By David Langbart
The development of the Cold War after World War II and America’s ascension to a position as the leading World power with its attendant dangers and complications led to somewhat of a removal of partisan politics from foreign policy issues. Underlying this move, referred to as bi-partisanship, was the idea that the President and Executive Branch agencies would work with Congress to develop foreign policies that could receive support from Republicans and Democrats alike. Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg was perhaps the key proponent of bipartisanship. He famously asserted that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”
During the period from 1945 to 1949, bipartisanship in foreign policy reached a high point, although partisan politics did intrude. Among the bipartisan successes are U.S. membership in the United Nations, implementation of the Marshall Plan for European recovery, and the creation of NATO. The death of Vandenberg, the rise of McCarthyism, the controversy over the “loss” of China, disagreement over the handling of the war in Korea, and unilateral foreign policy actions by the Truman Administration all led to a rise in partisanship in foreign policy during Harry Truman’s second term in office. Even though the bi-partisan consensus broke down, there was continued paying of lip-service to the idea, but by the 1952 presidential election, the idea of bi-partisanship had itself taken on a partisan taint.
On February 12, 1953, at one of the first meetings of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s Cabinet, Henry Cabot Lodge, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, raised the issue of bipartisanship. He noted Senator Vandenberg’s distinction between Congressional matters and Executive action. There was comment that Democratic leaders practiced bipartisanship only for matters involving Congress. At the end of the discussion, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson requested preparation of a memorandum on the subject of bipartisanship “to clarify the practice for all Cabinet Members” and responsibility for that was placed on Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Subsequent to the meeting, Dulles and Lodge discussed the issue with the end result that on February 23, Lodge sent the Secretary of State a “Dear Foster” note enclosing the following memorandum on “Bi-Partisanship in Executive-Congressional Relations”.
Dulles acknowledged receipt of Lodge’s memorandum and then distributed it to the entire Cabinet under cover of a letter he personally drafted. The following is the letter to Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr.:
Identical letters went to the following officials:
- Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey
- Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson
- Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield
- Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson
- Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks
- Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay
- Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin
- Director of Mutual Security Harold E. Stassen
- Federal Security Administrator Oveta Culp Hobby
Sources: Documentation on the meeting of the Cabinet is found in Cabinet Meeting of February 12, 1953; Box 1; Cabinet Series, Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers as President; Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library. The Lodge note to Dulles and enclosed memorandum, Dulles’s acknowledgement, and Dulles’s referrals to the Cabinet are under file 711.2/2-2353, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.
I thank my colleagues Karl Weissenbach and Valoise Armstrong at the Eisenhower Library for their assistance.