The right to a free press — the right of the people to read and to hear and therefore to think as they please — is, I deeply believe, the basic right upon which freedom rests. Freedom of exchange of information between the peoples of the world is the extension into international relations of the basic democratic right of freedom of the press. Belief in the freedom of exchange of information rests upon the conviction that if the peoples of the world know the facts about each other, peace will be maintained, since peace is the common hope and the common cause of the people everywhere.
Source: Department of State, Bulletin, December 10, 1944, p693. (Bulletin was State’s in-house publication.)
MacLeish was appointed as the first Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Affairs. The Office of Public Affairs, recently established, fell under him, among other responsibilities.
The position was established under the ‘basic reorganization’ State began on January 15, 1944, and continued in December 1944, the latter under Departmental Order 1301. MacLeish was hired and charged with furthering ‘the steps taken during the year to develop a program designed to provide American citizens with more information concerning their country’s foreign policy and to promote closer understanding with the peoples of foreign countries’. (Department of State, Bulletin, December 17, 1944, p777.)
The 1301 also established the geographic Assistant Secretaries. The leadership of State was thus the Secretary, one Under Secretary, and six Assistant Secretaries. MacLeish, as Assistant Secretary for Public and Cultural Relations, was #5 in the A/S ranking. (#2 A/S was MacLeish’s friend, Dean Acheson, appointed A/S for Congressional Relations and International Conferences.)
MacLeish resigned in August 1945, following Roosevelt’s death. He would stay close to State and work very closely on the freedom of speech across borders. This include working on establishing UNESCO, an assignment given by MacLeish’s successor, and writing the preamble to the UNESCO constitution. A significant role on the Commission on Freedom of the Press, commonly referred to as the Hutchins Commission, which operated with funding from Henry Luce and William Benton (through Encyclopedia Brittanica, which Benton owned).
MacLeish was succeeded by Benton, who dropped ‘cultural’ because the word was exclusionary and distracting, particularly to Congressmen. After all, the Assistant Secretary managed all manner of engagement: informational, cultural, educational, and technical affairs.
MacLeish’s statement above is just one small example of how important a free press and the freedom to think were to State Department leadership in the 1940s.