Arthur S. Link

Not to be confused with American politician Arthur A. Link

Arthur Stanley Link (August 8, 1920 in New Market, Virginia – March 26, 1998 in Advance, North Carolina)[1] was an American historian and educator, known as the leading authority on U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.


Born in New Market, Va., 50 miles from Wilson's birthplace in Staunton, Virginia to a German-descent Lutheran minister, Link graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a B.A. in 1941 and a Ph.D. in 1945, getting inspired to look into the career of Woodrow Wilson career by Fletcher Green, one of his professors. Although his early writings were critical of Wilson for demanding overly harsh reparations from a defeated Germany after World War I, he grew to love him, becoming the leading specialist on him, publishing a 5-volume biography (to the start of the First World War) (out of eight originally planned) while editing all 69 volumes of Wilson's papers. Although he published numerous textbooks, Link concentrated his scholarship on the politics and diplomacy of the decade 1910-1920.

As a historian of the Progressive Era, Link made three major contributions:

The first was to stress the importance of Progressivism in the South (a theme developed by C. Vann Woodward) and the importance of the South to progressivism nationally. Link saw Wilson as a southerner with a Southern base, who thus broadened the scope of the politics of progressivism.

The second was to locate the heart of Progressivism in Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism platform of 1912, not in Wilson's New Freedom, the point being that Wilson was a conservative until 1913, when he suddenly accepted the core values of Roosevelt's proposals to use the federal government to reform the economy.

The third was to argue that Progressivism collapsed after World War I because of internecine conflicts among reformers and uncertainties about how to pursue their agendas further. The Progressives ran out of ideas and left the field to Warren G. Harding. Nevertheless, Link also argued that Progressivism was stronger in the 1920s than was generally acknowledged and that the underground currents formed the heart of the New Deal in the 1930s.[2]

As Link delved into the manuscripts, he changed his mind but usually did not try to rewrite his books. The one exception was Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (1979) (a revision of Wilson the Diplomatist). Link softened his criticism of Wilson's responses to the Mexican Revolution and German submarine warfare and gave him higher marks than before as a war leader and articulator of war aims in the Fourteen Points. Link had previously stated that Wilson would have taken the same unbending stand against ratification of the Versailles Treaty with Henry Cabot Lodge's reservations if he had enjoyed perfect health. In Link's revision, he stressed Wilson's deteriorating cardiovascular condition and massive stroke. The medical deterioration made it hard for Wilson to compromise with Lodge and explains, in part, Wilson's earlier actions at the Versailles Peace Conference and his dealings with the U.S. Senate over the treaty. Link incorporated his new ideas in elaborate notes in his edition of the Papers. The book is an attempt at a refutation of George F. Kennan's American Diplomacy (1951).[3]

Link taught at Northwestern University (1949–60), and Princeton University (1945-1949 and 1958–92). He directed numerous PhD dissertations, including those of William Harbaugh (who worked on Theodore Roosevelt), and Gerald Grob (who studied mental health). His relations with his colleagues at Princeton were sometimes strained, as with Eric F. Goldman.[4] At one point, Link was attacked by some scholars for his medical interpretation of Wilson, and Princeton University and the funding agencies seemed unsupportive, causing the long relationship to end on a sour note in 1949.[5]

Princeton did not eagerly invite his return in 1958, but the Woodrow Wilson Foundation insisted on it as a condition for financing The Papers of Woodrow Wilson.

According to his obituary in The New York Times by Michael T. Kaufman:[6]

"Day after day, year after year since 1958, Mr. Link would rise at 5:30 in the morning and search for, read and assess hundreds of thousands of documents that would eventually fill the volumes that Princeton University Press published at $65 each. Princeton has sold almost 100,000 of them, an extraordinary number for this sort of work. At his desk, the same one that Wilson had used when he was president of Princeton, Professor Link wrote each of the long footnotes that explained the context of a particular letter or document, linking it to material that came before or would come later."

Link was distant from the administration and faculty but enjoyed working with undergraduates; his star pupil at Princeton University was Bill Bradley, and at Northwestern University it was George McGovern, who wrote labor history and whom Link supported when he was the 1972 Democratic candidate for president. Future Princeton, New Jersey mayor Phyllis Marchand worked for him as an indexer, noting that he rejected the idea of using computers, preferring index cards and a typewriter.

Link served as president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. In 1958-1958 he served as the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University. He published 30 books, including history textbooks, and was the recipient of numerous awards, including 10 honorary degrees and two Bancroft Prizes. An active Presbyterian, he served as vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in America. When not doing history, he enjoyed reading and rereading the novels of Anthony Trollope.

He married Margaret Douglas Link (d. 1996) in 1945; they had four children, William A. Link (a historian), Dr. A. Stanley Link Jr. of Winston-Salem, N.C., and James Douglas Link of Flemington, N.J.; a daughter, Margaret Link Weil of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and four grandchildren.

Link died of lung cancer at 77.[7]

Notable quotations

"I've read a lot of history in my life, and I think that aside from St. Paul, Jesus and the great religious prophets, Woodrow Wilson was the most admirable character I've ever encountered in history."

"Most of the Hitler and Stalin scholars I know are depressed people."


External links


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