James Ford Rhodes (1 May 1848–22 January 1927), was an American historian born in Cleveland, Ohio.
He attended New York University beginning in 1865. He also attended the Collège de France. During his studies in Europe he visited ironworks and steelworks. After his return to the United States, he investigated iron and coal deposits for his father.
In 1874, with his father, he started in the iron, coal, and steel industries at Cleveland. Having earned a considerable fortune, he retired in 1885, moved to Boston for its libraries, and devoted himself to writing history. His brother in law was Mark Hanna, a dominant leader of the Republican Party, but Rhodes himself was a Bourbon Democrat.
His major work, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 appeared in seven volumes, 1893-1906; the eight-volume edition appeared in 1920. The one-volume version History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (1918), which is online, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in History in 1918.
His work focuses on national politics. Using newspapers and published memoirs, Rhodes meticulously reconstructed the process by which major national decisions were made. He carefully evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of all the major leaders, and is well regarded for his lack of bias. He emphasized slavery and anti-slavery as causes of the Civil War, and bemoaned the corruption of the Reconstruction Republican governments in Washington and the Southern states.
He was awarded the Loubat Prize of the Berlin Academy of Sciences (1901) and the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1910). Oxford and many American universities gave him honorary degrees.