William L. Clayton

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William L. Clayton
William L. Clayton arrives for Potsdam Conference, 1945
William Lockhart Clayton

(1880-02-07)February 7, 1880
DiedFebruary 8, 1966(1966-02-08) (aged 86)
Occupation(s)Cotton trader, public servant
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseSusan Vaughan Clayton

William Lockhart Clayton (February 7, 1880 – February 8, 1966) was an American business leader and government official. Much of his business career centered on cotton trading. He and his three brothers-in-law formed a partnership that grew into the Anderson, Clayton and Company, at one time the world's largest cotton trading company. Politically aligned with the Democratic Party, he opposed some of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's agricultural policies. He repudiated his opposition after Roosevelt's Secretary of State Cordell Hull worked for a reciprocal trade agreement.[1][a]

Returning to government service in 1940, Clayton first Later in World War II, he took on a number of roles in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. He first served as deputy to the coordinator of inter-American affairs. For the next four years he held a variety of high-level positions with the Export-Import Bank, the Department of Commerce, and wartime agencies. He served as assistant, and then as deputy Secretary of State for economic affairs from December 1944 to October 1947, where he was primarily concerned with working on the Marshall Plan. He returned to Houston and private life in late 1947, though he continued to serve the government as a participant and contributor to various international conferences on world trade and other economic issues.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Born near Tupelo, Mississippi to James Monroe and Martha Fletcher (Burdine) Clayton, Will Clayton moved with his family in 1886, to Jackson, Tennessee, where he completed seven grades of public school.[1] Leaving school at age 13, he became an expert stenographer, which earned him a job as private secretary to Jerome Hall, a Saint Louis cotton merchant. In 1896, Clayton went to work for the American Cotton Company in New York City, becoming an assistant general manager in 1904. He left the company later that year to join with two other partners (including his brother-in-law Monroe Dunaway Anderson) in starting Anderson, Clayton and Company, a cotton marketing firm based in Oklahoma City.[2] In 1916, the firm moved its headquarters to Houston, Texas, where it grew to be the world's largest cotton-trading enterprise.[3]

Government service[edit]

Clayton entered government service in World War I as a member of the Cotton Distribution Committee of the War Industries Board. Although he was a Democrat, he opposed the New Deal agricultural policies of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the New Deal's free trade policies led him to support Roosevelt in the 1936 election.[1]

In 1940, Clayton returned to government service in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, then moved to the Export-Import Bank, where he worked to procure strategic materials for the United States and to deny them to Nazi Germany. After a series of administrative shuffles, Clayton found himself working under Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Disagreements between them led Clayton to resign in January 1944, only to return to government service a month later as Surplus War Property Administrator under James F. Byrnes in the Office of War Mobilization.[4]

At the end of 1944, Clayton was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, a post that allowed him to promote the free trade policies that he believed in. He was a member of the Interim Committee appointed to advise Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry S. Truman on problems expected to arise from the development of the atomic bomb and he was an economic advisor to Truman at the Potsdam Conference.

Postwar career[edit]

External image
image icon http://webapps.jhu.edu/namedprofessorships/images/Med43.jpg William L. Clayton and Susan Vaughan Clayton. Source: Johns Hopkins University.

Truman appointed Clayton as the first Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, a post Clayton held for 1946-47. In this role, Clayton witnessed the weakness of U.S. allies and their susceptibility to falling under the domination of the Soviet Union. He urged greater U.S. engagement with the world to halt the spread of communism. In a March 5 memo, Clayton wrote a fifteen-point manifesto for U.S. global leadership, in which he argued:

The reins of world leadership are fast slipping from Britain's competent, but now very weak hands. These reins will be picked up either by the United States or by Russia. If by Russia, there will almost certainly be a war in the next decade or so, with the odds against us. If by the United States, war can almost certainly be prevented.[5]

Clayton strongly supported American economic aid to rebuild Europe after World War II and had a major role in shaping the Marshall Plan in 1947. After returning from a meeting at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva in May, Clayton wrote a memo to George Marshall, "The European Crisis," in which he argued that U.S. economic aid was urgently needed to prevent the collapse of Europe. In the memo, he warned that "without further prompt and substantial aid from the United States, economic, social and political disintegration will overwhelm Europe[6] Charles Bohlen, when drafting the announcement of the Marshall Plan, drew heavily from Clayton's memo.

In 1948, he returned to his private business in Houston but remained active in efforts to promote free trade and economic cooperation between the United States and its allies during the Cold War.[4] Clayton was also an early advocate of improved relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China,[7]

In 1963, when Clayton was in his eighties, President John F. Kennedy asked him to work on the national export expansion program and the limited nuclear test ban treaty. The William L. Clayton Professorship of International Economics at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a part of the Johns Hopkins University (of which Clayton was a trustee from 1949 until his death), is named for him.[8]

Personal and family life[edit]

Clayton's summer house in Houston, Texas, designed and built for him in 1924[9]

Clayton married Susan Vaughan Clayton in Clinton, Kentucky on August 14, 1902. They had one son and four daughters. The son died in infancy, but the daughters survived their parents.[1]

William Clayton died in Houston, Texas February 8, 1966, after a short illness, and is buried there in Glenwood Cemetery.[10]

Clayton papers[edit]

Many of Clayton's papers (1926-1966) are housed at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.[11] Other significant papers are housed at Rice University[12] and the Hoover Institution.[13]


Clayton is memorialized by the William L. Clayton Professorship on International Economics at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a part of Johns Hopkins University located in Washington, D.C.,[14] [b] The William L. Clayton Professorship of International Economic Affairs at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, a part of Tufts University,[15] and the Will Clayton Fellowship in International Economics at the James Baker Institute, a part of Rice University.[16] Clayton and his associates in the cotton trade are memorialized on a marker in the M.D. Anderson Memorial Plaza in Jackson, Tennessee.[17] Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, a division of the Houston Public Library, located in the Clayton home, guest house, carriage house, and additional building is considered one of the foremost genealogical libraries in the United States. [18]


  1. ^ Clayton had previously strongly supported such a policy for years as a private citizen.[1]
  2. ^ James C.Riedel is the current holder of the William L. Clayton Professorship in International Economics at Johns Hopkins.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f James A. Tinsley, "Clayton, William Lockhart" in Handbook of Texas Online.
  2. ^ 174 Years of Historic Houston: Great Citizens - Will Clayton
  3. ^ "Cotton & King," Time Magazine, August 17, 1936.
  4. ^ a b John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (eds.), Dictionary of American Biography, Supp. No. 8, 1966–1970, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (1988) pp. 88–90.
  5. ^ Untitled Memorandum, 5 March 1947, Folder: Marshall Plan Memos, 1947, Box 60, Papers of William L. Clayton, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Missouri
  7. ^ Priscilla Roberts, "William L.Clayton and the recognition of China, 1945-1966: more speculations on 'lost chances in China'," Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 7:1-2, (Spring-Summer 1998): 5-37.
  8. ^ Description of William L. Clayton Professorship
  9. ^ "PROTECTED LANDMARK DESIGNATION REPORT: William L. Clayton Summer House" (PDF). Archaeological & Historical Commission, City of Houston Planning and Development Department. November 20, 2008. p. 2. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  10. ^ The Texas Underground: William L. Clayton
  11. ^ Will L. Clayton Papers: Administrative Information and Folder Title List
  12. ^ William Lockhart Clayton - Papers, 1897-1966, MS 7, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.
  13. ^ Hoover Institution Archives: Register of the Will Clayton Papers, 1896-1990
  14. ^ a b "William L. Clayton Professorship in International Economics". Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
  15. ^ "The Fletcher School Faculty Profile". The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  16. ^ "Baker Institute Experts Directory". James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  17. ^ "M.D. Anderson Memorial Plaza Unveiled". Jackson, TN, Convention & Visitors Bureau. 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
  18. ^ https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Clayton_Library_Center_for_Genealogical_Research

Further reading[edit]

  • Gregory A. Fossedal, Our Finest Hour: Will Clayton, the Marshall Plan, and the Triumph of Democracy, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1993, 349 pages. ISBN 0-8179-9201-4

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
New Office
Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
August 3, 1946 – October 15, 1947
Succeeded by