Eric L. McKitrick (1920–2002) was a historian of the United States. Educated at Columbia, McKitrick taught at the University of Chicago and Rutgers before returning to Columbia in 1960. He is perhaps best known for Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction; his other works treated slavery and the American South, as well as the history of the American party system.

The Good Loser

Most literate Americans know who Jefferson Davis was. But what they know is mostly an abstraction: the presidency of a defeated Confederacy in the Civil War. Some of the more historically learned have, to be sure, given an inordinate amount of attention to this abstraction through end-less debates among themselves …

Washington the Liberator

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the husband-and-wife collaboration of Robert and Lee Dalzell, is a lovely book. It ought to be widely read and generally praised, but it may not be, inasmuch as its title—the only title it could possibly have—unavoidably sends all the wrong signals. It looks like a specialized …

The Liberator

There appear to be two opposing theories, implicit in how various historians have thought about the ending of slavery, for explaining the process whereby substantial numbers, perhaps a majority, of people in the Northern states were converted to an antislavery frame of mind during the thirty years or so prior …

JQA: For the Defense

Within the past two years or so the historical visibility of John Quincy Adams has been enhanced to a degree that could scarcely have been anticipated a few years earlier. William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery was a circumstantial account of how Adams, in his post-presidential career as a Massachusetts …

Portrait of an Enigma

Up until a few years ago differences of view regarding Thomas Jefferson, to the extent that they existed, tended to occur among scholars within a professional community rather than between professionals on the one hand and voices from the lay public on the other. The latter mostly took their cues …

A Hero of Antislavery

When we consider the troubled history of race relations during the hundred and thirty-odd years since Emancipation, it seems scarcely credible that the North, virtually as a unit, could have been willing to fight a long and costly war whose root cause was black slavery and the free states’ aversion …

The Great White Hope

It has always seemed rather a pity that Henry Clay, for all the times he tried between 1824 and 1848, never quite made it to the presidency. In all the gallery of public figures in the political life of antebellum America, probably none was referred to oftener than he, in …

Did Jefferson Blunder?

What remains of the once formidable Jefferson industry[^1] may be sore pressed to weather Empire of Liberty, which is a little like a leveraged takeover by less-than-friendly outsiders. But the raiders, Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson, political scientists rather than historians, have finally made a place for what should have …

Reconstructing Andrew Johnson

In observing that Hans Trefousse’s biography makes painful reading, I don’t mean to overlook its many merits. It is the most exhaustive, scrupulous, and meticulously documented treatment of Andrew Johnson’s life and career that has yet appeared in the 115 years since the seventeenth president’s death. But “merits” in the …

The View from Jefferson’s Camp

Any biographer of anyone surely has his problems. But what must they be like when his subject happens to be a historical figure of primary importance who lived an inordinately long life and who had a career that imposed itself in the most coercive way on the most critical events …

A Pinch of Saltus

In the murky and uncertain era of American letters between the mid-1880s and the mid-Nineties there arose and declined the equally murky and uncertain talent of Edgar Saltus. True, Saltus continued for another twenty-five years after that to turn out novels (his Daughters of the Rich was even made into …

Goodbye to All That

The book that Edmund Wilson published a few years ago on the literature of the Civil War, Patriotic Gore, threatened to say the last word on that subject. It was rich, ample, and diverse, full of good portraits and good narrative; it teemed with intuitions and insights. Still, I have …

The Age of Deference

Ever since World War II, much of the intellectual energy of American historians has been preoccupied with those special distinctions, both major and marginal, that have marked off American society from every other society in the world. The necessary work of elaborating these newly perceived distinctions, and the complementary need …

Survey Course

A noticeable current that has run through nearly every effort made so far to deal publicly with this book is one of embarrassment. Does The Oxford History of the American People represent the ripe wisdom of an elder statesman, or the peppery collected crotchets of an academic Harry Truman? Is …

An Old Story

A proper “case study” in history or the social sciences really should not be a “sample” of something; it should be a metaphor of something else. It should have not the abstractness of a construct, but the concreteness of a story; in it, the issues ought to be acted out, …