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William Phillips (diplomat)

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William Phillips
Phillips in 1922
Phillips in 1922
2nd United States Assistant Secretary of State
In office
January 24, 1917 – March 25, 1920
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byJohn Eugene Osborne
Succeeded byFred Morris Dearing
4th United States Under Secretary of State
In office
April 26, 1922 – April 11, 1924
PresidentWarren G. Harding
Preceded byHenry P. Fletcher
Succeeded byJoseph Grew
United States Ambassador to Belgium
In office
February 29, 1924 – March 1, 1927
PresidentCalvin Coolidge
Preceded byHenry P. Fletcher
Succeeded byHugh S. Gibson
United States Ambassador to Canada
In office
February 17, 1927 – December 14, 1929
PresidentHerbert Hoover
Succeeded byHanford MacNider
10th United States Under Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1933 – August 23, 1936
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byWilliam R. Castle Jr.
Succeeded bySumner Welles
United States Ambassador to Italy
In office
August 4, 1936 – October 6, 1941
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byBreckinridge Long
Succeeded byGeorge Wadsworth
Personal details
Born(1878-05-30)May 30, 1878
Beverly, Massachusetts
DiedFebruary 23, 1968(1968-02-23) (aged 89)
Caroline Astor Drayton
(m. 1910; died 1965)
Children5, including Christopher
Parent(s)John Charles Phillips
Anna Tucker
Alma materHarvard College
Harvard Law School

William Phillips (May 30, 1878 – February 23, 1968) was a career United States diplomat who served twice as an Under Secretary of State.[1] He was also the United States Ambassador to Canada.

Early life[edit]

Phillips was born on May 30, 1878, in Beverly, Massachusetts. His parents were John Charles Phillips Jr. (1838–1885), who married Anna Tucker in London, England on October 23, 1874. His older brother was John Charles Phillips (1876–1938), a prominent zoologist, ornithologist and environmentalist. He had two sisters, Anna Tucker Phillips, who was married to Raynal Bolling (1877–1918) (the first American officer killed in WWI), and Martha Phillips, who was married to Andrew James Peters (1872–1938) (a U.S. Congressman and former Mayor of Boston).[2]

Phillips was a member of the Boston Brahmin Phillips family and his ancestors included John Phillips, the first Mayor of Boston and his great-grandfather, Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist and his grand-uncle, and Samuel Phillips Jr., and John Phillips, founders of the Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy. He was a descendant of the Rev. George Phillips of Watertown, the progenitor of the New England Phillips family in America.[3][4]

He graduated from Harvard College in 1900 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1903.[1]


His first political job was working as a private secretary in London to Joseph Hodges Choate, the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Choate was a friend of Phillips' family and was also from Massachusetts.

Phillips subsequently went to work for the United States Minister to China in Beijing. After his return from China, he became a member of President Theodore Roosevelt's Tennis Cabinet, and thanks to his previous diplomatic experience and new friendship with Roosevelt, he was assigned to set up the State Department's Division of Far Eastern Affairs and was made its first chief. In 1909, he returned to work in London for Ambassador Whitelaw Reid.[5]

In 1914, Phillips was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson and remained in that position until 1920, when he was made the Minister Plenipotentiary to Netherlands and Luxembourg (in residence in the Netherlands).[1]

From 1922 to 1924, he served as Under Secretary of State. In 1924, he was appointed as Ambassador to Belgium, where he remained until 1927, when he became the first Minister to Canada until 1929.[1]

He served as Under Secretary of State again from 1933 to 1936.[1]

Photograph by Harris & Ewing of American ambassadors after holding a conference with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 6, 1938. From left to right: William C. Bullitt, Sumner Welles, Hugh R. Wilson, and Phillips.

In 1936, he was appointed as the Ambassador to Italy, which was then led by Benito Mussolini, in the immediate aftermath of that country's invasion of Ethiopia. He resigned on October 6, 1941. The following year, he was made chief of the United States Office of Strategic Services in London.[1]

In October 1942, Phillips was appointed as a personal representative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served in India.[6] (The United States would not have an official mission there until the country's independence in 1947.) Phillips was said to be extremely unpopular with the British for his pro-independence views. In 1943, he was made a Special Advisor on European political matters to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, with the rank of ambassador.[1]

Phillips retired officially in 1944 but returned briefly to diplomatic life in 1945, when he was made a special assistant to Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr. In 1946, he served on the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine and opposed the British plan to partition the territory. In 1947, he was unsuccessful in mediating a border dispute between Siam and French Indochina.[1]

In 1953, his memoir, Ventures in Diplomacy, was published by the Beacon Press.[7]

Personal life[edit]

In 1910, Phillips married Caroline Astor Drayton (1880–1965),[8] the daughter of Charlotte Augusta Astor (1858–1920), the eldest Sister of Titanic victim John Jacob Astor IV, and J. Coleman Drayton (1852–1934)[9][10] and a granddaughter of William Backhouse Astor Jr. (1829–1892) and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn (1830–1908).[11] Through her father, she was a great-granddaughter of U.S. Representative William Drayton (1776–1846).[9] Together, they were the parents of:

Phillips died on February 23, 1968, at the age of 89.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "William Phillips, Former Ambassador, Dies at 89". New York Times. New York, N.Y.; pg. 27, 1 pgs. February 24, 1968. ProQuest 118390336.
  2. ^ "DR. JOHN PHILLIPS, NOTED NATURALIST; Associate Curator of Peabody Museum at Harvard Dies on Hunting Trip SERVED OVERSEAS IN WAR Became Major in Command of Hospital--Was Brother of Envoy to Italy Authority on Bird Life". The New York Times. November 15, 1938. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Negri, Gloria (February 11, 2008). "Christopher H. Phillips, 87, state senator, ambassador". The Boston Globe.
  4. ^ Bond, Henry and Jones, Horatio. Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, Including Waltham and Weston: To which is Appended the Early History of the Town. New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1860, pgs. 872-882
  5. ^ "PHILLIPS TO QUIT EMBASSY.; London Secretary Will Abandon Diplomacy for a Business Career". The New York Times. September 18, 1912. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  6. ^ Phillips to India, Time Magazine, 1942-12-21.
  7. ^ Rogers, Lindsay (October 18, 1953). "Diplomatic Yesterdays; VENTURES IN DIPLOMACY. By William Phillips. 477 pp. Boston: The Beacon Press. $5.50". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  8. ^ "MRS. WILLIAM PHILLIPS". The New York Times. January 9, 1965. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "J. C. DRAYTON DEAD; RETIRED BANKER, 82; Newport Resident for Several Years Was Son-in-Law of the Late William Astor. AN EXPERT PIGEON SHOT kJ Issued Challenge to Hallett A. Borrowe to Duel, Which Never Took Place". The New York Times. November 12, 1934. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  10. ^ "J. C. DRAYTON WILL FILED.; His Daughter, Mrs. William Phillips, Is Made Chief Beneficiary". The New York Times. November 16, 1934. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  11. ^ "MISS DRAYTON WEDS WILLIAM PHILLIPS; Only Daughter of J. Coleman Drayton Married to Secretary of American Embassy. WEDDED IN QUAINT CHURCH Nuptials Were to Have Been Held in New York City, but Ambassador Reid's Absence Changed Plans". The New York Times. February 3, 1910. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  12. ^ "Rear Adm. Elliott Bowman Strauss, 100, Dies". The Washington Post. August 24, 2003. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  13. ^ "BEATRICE PHILLIPS TO BE WED FEB. 12; Daughter of Former Envoy the Fiancee of Capt. Elliott B. Strauss of the Navy". The New York Times. February 1, 1951. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  14. ^ "Miss Holbrook Engaged to Wed Son of Diplomat |; She Will Be Bride of William Phillips Jr., Whose Father Is Ambassador to Italy". The New York Times. August 31, 1941. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  15. ^ "BARBARA HOLBKOOK MARRIED IN CHURCH; Wed to William Phillips Jr. in a Ceremony Performed at Naugatuck, Conn". The New York Times. October 26, 1941. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  16. ^ "EVELYN GARDINER PROSPECTIVE BRIDE; Engagement of Boston Girl to Drayton Phillips, Son of U.S. Envoy, Announced MEMBER OF VINCENT CLUB Her Fiance, a Great-Grandson of William Astors, Studied at Universities in Europe". The New York Times. September 11, 1940. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  17. ^ "EVELYN GARDINER BECOMES A BRIDE; Boston Girl Married in Church Ceremony at Chestnut Hill to Drayton Phillips ATTENDED BY HER SISTER Bridegroom Is Son of Envoy to Italy--Great Grandson of Late William Astors". The New York Times. December 1, 1940. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  18. ^ "Anne Phillips Bryant". Clarion Ledger. Clarion Ledger. February 17, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  19. ^ "MISS ANNE C. PHILLIPS IS ENGAGED TO MARRY; Daughter of Ex-Ambassador fo Be Wed to Lt. John W. Bryant". The New York Times. May 30, 1942. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  20. ^ Times, Special To The Nrw Tobk (June 16, 1942). "MISS ANNE PHILLIPS BECOMES A BRIDE; Daughter of Ex-Ambassador to Italy Wed in Hamilton, Mass., to Lieut. John W. Bryant SISTER THE MAID OF HONOR Four Other Attendants Serve ouReception Is Held at Home of the Bride's Parents". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2017.

External links[edit]

"William Phillips (1878-1968)". State Department. Retrieved March 8, 2013.

Government offices
Preceded by Third Assistant Secretary of State
January 11, 1909 – October 13, 1909
Succeeded by
Preceded by Third Assistant Secretary of State
March 17, 1914 – January 24, 1917
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Assistant Secretary of State
1917 – 1920
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Under Secretary of State
1922 – 1924
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Under Secretary of State
1933 – 1936
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Luxembourg
1920 – 1922
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Ambassador to the Netherlands
1920 – 1922
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Belgium
1924 – 1927
Succeeded by
Preceded by
United States Ambassador to Canada
1927 – 1929
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Italy
1936 – 1941
Succeeded by
George Wadsworth
Chargé d'Affaires ad interim