Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John Foster Dulles (1953–1959): Secretary of State

John Foster Dulles served as secretary of state to President Eisenhower from January 21, 1953, until his resignation on April 15, 1959. He died shortly thereafter from the effects of cancer. His long career in foreign affairs began in 1907 when his grandfather, John Foster (secretary of state under Benjamin Harrison), arranged for Dulles to be a secretary to the imperial Chinese delegation to the second Hague peace conference.

Dulles was educated at Princeton (1904-08), the Sorbonne (1908-09), and George Washington University law school (1909-11) and admitted to the New York bar in 1911. He served as a special agent for the Department of State in Central America in 1917. Dulles then entered the U.S. Army intelligence service as a captain in the First World War and left as a major in 1918.

For the next thirty years, he remained active in international affairs in a variety of positions, including counsel to the American Commission to Negotiate Peace (1918-1919), member of the Reparations Commission and Supreme Economic Council in 1919 (being one of only five economic advisers to the President at the Versailles Peace Conference), American Representative to the Berlin Debt Conferences of 1933, and adviser to the secretary of state at the Council of Foreign Ministers conferences in London and Paris from 1945 to 1946. He combined these activities with a thriving legal practice and was a partner at the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.

Dulles achieved international recognition as a senior adviser at the founding San Francisco conference of the United Nations. On July 7, 1949, Governor Thomas Dewey named him as interim U.S. Senator for New York following the resignation of Senator Robert F. Wagner; Dulles would be defeated in a special election in November of that year.

He next served as a special consultant to Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1951 and 1952 before being invited to join the Eisenhower administration. Dulles enjoyed a particularly warm relationship with President Eisenhower. Dulles contributed to the conclusion of the Austrian Peace Treaty, the formation of SEATO, the Formosa Declaration of 1955, and the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to prevent the spread of communism in the Middle East. His brother Allen was director of the CIA (1953-61), and his uncle, Robert Lansing, was secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson (1915-20).