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William Rogers

lawyer, Attorney General, Secretary of State

William Rogers

William Pierce Rogers was born in Norfolk, New York, on June 23, 1913, son of Harrison Alexander and Myra (Beswick) Rogers. His mother died when he was 13, after which he lived with his grandparents in Canton, New York. He graduated first in his high school class and won a scholarship to Colgate University, from which he graduated in 1934. He went on earn a law degree from Cornell University in 1937, and was admitted to the New York Bar that same year.

Rogers' first legal job was as a prosecutor in New York City, New York, under Thomas E. Dewey, in which capacity he worked from 1938 to 1942. He left the District Attorney's office to join the U.S. Navy, and was subsequently stationed aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid, which took part in the invasion of Okinawa. He was discharged as a Lieutenant Commander in 1946.

Upon his return to civilian life, Rogers rejoined the New York district attorney's office, by then headed by Frank Hogan. In 1947 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program between 1947 and 1948, and then as Chief Counsel to the Senate Investigations Subcommittee of the Executive Expenditures Committee. It was during this time that he first met Richard Nixon (then a member of the House of Representatives), with whom he formed a friendship. He was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1950, after which he practiced law in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Rogers became involved in national politics at the Republican National Convention in 1952, where he helped persuade the credentials committee that Dwight Eisenhower delegates from Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and Florida, rather than those loyal to Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, should be seated. He also played a major part in helping Richard Nixon keep his place on the ticket. President Dwight Eisenhower rewarded Rogers by naming him Deputy Attorney General. On November 8, 1957, he succeeded Herbert Brownell as Attorney General, and served in that capacity through the end of Eisenhower's term. As Attorney General he played a principal role in drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and in establishing the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

President Eisenhower holds the Bible as William Rogers is sworn in as Attorney General by Chief Justic Earl Warren
Rogers being sworn in as Attorney General

Between 1961 and 1968, Rogers returned to private practice but remained involved in public service: as an alternate representative of the U.S. delegation to the 20th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in 1965, on the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee for Southwest Africa in 1967, and as a member of the President's National Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice from 1965 to 1967.

On January 22, 1969, Rogers became Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. Although the two men were friends, Nixon tended to rely more on National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger for foreign policy matters and Rogers found himself in the background for much of his time in office. While Rogers was involved in early discussions about United States policy toward China, it was Kissinger who went to Beijing to arrange details of Nixon's trip to China. Rogers was similarly left out of almost all negotiations and decisions involving U.S. involvement in Indochina. He was "allowed" to try brokering peace in the Middle East, but had very little success. Soon after beginning his second term, Nixon, through Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, asked Rogers to resign, which he did on September 3, 1973. Nixon smoothed relations somewhat by awarding Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 15, 1973.

Rogers spent most of the rest of his life as a senior partner in the law firm of Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells. He returned to public service briefly as head of a special commission that investigated the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He died in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 2, 2001, and was interred atArlington National Cemetery.


New York Times

See Also

Battle of Okinawa
Richard Nixon
Robert A. Taft
President Dwight Eisenhower
Civil Rights Act of 1957

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This page was last updated on 01/02/2019.