The April 1951 death of Arthur H. Vandenberg removed from the Senate one of its undisputed twentieth-century giants. Although his death saddened his colleagues and admirers, it did not surprise them, for he had been away from the Senate for most of the 19 months since undergoing surgery for lung cancer. His son acknowledged that the senator had known of his condition for more than a year before that surgery in October 1949, but had been too busy with his Senate duties to seek timely treatment.
In 1945, Arthur Vandenberg delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world," announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism. In so doing, he became the embodiment of a bipartisan American approach to the cold war.
Born in Michigan, he studied law at the University of Michigan but chose a career in journalism. Vandenberg served as editor and publisher of the Grand Rapids Herald from 1906 until 1928, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Running as a Republican, Vandenberg then won election to the seat, which he held until his death.
During the 1930s, Senator Vandenberg became a leading proponent of isolationism, determined to keep the United States out of another world war, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended his isolationism. During the Second World War, he grappled with the potential international role for the United States in the postwar world. On January 10, 1945, he delivered his most memorable speech in the Senate, confessing that prewar isolationism was the wrong course, calling on America to assume the responsibilities of world leadership, and endorsing the creation of the United Nations.
In 1947, at the start of the cold war, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO—the first mutual defense treaty that the United States had entered since its alliance with France during the American Revolution. When Vandenberg spoke, the Senate Chamber filled with senators and reporters, eager to hear what he had to say. His words swayed votes and won national and international respect for his nonpartisan, consensus-building, statesmanlike approach to foreign policy.
In September 2004, the Senate formally recognized Arthur Vandenberg's singular contributions by adding his portrait image to the permanent gallery of outstanding former senators in the Senate Reception Room.