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Letter from Dean Acheson to Felix Frankfurter, November 16, 1920.
Dean Acheson Papers. Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.

Jeremy Schiffres 11, Dean Acheson on Leadership

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On a short list of instrumental U.S. foreign policy architects during the Cold War, Dean Acheson would be near the top. Acheson was an important political advisor for over forty years, aiding four Presidents and a Supreme Court Justice, most prominently as United States Secretary of State for President Truman between 1949 and 1953. Throughout his life, Acheson would reflect in his letters on the need for intellectuals to be political advisors and leaders within American democracy.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Acheson was encouraged by then-professor Felix Frankfurter to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, which he did from 1919 to 1921. Acheson and Frankfurter kept in close contact the rest of their lives, and their letters during this time provide Acheson’s reflections about Brandeis, a man he looked upon as a role model. This page from a 1920 letter from Acheson sheds light on Brandeis’s thoughts about society. To Brandeis, the majority of people are unable to see beyond that, “with which they are intimately acquainted”; Brandeis, in contrast, views himself as one of a select “indivdual [sic] minds” able and responsible for guiding a “handful of followers out of the wilderness.” Acheson would later note how influential his time with Brandeis would prove to be in his intellectual development. Specifically, the experience would cement his belief in the importance of an intellectual elite, a group of which Acheson certainly considered himself a member.