1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. John S. Dickey Oral History Interview

John S. Dickey Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
John S. Dickey

Assistant to Assistant Secretary of State and assistant to legal adviser, U.S. Department of State,,1934-36; Special Assistant to Secretary of State, 1940; Special Assistant to Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, 1940-44, and detailed to U.S. Department of State as Chief, World Trade Intelligence Division, Director of Office of Public Affairs, Department of State, 1944-45; and Public Liaison Officer, U.S. delegation to U.N. Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, 1945.

Boston, Massachusetts
July 19, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened March, 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
John S. Dickey


Boston, Massachusetts
July 19, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE: Professor Dickey, could you begin by talking about your involvement with the State Department just prior to the Second World War?

DICKEY: Perhaps I should preface that by saying that I first went to the State Department in 1934, as an assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State, Francis Sayre. He had charge of the economic side of the Department and specifically had charge of the development of the reciprocal trade agreements program for Secretary [Cordell] Hull. That may be relevant to what I am going to talk about, because it established my familiarity


with that side of the State Department and with the personnel who were working on reciprocal trade agreements.

I went back to my Boston law connection from the State Department in the middle of 1936, and I then came back on leave of absence from the law office to the State Department every three years to help out on the renewal of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act on the Hill. Actually, I was in Washington on such a leave of absence, as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, Mr. Hull, in 1940, when the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act was up for renewal. It came up at that time every three years; it passed first in 1934, then in 1937, and then it was up again for renewal in 1940. Since I had worked on the passage of the Act on the Hill and had been down for the renewal fight of 1937, I was invited to come down again in the winter of 1940 to help out on the problems, mainly


legal, legislative drafting and the like. This, incidentally, was a renewal of considerable importance to Secretary Hull, because there was a possibility that Mr. Hull would become the Democratic nominee for President in the event that Roosevelt decided not to go for a third term.

As I recall, it was while I was finishing up that assignment in the early spring of 1940 that my very close friend who was the Chief of the Division of Commercial Policy (the division in the State Department which had charge of the reciprocal trade agreements program) asked me if I would come over to his office one late afternoon to meet a man, whom he assumed I knew or at least knew of. This man was considering an invitation that had been extended to him by the President and Secretary Hull to become the next Assistant Secretary of State in Charge of Economic Affairs (succeeding Henry Grady, who


had succeeded my Chief; Francis Sayre, earlier). The man was Dean Acheson, and Harry Hawkins, who was an old State Department hand and a highly qualified expert on commercial policy, particularly trade agreement negotiations, thought it might be helpful to Mr. Acheson if he could talk with a young lawyer who might be able to respond to some of his questions about the nature of that assistant secretaryship. Since I had served for several years as the assistant to the particular office, this was the occasion of my meeting Dean Acheson. As I recall it, we had a pleasant discussion in which he asked me to describe my perception of the responsibilities he had been invited by Secretary Hull and, of course, by President Roosevelt to take on. It was something which Mr. Acheson obviously was glad to investigate, but by no means clear about. He had had a difficult policy disagreement with Mr. Roosevelt in the early months of the Roosevelt administration. He had left the Treasury under


dignified circumstances which led President Roosevelt, as I understand, to say that Dean Acheson was one of the few men who knew how to resign. However, he wasn't, as he put it to me, particularly anxious to go through another experience in which he found it necessary -- or at least the thing to do -- to resign out of disagreement and dissatisfaction. He also, I think, felt that he did not have a very good understanding of Mr. Hull personally or of Mr. Hull's devotion to the cause of reciprocal trade. He wasn't sure, therefore, that he was really the man for this job. So, by and large, my function in that very informal discussion, which took place in Hawkins' office, was to describe to him, as I saw it, the job of the Assistant Secretary of State in that area, and more especially to give him, if you will, a little of Mr. Hull's "religion" about reciprocal trade agreements. It's very fair and possibly of some interest to say that Mr. Acheson was far from


being a person who at that point regarded reciprocal trade as one of the great issues of American foreign policy. And this was one of the things that slowed him up a little bit about accepting the position since he gathered that Secretary Hull regarded it as the keystone of American foreign policy. He was hesitant about getting into a position of responsible obligation to the Secretary and to the President in a field where he might not be moved with the same conviction that was true with Mr. Hull. So, insofar as a young person was able to do it, part of my assignment from Hawkins, I guess, was to help Mr. Acheson see the potential significance of the reciprocal trade program in a somewhat larger context than I think at that point he saw it. I think it's fair to jump ahead a bit and to say that he never became, in my opinion, one who was just totally committed to the central importance of the trade agreements program.


It's probable that he would have achieved a deeper conviction about the importance of the program, if it had not been for the fact that the world was then moving into the war period. Other things very rapidly superseded trade agreements as the central concern of the Assistant Secretary in charge of economic affairs, and this would later lead to new significant relationships with Mr. Acheson.

MCKINZIE: Was there anything in particular that would make you think that he didn't develop this commitment?

DICKEY: Well, he was candid about this. He was explicit about it in his discussions with me. Occasionally later, when I would meet him in his office, he would sometimes jokingly refer back to our first meeting, and he would say, "I'm never going to get religion on trade agreements the way Harry Hawkins and Secretary Hull have it."


But he, at the same time, had a lawyer's ability to take on the cause of his client. The reciprocal trade agreements were the priority policy of Secretary Hull, and if he was going to be the Assistant Secretary of State, there was no being half loyal about reciprocal trade policies. It is simply that with the threat of war ahead and with his background he was not in a position to regard trade agreements as the most important thing he would be concerned with in the State Department; and it very quickly turned out that that was not the case. In other words, lend-lease and economic warfare projects quickly preempted the center of the stage. And the other thing to remember is that the fight to renew the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act had been won in the Congress before Mr. Acheson came in as Assistant Secretary.

That effort was over; Hull's policy had been reaffirmed at least for the next three years, and Acheson wasn't going to be involved in fighting


for it. They were not in a position to negotiate more such agreements; as I recall, I don't think they negotiated any significant new agreement after the summer of 1940, because of wartime conditions. From 1940 on this program was largely "on hold."

MCKINZIE: Perhaps before you go into the other relationships you had with Mr. Acheson, you would be good enough to talk about how you came to be affiliated with Nelson Rockefeller when he was Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs?

DICKEY: Yes. Well, that leads right into my next relationship with Mr. Acheson. In 1940 I was still with the Boston law firm that I had started off with back in 1932, Gaston, Snow, Saltonstall (the last name changed, but it's still known as the Gaston, Snow office). In the late summer and early fall of 1940, Mr. Rockefeller set up his Latin American agency in Washington. The first big problem, which remained a problem throughout


his years as Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (they had a longer name for it to start with), was his relationship with the State Department. Quite aside from the fact that Mr. Hull did not appreciate people wandering into his particular pea patch, the State Department as a whole did not welcome having a Coordinator of Affairs in South America set up outside the State Department. But this was the way President Roosevelt and, I believe, Harry Hopkins (who was the principal intermediary with President Roosevelt) and Mr. Rockefeller wanted it set up: independent and outside of the State Department.

Well, this agency had just gotten started in the early fall of 1940,