Henry L. Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War and State

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Henry Lewis Stimson

Birthdate: (83)
Birthplace: New York, NY, USA
Death: October 20, 1950 (83)
Huntington, New York
Place of Burial: Memorial Cemetery of Saint John
Immediate Family:

Son of Lewis Atterbury Stimson and Candace Stimson
Husband of Mabel Wellington Stimson
Brother of Candace Catherine Stimson

Managed by: Private User
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About Henry L. Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War and State



Henry Lewis Stimson (September 21, 1867 – October 20, 1950) was an American statesman, lawyer and soldier, and a member of the Republican Party. He served as Secretary of War on two occasions (1911–1913 and 1940–1945), overseeing a military buildup prior to the First World War, the United States' entry into the Second World War, for which he is best known, and the Manhattan Project. He also served as a diplomat to Nicaragua and as Governor-General of the Philippines, opposing autonomy for both. During his stint as Secretary of State (1929–1933) he articulated the Stimson Doctrine, the cornerstone of American foreign policy for the next ten years.

Early career

Born to a wealthy New York family long involved in Republican Party politics, he was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where a dormitory is named and dedicated to him, and at Yale College (BA 1888), where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Skull and Bones:182, a secret society that afforded many contacts for the rest of his life. He graduated from 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 on and role model for Stimson.

In 1893, Stimson married Mabel Wellington White, a great-great granddaughter of American founding father Roger Sherman and the sister of Elizabeth Selden Rogers. An adult case of mumps had left Stimson infertile and they had no children.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Stimson U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Here, he made a distinguished record prosecuting antitrust cases. Stimson later served from 1937 to 1939 as president of the New York City Bar Association, where a medal honoring service as a U.S. Attorney is still awarded in his honor.

Stimson was defeated as Republican candidate for Governor of New York in 1910.

Secretary of War (1st term)

In 1911, President William Howard Taft appointed Stimson Secretary of War. He continued the reorganization of the Army begun by Elihu Root, improving its efficiency prior to its vast expansion in World War I. In 1913, following the accession of President Woodrow Wilson, Stimson left office.

World War I

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he was one of eighteen officers selected by former President Theodore Roosevelt to raise a volunteer infantry division, Roosevelt's World War I volunteers, for service in France in 1917. The U.S. Congress gave Roosevelt the authority to raise up to four divisions similar to the Rough Riders of 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and to the British Army 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; however, as Commander-in-chief, President Woodrow Wilson refused to make use of the volunteers and the unit disbanded. Stimson went on to serve the regular U.S. Army in France as an artillery officer, reaching the rank of Colonel in August 1918.

Nicaragua and Philippines

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'd been 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.

Secretary of State

Stimson returned to the cabinet in 1929, when President Herbert Hoover appointed him Secretary of State. Both served until 1933. When he moved to Washington, D.C., Stimson lived in the Woodley Mansion. He lived there until 1946, when he resigned from office.

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 World Disarmament Conference in Geneva. That same year, the United States issued the "Stimson Doctrine" as a result of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria: the United States refused to recognize any situation or treaty that limited U.S. treaty rights or that was brought about by aggression. Returning to private life at the end of Hoover's administration, Stimson was an outspoken advocate of strong opposition to Japanese aggression.

Secretary of War (2nd term)

After World War II broke out in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt returned Stimson, now aged 73, to his post at the head of the War Department. The Democratic President chose Stimson, a Republican, in part to foster bi-partisan unity supporting the war Roosevelt saw as inevitable. Ten days before the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Stimson entered in his diary the following statement: [Roosevelt] brought up the event that we are likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday … and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. During the war, Stimson directed the expansion of the military, managing the conscription and training of 12 million soldiers and the purchase and transportation to battlefields of 30% of the nation's industrial output.

General Patton

On November 21 1943 a news columnist broke the story that General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Seventh Army, had slapped an enlisted man suffering from nervous exhaustion at a medical evacuation hospital in Sicily. Although Patton had already apologized to the soldier by the time the story was released in the United States, the incident caused a firestorm of controversy, and numerous U.S. newspaper editorials along with members of Congress called for Patton to be relieved of command. A group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to the Secretary calling for Patton's removal as a field commander in Europe. General Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed any move to recall General Patton from the European theater.

Secretary Stimson and his deputy, John J. McCloy not only supported Eisenhower's decision, but staunchly defended the general as indispensable to the war effort. In a letter to the Senate, Secretary Stimson stated that Patton would be retained because of the need for his "aggressive, winning leadership in the bitter battles which are to come before final victory." Patton continued to serve in the ETO eventually commanding the U.S. Third Army, which in 281 days of continuous combat advanced farther, captured more enemy prisoners, and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in military history.

Morgenthau Plan

Stimson strongly opposed the Morgenthau Plan to de-industrialize and partition Germany into several smaller states. The plan also envisioned the deportation and summary imprisonment of anybody suspected of responsibility for war crimes. Initially, Roosevelt had been sympathetic to this plan, but later, due to Stimson's opposition and the public outcry when the plan was leaked, the President backtracked. Stimson thus retained overall control of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, and although the Morgenthau plan never became official policy, it did influence the early occupation. Explaining his opposition to the plan, 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", should be turned into a "ghost territory" or "dust heap".

What Stimson most feared, however, was that 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 United States Department of War drafted the first proposals for an International Tribunal, and this soon received backing from the incoming President Truman. Stimson's plan eventually led to the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946 that have had a significant impact on the development of International Law.

Atomic Bomb

As Secretary of War, Stimson took direct personal control of the entire atomic bomb project, with direct supervision over General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project. Both Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman followed Stimson's advice on every aspect of the bomb, and Stimson overruled military officers when they opposed his views. Stimson was responsible for removing Kyoto from the military's targeting list for the atomic bomb, as he wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and further diplomatic visits (Nagasaki was then substituted).

The Manhattan Project was managed by Major General Groves (Corps of Engineers) with a staff of reservists and many thousands of civilian scientists and engineers. Nominally Groves reported directly to General George Marshall, but in fact Stimson was in charge. Stimson secured the necessary money and approval from Roosevelt and from Congress, and made sure Manhattan had the highest priorities. He controlled all planning for the use of the bomb, overruling the high command of the Army, Navy and AAF in the process. He wanted "Little Boy" (the Hiroshima bomb) dropped within hours of its earliest possible availability. And it was. Stimson wanted Japan to surrender, and thought the Hiroshima bomb on August 6 would provide the final push Tokyo needed. When nothing seemed to happen he had Truman drop "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on August 9. The Japanese offered to surrender on August 10.

Stimson's vision

In retrospect historians debate whether the impact of continued blockade, relentless bombing, and the Russian invasion of Manchuria would have somehow forced the Emperor to surrender sometime in late 1945 or early 1946 even without the atomic bombs (though not without very large numbers of Japanese casualties.) But Stimson saw well beyond the immediate end of the war. He was the only top government official who tried to predict the meaning of the atomic age—he envisioned a new era in human affairs. For a half century he had worked to inject order, science, and moralism into matters of law, of state, and of diplomacy. His views had seemed outdated in the age of total warfare, but now he held what he called "the royal straight flush." The impact of the atom, he foresaw, would go far beyond military concerns to encompass diplomacy and world affairs, as well as business, economics and science. Above all, said Stimson, this "most terrible weapon ever known in human history" opened up "the opportunity to bring the world into a pattern in which the peace of the world and our civilization can be saved." That is, the very destructiveness of the new weaponry would shatter the ages-old belief that wars could be advantageous. It might now be possible to call a halt to the use of destruction as a ready solution to human conflicts. Indeed, society's new control over the most elemental forces of nature finally "caps the climax of the race between man's growing technical power for destructiveness and his psychological power of self-control and group control--his moral power.

In 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria Stimson as Secretary of State, proclaimed the famous "Stimson Doctrine." It said no fruits of illegal aggression would ever be recognized by the United States. Japan just laughed. Now according to Stimson the wheels of justice had turned and the "peace-loving" nations (as Stimson called them) had the chance to punish Japan's misdeeds in a manner that would warn aggressor nations never again to invade their neighbors. To validate the new moral order, he believed, the atomic bomb had to be used against civilians. The question for Stimson was not one of whether soldiers should use this weapon or not. Involved was the simple issue of ending a horrible war, and the more subtle and more important question of the possibility of genuine peace among nations. Stimson's decision involved the fate of mankind, and he posed the problem to the world in such clear and articulate fashion that there was near unanimous agreement mankind had to find a way so that atomic weapons would never be used again.


Stimson resigned from office in 1945 and retired to write his memoirs with the aid of McGeorge Bundy. On active service in peace and war was published by Harper in 1948 to critical acclaim. It is often cited by historians, as are the 170,000 typed pages of candid diaries that Stimson dictated at the end of every day. The Diary is now in the Yale University Library; parts have been published in microfilm.

Stimson died in October 1950 age 83 at his estate in Huntington, New York, on the north shore of Long Island. He is buried in the adjacent town of Cold Spring Harbor, in the cemetery of St. John's Church.

Stimson is remembered on Long Island with the Henry L. Stimson Middle School in Huntington Station and by a residential building on the campus of Stony Brook University. The Henry L. Stimson Center, a private research institute in Washington, DC, advocates what it says is Stimson's "practical, non-partisan approach" to international relations. The Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarine USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655) and a street in Houston have been named for him.

Stimson is also commemorated by the New York City Bar Association, where he served as President from 1937 to 1939, with the Henry L. Stimson Medal. The medal is awarded annually to outstanding Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.

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Henry L. Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War and State's Timeline

September 21, 1867
New York, NY, USA
October 20, 1950
Age 83
New York
Memorial Cemetery of Saint John