Who was Henry Jackson?

US Senator for Washington State, 1953-1983

Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) came from a working class Scandinavian background and was elected to the House of Representatives for his native Washington State in 1940. He was an ardent New Dealer, trade unionist, supporter of the early civil rights movement and environmentalist. He was centrally involved in such measures as the ‘Land and Conservation Act’, ‘The Wilderness Act’, the ‘National Seashore Bills’ and much else. He was the scourge of corporate interests, particularly power and oil companies, who objected to his enthusiasm for nationalisation and price controls.

Jackson started out during the Second World War as something of an isolationist and voted against initial plans to help Great Britain through the Lend-Lease programme. Very soon, however, the course of events caused him to change his mind, and Jackson remained a protagonist of US international engagement and the application of US power until the end of his life. During the war he was an enthusiastic supporter – along with many other liberals, such as the later Chief Justice Warren – of the internment of the Japanese; this was perhaps his greatest misjudgement. In the 1950s, by contrast he was a critic of the red-baiter Senator McCarthy and his methods, which he felt gave the noble cause of anti-communism a bad name.

At first, Jackson was very much within the mainstream of the Cold War liberal Democratic Party. He was later marginalised as the party moved to the left after 1968, especially on foreign policy. A strong supporter of Lyndon Johnson’s war to contain communism in Vietnam, Jackson became a highly effective critic of Détente with the Soviet Union, which he felt sold out human rights and compromised the security of the free world. Very occasionally, Jackson was prepared to put strategic concerns ahead of human rights – for example in his support for an opening to Peking to balance Moscow – but he was a supporter of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa, even when some thought this inopportune.

He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1976. Though Jackson remained a loyal Democrat to the end, many of his supporters and staffers switched to the Republicans under Reagan.

For more information see Robert G. Kaufmann, Henry M. Jackson. A Life in Politics (University of Washington Press, 2000).

See also the Henry M. Jackson Papers.


Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.

Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.

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Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson without doubt is the most famous native-born son of Everett. He also is the most important Washingtonian politician of the 20th century, serving almost 43 years in Congress as a member of the House and Senate.

A presidential hopeful in 1972 and 1976, Jackson was admired by all segments of the political spectrum. He was credited by conservatives with helping topple communism in the Soviet Union as a tireless supporter of a strong national defense, and lauded by liberals for authoring the National Environmental Policy Act. He never lost a congressional election, and in 1970, when his critics were most caustic in opposition for his support of the war in Vietnam, an astounding 82 percent of the voters re-elected Jackson to the Senate.

The 100th anniversary of Jackson’s birthday provides an opportunity to commemorate his accomplishments. But as with any person, key turning points made a huge difference in how his life turned out. Three examples detail how Jackson’s career might have been significantly different than how we celebrate it today.

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EVERETT — To the nation, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson spent 43 years in Congress fighting against communism and preserving America’s wilderness areas.

To Anna Marie Laurence, the man known as Scoop was a protective dad who interrogated her dates and enjoyed strawberry shortcake with a generous helping of whipped cream at the Evergreen State Fair.

Thursday, on what would have been her father’s 100th birthday, Laurence shared a trove of personal stories about him and their relationship during a centennial celebration at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center in Comcast Arena.

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There’s no getting around it: Henry Jackson loved his hometown of Everett. And Everett loves its hometown hero.

The political superpower known as Scoop left huge footprints in the community, and, today, 100 years after Jackson’s birth and nearly 29 years since his death, a number of personal friends and aging generations of political figures are intent on preserving the legend and legacy of Everett’s most famous native son.

“People understand what his leadership meant,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “We don’t want to forget Scoop Jackson in our community.”

Everett is where the memories begin and end for Henry Martin “Scoop” Jackson, the son of Norwegian immigrants who became one of the nation’s elite leaders — and nearly president — before his unexpected death in 1983.

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Painted on the walls of the Senate reception room are portraits of the five men who were selected by a special committee, a quarter of a century ago, to constitute a kind of Senate hall of fame. The portraits are of Clay, Calhoun, Webster, La Follette and Taft. There is no more space on the walls of that room, but there is a non-functional door. That door should be removed, and the wall filled in, and adorned with a portrait of a sixth senator. A Senate hall of fame without Henry Martin Jackson is as unthinkable as Cooperstown without George Herman Ruth.

A silly person once said that only silly persons have heroes. But only exceptionally small persons will not pay homage to the exceptionally large persons among us. Heroes make vivid the values by which we try to live. I say, unabashedly, and with many others: Henry Jackson was my hero.

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When it comes to Scoop Jackson, memories abound.

There’s his resounding baritone voice in a chorus of Christmas carolers, his appetite for lutefisk and his habit of putting a saucer atop his coffee cup to keep the contents warm.

Remember his beater cars? Plenty do. They also remember that the sight of him behind the wheel made them nervous because he had a reputation as a less-than-stellar driver, though there’s no clear evidence why.

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To get a sense of the breadth of Henry M. Jackson’s legacy, consider the diversity of places bearing his name.

It’s on a high school in Mill Creek, a public square in Jerusalem, a visitor’s center at Mount Rainier and a United States Navy submarine.

You’ll also find Jackson’s name on a plaza at Naval Station Everett, a playground in Manhattan, and a national wilderness in east Snohomish County.

There’s even a Henry M. Jackson Society at Cambridge University in Great Britain. “It’s not where you’re from but the ideas that you represent that are important,” said Alan Mendoza, who is a founder of the group of political conservatives.

Roughly two dozen buildings, parks and institutions carry the Everett lawmaker’s moniker as a lasting tribute.

Here is a rundown of some of those places.

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This year marks the centennial of the birth of Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, one of the towering figures of American politics in the latter half of the 20th century and the avatar of neoconservatism. A Democrat representing the state of Washington in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until his sudden death in 1983, he deserves to be recalled not only because he merits honor but also because little of today’s politics would be comprehensible without understanding his 30 years in office.

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