List of Internet Essays by VDB Published by HNN


PUBLISHED BY History News Network, 2008 TO DATE

Republican, Democrat, or Independent: Which Choice for Me? 4/28/08

Reflections on My Friend, the Late Diplomatic Historian, Norman Graebner.

Maybe Add Values to Our American History Survey Courses?

Memorial Day in Mountain View Cemetery, Ashland, Oregon.

Veterans Day is a Time for Love for One’s Country.

Save and Preserve our American System.

Can a Mormon Candidate Rise Above the Religious Issue to Win It All?

Does Mimi Alford’s Memoir Finally Mean the Death Knell for the Camelot Myth?

Reflecting on Military Service and the Individual.

Republicans or Democrats: Which Side are You On?

Remember: Those Notorious Anti-Semite “Protocols” are Fiction!

How to Write a Book Dedication.

LBJ was a Great President. (Title chosen by editor, HNN.)

To Students Seeking the Ph.D. in History.

A Plea for Political Moderation.

So You Want to Write?

Prepare to Welcome Our Troops Home from Afghanistan. 11/1/13

What It Was Like for Whites to Travel in Apartheid South Africa. 12/9/13

Living in an Old Folks Home. It Could Easily be Worse! 10/20/14

Historians Should Stop Being Embarrassed by Our Wars. 5/22/15

This 98-Year-Old Historian’s Got Advice for You. 11/29/15

Let’s Consider Those Candidates While There’s Still Time. 1/3/16

How Military Service Changes You. 4/3/16

A Historian Considers American Socialism. 4/17/16

It has been 61 Years Since I Raised my Right Hand and Joined the Navy. 7/3/16

Review: Gary J. Byrne, Crisis of Character (re Hillary and Bill). 7/20/16

Getting Ready for College? Think Along with Me. OK? 9/5/16

The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. 11/10/16

Good Luck. People of our 50 States. (reaction to Trump’s election.) 11/27/16

What Use is a Degree in History? 12/20/16

The American Press Has Served Us Well. We Need to Protect It. 3/5/17

The Real Reason LBJ Didn’t Run For Reelection in 1968. 7/23/17

Fire and Fury Book Review    2/2018

A Higher Loyalty  Comey Book Review      4/22/2018


Review of Comey’s Book in HNN


James Comey, A HIGHER LOYALTY: TRUTH, LIES, AND LEADERSHIP (Flatiron Books, 2018, 290 pages)

Editor’s Note: Here we have a volunteer reviewer—the veteran of dozens of earlier reviews–who has kept one eye on the American Presidency off and on during his extended research and writing lifetime. Off and on, he has been charged with responsibility over organizations; that fact clearly affected him and egged him on to examining the difficult and burdened life of James Comey, FBI Director, who served three presidents. I think it likely that readers of his review here will find that this suddenly famous book (being nationally noticed) looks rather interesting in his portrayal. (Dr. Bornet served us recently with a look at the Wolfe book on President Trump, remember?)

It has been a rare experience: trying to review a book that is being featured on my TV, my computer, by my local daily newspaper’s columnists, and in comments by the old guys at the breakfast table. James Comey, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, 277 prose pages, a book with an odd and unusual jacket (jet black, with large letters top to bottom), good Index, moral tone front to back, and a feeling of built in “precision.”
As I read, and got set to write, I felt I must be performing “a public service” for our entire Land. I got to feel that the total communication media, all of it, appears to be interested in what I’m doing! And what was that, you ask? Well, here we have a candid book by the 7th Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Its author, on accepting that prestigious assignment, had been employed by the Department of Justice in the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama, left the government to earn more money with several large corporations in the private sector, returned to accept the FBI directorship once held by J. Edgar Hoover for fifty years, then peered forward expectantly with a probable (almost guaranteed) 10 years of service ahead of him. I would be going along for the ride!

A book of 14 chapters and a short epilogue, free of footnotes, by no means intended to be a history of the famous Agency, Comey’s book boasts a great Index, one I examined at once to see what I was up against. Maybe it won’t telegraph too much if I say that the author, whose father was a chief of police, takes us through his boyhood dodging bullies in Yonkers (yes! “Hello Dolly”). He draws conclusions about himself from that mistreatment. (And shares his distress at the early death of one child.) His college (surprising to himself and to us) will be William and Mary in Virginia, where my step-niece went, happily, I recall.
It does appear that Comey was at one time active with his choice of religion, and that here we have one who takes seriously guidance in conduct familiar to the Boy Scouts. In writing, he stands to one side pretty often and asks inside himself if his conduct is “appropriate” and worthy of whatever task he faces at the moment. We have one who takes seriously the idea that we all have missions in life that we need to heed. We are responsible. We owe family members a good life. We will be held to account. There are responsible ways to do things….

I honestly think that this book—now so identified with our national political scene and its constant partisanship, but not through Comey’s doing—would be a very good read for a great many high schoolers. Yes. There is a surprising amount of wisdom and good advice in these pages. It’s an easy read, and this father of four writes as though his own children will be looking over his shoulder and praise or protest—maybe applaud.

I have reviewed many books for learned journals over the years and will not allow this one’s portrayal in newspapers to seem like just a spear directed at presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or just some kind of judgment on our sitting President. There is much here. This is not primarily or even largely a political book, I have come to think. It has many little sections that treat interesting episodes in our national life. While other readers may differ, I believe it to be no political diatribe targeted at the author’s newfound enemies.

At least eight pages go to Martha Stewart’s problems (from one who knows). Her opportunity and burden was many thousands of dollars in stock, (sold short on the eve of disaster), and niceties of truth telling by our law man related to her purchase and sale of it. She got five months in prison. The reader can hardly believe she was worth so many millions at that time (and since). I, at least, wondered what if anything that prison stay did for, or to, her personal “nature.”

There is quite a section early on about the mafia. I am not one who worships The Godfather, but if I were I would love pages 20 to 28, with so many apparently insightful remarks about suit wearing leaders and followers and shall we say “gang members” in NYC and Sicily. It turns out the American mafia has been anything but idly random; there is much organization and Comey when in New York City seems to have had a front row seat.

In the Bush years there was much maneuvering related to 9/11. Another preoccupation of Comey is the propriety of various kinds of torture by our CIA (with lots of denial he had to deal with). That vice president who would have succeeded Bush (God saved us from that!), was behind the scenes in his years–a force to be reckoned with,it appears. Comey got ready to resign back then when “justice” seemed forgotten or pushed aside.

Many readers will focus interestedly on the Hillary Clinton episode of 2016, and try to second guess the choices made at the time by FBI Director Comey. Plainly, he was trying always to protect the Bureau’s good name; hers was of less interest, quite clearly. That he was a Republican may have been relevant—but it doesn’t seem so. That she was (choose a word: careless, self-serving?) in handling her vast email correspondence as Secretary of State is true; yet those dire words “Secret” and “Top Secret” can become inflated in meaning when many thousand messages are being assessed. How assess, evaluate, Comey’s decision in October to reveal truths to all of us out there? What are we to do with the assumption of ALL of us that she was bound to Win?

Donald J. Trump gets a full column in the Index, with “loyalty to” as expressed by him to the FBI leader a feature, naturally. The famous, or is it notorious, dinner they had, with Trumpian misconduct, gets 11 pages. (Most reviewers just settle in there and tell that story, followed with ample second-guessing, harsh judgment, and a lot of siding with one or the other of our face-to-face parties. People seem almost happy as they repeat snappy and even snarling long-honed hostility to Mrs. Clinton or ‘that Trump.” (And why not, with him tweeting stuff daily?)

There is nothing quite like those first person accounts of Trump in Trump Tower and Trump pulling Comey to one side in the White House! (It will be a good movie whatever the cast.) Having lived in the whole book with our new pal, James Comey, and inevitably getting concerned enroute about his wife’s morale, his efforts to uphold standards, and his assurance he will direct the FBI forthrightly for that full ten years no matter what, the reader gravitates to siding with that stalwart FBI man over that Chief Executive. At least I did; it was easy. An example: “Under the optimistic assumption that the attorney general had any control over President Trump, I then took the opportunity to implore him to prevent any future one-on-one communications between the president and me. “That can’t happen,” I said. “You are my boss. You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone. You have to be between me and the president…. Sessions cast his eyes down on the table [and]…said nothing.”

Next the head of the FBI observes, “I would struggle with President Trump for three more months.” Then the president called on the phone “to see how you’re doing.” He wanted “’to lift the cloud.’” Shortly after this, Comey was on the West Coast interacting with FBI subordinates, working routinely with morale as necessary. Giving a speech, he stopped in midsentence. On the back wall of the large room were projected the words “COMEY RESIGNS.” As time passed, “nobody called. Not the attorney general. Not…the deputy. Nobody.” He knew only what the media was saying. What a way to run a railroad!

The powerful FBI Director had no way to get back to Washington. He considered renting a car and driving the whole way…. (Displayed from above at the time was the same hateful treatment accorded McCabe when he was fired so his pension would be invalidated! Intimates did get Comey transportation to D.C., where a letter was idly awaiting. General John Kelly called to say it made him sick and he would quit in protest (a remark protested). It made no difference that Trump had praised his FBI Chief repeatedly and often asked him to stay. Many FBI employees were “tearful.”

I just don’t feel like retracing and dwelling on that Comey/Clinton interaction in October; it has been in the hands of commentators quite awhile. But going over the famous Trump/Comey dinner as told here should be interesting. On pages 247 to 255 we have one side’s account. Meeting in the Oval Office, these two had a memorable interchange. Bill O’Reilly is quoted to good advantage.

What do I think? I believe reading A Higher Loyalty about dedication to doing one’s job no matter what is a good reminder that those charged with real authority ought to be worrying for all of us. Its author has to choose over and over between pathways that are decidedly different. We are not compelled to grasp and admire the Comey choices in every case, but we do need to think a bit more than usual about alternative paths within his grasp.

It is right, I think, to quote James Comey’s final message, carefully phrased: “The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent.” Endangering those sentiments, it appears is the “vicious partisanship” we are undergoing as I write this review. The troubled author, not yet out of the woods, hopes we will find “a higher loyalty…, truth among lies, and…ethical leadership.” Let’s hope so!

This little book of worry, concern, and dedication to one’s assigned task was a good way for me to spend most of a week—mostly thinking. For a time, I felt charged with responsibility and wondered off and on what I was obligated to do next—that is, if all would be turning out well in the end. It is one of James Comey’s contributions that many in the army of readers of A Higher Loyalty will quite possibly end up feeling as I did, enroute.




Vaughn Davis Bornet

Editor’s Note: The author of this reminiscence of ordinary life 100 years ago (pretty close, anyway) recently offered us a serious scholarly effort that singled out many great events that changed things, 1917 to 2017, in our America. Several weeks have passed. He now thinks we should augment the attention we just devoted to headline events with a return to the life a youngster lived in that Era. It was, primarily, a time of Prosperity that turned all too soon to Depression. Here is the result Dr. Bornet offers: an account of a small boy who lived then from birth to age 15, a youngster who surmounted childhood diseases and roller skating slips and many months of family separation; only then to live on into Our Day. It’s evident that our Research Historian, honored by the Freedoms Foundation and the American Heart Association, is still thinking and writing his way through Life.

Because I turned 100 last October 10, I owe it to others who remember my earliest place of residence (Bala in eastern Pennsylvania) to offer a few memories for publication. Few there are now, I fear, who can recall first hand, life as lived by a boy turning into a youth as the Prosperity Decade choked, then staggered, to its close.
Born in Philadelphia in Hahnemann Hospital the night of October 10, 1917 (when World War I was the premier thing on adult minds) to Florence Davis Scull Bornet and Vaughn Taylor Bornet, a steel detailing engineer, my first home was in Bala Cynwyd on Bala Avenue opposite Bala Elementary School’s playground. My rented home was diagonally situated across from a lumber yard obscured by trees in one direction; nothing but homes the other. That small suburban town, by the way, owes its name to Lake Bala in Wales. It can be found up the Schuylkill River when leaving the Philadelphia Parkway by making a left turn on City Line, then driving a mile or so uphill.

Looking uphill from my rented first home was the already venerable (and a bit ornate) Egyptian Theater which boasted black and white silent movies and vaudeville. Its double bill on Saturday was $.15 and later $.25 for us. It was there in the late twenties that Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” arrived. I had seen my first Talkie! “Mammmmy; the sun shines East…. It shines on my mammy!” Sometimes we ate Mars Bars (famous after 1932). Live performers were just about to vanish, for then. Distant TV was unknown to all of the public. Heavy bicycles were a must for kids. (Mine with balloon tires, my very last cherished possession back then, was stolen in 1931.)

There was what passed as a decidedly local shopping district (groceries, mostly) half a block up Bala Avenue, near the commuter train station. That grocery store had half a dozen open bins containing dry baked goods and other edibles. Oatmeal was common; but air conditioning certainly was not. More than a few women then wore “real fur coats” in cold weather, with classy mink the ultimate. Spats and knickers were common among well dressed males. Gasoline was likely to be “Sunoco” and “Gulf.” Tires had tubes, and many car radiators boasted visible thermometers (while running boards were common, along with “gear shifts” that relied on a “clutch.” An ice box was likely.

The nearest street originating at right angles off Bala Avenue was Aberdale Road, just one block long. We would buy number 38, stone outside bordering the first floor, wood above; we would live there about 14 years. I started my “working career” as a child, delivering the Saturday Evening Post to neighbors on our street; then the Philadelphia Public Ledger. When Main Line Daily Times started, in 1930, I was among its very first delivery boys with a route that extended a bit into Cynwyd. By then I needed every nickel I could get. (That paper’s name is now News.)

There was much roller skating back then, with the always steel wheels often being totally worn down. There was occasional ice skating on a frozen street. But I don’t remember skiing at all. Sledding was great! I practiced serious baseball pitching in our driveway, hurling, sans catcher, toward garage doors with every window totally protected. (I would win five games in a row in college.) Summers at Ocean City brought surf fishing and fun with relatives at the Beach.
My home seemed a permanent part of life. I wore out two bb-guns shooting at bottles (nothing live). I took note of our overgrown garden. My Father just lost interest in it sometime; the huge upright piano stood neglected as he did professional stride playing “downtown,” The Victrola stood neglected in a corner with Caruso 78 records no longer played. Somehow, my parents’ Twenties were different from their earlier years (I think the death of two infants, the ones before me, knocked something vital out of them, what I don’t know).

We would have gladly stayed on in Bala in Depression years, but “Philadelphia’s leading engineer”–as a newspaper called my father (who did the elevated trains and the House of Correction)–suddenly lost his contract for a giant projected Philadelphia Post office. He released 44 engineers and closed his office. Quickly he lost our two houses and three cars to Merion Title and Trust Company and moved in with his daughter many miles away. I lost $14 and change. (The sheriff shoved juvenile me roughly to one side as he pushed through the back door!) When that Merion sold the home for less than the mortgage, they got a considerable “deficiency judgment” for 20 years! It would bring nothing.

As a growing boy, earlier, I was a steady customer of the Bala Public Library, reading all of the Frank Merriwell, Ken Strong, Boy Allies, and other juvenile sets. I attended the nearby Bala School with “Miss Nellie” long in first grade and “Miss McCahn” solid in 4th. My home boasted a room filled with Lionel O-gauge trains; in a hallway was my crystal set (a link to seven or more big city 50,000 watt transmitters. Silver cornet playing sometimes included playing out an open window!I still toot.

There was an inevitability to my school. My sister Josephine went to Bala Elementary; also cousin Polly Mitchell from Bryn Mawr Avenue, and cousins Paul and Folwell Scull from their home directly across the street from school. My good Boy Scout friends Sam Brown (the dentist’s son) and Harry Kraftsman (carpenter’s son) lived nearby. (Both graduated University of Pennsylvania.) Lawrence Trenholm was a contemporary. Infants dying from the flu, two from our family, were buried in venerable West Laurel Hill Cemetery adjacent to Manayunk (which once boasted the first canal started in our country and long offered cheap living. Today, it’s a locale for the upper class well dressed to spend lots of money).

It seems of very little interest now that fluctuating tensions and disputes of that day in greater Pennsylvania such as Catholic vs. Protestant, discrimination against Jews, de facto segregation of Negroes, inability of women to reach the top in business routinely, as examples; and enthusiasms such as emerging radio, flying somewhere while admiring Charles Lindbergh, all those shiny (largely black) automobiles, and hope that Prosperity was with us to stay, were for better or worse, solidly focused on. In Bala, life was being lived, after all, and I think we did a very good job of living it!

Although my Mother graduated from a Friends (Quaker) high school far downtown, she was totally uninterested in a Meeting long in a stone building several miles up a highway. I was told, when small, to go alone to a Presbyterian Sunday School at an intersection across from Cynwyd; to get there I walked slowly uphill past a substantial Catholic school with playground. (We never talked of religious matters in our home, and I do think that the formal church they chose more than did its duty toward me, especially on psalms and Christian highlights.)
Had I walked the opposite direction from my home it could have taken me to City Line, where if I turned right, I would arrive at a store where 12-exposure black and white Kodak roll film could be developed and printed. Across the street, likely waiting was streetcar 70, one of many, a vital and direct conveyance to good transfers. If vacationing, in the 1920s we would make visits to Ocean City on the Blackhorse or Whitehorse Pike for solvent Philadelphia types in the hot and humid summers. The compulsory ferry (fun for juveniles) was displaced by the Delaware River Bridge, which finally finished its long drawn out construction in 1926.

In the substantial regional snows of winter, kids tied a rope to bread, milk, cleaning, and ice horse drawn wagons, going blocks Saturday AM. Our autos were a LaSalle, Nash, and Chandler. The black telephone used everywhere had a vertical stem nearly a foot in length and a heavy receiver to be lifted to one’s ear. Phonebooths were common. My sister, aware of her Quaker ancestry, graduated from Swarthmore in 1928, relishing her Nash convertible, Chi Omega friends, and near-Ivy League prestige. It was in nearby West Chester. Instantly, that one was touring England and the Continent with our Mother. Father did his own tour of Berlin and Paris two years later, especially ecstatic about his first airplane flight (over the English Channel). My pleasant book about both adventures is HAPPY TRAVEL DIARIES, 1925 to 1933, self-published recently by Bornet Books.

While one could drive down The City’s beautiful parkway to get downtown, it was that trolley 70 that was central to Bala’s economic life. It took one to the Elevated Trains that duly became a subway with access to Wanamaker’s. Many passengers emerged at Billy Penn’s statue high over City Hall—and wide Broad Street’s Manufacturers’ Club (long closed), of course, from whose second story I watched the Mummers Parade annually. (On a wall at home was its framed and very ornate $1,000 stock certificate—soon to be valueless.
Going the other direction off Bryn Mawr for three miles led to Lower Merion junior and senior high schools. It was there in 1931 to 1933 that I attended each—being in band and orchestra, the only male cheerleader in Junior High (partnered uneasily, with a Virginia), and was paid to play in Ardmore Boy’s Band now and then.

A bit older than I and destined for fame were two youths raised across the street from Bala Elementary: Paul Scull and Folwell Scull. Those towering Scull Boy athletes, LM heroes, later were both Bowl Men (the very top) at University of Pennsylvania: Paul an AP All American fullback who crushed Cornell; Captain Folwell of Track narrowly losing nationally famous Olympics trials of 1928 to immortal Charles Paddock. Both emerged from tiny Bala to achieve national fame.

In 1932-33, with my helpless and suddenly indigent parents clear across Philadelphia, I was farmed out to my Aunt Ella Scull’s home where I lived in her athletic sons’ bedroom. It was congested with their medals and cups. Did I ever wonder those nine months if I could one day catch up with them—by doing “something” very well? What I do know is that two nights a week I was Boy Scouting with Troop 1’s lawyer scout master Pop Ferris. That serious scouting was indebted to equipment and procedures derived from awful World War I, a fact little noted at our level. Still, I was a bugler (with the bugling merit badge). I always played Taps. I do recall that our scoutmaster had spent the War as a signalman aboard a merchant ship. (We learned Morse Code well.)

A word about our “tony” Lower Merion Township high school. Its band followed the football team (which used the plumpish balls then good for drop kicking). I took Latin and two years of really dull German. Shop changed subjects each semester and included metalsmithing, printing, woodworking, and electrical; maybe other things, but I took those mentioned. (Years later, in Georgia, my new college friends, other than from maybe three cities I think, got only 11 years of schooling. That would have been considered out of the question in my Pennsylvania where 12 was required of all.) Carved into the concrete out front was: “ENTER TO LEARN; GO FORTH TO SERVE.” Somehow, I am pleased that I remember it without looking it up.

A word about safety. During the nine months I lived fifty miles from my parents, clear across Philadelphia, I visited half a dozen times. I sometimes got to them, starting by walking across Bala. Then I took our streetcar 70. Transferred eventually to the Elevated, riding until the Subway arrived under City Hall. Emerged, glancing at the beggars. Caught a conveyance going 90 degrees off, through urbanized Temple University, alone for a long time. In Jenkintown, I walked happily (but tired) two miles downhill to my sister’s old home in Rydal. (Two days later my sister’s husband drove me diagonally on Park roads back to my Aunt’s, and Monday’s familiar schooling.)

I can recall no lectures on the need for my “safety” from bums, drugs, assault, alcohol, “strangers,” or other catastrophes. How can that be? I was after all walking in Philly’s center and was for most of a day a 15 year old kid who was all alone. Maybe uniting my family, however briefly, was an absolute necessity. I thought I’d mention all that.
Maybe a brief three paragraph self-serving word about me is now indicated. I’ve been in Who’s Who in the World a long time; the other set over half a century; and I have awards. I’ve written 17 books and well over a hundred articles for learned journals. My doctorate (in History) is from Stanford, earlier degrees are from Emory and Univ. of Georgia. I am a Sigma Chi, and for 61 years a Rotarian. I emerged from enjoying Aberdale Road (as a neighbor of the Penn rowing coach from 1927-1950, Rusty Callow). I went through Life as a Research Historian (once with RAND, various professorships, did lots of difficult editing).

Returning to my father, when I was born he was in Washington, D.C. interaction with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Budd Company’s design of the Mines to contain German subs in the North Sea. (Happily, he rushed home to my mother.) A quarter of a century later he would design the steel for 60 Miami Beach hotels in his years of comeback after we were kicked out of dear old Bala for not making those mortgage payments. (Many a talented professional of those years, especially in the building trades, must have experienced such an up/down jolt as did Vaughn Taylor Bornet, later on to serve as the 20 year treasurer of Miami Beach Rotary Club.)

As for me, I married a small town university senior out of the northern California mountains (Susanville) in 1944 when sporting a blue Navy lieutenant’s uniform. She was class president at University of Nevada at the time. Asked where I am from, I often proudly proclaim, “Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania,” enjoying the blank look. Then I add helpfully something like “It’s not far from the site of ‘The Philadelphia Story,’ but not quite as rich.” Katherine Hepburn is a great identifier!

Other times, maybe to a muscular man, “I went to Lower Merion where Koby Bryant got his start in basketball.” For fun, “In my day I had a cheerful black boy, Acklee, assigned a seat behind and teasing me in algebra; he was from Ardmore, a place adjacent to Villanova and Bryn Mawr College. (I wonder if he, like me, sweated his way out of the Depression in late youth or when a young adult to land on his feet….)

Oh. My father from a half Jewish family, it seems, won the Figure Skating Championship of Philadelphia at age 19 in 1899. It was held on the Schuylkill River, not too far from where I grew up. Back then, like so many, my father’s family name was still that of 1840’s immigration: Borgenski (from Poland). His Presbyterian mother hailed from County Armagh in Ireland. My mother’s ancestors were an English family of Sculls who came to the Colonies in the 1600s. Somehow, my grandfather’s brother had and spread the lifetime name Borgenicht.)

The eastern part of Montgomery County which hosted “Bala” was a Welsh place with strange names, and as good a suburban village for all of us to get started in Life as there was back then. Or so we grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of temporarily upwardly mobile second generation immigrants in the Twenties seem to have thought—way back then, nearly a hundred years ago.

I do hope this cursory account of a boyhood and early youth centered in a place called Bala (not far from Overbrook one way and Valley Forge (yes!) 14 miles the other) has jogged the memories of some readers. I hope it has stirred interest in an American past long since read about or seen in a movie by some others. (Maybe a budding novelist will be jarred into seeking out my Eastern Pennsylvania locale for that next book.)

Anyway, I doubt that there are very many around that can do what I just did. From entirely personal memory I have tried to restore somewhat a Past that is close to 100 years back. What one must do is remember that many of those upwardly bound in the Twenties would be descending downward in the Thirties. That’s what happened repeatedly back then, believe me.
Those years of Prosperity destined to sink to Depression were enclosed by two terrible World Wars. My childhood and boyhood years portrayed here, 1917 to 1933, would change course after those “normal” years, unexpectedly. Prosperity took two steps (and more) backward, 1930-31, the nation’s transition point, and for years afterward. That is all too true. I have greatly enjoyed recreating for us both here—because I can—some of the more pleasant and normal aspects of that start in Life that I had the good fortune to experience so very long ago.


Advice on Living to 100-From One Who Tried It

Advice on Living to 100—From One Who Tried It
Vaughn Davis Bornet
Editor’s Note: Once again, we hear from our senior citizen in Ashland, Oregon. This time he is obviously trying to reach out and lengthen at least some of our lives. Good luck on that, folks. (Remember: Dr. Bornet is Emory, Univ. of Georgia, Stanford, Navy, “free lance,” RAND, and so on. He started Life on October 10, 1917.)
My subject today is living a long life, and how to go about it. Here’s the scoop: First: Don’t smoke, or if you do, give it up! There used to be smoking in the 1960s at the tables of our Ashland Rotary Club. I got up and moved every time. I was rude, no doubt about it. I thought I “knew better” and, yes, I did!
Second, be active mentally and physically, over a very long period. I was a baseball pitcher, weightlifter, sailor, golfer, and now one of the few exercisers in our retirement home. We camped a lot in the old days, at relatively high altitudes, and I’m sure it was good for all of our family and friends who went with us (to about 5,000 feet).
Then, plan cleverly (or have the dumb luck) to marry or conspire to live with, a good partner. Don’t change the one you chose so carefully. Tell that spouse of yours to read up on “nutrition,” and use a little care when planning your meals.
I am of two minds about children’s effect on longevity. They may shorten your life by sometimes almost driving you nuts. Or, they may actually lengthen your life, as they may pay part of the bill for that fancy retirement home. They can provide a really good motive to stay alive as they visit weekly or monthly, bringing chocolates.
While I am convinced that work may have a lot to do with longevity—mostly with shortening it; I suggest that you sensitive ones avoid an autocratic boss. I had several—for long periods—and I wasted a good deal of time trying to endure them.
It also helps if you’re paid well. If you can’t arrange that, try to inherit a sizable sum from the estate of an older brother who is well fixed.
I feel obligated to suggest that the amount of “happiness” you have is bound to have a lot to do with how much you really want to “live long.” Sorry, but I am not quite sure how to guarantee development or retention of happiness, or even to know when you’ve used up your quota.
I surmise that you have read at least some of the little articles in newspapers that give advice. They are about coffee, sugar, salt, alcohol, fatty meats, and junk food. (In some states, drugs and opiodes are now among the subjects. That unsought advice is also about when to eat, and how to sleep—of all things.
I would add this unsought advice: stick with really nice people. (After some recovery from my huge heart attack in 1977, my physician, a Dr. John Reynolds in Ashland, Oregon told me: “Vaughn, starting now, stay away from people that bug you.”) Good advice, that–but it’s hard to do.
I am almost certain that music is related to longevity. Playing it; listening to it; respecting opinions about it. Personally, I would recommend opera on Saturday mornings as a way of relaxing, but it can be unnerving with all of its suicides and murders.
There are one or two practical matters related to health that are seldom mentioned. I am convinced that if dermatologists catch those spots due to excess sun, coming on your face, shoulders and hands, hitting them a second or so with a nitrogen gun, major cancer may never show up in major parts of your body.
NOW: A Harvard-based scientific discovery a little while back seems to be related to my own longevity. It’s psychology-based.
I’m going to quote from a learned book: “We now know that soaking yourself in the recent past—your past—is a powerful way to rehabilitate aging cognition.” That quote is from John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist. He wrote Brain Rules, and Brain Rules for Aging Well. Another highly relevant book is: Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Her experiments had dramatic conclusions.
I want to offer a simple quotation: “… you should become a specialist on what you did between the ages of 15 and 29.” No kidding.
I heard about this next idea recently, but it has been known to psychologists for several years and is based on solid conventional research.
The idea is this: Relive your childhood, youth, and earliest adulthood years by thinking and talking about them! It turns out that I certainly did. My years from 15 to 29 were 1932 to 1946. I have written seriously about that era in four books! In 1995, I wrote a major autobiography in the third person; it ended at 400 pages, with over three chapters treating those “magic” years. Several years ago, I wrote a book rooted in letters I exchanged with my far away wife in wartime, 1944. Rereading of our stressed but thrilling life back then, I even relived the days of marriage and honeymoon! (I married my bride in her home, snow outside, in my World War II blue Navy uniform.)
In 2017 I put together a third detailed account that took me back to 1925 to 1933. The book was rooted in parental travel diaries and brought back my Boy Scout years, memories of family, and our transition from Prosperity to Depression.
I just finished my original new book, Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historians Rewarding Career. I actually completed all the required remembering when finishing up with my 99th year. I typed the first draft of the whole book myself, by the way, wishing my fingerprints would return.
What I am saying is that I have often relived being young again, in real detail. If I am a relatively healthy 100 at this time, just MAYBE some of that longevity is due to Reliving the Past—my own Past—just as those scientists ordered! My ever-changing years from 15 to 29 were astounding, really. I’m now going to refer to them briefly, so get ready!
My parents and I were Happy in Prosperity—those Twenties were good. But the sheriff sold our nice home, vacation home, and cars in 1931; I had to live a year with my aunt without my parents; they moved to Miami Beach and I joined them finally by taking a five-port-docking coastwise steamer from Philadelphia to Miami.
Thereafter, 1933 to 1935, I helped support my family by delivering as many as 250 morning newspapers, mostly to tourists. I graduated from my second high school. Now scholarships helped me get two and half college degrees before the war. And my father’s steel engineering went solidly.
Next, I served five years with the Navy; then taught History two years at the University of Miami; attended Stanford a long time on the G I Bill, and in spring, 1951 finally got the doctorate in History.
One secret to living long, those psychologists say, is nostalgia. “Regular nostalgia exposure,” they assert, “has behavioral benefits…consistent with activation of dopamine. It boosts social connectedness scores, and feelings of well-being.”
A recent Wikipedia explanation of dopamine is: “It’s a neurotransmitter in the brain that acts to help regulate movement and emotion.” And, “It’s a chemical released by neurons…to send signals to other nerve cells….” And then, “Reward-motivated behavior increases the level of dopamine in the brain.” (That word isn’t in the Webster’s Collegiate I have used since 1936.)
Moving on, the experts also say, “Seniors consistently exposed to their past become less anxious about dying, become emotionally closer to loved ones, even obtain greater tolerance for outsiders.” Still with me?
Let me put it in simpler English: Reliving ones’ earlier years, especially the ones after childhood and before getting far into adulthood, greatly helps to prolong life in old age.
This is what I seem to have learned: To go back with real appreciation to your own selected “old days” is something of a guarantee that Heaven will grant a noticeable increase in our “new days.”
There was an article on seizing longevity in History News Network recently. The learned author claims that if one looks back at youth and earlier life, and dwells on it, (often–I gather) it helps the individual to live on—and reach a healthy old age.
As I conclude, I want to confide a little more about myself: Well, I grew up in a snooty little main-line town in Pennsylvania called Bala-Cynwyd. I was in the Band and Orchestra. And later on a winning tennis team.
I became a Sigma Chi in college, and graduated “With Honors.” I was put in charge of all the barracks at Naval Air Station in Alameda for three years and dubbed “necessary.” This lieutenant didn’t get out of uniform until four months after the War was over. In 1945 after two drinks, my admiral once said, “Hell, Bornet, nobody wants your job!” (Which is how I learned I wasn’t about to be shipped out to the far Pacific, back in early summer, 1945.)
After Stanford I began to write books and work for foundations and a Think Tank. A three year full time effort on my part was writing a big book for the Commonwealth Club of California.
I spent three separate years helping three distinguished scholars put together their famous books. The subjects were: President Roosevelt, the best-selling textbook on American history by Thomas A. Bailey, and Herman Kahn’s classic book on thermonuclear war. I also summarized a big RAND Corporation book on the Space Race, making it readable. I developed an Oral History activity for the Truman Library, getting an autographed photo from him, with thanks.
Meanwhile, I served as editor for American History, Biography and Geography for a new edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica that came out in 1960. I had three happy years at that RAND Corporation.
I was a professor and Division Chairman at Southern Oregon College about two decades. I served nearly twenty years on the United States Civil Rights Commission for Oregon. For two years, with secretarial help, I served as president of the Rogue Valley Symphony.
Finishing, I guess I should admit that I wrote a book for the American Heart Association which got me named “Distinguished” before a huge hotel audience of cardiologists. The book made the news columns of the NYT. Finally, The Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge honored me for my article on US relations with Russia. My thousand page plus website, CLIOISTICS, is permanently on the Internet with hundreds of pages that were published during my recent oldest years.
The idea of this simple article has been to spread the news that going back to Your Post Childhood, but Early Adult, Past, thinking about it, considering it, can actually lengthen your Life! Enroute (since I have been here since October 10, 1917 and remain healthily active as an elderly Research Historian) I have ventured to offer a precis of my active life, only as an inspiration to You.

A Credo For Americans To Take Toward The Future


I am proud to be an American citizen in today’s world. It was easy to say that during the last days of World War I, when we joined the fight in Europe with Wilsonian ideals about making the world Safe for Democracy. We used the Peace to support both our national self-determination and to an extent the idea of international government. We fought in World War II against worldwide tyranny during years when the enemy’s blatant racism in Europe and their fierce dedication to imperialism were massive evils. Postwar, we helped liquidate some major European colonialism in Africa and Asia. In the 20th Century, America stood squarely against international communist totalitarianism, but not always successfully. We devoted vast sums to foreign aid for decades, and we abstained from acquiring new territory. Today, America continues for the most part to strive to change the world for the better. The family foundations of rich Americans have shouldered special burdens abroad.

Especially, I hope for understanding and meaningful help as our nation struggles to expand democratic government while bringing equity at last to women. We should believe that the population of the United States, as it modifies from centuries of English influence, will continue to remain faithful to the humanity-serving goals of earlier years. All hope that new generations of Americans will assume the obligations we feel to be their duty.

Above all else, I hope that new Americans, and their leaders everywhere, regardless of their religions and their sense of obligation to places of origin, will come to share our traditional sense of unyielding idealism. We hope the new mixed society that is coming well be influenced by the best of what made us world leaders. Every citizen among us, we hope, will come to share at least some of what our people have felt when we lived and performed at our very best.

VAUGHN DAVIS BORNET, Ashland, Oregon, U.S.A.

The Real Reason LBJ Didn’t Run for Re-Election in 1968

The Real Reason LBJ Didn’t Run for Re-Election in 1968
tags: LBJ, 1968, Democratic Party

77 20 28

by Vaughn Davis Bornet
The author of this corrective piece researched his heavily documented Johnson effort—resulting in the Kansas Press Book The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (1984)—back in the era 1976 to 1983. He pioneered in use of the LBJ Papers in Austin. Dr. Bornet (soon to be 100) lives busily in Ashland, Oregon and is a frequent contributor to HNN. His new book, “Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historian’s Rewarding Career” (130 pages) will be out soon.

Let’s begin with a quick summary: President Lyndon B. Johnson inherited the presidency in November, 1963 after the terrible events in Dallas. He ran against Barry Goldwater with great success in 1964. Then he served a full term “in his own right” from 1964 through 1968, stepping down on January 20, 1969 as the presidency changed hands, Democratic to Republican, from his to Richard Nixon’s.
Our concern here is just how did it happen that in the spring of 1968, the President of the United States announced that he would not be running again for president in spring, summer, and autumn, 1968?
Almost any place one looks (except my account of the Johnson presidency!) the answer usually offered is that “the Left” or “Liberals” in the months of February to April, 1968 succeeded in a major goal. They allegedly made sure everybody would be certain that he could never win if he ran in 1968. As Johnson came to sense that, it is said, he found it necessary to abandon any thought, hope, or plan to run because it would be a waste of time—and embarrassing to boot. Several prominent Democrats claimed they were rising toward probable success at the time. (One of them would fail, one would be shot, others would fall by the wayside.) Hubert Humphrey ultimately obtained the nomination and ran an acceptable race—but did not win, against Richard Nixon.
In the years that have passed there has been conjecture as to why LBJ didn’t attempt to run for reelection. It has been easy to speculate that maybe it was the difficulty facing him in obtaining the Democratic nomination that was the problem, not the strength of the Republican Party with its chosen ticket.
Why did LBJ decline to offer himself? The Vietnam War? (Not going well.) Decline of initial enthusiasm for that Great Society? Let’s admit right away that these are extremely important—and relevant—matters to history and for historians.
But what will be contended here, documented, and soon become quite clear (I trust) to one and all, is this: Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson had long since determined (in September, 1964) out loud, and in front of reliable adults, that the campaign of the year they were in (1964) would be The End of LBJ’s Campaigning for office!
That decision, “witnessed” for all practical purposes, would become known and recognized, amply documented in December, 1967, for all practical purposes irretrievably (though not publicly), starting right then. Letters signed and transmitted behind the scenes, written to several top leaders of the day, pronounced the decision of the Johnsons, husband and wife, in a manner allowing for no retreat, change of mind, or finally “stepping up to the plate,” as is said in some circles. Let’s examine some of the evidence.
(Interrupting a moment: This story appeared deep in chapter 12 of my book The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, pp. 283-305. Offered were footnotes, both single and double, 39 in all. Under the circumstances, what is being offered here to HNN is a readable precis of that account, footnotes deleted, but with several important sources clearly indicated within the prose.)
Let’s admit at once that there is ample evidence of growing opposition to any Johnson election to a second full term in 1968. Little would be gained here by reciting it. That year was a dramatic one, to be sure, with assassinations, a convention with street demonstrations, and a highly visible—and audible—left wing of the Democratic Party yelling ever louder in the hope of crushing the incumbent part of the party as soon as possible, forcing it to give up, in advance of evolving events.
The burden here is proving that Lyndon B. Johnson was not physically “well” and then indicating that the fact was quite clear to the Johnsons, husband and wife. It is evident that his poor health needs documenting. Then we need ample evidence that the candidacy of 1968 was abandoned because of health considerations long in advance of the time for announcing.
Let’s see. His appendix came out in 1937. He had “chest trouble” when serving briefly with the Navy, actually, six to eight bouts with pneumonia. By developing bronchitis he qualified for a 10 percent veterans disability pay (applying for it but then rejecting it). A kidney stone was taken out in 1948, and after a Mayo Clinic stone removal in 1955 he wore a brace for awhile.
Pretty well known is the 1955 “infarction” of the heart: death of part of the muscle. (On that, I am surefooted, for mine was 1977.) My death of a quarter of the heart laid me out. LBJ’s made him prepare for death; talk was of retirement, as he stayed in the hospital a month (I, 22 days). Recovery at the Ranch was solid. Still, the recommendation was for “carefully regulated hours of work and rest.”
Unexpected, of course, was inheritance of the Presidency in November, 1963 (and he would have no vice president!). Moving out of the Elms – his home while vice president – LBJ had a very severe cold and a chest condition, but it was kept private. For a time smoking was out, and he had some sort of prescription. Pajamas were worn in part of the afternoons. His diet was carefully supervised. There were massages and enemas (with others commenting), and he routinely avoided shutting doors. An intimate says he concentrated on his physical distress—but one byproduct was hyperawareness of the medical needs of others, ‘tis said. (A reason for Johnson to appreciate Medicare and Medicare?)
It is interesting to read of how comprehensive (and expensive) were the medical costs of Johnson’s government air tours anyplace; people and preparations added up. His physician was promoted to vice admiral, and joint appointments for M.D.s were general. Adjacent medical facilities in Texas got shots in the arm. Three days after the 1965 inauguration LBJ was taken by ambulance at 2:26AM, allegedly with a “cold,” but the VP says “chest pains.” (He is described as “solemn” and “grim,” with “fears and apprehensions.” Was there heart arrythemia?)
There was in 1965 “stomach pain.” There were “night sweats.” In October 1965, ten doctors attended a two-hour operation to take out a gall bladder and kidney stone, leading to “limited activities.” There would be abdominal and throat surgery in 1966. Why bother even mentioning here the 40 or so skin pre-cancers or the eye styes? Or his complaints of “foot trouble.”
While an English biographer noted “recurrent anxieties about his health” rather early, it is clear that President Johnson did survive his elected term, returning to the Ranch as planned. More to the point, he came down with chills and fever on December 16, 1967. Lady Bird offers a graphic description of his indolence and demoralization (my choice of words) in the hospital at the time. John Steinbeck said Johnson was “too drawn and too taunt” just then. Precautions were made routinely for a turn to the worse by the incumbent President.
Detouring to the post-presidency a moment: Johnson died before a term beginning in 1969 would have been over! (Before generalizing on that, one should take account of how LBJ abused his wellbeing in post presidential years: heavy drinking and smoking marked those sad months when that past President’s responsibility was minimum. All in all, there is plenty of evidence that President Johnson in office was often seriously ill, that the public was kept ignorant of many episodes; indeed, that the major heart attack of 1955 was considered a guidepost to the future by some—not all. Now, it’s time for evidence about retirement not to be ignored.
Lady Bird says in her Diary that the decision to run in 1964 (repeat, 1964!) was only made after searching conferences with cardiologists James Cain and Willis Hurst. They wondered if he was up to a full term as President, that is, four years, either psychologically or physically. (I summarize the group’s opinion in my book: “they thought he should try.” Emphasis mine.) That is, he should try to run in 1964!
Time passed. By mid-1967 it was becoming important that the tired and often discouraged man in the White House get ready to make a decision about running in 1968 and (behind the scenes, of course) let key people know. Fortunately, one decision had been made—over again— on Labor Day, 1967. (Governor John Connelly was sick of serving the national ticket by running as governor of Texas. He had to be told.) At the Ranch, pressed by Lady Bird, Lyndon proclaimed: “All right, you’ve been talking about this for a long time, so we’ll make this decision right now and make you happy…. I’ve decided I won’t run for reelection.”
There is little to be gained by tracing LBJ’s hints and warnings from that point on, but one can. What is relevant is how he handled his mandatory, official, notifications. (We’ll even ignore speculating on the significance of the secret study of Johnson’s life expectancy conducted quietly in 1967.) That intimates were given hints by LBJ in that year is merely interesting. What evidence would have deep and compelling meaning for us, today? How do we really know that the totally private decision of late summer, 1964 was still considered compelling as the time for getting ready for a Real Decision (even if behind the scenes) came into focus at or just before Christmas, 1967?
An early communication of consequence was when Lady Bird told the Johnson’s good buddy Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas in May, 1967. (Some readers may have read of the terrible Fortas summer when the top position on the Court escaped him as the President lost. Jack Valenti, dearest of friends, no stranger to life in the White House, had been told even earlier, by quite a bit. It is wonderful to read in Lyndon’s wife’s diary intimate words reinforcing her unqualified faith in the decision early on not to run.
Far more relevant are these actions: James Webb, head of NASA needed a successor to get ready…. So he was told early. Texas congressman Jake Pickle had to know for many reasons; he was told. The time was at hand in autumn, 1967, when the highest of officials had to be advised officially from the top. General Westmoreland was one. McNamara was leaving, he learned, and enroute the General was filled in on facts about Johnson’s health. LBJ candidly discussed “presidents’ health” where talk included the term “invalided.” General Eisenhower was next. (I observed in my book version that LBJ would never have lied to West Point graduates on a matter of this kind.) Ike instantly conveyed what he learned to General Goodpaster, who, advised, says he found it “very revealing” on many matters.
There would seem to be little real gain in moving on at this point to a discussion of exactly how President Johnson chose to reveal to the greater public and to an array of key figures his decision not to run. The time came when it was very late—March, 1968, and the chief executive was weighing all kinds of things: principally just what could he get out of North Vietnam with a conveyed decision that he would no longer be in “that office.”
Need we, having established the truth about the Johnson renunciation of being on the 1968 Democratic ticket, trace any of the events that occurred then and in the more than a half year to come? No; but a quotation from astute Richard Nixon is worthwhile. Late in 1967 he said observantly of the sitting President: “He seemed to be running away from…his policies in public” and failing to generate support. So observed the master politician! Not even knowing the decision had been made, that veteran could sense that something important had been decided on a key matter.
Few, or no, individuals were as close to Lyndon Johnson as Arthur Krim (who would in later years lead Hollywood, but at the time was the guarantor of candidate LBJ’s solvency when seeking election. On March 11, 1968 he selected Hubert Humphry to be President’s Club speaker on April 30. As for Humphrey, sitting vice president, he was told well ahead of time, and Dean Rusk, Secretary of State was another who learned of the truth (though he didn’t believe it).
At the appropriate time the crafty President, seeking to get something out of words and deeds, said to a national audience: “…I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” May I now quote my book on the reaction? “Listeners were incredulous. Eric Severeid and other TV anchormen were at a total loss for interpretations, just as Johnson had hoped they would be. Contrary to what some have alleged, Lady Bird was ‘radiant’; to her Lyndon she said, ‘Nobly done, darling.’ ”
Having (I think) established my main point, that Lyndon B. Johnson was not forced out of running for reelection in 1968, I see nothing to be gained by ruminating about reactions nationally in party circles, or among White House aides. Johnson seems to have thought he could/would have won.
Maybe giving Lady Bird the last word is warranted. In autumn, 1967 she had written in private: with four more years in office for a man in his sixties, “bad health might overtake him…; a physical or mental incapacitation would be unbearable, painful for him to recognize.” (There had been so many visits by Lady Bird to hospitals!)
My conclusion is sturdy: (page 296) “So, Johnson’s withdrawal from candidacy for another term could have been—but clearly was not—due to Tet, the war in general, rival challengers in his party, the protesters, the polls, the ‘system’ working, any alleged mental quirks or supposed tendencies toward avoiding conflict, or the fear of losing.” His key words of summation were used by me in my chapter title, to wit, “I’VE GONE THE DISTANCE.”

A Golden Age for American History Scholarship? It Was the Mid-1950s.

THE MID-1950s
Vaughn Davis Bornet

“The profession of history is thriving, the professors are vigorous,” exclaimed the executive secretary of the American Historical Association as New Year’s Day, 1957 approached. Historians were said to be on the move; they were writing and publishing quantities of books and articles. Professional meetings were well attended. American history seemed to be enjoying increasing interest from the public. Asking from the Far West, “What is Right With the Historical Profession?” textbook master John D. Hicks found the current scene much to his liking; in short, historians could be proud of themselves. Yet there had been dissenting voices in the 1950’s, such as that of Howard K. Beale in the Pacific Historical Review. University historians, he thought, had many failings both as teachers and researchers. Other critics intimated that closer relationships between secondary school history teachers and scholars on the campus would be fruitful. Meanwhile there were new ideas aplenty expressed from platforms and in writing.
The present account of new viewpoints and new productivity in American history covers the middle years of the 1950’s. Most of the books cited were published in the years between the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and the middle of his second term, say 1957. Summarized are attitudes that highly placed historians voiced on the teaching of history, and there is much assessment of the book publications exciting American history specialists in those years. New interests like military history, labor history, and even history built around topographical features of the landscape are indicated here, while controversies and a new research techniques are duly noted. It was a great time for a venerable profession to be functioning and to rejoice.
In the seventy-odd years since the founding of the American Historical Association, no presidential address had dealt exclusively with the teaching of history until respected historian of the Monroe Doctrine, Dexter Perkins, then president of the A. H. A., chose in 1956 the theme “We Shall Gladly Teach” for colleagues meeting in St. Louis. He asked if the true function of the teacher of history was to arouse doubt and foster the critical attitude—or to set some positive standards of thought and action–and he urged,
“We must make the past more vivid and the quality of men’s adventure more deeply understood; we must interpret the past broadly; in the spirit of a man to whom nothing human is alien: we need not be afraid to speak of moral values, to be sensitive and compassionate, or to exalt wisdom and goodness; we must set the example of a sound intellectual and moral balance, of a broad view of human values; we must make the process of the mind in seeking truth so fair, so understanding of various opinions, and yet so clear that they will command respect and deserve imitation.”
Perkins suggested that teachers retain a familiarity with source materials, a point once advanced by Thomas A. Bailey in his “The Obligation of the Teacher to Be a Scholar,” Social Education (Dec., 1949). Meanwhile a high school teacher from Peoria, Illinois, Hazel C. Wolf, told a considerable audience in 1956 that the burden for training teachers could not be shirked by university professors of history in favor of other things.
Hopeful of improving the teaching of history, the American Historical Association inaugurated in 1956 a Service Center for Teachers of History (400 A. Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003 since 1963). It hoped to bridge the “growing gap” between school history teachers and university scholars. There would be a new AHA publications program. A job Register was staffed.
In this connection, the appearance of the third edition of the Directory of American Scholars in 1957 was of unusual importance to teachers of history since, with removal of sketches of other social scientists to volume III of American Men of Science (1956), many more historians than ever before were included in the Directory’s 836 double columned pages. A 1952 survey of historians at the hands of J.F. Wellemeyer, Jr. in A.H.R. (Jan., 1956) revealed that of 2, 979 members of the American Historical Association who replied to a letter of inquiry, sixty-three per cent had the doctorate and another thirty-one per cent had a master’s degree. Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, and University of California (Berkeley and U.C.L.A.) led at the time in quantity of doctoral graduates.
Active, with journals and conventions, were state and national associations, too many to list here. Truly national was the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, while the Southern Historical Association remained regional in focus but with a national membership. The A.H.A. maintained a branch in the Far West. Meetings of such groups could be at Christmas-New Year time, in the spring, or the autumn, depending…. Those who managed to attend the two or three day meetings now and then were rewarded by meeting with authors, seeing textbooks and their writers, and seeing those who were rising to leadership. Exhibits of new books, panels, presidential speeches—all vied with “mingling” at meetings, while former classmates rejoiced at getting together.
A striking development of the 1950’s was the increased granting of research, travel, and teaching fellowships to historians, even though in this respect they lagged behind grants to natural scientists. Some universities had trouble keeping a quorum of big names in classrooms, as Israel, Austria, and other distant parts of the world listened to lectures that were delivered, quite often, in English. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (1953) was a direct outgrowth of such a period of overseas residence, and there were indications that the United States gained in stature from upward mobility of most historians who enjoyed the overseas experience. Shepard B. Clough, The American Way (1953) consisted of discerning lectures delivered by the Columbia professor in Europe.
At home, there was preliminary effort to utilize TV for adult education in history. Some program series, like that by James C. Olson of Nebraska State Historical Society on the “Sodhouse Frontier,” were filmed for repeat broadcasts on educational radio stations in coming years. Long accustomed to microphone lecturing at giant universities, some historians wondered if the future would see them lecturing at giant universities; others wondered if they would lecture into cameras for students lounging at home in bed or in fraternity houses. The emerging small screen TV was viewed with suspicion for the most part, although it might well have a future….
As has been said, conventions of historical associations were well attended in the 1950’s. After balloting by mail, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association refused to change its name to something indicative of its focus on American history. Tradition triumphed. The Association for State and Local History was immensely invigorated by sponsorship of its new publication American Heritage. In the pages of that beautiful magazine the elusive “layman” and his children were eagerly courted by favored writers. Indeed, state society, archival and museum specialists in the nation no longer worried about drifting into sterile antiquarianism.
In the 1950’s there were moves away from that sort of thing, and James Parton, publisher of American Heritage, rejoiced that “There is today in America a great reawakening interest in history…, how we got to where we are and how that rediscovery can help us through the difficult problems of the present and the future.” His hard cover periodical, edited by Bruce Catton with heavy emphasis on human interest and social history and illustrated in full color, came to have a vast circulation among laymen, unheard of for a history magazine. Meanwhile, The Directory of Historical Societies and Agencies in the United States and Canada (1956) rose to 48 pages.
Several networks on historical method interested historians in these years. James C. Malin, The Contriving Brain and the Skillful Hand in the United States (1955) rejected entrenched interpretations in its concern with the philosophy of history. Homer C. Hockett, The Critical Method in Historical Research and Writing (1955) was a thoroughly revised edition. Wendell H. Stephenson, The South Lives in History (1955) discussed famous Southern historians appreciatively and otherwise. Mirra Komarovsky edited Common Frontiers of the Social Sciences (1957), among whose seventeen essays was the 70 page “Research Problems in American Political Historiography.”
A British scholar, H. Hale Bellot, American History and American Historians, had in 1952 discerned weak spots in American historical productivity in a thoughtful survey of leading books. Historians were also concerned about the factual basis of more than a few major interpretations. The Social Science Research Council appointed a committee of five in 1957 “to encourage the development of better methods for assessing the evidence underlying selected historical prepositions or generalizations.” Both style and content were matters for concern at the time.
The 1,711 would-be history Ph. D’s who had doctoral dissertations in progress in 1955 were the recipients of much advice on such matters. In a humorous vein, Walter Prescott Webb spoke (from Texas) of the young faculty, chiefly in the larger universities, “who are driven to write when they have nothing to say and are fired if they do not say it with documentation.” Boyd C. Shafer, the new editor of the American Historical Review thought “We should examine more closely the problems involved in winning a wider audience—more buyers of our books—and we should continue to explore how we can publish less expensively.” He urged paying more attention to style than to what he termed the apparatus of scholarship, seeking out really significant subjects, not just those with convenient source materials. All work should be related to the full history of the time and to writing already in print, he thought. (His journal had received 157 essays during one recent year.) His opinion:
“In American history…we saw too few top-notch studies and almost none which tried to interpret American history in the venture- some fashion of Tyler, Turner, and Beard. The bold new views that these giants have led us to expect of American historians seem strangely lacking, as least insofar as submitted articles indicate.”
A disgruntled reviewer, irritated by reading a newly published dissertation, wrote in June, 1957, “University presses would do well to leave the business of publishing doctoral dissertations to University Microfilms.” None of these complaints were new. It was left for a British scholar to tell American historians what he felt about 1,300 footnotes supporting a monograph on an obscure topic:
“…my blood ran cold. I am all for historical research work at the grass roots but boggle at being asked to look at each blade of grass. American history being by the nature of events a somewhat recent development in human affairs, American scholars, aided by the bounty of many foundations, are inclined to blow up a subject for the sake of research rather than research into the subject on a scale commensurate with its importance.”
Highly placed historians surveyed in their presidential addresses such matters as bias and passing of judgment on men and events. President Edward C. Kirkland of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association said, for example,
“… it is essential to apply the same standards of judgment and appraisal to all groups and to all individuals: to realize, for instance that success is no more a reason for denying a man or a cause a hearing than failure is a reason for granting it; to discard the sentimentalism that associates truth with one social class and error with another; to acknowledge that trade unions as well as corporations may use power arbitrarily. … Let us be on our guard lest, by dividing our standards, we ruin not only ourselves as practicing historians but also the heritage of American history which we are under obligation to honor, to explore, and to transmit.” Kirkland, himself a frequent writer on controversial 19th century themes, passed on to colleagues, for what it might be worth, a free-wheeling translation of an old Latin phrase, namely: “Democrats and Republicans I treat alike.”
This gentle warning was particularly appropriate in the 1950’s because of a tendency in some historians to be increasingly discontented with merely telling the story of the past. The passing of judgment became common in new history books. Perhaps the reason for this was just a natural desire to be influential. Yet behavioral scientists with their open door policy on all questions relating to the actions of mankind may have had its due effect. Gerald M. Capers wrote in March, 1956,
“We historians must speculate as to how and why things got like they are, though we should know when we are speculating and admit it. Why should we stick to the data and details of the Populist Revolt or the Missouri Compromise and leave the sixty-four-dollar questions to the anthropologist or the social scientist? Just because it is safer, and we know the exact answers cannot be found?”

Some books of history seemed more important than others in the years 1953 to 1957—as was natural. The Pulitzer Prize for History was awarded to George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, Bruce Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox, Paul Horgan, Great River: the Rio Grande in North American History, Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform, and George M. Kennan, Russia Leaves the War: Soviet American Relations, 1917-1920.
Biographies awarded the Pulitzer Prize covered the lives of John C. Calhoun, Charles Evans Hughes, Edmund Pendleton, Robert A. Taft, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Charles A. Lindbergh won with his autobiographical Spirit of St. Louis, and Senator John F. Kennedy won with a collective biography, Profiles in Courage. Professor Hofstadter’s book, subtitled “From Bryan to F.D.R.”, an account of populism, progressivism, and New Dealism pointed out contrasts and similarities discerned by the author, some of which were not necessarily concurred in by all readers.
Other books, while not prize winners, won attention. Randolph E. Paul, Taxation in the United States (1954) was an 830-page classic on the federal tax system—the political origins of the individual and corporation income taxes and the inheritance tax. In 1956 a sparkling survey of American history for textbook use, The American Pageant, which had been checked in manuscript by scores of experts (often, by this recent Ph.D.). Thomas A. Bailey showed again, with a classic headed for innumerable editions and coming editor-authors, that he had few equals in the preparation of readable history–diplomatic or not.
New textbooks by young historians began to invade the sales territories of standard treatments. A stimulating book was Oscar Handlin, Chance of Destiny (1955), which treated eight incidents that marked turning points in American history. Presidential Nominating Politics in 1952 (1954), a five-volume production by many political scientists, showed the complexity of the American electoral process with its variation from state to state.
David M. Potter, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954) brought to bear an interdisciplinary point of view of deep interest to teachers of social studies. The effect of plenty on our social and political institutions was the theme. Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America (1955) and Wesley Frank Craven, The Legend of the Founding Fathers (1956) aroused discussion. Leland D. Baldwin, The Meaning of America (1955) was an attempt to understand “the American spirit.” Readers of Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism (1955) found it easy to become mentally excited. War, nationalism, government intervention, and majoritarian democracy came to be considered historic evils. Major figures of our history were measured and evaluated in accordance with the extent to which they furthered these defined “evils.”
Books like these were likely to recharge the batteries of teachers bored with “the same old history.” Yet it was abundantly clear that such new interpretations were not welcome in many places. Shouldn’t they withstand scholarly criticism before entering the mainstream? Tradition! History journals for historians were carrying new articles and innumerable book reviews, and there were many state journals of history. The Historian, prepared since 1938 by Phi Alpha Theta, a history group, was thriving.
Books that exposed large new portions of American history to view were John W. Oliver, History of American Technology (1956), A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government (1957), and Mary M. Roberts, American Nursing: History and Interpretation (1954). Books on the patent system, petroleum pipelines, and the water supplies of municipalities were fresh treatments, for example Nelson W. Blake, Water for the Cities (1956). An unusual sectional history was D.G. Brinton Thompson, Gateway to a Nation (1956), the first Unitarian account of the Middle Atlantic States and their influence on the development of the nation. American Catholicism (1956) by John Tracy Ellis consisted of four lectures and was termed by an expert the best short history of its subject from a Catholic point of view. By the same author was Documents of American Catholic History (1956).
Historians showed an interest in presidents of the United States, living and dead, thereby disregarding protests against any “presidential synthesis.” An urging to give increased attention to less exalted figures of American history affected some writers, but publication proved difficult. The centennial of the birth of Woodrow Wilson brought new evaluations, among them a biography by Silas B. McKinley, a book of diplomacy by Edward H. Buehrig, and a psychological analysis.
The work of Arthur M. Link on Wilson (at Princeton) seemed to approach definition, but reviewer John M. Blum wisely observed that books seldom meet the needs of all generations. He contrasted the Wilson portrayed by Link with the restful figure of Ray Stannard Baker’s earlier work—which so well suited contemporaries. Authorities banded together to contribute to The Greatness of Woodrow Wilson (1956) to which President Eisenhower added an introduction. A Centennial Commission sponsored some memorials to the World War I president.
The Rutgers Press finished issuing its attractive set of Lincoln papers, and Elting E. Morison completed the editing of eight volumes of Theodore Roosevelt Letters. New books on T.R. quickly gained publication, John M. Blum’s The Republican Roosevelt (1954) among them. A 22-volume set of Madison papers was projected.
Books on Franklin D. Roosevelt continued to appear (see below); former President Herbert Hoover’s Memoirs reached three volumes (with help), but volume I’s readability dominated. Harry Truman’s effort stopped at two. There was a biography of Rutherford B. Hayes and a thoroughgoing one on James K. Polk through the governorship. Irving Brant’s Madison series attained five volumes, rejuvenating its central figure, but the mighty Henry Adams treatment of the era still appealed—as reprints showed. Douglas Southall Freeman’s study of Washington attained posthumous completion. There were also studies of Presidents Jackson and Tyler, while Samuel Flag Bemis released a second volume on John Quincy Adams. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, published at a reasonable price by the Princeton University Press, continued regular appearance, rehabilitating his long era.
There was major activity on Alexander Hamilton. An edition of papers was projected; meanwhile, a well edited volume by Richard B. Morris was convenient. The Hamilton career attracted Broadus Mitchell, Louis M. Hacker, and others. Books of tribute and antiquarianism on Benjamin Franklin saw print; publishing his papers was discussed. Teachers of history, buried in words of wisdom from the great men of America’s past, rejoiced–but may have postponed a reading of these immense multi-volume sets of papers for a later day.
A useful reference book was Encyclopedia of American History (Harper, 1953) edited by Richard B. Morris which offered essential facts about American life and institutions and a 5,000-entry index. A major publication replacing older versions was the Harvard Guide to American History, a topical and chronological guide to books, pictures, and other materials. Richard G. Lillard, American Life in Autobiography (1956) was a guide to 400 books on the personalities and character of great men and women. An index to the Writings on American History, 1902-1940 series was finished. The series reached 1952, skipping 1940-47. The New American Nation series, the Library of American Biography, and the Library of American Civilization were readable books.
At the conclusion of World War II there was published in School and Society (Feb. 2, 1946) an essay by Stanford’s venerable History chairman Edgar Eugene Robinson calling for “A New American History.” Soon available in an appropriate book, the call was to recognize a new era. Robinson wrote:
“We must be prepared to deal with (1) a tremendous increase in detailed subject matter; (2) a greater emphasis on the last half-century, when mankind has traveled as far as in the preceding thousand; (3) a wide dispersion of Americans throughout the world, making the American not a continental but a world civilization; and, finally most important, (4) a present necessity in emphasizing the political activities of men, here at home and in every corner of the globe. We must insist, as never before, that the one continuous, all-important theme in the new history is the story of man’s attempt to govern himself.”
By 1957 the tremendous increase in subject matter was overwhelming all who studied and wrote American history. Yearbooks, like those of Encyclopedia Britannica, Americana, Colliers, Worldbook, and others, told the present-day story in the large sets, usually correcting any errors discovered during the year. Scholars later on could find continuity in many key yearbook articles like “United States,” drafted in 1956 and 1957 by this writer. Books of history flowed like wine from the presses; still, unpublished manuscripts existed in abundance. There was new emphasis on the 20th century. Colonial historians became concerned about the future of their specialty. American history specialists were lecturing overseas to various parts of a world audience. Political history and biography made great gains as the history of man’s attempt at self-government acquired new advocates while the worldwide Soviet threat was constituting a Cold War.
State and local history seemed to be gaining in favor. A state study of really notable competence was Wyoming’s War Years, 1941-1945 (1954), in which T.A. Larson showed what quality could be reached by a researcher trained in medieval history, when tackling events of his own day on “the home front.” California became a fertile field for specialized studies, including books on farm organizations, politics, and social welfare. There was a book on Huey Long’s Louisiana, while five volumes of The Papers of Willie Person Mangum, (1956) edited by Henry T. Shanks amounted to an account of North Carolina history. That state, and Alabama, had new summary volumes of history similar to University of North Carolina Press books on Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina. State narratives were discussed at the 1955 American Historical Association meeting, where some contrarians thought that regional history might be better.
The Rivers of America Series reached 40 volumes in 1955, while other series covered lakes, mountains, trails, cities, and regions. A series entitled “The Far West and Rockies” would one day reach 15 volumes. Texas history, almost regional in itself, saw new accounts of merit. Bessie Pierce continued to publish on Chicago, and Blake McKelvey completed three books on Rochester. Frederick Sha’s History of the New York City Legislature was local history with a punch; Bayard Still traced traveler’s opinions of the New York City in Mirror for Gotham (1956).
“American Studies” programs blossomed at Yale, Stanford, and elsewhere as the result of financial assistance and the desire of some historians to produce for journals like the American Quarterly some new insights in the cultural-literary social area. An American Studies Association was formed in 1951, and there was much interest in the image, the myth, the stereotype, and the symbol. At an institute of Behavioral Science in California a handful of historians united in a year of contact with social and natural scientists financed by the Ford Foundation. “Interdisciplinary approaches”—was an expression gaining in use; yet there was resistance.
Labor historians saw new vistas ahead when they were presented with an inventory of the American Federation of Labor archives by this writer in The Historian (Autumn, 1955) together with a call for a “New Labor History” to be based on labor manuscripts. Transfer of large portions of these archives from AFL/CIO to the Wisconsin State Historical Society after microfilming prevented destruction and could encourage research. Labor historians formed a small society at the New York School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Ithaca, N.Y. New books on Gompers and the AFL were published, and new treatments of the CIO appeared, one on political activities, while another focused on Communist penetration. Local in its focus was Grace Heilman Stimson, The History of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles (1955).
Historians and social welfare specialists organized a committee in 1957, the executive secretary being Ralph E. Pumphrey of New York University. Studies of importance on social welfare were also likely to result from a call for historical productivity contained in a Report of the Princeton Conference on the History of Philanthropy in the United States and an article by Merle Curti in A.H.R. (Jan., 1957). Reviews of From the Depths (1956) by Robert H. Bremner, a treatment of “the discovery of poverty in the United States” were favorable, and a study of Jewish charity in Boston was revealing. California Social Welfare (1956) by Vaughn Davis Bornet (this writer) dealt with the public and private current scene, especially in law, agencies, and programs; there were 108 tables. Unique archives assembled on the State’s voluntary and public agencies were organized and deposited in the Bancroft Library to be open for use. Social welfare archives at University of Minnesota were growing.
The 1950’s were a post-war world. More than forty courses in military history were being taught in American colleges and universities by 1957. Walter Millis, Arms and Men (1956) was a study in American military history, while American Military Policy (since 1775) was produced by C. Joseph Bernardo and Eugene H. Bacon (1955). Robert V. Bruce wrote an account of ordnance in Lincoln and the Tools of War (1956), and Wallace Evan Davies, Patriotism on Parade (1955) told the story of veterans and hereditary organizations, 1783 to 1900.
Books about World War II sponsored by the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army were produced in quantity in the dozen years following victory. The United States Army in World War II series reached 27 published volumes by 1958 with dozens yet to go. The History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II by Samuel Eliot Morison came to eleven volumes in 1957.
Controversial was Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr., The Civilian and the Military (1956) whose theme was the decline of civil supremacy and of the American anti-militarist tradition. A memoir with military overtones was Arthur M. Compton, Atomic Quest; A Personal Narrative (1956), an account of the A-Bomb project chiefly from memories, official records, letters, and testimony. Books on older periods of our history, meanwhile, brought new ideas and new approaches. Late in the decade, at the request of Congress, a score of scholars of The RAND Corporation researched pioneering The Space Handbook (1959). The present writer soon prepared a 70-page summary, intended to offer lighter fare (see the website clioistics).
Constituting half of American history in point of time, the colonial and revolutionary years continued to be researched by specialists, their books finding appreciative review in journals like American Historical Review, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, William and Mary Quarterly and Pennsylvania History. A Conference on Early American History was placed on a permanent footing in 1955 with a Williamsburg, Virginia, address. Clifford K. Shipton of the American Antiquarian Society wrote that “the mass of knowledge now accumulated in the colonial field cannot be mastered by any scholar who devotes less than full time to it.”
Still, increasing interest in recent history was diverting attention from the older field, and some thought this entirely proper—at least in moderation. Revisionist Merrill Jensen edited American Colonial Documents to 1776 (1955), a book intended to facilitate new work in original sources. Perry Miller’s The New England Mind in 1953 moved along the road from colony to province. Alan Simpson also wrote on Puritanism, while William L. Sachse described the status and activities of Americans in Britain. Lawrence H. Gipson in 1956 reached volume IX of his minutely researched imperial study, bringing the story to 1766. Yet the old (once the new) “empire” approach was losing some ground.
Small but perceptible increases in conservatism and patriotism in the 1950’s affected the interpretation of the American Revolution. It was plain that, for whatever reason, many teachers and writers were oriented toward colonial-centered, not empire-centered history. The causes of the conflict were discussed afresh by historians—for example at the Pittsburgh meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association in 1956. Richard Pares, Yankee and Creoles (1956) dealt with trade between North America and the West Indies, and a new book on the Stamp Act crisis appeared. Louis B. Wright took colonial culture for his subject in two books, Edmund S. Morgan wrote The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956), and monographs proliferated. The Colonial Records of South Carolina was a major project.
Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735-1789 (1956), John E. Pomfret, The Province of West New Jersey, 1609-1702 (1956), and John Duffy, Epidemics in Colonial America (1953) were new and important, as were books on Shays’ Rebellion and one on immigration from Scotland in the eighteenth century. The renewed interest in military history showed itself in the posthumous publication of two volumes by Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (1952), made possible by the editing of John Richard Alden.
The revolutionary period attracted many scholars in the 1950’s. Many publications were source materials with human interest value. Political history was not neglected, as the nation reexamined its origins. Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats (1955) studied equal political rights and majority rule, and Stuart Gerry Brown, The First Republicans (1954) contributed to early party history—as did Manning J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists (1953). Nathan Schachner’s book The Founding Fathers (1954) was comprehensible, causing Curtis P. Nettles to comment on the lack of agreement among historians on the relative importance of Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson when compared with lesser-known figures who left fewer personal papers. Federalist Delaware was definitely described by John Munroe (of that state). Anglo-American foreign relations were studied.
It was in reviewing Clinton Rossiter’s Seedtime of the Republic (1953), a development of the political ideas that sustained the rise of liberty in colonial and revolutionary America, that Benjamin F. Wright made a challenging comparison with Vernon Parrington’s stimulating but sometimes impressionistic Colonial Mind. Some colonial historians thought they were doing more thorough work than great scholars of the past. Yet publication in 1956 of A.S. Eisenstadt’s Charles McLean Andrews and of a thoughtful study on Carl Becker, plus availability of many published letters of A. H. A.’s “dean” John Franklin Jameson was a reminder that earlier scholars like Van Tyne and Osgood had also plowed deeply in their chosen fields.
The publicity expressed views of the Founding Fathers on the weakness of the Confederation were in the 19th century those of historians as well. For John Fiske it had been “the critical period,” but those writing in and for a new generation wondered if economic chaos, 1783-87, had been largely imaginary. Richard B. Morris wrote a historiographical essay on the controversy in William and Mary Quarterly. Disagreement on facts continued. What of the franchise in 1787? And what was the extent of real property ownership? The frontier elements and the urban dwellers of those years were now contending through researchers, deadly serious, on the period of Confederation through Constitution.
Charles A. Beard in his life was often an upsetting factor in American thought. Historians and political scientists ventured to read his trenchant prose and marveled at his originality. In death the master proved as important as ever, as obituaries and eulogies brought remembrance and return visits to old books on the shelves. Howard K. Beale edited Charles A. Beard: An Appraisal (1954). Articles on “Beard and…” began to appear. In 1913 Beard began his An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States with the words, “The following pages are frankly fragmentary.” Even so, the thesis of that penetrating book created great excitement among thoughtful persons. In those pages the Founding Fathers seemed to be concerned with the adoption and ratification of the Constitution in proportion as they stood to gain financially by creating a strong, centralized government. Emotions like patriotism and idealism seemed needlessly minimized to many readers of Beard, and early critics like William Howard Taft had been incensed.
The Beard thesis received major acceptance at the college level, but far less heed was obtained at the high school level. Maurice Blinkoff revealed in The Influence of Charles A. Beard Upon American Historiography (Univ. of Buffalo Studies, Monographs in History, 1936) that of 42 college texts published, 1913-1935, 37 picked up the Beard thesis. Fourteen of 19 revised editions did so. Just three of 47 secondary school texts followed Beard’s economic version of events, and no revisions picked it up. Here was a gap between the reading matter of high school and college graduates. When the former reached college they sometimes abandoned the selfless Fathers dedicated to order, unity, and destiny who lived (since Channing) in high school classrooms.
Questions were likely to be left unsettled. Were the Founding Fathers really economic men, chiefly interested in “money, public securities, manufactures, and trade and shipping”—as Beard had put it? Was the convention majority “a small and active group of men immediately interested through their personal possessions in the outcome of their labors”? (Beard, p. 324) Were the people really “a large propertyless mass” excluded from voting by property restrictions on the franchise? The Fathers, Beard said in summary, were “immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.” Favoring ratification were “substantial property interests;” while opposed were “small farming and debtor interests.”
A book that claimed to destroy most of Beard’s views on the matter was Robert E. Brown, Charles Beard and the Constitution (1956). Fresh from a study of middle-class democracy in Massachusetts, 1691-1780, Brown retraced Beard’s research path: his book even had Beard’s chapter titles. The historical method used by Beard had been faulty, said Brown, and he ripped into it with gusto. The thesis that the Constitution was put over undemocratically in an undemocratic society by holders of extensive personal property got flatly denied.
The “propertyless masses” of Beard were said to be largely a fiction. The Revolution had been fought for life, liberty, and property, he said, and all Americans were property-minded. An assumption of the Fathers had been that theirs was a democratic society. “The Constitution was created about as much by the whole people as any government could be which embraced a large area and depended on representation rather than on direct participation.” The Fathers had definitely not been self-seeking conspirators.
There could be little doubt that to the extent one followed Brown, the Founding Fathers emerged from his pages much closer to the men of selfless integrity and wisdom conceptualized in grade school textbooks than to the more self-seeking politicians portrayed in revisionist texts at the college level. Yet much research clearly remained to be done, particularly on voting and property ownership, before the division among scholars could be minimized. Innumerable reviewers of the Brown book (many of them clearly devoted followers of Beard) did not give up entirely on their Economic Interpretation.
Another controversial book of the 1950’s was William W. Crosskey, Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States (1953), an evangelical two volumes comprising a semantic analysis to prove that the key words in the Constitution were used with meanings in 1767 far different from those presumed by later jurists. Here was a book to be absorbed and escorted clear up to the Supreme Court justices.
The Origins of the American Party System (1956) by Joseph Charles studied the years to 1800, while the pioneering administrative history of famed Leonard D. White came to three volumes with the new Jacksonians (1954). A book by Bray Hammond revaluated the subject of banks and politics for the nation’s first half century. John William Ward, Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age (1955) was one of several monographs treating themes with implications for the political minded of the present. Glover Moore, The Missouri Compromise, 1819-1821 (1953) would clearly stand the test of time, as would Henry Thompson Malone, Cherokees of the Old South (1956). Treatments of David Crockett were, in general, a different matter. Upsetting was a well-written book with a challenging thesis: Norman Graebner, Empire on the Pacific (1955), which saw in the westward expansion of the Polk era the calculated intention of the administration to seize the Pacific Coast for commercial and maritime reasons!
Slavery found a thorough and daring researcher in Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (1956), an author markedly unsympathetic to the U.B. Phillips school of books once popular. Wisconsin born and trained, Stampp wrote in a field long occupied by the Southern born and oriented. Meanwhile, John Hope Franklin, The Militant South, 1800-1861 (1956) presented evidence to suggest an unpleasant case. Its white Southern reviewers remained unpersuaded that violence was the same as militancy, or that the Old Northwest was much different or much better. (In any case, its handsome black author would rise to the A.H.A. presidency.) The vigorous battle over Reconstruction at the close of the 1940s, featuring Franklin’s attacks on E. Merton Coulter, who wrote some 30 books deep in Athens, Georgia, was not over by any means. Bibliographical volumes on travels in the Old South, Texas history, and the religious press in the Southeast portended further productivity in such neglected fields.
The heated school segregation issue in the South as it emerged had its effect on historians of the Old South, Civil War, and Reconstruction, it appears. Two historians asked in 1956, “Can Differences in the Interpretations of the Causes of the American Civil War Be Resolved Objectively?’ There was little to suggest this would happen in the 1950s. As Howard K. Beale observed in 1946, “In the case of the Civil War, peculiarly persistent sectional feelings and traditions about that conflict have given the historian’s early environment a particularly telling influence.”
A flood of books on the Civil War appeared in the 1950’s. A new periodical, Civil War History, began publication. Allan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union, reached three solid volumes: he interpreted men and events in his slender The Statesmanship of the Civil War (1953). J.G. Randall did not live to see the publication of volume IV of his mighty study on Lincoln, but Richard N. Current finished his teacher’s Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure 1955). The handsomely bound History of the South series passed the half way mark by 1957, its bibliographies alone offering impressive testimonies to Southern historiography in the 20th century. Coulter’s solid book on Reconstruction was first to appear as revisionists resisted.
Kenneth P. Williams was greeted by qualified reviewers as a fully professional historian and not like a “mathematics professor” when his Lincoln Finds a General, a military history of the war, reached four volumes in 1956 with three still projected. Clement Eaton, A History of the Southern Confederacy (1954) was a good treatment of a popular subject. Monographs dealt with the election of 1864, Confederate finance, Negro troops, loyalty tests, Mrs. Surratt, pardon and amnesty, and the martyr complex among abolitionists. Also Lincoln and Greeley, the Sanitary Commission, the Southern Claims Commission, and books of fiction written around the war theme. Books varying in quality on battles and generals abounded, General Sherman being a popular subject. Journalism in the war was covered minutely. A noticeable trend was the reprinting of contemporary diaries and older accounts like F. L. Olmstead’s The Cotton Kingdom.
Reconstruction was represented by books on the 14th Amendment, Northern Methodism, and the Grand Army of the Republic. C. Vann Woodward contended in The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955) that the policies of prescription, segregation, and disfranchisement came later than the restoration of home rule, and “the belief that they are immutable and unchangeable is not supported by history.”
A considerable emphasis on immigration and on the role of racial groups in the building of the nation appeared in these years. Immigration historiography was studied as a field, resulting in many publications, and Oscar Handlin continued his effort to treat immigration coming from continental Europe as a major theme in American History. There were new books on Dutch and Irish immigration, the German language press and culture, and repatriated Greek-Americans. The memoirs of American Jews were edited in three volumes by Jacob Rader Marcus. Immigrants, nativists, and agrarian radicals received book treatment, with John Higham, Strangers in the Land winning the Dunning Prize in 1956. The Socialist party received new attention in books rooted in the party press and availability of manuscripts.
Was the history of education about to take on a new lease on life? The History Education Section of the National Society of College Teachers of Education held its first joint session with the A.H.A. in 1955, while histories of several universities and colleges, the lyceum, and civil liberties in the classroom displayed new interest in education. A book unifying American educational development around a large organization was Edgar B. Wesley, NEA: The First Hundred Years (1957). The book was financed by the National Education Association. A pamphlet by five historians and educators, “The Role of Education in American History,” suggested that more books from historians on that subject would be welcome.
The West was not neglected in these years. Two works on the cowboy, and books on the Indian wars of Minnesota, Fort Griffin, Dakota Territory, and the Sioux were a few of many. Less exciting but possible more revealing of the lives of less adventuresome folks was Lewis E. Atherton, Main Street on the Middle Border (1954). Carl F. Kraenzel, The Great Plains in Transition (1955) was a book by “a sociologist with a historical conscience” as one reader put it. Three books in 1953 surveyed aspects of agricultural history: Carl C. Taylor, The Farmer’s Movement, 1620-1920; Grant McConnell, The Decline of Agrarian Democracy; and Murray R. Benedict, Farm Policies of the United States, 1790-1950. Distinctly original books based on hard research were these of John E. Caswell, Arctic Frontiers (1956) a treatment of pioneering explorations, and John J. Daly, The Use of History in the Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1900-1930 (1954).
Studies of business history and businessmen appeared often in the 1950’s. Irving G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America (1954) attacked a “myth of rags to riches.” The baking industry, a carpet company, the American Bankers Association, and many companies were described in books. (Sometimes they financed the research.) Although some 40 books on the petroleum industry had been published since 1937, the first two volumes of the History of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, financed by them, contained new information in the realm of administrative history. The rise of the Carpenter’s Union was traced in book form, while National Civil Federation manuscripts showed close association earlier by leaders of labor and business. A book dissected National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce positions of the 1920’s but somewhat to their disadvantage.
The “robber barons” theme in American history came in for questioning in the years following 1950. The nation had been deep in the Depression when Matthew Josephson wrote The Robber Barons, a book concluding with an anticipation of class revolution. Books like this and the old History of the Great American Fortunes (1907) by Gustavas Myers were undermined by new books based on company manuscripts. Speaking in August, 1951, prolific journalist-historian Allan Nevins had called for a careful reassessment of the years from the Civil War to 1910, predicting that restudy would lead to greater appreciation of businessmen-industrialists, men he called true heroes of our industrial growth who had built “an indispensable might” in the nation. Historians, he thought, had been “apologetic about our dollars, our race to wealth, our materialism.”
A brief article by the present writer on “Those ‘Robber Barons’” in Western Political Quarterly (June, 1953) suggested ground rules for the new revisionism to avoid excesses. Ford: the Times, the Man, the Company (1954) was the first Nevins volume on the controversial industrialist. Thirteen per cent of its footnotes were references to “oral history” interviews made by the author’s Dearborn staff. When volume II appeared in 1957 it proved to be an outspoken account to 1933.
Time would show the full significance of W. Dean Burnham’s painstaking Presidential Ballots, 1836-1892, but its ultimate impact on research and writing in the political field would be great. Here was a worthy companion to the two pioneering books of Edgar Eugene Robinson which first offered election statistics, 1892 to 1944. New volumes traced the rise of the Progressives in Wisconsin, the development of the federal anti-trust policy, and politics in the Middle West, 1865-1896. Sidney Fine, Laissez Faire and the General Welfare State (1956) was a lengthy survey. Other books traced the history of voting in New Jersey, the history of Senate confirmation of presidential appointments, and the conscientious objector. Sidney Hyman, The American President (1954) was well received.
The 1920’s became a popular period for research and some revaluation during the years of the first Eisenhower Administration. Henry F. May noted “Shifting Perspectives on the 1920’s” for Mississippi Valley Historical Review (Dec., 1956), while the Red Scare, the Washington Conference, and religion in the 1928 election campaign were subjects of monographs. George H. Knoles (who would live to 107) analyzed British opinion of strange American doings in the Jazz Age Revisited (1955). “The critics, impressed by prosperity, sought the secret of America’s success,” wrote Knoles. “They found it in the chief characteristics of the American economy: high wages, mass production, and mass consumption.” Here were factors to add to conventional “flaming youth” and prohibition themes.
Remaining the focus of a host of writers who had researched at Hyde Park on the Hudson was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Articles and books appeared, but the 1950’s saw fewer memoirs. Frank Freidel won admiring reviews for the first three volumes of a projected six, which brought his biography to 1933. Daniel R. Fusfeld examined the economic thought of Roosevelt, and Bernard Bellush published a study of the governorship. A reviewer judged that the book by Edgar Eugene Robinson, The Roosevelt Leadership, 1933-1945 (1955) made “a real contribution to posterity’s understanding of Roosevelt’s foreign policy,” and some reviewers reacted well to the long chronological bibliography drafted by the present writer (who researched for it a year but saw the text on publication). The Robinson book, prepared on a Philadelphia estate grant, was atypically critical of F.D.R. and was reviewed adversely by his admirers. The New Deal and the causation of Pearl Harbor would remain controversial indefinitely.
Dexter Perkins’s own book, The New Age of Franklin Roosevelt, 1932-45 (1957) rejected the idea of a Roosevelt Revolution, finding the age new because it emphasized the dynamic responsibility of the Federal government. The Robinson book’s emphasis on a “tragedy of leadership” which was destructive of resourcefulness in American life would not gain adherents. James M. Burns cleverly interpreted the actions of F.D.R. during his first two terms, in The Lion and the Fox (1956), while the first volume of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, (1957) treated a “crisis of the older order, 1919 to 1933.” The latter book brought many partisan reactions—much as had been the case with Roosevelt literature created earlier. Rexford G. Tugwell wrote in detail on The Democratic Roosevelt (1957), aided by his insider’s memory of men and events.
The New Deal years were becoming popular among researchers seeking subjects for study. The coming of World War II invited so much attention that Wayne S. Cole, author of a book on the America First group, could draft “American Entry Into World War II: A Historiographical Appraisal,” M.V.H.R. (March, 1957). Despite the extensive coverage of two substantial volumes by Langer and Gleason on diplomacy in those years, therefore, there was still room for books by H. Bradford Westerfield, Donald F. Drummond, and others.
The years of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower were the subject of Eric F. Goldman, The Crucial Decade: America 1945-1955 (1956); he got to work in White House corridors later. With America at Mid-Century (1955), Andre Siegfried tried to repeat a much earlier success at interpretation. Norman Graebner, The Neo-Isolationists (1956) was a disapproving interpretation of foreign policy formulation during the Eisenhower first term. (Graebner had spent the first year after WWII in uniform in Japan, striving to inculcate democracy in future leaders.)
The role of the individual in history seemed as important to historians in the 1950’s as before, judging from the number of biographies produced, even though in many historical works the presidents have been a focus. One of note was Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956), a book rooted in manuscript research. Arthur S. Link completed Wilson: The New Freedom (1956), another in his long term Wilson series. “Biographical writing, as old as history, has never been more popular than it is today,” wrote one observer.
Evaluation of the staggering biographical productivity of American scholars in the 1950’s cannot be attempted here. Consider some subjects of biographies: Billy Sunday, Charles Evans Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Jonathan Trumbull, Tecumseh, William Ellery Channing, Henry Adams, Samuel Gridley Howe, Henry Watterson, Elias Hicks, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Webster, Caleb Cushing, Brooks Adams, William B. Allison, Henry Varnum Poor, Joseph E. Johnston, Commodore Thomas Truxton, the Coker family of South Carolina, Edward Palmer the botanist, Robert Morris, P.G.T. Beauregard, Henry George, Sam Houston, Robert M. LaFollette, Eli Stanton, George Peek, Horace Greeley, Big Bill Thompson, Jefferson Davis, Joseph McCarthy, Schuyler Colfax, Bernard M. Baruch, and General James Longstreet.
The worth of all those books may be evaluated neither by their respective sizes nor the apparent importance of their central figures. The two volume study of Governor Frank Lowden of Illinois by William T. Hutchinson, for example, met standards of scholarship and significance with flying colors. There were some grounds for believing with Joe B. Frantz that “As generations move on and personal recollections fade the men whose reputations endure will be those with the best biographers.”
The present writer sat on a sofa for an hour once with Benjamin P. Thomas, chatting pleasantly. His passing in 1956 (at his own hand) reminded historians once again to admire his Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (1952), which was not just another addition to the 4,000 books and pamphlets on Lincoln; some claimed it to be the best single volume study of its subject. Claudius O. Johnson summarized well:
“In this volume one gets a close-up view of Lincoln as a log-rolling member of the Illinois legislature, sees him, as he grapples with great issues, transforms the craft of a politician into the art of a statesman, and follows him as he, ever increasing in wisdom and understanding, in gentleness and charity, in humility and patience, saves the Union and joins the immortals.”
Another model book was Charles Page Smith, James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742-1798 (1956). Collective biographies that made good reading were Roy F. Nichols, Advance Agents of American Destiny (1956), Russel B. Nye, A Baker’s Dozen (1956), and Reinhard H. Luthin, American Demagogues: the 20th Century (1954). The memoirs of Admiral Ernest J. King, Bernard M. Baruch, and Nicholas Roosevelt were reminders of things past, and the diary of Harold L. Ickes recalled old battles in politics and conservation.
The development of machines for producing photo copies and for microfilming records had a noticeable impact on historical research and writing in the 1950’s. It no longer was a matter for comment at archives when historians from far away appeared with typewriter in one hand and photographing device in other. Long periods of residence in strange cities gradually gave way to trips by air to archival collections. Pondering would be done more cheaply on home grounds. Increased use of the propeller airplanes at third class rates for cross continental research trips also facilitated research.
Archivists were increasingly aware of the possibilities in modern techniques of document reproduction. The Wisconsin State Historical Society inaugurated a major program of exhaustive microfilming of all significant labor newspapers in the 48 states, work to be kept current and added to its AFL/CIO papers. Books printed in America before 1820 were systematically placed on microfilm by University Microfilms for purchase by libraries unable to afford rare volumes. Whole files of contemporary newspapers were kept on film in university and public libraries, with battered originals being thrown away.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission reported in 1950 that it had been engaged in “an extensive program of microfilming and photostating, in order to gather together in Harrisburg the scattered resources for Pennsylvania history, wherever they might be found.” With new technology it had been possible to build an outstanding collection of facsimile copies of manuscripts, newspapers, and early maps. Similar reports were made by other state societies as genealogists shared historical society space with traditional scholars.
An important development in the dissemination of knowledge in the United States was the gradual acceptance of the idea of placing all doctoral dissertations on microfilm for easy purchase by interested scholars and libraries. Two journal articles by the present writer influenced that decision for permanent change, I was reliably told. A new monthly publication, Dissertation Abstracts, became a national reference tool, and there was hope that graduate students might come to feel a new usefulness in their thesis work as they gained a small and new audience.
A technique to excite the interest of historians (and amateurs) was “oral history,” careful interviewing with a recording device to elicit biographical and historical data to be typed and filed in libraries as new source material. Initial successes were scored by the Oral History Project of Columbia University innovatively developed by Professor Allan Nevins, which interviewed several hundred diplomats, judges, politicians and leaders. Another elaborate project was that of the Ford Archives. Tape recorders in the hands of interviewers were part of “oral history” effort, so that many developments once forgotten would be remembered. The present writer first suggested Standards for the new activity, writing in American Archivist for July, 1955. The technique had possibilities for bringing the outer world into the classroom.
More than ever before, the opportunity to become scholars lay within the grasp of teaching historians at the secondary school level as well as in universities. Meanwhile, there were some signs that scholars were concerned over the reiterated obligation to teach admirably. The clear implication was that teachers and scholars should come to absorb each other’s better features.
The striking developments of the mid-1950s in the teaching, research and writing, and publication of American history did not go unnoticed. As demonstrated in the vast number of book titles contained here, the mid-1950s were full of worthwhile scholarship, extraordinary for that day, and a remarkable example for the Future.

Vaughn Davis Bornet’s Ph.D. is from Stanford University (1951), the B.A. and M.A. (1939, 1940) are from Emory University; his year 1941 was at University of Georgia. Author of over a dozen nonfiction books and scores of articles and essays, he has been published frequently in recent years on the internet’s History News Network. He holds “Distinguished” awards from American Heart Association and Freedoms Foundation. He taught at University of Miami, 1946-48, and Southern Oregon College, 1963-80 and was a staff member of The RAND Corporation in the 1960s. A Commander in the Naval Reserves, his active duty (Y1, to Lt.) was 1941 to 1946. His books Lovers in Wartime, 1944 to 1945 and Happy Travel Diaries, 1925 to 1933 (both Amazon) are recent. An Illustrious Cavalier’s Character is imminent. After a 68 year marriage, he lives quasi-retired in Ashland, Oregon.

Vaughn Davis Bornet, 548 N. Main Street, Ashland, Oregon 97520 541 690 6511 Born October 10, 1917. This article was prepared on a PC computer, in Word, Times New Roman. For other recent work by the writer see archives of History News Network. Aspects of my bio are detailed on Google (6,200 entries) and in Marquis sets on America (since 1957) and the World (since 2006). My Birthdate: October 10, 1917. (This Article has 9,236 words–but no footnotes, tables, or illustrations. Note: every cut of paragraph length required at this point might well eliminate a full item of prose in the essay, perhaps.)

Fire and Fury: Book Review

Editor’s note: We decided to give our elderly historian-writer, one with plenty of research and writing experience with presidents, an opportunity to offer a very quick chance to evaluate the phenomenal new book SOUND AND FURY, by Michael Wolff, a volume rooted in part on hanging around inside the White House. (You read that right!)
What he has produced, in a real hurry but with intense concentration and skills born at Emory, Georgia at Athens, and finally Stanford, plus a variety of grants and serious employments, is an essay to be read and thought about, we think. Partisanship on its subject is impossible to avoid, but we think he has “done his damnedest” to be fair to the reader on this book evaluation of a president that we all think about with wonder. (He says that to be “impartial” on the subject of the suitability of Donald J. Trump to be our President is a goal beyond mere mortals…)

As nearly as I can see, the book SOUND AND FURY by Michael Wolff (New York: Henry Holt, 2018) is the 17th book “about Donald J. Trump,” but there may soon be many more. It’s hard to believe. But Amazon claims on its book site that this man long associated with downtown NYC is “…the very definition of the American success story….” Testing, and certainly verifying, I discovered after rummaging, that gadgets or play items (whatever one might call them) entirely devoted to Trump—as figure, not necessarily as just President—come to probably about 50—but clever investigation might well uncover far more than that—especially after the monetary success of this book.
The public is making a huge deal out of the publication and then availability of the volume getting our attention here. (One would think there’s nothing else to focus on “out there.”) The Guardian proclaimed, “Michael Wolff has written a book to shake America to its foundations.” (So there! Maybe that’s so….) Variety headlines for us the Ten Most Explosive things to be found in Wolff’s pages.
I reluctantly admit that at my Oregon home the television screen has been focused on President Trump like a laser for some time now, and I see no chance of that obsession fading away, even with random tuning of news channels! (For this student of American Diplomacy, it’s disturbingly necessary! But enough. Let’s get down to producing paragraphs related to a book that will, soon enough, be the focus after the words “President Donald J. Trump” are pronounced.
At the beginning, I wondered just how Wolff got into the White House. I should have known: That Rupert Murdoch! Indeed, the author says his virtually unrestricted access but with instructions of sorts was primarily responsible for his book with its wholesale quotes, for Trump’s buddy was one who “opened every door I asked him to open.” At once, we wonder at Wolff’s clearance, if any, to wander those official corridors adjacent to cabinet members (competent or not) and scores of employees. We’re glad to have this, or really any book, that “reveals,” but I at least am very uneasy about the hallways walked by every president being bummed around daily for months by a book writer seeking to guarantee himself a fortune.
What is this astonishing book based on, rooted in; what guarantees its instant publication? The author asserts that he spent three hours “with Trump” and that he conducted “over 200 interviews.” Pretty impressive, that. But do we have to believe him? Ah. Wolff adds that as he sat on White House “sofas,” he had available to him, well, what? Chatter, I guess. Did he have a conversational lunch every day with a civil service or selected employee? If evident in the text, I at least would hesitate to deny that basic claim. As for his explosive quotations (including those perfectly awful ones with three dots) I feel I must be slow to say he has lied about the vast Trumpisms—by and about.
A mere reviewer surely doesn’t have to go in depth into the relationship between Trump as candidate and as beginning president and that scruffy Bannon fellow who is responsible for something I don’t read called Breitbart. I understand that despite major critical words of mutual contempt exchanged between them this holiday season, that man who thinks he’s primarily responsible for the Trump victory (even though totally absent as election day neared), expects good relations between the two of them to prevail again, ‘ere long. (Both seem to have a lot to gain.) It is pretty clear that Bannon is going to be featured in a spring book about himself, and somebody (absolutely not me) will have every chance to explore him in detail and contradict—or not.
No matter what the President denies, this book seems to be rooted in a bit of contact with Trump and much with a variety of others. Clearly, there were innumerable interviews, many tape recordings are said to exist–far beyond anything normally granted biographers of those previous Presidents who have tried to run this Country and the World from an address on Pennsylvania Avenue. The alert reader who has spent years in archives studying presidents (hopefully meaning me) thinks of what is customarily prerequisite: ten or twenty years elapsed after burial, ye historian gets to read tons of Presidential Library files that are finally open (denied the very best stuff); then may come some or many interviews with aides who were “there;” then comes that endless checking of the New York Times. (I removed 500 footnotes to it just to make room, when making my dissertation into a publishable book!)
There must be many errors in this type of book. And I am quite aware that historians don’t easily forgive “errors.” But a Trump aide confronted with a pretty clearly false statement, said it was, on the President’s part, just a “flourish.” Reviewing this book, though a bit time and attention consuming, has been fun. Now, if I could use that word flourish henceforth to replace “error” and “mistake” it sounds great to little old me.
This rapidly producing book author seems to claim, essentially, that he went within a few yards of where the President “worked,” talked to anybody he felt like, ate lunch with somebody who was willing, created his own tapes (remember LBJ tapes opened for us only eventually), and, bypassing the university press crowd, got a major NYC publisher to say “yes” maybe instantly. This reader believes Wolff even got to write as he pleased and told his publisher what he wanted! Think about that, fellow historians, you out there who seldom if ever write about “the present” while it’s still the present…. Well, almost never.
I’m not quite sure how important it is that the author did or didn’t get to interview President Trump as mogul, candidate, or in office occupant. At this writing, the President says not; Wolff insists. He may have been “nearby,” and his connection to Murdock opened some doors and prevented deserved an early eviction, but I personally believe there are Trump words in this book spoken exclusively to Mr. Wolff—and used by enroute permission. (When I was well along on my LBJ book, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, I detoured the opportunity to interview Lady Bird, for I could easily see that she was revealing virtually nothing to those seeking “the Story” about her complex husband. Her book Lady Bird’s Dairy was long and adequate! I am saying that a motormouth like Donald said at some point, “Quite Enough, thank you,” and returned to making history without the likes of a clever, headline-alert, income expecting Wolff.
Those scathing comments by so many that the author passes on to us about the President are gems of criticism. (Usually, however, such crude language originates with “enemies,” not long friends and chosen appointees. By now, I would think, readers of this account have read them often enough. I’ll offer a few of the alleged words, then comment centrally: “idiot,” “dumb as S…,” “dope.” (More.)
Thinking about the above: I have personally worked under and around some top-flight figures in world famous places. Take it from me, on some occasion, I’m sure I privately blurted language something like that—behind their back–when not frustrated by Authority. I would HATE to have those words picked out several months or a year later, maybe) and have anybody leave the impression that epithets were my printable and overall, considered view of that superior. I must have praised those leaders often enough in public and in private; why spread worldwide the single words of scorn I used once when frustrated about something back then?
(Like most of you, I have been so very excited, gratified even, to read the Bad about this amateur leader of sorts, but, No!, I don’t think it either accurate or fair to assemble one-time words sort of out of total context and let them stand as DEFINITIVE description. Among other things, could a man so described in scut words have become rich, powerful, and President? There has to be something positive to counteract brutal negativism, really a lot, more. Right?) Here, it’s a trained historian (Me) speaking. I just have to admit, here and now however, that I say things like that about Trump almost daily! How to reconcile?
My introduction to the Sound and Fury book came by slowly reading the very long extract offered several days before publication, plus other extracts. What an easy read! How fascinating! What a collection of paragraphs designed to get national attention—and of course sell books. How the serious reader wishes he were in a position to judge whether Wolff has offered a lot of Truth. How much other Truth is missing because this non-scholar author thought it too “dull,” not “vibrant,” just “routine,” and/or revelatory of a tired, unready, President doing his job. Didn’t Donald ever work until tired, get briefed and, listening, change his mind, thank (or not bother to thank) an aide or general for educating him on “something,” tell off a relative with words like “I know better; you didn’t hear the briefing.”
Turning elsewhere, the deadline for this scathing account was, I surmise, November/early December. The time since this book was signed off on has not been kind for the deteriorating Trump image. Each day, nearly, we have the NYT and the Wall Street Journal, and later on, sharp MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell—and other worthies unnamed. I have worked long and hard on three presidents, and must say I’ve been conceding a lot to let these brilliant (but clearly Trump-hostile) reporter/authorities both entertain and inform me on one who could, almost casually, get me killed! Other sources try to own my mind, pro and con. Some like Hannity and Dobbs, I hasten to proclaim, loudly, border on absurd and silly for any watcher/listeners blessed with heavy duty educations.
Yet it is true enough that a shopping list of Changes in the economic sphere may bring additional favorable income benefits to well born and lowly alike, additionally. My limited stocks are up. Some now have unexpected jobs. Maybe some bad immigrants have been ousted. And so on. But: drilling for oil off all coasts? Kicking environmentalists in the face? Leaving the Government staffed inadequately? Appointing the clearly unqualified. And so on. The number 25,000, now bandied about, is so nice to hear; but that snow! And the inundated coastlines of the future! Enough. Mr. Wolff certainly had a gold mine of a controversial leader to write a book about….
The New Republic found some journalists who agreed they found the Wolff that was in the White House repugnant. We have a variety of remarks about other journalists, as well as chatter that helped make that “sofa” useful. So what, it seems to me. I can’t imagine him refusing the opportunity of a lifetime. A weak column by Elisabeth Drew next to all that, readable, didn’t really need the book to prepare its prose, one might say.
Publisher’s Weekly carried a review of the former Speaker’s book in June, 2017, summarizing that Dr. Gingrich viewed Trump as “an entrepreneur, pragmatist, and family man,” and a pioneering leader who can achieve the impossible. (Oh, dear.) But those editor-reviewers did find, they said, “no answers” and “little new.” There was, however, a considerable Gingrich agenda of various programs he decided to discuss rather than candidate Trump.
I’m betting that as relatively unqualified reviewers check in all over the place, once the Wolff book shows up for purchase, we are going to get a lot of prose representing Strong distaste for various “Trumps.” There will be quoting of newsy slurs against current Presidential character quoted therein. I just noted it in quantity in The Guardian.
Several things bothered me about Sound and Fury’s assembler/writer/judge. One is the plain fact that the author must have known his lucky chance to damn Trump was going to make him rich. The second is the tendency he has when interviewed to accept (apparently with little reservation) his own conversational evidence that seems stacked to document a mentally incompetent Trump, and/or indicate very indirectly that he is on the verge of becoming so. Suddenly that lucky book writer seems to view himself as competent to, yes, shoot his mouth off about a President (over his head) who is trying to perform competently in the White House and, often, overseas.
There are things to read on Trump as businessman, actor, meddler, rich man, professional groom, and father of beautiful, now grown up, children. One to be admired (that is positive throughout) is Time’s high- class paperback publication Donald Trump: 45th President of the United States (an update of magazine content) which seems to date back to his beginning time in office. (Oddly, it says on the cover, “Display until 2/17/17.”) Gee, one wishes THAT MAN became our president, (I just had to write that.) What beautiful rendering in photographs of one who, well, apparently never entirely existed. The Wolff book, naturally, got into the hands of The New Yorker’s John Cassidy so he wrote a think piece published January 4, 2018. His space goes, however, to Comey and Mueller, and Bannon and to the many evaluative negative words that are now commonly reprinted coast to coast.
Overall, we are all indebted to Michael Wolff for helping, no matter what, in Exposing the fraud and the dangerous reality that has become the Presidency of this nation as we move forward. I mean it. Every little bit of exposure helps to derail two terms. My goal, as I wrote two evaluative pieces about Trump for History News Network in 2017, six months apart, and gave up writing a third effort after two pages, was always to reveal the sad facts I was viewing. It was back then a substandard candidacy, one unsuitable. Help save my native Country! I guess I had no effect at all, for the degradation of the USA, worldwide, is now common knowledge, requiring documentation infinitely less than this book offers..
While I don’t really want to be in the position of touting this book, ostensibly to help its sales especially, I do recommend the reading of at least part—even all–of a library copy, or piecing together Internet extracts as they emerge to comprise most of the text. (Best, if it can be achieved.) This book is going to be obsolete soon enough, I surmise, for this NYC tycoon, romancer, showoff, TV clown, persuasive one, sometime leader, and Force for both good and evil (not in that order), is one that will attract historians for decades. And why not?
I have decided that my long, yet ordinary enough, review of this one of a kind book should not detour to offer various remarks about “the President’s mental fitness.” Others have picked up on this, partly because of the existence of a publication by Yale’s professor Bandy Lee, entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, one full of academic’s mental health evaluation essays. Some in a good position to know have flatly denied charges about D. T.’s repeating things, changing timing of that, etcetera. (Pretty dramatic stuff, that.) Especially, we will avoid speculation about atomic buttons and the whole North Korea thing, vitally important though it certainly is. Forgive this reviewer.
When looking forward in his NPR interview publication on availability day, the author Mr. Wolff predicted the Trump Administration’s future as: “the train will hit the wall.” Part of our upset Country hopes for that; part fears that. The worst hasn’t sunk in everywhere. Among old ladies in my retirement home, I’m sorry to say, are some who approve of “President Trump” but don’t seem quite sure why. To me, it seems there is very little indifference on that oh so basic matter for those of us quite well versed on earlier presidents. With a president there is so very much to consider. That is, their caution, leadership, respect for opposition leaders, and deserved exile far away from the Oval Office.
Any readers who absolutely deplore the presidency of Donald J. Trump have in SOUND AND FURY ample ammunition to go forth and by one means or another hasten his return to Trump Tower and the high life of yesteryear lived by him and his dear ones. Scholars seeking a restful book to read, one that will just plain soothe and relax the reader, should look elsewhere. Information in this book seems to be, here and there and perhaps a bit too often, questionable.
Finally, here is a phenomenon, one unprecedented in my view, a book that will unnerve, upset, apparently inform with new information in quantity, entertain, and provide a puzzle that is likely to last, somewhat at least, for the ages.