William L. Clayton

William L. Clayton

William Lockhart Clayton (February 7, 1880February 8, 1966) was an American business leader and government official. Born near Tupelo, Mississippi, he grew up in Jackson, Tennessee. Leaving school at age 13, he became an expert stenographer, which earned him a job as private secretary to Jerome Hall, a Saint Louis cotton merchant. In 1896, Clayton went to work for the American Cotton Company in New York City, becoming an assistant general manager in 1904. He left the company later that year to join with two other partners in starting Anderson, Clayton and Company, a cotton marketing firm based in Oklahoma City. In 1916, the firm moved its headquarters to Houston, Texas, where it grew to be the world's largest cotton-trading enterprise.

Clayton entered government service in World War I as a member of the Cotton Distribution Committee. Although he was a
Democrat, he opposed the New Deal agricultural policies of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the New Deal's free trade policies led him to support Roosevelt in the 1936 election.

In 1940, Clayton returned to government service in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, then moved to the Export-Import Bank, where he worked to procure strategic materials for the United States and to deny them to Nazi Germany. After a series of administrative shuffles, Clayton found himself working under Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. Disagreements between them led Clayton to resign in January 1944, only to return to government service a month later as Surplus War Property Administrator under James F. Byrnes in the Office of War Mobilization.

At the end of 1944, Clayton was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, a post that allowed him to promote the free trade policies that he believed in. He was a member of the Interim Committee appointed to advise Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry S. Truman on problems expected to arise from the development of the atomic bomb and he was an economic advisor to Truman at the Potsdam Conference.

Clayton strongly supported American economic aid to rebuild Europe after World War II and had a major role in shaping the Marshall Plan in 1947. In 1948, he returned to his private business in Houston, but remained active in efforts to promote free trade and economic cooperation between the United States and its allies during the Cold War. In 1963, when Clayton was in his eighties, President John F. Kennedy asked him to work on the national export expansion program and the limited nuclear test ban treaty. The William L. Clayton Professorship of International Economics at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a part of the Johns Hopkins University, is named for him.


John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (eds),"Dictionary of American Biography", Supplement No. 8, 1966–1970, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (1988) pp. 88–90.

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