George Bancroft

George Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891) was an American historian, statesman and Democratic politician who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national and international levels.

George Bancroft
George Bancroft United States Secretary of Navy c. 1860.jpg
Bancroft c. 1860
United States Minister to Germany
In office
August 28, 1867 (1867-08-28) – June 30, 1874 (1874-06-30)
President
Preceded byJoseph A. Wright
Succeeded byBancroft Davis
United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
November 12, 1846 (1846-11-12) – August 31, 1849 (1849-08-31)
MonarchVictoria
President
Preceded byLouis McLane
Succeeded byAbbott Lawrence
United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
March 11, 1845 (1845-03-11) – September 9, 1846 (1846-09-09)
PresidentJames K. Polk
Preceded byJohn Y. Mason
Succeeded byJohn Y. Mason
Personal details
Born(1800-10-03)October 3, 1800
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJanuary 17, 1891(1891-01-17) (aged 90)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
  • Sarah Dwight
  • Elizabeth Davis Bliss
Education
Bancroft's bookplate and signature. "Eis phaos" is Greek for "Towards the Light".

During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was a senior American diplomat in Europe, leading diplomatic missions to Britain and Germany. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.

Early life and educationEdit

Bancroft was born on October 3, 1800 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

His family had been in Massachusetts Bay since 1632. George's father, Aaron Bancroft, was distinguished as a revolutionary soldier, a leading Unitarian clergyman, and author of a popular biography of George Washington.[1]

EducationEdit

Bancroft began his education at Phillips Exeter Academy.

He entered Harvard College at thirteen years of age and graduated with the Class of 1817.[2]

After Harvard, Bancroft's father sent him abroad to study in Germany, where he studied at the universities of Göttingen, and Berlin. At Göttingen, he studied Plato with Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren, history with Heeren and Gottlieb Jakob Planck, and languages[a] and scripture interpretation with Albert Eichhorn, natural science with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, German literature with Georg Friedrich Benecke, French and Italian literature with Artaud and Bunsen, and classics with Georg Ludolf Dissen. In 1820, he received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen.[citation needed]

Bancroft capped off his education with a European tour, in the course of which he sought out almost every distinguished man in the European world of letters, science and art, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lord Byron, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Christian Charles Josias Bunsen, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, Varnhagen von Ense, Victor Cousin, Benjamin Constant and Alessandro Manzoni.[citation needed]

Early careerEdit

Bancroft returned to the United States in 1822. While the young man delivered several sermons at his father's behest shortly after his return, his love of literature proved a stronger attachment.

His first position was as a tutor of Greek at Harvard. Bancroft chafed at the narrow curriculum of Harvard in his day and the pedantic spirit of its classics curriculum. Moreover, his personal affect of ardent Romanticism subjected him to ridicule among the formal society of New England and his political sympathies for Jacksonian democracy put him at odds with nearly all of the Boston elite.[citation needed]

Round Hill SchoolEdit

In 1823, he published his first work, a little volume of poetry, translations and original pieces, which brought no fame. Bancroft finally left Cambridge and with Joseph Cogswell established the Round Hill School at Northampton, Massachusetts.[citation needed]

While at Round Hill, Bancroft contributed frequently to the North American Review and American Quarterly. He also made a translation of Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren's work on The Politics of Ancient Greece. In 1826, he published an oration advocating universal suffrage and the foundation of the state on the power of the whole people.[citation needed]

State politicsEdit

In 1830, he was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate from Northampton without his knowledge by the support of the Working Men's Party, but refused to take his seat.[3] and the next year he declined another nomination, though certain to have been elected, for the state senate.

HistorianEdit

Bancroft, having trained in the leading German universities, was an accomplished scholar, whose masterwork History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent covered the new nation in depth down to 1789.[4] His History of the United States started appearing in 1834, and he constantly revised it in numerous editions.[5] It remains among the most comprehensive histories of colonial America.[citation needed]

ThemesEdit

Bancroft was a Romantic, emphasizing nationalist and republican values.[citation needed] Bancroft played on four recurring themes to explain the development of American values: providence, progress, patria, and pan-democracy. "Providence" meant that destiny depended more on God than on human will. The idea of "progress" indicated that through continuous reform a better society was possible. Patria was deserved because America's spreading influence would bring liberty and freedom to more and more of the world. "Pan-democracy" meant the nation-state was central to the drama, not specific heroes or villains.[6]

Richard C. Vitzthum argues that Bancroft's histories exemplify his Unitarian moral vision of faith in progress. The history of America, in Bancroft's view, exemplified the gradual unfolding of God's purpose for mankind – the development of religious and political liberty.[7]

George M. Frederickson argues that Bancroft's "universalist theory of national origins... made the American Revolution not only the fruit of a specific historical tradition, but also a creed of liberty for all mankind."[8]

Historiographical reception and legacyEdit

Bancroft's orotund romantic style and enthusiastic patriotism fell out of favor with later generations of scientific historians, who did not assign his books to students.[9] After 1890, American scholars of the Imperial School took a more favorable view of the British Empire than Bancroft.[10][11]

Edmund Morgan compares Bancroft's history to that of the Liberal statesman Sir George Trevelyan in that both reject the Progressive view of the Revolution as a mere invocation of political philosophy as a means to keep and consolidate power. Morgan and other neo-Whig historians have embraced Bancroft's view that the patriots were motivated by a deep commitment to individual liberty.[12]

Political and diplomatic careerEdit

 
Bancroft in 1846

Collector of BostonEdit

In 1837, Bancroft entered active politics by accepting an appointment as Collector of Customs of the Port of Boston by President Martin Van Buren. Two of his own appointees in the office were Orestes Brownson and author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

In 1844, Bancroft was the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts but he was defeated. He called for the annexation of Texas as extending "the area of freedom" and opposed slavery.

Secretary of the NavyEdit

In 1845, in recognition for his support at the previous Democratic convention, Bancroft was appointed to James Polk's cabinet as Secretary of the Navy, serving until 1846, when, for a month, he was acting Secretary of War.

During his short period in the cabinet, Bancroft established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, creating a legacy of education and leadership.[13] He ordered naval action that resulted in the occupation of California and, as secretary of War, sent Zachary Taylor into the contested land between Texas and Mexico. That catalyzed the Mexican War, resulting in the United States greatly increasing its territory in the Southwest.

Bancroft designed and developed the Naval Academy; he received all the appropriations for which he asked. Congress had never been willing to establish a naval academy, but Bancroft studied the law to assess the powers of the Secretary of the Navy. He found that he could order "a place where midshipmen should wait for orders." He could also direct instructors to give lessons to them at sea, and by law, instructors could follow the midshipmen to the place of their common residence on shore. The appropriation of the year for the naval service met the expense, and the Secretary of War ceded an abandoned military post to the navy.

Therefore, when Congress came together, it learned that the midshipmen not at sea were housed at Annapolis. Thus, they were protected from the dangers of idleness and city life and busy at a regular course of study. Congress accepted the school, which was in full operation, and granted money for the repairs of the buildings.

Bancroft introduced some new respected professors into the corps of instructors, and he suggested a system of promotion, related to experience and achievements as well as age. The merit system was not fully developed or applied at the time. Bancroft was influential also in obtaining additional appropriations for the United States Naval Observatory.

Minister to the United KingdomEdit

Similarly, Bancroft studied so deeply the Oregon boundary dispute that in 1846, he was sent as minister plenipotentiary to London to work with the British government on the issue. There, he roomed with the historian Macaulay and the poet Hallam. With the election of Whig Zachary Taylor as president, Bancroft's political appointment ended. On his return to the United States in 1849, he withdrew from public life and moved to New York, where he focused on writing history.

Return to private lifeEdit

 
George Bancroft in his office (c. 1889)

In April 1864, at Bancroft's request, President Abraham Lincoln wrote out what would become the fourth of five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address. Bancroft planned to include the copy in Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors, which he planned to sell at a Soldiers' and Sailors' Sanitary Fair, in Baltimore, to raise money to care for the Union Army.

In 1866, he was chosen by Congress to deliver the special eulogy on Lincoln.

Minister to Prussia and GermanyEdit

In 1867, President Andrew Johnson offered Bancroft the post of US minister to Prussia, enabling him to return to Germany. Bancroft remained in Berlin for seven years, throughout the Franco-Prussian War and German unification.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him minister to the German Empire in 1871. During his tenure in Berlin, Bancroft spent much time negotiating agreements with Prussia and the other north German states relating to naturalization and citizenship issues; they became known as the Bancroft Treaties in his honor.[14] The treaties were the first international recognition of the right of expatriation. The principle has since incorporated in the law of nations.

San Juan arbitrationEdit

His last official achievements are considered the greatest.[by whom?] In the San Juan arbitration he displayed great versatility and skill and won the case, which was decided by a commission appointed by the German Emperor.

Personal lifeEdit

FamilyEdit

His first wife was Sarah Dwight, of a rich family in Springfield, Massachusetts; they married in 1827 and had two sons. She died in 1837. He formed a second marriage with Mrs Elizabeth Davis Bliss, a widow with two children. Together they had a daughter.

In his later years Bancroft lived in Washington, DC, summering at Rose Cliff, Newport, Rhode Island, the site where Rosecliff was later built.

OrganizationsEdit

Bancroft was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1838, and also served as its Secretary of Domestic Correspondence from 1877 to 1880.[15]

In 1841, Bancroft was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society.[16]

In New York, Bancroft was a founding member of the American Geographical Society and served as the society's first president for nearly three years (February 21, 1852 – December 7, 1854).[17]

Bancroft was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1863.[18]

DeathEdit

Bancroft died in 1891, in Washington, D.C.. He was the last surviving member of the Polk cabinet.

WorksEdit

Major worksEdit

  • Bancroft, George. History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the American Continent. (Boston: Little, Brown, and company, numerous editions in 8 or 10 volumes 1854–1878).
  • Bancroft, George; Dyer, Oliver, 1824–1907. (1891) History of the Battle of Lake Erie, and Miscellaneous Papers (New York: R. Bonner's sons) 292 pp. (American Library Association) online edition
  • Bancroft, George. Martin Van Buren to the End of His Public Career. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889. online edition
  • Bancroft, George. History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States of America.(New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1882, Vol 1) online edition

Minor publicationsEdit

  • An Oration Delivered on July 4, 1826, at Northampton, Mass. (Northampton, 1826)
  • History of the Political System of Europe, translated from Heeren (1829)
  • An Oration delivered before the Democracy of Springfield and Neighboring Towns, July 4, 1836 (2d ed., with prefatory remarks, Springfield, 1836)
  • History of the Colonization of the United States (Boston, 1841, 12mo, abridged)
  • An Oration delivered at the Commemoration, in Washington, of the Death of Andrew Jackson, June 27, 1845
  • The Necessity, the Reality, and the Promise of the Progress of the Human Race
  • An Oration delivered before the New York Historical Society, November 20, 1854 (New York, 1854)
  • Proceedings of the First Assembly of Virginia, 1619; Communicated, with an Introductory Note, by George Bancroft
  • Collections of the New York Historical Society, second series, vol. iii., part i. (New York, 1857)
  • Literary and Historical Miscellanies (New York, 1855)
  • Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln, delivered at the request of both Houses of the Congress of America, before them, in the House of Representatives at Washington, on February 12, 1866 (Washington, 1866) via Archive.org
  • A Plea for the Constitution of the United States of America, Wounded in the House of its Guardians
  • Veritati Unice Litarem (New York, 1886)

Among his other speeches and addresses may be mentioned a lecture on "The Culture, the Support, and the Object of Art in a Republic," in the course of the New York Historical Society in 1852; and one on "The Office, Appropriate Culture, and Duty of the Mechanic."

Bancroft contributed a biography of Jonathan Edwards to the American Cyclopædia.

Namesakes and monumentsEdit

 
Bancroft Tower, Worcester, Massachusetts

The United States Navy has named several ships USS Bancroft for him, as well as the fleet ballistic missile submarine USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643), the mid-19th century United States Coast Survey schooner USCS Bancroft and steel gunboat USS Bancroft (1892)

The dormitory at the United States Naval Academy, Bancroft Hall, is named after him. It is the largest single dormitory in the world.[19]

Bancroft is one of 23 famous names on the $1 educational currency note of 1896.[20]

The name of Bancroft, honoring George Bancroft, is found atop one of several marble pillars in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the United States Library of Congress in Washington, DC.[21]

In and around his birthplace of Worcester, Massachusetts, many streets, businesses and monuments bear his name:

Bancroft is interred at Rural Cemetery in Worcester.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Arabic, Hebrew, and New Testament Greek
  1. ^ "George Bancroft". Xroads.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on November 8, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  2. ^ "George Bancroft". Xroads.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on November 8, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  3. ^ Darling, Arthur B. (1925). Political Changes in Massachusetts, 1824–1848. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. p. 99.
  4. ^ Harvey Wish, The American Historian: A Social-intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past (1960) ch 5 online
  5. ^ See for online editions
  6. ^ George Athan Billias, "George Bancroft: Master Historian," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Oct 2001, 111#2 pp 507–528
  7. ^ Richard C. Vitzthum, "Theme and Method in Bancroft's "History of the United States," New England Quarterly, Sept 1968, 41#3 pp 362–380 in JSTOR
  8. ^ Frederickson, George M. (1965), The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, 1968 reprint, New York: Harper Torchbooks, Ch. 9, "The Doctrine of Loyalty," p. 146.
  9. ^ Vitzthum, "Theme and Method in Bancroft's "History of the United States," p 362
  10. ^ N. H. Dawes, and F. T. Nichols, "Revaluing George Bancroft," New England Quarterly, 6#2 (1933), pp. 278–293 in JSTOR
  11. ^ Michael Kraus, "George Bancroft 1834–1934," New England Quarterly, 7#4 (1934), pp. 662–686 in JSTOR
  12. ^ Morgan, Edmund S. (1958). The American Revolution:a review of changing interpretations. Washington. hdl:2027/uc1.b4374046.
  13. ^ "George Bancroft Secretary of the Navy 1800–1891". Naval History and Heritage Command. Archived from the original on October 2, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  14. ^ "George Bancroft papers". www.masshist.org. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  15. ^ Dunbar, B. (1987). Members and Officers of the American Antiquarian Society. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society.
  16. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  17. ^ Wright, John Kirtland 'The Years of Henry Grinnell', Geography in the Making: The American Geographical Society 1851–1951 (1952) p. 17–18. — George Grady Press
  18. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  19. ^ "Annapolis Maryland Area Information". www.azinet.com.
  20. ^ "United States Bank Notes". December 27, 2009.
  21. ^ "United States Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building". January 18, 2010.
  22. ^ "Bancroft Hall". Archived from the original on May 1, 2009. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  23. ^ "Google Maps". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  24. ^ "Apartment Rentals in Worcester MA - The Grid District". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  25. ^ "Harr Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram: New & Used Car Dealers Worcester, MA - Harr CJDR". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  26. ^ "Google Maps". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  27. ^ "Google Maps". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  28. ^ "Welcome to Bancroft!". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  29. ^ "Bancroft Elementary School". Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  30. ^ "Bancroft's Talon - Official SMITE Wiki". Retrieved February 23, 2017.

ReferencesEdit

Primary sourcesEdit

External linksEdit

Party political offices
Preceded by
Democratic nominee for Governor of Massachusetts
1844
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by
United States Secretary of the Navy
1845–1846
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
U.S. Minister to Britain
1846–1849
Succeeded by
Preceded by
U.S. Minister to Prussia
1867–1874
Succeeded by