David Potter

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David M. Potter (December 6, 1910 - February 18, 1971) was an American historian of the South and one of the most influential conservative historians of the 20th century. He was born in Augusta, Georgia, and graduated from Emory University in 1932. While in graduate school at Yale University he worked with Ulrich B. Phillips, the foremost historian of the South. He earned his Ph.D. at Yale in 1940 and published Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis in 1942. As professor of history at Yale (1942-1961) and Stanford (1961-71) he directed numerous dissertations, and served on numerous editorial and professional boards. He was a pioneer in sponsoring the history of women.

Potter won the Pulitzer Prize in History for The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976), an in-depth narrative and analysis of the causes of the Civil War. His analysis of the complexity of the politics of the 1850s remains a standard account, in addition to the account by Allan Nevins. Potter's main achievement was to put the history of the South in national perspective, which he did by rejecting the conflict models of Charles Beard and emphasizing the depth of consensus on American values. He was a conservative, explaining the importance of advertising in shaping the American character in People of Plenty (1954). Potter was not active in politics himself.


  • His most important book, finished and edited by Don Fehrenbacher, was The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976); Pulitzer prize. excerpt and text search
  • Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis 1942; reprint edition with introduction by Daniel W. Crofts, Louisiana State U. Press, 1995. 408 pp.
  • People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954) excerpt and text search
  • The South and the Sectional Conflict (1968)
  • "American Women and the American Character" in American Character and Culture in a Changing World: Some Twentieth-century Perspectives (Greenwood Press, 1979): 209-225.
  • History and American Society: Essays of David M. Potter. ed. by Don E. Fehrenbacher, Oxford U. Press, 1973. 422 pp.
  • "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May, 1941), pp. 145–159 in JSTOR


  • Barney, William L. "Potter's the Impending Crisis: a Capstone and a Challenge." Reviews in American History 1976 4(4): 551-557. ISSN 0048-7511 in JSTOR
  • Brogan, Denis. “David M. Potter.” In Pastmasters: Some Essays on American Historians edited by Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks, (1969) pp. 316–44
  • Collins, Robert M. "David Potter's People of Plenty and the Recycling of Consensus History," Reviews in American History 16 (June 1988): 321-35. at JSTOR
  • Fredrickson, George M. "Two Southern Historians." American Historical Review 1970 75(5): 1387-1392. ISSN 0002-8762 in JSTOR
  • Johannsen, Robert W. "David Potter, Historian and Social Critic: a Review Essay." Civil War History 1974 20(1): 35-44. ISSN 0009-8078
  • Howard Temperley, "David M. Potter", in Robert Allen Rutland, ed., Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000, U of Missouri Press (2000), pp. 138–155. online edition
  • Thomas Winter. "Potter, David Morris";American National Biography Online 2000.