Schouler, James 1839-1920

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SCHOULER, James 1839-1920


Born March 20, 1839, in West Cambridge (later Arlington), MA; died April 16, 1920; son of William (a politician and newspaper editor) and Frances Eliza (Warren) Schouler; married Emily Fuller Cochran, 1870. Education: Harvard University, earned degree in 1859.


Taught school for a short while after graduating from Harvard and before he began to study law; opened law practice with father, William Schouler, in Boston, MA, and Washington, DC, managing veterans' claims for benefits during and after the Civil War; edited United States Jurist, a quarterly, 1871-73; devoted the majority of his energies to writing histories from 1873; lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, 1891-1920. Military service: Fought in the American Civil War in the Union army.


American Historical Association (president, 1897).


A Treatise on the Law of Domestic Relations; Embracing Husband and Wife, Parent and Child, Guardian and Ward, Infancy, and Master and Servant, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1870, 5th edition, 1895, abridged edition published as The Law of Domestic Relations, Embracing Husband and Wife, Parent and Child, Guardian and War, Infancy, and Master and Servant, 1905, reprinted as Treatise on the Law of Domestic Relations, Gaunt (Holmes Beach, FL), 1998.

A Treatise on the Law of Personal Property, 2 volumes, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1873, 1876, 5th edition, M. Bender, 1918, published in one volume as The Law of Personal Property, 1907.

A Treatise on the Law of Bailments, Including Carriers, Innkeepers and Pledge, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1880, published as The Law of Bailments, Including Pledge, Innkeepers and Carriers, 1905.

History of the United States of America, under the Constitution, 7 volumes, Morrison (Washington, DC), 1880-89 (volumes 1-4), revised edition published by Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1904, volumes 5-7, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1891-1913.

A Treatise on the Law of Husband and Wife, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1882.

A Treatise on the Law of Executors and Administrators, Soule & Bugbee (Boston, MA), 1883, 3rd edition, Boston Book Company, 1901, reprinted Gaunt (Holmes Beach, FL), 1998, also see below.

A Treatise on the Law of Wills, Soule (Boston, MA), 1887, 5th edition (students' edition) published as The Law of Wills, Matthew Bender & Company (Albany, NY), 1915, reprinted Gaunt, (Holmes Beach, FL), 1998, also see below.

Thomas Jefferson, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1893, reprinted, 1919.

Historical Briefs, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1896.

Constitutional Studies, State and Federal, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1897.

Alexander Hamilton, Small, Maynard (Boston, MA), 1901.

Eighty Years of Union, Being a Short History. of the United States, 1783-1865, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1903.

Americans of 1776, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1906.

Ideals of the Republic, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1908.

Law of Wills and Administration (contains content of earlier works on Wills and Executors and Administrators), Boston Book Company, 1910.

Law of Will, Executors and Administrators, 5th edition, M. Bender (Albany, NY), 1915.

Schouler's papers are held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.


James Schouler was a lawyer whose avocation was the study of American history. Schouler made his fortune in the law practice he opened during the Civil War with his father, William Schouler, managing veterans' claims against the government. By 1873, he could afford to lay aside the practice of law, which had become inconvenient, owing to his increasing hearing loss, and devote most of his time and energy to writing a multi-volume history of the United States, covering the years from the signing of the Constitution to the era of Reconstruction. Schouler earned high praise for these efforts during his lifetime. Unfortunately, during the forty years he spent in this endeavor, the field of history became professionalized, and Schouler's historical writings increasingly fell out of fashion with other historians. He himself enjoys almost no reputation among twentieth-century historians, primarily because the ideas put forth in his writings were not original even in his own time, and because Schouler confined his inquiries to the political arena, almost totally ignoring the social and economic aspects of historical disquisition.

Schouler's early interests focused on writing, and he composed several extensive treatises on legal matters starting in 1870, with new editions appearing throughout the remainder of his life. The first volume of his History of the United States of America, under the Constitution appeared in 1880, in which Schouler declared his intention to fill the gap left by influential historian George Bancroft when he left off his history of the United States with the signing of the Constitution. According to Clyde N. Wilson in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Schouler's main obstacles to achieving this goal were twofold; first, that he had a great number of competitors with the same ambition, and second, that his "abilities as a writer and a thinker were far inferior to Bancroft's." Schouler's flaws were not as apparent to contemporary reviewers as they became in subsequent years. For example, a reviewer for the New York Times of the seventh volume, History of the Reconstruction Period, 1865-1877, which appeared in 1914, called this "a work which throws fresh light upon one of the most difficult periods of our history.…It is safe to say that this volume will be considered in future by all students of the period." A minor work such as Americans of 1776, which collects Schouler's lectures on the subject given at Johns Hopkins University, was esteemed as an entertaining, if ancillary, work of a master in the field. A reviewer of this 1906 monograph for Outlook declared that it "should find a place in the working library of every student of American history and a wide circulation among the educated public generally." Likewise, Ideals of the Republic, which examines the founding ideals of the United States—such as certain civil and human rights and the concept of liberty—and considers how they have survived into the twentieth century, was reviewed as an important work written by a scholar in the field. Reviewers regretted only that the author had failed to compile an index of so pivotal a piece of scholarship.

Some decades later, Wilson compared Schouler to his contemporary historians and found that John Bach McMaster more successfully integrated economic and social history with political narratives; that Schouler lacked the sophistication of fellow Massachusetts historian Edward Channing; that he was more superficial, though less dogmatic, than Hermann E. von Holst—all of whom shared with Schouler the ambition to write an all-encompassing history of the first century of the American republic. Furthermore, "Long before Schouler's major work was complete, serious historical writing in America came to be dominated by trained academic specialists who aspired to greater objectivity and more disciplined methods," Wilson observed. Professional historians treated Schouler respectfully, even electing him to the position of president of the American Historical Association in 1897, but were little interested in his historical writings. Although he gave some attention to the matter in Historical Briefs, it was clear that he was himself hardly interested in the new approaches to history. His failure to incorporate the techniques and stance of modern historiography has confined his writings to obscurity since his death in 1920.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 47: American Historians, 1866-1912, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 257-59.

Hutchinson, William T., editor, The Marcus W. Jernegan Essays in American Historiography, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1937, pp. 84-101.

Kraus, Michael, The Writing of American History, University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, pp. 198-202.

Loewenberg, Bert James, American History in American Thought: Christopher Columbus to Henry Adams, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1972, pp. 501-4.

Schouler, James, Historical Briefs, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1896, pp. 169-310.

Wish, Harvey, The American Historian: A Social-Intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past, Oxford University Press, 1960, pp. 213-18.


American Historical Review, April, 1906; April, 1914.

American Political Science Review, May, 1914.

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July, 1909.

Booklist, February, 1914.

Bookman, August, 1906.

Boston Transcript, November 19, 1913, p. 24.

Catholic World, December, 1908.

Chaut, January 10, 1914.

Dial, May 1, 1906; February 1, 1909; March 1, 1914.

Education Review, January, 1909.

Forum April, 1909.

Independent, July 26, 1906; March 2, 1914.

Literary Digest, May 19, 1906; February 7, 1914.

Nation, April 26, 1906; January 22, 1914.

New York Sun, November 15, 1913, p. 6.

New York Times, May 19, 1906; November 14, 1908; November 30, 1913; January 4, 1914.

Outlook, August 16, 1906; April 18, 1914.*