1892 - 1961

"Can the peaceful, the stable, and the free world for which we hope be created if it is envisioned from the outset as half slave and half free?-if hundreds of millions of human beings are told that they are destined to remain indefinitely under alien subjection?"

- Benjamin Sumner Welles

Following the advice of family friend Franklin D. Roosevelt, Welles took the Foreign Service examination in 1915 and entered the diplomatic corps.  Welles used his relatively privileged birth, intelligence and dignified public presence to rise quickly through the ranks.  His diplomatic work focused on Latin America and the Caribbean, where he was instrumental in developing Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy.  He served briefly as US Ambassador to Cuba in 1933, but his public and controversial attempts to undermine the liberal regime there led to his ouster.  In 1937 he was promoted to Undersecretary of State and was one of Roosevelt’s most trusted diplomatic advisors, playing a leadership role in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1941.  At the onset of World War II Welles was the natural choice to succeed ailing Secretary of State Cordell Hall, but suspicions that Welles was a homosexual prompted an official investigation by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, which confirmed the rumors.  As homosexuals were deemed a security risk, Roosevelt had no choice but to accept Sumner Welles resignation.  Excluded both formally and informally from the foreign policy establishment for life, Welles resignation robbed the U.S. of its likely Secretary of State in the middle of World War II, underscoring the damage homophobia did to mid-century American foreign policy.  Welles continued to write and publish commentary on international affairs, articulating his vision for a multilateral global community. He died in 1961 at the age of 68.

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Cold War (1945-1991) Great Depression (1929-1939) Progressive Era (1890-1920) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929) World War II (1939-1945)

Field(s) of Contribution

Civics, Government, Politics, & Law



Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Welles' Papers Held at the National Archives at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York

Welles Source of Winston Churchill's Famous "No comment" Phrase


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Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell