Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Eben A. Ayers

Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, l945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.

Washington, DC
August 15, 1969
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]



Oral History Interview with
Eben Ayers

Washington, DC
August 15, 1969
Jerry N. Hess

[308]

HESS: Mr. Ayers, this morning let's discuss the White House staff.

AYERS: Well, I think it would be well to define, a little bit, what is meant by the White House staff and the presidential staff. Presumably, you refer to the personal White House staff of the President, that is, to his own appointees who served within the White House offices. Now, this staff normally changes with any change in administration; although a President may ask some of his predecessor's assistants to remain. And when there is a sudden change in the Presidency, such as was caused by the deaths of Harding and Franklin Roosevelt, there is a greater problem than that which comes about normally through elections. In the latter case there is a period of time, about two months and a half I believe, from the election to the inauguration in January, in which the President can line up his staff and know just whom he is going to have. But in any case there are, in effect, three presidential staffs. There is, first, the staff of the President who's gone or who is going out of office; second, there's the staff of the incoming President; and third, there's a staff of which the public rarely hears

[309]

anything, and knows almost nothing. And yet that's the staff that pretty much keeps the White House going year in and year out. In the case of the death of a President, a change in administration, that staff is a presidential staff, it's a White House staff, it may not be the staff that the President himself appoints when he comes in, but it's a more or less permanent staff and I think it has happened that the Government continues, the White House continues, the Presidency continues, even if there isn't a President in there, in fact. There is in theory, of course. And these are largely Civil Service employees and most of them remain in the administration of the incoming President and maybe for years and years. I don't know whether there are now many of those, but there are some who've been in for a long time and are still there. Men like, oh...

HESS: William Hopkins.

AYERS: William Hopkins, yes. He's been there for years and he keeps that White House going no matter what happens.

HESS: How effective was he in his job back during the Truman days? What is your memory of Bill Hopkins?

AYERS: Very effective, of course, that's when he took the job, came into the job. He'd been there as an assistant to Maurice Latta. Maurice Latta was more or less of an

[310]

assistant to Rudolph Forster who was the Executive Clerk in charge of White House offices in the days of Roosevelt, and when he died, Mr. Latta, who'd been with him, became that Executive Clerk; and Hopkins, who'd been in for years, became Mr. Latta's assistant. Mr. Latta died during Mr. Truman's administration and Mr. Hopkins was appointed. Now his job is the running of the White House office staff. He doesn't exercise the same detailed control of the House, by that I mean, the White House proper; that is under the Chief Usher. But in the offices, he has been and was during the Truman administration after he took over, in complete charge really of the whole staff. Changes in the assignment to different jobs in that staff. Now the whole staff in the White House in those days was of considerable size, much larger now, undoubtedly, but...

HESS: About what size was it during the Truman days?

AYERS: Well, that again is a hard thing to answer exactly. I think I got the figures together for a newspaperman at one time and I think it figured up to around three hundred people, perhaps. I do not recall exactly and that figure may be wrong. But at that time, when Truman came into office, many of the people who worked in the White House, the clerks, clerical staff, were people

[311]

who were on the payroll of other agencies and were assigned over there. They might stay for years but their salaries were paid by the agency from which they came; and Mr. Truman thought that wasn't right, that if they worked in the White House they should be on the White House payroll and considered a part of the White House and he changed it. The result was that apparently the White House payroll went up. And one newspaperman I know, at one time, had a news story about the increase--well, his story was correct, on paper, but in fact it wasn't, because it implied a great increase in the White House staff which wasn't an increase in that they had been working right along, but they had been paid from other agencies. As a matter of fact, when I went in on the President's staff, I was employed by the Office of Inter-American Affairs and paid on their payroll. Subsequently, after the end of the war, I was transferred to the State Department payroll. That didn't last very long, very briefly; then I was put on the White House payroll. As I may have explained it, I never was actually working under the title of Assistant Secretary or Assistant Press Secretary. There was no such title. I don't know what came in later years but there was no such thing. I had a Civil Service status,

[312]

as an information officer. I have a letter which I ran onto just the other day signed by Mr. Latta when he was Executive Clerk that said I had been assigned as Information Officer in the White House. I think that was it, something to that effect. And I was paid from the White House. Now that's a little bit extraneous what I'm saying but it explains a little of the difference in those staffs. Now, when President Roosevelt died so suddenly, in April '45, his White House personal staff included three secretaries to the President. His personal staff included Steve Early, who was then serving as Appointments Secretary in the place of General [Edwin M.] Watson, who died on the return trip from the Yalta Conference; Jonathan Daniels, as Press Secretary; and William D. Hassett as Correspondence Secretary. Former Judge Samuel Rosenman was Counsel to the President and Admiral William D. Leahy was serving under a title created by Roosevelt, as Chief of Staff to the President, or something like that. Then there were four Administrative or Special Assistants at that time. Now, we don't count in these staffs such officials as Cabinet officers and Government officials on the outside. They are employees appointed by or under the President, of course, but we never thought of them in the same sense as we used the

[313]

term "President's staff." Generally speaking, they were the men who conferred with the President in his staff meetings in the morning, or from time to time during the day. When President Truman took office he had a small personal staff that had been with him as Senator and as Vice President and that staff included Matthew Connelly and Colonel Harry Vaughan and immediately after he took office there were a number of people who showed up that none of us knew at all.

HESS: Who were they?

AYERS: Well, men like J. Leonard Reinsch, who was employed as a radio man with former Governor Cox's radio station in Atlanta, I believe; and there was Edwin McKim, who was not in any official position with the President, as far as I know, before he came into the office, and then he was made an Administrative Assistant and given the title of Chief Administrative Assistant.

HESS: Who gave him that title as Chief Administrative Assistant?

AYERS: Supposedly the President did, but he may have adopted it himself, I'm not sure about that; I don't recall.

HESS: Mr. McKim did not stay around for very long. What do you recall about that?

[314]

AYERS: Well, he didn't stay very long, that's true. There were various rumors or some gossip as to why he departed.

HESS: What were the rumors and the gossip?

AYERS: Well, I don't know that anything could be accomplished by going into them. I don't know whether they had anything to do with his departure or not, or whether he just got a little bit too ambitious. He was very ambitious, he was going to reorganize everything in the way of staff in the White House and he did a lot of work, on paper at least. In fact, I think somewhere in my collection of stuff there are some sheets with charts which he made of his proposed setup. He was going to be over everybody that was in the White House offices. But that somehow foozied out.

HESS: What was the nature of his relations with the people who were holdovers from the Roosevelt administration?

AYERS: Well, I couldn't answer that too specifically, but I don't think that they were overly enthusiastic about him. Another thing that I heard something about, relating to McKim, was that he was trying to set up in this governmental reorganization, duties for different people and that he had, in the course of it, asked for the resignation of William McReynolds, who had been appointed way back in July of 1939 and he lasted until

[315]

May 31st of '45. Now, according to the story that I had, McKim asked for McReynolds' resignation and the President apparently knew about it. Whether he initiated it or just supported MeKim at the time, I don't know, but I think the Budget Director at that time, Smith, tried to defend Mr. McReynolds and the President said that he didn't want to hurt McReynolds any, and would probably hold the resignation for a while and end up by kicking him upstairs; and McKim was reported as saying that the President asked him to get McReynolds' resignation. So, I don't know whether that contributed towards the speed of his departure or not. It might have, if those are facts. Those are a couple of the things that may have had a part in it anyway.

HESS: Who were some of the other people, Administrative Assistants, that were holdovers from the Roosevelt administration? What do you recall about that? One was James M. Barnes.

AYERS: Well, Barnes stayed for only a short time, not long. I never had any close contacts with any of those Roosevelt Administrative Assistants except Jonathan Daniels, and then only after he ceased to be an Administrative Assistant to Roosevelt, after Truman came into office, except for that brief period between when Roosevelt went

[316]

to Yalta and Jonathan came in as acting Press Secretary.

That was my first meeting with him and we were associated for that brief period, but Jonathan didn't stay long after Roosevelt died. We did have a close relationship in that period.

HESS: Did he ever come back to the White House officially, or unofficially?

AYERS: Well, he did in the '48 campaign for a while and I think he made one or two trips at least, maybe more. I don't recall offhand.

HESS: Of the campaign trips.

AYERS: Of the campaign trips in '48.

HESS: Did he help write speeches in '48? Just what were his duties in '48? Do you recall?

AYERS: I don't know too much, I don't know as I ever discussed it with him. All of those people I think contributed to speeches. Those who were on the trips contributed to some extent. Jonathan was a good writer and probably did do some, but I just don't know specifically.

HESS: Do you recall whose idea it was to bring him back in 1948 during the campaign and make use of his ability?

AYERS: No, I don't. Now, I may have at the time but I just don't recall. You see there were many people in and out during those campaign trips.

[317]

HESS: A pretty hectic time?

AYERS: Well, in a sense; I don't think anybody got very excited about most of it but I was not in contact with some of those people very much. If I went on a trip I would have some contact with them and perhaps know what they were doing there, but much of the time I was in Washington, when he was away on trips, to take care of press relations there.

HESS: Now, what trips in 1948 did you go on? We may have covered this but...

AYERS: I think we covered that, the principal one was the last trip, which was a long one.

HESS: That's what I was thinking. That was the trip into the Northeast, is that right?

AYERS: Well, no, it was more than that. It began at Chicago where he spoke, then Cleveland, and then into the East, Northeast, Boston to New York, through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, into New York with the final windup at Madison Square Garden.

HESS: Who else was on the train at that time? Was Clark Clifford and was Charles Murphy on that particular trip, do you recall?

AYERS: Yes, Clifford was on it; Charlie Murphy was on it; George Elsey was on it; Matt Connelly was on it.

[318]

I remember all of them specifically and Jay Franklin .

HESS: John Franklin Carter.

AYERS: Yes, John Franklin Carter, he was known as Jay Franklin.

HESS: How did he come into the picture?

AYERS: I don't know how he happened to come in, whose brilliant idea that was to bring him to help write some speeches.

HESS: Was he very effective?

AYERS: I don't think he was. I don't think he did very much. He may have done some writing but I don't recall that--I can't say about all those different speeches. Charlie Murphy did a great deal of the work on those speeches. Clifford did some, but I think Charlie Murphy actually was the man in the end who, if he didn't compose them in full, edited some of them.

HESS: How would you rate Charles Murphy and Clark Clifford as to their political advice and as to their political astuteness?

AYERS: It's a little hard to answer that question. I wouldn't know all of the things either one of them did. Charlie Murphy was a much quieter operator. I say quieter, not that Clifford was a noisy one but Clifford drew more attention to himself than Murphy, to put it that way.

[319]

Now, I don't know that he did it consciously but that was his way of working. I always thought that Charlie Murphy's advice probably was better advice on the whole, politically, than Clifford's. Clifford didn't hesitate to offer political advice, and often, for instance, in staff meetings when he was serving as Special Counsel, he made suggestions. Sometimes, it seemed to me they weren't very good politically. Of course, I don't claim to be an expert but I've seen a lot of politics.

HESS: Can you recall an instance in which you thought that his political advice was not the best?

AYERS: No, I can't. I suppose I shouldn't make a statement unless I could back it up with some positive thing, but I can't offhand, because it was a long time ago; those staff meetings were day after day, and many things would come up in the meetings. I think he was rather active in certain things that had a political bearing, for instance, the Palestine situation. I think he was quite active in that and that he saw the political relations that that had as anybody in practical politics knew. The Palestine situation was a bomb and if it wasn't handled properly there was going to be a lot of trouble with a lot of folks in New York City where there is a very heavy Jewish population, and in other

[320]

centers of Jewish votes. And if it was the right decision from their standpoint, we would gain votes.

HESS: What was the basis for Mr. Clifford's interest in that matter? Was it mainly political? In the Palestine matter.

AYERS: Well, I assume so.

HESS: Do you recall if Eddie Jacobson was involved in that matter?

AYERS: Oh, I don't know. I know Eddie Jacobson was much interested and was quite active, but whether he had any influence was another matter. I don't know about that.

HESS: Okay. We have one other gentleman who was a holdover from the Roosevelt administration. One of the Administrative Assistants, that was Laughlin Currie.

AYERS: I never knew him. I don't know anything about him really. I never knew him, I never knew McReynolds. I did know David Niles. Got to know Dave Niles quite well, and they were, I guess, about the only ones--Jim Barnes I knew, too, but those men didn't stay long.

HESS: Now, David Niles did. He stayed for quite some time.

AYERS: That's true, he did.

HESS: What comes to mind when you think about David Niles?

AYERS: Well, quite a number of things in a sense. He was very unobtrusive, and he was called a mystery man by

[321]

columnists and people who wrote magazine pieces about him, but he was a very capable man and he probably exercised some influence, but I think probably more during the Roosevelt administration where he served for quite a long time than he did in the Truman administration. Although he only spent a couple days a week, two or three days a week in Washington, he'd come in, he had interests in New York and in Boston, and I don't think anybody knew exactly what he did other than the President.

HESS: Could he effectively handle his job in the few days that he spent in Washington?

AYERS: Oh, I think so. He, of course, was principally engaged, I believe, as far as the job in Washington was concerned, with the minority groups and towards the later period of his connection, he was assisted by Philleo Nash. Niles' health failed, and when he finally passed out of the picture, Philleo Nash took over that department, but Niles' value lay far more than what he did in Washington, apparently with various groups or persons in New York and Boston. Now, I don't know, I never discussed any of it with him. Things came to my attention a few times, but none of them had any great significance.

[322]

HESS: Did he pretty much like to operate his own shop?

AYERS: Oh, yes, he apparently did. People who knew him had great confidence in him.

HESS: How effective was Philieo Nash, his assistant, who later took over for him?

AYERS: Well, I think what Philleo did was largely in the later months. I don't know how effective you'd call it. Pretty hard to judge those things in their effectiveness. He did, I guess, what he had to do, well. But how much he actually did in those days--he helped I think on some speeches that were made in those areas, the minority groups and Negro rights and such as that.

HESS: One of the men with the highest position who was a holdover from the Roosevelt administration was Samuel I. Rosenman who was Special Counsel to the President. What do you recall about Judge Rosenman?

AYERS: Again, it's hard to answer. I got to know Sam Rosenman quite well, and had a very high regard for him. He had been, of course, very close to FDR and I think President Truman had great regard for him while he stayed with him. He helped, particularly in the first months of the Truman administration. He helped in the preparation of that September address as you remember which . .

[323]

HESS: The twenty-one point message.

AYERS: The twenty-one point message to Congress, yes. And he did, I think, most of the work on that, because later I had occasion, in working on some of the President's papers, to have some correspondence with Judge Rosenman who was then back in New York and had left the Government, and he offered to send his papers dealing with what he had done if the President wanted them. The President said he would like to have them, so he did send them and there was quite a volume, evidencing a pretty careful job and I think he was a very thorough man. And, of course, with Roosevelt, he was very valuable. He and Robert Sherwood together made a very fine speech-writing team. He had a fine mind, and of course, he had been a Supreme Court Justice in New York State. I think he was a valuable man.

HESS: What seemed to be his relationship with Mr. Truman?

AYERS: A good relationship.

HESS: And after he resigned on February the 1st of 1946, did he come back to the White House at any points to offer assistance?

AYERS: I don't know, I can't recall. I know he was in Washington lots of times, but whether he was called to do anything or did do anything I can't say. I might have known at the time if he did but, you know, things

[324]

over the years kind of, like an accordion, squeeze together.

HESS: They run together don't they?

AYERS: Just squeeze and run together.

HESS: Well, shortly after he resigned, Clark Clifford was made Special Counsel. There was a gap of a few...

AYERS: There was quite a little gap in there.

HESS: There was a gap from February the 1st to July the 1st of '46; February to July, when there was no Special Counsel.

AYERS: That's right.

HESS: Then Mr. Clifford became Special Counsel. Did Clifford handle the job in any noticeably different manner than Rosenman, would you say?

AYERS: Well, that again is a pretty hard thing to answer. I don't know.

HESS: Perhaps it would be better just to say, how did Clifford handle the job?

AYERS: I don't know too much about what Clifford did. Before he came into the White House he was in St. Louis and I never knew the man or knew of him. He showed up there in the White House as Assistant Naval Aide, and I assumed at the time, that he was brought in at the suggestion of, or by, the Naval Aide [Commodore James

[325]

K., Jr.] Vardaman and he served as Assistant Naval Aide until, I think, until Vardaman left and then was made Naval Aide himself. Now I don't think he was ever really interested in being the Naval Aide and that belief was supported by others in the White House and in the Naval Aide's office.

HESS: How did he show evidence that he was not interested in being a Naval Aide?

AYERS: Well, they all discovered he was helping out over in the Special Counsel's office.

HESS: In Rosenman's office.

AYERS: In Rosenman's office, and after Judge Rosenman left we had a feeling that he was trying to get that job as Special Counsel. Now, he got it eventually and I don't know whether he operated any differently than Rosenman. I don't think he had the qualifications that Rosenman had, or that he was a good as Rosenman, but he acted as a Counsel does in passing on legislation that came from the Hill or that the President was interested in. Bills that were enacted by the Congress and sent to the White House always went through Counsel's office to be checked. And he dealt with Government agencies which might be affected, and that sort of thing, and he drafted some speeches or messages, and he developed

[326]

a reputation of being a speechwriter. I think he got credit for some of which perhaps others contributed the major part. I shouldn't say that, possibly, but I had that feeling.

HESS: Do you recall what speeches those were?

AYERS: Oh, there were so many speeches over the years there, that's a little hard to answer. In the campaign of '48 there was some of that. Charles Murphy in the meanwhile had come in as an assistant, and Murphy did quite a lot and in the '48 campaign especially. And George Elsey did quite a little writing; I don't know so much of speeches, that is full speeches, formal speeches, as he did on campaign trips where he filled the President in on the whistlestops.

HESS: I think he handled the whistlestop speeches, as you say.

AYERS: Yes. I know he did quite a lot of that. Clifford was quite active in staff meetings, which were held every morning. He offered his suggestions without any hesitancy, and his opinions.

HESS: Were his suggestions and opinions usually pretty good?

AYERS: I suppose some were, others might not be considered as good; at least he offered them.

[327]

HESS: Who served on his staff?

AYERS: It's a little hard to say exactly because there were quite a number of persons who did. Let's see, if I can give an idea here.

HESS: I believe that George Elsey was on his staff for a while, isn't that right?

AYERS: Yes, George Elsey, he worked with him after--George Elsey had been in the service, the Navy, during the war and served in the Map Room of the White House through the war. After that, when that was phased out, he went over and worked with Clifford. There was a little while that he--I think that was late though--he went over to the Pentagon and helped Samuel Eliot Morison on some work dealing with naval history. But he was an assistant to Clifford much of the time from '47 to '49, I believe, and then in '49 he was made Administrative Assistant but he didn't stay until the very end. He...

HESS: Why not?

AYERS: Well, I can't answer you that exactly. He went out in '51 and he went first with Harriman, Averell Harriman, later he went to the Red Cross which was headed then by Harriman's brother. I had the feeling that George got a little bit of "Potomac fever." An awful nice chap and a capable fellow, but he had a bit of Potomac fever

[328]

if you know what I mean by that. He rated himself a little too much. I know the President and I discussed him a little on one occasion.

HESS: After he left or before he left?

AYERS: Before he left.

HESS: Before he left.

AYERS: We agreed that he was a very likeable and very capable fellow but he needed to grow up a little bit.

HESS: Did his departure have anything to do with the conference with MacArthur at Wake Island?

AYERS: I think it may have, in a sense. He gave an interview--I won't say it was an interview, because it wasn't published as an interview, his name didn't appear and nothing to indicate that he was the author of it or responsible for it, but he did fill in a New York Times man, who died not too long after that, on that Wake Island conference. George made at least part of the trip to that conference, and I think that somehow or other, it because known to the President that George was responsible for that New York Times story. Now what may have happened I don't know because things aren't told to the world or to others of the staff. Some of them may have known more than I did about it.

HESS: To the best of your knowledge, Mr. Elsey released that

[329]

information without the knowledge of the President?

AYERS: To the best of my knowledge, yes. I don't think he asked his permission to do that. He did it on his own, thinking that it would be a good thing, and maybe it was. I don't think it did any great harm except it was an exclusive one with the Times.

HESS: What seemed to be the relationship between Mr. Clifford and the people who held the position of Administrative Assistants?

AYERS: Well, he was over them. Clifford was Special Counsel, he had a higher job than they did. Some of them were his assistants really, some of them. If they were actually Administrative Assistants he didn't have any real authority over them.

HESS: They could report directly to the President?

AYERS: Oh, yes, if they were Administrative--but some of them were just assistants, Special Assistants in the White House, or something like that, which was an all inclusive term.

HESS: Mr. Clifford left on January the 31st of 1950 and then Charles Murphy took over. One question: Why did Mr. Clifford leave the White House at this time?

AYERS: That would be pure speculation on my part. I would assume that he felt that he ought to get out when he

[330]

could and make some money for himself. He had a family, three daughters nearing the marriageable age, in fact, one of them did get married during that period. And I just assume that he saw an opportunity to establish himself as a lawyer. That's the feeling that we all had that he was taking advantage of what he had, his associations and everything.

HESS: And the next man was Charles S. Murphy, what do you recall about Mr. Murphy?

AYERS: Well, I know Mr. Murphy quite well, and always had a great regard for him. I didn't know anything about him at the time he came in there; I didn't know him at all. I don't know who brought him in directly or suggested him. He had been up on the Hill, you know, in some capacity, and he came in first as an--I don't know whether he was Administrative Assistant when he first came in.

HESS: I believe so.

AYERS: I think so. That was at the end of 1946, I think, December, the end of December '46 that he came in and he wasn't made Special Counsel until 1950, February 1st, 1950. So that during that '48 campaign he was only an Administrative Assistant as far as the record, but he did--I think he did as much work in the speechwriting

[331]

end and so on, as anybody, more than anybody.

HESS: I understand that a good bit of his work on speeches was done here at the White House. Do you recall that?

AYERS: Now, what do you mean by that?

HESS: That he did not travel on all of the trips.

AYERS: Well, now I couldn't answer that for sure. He traveled on some of the trips, but whether he went on all of them I wouldn't know without looking up the passenger list for those trips. He was on the last one that I know because he was working his head off on the last speech for Madison Square Garden.

HESS: Did Mr. Murphy and Mr. Clifford conduct the functions of the office in any noticeably different manner?

AYERS: I don't think so. Murphy was much quieter, and had a quieter way in a sense. In a staff meeting he didn't push himself, but he would come up with a suggestion perhaps, in a quiet way, which would be a pretty sensible one usually. He had good political sense.

HESS: If you had to choose between the two which do you think would make the more effective Special Counsel for Mr. Truman?

AYERS: Well, it would depend on what you were trying to accomplish. Now Clifford I think made contacts with the higher officials in the Government, Cabinet members and

[332]

so on deliberately and where he saw it to his advantage. Now that is not a charitable thing, perhaps, to say, but I had that feeling and I don't think Murphy would do quite the same thing. He might have the same contacts, for purposes of his job, but otherwise I don't think he would seek it out for any benefit that it might be to himself. Now, I may do him an injustice there. Maybe he would, not that that's an injustice. I think he operated about the same probably, because the routine of the job of Special Counsel wouldn't vary greatly from one man to another, the passing on legislation and those things. The other things like advice, personal advice, that would vary with the individual's own predilection.

HESS: Which of the two men do you think would be rated a little higher on their political advice?

AYERS: It would depend on who was doing the rating, I think. I would think that perhaps I would have more regard for Murphy's advice than I would for Clifford's. Clifford's might be expressed a little more strongly, appear to be more strongly presented, than Murphy's, but Murphy would have a perfectly convincing manner I think, with me. Now, it might affect somebody else entirely differently.

HESS: Speaking of Mr. Clifford and Mr. Murphy, could you compare their relationships with Dr. Steelman, the man

[333]

who held the title The Assistant to the President?

AYERS: I don't know what their relations were to John Steelman.

HESS: What were his duties, just what were Dr. John R. Steelman' s duties?

AYERS: I don't know whether they were ever specified exactly.

In practice apparently anything that came along that the President wanted to have checked up that didn't obviously fall on somebody else, went to John, and John made the most of those things. He would give you the impression that there was no harder working man in all of Washington than John. He is likeable and I always liked John very much. I'm not saying that to be derogatory at all but he did make the most of the job and all sorts of things came to him. The President would hand things over time and again at a staff meeting. Many of them had to do with the Business Council, or whatever that group of businessmen was, and things of that sort. He dealt with many of the Cabinet. I don't think he took any real part in defense matters or foreign affairs, but the other things that came along--labor, of course, was a prime thing with John because he had been a labor conciliator and labor and business

[334]

were his prime jobs.

HESS: Did he seem to be effective in those duties?

AYERS: I think so. I think he did, he seemed to be very good in labor disputes. I think he probably was more effective than most people would be. He knew them, he knew the people and he had had plenty of experience in labor mediation and he was pretty good at it.

HESS: Where did he get that title, The Assistant to the President?

AYERS: I think he created it, as far as I could find. At least he made the most of it.

HESS: Now there were three men, three positions of secretary to the President.

AYERS: Oh, yes.

HESS: Press Secretary we have covered probably adequately in our previous interviews talking about Mr. Ross and Mr. Reinsch and the others, but Matthew Connelly was Appointments Secretary to the President for the full period of the Truman administration. Do you recall, do you know why Mr. Connelly was chosen for that particular job?

AYERS: Well, he had worked with the President on the Hill when he was a Senator. That's all I know, and the President had great confidence in him and Matt had a good personality, everybody liked Matt Connelly, and

[335]

he had rated very highly with everybody. Everybody that met him when he came to the White House was strong for Matt Connelly and always was.

HESS: What were his duties?

AYERS: Just what it says, Appointments Secretary. He makes appointments for the President. Makes appointments and turns down those that should be turned down. Those were the primary duties.

HESS: What were the political--were there political duties?

AYERS: Everybody who's associated with the President has to have a political sense. He's an appointee. If you ask what political duties there were you can't get an answer to that that would cover everybody; all have to think politically. You're just bound to think that way. You never saw an appointment made that didn't have a political aspect to it with any President have you? No, of course not, it must be. If it doesn't have then...

HESS: Do you know if Mr. Connelly sat in on any of the Cabinet meetings?

AYERS: Oh, yes, I think he sat in on practically all of them. As far as I know he did. He was supposed to keep a little record, but I don't believe that he ever put it on paper, really. I had hoped that he did do some

[336]

such thing so there would be a record, but I don't believe that any exists.

HESS: All right. And William D. Hassett was Correspondence Secretary to the President. What do you recall about Mr. Hassett?

AYERS: Well, I had known Mr. Hassett for many years. I first met him way back when I was Bureau Chief of the Associated Press in Boston. Bill Hassett had been an AP man at one time in Europe, principally I guess in England and in the Irish troubles, but I didn't know him at that time. And I never knew him when he worked at the AP, but I met him again the first day I went up to the White House. He was then serving as an assistant to Steve Early. He had been at the State Department and brought over by Early from the State Department to assist him and that's the job he had and he held that until some time in--I don't know exactly when--I think it must have been early in '44.

To go back a little, Hassett, who is a Vermonter, had served, as I say, in Washington and in London in newspaper work and then he came into Government here in 1933 after he came back from Europe. He was detailed to the White House with Early in 1935 and it was early in '44, February, that he became Secretary to the President.

[337]

I think he succeeded Marvin McIntyre, who had served as secretary to Roosevelt and who had died some time previously. I never knew McIntyre well, I don't know that I should put this in the record but there was a story about Hassett's appointment as secretary, to the effect that Early, who had a hot temper, blew up one day and went after Hassett rather vigorously. Hassett was badly upset and the story was someone told Roosevelt about it and he called Hassett in and appointed him secretary to succeed McIntyre as correspondence secretary. Later, after the death of General Watson, who had been both military aide and secretary, handling presidential appointments, while returning with FDR from Yalta, Hassett acted as appointments secretary. Roosevelt asked Early, who had intended to resign after returning from Europe, to act as appointments secretary, and Jonathan Daniels, who had been acting as press secretary, then was officially named press secretary and Hassett went back to the job as correspondence secretary. Truman retained him and he held the job until sometime in 1952 when he left the White House. Although he resigned the circumstances were never made clear--at least publicly.

The job as correspondence secretary involved handling correspondence, as the title indicated, but it also

[338]

included whatever might be handed to him as well as the routine which was handled by what we called then, the staff room, and later was called the correspondence room. A staff of women would write many of the replies to routine correspondence and those bore his signature generally. But he wrote some letters for the President's signature and many over his own name in response to requests and inquiries of one kind and another.

HESS: How effective was he?

AYERS: Well, I don't know what you mean by effective in that kind of a job. When I went in with Steve Early I found that my predecessor had referred many of the inquiries and matters that came to the office and required a written reply, to this correspondence room. I didn't like that so much. I noticed that some of the letters which Hassett wrote and others which came out of the staff room seemed a little old-fashioned or stilted, not exactly formal, but somewhat stiff, and so I took over writing more of them and more of them, and more of them, until I did most of the letters that had anything to do with the press and radio and that sort of thing, inquiries and so on, as well as letters for Ross' signature and some for the President. Hassett carried on much correspondence with Myron Taylor when Myron

[339]

Taylor was representing the President at the Vatican and that may have been perhaps because Hassett himself was a Catholic and understood the situation perhaps better. Altogether he did a great deal of letter writing. He was very well liked by newspaper people.

HESS: What seemed to be the nature of his relationship with the other members of the White House staff?

AYERS: Oh, he had a good relationship as far as I know, always. Everybody liked Bill, but he could be somewhat vicious at times in his remarks about some individuals, but I do not believe the newspapermen ever saw any of that. I saw it sometimes but I didn't realize others noticed it until one time some of the staff who had been with Mr. Roosevelt were talking and they said the same thing about him.

HESS: Who was that?

AYERS: What?

HESS: Who was the staff member that had been with Mr. Roosevelt that were . .

AYERS: Oh, some of them, I'd rather not specify exactly. Some of the women who were close to Mr. Roosevelt.

HESS: Moving on to some of the Administrative Assistants. Let's discuss a few that came just about the time that

[340]

Mr. Truman became President. George Schoeneman was made Administrative Assistant in May of '45 and shortly thereafter was Liaison Officer for Personnel Management and a Special Executive Assistant to the President. What comes to your mind when you think of Mr. Schoeneman, anything in particular?

AYERS: No, except that that's what he was. I don't know what that Special Executive Assistant to the President meant or how it differed from Administrative Assistant; I know what that meant. He was Liaison Officer for Personnel Management, and of course he was later appointed, by the President, as Commissioner of Internal Revenue. I think that's about all you could say about that job. He handled that personnel stuff; whatever it was he had to do in that job, he apparently handled well.

HESS: And Raymond R. Zimmerman, who was Administrative Assistant to the President and then also Liaison Officer for Personnel Management.

AYERS: Yes, that's the same thing again. He didn't last very long if you notice.

HESS: Why not, do you recall?

AYERS: Well, I think they thought he was throwing his weight around a little bit.

[341]

HESS: Who thought so?

AYERS: Oh, I don't know who thought so except some of the people did around there. Maybe the President did.

HESS: Maybe. Maybe the President did.

AYERS: Maybe, I don't know whether he did or not. I never discussed personnel with the President, or very few of them.

HESS: What about Judge Richmond B. Keech, do you remember anything about Judge Keech from the year that he spent on the White House staff?

AYERS: I don't know just what his job was. I got to know him quite well, too, but I never had occasion to go into his affairs. Those Administrative Assistants did whatever the President assigned them to do; I don't know what in any specific case Donald Dawson came in there you see after that. He also held that personnel job. They helped pick people for jobs and that sort of thing--supposedly helped.

HESS: Did you ever become involved in any of those duties?

AYERS: No.

HESS: Anything else about Donald Dawson come to mind?

AYERS: No, nothing special I guess.

HESS: Fred Lawton was Administrative Assistant for a short time.

AYERS: For a short time but not for very long.

[342]

HESS: Do you recall anything?

AYERS: Less than six months. I don't know what--no I don't know what he did in that brief period. He didn't stay there long. He went back, I think, to the Budget Bureau, didn't he?

HESS: I think so.

AYERS: He became Budget Director, I think, after that.

HESS: Yes, it was after this period of time when he was Director of the Bureau of the Budget.

AYERS: I think that's why his term was so short there because the President needed him.

HESS: And then David Stowe.

AYERS: David Stowe.

HESS: Who was one of John Steelman's Deputies for a while and then Administrative Assistant to the President.

AYERS: Yes, I think he dealt with labor matters to some extent but I don't know about details at all.

HESS: George Elsey. Do you recall anything particular about George Elsey other than what we have discussed?

AYERS: No, nothing more than that.

HESS: Stephen J. Spingarn. What do you recall about Stephen J. Spingarn?

AYERS: Stephen J. Spingarn--Steve was quite an active gentle-man and he supposedly made a mistake with the Vice President

[343]

of the United States and drew a little bit of--I don't know whether or not to use the word "wrath"--down upon him, but a little criticism and that...

HESS: Was that the reason for his move to the Federal...

AYERS: And that supposedly was; he was supposedly kicked upstairs to the Federal Trade Commission. I've never discussed it with Steve or anybody else.

HESS: How would you rate him as an Administrative Assistant at the time that he was at the White House? I hate to keep returning to this word "effectiveness" but I don't know anything else to...

AYERS: I can't answer those questions, because I don't know. I don't know just what they were trying to do to know whether they did it. They didn't report to me, they reported to the President. He was the only one that could really judge, I guess, maybe somebody else could, the Special Counsel perhaps could.

HESS: How about David D. Lloyd?

AYERS: David Lloyd, he was an Administrative Assistant, only at the last end. As an executive assistant he came under Charlie Murphy, he and David Bell both came really under Charlie Murphy and he helped a lot on the preparation of speeches. David Lloyd got involved finally and particularly in the development of the

[344]

Library, had a lot to do with that. Dave Bell, I think, did more on the speechwriting perhaps than Lloyd did. You put the two sort of side by side, they were both fine men, both able men and that's the sort of thing they did. I think Dave Bell did more speechwriting than Dave Lloyd but I guess Lloyd did some of it too. And I think they helped Charlie Murphy a great deal in the preparation of speeches.

HESS: And there's one other gentleman that served as Administrative Assistant for a short time and that was Mr. Clayton Fritchey.

AYERS: Clayton Fritchey. I never knew a thing about Clayton Fritchey. I never even knew he was on the staff at the time.

HESS: All right.

AYERS: Some others worked there from time to time that I never knew were even on the staff. And then there was a bunch of them, you know, working under John Steelman; men like Russell Andrews, Bill Bray and others.

HESS: Did you ever come into contact with these gentlemen very often in the course of your duties?

AYERS: What, the ones that were over with Steelman?

HESS: Yes.

AYERS: No. I got to know Russell Andrews fairly well, just

[345]

casually, because he used to come over and eat in the mess. But these others, some of them--I got to know [Dallas C.] Halverstadt well. He had something to do with motion picture liaison, I believe. Charlie [Charles W.] Jackson is another; he dealt I think with the Business Council or whatever it was, something of that sort. Some of these others I never knew they existed. Milton Kayle, I don't know who he was. Spencer Quick, I don't know who he was. Harold Enarson I met him once or twice but I still don't know what he did. They were all assistants to John Steelman; whatever he used them for I don't know.

HESS: Well, on the subject of the men who served in the military and naval aspects of the White House, did you have any dealings with the men such as Admiral Leahy, Commodore Vardaman, Admiral [James H.] Foskett?

AYERS: Yes.

HESS: General Vaughan?

AYERS: Yes, I did in various ways, at different times. I don't know what I could say about them that would be of any great value.

HESS: All right. Well, that's about all the questions I have...

AYERS: There's one thing. I find I had something down here

[346]

about Clifford and you asked, and I said I thought, that in the beginning he was building himself up a little and I didn't mention this one incident which came very early, before he was very well-known around there, as a matter of fact. My wife and I were invited to a dinner at the Statler Hotel; a very private and unpublicized dinner and with no advance information who the guests would be, but it was going to be Clifford's dinner. And when we got down to the hotel we saw some Secret Service men around and realized that the President was going to be there; and he and Mrs. Truman were there. It was a very nice party, a fine party, given by Clifford. And he had there Mr. and Mrs. John Snyder, George Allen, Charlie Ross and Mrs. Ross, Matt Connelly and his wife, Admiral Leahy and Bill Hassett, Commodore Vardaman and his wife, and the Vaughans, and Judge and Mrs. Rosenman, Colonel (he was then Colonel) and Mrs. [Wallace] Graham, the doctor, and Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Symington (he was then the Surplus Property Administrator), and then I think there was another man that Clifford had been living with. Clifford's wife had not come to Washington yet and the party was given, supposedly, in her honor. And it was a very nice party.

HESS: Do you have anything else that you want to add on the

[347]

subject of the White House staff?

AYERS: No, I think this is a terribly hit and miss sort of thing here in a way.

This material concerns staff meetings, conferences there, and I don't know whether you wanted to go into that at all, did you? About the staff conferences and so on?

HESS: Certainly. Certainly. If it's something that we have not covered up to this point in time and I'm not sure that we have. Tell me about the staff conferences, just how were they conducted?

AYERS: They were very informal things. I think we have something about that somewhere butů

HESS: I wouldn't be surprised but I can't remember right now offhand. But just how were they conducted?

AYERS: Well, to begin with, with Truman they were held--at first there were very few people. Roosevelt's staff was small, as you know. There were Early and Hassett and Jonathan Daniels, Rosenman and several of these Administrative Assistants, and then the President. Naturally, President Truman appointed some people and got started. The first, I think, about the nearest to a staff meeting at all, was within the first few days and there was no organized plan every morning. The

[348]

first conference that he held, I think, started off with--Steve Early went in and I don't know who else--Connelly, Steve Early and myself were about all--and Jonathan Daniels when he was there, but Jonathan was in and out a little at the time. Then they gradually grew a little larger. At first they were pretty early in the morning, pretty early for most of us. I don't recall whether he held them at 9 o'clock or earlier. Anyhow, it was a little early, especially a little early for Matt Connelly who didn't like to get in very early and some of the others of us didn't enjoy it either too much. So, finally, he held them later, I don't remember whether it was 9 or 10. I think that I went in the first conference with Jonathan Daniels along, let's see, about the 21st, about a week after his taking over. And now--here's what I want, the 23rd, morning of, Early, Daniels, Connelly, Hassett and myself. Here's another one on the 30th, that's another week; Connelly, Daniels, Early, Mr. Latta, the Executive Clerk, and I. Now that was the staff meeting then and that's the way it went, but it gradually grew over the years until it got to be quite a gathering. I know later it got so there would be Steelman, Connelly, Stowe, Dawson, Clifford, after he got in, and Ross, and the Naval Aide, Military Aide,

[349]

Air Aide, so it was quite a group at that time; too many in a way. The President usually, at those staff conferences, would go right around the list, and if anybody had anything he wanted to take up he'd bring it up. They were very informal but they touched on a lot of things, some days more than others, of course, depending on the situation. I think they were very helpful to everybody. I don't know, some people took more advantage of them than others to kind of push their own ideas. Generally, they were pretty good. He continued them, I guess, as long as he was in office. I don't know whether any others of the Presidents have since had anything similar. I didn't go in after I left the press office and moved over and started to work on the President's papers. From then on I went in alone to see him whenever I wanted to in the morning early--he told me to come any time I wanted to, so I'd go over quite early before anybody got around and talk with him, so I now have quite a little file of my conversations with him. And that's that.

HESS: That's good.

AYERS: Now, if you've got any ...

HESS: Of course, we hope to get that file of your conversations at the Library one of these days.

[350]

AYERS: Well, I've got it. I don't think that I've got all of them, but I should have very many.

HESS: Well, that's very good.

AYERS: Now, if you have anything else.

HESS: Oh, yes, we have quite a few subjects to cover. Let's discuss the events of the 1952 election. Just when did you...

AYERS: Oh, I don't know anything about it.

HESS: Oh, just a few questions. When did you first become aware that Mr. Truman did not intend to run for re-election in 1952?

AYERS: Never, for sure, until he announced it. I had a hunch.

HESS: What gave you a hunch?

AYERS: Oh, I think we went into that once.

HESS: Who do you think that the President would have liked to have seen as the Democratic standard-bearer that year?

AYERS: I haven't any idea. I don't know whether he ever said anything about that in these morning meetings I had with him from the end of '50, through '51 and '52. Charlie Ross died in December of '50 and after that I stayed out of the staff meetings. He never said not to come. I went in I think only to one for something when he asked me to come in. Maybe I should have gone right

[351]

ahead arid gone in regularly, I don't know, but I didn't go to them, and so my talks were with him with nobody else around in the morning. I'd go in, and go in through Miss Conway's office, early before anybody else would come in. Matt wouldn't be there ever, he wouldn't get in till later, and I would go in and talk, sometimes for quite awhile and sometimes very briefly. And sometimes it would get into things like politics, but I never--I don't recall that he ever expressed any about the Democratic side. He did, I remember on at least one occasion and possibly others, about the Republican.

HESS: What did he say then?

AYERS: Well, he said he thought it would be better--I can't put it exactly--anyway he didn't want to see Taft nominated. He thought it would better--I think it was when Eisenhower was returning from Europe and his name had been mentioned, you know, and he thought it would be better if Eisenhower got the nomination rather than Taft.

HESS: Why?

AYERS: Because he said that he thought his foreign policy would be safer with Eisenhower than it would be with Taft.

HESS: He did?

[352]

AYERS: Something like that.

HESS: What do you recall of the events after Governor Stevenson received the nomination and the events of the campaign? Anything come to mind?

AYERS: No, because I didn't have any great contact with it then. And I didn't have any desire actually. I wasn't a politician. I would have been for Truman if he had run, I would have been glad to do anything then, but otherwise, I was not too concerned. I was certain that Eisenhower would be elected, there wasn't to be much of any question about it.

HESS: You didn't think that Governor Stevenson had much of a chance, is that right?

AYERS: Against Eisenhower? I don't think anybody in the White House thought so. It came up once in a while maybe down in the lunchroom, just cracks somebody might make. I think everybody--well, they might have put on a good front and they hoped, but they didn't really think he could lick Eisenhower. Just like you can't--people, you know people and you know that you can't count on them. You know what they'd do up to a certain point. You know, if they've got a hero they'll go for him. It doesn't matter what he was capable of. You could go out and elect two of these astronauts

[353]

President and Vice President today, I bet you, if you could nominate them.

HESS: Just because they are heroes for the moment.

AYERS: Yes, people would vote for them.

HESS: Well, we have several other questions. One gentleman that we have mentioned in times past I believe is George Allen. But just what were George Allen's duties in the White House?

AYERS: I figured you'd ask that; you've asked me that before. Well, it's hard to say what George's duties were. Much of the time I doubt if he had any specific duties assigned to him; he had various jobs at various times and I suppose there were certain duties that went with those jobs.

I won't attempt to present a biography of George Allen; there have been enough of them printed and there have been numerous columns written and magazine articles which sought to explain George, but I think few ever really could say just what his position was. He had been around during the Roosevelt period; in fact, FDR appointed him D.C. Commissioner. I don't know how long he had known Mr. Truman, but I believe he was secretary of the Democratic National Committee during the 1944 campaign when Truman was the vice-presidential candidate. When

[354]

President Roosevelt died Allen showed up at the White House. I do not know when I first saw him there but not long after HST took over I had a phone call, one morning, asking me to come into the Cabinet Room, I believe it was. I went in and found Allen at one end of the room and his right-hand man, Ed Reynolds, there. He explained they were working on a speech for the President--I am not sure but I think it was the one he was to deliver to the Congress. Allen had nothing to say to me; I suppose he was attempting to compose the speech. Reynolds had some of it and wanted me to go over it. I didn't propose to contribute to it or to pass on it. I didn't know what my status was and I didn't know what theirs was. I really hadn't gotten to know Mr. Truman actually at that time but I did glance over some of what Reynolds had and I may have checked a paragraph or punctuation or something; I don't have any recollection of what may have been in the speech or how much I looked at but I made some excuse to get out and leave it to them. That really was my first contact with George Allen. Finally he began to show up at some of the staff meetings and eventually he was a fairly regular attendant and participant. One thing I recall that he took part in was the arrangements for the President's participation in the

[355]

Navy Day celebration in New York. I know that he accompanied the presidential party on that trip because I was on it with my wife. I recall that I was in the same car with Allen, and two or three others in the ticker tape parade up Fifth Avenue.

Later the President appointed him to liquidate some of the agencies, I believe, but I knew little about it and my memory of it is hazy. I think he did have an office for a time in the old State Building (now the Executive Office Building). He continued to attend staff meetings. In February '46 Truman appointed him a director of the Reconstruction Finance Commission, and he served there from March to December, when he resigned from that job.

Allen was a likeable person; he could be witty and amusing but underneath he was a shrewd operator. Some of the staff, I think, had some view of their own about George and at a staff meeting late in August ('45) Ross handed the President what purported to be a news "release" which had been prepared by him and Judge Rosenman. The President read it and put his okay on it and later it was mimeographed like a release. I do not recall the contents but it was a "phony," a satire dealing with Allen. Copies were handed to some of the staff and

[356]

most of these later were gathered up and destroyed.

When plans for the Truman Library were taking form, but before much had been done and funds had not been assured, George Elsey, who was at the time trying to help with the plans, and I went to see Allen in his business office. The office was decorated with pictures of Eisenhower and Truman. Plans for the Library were discussed and Allen outlined how he could raise quite a sum. I don't know how much he eventually was responsible for--if anything.

Allen had become a considerable financier and the director of numerous corporations. He also had become a close friend of Eisenhower and when the l948 campaign developed with Truman running for re-election, Allen seemed chiefly interested in Eisenhower. There was a meeting aboard the presidential yacht in May ('48) which included Jonathan Daniels, Howard McGrath, then National Democratic Chairman, Charles Ross, Oscar Ewing, George Allen and Jack Redding, then, I believe, publicity director for the committee. Later, one of the participants told me that the meeting was purely political and agreed that Allen was no help to the President and he expressed the opinion that Allen was acting as liaison for Eisenhower.

[357]

I do not know when President Truman began to cool toward Allen, but the time came after he had left office when his feelings became public. It was in April, 1960, I think, during one of the Truman early morning walks in New York., he was asked if he had many contacts with Allen and he said he had not, except once at a funeral, and he said that when he was in the White House Allen was referred to as one of the "palace guard" and a "poker-playing crony," but that now "he is an industrialist and statesman and bridge partner" of Eisenhower.

 

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript| Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]