Jackson, Henry M. (Henry Martin), 1912-1983

Alternative names
Birth 1912-05-31
Death 1983-09-01

Biographical notes:

Jackson's tenure in the House was briefly interrupted by service in the U.S. Army. He enlisted in 1943, but was recalled by President Roosevelt to congressional service after basic training.

Jackson was assigned to the Government Operations Committee's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a position which quickly put him at the center of the un-American activities controversies and in the national spotlight. He won recognition for his questioning during the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954, in which he came across as fair and evenhanded. Jackson remained a member of the PSI the rest of his Senate tenure and chaired the Subcommittee from 1973 to 1978.

Jackson came to be known as an unceasing advocate of a strong national defense. A stern adversary of the Soviet Union, he cast a critical eye on arms limitation agreements. His support became a key factor in the adoption of any agreement. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the interim agreement that resulted from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) of 1972 were adopted only after the Senate agreed to Jackson-sponsored amendments. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Arms Control, he carefully monitored negotiations for a SALT II treaty, which were conducted between 1972 and 1979, and strongly criticized the resulting document.

Jackson was an early advocate of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. As the conflict in Vietnam dragged on, his continued support of Johnson and Nixon Administration policies found him increasingly in conflict with the Democratic Party and public opinion. Jackson voted against President Ford's request for aid for the crumbling South Vietnamese government in 1975, but remained convinced that the decision to become involved in Vietnam was fundamentally correct.

As early as 1966, Jackson spoke of the importance of working out "a livable relationship with the Chinese Communists," and he was instrumental in helping move the U.S. towards recognition of the People's Republic of China. As Jackson became a specialist on China, he played a significant behind-the-scenes role in influencing U.S. leaders and policy toward China.

As a member and later Chairman (1963-1980) of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, Jackson played a key role in federal lands policy. He shepherded through the Senate the Wilderness Areas Act of 1964, which established a system for designating wilderness areas on public lands. He brokered the legislative compromises that led to the creation of the North Cascades National Park in 1968 and the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. He was also the author the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the cornerstone of American environmental law.

Jackson's chairmanship of the committee, which was renamed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 1977, also allowed him to influence energy matters. He was a proponent of the construction of a dual-purpose nuclear reactor at Hanford. Jackson played a key role in crafting the nation's response to the oil embargo imposed by the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973 and in the passage of the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980.

Jackson first emerged as a national candidate in 1960 as a contender for the vice presidential nomination. Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy, however, chose Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate, and Jackson was asked to head the Democratic National Committee. In the early 1970s an informal poll of his Senate colleagues ranked him best qualified to be President, yet Jackson was unsuccessful in his 1972 and 1976 bids for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Final years: The 1980 elections gave the Republican Party control of the Senate and Jackson lost his committee chairmanship. He nevertheless retained great influence as ranking member of the Armed Services, Government Affairs, and Energy and Natural Resources Committees.

Henry M. Jackson died suddenly of a heart attack on September 1, 1983. At the time of his death he held the record for longest service in Congress.

From the guide to the Henry M. Jackson Papers, 1912-1987, 1940-1983, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)


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