Daniel Patrick Moynihan Biography

Born March 16, 1927, in Tulsa, OK; died of a ruptured appendix, March 26, 2003, in Washington, DC. Professor and United States Senator. During his more than 40 years in government and teaching, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was known for his erudite, opinionated, and entertaining speaking style, as well as for his willingness to criticize presidential administrations of both parties, and his often controversial views on race relations. Although he was not known as an original researcher, the 18 books he wrote or edited sparked intense debate and further research and action on the part of those who read them. His campaign to turn Washington D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue into a lasting monument renewed the city and remains today as a legacy to his interest in architecture. Moynihan was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1927, the son of a newspaperman. Later in that year, his father moved the family to New York City, where he worked writing advertising copy. In 1937, when Moynihan was ten, his father abandoned the family, leaving them in poverty. They moved into a series of Manhattan apartments, and Moynihan helped to support the family by shining shoes in Times Square. Moynihan graduated from high school with honors in 1943, and then worked as a stevedore at Piers 48 and 49 in Manhattan.

After attending City College in Manhattan for a year, Moynihan enlisted in the Navy and received officer training at Middlebury College and at Tufts University. The following year, with the end of World War II, he was discharged, worked at a bar his mother had bought, and then earned his B.A. at Tufts in 1948. In 1949, he earned an M.A. at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. In 1950, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the London School of Economics. Upon returning to the United States in 1953, he worked on Robert F. Wagner's mayoral campaign and then wrote speeches for W. Averell Harriman's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1954, later becoming Harriman's chief aide. While working there, he met Elizabeth Brennan, and they married in May of 1955. In 1961, after completing his Ph.D. in international relations at Syracuse University, he began working in the Labor Department in Washington, D.C., eventually becoming the department's assistant secretary. While there, he became interested in the architecture of office spaces, and then in the architecture of public buildings and public spaces. This interest would endure for the rest of his life, and would give rise to one of his most enduring projects: transforming Washington's dingy Pennsylvania Avenue into a grand boulevard that connected the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Moynihan was also interested in immigration and ethnic diversity, and became controversial for his views on the problems facing African–American families. Noting the high levels of unemployment, welfare, and unmarried mothers among African Americans, he wrote that America had destroyed these families through the historical legacy of slavery, and that it was the responsibility of the government to adopt policies to enhance the stability and resources of these families. His views were roundly criticized by liberal observers, and in 1965 he left the administration. In 1966, he moved to Harvard University, where he served as director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies and became a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Education. He continued to spar with liberals on his views regarding African–American issues.

When Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected president, Moynihan, who viewed himself as a liberal Democrat, joined the White House staff as assistant to the president for urban affairs. His friends and his wife were startled by his alliance with Nixon, and his wife refused to move to Washington. While working with Nixon, Moynihan pushed for a Family Assistance Plan for poor families; the program went nowhere. So did Moynihan's suggestion that the United States end the war in Vietnam.

In 1970 he went back to Harvard, where he shifted his interests to foreign affairs; he was instrumental in negotiating an end to India's huge food aid debt to the United States. In 1975 he became the United States' ambassador to the United Nations. As ambassador, he became famous for his blunt replies to criticism of the United States by other countries. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger disliked Moynihan's confrontational tactics, and Moynihan retired in February of 1976. He then ran for the Democratic nomination for the Senate, won easily, and won again three more times. As a senator, he worked to rectify a shortfall of Federal money to New York. He was also noted for his criticism of all four presidents under whom he served.

In 1977, Moynihan decided that President Jimmy Carter did not realize how evil the Soviet Union was, and over the ensuing years, he noted that the Soviet Union's empire seemed to be crumbling from the inside. As a result, he believed that vast military spending to protect the United States against the Soviets was no longer necessary, and he was sharply critical of President Ronald Reagan's emphasis on military spending at the expense of domestic spending. In 1990, he was similarly critical of President George H.W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. When President Bill Clinton sought to establish a national health insurance program, Moynihan was against the program, commenting that the administration should first reform welfare. Despite this criticism, in 2000, President Clinton awarded Moynihan the Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

Moynihan died on March 26, 2003, as a result of complications arising from a ruptured appendix; he was 76. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; their children, Timothy, Maura, and John; and two grandchildren. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, including a 21–gun salute and a musical tribute by the Navy Band.


Independent (London, England), March 28, 2003, p. 20; Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2003, p. B16; New York Times, March 27, 2003, p. A1; April 1, 2003, p. D9; Washington Post, April 27, 2003, p. A1, p. A6.

Kelly Winters

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