Image of James Ford Rhodes


Lifetime: 1848 - 1927 Passed: ≈ 97 years ago




United States

James Ford Rhodes

James Ford Rhodes was an American industrialist and historian born in Cleveland, Ohio. After earning a fortune in the iron, coal, and steel industries by 1885, he retired from business. He devoted his life to historical research and publishing a seven-volume history of the United States beginning in 1850; his work was published from 1893 to 1906. He published an eighth volume in 1920. His work, History of the Civil War, 1861–1865 (1918), won the second-ever Pulitzer Prize for History that year. Cleveland was a center of the Connecticut Western Reserve, heavily settled by New Englanders like his parents. His father Daniel P. Rhodes was a Democrat and a friend of Stephen A. Douglas. He opposed the Lincoln administration during the Civil War; Rhodes said he was a "Copperhead." That caused problems for his sister, who was finally allowed to marry the up-and-coming Republican businessman-politician Mark Hanna.

Rhodes attended New York University, beginning in 1865. After graduation, he went to Europe, studying at the Collège de France. During his studies in Europe, he visited ironworks and steelworks. After his return to the United States, he investigated iron and coal deposits for his father. In 1874, Rhodes entered his father's highly profitable iron, coal, and steel businesses at Cleveland. Having earned a considerable fortune, he retired in 1885.

Rhodes moved to Boston for access to its libraries and supportive intellectual community. He devoted the rest of his life to historical research and writing. He was never politically active. In evaluating the two parties in the Reconstruction era he generally supported the Republican Party. In the 1880s he was a Bourbon Democrat who supported Grover Cleveland and favored low tariffs, despite his own connection with the iron and steel industry. He supported Republicans William McKinley in 1896 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. In 1912 he supported Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. He supported Wilson's position calling for American entry in the League of Nations. Rhodes told his grandson that he started life" as a strong Democrat, then became a strong Republican, then a lukewarm Democrat, and now I suppose I am a lukewarm Republican."  His gyrations are important because one of the strongest features of his multi-volume history is the valuation of both political parties, finding both strengths and weaknesses in each party.

His major work, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, was published in seven volumes, 1893–1906; the eight-volume edition appeared in 1920. His single volume, History of the Civil War, 1861–1865 (1917), earned him a Pulitzer Prize in History in 1918.

Rhodes joined the American Historical Association and was elected its president in 1899 for a one-year term.

Books by James Ford Rhodes

History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 Cover image

History of the Civil War, 1861-1865

History War
Battle Civil Illumination Politics Time Economic Strategy Relationships Historicity

Superbly written, this overview of the Civil War, won a Pulitzer Prize in History in 1918. Rhodes covers not only the battles and the generals of the war but gives us a good deal of insight into the politics, economics, international relations and th...