289. Action Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Population Matters (Claxton) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Population—1) President’s Commission on Population; 2) President’s Approval of World Leaders’ Statement on Family Planning


I understand from Mr. Cater that Mr. John Rockefeller’s visit to the President2 resulted in the following:

The President was sufficiently interested in Mr. Rockefeller’s proposal for a Presidential Commission to study the population problem that he asked Mr. Rockefeller to submit a detailed memorandum. He also asked Mr. Cater to follow up on it.3
Mr. Rockefeller expressed the hope that the President would find it possible to sign the World Leaders’ Declaration on Population.4 He mentioned his hopes that Prime Minister Wilson would do so and said that Mr. Kosygin had expressed interest. Mr. Cater told the President he understood you would have some recommendations for him. The President said: “That’s fine.”

Background: You will recall that the World Leaders’ Statement (Tab B)5 as released by the Secretary-General with a statement of his own (Tab B) on Human Rights Day, December 10, 1966, was signed by 12 [Page 511] Heads of State or Government. (Names at Tab C.)6 The Prime Minister of Japan had indicated he would sign but declined after it became known that the President would not. When Mr. Rockefeller asked the President to sign early in December 1966, you believed it would be better for him to defer until the leaders of one or more of the major developed nations would also sign, so that the President would not be the only such signer. Since then, Mr. Rockefeller has asked an additional 25 leaders to sign (list of countries at Tab C). The leaders of Iran, Jordan, Barbados and Ghana have agreed (Tab C). Former Prime Minister Zjilstra of the Netherlands agreed but is no longer in office. I anticipate that Mr. Rockefeller will ask Prime Minister de Jong to sign. He has reasonable hopes from the reply to his letter to Prime Minister Wilson that he will sign as part of a governmental statement on population. Mr. Kosygin sent Mr. Rockefeller a message through the Soviet Mission to the U.N. that he would give Mr. Rockefeller’s request careful consideration as a matter of importance. Apparently his requests to several other Heads of State or Government are also still under consideration by them.

Comment: I believe it is appropriate to recommend to the President that he should now decide to sign and that he permit his decision to be used to encourage Prime Minister Wilson and other leaders still considering the matter to decide to sign with him. I feel sure Mr. Cater agrees with this conclusion.

My reasons are:

The resolution is fundamentally right, sound and conservatively worded.
Each of the four statements beginning “We believe …” is fully in line with comparable statements made by the President. The key statement “that the opportunity of families to decide the number and spacing of their children is a basic human right” is closely in line with the President’s statement in his Domestic Health and Education Message, March 1, 1966: “We have a growing concern to foster the integrity of the family, and the opportunity for each child. It is essential that all families have access to information and services that will allow freedom to choose the number and spacing of their children within the dictates of individual conscience.”
Since December 1966, acceptance of the ideas involved in government assistance to voluntary family planning has continued to increase in the United States: We are not aware of any publicly or privately expressed opposition to Mr. Gaud’s statement before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that AID would now receive requests to provide [Page 512] contraceptives; Representative Zablocki has said publicly that he does not oppose aid to family planning as long as there is no coercion; there seems to have been a generally favorable public reaction to the fact that the recently disclosed Report of the Papal Commission on birth control showed that the overwhelming majority favored a Papal statement allowing contraception.
Pope Paul’s Encyclical shows a substantial advance: It expressly recognizes that “too frequently an accelerated demographic increase adds its own difficulties to the problems of development …” On the most delicate point, it says: “Finally, it is for the parents to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of their children, taking into account their responsibilities toward God, themselves, the children they have already brought into the world, and the community to which they belong.”
The President’s leadership at this point might have an encouraging effect on those leaders who are still considering whether to sign.
The absence of the signature of the President of the United States when the next group of signatures is released would be inconsistent with the position the U.S. takes domestically and internationally.


That you send the President the proposed memorandum at Tab A or discuss the matter with him along the same lines.7

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, SOC 13. No classification marking. Cleared by R.T. Ravenholt (AID), R. Petree (EA/J), Goldstein (EUR/BMI), and L. Van Nort (IO/OES).
  2. Rockefeller wrote Rusk on May 5 that he had a meeting scheduled with the President for May 12. (Letter from Rockefeller to Rusk, May 5; ibid.) Rockefeller did meet with the President in an off-the-record session. According to the President’s Daily Diary, “Cater’s briefing memo indicated that he would like to mention briefly the progress in Latin America and elsewhere in the area of population planning—also Rockefeller believes that it would be highly appropriate for the President to set up a Commission on population.” (Johnson Library)
  3. President Johnson asked Rockefeller to submit a detailed memorandum complete with mandate and list of possible participants. (Memorandum from Rockefeller to the President attached as an enclosure to a letter from Rusk to Rockefeller, August 18; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, SOC 13)
  4. See Document 284.
  5. Not printed here, but see Document 279.
  6. Not printed; see footnote 5, Document 279.
  7. Tab A, a June 8 memorandum from Rusk to the President, is not printed. It shows that on June 8 Rusk approved the memorandum to the President recommending “That you decide to sign the World Leaders’ Declaration on Population and authorize me to tell Prime Minister Wilson, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the leaders of several smaller countries now considering signing, that you hope they will join you in signing.”