John Lawrence Sullivan – Seaman, United States Navy Secretary of the Navy

From a contemporary news report:

“John L. Sullivan, the Secretary of the Navy in the Truman Administration, has died at the Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire. He was 83 years old.

“After serving in two senior civilian posts for the Navy, he was sworn in as Secretary of the Navy in 1947, replacing James V. Forrestal, who became the nation's first Secretary of Defense. However, his tenure as Secretary ended adruptly in April 1949 when he resigned in protest over cancellation of the Navy's first supercarrier. A vigorous proponent of a strong Navy, he created something of a furorin Washington with his frank explanationof his sudden resignation. In a letter to the Secretary of Defense, he said that he was “very deeply disturbed by the first attempt ever made in this country to prevent the development of a powerful new weapon.”

“John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 16, 1899. His father, a cigar maker, was also a lawyer who dabbled in politics. He graduated from Dartmouth College, where he earned a reputation as a fine debater. In 1923 he was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar, one year before he received his Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard Law School. He joined his father's firm, Sullivan & White, in Manchester and five years later,in his first bid for public office, was elected on the Democratic ticket as Solicitor of Hillsborough County. He became first a partner, then sole owner of the lawfirm of Sullivan & Sullivan.  He tried twice, in 1934 and in 1938, to become Governor of New Hampshire. Defeated by 1,500 votes in his first encounter, he lost by a considerably larger margin to a Republican incumbent in the second outing.

“He went to Washington in 1939 as Assistant to the U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Within three months, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over the next five years, his competence and political acumen propelled him into a figure of national prominence. In 1947 he was awarded both the Treasury Department's Distinguished Service Award and a Silver Medal for presenting the President's wartime budget to the Congress and for work on wartime finances from 1941 to 1945. Near the end of World War II, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air and was sworn in on the deck of the USS Shangri-La in the Pacific Theater. That year he traveled 25,000 miles in an effort to learn everything he could about the wartime Navy. He was soon appointed Under Secretary of the Navy, a post he held until his elevation to Secretary.

“After his stormy resignation, he resumed his law practice and became active in Democratic politics. He played a learing role in Truman's aborted campaign for a full second term in 1952. In 1974, he was a major backer for Senator Henry M. Jackson's early efforts to test the political waters in a bid for the 1976 Presidential race. He also served as a director of Aluminum Ltd., the Brown Company, Metro-Goldyn-Mayer, Martin Marietta Corporationa and National Savings and Trust. He is survived by his wife, Pricilla, of Manchester; a son, Charles, and two daughters, Patricia and Deborah. A funeral mass will be held in Manchester.”

He was buried in Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.


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