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DAVID M. POTTER, HISTORIAN AND SOCIAL CRITIC: A Review Essay Robert W. Johannsen When david m. potter died in February, 1971, just two and a half months after his sixtieth birthday, the historical profession—indeed, the nation at large—lost one of its most incisive and rewarding interpreters of the American past and present. That he had achieved the highest position of respect and recognition among historians there can be no doubt; at the time of his death, he was President of both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. More an essayist than a writer of historical monographs, Potter had published extensively in a variety of areas. His authoritative study of Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis (based on his Yale University doctoral dissertation) appeared in 1942 and when he died he left uncompleted what would surely have been his greatest effort, an ambitiously thorough investigation of the 1850s and the coming of the Civil War, for the New American Nation series. But it is for his penetrating and tightly-argued analyses of a wide range of subjects (most of them, however, relating to the theme of American character and behavior ) that Potter is best known and justly recognized. His widely-acclaimed and highly influential work, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954), begun as a series of lectures at the University of Chicago, still stands at the top of a growing body of literature on the American character. A more recent book, The South and the Sectional Conflict (1968), is a collection of eleven essays (all but one published previously) which resulted, as he noted, from his effort to explain certain aspects of the Southern experience to himself and which united his interests in the Civil War period and in the unique qualities of Southern sectionalism. In 1968, Potter delivered the Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures at Louisiana State University; two close friends and colleagues, Don E. Fehrenbacher and Carl N. Degler, saw them through to publication under the title The South and the Concurrent Majority (1972). The following year, 1969, Potter made initial plans for the publication by Oxford University Press of a second collection of essays, plans his untimely death prevented him from carrying out. Fehrenbacher (to whom we are greatly indebted for his efforts on behalf of Potter's work) has brought the project to fruition with the publication of History and American Society.1 1 History and American Society: Essays of David M. Potter. Edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Pp. x, 422. $10.00.) 35 36CIVIL WAR HISTORY The Civil War touched David Potter's life from his earliest days, in manner both subtle and direct. Born in Georgia, he lived (as he explained it) "in the long backwash of the war in a land that remembered the past very vividly and somewhat inaccurately." Potter, as a Southerner with a deep affection for his section, was drawn to the one great event that not only dominated the Southern past but also seemed to give direction to Southern thought and attitudes in his own time. "I have always had a feeling," he revealed, "that in an indirect, nonsensory way I could remember what was still called 'The War.' " Potter's interest in the Civil War involved him perforce in a concern for the character and identity of his native section and these two themes became, for him, so closely intertwined as to be virtually inseparable. Following his graduation from Emory University, he went to Yale for his doctorate in history, to study with the great interpreter of the South and historian of the Civil War period, Ulrich B. Phillips. Except for six years teaching in Southern institutions early in his career, Potter never again lived in the South but, while no longer a Southerner by residence, he confessed, he had not become "completely denatured." After serving on the Yale faculty for nineteen years, holding appointment as William Robertson Coe Professor of American History, he moved to Stanford University in 1961, where he held the same appointment. His courses on the Civil War and the South at Stanford were among the most popular...