William Christian Bullitt Jr.

  (Redirected from William C. Bullitt)

William Christian Bullitt Jr. (January 25, 1891 – February 15, 1967) was an American diplomat, journalist, and novelist. He is known for his special mission to negotiate with Lenin on behalf of the Paris Peace Conference, often recalled as a missed opportunity to normalize relations with the Bolsheviks.[3] He was also the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and the U.S. ambassador to France during World War II. In his youth, he was considered a radical, but he later became an outspoken anticommunist.[4]

William Christian Bullitt Jr.
William C Bullitt.jpg
United States Ambassador to France
In office
October 13, 1936 – July 11, 1940
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byJesse I. Strauss
Succeeded byWilliam D. Leahy
1st United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In office
December 13, 1933 – May 16, 1936
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byDavid R. Francis
(as Ambassador to Russia)
Succeeded byJoseph E. Davies
Personal details
BornJanuary 25, 1891
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
DiedFebruary 15, 1967(1967-02-15) (aged 76)
Neuilly, France
Political partyRepublican (since 1948)[1]
Other political
Democratic (until 1948)
Aimee Ernesta Drinker
(m. 1916; div. 1923)

(m. 1924; div. 1930)

Early yearsEdit

Bullitt was born to a prominent Philadelphia family, the son of Louisa Gross (Horwitz) [5] and William Christian Bullitt Sr. His grandfather was John Christian Bullitt, founder of the law firm today known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.[6] He graduated from Yale University in 1912, after having been voted "most brilliant" in his class. He briefly attended Harvard Law School but dropped out on the death of his father in 1914. At Yale, he was a member of Scroll and Key.

He married socialite Aimee Ernesta Drinker (1892-1981) in 1916. She gave birth to a son in 1917, who died two days later. They divorced in 1923. In 1924 he married Louise Bryant, journalist author of Six Red Months in Russia and widow of radical journalist John Reed. Bullitt divorced Bryant in 1930 and took custody of their daughter after he discovered Bryant's affair with English sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne. The Bullitts' daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, was born in February 1924, eight weeks after their marriage. Anne Bullitt never had children. In 1967, she married her fourth husband, U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster.

William Bullitt became a foreign correspondent in Europe and later a novelist. In 1926, he published It's Not Done, a satirical novel that lampooned the dying aristocracy of Chesterbridge (Philadelphia) and its life revolving around Rittenhouse Square.[7] The New York Times described the work as "a novel of ideas, whose limitation is that it is a volley, a propaganda novel, directed against a single institution, the American aristocratic ideal, and whose defect is that the smoke does not quite clear away so that one can accurately count the corpses."[8]

Diplomatic careerEdit

Working for President Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Bullitt was a strong supporter of legalistic internationalism, which was later known as Wilsonian.

Bullitt Mission of 1919Edit

Prior to the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles, Bullitt, along with journalist Lincoln Steffens and Swedish communist Karl Kilbom, undertook a special mission to Soviet Russia to negotiate diplomatic relations between the United States and the Bolshevik regime.[9] It was authorized by Wilson advisor Edward M. House. On March 14, Bullitt received a Soviet proposal that demanded that the Allies agree to a peace summit on the Russian Civil War in which they had been participating. The proposed terms for discussion included the lifting of the Allied blockade on the country, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Russia, the disarmament of the warring Russian factions, and a commitment by the Bolshevik government to honor Russia’s financial obligations to the Allies (the second time that the Soviets promised to honor the Tsarist debt in writing).[10][11]

The Allied leaders rejected these terms, however, apparently convinced that the White forces would be victorious.[12] British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had given early support to the Bullitt Commission, but he refused to make its findings known to the public. He told Bullitt that was because of pressure by Winston Churchill, who was an ardent anticommunist.[13]

Having failed to convince the leadership to support the establishment of relations with the Bolshevik government, Bullitt resigned from Wilson's staff.[9] On May 17, 1919, Bullitt publicly resigned from the American peace commission in Paris after he read the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In an open letter to Wilson, he condemned the peace as a tragic mockery of the principle of self-determination. He later returned to the United States and testified in the Senate against the Treaty of Versailles. He also had his report of his Russian trip placed into the record.[14] Margaret MacMillan describes both Bullitt and Steffens as "useful idiots" who were swindled by Lenin into Western abandonment of the White Russian factions.[15] Most historians, however, consider Lenin's peace offer to be a genuine effort to end the war that threatened his regime.[16][17][18] Stephen M. Walt called it a "lost opportunity" for the Allies to obtain better terms from the Soviets than they ultimately did.[3]

It's Not Done in IstanbulEdit

After leaving his job at the Department of State, Bullitt became managing editor of film stories at Paramount.[19] in 1921 he met Louise Bryant and accompanied her the next year in her journalistic travels in Europe.[20] In early 1923, they moved to Istanbul where they were settled in a historical villa overlooking Bosporus on the Asian side of the city that remained from the 18th century influential Köprülü family. ‌Being still legally married to Aimee Drinker, he introduced Louise Bryant as his niece.[21]

In Istanbul Bryant covered the Turkish War of Independence for the International News Service while Bullitt worked on his novel, It's Not Done (published in 1926) and dedicated it to Bryant.[22] Bullitt adopted a boy who had lost his father in the Balkan Wars and took him to the US.[21]

First U.S. ambassador to the Soviet UnionEdit

President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Bullitt the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, a post that he held from 1933 to 1936. At the time of his appointment, Bullitt was known as a liberal and thought by some to be something of a radical.[citation needed] The Soviets welcomed him as an old friend because of his diplomatic efforts at the Paris Peace Conference. Though Bullitt arrived in the Soviet Union with high hopes for Soviet–American relations, his view of the Soviet leadership soured on closer inspection. By the end of his tenure, he was openly hostile to the Soviet government. He would remain an outspoken anticommunist for the rest of his life.[23] Bullitt was recalled after American journalist Donald Day disclosed that he had been involved in illegal exchange of and trading with Torgsin rubles.[24]

During that period, he was briefly engaged to Roosevelt's personal secretary, Missy LeHand. However, she broke off the engagement after a trip to Moscow during which she reportedly discovered him to be having an affair with Olga Lepeshinskaya, a ballet dancer.[25][26]

The Spring Ball of the Full MoonEdit

On April 24, 1935, he hosted a Spring Festival at Spaso House, his official residence. He instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room; a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips; a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; an aviary made from fishnet filled with pheasants, parakeets, and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie of several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters, and a baby bear.[27]

The four hundred guests included Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov and the Defense Commissar Marshal Kliment Voroshilov; Communist Party luminaries Nikolai Bukharin, Lazar Kaganovich, and Karl Radek; Soviet Marshals Alexander Yegorov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Semyon Budyonny; and the writer Mikhail Bulgakov. The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Radek, and in the early morning hours, the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.[28] Bulgakov described the party as "The Spring Ball of the Full Moon" in his novel The Master and Margarita.[29] On October 29, 2010, Ambassador John Beyrle recreated Bullitt's ball with his own Enchanted Ball, dedicated to Bullitt and Bulgakov.[30]

Ambassador to FranceEdit

Bullitt was posted to France in October 1936 as ambassador. Fluent in French and an ardent francophile, Bullitt became established in Paris society.[31] He rented a château at Chantilly and owned at least 18,000 bottles of French wine.[31] As a close friend of Roosevelt, with whom he had daily telephone conversations, Bullitt was widely regarded as Roosevelt's personal envoy to France and so was much courted by French politicians.[31] Bullitt was especially close to Léon Blum and Édouard Daladier and had cordial but not friendly relations with Georges Bonnet.[32][33] Historians have criticized Bullitt for being too influenced by the last person to whom he spoke and for including too much gossip in his dispatches to Washington.[34]

On September 4, 1938, in the midst of the great crisis in Europe that was to culminate in the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, during the unveiling of a plaque in France honoring Franco-American friendship, Bullitt stated, "France and the United States were united in war and peace."[35] That led to much speculation in the press that if war broke out over Czechoslovakia, the United States would join the war on the Allied side.[35] On September 9, 1938, however, Roosevelt denied any such intention, saying it was "110% wrong that the United States would join a stop Hitler bloc."[35]

In 1939, Prime Minister Daladier informed him that French intelligence knew that Alger Hiss in the United States Department of State was working for Soviet intelligence. Bullitt passed the information along to Hiss's superior at the State Department.[36]

After the German invasion of France in 1940, Bullitt fell out with Roosevelt; they never reconciled. Bullitt insisted on remaining in Paris as the only ambassador of a major nation left when the Germans marched in on 14 June 1940. That angered Roosevelt, who believed Bullitt should have followed the French government to Bordeaux to look after US interests. Once thought of as a potential cabinet member, he now found his career blocked.

Campaign against Sumner WellesEdit

In the late 1930s, the US State Department was divided by rivalry between Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Undersecretary Sumner Welles, who was Roosevelt's favorite. Bullitt, who disliked Welles, was allied with Hull and Department Counselor R. Walton Moore.[37]

In September 1940, a drunken Welles made homosexual propositions to a pair of railroad porters. Bullitt learned of the incident through Moore, who, at his death, passed affidavits to Bullitt that were sworn by the porters who had been propositioned.[37] Bullitt used that information to campaign for Welles's resignation. Roosevelt long resisted taking any action against Welles. Elliott Roosevelt later wrote that his father believed that Bullitt had bribed the porters to make overtures to Welles to entrap him.[37]

On April 23, 1941, Bullitt confronted Roosevelt with his evidence, but he refused to yield to Bullitt's demands and dismissed him from any further significant duties with the State Department. At one point, he suggested to Hull that Bullitt should be appointed ambassador to Liberia, one of the worst postings in the Foreign Service.[37] In 1942, Bullitt pushed the story to Vice President Henry A. Wallace and to Hull. Roosevelt told Wallace that Bullitt ought to "burn in hell" for what he was saying about Welles. In early 1943, Hull began to demand Welles' removal. Bullitt now informed Senator Owen Brewster, a Republican, a strong opponent of Roosevelt. Brewster threatened a senatorial inquiry. The potential scandal finally forced Roosevelt to act, and on September 30, 1943, Welles resigned. Roosevelt remained very angry with Bullitt and refused to give him any other government post.[37]

Later lifeEdit

Denied a commission in the US Armed Forces by Roosevelt, Bullitt joined the Free French Forces. Roosevelt suggested to Bullitt to run for Mayor of Philadelphia as a Democrat in 1943, but Roosevelt secretly told the Democratic leaders there, "Cut his throat."[37] Bullitt was defeated.[38]

Between 1941 and 1945, Bullitt wrote volumes of stories and social commentary on the dangers of fascism and communism. In the postwar years, he became a militant anticommunist. At the same time, he also believed that extending the 1919 Bullitt Commission and the negotiations with Lenin would have been constructive.[39]

In the August 24, 1954, issue of Look, in his article "Should We Support an Attack on Red China?", he proposed an immediate attack on Communist China and asserted that the United States should "reply to the next Communist aggression by dropping bombs on the Soviet Union."[40]

Bullitt died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on February 15, 1967 and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.[41]

Co-author with FreudEdit

Bullitt was psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the 1920s. The patient and the analyst became such good friends that they decided to write a book together, a psycho-biographical study of Woodrow Wilson. That was quite exceptional, as Freud very rarely co-operated with other authors.

The book was not published until 1966, when psychoanalysts doubted that Freud had had much to do with it though Freud had been an active co-author. It argued that Wilson resolved his Oedipus complex by becoming highly neurotic, casting his father as God and himself as Christ, the savior of mankind, which ruined the Versailles Treaty.[42]

The book received a reception that was almost unanimously hostile. The historian A. J. P. Taylor called it a "disgrace" and asked, "How did anyone ever manage to take Freud seriously?"[43]



  • Foreign policy
    • The Bullitt Mission to Russia (New York: Huebsch, 1919)
    • The Great Globe Itself (New York: Scribner's, 1946)
  • Biography
    • Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1967), with Sigmund Freud
  • Novel
    • It's Not Done (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926)


  • "How We Won the War and Lost the Peace" Part I, Life (August 30, 1948)
  • "How We Won the War and Lost the Peace" Part II, Life (September 6, 1948)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt (NY: Macmillan, 1988) 312
  2. ^ Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, 331
  3. ^ a b Walt, Stephen M. (2013-08-09). Revolution and War. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801470004.
  4. ^ Herring, George (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 497. ISBN 978-0-19-507822-0.
  5. ^ http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/fajf/pdfs/stern_p118.pdf
  6. ^ TIME: "Second Blooming," May 1, 1933
  7. ^ W. Bullitt, It's Not Done, New York, 1926.
  8. ^ The New York Times: "It's Not Done," April 11, 1926, accessed November 12, 2010
  9. ^ a b Schlesinger, Arthur (1957). The Crisis of the Old Order 1919-1933. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 13–14.
  10. ^ Thompson, John M. (2015-12-08). Russia, Bolshevism, and the Versailles Peace. Princeton University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9781400878888.
  11. ^ McFadden, David W.; Facs, Assistant Professor of History David W. McFadden, MD; McFadden, David W. (1993). Alternative Paths: Soviets and Americans, 1917-1920. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195071870.
  12. ^ "Milestones: 1914–1920 - Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  13. ^ Tillman, Seth P. (2015-12-08). Anglo-American Relations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400876723.
  14. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2002). Paris 1919. Random House. ISBN 0375508260.:80
  15. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2002). Paris 1919. Random House. ISBN 0375508260.:79
  16. ^ "20th-century international relations - Peacemaking, 1919–22". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  17. ^ Mann, Tara L. (2016-07-15). World War I. Encyclopaedia Britannica. ISBN 9781680483512.
  18. ^ McFadden, David W.; Facs, Assistant Professor of History David W. McFadden, MD; McFadden, David W. (1993). Alternative Paths: Soviets and Americans, 1917-1920. Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780195071870.
  19. ^ Dearborn 1996, p. 201.
  20. ^ Dearborn 1996, pp. 184–87.
  21. ^ a b Yalman, Ahmet Emin (1997). akın Tarihte Gördüklerim ve Geçirdiklerim (in Turkish). 3 (2 ed.). Istanbul: Pera Turizm ve Ticaret A.Ş. p. 849.
  22. ^ Dearborn 1996, pp. 217–19.
  23. ^ Brownell and Billings, pp. ??
  24. ^ Donald Day: Onward Christian Soldiers. Suppressed reports of a 20 year Chicago Tribune correspondent in eastern Europe from 1921. Noontide Press. Torrance, California. 1985. ISBN 0-939482-03-7
  25. ^ Goodwin, Doris Kearns (1994). No Ordinary Time. Simon & Schuster. pp. 154–55. ISBN 9780684804484.
  26. ^ Amerikanskiy Voland by Leonid Spivak (Russian)
  27. ^ Charles W. Thayer, Bears in the Caviar (New York, 1950), 106-114
  28. ^ Thayer, 106-114
  29. ^ Spaso House; 75 years: A Short History, 18-20
  30. ^ See video of 2010 recreation of Bullitt's ball under external links.
  31. ^ a b c Adamthwaite, 176
  32. ^ Adamthwaite, 176-177.
  33. ^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 148.
  34. ^ Adamthwaite, 177
  35. ^ a b c Adamthwaite, 209
  36. ^ Brownell and Billings, 318
  37. ^ a b c d e f Benjamin Welles, Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist: A Biography (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997) 197, 272–279, 341–350
  38. ^ New York Times: William M. Blair, "Samuel Elected in Philadelphia," November 3, 1943, accessed November 12, 2010
  39. ^ Thompson, John M. (2015-12-08). Russia, Bolshevism, and the Versailles Peace. Princeton University Press. p. 173. ISBN 9781400878888.
  40. ^ Rowan, Carl (1956). The Pitiful and the Proud. New York: Random House. pp. 62.
  41. ^ William Christian Bullitt Jr. at Find a Grave
  42. ^ J. F. Campbell. "'To Bury Freud on Wilson': Uncovering 'Thomas Woodrow Wilson, A Psychological Study', by Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt" Modern Austrian Literature 41#2 (2008), pp. 41-56 online
  43. ^ Peter Gay, Freud for Historians (NY: Oxford University Press, 1985), 93

Further readingEdit

  • Adamthwaite, Anthony, France and the Coming of the Second World War 1936–1939 (London: Frank Cass, 1977), ISBN 0-7146-3035-7
  • Alexander, Martin S. "Safes and houses: William C. Bullitt, embassy security and the shortcomings of the US foreign service in Europe before the second world war." Diplomacy and Statecraft 2.2 (1991): 187-210.
  • Brownell, Will, and Billings, Richard, So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt (NY: Macmillan, 1988), ISBN 0-02-517410-X
  • Campbell, J. F. " 'To Bury Freud on Wilson': Uncovering Thomas Woodrow Wilson, A Psychological Study, by Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt." Modern Austrian Literature 41.2 (2008) pp 41–56 Online
  • Cassella-Blackburn, Michael. The Donkey, the Carrot, and the Club: William C. Bullitt and Soviet-American relations, 1917-1948. (Greenwood, 2004). Online
  • Farnsworth, Beatrice. William C. Bullitt and the Soviet Union (Indiana UP, 1967).
  • Thayer, Charles Wheeler, Bears in the Caviar (NY: Lippincott, 1951)
  • Weisbrode, Kenneth. "The Unruly Spirit: William Bullitt 1936-1940," in Diplomats at War: The American Experience, eds. J. Simon Rofe and Andrew Stewart (Republic of Letters, 2013) ISBN 978-9089791092.
  • Whitman, Alden, "Energetic Diplomat; William C. Bullitt, First U.S. Envoy to Soviet, Dies," obituary in the New York Times, February 16, 1967 available online

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Bullitt, Orville (brother of William C. Bullitt) For the President: Personal and Secret. Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt (1972).
  • Bullitt, William Christian. "The Bullitt Mission to Russia: Testimony Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate" (1919). Online also online at Questia
  • Bullitt, William Christian. The Great Globe Itself: a Preface to World Affairs (Transaction Publishers, 1946). Online
  • Dearborn, Mary V. (1996). Queen of Bohemia: The Life of Louise Bryant. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-395-68396-5.

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
David R. Francis (Embassy closed from 1919 to 1933)
U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Joseph E. Davies
Preceded by
Jesse I. Straus
U.S. Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
William D. Leahy