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About James Ford Rhodes
James Ford Rhodes (May 1, 1848 – January 22, 1927), was an American industrialist and historian born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Rhodes attended New York University, beginning in 1865, after which he migrated to the Collège de France. During his studies in Europe, he visited ironworks and steelworks. After his return to the United States, he investigated iron and coal deposits for his father.
In 1874, with his father, Rhodes started in the iron, coal, and steel industries at Cleveland. Having earned a considerable fortune, he retired in 1885, moved to Boston for its libraries, and devoted himself to writing history. His brother in law was Mark Hanna, a dominant leader of the Republican Party, but Rhodes himself was a Bourbon Democrat.
His major work, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 appeared in seven volumes, 1893–1906; the eight-volume edition appeared in 1920. The one-volume version History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918), which is online, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in History in 1918.
His work focuses on national politics. Using newspapers and published memoirs, Rhodes meticulously reconstructed the process by which major national decisions were made. He carefully evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of all the major leaders, and is typically well regarded for his lack of bias. However, his factual assertions from "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850" were challenged by contemporary black Southerners like John R. Lynch from Mississippi who witnessed Mississippi's Reconstruction first-hand. According to Congressman Lynch, "the reader of Mr. Rhodes' history cannot fail to see that he believed it was a grave mistake to have given the colored men at the South the right to vote, and in order to make the alleged historical facts harmonize with his own views upon this point, he took particular pains to magnify the virtues and minimize the faults of the Democrats and to magnify the faults and minimize the virtues of the Republicans, the colored men especially". In book VI, pp. 35–40, Rhodes stated "[Thaddeus] Stevens' Reconstruction Acts, ostensibly in the interest of freedom, were an attack on civilization...[and] did not show wise constructive statesmanship in forcing unqualified Negro Suffrage on the South". To this assertion, Congressman Lynch responded "But for the adoption of the Congressional plan of Reconstruction and the subsequent legislation of the nation along the same line, the abolition of slavery through the ratification of the 13th Amendment would have been in name only, a legal and constitutional myth". Rhodes emphasized slavery and anti-slavery as causes of the Civil War, and bemoaned the corruption of the Reconstruction Republican governments in Washington and the Southern states.
The American Historical Association elected Rhodes as its president in 1899. He was also awarded the Loubat Prize of the Berlin Academy of Sciences (1901) and the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1910). Oxford and many American universities gave him honorary degrees.
In his Presidential address to the American Historical Association in 1949, Conyers Read recalled that "A few of us like James Ford Rhodes have created by our own efforts a condition of affluence which enables us in the afternoon of our days to approach Clio without mercenary impulses. But for most of us in the profession, history is a means of getting a living."