Monday, February 28, 2011
4 Years ago: the world lost a great Historian
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr:Sir, it has been a major honor to read your historical books. You were one of my favorite presidential historians, thanks for the wonderful books that you have written and enlighten me to become a presidential historian myself, remembering you 4 years later, may you rest in peace!
Arthur Schlesinger, Historian of Power, Dies at 89
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the historian whose more than 20 books shaped discussions for two generations about America’s past, and who himself was a provocative, unabashedly liberal partisan, most notably while serving in the Kennedy White House, died Wednesday night in Manhattan. He was 89.
His death, at New York Downtown Hospital, was caused by a heart attack he suffered earlier during a family dinner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, his son Stephen said.Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mr. Schlesinger exhaustively examined the administrations of two prominent presidents, Andrew Jackson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, against a vast background of regional and economic rivalries. He argued that strong individuals like Jackson and Roosevelt could bend history.
The notes he took for President John F. Kennedy, for the president’s use in writing his history, became, after Mr. Kennedy’s assassination, grist for Mr. Schlesinger’s own account, “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.” It won both the Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 1966.
His 1978 book on the president’s brother, “Robert Kennedy and His Times,” lauded the subject as the most politically creative man of his time. But he acknowledged that Robert had played a larger role in trying to overthrow President Fidel Castro of Cuba than Mr. Schlesinger had acknowledged in “A Thousand Days.”
Mr. Schlesinger worked on both brothers’ presidential campaigns, and some critics suggested he had trouble separating history from sentiment. Gore Vidal called “A Thousand Days” a political novel, and many noted that the book ignored the president’s sexual wanderings. Others were unhappy that he told so much, particularly in asserting that the president had been unhappy with his secretary of state, Dean Rusk.
Mr. Schlesinger saw life as a walk through history. He wrote that he could not stroll down Fifth Avenue without wondering how the street and the people on it would have looked a hundred years ago.
“He is willing to argue that the search for an understanding of the past is not simply an aesthetic exercise but a path to the understanding of our own time,” Alan Brinkley, the historian, wrote.
Mr. Schlesinger wore a trademark dotted bowtie, showed an acid wit and had a magnificent bounce to his step. He was a lifelong aficionado of perfectly blended martinis. Between marathons of writing as much as 5,000 words a day, he was a fixture at Georgetown salons when Washington was clubbier and more elitist. In New York, he was a man about town, whether at Truman Capote’s famous parties or escorting Jacqueline Kennedy to the movies.
In the McCarthy era and beyond, he was a leader of anti-Communist liberals and a fierce partisan. He called for the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon, which never happened, and just as passionately denounced that of President Bill Clinton, when it did.
In his last book, “War and the American Presidency,” published in 2004, Mr. Schlesinger challenged the foundations of the foreign policy of President George W. Bush, calling the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath “a ghastly mess.” He said the president’s curbs on civil liberties would have the same result as similar actions throughout American history.
“We hate ourselves in the morning,” he wrote.
However liberal, he was not a slave to what came to be called political correctness. He spiritedly defended the old-fashioned American melting pot against proponents of multiculturalism, the idea that ethnicities should retain separate identities and even celebrate them. He elicited tides of criticism by comparing Afrocentrism to the Ku Klux Klan.
History and its telling, quite literally, ran in Mr. Schlesinger’s blood. One of his reputed ancestors was George Bancroft, who over 40 years starting in 1834 wrote the monumental 12-volume “History of the United States from the Discovery of the Continent.” His father, Arthur M. Schlesinger, was an immensely influential historian who led the way in making social history a genuine discipline.
In his early teens, the son changed his middle name from Bancroft to Meier, his father’s middle name, and began calling himself junior. He would later adopt and develop many of his father’s ideas about history, including the theory that history moves in cycles from liberal to conservative periods. His father gave him the idea for his Harvard honors thesis.
But the younger Mr. Schlesinger, for all the tradition he embodied, had a refreshing streak of informality. While working in the Kennedy White House, he found time to review movies for Show magazine. He also admitted his mistakes. One, he said, was neglecting to mention President Jackson’s brutal treatment of the Indians in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Age of Jackson.” It was published when he was 27, and is still standard reading.
The book rejected earlier interpretations linking the rise of Jacksonian democracy with westward expansion. Instead, it gave greater importance to a coalition of intellectuals and workers in the Northeast who were determined to check the growing power of business.
The book sold more than 90,000 copies in its first year and won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for history.
His multivolume history of the New Deal, “The Age of Roosevelt,” began in 1957 with “The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933,” continued in 1959 with “The Coming of the New Deal” and culminated in 1960 with “The Politics of Upheaval.” The first volume won two prestigious awards for history-writing, the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians and the Frederic Bancroft Prize from Columbia University. The book was praised for capturing the interplay between ideas and action, stressing tensions similar to those Mr. Schlesinger had described in the Jackson era.
“This book clearly launches one of the important historical enterprises of our time,” the historian C. Vann Woodward wrote in The Saturday Review.
Mr. Schlesinger never stopped seeming like the brightest student in every class, “the eternal Quiz Kid,” in Time magazine’s phrase. He had no advanced degrees, but his scholarly output, not to mention reams of articles for popular publications like TV Guide and Ladies Home Journal, dwarfed those who did. Even as a child he felt a duty to manage conversations, not to say monopolize them.
An article in The New York Times magazine in 1965 told of his mother asking him to be quiet so she could make her point.
“Mother, how can I be quiet if you insist upon making statements that are not factually accurate,” the boy, then 11 or 12, replied.
Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 1917, the elder of the two sons of Arthur Meier Schlesinger and the former Elizabeth Bancroft. The younger Mr. Schlesinger wrote approvingly that Bancroft the historian, who may have been his distant cousin, was a presidential ghostwriter and bon vivant in addition to being called the father of American history.
It was his father whom “young Arthur,” as he was known, idolized. His argument that urban labor was behind much of the upheaval in Jackson’s time was taken up and brilliantly expanded by his son.
The younger Schlesinger, in the first volume of his memoirs, “A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950” (2000), called his childhood “sunny.” He spent his earliest years in Iowa City, where his father was on the faculty of the University of Iowa. The family moved to Cambridge, Mass., in 1924, when his father was appointed to the Harvard faculty. Arthur Sr. later became chairman of the Harvard history department.
Young Arthur first attended public schools in Cambridge, but his parents lost faith in public education in his sophomore year after a civics teacher informed Arthur’s class that inhabitants of Albania were called Albinos and had white hair and pink eyes. He was shipped to the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
He graduated at 15, but the family felt he was too young to go to Harvard. So, while his father was on sabbatical, the whole family took a long trip around the world. Mr. Schlesinger then went on to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude.
Beginning in boyhood he socialized with his father’s intellectually powerful friends, from the humorist James Thurber to the novelist John Dos Pasos. When he was 14, he met H. L. Mencken, and later corresponded with him. At Harvard, he became friendly with such leading intellectual lights as the historian Samuel Eliot Morison.
Mr. Schlesinger later became part of the powerful circle surrounding the journalist Joseph Alsop, a group that included Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, W. Averell Harriman, former governor of New York, and the lawyer Clark Clifford. Mr. Schlesinger met Mr. Kennedy, then a senator, at an Alsop soiree. His impression: “Kennedy seemed very sincere and not unintelligent, but kind of on the conservative side.”
Mr. Schlesinger, partly through his appreciation of history, fully realized his good fortune. “I have lived through interesting times and had the luck of knowing some interesting people,” he wrote.
A huge part of his luck was his father, who guided much of his early research. The elder Arthur suggested the topic for his senior honors: Orestes A. Brownson, a 19th-century journalist, novelist and theologian. It was published by Little, Brown in 1938. Henry Steele Commager in The New York Times Book Review, said the book introduced “a new and distinguished talent in the field of historical portraiture.”
Mr. Schlesinger spent a year in England on a fellowship at Peterhouse College of Cambridge University, then returned to Harvard, where he had been selected to be one of the first crop of Junior Fellows. Their research was supported for three years, but they were not allowed to pursue Ph.D.’s, a requirement intended to keep them off the standard academic treadmill.
While a fellow, Mr. Schlesinger married Marian Cannon, whom he had met during his junior year at Harvard. Her sister was married to John King Fairbank, the eminent sinologist. The Schlesingers had twins, Stephen and Katharine, and two more children, Christina and Andrew. They were divorced in 1970.
He married Alexandra Emmet the next year. They had a boy, Robert, named for Robert F. Kennedy. She had a son from a previous marriage, Peter Allan. Stephen and Andrew Schlesinger are editing their father’s journals from 1952 to 1998 and plan to publish them in the fall.As a Harvard fellow, Mr. Schlesinger managed to pound out 4,000 to 5,000 words a day on the Jackson work as his year-old twins frolicked around his desk. His work on the book was interrupted by World War II. Bad eyesight precluded him from the military, so he got a job as a writer for the Office of War Information. One assignment was writing a message from President Roosevelt to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Mr. Schlesinger doubted the president saw such masterpieces.
He next served in the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, in Washington, London and Paris. Immediately after the war, Mr. Schlesinger went to Washington as a freelance journalist for Fortune and other magazines. After 15 months, in 1946, he accepted an associate professorship at Harvard. He was so nervous teaching that he vomited before each class; eventually his presentation became so deft that his History 169 course was the department’s most popular offering.
He began to carve out a political identity, one committed to the social goals of the New Deal and staunchly anti-Communist. In 1947, he was a founder of the Americans for Democratic Action, the best-known liberal pressure group.
In 1949, Mr. Schlesinger solidified his position as the spokesman for postwar liberalism with his book “The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom.” Inspired by the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, he argued that pragmatic, reform-minded liberalism, limited in scope, was the best that man could hope for politically.
“Problems will always torment us,” he wrote, “because all important problems are insoluble: that is why they are important. The good comes from the continuing struggle to try and solve them, not from the vain hope of their solution.”
Starting with writing speeches for Adlai Stevenson in both his presidential campaigns, Mr. Schlesinger was a player in big-time Democratic politics. Even though Senator Barry Goldwater tried to have him fired from the Kennedy White House because of his liberal bias, one of Mr. Goldwater’s colleagues paid Mr. Schlesinger something of a compliment.
As quoted anonymously in “The Making of the President, 1964” by Theodore H. White, the Goldwater associate said: “At least you got to say this for a liberal s.o.b. like Schlesinger — when his candidates go into action, he’s there writing speeches for them.”
And books. One of his major contributions to the Kennedy campaign was a book, “Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?” Under Nixon, the book concluded, the country would “sink into mediocrity and cant and payola and boredom.” Kennedy meant rising to “the splendor of our ideals.”
On Jan. 9, 1961, a gray, chilly, afternoon, President-elect Kennedy dropped by Mr. Schlesinger’s house on Irving Street in Cambridge. He asked the professor to be a special assistant in the White House. Mr. Schlesinger answered, “If you think I can help, I would like to come.”
In their 1970 book, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers suggest that the new president saw some political risk in hiring such an unabashed liberal. He decided to keep the appointment quiet until another liberal, Chester Bowles, was confirmed as under secretary of state.
The authors, both Kennedy aides, said they asked Mr. Kennedy if he took Mr. Schlesinger on to write the official history of the administration. Mr. Kennedy said he would write it himself.
“But Arthur will probably write his own,” the president said, “and it will be better for us if he’s in the White House, seeing what goes on, instead of reading about it in The New York Times and Time magazine.”
Time later described Mr. Schlesinger’s role in the Kennedy administration as a bridge to the intelligentsia as well as to the Adlai Stevenson-Eleanor Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party. If the president wanted to meet the intellectual Isaiah Berlin or the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Mr. Schlesinger arranged it. The president was said to enjoy Mr. Schlesinger’s gossip during weekly lunches, although he rarely attended the brainy seminars Robert Kennedy asked Mr. Schlesinger to organize.
Mr. Schlesinger distinguished himself early in the administration by being one of the few in the White House to question the invasion of Cuba planned by the Eisenhower administration. But he then became a loyal soldier, telling reporters a misleading story that the Cuban exiles landing at the Bay of Pigs were no greater than 400 when in fact they numbered 1,400.
In a discussion of that ill-fated action afterward, McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, reminded the president that Mr. Schlesinger had written a memo opposing the invasion. “That will look pretty good when he gets around to writing his book about my administration,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Only he better not publish that memorandum while I’m still alive.”
After President Kennedy was assassinated, President Lyndon B. Johnson kept Mr. Schlesinger on but gave him virtually nothing to do. He resigned in January 1964. Mr. Schlesinger soon wrote an article saying that John Kennedy had not really wanted Mr. Johnson as his vice-presidential candidate but that he had picked him for political reasons.
Mr. Schlesinger, who had resigned from Harvard when his leave of absence expired in 1962, worked on his Kennedy book and for the first few months of 1966 was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He then joined the faculty of the City University of New York as Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.
He settled in Manhattan, where he remained until his death. His visibility was high — from the society pages to the column he wrote for the Op-Ed page of The Wall Street Journal to television appearances. He continued to protect the Kennedy image despite steady disclosures that smudged it. In 1996, he angered conservatives by selecting historians for a poll that found Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had been “high average” presidents and President Ronald Reagan “low average.”
His writing was ceaseless, including the book and articles criticizing the Iraq war. In “The Imperial Presidency” (1973), he argued that President Richard M. Nixon had so magnified the powers of the president that he must be impeached. In a review, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, retorted that Mr. Schlesinger had applied different standards to Democratic presidents.
In 1978, Mr. Schlesinger scored a literary and commercial triumph with “Robert Kennedy and His Times.” In The New York Times Book Review, Garry Wills, who had once called Mr. Schlesinger “a Kennedy courtier,” rated the work “learned and thorough.” It won a National Book Award.
In the book, Mr. Schlesinger compared the brothers: “John Kennedy was a realist brilliantly disguised as a romantic, Robert Kennedy, a romantic stubbornly disguised as a realist.”
Mr. Schlesinger had hoped that Robert would ignite a new spirit of liberalism but grew disappointed when Jimmy Carter rose to lead the party in 1976. He considered Mr. Carter woefully conservative and did not vote for him in either of his campaigns. He worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy in his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1980.
In 1991, Mr. Schlesinger provoked a backlash with “The Disuniting of America,” an attack on the emergent “multicultural society” in which he said Afrocentrists claimed superiority and demanded that their separate identity be honored by schools and other institutions.
The novelist Ishmael Reed denounced Mr. Schlesinger as a “follower of David Duke,” the former Ku Klux Klan leader. The Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. caricatured Mr. Schlesinger’s arguments as a demand for “cultural white-face.”
Mr. Schlesinger was nonplussed. He frequently described himself as an unreconstructed New Dealer whose basic thinking had changed little in a half century.
“What the hell,” he answered when questioned by The Washington Post about his attack on multiculturalism. “You have to call them as you see them. This too shall pass.”
Mr. Schlesinger continued to write articles, sign petitions and last year received an award from the National Portrait Gallery for his presidential service. His failing health prevented him from attending the funeral of his good friend John Kenneth Galbraith last May.
Mr. Schlesinger’s son Stephen read some words he had written about Mr. Galbraith: “Underneath his joy in combat, he was a do-gooder in the dark of night.”
Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr. (October 15, 1917–February 28, 2007) born Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger, 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.
“ If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision, and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself."
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.
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 Katherine 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.
Among the founders of Americans for Democratic Action
Speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson's two presidential campaigns in 1952 and 1956
Speechwriter for John F. Kennedy's campaign in 1960
1961-1964 Special Assistant to the President for Latin American affairs and speechwriting.
Speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy's campaign in 1968
Speechwriter for George McGovern's campaign in 1972
Active in the presidential campaign of Ted Kennedy in 1980
From May 2005 to his death, he was a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post.
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."
His 1949 book The Vital Center made a case for the New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, while harshly critical of both unregulated capitalism and of those liberals such as Henry A. Wallace who advocated coexistence with communism.
He won a Pulitzer Prize for History in 1946 for his book The Age of Jackson, and another in the Biography category in 1966 for A Thousand Days.
His 1986 book The Cycles of American History was an early work on cycles in politics in the United States; it was influenced by his father's work on cycles.
He became a leading opponent of multiculturalism in the 1980s and articulated this stance in his book The Disuniting of America (1991).
In his book The Politics of Hope (1962), Schlesinger terms conservatives the "party of the past" and liberals "the party of hope" and calls for overcoming the division between both parties.
Published posthumously in 2007, Journals 1952-2000 is the 894-page distillation of 6,000 pages of Schlesinger diaries on a wide variety of subjects, edited by Andrew and Stephen Schlesinger.
This is a list of his published works: *1939 Orestes A. Brownson: A Pilgrim's Progress
1945 The Age of Jackson
1949 The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom
1950 What About Communism?
1951 The General and the President, and the Future of American Foreign Policy
1957 The Crisis of the Old Order: 1919-1933 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. I)
1958 The Coming of the New Deal: 1933-1935 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. II)
1960 The Politics of Upheaval: 1935-1936 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. III)
1960 Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?
1962 The Politics of Hope
1963 Paths of American Thought (ed. with Morton White)
1965 A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House
1965 The MacArthur Controversy and American Foreign Policy
1967 Bitter Heritage: Vietnam and American Democracy, 1941-1966
1967 Congress and the Presidency: Their Role in Modern Times
1968 Violence: America in the Sixties
1969 The Crisis of Confidence: Ideas, Power, and Violence in America
1970 The Origins of the Cold War
1973 The Imperial Presidency — reissued in 1989 (with epilogue) & 2004
1978 Robert Kennedy and His Times
1983 Creativity in Statecraft
1986 Cycles of American History
1988 JFK Remembered
1988 War and the Constitution: Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt
1990 Is the Cold War Over?
1991 The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society
2000 A Life in the 20th Century, Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950
2004 War and the American Presidency
2007 Journals 1952-2000''
He also wrote a book about Cleopatra.
Schlesinger's papers will be available at the New York Public Library.
1946 Pulitzer Prize for History - The Age of Jackson
1958 Bancroft Prize - The Crisis of the Old Order
1958 Francis Parkman Prize - The Crisis of the Old Order
1965 National Book Award - A Thousand Days
1966 Pulitzer Prize for Biography - A Thousand Days
1979 National Book Award - Robert Kennedy and His Times
1998 National Humanities Medal
2003 Four Freedoms Award
2006 Paul Peck Award
2006 Medal Awarded by Elmhurst College to an individual who exemplifies the ideals of Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr. Schlesinger was greatly influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr