Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State

Mr. McIntyre24 called me on the telephone today and informed me that the President had received my letter of yesterday and had gone over the schedules item by item. The President’s message was “O. K.” to the schedules, as well as to the publicity statement. He desired, however, that the public statement should be given out by the Department and not by himself, but he had no additions to suggest with regard to it. Mr. McIntyre added that the President wished to be sure that Secretary Hull was satisfied with the agreement. I gave Mr. McIntyre the Secretary’s messages to the President. I said that Mr. Hull so far as he could tell from his distance, felt that it seemed to be a fairly satisfactory agreement, but that the paramount question was whether the President himself was satisfied with it. I added that Secretary Hull wished to call the President’s particular attention to the iron and steel schedules; he himself had no doubt about the ability of the steel companies to meet the slight reductions in tariff; he thinks [Page 116] the schedules might go forward, but he wants the President to be satisfied.

Mr. McIntyre said in reply that the President had approved the agreement, but in doing so he naturally wanted to feel that the Secretary himself was satisfied with it and he intimated, without saying so in so many words, that the State Department at least shared the responsibility with him. He added, however, that if the Secretary wished to be reassured, he could call up on long distance telephone from Useppa25 and he felt sure that the President would speak to him.

I thereupon telephoned to Mr. Cumming26 and gave him the substance of the above. He came back in a few minutes with the request that I again communicate with the President, informing him that while the Secretary was in theory satisfied with the iron and steel schedules, there were questions to be considered with respect to their political advisability at this time, and that the Secretary merely wanted the President to realize fully the doubts that he, the Secretary, had in this respect.

I then called upon Mr. McIntyre and gave him the above message, which in my hearing he dictated to his stenographer. He said that the President was then at lunch and could not be reached for another hour, but that he would call me back at the first possible moment.

Finally a message came back from Mr. McIntyre saying that the President was inclined to share the Secretary’s doubts, and that he did not wish anything done unless the Secretary was completely satisfied.

Thereafter I communicated with Mr. Cumming and found that the Secretary desired a number of changes in the iron and steel schedules, one schedule he wished omitted altogether and four items to be changed. I knew then that there was no possibility of signing the agreement today, and therefore called up the Belgian negotiator, Forthomme. He was evidently very much disconcerted and inclined to be angry, so much so that I felt the wisdom of calling upon him and explaining the whole situation to him. At six o’clock I called at his hotel and spent nearly three quarters of an hour with him endeavoring to calm him and I urged upon him that the only course for him would be to postpone his sailing on the following day and to make arrangements to sail on Saturday, which would give us two more days to work on the agreement before the expiration of the time limit on Thursday, when the Belgian executive powers would automatically expire. He agreed to this but insisted that if he went home without signing the agreement, his reputation was ruined and that he would be obliged to fight on the floor of his Senate in self-defense and would expose the whole course of negotiations here. I let him finish what [Page 117] I knew he was burning to say and then tried to reassure him by telling him that I was confident that within the next day or two the agreement could be signed. I explained the physical difficulties we had encountered by the absence of the President and the Secretary. On returning to my house I spoke again with Mr. Cumming and endeavored to give him a picture of the situation which would result if Forthomme left Washington without an agreement. I felt personally very keenly the responsibility in this respect, because in such circumstances the public would take for granted that the Secretary’s trade agreement program had ended in a fiasco.

February 27, 1935.

Mr. McIntyre called me this morning about ten o’clock to inform me that the President was disposed to go along with the Secretary and with the changes in the schedules which the Secretary has suggested.

I then called up Mr. Cumming and went over with him again the suggested changes made by the Secretary yesterday. After a further consultation with the Secretary, the Secretary limited the desired changes to three in number, dealing exclusively with iron and steel products. Mr. Cumming also read me the following message which the Secretary had given the President last evening:

“While I think, as I have thought, that the President should in his own way satisfy himself about the proposed Belgian agreement and the iron and steel schedules, nevertheless, I recommended to him yesterday that rather than cause an indefinite delay, which the Department says is threatened, we should approve the agreement as is. I felt that he should first understand this because we shall later need his help. The Myron Taylors, Schwabs, E. J. Graces and others, in any event, will try hard to line the industry up against the agreement. The President is not an economist and naturally cannot without expert aid appraise the proposed concessions. It should be agreed that neither will claim the victory, but should say that this is a mutually profitable agreement, which is the only kind worth while; that it will mean more trade, more production and more employment of labor.”

A request was immediately sent to Mr. Forthomme to come to the Department, and after assuring him that I had good news to give him and that I saw no particular reason for not signing the agreement today, I handed him the Secretary’s suggested changes in the steel categories. Mr. Forthomme seemed much relieved and went back to his hotel for further consideration of these items. An hour later he telephoned me that the changes were satisfactory and that he would sign without altering his schedule of concessions. I then called Mr. Cumming, informed him that Mr. Forthomme had agreed to the Secretary’s alterations, and was instructed to proceed and sign the agreement. Mr. Cumming read to me the following message which [Page 118] the Secretary asked to have impressed upon the Belgians in conversation:

“Impress on the Belgians that no nations are getting anywhere with exclusively bilateral bargaining agreements; that this phase is the minor part of our proposed agreement; that the major phase is the broader generalizing provisions and the appeal that the United States and Belgium will make to other countries to join in adopting. This latter offers the only program for the restoration of normal trade and finance between nations. This broad program, too, will greatly hasten exchange stabilization.”

After this it took several hours to get through to Hyde Park. Finally I reached Mr. McIntyre who said that in the circumstances I should go ahead and sign the agreement. I mentioned that yesterday the President had indicated a desire to have some reference in the publicity to the safeguarding of American labor. I said that personally I would rather prefer to have any further safeguards omitted merely out of courtesy to the Belgians, and especially since we were already well protected by NRA,27 AAA28 and the reservation to the most-favored-nation clause. I said, however, that if the President still desired a reference to labor, I suggested the following:

“Furthermore, the agreement is framed in such a way as not to prevent the taking of such steps as might prove necessary in order adequately to safeguard American labor.”

Mr. McIntyre said that everything was O. K. with the exception of this publicity, which he would have to check with the President as soon as he could reach him. I then called up Mr. Forthomme saying that we should be ready for signing at 4:30, and I communicated the same message to the Belgian Ambassador.

We signed at 4:30 in the presence of the Belgian Ambassador and members of the Embassy and Forthomme’s staffs. An hour or so later came a laconic message from Mr. McIntyre saying that I was to use my own judgment with respect to the reference to labor in my publicity statement, and that the President had not read the suggestion which I had made to him. I thereupon authorized the issuance of my statement without the reference to labor, and so ends the chapter of the signing of the Belgian trade agreement.

William Phillips

[For text of the reciprocal trade agreement between the United States and the Belgo-Luxemburg Economic Union, effected by exchange of notes signed February 27, 1935, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 75 or 49 Stat. 3680. A summary of the [Page 119] agreement and statements issued February 27, 1935, by the Acting Secretary of State and the Chief of the Belgian Commercial Delegation is printed in Department of State, Press Releases, March 2, 1935, pages 132–152.]

  1. Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President.
  2. Useppa, Florida.
  3. Hugh S. Cumming, Jr., Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State.
  4. National Recovery Administration.
  5. Agricultural Adjustment Administration.