Historical Profession

Centennial Of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Birth: Most Prominent American Historian In Second Half Of Twentieth Century

Today, October 15, marks the centennial of the birth of renowned American historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, considered by many scholars to be the most prominent American historian in the second half of the 20th Century.

I was fortunate to have been a graduate student under Schlesinger at the City University of New York Graduate School from 1966 to 1975, and I was one of eleven graduate students to have had the opportunity to produce a Ph. D. Dissertation under his support and tutelage. That dissertation, later revised, was published by The Johns Hopkins University Press under the title: TWILIGHT OF PROGRESSIVISM: THE WESTERN REPUBLICAN SENATORS AND THE NEW DEAL in 1981.

Schlesinger was a very cordial and supportive sponsor of my dissertation, and we kept in touch occasionally over the next three decades, and I was saddened by his death in February 2007 at the age 89.

Schlesinger helped for me to confirm my liberal and progressive convictions, and my blog that you are now reading was partly inspired by his influence, and has now been operated for more than nine years.

While I do not claim any of the greatness that Schlesinger represented, I am proud of my association with him.

Schlesinger was a public intellectual and social critic, and although he never went beyond an earned Bachelors degree from Harvard University, he was a leading historian, although he had many critics.

He was a Cold War Liberal, strongly anti Communist, and a founder of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Reinhold Niebuhr in 1947, and was its national chairman in 1953-1954.

A professor at Harvard University from 1947-1960, he was the son of the renowned historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr, and related also to 19th century historian George Bancroft through his mother.

He was a speechwriter to Democratic Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956; speechwriter and Latin American policy adviser to President John F. Kennedy; speechwriter and adviser to Senator Robert F. Kennedy during his Presidential campaign in 1968; speechwriter and adviser to 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern; and also speechwriter and adviser to Senator Edward M. Kennedy in his 1980 Presidential primary campaign against President Jimmy Carter. That year, Schlesinger broke with his Democratic Party roots and voted for Independent Presidential nominee, Republican Congressman John Anderson, as did former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, both only revealed in their votes in the past few years.

Schlesinger was the author of more than 30 books and hundreds of articles, and was most famous for his two Pulitzer Prizes for his books: THE AGE OF JACKSON (1946) and A THOUSAND DAYS: JOHN F. KENNEDY IN THE WHITE HOUSE (1966). He also wrote three seminal volumes on Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, only getting as far as 1936, and telling me of his goal to finish in a few more volumes, but that never happened.

But he also wrote an important book on the threat of Richard Nixon–THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY (1973)—and also the standard study of his friend, Robert F. Kennedy–ROBERT KENNEDY AND HIS TIMES (1978).

Schlesinger was the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities Chair at the City University of New Graduate School from 1966 to 1974, and that is how I became one of his graduate students.

His impact on the historical profession and American politics continues a decade after his death.