Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Louis Johnson (1949–1950): Secretary of Defense

Louis Arthur Johnson was born on January 10, 1891, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1912 with a degree in law. He practiced law in West Virginia for several years and was elected to the West Virginia House of Representatives in 1917.

Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I and served in France. After the war, he resumed his political career. He was appointed assistant secretary of war in 1937 and was a staunch supporter of military preparedness and increases in air power. Johnson resigned his post in 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to appoint him secretary of war.

In 1942, Johnson served as Roosevelt's personal representative in India. He later became chairman of the Democratic Finance Committee during Truman's 1948 election campaign. Truman appointed Johnson secretary of defense in 1949, and Johnson worked to continue the unification of the armed forces as prescribed by the National Security Act of 1947.

Johnson also aimed to maintain the military strength of the United States while cutting expenditures. This policy was highly controversial in the military and ultimately led Johnson to resign in 1950 during a particularly bleak period for U.S. forces in Korea. He returned to practicing law and died on April 24, 1966.