Theodore Chaikin Sorensen (May 8, 1928 – October 31, 2010) was an American lawyer, writer, and presidential adviser. He was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, as well as one of his closest advisers. President Kennedy once called him his "intellectual blood bank".
Sorensen in 2009
|White House Counsel|
January 20, 1961 – February 29, 1964
|President||John F. Kennedy|
|Preceded by||David Kendall|
|Succeeded by||Mike Feldman|
Theodore Chaikin Sorensen
May 8, 1928
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||October 31, 2010 (aged 82)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Camilla Palmer (Divorced)|
Sara Elbery (Divorced)
Gillian Martin (1969–2010)
|Children||3 sons: Eric, Steven, Phillip; 1 daughter Juliet|
|Education||University of Nebraska, Lincoln (BA, LLB)|
Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of Christian A. Sorensen (1890 - 1959), who served as Nebraska attorney general (1929–33), and Annis (Chaikin) Sorensen. His father was Danish American and his mother was of Russian Jewish descent. His younger brother, Philip C. Sorensen, later became the lieutenant governor of Nebraska. He graduated from Lincoln High School during 1945. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and attended law school there, graduating first in his class.
During January 1953, the 24-year-old Sorensen became the new Senator John F. Kennedy's chief legislative aide. He wrote many of Kennedy's articles and speeches.:357–359 In his 2008 autobiography Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorensen said he wrote "a first draft of most of the chapters" of John F. Kennedy’s 1957 book Profiles in Courage and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences."
Sorensen was President Kennedy's special counsel, adviser, and primary speechwriter, the role for which he is remembered best. He helped draft the inaugural address in which Kennedy said famously, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Although Sorensen played an important part in the composition of the inaugural address, "the speech and its famous turn of phrase that everyone remembers was," Sorensen has stated (counter to what the majority of authors, journalists, and other media sources have claimed), "written by Kennedy himself." In his 2008 memoir, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorenson claimed, "The truth is that I simply don't remember where the line came from." The quotation is derived from the works of Cicero.
During the early months of the administration, Sorensen's responsibilities concerned the domestic agenda. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy asked Sorensen to participate with foreign policy discussions as well. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Sorensen served as a member of ExComm and was named by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara as one of the "true inner circle" members who advised the president, the others being Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, General Maxwell D. Taylor (chairman of the Joint Chiefs), former ambassador to the USSR Llewellyn Thompson, and McNamara himself. Sorensen played a critical role in drafting Kennedy's correspondence with Nikita Khrushchev and worked on Kennedy's first address to the nation about the crisis on October 22.
Sorensen was devastated by Kennedy's assassination, which he termed "the most deeply traumatic experience of my life. ... I had never considered a future without him." He later quoted a poem that he said summed up how he felt: "How could you leave us, how could you die? We are sheep without a shepherd when the snow shuts out the sky." He submitted a letter of resignation to President Johnson the day after the assassination but was persuaded to stay through the transition. Sorensen drafted Johnson's first address to Congress as well as the 1964 State of the Union. He officially resigned February 29, 1964, and was the first member of the Kennedy Administration to do so.
Prior to his resignation, Sorensen stated his intent to write Kennedy's biography, calling it "the book that President Kennedy had intended to write with my help after his second term." He was not the only Kennedy aide to publish writings; historian and special assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House during the same time period. Sorensen's biography, Kennedy, was published during 1965 and became an international bestseller.
Sorensen later joined the U.S. law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he was of counsel, while still staying involved in politics. He was involved with Democratic campaigns and was a major adviser of Robert F. Kennedy in Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. During the next four decades, Sorensen had a career as an international lawyer, advising governments around the world, as well as major international corporations.
During 1970, Sorensen was the Democratic party's designee for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from New York. He was challenged in the primary election by Richard Ottinger, Paul O'Dwyer, and Max McCarthy, and polled third.
During 1977, Jimmy Carter nominated Sorensen as Director of Central Intelligence (CIA), but the nomination was withdrawn before a Senate vote. Sorensen's help with explaining Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick incident was cited as a factor of Senate opposition to his nomination as CIA director. Sorensen in his autobiography attributed the loss of Senate approval for his nomination for CIA director to his conscientious objector status as a youth, his two failed marriages, and his writing an affidavit in defense of releasing the Pentagon Papers.
In addition to his successful career as a lawyer, Sorensen was also a frequent spokesman for liberal ideals and ideas, writing opinion-editorials and delivering speeches concerning domestic and international subjects. For several years during the 1960s, he was an editor of the Saturday Review.
He was affiliated with a number of institutions, including the Council On Foreign Relations, The Century Foundation, Princeton University, and the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Sorensen was a board member of the International Center for Transitional Justice and an advisory board member of the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating bipartisan consensus for American national security and foreign policy. He also was chairman of the advisory board to the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University. Sorensen also attended meetings of the Judson Welliver Society, a bipartisan social club composed of former presidential speechwriters.
During 2007, a model Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech written by Sorensen was published in the Washington Monthly. The magazine had solicited him to write the speech that he would most want the 2008 Democratic nominee to give at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, without regard to the identity of the nominee.
On March 9, 2007, he spoke at an event with then-senator Barack Obama at New York City's Grand Hyatt Hotel and officially endorsed him for the presidential election in 2008. Very active in his campaign, Sorensen spoke early on and frequently about the similarities between Senator Barack Obama's and Senator John F. Kennedy's presidential campaigns. He also provided some assistance with President Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address.
Sorensen served on the advisory board of the National Security Network.
In his book Let The Word Go Forth, Sorensen's selects from more than 110 speeches and writings that indicate the importance of historical insights in Kennedy's thoughts and actions.
He was married three times. His first marriage, in 1949, was to Camilla Palmer. The couple had three sons: Eric, Steven, and Phillip. They later divorced. In 1964, he married Sara Elbery. That marriage also ended in divorce. In 1969, Sorensen married Gillian Martin of the United Nations Foundation. They had a daughter, Juliet Sorensen, and remained married until Sorensen's death.
On February 25, 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal for 2009 in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He was awarded the medal for "Advancing our understanding of modern American politics. As a speechwriter and adviser to President Kennedy, he helped craft messages and policies, and later gave us a window into the people and events that made history."
Sorensen has been portrayed as a character in the following films and miniseries:
| White House Counsel