Sumner Welles
Benjamin Sumner Welles was an American government official and diplomat
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states...

 in the Foreign Service
United States Foreign Service
The United States Foreign Service is a component of the United States federal government under the aegis of the United States Department of State. It consists of approximately 11,500 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S...

. He was a major foreign policy adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 and served as Under Secretary of State
Under Secretary of State
The Under Secretary of State, from 1919 to 1972, was the second-ranking official at the United States Department of State , serving as the Secretary's principal deputy, chief assistant, and Acting Secretary in the event of the Secretary's absence...

 from 1937 to 1943, during FDR's presidency.

Early life

Benjamin Sumner Welles was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, the son of Benjamin J. Welles (1857–1935) and Frances Wyeth Swan (1863–1911). He preferred to be called Sumner after his famous relative Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner was an American politician and senator from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction,...

, a leading Senator from Massachusetts during the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and Reconstruction. His family was wealthy and connected to the era's most prominent families. He was a grandnephew of Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor was a prominent American socialite of the last quarter of the 19th century. Famous for being referred to later in life as "the Mrs. Astor" or simply "Mrs. Astor", she was the wife of real estate heir William Backhouse Astor Jr...

, known as "the Mrs. Astor". Among his ancestors were Thomas Welles
Thomas Welles
Thomas Welles is the only man in Connecticut's history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer, and secretary. In 1639, he was elected as the first treasurer of the Colony of Connecticut, and from 1640–1649 served as the colony's secretary...

, a colonial Governor of Connecticut, and Increase Sumner
Increase Sumner
Increase Sumner was an American politician from Massachusetts. He served as the fifth governor of Massachusetts from 1797 to 1799. Trained as a lawyer, he served in the provisional government of Massachusetts during the American Revolutionary War, and was elected to the Confederation Congress in...

, Governor of Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 from 1797 to 1799.

The Welles family was also connected to the Roosevelts. A cousin of Sumner Welles married James "Rosy" Roosevelt, Jr., half brother of future President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 (FDR). At the age of 10, Welles was entered in Miss Kearny's Day School for Boys in New York City. In September 1904, he entered Groton School
Groton School
Groton School is a private, Episcopal, college preparatory boarding school located in Groton, Massachusetts, U.S. It enrolls approximately 375 boys and girls, from the eighth through twelfth grades...

 in Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, where he remained for six years. There he roomed with the brother of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and became an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an international...

. He served as a page at Franklin D. Roosevelt's wedding to Eleanor in March 1905 at the age of 12.

Welles attended Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

 where he studied "economics, Iberian literature and culture," and graduated after 3 years in 1914.

Marriage and family life

Sumner Welles married Esther "Hope" Slater of Boston, the sister of a Harvard roommate on April 14, 1915, in Webster, Massachusetts
Webster, Massachusetts
-Media:* Worcester Telegram & Gazette * Webster Times, published every Friday* The Patriot, published every Wednesday* WGFP-AM 940, a country music station* Boston Globe* Boston Herald-Library:...

. She came from a similarly prominent family that owned a textile empire based in Massachusetts. An heiress, she was descended from industrialist Samuel Slater
Samuel Slater
Samuel Slater was an early English-American industrialist known as the "Father of the American Industrial Revolution", or the "Father of the American Factory System" because he brought British textile technology to America. He learned textile machinery as an apprentice to a pioneer in the British...

 and granddaughter of the Boston painter William Morris Hunt
William Morris Hunt
William Morris Hunt , American painter, was born at Brattleboro, Vermont to Jane Maria Hunt and Hon. Jonathan Hunt, who raised one of the preeminent families in American art...

. Sumner and his wife had two sons, Benjamin Welles (1916–2002), a foreign correspondent
Foreign correspondent
Foreign Correspondent may refer to:*Foreign correspondent *Foreign Correspondent , an Alfred Hitchcock film*Foreign Correspondent , an Australian current affairs programme...

 for the New York Times, later his father's biographer, and Arnold Welles (1918–2002). Mrs. Esther Slater Welles obtained a divorce from Sumner Welles in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1923 "on grounds of abandonment and refusal to live with his wife."

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
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

 for several years.

Welles married Mathilde Scott Townsend (1885–1949), "a noted international beauty" whose portrait had been painted by John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

, on June 27, 1925, in upstate New York. Until World War II, the Welles's lived on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., in the landmark Townsend Mansion, designed by Carrère and Hastings
Carrère and Hastings
Carrère and Hastings, the firm of John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings , located in New York City, was one of the outstanding Beaux-Arts architecture firms in the United States. The partnership operated from 1885 until 1911, when Carrère was killed in an automobile accident...

, later the home of the Cosmos Club
Cosmos Club
The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C., founded by John Wesley Powell in 1878. In addition to Powell, original members included Clarence Edward Dutton, Henry Smith Pritchett, William Harkness, and John Shaw Billings. Among its stated goals is "The advancement of its members in...

. She died in 1949 of peritonitis while vacationing in Switzerland with her husband.

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
Oxon Hill Manor
-External links:*, including photo in 1995, at Maryland Historical Trust website* *: 28 photos and 14 data pages, at Historic American Building Survey*: 6 photos and 1 data page, at Historic American Building Survey...

 designed for him by Jules Henri de Sibour
Jules Henri de Sibour
Jules Gabriel Henri de Sibour was a French architect.Born in Paris, France to Vicomte Gabriel de Sibour and Mary Louisa Johnson of Belfast, Maine, he came to the United States as a child and attended St. Paul's School in New Hampshire. He received a degree from Yale University in 1896, where he...

 and built on a 245-acre property in 1929. 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.

Welles married Harriette Appleton Post, a childhood friend, in New York City on January 8, 1952, in the bride's home on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Diplomatic career

After graduating from Harvard University, Welles followed the advice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and entered into the Foreign Service
United States Foreign Service
The United States Foreign Service is a component of the United States federal government under the aegis of the United States Department of State. It consists of approximately 11,500 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S...

. A New York Times profile described him at the time he joined the foreign service: "Tall, slender, blond, and always correctly tailored, he concealed a natural shyness under an appearance of dignified firmness. Although intolerant of inefficiency, he brought to bear unusual tact and a self-imposed patience." He secured an assignment to Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

, where he served in the embassy as third secretary only briefly.

Latin America

Welles soon became a specialist in Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

n affairs. He served in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina, and the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after São Paulo. It is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent...

, Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

 in 1919 and became fluent in Spanish. In 1920, Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. was an American statesman, lawyer and Republican politician from New York. He served as the 36th Governor of New York , Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States , United States Secretary of State , a judge on the Court of International Justice , and...

 appointed him to head the Division of Latin American Affairs.

In March 1922, Welles briefly resigned from the State Department. He was unsympathetic to the view that American diplomacy military might was meant to protect the overseas interests of American business. Hughes brought him back the next year as a special commissioner to the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...

 with the rank of minister. His particular assignment was to oversee the withdrawal of American forces and to negotiate protection for overseas investors in the Dominican Republic's debt. Welles remained in that post for three years and his work was accomplished after his departure in a 1924 treaty.

In 1924, President Coolidge sent Welles to act as mediator between disputing parties in Honduras. The country had lacked a legitimate government since the election of 1923 failed to produce a majority for any candidate and the legislature had failed to exercise its power to appoint a new president. Negotiations managed by Welles from April 23 to 28 produced an interim government under General Vicente Tosta
Vicente Tosta
Vicente Tosta Carrasco was provisional President of Honduras for ten months, from 30 April 1924 through 1 February 1925.WAR CIVIL...

, who promised to appoint a cabinet representing all factions and to schedule a presidential election as soon as possible in which he would not be a candidate. Negotiations ended with the signing of an agreement aboard the USS Milwaukee
USS Milwaukee (CL-5)
thumb|300px|right|Launching of MilwaukeeUSS Milwaukee was an Omaha-class light cruiser in the United States Navy. She was the third Navy ship named for the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin...

 in the port of Amapala
Amapala is a municipality in the Honduran department of Valle. It is formed by El Tigre Island and its satellite islets and rocks in the Gulf of Fonseca. It has an area of 75.2 km² and a population of 2,482 as of the census of 2001...


Years out of government service

Coolidge, however, disapproved of Welles' 1925 marriage to Mathilde Scott Townsend, who had only recently divorced the President's friend, Senator Peter Gerry
Peter G. Gerry
Peter Goelet Gerry was an American lawyer and politician. He was a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island.-Early life:...

 of Rhode Island. He promptly ended Welles' diplomatic career.

Welles then retired to his estate at Oxon Hill, Maryland. He devoted himself to writing and his two-volume history of the Dominican Republic, Naboth's Vineyard: The Dominican Republic, 1844-1924 appeared in 1928. Time described the work as "a ponderous, lifeless, two-volume work which was technically a history of Santo Domingo, actually a careful indictment of U.S. foreign policy in the Hemisphere." James Reston
James Reston
James Barrett Reston , nicknamed "Scotty," was an American journalist whose career spanned the mid 1930s to the early 1990s. He was associated for many years with the New York Times.-Life:...

 summarized its thesis: "we should keep in our own back yard and stop claiming rights for ourselves that we denied to other sovereign States."

He served as an unofficial adviser to Dominican President Horacio Vásquez
Horacio Vásquez
Felipe Horacio Vásquez Lajara was a Dominican general and political figure. He served as the acting president of the Dominican Republic in 1899, and again between 1902 and 1903. Supporters of Vásquez were known as Horacistas, as opposed to Jimenistas, supporters of Vásquez's main rival, Juan...


During the presidential election of 1932
United States presidential election, 1932
The United States presidential election of 1932 took place as the effects of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, the Revenue Act of 1932, and the Great Depression were being felt intensely across the country. President Herbert Hoover's popularity was falling as...

, Welles provided foreign policy expertise to the Roosevelt campaign. He was a major contributor to the campaign as well.


In April 1933, FDR appointed Welles Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, but when a revolution in Cuba against President Gerardo Machado
Gerardo Machado
Gerardo Machado y Morales was President of Cuba and a general of the Cuban War of Independence...

 left its government divided and uncertain, he became instead the President's special envoy to Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. He arrived in Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

 in May 1933. His mission was to negotiate a settlement so that the U.S. could avoid intervening as U.S. law, namely the Platt Amendment
Platt Amendment
The Platt Amendment of 1901 was a rider appended to the Army Appropriations Act presented to the U.S. Senate by Connecticut Republican Senator Orville H. Platt replacing the earlier Teller Amendment. Approved on May 22, 1903, it stipulated the conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops...

 of 1901, required.

His instructions were to mediate "in any form most suitable" an end to the Cuban situation. Welles promised Machado a new commercial treaty to relieve economic distress if Machado reached a political settlement with his opponents. Machado believed the U.S. would help him survive politically. Welles promised the opponents of Machado's government a change of government and participation in the subsequent administration, if they joined the mediation process and supported an orderly transfer of power. One crucial step was persuading Machado to issue an amnesty for political prisoners so that the opposition leaders could appear in public. Machado soon lost faith in Welles and denounced American interference as a colonialist adventure. Welles' mediation process conferred political legitimacy on sectors of the opposition that participated and allowed the U.S. to assess their viability as long-term political allies. Unable to influence Machado, Welles negotiated an end to his presidency, with support from General Herrera, Colonels Castillo and Delgado, and Enrique Ros
Enrique Ros
Enrique Ros is a Miami based Cuban-American businessman and activist opposed to Cuban president Fidel Castro. He is the author of Revolucion de 1933 en Cuba and other books....


In 1937, FDR promoted Welles to Under Secretary, and the Senate promptly confirmed the appointment. Indicative of ongoing rivalries within the State Department, an ally of Secretary of State Hull was appointed the department's Counselor at the same time, a position equal in rank to that of Under Secretary.

World War II

In the week following Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, and also Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome, was a pogrom or series of attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938.Jewish homes were ransacked, as were shops, towns and...

, in November 1938, the British government stated that it would be willing to give up the major part of the quota of 65,000 British citizens that could emigrate to the United States and have Jews fleeing Hitler receive this instead. To this Under-Secretary Welles responded:
I reminded the Ambassador that the President stated there was no intention on the part of his government to increase the quota for German nationals. I added that it was my strong impression that the responsible leaders among American Jews would be the first to urge that no change in the present quota for German Jews be made...The influential Sam Rosenman, one of the "responsible" Jewish leaders sent Roosevelt a memorandum telling him that an 'increase of quotas is wholly inadvisable. It will merely produce a 'Jewish problem' in the countries increasing the quota.'

Welles headed the American delegation to the 21-nation Pan American conference that met in Panama in September 1939. He said the conference had been planned in earlier hemispheric meetings in Buenos Aires and Lima and he emphasized the need for consultation on economic issues to "cushion the shock of the dislocation of inter-American commerce arising from the war" in Europe.

In February and March 1940 Welles visited Italy, Germany, and England to discuss peacemaking proposals. Hitler feared that the purpose of his visits was to drive a wedge between Germany and Italy.

Soviet occupation of the Baltics

On July 23, 1940, following the principles of the Stimson Doctrine
Stimson Doctrine
The Stimson Doctrine is a policy of the United States federal government, enunciated in a note of January 7, 1932, to Japan and China, of non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force. The doctrine was an application of the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur...

, Welles issued a statement that became known as the Welles Declaration
Welles Declaration
The Welles Declaration, issued on July 23, 1940 by United States Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, then acting Secretary of State, condemned what the U.S. and the Baltic states saw as the USSR’s annexation of the Baltic states and initiated its refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet...

. In the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 of August 23, 1939, Germany agreed to allow the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 to annex the three Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 of Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

, Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 and Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

. Welles condemned those actions and refused to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet rule in those countries. More than 50 countries later followed the U.S. in this position.

The Declaration was a source of contention during the subsequent alliance between the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, but Welles persistently defended it. In a discussion with the media he asserted that the USSR had maneuvered to give "an odor of legality to acts of aggression for purposes of the record".

In a 1942 memorandum describing his conversations with British Ambassador Lord Halifax
E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax
Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, , known as The Lord Irwin from 1925 until 1934 and as The Viscount Halifax from 1934 until 1944, was one of the most senior British Conservative politicians of the 1930s, during which he held several senior ministerial posts, most notably as...

, Welles stated that he would have preferred to characterize the plebiscites
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

 supporting the annexations as "faked". In April 1942 he wrote that the annexation was "not only indefensible from every moral standpoint, but likewise extraordinarily stupid." He believed any concession on the Baltic issue would set a precedent that would lead to additional border struggles in eastern Poland and elsewhere.

Postwar planning

Historians credit Welles with the design of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. FDR made Welles the key person and Welles had "a dominance over UN planning" that was "starting to embitter Hull."


A New York Times profile described Welles in 1941: "Tall and erect, never without his cane,...he has enough dignity to be Viceroy of India and...enough influence in this critical era to makes his ideas, principles, and dreams count."

He appeared on the cover of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 on August 11, 1941, and in that issue Time assessed Welles' role within Hull's Department of State:
Sumner Welles, is one of the very few career men ever to become Under Secretary of State, and as matters now stand may eventually become Secretary....This week Cordell Hull returned to Washington to resume his duties. He had been absent, in ill health, six weeks. But his return should not change matters greatly. Grave, saintly Mr. Hull, never an expert at paper-shuffling, has long left the actual administration of the Department to his chief aide, Sumner Welles. And Cordell Hull may choose not to retire. But even if Welles never becomes Secretary, he will still hold his present power: through Presidential choice, his own ability, background and natural stamina, he is the chief administrative officer of U.S. foreign policy.

Roosevelt was always close to Welles and made him the central figure in the State Department
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

, much to the chagrin of secretary Cordell Hull
Cordell Hull
Cordell Hull was an American politician from the U.S. state of Tennessee. He is best known as the longest-serving Secretary of State, holding the position for 11 years in the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during much of World War II...

, who could not be removed because he had a powerful political base.

A later report, after they were no longer working together at the State Department, regretted the fact that two men who shared "aims and goals" were at odds because of a "clash of temperament and ambitions."

The clash became more public in mid-1943, when Time reported "a flare-up of long-smoldering hates and jealousies in the State Department."


In September 1940, Welles accompanied Roosevelt to the funeral of former Speaker of the House
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, or Speaker of the House, is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives...

 William B. Bankhead
William B. Bankhead
William Brockman Bankhead was an American politician from Alabama who served as U.S. Representative and Speaker of the House. He was a Democrat. Bankhead was a prominent supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of pro-labor union legislation, thus clashing with most other southern...

 in Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville is a city located primarily in Madison County in the central part of the far northern region of the U.S. state of Alabama. Huntsville is the county seat of Madison County. The city extends west into neighboring Limestone County. Huntsville's population was 180,105 as of the 2010 Census....

. While returning to Washington by train, Welles solicited homosexual sex from two African-American Pullman
Pullman (car or coach)
In the United States, Pullman was used to refer to railroad sleeping cars which were built and operated on most U.S. railroads by the Pullman Company from 1867 to December 31, 1968....

 car porters. Cordell Hull dispatched his confidant, former ambassador William Bullitt, to provide details of the incident to Republican Senator Owen Brewster
Owen Brewster
Ralph Owen Brewster was an American politician from Maine. Brewster, a Republican, was solidly conservative...

 of Maine. Brewster in turn gave the information to journalist Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock was a journalist and received the nickname "Dean of Washington newsmen". Born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1887, he grew up with his grandparents, Emmanuel and Henrietta Morris...

, a Roosevelt critic, and to Senators Styles Bridges
Styles Bridges
Henry Styles Bridges was an American teacher, editor, and Republican Party politician from Concord, New Hampshire. He served one term as 63rd Governor of New Hampshire before a twenty-four year career in the United States Senate.Bridges was born in West Pembroke, Maine. He attended the public...

 and Burton K. Wheeler
Burton K. Wheeler
Burton Kendall Wheeler was an American politician of the Democratic Party and a United States Senator from 1923 until 1947.-Early life:...

. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

 would not release the file on Welles, Brewster threatened to initiate a Senatorial investigation into the incident. Roosevelt was embittered by the attack on his friend, believing they were ruining a good man, but he was obliged to accept Welles' resignation in 1943. FDR particularly blamed Bullitt.

In August 1943, reports that Welles had resigned as Under-Secretary of State circulated for more than a week. The press reported it as fact on August 24 despite the lack of an official announcement. Writing in the New York Times, Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock was a journalist and received the nickname "Dean of Washington newsmen". Born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1887, he grew up with his grandparents, Emmanuel and Henrietta Morris...

 said that opinion in Washington saw Welles' departure as an attempt to end factionalism in the State Department: "The long-existing struggle disorganized the department, bred Hull and Welles factions among its officials, confused those having business with the department and finally produced pressure on the President to eliminate the causes". Despite the "personal fondness" of the President and his wife for Welles, he continued, the President sided with Hull because supporting a subordinate would promote revolts in other government agencies, Hull was politically connected and popular with Congress, and the Senate, he was told, would not support Welles for Secretary of State or any other office. Krock added a cryptic explanation: "Other incidents arising made the disagreements between the two men even more personal. It was those which aroused the Senate to opposition to Mr. Welles that was reported to the President".

While Welles vacationed in Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is a town on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, Maine, United States. As of the 2010 census, its population is 5,235. Bar Harbor is a famous summer colony in the Down East region of Maine. It is home to the College of the Atlantic, Jackson Laboratory and Mount Desert Island...

, "where he held to diplomatically correct silence", 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". Others read the situation politically and blamed FDR's "appeasement of Southern Democrats." Without confirming his resignation or speaking on the record, Welles indicated he would accept any new assignment the President proposed. Finally on September 26, 1943, the President announced the resignation of Welles and the appointment of Edward R. Stettinius
Edward Stettinius, Jr.
Edward Reilly Stettinius, Jr. was United States Secretary of State under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, serving from 1944 to 1945....

 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." 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." 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".

Last 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 post-war 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 the President at length-"rightly regarded throughout the world as the paladin of the forces of liberal democracy"-without once mentioning Secretary of State Hull. 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:
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 fund-raising campaign by the United Jewish Appeal
United Jewish Appeal
The United Jewish Appeal was a Jewish philanthropic umbrella organization that existed from its creation in 1949 until it was folded into the United Jewish Communities, which was formed from the 1999 merger of United Jewish Appeal , Council of Jewish Federations and United Israel Appeal, Inc.In...

 to bring Jewish refugees from the Balkans to Palestine.

That same year he authored 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 further east. Then he suggested dividing Germany into 3 states, all of which would be included in a new European customs union. A politically divided German would be integrated into an economically cohesive Europe. He also "favoured the transfer of populations to bring ethnic distributions into conformity with international boundaries." With the public engaged in the debate over America's post-war role, The Time for Decision sold half a million copies.

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 4 radio broadcasts providing expert commentary on the San Francisco Conference
United Nations Conference on International Organization
The United Nations Conference on International Organization was a convention of delegates from 50 Allied nations that took place from 25 April 1945 to 26 June 1945 in San Francisco, California. At this convention, the delegates reviewed and rewrote the Dumbarton Oaks agreements...

, which wrote the founding document of the United Nations. He undertook a project to edit a series of volumes on foreign relations for Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Its current director is William P...


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, policed by a United Nations force. He criticized American officials whose obsession with Russia required submission to Arab and oil interests. Enforcing the decision of the U.N. 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.

Later that year, the American Jewish Congress
American Jewish Congress
The American Jewish Congress describes itself as an association of Jewish Americans organized to defend Jewish interests at home and abroad through public policy advocacy, using diplomacy, legislation, and the courts....

 presented Welles with a citation that praised his "courageous championing of the cause of Israel among the nations of the world."

Welles was a member of the American branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations
Institute of Pacific Relations
The Institute of Pacific Relations was an international NGO established in 1925 to provide a forum for discussion of problems and relations between nations of the Pacific Rim. The International Secretariat, the center of most IPR activity over the years, consisted of professional staff members who...

, an organization that fostered the study of the Far East and the Pacific. Senator Joseph McCarthy repeatedly charged that it was a Communist front.

He remained always in the public eye. For example, his departure on the Île de France
SS Ile de France
The SS Ile de France was a French ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. The ship was the first major ocean liner built after the conclusion of World War I and was the first liner ever to be decorated entirely with designs associated with the Art Deco...

 for Europe was noted even as he declined to comment on charges made by Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

 about Communists in the State Department.

He sold his estate outside Washington in 1952, and Oxon Hill Manor then became the home of a "huge collection of Americana."

In 1956, Confidential
Confidential (magazine)
Confidential was a periodical published quarterly from December 1952 to August 1953, and then bi-monthly until 1978. It was founded by Robert Harrison and is considered a pioneer in scandal, gossip, and exposé journalism. Newsweek said it featured "sin and sex with a seasoning of right wing...

, 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' explained the 1940 incident to his family as nothing more than drunken conversation with the train staff.

He died on September 24, 1961 at age 68 in Bernardsville, New Jersey
Bernardsville, New Jersey
Bernardsville is a borough and affluent suburb in Somerset County, New Jersey, United States. Bernardsville has the 10th-highest per capita income in the state. Nationwide, Bernardsville ranks 75th among the 100 highest-income places in the United States...

. He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery — also Rock Creek Church Yard and Cemetery — is an cemetery with a natural rolling landscape located at Rock Creek Church Road, NW, and Webster Street, NW, off Hawaii Avenue, NE in Washington, D.C.'s Michigan Park neighborhood, near Washington's Petworth neighborhood...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....


Winston Churchill, who made the phase "No comment" famous, cited Welles as his source for the cryptic response.

Welles' papers are held by the National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

 at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York is the first presidential library built in the United States. It was conceived and built under the direction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1939 to 1940.- History :...

 in Hyde Park, New York
Hyde Park, New York
Hyde Park is a town located in the northwest part of Dutchess County, New York, United States, just north of the city of Poughkeepsie. The town is most famous for being the hometown of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt....



  • The Time for Decision (Harper & Brothers, 1944)
  • An Intelligent American's Guide to the Peace (Dryden, 1945)
  • We Need Not Fail (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1948)
  • Seven Decisions That Shaped History (NY: Harper 1951)
  • Naboth's Vineyard: The Dominican Republic, 1844-1924 (reprint: Arno Press, 1972), ISBN 0-405-04596-4


  • Michael J. Devine, "Welles, Sumner" in American National Biography (NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), v. 23 available online
  • Gellman, Irwin F., Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), ISBN 1-929-63111-1
  • Hoopes, Townsend and Brinkley, Douglas, FDR and the Creation of the U.N. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), ISBN 0-300-08553-2
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher D., Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937-1943 (NY: Columbia University Press, 2007, available online, ISBN 0-231-14258-7
  • Welles, Benjamin, Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist: A Biography, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Series on Diplomatic and Economic History (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997), ISBN 0-312-17440-3


  • Fuentes, Norberto, La Autobiografia De Fidel Castro (Mexico D.F: Editorial Planeta, 2004), ISBN 970-749-001-2
  • Gonzalez, Servando, The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol (Spooks Books, 2002), ISBN 0-9711391-0-5
  • Kapcia, A., "The Siege of the Hotel Nacional, Cuba, 1933: A Reassessment" in Journal of Latin American Studies v. 34 (2002), 283–309
  • Lazo, Mario, Dagger in the Heart: American Policy Failures in Cuba (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968)
  • Phillips, R. Hart, Cuban Side Show, 2nd ed., (Havana: Cuban Press, 1935)
  • Phillips, R. Hart, Cuba, Island of Paradox (NY: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959)
  • Thomas, Hugh, Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom (NY: Harper & Row, 1971)

External links

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