For over a decade it has been received as accepted truth in the highly charged political atmosphere of Washington that the role, power and prestige of the Secretary and Department of State in the conduct of foreign affairs have steadily declined. Accompanying this decline, and accused of causing it, is said to have been an increasing part played by the President himself in this alluring, fashionable and important activity, accentuated, perhaps, by the appearance in the White House of a court favorite--a modern Leicester, Essex or Buckingham--served by over a hundred attendants and constantly advising the monarch on these matters in the antechamber. The New York Times, in a series of articles published in January 1971, dates these developments from FDR's time, though adding that the trend was arrested "during the Truman and Eisenhower years [until] the death of John Foster Dulles in 1959."

Opinions have differed widely whether the eclipse noted is total or partial, radical and sinister, or within constitutional limits and historical precedents in relations between presidents and the first state secretary and department created by the first Congress. A great deal of the resulting debate has been based on wholly erroneous ideas of the nature and source of the national power to conduct foreign affairs, so we might do well to get this straight before going further.


The Supreme Court has left no doubt that the federal power over external affairs--unlike the power over internal affairs--is not the creature of the Constitution. The Union, it has pointed out, existed before the Constitution, and, with independence from Britain, the power to act "in the vast external realm" passed from the British Crown to the corporate unity, the United States of America. The Constitution strictly limited participation in the exercise of this power. "The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude; and Congress itself is powerless to invade it." The Court quotes the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as reporting to the Senate on March 7, 1800: " '. . . the President is the constitutional representative of the United States with regard to foreign nations. He manages our concerns with foreign nations and must necessarily be most competent to determine when, how, and upon what subjects negotiation may be urged with the greatest prospect of success. For his conduct he is responsible to the Constitution. The committee consider this responsibility the surest pledge for the faithful discharge of his duty. They think the interference of the Senate in the direction of foreign negotiations calculated to diminish that responsibility and thereby to impair the best security for the national safety.'" [1] (What a committee that was!)

The Court notes also, "that the first President refused to accede to a request to lay before the House of Representatives the instructions, correspondence, and documents relating to the negotiation of the Jay Treaty--a refusal the wisdom of which was recognized by the House itself and has never been doubted." I, myself, declined to furnish Senate committees investigating the relief of General MacArthur the names of department personnel participating in the preparation of a certain paper, made public by the General's office, as not compatible with the public interest. I did, however, appear myself and give such information as seemed pertinent to the committees' investigation.

Of course, in the daily conduct of business sensible people, whether in government, professional life or business, do not insist upon a drily logical and extreme respect for the letter of their rights. Sometimes turning square corners is essential even though it produces irritation. In other situations, coöperation in a shortcut is in the public interest. When the bipartisan foreign policy flourished, I advised with the chairman and senior minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--sensible men both--on the drafting of treaties and not only received many good ideas but in the course of it strongly predisposed the committee and the Senate to consent to the ratification of the treaties. Similar coöperation made possible much legislation to which Congress would not now agree. However, the executive did not in the interest of "good relations" appease the Congress by permitting encroachments upon the President's prerogative to control exclusively the nation's foreign relations.

The first Congress created the office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist the President in performing his responsibilities. But it did not and could not delegate any of these or require him to accept assistance that he did not want or forgo any that he desired. The privileged position of the President and his advisers on foreign affairs is carried over into the field of manners, even though these are not what they were a century and three-quarters ago. "In the case of every department except the Department of State, the resolution [seeking information] directs the official to furnish the information. In the case of the State Department, dealing with foreign affairs, the President is requested to furnish the information 'if not incompatible with the public interest.' A statement that to furnish the information is not compatible with the public interest rarely, if ever, is questioned." [2]

A good deal more than a century ago, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that due to Americans' preoccupation with their written Constitution and the interpretation of it, every political question here sooner or later turned into a legal question. Neither the Constitution nor the law binds the President to monogamous cohabitation with the Secretary and Department of State in the conduct of foreign affairs. That relationship can have many advantages ; it has often proved very inadequate and disappointing. We shall, I believe, find more revealing enlightenment about the current causes and consequences of its decline if we turn to the historical experience of another world power as well as to that of our own government.


A move away from the local scene and local personalities may give us a more detached view. Sir William Hayter, former British Ambassador in Moscow, provides a start in his book, "Russia and the World." [3] In Moscow, as in Washington, the foreign office occupies a large building housing the usual panoply for conducting foreign relations. But decisions are not made there or by that staff. They are made in the Politburo, the supreme executive authority of the Communist Party, which controls all agencies of the Soviet state. The Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, is not a member of the Politburo. Its head is Mr. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Party, aided--if he needs aid--by Mr. Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

The Politburo staff parallels the organization of the foreign office (and other government departments as well). Mr. Gromyko is also supervised by the KGB, an even more jurisdictionally powerful counterpart of Mr. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and his finances are controlled by an even more restraining hand than that of Congressman John Rooney of Brooklyn.

With the Russians, the multiplicity of supervision is carried into the field also, which explains why their embassy staffs are so large and the hierarchy in them so mysterious. More often than not the ambassador has little or no control over most of his staff and often knows little of what is going on or what decisions are being made. With us the situation in the field is better than it was during World War II, as anyone knows who lived in Old State through that anguishing period. Poor Mr. Hull's life was one long battle with the bureaucracies of other agencies--the military, Lend Lease, Economic Warfare, Treasury, War Shipping, Relief, Agriculture and so on. He won all the linguistics of decisions and lost all the substance. What little order came out of it all was produced by Harry Hopkins at the White House, regarded by Mr. Hull as his mortal enemy. We envied the British Foreign Office what seemed to be their effortless superiority.

When the Bolsheviks took over in Russia at the end of 1917 and began to sort things out, they had to create a system of party and state from their necessities. Few, if any, of the faithful knew much about the methods of foreign relations, or the possibilities, though more of the dangers, to be expected from the bourgeois states. What lay at hand was the wreck of the Tsarist diplomatic system. Full of suspicion, and from their training expecting to use and meet a diplomacy of deceit, they began the work of devising party apparatus to direct, to watch and to police the work of a distrusted state organization. The resulting machine was clumsy, inefficient and as fantastic as a Rube Goldberg cartoon ; but after a fashion it worked.


At about the same time Lenin was having trouble with his foreign office--or, perhaps, a bit earlier--President Wilson was having trouble with his. For nearly 70 years after Secretary Seward's time the Department did not have much to do. The correspondence between President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary James G. Blaine (published by the American Philosophical Society) bears fascinating witness to that. Although they wrote one another nearly every day, their most important task was to draft and negotiate the Bering Sea Treaty protecting seals. At length Secretary Blaine, believing that during his illness the President had learned to get along without him, resigned in a huff. Not long afterward, on April 24, 1898, after the USS Maine had been blown up in Havana harbor and war declared against Spain, Secretary of the Navy Long and President McKinley telegraphed to Commodore George Dewey at Hong Kong directing him to proceed to the Philippines and capture or destroy the Spanish fleet. Neither of them thought it important to inform, much less consult, Secretary of State, later Mr. Justice, William R. Day. Thus began three-quarters of a century of American involvement in the western Pacific.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of the fragility of the Secretary of State's position occurred at the turn of the century, as the infancy of American foreign policy was ending. When Theodore Roosevelt succeeded William McKinley in the White House, the Secretary of State, John Hay, commanded immense prestige without, however, much real basis for it. (Fifty years or so ago I asked Justice Holmes what he thought of John Hay. He replied that Hay's chief importance to him was to give a line on Henry Adams.) Secretary Hay soon reported that, while President McKinley would often see him on business only once a month, President Roosevelt would send for him every day. He soon discovered that a vigorous new force had taken over direction of American foreign affairs. During the Venezuelan crisis the President threatened the German Ambassador with the use of American sea power to block German occupation of Venezuelan territory. Not long afterward a by-no-means fortuitous revolution in Colombia created out of that country Panama and out of the latter the Canal Zone. No doubt remained that the conduct of affairs had passed from the hands of Secretary Hay, "the statesman of the Golden Rule," to President Roosevelt, who carried a big stick and did not always speak softly.

The formal "coming out" of the United States into international society did not take place until the unsuspected eruption of the First World War upon a basically nineteenth-century world and a wholly unprepared administration. The President had appointed as his Secretary of State the three-time loser for the presidency who had swung the Baltimore convention from Champ Clark to Professor and Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey. The only contribution of Secretary Bryan to the subject matter of his new post was the negotiation of 31 treaties for the impartial arbitration of international disputes, very few of which were ever invoked. His principal contribution to the President's program was in the domestic field, helping importantly in getting through Congress the President's antimonopoly legislation, known as the New Freedom.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, trouble soon followed in Washington between the President and his Secretary of State. Mr. Bryan reluctantly signed the President's first note to Germany protesting against the sinking of the Lusitania; but he balked at the second and tougher one and resigned his office. The President appointed to succeed him Robert Lansing of Watertown, New York, who had been serving for the preceding year as Counselor of the Department of State, after prior experience as counsel for the United States before various international tribunals. It soon became apparent that Mr. Wilson, having discovered and taken over the management of foreign affairs, was not prepared to release a scintilla of his authority. He was content to rely upon his own typewriter and the reports of his unofficial ambassador-at-large and collaborator, Colonel Edward M. House of Texas. Nothing escaped him. He could even write to Mr. Herbert Hoover calling attention to the words, "our allies," appearing on posters of the Food Administration. "I would be very much obliged if you would issue instructions that 'Our Associates in the War' is to be substituted . . . because we have no allies...."

When the time came to form the American delegation to the peace conference in Paris, Secretary Lansing advised the President not to go. Colonel House first gave contrary advice but changed it after consultations with Americans, French and British in Paris. The President resisted these counsels, which "upset every plan we had made." "I infer," he cabled Colonel House, "that the French and British leaders desire to exclude me from the conference for fear I might there lead the weaker nations against them," He decided to go and went. The outcome was a tripartite organization--the President with his secretaries, his wife, and his physician, Dr. Grayson; the delegation, all capable men but without influence with the Senate, which would have to ratify the treaty, and the delegation's staff; and Colonel House with a large and generally able group, known as "The Inquiry," but again without helpful political influence. As the weeks wore on, rivalry between the groups became hostility, increasing the burden upon a tired and harassed President. The result was organized confusion on a high intellectual level. In the sad years that followed the President's stroke, the defeat in the Senate of the treaty and the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the collapse of all his hopes, President Wilson broke with Colonel House, discharged Secretary Lansing and left the State Department a shambles.

In the interwar years the management of our foreign policy was, for the most part, not divided; neither was it successful. Secretary Hughes, whose great abilities were not so clear in the State Department as they were later on the Supreme Court, is remembered chiefly for the Limitation of Arms and Pacific Treaties, the work of the Washington Conference of 1921. He failed utterly in efforts to save something in the Senate from the wreck of Versailles; and rejected all efforts of M. Chicherin to open some sort of relations, economic or political, with the Soviet Union, thus beginning the long boycott of that power. The Washington treaties limited naval construction, demilitarized certain islands in the Pacific (principally American-held) and relied on admirable principles intended to restore and maintain the political and territorial integrity of China. Their results, enhanced by American failure to build up to the naval limitations of the treaties and by Japanese failure to respect the provisions regarding China, made Japan the predominant power in the western Pacific.

This loss of real power was met by Mr. Hughes's successor with a moral equivalent. There was already an established movement in this country, led by respectable people, for the outlawry of war, a sort of exorcising of evil spirits by moral incantation. The Foreign Minister of France, M. Aristide Briand, proposed to Secretary Frank Kellogg a treaty to this effect. The consciences of Americans had long suffered from the rejection of the Covenant of the League and the fatal repudiation of President Wilson. The outlawry of war seemed to offer "a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins" of the irreconcilables and isolationists. It was also simple and painless. In Article I the parties "solemnly" condemned war as the solution of international controversies and renounced it as an instrument of national policy. In Article II they agreed that solution of disputes should "never be sought except by peaceful means." That was all, a covenant without means of enforcement. On July 24, 1929, with the adherence of 45 nations the treaty was formally proclaimed in effect.

The effect, however, was negligible. Within two years the Japanese had invaded Manchuria; the Italians not long thereafter, Ethiopia ; and the Germans and Italians, Spain. But none of these means of national policy had been called war. At the end of a decade the treaty had passed into such total oblivion that the fig leaf of verbiage was discarded and the nations moved brazenly into World War II.

A free hand for the Secretary of State had not brought much improvement in resulting policy.

When President Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, he found as part of his inheritance a foreign office that he distrusted, if not as much as the Bolsheviks had distrusted theirs, at least rather more than he distrusted the rest of the governmental establishment. To use a phrase of his own, it was deep "in the horse and buggy age." Secretary Hull was no man to pull it out. His bitterness grew with his estrangement from the President until he found himself, in his own words, "relied upon in public and ignored in private." This was not lessened when the only interest the President took in foreign affairs during his first two terms was in the good neighbors of Latin America. There he looked for help not to Mr. Hull but to his subordinate, Sumner Welles, the President's protégé and former ward.

After nearly two terms in office, world war burst upon a President unprepared intellectually and militarily. He and his Secretary of State responded, at first, with conceptions and phrases gleaned from General Washington's Farewell Address, President Wilson's Fourteen Points, and the program of the congressional interwar isolationists. These included noninvolvement in European quarrels, quarantining dictators, preserving the peace (but by means short of war)--a jumble of confused clichés suggestive of our current response to troubles in the eastern Mediterranean, so much a product of our own creation. President Roosevelt's later course from bewildered observer to active belligerent owed far less to his own design than to the folly of our enemies. Surely the suicidal Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, rather than, for instance, subversion in the Dutch East Indies, was one of the supreme errors of history. The German declaration of war against the United States, after four days of deliberation, long enough to have enabled Hitler to have seen the advantages to him in abandoning his ally, ranks as a fitting companion piece.

The later formulation and conduct of war policy, controlled directly by the President with little assistance from the State Department, owed much to Harry Hopkins, who moved into the White House to be constantly at the side of his chief. In him and his work we can see the embryo of the Presidential Assistant for National Security Affairs of today. Ill and not tireless but fanatically devoted and diligent, he labored far beyond the limits of his strength until the effort killed him. The country owes him a vast debt of gratitude never adequately acknowledged.

In spite of Harry Hopkins' preëminence in the White House, he in no way interfered with or hampered the work in the State Department on the charter and the treaty of the United Nations. However one may appraise this accomplishment--and my own evaluation is not favorable--it was entirely due to Mr. Hull's long preparatory work with the Senate, the advice of his assistant, Leo Pasvolsky, and the management of the Dumbarton Oaks initial conferences and the final one at San Francisco, by Under Secretary, later Secretary, Edward R. Stettinius.


The postwar State Department was created in President Truman's first term by General Marshall, whose military experience was of great help in getting rid of the horse and buggy and designing a functional chassis for fast-moving and heavy loads. Lines of command were clarified and the Under Secretary made chief of staff; line duties separated from staff duties; supervision was made effective through the Central Secretariat; planning--looking around, ahead and behind--confided to a competent staff; research and intelligence centralized. Equally important, the beneficent passage of time and rules of retirement made possible the renovation of personnel from the great numbers of able people brought into government by the war and selected by men who knew what qualities they wanted and who had them.

Furthermore, General Marshall had the President's complete confidence, kept him fully informed of what was brewing, and carried back directions to officers concerned. Confluence of ideas was constant. Decisions on courses of action and reaction blended professional and informed advice and political judgment sound enough to provide policy through the next administration and beyond.

Marshall policies survived, but the Marshall State Department did not. Senator Joseph McCarthy, abetted by men who should have known better, led a crew bent on its destruction; and Secretary Dulles offered no defense. The sack and massacre of the Department occurred, like Cromwell's at Drogheda and Wexford, after the assault had succeeded and, perhaps, for the same reason, to warn opponents against prolonging hopeless resistance. Many survivors were dismissed or sought more congenial employment. Friends have told me that, before accepting the post of Secretary, Dulles hesitated in favor of a room in the White House and the historical role of personal and private adviser to the President on foreign affairs. In the only conversation I had with him after he was designated as my successor, he said that he would save himself for policy decision and not spend the time I had done on personnel and organizational matters. I thought, but did not say, that he might find that these matters constituted much of the nine-tenths of the policy iceberg that lay below the surface.

By the time President Kennedy succeeded in 1961, successive purges in search of what Mr. Dulles called "positive loyalty" had left more form than substance in the Marshall organization and led the new President to doubt how positive its loyalty might be to him. Moreover, he had been indoctrinated--so it was said--by that gay savant, Richard Neustadt--now of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard--in the belief that no professional departmental staff could be trusted to be as concerned as would be a personal White House one with the political effects upon the President of foreign policy (as well as other) decisions. Thus, once more, two factors--distrust of an existing organization and desire for a more personally controlled instrument--combined in Washington, as they had in Moscow, to create an inner and private politburo to control and supervise a foreign office, whose new head the President hardly knew at all.

President Kennedy, however, went further and made his brother Attorney General. When he told me of this intention in the December before his inauguration, I advised against it on the obvious ground of his opening himself to charges of nepotism. He replied sadly that, while he knew many people who could and did help him to become President, he knew few who could help him act as President. He felt the need of a trusted intimate near him with whom he could talk without reserve. It very soon developed that the attraction of foreign affairs to anyone with easy access to the President proved irresistible to the Attorney General. He readily became another member of the controlling politburo.


The new organization, with staffs of size and competence, has now survived a decade of political life and constant criticism. At its head Messrs. McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger, all men of outstanding ability, have served successively to the announced satisfaction of their presidential chiefs. What emotions they stirred in the breasts of their colleagues at the State Department we must wait on future memoirs to learn. Meanwhile, we can imagine that there has been strain.

Debate is warming up over the issues whether the present system has come to stay and whether it is, on the whole, beneficial or harmful to the conduct of our foreign relations. Many participating in this debate have special interests, such as maintaining a position in the process or prying a way into it ; many base their arguments on erroneous law or history; many are moved by sentimental attachments, many by personalities. It is possible, however, that a few conclusions may be pulled out of this devil's cauldron of debate.

Have present practices come to stay? Ten years of life and the endorsement of three presidents to whom is confided the conduct of foreign relations would seem to warrant long odds on continued life-expectancy. To be sure, the resultant dual organization for dealing with foreign nations is made to look something of a monster and a clumsy one. But, as Justice Brandeis said of the separation of powers, it was not designed to promote efficiency; and the organization of the Pentagon, for instance, suggests the work of a madman with a sense of humor, a knowledge of history and a lively civilian fear of a too efficient military organization, like the old German General Staff. Moreover, the present arrangement, to some extent, has been in effect for most of the time in this century when the United States has had a foreign policy worthy of the name. We are apt to consider normal practice what we have been used to. It should not take much reflection to convince one that both President Truman's attitude toward the conduct of foreign affairs and his relationship with two of his secretaries of state were by no means usual or to be expected as a matter of course. Surely it will be seldom that a president will find in the same man all the help he will want in deciding what to do regarding the external realm and in doing it. The point is that it will not be impossible, but that it will be often very difficult and incompatible with the temperament of presidents like the last three.

He will want knowledge of diplomatic method and diplomatic history, greater familiarity with affairs around the world than membership in the Council on Foreign Relations will provide, public prestige (or acceptance) and negotiating capacity, the ability to use and direct a large government organization, not at all the same thing as heading a large manufacturing company, as Secretary of Defense Wilson (Engine Charlie) had already demonstrated. As one goes on adding desired capacities and experience, one must realize how seldom an adviser at the elbow and a minister of foreign affairs can be fitted into one human body. A clinching difficulty lies in the need that the assistant in the antechamber stay there--Secretary Byrnes records that one half his time in office was spent away from Washington. Much time has been wasted drawing organization charts to fit both functions into the Department of State. A presidential instinct to put the function where he needs and wants it seems more sound than forcing it into a procrustean organization chart.

Some participants in the debate appear to believe that the present arrangement must lead to a death struggle between the Secretary of State and the adviser in the White House. How can the former speak effectively to representatives of foreign powers, it is asked, when there is a rival in the White House? There is always a figure in the White House more important than the Secretary of State--the President--and often he does his own talking, sometimes to the embarrassment of a lot of people. A special adviser is most unwise to do any talking. A Secretary of State can always speak effectively if he speaks for the President, knows what he is talking about, and is telling the truth. Mr. Gromyko, despite defects in his power, is listened to when he meets these requirements, which he did not do when he talked with President Kennedy at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.

Another fear is that a presidential adviser in the White House will usurp the functions of the Secretary and the Department, leaving for them only formal and administrative duties. This bugaboo is constructed out of ignorance. No matter how ambitious an empire builder he may be, an adviser in the antechamber is restricted by limitations of time and staff to participation in formulation of policy--and few policies at that--to helping with speeches and messages expounding them, and to scrutinizing their execution. For the rest, both formulation and execution remain, and must remain, in the departments. What has been occurring has not been that the White House advisers have edged the foreign office out of functions being competently performed but that they have been needed to do what is not being done anywhere to the satisfaction of the man responsible, the President. Why, one may ask, is not the proper remedy to find a Secretary who will do or have done what is necessary? The answer unhappily is that such men are not easy to come by or bring in.

What has been happening over the years is the atrophy of the agencies in three departments especially charged with correlating intelligence of the most intricate variety with the planning of policy: in the State Department, the Policy Planning Staff; in the Defense Department, International Security Affairs; and comparable areas in the Central Intelligence Agency. It is widely remarked that even the excellent staff in the White House of two years ago, then the best in this field, has also been worn away through overwork and difficulty of replacement, leaving an unfilled gap. If it should disappear altogether, the State Department might lead a more relaxed existence, but the public interest would be less well served.

The foreign service officer by training and experience shies away from quantitative judgments and appraisals of economic and military power. Elsewhere I have quoted Professor Paul Y. Hammond: "at the extreme, the foreign service officer would . . . rely emphatically upon the personal skills and noncommunicable wisdom of the experienced career official and would view the requirements of large-scale organizations (such as the armed forces with their demands for forward planning) as a direct threat to the practice of this diplomatic art." To supplement the weakness of the career service General Marshall created the Policy Planning Staff. The subsequent loss of its original capacity weakened the Department. This is clear today in policies put forward for the Middle East, Africa and the United Nations, almost all emerging from the Department. Knowledge of political developments and people in the areas concerned and the guidance of generalities, maxims or convictions, usually moralistic in nature and strongly held at home, cannot substitute for a capacity in correlating forces when the need is for plotting courses through the complicated mine fields in these areas or in devising a strategy for nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union. There is a place and work for many talents here.

The present eclipse of a position held by the State Department, though perhaps briefly, distresses me. I should have hated to have had to adjust myself to such a change. I far preferred the happier even though more turbulent circumstances under which I did serve. However, it is a mistake to believe that present arrangements are a disaster, or ill serve the public interest, or are due to presidential whimsy, or personal ambitions. If, however, whatever rare and valuable talents now available and used should be lost because "ignorant armies clash by night," the public will, indeed, have been ill served.

[1] United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 299 U.S. 304, 315, et seq.

[2] United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., supra, p. 321.

[3] Sir William Hayter, "Russia and the World: A Study in Soviet Foreign Policy." New York: Taplinger, 1970.

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