811.20200 (D)/2–2246: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Italy (Kirk)

secret
us urgent

467. Urtels 933 and 935 Feb. 22. Question raised by De Gasperi indicate he may not fully comprehend this Govt’s views re Ital elections. You should therefore remind him that in bringing to his attention this Govt’s sense of responsibility under its pledge to Ital people (Deptel 129 Jan 19) and Dept’s opinion on function of Constituent Assembly (Deptel 1899 Oct 221), this Govt was motivated first by concern that sovereign rights of Ital people might be exercised through free elections and secondly by concern that legal continuity of Ital Govt should be preserved.

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This Govt offered no suggestions re manner by which these principles were to be translated into law, and De Gasperi’s assumption that this Govt’s views would require continuation of regime of Lt. Gen. is incorrect. This Govt did hold that Assembly had no powers beyond those specifically granted it by present legal govt of Italy in law 151 and any subsequent legislation, but it pointed out that present Ital Govt, having power to provide for Assembly also has power to set limit of Assembly’s functions. Thus, present Ital Govt may if it desires grant Assembly power to terminate regime of Lt. Gen.

Likewise, this Govt’s views are that present legal govt of Italy may if it desires grant Assembly powers of govt. This Govt suggested, however, that it might be well to confine Assembly primarily to essential task of framing constitution, as it was this Govt’s understanding of law 151 that Assembly would have limited life and would be followed by duly elected parliament.

As regards De Gasperi’s specific questions, you should inform him that it has not been this Govt’s understanding that law 151 precluded determination of people’s will on institutional question by means of referendum. Law states that “institutional forms will be chosen by Ital people who to that end will elect by direct and secret ballot a Constituent Assembly to decide new constitution of state”, and adds that procedures therefor will be established later. It is accepted that Assembly should rightfully take formal action to decide institutional question and deliberate basic laws thereon. It is difficult to perceive, however, on what basis other than desire of majority of voters Assembly’s decision could be arrived at and still remain within letter and spirit of law or conform to concepts of democracy. Desire of majority could be determined before Assembly meets, during its life, or by reference of its acts to voters for ratification following Assembly’s dissolution. Any of these aforementioned methods for direct consultation of people would be democratic procedure, but in present case it would seem that latter two might involve practical difficulties in establishment of republic or continuation of monarchy, whereas these difficulties would not arise if desire of electorate is known in advance of Assembly’s decision. For example, if republic were chosen by people, Assembly could immediately upon convening decide thereon and elect provisional president who could formally take over powers of head of state from Lt. Gen. in accordance with formula devised by Assembly. President Ital Govt could then present resignation to provisional president, who would designate person to form new govt.

Another factor favoring direct consultation of people in advance of Assembly’s meeting is that both monarchists and republicans might [Page 883]more readily accept decision of that body if it could be clearly demonstrated that this decision conformed without question to desire of majority.

This Govt is therefore of opinion that definitive solution of institutional question at earliest possible date is most desirable, and would favor De Gasperi’s suggestion of referendum.

De Gasperi’s second question would seem to be answered by substance of foregoing.

In closing, you should say to De Gasperi that principle to which this Govt holds for determination of institutional question is free and untrammelled right of Ital people to choose form of democratic govt they desire, and this Govt has full confidence that anti-fascist Govt of liberated Italy is no less determined to restore to Ital people those sovereign rights so long denied them by a regime which regarded people as “amorphous mass” rather than as citizens directly responsible for their country’s govt.

Byrnes