Arthur Meier Schlesinger (SHLAY-zihng-ur), Jr., was one of the United States’ premier historians of the twentieth century. His father, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., was a major social and cultural historian and a noted Harvard University professor. Schlesinger’s mother, Elizabeth Bancroft, was probably related to the great nineteenth century liberal historian George Bancroft. After graduating from the prestigious Exeter Academy, Schlesinger majored in history and literature at Harvard, and his senior thesis became his first book, published to considerable praise when he was twenty-two as Orestes A. Brownson: A Pilgrim’s Progress. He married Marian Cannon in 1940. They had three children but divorced in 1970. His second marriage was to Alexandra Emmet in 1971, with whom he had one son.
Because of his father’s prominence as well as his Harvard experience, the young Schlesinger had a wide range of friends and acquaintances, both in the United States and in Europe, drawn from academe, politics, and literature. During World War II he served with the Office of War Information, both in Washington and in Europe, and in the United States Army. Schlesinger’s second book was a revisionist study of Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian democracy, which focused upon Jackson’s eastern urban supporters, as an alternative to the older frontier interpretation of Frederick Jackson Turner. When published, as The Age of Jackson, it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1946, although some criticized Schlesinger, an avowed and active Democrat, of political bias. Uniquely, at twenty-eight and having only a bachelor’s degree, Schlesinger was appointed an associate professor of history at Harvard.
Very much an enthusiastic product and supporter of the New Deal in the 1930’s, Schlesinger turned to that subject for what many consider his major historical work, The Age of Roosevelt. By 1960, three volumes had appeared, with the first volume, The Crisis of the Old Order, being honored with both the Francis Parkman Prize and the Frederic Bancroft Prize. However, his political involvements and commitments frequently intruded upon his...
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