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John Foster Dulles
52nd United States Secretary of State

In office
January 26, 1953 – April 22, 1959
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Dean Acheson
Succeeded by Christian Herter
United States Senator
from New York

In office
July 7, 1949 – November 8, 1949
Appointed by Thomas E. Dewey
Preceded by Robert F. Wagner
Succeeded by Herbert H. Lehman
Personal details
Born (1888-02-25)February 25, 1888
Washington, D.C.
Died May 24, 1959(1959-05-24) (aged 71)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Republican
Alma mater Princeton University
George Washington University Law School
Profession Lawyer, Diplomat, Politician
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Major

John Foster Dulles (February 25, 1888 – May 24, 1959) served as U.S. Secretary of State under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against communism throughout the world. He negotiated numerous treaties and alliances to bring that about. He advocated support of the French in their war against the Viet Minh in Indochina but rejected the Geneva Accords that France and the Communists agreed to, and instead supported South Vietnam after the Geneva Conference in 1954.

Early life

Born in Washington, D.C., he was one of five children and the eldest son born to Presbyterian minister Allen Macy Dulles and his wife Edith (Foster). His paternal grandfather, John Welsh Dulles, had been a Presbyterian missionary in India. He attended public schools in Watertown, New York. After graduating from Princeton University (Phi Beta Kappa, 1908),[1] where he competed on the American Whig-Cliosophic Society debate team,[2] and graduating from The George Washington University Law School, he joined the New York City law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he specialized in international law. He tried to join the United States Army during World War I but was rejected because of poor eyesight. Instead, Dulles received an Army commission as Major on the War Industries Board.

Both his grandfather, John W. Foster, and his uncle, Robert Lansing, had served as Secretary of State. His younger brother Allen Welsh Dulles served as Director of Central Intelligence under President Eisenhower, and his younger sister Eleanor Lansing Dulles was noted for her work in the successful economic rebuilding of post-war Europe during 20 years with the State Department.

Marriage and family

On June 26, 1912, Dulles married Janet Avery, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Their older son John W. F. Dulles (1913–2008) was a professor of History and specialist in Brazil at the University of Texas at Austin.[3] Their daughter, Lillias Dulles Hinshaw (1914–1987) became a Presbyterian minister. Their son Avery Dulles (1918–2008) converted to Roman Catholicism, entered the Jesuit order, and became the first American priest to be directly appointed as a Cardinal.

Political career


In 1918, Woodrow Wilson appointed Dulles as legal counsel to the United States delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference where he served under his uncle, Robert Lansing, then Secretary of State. Dulles made an early impression as a junior diplomat by clearly and forcefully arguing against imposing crushing reparations on Germany. Afterwards, he served as a member of the War Reparations Committee at the request of President Wilson. He was also an early member (interestingly also along with future First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) of the influential League of Free Nations Association, founded 1918 (later after 1923 as the Foreign Policy Association), which had supported American membership in the League of Nations. Dulles, a deeply religious man, attended numerous international conferences of churchmen during 1920s and 1930's. In 1924, he was the defense counsel in the church trial of Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, who had been charged with heresy by opponents in his denomination (the event which sparked the continuing Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy in the international Christian Churches over the literal interpretation of Scripture versus the newly developed "Historical-Critical" method including recent scientific and archeological discoveries), a case settled when Fosdick, a liberal Baptist, resigned his pulpit in the Presbyterian Church congregation, which he had never joined. Dulles also became a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, an international law firm.


Dulles was a partner in the prestigious New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, specializing in international finance. Dulles played a major role in designing the Dawes Plan that reduced German payments and temporarily resolved the reparations issue by having American firms loan money to German states and private companies; the money was invested and the profits sent as reparations to Britain and France, which used it to repay their own war loans from the U.S. In the 1920s Dulles was involved in setting up a billion dollars' worth of these loans. but there were no new ones after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and after 1931 Germany stopped making payments. In 1934 Germany unilaterally stopped payments on private debts of the sort that Dulles was handling. In 1935, with the Nazis in power the junior partners forced Dulles to cut all business ties with Germany. Dulles, at the time, was prominent in the religious peace movement and an isolationist, but the junior partners were led by his brother Allen, so he reluctantly went along.[4][5]


Dulles was a close associate of Thomas E. Dewey, who became the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the 1944 election and 1948. During the elections Dulles served as Dewey's chief foreign policy adviser. In 1944, as Dewey's adviser, Dulles took an active role in establishing the Republican plank calling for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine.[6]

In 1945, Dulles participated in the San Francisco Conference and worked as adviser to Arthur H. Vandenberg and helped draft the preamble to the United Nations Charter. He subsequently attended the United Nations General Assembly as a United States delegate in 1946, 1947 and 1950.

Although Dulles has a lasting reputation as a hawk and nuclear weapons proponent, he was strongly opposed to the US atomic attacks on Japan. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings he drafted a public statement that called for international control of nuclear energy under United Nations auspices. Dulles wrote, "If we, as a professedly Christian nation, feel morally free to use atomic energy in that way, men elsewhere will accept that verdict. Atomic weapons will be looked upon as a normal part of the arsenal of war and the stage will be set for the sudden and final destruction of mankind." Dulles never lost his anxiety about the destructive power of nuclear weapons. However, his views on international control and on employing the threat of atomic attack changed in the face of the Berlin blockade, the Soviet detonation of an A-bomb, and the advent of the Korean war, which convinced him that the communist bloc was pursuing expansionist policies.[7]

Dulles was appointed by Dewey to the United States Senate as a Republican from New York on July 7, 1949, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Democrat Robert F. Wagner. Dulles served from July 7, 1949, to November 8, 1949, when a successor, Herbert Lehman, was elected, after beating Dulles in a special election to fill the senate vacancy.


In 1950, Dulles published War or Peace, a critical analysis of the American policy of containment, which at the time was favored by many of the foreign policy elites in Washington. Dulles criticized the foreign policy of Harry S. Truman. He argued that containment should be replaced by a policy of "liberation". When Dwight Eisenhower became President in January, 1953, he appointed Dulles as his Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, Dulles still carried out the “containment” policy of neutralizing the Taiwan Strait during the Korean War, which had been established by President Truman in the Treaty of Peace with Japan of 1951. He also supervised the completion of the Japanese Peace Treaty, in which full independence was restored to Japan under United States terms.[8]

Secretary of State

Dulles with president Eisenhower in 1956

As Secretary of State, Dulles spent considerable time building up NATO and forming other alliances (the "Pactomania") as part of his strategy of controlling Soviet expansion by threatening massive retaliation in event of a war, as well as building up friendships, including that of Louis Jefferson, who would later write a good-humored biography on Dulles. In 1950, he worked alongside Richard Nixon to reduce the French influence in Vietnam as well as asking the United States to attempt to cooperate with the French in the aid of strengthening Diem's Army. Over time he came to the conclusion that it was time to "ease France out of Vietnam"[9] In 1950 He also helped instigate the ANZUS Treaty for mutual protection with Australia and New Zealand. Dulles was strongly against communism, believing it was "Godless terrorism".[10] One of his first major policy shifts towards a more aggressive posture against communism, Dulles supported Eisenhower's decision to direct the CIA at this point now under the directorship of his brother Allen Dulles, in March 1953, to draft plans to overthrow the Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran [3]. This led directly to the Coup d'état via Operation Ajax in support of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.

Dulles was also the architect of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) that was created in 1954. The treaty, signed by representatives of Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States provided for collective action against aggression.

In 1953-54 Dulles supported the decision by Eisenhower to use the CIA to help rebels in Guatemala overthrow the government, which Washington thought was veering toward Communist control. Dulles played a minor role.[11]

Dulles was one of the pioneers of massive retaliation and brinkmanship. In an article written for Life Magazine Dulles defined his policy of brinkmanship: "The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art."[12] Dulles' hard-line alienated many leaders in the non-aligned movement, many of whom were upset when on June 9, 1956, he argued in one speech that "neutrality has increasingly become an obsolete and, except under very exceptional circumstances, it is an immoral and shortsighted conception."[13] Throughout the 1950s Dulles was in frequent conflict with those non-aligned statesmen he deemed excessively sympathetic to Communism, including, saliently, India's V.K. Krishna Menon.

In November 1956, Dulles strongly opposed the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt in response to the Suez Crisis. He was hospitalized for surgery during the most crucial days and was out of the decision loop.[14] However, by 1958, he was an outspoken opponent of President Gamal Abdel Nasser and stopped him from receiving weapons from the United States. This policy seemingly backfired, enabling the Soviet Union to gain influence in the Middle East.

Dulles focused more attention on the Suez Crisis than on the Hungarian revolution, which was occurring simultaneously. He misunderstood the Hungarian reformist leader Imre Nagy. On October 25, 1956, he sent a telegram to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade expressing his fears that the Imre Nagy-János Kádár government might take "reprisals" against the Hungarian "freedom fighters". By the next day, October 26, State Department officials in Washington assumed the worse about Nagy, asserting in a top secret memorandum: "Nagy's appeal for Soviet troops indicates, at least superficially, that there are not any open differences between the Soviet and Hungarian governments".[15][16]

Dulles also served as the Chairman and Co-founder of the Commission on a Just and Durable Peace of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America (succeeded by the National Council of Churches), the Chairman of the Board for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1935 to 1952, and was a founding member of Foreign Policy Association and Council of Foreign Relations.

Death and legacy

Dulles developed colon cancer for which he was first operated in November 1956 when it had caused a bowel perforation.[17] He did well for the next two years but experienced abdominal pain at the end of 1958 and was hospitalized with a diagnosis of diverticulitis. In January 1959, he returned to work, but with more pain and declining health underwent abdominal surgery in February at Walter Reed Hospital when recurrence of the cancer became evident. After recuperation in Florida he returned to Washington. Dulles received radiation therapy but with further declining health and evidence of bone metastasis he resigned from office on April 15, 1959.[17] He died at Walter Reed Hospital on May 24, 1959, at the age of 71.[18]

Funeral services for Dulles were held in Washington National Cathedral on May 27, 1959, and he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[19] He was awarded the Medal of Freedom and the Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1959. A central West Berlin road was (re-)named "John-Foster-Dulles-Allee" in 1959 in the presence of Christian Herter, Dulles' successor as Secretary of State.

The Washington Dulles International Airport (located in Dulles, Virginia) and John Foster Dulles High, Middle and Elementary Schools in Sugar Land, Texas were all named in honor of Dulles. John Foster Dulles Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio is named in honor of him.[20] Watertown, New York named the Dulles State Office Building in his honor.

In 1955, Dulles was named Man of the Year for 1954 in Time Magazine.[21]

Carol Burnett first rose to prominence in the 1950s singing a novelty song, "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles"; more recently, Gil Scott Heron commented "John Foster Dulles ain't nothing but the name of an airport now" in the song "B-Movie." In the book Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Switters and Case both spit whenever they refer to John Foster Dulles. As Secretary of State in the 2012 comic novel Nick & Jake, by Tad Richards and Jonathan Richards, Dulles demands the resignation of Undersecretary Nick Carraway (from The Great Gatsby), who has been accused of subversive activity by Senator Joseph McCarthy.[22]

Rollback emerged as the Republican party's direct counterpart to the Democrats' containment model. Behind the new strategy stood the idea of taking the offensive to push Communism back rather than just defensively containing it. The crucial initiator of the policy of rollback was John Foster Dulles.[23] Dulles' rollback policy was later implemented by the Reagan Administration during the 1980s and it is sometimes credited with the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the Communist Bloc in eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union itself.[24][25]

Dulles is said to have made the candid quote, "The United States of America does not have friends; it has interests." With time it has become infamous in some sectors due to the country's future (and previous) foreign policies. Yet, no such quote exists in the historical record—although these words were actually spoken by Charles De Gaulle. The myth appears to have grown out of an incident in 1958 when Dulles traveled to Mexico and anti-American protesters held up signs reading "The U.S. has no friends, only interests."[26]


  • Biographies
    • Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles by Frederick Marks (1995) ISBN 0-275-95232-0
    • John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy by Richard H. Immerman (1998) ISBN 0-8420-2601-0
    • Devil and John Foster Dulles by Hoopes Townsend (1973) ISBN 0-316-37235-8.
    • The actor; the true story of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, 1953–1959 by Alan Stang, Western Islands (1968)
    • The John Foster Dulles Book of Humor by Louis Jefferson (1986), St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-44355-2
    • John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power. by Ronald W. Pruessen (1982), The Free Press ISBN 0-02-925460-4
  • General History

See also


  1. John Dulles, Arlington National Cemetery Website, accessed Oct 11, 2009
  3. "90-year-old Still Active at University", The Daily Texan
  4. Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy, The Life of Allen Dulles (1994) pp 91-3, 119-22
  5. Ronald W. Pruessen, John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power (1982) pp115, 123
  6. Isaac Alteras 1993 Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1953–1960 University Press of Florida ISBN 0-8130-1205-8 pp 53–55
  7. Neal Rosendorf, "John Foster Dulles' Nuclear Schizophrenia," in John Lewis Gaddis et al., Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945 (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 64–69.
  8. Immerman, Richard H. John Foster Dulles Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy (Biographies in American Foreign Policy). New York: SR Books, 1998. p, 37
  9. Immerman, Richard H.John Foster Dulles;Piety,Pragmatism,and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy.Wilmington, Del.;Scholarly Resources,1999.P.98
  10. Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007, p 829.
  11. Richard H. Immerman, ed., John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (1990), pp 174-77
  12. Stephen E. Ambrose (2010). Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938, Ninth Revised Edition. Penguin. p. 109. 
  13. Ian Shapiro (2009). Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy against Global Terror. Princeton University Press. pp. 145–. 
  14. Cole Christian Kingseed (1995). Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956. LSU Press. p. 117. 
  15. Johanna Granville, "Caught With Jam on Our Fingers”: Radio Free Europe and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956”, Diplomatic History, vol. 29, no. 5 (2005): pp. 811–839.
  16. Granville, Johanna (2004). The First Domino: International Decision Making During the Hungarian Crisis of 1956. Texas A & M University Press, College Station, Texas. ISBN 1-58544-298-4. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lerner BH. When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006. p. 81ff. ISBN 0-8018-8462-4. 
  18. UPI< Year in Review,
  19. [1]
  20. [2]
  21. Man of the Year – Jan. 3, 1955 – Page 1
  22. Arcade Publishing
  23. United States and Germany in the era of the Cold War, 1945–1990 a handbook. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004.
  24. Coulter, Ann. 2003. Treason. Crown Forum. New York. pp. 156–157, ISBN 1-4000-5030-8
  25. "Kennan and Containment, 1947". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2003-03-03. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  26. "Dulles in Rio". August 10, 1958. 

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Robert F. Wagner
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from New York
Served alongside: Irving Ives
Succeeded by
Herbert H. Lehman
Political offices
Preceded by
Dean Acheson
U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Succeeded by
Christian Herter
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Ernest O. Lawrence
Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient
Succeeded by
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

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