William Christian Bullitt Jr.

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William Christian Bullitt Jr.
William C Bullitt.jpg
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In office
21 November 1933 – 16 May 1936
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by David R. Francis
(as Ambassador to Russia)
Succeeded by Joseph E. Davies
United States Ambassador to France
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Jesse I. Strauss
Succeeded by William D. Leahy
Personal details
Born January 25, 1891
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died February 15, 1967(1967-02-15) (aged 76)
Neuilly, France
Political party Democratic (till 1948)
Republican (from 1948)[1]

William Christian Bullitt Jr. (January 25, 1891 – February 15, 1967) was an American diplomat, journalist, and novelist. Although in his youth he was considered something of a radical, he later became an outspoken anti-communist.[3]

Early years

Bullitt was born to a prominent, well-to-do Philadelphia family, the son of Louisa Gross (Horwitz) [4] and William Christian Bullitt Sr. His grandfather was John Christian Bullitt, founder of the law firm today known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.[5] He graduated from Yale University in 1912, after having been voted "most brilliant" in his class. He briefly attended Harvard Law School but dropped out on the death of his father in 1914. At Yale, he was a member of Scroll and Key.

He married socialite Aimee Ernesta Drinker in 1916. She gave birth to a son in 1917, but the baby died after two days. They divorced in 1923. In 1924 he married Louise Bryant, journalist author of Six Red Months in Russia and widow of radical journalist John Reed. Bullitt divorced Bryant in 1930 and took custody of their daughter after he discovered Bryant's affair with English sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne. The Bullitts' daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, was born in February 1924, eight weeks after their marriage. Anne Bullitt never had children. In 1967, she married her fourth husband, US Senator Daniel Brewster.

He became a foreign correspondent in Europe and later a novelist. In 1926, he published It's Not Done, a satirical novel that lampooned the dying aristocracy of Chesterbridge (Philadelphia) and its life revolving around Rittenhouse Square.[6] The New York Times described the work as "a novel of ideas, whose limitation is that it is a volley, a propaganda novel, directed against a single institution, the American aristocratic ideal, and whose defect is that the smoke does not quite clear away so that one can accurately count the corpses."[7]

Diplomatic career

Working for President Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Bullitt was a strong supporter of legalistic internationalism, which was later known as Wilsonian. Prior to the negotiation of the Versailles Treaty, Bullitt, along with journalist Lincoln Steffens and Swedish communist Karl Kilbom, undertook a special mission to Soviet Russia to negotiate diplomatic relations between the US and the Bolshevik regime.[8] Margaret MacMillan describes both Bullitt and Steffens as "useful idiots" who were swindled by Lenin into Western abandonment of the White Russian factions, which fought against the Bolsheviks.[9] Having failed to convince Wilson to support the establishment of relations with the Bolshevik government, Bullitt resigned from Wilson's staff.[8] He later returned to the United States and testified in the Senate against the Treaty of Versailles. He also had his report of his Russian trip placed into the record.[10]

First US ambassador to the Soviet Union

President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Bullitt the first US ambassador to the Soviet Union, a post that he held from 1933 to 1936. At the time of his appointment, Bullitt was known as a liberal and thought by some to be something of a radical.[citation needed] The Soviets welcomed him as an old friend because of his diplomatic efforts at the Paris Peace Conference. Though Bullitt arrived in the Soviet Union with high hopes for Soviet–American relations, his view of the Soviet leadership soured on closer inspection. By the end of his tenure, he was openly hostile to the Soviet government. He would remain an outspoken anticommunist for the rest of his life.[11] Bullitt was recalled after US journalist Donald Day disclosed that he had been involved in illegal exchange of and trading with Torgsin rubles.[12]

During that period, he was briefly engaged to Roosevelt's personal secretary, Missy LeHand. However, she broke off the engagement after a trip to Moscow during which she reportedly discovered him to be having an affair with Olga Lepeshinskaya, a ballet dancer.[13][14]

The Spring Ball of the Full Moon

On April 24, 1935, he hosted a Spring Festival at Spaso House, his official residence. He instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room; a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips; a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; an aviary made from fishnet filled with pheasants, parakeets, and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie of several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters, and a baby bear.[15]

The four hundred guests included Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov and Defense Minister Kliment Voroshilov; Communist Party luminaries Nikolai Bukharin, Lazar Kaganovich, and Karl Radek; Soviet Marshals Alexander Yegorov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Semyon Budyonny; and the writer Mikhail Bulgakov.

The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Radek, and in the early morning hours, the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.[16] Bulgakov described the party as "The Spring Ball of the Full Moon" in his novel The Master and Margarita.[17] On October 29, 2010, Ambassador John Beyrle recreated Bullitt's ball with his own Enchanted Ball, dedicated to Bullitt and Bulgakov.[18]

Ambassador to France

Bullitt was posted to France in October 1936 as ambassador. Fluent in French and an ardent Francophile, Bullitt became established in Paris society and rented a château at Chantilly. He owned at least 18,000 bottles of French wine.[19] As a close friend of Roosevelt, with whom he had daily telephone conversations, Bullitt was widely regarded as Roosevelt's personal envoy to France and so was much courted by French politicians.[19] Bullitt was especially close to Léon Blum and Édouard Daladier, and had cordial but not friendly relations with Georges Bonnet.[20][21] Historians have criticized Bullitt for being too influenced by the last person to whom he spoke and for including too much gossip in his dispatches to Washington.[22]

On September 4, 1938, in the midst of the great crisis in Europe that was to culminate in the Munich Agreement, during the unveiling of a plaque in France honoring Franco-American friendship, Bullitt stated, "France and the United States were united in war and peace." That led to much speculation in the press that if war broke out over Czechoslovakia, the United States would join the war on the Allied side.[23] On September 9, 1938, however, Roosevelt denied any such intention.

In 1939, and French Prime Minister Daladier informed him French intelligence knew that Alger Hiss in the United States Department of State was working for Soviet intelligence. Bullitt passed the information along to Hiss's superior at the State Department.[24]

After the German invasion of France in 1940, Bullitt fell out with Roosevelt. Bullitt insisted on remaining in Paris as the only ambassador of a major nation left when the Germans marched in. That angered Roosevelt, who believed Bullitt should have followed the French government to Bordeaux to look after US interests. Once thought of as a potential cabinet member, he found his career blocked.

Campaign against Sumner Welles

In the late 1930s, the US State Department was divided by rivalry between Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Undersecretary Sumner Welles, who was Roosevelt's favorite. Bullitt, who disliked Welles, was allied with Hull and Department Counselor R. Walton Moore.[25]

In September 1940, Welles, while drunk, made homosexual propositions to a pair of railroad porters. Bullitt learned of the incident through Moore, who, at his death, passed affidavits sworn by the propositioned porters to Bullitt.[25] Bullitt used that information to campaign for Welles's resignation. Roosevelt long resisted taking any action against Welles. Elliot Roosevelt later wrote that his father believed that Bullitt had bribed the porters to make overtures to Welles to entrap him.[25]

On April 23, 1941, Bullitt confronted the President with his evidence, but Roosevelt refused to yield to Bullitt's demands and dismissed him from any further significant duties with the State Department. At one point, he suggested to Hull that Bullitt should be appointed Ambassador to Liberia, one of the worst postings in the Foreign Service.[25] In 1942, Bullitt pushed the story to Vice President Henry A. Wallace and to Secretary Hull. Roosevelt told Wallace that Bullitt ought to "burn in hell" for what he was saying about Welles. In early 1943, Hull began to demand Welles' removal. Bullitt now informed Senator Owen Brewster, a Republican, a strong opponent of Roosevelt. Brewster threatened a senatorial inquiry. The potential scandal finally forced Roosevelt to act, and on September 30, 1943, Welles resigned. Roosevelt remained very angry with Bullitt and refused to give him any government post.[25]

Post-diplomatic career

Denied a commission in the US Armed Forces by Roosevelt, Bullitt joined the Free French Forces. Roosevelt suggested to Bullitt that he should run for Mayor of Philadelphia as a Democrat in 1943, but Roosevelt secretly told the Democratic leaders there, "Cut his throat."[25] Bullitt was defeated.[26]

Between 1941 and 1945, Bullitt wrote volumes of stories and social commentary on the dangers of fascism and communism. In the postwar years he became a militant anticommunist.

In the August 24, 1954, issue of Look, in his article "Should We Support an Attack on Red China?", he proposed an immediate attack on Communist China and asserted that the United States should "reply to the next Communist aggression by dropping bombs on the Soviet Union."[27]

Bullitt died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France on February 15, 1967 and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.[28]

Co-author with Freud

Bullitt was psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the 1920s. The patient and the analyst became such good friends that they decided to write a book together, a psycho-biographical study of Woodrow Wilson. This was quite exceptional, as Freud very rarely co-operated with other authors. The book was not published until 1967. When it was, many psychoanalysts doubted that Freud had had much to do with it, though Freud was in fact an active co-author. The book received an almost unanimously hostile reception. Historian A. J. P. Taylor called it a "disgrace" and asked: "How did anyone ever manage to take Freud seriously?"[29]

Freud and Bullitt's view of Wilson was that of a naive American politician whose foreign policy ideas were driven by religious fanaticism. Bullitt had been dismissed by Wilson, late in the battle for the League of Nations, and Bullitt never forgave the slight. It is not clear how much of the book was really written by Bullitt, as he was skilled in several languages, while Freud wrote only in German and had died by the time it was published. Several references attributed to Freud are uniquely American, such as his introduction in which he compared Wilson's naiveté to Christian Science.[citation needed]



  • Foreign policy
    • The Bullitt Mission to Russia (New York: Huebsch, 1919)
    • The Great Globe Itself (New York: Scribner's, 1946)
  • Biography
    • Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1967), with Sigmund Freud
  • Novel
    • It's Not Done (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926)


  • "How We Won the War and Lost the Peace" Part I, Life (August 30, 1948)
  • "How We Won the War and Lost the Peace" Part II, Life (September 6, 1948)

See also


  1. ^ Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt (NY: Macmillan, 1988) 312
  2. ^ Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, 331
  3. ^ Herring, George (2008). From Colony to Superpower, US Foreign Relations Since 1776 (PDF). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-19-507822-0.
  4. ^ http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/fajf/pdfs/stern_p118.pdf
  5. ^ TIME: "Second Blooming," May 1, 1933
  6. ^ W. Bullitt, It's Not Done, New York, 1926.
  7. ^ The New York Times: "It's Not Done," April 11, 1926, accessed November 12, 2010
  8. ^ a b Schlesinger, Arthur (1957). The Crisis of the Old Order 1919-1933. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 13–14.
  9. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2002). Paris 1919. Random House. ISBN 0375508260. :79
  10. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2002). Paris 1919. Random House. ISBN 0375508260. :80
  11. ^ Brownell and Billings, pp ??
  12. ^ Donald Day: Onward Christian Soldiers. Suppressed reports of a 20 year Chicago Tribune correspondent in eastern Europe from 1921. Noontide Press. Torrance, California. 1985. ISBN 0-939482-03-7
  13. ^ Goodwin, Doris Kearns (1994). No Ordinary Time. Simon & Schuster. pp. 154&ndash, 55. ISBN 9780684804484.
  14. ^ Amerikanskiy Voland by Leonid Spivak (Russian)
  15. ^ Charles W. Thayer, Bears in the Caviar (New York, 1950), 106-114
  16. ^ Thayer, 106-114
  17. ^ Spaso House; 75 years: A Short History, 18-20
  18. ^ See video of 2010 recreation of Bullitt's ball under external links.
  19. ^ a b Adamthwaite, 176
  20. ^ Adamthwaite, 176-177.
  21. ^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 148.
  22. ^ Adamthwaite, 177
  23. ^ Adamthwaite, 209
  24. ^ Brownell and Billings, 318
  25. ^ a b c d e f Benjamin Welles, Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist: A Biography (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997) 197, 272–279, 341–350
  26. ^ New York Times: William M. Blair, "Samuel Elected in Philadelphia," November 3, 1943, accessed November 12, 2010
  27. ^ Rowan, Carl (1956). The Pitiful and the Proud. New York: Random House. p. 62.
  28. ^ William Christian Bullitt Jr. at Find a Grave
  29. ^ Peter Gay, Freud for Historians (NY: Oxford University Press, 1985), 93


  • Adamthwaite, Anthony, France and the Coming of the Second World War 1936–1939 (London: Frank Cass, 1977), ISBN 0-7146-3035-7
  • Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt (NY: Macmillan, 1988), ISBN 0-02-517410-X
  • Thayer, Charles Wheeler, Bears in the Caviar (NY: Lippincott, 1951)
  • Whitman, Alden, "Energetic Diplomat; William C. Bullitt, First U.S. Envoy to Soviet, Dies", obituary in the New York Times, February 16, 1967 available online

External links

  • Works by William Christian Bullitt at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about William Christian Bullitt Jr. at Internet Archive
  • William C. Bullitt: Diplomat and Prophet—Documents Bullitt's opposition to the Nazis throughout the 1930s and the period leading up to the war.
  • Correspondence at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
  • Yale University: Guide to the William C. Bullitt Papers MS 112
  • Newspaper clippings about William Christian Bullitt Jr. in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
David R. Francis (Embassy closed from 1919 to 1933)
U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Joseph E. Davies
Preceded by
Jesse I. Straus
U.S. Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
William D. Leahy
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