Skip to main content

Dean Gooderham Acheson papers

Call Number: MS 1087

Scope and Contents

The Dean Acheson Papers are a rich source of information on the policies, thoughts, and accomplishments of the secretary of state who guided American foreign policy from 1948 to 1953. The papers, which span the period from 1898 to 1989, are especially full for the period after Acheson left public office in 1953 until his death in 1971. Included in the correspondence, speech and lecture files, manuscripts of books and articles, and memoranda, which compose the papers, are examinations of such major topics of U.S. foreign policy as Korea; NATO; post-war relations with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Germany; tensions in the Middle East; the war in Vietnam; and the U.S. posture towards Rhodesia and South Africa. Evaluations of the Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations figure prominently in the papers, and Acheson's role as a member of the Yale Corporation is thoroughly documented. Major correspondents include personal friends and professional colleagues.

Acheson considered these papers to be his private papers, as opposed to the papers he created professionally as a lawyer and publicly as a civil servant. Acheson's legal files remain with the firm of Covington & Burling. Many of Acheson's official papers are now in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Acheson's son, David C. Acheson, donated these private papers to Yale University between 1981 and 1983.

This finding aid was edited slightly in 2003 when being converted to an on-line format.


  • 1898-1989


Conditions Governing Access

Some materials in Box 9, 34, and 68 are restricted pending review by the federal government. Box 70 is restricted to research until January 1, 2038 as established by Yale Corporation regulations.

The entire collection is available on microfilm, with the exception of Box 56 and Box 70 from the main accession and Accessions 1983-M-005, 1986-M-009, 1989-M-044, 1991-M-065, 2003-M-050, 2003-M-075, 2007-M-056, and 2011-M-070. Patrons must use HM 258 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

The collection, with the exception of Box 26, folders 332-337, Box 56 and Box 70 from the main accession and Accessions 1983-M-005, 1986-M-009, 1989-M-044, 1991-M-065, 2003-M-050, 2003-M-075, 2007-M-056, 2011-M-070, and 2020-M-0015, is available on microfilm from Scholarly Resources, Wilmington, Delaware. Selected correspondence is reproduced in Among Friends, edited by David Acheson and David McClellan, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Dean Gooderham Acheson has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of David C. Acheson, 1981-1988. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Podoloff, 1984. Gift of the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 1991. Gift of Michael Janeway, 2003, 2004. Gift of Covington & Burling, 2003. Gift of Darcy Troy Pollack and Jeffrey Pollack, 2007. Gift of Brian Hughes and Andrew Drabkin, 2011. Gift of Michelle Jacques, 2019.


Arranged in four series and nine additions: I. General Correspondence, 1910-1971. II. Correspondence Concerning Speeches and Writings, 1936-1972. III. Speeches and Writings, 1909-1978. IV. Miscellaneous Files, ca. 1898-1972.

Associated Materials

Dean Acheson's public papers are housed in the Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.


42.83 Linear Feet (128 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers include correspondence, writings, speeches, memoranda, and photographs, documenting Dean Acheson's life after leaving the U.S. State Department in 1953. Also documented is his work as a member of the Yale Corporation and his long friendship with Felix Frankfurter, Archibald MacLeish, and others. The correspondence and memoranda contain Acheson's views on many contemporary issues in American foreign policy such as Korea, the Middle East, NATO, Germany, the war in Vietnam, and Rhodesia and South Africa. The papers also include Acheson's later reflections on his years in public life and assessments of the U.S. government under the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Acheson's numerous correspondents include personal friends, American and foreign government officials, journalists, and a wide range of other persons in public life. The papers also include manuscripts, notes, and reviews for several of Acheson's books.

Biographical / Historical

Dean Gooderham Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 11, 1893, to Edward Campion and Eleanor Gertrude Gooderham Acheson. His father was the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut. Acheson graduated from the Groton School in 1911 and entered Yale University, where he was in the same class (Y1915) with Archibald MacLeish. Acheson would hold his college ties dear, and in later years he would serve as a member of the Yale Corporation and a confidant of President A. Whitney Griswold.

From New Haven, Acheson moved to the challenging intellectual climate of the Harvard Law School. Here he came under the influence of Felix Frankfurter. He received his law degree in 1918 and then worked for two years as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. In 1921, Acheson joined the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Acheson would continue to be affiliated with the law firm, or its successors Covington, Burling and Rublee, and Covington, Burling, Acheson and Shorb for the remainder of his life.

In May 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Acheson to the post of under secretary of the Treasury. Acheson resigned five months later following a disagreement over Roosvelt's gold-purchasing program and resumed his Washington law practice.

Acheson returned to government service in 1941 as assistant secretary of state for economic policy. In this position he helped manage the Lend-Lease program and he was instrumental in the development of several postwar institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Bretton Woods agreement, which led to the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank).

From 1945 to 1947, Acheson held the post of under secretary, often functioning as the acting secretary of state for the absent James Byrnes. Acheson became a trusted advisor to President Truman and in 1949, following a short term away from the State Department, President Truman asked Acheson to be his secretary of state, replacing George C. Marshall. In this post war period, Acheson became the principal architect of United States' Cold War foreign policy. He helped to forge an alliance between America and Western Europe to oppose the Soviet Union and the expansion of Communism.

Acheson feared that the Soviet Union would be able to expand its sphere of influence over the Middle East, and in 1947 he orchestrated military and economic aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey under what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. In that same year, he outlined the main points of the Marshall Plan for war-ravaged Europe. Forecasting that political and social upheaval might result if conditions did not improve quickly, Acheson advocated a massive American economic aid package to stabilize and rehabilitate seventeen western and southern European nations.

Acheson also believed that collective defense would be necessary to stop further Soviet advances, and one of his first accomplishments as secretary of state was to facilitate the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, Acheson immediately labeled this an act of aggression and moved swiftly to secure a United Nations Security Council emergency session resolution condemning the North Korean attack. For the first time an international organization sanctioned a military response to halt an infringement on another country's sovereignty, and American troops, under UN authority and General Douglas MacArthur's direction, entered combat in Korea. War on the Korean peninsula would command the attention of Truman and his advisors for the duration of the administration.

Acheson was a controversial government official and a lighting rod for criticism. During his time in the State Department, the governments in countries in Eastern Europe and China became Communist. Acheson was accused of being "soft on communism." Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy declared that the State Department was harboring communists, and Acheson's refusal to testify against Alger Hiss brought calls for his resignation.

After leaving public office, Acheson continued to voice his opinions on foreign policy through his lectures and writing. He gamely played the role of elder statesman and would serve as an unofficial advisor to the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. His book, Present at the Creation,won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1917, Acheson had married Alice Stanley. They had three children: Jane Stanley (later wife of Dudley B. W. Brown), David Campion (later husband of Patricia Castles), and Mary Campion (later wife of William P. Bundy). Acheson died suddenly from a stroke at the age of seventy-eight on October 12, 1971.

Guide to the Dean Gooderham Acheson Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan
January 1984
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours