Dulles, John Foster


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Dulles, John Foster

John Foster Dulles served as U.S. Secretary of State from 1953 to 1959. A prominent New York City attorney, Dulles participated in international affairs for much of his legal career. His term as secretary of state occurred during the height of the Cold War and was marked by his strong anti-Communist policies and rhetoric.

Dulles was born in Washington, D.C., on February 25, 1888, at the home of his maternal grandfather, John W. Foster, secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison. Dulles was raised in Watertown, New York, where his father, the Reverend Allen M. Dulles, served as a Presbyterian minister. Known as Foster, the young Dulles was a precocious student, graduating from high school at age fifteen and attending Princeton University at age sixteen. He graduated in 1908 and then entered George Washington University Law School. Again, he worked quickly, and graduated in two years.

Through the efforts of his well-connected grandfather, Dulles joined the New York City law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, which has been called the greatest corporate law firm of the early twentieth century. In 1919 family friend and international financier Bernard M. Baruch invited Dulles to be his aide at the Paris Peace Conference. This conference, which was convened to negotiate the terms of peace to end World War I, stimulated Dulles's interest in international politics and diplomacy.

"The ability to get to the verge of war without getting into the war is the necessary art… if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost."
—John F. Dulles

In the 1920s Dulles quickly moved ahead at Sullivan and Cromwell. In 1926, at the age of only thirty-eight, Dulles was made head of the firm. Representing many of the largest U.S. corporations, Dulles became a very wealthy man. As his stature rose, he became a prominent figure in the Republican Party. A confidant of New York governor thomas e. dewey, Dulles was promised the position of secretary of state if Dewey was elected president in 1948, but Dewey was unsuccessful and Dulles lost that opportunity.

Dulles was an active participant in the effort to reshape foreign relations after World War II. He helped form the United Nations and was a U.S. member to the General Assembly from 1945 to 1949. He performed the duties of U.S. ambassador-at-large and was the chief author of the 1951 Japanese peace treaty. He also negotiated the Australian, New Zealand, Philippine, and Japanese security treaties in 1950 and 1951.

In 1949 he filled a vacancy in the Senate created by the death of Senator robert wagner, of New York, but was unsuccessful in his attempt the same year to win election to a six-year term. Dulles's political fortunes im proved when he aligned himself with the 1952 presidential candidacy of dwight d. eisenhower. He helped Eisenhower defeat conservative senator Robert Taft, of Ohio, at the nominating convention and was rewarded with his long-desired appointment as head of the State Department.

As secretary of state, Dulles exhibited a rigid opposition to Communism. He advocated going to the brink of war to achieve results—a position that led to the coinage of the term brinkmanship to describe his foreign policy.

Dulles is also remembered for his doctrine of "massive retaliation," which warned the Soviet Union that the United States would react instantaneously with Nuclear Weapons to even the smallest provocation. Dulles believed that such a policy would discourage aggressive acts, though many allies were concerned that it would turn small wars into much larger and much more destructive ones.

Dulles died May 24, 1959, in Washington, D.C.

Further readings

Halberstam, David. 1993. The Fifties. New York: Villard Books.

Merry, Robert W. 1996. Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop—Guardians of the American Century. New York: Viking.

Cross-references

Cold War.