James F. Byrnes

James F. Byrnes

James Byrnes was born in Charleston on 2nd May 1879. After a brief formal schooling, Byrnes became a court reporter while studying law in his spare time.

Byrnes was admitted to the bar in 1903 and after moving to South Carolina edited the Journal and Review. A member of the Democratic Party he served in the House of Representatives (1911-25) and the Senate (1931-41). Initially Byrnes supported the New Deal but later joined the Democratic opposition.

In 1941 Byrnes was appointed to the Supreme Court but resigned on 3rd October 1942 to head the new Office of Economic Stabilization (OES). He moved to the new post as head of War Mobilization in April 1943.

Franklin D. Roosevelt considered Byrnes as his running-mate in the 1944 presidential election but eventually chose Harry S. Truman instead. He was also considered as the replacement of Cordell Hull as Secretary of State but after objections from Harry Hopkins, the post went to Edward Stettinus instead.

When Harry S. Truman became president he appointed Byrnes as his Secretary of State. In this role he was a strong advocate of the use of the atom bomb on Japan and when it was suggested that the Japanese government should be warned before use, he argued: "If the Japanese were told that the bomb would be used on a given locality, they might bring our boys who were prisoners of war to that area."

After the war Byrnes became associated with the campaign against communism. This upset liberals in Washington who still believed it was possible to develop good relations with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. In September 1946 he joined with James Forrestal to get Henry Wallace sacked after he made a speech calling for an end to the Cold War.

As Secretary of State, Byrnes on behalf of the United States completed peace treaties with Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland before being replaced by General George Marshall as Secretary of State in January 1947.

Byrnes who was governor of South Carolina (1951-55) published his autobiography All in One Lifetime (1958). James Byrnes died in 1972.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) James F. Byrnes visited the Philippines in 1936.

A large Congressional party, headed by Vice President Garner, had gone to Manila to witness the inauguration of Manuel Quezon as the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth. There, Americans in all walks of life had expressed to us their concern over the increasing indications of Japan's aggressive intentions. Therefore, when we stopped in Japan I made a special effort to inquire into Japanese naval appropriations and naval construction. A study of the Japanese budget for 1936 readily revealed that at least half of the total was devoted to the army and navy. Members of our Embassy staff were convinced that the published budget disclosed only part of the naval appropriations. The published figures were alarming enough in themselves and when we returned to this country I urged the President to seek means for acquiring still more accurate estimates of Japan's naval strength.

(2) James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly (1947)

In August 1940, General Marshall appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee to testify on a defense appropriation bill. During a recess, he told me that his greatest difficulty was his inability to promote younger officers of unusual ability. Possession of such authority, he said, was essential to the proper reorganization of the Army. He told me he had requested Chairman May, of the House Military Affairs Committee, to introduce the necessary legislation some months before but had been unable to get action on it.

His needs were so impressive that I requested him to have one of his technicians draft an amendment that would accomplish the purpose he desired and stated I would try to help him. Under the rules of the Senate, the amendment could not be added to an appropriation bill in committee but when the bill was reported to the floor, I offered an amendment, adopted without objection, providing that "In time of war or national emergency determined by the President, any officer of the Regular Army may be appointed to higher temporary grade without vacating his permanent appointment."

When we met in conference with the members of the House Appropriations Committee, I explained the urgency of the proposal and they accepted it. On September 9 it became law and under its provisions the War Department began the task of promoting over the heads of officers of high rank the younger officers who thereafter led our armies to victory. Before the end of the year, 4,088 of these promotions were made. Among the officers advanced were men like General Eisenhower, General George C. Kenney, General Carl A. Spaatz, General Mark Clark and the late General George S. Patton. Elsenhower was promoted over 366 senior officers.

(3) James F. Byrnes, was a strong advocate in the Senate of financial support for the Allies in their fight against Nazi Germany. In his autobiography he explained the Lend-Lease Act.

Shortly before Christmas, 1940, President Roosevelt disclosed at a press conference his plan "to eliminate the dollar sign" from our aid to those fighting against Hitler. The idea was elaborated still further by the President when he appeared before the new Congress on January 8, 1941, to deliver his message on The State of the Union. Meanwhile, work had begun on drafting legislation to put the plan into action. A draft prepared by Oscar S. Cox, then an assistant to the general counsel of the Treasury, was used as a basis for soliciting advice and suggestions from many people.

On January 10, the bill was introduced simultaneously in the Senate and House by Senator Alben W. Barkley and Representative John W. McCormack, the majority leaders. In the House the symbolic number, H.R. 1776, was attached to what finally became, on March 11, the Lend-Lease Act.

(4) James F. Byrnes, as Secretary of State, attended the Yalta Conference on 4th February, 1945.

In the fall of 1944 the Soviet Union and the Provisional Government of France had entered into a treaty of friendship. It was immediately obvious at Yalta, however, that the treaty and the friendly words exchanged over it by the diplomats had not changed in any degree Marshal Stalin's opinion on the contribution of France to the war. He thought France should play little part in the control of Germany, and stated that Yugoslavia and Poland were more entitled to consideration than France.

When Roosevelt and Churchill proposed that France be allotted a zone of occupation, Stalin agreed. But it was clear he agreed only because the French zone was to be taken out of the territory allotted to the United States and the United Kingdom. And he especially opposed giving France a representative on the Allied Control Council for Germany. He undoubtedly concurred in the opinion expressed to the President by Mr. Molotov that this should be done "only as a kindness to France and not because she is entitled to it."

"I am in favor of France being given a zone," Stalin declared, "but I cannot forget that in this war France opened the gates to the enemy." He maintained it would create difficulties to give France a zone of occupation and a representative on the Allied Control Council and refuse the same treatment to others who had fought more than France. He said France would soon demand that de Gaulle attend the Big Three's Conferences.

Churchill argued strongly in favor of France's being represented on the Council. He said the British public would not understand if questions affecting France and the French zone were settled without her participation in the discussion. It did not follow, as Stalin had suggested, that France would' demand de Gaulle's participation in the conferences of the Big Three, he added. And, in his best humor, Mr. Churchill said the conference was "a very exclusive club, the entrance fee being at least five million soldiers or the equivalent."

(5) Henry Wallace, speech in New York (12th September, 1946)

I plead for an America vigorously dedicated to peace - just as I plead for opportunities for the next generation throughout the world to enjoy the abundance which now, more than ever before, is the birthright of men.

To achieve lasting peace, we must study in detail just how the Russian character was formed - by invasions of Tarters, Mongols, Germans, Poles, Swedes, and French; by the intervention of the British, French and Americans in Russian affairs from 1919 to 1921. Add to all this the tremendous emotional power with Marxism and Leninism gives to the Russian leaders - and then we can realize that we are reckoning with a force which cannot be handled successfully by a "Get tough with Russia" policy. "Getting tough" never bought anything real and lasting - whether for schoolyard bullies or businessmen or world powers. The tougher we get, the tougher the Russians will get.

We must not let our Russian policy be guided or influenced by those inside or outside the United States who want war with Russia.

(6) James F. Byrnes found himself in conflict over foreign policy over the left-wing views of Henry Wallace.

My hope for united support of our foreign policies received a serious setback when, on September 12, 1946, while I was in Paris, Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace made a speech at Madison Square Garden contending that the policy which had been approved by the President, and carried out by me, was too harsh to the Soviet Union and that a more conciliatory approach to them was necessary. I was not greatly surprised by the Secretary's action. Previously, he had made a statement to the New York Times referring to our negotiations with Iceland for the use of the airfield we had built there. His statement was effectively used by the Communists in Iceland and it had obstructed the efforts of the State Department to secure an agreement important to the defense of this hemisphere.

In Paris, the importance of Mr. Wallace's Madison Square Garden speech was magnified in the minds of the representatives of foreign governments by newspaper reports quoting President Truman as saying at a press conference that he approved the Wallace speech in its entirety. This report stimulated widespread discussion among the governmental representatives attending the peace conference; it inspired inquiries to our representatives in various capitals. Foreign Ministers wondered whether in my various public statements I had correctly presented American policy.

(7) James F. Byrnes, speech, 6th September 1946.

The United States does not feel that it can deny to France, which has been invaded three times by Germany in 70 years, its claim to the Saar territory, whose economy has long been closely linked with France. Of course, if the Saar territory is integrated with France she should readjust her reparation claims against Germany.

Except as here indicated, the United States will not support any encroachment on territory which is indisputably German or any division of Germany which is not genuinely desired by the people concerned. So far as the United States is aware the people of the Ruhr and the Rhineland desire to remain united with the rest of Germany. And the United States is not going to oppose their desire.

While the people of the Ruhr were the last to succumb to Nazism, without the resources of the Ruhr Nazism could never have threatened the world. Never again must those resources be used for destructive purposes. They must be used to rebuild a free, peaceful Germany and a free, peaceful Europe.

The United States will favour such control over the whole of Germany, including the Ruhr and the Rhineland, as may be necessary for security purposes. It will help to enforce those controls. But it will not favour any controls that would subject the Ruhr and the Rhineland to political domination or manipulation of outside powers.

The United States cannot relieve Germany from the hardships inflicted by the war her leaders started. But the United States has no desire to increase those hardships or to deny the German people an opportunity to work their way out of those hardships so long as they respect human freedom and cling to the paths of peace. The American people want to return the government of Germany to the German people. The American people want to help the German people to win their way back to an honourable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world.

(8) James F. Byrnes, letter to Harry S. Truman, after the speech by Henry Wallace on 12th September 1946.

If it is not possible for you, for any reason, to keep Mr. Wallace, as a member of your Cabinet, from speaking on foreign affairs it would be a grave mistake from every point of view for me to continue in office, even temporarily. Therefore, if it is not completely clear in your own mind that Mr. Wallace should be asked to refrain from criticizing the foreign policy of the United States while he is a member of your Cabinet, I must ask you to accept my resignation immediately. At this critical time, whoever is Secretary of State must be known to have the undivided support of your administration and, so far as possible, of the Congress.

I shall, of course, remain here until my successor arrives. In case you are not ready to make that appointment promptly, you can, of course, appoint someone other than the Secretary of State to head the United States delegation at the Peace Conference.

(9) Dwight D. Eisenhower, diary entry (24th July, 1953)

A few days ago I had luncheon with Governor Byrnes of South Carolina, my great friend, a man in whose company I always find a great deal for enjoyment.

He came to talk to me about the possibility of a supreme court ruling that would abolish segregation in public schools of the country. He is very fearful of the consequences in the South. He did not dwell long upon the possibility of riots, resultant ill feeling, and the like. He merely expressed very seriously the opinion that a number of states would immediately cease support for public schools.

During the course of this conversation, the governor brought out several times that the South no longer finds any great problem in dealing with adult Negroes. They are frightened at putting the children together. The governor was obviously afraid that I would be carried away by the hope of capturing the Negro vote in this country, and as a consequence take a stand on the question that would forever defeat any possibility of developing a real Republican or "opposition" party in the South.

I told him that while I was not going to give in advance my attitude toward a supreme court opinion that I had not even seen and so could not know in what terms it would be couched, that my convictions would not be formed by political expediency. He is well aware of my belief that improvement in race relations is one of those things that will be healthy and sound only if it starts locally. I do not believe that prejudices, even palpably unjustified prejudices, will succumb to compulsion. Consequently, I believe that federal law imposed upon our states in such a way as to bring about a conflict of the police powers of the states and of the nation, would set back the cause of progress in race relations for a long, long time.

(10) James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly (1947)

This generation of Americans has learned that the United States is a principal trustee of the world's peace and freedom. What the United States says and does affects the lives of people in the most remote areas of this earth. The words and deeds of a member of the Cabinet or of the Congress often reaches into more homes than those of many Kings and Presidents. Even Generalissimo Stalin, in his last talks with Harry Hopkins, acknowledged the world-wide interests and responsibilities of the United States and declared that our country has more reason to be a world power than any other.

Leadership and its inherent responsibilities we have accepted with reluctance-reluctance that two costly wars have not wholly overcome. But without our initiative, the United Nations probably would not have been created to promote and maintain international peace and security. Without our determined effort, it is doubtful whether ravages of war can be removed quickly enough to give the United Nations a chance to work.

The responsibilities that clearly are ours will be discharged in the years ahead only if we develop in international affairs a policy that truly reflects the will of our people. I am convinced that to build a people's foreign policy we must pursue three primary objectives.