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Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Biographies

Select Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Since its creation in 1816, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has developed an expansive jurisdiction, holding hearings and preparing legislation on a variety of issues including arms control, trade, foreign aid, and international environmental concerns. The committee oversees executive agreements with foreign powers and provides advice and consent on diplomatic nominations and treaties. Chairmen of the committee consult with foreign dignitaries and counsel presidents, often playing a significant role in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.

Rufus King: A Featured Biography
Image of Rufus King

Rufus King (1755-1827) became a United States senator in 1789. Having represented the state of Massachusetts in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, King moved to New York in 1788 and became one of that state's first U.S. senators. A lawyer and graduate of Harvard College, King soon established himself as an eloquent orator and skilled debater. As senator, he participated in the creation of the First Bank of the United States. In 1796, President George Washington named him minister to Great Britain. Returning to the Senate in 1813, King served another two terms. During his Senate career, he chaired the Committee on Roads and Canals and the Committee on Foreign Relations. Throughout his political career, Rufus King remained a loyal and prominent member of the Federalist Party, and was the party's last presidential candidate in 1816.

Henry Clay: A Featured Biography

Henry Clay by Allyn Cox
Henry Clay of Kentucky (1777-1852), closely associated with the antebellum era of the Senate, was one member of a "Great Triumvirate"—along with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun—that made an indelible mark on Senate history.

James Murray Mason: A Featured Biography
Photo of James Murray Mason

In the Senate, James Murray Mason of Virginia resolutely defended southern interests. On January 4, 1850, he introduced the Fugitive Slave Act to strengthen existing law regarding runaway slaves. Henry Clay included the measure in his Compromise of 1850, a set of resolutions aimed at diffusing the sectional crisis. Clay’s compromise faced stiff opposition, particularly from ailing South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun. On March 4, 1850, with the dying Calhoun too weak to speak, Mason rose in the Senate Chamber to read Calhoun’s final speech, denouncing the compromise. Eventually, the Senate approved five of Clay’s resolutions, including Mason’s Fugitive Slave Act. Although such measures maintained a fragile peace for a decade, ultimately they could not stave off civil war. On March 28, 1861, two weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter, Mason withdrew from the Senate to join the Confederacy. Four months later, on July 11, the Senate expelled Mason and nine of his southern colleagues. On November 8, 1861, the U.S. government arrested Mason and former senator John Slidell as they traveled to Europe to serve as diplomatic commissioners for the Confederacy, an incident known as the Trent Affair.

Charles Sumner: A Featured Biography
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts

As Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner sat writing at his desk in the Senate Chamber on May 22, 1856, he was brutally assaulted by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Angered by Sumner's "Crime against Kansas" speech, in which Sumner criticized South Carolina senator Andrew Butler, Brooks struck Sumner repeatedly with a heavy cane. During the long recuperation that followed, Sumner's empty desk in the Senate Chamber stood as a powerful symbol of the tensions between North and South in the years before the Civil War. This dramatic event was just one episode in a long Senate career that lasted from 1851 to 1874. When Sumner returned to full-time Senate duties in 1859, he continued to fight for abolition. With the end of war and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, he concentrated on providing full political and civil rights to African Americans and went on to author one of the nation's first civil rights bills. Sumner died in 1874.


John Sherman: A Featured Biography
Photo of John Sherman of Ohio

John Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on May 10, 1823. He was the younger brother of Civil War-era general William Tecumseh Sherman. After working as an engineer on canal projects and as a lawyer, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1854, where he served until elected in 1861 to fill the Senate seat vacated by Salmon P. Chase. Between 1861 and 1897, John Sherman interrupted his tenure in the Senate to serve in the cabinets of two presidents, both from Ohio. He acted as Rutherford B. Hayes's secretary of the treasury (March 10, 1877-March 3, 1881) and William McKinley's secretary of state (March 6, 1897-April 27, 1898). During his time in the Senate Sherman chaired numerous committees, was Republican Conference chairman (1884-1885, 1891-1897), and acted as president pro tempore during the 49th Congress (1885-1887). On June 17, 1894, John Sherman broke the Senate service record, previously held by Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton. With nearly 32 years in the Senate, John Sherman is perhaps best remembered for authoring the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the first federal law targeting monopolies and anti-competitive behavior. John Sherman died in Washington, D.C., on October 22, 1900, and is buried in Ohio.

Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr.: A Featured Biography
Photo of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts

Scholar and politician, Henry Cabot Lodge was born in Boston in 1850. He received one of the first PhD degrees in history and government from Harvard and became a professor of history as well as editor of the North American Review. In the 1880s he ran for political office, first in the state legislature and then in the U.S. Congress. Elected to the United States Senate in 1892, he remained in office until his death in 1924. During his Senate career, Lodge served as president pro tempore and chair of the Republican Conference (which also made him de facto majority leader). As chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Republican Lodge opposed Democratic President Woodrow Wilson over the post–World War I Treaty of Versailles. The bitter debate between the two men led to the Senate’s rejection of the treaty in 1919 and 1920. Despite his busy legislative career, Lodge found time to write many books and articles, including The Senate and the League of Nations, a personal memoir of the important treaty debate.

William Borah: A Featured Biography
Photo of Senator William Borah

Senator William Borah was affectionately known as the "Lion of Idaho" during his 33 years in the United States Senate. Elected as a Republican in 1907, Borah established himself as a prominent progressive with a fiercely independent spirit. This superb orator who had a knack for courting publicity was once named by Time magazine as the "most famed senator of the century." Despite his leading role in the creation of two constitutional amendments—establishing the graduated income tax and the direct election of senators—Borah is best remembered for his unwavering opposition to the so-called Susan B. Anthony amendment granting women the right to vote. As a 10-year chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Borah also shaped American foreign policy in the period between the world wars. An isolationist, Borah helped organize opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, which the Senate resoundingly rejected in 1919. In January 1940, Borah suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. His funeral service was held in the U.S. Senate Chamber.

Walter F. George: A Featured Biography
Senator Walter Franklin George.

Walter F. George resigned his position as an associate justice of Georgia's supreme court in 1922 to run in a special election to fill a Senate vacancy. Victorious, George served in the Senate from 1922 to 1957. During his long tenure, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and the Finance Committee. Although he seldom spoke in the Senate Chamber, George was a skilled orator. “When Walter spoke,” recalled Senate staff member Carl Marcy, “senators listened. They came to the floor to hear what he had to say." Throughout his Senate career, the Georgia senator remained a staunch segregationist, signing the Southern Manifesto in 1956, which called for resistance to desegregation in public schools in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. He consistently opposed all civil rights measures, including anti-lynching bills. George also opposed U.S. involvement in World War II, but his stance changed following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He chaired the Finance Committee throughout the war years, working closely with President Franklin Roosevelt to fund war efforts, and became a strong internationalist. He supported the creation of the United Nations in 1945, funding of the Marshall Plan in 1948, and approval of SEATO in 1954. In 1955 he became the Senate president pro tempore. When George retired from the Senate in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him as ambassador to NATO. Upon his death that year, the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a commemorative 4¢ stamp.

Arthur Vandenberg: A Featured Biography
Photo of Senator Arthur Vandenberg

Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1884-1951) of Michigan delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world" in the Senate Chamber on January 10, 1945, announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism. In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Asserting that we must stop “partisan politics at the water's edge," he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. As recalled by Francis Wilcox, the first chief of staff  of the Foreign Relations Committee, Vandenberg's Senate career stands as a monument to bipartisanship in American foreign policy. Vandenberg died in 1951, but his legacy continues. In 2000 the Senate bestowed a unique honor on the Michigan senator, voting to add his portrait to a very select collection in the Senate Reception Room.

Theodore Francis Green: A Featured Biography
Senator Theodore Francis Green

Theodore Francis Green was a Democratic governor and U.S. senator from the state of Rhode Island. Born in 1867 to a family well-established in New England politics, Green was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1936 and served until 1961. In 1942 Senator Green delivered the Senate's annual reading of Washington's Farewell Address. For 20 years, Green served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chaired from 1957 to 1959. An ardent internationalist, Green worked with other lawmakers to set policy on a range of issues, including the Truman Doctrine, the NATO alliance, the Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. In 1952 President Harry Truman selected Green to serve as a delegate to the 7th General Assembly of the United Nations. Green was a Washington socialite and an avid outdoorsman. At the time of his retirement from the Senate at the age of 93 in 1961, he was the oldest person to serve in the Senate.

J. William Fulbright: A Featured Biography

J. William Fulbright (1905-1995) holds the record as the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, from 1959 to 1974. Elected to the Senate in 1944, he sponsored the Fulbright Scholars Act, creating Fulbright scholarships for Americans to study abroad, and for foreign scholars to study in the United States. In 1964, as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright managed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Lyndon Johnson sweeping powers to respond to military provocation in South Vietnam. Later, troubled over the gradual escalation of the war in Vietnam, Fulbright held nationally televised "educational" hearings on Vietnam, bringing the Arkansas senator to national attention. He publicly challenged the "old myths and new realities" of American foreign policy, and warned against "the arrogance of power."

John Sparkman: A Featured Biography
Image of John J. Sparkman

Alabama's longest serving senator, John Sparkman represented his state in the U.S. Congress for 42 years. Although he had a rural upbringing, Sparkman was one of the principal architects of post-World War II urban development and housing policy. As a long-time member, and 12-year chairman, of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, Sparkman promoted legislation to stimulate the post-war housing boom, including President Harry Truman’s 1949 Housing Act, and helped pass legislation to fund public transportation systems. A staunch segregationist, in 1956 Sparkman signed the Southern Manifesto, a statement that called for resistance to forced integration in public schools in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. During his congressional career, he consistently opposed civil rights bills that came before Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sparkman gained national prominence in the 1952 presidential campaign when he was selected to run as the Democratic vice presidential candidate with former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson, II. He also left his mark on American foreign policy, serving on the Foreign Relations Committee during most of his Senate career. Fervently opposed to global communism, Sparkman supported the use of American military force to contain it, including wars in Korea and Vietnam. As Foreign Relations chairman from 1975 to 1979, he supported approval of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1978. Sparkman retired from Congress in 1979.

Frank Church: A Featured Biography
Photograph of Senator Frank Church of Idaho

As a senator from Idaho, Frank Church championed wide-ranging causes. He played a major role in creating protected wilderness areas, floor managing the Wilderness Act of 1964 and authoring the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. As chairman of the Committee on Aging, he supported legislation to provide automatic cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients. Church forged his legacy, however, in the realm of national security and foreign policy, serving 24 years on the Foreign Relations Committee—the final two as chairman. He was an early critic of the Johnson administration’s Vietnam War policies, and in 1971 he co-authored an amendment to the foreign aid authorization bill to stop all funding for the war in Southeast Asia. In 1975 Church chaired the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a 16-month investigation of national intelligence agencies. Heavily criticized for his support of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1978, Church was defeated for reelection in 1980.