Dear Boss:

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Dean Acheson, who served as Secretary of State under Harry S Truman from 1949 to 1953, kept up a lively and unusual correspondence with the former President after the two men left office. Acheson's letters were lively because their author was a witty and elegant writer; they were unusual because he was no sycophant. The letters reflect Acheson s respect and affection for his chief, along with a readiness to assert his own views that mixed inquiry, mischief, advice, and admonition, befitting a correspondence between two retired statesmen in a democracy. This article is excerpted from Among Friends: The Personal Letters of Dean Acheson, edited by David S. McLellan and by Acheson’s son, David C. Acheson, soon to be published by Dodd, Mead & Co.

February 10, 1953

You and Mrs. Truman have been constantly in our thoughts these last three weeks. We see glimpses of you in papers weeks old and read fragmentary reports of you. But you are more vivid in our minds. We have spoken often of that last poignant day together and shall never forget the sight of you on the back platform as the train grew smaller and smaller down the track. We wish that you would both escape to the peace and privacy for a while of a place like this enchanted and blessed isle [Antigua] where the sea and air and all around us combine to make rest and relaxation inevitable and delightful. We read and sleep and swim—Alice [Acheson’s wife] paints—we keep the world and its doings away from us. But we talk about the great epoch in which you permitted us to play a part—and which now seems ended in favor of God knows what.

May 28,1953

The well known envelope with your name in the corner and your handwriting on it lying on our hall table always quickens my heart. Yesterday’s letter was no exception. … What you say about the Great General is frighteningly true. I had a letter from a friend who writes: “I am anxious and worried increasingly from day to day as that fumbling silence in the White House seeps out over the country like a cold fog over a river bed where no stream runs. ” Ike’s abdication has given us that Congressional government, directionless and feeble, which de Tocqueville feared would result from the Constitution. And it comes at the very time when your policy of building strength and unity would have paid great dividends as the Russians ran into the period of weakness and division which the succession to Stalin inevitably created. You remember that we used to say that in a tight pinch we could generally rely on some fool play of the Russians to pull us through. Now that is being exactly reversed. They now have, as invaluable allies, division, weakness and folly… .

 

And it is not only Congressional government, which must always fail because it cannot provide an executive, but Congressional government by the most ignorant, irresponsible, and anarchistic elements—anarchistic because their result, if not their aims, is to destroy government and popular confidence in it. I think that you are quite right that you and I are very likely to be in for another period of attack and vilification.… But as you say we have won many fights in the past and need not fear others in the future. It is, nonetheless, a distasteful waste of time and effort.

November 23, 1955

…Let me end up this rambling letter with an episode which illustrates my cold and frigid manner, which has been so often described in the press. Last Thursday morning I was walking east on 38th Street in New York from a friend’s house to the air terminal and was not quite sure that the terminal was on 38th Street. On Third Avenue there were four or five men with picks and shovels digging up a broken place in the pavement, surrounded by the yellow barricades with “Men Working” which give them a little island of safety. I stopped there and asked one of them whether I was on the right street for the air terminal. One of them looked up from his work, beamed broadly, and said, “For the love of God, if it ain’t Dean Acheson. I seen you on the Dave Garroway show on television yesterday morning.” At that point they all threw down their tools, shook hands with me, and we discussed for five mintues the prospects of a Democratic victory in 1956. None of them seemed to be dismayed by the cold exterior.

March 27, 1956

Consolation is just what I can give. In the first place about Margaret’s choice [Margaret Truman had just become engaged]. She has always had good judgment and has shown it again here. Alice and I had dinner with them here on his birthday—just a year before we celebrated it in Independence with you—and were completely captivated by Clifton Daniel. He has charm and sense and lots of ability. On the way home I told Alice that there was romance in the wind and that I was all for it. She somewhat acidly remarked that I had so monopolized Mr. Daniel that she hadn’t been able to get any idea of Margaret’s view of him, and that I was getting to be an old matchmaker. This only made my triumph all the sweeter when the announcement came. I stick by my guns and am sure that the man Margaret has chosen is first class and just the one for her. Marriage is the greatest of all gambles. But character helps and my bets are all on the success of this venture.