Worthington C. Ford

Worthington Chauncey Ford
Born (1858-02-15)February 15, 1858
Brooklyn, New York
Died March 7, 1941(1941-03-07) (aged 83)
At sea en route from Lisbon to New York
Nationality American
Occupation Historian and librarian

Worthington Chauncey Ford (February 15, 1858 – March 7, 1941) was an American historian and editor of a number of collections of documents from early American history. He served in a variety of government positions: first, as the chief of the Bureau of Statistics for the U.S. Department of State, from 1885–1889, then at the U.S. Department of Treasury, 1893–1898, then as chief of the manuscripts division at the Library of Congress from 1902-1908. He also served as Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University from 1917-1922.[1]

Family Notoriety

Ford was the youngest member of a distinguished and notorious family. He was the great-grandson (through his mother) of Noah Webster.[2] His two older brothers were Paul Leicester Ford, an eminent biographer and novelist, and Malcolm Webster Ford, a distinguished amateur athlete, both of whom died May 8, 1902 in a murder-suicide perpetrated by the latter.

Historian, President of AHA

Worthington Ford was best known for his edited collections of a number of Founding Fathers documents, including “The writings of George Washington (14 Volumes)”, “Alexander Hamilton's notes in the Federal convention of 1787”, and “Writings of John Quincy Adams”. He also edited collections of the correspondence of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other figures in early American history.[3]

Ford’s historical work was also notable for his tenure as chief of the newly established Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress. During his time in charge, from 1903-1909,[3] he organized a significant effort to photograph and copy manuscripts pertaining to early American history which resided in foreign archives (especially France, Britain, and Spain). In this way, copies of many documents which had been missing since 1812 or earlier were recovered. .[4] In addition, he edited and published the complete Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789.

Ford was active in the American Historical Association and was elected President in 1917. Ford’s presidential address, The Editorial Function in United States History, is notable for its careful exposure of the deliberate omissions made by early editors of the Founding Fathers papers, including faked memoirs, papers edited to hide controversies important at the time, and other “crimes and errors” common in the editing and publishing of historical documents of the time.[5]

Ford defended the American purchase and annexation of the Philippines from Spain during the Philippine–American War by saying "Questions of Conscience need not trouble us ... Here are rich lands, held by those who do not or cannot get the best out of them, and awaiting the fructifying application of capital and organization in commerce. Under this beneficent view the natives, an inferior race, must get out or become laborers. The Filipino is an incumbrance to be got rid of, unless he accepts the mandates of a purchasing and conquering power."

Ford also edited collections of works of other American figures, including Letters of Henry Adams (1892-1918), and a collection of Aaron Burr's letters.


  1. American Library Association, RBM, Vol. 6, No. 2, Fall 2005: Interview with Norman Fiering.
  2. "Death of Mrs. Emily E. Ford". New York Times. 24 November 1893. p. 1.
  3. 1 2 "W. Chauncey Ford, Historian, was 83". New York Times (8 March 1941): 19.
  4. American Historical Review, Vol. 90, No. 1, (Feb., 1985), pp. 16-17
  5. American Historical Review 23:2 (January 1918): pp. 273–86
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