174. Memorandum Prepared in the United States Information Agency1


  • USIA’s Report on Bicentennial Planning


  • Second Paragraph of President Nixon’s Memorandum of July 28, 1972 for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies2

Much of USIA’s effort in the international communications field is devoted to explaining and interpreting the United States in terms of its historical development, its current policies, its future hopes, its people and its institutions. Therefore, the Bicentennial period adds additional reinforcement to activities in which we would be engaged anyway; and to the extent domestic Bicentennial activities provide new depth and understanding of our system and way of life at home, the more impact USIA can have abroad. For this reason it is virtually impossible to separate out cost data for Bicentennial-related activities. However, we estimate that by FY 1976 a significant portion of our media products and overseas cultural and information effort, as well as training programs for our personnel, will be related to Bicentennial purposes.

Within USIA’s regular program expenditures in FY 1976 approximately $15 million will be used for Bicentennial programs. Lesser amounts will be spent in the years leading up to FY 1976, beginning with the production or acquisition of media materials this year. Some of the most costly items will be two major documentary film productions (discussed below). It is planned that the principal funding for another major item, the “Age of Jefferson” exhibit, will come from the ARBC. [Page 446] The sum of $250,000.00 for this exhibit is included in the pending ARBC budget request to the Congress.

Actions Taken or in Process

1. Ad Hoc Bicentennial Planning Committee

We have felt the need for consultation with the academic community on themes and presentation to foreign audiences of what the two hundred years of the American experience signify, not alone in the historical sense, but also in terms of contemporary and future implications. Consequently we have created an Ad Hoc Committee which will meet for two days in September at Airlie House. Eight distinguished academicians who are now serving or who have served with USIA abroad as Senior Cultural Affairs Officers are the nucleus of the committee; a few USIA and State Department officers will also participate. The committee’s recommendations are expected to guide us in increasing the quality of our Bicentennial-related media products and developing Bicentennial program training courses for our officers.

2. Training experiences for USIA officers

We have placed three of our officers as full-time students in several universities for this academic year to develop their expertise in American Studies. We are conducting a census of Agency officers who could be programmed as lecturers in Bicentennial programs abroad; we are also identifying the most prominent gaps in the American Studies expertise possessed by officers now on Agency rolls. We have had a team from the American Studies Association evaluate the Agency’s Contemporary America seminar, which is one of the principal means we use to keep our officers up to date on the U.S. scene.

Pending final recommendations from the Ad Hoc Committee mentioned above, we expect to develop several Bicentennial seminars for junior officers. We shall also institute longer-range Bicentennial seminars at mid-career and reorientation levels through which senior Agency officers may reinforce their knowledge.

3. Media products or activities

The following is not an inclusive list of all media products related to Bicentennial purposes, but from each of our media we have selected illustrative examples:

a) Press and Publications Service

The first five articles in the July 1972 issue of America Illustrated, distributed under a reciprocal agreement in the U.S.S.R. and Poland, concern the Heritage and the Horizons themes of the Bicentennial. A copy of the magazine, with the English summary, is enclosed for your [Page 447] information.3 Similar material has and will continue to appear in our various regional and centrally-produced magazines.

In addition to articles of analysis and review about U.S. development, we shall, of course, provide reportage overseas of significant activities related to the Bicentennial commemoration in this country.

b) Motion Picture and Television Service

Two major films are presently in production:

1) The American Purpose—designed to show how the constitutional purpose of the protection of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (enunciated when the U.S. was a rural, individualistic, underdeveloped, frontier society) has been maintained as the ultimate goal even though the country has been transformed into an urban, post-industrial nation.

2) The Continuing Revolution—to show that the United States is a place for change and has a tolerance for change—a place where the institutions and systems of government and society alike allow for and often encourage orderly and sometimes drastic changes. These changes when viewed over the relatively short span of decades are nothing less than revolutionary in their impact and precedent.

c) Radio—Voice of America

Five programs in its FORUM series4 are now being developed. They will be broadcast in English worldwide to an intellectual audience. Each lecture will be by an outstanding scholar and each series will be coordinated by a distinguished scholar. Each series will also result in a hard- and soft-back book for distribution overseas. The series will include:

1) “Voice of America’s Past—Fifty Years of Recorded History.” Talks will include those of U.S. Presidents and great historical American personages of the past half century.

2) “Americans all: People from Everywhere.” A series of 26 talks on great Americans of various national and ethnic derivations. In addition to the normal FORUM broadcast in English, each talk will be translated and broadcast in the language of the country of origin of the American portrayed or of his ancestors.

3) “How the U.S. Governs Itself.” Twenty-six talks on American government at all levels with proper attention to the role of private groups.

4) “Two Centuries of American Literature.” A radio anthology accompanied by literary comments.

5) “Two Centuries of American Music.” Discussion illustrated by musical examples of the great figures of American music.

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d) Information Center Service

This element of USIA gives professional guidance and supplies materials to USIS information centers and binational centers overseas. As one of its functions it operates a worldwide exhibits program.

1) Exhibit on “The Age of Jefferson” 5

A major exhibit is presently in the planning stage, in cooperation with the ARBC, which will portray the continuing significance of the ideals and concepts of America’s founding fathers.

Funded by the ARBC, the exhibit will be constructed under USIA direction. The presentation will have international relevance in its treatment of the exchange of ideas which were current on both sides of the Atlantic during the Age of Enlightenment and the resultant contribution to American thought in colonial times. It will show the contributions of Jefferson and other colonial leaders to the emergence of American political and social idealism, as well as to the development of similar political ideals in other countries.

This multi-media presentation will begin U.S. cultural efforts overseas and catalyze the activities of other countries. A joint “opening” in Paris and in Tokyo is projected. The Director of the Grand Palais in Paris has invited the United States to mount an exhibit in the main exhibition hall in 1974. The “Age of Jefferson” would be shown at this prestigious site in the spring of 1974. Discussions are underway with the Nippon Cultural Centre of Japan to sponsor satellite TV coverage of the Paris opening as well as an exhibit in conjunction with the Paris opening. It is hoped that parallel cultural events will take place elsewhere.

The “Age of Jefferson” should stimulate activities in other countries. The Government of France hopes to present a “Sound and Light” commemorating the American Revolution at one of our historic sites such as Mount Vernon or Monticello. The Government of France and other governments and private organizations overseas are exploring ideas for exhibits, seminars, exchanges, research and publications efforts.

“Spinoff” and follow-up cultural programming for the “Age” is expected. In addition to smaller multi-media presentations of the “Age” in other major world capitals, related meetings sponsored by USIS posts and local organizations in other countries can be expected.

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“Sound and Light”, audio-visual and film techniques will help the visitor experience the times, the thought and better understand the personalities and contributions of Jefferson and his Age. Historic artifacts or copies, and information material will be part of the exhibit.

World famous architect, designer, film maker and furniture designer Charles Eames is designing the exhibit. Recipient of awards and recognition both in the U.S. and abroad, Eames has created exhibits and films for several major expositions.

After showings of the “Age of Jefferson” in Paris and other European capitals, the exhibit may be suitable for use in the U.S. in 1975 under the sponsorship of the ARBC.


This sampling of the more important Bicentennial activities in which USIA is now engaged should be set into the context of the Agency’s basic mission, which is “to help achieve United States foreign policy objectives by (a) influencing public attitudes in other nations, and (b) advising the President, his representatives abroad, and the various departments and agencies on the implications of foreign opinion for present and contemplated United States policies, programs and official statements. The influencing of attitudes is to be carried out by overt use of the various techniques of communication—personal contact, radio broadcasting, libraries, book publication and distribution, press, motion pictures, television, exhibits, English-language instruction, and others” . . . including the administration overseas of the Department of State’s official exchange of persons program.

As a gauge for measurement, there is enclosed a March 30, 1970 Plan for USIA’s Role in the American Revolution Bicentennial Celebration.6 Now, two years later, we believe we have made significant progress along the general lines that were projected in that plan.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1968–1972, Entry A1–42, Box 28, 1972 OGA—Bicentennial Comm. No classification marking. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Addressed to Mahoney. Shakespeare sent a copy of the memorandum to Garment under an undated covering memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. The second paragraph of Nixon’s July 28 memorandum reads: “2. Each Agency Head is requested to send Commission Chairman David J. Mahoney a detailed current report of the Bicentennial planning of his organization—in three designated theme areas—together with timing and cost data, by the close of business August 18. A copy of this presentation should also be sent to Leonard Garment, Special Consultant to the President, who is my liaison with the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, and to Director Weinberger of the Office of Management and Budget.” (National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Subject Files, 1953–2000, Entry A1–1066, Box 142, Bicentennial Planning, 1970–1972)
  3. Not found enclosed.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 56.
  5. The exhibit, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson,” was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. It was exhibited in Paris, Warsaw, and London before opening in the United States in 1976. For additional information, see The Bicentennial of the United States of America: A Final Report to the People, American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, vol. I, p. 232. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 2, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; Public Diplomacy, 1973–1976, Documents 85 and 86.
  6. See Document 79.