James William Fulbright (April 9, 1905 – February 9, 1995) was an American politician, academic, and statesman who represented Arkansas in the United States Senate from 1945 until his resignation in 1974. As of 2022, Fulbright is the longest serving chairman in the history of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He is best known for his strong multilateralist positions on international issues, opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War, and the creation of the international fellowship program bearing his name, the Fulbright Program.
Fulbright was an admirer of Woodrow Wilson and an avowed Anglophile. He was an early advocate for American entry into World War II and aid to Great Britain, first as a college professor and then as an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he authored the Fulbright Resolution expressing support for international peacekeeping initiatives and American entry into the United Nations.
After joining the Senate, Fulbright expressed support for Europeanism and the formation of a federal European union. He envisioned the Cold War as a struggle between nations—the United States and imperialist Russia—rather than ideologies. He therefore dismissed Asia as a peripheral theater of the conflict, focusing on containment of Soviet expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. He also stressed the possibility of nuclear annihilation, preferring political solutions over military solutions to Soviet aggression. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, his position moderated further to one of détente.
His political stances and powerful position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made him one of the most visible critics of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Although he was persuaded by President Lyndon Johnson to sponsor the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964, his relationship with the President soured after the 1965 U.S. bombing of Pleiku and Fulbright’s opposition to the war in Vietnam took root. Beginning in 1966, he chaired high-profile hearings investigating the conduct and progress of the war, which may have influenced the eventual American withdrawal.
On domestic issues, Fulbright was a Southern Democrat and signatory to the Southern Manifesto. Fulbright also opposed the anti-Communist crusades of Joseph McCarthy and the similar investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee.