AHA President, 1914


University of Chicago

From the American Historical Review 53:2 (January 1948)

Andrew C. McLaughlin (February 14, 1861–September 24, 1947) died at his home in Chicago on September 24, 1947, at the age of eighty-six. From 1889, when he first read a paper before the American Historical Association, until 1941, when for the last time he attended its annual meeting, he was identified prominently with its activities, serving often on its committees, as an influential member of its Council for many years, and as its president in 1914. He was on the board of editors of the American Historical Review for sixteen years and was its managing editor from 1901 to 1905. Both the Committee of Seven in the late 189o’s and the Committee of Five about a decade later, whose published recommendations of changes in the history curriculum of the secondary schools were widely adopted, were under his chairmanship. He organized the Bureau of Historical Research of the Carnegie Institution in Washington. As its first director he supervised the search for materials on American history in archives both at home and abroad, published a report on the diplomatic archives of the Department of State, 1789–1840, and was the chief compiler of the Writings on American History, 1903.

Trained in the classics and the law at the University of Michigan, he was a member of its history faculty for nineteen years, beginning in 1887. In 1906 he succeeded Dr. J. Franklin Jameson as head of the department of history in the University of Chicago and shortly thereafter added to his duties the chairmanship of the department of church history. For thirty years at Chicago he was an outstanding member of a large university faculty, a much beloved teacher and colleague, and a leader, with Mrs. McLaughlin, of social welfare work within his community. Although he resigned his departmental chairmanships in 1927 and became professor emeritus two years later, he continued to meet his classes in constitutional history until 1936. In that year, when he was seventy-five, his A Constitutional History of the United States was awarded the Pulitzer prize in history.

This volume is probably the best known of all Professor McLaughlin’s writings. Although it contains much of fact and interpretation that he had not published before, it is above all a compact summary and integration of viewpoints developed more at length in his earlier works. Its chapters with their emphasis upon political compact, constitutional convention, sovereignty, federalism, judicial review, the political party, and similar subjects are signposts pointing back along the paths which Professor McLaughlin by his research and writing had been clearing across the terrain of American constitutional history for almost a half century, even as far back as his two earliest volumes on the development of education and civil government in Michigan, and his biography of Lewis Cass, published in 1891.

The progress of his research between the completion of these local studies and the appearance of his general constitutional history forty-five years later was marked by the publication of a score of articles and eight books, not including two widely used American history texts, the three volumes of The Cyclopaedia of American Government edited and in part written by him and Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, and several other volumes of which he was co-author or co-editor. Prominent among these writings for their originality of viewpoint and depth of scholarship were his The Confederation and the Constitution, 1783–1789 (1905), The Courts, the Constitution and Parties (1912), Steps in the Development of American Democracy (1920), The Foundations of American Constitutionalism (1932), “Social Compact and Constitutional Construction,” American Historical Review, April, 1900, and “The Background of American Federalism,” American Political Science Review, May, 1918.

The central theme of United States history, as Professor McLaughlin understood it—the theme that runs through most that he wrote and taught—was expressed succinctly at the close of his presidential address before the American Historical Association in 1914, “The history of a popular state must be no other, at its inmost heart, than the story of the attempt to become and remain a popular state.” Always more interested in ideas and institutions than in men and events, he was at his best when tracing, from seventeenth century England through the colonial period and into the stream of our national life and thought, the evolution of concepts, practices, and governmental forms basic to American constitutionalism. His research impressed him with the importance of the continuities rather than the catastrophes in history, with the persistence across the centuries of fundamental problems of government, unchanging in their essence, and with the fact that institutions of lasting value and influence are the product of long years of painful development, not of sudden inspiration or of revolution. He strongly believed that the continuance of a democratic society depended upon a willingness of each of its members to render public service and to inform himself of the debt which his generation owed to its predecessors. For this reason and with these convictions he devoted a long lifetime to the teaching and writing of American history. Many hundreds of his former students the world around will attest that he made the past serve both his own day and their future.



A history of the American nation. New York: D. Appleton, 1899.

Report on the diplomatic archives of the Department of State, 1789–1840. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1904.

Readings in the history of the American nation, collected and ed. by Andrew C. McLaughlin. New York, Chicago: D. Appleton, 1914.

The great war from spectator to participant, by Andrew C. McLaughlin. Washington: Govt. print. off., 1917.

Sixteen causes of war, by Andrew C. McLaughlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918.

Steps in the development of American democracy, by Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin. New York: Abingdon Press, 1920.

Aspects of the social history of America, by Theodore Sizer, Andrew C. McLaughlin, Dixon Ryan Fox [and] Henry Seidel Canby. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1931.

The foundations of American constitutionalism, by Andrew C. McLaughlin. New York city, New York University Press, 1932; Reprint, Union, NJ : Lawbrook Exchange, 2002.

The Confederation and the Constitution, 1783–1789. By Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin; with new foreword by Henry Steele Commager. New York: Collier Books, 1962.

The courts, the constitution, and parties: studies in constitutional history and politics, by Andrew C. McLaughlin. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2001.