William Lee Miller

William Lee Miller
Born(1926-04-21)April 21, 1926
Bloomington, Indiana
DiedMay 27, 2012(2012-05-27) (aged 86)
New York City, New York
Alma materUniversity of Nebraska,
Yale Divinity School
SubjectPolitical ethics
SpouseLou Horton,
Linda Moore Miller

William Lee Miller (April 21, 1926 – May 27, 2012) was an American journalist, academic, and historian who taught in the University of Virginia's religious studies department for 17 years, and remained affiliated with the University after his 1999 retirement.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Miller was the son of a Presbyterian minister, and was born in Bloomington, Indiana. Due to his father's profession, Miller grew up in various parts of the United States, including Laramie, Wyoming, Hutchinson, Kansas, and Lincoln, Nebraska. He earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Nebraska and Yale University, and a Ph.D. from Yale Divinity School.[1]

Political, journalistic, and government work[edit]

Between 1953 and 1965, Miller contributed to The Reporter. He was on staff at that publication between 1955 and 1958. In 1964, he released a collection of those writings in book form, titled Piety Along the Potomac.

Miller worked as the chief speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson II during the 1956 U.S. presidential election.

Between 1963 and 1969, while an associate professor at Yale University, he was a member of the New Haven Board of Aldermen.[2]

He later worked in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, writing messages to be used by President Lyndon Johnson.[3]

Academic work[edit]

Miller taught at Smith College, Yale University, and Indiana University[1] before joining the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1982.[4] He described his position in a 1992 Booknotes interview: "I'm not an historian. I'm a political ethicist. My present title is professor of ethics and institutions, which doesn't fit any department, but it fits me."[5]

In the same interview, Miller acknowledged the influence of Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr on his thought and work:

"Reinhold Niebuhr was the greatest -- well, let's put it in the largest way, and then if you make me do it, I'll take it back -- the greatest American political thinker of the 20th century... ...He was a big influence on me, the reason I studied the things I did, and he would be my mentor -- my chief mentor... ...I didn't study directly with him; I studied at Yale under his brother, a man called Richard Niebuhr, who was kind of the Mycroft Holmes to his Sherlock Holmes -- you know, the Sherlock Holmes story, the one who's in the background and is even smarter than his well known brother. But Reinhold was down in New York, and we collaborated in many organizations. I wrote for his magazine. I knew him in various Ford Foundation things and then in Santa Barbara for a while."[5]

His book Arguing About Slavery won the D.B. Hardeman Prize in 1996.[6]

At the time of his retirement from the University of Virginia, Miller was Commonwealth Professor of Political and Social Thought, and after his retirement until his death he was the White Burkett Miller Center Scholar in Residence, Professor Emeritus.


P literature.svg This literature-related list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Title Year Publisher Subject matter
The Protestant and Politics 1960 Westminster Press
Piety Along the Potomac 1964 Houghton Mifflin
The Fifteenth Ward and the Great Society: An Encounter With a Modern City 1966 Riverside Press The East Rock neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut
Of Thee, Nevertheless, I Sing: An Essay on American Political Values 1975 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Yankee From Georgia: The Emergence of Jimmy Carter 1978 Times Books Jimmy Carter
The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic 1986 Knopf
Williamsburg: Cradle of the First Liberty 1988 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation History of Williamsburg, Virginia
Religion and the Public Good 1989 Mercer University Press
The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding 1992 University of Virginia Press James Madison
Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress 1996 Knopf John Quincy Adams and abolitionism
Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography 2002 Knopf Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman 2008 Knopf Abraham Lincoln
Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World 2012 Knopf Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower


  1. ^ a b c William Lee Miller, Scholar on Abraham Lincoln, Is Dead at 86, The New York Times, June 5, 2012
  2. ^ "William Lee Miller. Biography: Abraham Lincoln Institute Fifth Annual Symposium (Library of Congress)". Loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  3. ^ "Faculty and Friends | The University of Virginia Magazine". Uvamagazine.org. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  4. ^ "William Lee Miller, Historian of Ethics in Politics, Dies | UVA Today". News.virginia.edu. 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  5. ^ a b "The Business of May Next: James Madison". C-SPAN. June 14, 1992. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  6. ^ "The D. B. Hardeman Prize". Lbjlib.utexas.edu. 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2012-12-29.

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