William Pierce Rogers (June 23, 1913 – January 2, 2001) was an American politician, diplomat, and lawyer. 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.
|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 1953 – October 23, 1957
|Preceded by||Ross L. Malone|
|Succeeded by||Lawrence Walsh|
William Pierce Rogers|
June 23, 1913
Norfolk, New York, U.S.
January 2, 2001 (aged 87)|
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Adele Langston (m. 1937–2001)
Colgate University (BA)|
Cornell University (LLB)
|Service/branch||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 reared 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 law degree, graduating as a member of the Order of the Coif, and passed the New York bar in 1937. He married Adele Langston Rogers (August 15, 1911 – May 27, 2001). The couple had four children: Dale R. Marshall, Douglas L. Rogers, Anthony W. Rogers and Jeffrey L. Rogers.
After serving about a year as an attorney for a Wall Street law office, 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.
In 1950, Rogers became a partner in a New York City law firm, Dwight, Royall, Harris, Koegel & Caskey. He thereafter returned to the firm when he was not in government service.
While serving as a Committee Counsel to a Senate committee, he examined the 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.
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 recalll 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. One of his notable aims was to initiate efforts at a lasting peace in the Arab–Israeli conflict by the so-called Rogers Plan. 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.
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."
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' 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.
He died of congestive heart failure, at the Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 2, 2001, at the age of 87. Rogers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the Eisenhower Administration.
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.
| United States Deputy Attorney General
| United States Attorney General
| United States Secretary of State