Peskin, Allan 1933–

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Peskin, Allan 1933–


Born March 16, 1933, in Cumberland, MD; son of Lawrence and Frieda Peskin; married Barbara Isakoff; children: Lawrence, James. Education: Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), Ph.D., 1965. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Cleveland Heights, OH. E-mail—[email protected]


Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, faculty member, 1964-2001, professor of American history, 1981-2001, professor emeritus, 2001—.


Outstanding Publication Award, Ohio Academy of History, 1978, and Ohioana Book Award, 1979, both for Garfield: A Biography.


(Editor and author of introduction) North into Freedom: The Autobiography of John Malvin, Free Negro, 1795-1880, Press of Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH), 1966.

Garfield: A Biography, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1978.

(Editor) Volunteers: The Mexican War Journals of Private Richard Coulter and Sergeant Thomas Barclay, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry, Kent State University Press, 1991.

Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 2003.


Allan Peskin is an American historian, educator, and author who has focused his writings on the U.S. Civil War and the decades before and after the war. His best-known book is his biography of James A. Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States. Garfield served in office for only 200 days before religious fanatic Charles J. Guiteau shot him. Once the clamor over his assassination in 1881 subsided, he faded into obscurity. Yet he embodied the nineteenth-century values of hard work, religion, and patriotism in a way that prompted Horatio Alger to write one of Garfield's campaign biographies. Like Lincoln, Garfield was raised in rural poverty in a log cabin. Garfield emerged from his circumstances by becoming first a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, then president of what became Hiram College, and then a lawyer.

During the Civil War Garfield was the youngest major general in the Union Army. Peskin writes that Garfield earned his self-confidence through his war service. It was also this experience that informed the issues on which Garfield would focus during his political career: reconstruction and sound finance. In the middle of the war Garfield ran for Congress on the Republican ticket, eventually becoming his party's leader in the House of Representatives. His bid for the presidency began at the 1880 Republican National Convention. The members were deadlocked between Ulysses S. Grant's supporters and rivals. They nominated Garfield, who had just been elected to the Senate. Garfield defeated his Democratic rival, Winfield Scott Hancock, by a narrow margin.

Peskin writes in his entry for Garfield in the Reader's Companion to American History: "Garfield's brief presidency was marred by a patronage struggle with Senator Roscoe Conkling, the embittered leader of the Stalwart faction. But victory in that struggle gave prestige not only to Garfield but to the institution of the presidency itself. There are indications that Garfield was planning to use that prestige to reorient the Republican party away from its preoccupation with the issue of Civil War and Reconstruction to a fresh emphasis on the new problems of an industrialized American when death intervened."

Chris Smith commented about the book in Best Sellers: "The biography is judicious and fair and does not cast Garfield in a heroic mold as did the nineteenth-century biographies. Wisely, Peskin has concentrated the bulk of the book on Garfield's congressional and military careers." Smith also noted that Peskin sheds interesting light on the family and social lives of the politicians of Garfield's day. R.M. Miller, in Library Journal, compares Peskin's biography with the more personal biography by Harry J. Brown and Margaret Leech, The Garfield Orbit, published in 1978. Miller said that Peskin was unsuccessful in his attempt to portray Garfield as a "bold, modern military thinker and an uncompromising Radical Republican," but that otherwise Peskin's portrayal is balanced and well-written. "Because Peskin appreciates the complexity of Garfield's age, his work will appeal to teachers and scholars more than Leech and Brown's. But to see the many poses of this enormously interesting man, readers will have to consult both books." A reviewer for Choice observed that through this biography, Peskin "illuminates much Gilded Age politics as well. Dealing with a pacifist turned soldier, preacher turned politico is no easy task, but the author does it ably." Peskin was thus successful in contextualizing his biography of Garfield into the political and social climate of the president's day.



Reader's Companion to American History, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1991, pp. 438-439.


Best Sellers, July, 1978, Chris Smith, review of Garfield: A Biography, p. 119.

Choice, September, 1978, review of Garfield, p. 943.

Library Journal, June 1, 1978, R.M. Miller, review of Garfield, p. 1167.