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Dwight D. Eisenhower

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The former President declines comment on the pending Foreign Assistance Act:

“Some day . . . I may tell you . . . why I have suddenly decided to show a bit of discretion in the matter."


Dwight David Eisenhower, 1890-1969.  General of the Army; Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, World War II; 34th President of the United States, 1953-1961.  Typed Letter Signed, D.E., one page, 7" x 10½", on personal stationery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, August 4, 1961.

In this letter twice marked “PERSONAL" to Felix Belair, Jr., the longtime White House correspondent for The New York Times, former President Eisenhower declines to comment on pending mutual security legislation.  He writes, in full: “For reasons that are somewhat complex—and in some cases conflicting—I don't think it best for me to comment on the bill now before the Congress dealing with mutual security.  Some day after the session is over I may have the chance to tell you verbally why I have suddenly decided to show a bit of discretion in the matter."

Eisenhower no doubt refers to the ongoing congressional debate over the Foreign Assistance Act.  In 1951, Congress enacted the Mutual Security Act to provide military, economic, and technical foreign aid to American allies.  The Act was the successor to the Marshall Plan and was primarily aimed at support for Western Europe during the early years of the Cold War.  Congress funded the foreign aid annually through 1961, but always with struggles over the size of the balance between military and economic aid and the overall size of the foreign aid budget.  The first year, Congress cut President Harry S. Trumanʼs requested appropriation by 15%.  By 1960, Eisenhower's last full year as President, a House-Senate conference committee cut $534 million from Eisenhowerʼs funding request.  Eisenhower released a statement saying that he was “gravely concerned" by the action, noting that it would hamstring his successor:  “He, no less than I,” Eisenhower said, “must have adequate funds to do the job."  But Congress nevertheless passed the bill at the lower amount, and Eisenhower signed it.

Eisenhower returned to the theme in his last State of the Union message on January 12, 1961.  He said:  “These vital programs must go on.  New tactics will have to be developed, of course, to meet new situations, but the underlying principles should be constant.  Our great moral and material commitments to collective security, deterrence of force, international law, negotiations that lead to self-enforcing agreements, and the economic interdependence of free nations should remain the cornerstone of a foreign policy that will ultimately bring permanent peace with justice in freedom to all mankind."

In 1961, with the backing of the Kennedy Administration, Congress enacted the Foreign Assistance Act to repeal the Mutual Security Act and overhaul the mechanism for foreign military and economic aid.  The Foreign Assistance Act reorganized the structure of American foreign assistance programs, separated military from economic aid, and created the United States Agency for International Development.  The Senate passed the bill on August 18, 1961, and the House of Representatives followed on September 5.  President John F. Kennedy signed the legislation on November 3, 1961, and issued Executive Order 10973 to implement the reorganization.

It was in the midst of debate on the Foreign Assistance Act that Eisenhower decided here to hold his tongue.  This is interesting content for the circumspect Eisenhower—indicating his willingness to say to Belair what he would not put in writing.  Eisenhower, however, knew that he could trust Belair (1908-1978), who at the time of his death had served in the Times' Washington bureau longer than any reporter in its history. 

Eisenhower has signed this letter in black fountain pen with only his initials, the form of his signature that he used for close acquaintances.  The letter has some toning around the edges and foxing in the lower corners.  Overall it is in very good condition.


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