Robert P. Patterson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Robert P. 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
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Henry L. Stimson
Succeeded by Kenneth C. Royall
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
March 21, 1939 – July 30, 1940
Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Martin Thomas Manton
Succeeded by Jerome Frank
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 13, 1930 – March 22, 1939
Appointed by Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Thomas D. Thacher
Succeeded by Simon H. Rifkind
Personal details
Born Robert Porter Patterson
(1891-02-12)February 12, 1891
Glens Falls, New York, U.S.
Died January 22, 1952(1952-01-22) (aged 60)
Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Margaret Tarleton Winchester Patterson
(m. 1920 - 1952, his death)
Children Robert P. Patterson, Jr.
Aileen W. Patterson
Susan Patterson Hand
Virginia D. Patterson
Parents Charles Robert Patterson
Lodice Edna Porter Patterson
Alma mater Union College
Harvard Law School
Profession Government
Religion Presbyterian
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War I

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.

Life and politics[edit]

Robert Porter 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 and Harvard Law School. 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.

He practiced law in New York City. He served in the United States Army during World War I, reaching the rank of major, and received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in France. In February 2012, The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War, edited by J. Garry Clifford, was published by the University of Tennessee Press.

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.

Patterson returned to his law practice in 1947. President Truman reportedly offered to reappoint Patterson to his former judgeship on the Second Circuit, but Patterson declined, opting to return to private practice. The firm, which continues as a preeminent law firm in New York City, still carries his name, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

Patterson 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.

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

Arming the Nation for War: Mobilization, Supply, and the American War Effort in World War II was published in 2014 by the University of Tennessee Press, with a foreword by Robert M. Morgenthau, former Manhattan district attorney, and edited by Brian Waddell, associate professor at the University of Connecticut. Written shortly before Patterson left government service in 1947, the manuscript was recently discovered in family papers.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Eiler, op. cit. p 443-444
  • 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