106. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Director of the East-West Contacts Staff (Merrill) and Adlai E. Stevenson, Washington, September 18, 1956, 9:30 a.m.1

SUBJECT

  • Invitation to Soviet Bloc to U.S. Election Campaign

I called by appointment on Governor Adlai E. Stevenson this morning at 9:30 in his suite at the Sheraton Park Hotel to give him a secret letter from Ambassador Lacy.2 This letter was for the purpose of informing him of the Department’s proposal to invite two or three representatives of the Soviet bloc countries to come to the United States for a fifteen-day period in order to familiarize themselves with the two-party electoral process whereby the Chief Executive and members of Congress are chosen. No one else was present. Governor Stevenson read the letter with great care. I explained the advantages we consider can be derived from these invitations, whether accepted or not. He then became interested in the whole exchange program and asked me to describe the workings of the Immigration law and the part the fingerprinting requirement plays. This I did, and pointed out, inter alia, that the Soviet Government’s refusal to permit their nationals to be fingerprinted was being used by them as a means to control the travel of their citizens to the United States. However, our Government had granted a number of special visas to those documented as officials, in instances wherein the visit was in our interest, and thus some sixty or so Soviet [Page 251]citizens had actually come here this year to international congresses and as a result of exchange visits.

Governor Stevenson then asked me what were the negative aspects of the proposal. I said there seemed to be only two. One involved the possibility of demonstrations, particularly by citizens of Eastern European extraction, and the other the presumption that upon return home the visitors would report unfavorably on our electoral processes. I explained that the first objection could be avoided by careful planning of the itinerary. In the case of the second, our media outlets would be able to counter such reports, perhaps by playing back actual quotes made while here. In any case, it was hardly likely that the captive peoples, particularly in the satellites, would believe critical reports, which incidentally they would be getting from their own media anyway. He warned that in the closing stages of the campaign there might be a spate of extreme anti-communist statements by various candidates, which might be considered insulting by the guests. To my expression of belief that this campaign would not find communism a major issue, he replied Vice President Nixon was forcing it on him and that he was not too sanguine it would not become one. He added he himself had no intention of exacerbating the issue of communists in government. (These remarks were obviously prompted by the press conference he had held yesterday.)3

I told Governor Stevenson that naturally Secretary Dulles and President Eisenhower had knowledge of and approved the idea of inviting the Soviet bloc representatives, and that as a matter of course it was thought desirable he also be apprised of it. In order that there might be no misunderstanding as to why, I said that the possibility had been considered that the arrival of Soviet bloc representatives in this country could become a partisan issue in the campaign. He said he did not think it would, and it was quite clear from the way he expressed himself that he for one would not criticize the administration in this respect. He did add, however, that certain local candidates with minority constituents might indulge themselves. Governor Stevenson then offered the opinion that the invitation was a “good idea”, particularly as it gave both the opportunity to the communists to view free elections and also to us to ask for reciprocity. He said he would be very glad to receive the visiting delegations, but hoped it could be limited to one occasion in view of the great pressures he would be under at the closing stages of the campaign.

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I said I would be in touch with Mr. Blair4 as regards the itinerary and arrangements for receiving the bloc visitors. I explained that an experienced tour director, possibly a retired Foreign Service Officer, would be in charge of the group and that travel and other arrangements would probably be made by the Government Affairs Institute which handles such matters for leadership grantees from other countries here for elections. Governor Stevenson appeared well satisfied and put the letter aside for safekeeping. The conversation ended at ten o’clock.

I am certain that he has approved the objectives under which we are tending the invitations and will not seek partisan advantage therefrom.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.603/9–1856. Secret. Drafted by Merrill. Copies were sent to various offices and bureaus in the Department of State, to Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Paris, London, Bucharest, Budapest, and to the White House in care of Francis Williamson.
  2. According to a memorandum of a telephone conversation between Secretary Dulles and President Eisenhower on August 29:

    “The Sec. referred to East-West exchanges—there is an idea to invite the Soviet Satellite Governments to send representatives to witness our elections and see how a free election is conducted. If they do it we would have the right to send some there and contrast their elections. Everyone concerned is for it—but the reason the Sec. is clearing the matter with the Pres. is we may think it important to clear it with the Democrats. It will be done through the Heritage Foundation. The Pres. does not see how they can make a political football of it. He would not mind taking it up with Sam [Rayburn] and [Walter] George and he mentioned one other. We would have to approve, they agreed, their having visas. The Sec. mentioned he could mention it to George when he sees him this p.m.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Telephone Conversations)

    Eisenhower and Dulles also discussed this subject in a telephone conversation the morning of August 30. According to the memorandum of their conversation:

    “The Sec. asked if he mentioned the project to George—the Pres. said yes, and G. thought it a good idea. The Sec. said he is intrigued with it—it will be good propaganda for us if they turn it down, as he expects them to. The Sec. thinks he will go ahead.” (Ibid.)

  3. Not found.
  4. William McCormick Blair, Jr., a member of Stevenson’s staff.