The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

John Foster Dulles (1888-1959)

John Foster Dulles was born in Washington, D.C., into an influential and politically active family. Upon graduation from Princeton University, where he studied under Woodrow Wilson, he attended the Sorbonne in Paris and then The George Washington University Law School. In 1911, he joined the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell and, when the US entered World War I, he served on the War Trade Board. When the war ended, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Dulles to the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, where Dulles helped draft a proposed peace treaty that limited the reparations imposed on Germany. Disappointed with the Versailles Treaty, Dulles returned to his law practice and, continuing his interest in foreign affairs, wrote War, Peace and Change in 1939. With the onset of World War II in Europe, Dulles opposed appeasement and supported the fight against fascism. He headed the Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace and in 1943 presented President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the commission's plan, which included the establishment of international organizations, arms control, and worldwide "religious, intellectual, and political freedom."

During the Cold War years, when Dulles' world vision attracted both the Republicans and the Democrats, his political activity reached a new high. From 1945 through 1951 Dulles represented President Truman at a variety of international conferences, including the United Nations Conference in San Francisco and the meetings that produced the formal peace treaty with Japan. He also served as foreign affairs adviser to Republican presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey during his 1948 campaign, and briefly (1949-1950) as senator from New York. In 1950, Dulles, an avid cold warrior, wrote War or Peace to encourage resistance to the spread of communism. The book revealed Dulles' support for the "containment" of Soviet expansion, but also indicated that he felt the U.S. had to take a more active role in the "liberation" of peoples under communist leadership.

In 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Dulles secretary of state. From this powerful position, Dulles intensified his anti-Communism crusade. Yet, however much he wanted to use the threat of massive atomic retaliation to curb the expansion of Soviet Communism, Dulles believed that nuclear war, which would only mean worldwide disaster, had to be prevented. Therefore, he endorsed diplomatic means to resolve dangerous international conflicts, often backing his words with pledges of military support. In keeping with this, Dulles remained a strong multilateralist who sought to strengthen American ties to Western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Dulles fully endorsed the Eisenhower Doctrine which, in 1957, pledged the United States to use any necessary force to resist Soviet aggression anywhere. Health problems began to limit his political activities by 1958, and in May 1959 Dulles died from abdominal cancer in Washington, D.C.

Sources: American National Biography Online Internet on-line. Available From; John Whitclay Chambers II, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Military History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 239-240.

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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