Lincoln Gordon

Abraham Lincoln Gordon (September 10, 1913 – December 19, 2009) was the 9th President of the Johns Hopkins University (1967–71) and a United States Ambassador to Brazil (1961–66). Gordon had a career both in government and in academia, becoming a Professor of International Economic Relations at Harvard University in the 1950s, before turning his attention to foreign affairs. Gordon had a career in business after his resignation as president of the Johns Hopkins University,[2] but remained active at institutions such as the Brookings Institution until his death. His full name was Abraham Lincoln Gordon, but he never used his first name.[3]

Lincoln Gordon
United States Ambassador to Brazil
In office
9 October 1961  25 February 1966
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded byJohn M. Cabot
Succeeded byJohn W. Tuthill
Personal details
BornSeptember 10, 1913
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 19, 2009(2009-12-19) (aged 96)
Mitchellville, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic[1]
Spouse(s)Allison Gordon (née Wright)
ChildrenSally (née Anne), Robert, Hugh, Amy[1]
Alma materHarvard University, Oxford University
ProfessionAcademic and Diplomat

Early life

Born in 1913 in New York City,[2] Gordon attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale,[4] and later attended Harvard University.[1] As an undergraduate at Harvard, Gordon was involved with the university's glee club; because Prohibition was still in place, wine was usually served at the Club's parties.[5]

While he was a student at Harvard, Gordon met his future wife, Allison Wright, at a film exhibition in Dunster House.[5] They married in 1937.[1]

He received a BA from Harvard in 1933. He received a DPhil from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar[2] in 1936.[6]

Career in government (1944–67)

Gordon was program vice-chairman of the War Production Board from 1944 to 1945. He started in the Bureau of Research and Statistics of the War Production Board before joining the staff of the Requirements Committee, helping design the Controlled Materials Plan.[7] This Plan regulated the conservation and allocation of critical materials such as steel, copper, zinc, and aluminum—materials that were scarce or were in danger of becoming so during World War II.[7]

Gordon then worked for the US State Department as Director of the Marshall Plan Mission and Minister for Economic Affairs and at the United States embassy in London (1952–55).[6] "To let Western Europe collapse for want of some dollars," Gordon has stated in regard to his role in the Marshall Plan, "would have been a tragedy. It would have been repeating the terrible mistake after World War I."[8]

Brazil and Latin America (1960–67)

In 1960, Gordon helped develop the Alliance for Progress, an aid program designed to prevent Latin America from turning to revolution and socialism for economic progress.[1] The journalist A. J. Langguth noted that many Brazilian nationalists scorned the Alliance as Brazilian foreign aid to America due to the belief that American corporations were withdrawing more money from the country than they were investing.[9] Though Brazil did indeed run balance of payments deficits with the United States during the years of the Alliance, the size of these deficits was well exceeded by the grants and credits provided by the US to Brazil, even before factoring in development loans and military aid.[10] Brazil also enjoyed large overall balance of payments surpluses during the Alliance years.[11]

In 1961, Time reported that Gordon has "become Kennedy's leading expert on Latin American economics. Gordon drew up the U.S. agenda for the July inter-American economic meeting approved last week by the Organization of American States." [12]

Gordon served as U.S. Ambassador to Brazil (1961–66), where he played a major role for the support of the opposition against the government of President João Goulart and during the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état.[13] On March 27, 1964, he wrote a top secret cable to the US government, urging it to support the coup of Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco with a "clandestine delivery of arms" and shipments of gas and oil, to possibly be supplemented by CIA covert operations.[14] Gordon believed that Goulart, wanting to "seize dictatorial power", was working with the Brazilian Communist Party.[14] Gordon wrote: "If our influence is to be brought to bear to help avert a major disaster here--which might make Brazil the China of the 1960s--this is where both I and all my senior advisors believe our support should be placed."[14]

Noam Chomsky has been critical of the coup, as well as his perception of Gordon's role in it. At an address delivered at Harvard University on March 19, 1985, he stated:

So, in one case, Brazil, the most important Latin American country, there has been what was called an "economic miracle" in the last couple of decades, ever since we destroyed Brazilian democracy by supporting a military coup in 1964. The support for the coup was initiated by Kennedy but finally carried to a conclusion by Johnson. [Four hours after the coup, and before its ultimate effects were able to be seen][15] Kennedy's ambassador, Lincoln Gordon, [called it] "the single most decisive victory for freedom in the mid-twentieth century." We installed the first really major national security state, Nazi-like state, in Latin America, with high-technology torture and so on. Gordon called it "totally democratic," "the best government Brazil ever had."... Well, there was an economic miracle and there was an increase in the GNP. There was also an increase in suffering for much of the population.

Noam Chomsky[16]

Thomas Skidmore, a well-respected Brazilian historian and moderately Marxist professor at Brown University takes a notedly different view than Chomsky. While he acknowledges that the U.S. supported the Brazilian military, he notes that the credit for the coup belongs to the Brazilian military and not to the U.S.:

There is no doubt ... that the United States government financed Goulart's electoral opponents, funded public works projects of his leading gubernatorial enemies, and by late 1963 was broadcasting its view that Goulart was opening the way for the radical left to gain power. But the force behind the coup came not from Washington but from the Brazilian military officer corps and much of the public, including the middle class as well as the traditional right. Washington soon learned, to Gordon's consternation, that the increasingly dominant hard-line military had their own ideas and their own power base. Their virulent anti-communism and their willingness to repress even the reformist center went back at least to the coup of 1937 and the authoritarian Estado Novo (1937–1945), long before Washington began exporting its Cold War doctrines of "national security."

Thomas Skidmore[17]

In the years after the coup, Gordon, Gordon's staff, and the CIA repeatedly denied that they had been involved[1] and President Lyndon B. Johnson praised Gordon's service in Brazil as "a rare combination of experience and scholarship, idealism and practical judgment."[1] In 1976, Gordon stated that the Johnson Administration "had been prepared to intervene militarily to prevent a leftist takeover of the government," but did not directly state that it had or had not intervened.[1] Circa 2004 many documents were declassified and placed online at the GWU National Security Archive, indicating the involvement of Johnson, McNamara, Gordon, and others. In 2005 Stansfield Turner's book described the involvement of ITT Corporation president Harold Geneen and CIA director John McCone.[18]

Afterward, Gordon became Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (1966–68) in Washington, D.C.,[2] and worked for the Alliance for Progress, which coordinated aid to Latin America.[1]

Career in academia

Gordon was a Professor of International Economic Relations at Harvard University in the 1950s, before turning his attention to foreign affairs.

Johns Hopkins University (1967–71)

He then served as president of the Johns Hopkins University between 1967 and 1971. In 1970, following approval from the Board of Trustees in November 1969, he introduced coeducation in Johns Hopkins' full-time undergraduate program.[3][19]

During his tenure, students and faculty briefly occupied the university's executive offices to protest against the Vietnam War [20] despite the fact that Gordon had expressed opposition to the Vietnam War. He also took part in a campus-wide discussion over military recruiting on campus and whether ROTC should have a place at Johns Hopkins.[21] During his tenure, the university was suffering a financial crisis, with an operating deficit of more than $4 million. The crisis caused Gordon to order budget cuts, which in turn caused faculty protests. Faculty were angered because while Gordon was cutting teaching positions, he was increasing the size of the University's administration. He also incurred student wrath when he re-wrote the student conduct code.[22]

Gordon resigned in March 1971, following a vote of "no-confidence" by a committee of senior faculty,[23] attributing his resignation to growing criticism from the university's faculty.[18] The New York Times stated that "Dr. Gordon's four years at Johns Hopkins were dogged by deteriorating finances, faculty complaints over pay and academic priorities, and students rebellious over the 'relevance' of their educations." Although Gordon had agreed to remain until an interim successor could be named, he left town abruptly, forcing the trustees to move quickly; they asked Gordon's predecessor, Milton S. Eisenhower, to return in an emergency capacity.[24]

Later career

Gordon was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution from 1972 to 1975.[1]

In 1984, he became a scholar at the Brookings Institution (he was an active associate there until his death[1]) and also became director at the Atlantic Council of the United States.[6]

Gordon died at the age of 96 at Collington Episcopal Life Care, an assisted-living home, in Mitchellville, Maryland.[1] He was survived by two sons, Robert and Hugh, and two daughters, Sally and Amy[1] and seven grandchildren[1] (including Kate Gordon); and three great-grandchildren.[1]


  • A New Deal for Latin America (1963)
  • Growth Policies and the International Order (1979)
  • Energy Strategies for Developing Nations (1981)
  • Eroding Empire: Western Relations with Eastern Europe (1987)
  • Brazil's Second Chance: En Route toward the First World (Brookings Institution Press, 2001).


  1. Robert D. McFadden, “Lincoln Gordon Dies at 96; Educator and Ambassador to Brazil” New York Times. December 21, 2009.
  2. Justin B. Jones (2007). "Gordon (Lincoln) 1913- : Papers 1963-1971. Special Collections. The Milton S. Eisenhower Library. The Johns Hopkins University". Johns Hopkins University. Archived from the original on June 14, 2010. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  3. New York Times, December 21, 2009
  4. Frederick N. Rasmussen, “Lincoln Gordon” Baltimore Sun. December 22, 2009.
  5. David S. Marshall (April 14, 2005). "Harvard, Prohibition-Style". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  6. ? (2008). "Lincoln Gordon". NNDB. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  7. Richard D. McKinzie (July 17, 1975). "Oral History Interview with Lincoln Gordon". Truman Library. Archived from the original on June 23, 2008. Retrieved December 2, 2008.
  8. ? (n.d.). "Transcript of "Seeing The Victory Through: Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Marshall Plan"". USAID. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  9. A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 65–66.
  10. US Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1977 (Washington, D.C.), 855, 860-861, 864.
  11. Ethan B. Kapstein, "Brazil: Continued State Dominance", in The Promise of Privatization, ed. Raymond Vernon (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1988), 128.
  12. "The Orphan Policy". Time. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  13. Rouquié, Alain (1987). The Military and the State in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 138, 149. ISBN 978-0-520-06664-9.
  14. Peter Kornbluh, ed. (1995–2004). "BRAZIL MARKS 40th ANNIVERSARY OF MILITARY COUP: DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS SHED LIGHT ON U.S. ROLE". The National Security Archive. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  15. Wright, Thomas C. (2001). Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution. Westport, CN: Praeger. p. 70. ISBN 978-0275967062.
  16. Noam Chomsky (March 19, 1985). "American Foreign Policy". Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  17. Skidmore, Thomas E. (March 1991). "Review of Ruth Leacock's Requiem for Revolution: The United States and Brazil, 1961–1969". The Journal of American History. 77 (4): 1429–1430. doi:10.2307/2078397. JSTOR 2078397.
  18. Burn Before Reading, Admiral Stansfield Turner, 2005, Hyperion, pg. 99. Also see the article on Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco. Also see BRAZIL MARKS 40th ANNIVERSARY OF MILITARY COUP, National Security Archive, George Washington University. Edited by Peter Kornbluh, 2004.
  19. Baltimore Sun, September 6, 1970
  20. Washington Post, December 22, 2009
  21. Baltimore Sun, April 20, 1970, p. C7
  22. Johns Hopkins University News-Letter, March 13, 1971
  23. Johns Hopkins University News-Letter, March 19, 1971; Baltimore Evening Sun, March 13, 1971
  24. Baltimore Evening Sun, March 13, 1971
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John M. Cabot
United States Ambassador to Brazil
19 October 1961 – 25 February 1966
Succeeded by
John W. Tuthill
Government offices
Preceded by
Jack Vaughn
Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
March 9, 1966 June 30, 1967
Succeeded by
Covey T. Oliver
Academic offices
Preceded by
Milton S. Eisenhower
President of the Johns Hopkins University
July 1967 March 1971
Succeeded by
Milton S. Eisenhower
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