Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917)It was on this date, October 15, 1917, that American historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. was born in Columbus, Ohio. The son of a prominent American historian of the same name, Arthur Jr graduated from Harvard University in 1938, and became a professor of history at Harvard from 1946 to 1961. He was speech writer for President John F. Kennedy, and later became Professor of Humanities of the City University of New York.
Among his many histories and popular writings were The Age of Jackson (1945), which won a Pulitzer Prize for history; the multi-volume Age of Roosevelt (1957-1960); and A Thousand Days (1965), a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Kennedy Administration.
In a 1989 speech, Schlesinger mused,
As a historian, I confess to a certain amusement when I hear the Judeo-Christian tradition praised as the source for our present-day concern for human rights…. In fact, the great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights… Human rights is not a religious idea. It is a secular idea, the product of the last four centuries of Western history…. The basic human rights documents – the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man – were written by political, not religious, leaders.*
* Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: speech at Brown University on the inauguration of Vartan Gregorian as president, 1989, quoted in James A. Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief, 1996.
Originally published October 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.