The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.


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This extraordinary collection gathers the never-before-seen correspondence of a true American original—the acclaimed historian and lion of the liberal establishment, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
An advisor to presidents, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and tireless champion of progressive government, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was also an inveterate letter writer. Indeed, the term “man of letters” could easily have been coined for Schlesinger, a faithful and prolific correspondent whose wide range of associates included powerful public officials, notable literary figures, prominent journalists, Hollywood celebrities, and distinguished fellow scholars.
The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. reveals the late historian’s unvarnished views on the great issues and personalities of his time, from the dawn of the Cold War to the aftermath of September 11. Here is Schlesinger’s correspondence with such icons of American statecraft as Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and, of course, John and Robert Kennedy (including a detailed critique of JFK’s manuscript for Profiles in Courage). There are letters to friends and confidants such as Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Gore Vidal, William Styron, and Jacqueline Kennedy (to whom Schlesinger sends his handwritten condolences in the hours after her husband’s assassination), and exchanges with such unlikely pen pals as Groucho Marx, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bianca Jagger. Finally, there are Schlesinger’s many thoughtful replies to the inquiries of ordinary citizens, in which he offers his observations on influences, issues of the day, and the craft of writing history.
Written with the range and insight that made Schlesinger an indispensable figure, these letters reflect the evolution of his thought—and of American liberalism—from the 1940s to the first decade of the new millennium. Whether he is arguing against the merits of preemptive war, advocating for a more forceful policy on civil rights, or simply explaining his preference in neckwear (“For sloppy eaters bow ties are a godsend”), Schlesinger reveals himself as a formidable debater and consummate wit who reveled in rhetorical combat. To a detractor who accuses him of being a Communist sympathizer, he writes: “If your letter was the product of sincere misunderstanding, the facts I have cited should relieve your mind. If not, I can only commend you to the nearest psychiatrist.” Elsewhere, he castigates a future Speaker of the House, John Boehner, for misattributing quotations to Abraham Lincoln.
Combining a political strategist’s understanding of the present moment with a historian’s awareness that the eyes of posterity were always watching him, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., helped shape the course of an era with these letters. This landmark collection frames the remarkable dynamism of the twentieth-century and ensures that Schlesinger’s legacy will continue to influence this one.

Praise for The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
“Schlesinger’s political intelligence in his correspondence is excellent, the level of discourse and purpose high, the sense of responsibility as keen as the sense of fun. . . . The best letters—and there are many—come from the typewriter of the public Schlesinger, the fighting liberal, especially when he’s jousting with a provocative antagonist.”—George Packer, The New York Times Book Review

“Arthur Schlesinger’s letters are full of personal, political, and historical insights into the tumultuous events and enormous personalities that dominated the mid-twentieth century.”—President Bill Clinton

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812993097
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/29/2013
Pages: 672
Product dimensions: 6.58(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.45(d)

About the Author

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917–2007) 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. Schlesinger served as special assistant 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, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. The author of more than nineteen books, he won a second Pulitzer in 1946 for his book The Age of Jackson.
Andrew Schlesinger is the author of Veritas: Harvard College and the American Experience and co-editor with his brother Stephen of Journals: 1952–2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. In 1980, he joined ABC News in its documentary division, where his film scripts won two Emmy awards and a Writers Guild Award. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Stephen Schlesinger was director of the World Policy Institute at the New School from 1997 to 2006, and publisher of the quarterly magazine the World Policy Journal. After editing and publishing The New Democrat Magazine, he became a staff writer at Time, then served as a speechwriter and foreign policy advisor to Governor Mario Cuomo. He is the author of Act of Creation: The Founding of The United Nations (a Harry S. Truman Book Award winner), and The New Reformers, and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. He is a contributor to magazines, newspapers, and web sites, including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Observer, and The Huffington Post.

Read an Excerpt

Postwar Ambitions


The date of the formal surrender of the Nazis was May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe Day.

To the Family

9 May 1945

[Paris, France]

Dear Family:

What a two days! It is just as well that world wars are so few. I don’t know how many peace celebrations I could stand per generation, especially in Paris.

It all began Monday afternoon, when the newspapers hit the street around six with the AP story announcing that the surrender had been signed at Reims at 2:41. . . . There had been an air of expectancy all day, and of course for the several days preceding, though Paris had never been victimized by false peace rumors of the Tom Connally type. After dinner crowds began to flock up and down the Champs Elysees, while planes were flying very low over the center of the city.

Around nine thirty I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe along the Champs with Captain Gilpatric, just over from London, and a gal named Ledlie Rial. Suddenly a plane swooped-­down and dropped a flare; then others came, dropping white, red and green flares. The floodlights opened up on the Arc de Triomphe and soon on the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde. After a time rockets began to go up. More and more people came on to the streets, milling around, singing La Marseillaise or It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (definitely the no. two song in the Paris peace celebrations). Impromptu parades would start up in the French manner. Sometimes two parades going in opposite directions would meet, whereupon each would chant, “AVEC NOUSE, AVEC NOUS,” until one would dissolve and merge into the other. Trucks, jeeps and civilian cars, jammed with American and French GIs and girls, whizzed around. One soldier shouted from the top of a car, “CHANTEZ, CHANTEZ, LA GUERRE EST FINIE.”

It was a lot of fun, though rather diffuse and I thought somewhat ­anti-­climactical. But it was ­really only a dress rehearsal for Tuesday, about which there was nothing ­anti-­climactical.

I worked more or less through the morning, until three o’clock, at which time De Gaulle, Churchill and Truman made their speeches. The De Gaulle effort was broadcast through open microphones on the streets, while we heard Truman’s clear and banal little voice from a radio of our own and watched the crowds on the Champs Elysees below. After a time a group of us went out to mingle in the crowd and wandered around for the rest of the afternoon. The crowd was ­really ­wonderful—good-­natured, happy, spontaneous, enthusiastic.

Last week I had got tickets for Tuesday evening for Maurice Chevalier, who is making his first commercial appearance at the ABC music hall. He was in excellent form, and the crowd was most responsive. (Except for constant cracks in Le Canard Enchaine there is not much bitterness against Chevalier on the collaborationist business. Louis Aragon and the Commies even claim that he did not collaborate and that, in fact, he worked with the resistance, though others say that the CP attempt to whitewash Maurice is not unconnected with a heavy gift he is supposed to have made to Front National, the ­Commie-­front resistance organization. In any case the whole question of collaboration is much more complicated in Europe than it apparently is in the offices of the New Republic; and there is a general disposition to forgive actors, with which I am in complete agreement.)

The ABC is located in the Boulevard Poissonnieres. We got out a little before eleven and strolled down ­toward the Opera. The boulevards were jammed with the same noisy, happy, cheerful crowds; I have never seen so many people. The Opera was illuminated and bedecked with flags and made a very stunning picture. We got there just as bands on the steps of the Opera were playing the various national anthems. It was very moving to stand in that crowded square while thousands of people sang La Marseillaise. Then we walked on down to the Madeleine, also illuminated. From the steps of the Madeleine you could see the ­flood-­lit fountains playing in the Place de la Concorde and in the background the Chamber of Deputies, also under lights. We started walking down ­toward the Place de la Concorde. For the first time the crowd got a bit rough. The Rue Royale was packed, not only with people but with cars and trucks, and the crowd got a bit panicky and pushed wildly, jamming people against the automobiles and the buildings. It soon appeared futile to try to reach the Place de la Concorde, so we hopped on a US jeep, along with about eighty French people, and finally shook loose from the ­log-­jam to careen around Paris madly for a while. The ride ended near the Champs Elysees, still crowded, with the Arc lit up and the magnificent vista from the Etoile to the Concorde.

I finally got to bed around four o’clock. There were still crowds on the Champs. The fountains were going on the Rond Point, and GIs were sleeping in the grass behind the Theatre Marigny. I slept on the top floor of the Elysees Park Hotel, and I shall never forget the magnificent panorama of Paris with the great buildings lit up, from Sacre Coeur past the Opera, the Madeleine, Notre Dame, the Place de la Concorde, the Chamber of Deputies, the Invalides, around to the Arc de Triomphe, with the fountains playing in the Rond Point below and little groups of people singing La Marseillaise faintly in the distance.

So much for the end of the European war. I hope we are not such damned fools as to permit another. San Francisco is not encouraging. Molotov and Stettinius do not strike me as quite the types to solve the problems of the world. . . .

I hate to think of poor Dad’s having to sit down and read that damn book again. I will guarantee to stay in the country after my next book.

All my love,


To the Family

21 May 1945

[Paris, France]

Dear Family:

We are all getting very depressed about the news these days. I had never imagined that ­post-­war would change to ­pre-­war so quickly. . . . If some one chooses to shoot somebody over Bornholm or Trieste, we could be well started on the third world war in a couple of weeks. So far as I can see, a hell of a lot of people in Europe are convinced that it is inevitable.

I am not convinced that it is inevitable, but I am not very sure that the present leadership either American or Russian can avoid it. I feel that the policy of appeasement is not going to eradicate Russian suspicions nor strengthen the “moderates” in the Kremlin; appeasement always strengthens the ­sword-­brandishers. But we should pick our spots. Obviously we must throw the Yugoslavs out of Trieste; obviously the British were essentially right in their Greek policy, though they bungled badly in its execution and confused the issue by their idiotic passion for the Greek king. On the other hand, I think Stettinius’ brand of toughness at San Francisco is criminally unsound. I can imagine no quicker way to unsell the USSR on the idea of international organization than to demonstrate that you can outvote it and then use your voting superiority to humiliate the USSR on inessential issues. Molotov will return considerably more browned off on international cooperation than Wilson was after Versailles, and Molotov is reputed to be pretty much on the isolationist side anyway. Why do they leave Stettinius in? . . .

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but the situation looks damn bad from here. The spread of the totalitarian police state on the Soviet model is most alarming. ­Tito’s Yugoslavia is no more of a democracy than Hitler’s Germany.

Life in general goes on as usual. No further elucidation on my own plans.

Sunday I went to Chartres and had a very pleasant day. The windows are not yet back in the Cathedral. It was ­Pentecost—hence special services.

Two delicious and superbly chosen boxes arrived the other ­day—one with chicken and triskets, the other with lobster, cocoa, fruit juice and vitamin pills. All items rang the bell. Thank you ever so much.

Package request: a repeat on any of the above selections, with powdered coffee rating high priority if obtainable (regular coffee if not, and I will try to barter it). . . .

All love,


To Bernard De Voto

[July 1945]

[Wiesbaden, Germany]

Dear Benny:

I have been intending to write for some time, but I have pretty well abandoned all correspondence except the minimum required to get food packages from my wife and family. This letter is precipitated by the fact that I have run several times into an old friend of yours named George Ball, who reports that he read The Year of Decision with great delight in Hamburg and requests me to convey his regards to you. He is over here for USSBS (Strategic Bombing Survey).

I am located at a place called Biebrich, a suburb of Wiesbaden, in a champagne factory. The champagne is not very good, but we have to drink it because the water is suspect. Life in the army of occupation can be described adequately only by John O’Hara; we completed the local adaptation by opening an officers’ club here last week. Necessarily our tight little community life discovers release only in drinking and gambling, or boating in the Rhine, or jeep trips to Frankfurt, 20 miles away, to eat ice cream and cold cuts in the SHAEF snack bar (a cafeteria straight out of Howard Johnson). I came up here about three weeks ago after eight very pleasant months in Paris.

Cambridge, of course, is never far away. I had lunch today with Perry (Major) Miller, Hugh (Captain) Cunningham and Paul (Lieutenant) Sweezy. Perry, who wears a helmet still, is a field man looking with great scorn on us of the rear echelons. He spoke today of getting out of the army (on his 87 points) and going back to Cambridge, but I believe this mood to be the product of his ­hang-­over. After a good night’s sleep Widener will seem as revolting as ever to him. I should not be nasty; Perry is a very good guy, going through a very difficult period, and Cambridge will be even more difficult. I met his girl several times in London. She is considerably more attractive than his wife. . . .

My feelings about Germany are mixed, but not very much. First you have the strange contrast of the giddy life we all lead against the background of desolation and rubble. Life in the Army of Occupation, as I said before, is very gay, and the flypaper has not yet begun to smother the flies. Some of my colleagues who have spoken to Germans are coming to regard them somewhat in the category of liberated peoples; but I cannot get over the fact that two months ago these ­sons-­of-­bitches were trying to kill every American they could find, and that continues to color my reactions. They seem to me a sullen, ­thick-­headed race, lacking in charm, and every one of them over 16 deserves what is coming to them. Under sixteen everything breaks down, however. The children are cute as hell and a bit ­heart-­breaking. The other day, when I was lunching at the casual officer’s mess at Heidelberg, I happened to sit next to a window outside of which a collection of small German children soon gathered to beg for bread. After a time an MP in a very nice way shooed them away, but it was an experience I could take only by reminding myself forcibly of the condition of the French children last January and February when we froze to the marrow in Paris.

I have been over a year now. It is long enough, and I am possessed of a great desire to see my wife and family before they forget me completely. Of course, my initiation into that great fraternity the Army of the US, which took place about six weeks before the end of the war in Europe, has somewhat hampered my freedom of movement. My army career has been absurd. I wore a uniform, as civilians had to in Paris, until I was inducted, when I promptly went into civilian clothes. I spent my first month in the Army as member of a Hospital Detachment located near Paris, but the Hospital returned me to OSS on temporary duty as soon as they signed me up, and I missed hardly a day at my desk. I could not come to Germany in my true guise as an EM, because my job cannot be discharged by an EM in uniform, and civilian clothes are not permitted in Germany. Consequently I am now back in paramilitary uniform, disguised as a civilian and enjoying officers’ prerogatives (after two months in Paris of eating with the cooks in a back room behind the E’s mess along with the other strange characters who were in civvies). Thus I am temporarily relieved of the social disabilities, but the economic remain, as I am reminded with some force, having just received my monthly pay check of thirty one dollars. The financial side ­really hurts.

But with luck maybe I will be back by Christmas. I have seen Harpers [Magazine] occasionally, generally about four months late, and have been pleased to note that the Easy Chair is as lively as ever. Marian has also sent on news of you and Avis. But in general I feel pretty much out of touch. Do drop a line when you have a moment, give my love to Avis and my stern military regards to Bunny, Mark, Lewis and Clark.

Yours ever,


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