Position

AHA President, 1893–94

Institution

Author

From the American Historical Review 23:3 (April 1918)

Henry Adams (February 16, 1838–March 27, 1918), one of the most distinguished of American historians, perhaps the most keenly intellectual among them, certainly the most accomplished as a writer, died on March 27, a month after completing his eightieth year. Born in 1838, he was the third son of Charles Francis Adams the minister to Great Britain, and served as private secretary to the latter during the whole period of his legation. He was a younger brother of the late Charles Francis Adams the soldier and historian. From 1870 to 1877 he was assistant professor of history in Harvard University. He may fairly be said to have been the first to introduce the seminary method, in its full conception, into American historical instruction; among the fruits was the volume, Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (1876), by himself and three of his pupils. In 1877 he published his Documents relating to New England Federalism. From that year he lived in Washington. In 1879 he published his remarkable Life of Albert Gallatin, whose writings he also edited, and in 1882 a small volume on John Randolph. Though he was naturally drawn to Gallatin by the latter’s striking combination of European culture and wide social experience with American political principles, the books may be regarded as but preliminary studies toward his great work, the History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, which was published in nine volumes in 1889–1891. Thereupon he took his leave of history as an occupation, though in 1893–1894 he held the office of president of the American Historical Association. His History, which assumed at once, and has since constantly retained, the highest rank, is mainly a narrative of political, diplomatic, military, and naval events, not because his thought was confined to these, for brilliant chapters testify to the contrary, but because in respect to this period his interest lay chiefly in la haute politique, in the management of this infant republic, for the first time, by minds trained under European systems but determined to renounce European social principles. Never has a story of politics and diplomacy been told with greater penetration and acuteness of thought, seldom with more power and distinction of style.

Mr. Adams has given a brilliant account of his life in The Education of Henry Adams, which already enjoys a limited fame as a privately printed volume, but which when published will take rank as one of the world’s classics of literary autobiography. It is characteristic that in that volume, so rich in thought, in reminiscence, and in charm, there is almost no mention of any of the books we have named. Mr. Adams took up history suddenly at thirty-two, and dropped it at fifty-three. He never lost his interest in it, but his occupation with it was but an incident in an intellectual life so rich, so refined, and so varied that to seek a parallel one might have to search in an older society—for example, among the most enlightened noblemen of eighteenth-century France, whom indeed Mr. Adams, with the free play of his mind, the extraordinary keenness and wit of his conversation, and his essential but somewhat detached benevolence, greatly resembled.

 

Bibliography

Democracy, an American novel. New York, H. Holt and Company, 1880. Modern Library, 2002.

Documents relating to New-England Federalism. Boston, Little, Brown, and company, 1905; Reprint, New York, B. Franklin, 1969.

The education of Henry Adams. Washington: [Adams], 1907.

The education of Henry Adams. By Henry Adams; edited with an introduction and notes by Ira B. Nadel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

The formative years; a history of the United States during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison. By Henry Adams. Condensed and edited by Herbert Agar. History of the United States of America Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press [1974, 1947]

Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Washington: [Henry Adams], 1912.

Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. By Henry Adams; introduction and notes by Raymond Carney. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1986.

The tendency of history, by Henry Adams. Washington, Govt. print. off., 1896; Reprint, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1928.

The War of 1812. By Henry Adams; edited by H.A. DeWeerd; new introduction By John R. Elting. 1st Cooper Square Press ed. New York : Cooper Square Press, 1999.

John Randolph. By Henry Adams. Boston, New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1882; A new edition with primary documents and introduction by Robert McColley. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.

The life of Albert Gallatin. By Henry Adams. Philadelphia, London, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1879.

The life of George Cabot Lodge. By Henry Adams; a facsim. reproduction with an introd. by John W. Crowley. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsims. & Reprints, 1978.

The letters of Henry Adams. Edited by J.C. Levenson, et al. 6 vols. Correspondence Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982-1988.

Henry Adams, selected letters. Edited by Ernest Samuels. Correspondence. Selections Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.

History of the United States of America during the second administration of Thomas Jefferson. By Henry Adams. New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1890.

History of the United States of America during the administrations of James Madison. By Henry Adams. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States: Distributed by the Viking Press, 1986.

History of the United States of America. By Henry Adams. 9 vols. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1889-91.

A Henry Adams reader. Edited and with an introduction by Elizabeth Stevenson. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1968 [1958].

Esther. By Henry Adams. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997

Chapters of Erie. By Charles Francis Adams, Jr. and Henry Adams; introduction by James C. Mohr. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2002.

Novels Mont Saint Michel, The education. By Henry Adams. Selections. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States: Distributed by the Viking Press, 1983.

The education of Henry Adams: an autobiography. With an introduction by Edmund Morris. Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library, 1996.