J. William Fulbright

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J. William Fulbright
Former U.S. Senator from Arkansas
From: January 3, 1945 – December 31, 1974
Predecessor Hattie Caraway
Successor Dale Bumpers
Former U.S. Representative from Arkansas's 3rd Congressional District
From: January 3, 1943 – January 3, 1945
Predecessor Clyde T. Ellis
Successor James William Trimble
Party Democrat
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Williams (div.)
Harriet Mayor
Religion Disciples of Christ

James William Fulbright, usually known as J. William Fulbright (April 9, 1905 – February 9, 1995), was a Democrat member of the United States Senate from Arkansas whose tenure extended from 1945 to 1975. Fulbright was an ardent segregationist and mentor to President Bill Clinton. He is known for the Fulbright Program of merit-based international student exchanges.

Fulbright was the president of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and a member of the United States House of Representatives for Arkansas' 3rd congressional district.

Fulbright was elected to the Senate in 1944, when he unseated incumbent Hattie Carraway, the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. He became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1949 and served as chairman from 1959 to 1974 — the longest-serving chair in that committee's history. In his last Senate election in 1972 for a term that he did not complete, he defeated Republican Charles T. Bernard, a farmer and businessman from Earle in Crittenden County. Fulbright resigned on December 31st, 1974 after losing to former Governor Dale Bumpers in the primaries, caused in part due to his liberal beliefs unpopular with his more conservative Arkansas constituents.

Civil rights

In 1950, Fulbright co-sponsored an amendment, which, if enacted, would allow soldiers to choose whether or not to serve in a racially integrated unit.[1] Two years later, Fulbright assisted with blocking an Alaska statehood bill entirely due to his view that legislators from the state would be in favor of civil rights.

Fulbright signed the Southern Manifesto in opposition of the Supreme Court's historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared that "separate but equal" in segregating black and white children in schools was illegal and that all schools must be integrated.[2] With other southern Democrats, Fulbright filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as voting against the 1965 Voting Rights Act.[3]

Cold War communism

According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Fulbright was President John F. Kennedy's first choice as Secretary of State.[4]

On July 30, 1961, two weeks before the erection of the Berlin Wall, Fulbright said in a television interview, "I don't understand why the East Germans don't just close their border, because I think they have the right to close it."[5][6] Fulbright's statement was reported as a three-column spread on the front page of the East German Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland.[7]

In 1965, Fulbright became a major critic of the Vietnam war though he had co-authored the original 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving President Johnson authorization to use military force in Vietnam. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright held several series of televised hearings on the Vietnam War, including the testimony of Vietnam veteran and future Democrat presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. Kerry said US servicemen in Vietnam were sent
"to die for the biggest mistake in history," and that the military had "created a monster" in the form of violence-prone American soldiers, and recounted that soldiers had personally recollected stories of having "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads" of Vietnamese people and rampaging across Vietnam "[razing] villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."[8]
That these acts were "not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."[9]

Two years after authoring the use of force resolution in Vietnam, Fulbright published The Arrogance of Power, in which he attacked the justification of the use of force in Vietnam, Congress's failure to set limits on it, and the impulses which gave rise to it. Fulbright's scathing critique undermined the deep state consensus that U.S. military intervention in Indochina was necessitated by Cold War geopolitics.

Ironically, Fulbright's old ally, Adlai Stevenson, was a Vietnam War supporter through his position in the Johnson administration as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Fulbright concocted a conspiracy theory that "right-wing radicalism", as espoused by the John Birch Society and wealthy oil-man H. L. Hunt, had infected the United States military.[10] He was in turn denounced by Sens. Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater. Goldwater and Texas Sen. John Tower announced that they were going to Arkansas to campaign against Fulbright,[11] but the state's voters reelected him.


On April 15, 1973 in CBS's Face the Nation, Fulbright said that "Israel controls the U.S. Senate"[12] and that "The Senate is subservient to Israel, in my opinion much too much."[13]

Jim McDougal

One of Fulbright's local staffers in Arkansas was James McDougal. While working for Fulbright, McDougal met the future Arkansas governor and US President Bill Clinton and the two of them, along with their wives, began investing in various development properties, including the parcel of land along the White River in the Ozarks that would later be the subject of the Whitewater independent counsel investigation during Clinton's first term in office.[14]


After five terms, Fulbright was handily unseated in the 1974 Democratic senatorial primary by then-Governor Dale Bumpers of Charleston in Franklin County, which is in western Arkansas. Both Fulbright and Bumpers were admirers of Adlai Stevenson and close friends of U.S. President Bill Clinton. Clinton once worked on Fulbright's staff, and Bumpers gave an impassioned speech in 1999, after he had retired from the Senate in opposition to the impeachment of Clinton.

Clinton eulogy

Here's what Bill Clinton said when he eulogized his mentor, Sen J. William Fulbright:
"We come to celebrate and give thanks for the remarkable life of J. William Fulbright, a life that changed our country and our world forever and for the better. . . . In the work he did, the words he spoke and the life he lived, Bill Fulbright stood against the 20th century’s most destructive forces and fought to advance its brightest hopes.[15]
So spoke President William J. Clinton in 1995 of a man who was among the 99 Democrats in Congress to sign the “Southern Manifesto” in 1956. The Southern Manifesto declared the signatories’ opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education and their commitment to segregation forever. Fulbright was also among those who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That filibuster continued for 83 days.


  1. (1998) J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy. Cambridge University Press, 207–211. ISBN 0-521-58800-6. 
  2. (1998) J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58800-6. 
  3. Woods 1995, pp. 330-331.
  4. Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. (2008). Journals 1952–2000. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-311435-2. “Elizabeth Farmer told me this evening that, at five this afternoon, it looked as if it would be Rusk in State, with Bowles and Bundy as Undersecretaries. (Ken, by the way, told me that Jack had called him on the 7th and talked seriously about Mac as Secretary.) I asked why Rusk had finally emerged. Elizabeth said, 'He was the lowest common denominator.' Apparently Harris Wofford succeeded in stirring up the Jews and African Americans so effectively that the uproar prevented a Fulbright nomination for secretary of state.” 
  5. DER SPIEGEL 52/1993 - Gerechtigkeit unerreichbar. Spiegel.de (1993-12-27).
  6. Congressional Record — Senate, August 1, 1961, pp. 14222-14224.
  7. The West German reception of his statement was extremely negative. A cable from US Embassy Bonn reported that "rarely has a statement by a prominent American official aroused so much consternation, chagrin and anger." Willy Brandt's Press Secretary Egon Bahr is quoted as saying: "We privately called him Fulbricht," after Walter Ulbricht, who was the General Secretary of the East German Communist Party at that time.
    Berlin in Early Berlin-Wall Era CIA, State Department, and Army Booklets, T.H.E. Hill (compiler), 2014, pp. xviii, xix, 279, 283.
  8. John Kerry's Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 22, 1971, Editorial Notes by Dr. Ernest Bolt, University of Richmond.
  9. Ibid.
  10. http://www.historyandtheheadlines.abc-clio.com
  11. Johnson, Haynes and Gwertzmann, Bernard (1968). Fulbright: The Dissenter. Doubleday.
  12. (May 1, 2013) They dare to speak out : people and institutions confront Israel's lobby, 3rd, Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 315. ISBN 978-1556524820. Retrieved on 26 October 2018. 
  13. Fulbright: Israel Controls Senate. JTA. Retrieved on 26 October 2018.
  14. "Clinton Partner In Whitewater Dies in Prison", New York Times, 9 March 1998. 
  15. Whitewashing the Democratic Party’s History