Henry L. Stimson: United States Secretary of War (1867 - 1950) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Henry L. Stimson
United States Secretary of War

Henry L. Stimson

Henry L. Stimson
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro United States Secretary of War
A.K.A. Henry Lewis Stimson
Was Politician Lawyer Diplomat
From United States of America
Field Law Politics
Gender male
Birth 21 September 1867, New York City, USA
Death 20 October 1950, Huntington, USA (aged 83 years)
Star sign Virgo
Politics Republican Party
Father: Lewis Atterbury Stimson
The details (from wikipedia)


Henry Lewis Stimson (September 21, 1867 – October 20, 1950) was an American statesman, lawyer and Republican Party politician. Over his long career, he emerged as a leading figure in the foreign policy of the United States, serving in Republican and Democratic administrations. He served as Secretary of War (1911–1913) under William Howard Taft, Secretary of State (1929–1933) under Herbert Hoover, and Secretary of War (1940–1945) under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

The son of surgeon Lewis Atterbury Stimson, Stimson became a Wall Street lawyer after graduating from Harvard Law School. He served as a United States Attorney under President Theodore Roosevelt, prosecuting several antitrust cases. After being defeated in the 1910 New York gubernatorial election, Stimson served as Secretary of War under Taft. He continued the reorganization of the United States Army that had begun under his mentor, Elihu Root. After the outbreak of World War I, Stimson became part of the Preparedness Movement. He served as an artillery officer in France after the U.S. entered the war. From 1927 to 1929, he served as Governor-General of the Philippines under President Calvin Coolidge.

In 1929, President Hoover appointed Stimson as Secretary of State. Stimson sought to limit worldwide naval build-up and helped negotiate the London Naval Treaty to that end. He protested the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, instituting the Stimson Doctrine of non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force. After World War II broke out in Europe, Stimson accepted Roosevelt's appointment to the position of Secretary of War. After the United States entered World War II, Stimson took charge of raising and training 13 million soldiers and airmen, supervised the spending of a third of the nation's GDP on the Army and the Air Forces, helped formulate military strategy, and oversaw the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bombs. He supported the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During and after the war, Stimson strongly opposed the Morgenthau Plan, which would have de-industrialized and partitioned Germany into several smaller states. He also insisted on judicial proceedings against Nazi war criminals, leading to the Nuremberg trials. Stimson retired from office in September 1945 and died in 1950.

Early career

Young Stimson, with Mimi the cat. Portrait by Dora Wheeler Keith
Stimson as a young lawyer.

Henry Lewis Stimson was born in Manhattan, New York City, the son of Lewis Atterbury Stimson, a prominent surgeon, and his wife, the former Candace Thurber Wheeler. When he was nine his mother died of kidney failure, after which he was sent to boarding school.

He spent summers with his grandmother Candace Wheeler at her Catskills country house, playing with his nephew Dunham Wheeler, almost the same age, in "the Armory" - their nickname for one corner of a large room in the house. Roaming the Catskills mountains he grew to love the outdoors and would become an avid sportsman.

He was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he gained a lifelong interest in religion and a close relationship with the school and ultimately donated Woodley, his Washington DC real estate to the school in his will (the property is now the Maret School). He was an honorary lifetime member of Theodore Roosevelt's Boone and Crockett Club, North America's first wildlife conservation organization. He was a Phillips trustee from 1905 to 1947, serving as president of the board from 1935 to 1945. He then attended Yale College where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He joined Skull and Bones, a secret society that afforded many contacts for the rest of his life. He graduated in 1888 and attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1890, and joined the prestigious Wall Street law firm of Root and Clark in 1891. He became a partner in 1893. Elihu Root, a future Secretary of War and Secretary of State, became a major influence on and role model for Stimson.

In July 1893, Stimson married the former 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. The couple honeymooned in Kyoto, Japan, a voyage that would later prove critical to that city's exemption from nuclear attack during the Second World War.

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 a strong supporter of Britain and France, but also supported the nation's neutrality policy. He called for preparation of a large, powerful army and was active in the privately funded Plattsburg Training Camp Movement to train potential officers. When war came in 1917, Stimson was one of eighteen selected by former President Theodore Roosevelt to raise a volunteer infantry division, Roosevelt's World War I volunteers, for service in France in 1917.

President Woodrow Wilson refused to make use of the volunteers, and the unit disbanded. Stimson served the regular US Army in France as an artillery officer, reaching the rank of colonel in August 1918. He continued his military service in the Organized Reserve Corps, rising to the rank of brigadier general in 1922.

Nicaragua and Philippines

In 1927, Stimson was sent by President Calvin Coolidge to Nicaragua to negotiate an end to the civil war taking place there. Stimson wrote that Nicaraguans "were not fitted for the responsibilities that go with independence and still less fitted for popular self-government". He opposed Filipino independence for the same reason, after he had been appointed Governor-General of the Philippines, an office he held from 1927 to 1929.

Secretary of State

The U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson (right) and Frank B. Kellogg, at the leaving from the State Department, (July 25, 1929).

Stimson returned to the cabinet in 1929, when President Herbert Hoover appointed him Secretary of State. Both served until 1933. Stimson lived in the Woodley Mansion in Washington, D.C. and lived there until 1946.

Shortly after being appointed as the new Secretary of State, Stimson ordered to shut down the Cipher Bureau (US cryptanalytic service) in 1929. Apparently, he thought spying on diplomatic messages was unethical, famously commenting: "Gentlemen do not read each others' mail."

In 1930-31, Stimson was the Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the London Naval Conference of 1930. 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 to his post at the head of the War Department. The choice of Stimson, a conservative Republican, was a calculated effort by the president to win bipartisan support for what was considered an almost inevitable US entrance into the war. 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, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, 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 oversaw a great expansion of the military including the conscription and training of 13 million soldiers and airmen, and the purchase and transportation of 30% of the nation's industrial output to battlefields. He worked closely with his top aides Robert P. Patterson (who succeeded Stimson as Secretary), Robert Lovett (who handled the Air Force), Harvey Bundy and John J. McCloy (Assistant Secretary of War).

Stimson was 73 years old when he took the reins as Secretary of War and many critics doubted that a man of his age could tackle a job this enormous. He defied all naysayers and plunged into the task with "an energy that men 20 years his junior could not have mustered." But at seventy-five, Stimson confessed he was "feeling very tired. The unconscious strain has been pretty heavy on me."

Japanese American internment

Stimson was initially opposed to the mass removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, but he eventually gave in to pro-exclusion military advisers and secure Roosevelt's final approval for the incarceration program. The administration was split in the wake of Pearl Harbor, with Justice Department officials arguing against "evacuation" on one side and Army and War Department leaders demanding immediate relocation on the other. Still opposed to the idea of wholesale eviction, Stimson spent much of January 1942 fielding calls from military advisers and West Coast politicians on the potential threat of a Japanese American fifth column. By February, John McCloy and others from the pro-exclusion camp had won him over.

On February 11, Stimson and McCloy briefed the President in a phone conference; Roosevelt gave his Secretary of War the go-ahead to pursue whatever course he saw fit, and McCloy contacted Karl Bendetsen to begin formulating a removal strategy immediately after. Roosevelt granted Stimson the final approval to carry out the eviction of West Coast Japanese Americans on February 17, and two days later Executive Order 9066 authorized the establishment of military zones excluding certain persons.

As the Western Defense Command began circulating civilian exclusion orders, a new debate formed regarding Japanese Americans in the then-territory of Hawaii. Stimson joined other officials to push for the exclusion of all "enemy alien" Japanese from the Islands. (Japanese immigrants were prohibited by law from naturalization and so were classified as enemy aliens regardless of their residential status.) However, Japanese Hawaiians were the largest ethnic group in the territory and the foundation of the Island's labor force; mass removal was infeasible both economically and politically, and Stimson's proposal quickly fell through.

Although Stimson believed it was "quite impossible" to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans and eventually came to support the army's incarceration program, he remained unconvinced on the legality of the policy: "The second generation Japanese can only be evacuated either as part of a total evacuation, giving access to the areas only by permits, or by frankly trying to put them out on the ground that their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese. The latter is the fact but I am afraid it will make a tremendous hole in our constitutional system."

Stimson authorized the release of Japanese Americans from camp in May 1944 but postponed allowing them to return to the West Coast until after the November elections to avoid controversy in Roosevelt's upcoming campaign.

General Patton

On November 21, 1943, the news broke 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. The incident caused a storm of controversy, and members of Congress called for Patton to be relieved of command. General Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed any move to recall General Patton from the European theater saying privately, "Patton is indispensable to the war effort - one of the guarantors of our victory." Stimson and McCloy agreed; Stimson told the Senate 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".

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 Stimson's opposition and the public outcry when the plan was leaked made the President backtrack. Stimson thus retained overall control of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, and although the Morgenthau plan did influence the early occupation, it never became official policy. 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, which soon received backing from the incoming 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 and personal control of the entire atomic bomb project, with immediate 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. This is best seen after military planners had selected Kyoto as the most promising target in southern Japan for nuclear attack. Stimson, remembering his honeymoon in that city, once again overruled his generals,

Kyoto had been favored for the very first attack but the committee opted to blitz Hiroshima, which was an important army depot and embarkation port within an urban environment. Targets in the south were given priority to boost possible invasion plans but the ancient city of Kyoto was withdrawn because the U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, who had honeymooned there, said it was an important cultural center and "must not be bombed."

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. Stimson wanted "Little Boy" (the Hiroshima bomb) dropped within hours of its earliest possible availability — it was; Japan was to be forced to surrender and the bombing of Hiroshima August 6 would likely be a finishing blow for Tokyo.

Stimson would ultimately conclude that if the United States had guaranteed the Japanese the preservation of their Imperial constitutional monarchy, they might have surrendered, making the use of atomic bombs unnecessary.

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 allied casualties). Stimson looked 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. The impact of the atom bomb, he thought, 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 "Stimson Doctrine". It said no fruits of illegal aggression would ever be recognized by the United States. Japan ignored it. 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 that the atomic bomb had to be used against combatants and war workers; Hiroshima and Nagasaki both in fact contained combatant bases and major centers of war industry employing tens of thousands of civilians. The question for Stimson was not one of whether the weapon should be used 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 to kill people.

Later years and death

Stimson officially announced his retirement on September 21, 1945. Afterwards, he wrote 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.

Two months after leaving office, in November 1945, Stimson suffered a heart attack from which he recovered, although he suffered a speech impediment. In the summer of 1950, Stimson fell and broke his leg, after which he was confined to a wheelchair. On October 20, one month after his 83rd birthday, he succumbed to complications from a second heart attack. Stimson died at his estate Highhold in West Hills, New York. He is buried in the adjacent town of Cold Spring Harbor, in the cemetery of St. John's Church.

Theodore H. White noted that Stimson had known and served under more Presidents than any other American citizen of his era. According to White, a short time before Stimson died, he had been asked by a friend which of the many Presidents that he had been acquainted with has "had been the best". After a few moments of reflection, Stimson indicated his answer to the query depended on what was meant by "the best". He said if it meant the most efficient man to hold the office, then the answer was William Howard Taft. If however his friend's question meant who was the greatest President then the answer was "Roosevelt", but he could not decide whether the first name would be Theodore or Franklin. He said both "understood the use of power", but also "knew the enjoyment of power" as well.


  • Distinguished Service Medal (U.S. Army)
  • World War I Victory Medal
  • American Legion Distinguished Service Medal


Mount Stimson in Montana's Glacier National Park is named after Stimson, who in the 1890s hiked and assisted George Bird Grinnell in surveying the area and later supported creating the park.

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) was commissioned in 1966.

Stimson's name graces the Henry L. Stimson Middle School in Huntington Station, Long Island; a residential building on the campus of Stony Brook University; as well as a dorm at his alma mater Phillips Academy.

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.

In popular culture

Stimson has been portrayed in nearly a dozen movies and television shows about World War II and its aftermath, including Manhattan (2014-2015), Truman (1995), Truman at Potsdam (1995), Fat Man and Little Boy (1989), Day One (1989), War and Remembrance (1988), Race for the Bomb (1987), Churchill and the Generals (1981), Oppenheimer (1980), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and The Beginning or the End (1947).

In the alternate history short story "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" by Lawrence Watt-Evans contained in the 1992 alternate history anthology Alternate Presidents by Mike Resnick, Stimson succeeded Hoover (who defeated Roosevelt in 1932 after Al Smith ran as a third party candidate and split the Democratic vote) as President in 1936, defeating Roosevelt. He once again defeated Roosevelt in 1940.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 22 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who was Henry L. Stimson?
A: Henry L. Stimson was an American statesman, lawyer, and diplomat who served as the Secretary of War under Presidents William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. He played a major role in shaping U.S. foreign policy during the first half of the 20th century.
Q: What were Henry L. Stimson's accomplishments?
A: Some of Henry L. Stimson's notable accomplishments include his work as Secretary of War during World War II, where he oversaw the mobilization and organization of the U.S. Army. He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, played a key role in the establishment of the United Nations, and advocated for the creation of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project.
Q: What is Stimson Doctrine?
A: The Stimson Doctrine was a policy introduced by Henry L. Stimson in 1932, during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. It stated that the United States would not recognize any territorial changes resulting from the use of force, the violation of treaty obligations, or the imposition of unilateral agreements. The doctrine was a response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and it signaled a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards a more principled stance against aggression.
Q: What was Stimson's role during the Atomic Bomb project?
A: Henry L. Stimson played a crucial role in the development and deployment of the atomic bomb during World War II. As the Secretary of War, he was responsible for overseeing the Manhattan Project, the top-secret research program that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Stimson strongly supported the project and believed that the use of the bomb was necessary to end the war with Japan.
Q: What was Stimson's contribution to the United Nations?
A: Henry L. Stimson made significant contributions to the establishment of the United Nations (UN). During his time as the U.S. Secretary of War, he played a key role in the planning and implementation of the UN Conference on International Organization, held in San Francisco in 1945. Stimson advocated for the creation of a strong international organization to promote peace and security, and his efforts helped shape the structure and principles of the UN.
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