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Assignment Skybolt 1968 Presidential Election

The Nassau Agreement, concluded on 21 December 1962, was an agreement negotiated between U.S. PresidentJohn F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, as a result of a series of meetings by the two leaders over three days in the Bahamas following Kennedy's announcement of his intended cancellation of the Skybolt. The agreement ended the Skybolt crisis and enabled the UK Polaris programme.

Under an earlier agreement, the US had agreed to supply Skybolt, an American air-launched ballistic missile, in return for the UK allowing the Americans to establish a ballistic missile submarine base in the Holy Loch near Glasgow. The British government had then cancelled the development of its medium-range ballistic missile, known as Blue Streak, leaving Skybolt as the basis of the UK's nuclear deterrent in the 1960s. Without Skybolt, the V-bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) would likely become obsolete through being unable to penetrate the improved air defences that the Soviet Union was expected to deploy by the 1970s.

At Nassau, Macmillan rejected Kennedy's other offers, and pressed him to supply nuclear-capable Polarissubmarine-launched ballistic missiles. These represented more advanced technology than Skybolt, and the US was not inclined to provide them except as part of a Multilateral Force within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Under the Nassau Agreement the US agreed to provide the UK with Polaris. The agreement stipulated that the UK's Polaris missiles would be assigned to NATO as part of a Multilateral Force, and could be used independently only when "supreme national interests" intervened.

The Nassau Agreement became the basis of the Polaris Sales Agreement, a treaty which was signed on 6 April 1963. Under this agreement, British nuclear warheads were fitted to Polaris missiles. As a result, responsibility for Britain's nuclear deterrent passed from the RAF to the Royal Navy.

The President of France, Charles de Gaulle, cited the Nassau Agreement as one of the main reasons for his veto of Britain's application for admission to the European Economic Community (EEC) on 14 January 1963.


British nuclear deterrent[edit]

During the early part of the Second World War, Britain had a nuclear weapons project, codenamed Tube Alloys. At the Quebec Conference in August 1943, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, signed the Quebec Agreement, which merged Tube Alloys with the American Manhattan Project to create a combined British, American and Canadian project.[2] The British government trusted that the United States would continue to share nuclear technology, which it regarded as a joint discovery, after the war, but the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) ended technical cooperation. Fearing a resurgence of United States isolationism, and Britain losing its great power status, the British government restarted its own development effort, now codenamed High Explosive Research. The first British atomic bomb was tested in Operation Hurricane on 3 October 1952. The subsequent British development of the hydrogen bomb, and a favourable international relations climate created by the sputnik crisis, led to the McMahon Act being amended in 1958, resulting in the restoration of the nuclear Special Relationship in the form of the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement, which allowed Britain to acquire nuclear weapons systems from the United States.

Britain's nuclear weapons armament was initially based on free-fall bombs delivered by the V-bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF), but the possibility of the manned bomber becoming obsolete by the late 1960s due to improvements in anti-aircraft defences was foreseen. In 1953, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Operational Requirements), Air Vice Marshal Geoffrey Tuttle, requested a specification for a ballistic missile with 2,000-nautical-mile (3,700 km; 2,300 mi) range, and work commenced at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough later that year. At a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in Paris in December 1953, United States Secretary of Defense, Charles E. Wilson, raised the possibility of a joint medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) development programme. Talks were held in June 1954, resulting in the signing of an agreement on 12 August 1954. The United Kingdom with United States support would develop an MRBM of 2,000-nautical-mile (3,700 km) range. This was called Blue Streak. It was initially estimated to cost £70 million, with the United States paying 15 per cent. By 1958, the project was in trouble. Its deployment was still years away, but the United States was supplying American-built Thorintermediate-range ballistic missiles under Project Emily, and there were concerns about liquid fuelled Blue Streak's vulnerability to a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

To extend the effectiveness and operational life of the V-bombers, an Operational Requirement (OR.1132), was issued on 3 September 1954 for an air-launched, rocket-propelled standoff missile with a range of 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) that could be launched from a V-bomber. This became Blue Steel. The Ministry of Supply placed a development contract with Avro in March 1956, and it entered service in December 1962. By this time it was anticipated that even with Blue Steel, the air defences of the Soviet Union would soon improve to the extent that V-bombers might find it difficult to attack their targets, and there were calls for the development of the Blue Steel Mark II with a range of at least 600 nautical miles (1,100 km; 690 mi). Despite the name, this was a whole new missile, and not a development of Mark I. The Minister of Aviation, Duncan Sandys, insisted that priority be accorded to getting the Mark I into service, and the Mark II was cancelled at the end of 1959.


Confronted with the same problem, the United States Air Force (USAF) also attempted to extend the operational life of its strategic bombers by developing a stand off missile, the AGM-28 Hound Dog. The first production model was delivered to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in December 1959. It carried a 4-megatonne-of-TNT (17 PJ) W28 warhead, and had a range of 642 miles (1,033 km) at high level and 340 miles (550 km) at low level. Its circular error probable (CEP) of over 1 nautical mile (1.9 km; 1.2 mi) at full range was considered acceptable for a warhead of this size. A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress could carry two, but the underslung Pratt & Whitney J52 engine precluded its carriage by bombers with less underwing clearance like the Convair B-58 Hustler and the North American XB-70 Valkyrie. It entered service in large numbers, with 593 in service by 1963. Numbers declined thereafter to 308 in 1976, but it remained in service until 1977, when it was replaced by the AGM-69 SRAM. Despite its being superior in performance to Blue Steel, the British showed little interest in Hound Dog. It could not be carried by the Handley Page Victor, and there were doubts as to whether even the Avro Vulcan had sufficient ground clearance.

Even as Hound Dog was entering service, the USAF was contemplating a successor. An Advanced Air to Surface Missile (AASM) that could carry a 0.5-to-1.0-megatonne-of-TNT (2.1 to 4.2 PJ) warhead with a range of 1,000 to 1,500 nautical miles (1,900 to 2,800 km; 1,200 to 1,700 mi) and a CEP of 3,000 feet (910 m). Such a missile would make manned bombers competitive with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). However, it would also require significant technological advances. The missile became the AGM-48 Skybolt. As costs rose and support diminished, the USAF decreased its specifications to carrying a warhead 600 to 1,000 nautical miles (1,100 to 1,900 km; 690 to 1,150 mi) and a CEP of 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km; 1.7 mi). This was estimated to cost $893.6 million. A May 1960 report to George Kistiakowsky, the chairman of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), by the PSAC Missile Advisory Panel was unconvinced of the Skybolt's merits, as the new LGM-30 Minuteman ICBM would be able to perform the same missions at much lower cost. PSAC therefore recommended in December 1960 that Skybolt be cancelled forthwith. United States Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates, Jr., elected not to request further funding for it, but avoided cancellation by reprogramming $70 million from the previous year's allocation.

A crucial reason for Skybolt's survival was the support it garnered from Britain. Blue Streak was cancelled on 24 February 1960, subject to an adequate replacement being procured from the US. An initial solution appeared to be Skybolt, which combined the range of Blue Streak with the mobile basing of the Blue Steel, and was small enough that two could be carried on the Vulcan bomber. Armed with a British Red Snow warhead, this would improve the capability of the UK's V-bomber force, and extend its useful life into the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like the USAF, the RAF was concerned that ballistic missiles could eventually replace manned bombers. An institutional challenge came from the United States Navy, which was developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the UGM-27 Polaris. The US Chief of Naval Operations, AdmiralArleigh Burke, kept the First Sea Lord, Lord Mountbatten, apprised of its development. By moving the deterrent out to sea, Polaris offered the prospect of a deterrent that was invulnerable to a first strike, and reduced the risk of a nuclear strike on the British Isles. The British Nuclear Deterrent Study Group (BNDSG) produced a study that argued that SLBM technology was as yet unproven, that Polaris would be expensive, and that given the time it would take to build the boats, it could not be deployed before the early 1970s. The Cabinet Defence Committee approved the acquisition of Skybolt in February 1960.

The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, met with President Dwight Eisenhower, at Camp David near Washington in March 1960, and secured permission to buy Skybolt without strings attached. In return, the Americans were given permission to base the US Navy's Polaris-equipped ballistic missile submarines at the Holy Loch in Scotland. The financial arrangement was particularly favourable to Britain, as the US was charging only the unit cost of Skybolt, absorbing all the research and development costs. Mountbatten was disappointed, as was Burke, who now had to face the possible survival of Skybolt at the Pentagon. Exactly what was agreed with regard to Polaris was not clear; the Americans wanted any later offer of Polaris to be as part of a scheme for deployment of NATO MRBMs known as the Multilateral Force. With the Skybolt agreement in hand, the Secretary of State for Defence, Harold Watkinson, announced the cancellation of Blue Streak to the House of Commons on 13 April 1960.

American concerns[edit]

The USAF hoped that the Kennedy administration, which took office in January 1961, would be supportive of Skybolt, given its election campaigning on the basis of an alleged missile gap between Soviet and US capabilities. Initially the new administration supported Skybolt, Robert McNamara the new Secretary of Defense, defended Skybolt before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He requested $347 million to purchase 92 Skybolt missiles in 1963, with the intention of deploying 1,150 missiles by 1967. However, on 21 October 1961 the USAF raised its estimate of research and development costs to $492.6 million, an increase of over $100 million, and production costs were now reckoned at $1.27 billion, an increase of $591 million.[36]

The Kennedy Administration adopted a policy of opposition to independent British nuclear forces in April 1961. In a speech at Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 16 June 1962, McNamara stated "limited nuclear capabilities, operating independently, are dangerous, expensive, prone to obsolescence and lacking in credibility as a deterrent," and that "relatively weak national nuclear forces with enemy cities as their targets are not likely to perform even the function of deterrence."[38]Dean Acheson was even more blunt; in a speech at West Point he stated: "Britain's attempt to play a separate power role – that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a 'special relationship' with the United States, a role based on being the head of a Commonwealth which has no political structure or unity or strength and enjoys a fragile and precarious economic relationship – this role is about played out."[39]

The Kennedy administration was concerned that a situation like the Suez Crisis might repeat itself, one that would once again incite a response from the Soviets. The Americans developed a plan to force the UK into the Multilateral Force concept, a dual-key arrangement that would only allow launch if both parties agreed. If those weapons were part of a single larger force, attacking them would require attacks on the other hosting countries as well, making the prospect far less interesting. The US also feared that other countries would want to follow the UK lead and develop their own deterrent forces, leading to a proliferation problem even among their own allies. If a deterrent was being provided by a larger international force, the need for individual forces would be reduced.

Between 1955 and 1960, the British economy had lagged behind that of the rest of Europe, growing at an average of 2.5 per cent per annum, compared with France's growth of 4.8 per cent, Germany's of 6.4 per cent, and the European Economic Community (EEC) average of 5.3 per cent. It was clear that Britain's economic future lay in Europe and becoming a member of the EEC, and Macmillan devoted much of 1960 to laying the ground for Britain's entry into the EEC. The US was concerned that providing Polaris to Britain would jeopardise Britain's prospects of joining the EEC. Long-term US policy was to persuade the UK to build up its conventional military forces, and to secure admission to the EEC.

McNamara introduced cost-effectiveness analysis to defence procurement. Skybolt suffered from rising costs, and the first five test launches were failures. This was not unusual; Polaris and Minuteman had similar problems. What doomed Skybolt was an inability to demonstrate capability beyond that achievable by Hound Dog, Minuteman or Polaris. This meant that there were few advantages for the United States in continuing Skybolt, but at the same time its cancellation would be a powerful political tool for bringing the UK into their Multilateral Force. The British, on the other hand, had cancelled all other projects to concentrate fully on Skybolt. When warned not to put all their eggs in the one basket, the British replied that there was "no other egg, and no other basket". On 7 November 1962, McNamara met with Kennedy, and recommended that Skybolt be cancelled. He then briefed the British Ambassador to the United States, David Ormsby-Gore. Kennedy agreed to cancel Skybolt on 23 November 1962.


McNamara met with Solly Zuckerman, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence on 9 December, and flew to London to meet with the Secretary of State for Defence, Peter Thorneycroft, on 11 December. On arrival he told the media that Skybolt was an expensive and complex program that had suffered five test failures. Kennedy told a television interviewer that "we don't think that we are going to get $2.5 billion worth of national security". US National Security AdvisorMcGeorge Bundy gave an interview on television in which he stated that the US had no obligation to supply Skybolt to the UK. Thorneycroft had expected McNamara to offer Polaris instead, but found him unwilling to countenance such an offer except as part of a Multinational Force. McNamara was willing to supply Hound Dog, or to allow the British to continue development of Skybolt.

These discussions were reported to the House of Commons by Thorneycroft,[53] leading to a storm of protest. Air Commodore Sir Arthur Vere Harvey pointed out that while Skybolt had suffered five test failures, Polaris had thirteen failures in its development. He went on to state "that some of us on this side, who want to see Britain retain a nuclear deterrent, are highly suspicious of some of the American motives... and say that the British people are tired of being pushed around".[53] Liberal Party leader Jo Grimond asked: "Does not this mark the absolute failure of the policy of the independent deterrent? Is it not the case that everybody else in the world knew this, except the Conservative Party in this country? Is it not the case that the Americans gave up production of the B52, which was to carry Skybolt, nine months ago?"[53]

As the Skybolt crisis came to the boil in the UK, an emergency meeting between Macmillan and Kennedy was arranged to take place in Nassau, Bahamas. Accompanying Macmillan were British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Home; Thorneycroft; Sandys; and Zuckerman. Naval expertise was supplied by Vice AdmiralMichael Le Fanu. Ormsby-Gore flew to Nassau with Kennedy. En route, he brokered a deal whereby Britain and the United States would continue development of Skybolt, with each paying half the cost, the American half being a kind of termination fee. In London, over one hundred Conservative members of Parliament, nearly one third of the parliamentary party, signed a motion urging Macmillan to ensure that Britain remained an independent nuclear power.

Talks opened with Macmillan detailing the history of the Anglo-American Special Relationship, going back to the Second World War. He rejected the deal that Kennedy and Ormsby-Gore had reached. It would cost Britain about $100 million, and was not politically viable in the wake of recent public comments about Skybolt. Kennedy then offered Hound Dog. Macmillan turned this down on technical grounds, although it had not been subjected to a detailed assessment, and probably would have worked for the RAF into the 1970s, as it did for the USAF.

It therefore came down to Polaris, which the US did not wish to supply except as part of a Multinational Force. Macmillan was emphatic that he would commit the submarines to NATO only if they could be withdrawn in case of a national emergency. When pressed by Kennedy as to what sort of emergencies he had in mind, Macmillan mentioned the Soviet threats at the time of the Suez crisis, Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, or a threat to Singapore. The British nuclear deterrent was not just for deterring attacks on the UK, but to underwrite Britain's role as a great power. In the end, Kennedy did not wish to see Macmillan's government collapse, which would imperil Britain's entry into the EEC, so a face-saving compromise was found, which was released as a joint statement on 21 December 1962:

These forces, and at least equal US Forces, would be made available for inclusion in a NATO multilateral nuclear force. The Prime Minister made it clear that except where HMG [Her Majesty's Government] may decide that supreme national interests are at stake, these British forces will be used for the purposes of international defense of the Western Alliance in all circumstances.[61]

On 22 December, after the Nassau conference had ended, the USAF conducted the sixth and final test flight of Skybolt, having received explicit permission to do so from Roswell Gilpatric, the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense, in McNamara's absence. The test was a success. Kennedy was furious, but Macmillan remained confident that the Americans had "determined to kill Skybolt on good general grounds—not merely to annoy us or drive Great Britain out of the nuclear business". The successful test raised the possibility that the USAF might get the Skybolt project re-instated, and the Americans would renege on the Nassau Agreement. This did not occur; Skybolt was officially cancelled on 31 December 1962.


Macmillan placed the Nassau Agreement before the cabinet on 3 January 1963. He made the case for Britain retaining nuclear weapons. He asserted that it would not be in the best interest of the Western Alliance for all knowledge of the technology to reside with the United States; that possession of an independent nuclear capability gave Britain the ability to respond to threats from the Soviet Union even when the United States was not inclined to support Britain; and that possession of nuclear weapons gave Britain a voice in nuclear disarmament talks. However, concerns were expressed that the dependence on the United States would necessarily diminish Britain's influence on world affairs. Thorneycroft addressed the view that Britain should provide a nuclear deterrent from its own resources. He pointed out that Polaris represented $800 million in research and development costs that the United Kingdom would save. Nonetheless, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd, was still concerned at the cost.

In the wake of the Nassau Agreement, the two governments negotiated the Polaris Sales Agreement, a treaty under the terms of which the US supplied Polaris missiles, which was signed on 6 April 1963. The missiles were equipped with British warheads. The UK retained its deterrent force, although its control passed from the RAF to the Royal Navy. Polaris was a better weapon system for the UK's needs, and has been referred to as "almost the bargain of the century", and an "amazing offer". The V-bombers were immediately reassigned to NATO under the terms of the Nassau Agreement, carrying tactical nuclear weapons, as were the Polaris submarines when they entered service in 1968. The Polaris Sales Agreement was amended in 1980 to provide for the purchase of Trident.[73] British politicians did not like to talk about "dependence" on the United States, preferring to describe the Special Relationship as one of "interdependence".

As had been feared, the President of France, Charles de Gaulle, vetoed Britain's application for admission to the EEC on 14 January 1963, citing the Nassau Agreement as one of the main reasons. He argued that Britain's dependence on United States through the purchase of Polaris rendered it unfit to be a member of the EEC. The US policy of attempting to force Britain into their Multilateral Force proved to be a failure in light of this decision, and there was a lack of enthusiasm for it from the NATO allies, particularly Britain. By 1965, the Multilateral Force began fading away. The NATO Nuclear Planning Group gave NATO members a voice in the planning process without full access to nuclear weapons. The Standing Naval Force Atlantic was established as a joint naval task force, to which various nations contributing ships rather than ships having mixed crews.

Macmillan's government lost a series of by-elections in 1962, and was shaken by the Profumo affair in 1963. In October 1963, on the eve of the annual Conservative Party Conference, Macmillan fell ill with what was initially feared to be inoperable prostate cancer.[79] His doctors assured him that it was benign, and that he would make a full recovery, but he took the opportunity to resign on the grounds of ill-health. He was succeeded by Lord Home, who renounced his peerage and as Alec Douglas-Home campaigned on Britain's nuclear deterrent in the 1964 election. While the issue was of low importance in the minds of the electorate, it was an issue on which Douglas-Home felt passionately, and on which the majority of voters supported his position. Douglas-Home narrowly lost the election to the leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson.

Kennedy, stung by the entire issue, commissioned a detailed report by Richard Neustadt on the events and what lessons could be learned from them. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis recalled him reading the initial report and commenting that "If you want to know what my life is like, read this." The report was declassified in 1992 and published as Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective.



  • Avella, Jay (Winter 2001). "Book Review, Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 4 (4): 756–757. doi:10.1353/rap.2001.0059. 
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Sound recording of President Kennedy’s remarks to Harold Macmillan upon arrival at Windsor Field in Nassau, The Bahamas.
A Polaris missile lifts off after being fired from the submerged British nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine HMS Revenge in 1986

Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection, Subgroup E, Series IV: Vertical Files

Descriptive Summary

Title: Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection, Subgroup E, Series IV: Vertical Files
Creator: Russell, Richard B., (Richard Brevard), 1897-1971
Dates: 1935-1970
Extent: 17.0 boxes (17 linear feet)
Collection Number: RBRL/001/RBR
Repository: Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
Abstract: The Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection Subgroup E, IV. Vertical Files are composed of articles, magazines, pamphlets, and brochures containing items of interest to Senator Russell. These files include popular national publications such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report as well as those less known. Many items are marked for filing and annotated by Russell. Where possible, arrangement follows the series headings of the senatorial papers, then alphabetical by article title. Subject matter includes the 1952 presidential campaign, civil rights, defense, agriculture and forestry, international events, the United Nations, and Civil War history.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Richard B. Russell Jr. served in public office for fifty years as a state legislator, governor of Georgia, and U.S. senator. Although Russell was best known for his efforts to strengthen the national defense and to oppose civil rights legislation, he favored his role as advocate for the small farmer and for soil and water conservation. Russell also worked to bring economic opportunities to Georgia. He helped to secure or maintain fifteen military installations; more than twenty-five research facilities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Russell Agricultural Research Center; and federal funding for development and construction. Russell believed that his most important legislative contribution was his authorship and secured passage of the National School Lunch Program in 1946.

Serving in the U.S. Senate from 1933 until his death in 1971, Russell was one of that body's most respected members. Secretary of State Dean Rusk called him the most powerful and influential man in Washington, D.C., for a period of about twenty years, second only to the president. Russell attained that position of power through his committee assignments—specifically a total of sixteen years as the chair of the Armed Services Committee and a career-long position on the Appropriations Committee, serving as its chair for his last two years in the Senate. In large measure he determined the agricultural and defense legislation considered by the Senate, as well as matters affecting the federal budget. During the twentieth century Russell, along with Carl Vinson in the U.S. House of Representatives, was undeniably among the nation's foremost experts on military and defense policy. An advisor to six presidents and a 1952 candidate for president, Russell ended his career as president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in the line of presidential succession.

Richard Brevard Russell Jr. was born in Winder on November 2, 1897, to Richard B. Russell Sr., a lawyer, state legislator, businessman, and judge, and Ina Dillard Russell, a teacher. He was the fourth child, and first son, of what became a family of thirteen children. Russell was related to Marietta's Brumby family through his paternal grandmother, Rebecca Harriette Brumby, and in the 1950s his cousin, Otis A. Brumby Jr., worked for him as a Senate page.

His education began at home, where a governess taught Russell and his siblings until 1910. From 1911 to 1913 and again in 1915 he attended the Gordon Institute in Barnesville, and he graduated in 1914 from the Seventh District Agricultural and Mechanical School (later John McEachern High School) in Powder Springs. In 1915, he entered the University of Georgia and was active in various social groups, including the Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity, the Gridiron Club, the Jeffersonian Law Society, and the Phi Kappa Literary Society. He graduated in 1918 with a Bachelor of Laws degree.

After practicing law for more than a year, Russell was elected in 1920 to the Georgia House of Representatives, becoming at age twenty-three one of the youngest members of that body. He received appointments to various committees and, building on friendships from his school days, advanced quickly in the political arena. He was elected Speaker pro tempore by the state house in 1923 and 1925. In 1927 he was elected Speaker of the House and remained in that position until 1931.

In the state legislature Russell advocated building and improving highways, supported public education, and called for reducing the control of special-interest groups in order to develop a fiscally responsible and efficient state government. He took the same agenda to the people in April 1930, when he announced his candidacy for governor. Russell battled a field of seasoned candidates to win the gubernatorial election. His victory was attributed to a grassroots campaign and his skill in canvassing voters door-to-door across Georgia.

Becoming Georgia's youngest governor in the twentieth century, Russell took the oath of office in June 1931. During his eighteen-month tenure, his most significant achievement was a comprehensive reorganization of the state government, which was accomplished by reducing the number of agencies from 102 to 17. A highlight of this reorganization was the creation of the University System of Georgia, with the Board of Regents as the single governing body over all state colleges and universities. Russell cut state expenditures by 20 percent, balanced the budget without cutting salaries (other than his own), and honored $2.8 million in delinquent obligations.

The death of U.S. Senator William J. Harris in 1932 opened the door for Russell to enter national politics. On April 25, Governor Russell appointed John S. Cohen, publisher of the Atlanta Journal, as interim senator and announced his own candidacy for election to Harris's unexpired term, which ran until 1937. After a tough campaign, Russell was victorious against Charles Crisp, a veteran congressman. Russell's only other contested U.S. Senate election occurred in 1936, when he defeated Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge.

Russell entered the U.S. Senate in 1933 as the youngest member and a strong supporter of U.S. presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seeing the New York governor as the leader who could end the Great Depression, Russell had detoured from his own campaign to attend the Democratic National Convention and to make a seconding speech for Roosevelt's nomination. The two men had become acquainted during the 1920s, when Roosevelt often visited Warm Springs. After Roosevelt was elected president, Russell marked his first decade in the Senate by ensuring the passage of Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

Russell was awarded an unheard-of freshman spot on the important Appropriations Committee, and he became chairman of its subcommittee on agriculture, a post he retained throughout his career. Russell deeply believed in the significance of agriculture in American society. Representing a mostly rural Georgia, he focused on legislation to assist the small farmer, including the Farm Security Administration, the Farmers Home Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Rural Electrification Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Resettlement Administration, commodity price supports, and soil conservation. A major participant in the Farm Bloc, he worked with a bipartisan group of senators who were committed to increasing the success rate for individual farmers.

In 1933, Russell was appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee, and he continued to serve when that committee and the Military Affairs Committee were reorganized in 1946 to form the Armed Services Committee. Russell served on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, the Central Intelligence Agency's congressional oversight committee, and the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, as well as on the Democratic Policy and Democratic Steering committees from their inceptions. After World War II (1941-1945), Russell's seniority and strong committee assignments, following a congressional reorganization, placed him in key power positions both legislatively and politically.

Russell began contesting civil rights legislation as early as 1935, when an anti-lynching bill was introduced in Congress. By 1938 he led the Southern Bloc in resisting such federal legislation based on the unconstitutionality of its provisions. The Southern Bloc argued that these provisions were infringements on states' rights. By continually blocking passage of a cloture rule in the Senate, Russell preserved unlimited debate as a method for halting or weakening civil rights legislation. Over the next three decades, through filibuster and Russell's command of the Senate's parliamentary rules and precedents, the Southern Bloc stymied all civil rights legislation.

By 1964, however, American society and the U.S. Senate itself had changed dramatically, and the strongest civil rights bill up to that time passed overwhelmingly. Once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, Russell urged compliance and counseled against any violence or forcible resistance; he was the only opponent of the bill to do so.

Russell was a defender of white southern traditions and values. Much of his opposition to civil rights legislation stemmed from his belief that "South haters" were its primary supporters and that life and culture in the South would be forever changed. He believed in white supremacy and a separate but equal society, but he did not promote hatred or acts of violence in order to defend these beliefs. His arguments for maintaining segregation were drawn as much from constitutional beliefs in a Jeffersonian government that both emphasizes a division of federal and state powers and fosters personal and economic freedom as they were from notions of race.

Russell's stand on civil rights was costly to the nation and to Russell himself. It contributed to his defeat in a bid for the presidency, often diverted him from other legislative and appointed business, limited his ability to accept change, weakened his health, and tainted his record historically.

During World War II, Russell led a special committee of five senators around the world to visit the war theaters and to report on the status of American troops. He expanded his views on national defense during this time to include strategic international bases for ensuring security and maintaining world stability. At the same time he did not abandon his isolationism, for he was not eager to place America in the role of world policeman. Neither Russell nor his father supported United Nations membership. Russell also had little faith in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a peacekeeping force, and he was concerned that American-supplied arms to an allied country would fall into the hands of an aggressor. After 1945 Russell agreed with very little American foreign policy. Specifically, he opposed large foreign-aid expenditures when they caused a budget deficit for defense. He believed America's best defense was a military power so strong that no other nation could challenge it successfully.

In 1951, President Harry Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur as commander in the Far East. As chair of the joint Senate committee investigating MacArthur's dismissal, Russell conducted hearings that set the model for congressional inquiry. Many national newspapers praised Russell for his skill in defusing the situation, and he gained a reputation as one of the most powerful men in the Senate.

As the United States and the Soviet Union squared off, Russell strongly supported a military buildup, for which he insisted on civilian oversight or control. As chair of the Armed Services Committee, he started its Military Preparedness Subcommittee. He was a leader in establishing the Atomic Energy Commission, in setting up an independent Central Intelligence Agency, and in placing space exploration and development in the hands of both civilians and the military.

In 1954, Russell spoke against American military support of the French in Vietnam. A stalwart nationalist, he favored military force only when America's interests were directly threatened. He reiterated this sentiment in 1967, when the Johnson administration sent cargo planes to the Congo. Russell fought against rapid deployment, believing that the United States would always find reason to intervene in other nations' conflicts once its military had the ability to engage quickly in some far-flung battle. On June 25, 1969, the Senate passed the National Commitments Resolution, which Russell, along with Senator J. W. Fulbright, was instrumental in drafting. The resolution reasserted the Senate's right to be a participant in the making of commitments by the United States.

As the Johnson administration escalated the war in Vietnam, Russell still could not see a prevailing reason for America's involvement. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, he had advocated military action in what he saw as a direct Communist threat to the nation. Upholding the Monroe Doctrine, in this case, was of vital interest to the nation and its hemisphere. With Vietnam, Russell, who believed deeply in the presidency, found himself supporting four administrations as America descended into the quagmire. While he advised the presidents to "go in and win—or get out," he could neither prevail with full-scale military power nor find diplomatic solutions. Once the flag was committed, however, so was Russell. Though frustrated by policy and critical of war tactics, he did all he could to support U.S. troops by assuring that they had the best equipment and supplies and by monitoring defense appropriations.

Pursued by colleagues to accept the Senate majority leadership, Russell steadfastly refused because he wanted "absolute independence of thought and action." Instead, he promoted his young protégé Lyndon Johnson, who became the majority whip and, later, the majority leader. This was the beginning of Johnson's rise to power, and he would not have succeeded so quickly without Russell's favor.

Russell's name was twice put forward for nomination as the Democratic candidate for president. Although not a formal candidate in 1948 and not in attendance at the convention, he received 263 votes from 10 southern states that were looking for an alternative to Truman and his civil rights platform. Russell refused to join the Dixiecrats, who subsequently broke away from the party to form their own slate. In 1952 he announced his candidacy and went on to win the Florida primary. His agenda included a strong statement for local and states' rights against a growing federal centralization. At the convention he received a high of 294 votes from 23 states and lost on the third ballot to Adlai Stevenson.

In 1963, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a reluctant Russell to the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or the Warren Commission, as it came to be known. Russell rejected the single-bullet theory, as did Texas governor John Connally, who had been wounded in the attack on Kennedy. Thinking "so much possible evidence was beyond [the commission's] reach," Russell insisted that Earl Warren qualify the commission's findings to read that they found "no evidence" that Oswald "was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign." Compromise with Russell was the only way Warren obtained a unanimous report.

Russell devoted his life to public service. His love of the Senate and its traditions was most evident in his own example of conduct and leadership. Russell earned the respect and admiration of his most ardent opponents for his integrity, intellect, modesty, and fairness.

Although he never married, Russell dated regularly over the years. In 1938, his engagement to an attorney ended because the couple could not reconcile differences over her Catholic faith; he later wrote that the failed relationship was his one regret. Throughout his life, Russell set his course to follow the direction of Russell Sr., who told his seven sons that although not all of them could be brilliant or successful, they could all be honorable. Russell died of complications from emphysema at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 1971. He lay in state at the Georgia state capitol, where President Richard Nixon visited to pay his respects.

The following year Russell's colleagues passed Senate Resolution 296 naming his old office building the Richard Brevard Russell Senate Office Building. Subsequently, a nuclear-powered submarine, a federal courthouse in Atlanta, a state highway, a dam and lake, and various structures would bear his name. Russell is buried in his family's cemetery behind the Russell home in Winder.

Scope and Content

Subgroup E, Series IV. Vertical Files are composed of articles, magazines, pamphlets, and brochures containing items of interest to Senator Russell. These files include popular national publications such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report as well as those less known. Many items are marked for filing and annotated by Russell. Subject matter includes the 1952 presidential campaign, civil rights, defense, agriculture and forestry, international events, the United Nations, and Civil War history.

Organization and Arrangement

Where possible, arrangement of the vertical files follows the series headings of the senatorial papers, then alphabetical by article title.

Administrative Information and Restrictions

Access Restrictions


Preferred Citation

Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia.

User Restrictions

Library acts as "fair use" reproduction agent.

Copyright Information

Before material from collections at the Richard B. Russell Library may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permissions. Persons wishing to quote from materials in the Russell Library collection should consult the Director. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared by Russell staff, 2008.

Related Materials

Access Points

African Americans--Civil rights.

Assassination--Investigation--United States.

Civil rights movements--United States.

Civil rights--United States.


Congressional records.

Governmental investigations--United States.


Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963--Assassination.

Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968--Assassination.

Korean War, 1950-1953--United States.

Legislative hearings--United States.


Legislators--United States.

Literacy tests (Election law)--United States.

MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964.

Military bases--Georgia.

New Deal, 1933-1939.

Patronage, Political--United States.

Poll tax--United States.

Prayer in the public schools--United States.

Presidential candidates--United States.

Russell, Richard B., (Richard Brevard), 1897-1971

School integration--Arkansas--Little Rock.

School integration--United States.

Tariff on jute--United States.

United States--Defenses.

United States--Foreign policy--1933-1945.

United States--Foreign policy--1945-1989.

United States--Foreign relations--1933-1945.

United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989.

United States--Race relations.

United States. Congress. Senate--Cloture.

United States. Congress. Senate.

United States. Congress. Senate. Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program.

United States. Warren Commission.

Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

World War, 1939-1945--United States.

Related Collections in this Repository

Richard B. Russell, Sr. Papers

Russell Family Collection

Patience Elizabeth Russell Peterson Papers

Hugh Peterson, Sr. Papers

Herman E. Talmadge Collection

Lamartine G. Hardman Collection

Related Collections in Other Repositories

John C. Stennis Papers, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University

Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, Lyndon B. Johnson Library

Richard B. Russell, Jr. Gubernatorial Papers, Georgia Department of Archives and History

U.S. Senate. Committee on Appropriations, Center for Legislative Archives, NARA

U.S. Senate. Committee on Armed Services, Center for Legislative Archives, NARA