About William Pierce Rogers
William Pierce Rogers (June 23, 1913 – January 2, 2001) was an American politician, who served as a Cabinet officer in the administrations of two U.S. Presidents in the third quarter of the 20th century.
Rogers was born June 23, 1913, in Norfolk, New York. He was raised, from early in his teens, following the death of his mother, Myra (Beswick) Rogers, by his grandparents, in Canton, New York.
Following education at Colgate University and Cornell University Law School, he passed the bar in 1937. As an undergrad, he was initiated into the Sigma Chi fraternity. Under Thomas E. Dewey he worked from 1938 to 1942 in the prosecution of organized crime in New York City.
He entered the US Navy in 1942, serving on the USS Intrepid, including her action in the Battle of Okinawa. His final rank in the Navy was lieutenant commander.
William P. Rogers received his law degree and passed the New York Bar in 1937. After serving about a year as an attorney for a Wall Street law office, he became an assistant district attorney and was appointed by Thomas E. Dewey to a sixty-man task force aimed at routing out New York's organized crime. In 1950, Rogers became a partner in a New York City law firm, Dwight, Royall, Harris, Koegel & Caskey. Thereafter, he returned to this firm when he was not in government service. The firm was later renamed Rogers & Wells, and subsequently Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells. He worked in the firm's Washington, D.C. office until several months before his death.
Official of the U.S. Government
While serving as a Committee Counsel to a US Senate committee, he examined the documentation from the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of Alger Hiss at the request of then-Congressman Richard M. Nixon, and advised Nixon that Hiss had lied and that the case against him should be pursued.
Rogers joined the Administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as Deputy Attorney General in 1953, and then served as Attorney General from 1957 to 1961. He remained a close advisor to then-Vice-President Nixon, throughout the Eisenhower administration, especially in the slush fund scandal that led to Nixon's Checkers speech, and during Eisenhower's two medical crises.
In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King praised him for advocating the integration of an Alabama elementary school that excluded the children of black military personnel.
As Deputy Attorney General, Rogers had some role in or insight into the process that led to the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage.
He also served as Secretary of State in the Nixon Cabinet, from January 22, 1969 through September 3, 1973, when he among other things initiated efforts at a lasting peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict through the so-called Rogers Plan. However, his influence was drastically circumscribed throughout his tenure by Nixon's determination to handle critical foreign policy strategy and execution directly from the White House through his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. According to the New York Times, in a conversation with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, Nixon "offered sharp skepticism" about Rogers' views "about the future of black Africans":
“Bill Rogers has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York City,” Nixon said. “He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on." “My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” he said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.”
On October 15, 1973, Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon. At the same ceremony, his wife Adele Rogers was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Rogers is also notable for leading the investigation into the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. This panel, called the Rogers Commission, was the first to criticize NASA management for its role in negligence of safety in the Space Shuttle program. Among the more famous members of Rogers' panel were astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, Air Force general Donald Kutyna, and physicist Richard Feynman.
Rogers died of congestive heart failure on January 2, 2001, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the Eisenhower Administration.
In 2001, the Rogers family generously donated to Cornell Law Library materials that reflect the lives of William and Adele Rogers, the majority of items from the years 1969-1973.