Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

August 12, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. This is one way to get some of you people to come up to see the famous battlefield, isn't it?

I have no announcements. We'll go to questions.

Q. John M. Hightower, Associated Press: Mr. President, what results do you hope to achieve in your talks with Premier Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would hope for a bettering of the atmosphere between the East and the West. I do not by any manner of means intend or plan that this meeting can become a real negotiation of basic problems between the West and the East, because I have no intention of attempting to be the spokesman for the West.

You will recall that Mr. Adenauer has gone to Moscow, Mr. Macmillan has gone to Moscow, and there have been these private talks between these several countries--Mr. Khrushchev and the Prime Ministers of these two countries. I am trying to do my best to see whether we can't bring about a somewhat better situation in the relations between the two and maybe he can learn a little bit more about our country as certainly I can about his.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Sir, in that connection despite the fact that Mr. Khrushchev has said he does not want to see military installations in this country, several Members of Congress are insisting that he should be shown our missile bases and our military might, so that he won't miscalculate in the future. What is your reaction to their demands?

THE PRESIDENT. When you ask someone as a guest to your country, you do not attempt to regiment the guest and force him to do things whether he wants to or not. He was, or will be, invited; I have instructed that he be invited to see some of our installations. If he doesn't want to, that is that. And I didn't ask any quid pro quo, I might say, for it.

Q. Edward T. Foillard, Washington Post'. Mr. President, at your last press conference you were asked whether on your European trip you would see Chancellor Adenauer of Germany, and your answer was "Somewhere along the line . . . it may not be in Bonn."

Since then, of course, you have announced you will go to Bonn.

THE PRESIDENT. That is right.

Q. Mr. Foillard: Is there any story behind that, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Not at all. I, of course, was trying to make the thing as easy on myself as I could, and I had understood that the Chancellor had already been invited by Mr. Macmillan to come to London, and therefore it seemed to be a very natural thing to do. But he was not coming to London at that particular time. I want to see him, and so I am going to see him.

Q. William Knighton, Jr., Baltimore Sun: Mr. President, since the foreign ministers have failed to produce any progress on anything, do you now have a new criteria for your attendance at a possible summit meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, at least this, I still have this: progress.

Now, I would like to, in my conversations with Mr. Khrushchev, see and ask him at least why he will not allow such progress. My criterion is still progress that I can see as measurable progress.

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: In recent weeks, sir, we have been invited, or many of us have been invited, to share your hospitality at the White House, and to speak with you personally about many of the matters that concern all of us; and also you have now instituted or are going to institute a new form of diplomacy by travel around the world. You have set a very heavy schedule for yourself. And you are participating with great vigor in domestic affairs.

And I was wondering, sir, if you could explain to us whether this apparent new departure for you is due to perhaps a new concept in your own mind of the Presidency, or whether you are just feeling much better physically, or why all of this activity?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it is perfectly simple. I have told you people several times that I believe the Presidency should be relieved of detail and many of its activities by proper officials who can take delegated authority and exercise it in his name. But when you have a situation that has gone on, as we have had this cold war since 1945, and certainly since 1953 when the Korean War ended, it becomes the kind of a stalemate that has in it--well, it has the element of almost hopelessness for people, and finally becomes something there must be no gun unfired and no individual effort spared in order to break that kind of a stalemate. So the only thing here is that I am trying to end the stalemate and to bring people together more ready to talk.

Now, when you talk about in the domestic field, the situation is somewhat different. But let us remember that if I live to finish my tour, there will only be 25 percent of that tour in which I have had a Congress of the same political party as myself. Therefore, it becomes more and more difficult, I think, as time goes on, to get understandings and to get progress in legislation that will be helpful for the country. And I think it takes, therefore, possibly more personal activity than I think would be normal in more normal circumstances.

Q. Edward V. Koterba, United Features Syndicate: Mr. President, back in 1953 you made an observation regarding Milton Eisenhower's ability, stating that if it were not for his name, he would have had a high Government job at that time while you were President. And now there has been some talk that Dr. Eisenhower could well be considered by the Republicans for the post of Vice President or even the Presidency.

In view of the high regard that you and many others have towards your brother, would you not consider him excellent vice presidential material in 1960?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't recant one single word about my admiration for my brother. But I couldn't think of anything that would be worse for any political party to take people so closely related as my brother, who is 9 years younger than I, of course, and make it look like an attempt at establishing a bit of a dynasty. I would have none of that. And I tell you much more emphatically, he wouldn't have it.

Q. Stewart Hensley, United Press International: Mr. President, you spoke of instructing that Mr. Khrushchev see military installations if he wished to. Aside from that--

THE PRESIDENT. I said they would invite him.

Q. Mr. Hensley: Yes. Aside from that, sir, would you tell us what you would particularly like him to see in the United States, either specifically or in general categories?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like for him, among other things, to see this: the evidence that the fine, small or modest homes that Americans live in are not the unusual or exception as he seemed to think the sample we sent over to Moscow was.

I would like him to see, for example, Levittown--the town surrounding the Fairless plant--see this town universally and exclusively inhabited by its workmen, and to see what those homes are.

I would like to see him have to fly along in my chopper and just make a circuit of the District, to see the uncountable homes that have been built all around, modest but decent, fine, comfortable homes--all around this country.

I would like to see him go into our great farmland and see our farmers, each one operating on his own, not regimented.

For example, I would like to see him go in the little town where I was born and pick up the evidence--of course there are some still alive when I was there, you know--and let them tell him the story of how hard I worked until I was 21, when I went to West Point. He said in one of his conversations to Mr. Nixon, "What do you know about work? You never worked." Well, I can show him the evidence that I did, and I would like him to see it.

Now, I want him to see our great industrial plants and what we are doing.

I want him to see a happy people. I want him to see a free people, doing exactly as they choose, within the limits that they must not transgress the rights of others.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, do you plan to go with Mr. Khrushchev anywhere outside of Washington, show him around?

THE PRESIDENT. No, not unless there would be some unusual or abnormal sort of a little trip that I don't think of at the moment.

Q. Mr. Burd: Do you think he will be coming up here?

THE RESIDENT. No, I don't. It is possible that he might want to come up to Camp David or possibly even Gettysburg. I don't know. I don't know what the details are. As a matter of fact, I believe there has been only one conference between my representative and his on the details, and there has been no answer yet received from them. So I can't give you any details. I am just telling you the kind of thing I would like to have him see of America.

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: Mr. President, if we can leave Mr. Khrushchev for a minute, could you tell us anything at all, Mr. President, about your plans for participation in the next campaign, the presidential campaign--if you have had time to even think about it.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, by that time, of course, after the nominations, I will be a little bit of a bystander, as far as contests are concerned. I will, of course, have to carry on my own official duties. So I would say what I would be in would be those activities that are suggested and requested by the people running the campaign and where I can fit them in with my own work schedule.

Now, I will say this: no one could be more concerned than I am in the opportunity for preserving and strengthening what I call moderate government, sound, middle-of-the-road government in this country. I am completely dedicated to it, and I shall do what I can as long as it is requested by the people who at that time will be responsible for that phase of the activity.

Q. Lewis W. Shollenberger, CBS News: Mr. President, up on the Hill Congress is getting ready to go home. I wonder if you have any ideas, any priorities, if you will, of what you would like to see them pass before they went home.

THE PRESIDENT. Have you got any authority for that first statement you made? [Laughter]

As you know, I believe that it is vital to this country that we have an adjustment in the interest rate law. I believe that our prosperity and the soundness of our money demands it. I believe that a reasonable labor bill that will stop the kind of secondary boycott, blackmail picketing that I have before described must be enacted, should be enacted certainly.

I believe that the road bill should be financed so that it can go on for the benefit of this country on a pay-as-you-go basis, instead of asking our grandchildren to pay it for us.

And finally, I think that a sound civil rights bill should be enacted.

Now, there are some others. I should still like to see something in wheat, and some of the others that have been already rejected. But those would, I think, really be something the Congress should certainly consider very earnestly.

In addition, I should say, I would like to see a revised housing bill, one that I believed was sound.

Q. Edward W. O'Brien, St. Louis Globe-Democrat: Mr. President, when the Vice President was in Russia, he was challenged repeatedly by the Russians on the point of our bases abroad. If Khrushchev raises that same question, would you, sir, indicate the line of your answer?

THE PRESIDENT. Simply this: this country disarmed unilaterally after 1945 to a level that I think every military man certainly thought was unwise. And when we began to see what we had done to ourselves, and we began to restore our defense arrangements, it was also clear that there were a lot of nations in the world, feeling as we do, wanted to associate themselves together. Therefore, it was only logical and proper that these bases should be established. And I am quite sure every statesman or political leader of the world knows that they are only defensive.

As I have pointed out so often, how can a democracy make a surprise attack--for the simple reason that we have to engage in war by the will of the Congress. At the very least--let us say like in a war with Spain, the people were inflamed by the Maine incident--the fact is that the matter has to be debated and decided in the Congress. Nowadays a surprise attack can be made in minutes. There would be no time for such debates.

A free country, in my opinion, is absolutely helpless when it comes to launching a surprise attack.

These bases and our armaments are not meant for aggression and they will never be used that way.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Mr. President, to revert back to Mr. Belair's question, in terms of the 1960 campaign, do you regard your role as party leader, and President, as one in which you will exercise purely a veto power over a prospective Republican nominee who would be unsatisfactory in terms of your foreign and domestic policies? You have told us, too, that you would not express a preference. Is this because you feel that the 8 or 10 men that you have mentioned as a group, without identifying them--

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q. Mr. Lawrence:--are so evenly matched in terms of the Presidency that you have no real preference as between one and the other?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think it is that completely, Mr. Lawrence. Very naturally, we know that every individual is different from all others, and therefore the reaction on me is different to each of those individuals than it would be on you.

Now, what I'm saying is this: you want a candidate who is vigorous, who is straightforward, hard-hitting, who really honestly believes in the philosophy that would hopefully be expounded in the national platform of that year. And then a man who has a real standing in the minds of the public for experience, honesty, integrity, and character.

Now, if you have got these things, I would think that the worst thing that could happen would be any attempt to interfere with the free choice of the Republican Convention. And consequently when I say I would not interfere, this is just as strongly as I can make the thing. I shall not interfere with the choice they make. But, as I said, merely that if the choice falls among those people that I have indicated, but in an anonymous fashion, I will do whatever I possibly can to help in the election.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, would you talk to us about the kind of personal papers that you have kept of an historical nature over this remarkable period you have been in office.

THE PRESIDENT. Unfortunately, I think some of them at times are not quite as complete as they could be. However, there are records which by long custom and I suppose by law become the personal records of the President, and those go to this repository in Kansas, the library that is now under development.

The records, by and large, of course, are found in your correspondence, in the papers that you have to approve--those are in your own personal files, that is, a copy of them--and finally, such records as you have in the results of all of the conferences and meetings that you have weekly in the White House.

So that, embellished by a few memorandums--a good many memorandums and recommendations, are the records that I think will be finally stored at that place.

Q. Mr. Reston: Is it your intention to do some personal writing yourself, or have you put in train any orderly procedure for writing the history of this period?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't. I have tried my best to keep everything orderly in the way, in the keeping of the records, because I believe they belong finally to the public and to posterity, because every era is another milestone in effect in American history, and they will belong to them.

Now, for my own part, frankly, I can quote only General Somervell when he left the Army, and they asked him what he was going to do. He said, well, first he was going to sit on the back porch, and then he thought that after about 6 weeks he would start to rock slowly.

Well, now, after that, I don't know exactly what I will do. But I will say this: I will certainly have an interest, a very vital interest, even if I don't participate, in the work that you people, this collective group, what you do every day, because to my mind it is more important today to educate the United States almost, than it is to do anything of a spectacular nature abroad or great trips or anything of that kind. And I believe that everybody that has knowledge and conviction on both our domestic and our foreign affairs ought to be trying to put these things in the way so that America can understand the basic issues, because that is the strength of this country--understanding of those issues.

Q. Spencer Davis, Associated Press: Mr. President, the State Department has warned several times of its concern over the situation in Laos, and indicated that this has the backing of Moscow and Peiping in stirring up tensions in southeast Asia. Do you intend to talk to Mr. Khrushchev about this in your effort to ease the cold war?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be only natural for me to say this. Each of us talks about his hopes for peace, a better understanding. And where we see incidents, even if not necessarily inspired in Moscow, but inspired certainly by Communists, well, then of course, I think such specific instances will have to be part of such conversations.

Q. Frank Holeman, New York Daily News: Mr. President, you have told us what part of the United States and what areas you would like to show Mr. Khrushchev. Could you tell us now what parts of the Soviet Union you would like to see and what particular things you would like to see?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would like to have a few days to see people more than anything else. And that is a thing that is a little bit born of necessity. You see, any so-called VIP going around to see anything is inevitably surrounded by very large groups. He really can't take a good look at the facade of a building. How can you stand in the middle of ten thousand people and look up here at the Empire State Building? You just don't do that.

Now, you do have, as you go around such trips as the Vice President did, people who are knowledgeable; he was very experienced in this kind of thing, and he had people looking into educational facilities, medical facilities. He had Admiral Rickover along. He had people that were actually observing for him more searchingly than he could possibly observe. So I would say I would like to see people because, as I say, I have to do it.

Q. John Edwards, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, some of those who have been criticizing the invitation to Mr. Khrushchev have called this a reversal of Mr. Dulles' policy. Will you discuss this point, and also will you tell us when the decision was made that the time was now ripe to invite Mr. Khrushchev, and when you first issued that invitation?

THE PRESIDENT. This is far from a reversal. Mr. Duties and I used to discuss this thing often with others of the State Department, one or two, but never in large groups, and the possibility of what might come out of it.

Now, just as I would feel today, I would be foolish to say that I expect everything about such a trip or such a visit to be on the plus side. There will be some minuses, no question.

Now, finally, I think in the later months of 1958, we began to feel that the methods that we were pursuing had to be reinforced by something differently than we had been doing up to this moment. Now, he and I never got around to a decision, but we watched very closely the first session of the foreign ministers meeting in which at that moment I had hopes, but very little expectation. So we began to work on this thing, and I gave this subject to two or three of my trusted associates in the State Department and said, "Now let's try to tot up the balance."

And so when it came into the beginning of July, this decision was made, and I invited him.

Q. Raymond M. Lahr, United Press International: Mr. President, the steel strike is 4 weeks old today. Has there been any change in your attitude about the role of the Federal Government in this dispute?

THE PRESIDENT. Not in the slightest. There was an act called the Wagner Act enacted many years ago, and its greatest and first premise was that the bargaining between management and labor should be free and untrammeled. And personally, I think, except for the use of the Federal Mediation Service, that until there is a national emergency discernible, a national requirement, a need for action, I couldn't think of anything more objectionable than to put the Federal Government constantly in the business of settling these major strikes.

Now, just the other day, I believe it was yesterday, someone told me that there was a feeling that this strike had to be settled before Mr. Khrushchev got here.

Well, don't we want Mr. Khrushchev to see this country as a freedom-loving place? Why should we worry too much about the fact that people can strike in this country? I think that this is a shallow kind of thinking.

Now, I will say this: democracy is the strongest when there are among the different individuals and groups cooperation rather than strife, when there is self-discipline rather than just too intense competition. So the strength would be seen, but only if it is done on a free basis. Because if we are going to do it on a regimented basis, then we are a different type of country than I think we want.

Q. Donald H. Shannon, Los Angeles Times: What is the status of your National Goals Commission?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we have not yet, still, finished the complete arrangements for its financing. I have absolutely refused to go to the Federal Government. I am not going to be a pressure group of one, asking the Federal Government for money. The financing is going ahead, and when that is completed--so that the work doesn't have to stop right in the middle--it will get going.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: Mr. President, you mentioned a while ago, sir, you would like to see a sound housing bill passed by the Congress. There is a considerable difference of opinion, it seems, on Capitol Hill, as to whether you would find acceptable a substitute bill that has been worked up by a subcommittee of the Senate committee. Could you tell us whether it would be?

THE PRESIDENT. There was, as a matter of fact, a number of quite objectionable features. But there were four, as I recall. One was a college classroom building put in a housing bill. Well, this seems to me to be sort of an abrupt change in policy. This is for housing. Then the special arrangements for the housing for elderly people, and one or two others that I thought were particularly objectionable.

I do not, by any manner of means, say that a bill has to conform in every detail to the desires or the convictions that I express. We all know that all bills that the President signs are normally compromises of some kind, and I am not one to refuse to compromise. I still won't back away from principle though, and when it runs into principle, including the principle of a sound economy and paying as you go, instead of going further in debt, then I will be very quick to object.

Q. Douglas B. Cornell, Associated Press: Mr. President, you mentioned the fact that you would like to see the Soviet Premier see some defense installations or military installations. What type do you have in mind--missile bases, for example?

THE PRESIDENT. No--now, I am not going to make a great point of this. He was invited on the theory that he might like to see some of our defense establishments to get an idea of their strength and their modern character, and I am not going to push and press it. So let's not put in my mouth words that I think he should do it. This is just his privilege, and if he doesn't want to do it, okay.

Also, I would give him a fairly wide choice in the character of installation, if he wanted to see it.

Mr. Cornell, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and sixty-eighth news conference was held in a gymnasium adjacent to the temporary White House Office in the Hotel Gettysburg from 10:00 to 10:30 o'clock on Wednesday morning, August 12, 1959. In attendance: 95.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235211

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