Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, “Bricker Amendment”

Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the President

personal and private
  • Subject:
  • Bricker Amendment
[Page 1820]

Senator Lyndon Johnson was in to see me today. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned the Bricker Amendment. He said he expected that you would stand firm against it. He was confident it would be defeated unless you gave in. He added that Senator Taft had told him that he did not think it would be brought up at this session unless you did give in on the matter.

I think you should now consider sending to Wiley the letter which you drafted earlier.

John Foster Dulles


Draft Letter From the President to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Wiley)1

Dear Mr. Chairman: From the Secretary of State, I learn that you have made official inquiry as to the possibility that I may have changed my adverse opinion with respect to the proposed Constitutional Amendment contained in SJ Res. 1.

I have carefully studied a text described to me as the latest revision of that Amendment,2 but I find nothing in it to alter my conviction that amending our Constitution in this fashion would hamper the orderly conduct of our foreign affairs. This could have serious effects in peace, and could approach disaster in time of war or threatened war.

Frankly, it seems to me the 176-year record of the handling of American foreign affairs by the President of the United States and the Secretary of State, with the advice and consent of the United States Senate, is one that will favorably stand comparison with any other similar record in the world. While lawyers can probably concoct [Page 1821] sets of hypothetical circumstances under which the present arrangement could lead to real difficulty, yet it seems to me that such an eventuality becomes remote when we consider the safeguards of our system. The members of the United States Senate and the Chief Executive occupy those offices as a result of an elective process that presumably selects the individuals most trusted by the public at the particular time. Consequently, any proposed treaty or agreement that to become effective requires not only the deliberate efforts of the Chief Executive and the Secretary of State, but the approval of two-thirds of the United States Senate, is one that can scarcely become effective over the opposition of public opinion. But even beyond this, it is to be remembered that the domestic effect of any Executive agreement or treaty can be corrected by a Congress at any time by appropriate legislation.

On the other hand, to tamper with this process, introducing uncertainties and indecisiveness into the conduct of our foreign affairs, could not fail in the long term to damage the position of the United States in its relationships to other nations.

As you know, in an effort to calm the fears of those who profess to believe that at some future time the President and Senate might try to barter away the basic rights of the American people, I have been willing to support the first article of S.J. Res. 1. This would make it perfectly clear that no treaty could deprive American citizens of their rights under our constitutional Bill of Rights.

I cannot go further in acceptance of the other substantive provision of S.J. Res. 1 without creating a situation which would make it impossible for this nation to act in peace and in war to protect itself and its friends.

Without going further into details, which I have already discussed with you at length, I assure you again of my conviction that this Amendment, with the possible exception of the First Article, is unnecessary and that its inclusion in the law of our land would work to the disadvantage of our country.3

Sincerely yours,

  1. On June 8 Senator Wiley had telephoned Secretary Dulles and inquired what was “going on” with respect to the Bricker Amendment, since he and others in the Senate had gone all out in their opposition to the proposal and “they didn’t want to be left out in the cold if the President changed his mind.” Senator Wiley further noted that, because of his stand on this matter, he was “the greatest s.o.b. living in Wisconsin”. Senator Sparkman had suggested that Wiley ask the President to write a letter stating his opposition to the proposal, but Wiley was reluctant to do this. Instead he asked Secretary Dulles to see if the President could say something on the matter at his next press conference. Later that day, in two separate telephone conversations, Secretary Dulles and President Eisenhower discussed the wording of a draft letter to Senator Wiley which the President had agreed to prepare. Memoranda of all three conversations are in the Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, “Telephone Conversations”.
  2. This is presumably a reference to the revised version of S.J. Res. 1 as reported by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on June 15, the text of which is printed in the editorial note, p. 1817.
  3. No letter of this nature as actually sent by President Eisenhower to Senator Wiley has been found at the Eisenhower Library or in the Alexander Wiley papers at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.