Leffingwell, R. C. (Russell Cornell), 1878-1960

Alternative names
Birth 1878
Death 1960

Biographical notes:

U.S. assistant secretary of the treasury.

From the description of R.C. Leffingwell letterbooks, 1917-1920. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 707025202

Biographical Note

  • 1878, Sept. 10: Born, New York, N.Y.
  • 1899: Graduated, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
  • 1902: Graduated, Columbia University Law School, New York, N.Y. Joined law firm of Guthrie, Cravath, and Henderson (became partner in 1907)
  • 1906: Married Lucy Hewitt (died 1959)
  • 1917 - 1920 : Assistant secretary of the treasury
  • 1920: Rejoined law firm of Cravath, Henderson, Leffingwell, & de Gersdorff
  • 1923 - 1940 : Partner, J. P. Morgan & Co.
  • 1940 - 1943 : Vice-chairman, J. P. Morgan & Co.
  • 1943 - 1955 : Chairman, J. P. Morgan & Co.
  • 1944 - 1953 : Member, Council of Foreign Relations (president, 1946-1953)
  • 1946: Named chairman, Carnegie Corp.
  • 1955 - 1960 : Director, J. P. Moran & Co.
  • 1960, Oct. 2: Died, New York, N.Y.

From the guide to the R. C. Leffingwell Letterbooks, 1917-1920, (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Russell C. Leffingwell: LL.D., 1950; Special Assistant to Secretary of the Treasury, 1917; member of Cravath, Henderson, Leffingwell and de Gersdorff law firm, 1920-1923; member of J.P. Morgan & Co., 1920-1940; chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co., 1943-1955; director, 1955-1960.

Russell Cornell Leffingwell, lawyer, public servant, and banker, was born on September 10, 1878, in New York City. Except for his service in Washington, D.C., as assistant secretary of the treasury for three years during World War I, New York -- in particular the Wall Street office of J. P. Morgan & Co. -- would remain the focal point of Leffingwell's career.

Leffingwell was one of three children born to Charles Russell and Mary Elizabeth (Cornell) Leffingwell. His father, an executive in the Cornell family's iron business, sent the young Russell to private schools, first to the Yonkers Military School and then to the Halsey School in New York. Graduating in 1895, he attended Yale where, according to his own evaluation, he did "nothing significant either socially or in athletics or in studies." A scrapbook from the period indicates that Leffingwell was fond of evenings at the theater and the opera and took an interest in the work of the YMCA.

On entering Yale Leffingwell had indicated his intention to become a lawyer, and on graduation in 1899 he enrolled in Columbia Law School. Here he became a member of Phi Delta Phi fraternity and distinguished himself as editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review . Upon completion of his training in 1902, he accepted an offer from the firm of Gutherie, Cravath and Henderson and after five years was made a partner. During this period he courted and in January 1906, married Lucy Hewitt of Brooklyn. Their only daughter Lucy (Leffingwell) Pulling was born in 1907.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Leffingwell volunteered for military training at Plattsburgh. Paul Cravath, sensing that Leffingwell's abilities and experience as a lawyer would be wasted if he became just another junior officer in the Army, wrote Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo recommending Leffingwell for a position in the war-time government: he "is one of the best lawyers at our Bar, with no superior as a contract lawyer." The words had the desired effect; three days after the May 4 letter McAdoo telegraphed Leffingwell asking him to come to Washington.

For the first several months Leffingwell served as McAdoo's special counsel in charge of floating the First Liberty Loan. Then in October 1917, Leffingwell became assistant secretary of the Treasury for fiscal affairs with responsibility for the Commission of Public Debt, the comptroller of the Treasury and the War Loan Organization. Working closely with McAdoo and his successor Carter Glass, Leffingwell was instrumental in the determination of America's wartime and immediate postwar financial policies and was directly involved in the vast bond issues and loans to European allies so important to the war effort. He remained in his post until May, 1920.

Leffingwell resumed his New York law practice in the firm of Cravath, Henderson, Leffingwell and de Gersdorff, but he remained there only three years. In July, 1923, he was offered and accepted a partnership in J. P. Morgan & Co. Challenged by the problems of Europe's and America's postwar economy, Leffingwell became a keen analyst of the financial woes that were to plague the nations in the years between the wars. Memoranda in his self-assured style concerning the stability of various European economies, silver policy, the gold standard, deflation, allied war debts, and the Federal Reserve policy flowed from his pen and were circulated among the Morgan partners. In 1940 he became vice-chairman of the Morgan executive committee and in 1943 its chairman. After the death of Thomas Lamont in 1948 Leffingwell was made chairman of the board. Although he retired officially in 1955, he continued to be an active director at the Morgan Co. until his death in 1960.

Leffingwell's interests ranged beyond his duties at the Morgan Bank. An avid compiler of family history, he built a collection of Leffingwell Family Papers which he donated to Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. A founder of the Council on Foreign Relations, he served seven years as chairman of its board. After many years as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation, he was named chairman in 1946. For a short time in 1951, he served on President Truman's Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights.

Though early in his career Leffingwell had belonged to the Republican Association in New York and spoke of himself as a latter day mugwump, he never considered himself either a Democrat or Republican. More often he called himself a "free trader." With his independent views he could support Franklin Roosevelt and then Wendell Wilkie, praise Truman for maintaining civilian control over the military and then vote for General Dwight Eisenhower. But to all presidents as well as to numerous journalists, members of the banking community, and other public officials he offered the benefits of his scholarship and experience in dealing with the most complex economic issues of his day.

From the guide to the Russell Cornell Leffingwell papers, 1883-1979, (Manuscripts and Archives)


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Constellation Information

Ark ID:


  • Government securities
  • Debts, Public
  • World War, 1914-1918--Finance
  • Gold standard
  • Law
  • Finance, Public
  • World War, 1914-1918


  • Public officials
  • Bankers
  • Lawyers


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Europe. (as recorded)
  • Great Britain. (as recorded)