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

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview
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CYRUS VANCE (1917-2002)

Served 1977-1980

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter


Twentieth-century American statesmen—indeed, statesmen in any century or nation—share common attributes that distinguish them as benefactors of their countries and of their world. Diplomatic and negotiating skills lead the list of talents necessary to such men. Other important qualities include modest self-effacement, a large dose of nonpartisanship in matters of state, and an optimistic faith in the ability of even the most intransigent belligerents to find some common ground based on mutual self-interest. Most of all, statesmen possess an abiding hope that, with reason, guidance, and dogged perseverance, political leaders can be shown a path from hostile bloodletting to peaceful accommodation. The United States has been blessed with a handful of such men in the last century. Among them, there is no better example than Cyrus Vance, a man who dedicated his life to a belief in negotiated settlements and earned the title “the Ultimate Troubleshooter” from Strobe Talbott.

Cyrus Vance was born the second son to Amy Roberts and John Vance in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on April 27, 1917. In the next year, the family moved to Bronxville, New York, so that John could commute to his lucrative insurance business in Manhattan. Cyrus was never to know his father beyond his seventh year, when the elder Vance died unexpectedly. In grief, the family traveled to Switzerland for a year where Cyrus and his brother learned French at the Institute Sillig in Vevey.

John Vance's death threw the burden of raising two sons on Amy Vance. Vance's mother was a thoughtful woman who inculcated a sense of moral values to her children. These characteristics transferred to her son. To fill part of the paternal void, Cyrus turned to his uncle, the famed Constitutional lawyer and previous ambassa-dor to England, John W. Davis. In 1924, Davis became a candidate for president at the Democratic convention that had to cast 105 ballots before obtaining a majority. As Vance's mentor, Davis quizzed the young man on points of law on Sundays when Cyrus went to his home.


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