12 Facts About John J. McCloy: The 20th Century’s Most Powerful American?

As a prominent lawyer, political adviser and head of several organisations during the 20th century, John Jay McCloy seems to have been everywhere there was power in America. He held a variety of high-up, yet often unrelated positions in the realms of finance, war, investigative law, intelligence, charity, biological research, pharmaceuticals, international relations and government. He was an advisor to a string of US Presidents and had powerful friends, including the Rockefellers.

Yet compared to his influence, McCloy remains a somewhat unknown figure of US history. Was he a pragmatic technocrat, American patriot, closet fascist or just wildly ambitious?

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McCloy (centre) at Potsdam Conference alongside General Patton (L)

Here are 12 amazing facts about the man once known as the ‘Chairman of the American Establishment’.

1. He had humble beginnings

John Jay McCloy was born in 1895 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother was a hairdresser and later a nurse, while his father was an insurance salesman who died when McCloy was only 6.

2. McCloy was a self-made man

He worked as a waiter to support himself while studying at Amherst College in Massachusetts from 1912–16 and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

3. He fought in the First World War

Between college and law school, McCloy served on the Western Front in World War One as a captain of field artillery.

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US soldiers on the Western Front of WW1

4. McCloy was a successful lawyer

He made a name for himself working on the Black Tom case, which involved German secret agents causing a deadly explosion at a munitions factory in Jersey City. McCloy also worked years as a Wall Street Lawyer before focusing on public affairs.

5. 8 presidents relied on him

Though politically conservative, McCloy was not partisan and worked as an adviser to US Presidents Franklin D Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Reagan.

6. He was a major player in both public and private sectors

During his storied career, he headed many corporations and organisations, including the World Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Chase National Bank, the Ford Foundation, E.R. Squibb & Sons, the UN Development Corporation, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Salk Institute.

7. McCloy developed ties with corporate clients in Nazi Germany

Prior to World War Two McCloy did extensive legal work for several corporations in Nazi Germany, among them chemical giant IG Farben, of which 24 directors would be indicted at the Nuremberg Trials.

8. He was deeply involved in the racist internment of American citizens of Japanese descent

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Japanese-American internment in World War Two

During the Second World War McCloy served as Assistant Secretary of War under FDR. He was a principal force behind the 1942 presidential decision to intern Japanese-Americans in relocation camps.

9. He advocated warning Japan about the atom bomb attacks

Before the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, McCloy was among a small inner circle with knowledge of the forthcoming attacks. He argued that the US should warn the Japanese in order to enable their surrender, but was overruled.

10. McCloy pardoned several Nazi war criminals

As US High Commissioner for Germany from September 1949 to August 1952, he pardoned major Nazi war criminals and commuted the sentences of others. These included Nazi industrialist slavers Friedrich Flick and Alfried Krupp — who were also returned all confiscated property — Martin Sandberger, an SS/SD commander responsible for the extermination of hundreds of Jews, communists, Roma and the mentally ill. He also pardoned three high-ranking Nazis who were responsible for murdering 84 American POWs.

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Alfried Krupp (L) as defendant at the Nuremberg Trials

I had the powers of a dictator as High Commissioner of Allied Forces in West Germany. I think I was a benevolent dictator. I think the rebuilding came off very well, with no significant problems.

—John J. McCloy

11. West Point gave him the prestigious Thayer Award

In 1963 McCloy was a recipient of the Thayer Award from the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Academy bestows the award upon an ‘outstanding citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify the Military Academy motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”’

12. McCloy brokered the final consensus of the Warren Commission

While serving on the official investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (whom he had served under as chief disarmament negotiator), he stated that evidence of a conspiracy was ‘beyond the reach’ of the FBI or CIA.

McCloy (far right) with other members of the Warren Commission

McCloy (far right) with other members of the Warren Commission

Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to asiancorrespondent.com and latincorrespondent.com.