History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


James F. Byrnes

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Scarce signed photograph of Byrnes

as Governor of South Carolina

James Francis Byrnes, 1882–1972.  United States Senator from South Carolina, 1931–1941; Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 1941–1942; Secretary of State, 1945–1947; Governor of South Carolina, 1951–1955.  Scarce photograph signed James F. Byrnes as Governor of South Carolina.

This is a very nice matte-finish photograph of Byrnes in the Governorʼs office.  The American and South Carolina flags flank a portrait on the wall behind his desk.  Byrnes has signed with a large 3½" signature in a light area of the photo.

It is difficult to underestimate Byrnesʼs significance in mid-20th Century America and his role during and after World War II.  A confidant of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he became one of the most powerful men in American domestic and foreign policy during the 1940s. 

Byrnes, a lawyer, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1910 and represented South Carolinaʼs 2nd District from 1911 until 1925, when he instead unsuccessfully sought election to the United States Senate.  He was elected to the Senate in 1930, however, and served 10 years until, as a reward for his support on numerous issues, Roosevelt appointed him to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in July 1941. 

Byrnesʼs time on the Supreme Court was short, however.  He served just under 15 months, and his record as a Justice was sparse.  He was the last Justice who had passed the bar by reading law in a law office rather than attending law school.  He left the Court both in recognition that he was not suited to its cloistered, intellectual demands and out of a desire to be at the center of action in a nation at war.  He accepted Rooseveltʼs appointment as Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization, a position that he held 1942–1943.  FDR then made him Director of the Office of War Mobilization, where he served from 1943 until President Harry S. Truman appointed him Secretary of State. 

In 1944, with Rooseveltʼs health in serious decline, Democratic political insiders knew that the Democrats were likely nominating two presidents, not one.  Although others names were being suggested—including Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who wanted to keep the job, and Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, who did not want it—Byrnes believed that Roosevelt had finally chosen him for the vice presidency.  In a smooth political maneuver, Byrnes asked Truman to nominate him, and Truman went to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago pledged to nominate and support him for Vice President.  The job ultimately fell to Truman, who became FDRʼs third Vice President.

After the election, Byrnes accompanied Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in January 1945.  Byrnes, who was accomplished in shorthand, took copious notes.  Once Truman became President, he relied on Byrnes for information on Rooseveltʼs dealings with the Soviet Union.  He also appointed Byrnes Secretary of State to replace Edward Stettinius, whom he named the first American ambassador to the United Nations.  Under the law at the time, with the office of Vice President vacant, the Secretary of State was next in line for the presidency, and Truman believed Byrnes more suitable to succeed him because Stettinius, who had been a businessman, had never been elected to public office. 

Byrnes and Truman later had a falling out over what Truman perceived to be Byrnesʼs effort to formulate U.S. foreign policy himself.  Truman and others sensed that Byrnesʼs resentment over not being Rooseveltʼs successor led him to disrespect Truman.  Byrnes resigned as Secretary of State in 1947, and Truman appointed General George C. Marshall to replace him.  Byrnes subsequently served a term as Governor of South Carolina, 1951–1955, before retiring.

This is a wonderful photograph of Byrnes, who has signed in blue-black fountain pen.  The photo has almost imperceptible staple holes at the upper right, and there are a small nicks in the surface emulsion of the photo on the edges near the lower left corner and a couple of small bends in the lower right corner.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.


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