George Bancroft

GEORGE BANCROFT, the distinguished American author and historian, was born at Worcester, Massachusetts, in the year of 1800. His father, who was himself an author and a doctor of divinity, gave to his son's mind the bent and disposition which in after-years conducted him to celebrity, position, and power. Not yet seventeen, Mr. Bancroft graduated at Harvard college, with honors, and soon entered upon a course of literary pursuits, having as their ultimate end the profession of a historian. In 1818, he went to Europe, and there studied at Gottingen and Berlin, enjoying the high advantages of the most thorough system of instruction and the society of distinguished and cultivated men. After an absence of four years, during which he traveled in England, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, he returned to the United States. His first sphere of labor was naturally in accordance with his previous life, and he was appointed tutor of Greek in Harvard college. A love of intellectual independence and the desire to engraft upon the academic system in New England the German method of instruction, led him in company with a literary friend, to separate labors in the field of instruction, which were pursued for some time in the interior of New England, but afterward abandoned for duties of a more public and permanent character. During the interval of severer labors, Mr. Bancroft made many contributions to American literature, especially from the stores of German thought and intellect, then comparatively sealed, even to educated men in the United States. He early adopted decided political opinions, attaching himself to the democratic party, in whose behalf his first vote was cast. In 1826, in a public oration, afterward published, he announced as his creed 'universal suffrage and uncompromising democracy;' and in the ranks of the liberal party he rose to political preferment and distinction rarely attained by one whose career at the outset was so purely that of a scholar. In 1834, Mr. Bancroft published the first volume of his 'History of the United States,' a work to which he had long devoted his thoughts and researches and in which he laid the foundation of a reputation at once permanent and universal. The first and two succeeding volumes of the work, comprising the colonial history of the country, were hailed with the highest satisfaction, as exhibiting for the first time, in a profound and philosophical manner, not only the facts but the ideas and principles of American history. In January, 1838, Mr. Bancroft received from President Van Buren the appointment of collector of the port of Boston, a post of more responsibility than profit, which he occupied until the year 1841, discharging its duties with a fidelity which proved that a man of letters may also be a man of business, in the strictest sense of the term. In 1844, he was the candidate of the democracy of Massachusetts for the office of governor of the state and though the party was in the minority, his unusually large vote, greater than that which any other democratic candidate has since received, attested his popularity. In the spring of 1845, Mr. Bancroft was called by President Polk to a seat in the cabinet, and the administration of the navy department, over which he presided with an energy and efficiency which, notwithstanding the short period of his connection with it, perpetuated themselves in numerous reforms and improvements, of lasting utility to the naval service. In 1846, he was appointed minister-plenipotentiary to Great Britain, and there represented the United States, until succeeded by Mr. Abbott Lawrence, in 1849. In England, the prestige of Mr. Bancroft's literary reputation and his high social dualities contributed to enhance the popularity and respect which attached to him during his entire diplomatic career, which was one of complete satisfaction to the government which he represented and to that to which he was accredited. On his return, he fixed his residence in the city of New York, and resumed more actively the prosecution of his historical labors. The fourth volume of his history appeared early in 1852. It includes the opening scenes of the great drama of American independence, and amply sustains the interest and dignity of the work by which Mr. Bancroft has inseparably linked his name with the annals of his country.