The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part VI: The Manhattan District in Peacetime

The May-Johnson Bill

The Interim Committee's draft legislation reached President Truman via the State Department shortly after the armistice. After affected federal agencies approved, Truman advocated speedy passage of the congressional version of the bill, the May-Johnson bill, on October 3, 1945. Groves, Bush, and Conant testified at hearings in the House of Representatives that the sweeping powers granted the proposed commission were necessary and that only government control of atomic power could prevent its misuse. Although Lawrence, Fermi, and Oppenheimer (with some misgivings) regarded the bill as acceptable, many of the scientists at the Met Lab and at Oak Ridge complained that the bill was objectionable because it was designed to maintain military control over nuclear research, a situation that had been tolerable during the war but was unacceptable during peacetime when free scientific interchange should be resumed. Particularly onerous to the scientific opponents were the proposed penalties for security violations contained in the May-Johnson bill-ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Organized scientific opposition in Washington slowed the bill's progress, and Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan held it up in the Senate through a parliamentary maneuver.

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