Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum by Mr. John M. Hancock of the United States Delegation to the Atomic Energy Commission

confidential

Early yesterday morning Mr. Baruch called me about the Wallace letter which appeared in the morning papers—the letter of July 23.63 I went over it, Mr. Baruch and I talked about it, we talked to our Associates here, and saw Mr. Clayton64 at the State Department, outlined [Page 933] to him what we were going to say to the President, and were informed that the President was seeing Mr. Wallace at 3:30 and would likely issue a statement shortly after. Mr. Clayton was satisfied the statement would be to the liking of both ourselves and the State Department. Clayton went with us to the White House.

The President seemed very pleasant but grim when we got on to the Wallace issue. Mr. Baruch told the President of his respect for the office of President, his regard for Mr. Truman personally, his purpose in coming down to make the report, and the progress of negotiations but his belief that there wouldn’t be time, and that it would not be wise to go into the report itself then.

He referred to the new situation in which we found ourselves on account of the Wallace letter’s release to the Press. He told the President in a very firm but very friendly manner that so far as he could see there were three choices of courses open to us. First, a full retraction on the part of Mr. Wallace; second, an utter repudiation of Mr. Wallace’s statements; or third, that we resign, as our usefulness was ended. The President told us of his plan to see Wallace, asked us not to be in a hurry about resigning, and told us that he thought his action in the afternoon would be satisfactory to us. Mr. Baruch used some such words as these—that our position was in nowise an ultimatum, but that we still saw only those three courses open. We told the President these general observations: (1) That we had first seen the July 23 letter the same morning. We were told by the President that he showed the letter to Byrnes immediately before Byrnes’ leaving for Paris, that the letter was of such a character that it did not require any action by the State Department, this explanation apparently being made to remove any attack on Mr. Byrnes. (2) Mr. Wallace’s comment is not based factually on the U.S. Plan or on any action we have taken. (3) Mr. Wallace has made no attempt to establish the facts by inquiry of us. We assured the President that we could have disproved all of his assumptions and assertions in a 5-minute talk. (4) We pointed out that Wallace understands the Russian plan better than he does the U.S. Plan. (5) We argued that Mr. Wallace should be required to reveal his source of information, because it quite obviously came to him from somebody who was trying to preach Red doctrine. (6) We pointed out that Mr. Gromyko had told us well over a month ago that we were not aware of the differences in American public opinion, the principal implication of that statement being that it was the Russian plan to propagandize and undermine our position. The chain [blame?] was not directed to the person who informed Mr. Wallace of the stuff on which he bases his letter, but it would pay the government to find out who this person was.

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We referred to the obvious lack of teamwork on the part of Mr. Wallace in irresponsible statements about fellow government officials. (7) We referred to one line in Mr. Wallace’s statement that under certain conditions he believed Russia would negotiate. My comment was that I could not assume that Mr. Wallace had any authority from Russia for making such a statement, but that if he didn’t have authority, he was a trouble-maker and a repeater of gossip. At any rate, such an opinion was an irresponsible opinion which could only divide American opinion and give comfort to people who are trying to tear down America’s objective. (8) We asked why Mr. Wallace assumed that Russia was not competent to speak for herself. We said that Mr. Gromyko had never told us of the “Pravda” argument, but that Wallace was speaking in a manner which Gromyko had not used. We said that Gromyko had been perfectly frank as far as we knew, that he had been tone-full, but definitely in opposition to our point of view.

It was interesting to find that the President was under a misunderstanding. He thought that Wallace’s letter was written before the American Plan was presented. We pointed out to him that this was not the fact and that not only was our plan initially presented on June 14 but that we had filed three supplementary memoranda before Wallace’s letter was written. The American position had been made public and widely spread, and there was no excuse for misunderstanding the exact American position so far as it was revealed.

I don’t recall whether we told the President about Wallace’s assumptions regarding raw material. We did talk to Will Clayton about it. We pointed out that it stemmed from the meeting with the Acheson Group arranged for us under State Department auspices, and that somebody there had leaked and had assumed what we were going to do.

Afterward I recalled that I had been a speaker at the session of the Atomic Scientists in Washington on July 15. Wallace spoke there in my presence but he was not present during my talk. Wallace did hear Auger’s65 foolish talk at that dinner, in which the bad negotiating was referred to by Auger, and in which he asked that we make the gesture of stopping the making of bombs.

I still don’t know how Wallace’s letter got to the Press. The President told us he had tried very hard to stop it on the day before. He asked Mr. Clayton to support his statement of these efforts. Clayton did assent. The statement then made was that the efforts were too late, that copies were already in the hands of “P.M.” and some other paper, and that it was therefore released.

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The President seemed as much incensed as he is capable of being over the release of a private and confidential memorandum. During the day I heard that Drew Pearson,66 who was apparently the man who found the copy of the July 23 letter, gave out a statement saying that he had not gotten it from the Department of Commerce, and Mr. Truman expressed his gratification that the leak had not taken place in the Department of Commerce. I am not convinced of the accuracy of the statement. I do understand that after the President’s efforts were found unavailing in stopping the release, then the statement was given out. I am under the impression it was given by Charlie Ross, the White House Secretary, but I have not heard this stated officially.

I don’t know all the facts, of course, because we were flying home yesterday afternoon. If the Press is to be relied upon, the President had not settled either of our problems. He did give us authority to put out any statement we wished after we saw what he had done with Wallace in the afternoon. I feel that facing the Delegates in the Commission and our own public, we must issue a statement on the pattern of Al Smith’s “Let’s look at the Record” in which we would take Wallace’s factual statements, quote them, in as a subjective manner as we can, but for myself I will put on plenty of heat. There would be, I think, an additional gesture in telephoning Wallace as to whether he wants to retract any portion of his letter. I doubt that it would produce any results because Wallace has said today, according to the Press, that he will not speak on any public matters for one month.

My view at the moment is that the President misled us or changed his mind when he faced Wallace. This one month’s muzzle does not affect either of our purposes of getting a retraction of the facts or a repudiation by the President. I have read the statement in the “Tribune” this morning in which the President generally supports our program. To me that is not enough.

In order to handle Wallace personally, my present feeling is that our wise course is to write him as sharp a letter as we wish, characterizing his misinformation, his trouble-making attitude, his failure to cooperate, his ability to get the facts from us in a 5-minute talk, if he had so chosen—and further along the same line. Mr. Wallace could easily be made a martyr in the present position if we were to attack him publicly for the silly ideas and conclusions he draws. To give him ammunition for a reply in a month from now when the gag comes off wouldn’t do him much good either.

John M. Hancock
  1. The letter under reference, from Secretary of Commerce Wallace to the President, was critical of United States policy with respect to the Soviet Union, especially in the field of international control of atomic energy. For text, see the New York Times, September 18, 1946. For a detailed account of the incident arising from the publication of the letter, see Hewlett and Anderson, pp. 597–606.
  2. William L. Clayton, Acting Secretary of State.
  3. Alternate French Representative on the Atomic Energy Commission.
  4. Syndicated newspaper columnist.