AHA President, 1938


University of California

From the American Historical Review 54:2 (January 1949)

Frederic L. Paxson (February 23, 1877–October 24, 1948) was professor of history at the University of California. Paxson, long a prominent figure among American historians, died in Berkeley, California, October 24, 1948, from an embolism, following a major operation. A former president of the American Historical Association (1938), and professor of history successively at four state universities, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, and California, he was at the time of his death Margaret Byrne professor of United States history, emeritus, at the University of California. He had retired the year before, after a period of service at California of fifteen years, the last eight of which he had been chairman of the department.

Professor Paxson was born in Philadelphia, February 23, 1877. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also received the PhD degree. His master’s degree he held from Harvard. Throughout his life he was a loyal member of the Society of Friends.

As a scholar, his interests ranged through all United States history. He first won recognition by his studies on the influence of the frontier West in American history. His Last American Frontier (1910), his numerous articles in historical journals, especially on railroads, and his History of the American Frontier (1924), all emphasized this theme. For the latter he received the Pulitzer Prize for the best book of the year on American history. He was also among the first to emphasize the importance of recent American history. His New Nation, published in 1915, and his Recent History of the United States, a textbook which went through numerous printings, and was repeatedly revised, did much to set the pattern of historical writing in this field. The First World War gave him still other special interests. He served first with the Committee on Public Information and with Samuel B. Harding edited the War Cyclopedia, then entered the United States Army as a major in charge of the economic mobilization section of the historical branch, War Plans Division, General Staff. Later he brought out a series of three volumes on American Democracy and the World War (1936–48), books in which he attempted successfully to bridge the gap between the historical specialist and the general reader. Among his other books was one on The Independence of the South American Republics (1903), another on The Civil War (1911), and at the time of his death, he was well along with a book on the history of land grant colleges in the United States.

As a university professor, his teaching and writing deeply influenced the thinking of thousands of students, both undergraduate and graduate. Before his retirement in 1947 he had supervised the writing of no less than sixty-six PhD theses on practically all phases of United States history. As a skilled administrator, his service was in constant demand, not only in departmental matters but also in general university affairs. As a loyal friend and a trustworthy adviser he was widely known in historical circles the nation over. His passing brings deep grief to all who knew him well.



The independence of the South American republics; a study in recognition and foreign policy. Philadelphia, Ferris & Leach, 1903; Reprint, New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1970.

The historical opportunity in Colorado, by Frederic L. Paxson. Boulder: University of Colorado, 1905.

The Pacific railroads and the disappearance of the frontier in America, by Frederic L. Paxson. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908.

The last American frontier, by Frederic Logan Paxson. New York, Macmillan, 1910; Reprint, New York: Cooper Square Publisher, 1970.

The Civil War, by Frederic L. Paxson. New York: H. Holt, 1911.

The new nation, by Frederic L. Paxson. Boston, New York [etc.] Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915.

Recent history of the United States, by Frederic L. Paxson. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921.

History of the American frontier, 1763-1893, by Frederic L. Paxson. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1924; Reprint, Dunwoody, Ga.: N.S. Berg, 1967.

American democracy and the world war. 3 vols. Boston, Houghton Miffin Co., 1936-48.

When the West is gone, by Frederic L. Paxson. New York: P.Smith, 1941.