Cyrus Vance

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For the Manhattan District Attorney and his son, see Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Cyrus Vance
57th United States Secretary of State
In office
January 20, 1977 – April 28, 1980
President Jimmy Carter
Deputy Warren Christopher
Preceded by Henry Kissinger
Succeeded by Edmund S. Muskie
11th United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
In office
January 28, 1964 – June 30, 1967
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Roswell Gilpatric
Succeeded by Paul H. Nitze
7th United States Secretary of the Army
In office
July 5, 1962 – January 21, 1964
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr.
Succeeded by Stephen Ailes
General Counsel of the Department of Defense
In office
January 29, 1961 – June 30, 1962
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by J. Vincent Burke, Jr.
Succeeded by John T. McNaughton
Personal details
Born Cyrus Roberts Vance
(1917-03-27)March 27, 1917
Clarksburg, West Virginia, U.S.
Died January 12, 2002(2002-01-12) (aged 84)
Mount Sinai Medical Center
Manhattan, New York City
New York, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia
38°52′37″N 77°04′15″W / 38.876806°N 77.070795°W / 38.876806; -77.070795Coordinates: 38°52′37″N 77°04′15″W / 38.876806°N 77.070795°W / 38.876806; -77.070795
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Grace Elsie Sloane
(m. 1947; his death 2002)
Children Elsie Nicoll Vance
Amy Sloane Vance
Camilla Roberts Vance
Grace Vance Holmes
Cyrus Roberts Vance, Jr.
Education Yale University (B.A, J.D)
Profession Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of the Navy (alternate).svg United States Navy
Years of service 1942–1946
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Lieutenant
Unit USS Hale (DD-642)
Battles/wars World War II

Cyrus Roberts Vance (March 27, 1917 – January 12, 2002) was an American lawyer and United States Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1980.[1] Prior to that position he was the Secretary of the Army[2] and the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

As Secretary of State, Vance approached foreign policy with an emphasis on negotiation over conflict and a special interest in arms reduction. In April 1980, Vance resigned in protest of Operation Eagle Claw, the secret mission to rescue American hostages in Iran. He was succeeded in the position by Edmund Muskie.

Vance was the cousin (and adoptive son) of 1924 Democratic presidential candidate and lawyer John W. Davis.[3] He is the father of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.

Early life and family[edit]

Vance was born on March 27, 1917, in Clarksburg, West Virginia.[4] He was the son of John Carl Vance II and his wife Amy Roberts Vance, and had an older brother, John Carl Vance III.[4][5] Following Vance's birth, his family relocated to Bronxville, New York, so that his father could commute to Manhattan, where he was an insurance broker.[6] Vance's father was also a landowner and worked for a government agency during World War I.[2] He died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 1922.[2] Vance's mother was Amy Roberts Vance, who had a prominent family history in Philadelphia and was active in civic affairs.[2] Following her husband's death, she moved her family to Switzerland for a year, where Vance and his brother learned French at L'Institut Sillig in Vevey.[6]

Vance's cousin John W. Davis, an Ambassador to the United Kingdom and 1924 United States presidential candidate, became his mentor and adopted him.[7]

Vance graduated from Kent School in 1935[2] and earned a bachelor's degree in 1939 from Yale University,[2] where he was a member of the secret society Scroll and Key. He also earned three varsity letters in ice hockey at Yale. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1942.[2]

Vance entered the US military during World War II, serving in the Navy as a gunnery officer on the destroyer USS Hale (DD-642) until 1946. Upon returning to civilian life he joined the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City,[2] and later entered government services.

At the age of 29, Vance married Grace Elsie "Gay" Sloane on February 15, 1947. She was a Bryn Mawr College graduate and was the daughter of the board chairman of the W. & J. Sloane furniture company in New York City. They had five children:

  • Elsie Nicoll Vance
  • Amy Sloane Vance
  • Grace Roberts Vance
  • Camilla Vance Holmes
  • Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

Professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce is one of his grandsons.[8]

Political career[edit]

Vance was general counsel of the Defense Department and then the Secretary of the Army during the John F. Kennedy administration.[2] He was secretary when Army units were sent to northern Mississippi in 1962 to protect James Meredith and ensure that the court-ordered integration of the University of Mississippi took place.[2]

As Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson, he first supported the Vietnam War but by the late 1960s changed his views and resigned from office, advising the president to pull out of South Vietnam. In 1968 he served as a delegate to peace talks in Paris.[2] He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.[2]

Secretary of State Vance talks with President Carter on the White House lawn in March 1977.

As Secretary of State in the Jimmy Carter administration, Vance played an integral role as the administration negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties, peace talks in Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa as well as the Middle East which resulted in the Camp David Accords in 1978. Vance also pushed for closer ties to the Soviet Union, and clashed frequently with the more hawkish National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Vance tried to advance arms limitations by working on the SALT II agreement with the Soviet Union, which he saw as the central diplomatic issue of the time, but Brzezinski lobbied for a tougher more assertive policy vis-a-vis the Soviets. He argued for strong condemnation of Soviet activity in Africa and in the Third World as well as successfully lobbying for normalized relations with the People's Republic of China in 1978. As Brzezinski took control of the negotiations, Vance was marginalized and his influence began to wane. When revolution erupted in Iran in late 1978, the two were divided on how to support the United States’ ally the Shah of Iran. Vance argued in favor of reforms while Brzezinski urged him to crack down – the ‘iron fist’ approach. Unable to receive a direct course of action from Carter, the mixed messages that the shah received from Vance and Brzezinski contributed to his confusion and indecision as he fled Iran in January 1979 and his regime collapsed.

SALT II was eventually signed in June 1979 but six months later the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the treaty was shelved. Shortly thereafter, while 53 American hostages were held in Iran, a debate erupted within the administration over how to free the hostages. Believing that diplomatic initiatives could see the hostages safely returned home, Vance initially fought off attempts by Brzezinski to pursue a militaristic course of action but in April 1980 Carter ordered a military rescue mission. Vance, believing that such an option would not work and would only endanger the lives of the hostages, opted to resign, regardless of whether the mission was successful or not. Operation Eagle Claw failed, eight American servicemen were killed and Vance's resignation was confirmed several days later and he was replaced by Senator Edmund Muskie. A second rescue mission was planned but never carried out and the diplomatic efforts to negotiate the release of the hostages were handed over to Vance’s deputy, Warren Christopher. They were held hostage for another nine months after Operation Eagle Claw failed, eventually released after 444 days in captivity.[9]

In 1997, he was made the original honorary chair of the American Iranian Council.[10]

Later career in law and as Special Envoy[edit]

In May 1970, Vance was appointed to served as a commissioner in a landmark panel known as the Knapp Commission, which was formed and tasked by New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay with investigating systemic corruption at the New York Police Department. The Knapp Commission held televised hearings into police corruption and issued a final report of its findings in 1972. The work of the Knapp Commission led to the prosecution of police officers on charges of corruption and culminated in significant, if short-lived, reforms and oversight in respect of the police department, including the appointment of a temporary special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute corruption committed by NYPD officers, district attorneys, and judges.

From 1974 to 1976, Vance served as president of the New York City Bar Association.[11] Vance returned to his law practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 1980, but was repeatedly called back to public service throughout the 1980s and 1990s, participating in diplomatic missions to Bosnia, Croatia, and South Africa.

In 1991, he was named Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Croatia and proposed the Vance plan for solution of conflict in Croatia. Authorities of Croatia and Serbia agreed to Vance's plan, but the leaders of SAO Krajina rejected it, even though it offered Serbs quite a large degree of autonomy by the rest of the world's standards, as it did not include full independence for Krajina. He continued his work as member of Zagreb 4 group. The plan they drafted, named Z-4, was effectively superseded when Croatian forces retook the Krajina region (Operation Storm) in 1995.

In January 1993, as the United Nations Special Envoy to Bosnia, Vance and Lord David Owen, the EU representative, began negotiating a peace plan for the ending the War in Bosnia. The plan was rejected, and Vance announced his resignation as Special Envoy to the UN Secretary-General. He was replaced by Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg.

Later life and death[edit]

In 1993, Vance was awarded the United States Military Academy's Sylvanus Thayer Award. In 1995 he again acted as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and signed the interim accord as witness in the negotiations between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece. Vance was a member of the Trilateral Commission.[when?][citation needed]

Vance died at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City on January 12, 2002, at the age of 84, after a long battle with pneumonia, and the complication from Alzheimer's disease.[1] His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Grace S. Vance died in New York City on March 22, 2008, at the age of 89.[12]


In 1980, Vance received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[13]

In 1993 he received the Freedom medal.[14]

The house of Vance's mother, which was known as the Stealey-Goff-Vance House, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.[15] It is home to the Harrison County Historical Society.[16]

In the 2012 movie Argo, Vance was portrayed by actor Bob Gunton.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cyrus R. Vance, a Confidant Of Presidents, Is Dead at 84". New York Times. 13 January 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2012. Cyrus R. Vance, who after two decades in public service was appointed secretary of state, and who then took the rare step of resigning from the nation's highest cabinet post on a matter of principle, died yesterday afternoon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. He was 84. The cause was pneumonia and other complications, said Elva Murphy, his longtime secretary. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Bell, William Gardner (1992). ""Cyrus Roberts Vance"". Secretaries of War and Secretaries of the Army: Portraits and Biographical Sketches. United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved September 22, 2007. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Cyrus was only 5 years old when his father died. In the ensuing years, the boy developed an exceptionally close relationship with his first cousin, best friend and mentor, John W. Davis, who had been a member of Congress, ambassador to Britain and Democratic candidate for president in 1924. It was through Mr. Davis that Mr. Vance said he developed an early interest in the law." (from his NYTimes obituary).
  4. ^ a b "Birth Record Detail: Cyrus Roberts Vance". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Birth Record Detail: John Carl III Vance". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Mihalkanin 2004, p. 512.
  7. ^ Harbaugh 1973, pp. 389–390.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Cyrus R. Vance",
  10. ^ Khoda Hafez. "A Message from AIC on the Occasion of the New Year". American Iranian Council. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  11. ^ "The Legacy of Cyrus R. Vance". New York City Bar - Vance Center. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  12. ^ "Vance, Grace Sloane". The New York Times (Paid Notice: Deaths). March 26, 2008. Retrieved October 3, 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Four Freedoms Award#Freedom Medal
  15. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  16. ^ Harrison County Historical Society Archived July 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr.
U.S. Secretary of the Army
Served under: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson

July 1962 – January 1964
Succeeded by
Stephen Ailes
Preceded by
Roswell Gilpatric
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Paul Nitze
Preceded by
Henry Kissinger
U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
Edmund Muskie