Stimson, Henry L.

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Henry L. Stimson

Born September 21, 1867

New York, New York

Died October 20, 1950

Huntington, New York

Secretary of war, diplomat

Henry L. Stimson became one of the most respected U.S. leaders during World War II (193945). Many considered Stimson the chief architect for Allied victory in the war by organizing the U.S. war effort, including home front mobilization. Stimson also played a major role in preparing Americans on the home front for future sacrifices. As a result, the United States had the best-equipped army in the world. Stimson was outspoken in taking a strong stand against German military expansion in Europe. He was one of the most influential policy makers of the twentieth century as the United States emerged as a great military and economic world leader. However, his inspired foreign policy was tempered by a strong racial bias. This bias was reflected by his resistance to racially integrate the armed forces during the war and to insist on the internment of Japanese Americans in the western United States.

A privileged childhood

Henry Lewis Stimson was born on September 21, 1867, in New York City, only two years after the end of the American Civil War (186165). His father was Lewis Atterbury Stimson, a Wall Street stockbroker. His mother was Candace Wheeler. In 1871 Lewis left the New York Stock Exchange and took the family to Europe, where he studied medicine for the next three years. Upon his completion, they returned to the United States but Henry's mother soon died. As a result, Henry was raised by his grandparents. He received an excellent education. At age thirteen Henry entered the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and from there attended Yale University. He graduated in 1888 and entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1890 with a master's degree.

Henry Stimson returned to New York City, where he was admitted to the New York bar in 1891 and became a Wall Street lawyer. He joined the law firm of Root and Clark. Elihu Root (18451937), a major influence on Stimson, would become secretary of war and secretary of state between 1897 and 1909. Two years after joining the firm in 1893, Stimson married Mabel White, a girlfriend from Yale. They would have no children in their fifty-seven years of marriage.

A life of public service

While pursuing his law practice, Stimson became active in Republican politics. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919; served 190109) appointed Stimson U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Serving for three years, Stimson pursued historic antitrust cases and became a supporter of progressive politics. Those who supported progressivism believed it was proper to use governmental powers to solve national economic and social issues. Rising quickly in politics, Stimson was selected the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1910. However, he did not prove to be an effective campaigner. Stimson had a conservative and cold personality, and he did not relate well to voters. He could be harsh and abrupt with his peers. He lost badly in this, his only political campaign.

In 1911 President William Howard Taft (18571930; served 190913) appointed Stimson secretary of war. Stimson would serve five presidents in various capacities from 1911 to 1945. While secretary of war, he modernized the military organization, a move that would greatly help mobilization in World War I (191418) and World War II. With the entrance of Democrat Woodrow Wilson (18561924; served 191321) into the White House in 1913, Stimson returned to his private law practice. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Stimson, at forty-nine years of age, volunteered for military service. He became an army artillery officer who saw active duty in France. Stimson attained the rank of colonel before the war's end. He once again returned to his law practice as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street. Stimson benefited from the economic boom times of the 1920s, making a substantial income.

However, public service soon came calling again. In 1927 President Calvin Coolidge (18721933; served 192329) selected Stimson for a diplomatic mission to Nicaragua to resolve a civil war. He was able to help the two sides reach a settlement though fighting lingered for a few more years. Seen as a great success, Stimson was named governor general of the Philippines in 1928. Dedicated to the economic development of the islands, he became a very popular governor for the one year he was there. In 1929 President Herbert Hoover (18741964; served 192933) appointed Stimson as secretary of state.

Secretary of war, again

When Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345; see entry) took over the White House in 1933, Stimson once again returned to his law practice. From the beginning in the late 1930s, Stimson was one of the few higher U.S. statesmen who called for opposition to German expansion in Europe and for a strengthened U.S. military. Others, particularly fellow Republicans, took positions of isolationism (avoiding foreign commitments or involvement). He was a leading member of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Roosevelt agreed with Stimson's views and in 1940 appointed the Republican Stimson secretary of war once again. Roosevelt also appointed Republican Frank Knox (18741944) secretary of the navy. The president was trying to build bipartisan (from both major political parties) support for the upcoming war effort. Stimson accepted with two conditions: he would not be expected to participate in home front politics and he could select his own assistants.

Stimson began work in his new position on July 10, 1940. His first action as war secretary was to seek establishment of a selective service system, the first peacetime draft (mandatory enrollment in the armed services) in U.S. history. Stimson supported Roosevelt in aiding foreign countries, first with the Destroyers for Bases program announced in September 1940 and then the Lend-Lease program that Roosevelt first announced in his December 29, 1940, "Arsenal of Democracy" speech. (Under the Lend-Lease program, Allied nations, who were quickly running out of money, could purchase military goods from the United States on credit instead of paying by cash, as they had been up until that time.) Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. When German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stimson pressed Roosevelt to begin shipping aid to Britain. Stimson wanted Roosevelt to go to the public and prepare them for war. Roosevelt would sign the selective service bill on September 16, 1940. As a result, the army expanded to 1.4 million servicemen. Stimson also pressed Congress hard for providing businesses financial incentives to mobilize. Being a well-known Republican favoring Roosevelt's desire to send military aid to Britain and to institute a military draft, Stimson helped the Democratic president's cause for selling Congress and the public on the need to prepare for war.

To conduct the war effort, Stimson assembled a top team of experts to get U.S. industrial mobilization underway on the home front. His team included Robert Patterson (18911952), John J. McCloy (18951989), Robert A. Lovett (18951986), and Harvey Bundy (18881963). Patterson was assistant secretary in charge of army procurement of supplies. McCloy assisted in general, tackling various problems as they appeared. Lovett oversaw the air force, from home front production of warplanes to their use in combat. Bundy worked as liaison with various congressional committees and served as personal advisor to Stimson. Despite his cool mannerisms in public, Stimson was noted for his integrity and inspired loyalty and even affection from those who knew him well.

War begins

When war did break out for the United States with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Stimson was seventy-four years of age. Pearl Harbor caught him by surprise. He knew from intelligence reports that a Japanese attack on U.S. interests was imminent, but he believed it would occur in the west Pacific, such as the Philippine Islands. He underestimated Japan's capabilities and vowed not to underestimate the Japanese again.

As a result, Stimson pushed for the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the United States. He received presidential approval on February 19, 1942, to evacuate 112,000 Japanese Americans to hastily constructed relocation camps in remote desert areas further inland. He steadfastly held to the belief that they posed a danger to the American home front, even though no Japanese American was ever charged with a war crime. He also believed racial integration of the military would be too disruptive during the time of war. So he decided racially segregated units would be used, with blacks serving only under white officers.

Robert Patterson

As the newly appointed secretary of war, Henry L. Stimson began war mobilization of U.S. industry in 1940. He selected Robert Patterson (18911952) as a top assistant. Patterson resigned a federal judge position to become assistant secretary of war. He and Stimson knew each other well. Both were Harvard graduates and Republicans. They also both served in World War I in the same army division in France. During the 1930s they formed an even closer friendship while opposing isolationism in America.

Born in Glens Falls, New York, Patterson followed his father's footsteps into the legal profession by studying law at Harvard. Following graduation, he joined a prestigious law firm headed by Elihu Root (18451937), who had been secretary of war and secretary of state between 1897 and 1909. Influenced by Root, Patterson was a strong supporter for national defense. Following World War I, Patterson established a successful New York law firm and did financially well through the economic boom years of the 1920s. In 1930 President Herbert Hoover (18741964; served 192933) appointed Patterson as a judge to the U.S. District Court of Southern New York. In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345) appointed Patterson to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

During World War II, Patterson rose to be undersecretary of war. From that position he oversaw the army's multibillion-dollar purchasing program, a highly important position throughout mobilization. Patterson believed military contracts should largely go to major corporations who were already prepared to launch into mass production of war materials. As a result, Patterson forged a strong relationship between the military and big business that persisted into the twenty-first century and greatly influenced American foreign policy. Like Stimson, he staunchly opposed racial segregation in the military services. Following the war, Patterson successfully pushed for all military services to be combined into one department, the newly formed Department of Defense, in 1947. That same year, Patterson resigned from public service and returned to a private law practice. Only five years later, in 1952, he was killed in a commercial airliner crash.

During the war, Stimson wanted tight security on war operations and viewed civilians (those not in the military) in government with suspicion. He was often impolite to the press and particularly to Elmer Davis (18901958; see entry), head of the government's Office of War Information (OWI). The OWI was in charge of disseminating information about the war to the American public. Stimson saw little value in informing the public on the home front. Stimson and Davis persisted in strong contention, with Stimson holding the upper hand. Even the facts concerning the results of the Pearl Harbor attack were not disclosed for a year. Roosevelt, however, would routinely back up Stimson when conflicts with others were raised to the president.

While his top-notch aides carried out mobilization efforts, Stimson took the lead in the Manhattan Project, the top secret project to build the atomic bomb. It was so secret, Stimson was the person to inform Harry S. Truman (18841972; served 194553) of it when Truman became president in 1945 following the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt. Stimson played a major role in the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities in August 1945, ending the war.

Once the war was over, Stimson resigned from his post and retired on his seventy-eighth birthday on September 21, 1945, immediately after the Japanese surrender. Truman awarded Stimson the Distinguished Service Medal that day. He returned to his estate on Long Island, where he lived for the last five years of his life. Stimson died on October 20, 1950, in Huntington, New York.

For More Information


Hodgson, Godfrey. The Colonel: The Life and Wars of Henry Stimson, 18671950. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Morison, Elting E. Turmoil and Tradition: A Study of the Life and Times of Henry Stimson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.

Schmitz, David F. Henry L. Stimson: The First Wise Man. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 2001.

Stimson, Henry, and McGeorge Bundy. On Active Service in Peace and War. New York: Harper, 1948.

Web sites

The Henry L. Stimson Center. (accessed on July 26, 2004).

Stimson, Henry L.

views updated May 29 2018

Stimson, Henry L. (1867–1950), lawyer, secretary of state, secretary of war.The grandson of a New York stockbroker and son of a doctor, Stimson was educated at Phillips Andover Academy, Yale College, and the Harvard Law School. He practiced law in New York as a partner of Elihu Root, later, like him, secretary of both war and state.

Stimson's long career spanned the entire history of modern American warfare, from Indian fighting to the atomic bomb. As an undergraduate, he saw Indian warfare in Colorado. As secretary of war in the Taft administration, he visited the army posts of the Old West in the last years of their existence. He saw active service in France during World War I as an artillery officer with the American Expeditionary Forces.

In early 1902, while riding in Washington, Stimson was spotted by President Theodore Roosevelt, who jokingly ordered him to swim Rock Creek. Stimson took the order literally and nearly drowned as he forded the creek. Within a year, Teddy Roosevelt, who liked that kind of man, tapped Stimson as U.S. Attorney in New York, where he made a great record as a prosecutor.

Appointed secretary of war by President Taft, Stimson helped to modernize the army's structure, ending the isolation of the privileged staff corps. His reforms infuriated conservatives, led by the adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Fred C. Ainsworth, who called Stimson and his supporters, in writing, “incompetent amateurs.” After consulting Root, who said when a man pulls your nose you must hit him, Stimson fired Ainsworth for gross insubordination.

Stimson ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1910; then, after the war, practiced law in New York until he was asked by Coolidge to impose a settlement in Nicaragua and in 1927 to serve as governor general of the Philippines. As Herbert C. Hoover's secretary of state, he was involved in the London Naval Conference of 1930 and in the 1931–32 Manchuria crisis, in which he formulated the “Stimson Doctrine” of nonrecognition of conquered countries.

He was prominent among the internationalist Republicans who argued for American “preparedness” in the late 1930s. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him secretary of war. Stimson worked closely with Gen. George C. Marshall and assembled an able team of civilian advisers, including Robert C. Lovett and John J. McCloy. He helped to steer through the decision to give first priority to the war in Europe; he also presided over the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb.

Although he chaired the meetings at which the decision to use the bomb was taken, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Stimson had second thoughts. At his last cabinet meeting in September 1945 he argued that the United States should enter into an agreement with the Soviet Union to control the use of nuclear weapons.
[See also Nicaragua, U.S. Military Involvement in; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in; World War II: Domestic Course.]


Henry L. Stimson and and McGeorge Bundy , On Active Service in Peace and War, 1948.
Elting E. Morison , Turmoil and Tradition, 1960.
Godfrey Hodgson , The Colonel: The Life and Wars of Henry L. Stimson, 1990.

Godfrey Hodgson

Henry Lewis Stimson

views updated May 11 2018

Henry Lewis Stimson

The American lawyer and statesman Henry Lewis Stimson (1867-1950) was twice secretary of war and once secretary of state.

Henry Stimson was born on Sept. 21, 1867, in New York City of a family of substantial means. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale University (class of 1888), and Harvard Law School (class of 1891). He then joined one of the most prestigious law firms in New York.

Stimson became a highly successful lawyer and a rich man, but he was deeply interested in public affairs. From 1906 to 1909, as U.S. district attorney in New York, he distinguished himself by his energy in carrying out the trust-busting policies of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1910 Roosevelt persuaded him to run for the governorship of New York. Never very impressive as a public speaker, and handicapped by the nationwide reaction against the Republican party, to which he belonged, Stimson lost. From 1911 to 1913 he was secretary of war in the administration of President William Howard Taft. Never one to avoid responsibility, he worked to improve the armed services under his control. In private life from 1913 to 1917, he enlisted in the Army with the coming of World War I, serving briefly in France.

In 1927 President Calvin Coolidge appointed Stimson to a mission to Nicaragua. He helped bring the civil war there to a conclusion and laid the foundations for what came to be known as the good-neighbor policy toward Latin America. From December 1927 to March 1929 he served a brilliantly successful term as governor general of the Philippines.

Stimson was secretary of state in the administration of President Hoover from 1929 to 1933. Stimson faced a multitude of vexing problems, made more difficult by strained relations with the President, who in many ways wanted to be his own secretary. Most important was the situation in the Far East. In 1931 the Japanese army began conquering the Chinese province of Manchuria (hitherto under a limited Japanese occupation) and set up a puppet regime. The League of Nations attempted to arrest the aggression without result. Stimson, unable to cooperate with the League, addressed identical notes to Japan and China declaring that the United States did not intend to "admit the legality of any situation or recognize any treaty or agreement which violated the rights of the United States or of the Republic of China." This later became known as the Stimson Doctrine, but it was ineffectual in ending the dispute.

In 1933 Stimson resumed his law practice. When the Democrats came to power, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him secretary of war in 1940. Though Stimson was a Republican, he accepted and brilliantly administered the War Department. He chose remarkable lieutenants and must be credited with a great accomplishment. He had a part in developing and launching the atomic bomb. His critics have alleged that he took insufficient measures to warn the American Army leaders at Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack. He resigned as secretary in 1945 and died in Huntington, Long Island, on Oct. 20, 1950. Few men have ever served the U.S. government more usefully or with greater devotion.

Further Reading

Stimson's account of his activities, written with McGeorge Bundy, is On Active Service in Peace and War (1948). Studies of Stimson are Richard N. Current, Secretary Stimson: A Study in Statecraft (1954), and Elting E. Morison, Turmoil and Tradition: A Study of the Life and Times of Henry L. Stimson (1960).

Additional Sources

Hodgson, Godfrey, The colonel: the life and wars of Henry Stimson, 1867-1950, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. □

Stimson, Henry Lewis

views updated May 18 2018


Henry Lewis Stimson was a lawyer and a distinguished public servant, occupying key posts in the administrations of five presidents between 1911 and 1945. As secretary of state, he sought disarmament, while as secretary of war he advocated the use of the atomic bomb against Japan in world war ii.

Stimson was born on September 21, 1867, in New York City. He earned a bachelor's degree from Yale in 1888, a master's degree from Harvard University in 1889, and a bachelor of laws degree from Harvard in 1890. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1891 and joined the law firm headed by Elihu Root, a prominent attorney and influential figure in the republican party.

In 1906 President theodore roosevelt appointed Stimson U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He left the post in 1909 to run as the Republican nominee for governor of New York. Although he lost the 1910 election, his stock continued to rise. President william howard taft named Stimson secretary of war in 1911, a position he held until the end of the Taft administration in 1913. He then returned to his New York law practice.

"The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. They also made it wholly clear that we must never have another war."
—Henry L. Stimson

Stimson did not reenter public service until 1927, when President calvin coolidge named him governor of the Philippine Islands. In 1929 President herbert hoover elevated Stimson to secretary of state, a position that put him on the world stage. As secretary, Stimson sought to continue the policy of military disarmament, participating in the London Naval Conference of 1930.

Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Stimson wrote a diplomatic note to both China and Japan, informing them that the United States would not recognize territorial or other changes made in violation of U.S. treaty rights. The "Stimson Doctrine" was invoked as the rationale for successive economic embargoes against Japan during the 1930s.

With the election of President franklin d. roosevelt, a Democrat, in 1932, Stimson returned to his law practice and private life. By the end of the 1930s, however, with the growing belligerence of Germany and Japan, Stimson emerged as an opponent of U.S. isolationist policies. When World War II began in 1939, Stimson became a leading member of the Committee

to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, urging the U.S. government to provide aid to Great Britain and France.

President Roosevelt, who also sought to help the Allies, appointed Stimson secretary of war in 1940. By appointing a Republican to this key post, Roosevelt strengthened bipartisan support for his foreign policy. Stimson remained secretary of war during World War II and received praise for his quiet but firm administration of the war effort.

In 1945, acting as chief presidential adviser on atomic programs, Stimson directed the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb. He recommended to President harry s. truman that atomic bombs be dropped on Japanese cities of military importance. Truman followed his advice, ordering the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought a swift end to World War II. Stimson defended his recommendation, arguing that the bombings ended the war quickly and therefore saved more lives than were lost.

Stimson left office in September 1945. He published his autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War, in 1948. He died on October 20, 1950, in Huntington, New York.

further readings

Hodgson, Godfrey. 1992. The Colonel: The Life and Wars of Henry Stimson, 1867–1950. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

Schmitz, David F. 2001. Henry L. Stimson: The First Wise Man. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books.

Stimson, Henry Lewis

views updated Jun 08 2018

Stimson, Henry Lewis (1867–1950) US statesman. He was secretary of war under President Taft (1911–13). As secretary of state under President Hoover (1929–33), he tried to secure international disarmament and formulated the “Stimson doctrine”: that the USA would not recognize territorial changes brought about by force. He was Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of war throughout World War 2.

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