Robert P. Patterson

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Robert Patterson
Robert P. Patterson, 55th United States Secretary of War.jpg
55th United States Secretary of War
In office
September 27, 1945 – July 18, 1947
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Preceded byHenry L. Stimson
Succeeded byKenneth Royall
United States Under Secretary of War
In office
December 16, 1940 – September 27, 1945
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Harry S. Truman
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byKenneth Royall
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
March 21, 1939 – July 30, 1940
Appointed byFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byMartin Thomas Manton
Succeeded byJerome Frank
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 13, 1930 – March 21, 1939
Appointed byHerbert Hoover
Preceded byThomas D. Thacher
Succeeded bySimon H. Rifkind
Personal details
Robert Porter Patterson

(1891-02-12)February 12, 1891
Glens Falls, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 22, 1952(1952-01-22) (aged 60)
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Margaret Tarleton Winchester
(m. 1920; his death 1952)
Children4, including Robert
EducationUnion University, New York (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Unit306th Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
ArmyDistinguished Service Medal
Silver Star

Robert Porter Patterson Sr. (February 12, 1891 – January 22, 1952) was the United States Under Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States Secretary of War under President Harry S. Truman from September 27, 1945 to July 18, 1947.


Patterson was born in Glens Falls, New York on February 12, 1891, the son of Lodice Edna (née Porter) and Charles Robert Patterson. He graduated from Union College of Union University, New York and Harvard Law School.


Patterson practiced law in New York City (a firm which survives today as Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler).

He served in the United States Army during World War I, and reached the rank of major. He received the Distinguished Service Cross[1] and Silver Star[1] for heroism in France. Patterson served in the 306th Infantry Regiment which was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division.


In 1930, President Herbert Hoover appointed Patterson as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Patterson to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he sat with judges Learned Hand, Augustus Hand, and Thomas Walter Swan.

In 1940, after 15 months of service on the Second Circuit, Patterson left the bench to join the War Department. After a few months as Assistant Secretary of War, President Roosevelt promoted Patterson to Undersecretary of War late in 1940. He was instrumental in the mobilization of the armed forces preparatory to and during World War II.[2]

Patterson congratulating Col. Chauncey M. Hooper in Hawaii, 1943.

President Harry S. Truman appointed Patterson as Secretary of War in 1945. Truman initially was set to offer Patterson a seat on the Supreme Court which was left vacant by Justice Owen J. Roberts, however, with the resignation of Henry L. Stimson, Patterson instead became the Secretary of War.[3] Patterson advocated unifying the armed services (army and navy) and having a single chief of staff. Steps to this effect were begun by the National Security Act of 1947 and revised several times, finally by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Patterson participated in the desegregation of the armed forces, specifically during late stages of World War II with regard to creating an African-American fighter group, known now as the Tuskeegee airmen.

Private career[edit]

On July 18, 1947, Patterson stepped down as Secretary of War and returned to his law practice. (President Truman had reportedly offered to reappoint him to his former judgeship on the Second Circuit, but Patterson declined.) The firm, which continues as a preeminent law firm in New York City, still carries his name, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

He later served as the president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Personal life and death[edit]

On January 3, 1920, Patterson married the former Margaret Tarleton Winchester (March 12, 1897 - March 28, 1988); they had four children: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., Aileen W. Patterson, Susan H. Patterson and Virginia D. Patterson.

Patterson housed William L. Marbury Jr., at his Georgetown home. After the war, he recommended Marbury to succeed him at the United Nations; upon advice from Alger Hiss, Marbury declined. (Marbury soon thereafter represented Hiss in his slander case against Whittaker Chambers.)[4]

He died on January 22, 1952, returning from meeting a client, onboard American Airlines Flight 6780 which crashed on the approach to Newark Liberty International Airport in Elizabeth, New Jersey; he was age 60.

Son Robert P. Patterson, Jr. was a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, until his death in 2015.


In 2012, the University of Tennessee Press published The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War, edited by J. Garry Clifford.

In 2014, the University of Tennessee Press published his previously unpublished 1947 memoir Arming the Nation for War, with a foreword by Robert M. Morgenthau, former Manhattan district attorney, and edited by Brian Waddell, associate professor at the University of Connecticut.

  • The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War (2012)
  • Arming the Nation for War: Mobilization, Supply, and the American War Effort in World War II (2014)


  1. ^ a b Sterner, Doug. "Valor awards for Robert Porter Patterson". Military Times Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  2. ^ Herman, Arthur. Fredom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 157, 161, 165-6, 175, 236, 238-9, 284-5, 288, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  3. ^ Eiler, op. cit. p 443-444
  4. ^ Marbury, Jr., William L. (1981). "The Hiss-Chambers Libel Suit". Maryland Historical Magazine. 76 (1): 74 (Georgetown), 76 (UN job). Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  • Eiler, Keith. (1997) Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort, 1940-1945. Cornell University Press.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas D. Thacher
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Simon H. Rifkind
Preceded by
Martin Thomas Manton
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
Jerome Frank
Preceded by
Henry L. Stimson
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: Harry S. Truman

Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall
Preceded by
New office
United States Under Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall