An influential U.S. senator for 30 years, Henry Martin Jackson (1912-1983) was an ardent proponent of an anti-Soviet foreign policy. He championed increased defense spending and a more activist U.S. international role.
Henry Jackson was born in Everett, Washington, on May 31, 1912, the youngest of five children. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Norway in the late 19th century, eventually settling in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Jackson's father, Peter, was a building contractor and a long-time officer in the local plasterers' union; his devoutly religious mother, Marine, was instrumental in forming a local Norwegian Lutheran church in Everett and had selected his middle name to honor Martin Luther. Nicknamed "Scoop" when a teenager by an older sister after a popular comic strip character, Jackson carried this nickname through his adult life. Somewhat radical in his youth (having joined the Democratic Socialist League for Industrial Democracy while in college), Jackson gradually moved rightward from ardent New Dealer in the 1940s to neoconservative by the 1980s.
An ambitious but not outstanding student, Jackson earned his bachelor's and law school degrees from the University of Washington, working his way through college. After graduating from law school in 1935, he established his own law practice in Everett. Three years later he won election as prosecuting attorney of Snohomish County. Earning the reputation of a crusading and principled prosecutor through a series of dramatic cases involving organized prostitution, slot machine operations, and bootlegging, Jackson won promotion to the Congress in 1940 when the incumbent Democratic congressman Mon Wallgren sought election to the U.S. Senate.
A member of the House from 1941 through 1952, Jackson was a New Deal Democrat in domestic policy. In contrast to his postwar foreign policy views, Jackson at first followed the isolationist sentiments of his congressional district, opposing Roosevelt's Lend Lease Bill in early 1941. Then, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Jackson emerged as one of the most vocal anti-Japanese spokesmen on Capitol Hill. An unsuccessful candidate for a naval commission, Jackson volunteered for the draft in 1943 but was recalled (as were other congressmen) on Roosevelt's orders after five months of service.
Jackson's congressional career was undistinguished, as he authored no substantive legislation and was identified with no major policy initiative. A cautious politician, Jackson instead took pains to service the needs of his constituents. This prosaic commitment was underscored by his various committee assignments (merchant marine and fisheries, Indian affairs, wildlife resources, small business, civil service, and appropriations). This record of solid service ultimately benefited Jackson when in 1952 he successfully challenged the incumbent but vulnerable Republican senator Harry Cain, who had won election in the Republican landslide of 1946.
As a senator, Jackson continued to work to promote the interests of his state and rose to prominence as a member of the Interior (becoming chairman in 1963) and Armed Services committees, supporting respectively the timber and aircraft industries of the state. In a career marked by an absence of legislative initiative, Jackson was instrumental in securing congressional passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An ardent proponent of military spending and a leading spokesman for an anti-Soviet foreign policy, Jackson first raised in 1955 the false issue of a "missile gap" when criticizing the Eisenhower administration's efforts to reduce defense spending. (Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy later adopted this issue in the 1960 campaign.) By 1960 Jackson had gained a reputation within the Senate as an expert on national security policy through his chairmanship of the Armed Services Subcommittees on National Policy Making and on National Security Staffing and Operations. Earlier, in 1954, he had gained limited nationwide exposure for his cautious criticisms of Senator Joseph McCarthy's conduct as chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, of which Jackson was a junior member.
A close friend and political associate of Senator John F. Kennedy, Jackson was rumored to have been under consideration as Kennedy's running mate in 1960 but was bypassed when the Democratic presidential nominee instead chose Lyndon Baines Johnson. Jackson, however, served at Kennedy's request as chairman of the Democratic National Committee for the duration of the presidential campaign.
Despite the election of a Democratic administration, Jackson did not mute his criticisms of presidential foreign and defense policies. Between 1961 and 1963 he dissented from President Kennedy's various policy initiatives to defuse the tensions attendant to the Cold War: in 1961 he opposed the creation of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; in 1962 in a highly publicized speech he denounced the value of the United Nations; and in 1963 he initially opposed the test ban treaty (although he voted for the treaty after exacting certain concessions from the administration).
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson emerged as a leading supporter of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, as an opponent of detente with the Soviet Union, and as a proponent of increased defense spending. At a time when American liberals divided sharply over the Vietnam War and had come to reassess the tenets of the policy of containment, Jackson remained a leading spokesman of a militant anti-Soviet policy. Because of this record, Richard Nixon, following his election to the presidency in 1968, offered Jackson the post of secretary of defense. Unwilling to abandon his own base in the Senate and his prospects for gaining the Democratic presidential nomination, Jackson turned down this profferred appointment. In 1972 and again in 1976 Jackson was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Never a serious contender in 1972, Jackson was considered one of the front-running candidates in 1976 (and did win the Massachusetts and New York primaries), although his candidacy collapsed before the Democratic National Convention met in New York.
As a senator in the 1970s Jackson remained skeptical of President Nixon's efforts at detente with the Soviet Union— opposing the Strategic Arms Control Talks (SALT) in 1972— but emerged as a champion of Israel and of normalizing relations with the Peoples Republic of China. So long as detente and fears of another Vietnam remained popular issues, Jackson found himself outside the mainstream of national politics. His political influence soared again as the political climate shifted rightward following the Iranian and Afghanistan crises of 1979 and 1980 and with the election to the presidency of former California Governor Ronald Reagan.
A bachelor for most of his congressional career, Jackson married late at the age of 49. He met his wife, Helen Hardin (the daughter of the president of American Gypsum and at the time on the staff of fellow Democratic Senator Clinton Anderson), in January 1961. Married in December 1961 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Helen and Henry Jackson became parents of two children, Anna Marie and Peter Hardin. On September 1, 1983, Jackson died in Everett, Washington, of a burst blood vessel. Apparently in excellent health, the senator had just returned from a two-week trip to the Peoples Republic of China and, earlier on the day of his death, convened a press conference to denounce the Soviet Union for shooting down a South Korean commercial jet.
Further Reading on Henry Martin Jackson
There is no good biography of Henry Jackson's life and Senate career, although there are two journalistic studies: Peter Ognibene, Scoop: The Life and Politics of Henry M. Jackson (1975) and William Prochnau and Richard Larsen, A Certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson, A Political Biography (1972). Readers might also consult the biographical sketches in The New York Times, September 3, 1983, and in Eleanora Schoenebaum (editor), Political Profiles: The Nixon/Ford Years, volume 5, (1979).
Additional Biography Sources
Memorial services held in the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, together with tributes presented in eulogy of Henry M. Jackson, late a senator from Washington, Ninety-eighth Congress, first session, Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1983.