Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Dean G. Acheson (1949–1953): Secretary of State

Dean Gooderham Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 11, 1893. He attended Groton School and graduated from Yale University in 1915. Acheson served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and received a law degree from Harvard (1918). For the next two years, Acheson served as secretary to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and then joined the law firm of Covington and Burling in 1921.

He was appointed undersecretary of the treasury in March 1933 by President Roosevelt. Acheson soon resigned the position and returned to his law practice. During World War II, he helped draft the constitutional justification for the 1940 destroyers-for-bases deal and was subsequently appointed assistant secretary of state for economic affairs by Roosevelt in 1941; he served in that post until 1944.

In 1945, President Harry S. Truman appointed Acheson undersecretary of state. As a member of the Truman administration, Acheson chaired a committee on the international control of atomic energy (1946), helped formulate the Truman Doctrine (1947), and was highly involved in the formative stages of the Marshall Plan (1947). He stepped down from government service in 1947 but continued to lobby publicly on behalf of the Marshall Plan.

Acheson returned to the Truman administration in 1949 as secretary of state and held the post until 1953. As secretary of state, Acheson lobbied for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949), supported the expansion of the armed forces through NSC-68 (1950), contested Senator Joseph McCarthy's allegations of communist infiltration of the State Department, and helped secure international support for military action in Korea.

During the Eisenhower presidency, Acheson became a vocal critic of the administration's reliance on nuclear weapons. He later served as an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and in 1968 advised Johnson to de-escalate the war in Vietnam. Dean Acheson died in 1971.