AHA President, 1917


Library of Congress

From the American Historical Review 46:4 (July 1941)

Worthington Chauncey Ford (February 16, 1858–March 7, 1941) died on March 7 in his eighty-fourth year on the SS Excalibur, en route from Lisbon to New York, under the American flag as he would have wished. He was one of the oldest and most distinguished members of the American Historical Association, which he served as president in the year 1917. Born in Brooklyn on February 16, 1858, he studied at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and at Columbia College and began his career in 1882 as an editorial writer on the New York Herald. From 1885 to 1889 he served as chief of the Bureau of Statistics in the Department of State. In 1889 he left the department and devoted two years in Washington to historical studies. From 1893 to 1898 he was chief of the Bureau of Statistics of the Treasury Department and was later chief of the Statistical Department of the Boston Public Library, from which he resigned in 1902. Ford had become a passionate devotee of Ameri can history, particularly the history of the American Revolution. After completing a commission to overhaul and reorganize the bookkeeping system of the City of New York, he settled down to a career of historical editing and writing, from 1902 to 1909 as chief of the Division of Manuscripts in the Library of Congress and from 1909 to 1929 as editor of the Massachusetts Historical Society. A bibliography of his prodigious editorial activities and writings is yet to be compiled, but it is safe to say that he was the most prolific editor in American historiography. From his desk there flowed to the printer a constant stream of copy, including not only the routine publications of the Division of Manuscripts of the Library of Congress and later the publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society but also such significant source collections as the first fifteen volumes of the Journals of the Continental Congress, The Writings of George Washington (14 vols., 1889-98), the Bibliography of the Massachusetts House Journals, Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, reproductions of important colonial newspapers and rare Americana, and editorial supervision of such consequential publications as the autobiography of Charles Francis Adams, the Education of Henry Adams, Mont St. Michel and Chartres, The Writings of John Quincy Adams, 1779–1823 (7 vols., New York, 1913-17), and other numerous publications from the archives of the Adams family. In the Library of Congress card catalogue there are 104 cards under Ford’s name. He found time to serve in many advisory capacities to libraries and publishing enterprises and on numerous committees, notably the Historical Manuscripts Commission of the American Historical. Association. His presidential address, published in the January, 1918, issue of this Review, was on the appropriate theme, “The Editorial Function of United States History”. Its “formality” was perfectly disguised. He did what no president of the Association had ever done before or has ever done since: he delivered every word of it without a note of any kind, apparently extemporaneously. During his long career Ford was frequently invited to deliver various significant lectures on American history and was the recipient of numerous academic honors, including AM (Harvard, 1907 ), LittD (Brown, 1919), LLD (Michigan, 1920). Among his more important writings are: George Washington (2 vols., New York, 1900); “John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine”, American Historical Review, July, 1902, and October, 1902. Upon retirement as editor of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1929, Ford accepted appointment as director of the European mission of the Library of Congress, which had been organized in 1927 for securing facsimiles of documents in European archives and libraries relating to American history. He administered this project and its aftermath until 1935. The last six years of his life were spent in retirement in France, mostly at Le Vesinet, S. et O., whence he conducted a voluminous correspondence with his many friends in the United States and elsewhere. During this period he found time, after visits home, for his last piece of editing: The Letters of Henry Adams, 1858–1918 (2 vols., Boston, 1930-38). When the Germans broke into France in June, 1940, Ford found himself on his annually scheduled trip to a watering place in the Pyrenees. He rode the crest of the invasion wave into unoccupied France, where he remained until late February, 1941. The thousands of letters written during his long lifetime constitute a rich collection of source material, and it is to be hoped that they will be collected and preserved, perhaps published. Personally, Ford was a kindly but outwardly formal man who would be popularly characterized as a “gentleman of the old school.” He was versatile in the practice and appreciation of the arts, dextrous in touch, buoyant in spirit, catholic in interests. In controversy, which he did not avoid, he could be downright and trenchant. Beneath his formality and by the side of his close application there glowed a rich, emotional nature and a never-failing capacity for engaging and enduring friendship. He was particularly generous and helpful to younger scholars and a fount of wisdom to men of all ages. His death is an irreparable loss to American historiography and a bereavement to a host of individuals.


The United States and Spain in 1790. An episode in diplomacy described from hitherto unpublished sources. With an introduction by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Brooklyn: Historical Printing Club, 1890.

Wills of George Washington and his immediate ancestors. edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Historical Printing Club, 1891.

British officers serving in the American revolution, 1774-1783. Comp. by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Historical Printing Club, 1897.

The writings of George Washington. 14 Vols. New York & London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889-93.

Some Jefferson correspondence, 1775-1787. Boston: Press of D. Clapp & Son, 1902.

Alexander Hamilton’s notes in the Federal convention of 1787. Cambridge: J. Wilson and son, 1904.

The campaign of 1844, by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Worcester, Mass.: Davis Press, 1909.

George Washington, Boston: Small, Maynard, 1910.

The treaty of Ghent, and after, by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Madison: The Society, 1915.

Statesman and friend; correspondence of John Adams with Benjamin Waterhouse, 1784-1822, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1927.

Writings of John Quincy Adams. Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Defences of Philadelphia in 1777. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971.