James Truslow Adams

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James Truslow Adams
File:James Truslow Adams.jpg
Born (1878-10-18)October 18, 1878
Brooklyn, New York
Died May 18, 1949(1949-05-18) (aged 70)
Westport, Connecticut
Nationality American
Education Bachelor's degree, MA degree
Alma mater Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (Bachelor's) Yale University (MA)
Period 1921–1933
Subject History, biographies
Notable works The March of Democracy
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for History
1921 The Founding of New England

James Truslow Adams (October 18, 1878 – May 18, 1949) was an American writer and historian. He was not related to the famous Adams family (though he wrote a book about the family in 1930). He was not an academic, but a freelance author who helped to popularize the latest scholarship about American history and his 3-volume history of New England is well regarded by scholars.[1]

Early life

Adams was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a wealthy family, the son of Elizabeth Harper (née Truslow) and William Newton Adams, Jr. His father had been born in Caracas, Venezuela. His paternal grandfather William Newton Adams Sr. was American with roots in Virginia and his paternal grandmother Carmen Michelena de Salias was a Venezuelan of Spanish (Basque) descent.[2][3][4][5] Adams took his bachelor's degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1898, and a MA degree from Yale University in 1900. He entered investment banking, rising to partner in a New York Stock Exchange member firm. In 1912, he considered his savings ample enough to switch his to a career as a writer.

In 1917 he served with Colonel House on President Wilson's commission, "The Inquiry", to prepare data for the Paris Peace Conference. By 1918, he was a Captain in the Military Intelligence division of the General Staff, US Army. By late 1918, he was selected for the US delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. His main task consisted in the provision of maps and the selection of plans and atlases, which should be acquired by the War College, the American Geographical Society, and the Library of Congress.

Adams lived in Southport, Connecticut, where he died May 18, 1949.


Adams gained national attention with his trilogy on the history of New England (1921–26), winning the Pulitzer Prize for the first volume. Scholars welcomed his social history of the colonial era, Provincial Society, 1690-1763 (1927). He wrote popular books and magazine articles in a steady stream. His Epic of America was an international bestseller, and was included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924-1944.[6] He was also the editor of a scholarly multi-volume Dictionary of American History.[7] Adams was the editor, with Roy V. Coleman as managing editor, of The Atlas of American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943), and The Album of American History, 4 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944).[8]

American Dream

Adams coined the term "American Dream" in his 1931 book The Epic of America. His American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Two educations

A quote from one of Adams' essays "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live" is widely mis-attributed to John Adams. The quote is part of an essay by Adams entitled ‘To “Be” or to “Do”: A Note on American Education’ which appeared in the June, 1929 issue of Forum. The essay is very critical of American education, both in school and at the university level, and explores the role of American culture and class-consciousness in forming that system of education.

In a more complete version of that quote, Adams says: "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. Surely these should never be confused in the mind of any man who has the slightest inkling of what culture is. For most of us it is essential that we should make a living...In the complications of modern life and with our increased accumulation of knowledge, it doubtless helps greatly to compress some years of experience into far fewer years by studying for a particular trade or profession in an institution; but that fact should not blind us to another—namely, that in so doing we are learning a trade or a profession, but are not getting a liberal education as human beings."


After 1930 Adams was active in the American Academy of Arts and Letters serving as both chancellor and treasurer of that organization. He was also a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Massachusetts Historical Society, American Antiquarian Society, American Historical Association, and the American Philosophical Society. Among British societies he was honored as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Internet photo mixup

For years a photo of Andrew Carnegie has been proliferating on the Internet attached to Adams' name.[9]


Adams wrote 21 monographs between 1916 and 1945. He was also editor in chief of the Dictionary of American History, The Atlas of American History, and other volumes.


  1. Clyde N. Wilson, Twentieth-Century American Historians (Gale: 1983, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 17) pp 3-8
  2. James Truslow Adams: Select Correspondance James Truslow Adams
  3. "James Truslow Adams: historian of the American dream - Allan Nevins - Google Books". Books.google.ca. Retrieved 2012-11-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Opinions and attitudes in the twentieth century - Google Books". Books.google.ca. Retrieved 2012-11-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The New England Historical and Genealogical Register - Google Books". Books.google.ca. Retrieved 2012-11-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Canby, Henry Seidel. '"The 100 Outstanding Books of 1924 - 1944". Life Magazine, 14 August 1944. Chosen in collaboration with the magazine's editors.
  7. James Truslow Adams, ed., and Roy V. Coleman, managing ed., Dictionary of American History, 5 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940); 2nd, revised edition in 6 vols. (1942).
  8. Clyde N. Wilson, Twentieth-Century American Historians (Gale: 1983, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 17) pp 3-8
  9. http://spray.no-leverage.com/jta.html
  10. archive.org
  11. archive.org
  12. books.google.com
  13. jstor.org
  14. catalog.hathitrust.org
  15. books.google.com
  16. books.google.com
  17. amazon.com
  18. amazon.com


  • McCracken, M. J., comp. "Another Bibliography of James Truslow Adams." Bulletin of Bibliography 15 (May 1934):65-68.
  • Nevins, Allan. James Truslow Adams: Historian of the American Dream. (1968)
  • Nenes, Allan (ed.), James Truslow Adams: Select Correspondence. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012.
  • Porter, K. W. "Negro in American Life: A Reply to J.T. Adams' Interpretation in His Book The American." Journal of Negro History 29 (April 1944):209-20.
  • Taylor, C. James. "James Truslow Adams." In Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 17: Twentieth-Century American Historians, 3-8. Ed. by Clyde N. Wilson. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Company, 1983.
  • Who's Who on the Web, s.v. "Adams, James Truslow" (n.p.: Marquis Who's Who, 2005)
  • Library of Congress Website
  • To "Be" or to "DO" by JAMES TRUSLOW ADAMS;Forum (1886-1930); Jun 1929; VOL. LXXXI, NO. 6,; APS Online, pg. 321

External links