Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만, pronounced [i.sɯŋ.man]; 26 March 1875 – 19 July 1965) was a South Korean politician who served as the first President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960.

Rhee was the first and the last President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea from 1919 to 1925 and 1947 to 1948, and was elected President of South Korea in the 1948 presidential election. Rhee oversaw the transfer of power from the United States Army Military Government in Korea to the Government of South Korea and the establishment of the First Republic of Korea. Rhee adopted a strongly anti-communist and pro-American stance, and led South Korea through the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Rhee was widely regarded as an authoritarian dictator and his three-term presidency was characterized by corruption and political repression, including the National Defense Corps incident and reported ordering the extrajudicial killings of over 14,000 suspected communists in South Korea. Rhee's popularity declined after the Korean War, and he resigned in April 1960 during the April Revolution following popular protests against the disputed March 1960 presidential election. Rhee's resignation resulted in the transition to the Second Republic of Korea, and he died in exile in Hawaii in 1965.

Syngman Rhee
Rhee Syng-Man in 1956
President of South Korea
In office
24 July 1948 – 26 April 1960
Vice PresidentYi Si-yeong
Kim Seong-su
Ham Tae-young
Chang Myon
Yun Posun
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byYun Posun
Speaker of the National Assembly
In office
31 May 1948 – 24 July 1948
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byShin Ik-hee
Chairman of the State Council of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
In office
3 March 1947 – 15 August 1948
DeputyKim Koo
Preceded byKim Koo
Succeeded byOffice abolished
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
In office
11 September 1919 – 23 March 1925
Prime MinisterYi Donghwi
Yi Dongnyeong
Sin Gyu-sik
No Baek-rin
Park Eunsik
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byPark Eunsik
Personal details
Rhee Syngman

26 March 1875
Neungnae-dong, Daegyeong-ri, Masan-myeon, Pyeongsan County, Hwanghae, Korea
(now North Hwanghae, North Korea)
Died19 July 1965 (aged 90)
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Resting placeSeoul National Cemetery, Seoul, South Korea
NationalityKorean (1875–1910)
Japanese (1910–1945)
South Korean (1945–1965)
Political partyLiberal
Seungseon Park (m. 1890–1910)

Francesca Donner Rhee (m. 1934–1965)
ChildrenRhee Bong-su (1896–1904)
Rhee In-soo (b. 1931, adoptive)
Alma materGeorge Washington University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.A.)
Princeton University (Ph.D.)
Syngman Rhee's signature
Korean name
Revised RomanizationI Seung(-)man / Ri Seung(-)man
McCune–ReischauerYi Sŭngman / Ri Sŭngman

Early life and career

Early life (1875–95)

Syngman Rhee was born on 19 February 1875 in the Korean lunisolar calendar (also stated as 26 March 1875) in Daegyeong, a village in Pyeongsan County, Hwanghae Province of Joseon-ruled Korea.[1][2][1][3][4][2] Rhee was the third but only surviving son out of three brothers and two sisters (his two older brothers both died in infancy) in a rural family of modest means.[1] Rhee's family traced its lineage back to King Taejong of Joseon, and was a 16th-generation descendant of Grand Prince Yangnyeong.[5]

In 1877, at the age of two-years-old, Rhee and his family moved to Seoul, where he had traditional Confucian education in various seodang in Nakdong (낙동; 駱洞) and Dodong (도동; 桃洞).[6][6] When Rhee was nine-years-old a smallpox infection rendered him virtually blind until he was cured by Horace Newton Allen, an American medical missionary.[5] Rhee was portrayed as a potential candidate for the gwageo, the traditional Korean civil service examination, but in 1894 reforms abolished the gwageo system and in April he enrolled in the Pai Chai School (배재학당; 培材學堂), an American Methodist school where he converted to Christianity.[1][3][4][7] Rhee studied English and sinhakmun (신학문; 新學問; lit. new subjects). Near the end of 1895, he joined a Hyeopseong Club (협성회; 協成會) created by Seo Jae-pil, who returned from the United States after his exile following the Gapsin Coup. He worked as the head and the main writer of the newspapers Hyeopseong-hoe Hoebo (협성회 회보; 協成會會報; lit. Hyeopseong Club Newsletter) and Maeil Shinmun (매일신문; 每日新聞; lit. The Daily Newspaper),[6] the latter being the first daily newspaper in Korea.[7] During this period, Rhee earned money by teaching the Korean language to Americans. In 1895, Rhee graduated from Pai Chai School.[1]

Independence activities (1896–1904)

Rhee became involved in Anti-Japanese circles after the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, which saw Joseon passed from the Chinese sphere of influence to the Japanese. Rhee was implicated in a plot to take revenge for the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, the wife of King Gojong who was assassinated by Japanese agents, however, a female American physician helped him avoid the charges. Rhee acted as one of the forerunners of the Korean independence movement through grassroots organizations such as the Hyeopseong Club and the Independence Club (독립협회; 獨立協會). Rhee organized several protests against corruption and the influences of the Japan and the Russian Empire.[7] As a result, in November 1898, Rhee attained the rank of Uigwan (의관; 議官) in the Imperial Legislature, the Jungchuwon (중추원; 中樞院).[6]

After entering civil service, Rhee was implicated in a plot to remove King Gojong from power through the recruitment of Park Yeong-hyo. As a result, Rhee was imprisoned in the Gyeongmucheong Prison (경무청; 警務廳) in January 1899.[6] Other sources place the year arrested as 1897 and 1898.[3][4][7][1] Rhee attempted to escape on the 20th day of imprisonment but was caught and was sentenced to life imprisonment through the Pyeongniwon (평리원; 平理院). He was imprisoned in the Hanseong Prison (한성감옥서; 漢城監獄署). In prison, Rhee translated and compiled The Sino–Japanese War Record (청일전기; 淸日戰紀), wrote The Spirit of Independence (독립정신; 獨立精神), compiled the New English–Korean Dictionary (신영한사전; 新英韓辭典) and wrote in the Imperial Newspaper (제국신문; 帝國新聞).[6] He was also tortured.[7]

Political activities in the U.S. (1904–10, 1912–45), China and Korea (1910–12)

1905-Syngman Rhee
Syngman Rhee in 1905 dressed to meet Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1904, Rhee was released from prison at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War with the help of Min Young-hwan.[1] In November 1904, with the help of Min Yeong-hwan and Han Gyu-seol (한규설; 韓圭卨), Rhee moved to the United States. In August 1905, Rhee and Yun Byeong-gu (윤병구; 尹炳求)[6] met with the Secretary of State John Hay and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt at peace talks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and attempted unsuccessfully to convince the US to help preserve independence for Korea.[8]

Rhee continued to stay in the United States; this move has been described as an "exile."[7] He obtained a Bachelor of Arts from George Washington University in 1907, and a Master of Arts from Harvard University in 1908.[1][5] In 1910,[1] he obtained a Ph.D. from Princeton University[3][4] with the thesis "Neutrality as influenced by the United States" (미국의 영향하에 발달된 국제법상 중립).[6]

In August 1910, Rhee returned to Japanese occupied Korea.[6][note 1] He served as a YMCA coordinator and missionary.[9][10] In 1912, Rhee was implicated in the 105-Man Incident,[6] and was shortly arrested.[1] However, he fled to the United States in 1912[3] with M. C. Harris's rationale that Rhee was going to participate in the general meeting of Methodists in Minneapolis as the Korean representative.[6][note 2]

In the United States, Rhee attempted to convince Woodrow Wilson to help the people involved in the 105-Man Incident, but failed to bring any change. Soon afterwards, he met Park Yong-man, who was in Nebraska at the time. In February 1913, as a consequence of the meeting, he moved to Honolulu, Hawai'i and took over the Han-in Jung-ang Academy (한인중앙학원; 韓人中央學園).[6] In Hawaii, he began to publish the Pacific Ocean Magazine (태평양잡지; 太平洋雜誌).[1] In 1918, he established the Han-in Christian Church (한인기독교회; 韓人基督敎會). During this period, he opposed Park Yong-man's stance on foreign relations of Korea and brought about a split in the community.[6] In December 1918, he was chosen as one of the Korean representatives to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 by the Korean National Association (대한인 국민회; 大韓人國民會), but failed to obtain permission to travel to Paris. After giving up travelling to Paris, Rhee held the First Korean Congress (한인대표자대회) in Philadelphia with Seo Jae-pil to make plans for the declaration and action of independence of Korea.[6]

Syngman Rhee and Kim Kyu-sik in 1919.

Following the March 1st Movement in March 1919, Rhee discovered that he was appointed to the positions of Foreign Minister in the Noryeong Provisional Government (노령임시정부; 露領臨時政府), Prime Minister for the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai, and a position equivalent to President for the Hansung Provisional Government (한성임시정부; 漢城臨時政府). In June, in the acting capacity of the President of the Republic of Korea, he notified the prime ministers and the chairmen of peace conferences of Korea's independence. On August 25, Rhee established the Korean Commission to America and Europe (구미위원부; 歐美委員部) in Washington, D.C. On September 6, Rhee discovered that he had been appointed acting president for the Provisional Government in Shanghai.[3][4] From December 1920 to May 1921, he moved to Shanghai and was the acting president for the Provisional Government.[6]

However, Rhee failed to efficiently act in the capacity of Acting President due to conflicts inside the provisional government in Shanghai. In October 1920, he returned to the US to participate in the Washington Naval Conference. During the conference, he attempted to set the problem of Korean independence as part of the agenda and campaigned for independence, but was unsuccessful.[1][6] In September 1922, he returned to Hawaii to focus on publication, education, and religion. In November 1924, Rhee was appointed the position of President-for-Life in the Korean Comrade Society (대한인동지회; 大韓人同志會).[6]

In March 1925, Rhee was impeached as the president of the Provisional Government in Shanghai over allegations of misuse of power[11] and was removed from office. Nevertheless, he continued to claim the position of President by referring to the Hansung Provisional Government and continued independence activities through the Korean Commission to America and Europe. In the beginning of 1933, he participated in the League of Nations conference in Geneva to bring up the question of Korean independence.[6]

In November 1939, Rhee and his wife left Hawaii for Washington. He focused on writing the book Japan Inside Out and published it during the summer of 1941. With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the consequent Pacific War which began in December 1941, Rhee used his position as the chairman of the foreign relations department of the provisional government in Chongqing to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States Department of State to approve the existence of the Korean provisional government. As part of this plan, he cooperated with anti-Japan strategies conducted by the Office of Strategic Services. In 1945, he participated in the United Nations Conference on International Organization as the leader of the Korean representatives to request the participation of the Korean provisional government.[6]


Syngman Rhee and Douglas MacArthur
Syngman Rhee and Douglas MacArthur at the Ceremony inaugurating the government of the Republic of Korea.
Ceremony inaugurating the government of the Republic of Korea
Ceremony inaugurating the government of the Republic of Korea (August 15, 1948).

Return to Korea and rise to power (1945–48)

After the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945,[12] Rhee was flown to Tokyo aboard a U.S. military aircraft.[13] Over the objections of the Department of State, the U.S. military government allowed Rhee to return to Korea by providing him with a passport in October 1945, despite the refusal of the Department of State to issue Rhee with a passport.[14] The British historian Max Hastings wrote that there was "at least a measure of corruption in the transaction" as the U.S. OSS agent Preston Goodfellow who provided Rhee with the passport that allowed him to return to Korea was apparently promised by Rhee that if he came to power, he would reward Goodfellow with commercial concessions."[14] Following the independence of Korea and a secret meeting with Douglas MacArthur, Rhee was flown in mid-October 1945 to Seoul aboard MacArthur's personal airplane, The Bataan.[13]

After the return to Korea, he assumed the posts of president of the Independence Promotion Central Committee (독립촉성중앙위원회; 獨立促成中央協議會), chairman of the Korean People's Representative Democratic Legislature (대한국민대표민주의원; 大韓國民代表民主議院), and president of the Headquarters for Unification (민족통일총본부; 民族統一總本部). At this point, he was strongly anti-communist and opposed foreign intervention; he opposed Soviet Union and United States' proposal in the Moscow Conference (1945) to establish a trusteeship for Korea and the cooperation between the left-wing (communist) and the right-wing (nationalist) parties. He also refused to join the U.S.–Soviet Cooperation Committee (미소공동위원회; 美蘇共同委員會) as well as the negotiations with the north.[6] The Korean nationalist movement had for decades been torn by factionalism and in-fighting, and most of the leaders of the independence movement hated each other as much as they hated the Japanese. Rhee, who had lived for decades in the United States, was a figure known only from afar in Korea, and therefore regarded as a more or less acceptable compromise candidate for the conservative factions. More importantly, Rhee spoke fluent English whereas none of his rivals did, and therefore he was the Korean politician most trusted and favored by the American occupation government. The British diplomat Roger Makins later recalled, "the American propensity to go for a man rather than a movement — Giraud among the French in 1942, Chiang Kai-shek in China. Americans have always liked the idea of dealing with a foreign leader who can be identified as 'their man'. They are much less comfortable with movements." Makins further added the same was the case with Rhee, as very few Americans were fluent in Korean in the 1940s or knew much about Korea, and it was simply far easier for the American occupation government to deal with Rhee than to try to understand Korea. Rhee was "acerbic, prickly, unpromising" and was regarded by the U.S. State Department, which long had dealings with him as "a dangerous mischief-maker", but the American General John R. Hodge decided that Rhee was the best man for the Americans to back because of his fluent English and his ability to talk with authority to American officers about American subjects. Once it became clear from October 1945 onward that Rhee was the Korean politician most favored by the Americans, other conservative leaders fell in behind him. Hastings wrote, "In an Asian society, where politics are often dominated by an instinctive desire to fall in behind the strongest force, Rhee's backing from the military government was the decisive factor in his rise to power."[14]

When the first U.S.–Soviet Cooperation Committee meeting was concluded without a result, he began to argue in June 1946 that the government of Korea must be established as an independent entity.[6] In the same month, he created a plan based on this idea[1] and moved to Washington, D.C. from December 1946 to April 1947 to lobby support for the plan. During the visit, Harry S. Truman's policies of Containment and the Truman Doctrine, which was announced in March 1947, enforced Rhee's anti-communist ideas.[6]

In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Korea's independence and established the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) through Resolution 112.[15][16] In May 1948, the South Korean Constitutional Assembly election was held under the oversight of the UNTCOK.[6] He was elected without competition to serve in the South Korean Constitutional Assembly (대한민국 제헌국회; 大韓民國制憲國會) and was consequently selected to be Speaker of the Assembly. Rhee was highly influential in creating the policy stating that the president of South Korea had to be elected by the National Assembly.[1] The 1948 Constitution of the Republic of Korea was adopted on July 17, 1948.[17]

On July 20, 1948, Rhee was elected president of the Republic of Korea[3][4][17] in the 1948 South Korean presidential election with 92.3% of the vote; the second candidate, Kim Gu, received 6.7% of the vote.[18] On August 15, the Republic of Korea was formally established in South Korea[17] and Rhee was inaugurated as the first President of the Republic of Korea.[1][6] The next month, on September 9, the north also proclaimed statehood as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Rhee himself had been an independence activist, and his relations with the chinilpa Korean elites who had collaborated with the Japanese were, in the words of the South Korean historian Kyung Moon Hwang, often "contentious," but in the end an understanding was reached in which, in exchange for their support, Rhee would not purge the elites.[19] In particular, the Koreans who had served in the colonial-era National Police, whom the Americans had retained after August 1945, were promised by Rhee that their jobs would not be threatened by him. Upon independence in 1948, 53% of South Korean police officers were men who had served in the National Police during the Japanese occupation.[20]

Political repression

Soon after taking office, Rhee enacted laws that severely curtailed political dissent. There was much controversy between Rhee and his leftist opponents. Allegedly, many of the leftist opponents were arrested and in some cases killed. The most controversial issue has been Kim Gu's assassination. On 26 June 1949, Kim Gu was assassinated by Ahn Doo-hee, who confessed that he assassinated Kim Gu by the order of Kim Chang-ryong. The assassin was described by the British historian Max Hastings as one of Rhee's "creatures".[21] It soon became apparent that Rhee's governing was going to be authoritarian.[22] He allowed the internal security force (headed by his right-hand man, Kim Chang-ryong) to detain and torture suspected communists and North Korean agents. His government also oversaw several massacres, including the suppression of the Jeju uprising on Jeju island, of which South Korea's Truth Commission reported 14,373 victims, 86% at the hands of the security forces and 13.9% at the hands of communist rebels,[23] and the Mungyeong massacre.

By early 1950 Rhee had about 30,000 alleged communists in his jails, and had about 300,000 suspected sympathizers enrolled in an official "re-education" movement called the Bodo League. When the Communist army attacked from the North in June, retreating South Korean forces executed the prisoners, along with several tens of thousands of Bodo League members.[24]

Korean War

Syngman Rhee
Syngman Rhee awarding a medal to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie during the Korean War in 1952.

Both Rhee and Kim Il-sung wanted to unite the Korean peninsula under their respective governments, but the United States refused to give South Korea any heavy weapons, in order to ensure that its military could only be used for preserving internal order and self-defense.[25] By contrast, Pyongyang was well equipped with Soviet aircraft and tanks. According to John Merrill, "the war was preceded by a major insurgency in the South and serious clashes along the thirty-eighth parallel," and 100,000 people died in "political disturbances, guerrilla warfare, and border clashes".[26]

At the outbreak of hostilities on June 25, 1950, all South Korean resistance at the 38th parallel was overwhelmed by the North Korean offensive within a few hours. By June 26, it was apparent that the Korean People's Army (KPA) would occupy Seoul. Rhee stated, "Every Cabinet member, including myself, will protect the government, and parliament has decided to remain in Seoul. Citizens should not worry and remain in their workplaces."[27] However, Rhee had already left the city with most of his government on June 27. At midnight on June 28, the South Korean military destroyed the Han Bridge, thereby preventing thousands of citizens from fleeing. On June 28, North Korean soldiers occupied Seoul.

Dr. Syngman Rhee at Han River Bridge in Seoul
Rhee and his wife posing with Army Corps of Engineers personnel in 1950 at the Han River Bridge.

During the North Korean occupation of Seoul, Rhee established a temporary government in Busan and created a defensive perimeter along the Naktong Bulge. A series of battles ensued, which would later be known collectively as the Battle of Naktong Bulge. After the Battle of Inchon in September 1950, the North Korean military was routed, and the United Nations (UN)—of whom the largest contingents were the Americans and South Koreans—not only liberated all of South Korea, but overran much of North Korea. In the areas of North Korea taken by the UN forces, elections were supposed to be administered by the United Nations, but instead were taken over and administered by the South Koreans. After the Chinese entered the war in November 1950, the UN forces were thrown into retreat. During this period of crisis, Rhee ordered the December Massacres of 1950.

Hastings notes that, during the war, Rhee's official salary was equal to $37.50 (U.S. dollars) per month. Both at the time and since, there has been much speculation about precisely how Rhee managed to live on a salary equivalent to $37.50 per month. The entire Rhee regime was notorious for its corruption, with everyone in the government from the President downwards stealing as much they possibly could from both the public purse and aid from the United States. The Rhee regime engaged in the "worst excesses of corruption," with the soldiers in the Army of the Republic of Korea (ROK) going unpaid for months as their officers embezzled their pay, equipment provided by the United States being sold on the black market, and the size of the ROK army being bloated by hundreds of thousands of "ghost soldiers" who only existed on paper, allowing their officers to steal pay that would have been due had these soldiers actually existed. The problems with low morale experienced by the ROK army were largely due to the corruption of the Rhee regime. The worst scandal during the war—indeed of the entire Rhee government—was the National Defense Corps Incident. Rhee created the National Defense Corps in December 1950, intended to be a paramilitary militia, comprising men not in the military or police who be drafted into the corps for internal security duties. In the months that followed, thousands of National Defense Corps men either starved or froze to death in their unheated barracks, as the men lacked winter uniforms. Even Rhee could not ignore the deaths of so many of the National Defense Corps and ordered an investigation. It was revealed that commander of the National Defense Corps, General Kim Yun Gun, had stolen millions of American dollars that were intended to heat the barracks and feed and clothe the men. General Kim and five other officers were publicly shot at Daegu on August 12, 1951, following their convictions for corruption.[28]

In the spring of 1951, Rhee—who was upset about MacArthur's dismissal by President Truman—lashed out in a press interview against Britain, whom he blamed for MacArthur's sacking.[29] Rhee was absolutely committed to reunifying Korea under his leadership and strongly supported MacArthur's call for going all-out against China, even at the risk of provoking a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Rhee declared, "The British troops have outlived their welcome in my country." Shortly thereafter, Rhee told an Australian diplomat about the Australian troops fighting for his country, "They are not wanted here any longer. Tell that to your government. The Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and British troops all represent a government which is now sabotaging the brave American effort to liberate fully and unify my unhappy nation."[29]

Rhee was strongly against the armistice negotiations the U.S. entered into in 1953. Accordingly, in April of the same year, he demanded of President Eisenhower a total withdrawal of his troops from the peninsula if an armistice were to be signed, declaring that the ROK would rather fight on its own than negotiate a cease-fire. He also deliberately carried out some actions that would deter the armistice and reignite conflicts in the region, the most provocative one being his unilateral release of 25,000 prisoners of war in June 1953.[30] Such actions, which hindered the progress of armistice talks, upset China and the North. Moreover, for such unpredictability in his authoritarian leadership, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations considered him one of the “rogue allies” in East Asia and engaged in "powerplay", or the construction of asymmetric alliances, which helped the U.S. maximize economic and political influence over the ROK and increase ROK's dependency on the United States.[31]

On July 27, 1953, at last, “one of the 20th century's most vicious and frustrating wars”[32] came to an end with no apparent victor. Ultimately, the armistice agreement was signed by military commanders from China and the North, with the United Nations Command, led by the U.S., signing “on the behalf of the international community.”[33] Its signatories did not include the ROK, however, as Rhee refused to agree to the armistice, and neither was it supposed to be a permanent cease-fire, as a peace treaty was never signed. Nevertheless, to this very day, the armistice remains the only means for security and peace on the Korean peninsula.[33]


Because of widespread discontent with Rhee's corruption and political repression, it was considered unlikely that Rhee would be re-elected by the National Assembly. To circumvent this, Rhee attempted to amend the constitution to allow him to hold elections for the presidency by direct popular vote. When the Assembly rejected this amendment, Rhee ordered a mass arrest of opposition politicians and then passed the desired amendment in July 1952. During the following presidential election, he received 74% of the vote.[34]

Resignation and exile

After the war ended in July 1953, South Korea struggled to rebuild following nationwide devastation. The country remained at a Third World level of development and was heavily reliant on U.S. aid. Rhee was easily re-elected for what should have been the final time in 1956, since the 1948 constitution limited the president to two consecutive terms. However, soon after being sworn in, he had the legislature amend the constitution to allow the incumbent president to run for an unlimited number of terms.

In 1960, the 84-year-old Rhee won his fourth term in office as President with 90% of the vote. His victory was assured after the main opposition candidate, Cho Byeong-ok, died shortly before the March 15 elections.

Rhee wanted his protégé, Lee Ki-poong, elected as Vice President—a separate office under Korean law at that time. When Lee, who was running against Chang Myon (the ambassador to the United States during the Korean War, a member from the opposition Democratic Party) won the vote with a wide margin, the opposition Democratic Party claimed the election was rigged. This triggered anger among segments of the Korean populace on April 19. When police shot demonstrators in Masan, the student-led April Revolution forced Rhee to resign on April 26.

On April 28, a DC-4 belonging to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), piloted by Captain Harry B. Cockrell, Jr. and operated by Civil Air Transport, covertly flew Rhee out of South Korea as protesters converged on the Blue House.[35] During the flight, Rhee and Francesca Donner, his Austrian wife, came up to the cockpit to thank the pilot and crew. Rhee's wife offered the pilot a valuable diamond ring in thanks, which was courteously declined. The former president, his wife, and their adopted son subsequently lived in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Personal life and death

Rhee was married to Seungseon Park from 1890 to 1910. Park divorced Rhee shortly after the death of their son Rhee Bong-su in 1908, supposedly because their marriage had no intimacy due to his political activities.

In February 1933, Rhee met Austrian Franziska Donner in Geneva.[36] At the time, Rhee was participating in a League of Nations meeting[36] and Donner was working as an interpreter.[11] In October 1934, they were married[36] in New York City.[11][37] She also acted as his secretary.[36]

100 hwan coin obverse.jpeg
Rhee depicted on a 1959-issued 100 hwan coin.

Rhee died of a stroke on July 19, 1965. A week later, his body was returned to Seoul and buried in the Seoul National Cemetery.[38]


Rhee's former Seoul residence, Ihwajang, is currently used for the presidential memorial museum. The Woo-Nam Presidential Preservation Foundation has been set up to honor his legacy. There is also a memorial museum located in Hwajinpo near Kim Il Sung's cottage.

In popular culture

  • Rhee was portrayed by Kwon Sung-deok in the 2006 KBS1 TV series Seoul 1945.
  • In the M*A*S*H episode titled "Mail Call Again", Radar mentions a parade in Seoul due to Syngman Rhee being "elected dictator again."
  • Rhee is referenced in the lyrics to singer Billy Joel's 1989 music single, "We Didn't Start the Fire".[39]


See also


  1. ^ In 1910, the Korean Peninsula was officially annexed by the Empire of Japan.
  2. ^ He did participate in the meeting as the Korean representative.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o 이승만 [李承晩] [Rhee Syngman]. Doopedia (in Korean). Doosan Corporation. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Syngman Rhee". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Syngman Rhee: First president of South Korea". CNN Student News. CNN. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Syngman Rhee". The Cold War Files. Cold War International History Project. Archived from the original on March 14, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Cha, Marn J. (19 September 2012) [1996], "SYNGMAN RHEE'S FIRST LOVE" (PDF), The Information Exchange for Korean-American Scholars (IEKAS) (12–19): 2, ISSN 1092-6232, retrieved 14 March 2014
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x 이승만 [Rhee Syngman]. Encyclopedia of Korean culture (in Korean). Academy of Korean Studies. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Breen, Michael (18 April 2010). "Fall of Korea's First President Syngman Rhee in 1960". The Korea Times. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  8. ^ Yu Yeong-ik (유영익) (1996). 이승만의 삶과 꿈 [Rhee Syngman's Life and Dream] (in Korean). Seoul: Joong Ang Ilbo Press. pp. 40–44. ISBN 89-461-0345-0.
  9. ^ Coppa, Frank J., ed. (2006). "Rhee, Syngman". Encyclopedia of modern dictators: from Napoleon to the present. Peter Lang. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8204-5010-0.
  10. ^ Jessup, John E. (1998). "Rhee, Syngman". An encyclopedic dictionary of conflict and conflict resolution, 1945–1996. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 626. ISBN 978-0-313-28112-9.
  11. ^ a b c Breen, Michael (2 November 2011). "(13) Syngman Rhee: president who could have done more". The Korea Times. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Japan surrenders". History. A+E Networks. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  13. ^ a b Cumings, Bruce (2010). "38 degrees of separation: a forgotten occupation". The Korean War: a History. Modern Library. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-8129-7896-4.
  14. ^ a b c Hastings, Max (1988). The Korean War. Simon and Schuster. pp. 32–34. ISBN 9780671668341.
  15. ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution 112  – via Wikisource.
  16. ^ "Details/Information for Canadian Forces (CF) Operation United Nations Commission on Korea". Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  17. ^ a b c "South Korea (1948-present)". Dynamic Analysis of Dispute Management Project. University of Central Arkansas. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  18. ^ Croissant, Aurel (2002), "Electoral Politics in South Korea" (PDF), Electoral politics in Southeast & East Asia, 370, VI, Singapore: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, pp. 234–237, ISBN 978-981-04-6020-4, retrieved 8 April 2014
  19. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea Palgrave Macmillan, 2010 page 204.
  20. ^ Hastings (1988), p. 38
  21. ^ Hastings (1988), p. 42
  22. ^ Tirman, John (2011). The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars. Oxford University Press. pp. 93–95. ISBN 978-0-19-538121-4.
  23. ^ "The National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident". 2008. Archived from the original on February 24, 2009. Retrieved December 15, 2008.
  24. ^ "South Korea owns up to brutal past - World -".
  25. ^ Hastings (1988), p.45
  26. ^ Merrill, John, Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War (University of Delaware Press, 1989), p181.
  27. ^ "Ten biggest lies in modern Korean history". The Korea Times. 3 April 2017.
  28. ^ Hastings (1988), p. 235-240
  29. ^ a b Hastings (1988), p. 235
  30. ^ Cha (2010), p. 174
  31. ^ Cha, Victor D (Winter 2010). "Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia". International Security. MIT Press Journals. 34 (3): 158–196. doi:10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.158.
  32. ^ James E. Dillard. “Biographies: Syngman Rhee”. The Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of Korean War Commemoration Committee. Retrieved on September 28, 2016.
  33. ^ a b "The Korean War armistice”. BBC News. March 5, 2015. Retrieved on September 28, 2016.
  34. ^ Buzo, Adrian (2007). The making of modern Korea. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-415-41482-1.
  35. ^ Cyrus Farivar (2011), The Internet of Elsewhere: The Emergent Effects of a Wired World, Rutgers University Press, p. 26.
  36. ^ a b c d 프란체스카 [Francesca]. Encyclopedia of Korean culture (in Korean). Academy of Korean studies. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  37. ^ "KOREA: The Walnut". TIME. 9 March 1953. Retrieved 20 March 2010. In 1932, while attempting to put Korea's case before an indifferent League of Nations in Geneva, Rhee met Francesca Maria Barbara Donner, 34, the daughter of a family of Viennese iron merchants. Two years later they were married in a Methodist ceremony in New York.
  38. ^ "Syngman Rhee". South Korean President. Find a Grave. 20 February 2004. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
  39. ^ We Didn't Start the Fire. Retrieved 2016-09-25.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Syngman Rhee at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Establishment of the Republic
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
11 September 1919 – 21 March 1925
Succeeded by
Park Eunsik
Preceded by
Kim Kyu-sik
Chairmen of the Interim Legislative Assembly
Succeeded by
as Speaker of the Constituent Assembly
Preceded by
as Chairmen of the Interim Legislative Assembly
Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly
Succeeded by
Shin Ik-hee
Preceded by
Kim Gu
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
Succeeded by
Syngman Rhee
(President of South Korea)
Preceded by
Syngman Rhee
as President of the Provisional Government
1~3rd President of South Korea
July 24, 1948 – April 26, 1960
Succeeded by
Heo Jeong
1948 South Korean presidential election

Presidential and vice-presidential elections were held in South Korea on 20 July 1948, following the Constitutional Assembly elections in May. The president was to be elected by the members of the National Assembly, as instructed by the 1948 Constitution. Of the 198 members of the National Assembly, 196 were present for the vote. A candidate required two-thirds of the votes cast to win. Syngman Rhee was elected with 180 votes, and took over the government to oversee the transfer of power from the United States Army Military Government in Korea.An important role was played in the run-up to the election by the dispute between Rhee and Kim Koo over the issue of establishing a separate government in the southern part of Korea, instead of including the communist-controlled north. Kim rejected the idea of separate elections, and had boycotted the Constitutional Assembly elections in May, instead campaigning for a united Korea. He also split from the National Alliance for the Rapid Realization of Korean Independence to form the Korea Independence Party. Despite Kim's refusal to take any part in a South-only government and therefore in this election, 13 members cast their votes for Kim.

In the event, Kim's split allowed Rhee to consolidate power over NARRKI and, in 1951, form the Liberal Party, enabling his rule over South Korea until the April Revolution in 1960.

1952 South Korean presidential election

Presidential and vice-presidential elections were held in South Korea on 5 August 1952. The result was a victory for Syngman Rhee, who won 74.6% of the vote. Voter turnout was 88.1%. The election was held during the Korean War, which played an important role in consolidating Rhee's support.

1956 South Korean presidential election

Presidential and vice-presidential elections were held in South Korea on 15 May 1956. The result was a victory for Syngman Rhee, who won 70.0% of the vote. Voter turnout was 94.4%.Rhee, who at that time held a virtual monopoly on political power, was opposed by Shin Ik-hee and Cho Bong-am. Shin died before the election by disease, and Cho campaigned on a platform of peaceful reunification in opposition to Rhee's policy of "March North and unify Korea". Cho exceeded expectations by receiving over 30% of the vote. Three years later, Cho was accused of violating the National Security Law and executed.

April Revolution

The April Revolution (Korean: 4.19 혁명), also called the April 19 Revolution or April 19 Movement, were mass protests in South Korea against President Syngman Rhee and the First Republic from April 11 to 26, 1960.

Protests opposing Rhee were started by student and labor groups in Masan on April 11 after the discovery of a local high school student killed by police during the rigged elections demonstrations in March. Popular discontent over Rhee's autocratic rule, corruption, use of violence against political opposition, and poor development of South Korea led to large student protests in Seoul, which were violently suppressed and 180 people were killed. Rhee resigned on April 26 before fleeing to exile in the United States, and was replaced by Yun Posun, beginning the transition to the Second Republic of South Korea.

August 1960 South Korean presidential election

Presidential elections were held in South Korea on 12 August 1960, which saw the election of Yun Posun as President of the Republic of Korea. Held after the April Revolution which had forced the resignation of Syngman Rhee, they were the only presidential elections to be held during the Second Republic, which folded after Park Chung-hee's May Coup the next year. The elections was indirect, with a joint session of the House of Commons and Senate, which had been elected in June, acting as an electoral college. The winning candidate required the assent of two thirds of the members of both houses.Three-term lawmaker Yun Bo-seon was elected with 82.2% of the vote, standing for the Democratic Party and representing its "Old Guard" faction. His closest competitor was Kim Chang-sook, a Confucian leader, who received 11.5%.

Daejeon massacre

The Daejeon, or Taejon, massacre was an extrajudicial killings of political prisoners under anti-communist South Korean forces. US officers were present at the time of the slaughter, however it was blamed on the communist North Korean forces in the film "Crime of Korea". Half a century later, the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated what happened in the political violence largely kept hidden from history, unlike the publicized North Korean executions of South Korean rightists.

First Republic of Korea

The First Republic of Korea (Korean: 제1공화국; RR: Jeil Gonghwaguk; lit. "first republic") was the government of South Korea from August 1948 to April 1960.

The First Republic was founded on 15 August 1948 after the transfer from the United States Army Military Government that governed South Korea since the end of Japanese rule in 1945, becoming the first independent capitalist republican government in Korea. Syngman Rhee became the first President of Korea following the May 1948 general election, and the National Assembly in Seoul promulgated South Korea's first constitution in July establishing a democratic presidential system of government. The First Republic claimed sovereignty over the entire Korean Peninsula but only held power south of the 38th parallel until the end of the Korean War in 1953 when the border was modified. The First Republic was characterized by Rhee's authoritarianism and corruption, limited economic development, strong anti-communism, and by the late 1950s growing political instability and public opposition to Rhee. The April Revolution in April 1960 led to Rhee's resignation and the transition to the Second Republic of South Korea.

Franziska Donner

Francesca Maria Barbara Donner (Korean: 프란체스카 도너; Peurancheseuka Doneo; June 15, 1900 – March 19, 1992) was the inaugural First Lady of South Korea, from 1948 to 1960, as the second wife of Syngman Rhee, the first President of the Republic of Korea.

Hong Jin-ki

Hong Jin-Ki (Korean: 홍진기, Chinese: 洪璡基, Japanese name: 德山進一,13 March 1917 – 13 July 1986) was an entrepreneurial journalist and South Korean high-ranking official of the Syngman Rhee government who served as the 9th Ministry of Justice from 1958 to 1960.


Ilminism (Korean: 일민주의; Hanja: 一民主義; RR: Ilminjuui;), frequently translated as the One-People Principle, was the political ideology of South Korea under its first President, Syngman Rhee. The Ilmin principle has been likened by contemporary scholars to the Nazi idea of the herrenvolk (master race), and was part of an effort to consolidate a united and obedient citizenry around Rhee's strong central leadership through appeals to nationalism and ethnic supremacy.

The concept of the One-People Principle was developed primarily by Minister of Education An Ho-sang, who studied philosophy at the University of Jena in Germany during the late 1920s.

Liberal Party (South Korea)

The Liberal Party (Korean: 자유당; Hanja: 自由黨) was a political party in South Korea established in 1951 by Syngman Rhee.

March 1960 South Korean presidential election

Presidential and vice-presidential elections were held in South Korea on 15 March 1960. Shortly after winning reelection to a second term in the 1952 presidential election, Rhee had the legislature pass a constitutional amendment exempting himself from the two-term limit, allowing himself to run for and win a third term in 1956 and in March 1960.

After the death of Democratic Party opponent Cho Pyong-ok, Rhee was left as the only candidate, and was re-elected unopposed. Voter turnout was 97.0%. With the lack of a meaningful contest in the presidential race, popular focus shifted to the vice-presidential contest where Rhee's Liberal Party candidate Lee Ki-bung competed against Chang Myon. The elections were heavily rigged in Lee's favor, and widespread allegations of corruption and manipulation of the results sparked protests which spiralled into the April Revolution, causing the annulment of the election, the resignation and exile of Rhee, and the collapse of the First Republic.

Park Eun-sik

Park Eunsik (September 30, 1859 - November 1, 1925) was a Korean historian and the second President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai during part of 1925. Soon after the impeachment of Syngman Rhee from the presidency, Park was elected the president, but he soon died from illness while in office. Park was succeeded by Yi Sang-ryong as the president.

Paul Douglass

Paul Douglass (1905–1988) was president of American University from 1941 until 1952. His ascent to the office marked a change in the title from Chancellor to President. Douglass was a graduate of Wesleyan University and received masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati. He was also an adviser to Syngman Rhee, President of South Korea, from 1952 to 1956 and a member of the Vermont Legislature from 1933 to 1941.

Paul Roh Ki-nam

Paul Marie Kinam Roh (22 December 1902 – 25 June 1984) was Bishop of Seoul in 1940–1962 and then Archbishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul in 1962–1967. He was noted as Pro-American and Anti-Communist in the Syngman Rhee years.

Rusk documents

The Rusk documents (also known as the Rusk–Yang correspondence) are the official diplomatic correspondence sent by Dean Rusk, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, to Yang You Chan (양유찬, 梁裕燦), the South Korean ambassador to the U.S at the August 10, 1951.

The Rusk documents show the negotiating position of the U.S. State Department.The correspondence states the negotiating position as:

Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration did not constitute a formal or final renunciation of sovereignty by Japan.

The Japanese claim to the Liancourt Rocks would not be renounced in the peace treaty.

The MacArthur line stands until the conclusion of the Treaty of San Francisco.

Japan has no obligation to compensate for damage to private property owned by Koreans that was damaged in Japan during the war.

Japanese property in Korea is pursuant to directives of United States Military Government and Korea Government.

Syngman Rhee (clergyman)

Syngman Rhee (March 25, 1931 – January 14, 2015) was a Presbyterian minister who served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2000.

Syngman Rhee Line

The Syngman Rhee Line (Hanja: 李承晩線, Korean: 이승만 라인) refers to a marine boundary line established by South Korean President Syngman Rhee in his "Peace Line" (Korean: 평화선, Hanja: 平和線) declaration of January 18, 1952, establishing a wide area of maritime sovereignty, beyond internationally accepted territorial waters, around the entire Korean Peninsula. This included placing the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima) in South Korean territory.

Yeosu–Suncheon rebellion

Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion, also known as the Yeo-Sun Incident (Yeo-Sun an abbreviation of the area names Yeosu and Suncheon), was a rebellion that began in October 1948 and mostly ended by November of the same year. However, pockets of resistance lasted through to 1957, almost 10 years later.

It is often called a " rebellion incident, " but it is used as a case of " Yeosu and Suncheon incident " or " Yeosu, Suncheon 10.19 incident " since 1995 because the residents of the area may have mistaken it as the main object of the uprising.The rebellion took place in Yeosu, Suncheon, and various surrounding towns in the South Jeolla province of South Korea. Rising anti-government sentiment towards the Syngman Rhee regime ignited in rebellion as 2,000 left-leaning soldiers based in the Yeo-Sun area raised arms in opposition to the Rhee government's handling of the Jeju Uprising, which occurred just months earlier in April.

Park Chung-hee, who would later become a president of South Korea, participated in the rebellion, although he was allegedly given leniency in exchange for aiding in the hunt for others involved in the rebellion.

Leaders of Korea
Korean government-
Divided Korea
(since 1945)
Provisional Governments (Pre-Union) (1919)
Provisional Government (1919–1948)
First Republic (1948–1960)
Second Republic (1960–1961)
Military Junta (1961–1963)
Third Republic (1963–1972)
Fourth Republic (1972–1981)
Fifth Republic (1981–1988)
Sixth Republic (1988–present)
Frozen conflicts
Foreign policy
See also


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