James A. Rawley, a widely respected historian of the Civil War era and American race relations and a biographer of Abraham Lincoln, died on November 29, 2005, in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of eighty-nine. A native of Terra Haute, Indiana, Rawley earned his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Michigan. After serving in World War II, he studied at Columbia University under Allan Nevins, David Herbert Donald, and Merle E. Curti, receiving his Ph.D. in 1949. Rawley taught at Hunter College and Sweet Briar College, where he published his first book, Edwin D. Morgan, 1811-1883: Merchant in Politics (New York, 1955), and served as chair of the history department for four years and chair of the Division of Social Studies for three more.
After moving to the University of Nebraska in 1964, Rawley was chair of the history department for a decade while writing four more important books on the Civil War era, with an emphasis on race, slavery, and emancipation. His Turning Points of the Civil War (Lincoln, 1966) won an immediate and lasting audience on campuses across the country. Introducing generations of undergraduates to the political and military events of the Civil War, the book is still in print after forty years. In 1969, Rawley published what is possibly his best-known book, Race and Politics: "Bleeding Kansas" and the Coming of the Civil War (Philadelphia, 1969), which is recognized as that generation's definitive account of popular sovereignty in the Kansas Territory during the 1850s. Meanwhile, he edited another popular book, Lincoln and Civil War Politics (New York, 1969), that joined Turning Points as a perennial classroom favorite. After yet another book on the Civil War era--The Politics of Union: Northern Politics During the Civil War (Hinsdale, Fla., 1974)--Rawley adopted an innovative quantitative approach to historical research in The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (New York, 1981). In a painstaking analysis of fragmentary sources, he contributed to the systematic attempt to identify the origins, destinations, and eventual fates of the more than ten million Africans who suffered enslavement throughout the Americas. Sharing the common themes of race, slavery, and emancipation, these six books have commanded regular use and durable respect from a generation of scholars and history students. Rawley also published a long list of influential articles, including his most frequently read and cited "The Nationalism of Abraham Lincoln" in Civil War History, 9 (September 1963), 283-98.
During his twenty-three years on the University of Nebraska faculty, Rawley won most of the highest honors that the university can bestow, including the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, the Carl A. …