James M. McPherson

From Academic Kids

For the Civil War General of the same name see James B. McPherson

James M. McPherson (born October 11, 1936) is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of United States History at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, his most famous book. He was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003.

Born in Valley City, North Dakota, he received his Bachelor of Arts at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minnesota) in 1958 (from which he graduated cum laude), and his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1963. Currently he resides in Princeton, New Jersey, and is divorced with one child.



McPherson's works include The Struggle for Equality, awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Award. In 1989, he published his Pulitzer-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom. And in 1998 another book, For Cause and Comrades, received the Lincoln Prize. In 2002 he published both a scholarly book, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 1862, and a history of the Civil War for children, Fields of Fury. Unlike many other historians, he has a reputation of trying to make history accessible to the public. Most of his works are marketted to popular audiences and his book Battle Cry of Freedom has long been a popular one-volume general history of the Civil War.

McPherson was named the "2000 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities" by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In making the announcement NEH Chairman William Ferris said:

James M. McPherson has helped millions of Americans better understand the meaning and legacy of the American Civil War. By establishing the highest standards for scholarship and public education about the Civil War and by providing leadership in the movement to protect the nation's battlefields, he has made an exceptional contribution to historical awareness in America.[1] (http://www.neh.gov/news/archive/20000111.html)

McPherson is a proponent of revisionist history. "Revisionism," he argues, is "what makes history vital and meaningful"[2] (http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2003/0309/0309pre1.cfm)

Academic criticism

Some of his Civil War scholarship has come under criticism from economist and Abraham Lincoln critic Thomas DiLorenzo for a perceived latent pro-North bias to his work and for exhibiting a liberal political bent. In particular he has critiqued McPherson's grasp of economic issues.[3] (http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo58.html) According to DiLorenzo, McPherson often relies upon his own reputation as a well known Civil War historian rather than any training in economics (he has none) or qualified examination of statistical data to provide economic analysis that is erroneous. Another criticism by DiLorenzo includes the allegation that his work exhibits radical, Marxist tendencies -- a critique that has also been made against Civil War historian Eric Foner.

Politics & advocacy

McPherson is known for his outspokenness on contemporary issues and his activism, such as his work on behalf of the preservation of Civil War battlefields. As president in 1993-1994 of Protect Historic America, he lobbied against the construction of a commercial theme park at the Manassas battlefield. He has also served on the boards of the Civil War Trust and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, and on the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee.

In 1998, McPherson joined a group of scholars, most of them law professors, in supporting President Bill Clinton against impeachment charges during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

As president of the American Historical Association (AHA), he used his regular "President's Column" in "Perspectives" to address a some of politically and socially-sensitive issues. He criticized the Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive war in Iraq, citing the examples the American Civil war and World War II. [4] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0305/0305pre1.cfm) Responding to comments in 2003 when Bush and Condoleezza Rice criticized revisionist historians, McPherson accused the Bush Administration of using deceptive information to "justify an unprovoked invasion" of Iraq. [5] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0309/0309pre1.cfm) In another column, he detailed the "older forms affirmative action", such as the "old boys network", that helped people like him advance, and acknowledges that contemporary affirmative action, while imperfect, is less injust than the old system. [6] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0304/0304pre1.cfm)

The practice of espousing contemporary political beliefs in his columns drew backlash and criticism from several AHA members who wrote letters to the editor of "Perspectives". David F. Krein, of Scott Community College in Iowa, responded that McPherson "seems intent to use his 2003 term as AHA president as his own "bully pulpit" (as president of the AHA) to promote a personal political agenda" and "implore(d) him to stop" the politicization of his column "for the dignity of the profession" of historians.[7] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0310/0310let1.cfm) Don McArthur, of Maine South High School in Illinois, responded that McPherson's politics were "furthering a general public mistrust of academic historians" and requested that he "moderate his obviously intense political aversion to the (Bush) administration" when writing in official AHA publications.[8] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0310/0310let2.cfm) Martin J. Weiner, of Rice University, described McPherson's columns as "the most unprofessional thing I have seen in 35 years of reading Perspectives," the AHA's newsletter in which they were published, and suggested the organization's Professional Division should consider McPherson's actions as an "abuse of his office."[9] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0310/0310let3.cfm)

In response, McPherson claimed that he received generally favorable "personal communications" from other members about his columns, stated that he was only giving his personal views, and argued that contemprorary politics is an appropriate field for the commentary of historians. He concluded by asking readers, "to decide whether my 'conclusions and arguments' are more or less likely 'to flow automatically from ideology rather than from evidence' than those of the Bush administration."[10] (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2003/0311/0311let4.cfm)

McPherson has criticized those who defend the inclusion of Confederate imagery in state flags, such as Senator Trent Lott. He has also favored revisionary presentations at Civil War sites sites in the National Park Service. Actions such as these have led his critics such as DiLorenzo to charge him with politicizing the battlefields.[11] (http://blog.lewrockwell.com/lewrw/archives/005734.html)

McPherson has been interviewed in the World Socialist Web Site [12] (http://www.wsws.org/sections/category/history/h-mcpher.shtml), a publication of a socialist political party. He has also published articles in liberal opinion magazine The Nation.

Democracy Now interview & UDC boycott

McPherson's political views have led to charges of bias against him and at least one boycott of his books. In 1999 McPherson drew the ire of Confederate genealogy groups when he and Ed Sebesta, a self-described "anti-neo-Confederate movement" researcher, had an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on the liberal Pacifica Radio network's Democracy Now! program. The topic of the interview was then-candidate George W. Bush's support for the Museum of the Confederacy. During the interview McPherson described the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy - two Civil War genealogical groups that are over one hundred years old - as neo-confederate groups. McPherson also stated:

"I think, I agree a 100% with Ed Sebesta about the motives or the hidden agenda, not too, not too deeply hidden I think of such groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They are dedicated to celebrating the Confederacy and rather thinly veiled support for white supremacy. And I think that also is the again not very deeply hidden agenda of the Confederate flag issue in several southern states."

McPherson also remarked that board members of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia were "undoubtedly neo-Confederate." These comments outraged members of the UDC and SCV, bringing condemnation of McPherson and causing boycott calls against his books.[13] (http://users.erols.com/va-udc/mcpherson.html) A year later McPherson responded to the boycott campaign by elaborating on his comments:

"If I implied that all U.D.C. chapters or S.C.V. chapters or anyone who belongs to those is promoting a white-supremacist agenda, that's not what I meant to say," he said. "What I meant to say is that some of these people have a hidden agenda of white supremacy, (which) they might not even recognize they're involved in"

Members of the UDC and SCV were similarly offended by these comments. The Virginia UDC responded in their newsletter that "Far from apologizing for his baseless accusations of racism, (McPherson) has now added ignorance to the list of sins that we have committed." The groups continue to oppose McPherson. [14] (http://users.erols.com/va-udc/mcpherson.html)


  • The struggle for equality; abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, by James M. McPherson. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1964.
  • The Negro's Civil War; how American Negroes felt and acted during the war for the Union, by James M. McPherson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
  • Marching toward freedom; the Negro in the Civil War, 1861-1865, by James M. McPherson. New York: Knopf, 1968, c1967.
  • Blacks in America; bibliographical essays, by James M. McPherson and others. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971.
  • The abolitionist legacy: from Reconstruction to the NAACP, by James M. McPherson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1975.
  • Region, race, and Reconstruction: essays in honor of C. Vann Woodward, edited by J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Ordeal by fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, by James M. McPherson.1st ed. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, c1982.
  • Lincoln and the strategy of unconditional surrender, by James M. McPherson. Gettysburg, Pa: Gettysburg College, 1984.
  • How Lincoln won the war with metaphors, by James M. McPherson. Fort Wayne, Ind.: Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, 1985.
  • Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era, by James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Battle chronicles of the Civil War, by James McPherson, editor; Richard Gottlieb, managing editor. 6 vols. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co.; London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, c1989.
  • Abraham Lincoln and the second American Revolution, by James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • American political leaders: from colonial times to the present, by Steven G. O'Brien; editor, Paula McGuire; consulting editors, James M. McPherson, Gary Gerstle. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, c1991.
  • Why the Confederacy lost, edited by Gabor S. Boritt ; essays by James M. McPherson ... [et al.]. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • What they fought for, 1861-1865, by James M. McPherson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1994.
  • The atlas of the Civil War, edited by James M. McPherson. New York: Macmillan, c1994.
  • "We cannot escape history": Lincoln and the last best hope of Earth, edited by James M. McPherson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
  • The abolitionist legacy: from Reconstruction to the NAACP, James M. McPherson. 2nd ed. with a new preface by the author. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • The American heritage new history of the Civil War, narrated by Bruce Catton; edited and with a new introduction by James McPherson. New York: Viking, 1996.
  • Drawn with the sword: reflections on the American Civil War, by James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • For cause and comrades: why men fought in the Civil War, by James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Is blood thicker than water?: crises of nationalism in the modern world, by James M. McPherson. Toronto: Vintage Canada, c1998.
  • Personal memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant; with an introduction and notes by James M. McPherson. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
  • Encyclopedia of Civil War biographies, edited by James M. McPherson. 3 vols. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, c2000.
  • Crossroads of freedom: Antietam, by James M. McPherson. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • The boys in blue and gray, written by James M. McPherson. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2002.
  • The illustrated Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era, by James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, c2003.
  • Hallowed ground: a walk at Gettysburg, by James M. McPherson. 1st ed. New York: Crown Journeys, 2003.

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