In Memoriam: James H. Broussard, 1941-2020
James H. Broussard, founder of SHEAR, scholar, and gentleman died peacefully from Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease on August 10, 2020, at his home in Annville, Pennsylvania. He was born in Houston on May 6, 1941, to Charles Hugh and Ethel Rollins Broussard. Graduating from Bellaire High School in 1959, he studied at Harvard College, receiving his A.B. degree in 1963. At Harvard, he was a member of the R.O.T.C., the debate team, and the Young Republicans. Jim attended graduate school at Duke University, receiving his doctoral degree in 1968.
Finishing his Ph.D. at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. Broussard performed his civic duty in the U.S. Army 1968-70, serving in the Army Adjutant General’s Corps at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. Captain Broussard later served as a reserve officer in the Office of the Chief of Military History. After his military service, Jim entered the history profession, holding teaching appointments at Clarkson College of Technology, Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State), Ball State University, and the University of Delaware. Additionally he served as the historian of the Indiana State Legislature, writing the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, before accepting a teaching post in 1983 as the chairman of the history and political science department at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.
Jim’s greatest contribution to the historical profession, other than his books The Southern Federalists, 1800-1816 (LSU Press, 1978) and Ronald Reagan: Champion of Conservative America (Routledge Historical Americans, 2014), was the 1977 founding of SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic). During the mid-1970s he realized that the period between the American Revolution and Civil War had been neglected. The early national period formed the foundation of the American Republic, Jim noted, and its political history should not be forgotten. He and other like-minded scholars understood the need for a journal aimed at academics here and abroad but also for those with a professional or avocational interest in the period. By 1979 the organization printed a Bulletin for the membership news, which Jim compiled and edited, and in the spring of 1981 the Journal of the Early Republic appeared in print, fulfilling Jim’s hopes for the organization’s future. Later he cemented his promotion of SHEAR by providing financial support for a book award, which the society named the James H. Broussard First Book Prize in his honor, and he continued providing funds annually until his death.
Summer conferences, starting in 1979 in Annapolis, Maryland, became Jim’s vehicle for broadening the reach of the organization. He made it his mission to meet as many people as he could, and he built SHEAR one recruit at a time. Initially hosting annual meetings on college campuses to keep the cost of attendance low, Jim would invite young scholars and graduate students to have meals or coffee, offering them counsel, friendship, and camaraderie. He often exchanged business cards, and one would certainly be surprised when his hand-written Christmas card arrived later in the year with fond and encouraging words. Jim frequently scheduled sizable groups of people to join him for every meal at a conference, which provided him the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Unbeknownst to many, Jim also had a conference Presidential address ritual—he ran a small betting pool on the length of the speaker’s oration; this began, according to Jim because of the over lengthy address of President Edward Pessen in 1985. Afterward, he would circulate around the President’s reception and invite a number of people up to his room to play cards.
Another Jim Broussard tradition was the Poker nights, which started as one or two evenings every SHEAR conference but quickly grew to every night of the conference, and then even many other conferences too, such as the AHA, OAH, and SHA. Many people assumed that the poker party comprised an exclusive group. That was not the case! Jim invited anyone and everyone who expressed even the remotest interest in playing cards. As one who played regularly, I enjoyed the possibility of who might join us that evening to play. This was Jim’s way of sharing his friendship and information about SHEAR and the profession. These games became therapeutic for some players, insightful for others, and even useful for some. Another misconception was that the poker game was a high-stakes contest for money. That too was/is false! The SHEAR poker game—often affectionately called “Penny Post,” was a chance to talk about conference sessions, books/historiography, catch up with friends, and share camaraderie. A profitable night was maybe winning four or five dollars, and a poor evening was losing no more than the same amount. The result was an inexpensive evening of good cheer and professional education. And while the games would go sometimes to the early hours of the morning, there was generally no drinking, no smoking, and great fun. I hope the poker game will continue in honor of Jim Broussard.
As SHEAR found its footing in the mid-1980s, Jim turned his interests to local and state politics. In 1989, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey proposed a tax plan, which required a state constitutional amendment that permitted different categories of people to be taxed at different rates. Jim believed, rightly so, that this would raise taxes and do so in an unfair manner. He formed a political action group, Citizens Against Higher Taxes (CAHT), and campaigned against the amendment. His efforts resulted in the amendment’s defeat by a three-to-one margin, the biggest defeat of an amendment in the history of Pennsylvania. From the 1990s to the early 2010s Jim used his political talents to assemble potential donor lists for Republican candidates across Pennsylvania. He attended Republican Party Conventions for presidential candidates and regularly visited Washington, D.C. to meet with politicians. As a result, this also prompted Jim to write a monograph on Ronald Reagan and create a Center for Political History at Lebanon Valley College, which has already hosted several conferences and received financial support from politicians across Pennsylvania.
Jim had a wide range of interests. He was a member of the Lebanon Country Club, the Steitz Club, Phi Beta Kappa, as well as of many historical societies. He enjoyed playing golf, reading the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, drinking Dr. Pepper eating Texas BBQ, and he was always ready to entertain anyone who would listen with his wide assortment of anecdotes and Aggie jokes. He is survived by his wife Margaret; their son David Broussard, his wife Sophie, and their children Elsa Rose and Samuel of Atlanta, Georgia; his brother Thomas R. Broussard of New York City; his sisters Nancy Leonard of Kentucky and Dorothy Bell of New Mexico; as well as one niece and three nephews. Arrangements for the services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Center for Political History at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.
Gene Allen Smith
Texas Christian University
15 August 2020