Ted Sorensen

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Theodore "Ted" Sorensen
Sorensen in May 2009
8th White House Counsel
In office
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by David W. Kendall
Succeeded by Myer Feldman
Personal details
Born (1928-05-08)May 8, 1928
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
Died October 31, 2010(2010-10-31) (aged 82)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Camilla Palmer (1949-?)
Sara Elbery (1964-?)
Gillian Martin (m. 1969–2010) (his death)
Children 4
Alma mater University of Nebraska
Occupation Political Adviser, Speechwriter, Attorney
Religion Unitarian Universalist

Theodore Chaikin "Ted" Sorensen (May 8, 1928 – October 31, 2010) was an American presidential adviser, lawyer, and writer, best known as President John F. Kennedy's special counsel, adviser, and legendary speechwriter. President Kennedy once called him his "intellectual blood bank."[1]

Early life

Sorensen was born in Nebraska, the son of Christian A. Sorensen, a Danish American and Nebraska attorney general (1929–33),[2][3] and Annis (Chaikin) Sorensen, who was of Russian Jewish descent.[4] His younger brother, Philip C. Sorensen, later became the lieutenant governor of Nebraska. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1945. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and attended law school there, graduating first in his class.[1]

In 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.[5]: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" in John F. Kennedy’s 1957 book Profiles in Courage and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences."[6][7]

Kennedy administration

File:Ted Sorensen White House.jpg
White House photo of Sorensen during the Kennedy administration.

Sorensen was President Kennedy's special counsel and adviser, and primary speechwriter, the role for which he is best remembered. 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 firmly states (counter to what the majority of authors, journalists, and other media sources have claimed), "written by Kennedy himself." In later years, when pressed in interviews if he wrote the phrase, Sorenson replied tongue in cheek "Ask not."[citation needed] In his 2008 memoir, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorenson clarified that, "The truth is that I simply don't remember where the line came from."[8]

In the early months of the administration, the scope of Sorensen's responsibilities lay within the domestic agenda. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy asked Sorensen to take part in 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 Soviet Union Llewellyn Thompson, and McNamara himself.[9] 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 called "the most deeply traumatic experience of my life. ... I had never considered a future without him."[10] 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 turn to writing; historian and special assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote his Pulitzer-winning memoir A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House during the same time span. Sorensen's biography, Kennedy, was published in 1965 and became an international bestseller.

Politics after Kennedy

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 in Democratic campaigns and was a key adviser to Robert F. Kennedy in Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. Over the next four decades, Sorensen had a career as an international lawyer, advising governments around the world, as well as major international corporations.

In 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 came in third.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter nominated Sorensen as Director of Central Intelligence (CIA), but the nomination was withdrawn before a Senate vote. Sorensen's help in explaining Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick incident was cited as one factor in Senate opposition to his nomination as CIA director.[11] Sorensen in his autobiography attributed the loss of Senate support 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.[12]

Sorensen was the national co-chairman for Gary Hart for the presidential election of 1984 and made several appearances on his behalf.[13]

In addition to his successful career as a lawyer, Sorensen was also a frequent spokesman for liberal ideals and ideas, writing op-eds and delivering speeches on both domestic and international subjects. For several years in the 1960s, he was an editor at 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 the bipartisan center in 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.

In 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.[14]

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.[15][16][17] Very active in his campaign, Sorensen spoke early on and frequently about the similarities between both Senator Barack Obama's and Senator John F. Kennedy's presidential campaigns. He also provided some assistance with President Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address.[18]

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 writing that reflect the importance of historical insights in Kennedy's thoughts and actions.

Personal life

He was married three times. His first marriage, in 1949, was to Camilla Palmer. The couple had three sons and 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.[8][19]

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."[20]


On October 31, 2010, Sorensen died at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City of complications following a stroke he suffered the previous week.[19]


  • Kennedy. Harper & Row. 1965.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Kennedy Legacy. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1970. ISBN 978-0-297-00026-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Watchmen in the Night: Presidential Accountability after Watergate. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press. 1976. ISBN 978-0-262-69055-3. (with James MacGregor Burns)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • A Different Kind of Presidency: A Proposal for Breaking the Political Deadlock (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. 1984. ISBN 978-0-06-039032-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 'Let the Word Go Forth': The Speeches, Statements, and Writings of John F. Kennedy, 1947–1963 (Reprint ed.). New York: Laurel. 1991. ISBN 978-0-440-50406-1. (Indroduction by Sorensen.)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Why I Am a Democrat (1st ed.). New York: Henry Holt. 1996. ISBN 978-0-8050-4414-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-079872-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

In other media

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 ABC News online, 8 Feb 2008
  2. "'Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History' by Ted Sorensen". Los Angeles Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. NYT Sunday Book Review
  4. Marcus 1981:173
  5. Leamer, Laurence (2001). The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-688-16315-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Her Story, Their Words: Behind the Scenes of the Best-Sellers". 11 June 2014. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Farhi, Paul (9 June 2014). "Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Arnold, Laurence; Jensen, Kristin (October 31, 2010). "Ted Sorensen, Author of John F. Kennedy's 'Berliner' Speech, Dies Aged 82". Bloomberg. Retrieved October 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Online NewsHour Forum: Thirteen Days – March 2001". PBS. Retrieved 2012-11-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Sorensen, Ted (2008). Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-079871-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. James t. wooten (January 16, 1977). "CARTER STANDS FIRM, SUPPORTS SORENSEN AS DIRECTOR OF C.I.A.; CALLS ATTACKS 'GROUNDLESS' But Senators' Opposition to the Nominee Mounts Over His Use of Classified Materials CARTER STANDS FIRM, SUPPORTS SORENSEN". The New York Times. p. 1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Sorensen, Ted, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Harper-Collins Publishing, New York, 2008, page 485–493.
  13. The New York Times, 21 April 1983
  14. Sorensen 2007, The New Vision
  15. Guardian, 25 July 2007
  16. Sorensen, video posted on YouTube.
  17. The New Republic, 23 July 2007
  18. MSNBC commentary by Keith Olbermann
  19. 19.0 19.1 Tim Weiner (October 31, 2010). "Theodore C. Sorensen, 82, Kennedy Counselor, Dies". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Remarks by the President at Presentation of the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of the Arts | The White House". Whitehouse.gov. 2010-02-25. Retrieved 2012-11-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Thirteen Days questions and answers, Online NewsHour Forum, PBS.org, March 2001.
  22. Sorensen, Theodore (Jan 28, 2015). LET THE WORD GO FOURTH. St Louis: A LAUREL TRADE PAPERBACK DELL PUBLISHING.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
David W. Kendall
White House Counsel
Succeeded by
Myer Feldman