Tag Archives: Nuremberg trial

Jackson List: Firing a Cabinet Officer Face-to-Face (1945)

In early 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Robert H. Jackson, then the Solicitor General of the United States, to serve as U.S. Attorney General, a member of the President’s Cabinet.  President Roosevelt then appointed former U.S. circuit court judge Francis Biddle to succeed Jackson as Solicitor General.

Eighteen months later, Roosevelt appointed Jackson to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.  At that time, the President, at Jackson’s urging, promoted Biddle to succeed Jackson as Attorney General.

Attorney General Biddle served in Roosevelt’s Cabinet for the next four years—for all of the remainder of his presidency, and for nearly the entire period of U.S. involvement in World War II.

On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died suddenly.  Harry S. Truman became the 33rd president of the U.S.  Within two weeks, the new president recruited Justice Jackson to serve as U.S. chief of counsel for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals—the appointment that became Jackson’s position as U.S. chief prosecutor at Nuremberg.

President Truman also decided to appoint his own Cabinet officers.  In the case of Attorney General Biddle, however, Truman chose not to communicate his wishes directly.  The President had his press secretary, Stephen Early, telephone Biddle on May 16, 1945, to request his resignation.

Attorney General Biddle did not appreciate the President’s effort to fire him by emissary.  So after speaking to Early, Biddle called the White House and requested a meeting with President Truman.

They met later that morning.  As the story soon emerged in the press, Biddle told Truman that he had, immediately after Roosevelt’s death, submitted his letter of resignation for the President’s acceptance if that was his preference.  Biddle added that he quite appreciated that a president would want to have his own friends, people with whom the president was comfortable—and Biddle had reason to think that this was not Truman’s view of him—in his Cabinet.

“But,” Biddle added, “the relation between the President and his Cabinet is such that if you want to accept my resignation, it seems to me that you should tell me so yourself, not detail it to a secretary.”

President Truman, reportedly embarrassed, agreed.  He told Biddle, to his face, that he was accepting his resignation.

According to Biddle’s later memoir, the President “looked relieved; and I got up, walked over to him, and touched his shoulder.  ‘You see,’ I said, ‘it’s not so hard.’”

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This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

Jackson List: Time for a New U.S. Secretary of State (1944)

In late November 1944, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull, nearly twelve years in office, tendered his resignation to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Secretary Hull, age 73, did not wish to leave office before World War II was won, but the reality of his recurring, worsening problems with pulmonary sarcoidosis and strong advice from his doctors dictated his decision.

On Sunday, November 26, President Roosevelt visited Secretary Hull at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for more than a month, for a long conversation.

The following day, the President held a news conference to announce Hull’s resignation.  The White House then released the texts of the letters of resignation and reluctant acceptance that Hull and the President had exchanged.

Later that day, the President nominated the Under Secretary of State, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., age 44, who had been Acting Secretary in Hull’s absence, to succeed him.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously and favorably reported Stettinius’s nomination to the full Senate on November 29.

The next day, the Senate confirmed Stettinius by roll call vote, 67 to 1.  Notified of his confirmation, Stettinius travelled promptly to Bethesda to pay his respects to Secretary Hull.

Secretary Stettinius signed his commission and took his oath of office on Friday, December 1, 1944.  The ceremony occurred in the Office of the Secretary of State, in the State, War, and Navy Building (today the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) next to the White House.

At Stettinius’s request, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson administered the oath.

At the conclusion of the oath, after Stettinius said “I do,” Jackson asked “So help you God?,” prompting Stettinius to respond “So help me God.”

Secretary Hull was of course unable to attend the ceremony.  It was attended by other senior officials, including General George C. Marshall, Jr., the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and Senator Harry F. Byrd (D.-VA).  Stettinius’s wife and children attended, as did Jackson’s wife Irene.

The ceremony was well-lit and photographed by still and newsreel photographers.  For newsreel film of the occasion, including Justice Jackson administering the oath and then he and Secretary Stettinius signing the commission, click here:

http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675037150_Edward-R-Stettinius_Secretory-of-States_swear-in_Justice-Jackson_General-George-C-Marshall

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Coincidentally, December 1, 1944, was also the date on which Alfred A. Knopf published Harvard Law School professor Sheldon Glueck’s book War Criminals: Their Prosecution & Punishment (jacket price $3.00).

In the months ahead, Secretary Stettinius and Justice Jackson each worked on the challenges of prosecuting war criminals.  Indeed, Professor Glueck became one of Jackson’s consultants in his work as U.S. chief prosecutor at Nuremberg of Nazi war criminals.

The enormity of that undertaking might have been present, at least elliptically, when Stettinius stated to the cameras on December 1, 1944, that building world peace following the war would “need active participation and support of all….”

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This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

 

Jackson List: Alma Soller McLay (1920-2017), Nuremberger

This post, including two December 1945 photographs of Alma Soller in Nuremberg, now is on the Jackson List archive site in PDF file form.