John Lothrop Motley

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John Lothrop Motley
John Lothrop Motley.jpg
United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
June 18, 1869 December 6, 1870
President Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded by Reverdy Johnson
Succeeded by Robert C. Schenck
United States Minister to Austria
In office
November 14, 1861 June 14, 1867
President Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Preceded by Jehu Glancy Jones
Succeeded by Edgar Cowan
Personal details
John Lothrop Motley

(1814-04-15)April 15, 1814
Dorchester, near Boston, Massachusetts
DiedMay 29, 1877(1877-05-29) (aged 63)
Dorchester, Dorset
OccupationHistorian and diplomat

John Lothrop Motley (April 15, 1814 – May 29, 1877) was an American author, best known for his two popular histories The Rise of the Dutch Republic and The United Netherlands. He was also a diplomat, who helped to prevent European intervention on the side of the Confederates in the American Civil War.

Confederate States of America (de facto) federal republic in North America from 1861 to 1865

The Confederate States of America, commonly referred to as the Confederacy, was an unrecognized country in North America that existed from 1861 to 1865. The Confederacy was originally formed by seven secessionist slave-holding states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—in the Lower South region of the United States, whose economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture, particularly cotton, and a plantation system that relied upon the labor of African-American slaves.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.



J.L. Motley was born on April 15, 1814 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. [1] His grandfather, Thomas Motley, a jail-keeper (a public position) and innkeeper in Portland, Maine, had been a Freemason and radical sympathizer with the French Revolution. [1] (An article in The Eastern Herald, the only newspaper then published in Maine, announced that "Citizen Motley" would host a celebration on Washington's Birthday 1793 "rejoicing at the emancipation of our sister republic, France." [1] Motley's father Thomas and uncle Edward served mercantile apprenticeships in Portland: Thomas with James Deering on Long Wharf and Edward with Hugh McClelland, whose counting house was on Fore Street. Both concerns centered on Portland's thriving on trade from Liverpool, averaging one ship to arrive or sail every week of the year. [1] Return cargoes usually consisted of salt, crates of crockery and glassware, window glass, iron, hardware, and dry goods. These goods were then shipped to Boston on the regular sailing packets, to be sold on commission. [1]

Dorchester, Boston Neighborhood of Boston in Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States

Dorchester is a Boston neighborhood comprising more than 6 square miles (16 km2) in the City of Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Originally, Dorchester was a separate town, founded by Puritans who emigrated in 1630 from Dorchester, Dorset, England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This dissolved municipality, Boston's largest neighborhood by far, is often divided by city planners in order to create two planning areas roughly equivalent in size and population to other Boston neighborhoods.

Portland, Maine Largest city in Maine, United States

Portland is a city in the U.S. state of Maine, with a population of 67,067 as of 2017. The Greater Portland metropolitan area is home to over half a million people, more than one-third of Maine's total population, making it the most populous metro in northern New England. Portland is Maine's economic center, with an economy that relies on the service sector and tourism. The Old Port district is known for its 19th-century architecture and nightlife. Marine industry still plays an important role in the city's economy, with an active waterfront that supports fishing and commercial shipping. The Port of Portland is the largest tonnage seaport in New England.

French Revolution social and political revolution in France and its colonies occurring from 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

In 1802, Thomas Motley moved to Boston and established a commission house on India Wharf, taking his brother Edward with him as clerk. This became one of the leading commission houses in Boston, under the eventual name of "Thomas and Edward Motley". [1] The senior partner, Thomas, married Anna Lothrop, daughter of the Rev. John Lathrop (American minister), product of an old and distinguished line of Massachusetts clergymen. Like other successful Boston merchants of the period, Thomas Motley devoted a great part of his wealth to civic purposes and the education of his children. The brilliant accomplishments of his second son, J.L. Motley, are evidence of the care both the father and mother—known both for her learning and what Motley's boyhood friend Wendell Phillips called her "regal beauty"—bestowed on the boy's intellectual development.[ citation needed ]

India Wharf

India Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts, flourished in the 19th century, when it was one of the largest commercial wharves in the port. The structure began in 1804 to accommodate international trade at a time when several other improvements to the Boston waterfront occurred, such as the creation of Broad Street and India Street.

John Lathrop (American minister) American minister

John Lathrop (1740-1816) was a congregationalist minister in Boston, Massachusetts, during the revolutionary and early republic periods.

Wendell Phillips American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, orator and lawyer

Wendell Phillips was an American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, orator, and attorney.

Motley attended the Round Hill School and Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard in 1831. His boyhood was spent in Dedham, near the site of the present day Noble and Greenough School. [2] His education included training in the German language and literature, and he went to Germany to complete these studies at Göttingen, during 1832–1833, during which time he became a lifelong friend of Otto von Bismarck. After this, Motley and Bismarck studied civil law together at Frederick William University, Berlin. After a period of European travel, Motley returned in 1834 to America, where he continued his legal studies.[ citation needed ]

The Round Hill School for Boys in Northampton, Massachusetts, founded by George Bancroft and Joseph Cogswell in 1823, though it failed as a viable venture — it closed in 1834 — was an early effort to elevate secondary education in the United States for the sons of the New England elite. The incompatibility of the two founders was a fundamental cause of the eventual dissolution of the project.

Boston Latin School first public school in the United States

The Boston Latin School is a first build public exam school in Boston, Massachusetts. It was established on April 23, 1635, making it both the oldest school in America and the first public school in the United States. The Public Latin School was a bastion for educating the sons of the Boston "Brahmin" elite, resulting in the school claiming many prominent New Englanders as alumni. Its curriculum follows that of the 18th century Latin school movement, which holds the classics to be the basis of an educated mind. Four years of Latin are mandatory for all pupils who enter the school in the 7th grade, three years for those who enter in the 9th. In 2007, the school was named one of the top 20 high schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report magazine. It was named a 2011 "Blue Ribbon School of Excellence", the Department of Education's highest award. As of 2018, it is listed under the "gold medal" list, ranking 48 out of the top 100 high schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

In 1837 he married Mary Benjamin (died 1874), a sister of Park Benjamin Sr., and in 1839 he published anonymously a novel titled Morton's Hope, or the Memoirs of a Provincial, about life in a German university, based on his own experiences. It was poorly received, but has later been recognized for featuring a valuable portrayal of Bismarck, "thinly disguised as Otto von Rabenmarck", as a young student. [3]

Park Benjamin Sr. American journalist

Park Benjamin Sr. was well known in his time as an American poet, journalist, editor and founder of several newspapers.

In 1841, Motley entered the U.S. diplomatic service as secretary of legation in St. Petersburg, Russia, but resigned his post within three months, because, according to a letter he wrote to his mother, of the harsh climate, the expenses living there, and his reserved habits. Returning to America, he soon entered definitely upon a literary career. Besides contributing various historical and critical essays to the North American Review , such as "Life and Character of Peter the Great" (1845),[ citation needed ] and a remarkable essay on the "Polity of the Puritans",[ citation needed ] he published in 1849, again anonymously, a second novel, titled Merry Mount, a Romance of the Massachusetts Colony, based again on the odd history of Thomas Morton and Merrymount.[ citation needed ] He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1856. [4]

<i>North American Review</i>

North American Review (NAR) was the first literary magazine in the United States. It was founded in Boston in 1815 by journalist Nathan Hale and others. It was published continuously until 1940, but was inactive from 1940 to 1964, until it was revived at Cornell College (Iowa) under Robert Dana. Since 1968, the University of Northern Iowa has been home to the publication. Nineteenth-century archives are freely available via Cornell University's Making of America.

Merrymount (Quincy, Massachusetts)

Merrymount is a primarily residential neighborhood of Quincy, Massachusetts, USA, located between the neighborhoods of Quincy Center and Adams Shore. Although it was the site of Quincy's initial settlement, Merrymount was not substantially developed for residential use until the first half of the 20th century, and most of the neighborhood's houses date from that period.

Dutch history

Motley, circa 1855-1865 John Lothrop Motley - Brady-Handy.jpg
Motley, circa 1855–1865

In 1846, Motley had begun to plan a history of the Netherlands, in particular the period of the United Provinces, and he had already done a large amount of work on this subject when, finding the materials at his disposal in the United States inadequate, he went with his wife and children to Europe in 1851. The next five years were spent at Dresden, Brussels, and The Hague in investigation of the archives, which resulted in 1856 in the publication of The Rise of the Dutch Republic,[ citation needed ] which became very popular.[ citation needed ] It speedily passed through many editions and was translated into Dutch, French, German, and Russian. In 1860, Motley published the first two volumes of its continuation, The United Netherlands.[ citation needed ] This work was on a larger scale and embodied the results of a still greater amount of original research.[ citation needed ] It was brought down to the truce of 1609 by two additional volumes, published in 1867.[ citation needed ]

The reception of Motley's work in The Netherlands itself was not wholly favorable, especially as Motley described the Dutch struggle for independence in a flattering light, which caused some to argue he was biased against their opponents. Although historians like the orthodox Protestant Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (whom Motley extensively quotes in his work) viewed him very favorably,[ citation needed ] the eminent liberal Dutch historian Robert Fruin (who was inspired by Motley to do some of his own best work,[ citation needed ] and who had reported already in 1856 in the Westminster Review Motley's edition on the Rise of the Dutch Republic[ citation needed ]) was critical of Motley's tendency to make up "facts" if they made for a good story. Though he admired Motley's gifts as an author, and stated that he continued to hold the work as a whole in high regard, he stressed it still required "addition and correction". [5]

The humanist historian Johannes van Vloten was very critical, and responded to Fruin in the introduction to his Nederlands opstand tegen Spanje 1575-1577 (1860): "...about the proper appreciation of Motley's work (...) I agree less with your too favorable judgement. (...) We cannot build on Motley['s foundation]; for that — apart from the little he copied from Groen's Archives and Gachard's Correspondences — for that his views are generally too obsolete." [6] Although appreciating his efforts to make Dutch history known among an English-speaking audience, Van Vloten argues that Motley's lack of knowledge of the Dutch language prevented him from sharing the latest insights of the Dutch historiographers, and made him vulnerable to bias in favor of Protestants and against Catholics.[ citation needed ]

Civil War

In 1861, just after outbreak of the American Civil War, Motley wrote two letters to The Times defending the Federal position, and these letters, afterwards reprinted as a pamphlet entitled Causes of the Civil War in America, [7] made a favourable impression on President Lincoln.[ citation needed ] At this point the English census of 1861 confirms that he was living with his wife and two daughters at 31 Hertford Street, in the parish of St George's, Hanover Square, London and describing himself as an 'author - history'. [8]

Partly owing to this essay, Motley was appointed United States minister to the Austrian Empire in 1861, a position which he filled with distinction, working with other American diplomats such as John Bigelow and Charles Francis Adams to help prevent European intervention on the side of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. He resigned this position in 1867. [9] Two years later, he was sent to represent his country as Ambassador to the United Kingdom, but in November 1870 he was recalled by President Grant. Motley had angered Grant when he completely disregarded Secretary of State Hamilton Fish's carefully drafted orders regarding settlement of the Alabama Claims. [10] After a short visit to the Netherlands, Motley again went to live in England, where the Life and Death of John Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: with a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years War appeared in two volumes in 1874. [11]

Ill health now began to interfere with his literary work, and he died at Kingston Russell House, near Dorchester, Dorset, leaving three daughters. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. [12]

Selected works

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Boston Advertiser (June 7, 1877), reprinted from The Portland Press.
  2. Guide Book To New England Travel. 1919.
  3. Steinberg (2011), pp. 39–41
  4. American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  5. See Fruin's discussions of Motley's work in R. Fruin, "Motley's Geschiedenis der Vereenigde Nederlanden", in: De Gids. Jaargang 1862 (1862) part 1 and part 2
  6. (in Dutch)Johannes van Vloten, Nederlands opstand tegen Spanje 1575-1577 (1860) I, III.
  7. Making of America - The Causes of The American Civil War: A letter to the London Times.
  8. "".
  9. "Former U.S. ambassadors to Austria". U.S. Embassy in Vienna. Archived from the original on September 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  10. Corning, Amos Elwood (1918). Hamilton Fish. pp. 59–84.
  11. The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland, by John Lothrop Motley (1874)
  12. John Lothrop Motley's gravestone


Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Motley, John Lothrop"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 909–910.

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Anson Burlingame
U.S. Minister to the Austrian Empire
1861 – 1867
Succeeded by
Edgar Cowan
Preceded by
Reverdy Johnson
U.S. Minister to Great Britain
1869 – 1870
Succeeded by
Robert C. Schenck