Department of State - The legal mind

A list of the secretaries and undersecretaries of state of the twentieth century reads like a hall of fame of attorneys: Elihu Root, Philander C. Knox, Robert Lansing, Charles Evans Hughes, Henry L. Stimson, Edward R. Stettinius, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, William P. Rogers, Cyrus R. Vance, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, and Warren M. Christopher, not to mention Huntington Wilson, William Phillips, Joseph C. Grew, Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, and Elliot L. Richardson. Indeed, a number of these men served both at the State and the Justice departments, and the number of secretaries of state who have also been attorney general is significant. The modern business flavor; cross-examining perception; studied, organized knowledge; attention to detail; and developed cynicism of the legal mind—as found, for example, in a Root or a Stimson—are important to note as traits common to the personnel of the Department of State. More precisely, those in leadership positions at State have often been Ivy League–trained, Wall Street lawyers whose careers have paralleled the growth of the American industrial system and policy. Such lawyers have been uniquely prepared to deal on a large scale with the organization of railroads, banks, and other developing enterprises at home and abroad.

Dulles's law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, was involved in the making of American foreign policy as early as the Panamanian revolution of 1903, in part engineered in a New York City hotel room by Phillip Cromwell. Stimson's clients included the Continental Rubber Company, the United States Printing Company, the National Sugar Refining Company, the Bank of North America, the Mutual Life Insurance Company, and the Astoria Power and Light Company. In such representations, Stimson, like his colleagues, was accustomed to high finance. In foreign policy matters, once in the service of State, a Stimson, Root, Dulles, or Christopher would easily fall into the conditions and attitudes emerging from a successful legal practice. Such men could easily talk as though they had the will and power to arrange a set of conditions for society. They were concerned, as always, with the important things: money, boundaries, goods, and, perhaps for the first time, guns.

Corporation lawyers derived their power from their relationship to the developing corporate economy they helped to construct. They had the power of expertise in legal matters. They also had the power of individuals who had a broader perspective of the total system and could thereby give advice to those functioning in narrower channels. By controlling various scientific, educational, and cultural projects through foundations and associations, they also could dramatically influence opinion and events in noneconomic aspects of American life. They served, in particular, as key people in educating persons who were going to be decision makers in foreign policy matters, which were less directly tied than domestic concerns to political and congressional sanctions. By taking the leadership at State and other departments (for example, Treasury), corporation lawyers came to dominate American foreign policy by the beginning of the twentieth century. They moved comfortably within expansionist objectives outlined by Seward. The primary concern of State Department officials became the articulation of a managed, professional structure by which to achieve this well-defined strategy.

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