A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House

A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House

by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

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As special assistant to the president, Arthur Schlesinger witnessed firsthand the politics and personalities that influenced the now legendary Kennedy administration. Schlesinger’s close relationship with JFK, as a politician and as a friend, has resulted in this authoritative yet intimate account in which the president “walks through the pages, from first to last, alert, alive, amused and amusing” (John Kenneth Galbraith). A THOUSAND DAYS is “at once a masterly literary achievement and a work of major historical significance” (New York Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618219278
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/03/2002
Edition description: 1ST MARINE
Pages: 1120
Sales rank: 298,801
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.94(d)

About the Author

ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR., the author of sixteen books, was a renowned historian and social critic. He twice won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1946 for The Age of Jackson and in 1966 for A Thousand Days. He was also the winner of the National Book Award for both A Thousand Days and Robert Kennedy and His Times (1979). In 1998 he was awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal.

Read an Excerpt


The Road to the Nomination

The election of Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Presidency in 1952 had signaled a change in the prevailing weather of American politics — a return, in effect, to Republican 'normalcy' after twenty years of Democratic activism. Yet, in losing the 1952 campaign, Adlai Stevenson had left an indelible imprint on the American mind. By giving the tradition of progressive idealism brilliant and exciting expression, he renewed, even in defeat, the vitality of American liberalism. "A whole new generation," said Edward M. Kennedy in later years, "was drawn to take an interest in public affairs when he came on the scene. They were led by him, taught by him and inspired by him."

By 1956 that new generation of Democrats was preparing to claim national recognition. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been one of its first members to enter politics. Elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts after the war in 1946 and then to the Senate in 1952, he was now a contender for the second place on the national ticket. The vice-presidential contest at the Democratic convention that year brought him for the first tine toward the center of the national consciousness — a brief fifty-four months before he took the presidential oath in Washington.

1. CHICAGO: 1956

Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was dubious about his son and the Vice-Presidency. He feared that the Democrats would lose in 1956 and a Catholic running mate would be blamed for the defeat. But the young administrative assistant whom Kennedy had taken on in 1953 at the suggestion of Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois, Theodore C. Sorensen of Nebraska, was all for going ahead. Without finally committing himself, Kennedy decided to let Sorensen test the wind. Through the spring of 1956 Sorensen talked to political leaders, wrote a persuasive memorandum designed to prove from the distribution of the Catholic vote that a Catholic would strengthen the ticket and worked unceasingly to line up support.

In the course of his missionary endeavors Sorensen got in touch with me. I had served on Stevenson's campaign staff in 1952 and, if he were renominated, would presumably do so again. Moreover, I had come to the view that, of the various vice-presidential possibilities, Kennedy would help Stevenson most. I also felt that putting a Catholic on the lower half of the ticket would be the most expeditious way to attenuate the taboo against a Catholic President which had too long disgraced American politics. Accordingly I had told Kennedy in the spring that I wanted to assist in any way I could consistent with my role in the Stevenson campaign. Sorensen came to our place at Wellfleet on Cape Cod early in July to discuss tactics at the convention.

Kennedy already had friends at the Stevenson headquarters in Chicago, notably two Stevenson law partners, William McCormack Blair, Jr., and Newton Minow. But he had opposition within the party, especially from professional Catholic politicians and from the older generation of party leaders. The soft-spoken and sagacious James Finnegan, Stevenson's campaign manager, was convinced that Kennedy would antagonize voters in anti-Catholic areas, as in the rural counties of Finnegan's own state of Pennsylvania. Jim Farley told Stevenson, "America is not ready for a Catholic." And the older party leaders disliked the idea of Kennedy not only because of his religion but because of his youth and independence. Truman dismissed the thought out of hand. Rayburn said to Stevenson, "Well, if we have to have a Catholic, I hope we don't have to take that little — — Kennedy. How about John McCormack?" (Rayburn later changed his mind about Kennedy.) Stevenson was troubled by the reaction of experienced pros like Truman, Farley and Finnegan. On the other hand, he wanted to give the new political generation prominence, and he considered Kennedy its most attractive spokesman. As the Democrats began to assemble in Chicago for the convention, he therefore decided to ask Kennedy to put his name in nomination.

The Stevenson staff had taken on itself to write drafts of all the nominating and seconding speeches in order to make sure that the proper points would be made. Kennedy characteristically rejected his draft, and he and Ted Sorensen set to work to produce a new one. I conducted these negotiations, and it was then that I first saw the Kennedy-Sorensen team in operation. There was no question which was the dominant partner, but there was no question either that in Sorensen Kennedy had found a remarkably intelligent, sensitive and faithful associate. Eventually the two labored together nearly till dawn on the speech.

Kennedy nominated Stevenson the next evening, and Stevenson won on the first ballot. Afterward Stevenson met with Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Paul Butler, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Governor Ribicoff of Connecticut and Governor Battle of Virginia to discuss the Vice-Presidency. Wilson Wyatt and Thomas K. Finletter had already proposed to Stevenson that the nomination be thrown open to the convention. A free choice, they argued, would provide an effective contrast to the 'dictated' renomination of Richard M. Nixon by the Republicans. Moreover, it would obviously liberate Stevenson from the embarrassment of having to pick one of the hopefuls and thereby disappoint the others.

When Stevenson broached this idea in the meeting, Rayburn said vigorously and profanely that it violated all tradition and logic. Butler backed Rayburn, and Johnson was plainly cool. But Finnegan spoke resourcefully for the open convention and finally prevailed. Later Stevenson told me that he regarded it as a gamble, since it might put a weak candidate on the ticket (he named a couple of Democratic politicians, neither of whom in the end was a serious contender), but that, in the circumstances, it was a risk he was willing to run.

Whatever else it did, the move brought the convention to life. The vice-presidential candidates spent the next twelve hours in frantic efforts to organize headquarters, track down delegates and plead for support. Estes Kefauver led on the first ballot, Kennedy was second. Then Lyndon Johnson announced that his state was switching to Kennedy (''Texas proudly casts its vote for the fighting sailor who wears the scars of battle"), and Kennedy went ahead. There were a few moments of pandemonium until Albert Gore arose to say that Tennessee was shifting to Kefauver. This set off the stampede, and Kefauver soon was over the top. A few moments later Kennedy, who had been taking a bath in his headquarters in the Stockyard Inn, made a poised good-loser speech asking that Kefauver be named by acclamation.

The open-convention device left a wake of obscure resentments. Both Kennedy and Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota had expected Stevenson's backing (though neither had solid ground for such hopes), and both now felt let down. Stevenson, in Kennedy's case, thought that, in asking him to make the nominating speech, he had already given a thirty-nine-year-old first-term Senator an unexampled opportunity to impress the convention and the nation and that Kennedy should appreciate this. Kennedy instead began to look on Stevenson as indecisive and elusive. Up to this time, the two men, without knowing each other well and divided by seventeen years, had had the friendliest feelings for each other. Now their relationship began to take on a slight tinge of mutual exasperation. In later years, however, Kennedy rejoiced that he had lost in Chicago. Had he won the nomination for Vice-President in 1956, he might never have won the nomination for President in 1960.


Eisenhower's personal popularity, replenished by his success in ending the Korean War, proved invincible in the presidential contest; but the Democrats came out with control of both the Senate and House. This Democratic success, however, hastened the division of the party into what James MacGregor Burns has called its presidential and congressional wings. In the years after 1952 Stevenson had sponsored a small brain trust organized by Thomas K. Finletter, who had been Secretary of the Air Force under Truman and was now a leader of the reform Democrats of New York City, and John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist, my Harvard colleague and Cambridge neighbor. The Finletter group now became the basis for a new body, the Democratic Advisory Council, set up after the election by Paul Butler. The DAC, as an agency of the presidential party, was regarded with mistrust by the congressional leaders. Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn both declined to join. Humphrey became a member, however, and so eventually did Kennedy, though Kennedy took no very active part. The DAC pursued an aggressive line both in attacking the Eisenhower administration and in developing new Democratic policies. The congressional party was inclined to work with Eisenhower and accept the national mood of moderation. In the meantime, battle lines began to form for 1960.

Early in 1957 Lyndon Johnson wrote me that he understood I was critical of the congressional leadership and suggested that I call on him when next in Washington. Accordingly I dropped by the majority leader's office on a Saturday noon late in March. Johnson was affable and expansive. He began by saying that he was a sick man (his heart attack had taken place in 1955) with no political future of his own. His main desire, he said, was to live. He had no interest at all in the presidential nomination. He did not even mean to run again for the Senate. He planned only to serve out his present term. Being entirely disinterested, he wanted only to do the best he could for his party and his nation in the three, or two, or one year remaining to him.

He then poured out his stream-of-consciousness on the problems of leadership in the Senate. He described the difficulties of keeping the conservative southerners, whom he called the Confederates, and the liberal northerners in the same harness; he analyzed a number of seemingly insoluble parliamentary situations which he had mastered through unlimited perseverance and craft; and he gave a virtuoso's account of the role which timing, persuasion and parliamentary tactics played in getting bills through. Saying, "I want you to know the kind of material I have to work with," he ran down the list of forty-eight Democratic Senators, with a brilliant thumbnail sketch of each — strength and weakness, openness to persuasion, capacity for teamwork, prejudices, vices. In some cases he amplified the sketch by devastating dashes of mimicry. (My notes report him "highly favorable about Kennedy, but no special excitement.")

He went on to express his annoyance over the unwillingness of the organized liberals to accept him as one of their own. "Look at Americans for Democratic Action," he said. "They regard me as a southern reactionary, but they love Cliff Case. Have you ever compared my voting record with Cliff Case's?" Thereupon he pulled out of a desk drawer a comparison of his voting record with those of five liberal Republicans on fifteen issues. On each, he had voted on the liberal side and Case on the conservative. "And yet they look on me as some kind of southern bigot." He added that maybe he was showing undue sensitivity to liberal criticism. "But what a sad day it will be for the Democratic party when its Senate leader is not sensitive to liberal criticism."

He talked for an hour and a half without interruption. I had carefully thought out in advance the arguments to make when asked to justify my doubts about his leadership; but in the course of this picturesque and lavish discourse Johnson met in advance almost all the points I had in mind. When he finally paused, I found I had little to say. It was my first exposure to the Johnson treatment, and I found him a good deal more attractive, more subtle and more formidable than I expected. After nearly two hours under hypnosis, I staggered away in a condition of exhaustion. Later I gathered that this was part of a broader Johnson campaign to explain himself to the liberal intellectuals. In a few weeks, when Kenneth Galbraith visited him on his Texas ranch, Johnson told him, "I had a good meeting with Schlesinger. I found him quite easy to get along with. The only trouble was that he talked too much."

As for Kennedy, he too was having his problems with the liberal intellectuals. The Chicago convention had made him a national figure; and it was increasingly clear that the vice-presidential nomination would not satisfy him the next time around. In 1958 he came up for his second term in the Senate. His hope was to return to Washington by the largest possible vote in order to lay the basis for a presidential try two years later. His wife later remembered it as "the hardest campaign ever ... just running, running." He won by 875,000 votes, the greatest margin up to that point in Massachusetts history. Now his presidential campaign was starting in earnest.

Many liberal Democrats regarded him with suspicion. In part this went back to the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early fifties. Kennedy at first had not taken the Wisconsin Senator very seriously. "I think that the stories of communism within the executive branch of the government have more or less died out," he had said optimistically on Meet the Press in December 1951, "and I think that determined efforts have been made to rid the executive branch of the government of the communists, and I think it's been done on the whole." But by 1953 it was impossible to dismiss McCarthy any longer. When I mentioned him from time to time those days to Kennedy, he referred to the McCarthy Committee with articulate dislike but showed no interest in saying so publicly. He put this to me on political grounds — "Hell, half my voters in Massachusetts look on McCarthy as a hero" — and the political grounds were, I suppose, compelling. No one in the Senate in 1953, except for Herbert Lehman and, on particular occasions, Estes Kefauver and J. W. Fulbright, showed much courage about McCarthy. Even Senators like Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey kept out of McCarthy's way; and the fate of Millard Tydings and William Benton, who had taken him on and lost their seats, presumably in consequence, remained instructive.

One might have hoped that Kennedy, another Irish Catholic Senator and a genuine war hero, would have seen himself in a particularly strong position to challenge McCarthyism. But there were perhaps deeper reasons for his lack of involvement. His family's relations with McCarthy were certainly an important factor. His father liked McCarthy and invited him once or twice to Hyannis Port. The Wisconsin Senator could be engaging in the Victor McClaglen manner, and the Ambassador even perhaps saw the campaign against this fighting Irishman as one more outlet for the anti-Catholic sentiment which had so long oppressed the Irish-American community. Moreover, Robert Kennedy worked for a time on the staff of the McCarthy Committee, though he soon found himself in disagreement with the Committee's procedures and resigned, returning later as counsel for the Democratic minority.

As for John Kennedy himself, McCarthyism simply did not strike him as one of 'his' issues. This diffidence was no doubt related to his exasperation with the ideological liberals of the day and what he regarded as their emotional approach to public questions. A writer in The Saturday Evening Post in 1953 quoted him as saying, "I never joined the Americans for Democratic Action or the American Veterans Committee. I'm not comfortable with those people." Liberalism for him still existed mainly in terms of social and economic programs. As he later said to James MacGregor Burns, "Some people have their liberalism 'made' by the time they reach their late twenties. I didn't. I was caught in cross currents and eddies. It was only later that I got into the stream of things."

Still, Kennedy's actual position was no better and no worse than that of most Democrats, including those more clearly in the liberal stream of things. It was always a puzzle why the liberals took so long to forgive him when they forgave Hubert Humphrey immediately for his sponsorship of a bill to outlaw the Communist Party — an act of appeasement in excess of anything undertaken by Kennedy. Certainly, in spite of the whispering campaign against him in 1960, Kennedy never gave the slightest support to McCarthyism. He had no sustained social relations with McCarthy (his wife never even met him), did not question the motives of people who advocated unpopular policies and voted consistently as Senator against McCarthy on matters close to McCarthy's heart, such as the confirmation of Charles E. Bohlen as ambassador to Russia and of James B. Conant to West Germany. He prepared a speech in August 1954 explaining that he would vote for McCarthy's censure, though he planned to rest his case on rather technical grounds; when the vote finally took place in December, he was gravely sick in the hospital, awaiting a critical operation on his back. If he did not join Americans for Democratic Action, he always served as sponsor for ADA's annual Roosevelt Day dinners in Boston. And, if he kept out of the public debate, he did not hesitate to intervene privately. About this time John Fox of the Boston Post, who had backed Kennedy for the Senate in 1952, scheduled a series of articles exposing the reds at Harvard. My name was high on Fox's list. Hearing about the series, Kennedy protested on my behalf. "Fox didn't like it much," he told me later. "He probably suspects me of being a Communist now."


Excerpted from "A Thousand Days"
by .
Copyright © 1993 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Foreword to the 2002 Edition,
Prologue: January 1961,
The Road to the Nomination,
Triumph in Los Angeles,
Campaign for the Presidency,
Kennedy on the Eve,
Gathering of the Forces,
Prelude to the New Frontier,
Latin American Journey,
The Alliance for Progress,
The Hour of Euphoria,
The Bay of Pigs,
Ordeal by Fire,
New Departures,
Legacy in Southeast Asia,
Encounter in Europe,
Trial in Berlin,
The Reconstruction of Diplomacy,
Peril in the Skies,
No Truce to Terror,
New Directions in the Third World,
Tangle in Southeast Asia,
Africa: The New Adventure,
The World of Diversity,
The Country Moving Again,
The National Agenda,
In the White House,
Down Pennsylvania Avenue,
The Bully Pulpit,
The Politics of Modernity,
Battle for the Hemisphere,
Again Cuba,
The Great Turning,
The Not So Grand Design,
Two Europes: De Gaulle and Kennedy,
The Pursuit of Peace,
The Travail of Equal Rights,
The Negro Revolution,
Autumn 1963,
About the Author,

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Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Schlesinger tells me a lot more than I need to know, in more pages of close print than the thousand days of the title, about President Kennedy's administration. Further, the JFK he portrays is not the JFK I knew as a Washington correspondent for a midwestern newspaper. Mr. Schlesinger saw his boss not only through rose-colored glasses, but with the narrowly focused vision of an adoring employee. All of this in a prose style so turgid that I had great difficulty staying awake for even an hour's reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Schleisinger has caputured the essence of the Kennedy White House with his strict attention to detail and moment by moment accounts of events that transpired during the time: Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is an excellent piece of work and is the best Kennedy as a President piece ever written second to Richard Reeve's 'President Kennedy: Profile of Power.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Schlesinger writes about Kennedy like a teenage girl with a crush. To Arthur Lincoln and FDR pale by comparison to Kennedy. Unxiously obsequious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And constantly hints at situations and events and personal health without actually making a statement more like a fan magazine than a serious bio.
Angelic55blonde on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Now, given his close relationship to President Kennedy it is clear that there will be some bias. But Schlesinger deals with that right away by acknowledging that in the beginning of his book. Also, even though there is somewhat of a bias which makes Schlesinger not hit as hard as he could on some of Kennedy's white house days, this is still a great book that is a great addition to the historiography on President Kennedy.It is a very long book so it does get dry from time to time but Schlesinger, Jr. gives so much detail the reader really feels like they lived during that time period or were in the room with Kennedy. This book will definitely take you a long time to read it but it is so worth it. I highly recommend this book.
jmgallen More than 1 year ago
“A Thousand Days” is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s account of what he saw in the Kennedy White House. On inauguration Day, January 20, 1961 “IT ALL BEGAN in the cold.” It then flashes back to the long road to the nomination, beginning with the unsuccessful attempt to secure the vice-presidential nomination in 1956. It continues through the three-year planning stages followed by the primary races against Hubert Humphrey and the negotiations with favorite sons to prevent a deadlock that could turn to Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson or Stuart Symington. After victory in Los Angeles the first order of business was the selection of Johnson as his running mate preparatory to the sea-saw battle with and razor thin victory over Nixon first in the general election. With victory confirmed Kennedy went about assembling his team. From the beginning of the term, Schlesinger provides insights into the initiatives and challenges of the administration. JFK came into office determined to improve relations with Latin America and establish them with emerging nations in Africa. Efforts to stimulate the economy took the form of a tax cut rather than stimulus spending because that would be easier to get through Congress. Challenges interrupted pursuit of Administration policies. The first crisis was the Bay of Pigs in which Kennedy allowed his wiliness to accept advice from the generals and CIA led him to approve an invasion plan but he then to pulled back from the commitment necessary to achieve victory due to unwillingness allow American involvement to be discovered. The result was an embarrassment and weakening of his leadership authority. About a year and a half later the Cuban Missile Crisis provided the ultimate test that the President passed with the nation, and world, intact. Schlesinger covers other issues including the neutralization of Laos and rising problems in Vietnam. The nascent Civil Rights movement was addressed by executive action in sending troops and marshals to force the integration of the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama and legislative action by the introduction of a new Civil Rights Act. Being as it is Schlesinger’s view of John F. Kennedy in the White House the sections on Dallas are brief, as befitting an author who was in Washington that day. The book concludes a month after the assassination with the carrying of the flame to the Lincoln Memorial where “It all ended, as it began, in the cold.” As readers of my reviews are aware I like first person memoirs, those that make readers the flies on the walls, and give us the inside views. Such works are generally partisan and “A Thousand Days” is certainly that. It is long with the author devoting about a page per day but, once you start, stick with it to the end. I do not recommend it as a reader’s sole account of the Kennedy Presidency, but find it to be a valuable resource.
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mcb8-24-39 More than 1 year ago
Thank you for dispensing history.
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Get samuari seige and join the storm cloaks
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The greatest book about a president
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Talks about how he dies and that he was a important man to this country and how it ran
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richardcolonel More than 1 year ago
Author Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, wrote his memoir in a way that is not only readable but enjoyable. I especially liked how he wrote not from History books but as a witness of events as they occur. I highly recommend this reading for it gives us much the same of what is happening now in the United States. It makes me happy that he "did not wait his turn," to be President of the United States.
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Dang! The posts before ME are even older!!