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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 353

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This is the grave of Samuel Flagg Bemis.

Born in 1891 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Bemis graduated from Clark University in 1912 and then got a Ph.D. in History from Harvard in 1916. He went west and taught at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and then Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. After a year outside of official academia, he joined the faculty at George Washington in 1924, briefly moving to Harvard in 1934 and then Yale in 1935.

Bemis was the foremost historian of American foreign policy for a very long time. A man who never, ever met an American invasion he didn’t like, he wrote for a robust American presence overseas. His 1924 book on Jay’s Treaty was an award winner and his 1926 book on Pinckney’s Treaty won the Pulitzer Prize. Other well-received books include 1935’s The Diplomacy of the American Revolution and 1943’s The Latin American Policy of the United States. In his later life, he became the biographer of John Quincy Adams, writing a two-volume set, where he lauded Adams for grasping “the essentials of American policy and the position of the United States in the world.” The first volume always won the Pulitzer in 1950. Bemis also put out the 18-volume series, The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, which covered the period from Robert Livingston to Charles Evans Hughes. He retired in 1960 and was elected president of the American Historical Association in 1961. You can read his 1961 AHA presidential address here if you want to get the gist of his beliefs.

Bemis was so aggressively pro-American in his work that he was jokingly known as “American Flagg Bemis.” He openly advocated the use of American force to combat communism in the Western Hemisphere. That he wrote this in 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution, is hardly coincidental. Bemis was all-in for the horrible things the United States was doing in Latin America–overthrowing democratically elected governments in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, repeatedly getting involved in the politics of nations to promote American economic interests, supporting anti-communist but also anti-democratic governments such as the Brazilian dictatorship. In this, he was the quintessential American academic using his freedom in the U.S. to promote anti-freedom Cold War policies overseas.

Samuel Flagg Bemis died in 1973. He is buried in North Cemetery, Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other historians, which I know are the most exciting of all grave visits, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Frederick Jackson Turner is in Madison and James Malin is in Lawrence, Kansas. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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