51. Letter From Senators Thurmond, McClellan, Helms, and Byrd to President Carter 1

Dear Mr. President:

We are enclosing a most important letter from four former Chiefs of Naval Operations who give their combined judgement on the strategic value of the Panama Canal to the United States.2

We think you will agree that these four men are among the greatest living naval strategists today, both in terms of experience and judgement. Their letter concludes:

“It is our considered individual and combined judgement that you should instruct our negotiators to retain full sovereign control for the United States over both the Panama Canal and its protective frame, the U.S. Canal Zone as provided in the existing treaty.”

We concur in their judgement and trust you will find such action wholly consistent with our national interest and will act accordingly.


  • Strom Thurmond
  • Jesse Helms
  • John L. McClellan
  • Harry F. Byrd, Jr.
  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 36, Panama Canal Treaty, 6–7/77. No classification marking. A stamped notation reads: “The President has seen.” Carter wrote on the top of the letter: “To Ham—To Zbig—Prepare congressional answers. These papers are the arguments we must prepare to answer.”
  2. The letter from Robert B. Carney, Arleigh A. Burke, George Anderson, and Thomas H. Moorer, dated June 8, is attached but not printed.