Claude G. Bowers

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Claude Gernade Bowers

The American journalist, historian, and diplomat Claude Gernade Bowers (1878-1958) wrote partisan but influential works on American political leaders. He had a successful career as an editorial columnist and as an ambassador.

Claude Bowers was born in Westfield, Ind., on Nov. 20, 1878, the son of a merchant. His formal education consisted of private tutoring, high school in Indianapolis, and a brief period reading law. By chance he became a newspaperman, writing editorials for the Indianapolis Sentinel (1901-1903) and for the Terre Haute Star (1903-1906).

From his high school days, when he had read the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Bowers espoused the cause of democracy and the Democratic party. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1904 and again in 1906. He served on the Terre Haute Board of Public Works (1906-1911) and was secretary to U.S. Senator John Worth Kern (1911-1917). Bowers then returned to journalism as editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. During these years he wrote Irish Orators (1916), The Life of J. Worth Kern (1918), and his first major historical work, The Party Battles of the Jackson Period (1922).

Bowers's versatility as a writer earned him a position on the editorial staff of the New York World, at that time the major spokesman for the liberal wing of the Democratic party. He worked on the newspaper from 1923 to 1931, and then wrote an independent political column for two years.

In 1925 Bowers published Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America. The book became a best seller and revitalized the reputation of Thomas Jefferson. The book increased the demand for Bowers's services as a political speaker, and he climaxed his oratorical career with a stirring keynote address at the 1928 Democratic National Convention. Shortly afterward he published another popular success, The Tragic Era: The Revolution after Lincoln (1929).

Bowers's historical writing is characterized by emphasis on personalities and dramatic confrontations. More than just a popularizer, he was thoroughly versed in the history of the periods with which he dealt, and he made particularly effective use of contemporary newspapers.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Bowers ambassador to Spain, where he served with distinction through the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War. He was assigned to Chile in 1939 and served there until his retirement in 1953. He died on Jan. 21, 1958, in New York City.

Bowers's other books include William Maxwell Evarts (1928), Jefferson and Civil and Religious Liberty (1930), Beveridge and the Progressive Era (1932), Jefferson in Power: The Death Struggle of the Federalists (1936), Spanish Adventures of Washington Irving (1940), The Young Jefferson, 1743-1789 (1945), Pierre Vergniaud: Voice of the French Revolution (1950), My Mission to Spain: Watching the Rehearsal for World War II (1954), Making Democracy a Reality (1954), and Chile through Embassy Windows, 1939-1953 (1958).

Further Reading

Bowers's My Life: The Memoirs of Claude Bowers (1962) may be supplemented by two other autobiographical works: My Mission to Spain: Watching the Rehearsal for World War II (1954) and Chile through Embassy Windows, 1939-1953 (1958). The best summary of Bowers's influence as a journalist, historian, and politician is in Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1960).

Additional Sources

Bowers, Claude Gernade, Chile through embassy windows, 1939-1953, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. □

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Claude Gernade Bowers (zhərnäd´ bou´ərz), 1878–1958, American journalist, historian, and diplomat, b. Hamilton co., Ind. After serving as editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (1917–23), Bowers, as editorial writer on the New York World (1923–31) and political columnist on the New York Journal (1931–33), was an influential spokesman for the Democratic party. Ambassador to Spain (1933–39), Bowers remained in Madrid throughout the Spanish civil war and tried to get the Roosevelt administration to support the Spanish Republicans. He then served (1939–53) as ambassador to Chile. Though much of his historical writing is vigorous, well written, and deservedly popular, it is frankly partisan, further praising or reappraising favorably the characters and accomplishments of Democratic leaders in the past, e.g., The Party Battles of the Jackson Period (1922, repr. 1965), Jefferson and Hamilton (1925), The Tragic Era (1929), a now discredited anti-Republican view of Reconstruction built on the principle that political order could be restored only on the basis of racial inequality, Jefferson in Power (1936), and The Young Jefferson, 1743–1789 (1945, repr. 1969).

See his autobiographical My Mission to Spain (1954) and Chile through Embassy Windows (1958) and his memoirs, My Life (1962).