Appointed by President Harry S Truman
James Francis Byrnes was secretary of state from July 3, 1945, to January 7, 1947. Although his reputation was overshadowed by his successors, George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson, Byrnes presided at Foggy Bottom during the critical moment of transition from World War II to the Cold War. Few people, if anyone, could have felicitously handled those opening months of the Cold War. His job would not have been easy in the best of times, but at the end of the European war, with the war against Japan still ongoing and relations between the Big Three entering a delicate new stage, Byrnes faced a daunting task.
Byrnes was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 2, 1879. His father, also James Francis Byrnes, had died of tuberculosis seven weeks before the birth of his namesake. The senior Byrnes was descended from immigrants fleeing an Ireland gripped by the potato famine. His wife, Elizabeth McSweeney Byrnes, was from an Irish Catholic family also.
After the death of her husband and the birth of her son, Elizabeth Byrnes opened a dressmaking shop in her home and through hard work and skill raised her son and daughter Lenore and provided a home for her invalid mother, her sister, and her sister's son. Although money was tight at times, the family did not live in poverty.
After completing seventh grade, Byrnes quit parochial school and in 1896 landed a full-time job as an office boy for an old Charleston law firm. In what became a lifelong pattern, Byrnes was befriended by a senior partner of the firm, Judge Benjamin H. Rutledge, an older, more powerful man who became Byrnes's first patron. The judge supervised a course of reading for Byrnes that provided him with a better education than his parochial school could offer. During the same time, Byrnes learned shorthand at the insistence of his mother. The skill came in handy when Byrnes won first place in a shorthand competition held by the second judicial district in upstate South Carolina to fill the court stenographer position.
Byrnes moved to Aiken, which housed the office of district judge and his new boss, Judge James H. Aldrich. Like Rutledge, Aldrich befriended Byrnes, who stud-