It has been a great year for "Gone With the Wind," and for thousands of free-lance magazine writers, newspapermen, Chamber of Commerce publicists, and Southern apologists who have contributed their bits to the avalanche of copy celebrating the Civil War Centennial.
For serious students of the Civil War era, like Pulitzer-prize-winning historian David Donald, all of the hoopla is some-what deceptive. For the most able and original American historians, according to Donald, have tended to neglect the Civil War period, leaving it to Margaret Mitchell and her followers. In the groves and glades of Academe, the war has not been fashionable.
Donald's own academic career has run counter to the trend he laments. Since 1948 he has written six books on the Civil War era, culminating last year with the first volume of his biography of Charles Summer. Charies Summer and the Coming of the Civil War traced the career of the fiery, antislavery Massachusetts Senator from his birth in 1311 up to 1861, when his party swept into power behind Abraham Lincoln. Donald was awarded the Pulitzer prize for the book.
Donald, who teaches American history at Princeton during the year, is giving a lecture course on the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, and a seminar on nationalism and sectionalism between 1820 and 1860, in the Summer School. In the afternoon, he travels to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston to gather material for the second volume of his Summer biography, which will include an account of the Senator's activity during the war and after it, to his death in 1874.
Also at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Donald and his wife are busy editing the massive diary of Charles Francis Adams, American minister to England during the Civil War, the son of John Quincy Adams and the father of Henry Adams. Adams' diary, which is expected to run 13 volumes and take 10 years to complete editing, is part of the Society's Adams Papers Project.
The Project, directed by Lyman Butterfield of the Harvard History Department, involves the publication of personal, family and public papers of three generations of Adamses: (1) the letters and autobiographies (he wrote two) of John Adams, already completed; (2) the diary of John Quincy Adams, which will require 30 volumes, and for which no editor has been named yet; and (3) the diary of Charles Francis Adams. With family correspondence and public papers and addresses, the Project will probably publish 100 volumes. The papers were donated to the Society by members of the Adams family, and the Belknap Press of the Harvard University press is handling the printing.
Donald considers the C. F. Adams papers "the most important unpublished document in American history." The diary contains accounts, never before available, of the origins and activities of the antislavery movement, the formation of the Republican party, and the diplomacy of the Civil War. Donald expects that it will be two and a half years before the first volume of the diary is ready for publication.
Research on Adams will supplement Donald's previous research on American foreign policy during the Civil War. Charles Summer was chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, while Adams was overseas trying to persuade the British not to support the Confederacy. Both Summer and Adams were leading figures, also, in the founding of the Republican Party in the 1850's. Yet after 1861, Donald notes, the two men were no longer on speaking terms with each other.
Like a number of outstanding Southern historians, Donald's interest in the Civil War and Reconstruction periods began as an attempt to understand how the modern south got to be what it is. Born in Goodman, Miss., and educated in southern schools, Donald moved to the University of Illinois in 1941 for graduate study under J. G. Randall, the great Civil War historian and biographer of Lincoln.
With his research on the Civil War largely completed, and marked by the publication this year of a text on the subject, Donald now expects to concentrate on the period from 1865 to 1900, an era long neglected by historical scholarship. His work up to now Donald views as a prelude to the study of Reconstruction, when the modern South and all of America was decisively shaped. Described by a fellow historian as "one of the most perceptive, original, and literate of American historians," it may be expected that Donald's work on the Reconstruction period will be as incisive and influential as his writings on the war era