Dulles, John Foster (United States of America)

Reference work entry


John Foster Dulles was president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of state from 1953 until 1959 when he resigned just a month before his death at the age of 71. He is remembered as a staunch opponent of communism whose opinions did much to shape US foreign policy during the Cold War.

Early Life

Born in Washington, D.C. on 25 Feb. 1888, Dulles was a grandson of John Watson Foster, secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison. He graduated from Princeton University in 1908. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and George Washington University Law School he was admitted to the bar in 1911.

Dulles was counsel to the U.S. delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 and built a reputation in the inter-war years as an authority on international law. In 1939 his book War, Peace and Change was published. Six years later, Dulles was appointed adviser to the US delegation at the San Francisco conference of the United Nations and for the following 4 years served as a delegate to the UN’s general assembly.

In 1949, Dulles was given a seat in the senate in New York vacated by Robert Wagner but narrowly lost in his bid for re-election the following year. The following year his book War or Peace was published and in 1951 president Harry S. Truman gave him responsibility for concluding a peace treaty with Japan, signed on 8 Sept. 1951.

Career Peak

Dulles was appointed secretary of state by president Eisenhower in 1953. He advocated a hard-line approach against communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, favouring the development of nuclear weapons so that, in the event of an attack, the United States could reply with ‘massive retaliation’. Dulles also argued that the United States should be prepared to go to ‘the brink’ of war to achieve its objectives—a statement fiercely criticized by liberals.

Dulles was instrumental in establishing the European Defense Community and also instigated the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact (1955), all of which were designed to contain Soviet and Chinese influence in Europe and Asia. On his secretary of state’s advice, Eisenhower supported the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. The United States also offered financial and military assistance for Middle Eastern states, for example by supplying troops to Lebanon in 1958.

In 1958 Dulles was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He resigned from office in April and died in Bethesda, Maryland, on 24 May 1959.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Personalised recommendations