Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 1917–2007

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Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 1917–2007

(Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr.)


See index for SATA sketch: Born October 15, 1917, in Columbus, OH; died of heart failure February 28, 2007, in New York, NY. Historian, educator, and author. Schlesinger was a Pulitzer prize-winning historian who was most noted for his writings on the Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy administrations. He held a B.A. from Harvard University, earned in 1938, and was a fellow there when his first book was published. As a young man, Schlesinger entertained thoughts of becoming a theater critic, but his father convinced him of his potential as an historian, based on his senior thesis. This thesis was published as Orestes A. Brownson: A Pilgrim's Progress (1939) and was a Catholic Book Club selection. With the start of World War II, Schlesinger worked for the Office of War Information in Washington, DC, and then for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, London, and Paris; he was briefly a corporal in the army in 1945. He freelanced after the war, publishing The Age of Jackson (1945), which earned him his first Pulitzer prize. On the strength of this work, he was offered an assistant professorship at Harvard University, an accomplishment fairly unprecedented for someone with only an undergraduate degree to his credit. Schlesinger was made a full professor in 1954, and released his acclaimed three-volume work, The Age of Roosevelt (1957, 1959, 1960). By the 1950s, he was becoming involved in politics. He campaigned for Adlai E. Stevenson in the 1952 and 1956 U.S presidential elections, and though he was disappointed with Stevenson's failures, he once commented that he felt Stevenson helped pave the way for Kennedy's later success. When Kennedy was elected in 1960, the new president chose Schlesinger for the rather unique position of special assistant to the White House. The historian took a leave from Harvard to work for Kennedy. His job was sometimes described as that of "court philosopher," and he served as an intermediary between the president and disgruntled liberals as well as other White House critics. Perhaps his most noted act was writing a pair of memos that warned of the potentially disastrous consequences of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Schlesinger also tried to protect the president in the aftermath by telling Kennedy he should lay the blame on his subordinates, although the president ultimately accepted responsibility himself. After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Schlesinger remained on the White House staff briefly under President Lyndon B. Johnson, but soon quit to return to teaching. Instead of going back to Harvard, however, he joined the City University of New York as Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Hu- manities in 1966. In 1965 he released his A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which earned the historian his second Pulitzer Prize. The book conveys the author's high opinion of Kennedy, just as several of his later works were extremely critical of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. For a time, Schlesinger continued to be involved in political campaigns, assisting with Robert F. Kennedy's bid for the presidency before Robert, too, was assassinated. Later, Schlesinger would write Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978), which won the National Book Award. The two Kennedy assassinations made Schlesinger rather bitter about the state of the world. His The Imperial Presidency (1973) was critical of President Richard M. Nixon, whom he felt abused his power in office. In later works he continued to show his willingness to critique American politics and society, including The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1991; revised edition, 1997) and War and the American Presidency (2004). Retired from teaching in 1995, Schlesinger was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 1998. As a scholar, he is remembered for his contributions to the understanding of the evolution of American democracy during the eras of three important U.S. presidents.



Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2007, pp. A1, A22.

New York Times, March 2, 2007, p. A18; March 2, 2007, p. A2; March 8, 2007, p. A2.

Washington Post, March 2, 2007, pp. A1, A8.

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Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 1917–2007

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