Theodore (Ted) Sorensen, the son of a Danish father and a Russian-Jewish mother, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on 8th May, 1928. He studied at the University of Nebraska where he graduated first in the class in 1949. He took a keen interest in politics and as a young man he had been influenced by the career of George Norris.
Sorensen developed left-wing political views and was member of the Americans for Democratic Action. He then went on to obtain a law degree from Nebraska’s College of Law. Sorensen moved to Washington where he was an attorney with the Federal Security Agency (1951-53).
Sorensen did some Senate committee staff work for Paul H. Douglas of Illinois. Douglas introduced Sorensen to the recently elected John F. Kennedy. Another colleague, Pierre Salinger claimed: “They hit it off magnificently. Sorensen not only had strong social convictions echoing those of the young senator, but a genius for translating them into eloquent and persuasive language.” According to Godfrey Hodgson: “He worked very closely for eight years with Kennedy, travelled with him, shared his political aims and ambitions and acquired a deep and instinctive understanding of Kennedy’s sometimes idiosyncratic political philosophy.”
In 1956, Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage. Rumours began to circulate that the book had actually been written by Sorensen. The following year, the investigative journalist, Drew Pearson, wrote: “Jack Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer prize on a book which was ghostwritten for him.” Kennedy fiercely denied it, and Sorensen signed an affidavit confirming Kennedy’s story that the book was all his own work. Kennedy later offered, and Sorensen accepted, a substantial sum as his share in the proceeds of the book.
In 1960 John F. Kennedy appointed Sorensen as his chief speechwriter. He is believed to have been the main contributor to Kennedy’s inaugural address. Richard J. Tofel of the Wall Street Journal did a detailed analysis of the speech and has argued that Kennedy was responsible for no more than 14 of the speech’s 51 sentences, and that “if we must identify one man as the author of that speech, that man must surely be not John Kennedy but Theodore Sorensen.”
Sorenson, who was officially Kennedy’s special counsel, wrote a large number of Kennedy’s speeches. He was also the coordinator of planning for domestic policy and had a key role in formulating Kennedy’s recommendations to Congress. Sorensen was also a member of the executive committee that Kennedy set up to advise him during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Later Sorensen claimed that the work of which he was most proud was his contribution to the messages the president sent to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, during the crisis. He was also the author of Decision Making in the White House (1963)
The assassination of John F. Kennedy was according to Sorensen “the most deeply traumatic experience of my life.” He immediately sent a letter of resignation to President Lyndon Johnson but was persuaded to stay on as his speechwriter. Sorensen eventually left in February 1964.