Childhood & Early Life
John Foster Dulles was born on February 25, 1888, to Allen Macy Dulles and Edith Dulles in Washington, D.C.
He was born in a family that was well-known for its political associations. While his father was a Presbyterian minister, his paternal grandfather John Welsh Dulles was a Presbyterian missionary in India. His maternal grandfather John W. Foster and his uncle Robert Lansing served as ‘Secretary of State’ under Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson respectively.
He completed his preliminary education in public schools in New York’s Watertown.
He joined the ‘Princeton University’ and graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa member in 1908.
He attended the ‘Sorbonne’ in Paris and thereafter studied in Washington, D.C at ‘The George Washington University Law School’ for two years.
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In 1911, John Foster Dulles joined ‘Sullivan and Cromwell’, an international law firm at Wall Street and here he specialized in international law.
At the time of World War I, he failed to join the U.S. Army due to poor eyesight. However, he was commissioned by the Army as a Major of the ‘War Industries Board’.
In 1918, he was inducted as a legal counsel by President Woodrow Wilson in the U.S. delegation for the ‘Versailles Peace Conference’. He worked under his uncle Robert Lansing, who was the then Secretary of State. As a junior diplomat, he made a mark by contesting vehemently against imposition of reparations on Germany. He later served as a ‘War Reparations Committee’ member.
He was an early member of the ‘League of Free Nations Associations’ later called the ‘Foreign Policy Association’. The association advocated membership of the Americans in the ‘League of Nations’.
In 1920, he became a partner in the law firm ‘Sullivan and Cromwell’. He was instrumental in designing the ‘Dawes Plan’ that lowered reparation payments of Germany. He ensured that American firms lend money to the states and private companies of Germany to mitigate the reparation problem temporarily. The profits of such investments were sent to France and Britain as reparation money which was again used by these two countries to repay war loans taken from the United States.
Dulles was a very religious man and in 1924 he defended Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick in a church trial. Fosdick was charged of heresy by his opponents.
In 1927, he became the head of ‘Sullivan and Cromwell’.
In 1929, following the Wall Street Crash, his practice in broking and documentation on international loans came to a standstill.
Germany ceased to make few of its scheduled payments after 1931 and in 1934 discontinued payments on private borrowings which were mostly handled by John Foster Dulles. In 1935, after the Nazis came to power in Germany, the junior partners of ‘Sullivan & Cromwell’ led by his brother Allen made him clip all business associations with Germany.
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During the presidential elections of 1944 and 1948, he became the chief foreign policy advisor of Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey. As a prominent Republican he was active in 1944 in establishing the Republican policy of setting up a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine.
He attended the ‘San Francisco Conference’ held in 1945 in the capacity of an advisor to Arthur H. Vandenberg and aided in drafting the preamble to the ‘United Nations Charter’.
As a delegate of the United States he participated in the ‘United Nations General Assembly’ in the years 1946, 1947 and 1950.
He firmly detested the atomic attacks inflicted on Japan by the United States and drafted a manifesto under the patronage of the ‘United Nations’ advocating international control on nuclear energy.
On July 7, 1949, he became an interim U.S. Senator from New York after being appointed by Governor Dewey following resignation of Democrat Robert F. Wagner. He served the post till November 8, 1949 and thereafter lost to Democrat Herbert Lehman during special election held to fill the vacancy.
During the late 1940s, he developed the ‘rollback’ policy on behalf of the Republican Party against the ‘containment’ model of the Democrats with the aim to contend with international Communism. His critical analysis of the American ‘containment’ policy’ which was published as ‘War or Peace’ in 1950 during the administration of the Democrat President Harry S. Truman was acclaimed.
In January 1953, John Foster Dulles was inducted as the ‘Secretary of State’ under President Dwight Eisenhower. He followed the ‘containment’ policy started by former President Harry S. Truman during the Treaty of Peace with Japan, to neutralise the Taiwan Strait at the time of the Korean War. The ‘Japanese Peace Treaty’ which restored full autonomy to Japan under the terms and conditions of the United States was completed under his supervision.
As the Secretary of State he initiated different treaties and alliances including setting up ‘NATO’ and the ‘ANZUS Treaty’.
He considered Communism as ‘Godless Terrorism’. In March 1953 he advocated the decision of Eisenhower who directed the ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ led by Dulles’ brother Allen to chalk out plans to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran.
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He was the proponent of the 1954 ‘Southeast Asia Treaty Organization’ that enabled collective action contending aggression. It was signed by representatives of the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand.
In the wake of the ‘Suez Crisis, in November 1956, he firmly countered the Anglo-French intrusion of the Suez Canal zone.
In 1958, he prevented Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt from receiving arms from the U.S.
He was the founder-member of the ‘Council of Foreign Relations’.
He was the Chairman of the ‘Commission on a Just and Durable Peace’ of the ‘Federal Council of Churches’ in America which was later called the ‘National Council of Churches’ and also chaired its conference.
He served as the Trustee of the ‘Rockefeller Foundation’ and was the Chairman of the ‘Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’.
In 1959, the ‘Medal of Freedom’ and the ‘Sylvanus Thayer Award’ were awarded to him posthumously.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Janet Pomeroy Avery on June 26, 1912.
His eldest son John W.F. Dulles was a professor at the ‘University of Texas’ at Austin. His younger son Avery Dulles, a converted Roman Catholic, was the first American theologian to serve as a Cardinal. His daughter Lillias Dulles Hinshaw was a Presbyterian minister.
Allen Welsh Dulles, his younger brother worked as the Director of ‘Central Intelligence’. His sister Eleanor Lansing Dulles who served the State Department played a significant role in the effective reconstruction of the economy of Europe post war.
John Foster Dulles was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent several operations and underwent radiotherapy over the years but recurrence of cancer deteriorated his health further. On May 24, 1959 he died at Walter Reed.
On May 27, 1959, his funeral service was held at the ‘Washington National Cathedral’ and he was buried at the ‘Arlington National Cemetery’.