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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Colonel Harry F. Cunningham

August 15, 1953

I AM WITHHOLDING my approval from H.R. 2158, "For the relief of Colonel Harry F. Cunningham."

This measure directs the payment out of seized German assets now under the control of the United States of the sum of $ 12,500 to Colonel Harry F. Cunningham, of Lincoln, Nebraska, as compensation for architectural services rendered the former German Government prior to World War II.

In the late 1930's the claimant was retained by the former German Government as the architect for an embassy which it was proposing to build in Washington. After rendering fairly extensive services, the claimant disassociated himself from the project when he found himself at odds with the military policies Germany was then following. The outbreak of hostilities a short time later resulted in the complete abandonment of the project and the embassy has never been built.

Subsequently, the claimant filed alternative claims with the Department of Justice under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the statute which governs the distribution to various claimants of the assets of the German Government and of German nationals which were seized at the beginning of World War II. He desired relief in the alternative, either on the basis of a lien against specific real property owned by the German Government in the District of Columbia or on the basis of an ordinary debt owing for services rendered. The lien basis for the claim was rejected because a lien could not legally be asserted against governmental property and because the claimant's services never resulted in specific improvements to the property in question, ordinarily a condition precedent to the assertion of a valid lien. However, a claim based on the existence of a debt for personal services rendered is now pending before the Department of Justice, and although no final determination can be made until processing of related claims under the Trading with the Enemy Act has been accomplished, it appears that the claimant will ultimately have his debt claim approved in such amount as is found to be owing to him.

This case has one major issue, revolving around the question of whether the facts and circumstances warrant the special treatment proposed for this claimant. In my opinion they do not. The claimant has an acknowledged claim under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The provisions of that Act were designed to provide orderly and equitable procedures for the distribution of vested enemy property. I do not believe these procedures should be ignored merely because it can be shown that proceeds in excess of the amount of the present claim have been realized from the sale of a portion of the land formerly owned by the German Government on which the embassy was to have been built. There are thousands of other debt claims equal or higher in priority to Colonel Cunningham's. At present there can be no assurance that the ultimate realization on vested German property will permit these to be paid at full value. It would clearly be discriminatory to place this claim in a preferred position.

Furthermore, I cannot subscribe to the view that the bill should be approved because such action will provide for prompt settlement of an acknowledged claim. All claimants would like to have prompt settlements. No valid reason is given for preferring this claimant ahead of all others. To set aside the procedures prescribed by general law would lead other claimants to seek special legislation to speed the settlement of their claims. To my mind this is one of the exact contingencies that the Trading with the Enemy Act was designed for.


Note: The memorandum was released at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colo.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Colonel Harry F. Cunningham Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231917

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