Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to Key Personnel at the Department of State.

January 29, 1969

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very honored and privileged to be here in this auditorium on my first official visit with the key personnel of one of the departments.

I recall, incidentally, that on Inauguration Day the first building I visited was this one. We had then a prayer breakfast, not a breakfast--we had prayer without breakfast.

Now that we have had the prayers, we are back here to get the advice so that I can go back to the Senate and get the consent for everything that we have to do from now on.

I do want you to know, too, that in appearing here with the Secretary of State, I think his relationship with the President is of great interest to those in this Department.

I have been reading some dope stories lately about the rivalries that may develop between the various departments in Government and particularly the traditional struggles for power that sometimes take place when the State Department is concerned and the White House Staff is concerned when it delves into foreign policy. I have often answered those who had concern in this point by saying that what really counts is not the table of organization, but what really counts is the relationship between the two men--the President and his Secretary of State.

I am sure that all of you know that my relationship with Secretary Rogers goes back many, many years. We came into Government virtually together; as a matter of fact, we came into the service together-the Navy--when we were at Quonset Point in 1942. Since that time I have learned to respect his judgment, his courage, his basic intelligence, as I know and I am sure that you in this Department who have the opportunity to know him will learn to respect it.

I also am aware of the fact that in the presence of a Secretary of State I may be in the presence of someone who may turn out to be my successor in this office.

I did a little historical research before coming over here, just as I did historical research before I went to the House yesterday and to the Senate today at noon. So, in each place I pay proper tribute to the Members of the body concerned.1

1 On January 28, 1969, the President paid a visit to the House of Representatives and had luncheon with the leadership, members of the House Committee on Rules, and chairmen of various other committees. Earlier on January 29, he visited the Senate and lunched with the Senate leadership in the minority leader's office.

In the House of Representatives, for example, I was able to point out that in a period between 1840 and 1880, 10 out of the 12 Presidents of the United States in that period had served in the House of Representatives. Then for a considerable period of time, up until the time of the election in 1960, the Nation moved to other areas for their Presidents, except for the election of Harry Truman in 1948.

I pointed out when I was at the Senate today that Andrew Johnson, in the 19th century, was the last President before John F. Kennedy who had served in both the House and the Senate. Then John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and now the present occupant of the Presidency, have served in both the House and the Senate.

Now, as far as the State Department was concerned, my history had to go back a little further.

I found, for example, that in days long gone--not gone, but long past--that in the past the Secretary of State was the office that was the logical one for anyone to seek in the event he wanted to be President.

You will all remember that Jefferson was Washington's Secretary of State. Madison was Jefferson's Secretary of State. Monroe was Madison's Secretary of State. John Quincy Adams was Monroe's Secretary of State. And Martin Van Buren was Jackson's first Secretary of State.

In fact, the tradition continued, and I found ended in the passing of the office from President Polk to President Buchanan. President Buchanan was the last who had been Secretary of State who became President of the United States. Now, whether that tells us something or not as to why it has not happened since, I do not know.

President Buchanan, as some of you may recall--if you were following me on inaugural night 2--was one who came to the Presidency at a time that he thought was much too late for that honor to be accorded him. As he was riding down from the White House to the Capitol he turned to a friend and said that he didn't feel particularly happy about becoming President at this late stage in his political career because he found that all of his friends that he wanted to reward had now died. And he said all of his enemies that he hated and wanted to punish were now his friends.

2During the evening of January 20, 1969, the President visited six Inaugural Balls.

Now, of course, we have Secretary Rogers. I should point out that there is another way that he can go up if he would like. He has been the Attorney General of the United States and consequently could qualify for the Chief Justiceship. I am not suggesting that, incidentally, he will be Earl Warren's 3 successor--not right now.

3Chief Justice Earl Warren had informed President Johnson in 1968 that he wished to retire as soon as a successor had been qualified.

But you will recall that the first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, started as Secretary to the Confederation before the United States became the Government that it was under the Constitution. And John Marshall had served as Secretary of State too, as did Charles Evans Hughes. That is a great tradition.

All that I am suggesting to you by these opening remarks is that those of you who may plan to be Secretary of State can look forward possibly to being either President of the United States or Chief Justice.

I will only add one further thought, however, that in each body, any House Member, naturally, who heard what I said could see himself becoming President some day, any Member of the Senate could see that if things worked out he might become President, and, of course, any person in this audience with your foreign policy background and your futures could see yourself becoming President.

Which is the best way? I think perhaps the best answer I have for that is in a favorite anecdote. An Episcopal priest was asked by a young parishioner who was very troubled about all of the theology he had heard about, asked that question that I am sure all leaders in religious thought are often asked.

The young parishioner said, "Father, is the Episcopal Church the only true to salvation?" The priest smiled and answered. He said, "No, son, there are other ways, but no gentleman would choose them."

I am sure the Secretary would say that there may be other ways to the Presidency than the Secretary of State, but no gentleman would choose them.

Now, may I speak to you quite directly about the work that you do and my association with it, and what I hope would be our association in the future?

As I look at this front row here, I see men whom I met 20 years ago when I first went to Europe with the Herter Committee.4 I can see in rows way back there people who have briefed me on my trips abroad during the period I was a Congressman, a Senator, the 8 years I was Vice President, and then in the period of 7 or 8 years when I was out of Government.

4In the summer of 1947 the President was serving as a member of the House Select Committee on Foreign Aid, named after its Chairman, Representative Christian A. Herter of Massachusetts. The Committee toured 18 European nations to survey war damage and make suggestions on need for aid.

During that time, I have visited over 60 countries. I always prided myself on trying to be well briefed before I made those visits, and consequently I became well acquainted with the career men and women in the State Department.

Not just because I stand before you today, but because I believe this--and I have often said it publicly and privately-I do think we have the best career service in the world. I think that was the case based on what I have seen, what I have heard, and on the advice that I have received.

I think it is vitally important to the future of this country that the morale of that career service be kept at its highest level possible and that those who make the foreign policy of this country have the best possible advice that we can get from those who serve in the career service.

That is one of the reasons, when Secretary Rogers assumed his position and when the Under Secretaries as well as the Assistant Secretaries talked to me, that I set forth a policy, a policy that I want followed throughout this administration, somewhat different from some of the policies of the past. Each President must work differently, of course, in developing his foreign policy decisions.

That policy is this: I consider the Secretary of State to be my chief foreign policy adviser and when we have a difficult decision and I ask him what should we d% I do not want him to come in and say, "Well, you could do this or you could do that." I want him to say, "You could do this or you could do that," but I want him to give me his advice on what we should do.

But I have also told him, and as I understand he has informed you, that where there is a strong minority view or where there may be two other viewpoints or more held by responsible people, that I want to see that view too. The reason that I want to see the minority views as well as the majority views, and as well as his advice which may be either one or the other because he may not agree with the majority view even in the Department, is that I have the conviction that a policy is improved by having the decision maker consider the options and consider the alternatives. Even if he decides to reject one point of view that is strongly urged, he may develop from considering that point of view a more effective and stronger position in the position which he eventually considers to be the preferable one.

I say this because as I have traveled throughout the world I've been sometimes concerned that people in the career service in various posts develop a sense of frustration that they have ideas with regard to the conduct of foreign policy that are quite relevant that ought to be considered, but that some way they will never get to the top in the bureaucracy.

Now, I recognize in the huge responsibilities we have around the world, in all the cables that come pouring in here, that every idea that anybody has in the world can't always come to the President of the United States or even to the Secretary of State or even to the Under Secretaries or the Assistant Secretaries. But I do want to urge everyone here who has responsibility for preparing any materials that come to my office, that I am interested in, and want to see, points of view that may differ from those .that eventually may become the policy of this country.

I think the more that we have that kind of dialogue, that kind sometimes, of debate, of consideration, which is not simply papering over differences, negotiating them out--and I know you are very skilled in that, too, you have to be--but I think when we have that kind of dialogue we can improve our policies. It will certainly be of very good assistance to me.

I say that, too, because I realize that in this Department are so many who have varied backgrounds, who have done a great deal of thinking, a great deal more than I will ever have the opportunity to do, on special problems and special areas.

I will, therefore, appreciate the best that you can present and I can assure you that to the extent my time permits, those viewpoints will be considered.

Finally, as you may have noted if you read or heard my first press conference on Monday--I was glad the Secretary had read it, incidentally--you will note that I pointed out--when one of the questioners said, "What is the most important decision that you have to make? What is the greatest problem that you have to confront?"--I pointed out what is the fact: And that is that it is difficult to try to select priorities among the many problems that confront this Nation at home and abroad, but I do know that there are certain decisions in foreign policy that only the President of the United States can make. It is here that he must devote that extra effort if there is any extra effort he can devote to it because if he makes a mistake in this area, it is a mistake that no one else is going to be able to correct.

For that reason, I asked that the Secretary arrange this meeting, that I come here to say to those who have worked in the field many of you I have met around the world, many of you I hope to meet during the course of my service in the present office that I hold--to say to you that I appreciate what you have done. I respect the members of this Department, the career service, for the contribution you have made and are making to the foreign policy of this country.

I hope that when this administration completes its service in Washington we will have made real progress toward settling differences between nations, toward bringing the peace that we all want in the world.

I know that if that comes, it will come only because of the quality of our State Department personnel. I know that I have to count on you. I can only say that as I stand here today, as I see you, I believe that I, as the chief executive officer of this Nation, have the best advice of any chief executive officer of any nation in the world.

Thank you.

Before Mr. Rogers responds, I should say that in giving that little history I can also tell you about the last Attorney General who became Secretary of State. I am sure some of the veterans may remember, it was President Taft's Secretary of State, Philander Knox. He was famous for a reason that I hope Mr. Rogers does not become famous for. He was a man who loved the good life. He used to arrive in the office about 10 o'clock to look over the cables. At 11:30 he would leave and go to the best club in town for a leisurely two martini lunch. Then in the afternoon, if it was a good day, he would go out to Chew/Chase and play golf and that evening attend a diplomatic reception.

I understand that things have changed, but that was one of your predecessors.

Note: The President spoke at 3:06 p.m. in the auditorium at the Department of State.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to Key Personnel at the Department of State. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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