William Pierce Rogers (June 23, 1913 – January 2, 2001) was an American diplomat and attorney. He served as United States Attorney General under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and United States Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. Despite Rogers being a close confidant of Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger overshadowed Rogers and eventually succeeded him as Secretary of State. Rogers was the last surviving member of the cabinet of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
William P. Rogers
|55th United States Secretary of State|
January 22, 1969 – September 3, 1973
|Preceded by||Dean Rusk|
|Succeeded by||Henry Kissinger|
|63rd United States Attorney General|
October 23, 1957 – January 20, 1961
|Preceded by||Herbert Brownell|
|Succeeded by||Robert F. Kennedy|
|4th United States Deputy Attorney General|
January 20, 1953 – October 23, 1957
|Preceded by||Ross L. Malone|
|Succeeded by||Lawrence Walsh|
William Pierce Rogers
June 23, 1913
Norfolk, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 2, 2001 (aged 87)|
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Education||Colgate University (BA)|
Cornell University (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Rogers was born June 23, 1913, in Norfolk, New York. After the death of his mother, the former Myra Beswick, he was raised during his teen years by his grandparents in the village of Canton, New York. He attended Colgate University, where he was initiated into the Sigma Chi fraternity. He then attended Cornell Law School, where he was an editor of the Cornell Law Quarterly. He received his LL.B. in 1937, graduating fifth in his class of 47 as a member of the Order of the Coif, passing the New York bar in the same year.
After serving about a year as an attorney for a Wall Street law firm, he became an assistant district attorney in 1938 and was appointed by District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey to a 60-man task force aimed at routing out New York City's organized crime.
After the war, Rogers joined the United States Congress as a committee counsel.
While serving on a Senate committee, Rogers examined documentation from the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of Alger Hiss at the request of Representative Richard M. Nixon. He advised Nixon that Hiss had lied and that the case against him should be pursued.
On August 17, 1948, Senator Homer S. Ferguson, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on expenditures in the executive department, stated by speech and letter that the Office of the United States Attorney General had approved its espionage investigation that had started with Elizabeth Bentley on July 28. Ferguson denied that his subcommittee "has in any way interfered with any criminal prosecution." Ferguson's letter explained that counsel William P. Rogers had consulted with the Attorney General's assistants on June 9. He stated that Rogers had "advised them of our purpose and the procedure planned to be followed, the witnesses who were to be called and the questions they would be asked." That evening, Attorney General Tom C. Clark wrote a letter that contradicted Ferguson as to whether and when Ferguson's committee had "cleared" its public hearings with him. Clark's letter stated it was "incorrect" that by June 9, 1948, Fergusons' subcommittee had told his office about its intention. Instead, the USAG had heard of the subcommittee's intentions as those public hearings started on July 28. Clark wrote, "It is difficult to say how much damage the efforts to arrive at a sound basis for prosecution in the espionage case has been done by the open hearings." The story broke in newspapers next day.
As deputy attorney general, Rogers was involved in the Little Rock Integration Crisis in the fall of 1957 of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In that capacity, he worked with Osro Cobb, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, to implement federal orders and to maintain peace in the capital city. Cobb would recall in his memoirs that Rogers called him to discuss the possibility of violence: "Our conversation was somewhat guarded. I had never recommended the use of federal troops, and Rogers asked if I thought they were necessary. I told him I hoped not. Then to my surprise he stated, 'They are on their way already.'"
Rogers served as Attorney General from 1957 to 1961. He remained a close advisor to Vice President Nixon throughout the Eisenhower administration, especially during Eisenhower's two medical crises. Rogers became attorney general upon the resignation of his superior, Herbert Brownell Jr., who had worked to implement the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. In 1958, Little Rock closed its public schools for a year to oppose further desegregation required by the U.S. government. At the time, Rogers said, "It seems inconceivable that a state or community would rather close its public schools than comply with decisions of the Supreme Court."
He returned to his law practice, now renamed to Rogers & Wells, where he worked until his early eighties. He played an important role in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan a 1964 case before the Supreme Court.
He succeeded Dean Rusk as Secretary of State in the Nixon administration from January 22, 1969, to September 3, 1973. Nixon had long distrusted the State Department, whom he had accused under the Truman administration of being staffed with liberal diplomats who were insufficiently anti-communist and who were responsible for the "loss of China" in 1949. Given his dislike of the State Department, Nixon when he came into office in 1969 wanted to conduct his foreign policy via the National Security Council in a bid to marginalize the State Department.
Nixon had selected an ambitious political science professor from Harvard, Henry Kissinger, to be his national security adviser who soon emerged as his main adviser on foreign affairs. Nixon selected Rogers to be the secretary of state because he knew nothing of foreign affairs and was unlikely to assert the interests of the State Department. On Nixon's Inauguration Day, 20 January 1969, Rogers was handed a lengthy volume containing a summary of the world's major issues written by the State Department's leading experts in order to brief him for his new job, leading him to remark in surprise: "You don't expect me to read all this stuff, do you?" Rogers's ignorance of foreign policy issues and his unwillingness to assert the interests of his department duly led to the State Department pushed to the sidelines under his stewardship with the major decisions taken by Kissinger with no input or even the knowledge of Rogers.
Kissinger later said of Rogers, "Few secretaries of state can have been selected because of their president's confidence in their ignorance of foreign policy."
In February 1969, Nixon began to discuss plans to bomb the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese bases just over the border in Cambodia, which Rogers felt was unwise, warning that such an bombing offensive might damage the peace talks in Paris. On 16 March 1969, Rogers attended a meeting at the White House where Nixon discussed Operation Menu, the plans to bomb Cambodia in secret. Though the State Department's experts stated that the main source of weapons for the Viet Cong as the Ho Chi Minh Trail coming down from North Vietnam via Laos, not Cambodia, Rogers had not read their assessments. At the 16 March meeting, Rogers offered the most tepid opposition to the plan to bomb Cambodia, which began the next day.
One of his notable aims was to initiate efforts at a lasting peace in the Arab–Israeli conflict by the so-called Rogers Plan on 3 December 1969. Throughout his tenure, however, his influence was curtailed by Nixon's determination to handle critical foreign policy strategy and execution directly from the White House through his national security adviser Henry Kissinger.
On the night of 21 February 1970, Kissinger first met in secret with the North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho in a house in Paris suburb, opening a new set of talks that were independent of the official peace talks in Paris. Kissinger only first informed Rogers of the secret talks in Paris parallel to the official talks in February 1971, a year later. On 23 March 1970, Rogers told the press that the United States had the utmost respect for the "neutrality, sovereignty and independence" of Cambodia, stating categorically there no plans to invade Cambodia. In the same press conference, Rogers stated: "We don't anticipate that any request will be made" for help from the new Lon Nol government. Unknown to him, Nixon and Kissinger were already discussing plans to invade Cambodia. On 30 April 1970, the United States invaded Cambodia.
Rogers led the investigation into the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The Rogers Commission was the first investigation to criticize NASA management for its role in negligence of safety in the Space Shuttle program. Among the more famous members of Rogers's panel were astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, Air Force general Donald Kutyna, and physicist Richard Feynman.
Rogers worked at his law firm, now renamed Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells after a 1999 merger, in its Washington office until several months before his death.
Rogers married Adele Langston (August 15, 1911 – May 27, 2001), a fellow law student whom he had met at Cornell. They had four children.
In 2001, the Rogers family donated to Cornell Law Library materials to reflect the lives of William and Adele Rogers, mostly from 1969 to 1973.
William P. Rogers, a suave and well-connected Republican lawyer who was secretary of state under President Richard M. Nixon and attorney general in the Eisenhower administration, died on Tuesday in Bethesda, Md. He was 87. Mr. Rogers lived in Bethesda and worked in the Washington office of the law firm of Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells, where he was senior partner, until becoming ill several months ago. He suffered from congestive heart failure, his family said.
Shortly before he died, I interviewed William Rogers. He was the deputy attorney general when the Rosenbergs were executed. I guess, I said to him, the government got what it wanted: the Rosenbergs were indicted, convicted and executed. No, he replied, the goal wasn't to kill the couple. The strategy was to leverage the death sentence imposed on Ethel to wring a full confession from Julius — in hopes that Ethel's motherly instincts would trump unconditional loyalty to a noble but discredited cause.