They Majored in History. Today They’re Powerhouses in Politics.


Erik Moshe is a freelance writer and an HNN Features Intern. 

Related Link The History Profession in Crisis:  HNN

Knowing about American history before you get into American politics has its advantages. Many recent members of the political A-list have history degrees to their name, among them George W. Bush, Joe Biden, and Robert Gates. Succeeding in high-level politics requires a combination of book smarts, extensive knowledge of government administration, law, and the complexities of leadership, as well as knowing how to analyze events and determine their significance.

Past members of this club include Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Henry Kissinger, and Newt Gingrich. (Kissinger and Gingrich, of course, still regularly show up in the news.) But here’s our list:

10. David Brock

A liberal political operative, David Brock has been called "one of the most influential operatives in the Democratic Party” byTime. He founded the media watchdog group Media Matters for America, along with American Bridge and ShareBlue. He has been called a “Clinton warrior” and an “empire-builder.”

He received a B.A. degree in history in 1985 from Berkeley.

9. Don McGahn

Don McGahn is the current White House Counsel and Assistant to the President for U.S. President Donald Trump, serving since January 20, 2017. He is an American campaign finance lawyer, political operative, and a former Commissioner of the United States Federal Election Commission (FEC).

He received a B.A. degree in history and computer applications in 1991 from the University of Notre Dame.

8. Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein is the Senior U.S. Senator from California. A member of the Democratic Party, she has served in the Senate since 1992. She also served as the 38th Mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988. The San Francisco Chronicle has called her “an institution in California politics” who has “earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike.”

The highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein received a B.A. degree in history in 1955 from Stanford University.

7. Roy Blunt

Roy Blunt is a Republican who currently serves as the junior U.S. Senator from Missouri, having been in office since 2011. Blunt served as the U.S. Representative from Missouri's 7th congressional district from 1997 to 2011. Other positions include: House Majority Whip, House Majority Leader, and House Minority Whip. The Miami Herald has called Blunt “a Capitol Hill master strategist” and according toABC News, the Blunts are also a powerful political family resembling the Bush dynasty.

He earned a B.A. degree in history in 1970 from Southwest Baptist University. Two years later, he earned a master's degree in history from Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State University).

6. Lamar Alexander

Lamar Alexander is a Republican who currently serves as the Senior U.S. Senator from Tennessee, having served in the United States Senate since 2003. Alexander was the 45th Governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987. He also served as the Conference Chair of the Republican Party in the US Senate from 2007 to 2012, and as the U.S. Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993.

He received a B.A. degree in 1962 in Latin American History from Vanderbilt University.

5. Orrin Hatch

Orrin Hatch is a Republican who has been the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate since January 2015, which makes him the second-highest-ranking official of the U.S. Senate. He currently serves as the Senior U.S. Senator for Utah. In office since 1977, Hatch is the most senior Republican Senator, the second-most senior Senator overall, after Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who has served since 1975. Hatch is the longest-serving Republican Senator in U.S. history.

He received his B.A. degree in history in 1959 from Brigham Young University.

4. H.R. McMaster

H.R. McMaster is a Lieutenant general in the U.S. Army who formerly commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and currently serves as the U.S. National Security Advisor. McMaster earned an M.A. degree and Ph.D. in American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). His thesis, titledDereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, draws attention to the failure of military leaders.

3. James Mattis

James Mattis is the 26th and current U.S. Secretary of Defense, serving in the Trump Administration. Mattis is a retired U.S. Marine Corps general who previously served as the 11th Commander of U.S. Central Command.The Hill has described him as “one of the most powerful Defense secretaries in recent memory.”

He received a B.A. degree in history in 1971 from Central Washington University.

2. Mike Pence

A member of the Republican party, Mike Pence is the 48th Vice President of the United States, and he previously served as the 50th Governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017. Pence is the highest-ranking official in the presidential line of succession in the executive branch of the federal government.

He received a B.A. degree in history in 1981 from Hanover College.

1. John G. Roberts

John G. Roberts is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States. He has held the top position of the judicial branch of government since 2005. While justices aren’t technically politicians, the selection of justices isincreasingly partisan. His duties were summarized by an article in the New York Times from 2005: “The judicial branch includes a staff of 30,000, with the chief justice picking the most important central administrators, and runs on an annual budget of $5.4 billion. The chief justice also picks the members of important policy-making judicial committees and of specialized courts, including the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which issues special national security surveillance warrants. In addition, the chief justice leads the Judicial Conference of the United States, a group of judges who make policy for the federal courts and who present the judiciary's views to Congress."

Roberts studied history at Harvard College and received his degree in 1976. For his senior history thesis, titled “Old and New Liberalism: The British Liberal Party’s Approach to the Social Problem, 1906-1914,” he wrote about the Edwardian Liberal revival of early twentieth-century British politics.

Now It’s Your Turn: Who do you think are the most powerful politicians in U.S. politics today with history degrees? 

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