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Historian Commager Dead at 95

Henry Steele Commager, a prolific historian of American history who believed the U.S. Constitution was the "greatest monument to political science in literature," died Monday. He was 95.

Commager, who died at his home in Amherst, was John Woodruff Simpson lecturer at Amherst College -- a post previously held by poets Robert Frost and Archibald McLeish. Before coming to Amherst in 1956, he was on the faculty of New York University and Columbia University.

The self-described independent Democrat did not shy at lecturing Congress and presidents about what he viewed as their moral and Constitutional obligations.

He also held chairs in American history at Cambridge University and Oxford University. He lectured at universities in Latin America, Japan, Israel and most of the countries of western Europe.

His impact was not limited to his fellow historians. Commager wrote as much for the popular press as for the scholarly journals about the Constitution, which he called the "greatest monument to political science in literature."

The best known of Commager's many books was "The Growth of the American Republic," which he wrote with the late Samuel Eliot Morison in 1931. He collaborated with Allan Nevins on the 10th edition, published in 1987. Through its many revisions, the book served as one of the standard college texts for generations of students.

Born in Pittsburgh and orphaned before his 10th birthday, Commager was raised by his grandfather, a Chicago clergyman. He said he began earning his living at the age of 15 by working in a library. In 1928 Commager earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago.

The famous historian's books include "Theodore Parker," 1936; "The Story of the Second World War," 1945; "The Commonwealth of Learning," 1968; and "This Day and Generation," with Edward Kennedy, 1979.

In 1934, he edited "Documents of American History," a compilation of nearly 500 writings. The 10th edition was published in 1988.

Commager married the late Evan Carroll in 1928, and they had three children. He remarried in 1979 to Mary Powlesland.

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