James William Fulbright (April 9, 1905 – February 9, 1995) was a United States Senator representing Arkansas from January 1945 until his resignation in December 1974. Fulbright is the longest serving chairman in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A Southern Democrat and a staunch multilateralist who supported the creation of the United Nations, he was also a segregationist who signed the Southern Manifesto. Fulbright opposed McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee and later became known for his opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. His efforts to establish an international exchange program eventually resulted in the creation of a fellowship program which bears his name, the Fulbright Program.
Fulbright was born in Sumner, Missouri, the son of Roberta (née Waugh) and Jay Fulbright. In 1906 the Fulbright family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fulbright's parents enrolled him in the University of Arkansas's College of Education's experimental grammar and secondary school.
Fulbright earned a history degree from the University of Arkansas in 1925, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He was elected president of the student body and a star four-year player for the Razorback football team from 1921 to 1924.
Fulbright later studied at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College, graduating in 1928. He received his law degree from The George Washington University Law School in 1934, was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C. and became an attorney in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Fulbright was a lecturer in law at the University of Arkansas from 1936 until 1939. He was appointed president of the school in 1939, making him the youngest university president in the country. He held this post until 1941. The School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas is named in his honor, and he was elected there into Phi Beta Kappa. He was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford.
Fulbright was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1942, where he served one term. During this period, he became a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The House adopted the Fulbright Resolution which supported international peace-keeping initiatives and encouraged the United States to participate in what became the United Nations in September 1943. This brought Fulbright to national attention.
In 1943 a confidential analysis by Isaiah Berlin of the House and Senate foreign relations committees for the British Foreign Office identified Fulbright as "a distinguished new-comer to the House." It continued:
A young (age 38) wealthy ex-Rhodes scholar, whose major experience so far has been of farming and business. He has already shown versatile competence and ability in business as special attorney in the Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department and as president of the University of Arkansas. An alert and intelligent member of the committee who recently drew a comparison between the British practice of making grants to her allies and America's World War practice of making loans on fixed financial terms, to show that it was America which had departed from the general international practice in the matter. Fulbright would like to see the United States obtain only non-material benefits from Lend-Lease, namely, political commitments from the countries receiving it, that would enable a system of post-war collective security to be set up. An internationalist.
He was elected to the Senate in 1944, unseating incumbent Hattie Carraway, the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. He served five six-year terms. In his first general election to the Senate, Fulbright defeated the Republican Victor Wade of Batesville, 85.1 to 14.9 percent. Benjamin Travis Laney, a more conservative Democrat than Fulbright, won the race for governor of Arkansas in the same election by a similar margin, 86 to 14 percent for Republican Harley C. Stump, the former mayor of Stuttgart.
He promoted the passage of legislation establishing the Fulbright Program in 1946, a program of educational grants (Fulbright Fellowships and Fulbright Scholarships), sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, governments in other countries, and the private sector. The program was established to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills. It is considered one of the most prestigious award programs and it operates in 155 countries.
Fulbright became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1949, and served as chairman from 1959 to 1974–he was the longest-serving chair in that committee's history.
In 1956, Fulbright campaigned across the country for the unsuccessful Stevenson-Kefauver ticket. He swamped his Republican challenger that year, Ben C. Henley, the state party chairman and a brother of U.S. District Judge Jesse Smith Henley of Harrison.
Fulbright signed The Southern Manifesto in opposition of the Supreme Court's historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. With other southern Democrats, Fulbright filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as voting against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, in 1970, during the Nixon administration, Fulbright voted for a five-year extension of the Voting Rights Act. He also led the charge against confirming Nixon's conservative Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell.
According to historian and former Special Assistant to President Kennedy Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Fulbright was Kennedy's first choice as Secretary of State, but it was felt he was too controversial. Rather the "lowest common denominator", Dean Rusk, was chosen.
Fulbright raised serious objections to President John F. Kennedy about the impending Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, and also to President Lyndon B. Johnson on the 1965 Dominican Civil War in Santo Domingo.
On 30 July 1961, two weeks before the erection of the Berlin Wall, Fulbright said in a television interview, "I don't understand why the East Germans don't just close their border, because I think they have the right to close it." Fulbright’s statement was reported as a three-column spread on the front page of the East German Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland. The West German reception of his statement was extremely negative. A cable from US Embassy Bonn reported that “rarely has a statement by a prominent American official aroused so much consternation, chagrin and anger.” Willy Brandt’s Press Secretary Egon Bahr is quoted as saying: “We privately called him Fulbricht” (after Walter Ulbricht, who was the East German head of state at that time).
McGeorge Bundy sent the press coverage of Fulbright’s interview to the President with a comment about “the helpful impact of Senator Fulbright’s remarks.” Kennedy subsequently refused to distance himself from Fulbright’s observation, which suggests that he asked Fulbright to make this statement as a way of signaling to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that the building of a wall would be viewed by the United States as an acceptable way of defusing the Berlin Crisis.
The President (John Kennedy) is hobbled in his task of leading the American people to consensus and concerted action by the restrictions of power imposed on him by a constitutional system designed for an 18th century agrarian society far removed from the centers of world power. He alone, among elected officials can rise above parochialism and private pressures. He alone, in his role as teacher and moral leader, can hope to overcome the excesses and inadequacies of a public opinion that is all too often ignorant of the needs, the dangers, and the opportunities in our foreign relations. It is imperative that we break out of the intellectual confines of cherished and traditional beliefs and open our minds to the possibility that Basic Changes in Our System may be essential to meet the requirements of the 20th century.'— J William Fulbright, Stanford University, 1961
Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1963, Fulbright claimed five million tax-deductible dollars from philanthropic Americans was sent to Israel and then recycled back to the U.S. for distribution to organizations seeking to influence public opinion in favor of Israel. This statement led to friction with organized pro-Israeli groups in the U.S.
Perhaps his most notable case of dissent was his public condemnation of foreign and domestic policies, in particular, his concern that right-wing radicalism, as espoused by the John Birch Society and wealthy oil-man H. L. Hunt, had infected the United States military. He was, in turn, denounced by Republican Senators J. Strom Thurmond and Barry M. Goldwater. Goldwater and Texas Senator John Tower announced that they were going to Arkansas to campaign against Fulbright, but Arkansas voters reelected him.
One of Fulbright's local staffers in Arkansas was James McDougal. While working for Fulbright, McDougal met the future Arkansas governor and US President Bill Clinton and the two of them, along with their wives, began investing in various development properties, including the parcel of land along the White River in the Ozarks that would later be the subject of an independent counsel investigation during Clinton's first term in office.
Despite serving in the Senate for 30 years, Fulbright remained Arkansas' junior senator throughout his tenure, serving alongside senior senator John L. McClellan. He along with Tom Harkin of Iowa who served alongside Chuck Grassley, are both the longest-serving senators in history to never become their state's senior senator.
On August 7, 1964, a unanimous House of Representatives and all but two members of the Senate voted to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which led to a dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War. Fulbright, who not only voted for, but sponsored, the resolution, would later write:
Many Senators who accepted the Gulf of Tonkin resolution without question might well not have done so had they foreseen that it would subsequently be interpreted as a sweeping Congressional endorsement for the conduct of a large-scale war in Asia.
As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright held several series of hearings on the Vietnam War. Many of the earlier hearings, in 1966, were televised to the nation in their entirety (a rarity in the pre–C-SPAN era); the 1971 hearings included the notable testimony of Vietnam veteran and future Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry.
In 1966, Fulbright published The Arrogance of Power, in which he attacked the justification of the Vietnam War, Congress's failure to set limits on it, and the impulses which gave rise to it. Fulbright's scathing critique undermined the elite consensus that U.S. military intervention in Indochina was necessitated by Cold War geopolitics.
In his book, Fulbright offered an analysis of American foreign policy:
Throughout our history two strands have coexisted uneasily; a dominant strand of democratic humanism and a lesser but durable strand of intolerant Puritanism. There has been a tendency through the years for reason and moderation to prevail as long as things are going tolerably well or as long as our problems seem clear and finite and manageable. But... when some event or leader of opinion has aroused the people to a state of high emotion, our puritan spirit has tended to break through, leading us to look at the world through the distorting prism of a harsh and angry moralism.
Fulbright also related his opposition to any American tendencies to intervene in the affairs of other nations:
Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations—to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God's work.
He was also a strong believer in international law:
Law is the essential foundation of stability and order both within societies and in international relations. As a conservative power, the United States has a vital interest in upholding and expanding the reign of law in international relations. Insofar as international law is observed, it provides us with stability and order and with a means of predicting the behavior of those with whom we have reciprocal legal obligations. When we violate the law ourselves, whatever short-term advantage may be gained, we are obviously encouraging others to violate the law; we thus encourage disorder and instability and thereby do incalculable damage to our own long-term interests.
Fulbright left the Senate in 1974, after being defeated in the Democratic primary by then-Governor Dale Bumpers. His well-documented early condemnation of the Vietnamese war and anti-interventionist programs had long made him a target of his party's right wing. Bumpers won by a landslide.
At the time that he left the Senate, Fulbright had spent his entire 30 years in the Senate as the junior senator from Arkansas, behind John Little McClellan who entered the Senate two years before him. After his retirement, Fulbright practiced international law at the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Hogan & Hartson from 1975–1993.
Fulbright died of a stroke in 1995 at the age of 89 in Washington, D.C. A year later, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary dinner of the Fulbright Program held June 5, 1996 at the White House, President Bill Clinton said, "Hillary and I have looked forward for some time to celebrating this 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program, to honor the dream and legacy of a great American, a citizen of the world, a native of my home state and my mentor and friend, Senator Fulbright."
In 1996, The George Washington University renamed a residence hall in his honor. The J. William Fulbright Hall is located 2223 H Street, N.W., at the corner of 23rd and H Streets. The Hall received historic designations as a District of Columbia historic site on January 28, 2010, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 2010.
On October 21, 2002, in a speech at the dedication of the Fulbright Sculpture at the University of Arkansas, Bill Clinton said,
I admired him. I liked him. On the occasions when we disagreed, I loved arguing with him. I never loved getting in an argument with anybody as much in my entire life as I loved fighting with Bill Fulbright. I'm quite sure I always lost, and yet he managed to make me think I might have won.
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.
Approximately 294,000 "Fulbrighters", 111,000 from the United States and 183,000 from other countries, have participated in the Program since its inception over sixty years ago. The Fulbright Program awards approximately 6,000 new grants annually.
Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.
The Thank You Fulbright project was created in April 2012 to provide an annual opportunity for alumni and friends of the Fulbright program to celebrate Fulbright's legacy.
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