American historian and editor Dumas Malone (1892-1986) is known chiefly for a multi-volume, landmark biographical study of Thomas Jefferson, which garnered the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for history. He also contributed widely to other literature about the third U.S. president. But he did not apply his scholarly versatility only to the analysis of Jefferson's life and times. Indeed, Malone added a large body of work to the study of American history in general, especially with his two-volume Empire for Liberty. While his work has earned mixed reviews, one reviewer conceded that Malone's level of familiarity with Jefferson was "nothing short of amazing."
Dumas Malone was born in Coldwater, Mississippi on January 10, 1892. He received his bachelor's degree from Emory College (now Emory University) in 1910 and his divinity degree from Yale University in 1916. During World War I, from 1917-1919, he served in the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of second lieutenant, after which he returned to Yale, where he obtained his master's degree in 1921 and his doctorate in 1923.
Also in 1921, Malone contributed to An Outline of United States History, for Use in the General Course in United States History, Yale College.
Malone's first academic appointment was as a history instructor at Yale (1919-1923); he then went on to the University of Virginia as an associate professor (1923-1926) and professor (1926-1929). In 1925 he married Elisabeth Gifford. The couple had a daughter, Pamela. From 1926 to 1927 Malone was also a visiting professor of American history at Yale.
Malone was an editor of the Dictionary of American Biography (1929-1931) and editor-in-chief (1931-1936). He was director of Harvard University Press (1936-1943) and professor of history at Columbia University (1945-1959). He returned to the University of Virginia as a Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History (1959-1962), followed by an appointment as biographer-in-residence at the University of Virginia.
The major works of Dumas Malone are The Public Life of Thomas Cooper (1926), a critically acclaimed biography which traces the career of a militant southern thinker who exerted an influence on John C. Calhoun; Saints in Action (1939); Edwin A. Alderman: A Biography (1940); Thomas Jefferson as Political Leader (1963); and, with Basil Rauch, Empire for Liberty: The Genesis and Growth of the United States of America (2 vols., 1960).
The two volumes of Empire for Liberty were broken down into six parts: Number I: American Origins to 1789 (1964); Number II: The Republic Comes of Age: 1789-1841 (1964); Number III: Crisis of the Union: 1841-1877 (1964); Number IV: The New Nation: 1865-1917 (1964); Number V: War and Troubled Peace: 1917-1939 (1965); and Number VI: America and World Leadership: 1940-1965 (1965).
In addition to co-authoring and contributing to other books, Malone edited Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and P. S. du Pont de Nemours (1930) and The Story of the Declaration of Independence (1963).
Malone's chief accomplishment, however, was his biographical study of Thomas Jefferson—collectively titled Jefferson and His Time, six volumes of which were published: Jefferson the Virginian (1948); Jefferson and the Rights of Man (1951); Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (1962); Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805 (1970); Jefferson the President: Second Term, 1805-1809 (1974); and Sage of Monticello (approximately 1981). It was originally conceived as a four-volume work. However, by 1970, with the publication of volume 4, Malone had gotten only as far as Jefferson's first term as president.
The work was notable in its emphasis on Jefferson's pragmatism and political realism. It was characterized by lively prose. While Malone's familiarity with his subject matter has been called "nothing short of amazing," a major criticism was that Malone tended to glorify Jefferson, overlooking or de-emphasizing certain aspects of his life, character, and beliefs which would detract from the image of Jefferson as the "Great Democrat" and lover of liberty and equality. Thus, some critics have stressed that Jefferson's prodigious intellectual activities were made possible to some extent through his ownership of a large number of slaves—that Jefferson was, to say the least, blind to his own hatred of the urban proletariat and to his view of cities as the source of all moral evil. In political theory and practice what he really favored was not democracy but a rural judicial oligarchy (wherein power is concentrated in the hands of a few). That Jefferson himself was a notorious bigot toward most organized religions, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, shows that as an intellectual he was really of short stature.
Said one reviewer, "While always interesting and sometimes instructive, [the biography] is seldom exciting. [But] the fault may be Jefferson's rather than Malone's. In the end, most people will agree with Mr. Malone that 'Jefferson was a hard man to know intimately, and still is.' "
Malone shared his knowledge of, and insight into, the nation's third president and related subject areas by contributing in various capacities to the following historical works: Bibliography of Virginia History since 1865 (1930); Interpretation of History (1943); The Jeffersonian Heritage (radio program) (1954); Guide to American Biography (1949); The Right to Work: A Series of Addresses and Papers Presented at the Semi-Annual Meeting of the Academy of Political Science (1954); The University of Virginia Library, 1825-1950: The Story of a Jeffersonian Foundation (1954); The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (1958); Thomas Jefferson and his World, (1960); and George Mason, Reluctant Statesman (1961).
Other editorships included International Economic Outlook (1953); The American Economy: Keystone of World Prosperity (1954); Europe and Asia: The Cases of Germany and Japan (1955); Emerging Problems: Domestic and International (1957); and Political Science Quarterly (1953-58).
Malone held memberships in the American Historical Association, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Antiquarian Society, Southern Historical Association, Massachusetts Historical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa, Century Club in New York and the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. His work earned many honors, most notably the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for history (for Jefferson and His Time).
Malone's other honors: the John Addison Porter Prize, awarded by Yale University (1923); Thomas Jefferson Award, from the University of Virginia (1964); Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, Yale University (1972); and the John F. Kennedy Medal, Massachusetts Historical Society (1972). He was the first recipient of the Bruce Catton Prize (1984), named for the former editor of American Heritage and awarded every two years for outstanding history writing. Malone also was awarded an honorary degree by the College of William and Mary (1977).
On Sept. 21, 1976, Malone participated in a Library of Congress Symposium on Jefferson's contributions to the Library of Congress.
Other books written by Malone include: Books in Transit: from Monticello to the Library of Congress (1977); Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress (1978); and Rhetoric and the Founders (1987). He contributed the article "Monticello" to Horizon (June 1983).
According to Malone, Thomas Jefferson impressed upon the world the merits of reasoning as a method of solving political problems—a device far preferable to misleading with partisan politics or getting caught up in narrow nationalism.
Dumas Malone died in Charlottesville, Virginia on Dec. 27, 1986.
Malone's contributions to American historical writing are assessed in Michael Kraus, The Writing of American History (University of Oklahoma Press, 1953); Malone's work on Jefferson is appraised in Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (Oxford University Press, 1960).
Dumas Malone's study of the life of Thomas Jefferson is the subject of the film Dumas Malone, a Journey with Mr. Jefferson, produced by the United States Information Agency (1983).
Journal articles treating Malone's work include: Merrill D. Peterson, "Dumas Malone: the Completion of a Monument" Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion (Winter 1982); Edwin Yoder, "The Sage at Sunset" Virginia Quarterly Review (Winter 1982); Byron Dobell, "Monuments" American Heritage (August/September 1984); Burton Raffel, "Jefferson and His Time" Michigan Quarterly Review (book review; Winter 1984); Merrill D. Peterson, "Dumas Malone: An Appreciation" The William and Mary Quarterly (April 1988); Journal of the West (October 1995); F. Shuffelton, "Being Definitive: Jefferson Biography Under the Shadow of Dumas Malone" Biography—An Interdisciplinary Quarterly (Fall 1995); and Library Journal (September 1, 1996).