Harry S. Truman photo

Memorandum on the Secretary of State's Recommendation in the Case of John Carter Vincent.

January 03, 1953

Memorandum to the Secretary of State:

I have read your memorandum of today concerning the case of John Carter Vincent. I think the suggestions which you make are well taken and I authorize and direct you to proceed in the manner which you have outlined.


Note: The text of the Secretary of State's memorandum to the President follows:


Subject: Case of John Carter Vincent

I have recently been advised by Chairman Bingham of the Loyalty Review Board that a panel of the Loyalty Review Board has considered the case of Mr. John Carter Vincent, a Foreign Service Officer with class of Career Minister. Chairman Bingham also advises me that while the panel did not find Mr. Vincent guilty of disloyalty, it has reluctantly concluded that there is reasonable doubt as to his loyalty to the Government of the United States. Chairman Bingham further advises me that it is therefore the recommendation of the Board that the services of Mr. Vincent be terminated.

Such a recommendation by so distinguished a Board is indeed serious and impressive and must be given great weight. The final responsibility, however, for making a decision as to whether Mr. Vincent should be dismissed is that of the Secretary of State. I am advised that any doubt which might have previously existed on this point has been removed by the recent decision of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in James Kutcher, Appellant, v. Carl Gray, Jr., Veterans Administration, Appellee. That case establishes that the action of the Board is a recommendation "just that .... nothing more" and that in the last analysis, upon the Head of the Department is imposed "the duty to impartially determine on all the evidence" the proper disposition of the case.

A most important item on which I must rely in exercising this responsibility, is the communication from Chairman Bingham in which he advised me of the conclusion reached by his panel. This communication contains elements which raise serious problems.

In the first place, I note a statement that the panel has not accepted or rejected the testimony of Mr. Budenz that he recalls being informed by others that Mr. Vincent was a Communist and under Communist discipline. The panel also states that it does not accept or reject the findings of the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate with respect to Mr. Vincent and the Institute of Pacific Relations or the findings of the Committee with respect to the participation of Mr. Vincent in the development of United States policy towards China in 1945. The panel, however, proceeds to state that, although it has not accepted or rejected these factors, it has taken them into account. I am unable to interpret what this means. If the panel did take these factors into account, this means that it must have relied upon them in making its final determination. Yet I am unable to understand how these factors could have played a part in the final determination of the panel if these factors were neither accepted nor rejected by the Board.

This is not merely a point of language. It is a point of real substance. It is difficult for me to exercise the responsibility which is mine under the law with the confusion which has been cast as to the weight which the panel gave to the charges of Mr. Budenz or the findings of the Senate Committee.

The communication from the panel raises another issue which goes to the heart of operation of the Department of State and the Foreign Service. It is the issue of accurate reporting. The communication contains the following statement:

"The panel notes Mr. Vincent's studied praise of Chinese Communists and equally studied criticism of the Chiang Kai-shek Government throughout a period when it was the declared and established policy of the Government of the United States to support Chiang Kai-shek's Government."

Mr. Vincent's duty was to report the facts as he saw them. It was not merely to report successes of existing policy but also to report on the aspects in which it was failing and the reasons therefor. If this involved reporting that situations existed in the administration of the Chinese Nationalists which had to be corrected if the Nationalist Government was to survive, it was his duty to report this. If this involved. a warning not to underestimate the combat potential of the Chinese Communists, or their contribution to the war against Japan, it was his duty to report this. In the hearings which followed the relief of General MacArthur, General Wedemeyer has testified that he has made reports equally as critical of the administration of the Chinese Nationalists.

The great majority of reports which Mr. Vincent drafted were reviewed and signed by Ambassador Gauss, an outstanding expert in the Far East. Ambassador Gauss has made it crystal clear that in his mind the reports drafted by Mr. Vincent were both accurate and objective.

I do not exclude the possibility that in this or in any other case a board might find that the reports of an officer might or might not disclose a bias which might have a bearing on the issue of his loyalty. But in so delicate a matter, affecting so deeply the integrity of the Foreign Service, I should wish to be advised by persons thoroughly familiar with the problems and procedures of the Department of State and the Foreign Service. This involves an issue far greater in importance than the disposition of a loyalty case involving one man. Important as it is to do full justice to the individual concerned, it is essential that we should not by inadvertence take any step which might lower the high traditions of our own Foreign Service to the level established by governments which will permit their diplomats to report to them only what they want to hear.

The memorandum from Mr. Bingham indicates that the Board also took into account "Mr. Vincent's failure properly to discharge his responsibilities as Chairman of the Far Eastern Subcommittee of State, War and Navy to supervise the accuracy or security of State Department documents emanating from that Subcommittee." The statement which refers to the security of the files seems to me to be inadvertent. Presumably it is a reference to the fact that State Department documents were involved in the Amerasia case. However, in the many Congressional investigations which have followed that case it has not been suggested that Mr. Vincent had any responsibility for those documents. I have not discovered any such evidence in the file in this case. The reference to the accuracy of the State Department documents emanating from that Committee is obscure. In any case, while it might be relative to Mr. Vincent's competence in performing his duties, it does not seem to me to have any bearing on the question of loyalty.

The report finally refers to Mr. Vincent's association with numerous persons "who, he had reason to believe," were either Communists or Communist sympathizers. This is indeed a matter which, if unexplained, is of importance and clearly relevant. It involves inquiry as to whether this association arose in the performance of his duties or otherwise. It further involves an inquiry as to the pattern of Mr. Vincent's close personal friends and whether he knew or should have known that any of these might be Communists or Communist sympathizers.

All these matters raised in my mind the necessity for further inquiry. This further inquiry was made possible by the documents in this proceeding which you provided me upon my request. I find upon examining the documents that the recommendation made by the panel of the Loyalty Review Board was made by a majority of one, two of the members believing that no evidence had been produced which led them to have a doubt as to Mr. Vincent's loyalty. In this situation, I believe that I cannot in good conscience and in the exercise of my own judgment, which is my duty under the law, carry out this recommendation of the Board. I do not believe, however, that in the exercise of my responsibility to the Government, I can or should let the matter rest here. I believe that I must ask for further guidance.

I, therefore, ask your permission to seek the advice of some persons who will combine the highest judicial qualifications of weighing the evidence with the greatest possible familiarity of the works and standards of the Department of State and the Foreign Service, both in reporting from the field and making decisions in the Department. If you approve, I should propose to ask the following persons to examine the record in this case and to advise me as to what disposition in their judgment should be made in this case.
Judge Learned B. Hand, who, until his retirement, has been the senior judge for the United States Circuit Court
of Appeals for the Second Circuit, to serve as Chairman;
Mr. John J. McCloy, former High Commissioner for Germany;
Mr. James Grafton Rogers, former Assistant Secretary of State under Secretary Stimson;
Mr. G. Howland Shaw, a retired Foreign Service Officer and a former Assistant Secretary of State under
Secretary Hull; and
Mr. Edmund Wilson, a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador.

I should ask them to read the record in this case and at their earliest convenience inform the Secretary of State of their conclusions.
Secretary of State

Harry S Truman, Memorandum on the Secretary of State's Recommendation in the Case of John Carter Vincent. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231297

Simple Search of Our Archives