friedrich Benecke; French and Italian literature with Artaud and Bunsen; and classics with Georg Ludolf Dissen. In 1820, he received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen.

Bancroft capped off his education with a European tour, in the course of which he sought out almost every distinguished man in the world of letters, science and art, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lord Byron, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Christian Charles Josias Bunsen, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, Varnhagen von Ense, Victor Cousin, Benjamin Constant and Alessandro Manzoni.

Career in education and literature

Bancroft's father had devoted his son to the work of the ministry. While the young man delivered several sermons shortly after his return from Europe in 1822 which produced a favorable impression, the love of literature proved the stronger attachment.

His first position was that of tutor of Greek at Harvard. Instinctively a humanist, Bancroft had little patience with the narrow curriculum of Harvard in his day and the rather pedantic spirit with which classical studies were pursued there. Moreover, he had brought from Europe a new manner, imbued with ardent Romanticism and this he wore without ease in the formal, self-satisfied and prim provincial society of New England; the young man's European air was subjected to ridicule, but his politics were sympathetic to Jacksonian democracy.

A little volume of poetry, translations and original pieces, published in 1823 gave its author no fame. As time passed, and custom created familiarity, his style, personal and literary, was seen to be the outward symbol of a firm resolve to preserve a philosophic calm, and of an enormous underlying energy which spent itself in labor. He found the conversational atmosphere of Cambridge uncongenial, and with Joseph Cogswell he established the Round Hill School at Northampton, Massachusetts. This was the first serious effort made in the United States to elevate secondary education to the plane on which it belonged.

In spite of the exacting and severe routine of the Round Hill School, Bancroft contributed frequently to the North American Review and to Walsh's American Quarterly; he also made a translation of Heeren's work on The Politics of Ancient Greece. In 1826 he published an oration in which he advocated universal suffrage and the foundation of the state on the power of the whole people. In 1830, without his knowledge, he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, but refused to take his seat, and the next year he declined a nomination, though certain to have been elected, for the state senate.

In 1834 appeared the first volume of the History of the United States, which would appear over the next four decades (1834–74) and established his reputation. The work covers the period from the discovery of the continent to the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1782. His other great work is The History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1882). His writing is clear and vigorous, and his facts generally accurate, but he is a good deal of a partisan. In 1835, he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he completed the second volume of his history. The year of his move, he also drafted an address to the people of Massachusetts at the request of the young men's democratic convention.

His first wife was Sarah Dwight, of a rich family in Springfield, Massachusetts; they married in 1827 but she died in 1837. His second wife was Mrs Elizabeth Davis Bliss, a widow with two children to add to his two sons; she bore him a daughter.

Career in politics

His entry into politics came in 1837 with his appointment by Martin Van Buren as Collector of Customs of the Port of Boston. In this position, two of Bancroft's appointees were Orestes Brownson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In 1844, he was the Democratic candidate for the governorship of Massachusetts, but he was defeated. In 1845, in recognition for his support at the previous Democratic convention, he entered Polk's cabinet as Secretary of the Navy, serving until 1846, when for a month he was acting Secretary of War.

During his short period in the cabinet, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, gave the orders which led to the occupation of California, and sent Zachary Taylor into the contested land between Texas and Mexico. He also continued his pleadings for the annexation of Texas as extending "the area of freedom," and, though a Democrat, opposed slavery.

The Naval Academy was devised and completely set at work by Bancroft alone, who received for the purpose all the appropriations for which he asked. Congress had never been willing to establish a naval academy. Bancroft studied the law to ascertain the powers of the Secretary of the Navy, and found that he could order the place where midshipmen should wait for orders. He could also direct the instructors to give lessons to them at sea, and by law they had power to follow them to the place of their common residence on shore. With a close economy, the appropriation of the year for the naval service met the expense, and the secretary of war ceded an abandoned military post to the navy.

So when Congress came together they found the midshipmen that were not at sea comfortably housed at Annapolis, protected from the dangers of idleness and city life, and busy at a regular course of study. Seeing what had been done, Congress accepted the school, which was in full operation, and granted money for the repairs of the buildings. Bancroft introduced some new professors of great merit into the corps of instructors, and he suggested a method by which promotion should depend, not on age alone, but also on experience and capacity; but this scheme was never fully developed or applied. Bancroft was also influential in obtaining additional appropriations for the United States Naval Observatory.

He likewise made himself the authority on the Oregon boundary dispute, with the result that in 1846 he was sent as minister plenipotentiary to London, where he lived in constant companionship with the historian Macaulay and the poet Hallam. With the election of Zachary Taylor his post was not renewed; on his return to the United states in 1849 he withdrew from public life, residing in New York and writing history. While in New York, Bancroft acted as a founding member of the American Geographical Society and served as the society's first president for nearly three years (Feb. 21, 1852—Dec. 7, 1854).

In April 1864, at Bancroft's request, President Lincoln wrote out what would become the fourth of five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address. Mr. Bancroft planned to include this copy in "Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors," which he planned to sell at a Soldiers' and Sailors' Sanitary Fair in Baltimore.

Bancroft was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1863.[3] In 1866, He was chosen by Congress to deliver the special eulogy on Lincoln; and in 1867 he was appointed minister to Berlin, where he remained until his resignation in 1874. Then he lived in Washington, D.C., summering at Rose Cliff, Newport, Rhode Island.

His latest official achievements are considered the greatest. In the San Juan arbitration he displayed great versatility and skill, winning his case before the emperor with brilliant ease. The naturalization treaties, named the "Bancroft treaties" in his honor, which he negotiated successively with Prussia and the other north German states were the first international recognition of the right of expatriation, a principle since incorporated in the law of nations.

Works

Bancroft, George. History of the United States of America, from the discovery of the American continent. (Boston: Little, Brown, and company, numerous editions in 8 or 10 volumes 1854-78). online edition

Bancroft, George; Dyer, Oliver, 1824-1907. (1891) History of the battle of Lake Erie: and miscellaneous papers (New York: R. Bonner's sons) 292 pp. at American Library Association.

His minor publications include:

An Oration delivered on the 4th of July, 1826, at Northampton, Mass. (Northampton, 1826)

History of the Political System of Europe, translated from Heeren (1829)

An Oration delivered before the Democracy of Springfield and Neighboring Towns, July 4, 1836 (2d ed., with prefatory remarks, Springfield, 1836)

History of the Colonization of the United States (Boston, 1841, 12mo, abridged)

An Oration delivered at the Commemoration, in Washington, of the Death of Andrew Jackson, June 27, 1845

The Necessity, the Reality, and the Promise of the Progress of the Human Race

An Oration delivered before the New York Historical Society, November 20, 1854 (New York, 1854)

Proceedings of the First Assembly of Virginia, 1619; Communicated, with an Introductory Note, by George Bancroft

Collections of the New York Historical Society, second series, vol. iii., part i. (New York, 1857)

Literary and Historical Miscellanies (New York, 1855)

Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln, delivered at the request of both Houses of the Congress of America, before them, in the House of Representatives at Washington, on the 12th of February, 1866 (Washington, 1866)

A Plea for the Constitution of the United States of America, Wounded in the House of its Guardians Veritati Unice Litarem (New York, 1886)

Among his other speeches and addresses may be mentioned a lecture on “The Culture, the Support, and the Object of Art in a Republic,” in the course of the New York Historical Society in 1852; and one on “The Office, Appropriate Culture, and Duty of the Mechanic.”

Bancroft contributed a biography of Jonathan Edwards to the American Cyclopædia.

Namesakes and Monuments

The United States Navy has named several ships USS Bancroft, as well as the fleet ballistic missile submarine USS George Bancroft (SBN-643), after Bancroft, and the mid-19th century United States Coast Survey schooner USCS Bancroft also was named for him. The dormitory at the United States Naval Academy, Bancroft Hall, is named after him as well. Bancroft is one of 23 famous names on the $1 Educational currency note of 1896.

The name of Bancroft is found atop one of several marble pillars in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the United States Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It is believed this is attributed to George Bancroft.

In and around Worcester, Massachusetts, Bancroft's birthplace, many streets, businesses and monuments bear his name:

Bancroft School, Worcester MA.

Bancroft School of Massage Therapy, Worcester, MA.

Bancroft Hall at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH.

Bancroft Tower, which was erected in honor of him on Bancroft Tower Road Worcester, MA.

Bancroft Commons, an apartment building in downtown Worcester, MA.

Bancroft Motors, now owned by HARR Motor Company.

Bancroft Street, Gardner, MA.

Bancroft Street, Worcester, MA.

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George Bancroft, U.S. Secretary of the Navy's Timeline

1800
October 3, 1800
Worcester, Massachusetts
1827
March 21, 1827
Age 26
1831
August 18, 1831
Age 30
1833
January 20, 1833
Age 32
1835
April 24, 1835
Age 34
1837
February 16, 1837
Age 36
1891
January 17, 1891
Age 90
Washington DC
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