The Center remembers Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

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"Fearless inquiry is essential to give people the knowledge that makes democracy possible and that keeps it sane." — Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Read An Appreciation from Center Founder Chuck Lewis

Arthur M Schlesinger Jr., 1917-2007

We pay our respects to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who, as the Center’s first Founding Advisory Board member, was a fundamental building block in our establishment, and championed the Center as “an indispensable truth-teller in a treacherous time.” You can read his letter here.

On the Center’s 10th anniversary in 2000, founder and first Executive Director Chuck Lewis wrote why Schlesinger’s gracious imprimatur was so important:

“Our first big name from a prestige standpoint was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Kennedy White House aide. I wrote to him in New York about this idea to establish a new organization to study public service and ethics-related issues, and to my surprise, I heard back from him. He said he had gotten my letter and had called Mike Wallace. This was understandable of course, but since I had just quit at the beginning of a TV season with him, I was not sure that my stock there was very high. But Mike had apparently said nice things about me and Arthur said, if this is what you want to do and my name would help, go right ahead and use it. And from that, other people followed. James MacGregor Burns, Father Hesburgh, and Hodding Carter, among others, joined our excellent adventure.”

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and John F. Kennedy insider who helped define mainstream liberalism during the Cold War. Schlesinger was among the most famous historians of his time, and was widely respected as learned and readable, with a panoramic vision of American culture and politics. He received a National Book Award for “Robert Kennedy and His Times” and both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer for “A Thousand Days,” his memoir/chronicle of President John F. Kennedy’s administration. He also won a Pulitzer, in 1946, for “The Age of Jackson,” his landmark chronicle of Andrew Jackson’s administration.

With his bow ties and horn-rimmed glasses, Schlesinger seemed the very image of a reserved, tweedy scholar. He was also an assured member of the so-called Eastern elite.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, and the son of a prominent historian, he was born Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger, Jr., but later gave himself his father’s middle name, Meier. Family friends included James Thurber, historian Charles A. Beard and future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter.

Schlesinger attended Phillips Exeter Academy and in 1938 graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University. During World War II, Schlesinger drafted some statements for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as an intelligence analyst for the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA.

In 1946, Schlesinger helped found Americans for Democratic Action, a leading organization of anti-communist liberals. Three years later, he published the influential “The Vital Center,” which advocated a liberal domestic policy and anti-communist foreign policy. The book’s title became a common political phrase, still in use decades later, and Schlesinger’s call for defending American ideals abroad was endlessly revived as Democrats debated U.S. involvement in countries from Bosnia to Iraq.

In the 1950s, Schlesinger became increasingly involved in electoral politics, supporting Adlai Stevenson, the erudite Illinois governor and two-time loser to Dwight Eisenhower for the presidency. In 1960, the historian switched his loyalty to Kennedy, even as he acknowledged that Stevenson was a “much richer, more thoughtful, more creative person.

“(He had) enormous stamina and a kind of energy and drive which most people don’t have, and it kept him going, all the way through his final hours,” said his son, Stephen Schlesinger, hours after his father’s death. “He never stopped writing, he never stopped participating in public affairs, he never stopped having his views about politics and his love of this nation.”

— excerpted from the International Herald Tribune

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