American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview

WILLIAM P. ROGERS (1913-2001)

Served 1969-1973

Appointed by President Richard M. Nixon

Republican

William Pierce Rogers, the 55th secretary of state of the United States, had the misfortune of serving in the cabinet during the first term of President Richard M. Nixon. Because of the actions of Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, Rogers experienced an extremely frustrating and disappointing four-and-one-half years in office. The prominent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis, writing in 1982, referred to Rogers as “little-remembered” in his role of secretary of state.

Rogers was born in the small upstate New York town of Norfolk on June 23, 1913, the son of Harrison A. Rogers and Myra Beswick Rogers. When his mother died when he was 13, he moved to the nearby town of Canton, New York, to live with his grandparents. He graduated from Canton High School and then earned a B.A. degree from Colgate University in 1934, followed by a law degree from Cornell University in 1937. For the next year he worked for a Wall Street law firm, followed by four years as an assistant district attorney under Thomas E. Dewey, the district attorney for New York County and later the Republican presidential candidate in 1948.

In 1942, in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Rogers entered the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant junior grade. During his wartime service he served on the aircraft carrier Intrepidduring the invasion of Okinawa. When he left the Navy in January 1946, he returned to the New York County district attorney's office, where he stayed until moving in April 1947 to Washington as counsel, and later chief counsel, of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (later the Senate Permanent Investigating Committee). During this period, he and Representative Richard M. Nixon of California became friends. Rogers worked with the committee in the effort to prosecute the “five-percenters” who had fixed federal contracts for private firms and also advised Nixon to accept Whittaker Chambers' accusations against Alger Hiss, a State Department official.

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