NOVEMBER 9, 1957
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Congress, it seems to me, is becoming rather confused about the gifts-in-government question in Washington.
The Constitution bars public officials from accepting gifts from a foreign government, and this has been construed in various ways by the State Department. But as far as I know there is nothing which deprives a person who is not actually in employ of the government from accepting from a foreigner something to show appreciation of kindness or good service.
There is also nothing except good taste, as far as I know, to dictate what the wife of a President shall or shall not do. It is this point that is not touched upon either in the Constitution or in any law I know of. And it is this which I would like to write about because I think Mrs. Eisenhower has been made uncomfortable by criticism resulting from her acceptance of a fur coat from the Fur Trappers of Maine and the Beaver Fur Trappers Association.
The beaver trappers of Maine presented Mrs. Eisenhower with some skins. This was done in the obvious hope that she would have these skins made up and wear them and that a domestic industry thereby would get some sorely-needed attention. Not many people know that the trapping of beavers is one of the industries of the State of Maine.
Mrs. Eisenhower herself paid for the making of her coat and it is nobody's business what she paid for having it made up. She was doing an American industry a kindness.
The effort was made, I think, to make her feel that this was wrong in some way, and yet no strings were attached to this gift. She was not asked to award a contract or to change somebody's road or to see that oil was imported here or there. She was simply given a gift which those who gave it hoped would give her pleasure, knowing that if it did and she wore the skins, it would bring them some attention.
Nobody was going to be forced to buy a beaver coat, but they would know where they could buy one. I believe it would have been more unkind and she would have been open to severer criticism if she had refused the gift rather than accepting it.
There is little enough pleasure attached to being the wife of a President, a position that involves a great many responsibilities. Why the press apparently should draw critical attention to a perfectly innocent act of kindness I cannot understand.
Mrs. Eisenhower has conducted herself with dignity and grace in the White House. She has fulfilled the duties expected of her, and this type of critcisim seems to be petty and small and not worthy of the American press or the American people.
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I would like to draw your attention to the Rev. Brian Hession, who writes me that he now is lecturing in various parts of the country. His letter came from Miami, Fla.
The story that this man tells of his life apparently has been of great interest to his audiences, and he has written a book (published by Doubleday) on this same subject called, "Determined to Live." I think that through this book his message will reach a far greater number of people than through the lectures, so I urge you to read it, for it is the kind of spiritual document we need in these days.