Published Date

December 29, 1939

Resource Type

AHA Archival Document

Approved by AHA Council and at Business Meeting, December 1939

The Committee of Ten on Reorganization and Policy, appointed during the summer of 1938 by Presidents Ford and Paxson and continued for a year by action of the Association at its last regular meeting, is now prepared to make a final report. Since last December the chairman of the Committee has visited the Washington, Philadelphia, and New York offices of the Association, and has talked over the problems of the Association with most of its permanent officers, and with many other interested individuals. Four members of the Committee, Professors Anderson, Pierce, Pratt, and Hicks, and three of the officers, the Executive Secretary, the Treasurer, and the Managing Editor of the Review, conferred informally at Branford, Connecticut, parts of two days, August 13–14, 1939. Many letters have been exchanged, and many documents have been examined. The members of the Committee are of the opinion that they could learn little of significance by prolonging their investigations further.

In general the preliminary report presented a year ago still expresses the sentiments of the Committee. To the best of our knowledge the Association is in no immediate danger of insolvency. Its officers are competent and interested. Its meetings are well attended. Its usefulness to the cause of history is unquestioned.

Undoubtedly the Executive Secretary has become the most important officer of the Association. His duties, as phrased by C. A. Beard in 1932, are as follows:

Under the direction of the Council and the Executive Committee, the Executive Secretary shall promote historical scholarship in America through the agencies of the Association. He shall exercise general oversight over the affairs of the Association, supervise the work of its committees, formulate policies for presentation to the Council, execute its policies, and perform all duties not specifically within the sphere of other officers.

While the Committee is convinced that the services of such an officer have become indispensable to the Association, it is equally convinced that the usefulness of the Executive Secretary is definitely impaired by his residence outside the city of Washington. It is in this city that, according to the Act of Incorporation under which we operate, the Association is required to have its principal office. Here the Association has held, and will doubtless continue to hold, a greater number of its annual meetings than are held in any other city. Also, it is to Washington, more than to any other city in America, that scholars come in their search for historical materials. One of the arguments in favor of creating the office of Executive Secretary, presented by the Committee on Policy which reported to the Council on November 29, 1929, was that the Executive Secretary’s office “would be a service station for members of the Association arriving in Washington to undertake research.” Obviously because it is situated outside Washington, the office has never functioned in any such way.

The need of a paid executive officer in Washington is further borne out by the way in which duties that ordinarily should fall to the Executive Secretary have been thrust upon the Treasurer of the Association, who happens to be a resident of Washington. In Secretary Read’s report of March 25, 1937, to the members of the Executive Committee he states: “The only part of the business of the Association over which he (the Executive Secretary) does not attempt to exercise systematic oversight is the office of the Treasurer and the general routine of the Washington office. In practice if not in theory, the Washington office has been regarded as the bailiwick of the Treasurer.” The Treasurer, as matters now stand, although an unpaid officer, must not only supervise the Washington office, but must act as general utility man for the Association in Washington. There is real danger that the present Treasurer will be unwilling to retain much longer an office that makes such heavy inroads upon his time. If, as was formerly the case, the Treasurer were not an active member of the historical profession, perhaps he would not be called upon so frequently for help. The fact that he is so called upon seems to indicate the clear need for an executive officer resident in Washington who can be available for such calls and can supervise all of the work of the Association and not just the major part of it.

There is another important factor to be taken into consideration. Many individuals over a long period of time have been interested in the possibility of a permanent “home” for the Association in Washington. Indeed, our lack of some visible headquarters to which to point when soliciting funds for an endowment has been a distinct handicap. Men with money to give are often influenced by what they can see as well as by what they are told, and only by diligent search or by customary familiarity can any of the several headquarters of the Association be discovered. In the past the Council has opposed on financial grounds the acquisition of property by the Association in Washington. We believe, however, that the space needed for our headquarters might be obtained from some governmental agency, or perhaps from one of Washington’s educational institutions, it being well understood that the Association must never commit itself to obligations for maintenance above its reasonable ability to pay. We are convinced that in some way a suitable permanent headquarters for the Association must be found in Washington, and we are happy to note that friends of the Association in the national capital are already working toward this goal. If physical headquarters for the Association are to be obtained in Washington, it follows logically that the offices of the Association should also be concentrated there as far as possible.

The Committee wishes to record its deep appreciation of the excellent work done by the present Executive Secretary. His devotion to the Association has led him to give a far greater proportion of his time to its work than the Association has ever had any right to expect. His facility in handling the multitude of administrative details that must pass over his desk is not now and never has been open to question by those who have watched him work. His valiant efforts to enlarge the usefulness of history for the benefit of the public at large deserve the highest commendation. It is our misfortune that he is not a resident of the national capital. We believe, however, that the need of an executive officer resident in Washington is so insistent that we feel obliged to advise the Executive Council to begin at once the search for such a man. We sincerely hope that the present Executive Secretary will continue to guide the affairs of the Association with his customary skill until a competent successor, who is a resident of Washington or is willing to make Washington his residence, can be found.

Your committee is convinced that the anomalous position in which the Secretary of the Association has been placed by the creation of the office of Executive Secretary should be corrected. Formerly the Secretary was a paid officer whose duties included some of the duties now discharged by the Executive Secretary. At the moment the office remains, but the greater part of the duties attached to it have disappeared. This is no fault of the Secretary, a man whom we all honor and trust, but of the careless reconstruction of the constitution. It has been said that the Secretary, as a more or less permanent member of the Executive Council and the Executive Committee, provides a useful element of continuity to both bodies. Your committee believes, however, that this purpose could be equally well served by making the Executive Secretary a member, ex-officio, of both the Executive Council and the Executive Committee, and by dropping the office of Secretary altogether. We are authorized to say that Secretary Perkins concurs in this recommendation.

A similar anomaly exists in the case of the Editor. This officer is not, as one might at first suppose, the Editor of the Review. His duties are concerned mainly with the editing of the Annual Report and, more particularly, with the editing of the Proceedings. Inasmuch as the printing of these documents is done at Government expense and at the Government Printing Office in Washington, the need of a supervisor resident in Washington seems clear. But all such work, we believe, could best be discharged through the office of the Executive Secretary, were that office only in Washington rather than elsewhere. Your committee, therefore, recommends that if and when the Executive Secretary becomes a resident of Washington the office of Editor be abolished, and the duties of that office be attached to the office of the Executive Secretary.

In this connection, we should like to call the attention of the Association to the precarious financial condition of the valuable series, Writings on American History, now sponsored by the Association and edited by Grace Gardner Griffin. There is general agreement, we believe, that the Writings should be continued, but the death of Dr. Jameson robbed the publication of a devoted friend whose ability to collect funds for historical purposes will not soon be duplicated. At the end of August, 1939, payments to Miss Griffin’s force were in arrears about $700.00. Your committee urgently advises the Council to take whatever steps it deems necessary to maintain the prompt and continued publication of this series.

In our preliminary report, presented a year ago, we pointed out the necessity of keeping the small ad interim Executive Committee, which holds fairly frequent meetings, subordinate to the larger Executive Council, which meets only once or twice a year. As now constituted, the Executive Committee consists of not more than six members of whom two, the Secretary and the Treasurer, are members ex-officio, and of whom two others need not be members of the Council at all. In other words, the Executive Committee need not include, and up to a year ago did not in practice include, more than two ordinary councilmen. The protest a year ago of the Committee of Ten against choosing outsiders to be members of the Executive Committee led to a discontinuance of that practice, although the constitutional provision permitting it still remains. We believe that the Constitution should be amended in such a way as to eliminate the objectionable provision. It is clear, of course, that the real reason for this provision is geographic and pecuniary; the meetings of the Executive Committee must be held in the East, and the cost of bringing too many western members to attend them is prohibitive. We believe that careful attention to this matter by the nominating committee would insure that at least three or four of the councilmen should be resident in the New York, Philadelphia, Washington area. Attention may be called also to the fact that ex-presidents are councilmen for life, and that from among them executive committeemen might occasionally be chosen.

The Committee of Ten withholds continent upon the newly devised machinery for the election of councilmen and members of the nominating committee. The new system should be given a fair trial. We believe, however, that some suggestions to future nominating committees are in order. It might be well, for example, to make a practice of placing on the slate of nominees for the Committee on Nominations the names of the two retiring members of the Executive Council. Conceivably neither of them might be elected, but in all probability at least one of them would be. An ex-councilman should be in excellent position to advise other members of the nominating committee of the needs and traditions of the Association. He would have a care, for example, that the list of nominees for councilmen would include the names of men who could be used to serve on the Executive Committee. We do not believe that our recommendation should be made a part of the Constitution, but we do believe that it is worthy of consideration by successive nominating committees.

We are already on record as opposed to contest elections for the second vice-presidency, a position that is primarily an honor rather than an office. We are also of the opinion that nominating committees should not take too seriously the straw ballots that come to them each year. In the past well-meaning but ill-advised admirers of a favorite professor have occasionally embarrassed both the committee and their mentor by zealously soliciting votes for their candidate. Almost invariably, given time, the honor would have come unsolicited to the individual whose claims were thus promoted, and he would have been spared the unpleasant suspicion that the committee was forced into nominating him against its will. We believe that the nominating committee should use its own best judgment in the making of nominations, and further, that whenever it is apparent that an organized effort is being made to put a certain candidate over, the number of straw votes cast for such a candidate should be disregarded. We are skeptical as to the wisdom of any of the numerous plans for direct nomination of Association officers. We still believe, as we stated in our preliminary report, that the selection of a representative nominating committee, a committee that will not hesitate to pit its judgment from time to time against a straw ballot, is the best insurance we can have against unfortunate choices.

In our preliminary report we admitted the existence of a certain amount of criticism leveled at the American Historical Review, and recognized the examination of Review policy as a part of our assignment. We are of the opinion that, in general, the present editorship and management of the Review maintain admirably the high standards set by J. Franklin Jameson, Andrew C. McLaughlin, D. C. Munro, and Henry E. Bourne. The charge that the Review is not a popular journal of history can be easily substantiated. It was never meant to be that kind of magazine. In the words of the present editor, the policy of the Review has ever been “to publish only such articles as throw light upon what had been dark before, or suggest new and fruitful fields of historical study, or advance significant new historical interpretations. Being essentially a magazine for students of history, it leaves popularizations, however brilliant, to others.” We believe that somewhere the highest standards of craftsmanship must be maintained; that somehow the importance of painstaking historical accuracy must be promoted. The Review is a professional journal intended primarily for the use of readers who are already well informed regarding history. It would be almost as absurd to try to popularize it as to try to popularize a medical journal intended for the use of physicians. With the idea of a popular magazine of history, either within or without the American Historical Association, we have no quarrel whatever. But we should be sorry indeed to see the Editor of the Review depart from the sound policy he has so admirably stated.

Other criticisms of the Review that have come to our attention are extremely diverse and contradictory. From the devotees of European history comes the complaint that too much attention is given to American history; from the devotees of American history, the exact reverse. Actually, the number of leading articles in recent years has been quite evenly divided between the two. Some critics say that fewer articles of an interpretative nature should be printed, and more attention given to the immediate results of original research; others complain of the overemphasis upon the spadework of neophytes and urge that articles “written by youngsters” should be barred. While all agree that the book review section is of fundamental importance, some say that all the literature of history should be given careful consideration, while others maintain that in an American journal only the writings of American authors should be reviewed. Some say that the review section should be expanded to include the entire magazine, and to exclude every other type of article; others, that fewer books should be reviewed, and more books, regardless of the protests of authors and publishers, merely listed.

Out of this confusion of criticism it is difficult to emerge with anything more than another opinion. It seems obvious that not every article published by the Review will interest every reader, but we do see a need for more articles of general rather than specialized interest. Such articles, in all probability, can be obtained only by solicitation, and we urge the Editor to seek for what he wishes to publish as well as to select from such voluntary offerings as come his way. Perhaps more space for major articles could be obtained by omitting the section designated as “Documents”, except when source fragments of unusual importance come to light, and by greatly compressing official or routine material, such, for example, as is contained in the Annual Report of the Executive Secretary, which in the April, 1939, number ran to fifteen pages. On the matter of book reviews, a division of labor between the American Historical Review and other historical journals, such as Speculum, the Journal of Modern History, and the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, might well be attempted. Obviously the world’s output of historical literature is fast becoming too extensive for any one journal to review it all. With fewer books reviewed and more merely listed, probably reviews could be longer and correspondingly more adequate. The selection of reviewers will always evoke criticism, but the Editor will do well to make sure that every book assigned is sent to a specialist in the field covered, with due attention to the younger men in the profession, and to the Westerners, some of whom are sensitive on this subject. No doubt the Editor will find the forthcoming guide to historical work now in progress among members of the Association a valuable aid in determining the exact interest of prospective reviewers. Promptness in the discharge of a reviewing assignment should be encouraged and rewarded; dilatory reviewers should be stricken from the Editor’s list.

We believe that the close connection between the American Historical Review and the American Historical Association ought to be emphasized in some specific way. To this end we recommend that the Managing Editor of the Review be listed as one of the officers of the Association, and be made an ex-officio member of the Executive Council, with full voting privileges. His presence at Council meetings should prove to be a valuable means of maintaining close co-operation between the governing body of the Association and the management of the Review.

We have received several suggestions urging a revision of the method by which the Constitution of the Association may be amended. At present, amendments may be adopted at any business meeting provided only that notice of such an amendment shall have been given at the previous annual meeting, or that the proposed amendment shall have received the approval of the Council. This provision dates back to the formation of the Association in 1884, and it was no doubt adequate at that time. Now, however, it is doubtful whether a single business meeting, attended by only a handful of members, should be trusted with the right to make far-reaching and revolutionary changes. We advocate a tightening-up of the amending process in such a way as to require that amendments may be proposed, either by the Council or by a majority vote of a regular business session, and that they may then be adopted by a majority vote of the next business session, provided always that the substance of the proposed amendment or amendments shall have been mailed to the membership of the Association not less than twenty days preceding the date of the business session at which the final vote to be taken. We are well aware of the fact that all too few members of the Association attend the annual meetings, but we believe that, if due notice of proposed constitutional changes were given, a representative attendance could be obtained. The alternative system of voting by mail would result, we fear, either in making amendments impossible because of light voting, or in promoting rather than restricting the activity of pressure groups.

With reference to the problem of the Pacific Coast Branch, we are willing to shade our report of a year ago enough to recommend that the Council continue the practice of appropriating a small sum each year to help pay the cost of the Branch meeting. While we make this suggestion primarily because of the conviction on the part of Branch members that a contract calling for such a subvention was entered into between the parent Association and the Branch when the latter was founded in 1903, we cannot fail to recognize the unsolvable geographic problem of the distance to the Pacific Coast, and we hope that the Pacific Coast Branch will continue to exist. We are opposed, however, to the formation of additional branches or the further subdivision of the Association into semi-autonomous groups of any sort or kind.

Much criticism has been directed against the programs of our annual meetings, and some of it seems justified. Certainly many members prefer the good fellowship of the lounges and lobbies to attendance upon any of the numerous historical conferences. We doubt very much whether any sure cure for this situation can be found, but we should like to call the attention of the Association to a practice common in Europe, and among various scientific organizations in America, whereby papers, or at least abstracts of papers, are printed or mimeographed and distributed to interested members in advance of the meeting. Sometimes the papers are not even read at the meeting, but the time is given over instead to discussion from the floor. Possibly such a procedure, or at least an adaptation of it, could be tried out in a limited number of sessions. Another suggestion worth the making is the assurance of prompt publication after the meeting for all the superior papers. Just how such a result is to be achieved, however, is not entirely clear. Probably, too, better continuity should be established between succeeding program committees. Records of attendance at the various section meetings, for example, could be kept and passed along from year to year so that rooms would not so frequently be overcrowded or underfilled. We are already on record as favoring the holding of our annual meetings “in large cities, easily reached by railroads and highways, and provided with ample hotel accommodations.” Out of every three meetings one might well be held in Chicago and one in Washington. We believe it imperative, also, that for the future the annual business meeting of the Association should be held at a more auspicious time of day than four-thirty o’clock in the afternoon.

Your committee is submitting herewith a redraft of the Constitution designed to carry some of its recommendations into effect. It will be noted that we have incorporated most of the so-called by-laws into the Constitution proper. Whether these amendments are adopted or rejected is a matter for the Association to decide.1 In any event, we have finished our labors, and we now beg to he discharged.

Summary of Proposed Constitutional Revisions

Articles I, II, and III—unchanged.

Article IV. Section 1, altered to eliminate the office of Secretary, to include the Executive Secretary and the Managing Editor of the Review as officers of the Association, and to make the appointment of an Editor discretionary with the Council.2

Section 2, added to include Beard’s definition of the duties of Executive Secretary.

Sections 3 and 4, to transfer from the by-laws the definition of duties of other officers, and the method of electing President, First Vice President, Second Vice President, and Treasurer.

Section 5, to charge the Council with the duty of electing all other constitutional officers for specific terms not to exceed three years. Present terms to expire December 31, 1940.

Section 6, includes provisions on presidential succession—unchanged.

Article V. Section 1, adds the Executive Secretary and the Managing Editor of the Review to the membership of the Council.

Section 2, states functions of the Council—unchanged.

Section 3, membership of Executive Committee restricted to members of Council. Executive Secretary made member of the Executive Committee instead of the Secretary.

Article VI. Sections 1 and 2, transfer unchanged from the by-laws the provisions regarding the Nominating Committee and its work.

Article VII. Section 1, the Board of Trustees—unchanged.

Article VIII. Section 1, requires amendments to be proposed by a majority vote of any regular business meeting of the Association or by the Council, and to be circulated among the membership at least twenty days before the next business meeting, at which they may be adopted by a majority vote.

The Committee of Ten

Frank M. Anderson, Dartmouth College
Thomas A. Bailey, Stanford University
Theodore C. Blegen, U. of Minnesota
James B. Hedges, Brown University
Merrill M. Jensen, U. of Washington
Frank J. Klingberg, U. C. L. A.
Bessie L. Pierce, U. of Chicago
Julius W. Pratt, U. of Buffalo
Carl Wittke, Oberlin College
J. D. Hicks, U. of Wisconsin (Chairman)



As amended December 29, 1939


SECTION 1. The name of this society shall be the American Historical Association.


SECTION 1. Its object shall be the promotion of historical studies


SECTION 1. Any person approved by the Council may become an active member of the Association. Active membership shall date from the receipt by the Treasurer of the first payment of dues, which shall be $5 a year or a single payment of $100 for life. Annual dues shall be payable at the beginning of the year to which they apply and any member whose dues are in arrears for one year may, one month after the mailing of a notice of such delinquency to his last known address, be dropped from the rolls by vote of the Council or the Executive Committee. Members who have been so dropped may be reinstated at any time by the payment of one year’s dues in advance. Only active members shall have the right to vote or to hold office in the Association. Persons not resident in the United States may be elected by the Council as honorary or corresponding members and such members shall be exempt from the payment of dues.


SECTION 1. The officers shall be a President, a First Vice President, a Second Vice President, a Treasurer, an Executive Secretary, a Managing Editor of the American Historical Review, and, at the discretion of the Council, an Editor and an Assistant Secretary-Treasurer.

SEC. 2. It shall be the duty of the Executive Secretary, under the direction of the Council, to promote historical scholarship in America through the agencies of the Association. He shall exercise general oversight over the affairs of the Association, supervise the work of its committees, formulate policies for presentation to the Council, execute its policies and perform such other duties as the Council may from time to time direct.

SEC. 3. The other officers of the Association shall have such duties and perform such functions as are customarily attached to their respective offices or as may from time to time be prescribed by the Council.

SEC. 4. The President, First Vice President, Second Vice President and Treasurer shall be elected in the following manner. The Nominating Committee at such convenient time prior to the 1st of September as it may determine shall invite each member of the Association to indicate his or her nominee for each of these offices. With these suggestions in mind, it shall draw up a ballot of nominations which it shall mail to each member of the Association on or before the 1st of December and which it shall distribute as the official ballot at the Annual Business Meeting. It shall present to this meeting orally any other nominations for these offices petitioned for to the Chairman of the Committee at least one day before the Business Meeting and supported by the names of twenty voting members of the Association. The election shall be made from these nominations at the Business Meeting.

SEC. 5. The Executive Secretary, the Assistant Secretary-Treasurer, the Managing Editor of the American Historical Review and the Editor shall be appointed by the Council for speci1led terms of office not to exceed three years and shall be eligible for re-appointment. For the purpose of new appointments, the terms of all these officers shall be deemed to have expired on December 31, 1940. They shall receive such compensation as the Council may determine.

SEC. 6. If the office of President shall, through any cause, become vacant, the First Vice President shall thereupon become President and the Second Vice President shall become First Vice President whenever the office of First Vice President shall have been vacated.


SECTION 1. There shall be a Council, constituted as follows:

  1. The President, the Vice Presidents, the Executive Secretary, the Treasurer and the Managing Editor of the American Historical Review.
  2. Elected members, eight in number, chosen by ballot in the manner provided in Article VI, Section 2. At the election of 1931 the persons so elected shall be assigned to four equal classes, the members of which shall be elected to serve respectively for 1, 2, 3 and 4 years. Subsequent elections in each class shall be for 4 years, except in the case of elections to complete unexpired terms.
  3. The former Presidents, but a former President shall be entitled to vote for the 3 years succeeding the expiration of his term as President, and no longer.

SEC. 2. The Council shall conduct the business, manage the property and care for the general interests of the Association. In the exercise of its proper functions, the Council may appoint such committees, commissions and boards as it may deem necessary. The Council shall make a full report of its activities to the Annual Meeting of the Association. The Association may by vote at any Annual Meeting instruct the Council to discontinue or enter upon any activity, and may take such other action directing the affairs of the Association as it may deem necessary and proper.

SEC. 3. For the transaction of necessary business when the Council is not in session, the Council shall elect annually from its membership an Executive Committee of not more than six members which shall include the Executive Secretary and the Treasurer. Subject always to the general direction of the Council, the Executive Committee shall be responsible for the management of Association interests and the carrying out of Association policies.


SECTION 1. There shall be a Nominating Committee to consist of five members, each of whom shall serve a term of two years. In the 1939 election, two new members shall be elected; in 1940, three; and this alternation shall continue thereafter, except in the case of elections to complete unexpired terms. If vacancies on the Nominating Committee occur between the time of the annual elections, the Nominating Committee shall fill them by direct ail interim appointments.

SEC. 2. Elective members of the Council and members of the Nominating Committee shall be chosen as follows: The Nominating Committee shall present for each vacant membership on the Council and on the Nominating Committee two or more names, including the names of any persons who may be nominated by a petition carrying the signatures of twenty or more voting members of the Association. Nominations by petition must be in the hands of the Chairman of the Nominating Committee by November 1st. The Nominating Committee shall present these nominations to the members of the Association in the ballot distributed by mail as described above. The members of the Association shall make their choice from among these nominations and return their ballots for counting not later than the 20th of December at 6 p. m. No vote received after that time shall be valid. The votes shall be counted and checked in such manner as the Nominating Committee shall prescribe and shall then be sealed in a box and deposited in the Washington office of the Association where they shall be kept for at least a year. The results of the election shall be announced at the Annual Business Meeting. In case of a tie, choice shall be made at the Annual Business Meeting from among the candidates receiving the highest equal vote.


SECTION 1. There shall be a Board of Trustees, five in number, consisting of a chairman and four other members, nominated by the Council and elected at the Annual Meeting of the Association. The Trustees elected in 1931 shall serve, respectively, as determined by lot, for 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 years. Subsequent elections shall be in all cases for 5 years except in the case of elections to complete unexpired terms. The Board of Trustees, acting by a majority thereof, shall have the power to invest and reinvest the permanent funds of the Association with authority to employ such agents, investment counsel and banks or trust companies as it may deem wise in carrying out its duties, and with further authority to delegate and transfer to any bank or trust company all its power to invest or reinvest; neither the Board of Trustees nor any bank or trust company to whom it may so transfer its power shall be controlled in its discretion by any statute or other law applicable to fiduciaries and the liability of the individual members of the board and of any such bank or trust company shall be limited to good faith and lack of actual fraud or wilful misconduct in the discharge of the duties resting upon them.


SECTION 1. Amendments to this Constitution may be proposed by a majority vote of any regular business session of the Association or by a majority vote of the Council and may be adopted by a majority vote of the next regular business session, provided always that the proposed amendment and an explanation thereof shall have been circulated to the membership of the Association not less than twenty days preceding the date of the business session at which the final vote is to be taken. It shall be the duty of the Executive Secretary to arrange for the distribution of all such proposed amendments among the members of the Association.


  1. All save one of the proposed amendments were carried. []
  2. This was amended to make the appointment of both an Editor and an Assistant Secretary-Treasurer discretionary with the Council. []