Breckinridge Long

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Breckinridge Long
Breckinridge Long
Born (1881-05-16)May 16, 1881
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died September 26, 1958(1958-09-26) (aged 77)
Laurel, Maryland, United States
Occupation Lawyer, statesman, racehorse owner
Board member of
Laurel Park Racecourse
Spouse(s) Christine Alexander
Children Christine Blair
Parents William Strudwick Long & Margaret Miller

Samuel Miller Breckinridge Long (May 16, 1881 – September 26, 1958) was a diplomat and politician who served in the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Early life and career[edit]

Born to Margaret Miller Breckinridge and William Strudwick Long in St. Louis, Missouri, Long was a member of the Breckinridge family. Long graduated from Princeton University in 1904 and studied at Washington University School of Law in 1905-1906, and received his M.A. from Princeton University in 1909. He was admitted to the bar in Missouri in 1906 and opened an office in St. Louis in 1907. He married Christine Alexander in 1912, and later had a daughter: Christine Blair. Long continued to practice law independently until 1917. During 1914–15 he was a member of the Missouri Code Commission on Revision of Judicial Procedure. Long then worked to establish the League of Nations and supported Wilsonian Democracy. He was credited with drafting Woodrow Wilson's "He kept us out of war" slogan, which helped secure Wilson's reelection as President in 1916.

He joined the State Department shortly after the election. In 1917, Long was appointed Third Assistant Secretary of State and remained at the post until he resigned in 1920 to pursue election to the U.S. Senate from Missouri. While in the Department of State, he held responsibility for overseeing Asian affairs. During this time he also directed attention to the improvement of U.S. foreign communications policy, and coordinated the first interdepartmental review of U.S. international communications.

In 1920 Long was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri held by Selden P. Spencer, but was defeated, garnering 44.5% of the vote to Spencer's 53.7%. He would go on to lose a second bid for the Senate in 1922.

Career during the FDR administration and World War II[edit]

Long was a personal friend of future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he had known as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the Wilson Administration, and generously contributed to his 1932 Presidential campaign. Roosevelt rewarded him with the position of U.S. Ambassador to Italy, which he held from 1933 to 1936. During his ambassadorship, he was criticized for advising the president against imposing an embargo on oil shipments to Italy in retaliation for Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. He was a member of a special mission to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in 1938. Upon the outbreak of war in September 1939, he accepted appointment as a special assistant secretary of state in charge of problems arising from the war, a position he held until January 1940, when he was appointed assistant secretary of state. Through February 1941, he was responsible for overseeing twenty-three of the forty-two divisions in the department before a revision of the workload among the other assistant secretaries.[1]

Long came to believe that he was under constant attack from what he termed radicals and the Jewish press for his stance on strict immigration controls mandated by the immigration laws in force at the time. In an intra-department memo he circulated in June 1940 Long wrote: "We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas."[2] Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long's department was that, during American involvement in the war, Ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. [3]

In November 1943, when the House was considering two bills that would have established a separate government agency charged with assisting the rescue of Jewish refugees, Long gave secret testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee saying that the majority of 580,000 refugees admitted from Europe were Jewish, and that such legislation would be a rebuke of the State Department in wartime. Long noted in his diary that day that he'd erred by speaking without notes (the actual numbers were 568,000 visas authorized and only 545,000 issued), but historians have noted his testimony was misleading because he implied that all of those were Jews.[4]

Long is largely remembered for his obstructionist role as the official responsible for granting refugee visas during World War II. He "obstructed rescue attempts, drastically restricted immigration, and falsified figures of refugees admitted. The exposure of his misdeeds led to his demotion, in 1944. He has become the major target of criticism of America's refugee and rescue policy."[5] He justified this in his diary by referencing the contemporary strict laws in the United States imposing quotas on the number of immigrants from particular countries, and his great concern about the possibility that Germany and the Soviet Union would introduce spies or subversive agents into the United States amidst the large numbers of refugees.[6]


Long resigned from the State Department in November 1944 and went into retirement. His special interests included the collection of antiques, paintings and American ship models. He maintained a stable of Thoroughbred race horses and was a director of the Laurel Park Racecourse in Laurel, Maryland, and he enjoyed fox hunting, fishing, and sailing. He died in Laurel, Maryland, in 1958.

His personal papers are available for research at the Library of Congress.


  1. ^ Breckinridge Long, _The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944_, selected and edited by Fred L. Israel (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), pp. 178, 184.
  2. ^ Goodwin, Doris Kearns (1994). No Ordinary Time. Simon & Schuster. p. 173. ISBN 9780684804484. 
  3. ^ Rafael Medoff; David S. Wyman; Henry Morgenthau (2009). Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E. Dubois, Jr., and the Struggle for a U.S. Response to the Holocaust. Purdue University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-55753-507-8. 
  4. ^ _The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944_, pp. 334-335.
  5. ^ Wiesenthal Center
  6. ^ _The War Diary of Breckinridge Long_, passim.


Breckinridge Long, _The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944_, selected and edited by Fred L. Israel (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966)

Government offices
Preceded by
William Phillips
Third Assistant Secretary of State
January 29, 1917 – June 8, 1920
Succeeded by
Van Santvoord Merle-Smith