William Yandell Elliott

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William Yandell Elliott (1896–1979) was an American historian and political advisor to six U.S. presidents.


Born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he served as an artillery battery commander in World War I. He attended Vanderbilt University, where he was a member of the group of poets and literary scholars known as the Fugitives. As a Rhodes Scholar, he attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and where amongst others he would meet the poet William Butler Yeats, the Indian nationalist Krishna Menon, and John Marshall Harlan II, a future Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. His dissertation The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics proved influential.

He was hired by Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, and he was to remain at Harvard for the next 41 years, during which time he became an advisor to a number of American presidents and presidential candidates, including Al Smith in 1928. He was a member of Roosevelt's Brain Trust in the 1930s and '40s, and Vice President of the War Production Board in Charge of Civilian Requirements during World War II. He also accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta.

Post-war, Elliott served on the National Security Council. Though he was a script-writer for Republican Richard Nixon's 1960 election run, the Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson retained him as a State Department advisor.

Elliott became dean of the Harvard Summer School, where he would establish the Harvard International Seminar, directed by his student and protégé Henry Kissinger. Many attendees went on to become heads of state or government in their respective countries, including Yigal Allon in Israel, Yasuhiro Nakasone in Japan, and Pierre Trudeau in Canada.

His son Ward Elliott is a notable political scientist, and his other son, David is also a political scientist.


Elliott became the recipient of renewed attention in 2015, when historian Niall Ferguson, in the first book of a projected two-volume biography of Henry Kissinger, paid close attention to Elliott's role as Kissinger's mentor.

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