Herbert Brownell
62nd United States Attorney General
In office
January 21, 1953 – October 23, 1957
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
DeputyWilliam P. Rogers
Preceded byJames P. McGranery
Succeeded byWilliam P. Rogers
Chair of the Republican National Committee
In office
June 30, 1944 – April 1, 1946
Preceded byHarrison E. Spangler
Succeeded byB. Carroll Reece
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 10th district
In office
January 1, 1933 – December 31, 1937
Preceded byLangdon Post
Succeeded byMacNeil Mitchell
Personal details
Born(1904-02-20)February 20, 1904
Nemaha County, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedMay 1, 1996(1996-05-01) (aged 92)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Doris McCarter
(m. 1934; died 1979)
Marion Taylor
(m. 1987; div. 1989)
EducationUniversity of Nebraska, Lincoln (BA)
Yale University (LLB)

Herbert Brownell Jr. (February 20, 1904 – May 1, 1996) was an American lawyer and Republican politician. From 1953 to 1957, he served as United States Attorney General in the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Early life and education

Brownell, one of the seven children of Herbert and May Miller Brownell, was born in Nemaha County, Nebraska, near the town of Peru. His father, Herbert Brownell, was a professor and author at the Peru State Normal School in education and physical sciences. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Nebraska in 1924, and, in his senior year, being a member of the Society of Innocents, Brownell attended Yale Law School, where he was president of the Yale Law Journal, earning his law degree in 1927. While at the University of Nebraska, he joined The Delta Upsilon fraternity.

Brownell's brother, Samuel Brownell, served as U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1953 through 1956.

Legal career

Brownell was admitted to the bar in New York and began his practice in New York City. In February 1929, he joined the law firm of Lord Day & Lord in New York, and except for periods of government service, he remained with them until his retirement in 1989. He married Doris McCarter on June 16, 1934. They had four children (Joan Brownell, Ann Brownell, Thomas McCarter Brownell, and James Barker Brownell) and remained together until McCarter's death on June 12, 1979. He married his second wife Marion Taylor in 1987, but the couple separated and divorced in December 1989.

His most important client was the famous Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis; immediately after the end of World War II, Onassis was eager to get his hands on the T2 tankers originally built for the wartime needs of the U.S. Navy. The tankers were eventually made available for sale, but because they were considered to have a militarily strategic value in the event of another war, they were being offered to American citizens only.

Brownell helped Onassis work out a scheme of dummy American corporations, thus allowing him to bypass the regulations and purchase the tankers through these dummy corporations.[1] Later, as Attorney General, Brownell would be forced to switch sides under pressure from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and his Justice Department would indict Onassis (eventually Onassis and the U.S. government reached a settlement).[1]

State political career

Besides his law practice, Brownell had a long and active political career as a Republican. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 10th district) in 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937.

In 1942, he was the campaign manager for Thomas Dewey's election as governor of New York. He also managed Dewey's 1944 and 1948 campaigns for president. From 1944 to 1946, he was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he focused on modernizing it with advanced polling methods and fundraising techniques. He was credited by many as being instrumental in helping the Republicans to gain control of the US Congress in the 1946 midterm elections.

In 1952, Brownell played an important role in convincing General Dwight Eisenhower, then supreme allied commander in Europe, to run for President of the United States and worked in the Eisenhower campaign. Along with Dewey, Brownell was instrumental in Eisenhower's selection of Richard Nixon as the vice-presidential running mate.[2]

Attorney General

Then outgoing attorney general James P. McGranery (left) briefs Brownell, then Eisenhower's designee for the position, of the Justice Department on December 20, 1952, amid the presidential transition of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Brownell was appointed by Eisenhower as Attorney General and served from January 21, 1953, to October 23, 1957. On November 6, 1953, Brownell told members of the Chicago Executives Club, "Harry Dexter White was a Russian spy.... He smuggled secret documents to Russian agents for transmission to Moscow."[3] At the same time, he helped the Eisenhower administration cover up the Soviet Union's involvement in the Korean War to prevent McCarthyist politicians from using it to raise popular support for a full-scale world war against the Soviet Union.[4]

Early in his term, Brownell was involved in several landmark civil rights cases, including Brown v. Board of Education.

Although it was weakened by the US Senate, he drafted the legislative proposal that ultimately became the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights law that was enacted since 1875. Because of his strong stance in favor of civil rights, Brownell became very unpopular in the South.

Eisenhower reluctantly decided not to nominate Brownell to the Supreme Court when vacancies occurred in 1957 and 1958, as he feared that segregationists in the Senate would fight and defeat the nomination.

Brownell stepped down as an Attorney General only after his advice had been followed in the Little Rock desegregation case. Osro Cobb, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, reflects on Brownell's tenure:

...Brownell had stuck by his guns for the hard line on the integration dispute. His advice had been followed. The government was committed with no easy way to extricate itself. Many people on both sides of the controversy were becoming increasingly unhappy. I am inclined to believe that while Mr. Brownell was genuinely pleased with the policy, he was grievously disappointed that it had not achieved better results. The impasse with Governor Orval Faubus may have contributed substantially to his decision to retire. We may not get the answer until and if he writes his memoirs, but I doubt it even then because the Herbert Brownell I grew to know would not write about his personal secrets. Mr. Brownell was both praised and condemned as he departed from office....[5]

Later life

In 1965, Brownell chaired a committee to find civilians, who would serve on the first impartial Civilian Complaint Review Board of the New York City Police Department, the first such citizen oversight of police in the country.

Brownell took himself out of consideration for appointment by President Richard Nixon as Chief Justice of the United States to replace Earl Warren in 1969, the eventual replacement being Warren E. Burger.[6]

Brownell later served as the United States representative to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and from 1972 to 1974, he was special U.S. envoy to Mexico for negotiations over the Colorado River.

In addition to many honors and other civic roles, Brownell was also President of the New York City Bar Association in 1982. From 1986 to 1989 he served on the Commission for the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. He died of cancer at the New York Hospital Cornell-Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, at 92.



  1. ^ a b William Wright, All the Pain Money Can Buy: The Life of Christina Onassis, pp. 46–48, 1991, Simon & Schuster[ISBN missing]
  2. ^ Earl Mazo, Richard Nixon: A Political & Personal Portrait, pp. 89, 96.[ISBN missing]
  3. ^ Eisenhower, D.D. (1963). The White House Years, Mandate for Change. Doubleday[ISBN missing]
  4. ^ Carson, Austin (2018-12-31), Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics, Princeton University Press, p. 171, doi:10.1515/9780691184241-006, ISBN 978-0-691-18424-1, retrieved 2022-02-1
  5. ^ Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), p. 251,[ISBN missing]
  6. ^ Dean, J.W. (2002). The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court. Free Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-7432-2979-1. Retrieved 2015-09-13.

Further reading

New York State Assembly Preceded byLangdon W. Post Member of the New York Assemblyfrom the 10th district 1933–1937 Succeeded byMacNeil Mitchell Party political offices Preceded byHarrison E. Spangler Chair of the Republican National Committee 1944–1946 Succeeded byB. Carroll Reece Legal offices Preceded byJames P. McGranery United States Attorney General 1953–1957 Succeeded byWilliam P. Rogers