Bassett, John Spencer, 1867-1928

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Historian and professor of history at Trinity College (now Duke University), Durham, N.C., and Smith College.

From the description of Papers, 1806-1943. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 19242277

Historian, editor, and educator.

From the description of Papers of John Spencer Bassett, 1770-1978 (bulk 1894-1928). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71072393

John Spencer Bassett, a professor in the History Department of Trinity College from 1893-1906, was a renowned educator and advocate of freedom of expression. Bassett began publication of an annual series of HISTORICAL PAPERS of the Trinity College Historical Society; founded the honorary society 9019; served as secretary/treasurer of the Roanoke Colony Memorial Association; and founded and edited the scholarly journal, the SOUTH ATLANTIC QUARTERLY. In 1903, Bassett published an article, "Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy" in the SOUTH ATLANTIC QUARTERLY, that praised the accomplishments of African Americans and offered views on how to improve race relations. Bassett's views brought on a controversy that became known as the "Bassett Affair" that helped to establish the concept of academic freedom in higher education in the United States.

From the description of John Spencer Bassett collection, 1802-1998 (bulk 1893-1911). (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 53906262

John Spencer Bassett, Professor of History [Smith College Press Board, 1928]

John Spencer Bassett was born in 1867 in Tarboro, NC, to Mary Jane Wilson and Richard Baxter Bassett, a builder and abolitionist. After graduating high school, pneumonia forced him to take a two year break before entering the Davis Military Academy in 1885. In 1888, Bassett graduated from Trinity College (now Duke University) and took a deanship there before leaving to become a history fellow at Johns Hopkins University. He received his PhD in American History at Johns Hopkins in 1894 after completing his dissertation titled The Constitutional Beginnings of North Carolina, 1663-1729 . In 1892, Bassett married Jessie Lewellin, an elementary school principal. Together, they had four children, two who survived to adulthood: Richard Horace and Margaret Byrd.

Bassett returned to Trinity College for the next twelve years. Building upon the work of his predecessor, Bassett actively supported the Trinity College Historical Society for the study of southern history. Believing that everyone could collect, if not write, he worked towards acquiring a body of materials for historical research. Students, administrators, and alumni donated Confederate money, American Indian relics, travel souvenirs, and political memorabilia as well as volumes of books, pamphlets, religious and secular newspapers, maps, and manuscripts.

In 1902, Bassett founded and edited the South Atlantic Quarterly, a publication devoted to "the literary, historical, and social development of the South". In 1903, Bassett became the center of a controversy when he wrote "Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy", an article in which he declared Booker T. Washington "to be the greatest man to be born in the South after Robert E. Lee". In response to a barrage of calls for his immediate dismissal, Bassett handed in his resignation from his professorship at Trinity. Surprisingly, the college refused to accept his resignation and the controversy became known as The Bassett Affair of 1903. It is regularly recounted as an exmplar of academic freedom. In 1906, Bassett left Trinity to begin teaching at Smith College as a Professor of American History. While he was teaching at Smith, Basset held several extracurricular positions in various organizations including: Old Letters Club, Library Fund, Smith College Studies in History and the Sydenham Parsons Foundation History Department.

Bassett became Secretary of the American Historical Association in 1919; he controversially supported the decision that school textbooks should be impartial and not emphasize the heroism of famous individuals. Bassett carried this idea into his own work as a writer and teacher, and he became known in the field for his objective approach to historical figures, his dedication to research and his emphasis on preserving primary documents. In 1920 he served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee advisory group, an event which led to the reelection of Woodrow Wilson. The committee focused most of its efforts on increasing public support for the League of Nations and Women's Suffrage. Bassett sought to influence public opinion by soliciting and publishing articles written by prominent individuals in support of these charges.

Even his death in 1928 was surrounded by controversy. After being hit and killed by a streetcar in Washington D.C., the police failed to contact his family until several days after the incident, prompting an inquiry in the Washington police department.

From the guide to the John Spencer Bassett Papers 42., 1867 - 1928, 1895 - 1990, (Smith College Archives)

Biographical Note

  • 1867, Sept. 10: Born, Tarboro, N.C.
  • 1888: B.A., Trinity College, Randolph County, N.C. (later Duke University, Durham, N.C.)
  • 1890: Instructor in English, Trinity College, Randolph County, N.C. Founded "9019," student scholarship group, Trinity College, Randolph County, N.C.
  • 1892: Married Jessie Lewellin
  • 1894: Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. Published The Constitutional Beginnings of North Carolina, 1663-1729 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 73 pp.) Published The Regulators of North Carolina, 1765-1771 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 72 pp.)
  • 1894 - 1906 : Professor of history, Trinity College, Randolph County, N.C.
  • 1895: Published Suffrage in the State of North Carolina, 1776-1861 (Washington: American Historical Association. 17 pp.)
  • 1896: Published Slavery and Servitude in the Colony of North Carolina (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 86 pp.)
  • 1898: Published Anti-Slavery Leaders of North Carolina (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 74 pp.)
  • 1899: Published Slavery in the State of North Carolina (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 111 pp.)
  • 1901: Founder and editor, South Atlantic Quarterly (resigned as editor, 1905) Published The Writings of "Colonel William Byrd, of Westover, in Virginia, Esqr." (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, & Co.)
  • 1903: Published "Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy." South Atlantic Quarterly 2 (Oct. 1903): 107-113
  • 1906 - 1928 : Professor of history, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
  • 1906: Published The Federalist System, 1789-1801 (New York: Harper and Brothers. 327 pp.)
  • 1911: Published Life of Andrew Jackson (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, & Co. 2 vols.)
  • 1913: Published A Short History of the United States (New York: Macmillan Co. 885 pp.)
  • 1916: Published The Plain Story of American History (New York: Macmillan Co. 545 pp.)
  • 1917: Published The Middle Group of American Historians (New York: Macmillan Co. 324 pp.) Published Correspondence of George Bancroft and Jared Sparks, 1823-1832 (Northampton, Mass.: Department of History, Smith College. 77 pp.)
  • 1918: Published The Lost Fruits of Waterloo (New York: Macmillan Co. 289 pp.)
  • 1919: Published Our War With Germany: A History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 386 pp.)
  • 1919 - 1928 : Secretary, American Historical Association
  • 1920: Chairman, advisory group, Democratic National Committee
  • 1922: Published Letters of Francis Parkman to Pierre Margry (Northampton, Mass: Department of History, Smith College. 86 pp.)
  • 1925: Published The Southern Plantation Overseer as Revealed in His Letters (Northampton, Mass.: Department of History of Smith College. 280 pp.)
  • 1926: Published Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926 (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 355 pp.)
  • 1926 - 1935 : Published Correspondence of Andrew Jackson (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington. 7 vols.)
  • 1928: Published Makers of A New Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press. 344 pp.) Published The League of Nations: A Chapter in World Politics (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 415 pp.)
  • 1928, Jan. 27: Died, Washington, D.C.

From the guide to the John Spencer Bassett Papers, 1770-1978, (bulk 1894-1928), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

John Spencer Bassett, a professor in the History Department of Trinity College from 1893-1906, was a renowned educator and advocate of freedom of expression. A native of North Carolina, Bassett received his A.B. from Trinity College in 1888 and his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 1894. He returned to Trinity College to teach and was active in teaching, writing and collecting southern Americana. Bassett began publication of an annual series of Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society; founded the honorary society 9019, a precursor to Phi Beta Kappa; founded and edited the scholarly journal, the South Atlantic Quarterly ; and encouraged his students to publish and fostered their interests in Southern history.

In 1903, Bassett published an article, Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy in the South Atlantic Quarterly, that praised the accomplishments of African Americans and offered views on how to improve race relations. Bassett's views brought on a controversy that became known as the Bassett Affair that helped to establish the concept of academic freedom in higher education in the United States.

Bassett was named Professor of History at Smith College in 1906. Bassett continued his career as a noted historiographer and became the acknowledged authority on Andrew Jackson. He also served as secretary of the American Historical Association from 1919 to 1928. John Spencer Bassett died in Washington, DC, in 1928.

From the guide to the John Spencer Bassett Collection, 1802 - 1998 (bulk 1893-1911), (University Archives, Duke University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Page, Walter Hines, 1855-1918. Papers, 1889-1917. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Garrison family papers, 1801-1948 (inclusive), 1840-1907 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Dodd, William Edward, 1869-1940. Papers, 1901-1939. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf John Spencer Bassett Collection, 1802 - 1998 (bulk 1893-1911) University Archives, Duke University.
referencedIn Claude Halstead Van Tyne papers, 1885-1930 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Bassett, John Spencer, 1867-1928. Papers of John Spencer Bassett, 1770-1978 (bulk 1894-1928). Library of Congress
referencedIn Richard Gaither Walser Papers (#4168), 1918-1988 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
referencedIn William Garrott Brown papers, 1898-1917 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn August Charles Krey Papers, 1887-1961. University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
creatorOf Fisher, I. M. [Diary], 1777 Apr 5-29 / I. M. Fisher. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf Bassett, John Spencer, 1867-1928. John Spencer Bassett collection, 1802-1998 (bulk 1893-1911). Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf John Spencer Bassett Papers, 1770-1978, (bulk 1894-1928) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Kilgo, John C. (John Carlisle), 1861-1922. John C. Kilgo records and papers, 1888-1970 (bulk 1894-1920). Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Van Tyne, Claude Halstead, 1869-1930. Claude Halstead Van Tyne papers, 1885-1930. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Letters from various correspondents, American period, 1876-1937. Houghton Library
referencedIn Brown, William Garrott, 1868-1913. Papers, 1898-1917. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn John Spencer Bassett Papers 42., 1867 - 1928, 1895 - 1990 Smith College Archives
referencedIn Wendell Holmes Stephenson Papers, 1820-1968 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Biographical Reference Collection, ., 1972 - 2004 University Archives, Duke University.
referencedIn William Roscoe Thayer papers, 1762-1927 (bulk 1872-1921) Houghton Library
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company. Reader reports on manuscripts submitted for publication. 1882-1931. Houghton Library
referencedIn Trinity College Historical Society. Trinity College Historical Society collection, [1492?]-1981. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Craven-Pegram Family Papers, 1785-1966 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Bassett, John Spencer, 1867-1928. Papers, 1806-1943. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Boyd, William Kenneth, 1879-1938. William Kenneth Boyd papers, 1851-1956. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Duke University. University Archives. Bassett Affair collection, 1903-2003. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Adams, Herbert Baxter, 1850-1901. Papers, 1891-1913; (bulk 1891-1902). Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Kingsbury, Theodore Bryant, 1828-1913. Theodore Bryant Kinsbury papers, 1840-1915. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf John Spencer Bassett Papers 42., 1867 - 1928, 1895 - 1990 Smith College Archives
referencedIn Duke University. Library. Papers relating to John Spencer Bassett's article, Stirring up the fires of race antipathy, which appeared in the South Atlantic quarterly [microform]. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, Herbert Baxter, 1850-1901. person
associatedWith American Historical Association corporateBody
associatedWith Andrews, Charles McLean, 1863-1943. person
associatedWith Bassett, Jessie Lewellin person
associatedWith Bassett, John Spencer person
associatedWith Bassett, Margaret Byrd. person
associatedWith Bassett, Richard H. (Richard Horace), 1900-1995. person
associatedWith Battle, Kemp P. (Kemp Plummer), 1831-1919. person
associatedWith Boyd, William Kenneth, 1879-1938. person
associatedWith Brown, William Garrott, 1868-1913. person
associatedWith Cable, George Washington, 1844-1925. person
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
associatedWith Claiborne, William C. C. (William Charles Cole), 1775-1817. person
associatedWith Craven-Pegram Family family
associatedWith Crowell, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1857-1931. person
associatedWith Daniels, Josephus, 1862-1948. person
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Dodd, William Edward, 1869-1940. person
associatedWith Donelson, Stockley, d. ca. 1804. person
associatedWith Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963 person
associatedWith Duke University. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. University Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Earl, Ralph, 1751-1801. person
associatedWith Fisher, I. M. person
correspondedWith Garrison family. family
associatedWith Hart, Albert Bushnell, 1854-1943. person
associatedWith Houghton Mifflin Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845. person
associatedWith Jameson, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1859-1937. person
associatedWith Kilgo, John C. (John Carlisle), 1861-1922. person
associatedWith Kingsbury, Theodore Bryant, 1828-1913. person
associatedWith Krey, August Charles, 1887-1961 person
associatedWith League of Nations corporateBody
associatedWith Page, Walter Hines, 1855-1918. person
associatedWith Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell, 1877-1934. person
associatedWith Roane, Archibald, 1759-1819. person
associatedWith Roanoke Colony Memorial Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Smith College corporateBody
associatedWith Stephenson, Wendell Holmes, 1899-1970 person
correspondedWith Thayer, William Roscoe, 1859-1923 person
associatedWith Trent, William Peterfield, 1862-1939. person
associatedWith Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland) corporateBody
associatedWith Trinity College (Durham, N.C.) corporateBody
associatedWith Trinity College Historical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Tyrrell, William. person
associatedWith Tyrrell, William. person
associatedWith Van Tyne, Claude Halstead, 1869-1930. person
associatedWith Walser, Richard Gaither, 1908- person
associatedWith Watson, Henry, b. 1810. person
associatedWith Williams, Benjamin, 1751-1814. person
associatedWith Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Southern States
North Carolina
United States
Southern States
Southern states
North Carolina
North Carolina
Southern States
North Carolina
United States
United States
Subject
Antislavery movements
Educational change--Southern states
Slavery
Slavery--North Carolina
United States--Politics and government--1865-1933
Yazoo Fraud, 1795
Editors
Educational change
Freedom of speech
Scholarly publishing
Racism
Academic freedom
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)
College teachers
Occupation
Editors
Historians
Educators
Function

Person

Birth 1867-09-10

Death 1928-01-27

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6xp7300

Ark ID: w6xp7300

SNAC ID: 61453087