Dean Acheson (1893-1971)

Dean Gooderham Acheson (April 11, 1893 - October 12, 1971) was United States Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. It has often been said that Acheson was more responsible for the Truman Doctrine than Harry Truman and the Marshall Plan than George Marshall. Although he developed anti-Communist views early in his political career, Acheson was a prominent defender of State Department employees accused during Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations. Acheson persuaded Truman to dispatch aid to French forces in Indochina, but later 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 Kennedy's executive committee (ExComm).

Dean Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut. His father, Edward Campion Acheson, was an English-born Church of England minister who, after several years in Canada, moved to the US to become Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut. His mother, Eleanor Gertrude Gooderham, was a granddaughter of prominent Canadian distiller, William Gooderham (1790-1881), founder of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery.

Acheson's primary schooling was at Groton School, at which Acheson did not enjoy, nor did he perform very well, scoring largely average marks during his time there. Later Acheson was educated at Yale University (1912-15), where he became a member of the prestigious secret society, Scroll and Key. It was not until Acheson entered Harvard Law School, where he attended from (1915-18) that the future Secretary of State became studious. At the latter he became a protege of the professor Felix Frankfurter, who taught Administrative Law Courses at the Law School. Acheson also attended law school with future luminaries such as John J. McCloy who got him a job in Washington. 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(1919-21). Frankfurter and Brandeis were close associates, and future Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter suggested that Brandeis take on Acheson.

A supporter of the United States Democratic Party, Acheson worked at a law firm in Washington D.C., Covington & Burling, often dealing with international legal issues before Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him as Undersecretary of the United States Treasury in 1933. Acheson did not stay in this post long, as he and President Roosevelt found themselves at loggerheads over FDR's plans of changing the price of gold. Much of this Acheson recounted in his book, "Morning and Noon." Later, FDR would bring Acheson back into his administration, placing Acheson in the United States State Department, where Acheson worked on economic issues before World War II, and played an important role in desiging U.S. economic policy vis-a-vis Japan. Namely the economic embargo that caused Japan to attack Pearl Harbor. In 1944, Acheson attended the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire as the head delegate from the State Department. At this conference the post-war international economic structure was designed. This 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.

Later, in 1945, Harry S. Truman selected Acheson as his Undersecretary of United States Department of State, working under Secretaries of State Stettinius, Byrnes, and Marshall. Often during the post-war period, the Secretary was overseas, and Acheson was the acting Secretary attending Cabinet meetings. During this period, Acheson cemented a very close relationship with President Truman. Over the next two years, Acheson played an important role in devising both the Truman Doctrine and the European Recovery Program. Acheson believed that the best way to halt the spread of communism was by helping rebuild a functioning economic structure in Western Europe.

In 1949, Acheson was appointed Secretary of State. In this position he built a working framework to the policy of the containment, first formulated by George Kennan, who served as the head of Acheson's Policy Planning Staff. Acheson played instrumental part in the formation of NATO, and is the signer to the pact for the United States. The formation of NATO was a great departure from established U.S. foreign policy, in which the United States would refrain from 'entangling alliances.'

Nevertheless, though 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 a mere containment of communist governments. 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. Richard Nixon, who later as President would call on Acheson for advice, would complain of the "Acheson School 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, which was later proved by the Venona Project.

On December 15, 1950, the Republicans in the House of Representatives resolved unanimously that he be removed from office, to no avail. Furthermore, Acheson also upset the right wing when he took the side of Harry S. Truman in his dispute with General Douglas MacArthur over the Korean War. Acheson and Truman wanted to limit the war to Korea, whereas MacArthur called for the extension of the war to China.

After the 1952 presidential campaign, Acheson returned to his private law practice. Although his official governmental career was over, his influence was not. Acheson headed up Democratic Policy Groups during the Eisenhower years. Much of President Kennedy's flexible response policies came from the position papers drawn up by this group. Acheson's law offices were strategically located across Lafayette Park from the White House and he accomplished much out of office. He became an unofficial advisor to the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 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.

In 1971, Dean Acheson died of a massive stroke at his desk on his farm in Sandy Spring, Maryland at the age of 78.