About Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. (October 15, 1917 - February 28, 2007) was an American historian and social critic whose work explored the American liberalism of political leaders including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Schlesinger served as special assistant and "court historian" to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. He wrote a detailed account of the Kennedy Administration, from the transition period to the president's state funeral, titled A Thousand Days.
In 1968, Schlesinger actively supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, which ended with Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles. Schlesinger wrote the biography Robert Kennedy and His Times several years later.
He popularized the term "imperial presidency" during the Nixon administration by writing the book The Imperial Presidency. He also was an avid supporter of Harry Truman.
Early life and career
Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Elizabeth Harriet (née Bancroft) and Arthur M. Schlesinger (1888 – 1965), who was an influential social historian at Ohio State University and Harvard University. His paternal grandfather was a Prussian Jew (who later converted to the German Reformed Church) and his paternal grandmother an Austrian Catholic. His mother, a Mayflower descendant, was of German and New England ancestry, and a relative of historian George Bancroft, according to "family tradition". His family practiced Unitarianism. Schlesinger attended the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and received his first degree at the age of twenty from Harvard, where he would graduate summa cum laude. In 1940, at the age of twenty-three, he was appointed to a three-year fellowship at Harvard. His fellowship was interrupted by the United States' entry into World War II. After failing his military medical examination Schlesinger joined the Office of War Information. From 1943-1945 he served in a spy ring operated by the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA. In Garry Wills's 1970 book, "Nixon Agonistes", he mentions Schlesinger's background in the OSS. Schlesinger's full involvement was very openly and publicly discussed in the media in 2008, along with other well known personalities such as chef Julia Child.
Schlesinger's service in the OSS allowed him time to complete his first Pulitzer prizewinning book, The Age of Jackson, in 1945. From 1946-1954 he was an Associate Professor at Harvard, becoming a full professor in 1954.
Political activities prior to 1960
In 1947 Schlesinger, together with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Minneapolis mayor and future Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey and economist and longtime friend John Kenneth Galbraith founded Americans for Democratic Action. Schlesinger acting as the ADA's national chairman from 1953-1954.
After President Harry S. Truman announced he would not run for a second full term in the 1952 presidential election, Schlesinger became the primary speechwriter and ardent supporter of Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois. In the 1956 election, Schlesinger - along with 30-year-old Robert F. Kennedy - again worked on Stevenson's campaign staff. Schlesinger supported the nomination of John F. Kennedy, then a Senator from Massachusetts, as Stevenson's vice-presidential running mate, but at the Democratic convention Kennedy came second in the vice-presidential balloting, losing to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.
Schlesinger had known John F. Kennedy since attending Harvard and increasingly socialized with Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline in the 1950s. In 1954, the Boston Post publisher John Fox, Jr. had planned series of newspaper pieces labeling several Harvard figures, including Schlesinger, as "reds," Kennedy intervened on Schlesinger's behalf, which Schlesinger recounted in A Thousand Days.
During the 1960 campaign, Schlesinger supported Kennedy, causing much consternation to Stevenson loyalists. At the time, however, Kennedy was an active candidate while Stevenson refused to run unless he was drafted at the convention. After Kennedy won the nomination, Schlesinger helped the campaign as a (sometime) speechwriter, speaker, and member of the ADA. He also wrote the book Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference? in which he lauded Kennedy's abilities and scorned Vice President Richard M. Nixon as having "no ideas, only methods...He cares about winning."
After the election, the president-elect offered Schlesinger an ambassadorship and Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural Relations before Robert Kennedy proposed that he serve as a "sort of roving reporter and troubleshooter." Schlesinger quickly accepted, and on January 30, 1961 he resigned from Harvard and was appointed Special Assistant to the President. He worked primarily on Latin American Affairs and as a speechwriter during his tenure in the White House.
In February 1961, Schlesinger was first told of the "Cuba operation" that would eventually become the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He opposed the plan in a memorandum to the President, stating that "at one stroke you would dissipate all the extraordinary good will which has been rising toward the new Administration through the world. It would fix a malevolent image of the new Administration in the minds of millions." During the Cabinet deliberations he "shrank into a chair at the far end of the table and listened in silence" as the Joint Chiefs and CIA representatives lobbied the president for an invasion. Along with his friend, Senator William Fulbright, Schlesinger sent several memos to the President opposing the strike; however, during the meetings he held back his opinion, reluctant to undermine the President's desire for a unanimous decision. Following the overt failure of the invasion, Schlesinger later lamented "In the months after the Bay of Pigs, I bitterly reproached myself for having kept so silent during those crucial discussions in the cabinet room . . . I can only explain my failure to do more than raise a few timid questions by reporting that one's impulse to blow the whistle on this nonsense was simply undone by the circumstances of the discussion." After the furor died down, Kennedy joked that Schlesinger "wrote me a memorandum that will look pretty good when he gets around to writing his book on my administration. Only he better not publish that memorandum while I'm still alive!" During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Schlesinger was not a member of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM) but helped UN Ambassador Stevenson draft his presentation of the crisis to the UN Security Council.
After President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Schlesinger resigned his position in January 1964. He wrote a memoir/history of the Kennedy Administration called A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which won him his second Pulitzer Prize in 1965.
Schlesinger returned to teaching in 1966 as the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. He retired in 1994, but remained an active member of the Graduate Center community as an emeritus professor until his death. He continued to be a Kennedy loyalist for the rest of his life, campaigning for Robert Kennedy's tragic presidential campaign in 1968 and for Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 1980. Upon the request of Robert Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, he wrote the biography Robert Kennedy And His Times. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he greatly criticized Richard Nixon as both a candidate and president. His outspoken disdain of Nixon and prominent status as a liberal Democrat led to his placement on the master list of Nixon's political opponents. Ironically, Nixon would become his next-door neighbor in the years following the Watergate scandal. He retired from teaching in 1994 but remained involved in politics for the rest of his life through his books and public speaking tours.
Schlesinger was a critic of the 2003 Iraq War, calling it a misadventure. He put much blame on the media for not covering a reasoned case against the war.
Schlesinger's name at birth was Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger; his mother was Elizabeth Bancroft and the family has long assumed (without hard evidence) that there is a blood connection to America's first great historian George Bancroft. The ancestries of George and Arthur imply they were both third and fourth cousins, five times removed. Since his mid-teens, he had instead used the signature Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Schlesinger 2000, pp. 6–7 and 57)
He had five children, four from his first marriage to author Marian Cannon and a son and stepson from his second, to Alexandra Emmet. His son Stephen Schlesinger is a social scientist, former director of the World Policy Institute at The New School University in New York City and contributor to the Huffington Post. His third son Robert Schlesinger and stepson Peter Allan also write blogs on Huffington Post, as did Arthur Schlesinger himself.
As a prominent Democrat and historian, Schlesinger maintained a very active social life. His wide circle of friends and associates included politicians, actors, writers and artists spanning several decades. Among his friends and associates were President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy, Adlai E. Stevenson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John Kenneth Galbraith, Averell and Pamela Harriman, Steve and Jean Kennedy Smith, Ethel Kennedy, Ted Sorensen, Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Kissinger, Marietta Peabody Tree, Ben Bradlee, Joseph Alsop, Evangeline Bruce, William vanden Heuvel, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Philip and Katharine Graham, Leonard Bernstein, Walter Lippmann, President Lyndon Johnson, Nelson Rockefeller, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, George McGovern, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Jack Valenti, Bill Moyers, Richard Goodwin, Al Gore, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Schlesinger died on February 28, 2007, at the age of 89. According to The New York Times he experienced cardiac arrest while dining out with family members in Manhattan. The newspapers have dubbed him a "historian of power."
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s Timeline
August 17, 1942