Collection ID: MS 1087

Collection context


Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
The papers include correspondence, writings, speeches, memoranda, and photographs, documenting Dean Acheson's life after leaving the U.S. State Department in 1953. Also documented is his work as a member of the Yale Corporation and his long friendship with Felix Frankfurter, Archibald MacLeish, and others. The correspondence and memoranda contain Acheson's views on many contemporary issues in American foreign policy such as Korea, the Middle East, NATO, Germany, the war in Vietnam, and Rhodesia and South Africa. The papers also include Acheson's later reflections on his years in public life and assessments of the U.S. government under the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Acheson's numerous correspondents include personal friends, American and foreign government officials, journalists, and a wide range of other persons in public life. The papers also include manuscripts, notes, and reviews for several of Acheson's books.
42.83 Linear Feet


Acquisition information:
Gift of David C. Acheson, 1981-1988. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Podoloff, 1984. Gift of the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 1991. Gift of Michael Janeway, 2003, 2004. Gift of Covington Burling, 2003. Gift of Darcy Troy Pollack and Jeffrey Pollack, 2007. Gift of Brian Hughes and Andrew Drabkin, 2011. Gift of Michelle Jacques, 2019.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Scope and Content:

The Dean Acheson Papers are a rich source of information on the policies, thoughts, and accomplishments of the secretary of state who guided American foreign policy from 1948 to 1953. The papers, which span the period from 1898 to 1989, are especially full for the period after Acheson left public office in 1953 until his death in 1971. Included in the correspondence, speech and lecture files, manuscripts of books and articles, and memoranda, which compose the papers, are examinations of such major topics of U.S. foreign policy as Korea; NATO; post-war relations with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Germany; tensions in the Middle East; the war in Vietnam; and the U.S. posture towards Rhodesia and South Africa. Evaluations of the Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations figure prominently in the papers, and Acheson's role as a member of the Yale Corporation is thoroughly documented. Major correspondents include personal friends and professional colleagues.

Acheson considered these papers to be his private papers, as opposed to the papers he created professionally as a lawyer and publicly as a civil servant. Acheson's legal files remain with the firm of Covington & Burling. Many of Acheson's official papers are now in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Acheson's son, David C. Acheson, donated these private papers to Yale University between 1981 and 1983.

This finding aid was edited slightly in 2003 when being converted to an on-line format.

Biographical / Historical:

Dean Gooderham Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 11, 1893, to Edward Campion and Eleanor Gertrude Gooderham Acheson. His father was the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut. Acheson graduated from the Groton School in 1911 and entered Yale University, where he was in the same class (Y1915) with Archibald MacLeish. Acheson would hold his college ties dear, and in later years he would serve as a member of the Yale Corporation and a confidant of President A. Whitney Griswold.

From New Haven, Acheson moved to the challenging intellectual climate of the Harvard Law School. Here he came under the influence of Felix Frankfurter. He received his law degree in 1918 and then worked for two years as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. In 1921, Acheson joined the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Acheson would continue to be affiliated with the law firm, or its successors Covington, Burling and Rublee, and Covington, Burling, Acheson and Shorb for the remainder of his life.

In May 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Acheson to the post of under secretary of the Treasury. Acheson resigned five months later following a disagreement over Roosvelt's gold-purchasing program and resumed his Washington law practice.

Acheson returned to government service in 1941 as assistant secretary of state for economic policy. In this position he helped manage the Lend-Lease program and he was instrumental in the development of several postwar institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Bretton Woods agreement, which led to the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank).

From 1945 to 1947, Acheson held the post of under secretary, often functioning as the acting secretary of state for the absent James Byrnes. Acheson became a trusted advisor to President Truman and in 1949, following a short term away from the State Department, President Truman asked Acheson to be his secretary of state, replacing George C. Marshall. In this post war period, Acheson became the principal architect of United States' Cold War foreign policy. He helped to forge an alliance between America and Western Europe to oppose the Soviet Union and the expansion of Communism.

Acheson feared that the Soviet Union would be able to expand its sphere of influence over the Middle East, and in 1947 he orchestrated military and economic aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey under what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. In that same year, he outlined the main points of the Marshall Plan for war-ravaged Europe. Forecasting that political and social upheaval might result if conditions did not improve quickly, Acheson advocated a massive American economic aid package to stabilize and rehabilitate seventeen western and southern European nations.

Acheson also believed that collective defense would be necessary to stop further Soviet advances, and one of his first accomplishments as secretary of state was to facilitate the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, Acheson immediately labeled this an act of aggression and moved swiftly to secure a United Nations Security Council emergency session resolution condemning the North Korean attack. For the first time an international organization sanctioned a military response to halt an infringement on another country's sovereignty, and American troops, under UN authority and General Douglas MacArthur's direction, entered combat in Korea. War on the Korean peninsula would command the attention of Truman and his advisors for the duration of the administration.

Acheson was a controversial government official and a lighting rod for criticism. During his time in the State Department, the governments in countries in Eastern Europe and China became Communist. Acheson was accused of being "soft on communism." Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy declared that the State Department was harboring communists, and Acheson's refusal to testify against Alger Hiss brought calls for his resignation.

After leaving public office, Acheson continued to voice his opinions on foreign policy through his lectures and writing. He gamely played the role of elder statesman and would serve as an unofficial advisor to the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. His book, Present at the Creation,won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1917, Acheson had married Alice Stanley. They had three children: Jane Stanley (later wife of Dudley B. W. Brown), David Campion (later husband of Patricia Castles), and Mary Campion (later wife of William P. Bundy). Acheson died suddenly from a stroke at the age of seventy-eight on October 12, 1971.


Arranged in four series and nine additions: I. General Correspondence, 1910-1971. II. Correspondence Concerning Speeches and Writings, 1936-1972. III. Speeches and Writings, 1909-1978. IV. Miscellaneous Files, ca. 1898-1972.

Indexed Terms

Diplomatic and consular service, American
German reunification question (1949-1990)
Korean War, 1950-1953
Presidents -- United States
Press and politics
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
World politics -- 1945-1989
United States. Department of State
United States. Department of the Treasury
United States. Supreme Court
American Council on Germany
Citizens Committee for Peace with Freedom in Vietnam
Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.)
Democratic Party (U.S.)
European Economic Community
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Yale Law School
Yale Corporation
Norodom Sihanouk, Prince, 1922-2012
Acheson, David C.
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
Alsop, Joseph, 1910-1989
Alsop, Stewart, 1914-1974
Benton, William, 1900-1973
Bickel, Alexander M.
Bowles, Chester, 1901-1986
Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941
Brewster, Kingman, Jr., 1919-1988
Bundy, McGeorge, 1919-1996
Clifford, Clark M., 1906-1998
Coffin, Henry Sloane, 1877-1954
Dodd, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph), 1907-1971
Douglas, Paul H. (Paul Howard), 1892-1976
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Eden, Anthony, Earl of Avon, 1897-1977
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965
Fulbright, J. William (James William), 1905-1995
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 1908-2006
Griswold, Alfred Whitney, 1906-1963
Hand, Learned, 1872-1961
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
Hiss, Alger, 1904-1996
Hull, Cordell, 1871-1955
Humphrey, Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Kennan, George F. (George Frost), 1904-2005
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Kent, Sherman
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Lefever, Ernest W., 1919-
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963
Lewis, W. S. (Wilmarth Sheldon), 1895-1979
Lovett, Robert A. (Robert Abercrombie), 1895-1986
MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982
Marshall, Charles Burton, 1908-1999
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Menzies, Robert, 1894-1978
Morgenthau, Henry, 1891-1967
Nitze, Paul Henry, 1907-2004
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Pearson, Lester B.
Ridgeway, Matthew B.
Rogers, William P.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Rostow, Eugene V. (Eugene Victor), 1913-2002
Rostow, W. W. (Walt Whitman), 1916-2003
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Seymour, Charles, 1885-1963
Shulman, Harry, 1903-1955
Stettinius, Edward R., Jr. (Edward Reilly), 1900-1949
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965
Stimson, Henry L. (Henry Lewis), 1867-1950
Stokes, Anson Phelps, 1874-1958
Symington, Stuart, 1901-1988
Thacher, Thomas D. (Thomas Day), 1881-1950
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Tuchman, Barbara W. (Barbara Wertheim), 1912-1989
Tuttle, H. E. (Henry Emerson), 1890-1946
Warburg, James P. (James Paul), 1896-1969
Wheeler-Bennett, John Wheeler, Sir, 1902-1975
Europe -- Foreign relations
Germany -- Defenses
Indochina -- History -- 1945-
Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1910-1946
Middle East -- Politics and government -- 1945-
South Africa -- Foreign relations
Soviet Union -- Foreign relations -- United States
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1953
United States -- Foreign relations -- Soviet Union
United States -- History -- 1945-1953
United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1953
Zimbabwe -- Politics and government -- 1965-1979


Sterling Memorial Library
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