Stimson, Henry

views updated


Stimson, Henry Lewis (The Colonel, September 21, 1867–October 20, 1950), a Wall Street lawyer and Republican, served twice as United States secretary of war under presidents William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. Stimson also served as secretary of state for President Herbert Hoover. Born to privilege, Stimson attended Phillips Academy (Andover), Yale University, and Harvard Law School. He began his public service as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York under Theodore Roosevelt, and later served as governor-general of the Philippines. Conservative on domestic politics, Stimson was an internationalist who advocated an increasing American involvement in world affairs.

As Hoover's secretary of state, Stimson pursued greater cooperation with the powers of Europe, modification of the financial burdens imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, and further disarmament as the keys to maintaining peace. With the coming of the Great Depression and the economic collapse of Europe in 1931, the Colonel, as Stimson liked to be called after his rank during World War I, pushed with limited success for further debt reduction and cancellation of reparations payments. Stimson could only convince President Hoover to agree to a one-year moratorium on debts and a temporary standstill agreement of private debts. Neither action, however, provided a long-term solution to the international economic crisis.

Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 led to the establishment of the Stimson Doctrine, the principle of nonrecognition of territory seized by force. Stimson believed that the Japanese had to be made to realize that no matter what their success in Manchuria, they still had to contend with the opinion and power of the rest of the world. The Stimson Doctrine served as a clarion call for the United States to act against aggression during the 1930s and made Stimson the leading advocate of American opposition to first Japan's and then Germany's expansion. Throughout the decade Stimson served as the loyal opposition to Franklin Roosevelt, supporting the president's efforts to increase American awareness of international events and preparedness for the coming war.

When war erupted in Europe in 1939, Roosevelt needed someone capable of managing the War Department who would also make foreign policy a less divisive issue. In June 1940 the president turned to Stimson for this task, knowing he would approach it in a bipartisan manner while maintaining his loyalty to the administration's policies. As secretary of war, Stimson successfully oversaw the mobilization of the American economy, the military strategies of fighting in both Europe and Asia, and the development of the atomic bomb.



Hodgson, Godfrey. The Colonel: The Life and Wars of Henry Stimson, 1867–1950. 1990.

Schmitz, David F. Henry L. Stimson: The First Wise Man. 2001.

Stimson, Henry L., and McGeorge Bundy. On Active Service in Peace and War. 1948.

Stimson, Henry L. Papers and Diaries. Sterling Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

David F. Schmitz