Dean Acheson
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Dean Acheson
Dean Acheson
Dean G. Acheson, U.S. Secretary of State.jpg
51st United States Secretary of State

January 21, 1949 - January 20, 1953
PresidentHarry S. Truman
George Marshall
John Foster Dulles
United States Under Secretary of State

August 16, 1945 - June 30, 1947
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Joseph Grew
Robert A. Lovett
Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations and International Conferences

December 20, 1944 - August 15, 1945
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Position established
Ernest A. Gross (Legislative Affairs)
Dean Rusk (International Organization Affairs)
Personal details
Dean Gooderham Acheson

(1893-04-11)April 11, 1893
Middletown, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedOctober 12, 1971(1971-10-12) (aged 78)
Sandy Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Resting placeOak Hill Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Alice Stanley (m. 1917)
Children3, including David
EducationYale University (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States National Guard
Battles/warsWorld War I

Dean Gooderham Acheson (pronounced ;[1] April 11, 1893 - October 12, 1971) was an American statesman and lawyer. As United States Secretary of State in the administration of President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953, he played a central role in defining American foreign policy during the Cold War.[2] Acheson helped design the Marshall Plan and was a key player in the development of the Truman Doctrine and creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.[3]

Acheson's most famous decision was convincing President Truman to intervene in the Korean War in June 1950. He also persuaded Truman to dispatch aid and advisors to French forces in Indochina, though in 1968 he finally counseled President Lyndon B. Johnson to negotiate for peace with North Vietnam. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy called upon Acheson for advice, bringing him into the executive committee (ExComm), a strategic advisory group.

In the late 1940s Acheson came under heavy attack over Truman's policy toward China, and for Acheson's defense of State Department employees (such as Alger Hiss) accused during the anti-gay Lavender and anti-Communist Red Scare investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy and others.

Early life and education

Dean Gooderham Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut on April 11, 1893. His father, Edward Campion Acheson, was an English-born Canadian (immigrated to Canada in 1881) who, after serving in The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada during the North-West Rebellion of 1885, became a Church of England priest after graduating from Wycliffe College and moved to the U.S. eventually becoming an Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut. His mother, Eleanor Gertrude (Gooderham), was a Canadian-born descendant of William Gooderham, Sr. (1790-1881), a founder of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery of Toronto. Like his father, Acheson was a staunch Democrat and opponent of prohibition.

Acheson attended Groton School and Yale College (1912-1915), where he joined Scroll and Key Society, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa[4] and was a brother of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Phi chapter). At Groton and Yale he had the reputation of a partier and prankster; he was somewhat aloof but still popular with his classmates. Acheson's well-known, reputed arrogance--he disdained the curriculum at Yale as focusing on memorizing subjects already known or not worth knowing more about--was apparent early. At Harvard Law School from 1915 to 1918, however, he was swept away by the intellect of professor Felix Frankfurter and finished fifth in his class.[5]

Personal life

On May 15, 1917, while serving in the National Guard, Acheson married Alice Caroline Stanley (August 12, 1895 - January 20, 1996). She loved painting and politics and served as a stabilizing influence throughout their enduring marriage; they had three children: David Campion Acheson, Jane Acheson Brown and Mary Eleanor Acheson Bundy.


On July 25, 1918, Acheson was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve and served with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service until he was released from active duty on December 31 of the same year.[6]

At that time, a new tradition of bright law students clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court had been begun by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, for whom Acheson clerked for two terms from 1919 to 1921. Frankfurter and Brandeis were close associates, and future Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter suggested that Brandeis take on Acheson.[7]

Economic diplomacy

A lifelong Democrat, Acheson worked at a law firm in Washington D.C., Covington & Burling, often dealing with international legal issues before Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him Undersecretary of the Treasury in March 1933. When Secretary William H. Woodin fell ill, Acheson suddenly found himself acting secretary despite his ignorance of finance. Because of his opposition to FDR's plan to deflate the dollar by controlling gold prices (thus creating inflation), he was forced to resign in November 1933 and resumed his law practice.[8] In 1939-1940 he headed a committee to study the operation of administrative bureaus in the federal government.

World War II

Brought back as assistant secretary of state on February 1, 1941, Acheson implemented much of United States economic policy aiding Great Britain and harming the Axis Powers.[9] Acheson implemented the Lend-Lease policy that helped re-arm Great Britain and the American/British/Dutch oil embargo that cut off 95 percent of Japanese oil supplies and escalated the crisis with Japan in 1941.[10] Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets merely to disconcert them. He did not intend the flow of oil to Japan to cease. The president then departed Washington for Newfoundland to meet with Churchill. While he was gone Acheson used those frozen assets to deny Japan oil. Upon the president's return, he decided it would appear weak and appeasing to reverse the de facto oil embargo.[11]

In 1944, Acheson attended the Bretton Woods Conference as the head delegate from the State department. At this conference the post-war international economic structure was designed. The conference was the birthplace of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the last of which would evolve into the World Trade Organization.

Cold War diplomacy

Acheson sworn into office as Secretary of State, with Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, (January 21, 1949)

Later, in 1945, Harry S. Truman selected Acheson as his Undersecretary of United States Department of State; he retained this position working under Secretaries of State Edward Stettinius, Jr., James F. Byrnes, and George Marshall. And, as late as 1945 or 1946 Acheson sought détente with the Soviet Union. In 1946, as chairman of a special committee to prepare a plan for the international control of atomic energy, he wrote the Acheson-Lilienthal report. At first Acheson was conciliatory towards Joseph Stalin.

The Soviet Union's attempts at regional hegemony in Eastern Europe and in Southwest Asia, however, changed Acheson's thinking. From this point forward, one historian writes, "Achezon was more than 'present at the creation' of the Cold War; he was a primary architect."[12][13] Acheson often found himself acting Secretary during the Secretary's frequent overseas trips, and during this period he cemented a close relationship with President Truman. Acheson devised the policy and wrote Truman's 1947 request to Congress for aid to Greece and Turkey, a speech which stressed the dangers of totalitarianism rather than Soviet aggression and marked the fundamental change in American foreign policy that became known as the Truman Doctrine.[14] Acheson designed the economic aid program to Europe that became known as the Marshall Plan. Acheson believed the best way to contain Stalin's Communism and prevent future European conflict was to restore economic prosperity to Western Europe, to encourage interstate cooperation there, and to help the U.S. economy by making its trading partners richer.

On June 30, 1947 Acheson received the Medal for Merit from President Truman.[15]

Acheson (fifth from right) as the Secretary of State, with the meeting of Truman cabinet, (August 25, 1950)

In 1949, Acheson was appointed Secretary of State. In this position he built a working framework for containment, first formulated by George Kennan, who served as the head of Acheson's Policy Planning Staff. Acheson was the main designer of the military alliance NATO, and signed the pact for the United States. The formation of NATO was a dramatic departure from historic American foreign policy goals of avoiding any "entangling alliances."

The White Paper Defense

During the summer of 1949, the state department, headed by Acheson, produced a study of recent Sino-American relations. The document known officially as United States Relations with China with Special Reference to the Period 1944-1949, which later was simply called the China White Paper, attempted to dismiss any misinterpretations of Chinese and American diplomacy toward each other.[16] Published during the height of Mao Zedong's takeover, the 1,054 page document argued that American intervention in China was doomed to failure. Although Acheson and Truman had hoped that the study would dispel rumors and conjecture,[17] the paper helped to convince many critics that the administration had indeed failed to check the spread of communism in China.[18]

Korean War

Acheson's speech on January 12, 1950, before the National Press Club[19] did not mention the Korea Peninsula and Formosa(Taiwan) as part of the all-important "defense perimeter" of the United States. Since the war in Korea broke out on June 25, just a few months later, critics, especially in South Korea, took Acheson's statements to mean that the United States support for the new Syngman Rhee government in South Korea would be limited and that the speech provided Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-sung with a "green light" to believe the U.S. would not intervene if they invaded the South.[20][21] As Soviet archives opened in the 1980s, however, research found that the speech had little if any impact on Communist deliberations.[22]

The "loss of China" attacks

With the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, that country switched from a close friend of the U.S. to a bitter enemy--the two powers were at war in Korea by 1950. Critics blamed Acheson for what they called the "loss of China" and launched several years of organized opposition to Acheson's tenure; Acheson ridiculed his opponents and called this period in his outspoken memoirs "The Attack of the Primitives". Although he maintained his role as a firm anti-communist, he was attacked by various anti-communists for not taking a more active role in attacking communism abroad and domestically, rather than hew to his policy of containment of communist expansion. Both he and Secretary of Defense George Marshall came under attack from men such as Joseph McCarthy; Acheson became a byword to some Americans, who tried to equate containment with appeasement. Congressman Richard Nixon, who later as president would call on Acheson for advice, ridiculed "Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment". This criticism grew very loud after Acheson refused to "turn his back on Alger Hiss" when the latter was accused of being a Communist spy, and convicted of perjury for denying he was a spy.[23]

Attitude towards Southeast Asians

The former U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Edwin W. Martin, accused Acheson of Eurocentrism and of making derogatory comments about Southeast Asians.[24]

Later life and death

The Gravesite of Dean Acheson in Oak Hill Cemetery.

He retired on January 20, 1953, the last day of the Truman administration, and served on the Yale Board of Trustees along with Senator Robert A. Taft, one of his sharpest critics. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1955.[25]

Acheson returned to his private law practice. Although his official governmental career was over, his influence was not. He was ignored by the Eisenhower administration but headed up Democratic Policy Groups in the late 1950s. Much of President John F. Kennedy's flexible response policies came from the position papers drawn up by this group.

Acheson's law offices were strategically located a few blocks from the White House and he accomplished much out of office. He became an unofficial advisor to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, he was dispatched by Kennedy to France to brief French President Charles de Gaulle and gain his support for the United States blockade. Acheson so strongly opposed the final decision merely to blockade that he resigned from the Executive Committee. During the 1960s, he was a leading member of a bipartisan group of establishment elders known as The Wise Men, who initially supported the Vietnam War, but then turned against it at a critical meeting with President Lyndon Johnson in March 1968. He reconciled with his old foe Richard Nixon and quietly became a major advisor to Nixon when he was president.

In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with Distinction. In 1970, he won the Pulitzer Prize for History for his memoirs of his tenure in the State Department, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. The Modern Library placed the book at #47 on its top 100 non-fiction books of the 20th century.[26]

At 6:00 p.m. on October 12, 1971, Acheson died of a massive stroke, at his farm home in Sandy Spring, Maryland, at the age of 78. His body was found slumped over his desk in his study.[3] Acheson was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, DC.

He had a son, David C. Acheson (father of Eleanor D. Acheson), and two daughters, Jane Acheson Brown and Mary Acheson Bundy, wife of William Bundy.[3]


  1. ^ "Dean Acheson". Oxford Learner's Dictionary.
  2. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 6
  3. ^ a b c "Dean Acheson Dies on His Farm at 78". The New York Times. October 13, 1971.
  4. ^ Brennan, Elizabeth A., Clarage, Elizabeth C.Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners, Greenwood, 1999, p. 290
  5. ^ David S. McClellan, Dean Acheson: The State Department Years (1976) pp 8-12
  6. ^ Mead, Frederick S., ed. (1921). Harvard's Military Record in the World War. Boston, Massachusetts: The Harvard Alumni Association. p. 21.
  7. ^ Beisner (2006)
  8. ^ Acheson explained his opposition to this plan, and described his experience as Treasury Undersecretary in the chapter "Brief Encounter -- With FDR" in his 1965 memoir Morning and Noon (pp. 161-194).
  9. ^ Perlmutter, Oscar William (1961). "Acheson and the Diplomacy of World War II". The Western Political Quarterly. University of Utah. 14 (4): 896-911. doi:10.2307/445090. JSTOR 445090.
  10. ^ Irvine H. Anderson, Jr., "The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex," The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 2. (May, 1975), pp. 201-231. in JSTOR
  11. ^ Jean Edward Smith, FDR (Random House, 2007), Kindle edition, 517.
  12. ^ Randall Bennett Woods, "The Good Shepherd," Reviews in American History, Volume 35, Number 2, June 2007, pp. 284-288
  13. ^ Beisner (1996)
  14. ^ Frazier 1999
  15. ^ "Citation Accompanying Medal for Merit Awarded to Dean Acheson". The American Presidency Project. June 30, 1947. Retrieved 2011.
  16. ^ Robert Garson, "The United States and China since 1949," (1994) pp. 27-33
  17. ^ Lewis McCarroll Purifoy, "Harry Truman's China Policy," (1976) pp. 125-150
  18. ^ Neil L. O'Brien, "An American Editor in Early Revolutionary China," (2003) pp. 169-170
  19. ^ "Excerpts". Retrieved 2017.
  20. ^ "Eric Edelman on the Rise of Authoritarianism around the World".
  21. ^ "Eric Edelman Transcript - Conversations with Bill Kristol".
  22. ^ Matray (2002), p. 55.
  23. ^ Robert Beisner (2009). Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War. Oxford UP. pp. 334, 349.
  24. ^ "I've heard him make remarks about people of Southeast Asia that I wouldn't want to repeat.", Oral History Interview with Edwin W. Martin, Washington, DC, June 3, 1975, Richard D. McKinzie,
  25. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011.
  26. ^ Search for a Title or Author. "100 Best Nonfiction « Modern Library". Retrieved .

Further reading

  • Beisner, Robert L. Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War. (New York: OUP USA, 2006), 800 pp.
  • Beisner, Robert L. "Patterns of Peril: Dean Acheson Joins the Cold Warriors, 1945-46." Diplomatic History 1996 20(3): 321-355. ISSN 0145-2096 Fulltext: in Swetswise and Ebsco
  • Brinkley, Douglas. Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953-71. 1992. 429 pp.
  • Brinkley, Douglas, ed. Dean Acheson and the Making of U.S. Foreign Policy. 1993. 271 pp. essays by scholars
  • Chace, James. Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World. (1998). 512 pp.
  • Fletcher, Luke. "The Collapse of the Western World: Acheson, Nitze, and the NSC 68/Rearmament Decision." Diplomatic History 40#4 (2016): 750-777.
  • Frazier, Robert. "Acheson and the Formulation of the Truman Doctrine." Journal of Modern Greek Studies 1999 17(2): 229-251. ISSN 0738-1727 in Project Muse
  • Garson, Robert. The United States and China since 1949: A Troubled Affair. Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press, Madison, 1994: pp. 27-33 ISBN 0-8386-3610-1
  • Goulden, Joseph C. (1971). The Superlawyers: The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firms. New York: Weybright and Talley.
  • Harper, John Lamberton. American Visions of Europe: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George F. Kennan, and Dean G. Acheson. Cambridge U. Press, 1994. 378 pp.
  • Hopkins, Michael F. Dean Acheson and the Obligations of Power (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). xvi, 289 pp.
  • Kaplan, Lawrence S. The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years (1999) online edition
  • Isaacson, Walter, and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1997) 864pp; covers Acheson and colleagues Charles E. Bohlen, W. Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, and John J. McCloy; excerpt and text search
  • Leffler, Melvyn P. "Strategy, Diplomacy, and the Cold War: the United States, Turkey, and NATO, 1945-1952" Journal of American History 1985 71(4): 807-825. in JSTOR* McGlothlen, Ronald L. Controlling the Waves: Dean Acheson and US Foreign Policy in Asia (1993) online edition
  • Matray, James I. (2002). "Dean Acheson's National Press Club Speech Reexamined". Journal of Conflict Studies. 22 (1): 28-55.
  • McMahon, Robert J. Dean Acheson and the Creation of an American World Order (Washington: Potomac, 2009), 257 pp. book review
  • McNay, John T. Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Foreign Policy (2001) online edition
  • Merrill, Dennis. "The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism and Modernity" Presidential Studies Quarterly 2006 36(1): 27-37. online edition
  • O'Brien, Neil L. An American Editor in Early Revolutionary China: John William Powell and the China Weekly/Monthly Review. Routledge, New York, 2003: pp. 169-170 ISBN 0-415-94424-4
  • Offner, Arnold A. "'Another Such Victory': President Truman, American Foreign Policy, and the Cold War." Diplomatic History 1999 23(2): 127-155. online in Blackwell Synergy
  • Offner, Arnold A. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War. (2002) 640pp, highly negative excerpts and text search
  • Perlmutter, Oscar William. "The 'Neo-Realism' of Dean Acheson," The Review of Politics, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1964), pp. 100-123 in JSTOR
  • Perlmutter, Oscar William. "Acheson and the Diplomacy of World War II," The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1961), pp. 896-911 in JSTOR
  • Purifoy, Lewis McCarroll. Harry Truman's China Policy. Franklin Watts, New York, 1976: pp. 125-150 ISBN 0-531-05386-5
  • Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards. The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism (2006)

Primary sources

  • Acheson, Dean. A Democrat Looks at His Party (1955)
  • Acheson, Dean. A Citizen Looks at Congress (1957)
  • Acheson, Dean. Sketches from Life of Men I Have Known (1961)
  • Acheson, Dean (1965). Morning and Noon: A Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Acheson, Dean (1969). Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. New York: Norton. pp. 798 pp. ASIN B0006D5KRE. highly revealing memoir; won the Pulitzer prize; excerpt and text search
  • Acheson, Dean. The Korean War (1971)
  • Acheson, Dean (1971). Fragments of My Fleece. New York: Norton. pp. 222 pp.
  • McLellan, David S., and David C. Acheson, eds. Among Friends: Personal Letters of Dean Acheson (1980)

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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