History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

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From the Estate of Llewellyn E. Thompson,

United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union

" . . . some of the most valuable insights into problems and into the state of public opinion

are to be found in the personal correspondence and records of leading officials of the government."

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., born Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger, 1917–2007.  American historian and intellectual; aide to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  Typed Letter Signed, Arthur, two pages, 8½" x 11", on stationery of The White House, Washington, [D.C.], February 6, 1964.

Schlesinger, better known today as a Harvard University historian, was a liberal who served as an advisor and primary speech writer to Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II in 1952 and 1956 and as a White House aide to President John F. Kennedy.  When he wrote this letter, he worked for Kennedyʼs successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson—but the letter conveys that his loyalties, as they were throughout his life, were with the Kennedys.  On White House stationery, Schlesinger solicits the donation of Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson's private papers to the John F. Kennedy Library.  He writes, in full: 

As you know, we are currently trying to organize the collection for the Kennedy Library of the papers essential for an understanding of the issues and achievements of the Kennedy Administration.  Steps are already under way in the Department of State (and in the other departments and agencies) to make copies of the official records necessary to document the history of the Kennedy period.  In addition, there is the question of the personal papers of leading officials; and it is to this question that this letter is addressed.

ʻPersonal papersʼ may be most easily defined as those files which you would plan to take with you when you leave the government.  They include, in other words, personal letters and documents which do not go into the central files of the department.  My own experience in working on the history of the Roosevelt Administration has shown me that some of the most valuable insights into problems and into the state of public opinion are to be found in the personal correspondence and records of leading officials of the government. 

The disposition of personal papers is obviously a matter for personal decision.  But, since the Kennedy Library will be a center for the study of American history in this period, we hope that you and others will permit your papers to be given to, or copied for, the Library.  Most of the members of the Cabinet, including the Secretary of State, have already decided to make their papers for the Kennedy period available for the Library.  I should emphasize that there is statutory authorization for donors to place whatever restrictions and stipulations they may wish on the use of these materials.

I enclose three alternative instruments of authorization—one authorizing the donation of personal papers to the Kennedy Library; a second authorizing the microfilming of such papers for the Kennedy Library; and a third authorizing immediate microfilming with a view to eventual donation.  The instruments also contain safeguards as to control of access and as to the preservation of literary property rights in the material.

I hope you will feel inclined to execute one of these instruments.  If you have any questions about this, I would be glad to try and answer them; or you might wish to get in touch with Herman Kahn of the National Archives, who is directing the collection of materials within the government.  Mr. Kahn, as you will recall, was formerly director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park.

Llewellyn E. "Tommy" Thompson (1904-1972) was a career American diplomat who served at a critical time in history.  He served as the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.  He was a key advisor to Kennedy and a member of his inner circle with respect to Soviet affairs.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1928, and during his long and distinguished career he served as the United States Ambassador to Austria from 1955 to 1957 before Eisenhower appointed him Ambassador to the Soviet Union.  He held that position under Eisenhower until Kennedy reappointed him in 1961.  He resigned in 1962 to become Ambassador At Large, but Johnson reappointed him in 1967, and he served until 1969.  He also held the post of Career Ambassador.  He was part of the Executive Committee to the National Security Council, or ExComm, which advised Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, and he was present at Johnson's summit with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin at Glassboro, New Jersey, in June 1967.  He later came out of  retirement to advise President Richard Nixon on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) negotiations with the Soviet Union and to serve as a member of the United States delegation to the SALT talks from 1969 until his death in 1972.

Schlesingerʼs reference to his "own experience in working on the history of the Roosevelt Administration" is to his trilogy published as The Age of Roosevelt:  The Crisis of the Old Order (1957), The Coming of the New Deal (1959), and The Politics of Upheaval (1960).  Throughout his long career, Schlesinger, who served  wrote 13 books, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Age of Jackson (1945), A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), The Imperial Presidency (1973), Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978), The Cycles of American History (1986), and A Life in the 20th Century (2000).  After his death, his two older sons edited and published Journals: 1952–2000 (2007), which distilled some 6,000 pages of Schlesinger's diaries into an eminently readable personal take on American political history, and portions of his 1964 oral history interviews with Jacqueline Kennedy, recorded shortly after the Presidentʼs assassination, were published in a boxed CD and book set under the title Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy (2011). 

Ultimately, Thompson did not donate his papers to the Kennedy Library.  He did, however, sit for oral history interviews on March 25, 1964, and April 27, 1966, both of which are in the Kennedy Library collection.

Schlesinger has signed this letter in black.  The letter has staple holes and minor creasing in the blank area at the upper left and a bit of soiling in the right margin on the first page.  Thompson has made a marginal mark to note Schlesinger's statement that there was a statutory authorization for donors to place whatever restrictions and stipulations they may wish on the use of these materials."  Overall the letter is in fine condition.

Provenance:  This letter comes directly from the Thompson estate.  It has never been offered on the autograph market before.


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