Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Long)
I met this morning with Speaker Rayburn and Majority Leader McCormack. They decided that they would call for this afternoon an executive meeting of the Democratic members of the Immigration Committee and they asked me to be present.
At three-thirty this afternoon I met with the Speaker, Majority Leader and the Democratic members of the Committee on Immigration, including Mr. Dickstein, the chairman, who had introduced two bills in the matter of Chinese immigration and exclusion now pending before this Committee. Also pending are two other measures. The Committee has been holding public sessions.[Page 775]
The meeting proceeded to discuss the general principles involved without paying detailed attention to the technicalities of the situation. It soon developed that there was a very considerable disunity of opinion amongst the members of the Committee. Mr. Allen of Louisiana and Mr. McGehee of Mississippi were definitely opposed to any Chinese immigration or any other Oriental immigration. They expressed the thought that we had put up a Chinese wall and that if we battered one hole in the wall there would be a lot of other holes knocked in the wall and the result would be disastrous. They were adamant in their opposition.
Mr. Dickstein urged the passage of his bill to repeal the exclusion feature and the passage of another measure which provides for Chinese immigration on a quota basis. The Speaker was inclined to proceed to that extent. Mr. McCormack made a characteristically impassioned plea for immigration under the quota. Each member present spoke in varying degrees of assent or opposition.
I limited my remarks to the international political phases of the matter; painted the plight of China in her long standing military struggle with Japan and the difficulties she was encountering; I related the desire of the Chinese to be placed upon an equality with other nations; stated that their disappointment would be great if a bill was passed which did not give them that satisfaction; stated that the Department of State was not there to advise the Congress as to what it should do but to give the members of the Congress the benefit of our understanding of our international relations and the effect upon them of any measures that might pass; stated that it might be most unfortunate to bring out a bill for acrimonious debate—which would itself be bad—and have the bill defeated, which would mark a very decided worsening in our relations with China.
They all agreed that something should be done for China, though one of the members was very reluctant to say that he would support even the bill repealing exclusion. He stated that he would not vote against it if that was the desire of his colleagues present but would probably absent himself. He could not support the bill. Another member present stated that if a bill providing for Chinese immigration on a quota basis or any other limited basis were introduced into the House and up for discussion on the floor, he would propose an amendment to prohibit all immigration from all sources for a period of ten years.
There developed to be a strong sympathy for restricting immigration. Several members present, including the Speaker, were of the opinion that if such an amendment were proposed on the floor of the House it would probably carry.[Page 776]
In the course of the meeting there developed an entire disparity of thought with a certainty that any bill reported by the Committee would lack the support of some members of the Committee and that any provision for Chinese immigration under the quota or any other extent would find active opposition from at least five or six of the eleven present, with the chances in favor of eight or nine being opposed.
However, they each expressed their desire to make some gesture to China because of the war. They thought that if the Exclusion Act were repealed it would give the State Department an opportunity to counteract Japanese propaganda by stating that Chinese as such were no longer excluded. I questioned the value of any such measure.
Finally, the Speaker stated that it was his opinion that the meeting should come to a unanimous agreement to report out the Dickstein bill providing for repeal of exclusion, that bill to be passed under a rule which would prohibit debate, and that an attempt be made to secure the cooperation of the Republican leadership so that it could pass by unanimous consent. He asked each member of the Committee present if they could subscribe to such a course. With some reluctance one or two of them assented and the rest all agreed. Mr. Dickstein was entirely dissatisfied but said that he would go along.
It was decided that at the Committee meeting tomorrow there would be reported out the Dickstein bill repealing the Exclusion Act, with the support of all the Democratic members of the Committee and an effort on the part of the Democratic leadership to secure the collaboration of the Republican leadership, and the granting of a rule which would provide for a vote without debate.
I took no part in the decision and was simply there as announced and as above reported. An effort was made to elicit an expression of opinion for the Department of State as to whether the Department would support a limitation upon immigration from European countries provided a quota was assigned to China to the maximum of 50 persons per year. I replied that those were matters for the decision of the Congress and the Department of State was an executive authority which administered the laws passed by the Congress.
The meeting adjourned after an hour and a half of intense discussion.
Mr. Dickstein later called me to state that he was not in the mood to report out his bill; he did not want his name to be on just an exclusion bill; that he felt very keenly on the question of immigration for the Chinese and the privilege of citizenship; that he thought he would not call a meeting of the Committee tomorrow and that he had asked for a meeting with the Majority Leader to discuss this matter with him.[Page 777]
I replied that if the bill was reported out and sent to the Senate there might be some amendments placed upon it in the Senate which the House could accept in conference and which would change the situation. I did not know how the Senate would feel toward this or any other such bill. I stated that I had thought that he had bound himself to support the program in the Committee and that I could not argue with him on that point or any other point involving legislative policy and that if he had any opinion to express he should present it to the Speaker and to the Majority Leader.
From his closing remarks I judged that he was temporarily excited and that he would probably be calmed down in conversation with the Majority Leader and would support the opinion of his colleagues at the conference this afternoon.