Happy Constitution Day!
Here at Gryphon Editions, we are beyond excited to celebrate the documents that created our nation today. For our post, we have chosen to discuss Andrew Mc Laughlin’s A Constitutional History of the United States. We invite you to share your thoughts!
Andrew C. McLaughlin (1821-1947), the son of Scottish immigrants, was born in Beardstown, Illinois and grew up in Muskegon, Michigan. He received a bachelor’s degree (1882) and law degree (1885) from the University of Michigan, practiced law in Chicago for several months, and returned to Ann Arbor as an instructor in Latin. When his mentor, the constitutional scholar, Thomas Cooley, became chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, McLaughlin moved to the history department and assumed Cooley’s courses in constitutional history.
McLaughlin became involved in national historical affairs as head of an American Historical Association committee on secondary teaching and as managing editor of the American Historical Review. In 1903 McLaughlin, by then a widely respected historian, was appointed director of the Carnegie Institution’s Bureau of Historical Research in Washington. In 1906, McLaughlin joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as chairman of the Department of History from 1906 until 1927, as professor until 1929, and as emeritus from 1929-1936.
McLaughlin’s Papers reflect three intellectual interests. He was concerned first with the quality of teaching in history. McLaughlin devoted himself to the careful training of students and collaborated with Claude H. Van Tyne of the University of Michigan in writing a textbook on American history. The correspondence between these two scholars is a commentary on the difficulties of conveying historical knowledge without sacrificing its integrity to popular expectations.
McLaughlin was equally concerned with the role of the historian in American society. As council-member and president of the American Historical Association, he argued for an active professional interest in contemporary political issues. When American entered the war against Germany in 1917, McLaughlin led a group of noted historians to form the National Board for Historical Service. He wrote to J. Franklin Jameson,
In my judgement, the value of the historian now is chiefly in pointing out the route into the future which his various experiences have enabled him to see. In other words, it is time for us to dare to use our historical information for purposes of prophecy and actual guidance.
McLaughlin went to Britain in 1918 to deliver a series of lectures explaining American war aims and endorsing the alliance of the Atlantic democracies. Night the death of his son Rowland on the battlefield nor the later American rejection of the League of Nations could dim his Wilsonian confidence in the elemental justice of the war.
The third concern of McLaughlin’s was the writing of constitutional history. Beginning with The Confederation and the Constitution, 1783-1789 (1905), he produced a steady stream of articles, lectures, and books on the development of the American constitutional democracy: The Courts, the Constitution and Parties (1912); Steps in the Development of American Democracy (1920); The Foundations of American Constitutionalism (1932); and the culminating work of his life of scholarship, A Constitutional History of the United States (1935), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history. McLaughlin’s distinctive contribution to the historiography of the Constitution was his conviction that American political institutions were less the fruit of revolutionary fervor than the product of organic development rooted in the British colonial experience. This emphasis on evolution and continuity marked a sharp departure from the interpretations of earlier scholars and laid the basis for a fundamental revision of their work.
Reprinted from Guide to the Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin Papers, Special Collections, Research Center, University of Chicago Library. Reprinted with permission.