Versailles Peace Conference

As John Kerry Becomes Secretary Of State, An Assessment Of The Most Influential Secretaries Of State In American History

With Hillary Clinton leaving the State Department, and John Kerry becoming the 68th Secretary of State, it is a good time to assess who are the most influential Secretaries of State we have had in American history.

Notice I say “most influential”, rather than “best”, as that is a better way to judge diplomatic leadership in the State Department.

Without ranking them, which is very difficult, we will examine the Secretaries of State who have had the greatest impact, in chronological order:

Thomas Jefferson (1789-1793) under President George Washington—set the standard for the department, and was probably the most brilliant man ever to head the State Department.

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) under President James Monroe—brought about the Monroe Doctrine, treaties with Canada, and the acquisition of Florida.

William H. Seward (1861-1869) under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson—brought about the neutrality of Great Britain and France in the Civil War, and purchased Alaska from Czarist Russia, a fortunate development.

Hamilton Fish (1869-1877) under President Ulysses S. Grant—involved in many diplomatic issues in Latin America, had America become more engaged in Hawaii, and settled differences with Great Britain, and often considered the major bright spot in the tragic Grant Presidency.

James G. Blaine (1881, 1889-1892) under Presidents James A. Garfield and Chester Alan Arthur briefly, and full term under President Benjamin Harrison—helped to bring about eventual takeover of Hawaii, and promoted the concept of a canal in Central America.

John Hay (1898-1905) under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt—-involved in the issues after the Spanish American War, including involvement in the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and a major influence over TR’s diplomatic initiatives in his first term.

Elihu Root (1905-1909) under President Theodore Roosevelt—-a great influence in TR’s growing involvement in world affairs in his second term in office.

Robert Lansing (1915-1920) under President Woodrow Wilson—a major player in American entrance in World War I and at the Versailles Peace Conference.

Charles Evan Hughes (1921-1925) under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge—-had major role in Washington Naval Agreements in 1922.

Henry Stimson (1929-1933) under President Herbert Hoover—-was a major critic of Japanese expansion, as expressed in the Stimson Doctrine of 1932.

Cordell Hull (1933-1944) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt—-was the longest lasting Secretary of State, nearly the whole term of FDR, and very much involved in all of the President’s foreign policy decisions.

Dean Acheson (1949-1953) under President Harry Truman—-involved in the major decisions of the early Cold War, including the Korean War intervention.

John Foster Dulles (1953-1959) under President Dwight D. Eisenhower—had controversial views on Cold War policy with the Soviet Union, including “massive retaliation”.

Dean Rusk (1961-1969) under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson—highly controversial advocate of the Vietnam War escalation, but served under the complete terms of two Presidents, and never backed away from his views on the Cold War.

Henry Kissinger (1973-1977) under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford—-easily one of the most influential figures in the shaping of foreign policy in American history, earlier having served as National Security Adviser.

George Shultz, (1982-1989) under President Ronald Reagan—-very close adviser to the President on his major foreign policy initiatives.

James Baker (1989-1992) under President George H. W. Bush—very significant in Persian Gulf War and end of Cold War policies.

Madeleine Albright (1997-2001) under President Bill Clinton—-first woman Secretary of State and played major role in many issues that arose.

Colin Powell (2001-2005) under President George W. Bush—-involved in the justification of the Iraq War based on Weapons of Mass Destruction, which undermined his reputation because of the lack of evidence on WMDs.

Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009) under President George W. Bush—second woman Secretary of State and intimately involved in policy making.

Hillary Clinton (2009-2013) under President Barack Obama—third woman Secretary of State, and hailed by most as a major contributor to Obama’s foreign policy initiatives.

This is a list of 21 out of the 68 Secretaries of State, but also there are 15 other Secretaries of State who were influential historical figures, including:

John Marshall
James Madison
James Monroe
Henry Clay
Martin Van Buren
Daniel Webster
John C. Calhoun
James Buchanan
Lewis Cass
William Jennings Bryan
George Marshall
Cyrus Vance
Edmund Muskie
Alexander Haig
Warren Christopher

So a total of 36 out of 68 Secretaries of State have been major figures in American history, and contributed to the diplomatic development of the United States in world affairs!

Presidents Who Began As Democrats But Were Elected To The White House As Republicans!

In the past century, we have had three Presidents who were originally connected to the Democratic Party in some fashion, but ended up becoming President as Republicans.

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) originally served in government under Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, providing Belgian relief at the beginning of World War I, and serving Wilson as an aide throughout the war and at the Versailles Peace Conference. He was rumored to be a possible candidate for President in 1920, but was bypassed, and ended up serving as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, before running for President in 1928.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) served in the military as one of the top generals of World War II under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and was offered the chance to run as a Democrat for President in 1948 by Truman himself. When Ike decided to stay nonpartisan, Truman ran for a full term, and then became a critic of Eisenhower, when he ran as a Republican in 1952, and their relationship was frosty for years after until after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was for many years a Democrat, and active as a labor leader for the Screen Actors Guild. He was a loyal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and then had a change of view, due to his marriage to Nancy Reagan and his working for a very conservative oriented corporation, General Electric, and switched his loyalties to the Republican Party, and got noticed when he gave an inspiring speech for the Presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona in 1964. Two years later, he won the Governorship of California as a Republican.

So three Republican Presidents of the last century converted from the Democratic Party roots they originally shared!