Henry L. Stimson

Henry L. Stimson, Politician, NYC

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Henry Lewis Stimson (September 21, 1867 - October 20, 1950) was an American statesman, who served as Secretary of War, Governor-General of the Philippines, and Secretary of State. He was a conservative Republican, and a leading lawyer in New York City. He is best known as the civilian Secretary of War during World War II, chosen for his aggressive stance against Nazi Germany, with responsibility for the Army and Air Force. He managed the drafting and training of 12 million soldiers and airmen, the purchase and transportation to battlefields of 30 percent of the nation's industrial output, and the building and decision to use the atomic bomb.


Born to a wealthy New York family long involved in Republican politics, he was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where a dormitory is named and dedicated for him, and Yale College (BA 1888), where he was elected to Skull and Bones, a secret society that afforded many contacts for the rest of his life. He graduated Harvard Law School in 1890 and joined the prestigious Wall Street law firm of Root and Clark in 1891, becoming a partner two years later. Elihu Root, a future secretary of war and secretary of state, became a major influence and role model for Stimson. In 1893 Stimson married Mabel Wellington White, who was the great-great granddaughter of American founding father Roger Sherman and the sister of Elizabeth Selden Rogers; they had no children.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Here he made a distinguished record prosecuting antitrust cases. Stimson was defeated as Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1910.

Stimson was appointed Secretary of War in 1911 under President William Howard Taft. He continued the reorganization of the Army begun by Elihu Root, improving its efficiency prior to its vast expansion in World War I. Following the outbreak of war, he was a leader in the American effort to aid the stricken people of Belgium. After the United States became a combatant, he served in France as an artillery officer, reaching the rank of Colonel in August 1918.

In 1927, Stimson was sent by President Calvin Coolidge to Nicaragua for civil negotiations. Stimson wrote that Nicaraguans "were not fitted for the responsibilities that go with independence and still less fitted for popular self-government." Later, after he was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines (succeeding General Leonard Wood), an office he held from 1927 to 1929, he opposed Filipino independence for the same reason.

From 1929 to 1933 he served as Secretary of State under President Herbert Hoover. In 1929 he shut down MI-8, the State Department's cryptanalytic office, saying, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail." (He later reversed this attitude.)

From 1930 to 1931 Stimson was the Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the London Naval Conference. In the following year, he was the Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Geneva Disarmament Conference. That same year, the United States issued the "Stimson Doctrine" as a result of Japanese invasion of Manchuria: the United States refused to recognize any situation or treaty that limited U.S. treaty rights or was brought about by aggressive action. Returning to private life at the end of Hoover's administration, Stimson was an outspoken advocate of strong opposition to Japanese aggression.

In 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt returned him to his old post at the head of the War Department, and he skillfully directed the rapid, tremendous expansion of the Army to a force of over 10,000,000 soldiers.

Ten days before Pearl Harbor, he entered in his diary the famous and much-argued statement - that he had met with President Roosevelt to discuss the evidence of impending hostilities with Japan, and the question was "how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."

Stimson was the major decision-maker on the atomic bomb, with direct supervision over General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project. Both Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman followed his advice on every aspect of the bomb, and Stimson overruled the military when needed (for example, by taking the cultural center Kyoto off the target list ). On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bombing destroyed Hiroshima.

Stimson strongly opposed the Morgenthau Plan to de-industrialize and partition Germany into several smaller states. The plan also envisaged the deportation and summary imprisonment of anybody suspected of responsibility for Nazi war crimes. Initially Roosevelt was sympathetic to this plan, but against Stimson's opposition, and due to the public outcry when the plan was leaked, he backtracked. Stimson thus retained overall control of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, and the Morgenthau plan never went into effect per se, but did influence the early occupation. Stimson insisted to Roosevelt that ten European countries, including Russia, depended upon Germany's export-import trade and production of raw materials and that it was inconceivable that this "gift of nature," populated by peoples of "energy, vigor, and progressiveness," could be turned into a "ghost territory" or "dust heap." What he most feared, however, was that too low a subsistence-level economy would turn the anger of the German people against the Allies and thereby "obscure the guilt of the Nazis and the viciousness of their doctrines and their acts." Stimson pressed similar arguments on President Harry S. Truman in the spring of 1945.

Stimson, a lawyer, insisted (against the initial wishes of both Roosevelt and Churchill) on proper judicial proceedings against leading war criminals. He and the War Department drafted the first proposals for an International Tribunal, which soon received backing from the incoming president Truman. Stimson's plan eventually led to the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, which have had a significant impact on the development of International Law.

The Henry Stimson Center in Washington, DC, a private research institute on international relations, is named after Stimson . Prior to his death in 1950, Stimson had been the last surviving member of the Taft Cabinet.

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