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Who Is Ted Sorensen?

By Angela Wheeland
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Theodore Chaikin "Ted" Sorensen was a lawyer and author from Nebraska. He began his career as an aide and speechwriter for U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and wrote Kennedy's famous inaugural address. Later in life, Sorensen worked with Senator Robert Kennedy and President Barack Obama, held posts in many important political institutions, and penned several notable books. He died in 2010 at the age of 82.

Born 8 May 1928, Sorensen was the son of the Nebraska Attorney General Christian A. Sorensen and Annis (Chaikin) Sorensen. He was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1945, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Sorensen also attended law school at that university and graduated first in his class in 1951. In 1953, he became Senator John F. Kennedy's chief legislative aide and authored many of Kennedy's speeches and articles. Sorensen was also the ghostwriter for a majority of the book Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

Ted Sorensen became President Kennedy's Special Counsel and Adviser immediately following Kennedy's inauguration. Sorensen wrote several of Kennedy's speeches, and is most famous for his help in drafting Kennedy's inaugural address that exhorted "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Although most of Sorensen's early responsibilities lay within domestic agenda, after the Bay of Pigs, he was chosen by Kennedy to partake in several foreign policy discussions and became a member of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.

In February 1964, following Kennedy's assassination and his drafting President Johnson's first address to Congress, Sorensen officially resigned from his position. He later joined the well-known law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he practiced as an attorney but stayed involved in politics. He became the key adviser for Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, and ran as the Democratic Party's designee for U.S. Senator in 1970. He he placed third in that election. In 1977, Ted Sorensen was nominated as Director of Central Intelligence, but withdrew his nomination before the Senate could vote.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Ted Sorensen was affiliated with several institutions, including the Century Foundation, the Institute of Politics, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was an advisory board member of the Partnership for a Secure America and a board member of the International Center for Transitional Justice. In addition, Sorensen continued to have a successful career as a lawyer and was an editor at the Saturday Review.

In his final years, Ted Sorensen officially endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential election, and remained active in his presidential campaigns. He provided assistance in drafting President Obama's 2009 inaugural address while serving on the advisory board of the National Security Network. He received the National Humanities Medal in 2010 for advancing the country's understanding of American politics.

Ted Sorensen authored many books, including Decision-making in the White House, Kennedy, The Kennedy Legacy and Why I Am a Democrat. His life and accomplishments are portrayed in several movies, including The Missiles of October, Thirteen Days, and the television mini-series From the Earth to the Moon. Sorensen died on 31 October 2010 after suffering a stroke. Ted Sorensen left behind a wife, Gillian; a daughter, Juliet; and three sons, Stephen, Philip, and Eric.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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