Clinton Rossiter

Clinton Rossiter
Clinton Lawrence Rossiter
Born September 18, 1917
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died July 11, 1970
Ithaca, New York
Nationality American
Occupation Historian, Political Scientist, Professor Cornell University
Religion none
Spouse Mary Ellen Crane Rossiter

Clinton Rossiter (1917–1970) was a historian and political scientist who taught at Cornell University from 1946 until his suicide in 1970. He wrote The American Presidency along with 20 other books on American institutions, the United States Constitution, and history. He won the Bancroft Prize and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for his book Seedtime of the Republic.



Clinton Lawrence Rossiter III was the son of Winton Goodrich Rossiter, a stockbroker, and Dorothy Shaw. Winton Goodrich Rossiter died on February 14, 1954 at age 64.[1]

Clinton grew up in Bronxville, New York as the third of four siblings: Dorothy Ann Rossiter, William Winton Goodrich Rossiter (William also attended Westminster and Cornell University), Clinton, and Joan Rossiter. He was raised to give priority to family and social expectations. He attended Westminster preparatory school in Simsbury, CT and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University in 1939, where he was also a member of the Quill and Dagger society. In 1942 Princeton University awarded him a doctorate for his thesis Constitutional Dictatorship : Crisis government in the modern democracies.

Immediately after American entry into World War II, Rossiter joined the U.S. Naval Reserves and served for three years as a gunnery officer, mostly on the USS Alabama (BB-60) in the Pacific theater, reaching the rank of lieutenant.[2][3]

He married Mary Ellen Crane in September 1947. They had three sons (all Cornell graduates): David Goodrich Rossiter (1949), Caleb Stewart Rossiter (1951) (Caleb also attended Westminster), and Winton Goodrich Rossiter (1954).[4]


Rossiter taught briefly at Michigan in 1946, moving to Cornell University in 1947, where he rose from instructor to full Professor in eight years. He served as the chair of the Government department from 1956 to 1959; in that year he was named John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions. He spent the 1960-1961 academic year as Pitt Professor at Cambridge University, England.[3]


For two decades after Rossiter's death, the academic mainstream in political science moved away from Rossiter's documentary, interpretative style towards a quantitative, data-driven approach. In the 1990s and the early decades of the 21st century, however, political scientists have rediscovered the substantive and methodological concerns that Rossiter brought to his work, and have found a renewed appreciation for his scholarly works.

In particular, following the events of 9/11, Rossiter's first book, the 1948 Constitutional Dictatorship: Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies (reissued in 1963 with a new preface), was reprinted for the first time in nearly forty years. In that germinal study, Rossiter argued that constitutional democracies had to learn the lesson of the Roman Republic – to adopt and use emergency procedures that would empower governments to deal with crises beyond the ordinary capacities of democratic constitutional governance, yet to ensure that such crisis procedures were themselves subject to constitutional controls and codified temporal limits. Rossiter's 1787: The Grand Convention is still hailed as among the very best accounts of the Federal Convention and the making of the Constitution. It is a poignant irony that a scholar trained in political science found more appreciation among members of the historical profession than among his own colleagues.

Although much has changed in American politics since 1970, especially the meanings of important (but constantly changing) terms like "conservative" and "liberal", his book on that ideologically-charged subject remains a classic articulation (along with Louis Hartz's "The Liberal Tradition in America") of the integrity that words like liberalism and conservatism once had.

His edition of The Federalist Papers continues to be used as a standard text in high schools and colleges, though in the late 1990s the publisher of that edition replaced Rossiter's introduction and analytic table of contents with a new introduction by Charles R. Kesler and a table of contents derived from Henry Cabot Lodge's 1898 edition. Rossiter's article "A Revolution to Conserve" has been used to introduce generations of high school students to the origins of the American Revolution.

Two of Rossiter's most important works still languish in neglect, awaiting rediscovery. His 1964 monograph, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, is still one of the most searching and thoughtful studies of the evolution and current relevance of Hamilton's political and constitutional thought. And his 1953 Bancroft Prize-winning Seedtime of the Republic remains valuable for its wide-ranging investigation of the roots of American thinking about politics and government in the years leading up to the Revolution.


Rossiter died in his Ithaca, New York home on July 11, 1970 at the age of 52. The New York Times reported that his son Caleb Rossiter discovered his father's body in the basement of their home. The cause of death was ruled a suicide by the Tompkins County medical examiner and widely reported.[3]

Years later, his son would state that his father suffered a lifetime of debilitating depression. He could no longer extract himself from this debilitating depression and overdosed on sleeping pills.[5]

External events had much to do with the last stages of this depression. His beloved Cornell was convulsed with racial conflict, including the famous armed occupation of the student union building in April 1969. Rossiter became prominent as a moderate voice among the faculty, urging some understanding of the African-American students' frustrations. For this he was branded a traitor by hard-line faculty, some of whom (such as Allan Bloom) refused to speak to him again. His beloved USA was convulsed with the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, which by the late 1960s after the assassination of Martin Luther King was becoming increasingly violent. For many people of his generation who grew up with the certainty that America was a society founded in freedom and constantly improving in the exercise of freedom, these were troubling times.[citation needed]

Major publications


  • Rossiter, Clinton; Constitutional dictatorship : crisis government in the modern democracies; Princeton : Princeton University Press; (1948); Republished New York, Harcourt, Brace & World (1963) ; Republished Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press; (1979); Republished New Brunswick, N.J. : Transaction Publishers; (2002)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Documents in American Government; New York, W. Sloane Associates; (1949)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The Supreme Court and the commander in Chief; Ithaca, Cornell University Press; (1951); Republished New York, Da Capo Press; (1970); Republished Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press; (1976)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Seedtime of the Republic : the origin of the American tradition of political liberty; New York : Harcourt, Brace; (1953)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Conservatism in America; New York : Knopf; (1955) Republished Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press; (1982)
    • second revised edition published as Conservatism in America; the thankless persuasion; New York, Knopf and New York, Vintage Books (1962); Republished Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press; (1981)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The American Presidency; New York : Harcourt, Brace; (1956)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Marxism: the view from America; New York, Harcourt, Brace; (1960)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Parties and politics in America; Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press; (1960)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The American Presidency; New York, Harcourt, Brace; (1956); Republished New York, Harcourt, Brace; (1960); Republished New York, Time, Inc (1963); Republished Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press; (1987)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The Federalist papers; Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay; New York New American Library (1961); Republished New York, N.Y. : Mentor;(1999)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The three pillars of United States Government: the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court; Washington, Distributed by U.S. Information Service; (1962)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The political thought of the American Revolution; New York, Harcourt, Brace & World; (1963)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Six characters in search of a Republic: studies in the political thought of the American colonies; New York, Harcourt, Brace & World (1964)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution; New York, Harcourt, Brace & World; (1964)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; 1787: the grand Convention; New York, Macmillan; (1966); Republished New York : W.W. Norton, (1987)
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The American quest, 1790-1860: an emerging nation in search of identity, unity, and modernity; New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1971)


  • Rossiter, Clinton (1949). The President and Labor Disputes. The Journal of Politics Vol. 11, No. 1; Feb 1949, 93-120.
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Instruction and Research: Political Science 1 and Indoctrination; The American Political Science Review; Vol. 42, No. 3; Jun 1948, pgs. 542-549
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The Reform of the Vice-Presidency; Political Science Quarterly; Vol. 63, No. 3; Sep 1948, pgs. 383-403
  • Rossiter, Clinton; A Political Philosophy of F.D. Roosevelt: A Challenge to Scholarship; The Review of Politics; Vol. 11, No. 1; Jan 1949, pgs. 87-95
  • Rossiter, Clinton; John Wise: Colonial Democrat; The New England Quarterly; Vol. 22, No. 1; Mar 1949, pgs. 3-32
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Constitutional Dictatorship in the Atomic Age; The Review of Politics, Vol. 11, No. 4; Oct 1949, pgs. 395-418
  • Rossiter, Clinton; What of Congress in Atomic War; The Western Political Quarterly; Vol. 3, No. 4; Dec 1950, pgs. 602-606
  • Rossiter, Clinton; The Political Theory of the American Revolution; The Review of Politics; Vol. 15, No. 1; Jan 1953, pgs. 97-108
  • Rossiter, Clinton; Impact of Mobilization on the Constitutional System; Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, Vol. 30, No. 3; May 1971, pgs. 60-67


  1. ^ Proquest Historical Newspapers: New York Times February 15, 1954 page 23
  2. ^ "Clinton Lawrence Rossiter, II ."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 8: 1966-1970. American Council of Learned Societies, 1988. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2006.
  3. ^ a b c James Morton Smith; Recent Deaths, The American Historical Review; Vol. 76, No. 3; Jun 1971, page 959-961
  4. ^ Proquest Historical Newspapers: New York Times date November 22, 1954, page 20
  5. ^ The Chimes of Freedom Flashing: A Personal History of the Vietnam Anti-War Movement and the 1960s page 144. Also available online Book I, Son of a Famous Man: The Discord of Youth

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