SORENSEN, TED (b. 1928)
Theodore Sorensen was born on May 8, 1928, in a sod house in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was one of five children born to Christian Abraham Sorensen and Annis Chaikin Sorensen. His father was active in Republican Party politics, rising to become the state attorney general of Nebraska. His mother, an outspoken feminist and pacifist of Russian Jewish heritage, gave her family name to each of her five children as their middle name. The Sorensen household was a regular meeting place for progressive Republicans, and Ted absorbed most of his early ideas from the lively debates that were a regular part of his family life. He attended the public schools in Lincoln, graduating from Lincoln High School in 1945. Sorenson graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1949, entered the University of Nebraska College of Law, where he eventually became editor in chief of the Nebraska Law Review. He graduated first in his class in 1951.
Seeking a larger venue for his talents, Sorensen moved to Washington dc, where he took a position as a staff attorney for the Federal Security Agency (1951-52), worked as a staff member for the Joint Committee on Railroad Retirement (1952), and ultimately joined the staff of newly elected Sen. John F. Kennedy (1953-61). Sorensen quickly became Senator Kennedy's chief policy adviser and speechwriter. He did the background research for Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize.winning book, Profiles in Courage, and wrote Kennedy's speech that electrified the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Sorensen worked tirelessly to help John Kennedy secure the 1960 democratic presidential nomination, serving as both the campaign's chief policy adviser and speechwriter. Upon his assumption of the presidential office in 1961, John F. Kennedy appointed Sorensen as special counsel to the president, a title created specifically for him. He remained the chief policy adviser and speechwriter for President Kennedy. Sorensen retained this title throughout the Kennedy administration and into the early months of the Lyndon Johnson administration. In 1965 Sorensen published his book Kennedy, which became a national bestseller. Two years later, with Robert Kennedy then a U.S. senator from New York, Sorensen became chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee's advisory council, and he served as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, a convention at which he had hoped to help Robert F. Kennedy wrest the nomination away from Hubert H. Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy. But an assassin's bullet ended the Kennedy quest in June 1968, just weeks before the convention. Sorensen tried to pick up the pieces of the Kennedy organization and offered himself as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York in 1970. Following his defeat, he returned to the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, where he remained in 2000.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Sorensen devoted himself to numerous causes, serving as a director of the Twentieth-Century Fund, as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and as a trustee of the New York Academy of Medicine, among many other positions. Over the years he has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Canterbury, Alfred University, Temple University, Fairfield University, and the University of Nebraska. He is the author or editor of seven books, most recently Why I Am a Democrat (1996). He is a member of the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, the District of Columbia, and the states of New York and Nebraska.
Martin J. Medhurst Texas A&M University
Sorensen, Theodore. Papers. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston.
Sorensen, Theodore C. Why I Am a Democrat. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.