David Herbert Donald

David Herbert Donald (October 1, 1920 – May 17, 2009) was an American historian, best known for his 1995 biography of Abraham Lincoln. He twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for earlier works; he published more than 30 books on United States political and literary figures and the history of the American South.

David Herbert Donald
BornOctober 1, 1920
DiedMay 17, 2009(2009-05-17) (aged 88)
OccupationHistorian, Harvard University
Known forTwo Pulitzer Prizes for biography, and 1995 biography of Abraham Lincoln

Early life and educationEdit

David Herbert Donald was born in Goodman, Mississippi, a town in the center of Holmes County. The county's western border is formed by the Yazoo River and it is part of the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta.


Majoring in history and sociology, Donald earned his bachelor's degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.[1] He earned his Ph.D. in 1946[1] under eminent Lincoln scholar James G. Randall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Randall as a mentor influenced Donald's life and career. He encouraged his protégé to write his dissertation on Abraham Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon. Donald adapted and published the dissertation as his first book, Lincoln's Herndon (1948).[1][2]

After completing his doctorate, Donald taught at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and, from 1973, Harvard University. He also taught at Smith College, the University of North Wales, Princeton University, University College London and served as Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University. At Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Harvard he trained dozens of graduate students, including Heather Cox Richardson, Jean H. Baker, William J. Cooper, Jr., Michael Holt, Irwin Unger, Ari Hoogenboom, and Richard R. John.

Donald served as president of the Southern Historical Association. Donald also served on the editorial board for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.[3]

Donald was the Charles Warren Professor of American History (emeritus from 1991) at Harvard University. He wrote more than thirty books, including well-received biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Wolfe and Charles Sumner. He specialized in the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods, and in the history of the American South.

Legacy and honorsEdit

Donald received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography twice, in 1961 for Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War and in 1988 for Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. He also received several honorary degrees.

David Herbert Donald received the American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award in 1997.[4]

David Herbert Donald was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 2008 in the area of Communications and Education.[5]


In his introduction, Carl Sandburg, the poet and Lincoln biographer, hailed Donald's first book as the answer to scholars' prayers: "When is someone going to do the life of Bill Herndon. Isn't it about time? Now the question is out."

David M. Potter, known as a Lincoln scholar, said Donald's biography of Charles Sumner portrayed, "Sumner as a man with acute psychological inadequacies" and exposed Sumner's "facade of pompous rectitude." Donald's evenhanded approach to Sumner, Potter concluded, was a model for biographers working with a difficult subject. "If it does not make Sumner attractive [the book] certainly makes him understandable."[6]

Personal life and deathEdit

External video
  Q&A interview with Aida Donald, November 18, 2012, C-SPAN

Donald lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts, with his wife Aida DiPace Donald, who is an historian and author.[2] His wife also served as a senior editor and then as editor-in-chief at the Harvard University Press.[7] He died of heart failure in Boston on May 17, 2009.[1] Donald is survived by his wife, his son Bruce Donald and two granddaughters.[2]


External video
  Booknotes interview with Donald on Lincoln, December 24, 1995, C-SPAN
  Presentation by Donald on We Are Lincoln Men at the Chicago Public Library, November 18, 2003, C-SPAN
  • Lincoln's Herndon (1948)[8]
  • Divided We Fought: A Pictorial History of the War, 1861—1865 (1952)[9]
  • Editor, Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase. (1954)[10]
  • Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era (1956, 2nd edition 1961, 3rd edition 2001) (ISBN 0-679-72310-2).[11]
  • Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960). Pulitzer Prize-winning scholarly biography to 1860.[12]
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction (1961; 2001) (ISBN 0-393-97427-8), 2001 edition with Jean H. Baker & Michael F. Holt; 1961 edition with James G. Randall.[13]
  • Editor, Why the North Won the Civil War (1962) (ISBN 0-02-031660-7) (revised ed. 1996).[14]
  • Editor with Aida DiPace Donald, Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volumes 1 and 2, January 1820 - September 1829 (1964), Harvard University Press.[15]
  • The Politics of Reconstruction, 1863-1867 (1965)[16]
  • Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (1970). Biography after 1860.[17]
  • Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe (1987)(ISBN 9780316189521).[18]
  • Lincoln (1995) ISBN 0-684-80846-3[19]
  • Lincoln at Home: Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincoln's Domestic Life (1999) ISBN 978-0-912308-77-7.[20]
  • We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (2003) (ISBN 0-7432-5468-6).[21]


  • Paul Goodman, "David Donald's Charles Sumner Reconsidered" in The New England Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 3. (Sep., 1964), pp. 373–387.online at JSTOR
  • Ari Hoogenboom, "David Herbert Donald: A Celebration," in A Master's Due: Essays in Honor of David Herbert Donald, ed. William J. Cooper, Jr., et al.(Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 1—15.


  1. ^ a b c d Famed Lincoln Scholar David Herbert Donald Dies National Public Radio
  2. ^ a b c Grimes, William. "David Herbert Donald, Writer on Lincoln, Dies at 88", The New York Times, May 19, 2009. Accessed 19 May 2009.
  3. ^ "Meet Our Editorial Board" (PDF). Lincoln Editor: Quarterly Newsletter of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, July–September 2001, p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  4. ^ "David Herbert Donald, Ph.D. Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  5. ^ "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  6. ^ Robert Allen Rutland, "David Herbert Donald," in Robert Allen Rutland, ed. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000, U of Missouri Press. (2000) pg 41
  7. ^ "Q&A with Aida Donald | C-SPAN.org". www.c-span.org. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  8. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1989-03-01). Lincoln's Herndon: A Biography. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306803534.
  9. ^ "Google Books". books.google.com. Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  10. ^ Chase, Salmon P. (2011-10-01). Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase. Literary Licensing, LLC. ISBN 9781258108342.
  11. ^ Donald, David Herbert (2001-01-01). Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780375725326.
  12. ^ Donald, David Herbert (2009-03-01). Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War. Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN 9781402227196.
  14. ^ Commager, Henry Steele; Donald, David Herbert (1996-11-05). Why the North Won the Civil War. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684825069.
  15. ^ "Search Results - Harvard University Press". www.hup.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  16. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1999-06-01). The Politics of Reconstruction, 1863-1867. iUniverse. ISBN 9781583484418.
  17. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1970-01-01). Charles Sumner and the rights of man. Knopf.
  18. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1987). Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316189521. OCLC 925224109. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  19. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1996-11-05). Lincoln. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684825359.
  20. ^ Donald, David Herbert (2003-11-04). Lincoln at Home: Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincoln's Family Life. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743211420.
  21. ^ Donald, David Herbert (2003-01-01). "We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780743254687.

External linksEdit