Prologue to Sumer Welles: FDR's Global Strategist by his son Benjamin Welles.



ON A SWELTERING SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON IN 1940, Sumner Welles, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Under Secretary of State and lifelong friend, boarded the presidential train at Washington's Union Station. Tall, imposing and immaculately dressed, Welles was then at the peak of a brilliant career. A veteran diplomat and linguist, he had conceived and carried out for FDR, among other responsibilities, the Good Neighbor policy—arguably the high-water mark of U.S.-Latin American relations since the founding of the republic.

Age forty eight—ten years younger than FDR—he, too, had attended Groton and Harvard. The Welles and Roosevelt families had long been close, and, as a twelve-year-old, Welles had served as a page at Franklin's wedding to Eleanor. Later FDR had sponsored his entry into the diplomatic service, had followed his career closely and, after taking office in 1932, had named Welles Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America. Ever since, FDR had come to rely on Welles's quick mind, tireless energy and compendious knowledge of foreign affairs. In 1940 many thought Welles the likely successor to Cordell Hull, FDR's elderly and chronically ill Secretary of State.

Few, however—and least of all Welles—would have suspected that the next thirty-six hours would start unraveling his career and generate a scandal that Roosevelt would struggle to suppress for the next three years.

Weeks earlier, Roosevelt's choice of the liberal Henry Wallace as his running mate for a third-term bid had affronted Hull and other Southern conservatives. His choice of Wallace and his decision to run for a third term had left the Democrats in disarray. As a political gesture, FDR asked the cabinet members to attend the funeral of the recently deceased House Speaker William Bankhead at his birthplace, Jasper, Alabama. "It was a very hot, uncomfortable journey," remembered Attorney General Robert H. Jackson. "It would not have been undertaken by the President, at that time, if it hadn't been for the campaign situation."1

The President's train pulled out of Washington's Union Station on Monday, September 16, at 5 P.M., carrying FDR and his cabinet members or their deputies. Hull had pleaded illness so Welles, representing him, was assigned a sleeping compartment in the car between the President's at the rear and the dining car. On one side was Navy Under Secretary James V. Forrestal; on the other, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. Others aboard included Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Federal Works Administrator John M. Carmody and Wallace. The train reached Jasper early Tuesday afternoon in ninety-degree heat.2

After changing into funeral attire, the President and cabinet members drove to the small First Methodist Church where 65,000 visitors, drawn by FDR's presence, gathered outside. Immediately after the service, the President and his party returned to the train which was soon clacking and swaying back to Washington. The next few hours would alter Welles's life.

Bone-weary, he began drinking in the dining car with colleagues. By 2 A.M. he was drunk. By then, all but Carmody and Wallace had gone to bed. Welles rambled on about his mission to Europe for FDR earlier that year and, according to Wallace, praised the Pope and Mussolini.3 By 4 A.M., as the train neared Roanoke, Virginia, Wallace and Carmody retired, leaving Welles alone. After lurching and staggering to his compartment, he rang for coffee and the sleepy Pullman staff roused itself to serve him.

The first porter to appear, John Stone, a respected black veteran of the Pullman service, was allegedly offered money for immoral acts. Refusing politely but firmly, Stone returned to the dining car and recounted the incident to his colleagues. Other porters subsequently answered Welles's calls4 and later reported "indirect" advances. The news soon reached the ears of W. F. Kush, the dining car manager; W. A. Brooks, a conductor; and D. J. Geohagen, a Pullman inspector. Luther Thomas, the Southern Railway's special assistant for security, alerted Dale Whiteside, chief of the President's Secret Service detail.

Whiteside ordered a porter to take Welles coffee and leave the compartment door open while he and Thomas waited in the corridor nearby. They were unable to hear the conversation, and, at this point, Welles suddenly emerged. Seeing Whiteside, he exclaimed: "What is Whiteside doing in this car?" He reentered his compartment, slammed the door and left the train without further incident on its arrival at the Union Station that afternoon. It was September 18, seven weeks before the 1940 election.

Thomas ordered the railway employees to say nothing, except to the proper authorities, and to put nothing in writing. Reports were to be solely oral. Possibly no one would believe that a senior government official in his right mind—least of all the patrician Under Secretary of State—would solicit Pullman porters on a train carrying the President, the cabinet, the Secret Service and railway officials. Welles, of course, had not been in his right mind. A railway flag man told the FBI later that the "tall, well-dressed, dignified man of about 45," whom he did not know, appeared "doped or highly intoxicated."

Fate, however, had caught up with Welles at the wrong time and wrong place. Within weeks the story would reach the ears of his fanatic rival, William Christian Bullitt, FDR's ambassador to France, who, over the next three years, would spare neither time, nor trouble, nor expense to destroy Welles—and ironically, himself in the process.

Truman Capote and Sumner Welles!!

On January 5, 1966, Truman Capote (1924-1984) signed a contract with Random House for a new book to be called Answered Prayers. The advance against royalties was $25,000, and the delivery date was January 1, 1968. The novel, Truman maintained, would be a contemporary equivalent of Proust's masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past, and would examine the small world of the very rich—part aristocratic, part café society—of Europe and the east coast of the United States.

1966 was a wonderful year for Truman. Two weeks after he signed the contract for Answered Prayers, In Cold Blood was published in book form with enormous fanfare and to general acclaim. During the subsequent week the author's picture appeared on the cover of several national magazines, and his new work was given the lead review in virtually every Sunday book section. In the course of the year, In Cold Blood sold more than 300,000 copies and was on The New York Times best-seller list for thirty-seven weeks. (Eventually it outsold every other nonfiction book in 1966 save for two self-help books; since then it has been published in some two dozen foreign editions and has sold almost five million copies in the United States alone).

Truman Capote, in the May 1976 issue of Esquire, described a chance encounter with Welles in the 1950s. If this disgusting, vivid description did not reach enough of an audience, Answered Prayers, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in 1987, repeated the same lurid passage:

"It was after midnight in Paris in the bar of the Boeuf-sur-le-Toit, when he was sitting at a pink-clothed table with three men, two of them expensive tarts, Corsican pirates in British flannel, and the third none other than Sumner Wellesfans of Confidential Magazine will remember the patrician Mr. Welles, former undersecretary of State, great and good friend of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It made rather a tableau, one especially vivant, when His Excellency, pickled as brandied peaches, began nibbling those Corsican ears" (Answered Prayers, pp. 58-59).

The publication of a few chapters of this book in Esquire ruined Truman Capote. His friends refused to talk to him and the book was never finished except for the first 3 chapters. It was no loss anyway as it was a FILTHY book but is shows the length that the Roosevelt Reich will go to in order to whitewash and cover the perverted lifestyle of their architect of foreign policy, Sumner Welles.

Editor's Note

The biography of Sumner Welles was written by Welles's son Benjamin, and he was very, very kind to his father.


1. Columbia Oral History Collection, Columbia University, New York, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, p. 850.
2. The Secret Diary of Harold L Ickes (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1953), pp. 326 ff.
3. Henry A. Wallace, The Price of Vision: The Diary of Henry A. Wallace: 194-46, ed. John Morton Blum (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), p. 68.
4. Among them, Henry Calloway, James Hewitt, S. C. Mitchell of the press car and S. D. Lucas of the President's car, FBI records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
5. Memorandum for the Director, January 26, 1941, FBI records, obtained under the FOIA.

Capote Truman. Answered Prayers The Unfinished Novel. Random House. New York.1878.