Sumner Welles

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The U.S. still awaits a clarification of its foreign policy and the forced resignation of Sumner Welles made an already murky issue even more obscure.

TIME, September 6, 1943

While Welles vacationed in Bar Harbor, Maine, [38] "where he held to diplomatically correct silence", [39] speculation continued for another month without official word from the White House or the State Department. Observers continued to focus on the Hull-Welles relationship and believed that Hull forced the President to choose between them to end "departmental cleavage". [40] Others read the situation politically and blamed FDR's "appeasement of Southern Democrats". [39] Without confirming his resignation or speaking on the record, Welles indicated he would accept any new assignment the President proposed. [40] Finally, on September 26, 1943, the President announced the resignation of Welles and the appointment of Edward R. Stettinius as the new Under-Secretary of State. He accepted Welles' resignation with regret and explained that Welles was prompted to leave government service because of "his wife's poor health". Welles' letter of resignation was not made public as was customary and one report concluded, "The facts of this situation remained obscure tonight." [41] Time summarized the reaction of the press: "Its endorsement of Sumner Welles was surprisingly widespread, its condemnation of Franklin Roosevelt and Cordell Hull surprisingly severe." [39] It also described the resignation's impact: "In dropping Sumner Welles [Hull] had dropped the chief architect of the US's Good Neighbor Policy in South America, an opponent of those who would do business with Fascists on the basis of expediency, a known and respected advocate of U.S. cooperation in international affairs. The U.S. still awaits a clarification of its foreign policy and the forced resignation of Sumner Welles made an already murky issue even more obscure." [39]

Later years

Welles made his first public appearance following his resignation in October 1943. Speaking to the Foreign Policy Association, he sketched his views of the postwar world, including American participation in a world organization with military capability. He also proposed the creation of regional organizations. He also called on the President to express his opinions and help shape public opinion, praising him at length as "rightly regarded throughout the world as the paladin of the forces of liberal democracy" without once mentioning Hull. [42]

Continuing his career-long focus on Latin America, he said that "if we are to achieve our own security every nation of the Western Hemisphere must also obtain the same ample measure of assurance as ourselves in the world of the future." He also foresaw the end to colonialism as a guiding principle of the new world order: [43]

Can the peaceful, the stable, and the free world for which we hope be created if it is envisioned from the outset as half slave and half free?-if hundreds of millions of human beings are told that they are destined to remain indefinitely under alien subjection? New and powerful nationalistic forces are breaking into life throughout the earth, and in particular in the vast regions of Africa, of the Near East, and of the Far East. Must not these forces, unless they are to be permitted to start new and devastating inundations, be canalized through the channels of liberty into the great stream of constructive and cooperative human endeavor?

In 1944, Welles lent his name to a fundraising campaign by the United Jewish Appeal to bring Jewish refugees from the Balkans to Palestine. [44]

Confidential expose
March 3, 1956 Conf56-03 march-56.jpg
Confidential expose
March 3, 1956

The same year, he authored The Time for Decision. His proposals for the war's end included modifications in Germany's borders to transfer East Prussia to Poland and to extend Germany's eastern border to include German-speaking populations farther east. Then, he suggested dividing Germany into three states, all of which would be included in a new European customs union. A politically divided Germany would be integrated to an economically-cohesive Europe. He also "favoured the transfer of populations to bring ethnic distributions into conformity with international boundaries." [45] With the public engaged in the debate over America's postwar role, The Time for Decision sold half a million copies. [46]

Welles became a prominent commentator and author on foreign affairs. In 1945, he joined the American Broadcasting Company to guide the organization of the "Sumner Welles Peace Forum," a series of four radio broadcasts providing expert commentary on the San Francisco Conference, which wrote the founding document of the United Nations. [47] He undertook a project to edit a series of volumes on foreign relations for Harvard University Press. [48]

In 1948, Welles authored We Need Not Fail, a short book that first presented a history and evaluated the competing claims to Palestine. He argued that American policy should insist on the fulfillment of the 1947 promise of the United Nations General Assembly to establish two independent states within an economic union and policed by a United Nations force. He criticized American officials whose obsession with the Soviets required submission to Arab and oil interests. Enforcing the decision of the United Nations was his overarching concern because it was an opportunity to establish the organization's role on the international stage that no other interest could trump. [49]

Later that year, the American Jewish Congress presented Welles with a citation that praised his "courageous championing of the cause of Israel among the nations of the world." [50]

On December 7, 1948, Welles appeared before HCUA as part of its investigation into allegations between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss (part of the Hiss Case). [51] Later that month (and after the death of his friend Laurence Duggan), he suffered a serious heart attack. [52]

In April 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy repeatedly charged that the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR), an organization that fostered the study of the Far East and the Pacific, was a communist front. [53] Welles was a member of the American branch of the IPR.

He remained always in the public eye. For example, his departure on the Île de France for Europe was noted even as he declined to comment on charges made by McCarthy about communists in the State Department. [54]

He sold his estate outside Washington in 1952, when Oxon Hill Manor became the home of a "huge collection of Americana." [55]

In 1956, Confidential , a scandal magazine, published a report of the 1940 Pullman incident and linked it to his resignation from the State Department, along with additional instances of inappropriate sexual behavior or drunkenness. Welles had explained the 1940 incident to his family as nothing more than drunken conversation with the train staff. [56] His son Benjamin Welles was devoted to his father wrote of the incident in his father's biography as drunken advances to several porters at about 4 a.m. that were rejected and then reported to government and railway officials. [57]

Personal life

Sumner Welles
Sumner Welles cph.3b12340.jpg
Welles in 1924
United States Under Secretary of State
In office
May 21, 1937 – September 30, 1943
External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Presentation by Benjamin Welles on Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist – A Biography, January 26, 1998, C-SPAN
Welles home, the Townsend Mansion, taken in 2010 Cosmos Club - Blizzard of 2010.JPG
Welles home, the Townsend Mansion, taken in 2010

On April 14, 1915, Sumner Welles married Esther "Hope" Slater of Boston, the sister of a Harvard roommate, in Webster, Massachusetts. [58] She came from a similarly prominent family that owned a textile empire based in Massachusetts. [59] She was descended from industrialist Samuel Slater and granddaughter of the Boston painter William Morris Hunt. Welles and his wife had two sons:

In 1923, Slater obtained a divorce from Welles in Paris "on grounds of abandonment and refusal to live with his wife". [58]

Welles occasionally gained public notice for his art dealings. In 1925, for example, he sold a collection of Japanese screens that had been on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for several years. [60]

Mathilde Townsend,
second wife of Sumner Welles Mathilde Townsend.jpg
Mathilde Townsend,
second wife of Sumner Welles

On June 27, 1925, Welles married Mathilde Scott Townsend (1885–1949), "a noted international beauty" whose portrait had been painted by John Singer Sargent, in upstate New York. [58] [16] [61] Until World War II, the Welles' lived on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., in the landmark Townsend Mansion, which later became the home of the Cosmos Club. [62] Mathilde died of peritonitis in 1949 while vacationing in Switzerland with Welles. [16]

Welles spent the bulk of his time a few miles outside of Washington in the Maryland countryside at a 49-room "country cottage" known as Oxon Hill Manor designed for him by Jules Henri de Sibour and built on a 245-acre property in 1929. [63] [64] He entertained foreign dignitaries and diplomats there and hosted informal meetings of senior officials. FDR used the site as an occasional escape from the city as well. [63]

On January 8, 1952, Welles married Harriette Appleton Post, a childhood friend (and a granddaughter of architect George B. Post, designer of the New York Stock Exchange) who had previously married and divorced twice, and had resumed the use of her maiden name, in New York City at the bride's home on Fifth Avenue. [65]

He died on September 24, 1961, at age 68 in Bernardsville, New Jersey. [66] He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. [67]


The biography written by his son Benjamin Welles concludes:

Sumner Welles made four major contributions to the Roosevelt era. He conceived and carried out the Good Neighbor policy, arguably the all-time, high-water mark in U.S.--Latin American relations. With Roosevelt, Churchill and Alexander Cadogan, he wrote the Atlantic Charter, the cornerstone of the United Nations. In mid—World War II, at FDR's direction, he drafted the original UN Charter. And during and after the war, he threw his support behind a national homeland for the Jews: Israel. The Good Neighbor policy and the Atlantic Charter are largely memories. The United Nations and Israel endure. [68]

Winston Churchill, who made the phrase "No comment" famous, cited Welles as his source for the cryptic response. [69]

Welles' papers are held by the National Archives at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York. [70]

The street adjacent to the current Embassy of the United States in Riga, Latvia was named after Sumner Welles (as Samnera Velsa iela) in 2012. [71]


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  2. O'Sullivan (2008), pp xii–xvi
  3. O'Sullivan (2008), p 5.
  4. O'Sullivan (2008), p xiii.
  5. Welles' father studied at the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard University in 1878. His sister was Emily Frances Welles (1889–1962), who married Harry Pelham Robbins. The New York Times: "Miss Emily Welles a Bride", April 23, 1908, accessed November 8, 2010
  6. Donna H. Siemiatkoski, The Descendants of Governor Thomas Welles of Connecticut, 1590–1658, and His Wife, Alice Tomes (Gateway Press, 1990)
  7. "BENJAMIN WELLES DIES OF PNEUMONIA; Father of Assistant Secretary of State Was Descendant of Colonial Settlers" (PDF). The New York Times . December 27, 1935. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  8. Orson Welles in Italy by Alberto Anile and Marcus Perryman. Indiana University Press (September 25, 2013), ISBN   0253010411, page 26
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  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 The New York Times: Harold B. Hinton, "Welles: Our Man of the Hour in Cuba", August 20, 1933, accessed November 8, 2010
  12. 1 2 3 4 The New York Times: James B. Reston, "Acting Secretary", August 3, 1941, accessed November 8, 2010
  13. Benjamin Welles, Global Strategist, ch. 9: Crisis in Honduras, 1923"
  14. Nancy Peckenham and Annie Street, Honduras: Portrait of a Captive Nation (New York: Praeger, 1985), 62ff.; Lester D. Langley, The banana wars: United States intervention in the Caribbean, 1898–1934 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1983), 172ff.
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  17. In the Bible's Books of Kings, Naboth was stoned to death for refusing to surrender his vineyard to Ahab.
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  19. Rafael Guas Inclan to Antonio Rafael de la Cova, Feb. 22, 1975
  20. See Hugh Thomas, Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), Justo Carrillo, Cuba 1933: Students, Yankees, and Soldiers (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1994), Ricardo Adam y Silva, La Gran Mentira 4 Septiembre 1933 (Santo Domingo: Editora Corripio, 1986), Enrique Ros, La Revolucion de 1933 (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 2005) and Luis E. Aguilar, Cuba 1933: Prologue to Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972).
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  22. Morrison, David (1999). Heroes, Antiheroes, and the Holocaust. Jerusalem, New York: Gefen Publishing House. p. 128. ISBN   965-229-210-9.
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  52. Weinstein, Allen (1978). Perjury. Knopf. pp. 274, 303–304.
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  55. The New York Times: "Civil War Exhibit is Set for Capital", October 25, 1959, accessed November 8, 2010
  56. Welles, Benjamin (1997). Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist . St. Martin's Press. pp.  370–1. ISBN   0312174403.
  57. 1 2 Bohlen, Celestine (January 4, 2002). "Benjamin Welles, Biographer And Journalist, Is Dead at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
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  60. The New York Times: "Welles's Collection of Screens on Sale", February 15, 1925, accessed November 8, 2010
  61. Mathilde had been married as her first husband, Peter Goelet Gerry, the son of Elbridge Thomas Gerry (1837–1927) and Louisa Matilda Livingston, and the great grandson of Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), the fifth Vice President of the United States, from 1910 to 1925. She was the granddaughter of William Lawrence Scott, a Pennsylvania railroad and coal magnate, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 27th district. Her father, Richard H. Townsend, was the President of the Erie and Pittsburgh Railroad, and her mother, Mary Scott Townsend, one of Washington's social leaders, known for her elegant entertaining who had hired the New York architectural firm Carrère and Hastings to build the Townsend Mansion, located in the Dupont Circle Historic District. Richard had died shortly after the house was completed, but she continued to live there until her death in 1931.
  62. The New York Times: George W. Oakes, "Washington Walking Tour", September 10, 2010, accessed November 8, 2010. The building was leased to the Canadian Women's Army Corps. The Cosmos Club purchased the building from Mrs. Welles' estate in 1950. She left Welles $200,000 in her will.
  63. 1 2 Nathania A. Branch Miles, Jane Taylor Thomas, Oxon Hill, Images of America Series (Charleston, CA: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 12
  64. UPI: "Franklin Roosevelt"; photo of Oxon Hill, 1960, accessed November 8, 2010; the building was later under consideration to become the official home of the vice-president of the U.S.
  65. The New York Times: "Sumner Welles Weds Mrs. Post", January 9, 1952, accessed November 8, 2010
  66. The New York Times: "Memorial Service is Held for Welles", September 30, 1961, accessed November 10, 2010
  68. Benjamin Welles, 1998, p. 375.
  69. The New York Times: William Safire, "It Is What It Is", March 5, 2006,
  70. National Archives: "Sumner Welles Papers, 1909 – 1989", accessed November 8, 2010
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  72. OCLC   458932390.
  73. OCLC   562152843.

Further reading


Primary sources

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
United States Ambassador to Cuba
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by