Oral History Interview with
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.
Eben A. Ayers
April 19, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
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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
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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
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Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts
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Oral History Interview with
April 19, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Mr. Ayers, would you like to make a statement?
AYERS: Well, not exactly. I was going to say that any of this political
material that I may talk about, I'd like to preface by saying: I was not
a political appointee and I never was a politician, in the active sense.
I was an observer of politics for a good many years as a newspaperman,
everything from a ward caucus as a young reporter on up through, and I
know a lot of politicians and I've seen a lot of politics, and in the
course of my White House work, which was not in any sense a political
appointment, I met a lot more. I did find myself at times rather close
to the political activities, particularly in the 1948 campaign, and there
are some things in the '48 campaign, perhaps, that I might shed a little
more light on. I can only talk about what I had a part in or what I was
close to and from what I saw and heard. I won't attempt to tell what others
did--things I had no active part in. Some of them expressed their views
to me and I might be able to register some of those. Only the things that
I was directly connected with. Many of the things are pretty well covered
in Mr. Truman's Memoirs; I suppose
you have the views and statements
of others who have been recording for you.
HESS: All right, Mr. Ayers, to keep things in chronological order, can
you tell me about the trip Mr. Truman took in June, 1948? Where did the
idea for that trip originate? What do you recall about that trip and anything
else you want to put down--dealing with the springtime of '48 actually?
AYERS: Well, I recall something about that trip, but I think I ought
to go back just a little bit before that.
HESS: That's why I gave you the leeway of springtime.
AYERS: It was on March 8th of that year that it was announced by Senator
McGrath, who was the Democratic National Chairman at that time, after
meeting with the President that day in his office, McGrath and Gael Sullivan,
who was the executive director of the committee, were in and coming out,
McGrath was stopped by the newspapermen and he had a little statement;
he said he had been authorized to say the President would accept the nomination
if the Democratic convention named him, and that he'd run. Then that was
followed, you know, on March 17th, by a trip over to New York on St. Patrick's
Day for the parade and so forth, and in a speech that night at the Astor
Hotel, he repudiated the support of Henry Wallace. Now that was on the
17th of March and two mornings later, that's on the 19th, at a staff conference
he said that he'd been thinking about making a cross-country trip during
the summer. He said he had been thinking about it and if he did it would
end up in California just before the Republican convention.
HESS: Do you recall if anyone might have suggested that to him? The idea
for the trip.
AYERS: Well, it would be purely speculation on my part. He had seen various
people like McGrath and Gael Sullivan and, I guess, possibly some others,
I haven't gone through all his appointments--somebody might have dropped
the idea from the Democratic committee but I don't know.
HESS: For that matter it might have been his own idea.
AYERS: It sounded like his own idea the way he brought it out. Then again,
I think it was, that was on the 19th and about a week or so later--it
was about the 30th of March at the staff meeting--he brought it up again.
He said his idea was that he could travel across country by train making
speeches at various points, stopping at many places en route, in other
words, it was a so-called whistlestop tour.
HESS: Before the word had been coined.
AYERS: And he again said it would wind up in California just before the
Republican National Convention.
HESS: Do you recall any items of interest about that trip, or about the
time that trip was going on?
AYERS: Yes, I can remember something about that. The plans for the trip
were finally announced--I think it was around the 7th of May--and I believe
that Charlie Ross talked to me about it at the time and he said the plans
were working out, and he thought that I ought to stay in Washington so
there would be somebody there in the White House to handle things, and
he'd go with the President, and that was the way it was settled at that
time. There was from time to time some concern about that.
HESS: Mr. Ayers, can you tell me something about the planning for the
June trip, and also I want to put a note in here for historians that Mr.
Ayers is consulting his very well-documented diaries, which I might add
a note to Mr. Ayers, we would like to have in the Truman Library at some
date in the future, but we're not too sure if we're going to have them.
AYERS: Well, consulting the diary, I find that on May 21st, which is
only about a week or so before they were scheduled to start on this first
western trip, I did make a note
showing some concern over the confusion
that seemed to exist about the trip, and the arrangements for it, and
the details, it seemed to me, were being worked out in a rather inefficient
manner; and I know I wrote down in the diary at that time that few of
the people, including Secretary Ross and others, seemed to realize what
was entailed and I thought there was something of the same feeling on
the part of those who had experience in the past with such trips. I did
refer to Dewey Long, the White House transportation officer, as one who
had some feeling about it. He was a marvel at planning those things; he'd
gone through many of them and was an expert at it and I think he felt
that really he wasn't too sure what was going to be done. Anyway, to go
on from there, that concern that I was feeling kind of popped up again
in my mind in the next few days. A friend of mine who had been over in
New York and had run into a woman connected with the Democratic National
Committee, had told me that he was disturbed because of the defeatist
attitude which this woman had shown, and that led me to take some notes
at the time. I said that it seemed to me that was the greatest danger
to the President's campaign in '48. I'll quote a little from my diary
if you want. I
don't want to duplicate if you're going to get these someday,
but there are many slips between the cup and the lip.
HESS: Your summation is good and I'm sure your quotes will be good, too.
AYERS: Thank you. I said:
Well, polls show that his strength [that's the President's]
is down now as compared with some of the possible Republican candidates
and there is no reason he should not come up between now and next November,
with the proper campaigning and adequate effort on the part of workers,
but so long as such a defeatist attitude prevails, there is, I believe,
little hope for success. You cannot win battles if you go into them believing
you are beat.
Then I added:
I do not think, however, the President thinks he's going to
Then I wrote again:
At the same time, however, I do not think he is getting the
political advice and help he should have.
Now this is expressing my personal opinions and I am likely to be as
wrong as anybody else and I may have been wrong, but this is what I thought
at the time. I said:
Some of those who are acting for him politically seem to me
to be amateurish, inexperienced, and inadequate. Men such as George Allen
[although Allen actually was having no real part in the planning so far
as I can learn] are no help. Allen is, in my opinion, chiefly interested
in Allen and his fortunes. He has been close to
General Eisenhower. While
this may be purely personal attachment, I cannot believe that Allen is
unconscious of the efforts that have been made, and are still discussed,
to get Eisenhower to become a presidential candidate.
Of course, you understand this was long before Mr. Eisenhower got into
the political battle at all. Then I had another paragraph here and I was
being a little critical I'm afraid:
I question, too, the political acumen of Clark Clifford. Clifford
is without much practical experience, if any, and I have doubted the political
wisdom of some of his suggestions and advice in the past. There are altogether,
I feel, too many amateurs trying to run things.
Another paragraph I got in at that time--I'm putting down a lot that
perhaps I shouldn't put on the record, but anyway, here goes:
Charlie Ross, despite his many qualities, is not always politically
minded for a public relations man as he must be in his position as Press
Secretary. He's often inclined to have little concern about small matters
or some large ones that might prove valuable to the President. The great
hope for the President in this coming campaign lies in his meeting people
and in giving the people the opportunity to see him. While the coming
trip to the west coast is detailed and provides many stops up to Los Angeles,
no plans have been made for the return trip, and it seems to me advantage
should be taken of the cross-country trip back as well as going. Yet,
Ross is hopeful the President will come straight back--even flying.
Then I said:
Not many people see him when he's in an airplane a mile in the
Now, I believe, that he did come back by train.
HESS: Do you know why that decision was made to come back by train instead
AYERS: No, I don't. I don't recall. I may have known at the time but
I don't recall that.
HESS: Because they did change their mind and he did make a few speeches
on the way back, too.
AYERS: But that trip was marked by some unpleasant happenings from the
HESS: What do you recall about that?
AYERS: Well, I had some notes on the preparations for departure and in
those there is a reference to the completion of the first two major speeches.
That which was to be delivered before the Swedish-American celebration
in Chicago the following night, and that at the 35th Division reunion
in Omaha on the following Saturday night. And I wrote that the great bulk
of the work on these was done by Philleo Nash, assistant to David Niles,
George Elsey, assistant to Clark Clifford, and Charlie Murphy, administrative
assistant. Then I commented a little again about what was written by newspapermen,
magazine writers and columnists about the White House speechwriters. I
wrote in my notes that:
Clifford is credited with writing the speeches and had a large
part in many of them, if not most of those recently, but much of the work
done by others. Only today Time magazine had its weekly piece
on the Presidency, in the course of which there was reference to the speechwriting
being done by Clifford and Judge Sam Rosenman. could not refrain from
commenting to the Time correspondent on the ability of the magazine to
get things wrong. Rosenman had about as much to do with the preparation
of these speeches as Jim Farley.
And then farther along in my notes at the same time:
George Allen is apparently doing about the same thing, taking
the credit for anything that he could easily. His name appeared frequently
in columns, and while he has been in and also participated in one or two
sessions, he's playing no such part as he's being credited with. I believe,
and so does Ross and others, that Allen's promoting much of this himself,
but he's being helped by others.
That's about all that happened until the President was going to leave
his office. He worked late that day before or that afternoon before he
departed--late in the afternoon, I guess it was 6 or 7 o'clock. Don Dawson,
administrative assistant, and I went in to say goodby to the President
as he was leaving the office. He commented that he was leaving, "Hell
bent for election!"
HESS: And as I commented a few minutes ago when the machine was turned
off, that's a pretty good comment to make when a man is leaving on a non-political
AYERS: Well, the next thing in connection with that trip that I had down
was in reference to that Omaha speech. I noted
the newspaper stories about
it and the visit of the President there in Omaha, and they said that there
were fewer than two thousand people in a hall that should have held about
ten thousand. It said:
The trouble appears to have resulted from the hurt feelings
of the Democratic State Chairman, William Richey, a delegate in the national
convention who announced Sunday, after the President left, that he would
not support Mr. Truman for renomination. He made it clear that this was
because of lack of attention given him in Omaha.
Now that's all I know about that.
HESS: Why they had such a skimpy crowd.
AYERS: I wrote at the time that:
Apparently some of this was due to the efforts to keep politicians
out of the picture and the small attendance at the meeting and address
by the President was attributable to the part taken by Ed McKim, the insurance
man who came in as an administrative assistant to the President after
the President took office, and lasted only a few months. He is supposedly
at odds with the Democratic group in Omaha, and he was conspicuous in
the events Saturday and introduced the President for his speech Saturday
HESS: He was co-chairman for the event.
AYERS: Was this Richey the other?
HESS: I'm not sure.
AYERS: I didn't have at that time any further information than what I
picked up in the newspapers mainly; I may have talked to some newspapermen.
HESS: Did you ever hear anyone comment around the White House
the crowd might have been so skimpy?
AYERS: I don't recall whether I did or not. I may have after they got
back, but I don't recall.
HESS: It's quite some time ago.
Mr. Ayers, during the time that the President was gone in June, did you
have any dealings with Stephen Spingarn in the White House?
AYERS: I may have but they couldn't have been very prolonged ones or
serious ones, because I have no recollection; I don't recollect his being
around, but he must have been.
HESS: I think he came to the White House shortly before that, sometime
in January or February, but he was there and I don't believe he went on
AYERS: No, I don't know just what his duties were supposed to be at the
time--I suppose whatever the President assigned to him.
HESS: Just as a little aside, Mr. Ayers, can you tell me about the President's
trip to Bolivar, Missouri in the summer of '48?
AYERS: Yes, I remember that quite vividly because I went on that trip
and it was the hottest period of the summer; in fact, the President left
Washington on the Fourth of July. A White House car came and took me at
7:15 in the morning down to the station. We got aboard the
train and there
was a large crowd down there and the full train, fourteen cars, and everything.
The party included the President of Venezuela and his wife, and his party
who accompanied him from Venezuela, and there were members of the memorial
foundation, foreign ambassadors from Latin American countries and other
Latin Americans, and members of the press and everything--about two hundred
and forty people. We left here at 8 o'clock. There were several places
along the way where they changed engines or did something of that kind;
the President appeared at those places on the platform, but he didn't
make any speeches on the way. On the train was John M. C. Crane, he called
himself Doctor Crane, and he was the promoter of this project. I don't
know why and how he did it, but he did it, and he got a statue of Simon
Bolivar and had it erected down there, and made all these arrangements,
I think, and I won't go into all the newspaper stories that were written,
but there was one quite long piece about Doctor Crane and his project,
written by a New York Times man--appeared in the New York Times
at that time. We got into Bolivar--I'm never sure how to pronounce that,
whether it's the American way or the Spanish way or what--about 9:30 the
next morning, and it was oh, hot, so hot, and
there were automobiles awaiting
us; they took us through the streets of the town in a regular parade.
The town had a population, I believe, of around three thousand, and they
were all out, I think, lined up along the parade route. They had really
quite a fine parade--a lot of horses and everything--it was quite colorful.
Then they moved to this square where there was a platform set up for the
ceremonies, and the President and Mrs. Truman, and the President of Venezuela
and his wife and all these people got up on the platform--I know that
I studiously avoided getting up on that platform because it was so darn
hot. I know Mrs. Truman and Margaret were sitting there and Margaret looked
down at me and nothing was said, but I felt sorry for her and Mrs. Truman;
and there were speeches, you know--they said there was a crowd of fifteen,
twenty thousand people gathered there--they must have come from all over
that area--and several speeches concluded with the acceptance of the statue
by President Truman. The heat was so great that even the Venezuelan President
was on the verge of collapsing and Governor [Phil M.] Donnelly of Missouri
did collapse afterwards. After this was finished--the ceremony--they moved
the party up to the grounds of the Southwest Baptist College where there
was a picnic lunch served, and it was right after getting there that Donnelly
was taken ill and Dr. Wallace Graham attended him. He came out of it eventually
all right, I guess. It was awfully hot. About 2 o'clock we left there
and got back on the train which was air-conditioned--everybody was tickled
to death to get back there.
HESS: Who else from the White House made the trip, do you recall?
AYERS: Well, let's see, I know we, oh, by the way, the train stopped
about 3:30 at a small station a few miles from Springfield, Missouri,
and the Venezuelan President and his party left, they were driven to some
nearby airfield where the President's plane, the Independence,
took them aboard on to New York. About 7 o'clock we had dinner with the
President in his car and those at dinner were the President and General
Graham, General Vaughan, Captain Dennison, Colonel Landry, Admiral Leahy,
and there was a Mr. Van Sant, you perhaps know of him (I think he's a
banker from Fulton), and myself at the dinner. I know that Matt Connelly
and Donald Dawson of the staff were on the train, but did not eat with
us. I don't know who or what others there may have been on the train,
but I think they were probably the only ones of the staff.
After dinner, the table was cleared and we played cards until we neared
St. Louis where General Vaughan and
the Fulton banker left the train.
Although we did not know it at the time, one of the newspapermen on the
train, Vaccaro of the Associated Press, received word as we reached St.
Louis, that General Eisenhower had issued a statement declining to be
a candidate. I learned of this the next morning, shortly after we passed
Cincinnati. It seems Vaccaro, after getting the news, tried to get some
comment from the President, whom he could not reach. He met General Graham
and showed him the dispatch he had received. Graham took it and went to
the President's car and supposedly to the President. He returned and told
Vaccaro and other newsmen that the President had said, "General Eisenhower
is an honorable man."
I went to see the President and talked with him about it and he said
he had no comment and had made none. Some time later other members of
the party appeared and some of us, including Connelly, Dennison and Admiral
Leahy, gathered with the President and I asked him if he had made any
comment and he said he had not. When I went to lunch afterward, I talked
with some of the newspapermen in the dining car and told them there was
no comment on Eisenhower or on political developments. During the afternoon
I met again with Connelly and Dennison and we decided to say nothing further
about what Graham had given the press and to
adhere to the "no comment" statement.
The President had invited us to have dinner with him again that evening
and those who did were Admiral Leahy, Captain Landry, General Graham,
Donald Dawson, Captain Dennison, Matt Connelly and I. We arrived back
in Washington about 9:30 that night.
Incidentally, in my first talk with the President the next morning, I
discussed the Eisenhower statement briefly with him and he showed some
disgust at what the General had said, indicating he thought the statement
was weasel-worded and he referred to Eisenhower in somewhat uncomplimentary
During this period the President did show, at times, concern at political
developments and the defection of some of the Democratic politicians and
leaders. On one occasion when Matt Connelly and I told him of the action
of Frank Hague of New Jersey, the President merely commented, "All right,
let him go; I never did like him anyhow."
HESS: How did Mr. Truman develop his speaking style? Some people have
said that they thought that he developed his, what might be called extemporaneous
speaking style, during the June trip. What's your opinion?
AYERS: I don't know. I've always assumed that extemporaneous
his when he came into office as President. He had campaigned for Senator
and I imagine he made probably many speeches at that time, I don't know
though. The whistlestop campaign was conducive to that type of a speech
because they were short, many of them only a few minutes long.
HESS: Do you think that he was as good at extemporaneous speaking in
his early years in his administration as he was in, let's say, '48?
AYERS: Well, I don't know. I don't remember many occasions. I think from
the first time I ever heard him speak extemporaneously at any length,
I can't say exactly when that was, I was struck with how much more convincing
and how much better his speech was. I know that after one of these, I
said to him (I happened to be in with him alone--talking), "I wish you
could write your own speeches . . ."
HESS: You thought his extemporaneous speeches were better than those
that were prepared for him by others? Is that right?
AYERS: That's what I thought, and I know that I said something similar
to that on two or three other occasions. I think others felt much the
HESS: Did the people who wrote speeches for him try to
copy his style?
AYERS: Well, that's one of the things that I've often wondered. I don't
think they did--there was no evidence of it that I could see--and another
thing, I never thought that you could write a speech at a party, I don't
mean a social kind of a party, but I mean you can't have a dozen sit around
a table and write a speech and have it any good, and that's what too often
happened. The speech would be drafted and finally the assistants who were
working on it--under Clifford or Charlie Murphy--would get a speech together
which they finally decided upon and submit it; and then it would be brought
into the Cabinet Room, and about everyone that could would gather around
that table--I attended a number of them and finally tried to avoid it,
because they'd pick at little things, some of them, and he'd read it--he'd
read a paragraph of it, you see, or a couple of sentences and then they'd
make comments. Everybody wanted to get his own words in, I think.
HESS: Who would read it? The man who had . . .
AYERS: The President.
HESS: The President would read it.
AYERS: When they thought they had a more or less final draft. I never
thought you could write a speech that
way and have it any good because
the speech is reduced to the composite, lowest level of those participating.
HESS: When a speech had reached that particular plateau, shall we say,
was it mainly just editing that was being done on it, or were they really
taking substantive cuts into the body of the speech?
AYERS: Well, the bulk of it would, I would say, be editing, but there
might be someone with a suggestion or objection. I attended quite a number
of them but towards the end, I didn't. And I know I was talking to Judge
Rosenman long after he left the White House, I think, or after he had
been out for some time, one day, and we got to mentioning this, and I
said that same thing, that I didn't think you could write a speech in
conference and he agreed with me. You know Roosevelt's speeches were pretty
good and, of course, he could deliver them well, and they were practically
all written by two men.
HESS: Who were they?
AYERS: Judge Rosenman and, oh, the playwright, Bob--knew him well . .
HESS: Robert Sherwood?
AYERS: Bob Sherwood, yes, and Roosevelt, he might have some things that
he thought out on notes and so on, but I think a large part of it--Rosenman
was very good on the
factual material and that sort of thing and, of course,
Sherwood was a fine writer and they could write a speech that fit Roosevelt,
but I don't think any of those fellows realized--that were writing Truman's
speeches--that they should try to write as Truman would speak. I think
that towards the end, or I won't say towards the end, even before that
in '48, I think that the bulk in the end was Charlie Murphy's product
no matter who worked on it before that, but he went over and over it.
I know that on the last speeches that were made in New York on that last
week of the campaign or the last nights of the campaign when he spoke
at Madison Square Garden, that that speech was not finished, and Charlie
Murphy was working on that while the President was out, because I was
there, too. Charlie was working on it trying to get it finished and I
was giving it to the secretaries to be prepared for duplication and duplicated
so that we had it ready for the newspapermen. Charlie was going over it
and cutting it to pieces at the end. I don't think that President Truman
ever had a chance to read the speech until it was already in the hands
of the newspapermen--the last part of it anyway. So I think Charlie Murphy,
in the end, was the main speechwriter, that is, I say, the main speechwriter,
David Bell and David Lloyd did a lot of work on some speeches,
Bell particularly, I think.
HESS: You mentioned the editing sessions. Did Charlie Ross like to attend
those editing sessions?
AYERS: He usually did attend them. Charlie was a little inclined to bother
with trivial corrections, they weren't corrections always except in punctuation--a
comma here and a comma there. He had been a newspaperman long enough to
know that didn't make much difference when that got into the hands of
the newspapermen--whether there was a comma in one place or not.
HESS: I've heard he didn't like to use the word "presently" sometimes.
AYERS: I don't recall that. That's probably true. Charlie wrote well
HESS: I've heard it said that he . . .
AYERS: But I don't think he wrote any speeches for the President.
HESS: I've heard it said that would make it that "presently" meant "in
the near future" and not "now," and he didn't like the misuse of the word
Well, do we have anything else before we get into the '48 convention
and campaign; now we're up to July the 14th and your trip to Bolivar,
Missouri, in the heat of the
summer--is there anything else comes to your
AYERS: Yes, there are one or two things that do come to mind.
HESS: What do you have?
AYERS: I've got it right here, but I don't know whether you want any
of this stuff. This is at the time of the nomination, the convention,
the preparation. Well, do you?
HESS: Well, that depends on what it is. I do have one question on the
convention. During his speech at Philadelphia, he called Congress back
into special session. Do you know where the idea--what he called the "Turnip
Day" session, he said out in Missouri that was the day they called "Turnip
Day." Do you know where the idea for calling Congress back into that special
session might have come from?
AYERS: I think that was his own…
HESS: Did you ever hear him making statements on that to the staff, or
to you, in the privacy of the White House, so to speak?
AYERS: I don't see that I have a note on it.
HESS: When was that? Was that the 19th? I should have brought my book
of the Public Papers up today, but I didn't do it.
AYERS: Well, the convention opened on July 12th in Philadelphia.
HESS: Did you go to the convention?
AYERS: I went down with the President. Now, this is the next day.
HESS: On the thirteenth.
AYERS: Yes. At the staff meeting with the President I wrote:
Last night's session--stories from Philadelphia speculating
on vice presidential possibilities brought up most of the discussion at
the staff meeting and morning newspapers forecast Barkley as a likely
nominee--President agreed. After last night's convention developments,
it looked like Barkley. He said that Senator McGrath, Democratic National
Committee Chairman, who presided at the session until after Barkley spoke,
had telephoned him from Philadelphia and told him there was going to be
a demonstration for Barkley. He suggested that the President telephone
Barkley but the President said he did not do so. The demonstrations which
followed Barkley's keynote address last night had all appearances of spontaneity,
but it was evidently not entirely so and credit was given by the President
to Leslie Biffle for promoting it. Biffle was in evidence on the platform
when it started and while it was underway. The President appeared willing
to accept Barkley as a running mate, although he commented on Barkley's
age--seventy--and said a Vice President should not be seven years older
than the President. This led someone, I think it was Ross, to comment
that one nominee, Henry Gassaway Davis, who ran as the Democratic vice
presidential candidate in 1914, was over eighty years old. This led the
President to tell how Davis' son-in-law, Stephen B. Elkins, the power
in Republican politics, alternated with the old man in holding a West
Virginia seat in the United States Senate. Each was a power in politics:
Davis was a Democrat and Elkins a Republican--one was out the other was
in. Talking about the Vice Presidency, the President was saying he never
did care much who was nominated to run with him. 'I stuck my neck all
the way out for Douglas and he took the limb out from under me,' the President
This is all in his book is it?
HESS: And that was pretty well covered in the newspapers at that time,
too, that he had asked Douglas to run and Douglas declined.
AYERS: The President commenting on the Barkley talk said, 'You have to
be cold-blooded about these things, and as of now they can nominate Barkley
and turn things over to him.' He indicated that he did not feel Barkley
was the best candidate but that if the delegates wanted him, let them
HESS: Did he mention any other names besides Douglas and Barkley during
that staff meeting?
AYERS: I don't think so. There's no mention here of any. I don't think
he did. We talked about the platform.
HESS: In the New York Times it mentions that Barkley knew that he was
really not the first choice because he referred to himself as a "warmed-over
AYERS: I didn't know that. Now, here:
The President is to deliver an off-the-cuff acceptance speech.
He said he had made some outline of what he plans to say and he added
that he was going up there to the convention, if he can keep the swear
words out of it--tell them just what he thinks. He said he was going to
wind up by calling Congress back for a special session on July 19th.
HESS: This is what he told the staff?
AYERS: That's what he told us that day.
HESS: Did he make any comments about . . .
AYERS: Said there had been some discussion of this in the
The feeling has been expressed the President probably would
not call them back. Congressional leaders, after the adjournment under
a resolution permitting them to come back on the call of the leader, generally
agreed that they would not return until they came for the next regular
session next January. The Republican nominee, Governor Dewey, expressed
his opposition to the return of the Congress. The President said if he
called the Congress back, he could then put up the Republican platform
promises to the members and call on the legislation, he could show they
were forced into it; if not, it would show them up. Putting it into swear
words, he expressed his attitude about calling them back something like
this, 'Now, you SOBs, come on and do your damnedest.'
HESS: That's what he said at the time in the staff meeting?
AYERS: Well, yes, he said, putting in the swear words, he expressed his
attitude about calling them back something like this:
Ross said something about the people being for the President--he
agreed that while that might be true you still have to get them to the
polls to vote. He gave a small lecture in practical politics, telling
how when he was a candidate in Missouri he had a man in each precinct
who made a record of every voter, who saw to it that each Democrat got
to the polls and voted. And that, he said, was the trouble with Ed Flynn,
the Bronx boss. The Wallace congressional candidate, Isacson, won in a
special election. Flynn, the President said, went away for a time and
did not see to it that his people got out to vote. Discussing some of
the events of the last two weeks, some of the political bosses attempted
to dump the President and came out for the draft of General Eisenhower.
The President commented that he could never understand about Arvey, Jake
Arvey that is, the Chicago boss, Mayor O'Dwyer of New York and Frank Hague,
joined this movement launched largely with Jimmy Roosevelt, now State
Democratic Chairman of California. The President indicated he could not
understand what these three expected to accomplish. General Harry Vaughan
remarked Senator Sparkman and Lister Hill of Alabama had done the same
thing, and the Presi-dent commented, in their cases it was a different
situation. 'Oh, I didn't know that sons of bitches were geographical,'
He said one of the troubles was that he was the first Democratic Vice
President who ever succeeded to the Presidency by the death of a President
and attempted re-election. Other Vice Presidents who were elected to
the Presidency were Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge.
He said for the Democrats to nominate him would set a precedent that
the politicians did not want. He mentioned particularly in the case
of John Tyler who succeeded William Henry Harrison, although Harrison
was a Whig, Tyler was a Democrat or a Jeffersonian Republican. He said
when Tyler became President, he fired Whigs who held high Federal office
and then neither party would nominate him for President. This conference
broke up and as we started to leave, the President commented we were
going to have more fun in the next six months than we ever had in our
HESS: Going to be a busy time.
AYERS: Well, now you see there isn't much there that you wanted. But
now we were trying to find--what was it we were trying to find?
HESS: Anything else that came to mind before we reached the campaign?
AYERS: We took most of our office staff--all the girls.
HESS: Down to Philadelphia?
AYERS: "Moved to Philadelphia, and I had dinner in the President's car
with Stanley Woodward, Sam Rosenman, Clark Clifford, Matt Connelly and
Charlie Ross. Mrs. Truman and Margaret sat with us and had dinner."
That's about who went, I guess---Woodward, Rosenman, Clifford, Connelly--I
suppose there were some others on the train along with the other people.
Well, I don't have anything in particular about that. He did just what
he said about calling Congress. He had said that, before that, and apparently
that was pretty much his own idea, I think.
HESS: Did he ever make any statements like that? Did you ever hear him
say where it came from?
AYERS: Well, no. He just said he was going to do it. He told them that's
what he was going to do, and I don't think anybody knew it until he told them.
HESS: That was a surprise to everyone that was sitting there?
AYERS: I think so. See, they'd been discussing whether he might do it
or not in the papers. They didn't think he would.
HESS: Had you heard any discussion among the members of the staff before
that time? Do you recall?
AYERS: No, I don't recall.
HESS: Do you have anything else before we move to the
that pretty well take care of events in Philadelphia?
AYERS: Yes, that takes care of Philadelphia as far as I'm concerned, I think.
HESS: Anything else of importance that transpired between the convention
and the campaign?
AYERS: The politicians coming in quite frequently and this discussion
of the prospects. I know that it was decided that he would start the campaign
on Labor Day, that is, the real campaign.
HESS: That's more or less traditional, isn't it?
AYERS: Yes, going to launch it at Detroit.
HESS: Cadillac Square in Detroit.
AYERS: Because of Labor Day. At one time in between there, before he
actually got into the campaign, of course, the President was confronted
with three things, really, that were, I think, the big factors in the
campaign. One was the Wallace candidacy, with his Progressive Party, which
Truman had repudiated back in March; then there was this southern revolt,
and the other, but I don't know if there is anything else that was as
strong as those two, but there were the defections by so many political
bosses, if you want to call them that. They weren't supporting him very
strongly. Men like Jake Arvey and Hague and some
of those people. Oh,
along in August, at a staff meeting one day, the President said he'd like
to issue some kind of a statement about the bad treatment that Henry Wallace
was receiving in North Carolina, where he had some eggs and other articles
thrown at him when he was trying to speak at his campaign meetings. The
President decried such treatment--said it wasn't fair and it wasn't like
the American spirit of fair play, and it was suggested there that he might
do that at a press conference, but something came up and Charlie Ross
had the conference and Charlie said it for the President. There's something
I wanted to talk about, but I can't seem to find anything about it at
HESS: About what?
AYERS: It's about the staff that was going on this later trip and about . . .
HESS: Who went on that first trip, do you recall?
AYERS: That one in June?
HESS: No, the first one.
AYERS: In September?
HESS: Yes, the first campaign trip.
AYERS: Well, I think he wasn't starting out until September, when he
made the Labor Day speech, and I have very little on that. I didn't pay
too much attention to it at the
start of the campaign and all. I know
Charlie Ross went along, Matt Connelly, Clark Clifford and some of the others.
HESS: Charles Murphy and George Elsey?
AYERS: I don't know, but I assume they did. I suppose somewhere there
is a list of people who went on all those trips. You have those somewhere
in the records.
HESS: A complete itinerary of who went and what stops were made. What
were your duties during the campaign of 1948?
AYERS: You know, that's an awful hard question to answer. Because I covered
every darn thing. If they weren't there--if Charlie Ross wasn't there--I
got it all, and during the campaign, a lot of things came up that wouldn't
have come up otherwise.
HESS: What do you recall that fits in that category?
AYERS: Well, there was a lot of activity over some foreign affairs matters
having to do with the negotiations that had been in progress between the
Western Powers and the Soviet Government, and there was an exchange of
messages--I won't go into it--most of it was top secret; but I tried to
keep the President informed. Lovett would call me and I'd call Lovett
and we'd talk to the train, and that went on. I was tied up on the telephone,
HESS: The train had a fully equipped communications car along with it,
AYERS: Oh, yes, yes, in every major stop, at least--they'd be connected
with the White House. I could get them anytime. The switchboard would
know. They could call from there; just plug in the minute the train stopped--they'd
be plugged in and connected so that we could always get them.
HESS: Did you have any responsibilities dealing with the mission of Fred
Vinson to Moscow--the mission that didn't come off?
AYERS: Well, only that this Soviet thing kept Lovett and myself all tied
up here for several days. There was something else that did come up, I
might go into, before that . . .
HESS: Before the Vinson matter? What was that?
AYERS: Well, I got a call from Jonathan Daniels--he was on the train--I
got a call from Jonathan asking me to call up the Secretary of the Interior,
Krug, and he wanted me to call Krug and have him send the President a
copy of his reply to Governor Dewey's speech in Denver the night before,
the night after the President was there, and I told him I didn't think
Krug was in town. He said that didn't make any difference. Krug had not
and that was the point in calling him. Well, I called Krug's
office and they told me he was in Montana somewhere, and I told her what
I wanted and she said that Krug hadn't said anything and I left it with
her. A little later she called back and she had been in touch with Krug's
information man, who was Carl Skinner, and that the Secretary had been
back in the mountains somewhere and hadn't even seen the Dewey speech.
HESS: That's an odd place for a Cabinet member to be during a campaign,
AYERS: Well, I think that was the general reaction. I don't think he
was heard from to any extent before election--as I recall--but my memory
on that might be faulty. You asked me then about the Vinson episode. Well,
that was after, of course, the President had gotten back from all these
trips. Meanwhile, I had another experience with something of a brainstorm
on my part.
HESS: What was that?
AYERS: Well, Walter Bedell Smith, who was Ambassador to Russia, came
home on a brief leave while the President was on the trip. He reported
to the State Department, but there wasn't any mention of his seeing the
President, and after all, it's customary for an ambassador, supposedly
customary, I don't know whether they always
do, especially one from Moscow
because he would be expected to report to the President at some time during
his stay in the United States.
HESS: It's a very important post.
AYERS: Yes, the ambassador of the President. So I was talking to Acting
Secretary of State Lovett, and I asked him if Smith would see the President
while he was here. Apparently it hadn't occurred to Lovett the ambassador
should. He asked when the President would be back, and I told him October
2nd; and he said they could hold Smith here in Washington until then so
he could see the President after his return to Washington. I had--no,
I hadn't done anything about it before that, but it occurred to me that
maybe Smith ought to go down somewhere and see the President on the trip,
but I didn't mention it to Lovett at that time. Instead I wrote a memorandum
and I sent three copies--I sent one to Charlie Ross, one to Matt Connelly
and one to Jonathan Daniels on the train--I didn't address it to any one
of them, and I said it struck me that if the President could ask Smith
to see him at some point on this trip to report on the Moscow talks and
so on, it would get a play in the papers. I suggested Smith could fly
down there, you know, meet him at some point along the line if we knew. And
before I could get a reply to that, or before it could get there,
it was, I think, when the President's train was coming into El Paso, I
talked with Connelly on the phone--after the train got there--and he said
he hadn't seen anything in the pouch that came down from Washington, so
then I told him my suggestion and he said he'd take it up at once. I guess
the President was speaking on the platform. Anyway, in a very few minutes,
he called me back and told me the President wanted Smith to meet him in
San Antonio on Sunday morning--the President's special was due to reach
there Sunday--and I could say it was an order from the President. So I
called Lovett over at the State Department and told him that I had been
talking with the train and the President wanted Smith to be at San Antonio
Sunday morning. "My God," said Lovett, "I don't know where he is." And
he went on to say that Smith had reported to the Department, they talked
with him and they let him go get some rest and he simply didn't know where.
Well, he had no idea, he said, where he had gone, probably he was at some
fishing camp and he thought he'd be back in on Sunday or Monday morning.
I didn't think that Lovett was very happy about the whole thing, but,
anyway, he agreed to get busy and try to locate him, and I tried too,
but I couldn't find Smith
anywhere. Everytime I talked to anybody in the
State Department, they didn't know where he was, they hadn't been able
to find him and it went on like that until Sunday, I think. In the meantime,
I was still having a lot of phone calls about this Russian situation,
still we couldn't find the Ambassador to Russia, so it was Sunday, I had
to go into the office again, I guess I talked to Lovett, I don't know
if I talked to him then, but, anyway, I did talk with Connelly, wherever
they were then. I guess they were then in San Antonio, and I talked to
Connelly on the phone and told him we hadn't been able to find Smith.
I was still at the office and just a few minutes after that the phone
rang and the operator said Ambassador Smith was calling me, and sure enough,
he came on the line. He said he had learned "from Brad" (I suppose that
he meant General Bradley), that I was trying to find him and was looking
for him. I asked if he had talked to Lovett and he said he hadn't, so
he didn't know what it was all about. I told him why we wanted him, that
he should go down and meet the President on the next day. That was all
right, of course, with him. So I talked again with Connelly and told them,
and then I arranged for the President's plane to take Smith down there.
So the next morning he got on the
plane and he flew down there and he
saw the President down in San Antonio and flew back to Washington and
it got pretty good play in the papers. But that was one of the things
I remember when you asked what my duties were--a little of anything that
HESS: You mentioned Jonathan Daniels just a minute ago. Do you know why
he was called back to help in the campaign? He had been a member of the
White House staff for a good many years and he left, I believe, in '45
and here in 1948 he's called back to help during the campaign. Do you
AYERS: All I know about it at the time was on the trip--anyway, it was
the night before he started out on this other trip, and Jonathan came
in to see me at the office, as we were great friends, and we left the
White House and went over to the hotel where he had a room; and he told
me then that the President called him in and wanted him to take over press
relations in connection with the campaign--particularly the trips. Jonathan
understood that it was to become effective on the coming trip and that
he would take the place of Charlie Ross and he was trying to get all the
advance information he could about it. He said he couldn't go all the
way with the President on civil rights legislation, but I told him I didn't
see that that would have
any effect on serving in the campaign, which
was what he wanted to do; but the next morning at the staff meeting, or
routine staff meeting, the President sat there and he was kind of quiet
for a few moments and then he addressed himself, apparently, to Charlie
Ross. He said he'd talked with Daniels and proposed that he come up and
give some help on public relations in the campaign, so you see there was
a peculiar situation for both Ross and Jonathan. He said there'd been
some criticism of Jack Redding, publicity director of the Democratic National
Committee, you know. Newspapermen didn't like Redding and he felt Daniels
could be of help. Charlie asked if Daniels would be connected with the
committee; the President said he would be.
HESS: Would be connected with the Democratic National Committee?
AYERS: Yes. Charlie said he could use Daniels. There was no mention of
the coming trip, that trip that was coming up then or of any part for
Daniels in the handling of press relations. And I made an effort after
the meeting that day, I said that I knew that as the President had outlined
it, the arrangement was not at all as Daniels understood it and it would
be an impossible situation from his standpoint--it would affect Jonathan because
Ross had been handling all the press arrangements for this trip
and I knew he wasn't going to give up going.
HESS: When Jonathan Daniels came though, as far as I can remember, he
was not connected with the committee was he? Wasn't he connected with
the White House?
AYERS: I don't think he was connected with anybody--he was on his own--he
was back in Raleigh.
HESS: I mean when he did come back in September of '48.
AYERS: Well, I don't know, I never knew that he was connected with the
committee in any way.
HESS: No, I didn't either.
AYERS: Of course, he eventually was the Democratic National Committeeman
from North Carolina for a while. Anyway, I got Daniels on the phone, I
think he was back in Raleigh, and talked to him and told him about how
it was brought out, and he was much disturbed; he was going to talk with
Matt Connelly to know what developed. Anyway, it was apparently straightened
out enough so that Jonathan went along on the trip. I don't think I ever
talked to him about it afterwards--I don't know whether we ever did or
not--it was never very clear to me how it was adjusted, but probably through
Matt Connelly. I suppose they smoothed it out someway. There was no real
misunderstanding as far as I know. I never heard any complaint from Ross
and although Jonathan didn't--I don't know if
he made any other trips or not.
HESS: I didn't know that there had been any discussion that when he came
he would be connected with the committee.
Well, on the Vinson mission to Moscow . . .
AYERS: Now that's right along here, too. Here is something about an announcement
that he made on the appointment of Richard Patterson, Jr. of New York,
the Ambassador to Guatemala.
HESS: Did you have some dealings with that?
AYERS: Yes. Donald Dawson had been working on that. He called me up from
New York about the announcement of it. He was anxious, and Patterson was,
to have it given a send-off. He wanted the announcement to include a statement
by Secretary of State Marshall expressing his pleasure. Dawson had also
proposed that a letter the President wrote to Patterson expressing satisfaction
that he was to take the post should be given out. I rejected that in itself
as rather unusual procedure. Lovett told me, he said that he told Dawson
his statement about the Secretary could not be made because it would stultify
Marshall who had gone to the President when he learned that Patterson
was being considered and had objected. Another man was recommended but
was turned down by the President. Lovett said Patterson
had a very bad
record as Ambassador to Yugoslavia--that he was ambassador for six hundred
days and was away from the job four hundred and eighty. Although Lovett
didn't mention this, I had heard before that he wanted to be commissioned
a major general in the Army so that he could wear the uniform and go hunting
with Tito. That was gossip I suppose. Now, I talked again with Dawson
in New York and I learned that Patterson was with him; and then later
when he was not present, the reason for the concern over the appointment
was the desire to give him publicity. Dawson commented that it meant two
$50,000 radio broadcasts in the campaign; in other words, contributions
of $100,000. I still objected to release of the letter for fear it would
prove embarrassing if given out by the White House, and it was agreed
that I would announce the appointment and the State Department would produce
some additional background material. But you see, we kept getting involved
in these darn things, and when the President was away, you never knew
what you were going to get into.
HESS: You get into a little bit of everything.
AYERS: Yes. Most of the time it was very calm and peaceful.
HESS: Then the roof would fall in.
AYERS: Now, you wanted to know about some of these things: Here was an
amusing one that came up and that case came up only two days later--October
2nd. We had a staff conference in the President's office, and during the
session John Steelman--I used to sit right next to John--and he showed
me a memo he had written to himself, said he wanted to take it up with
the President, whatever it was. A request was passed on by Under Secretary
Lovett from John Foster Dulles, and Dulles was acting as the foreign adviser
for Dewey in the campaign, and he asked for the use of the former presidential
plane, that is, the so-called Sacred Cow, to bring him back from
the United Nations meeting in Paris. He was coming back to report to Dewey,
you see, and Dewey was, of course, the Republican candidate against Truman,
and I blurted out a "no," and that was what Steelman had written at the
end of his notes--that's one of those unfinished stories--I don't know
what happened on that. I don't think I ever heard the end of it or ever
thought to ask John Steelman whether he took it up with the President,
but I could guess.
Oh, it was on October 5th when this Vinson thing came up. Charlie Ross
called in the--this was the first I knew of it--called in the representatives
of the four radio networks for a confidential conference, and I didn't
know what would develop until I got in there. He told them that the President
was going to send Fred Vinson to Moscow to confer with Stalin and try
to improve the strained relations and so on, and the President had talked--of
course, all this is on the record anyway in Truman's book, but this, the
other end of it--our end of it--and Vinson had agreed to go. There were
some other details about it and he told the four representatives of the
networks and asked for time for the President that night. They agreed
and left us, and were going to settle on the exact hour. Ross told them
the whole plan, said there was only one chance in a million it wouldn't
go through. He was a little too quick on the trigger as it turned out.
It was only a couple of hours afterwards when he called me in and said
the thing was off. Well, that was off because of the conversation that
had been held between the President and Marshall--I think that's all covered--but
what happened was, then, if nothing hadn't leaked it would have been all
right--when did that come, that leak--it was on Tuesday and it was on,
I think, Friday that I began to get some telephone calls about a story
which was appearing in the early edition of the Washington Times-Herald;
it was written for the Chicago Tribune and it told of this effort
made by the
President to get Vinson to go to Moscow. Then we got a call
from the State Department's press office and from newspapermen asking
about it--we could only say, "No comment?" Then Lovett called me and said
they had been getting calls there in the Department on it, and he indicated
that the story came from one of the radio networks. That's what we were
inclined to think at first, because there were four men there representing
those networks, and they, of course, had to start making preparations
for the time, and it may have been somebody there, and that possibly may
have been it although I don't know--we never knew. Then on Saturday the
morning papers carried the story in detail and we, of course, got a lot
of calls about it, but there was nothing we could tell them.
HESS: Who do you think leaked the information?
AYERS: I don't know. It would be pure speculation. We thought it was
one of the radiomen and yet I knew those four fellows and they were four
men that wouldn't themselves leak it. Their offices had to know, of course,
if they wanted time; whether they told them all the details or not--probably
some of them did tell them what it was for--it could conceivably have
been one of them, although we began to feel, I think, I don't know if
voiced his any more than I did, I don't think we either one
did to the other, but we thought possibly somebody from the White House--perhaps.
Well, I don't know whose idea it was to begin with, but if it was, say
David Noyes, and it might have been, and somebody suggested it might have
been--I don't know--he might have leaked it out to see his plan go up
in smoke. Charlie Ross--now I had a note saying he thought that it might
have been someone in the State Department who would, of course, have to
know and to call George Marshall.
HESS: In the book on George C. Marshall for the series on American Secretaries
of State, the editor, Dr. Robert Ferrell, states that: ". . . two of Truman's
speech-writers, David Noyes and Albert Z. Carr, apparently conceived the
idea of sending Chief Justice Vinson to Moscow . . . "
AYERS: Well, maybe. I always had the idea that Noyes had something to
do with the idea and for that reason might possibly have been responsible
for the leak. Of course, it was true enough, the story was true enough
when it did leak, so it came from somebody. Trohan represented the Chicago
Tribune and Trohan is a good man.
HESS: What's his name?
AYERS: Walter Trohan. He's president of the Gridiron Club
I think. He and, of course, you know what the Chicago Tribune was,
it was very Republican, especially in those days when Robert McCormick
was with it. Trohan got a couple of pretty good stories at different times
from leaks some way that people fed to him, and I suppose they were probably
in most cases, but probably not in this case, from some Republican who
wanted to do any damage he could to the President, and I think Charlie
felt that perhaps that's what happened in the State Department, one of
those people might have leaked it--I don't know--I never tried to find out.
HESS: Did you ever hear anyone in the White House, at that time, say
that it was Noyes' idea to send Vinson to Moscow?
AYERS: I don't know whether I ever did or not.
HESS: Why were those two men called in to help during the 1948 campaign,
do you know--David Noyes and Albert Carr?
AYERS: No, I don't know other than that Noyes had worked for [Charles]
Luckman. I think Carr had been working with Noyes, and I don't know much
about Carr--his background Noyes had been, I believe, in public relations
work in the Government at one time, and then he later went with Charles
Luckman, and Luckman came into Government to head up the President's food
saving campaign and it was conducted
with that typical Madison Avenue
style--flamboyant campaign--and Noyes, I think, came in with him--in the
White House. I think that's what brought him in the White House. I don't
know how he came to be so associated with the President, but he did.
HESS: There was another man brought in at this time, John Franklin Carter.
Do you know why he was brought in?
AYERS: No, I don't know who was responsible for his coming in. The only
time I saw him, I think, I don't think I really knew him before that,
was on the last campaign trip. You were going to ask me something about that.
HESS: That's the trip you took. Can you tell us about that trip? Start
at the beginning.
AYERS: Oh, that trip? Well, that trip was the windup campaign trip, and
it started on--when did it start--about a week before the elections--I
think the first part of that week.
HESS: That's the one that went up through the Northeast, isn't that right?
AYERS: It went to Chicago--started in Chicago. It started in Washington
on Sunday, the 24th of October, and we went out to Chicago overnight and
we got in there Monday noon--oh, there were some stops before noon that
day--one at Gary I think, and so on, but in Chicago there
was a big one
in the evening. And now on the train on that trip: Charlie Ross was along,
Matt Connelly was along, George Elsey was doing a lot of that work on
the whistlestop thing, making little notes and so on--I don't know who
else was on the train really; I don't need to say anything about the show
there. There was a terrific crowd. Jake Arvey had come around and he had
them out. Then we left Chicago and came east into Cleveland. There were
whistlestops between Chicago and Cleveland and then from Cleveland we
headed into New England, and we went through western Massachusetts out
in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, Springfield,
Massachusetts, Worcester, and into Boston--he was speaking in Boston that
night. Arrangements were made for him to call upon the Archbishop about
7 o'clock, and Charlie Ross asked me if I'd go with him out to see the
Archbishop, or out to the Archbishop's residence, because Charlie had
a sister in Boston whom he wanted to see, and so we didn't tell the newspapermen
about it beforehand at all. Matt and I were the only ones on the staff
that went along, of course; I guess there were some Secret Service men.
I know there was a whole string of roaring motorcycles, sirens and everything
else. And the newspapermen didn't know about
it. Well, after we got up
there, the President went into the Archbishop--nobody else with him--we
waited outside--oh, yes, William Boyle and there were two Boston officials
who accompanied us, I don't know who they were, whether they were politicians
or what, but I assumed that they were local politicians, they went along.
When we started back--well, the photographers were needed up there to
take some pictures, but the newspaper reporters weren't there, and after
we got back--Matt, I think, was riding with the President, and I think
I was in a car in back of him. I don't know if there was anybody in the
car with me, but when we got back, Matt said there was a good quotation
from the Archbishop, a line out of what he had said to the President,
and he thought I might get it and give it out. When we went up to the
President's room, he said the Archbishop told him that he thought the
President was making the greatest fight in history in the interest of
the people, and he was for him. We discussed the wording of it a little
bit and I told him I was a little skittish, I thought it ought to be checked
back with the Archbishop before it was used. He finally agreed with me,
and I think one of these Boston men finally called the Archbishop, called
his residence, got him on the phone and the President talked with him
and I stood next to the President
when he talked with him. The President
told him and asked him if it was all right to use it and he said it was.
So then it was okay, that was all I wanted.
HESS: What was the Archbishop's name?
AYERS: He's Cardinal Cushing today. It was Archbishop Cushing. So, I
went down to the press room they had set up at the Statler Hotel where
we were, and there was a group of reporters waiting there and I told them
the President had been out and called on the Archbishop--they hadn't been
told about it--and that he had a cordial visit with the Archbishop and
that the Archbishop told the President--and I said, "You can quote this"--and
I gave them the quote, that he felt the President was making the greatest
fight in history in the interest of the people, and that he was for him.
They asked a few questions, but I didn't add anything to that statement.
Now that was all there was to that, at that moment. Well, Charlie, as
I say, he was going to see his sister, and I had some old friends in Boston
that lived in the suburbs--great friends of my wife and me--I hadn't seen
them in years; I phoned them and they wanted me to come out and have dinner
with them, so that was all okay, so I didn't go to the meeting nor did
Charlie--I don't know whether Charlie did or not.
Well, I went out and had dinner with my friends and
we chatted until
midnight, I guess it was getting toward 1 o'clock, and I called the hotel
and Charlie answered the phone, and he said he thought I'd better come
in; they were having quite a time over the Archbishop's statement. So
I came in and went up to the room and found Charlie, Matt Connelly, Bill
Boyle and these two Boston men that had been with us when we went up to
see the Archbishop, and it seemed that some reporter from one of the local
papers had talked to the Archbishop after the announcement came out and
the Archbishop had said that the connotation, presumably political, placed
on his statement was unwarranted, and this was something of a repudiation
of what I had said, and then some bishop, I don't know what his position
was, but he was sort of a press relations man for the Archbishop apparently,
and he apparently had--I don't know whether he called the newspapers or
whether they talked to him, but he was trying to get the story killed.
There was one of the newspapermen on one Boston paper who had been a Washington
correspondent--he had been in Washington, I think he was in the service,
he came to the White House and I knew him well, of course; I'd been in
Boston too as a newspaperman with the Associated Press, I know that he
came and he thought we ought to do something. I said stick to our
was awfully thankful for having the President check back with the Archbishop
before we did it--and so we did nothing about it.
There was an amusing, I say amusing now, little thing afterward. I never
did see all the stories in the Boston papers the next morning, but evidently
it was carried on the wires and we got down into New Haven, or somewhere
down in Connecticut, oh, well, before that we left Boston and we went
down--I went on the train--Mrs. Truman and Margaret stayed on the train,
and I went down and stayed on the train when I got back instead of staying
in the hotel and then I wouldn't have to get up so early in the morning
to go down to Providence. Charlie went with the President and some of
the others in cars, stopping at some of the places between Boston and
Providence. So, I went on down to Providence and then from Providence
we went on and the train stopped somewhere down in Connecticut--I don't
remember just where it was, I don't even have it down here--I talked to
the office from the train on the phone and I said, "Have the operator
call my house so that you can switch my wife on when I'm finished talking
with you." S
he came on and she was boiling over. She said, "I'm going to write the
I said, "Forget it, nobody cares; the Boss doesn't care."
HESS: What else comes to mind on that trip?
AYERS: Oh, I have talked enough about that trip. Well, we went to New
York one day, overnight, and, of course, the President was out from the
hotel touring around the next day. I didn't go on that. I stayed in--Charlie
Murphy, I don't know if anybody else was helping, but Charlie was working
his head off on those speeches--he had two speeches that night, and I
stayed there and then we went in that parade and to those speeches over
in Brooklyn--the Academy of Music--and the next morning they left for
HESS: Was that the time that he also made the speech at Harlem? Dorrance
Brooks Square--was that the trip?
AYERS: I guess so. I think that must have been. He went up to Harlem
HESS: Did you go to Harlem?
AYERS: I didn't go anywhere during the daytime because we were working
on that darn speech. Charlie would finish and then I'd take it and go
through it, check it and edit it, you know, for any grammatical errors
or anything like that, and then it would go to the girls and it would
be mimeographed; and we got it out and had it ready, as I
about the time they got back. I don't know whether that was just the Madison
Square Garden speech--there were two speeches that night--they were about
the same. Then they left on the train to Kansas City and I came back to
Washington. Douglas Cornell of AP and I came back together.
HESS: Were you in Washington on the election eve? Who else was back here
at the White House on election eve?
AYERS: The only one I remember that was around the White House that night
was Philleo Nash. There may have been some others somewhere, but we and
our wives were practically the only ones there.
HESS: Your wives were there, too.
AYERS: Yes, my wife and his wife. We got in and had the television, I
think, in the President's office and we had that on; we had the radio
on. We watched the returns during the evening.
HESS: Did you think Mr. Truman was going to win that election?
AYERS: If you want what I thought, I think I expressed it somewhere after
that trip. I can't say from reading that I was sure, that I would have
sworn to it. I thought he had a very good chance--I thought he was probably
going to win, especially after I went on that last trip, because if you've
been around and watched crowds, I think you can
HESS: What seemed to be the tenor of the crowds?
AYERS: There were big crowds, huge crowds. The ones that impressed me
particularly, I think, were the whistle-stop crowds like that at South
Bend, Indiana. He stopped there and he spoke from the back of the train--I
don't know where in South Bend at all, wherever that train stopped--the
tracks were elevated--and the crowd just crammed the area. They weren't
the kind of people that were howling or shouting but they were paying
attention, listening to every word he said, and you noticed that with
crowds everywhere that we saw. I didn't go to the meeting in Boston, but
I came back--I know I said to my wife, "There is something happening;
I think something's going to happen." I thought he was going to be re-elected
but I couldn't swear that I was sure of it. I know Harry Oliver of AP
was in talking to me one day. I said, "Harry, he's going to be elected."
Harry looked at me rather sorrowfully.
HESS: He didn't think so?
AYERS: He didn't really think so, I guess, but there was one newspaperman
who came in that did.
HESS: Who was that?
AYERS: Well, he's dead now, Bill Flythe; he was an oldtimer.
in and sat down one day while they were on one of their trips.
HESS: Who did he work for? Do you remember?
AYERS: I forgot. He was a Hearst man. And most of the newspapermen or
White House men except the standby crowd were away. There weren't many
people around and we sat down and we talked, and I know he said, "Don't
worry," he said, "this man's elected," and he reached in his pocket and
he pulled out his wallet. He said, "You see that? There's folding money
in it. Don't worry," he said, "they've all got them."
And he was right. I think Joe Fox of the Washington Star, who
was a White House correspondent for the Star at that time; Joe is an old
time reporter--he talked with people. I know he came back from one trip--I've
forgotten where it was, it seems to me it was Salt Lake City--instead
of going with the rest of them to hear the President speak, he'd wander
down the street into a lunchroom or something like that, or where there
was a bar and talked to people and he came back . . . He was one who,
I think, said the President would be re-elected. Most of these reporters
afterwards, the good ones, they all agreed, they talked to each other
instead of talking where they should have--they interviewed each other.
A lot of it right in the Press Club bar, you know, that's where some of
them cover Washington from--I say that jokingly, but some of them don't
move out of there much, and they didn't do a good job. I see somebody
wrote a column just yesterday--whose was that--pointing out the similarity
between the situation in this country today and what it was in '48 with
Truman when he was way down in the polls.
HESS: During the 1948 campaign, did you have any dealings with the Research
Division of the Democratic National Committee; with William Batt, Jr.,
and Dr. Johannes Hoeber?
AYERS: No, I don't recall that I did.
HESS: I think they helped to write speeches during that '48 campaign.
AYERS: They did?
HESS: Mainly whistlestops and background material, but I wondered if,
as a member of the press office, you had any dealing with them.
AYERS: I don't recall any. I think if there were many dealings directly
with the committee, they would have been limited pretty likely to the
President, the chairman, Charlie, perhaps with Jack Redding.
HESS: Anything else come to mind on the '48 campaign?
AYERS: No, I think I've talked enough about it.
HESS: It's getting pretty well along in the day. Shall we shut it off?
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