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
June 20, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts
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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 It may not be published in full except by permission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
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts
| List of Subjects Discussed | Top
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Oral History Interview with
June 20, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ayers, in 1951 you became special assistant in the White House
office. We've already mentioned one assignment that you were given as
special assistant, the trip to Independence to gather material about Mr.
Truman's activities in Jackson County before 1935, but for the record
could you outline what your duties and functions were as special assistant
from 1951 on? Just what did the job entail?
AYERS: Well, it's a little difficult to answer that question because
there was no program laid out. Mr. Truman said he would like to have me
get together his papers, but he apparently had no specific plan in mind,
and I had never thought about it before and I no plan in mind either,
so I started from scratch. At the outset I thought I would get together
as much of a record as I could of his administration with the papers and
documents which supported that record. Well, that was a little too much
for any one individual to do in the time that was left, but I started
out by recording--by writing myself--the story of his succession to the
Presidency, and such of the events on which I could find anything on which
to base a record. It became very evident to me in the first few weeks
that I could never accomplish what I'd set out to do--
that would have
been a job for a whole staff of researchers.
So then I began to take up the record of the administration by subjects.
I would write on--let's say foreign affairs--the President suggested that
on one occasion--he rarely did suggest any subjects--but I would begin
by trying to get together the documents that related to it--the releases,
the news releases, the speeches and the messages to Congress--those things.
They were all available, of course, to anyone who wanted to glance through
them, but there were also in his papers that he had that were in the White
House files other materials that related to those things, and I would
get them together and then I would tie them together by writing myself.
When I had any one subject finished--what I thought was finished--I would
take it in and give it to the President. He had told me at the outset
when we started in on this, that he would see me anytime I wanted to come
in--come in anytime, he said. So I would take them in and give them to
him--leave them with him. Usually I got them back within a day or so--very
quickly--and almost without exception, without any change. Usually maybe
he'd jot down at the end of it, "This is fine," or "This is just what
I want." I think on perhaps two or three occasions on going through, he
made a slight correction.
I was glad he did because it showed me that
he did read them. I know on one--I don't remember which one it was, perhaps
it was on the foreign affairs thing--he corrected a date that was typographically
wrong, and that was about the extent of it. He may have here and there
put in a word, but I don't believe that in the thousands of words I wrote,
that there are half a dozen pages that show any correction or any addition
by him. He did from time to time, usually at my suggestion, write a little
memorandum, perhaps on something that I didn't have anything on--for instance,
I asked him about his meeting with Molotov, and I got a handwritten note--not
overly long--but it described the meeting with Molotov, Molotov's visit
to Washington enroute to the San Francisco Conference- -United Nations
Conference--and several times he wrote something like that. He wrote one
for me about the Potsdam Conference and his meetings with Stalin, but
otherwise I got together this material and wrote, as I say, thousands
of words. All of that material was put together and kept in a file, or
in files in my office, and sent to Independence at the end of his administration.
At the time I went through papers of his, he had papers in his desk at
the White House, that is, the White House proper--the living quarters--and he
told me one day he wished I would get them from his desk, up in the
study in the house proper, and go through it. Well, I went through those
HESS: Do you recall what you found in the desk besides the paper about
Jimmy Byrnes' difficulties with the President? That we've already mentioned
AYERS: I can't recall specifically what was in all that material that
came from the house. I know there was quite a lot of stuff, and the White
House carpenters made a wooden chest with a lock and I got the Chief Usher,
Mr. [Howell G.] Crim, to get the stuff out for me. I didn't want to go
into the President's private quarters and rustle around in his desk taking
everything out of it and I asked him to do it, and I think he checked
with the President but he did it anyway, and I got this small chest full
of papers of one kind and another. I don't recall specifically what they
all were, but I do know that I also went over in the basement of the Treasury
in one of those vaults way down where someone told me that some of his
stuff had been put.
HESS: Wasn't that some of the senatorial material?
AYERS: That proved to be mostly senatorial material. Well, I got some
senatorial material and put it in a drawer and it went out to Independence.
There was some that
was out in the University of Missouri and I checked
up on that. I don't remember if that came back to me or whether it went
directly, but I know there was some there. Then when the work on the White
House was started--the renovation of the White House--and the family had
to move out into Blair House, most of the President's books and a great
deal of similar material were sent up to the Library of Congress temporarily
and put in--well, if you could find the place, you would have to be an
explorer like Stanley and Livingston. I went up there. Well, I found up
there quite a quantity of stuff--personal stuff as well as his books--the
hundreds of books that he had--and I got that material that I thought
was relevant to what I was doing, and that included not only his but some
of Margaret's school books and things of that sort. I brought all those
into my office, and somewhere in the course of all this I found many documents
that had to do with his official acts--on, international affairs--and
I had all of those, but I didn't do anything with them other than to separate
them from all the rest of the stuff and put them in files so that they
could be sent out to Independence. Well, that's what my work consisted
of. The President had few suggestions to make and he seemed to be satisfied--rather
pleased with what was done with them. At least he expressed appreciation
repeatedly and he said it was very helpful. Now what was done with it
once it left on January 20, 1953, I don't know about that. It went out
to the Library as far as I know.
HESS: Am I correct in assuming that you have a complete duplicate set
of copies of those?
AYERS: Yes, I kept a copy as a safeguard. If anything happened to any
of those--after all, if you write twenty or thirty or fifty thousand words
and its lost, you don't want to have to try to repeat it; so I did keep
a complete record, I think. That record that I kept is supplemented somewhat
by the fact that I had many notes of my own on many of the subjects and
a great many notes that I had accumulated in my years in the press office
as assistant press secretary. The employees used to have it available
for the newspapermen who came in and wanted to know what John Jones--where
he came from and what he did. Well, I had to have that handy in the office,
all sorts of things of that kind. That's also in my files together with
all these other things, and I tried as a matter of reference to keep-I
don't like the word "diary" because it wasn't--I suppose you could call
it that--but it wasn't in my mind a diary so much as it was a record for my
reference purposes. I had done that from the first time I went
to the White House as a liaison with the Office of Inter-American Affairs,
to know what happened in the past and have some kind of a reference when
something came up, and I continued to do that, and I find now as I look
back that there are many things in that record that I kept that otherwise
would be gone entirely from my mind. I find things that I had forgotten
completely, I think--perhaps I'm wrong about it--but I attribute that
partly to my newspaper background. For years I was a newspaperman, and
as a reporter you make notes of something and you write the news story
and that story is as dead as a doornail tomorrow, and so why clutter up
your mind with it anymore--it goes out of your mind--you're on something
else the next day, and I think that becomes a mental habit. A psychologist
could explain it better than I can. You may recall it if you have something
to bring it back to your mind and that's what's happening now with you
asking me questions, it brings back something but I can't remember the
details, which at the same time, were probably very sharp, which fortunately,
I think--maybe it's unfortunate--I don't know--but anyway, at the time
I recorded them and now they are available and they're in this record
will be someday in the Truman Library where they will
be available to the researchers and the historians or whoever--if they
are of any value to them.
HESS: That's good and that's an important part on this particular subject,
because your records are so well documented from day to day--your diaries
and your papers--and if that record is there, that's what the researchers
AYERS: They will realize, as you do, that these are sketchy, many of
them. I try to limit myself to what I actually saw or participated in.
I know that in the diary or journal I express some opinions plenty of
times, but I try to be objective about it. You know, I was not a political
appointee in the Government, and I did not know Mr. Truman before I went
into the office with Steve Early under Mr. Roosevelt. No one ever seemed
concerned as to what my politics might be; as a matter of fact, I was
a registered Democrat, but I was not a politician, I was a newspaperman
and I had worked for the Associated Press for some seventeen years and
I had written politics; and in those days at least--it's a long time now
since I left the Associated Press--but in those days, at least, an Associated
Press man wrote impartially. He had to, because the Associated Press
papers of every political, racial and religious denomination, and if he
wasn't unbiased, he would hear from the other side. I never wrote a political
story in my seventeen years--and I wrote an awful lot of politics--that
was ever criticized or had any flareback from any politician, as far as
I know. I think I could be pretty objective about it and I think I was
pretty objective in what I have written in these records. Naturally, you
can't judge your own attitudes as well as somebody else. I suppose anybody
reading them would see bias, here and there, but I think the facts are
as accurate as it was possible for me to make them.
HESS: At the time you were working on these research papers, would you
discuss them with President Truman; would he tell you his views on any
of the particular subjects?
AYERS: Yes, that came up. He didn't make suggestions often as to what
I should take up, but when I would take these papers into him, often,
it was usually early in the morning before others had come in and before
his appointments started, I would slip in and give him these and often
we'd get into a conversation--sometimes it would be very brief, sometimes
quite long and might wander into many fields.
HESS: Now you have before you a list of some of your research
Just glancing over that list, do you see a particular subject that rings
a bell in your mind, that perhaps on that subject you and the President
had a discussion?
AYERS: Yes, there's some. He talked about Secretary of State Byrnes and
his differences with him, and there are other subjects too which we talked
about. We talked about the atomic bomb.
HESS: What did he have to say about the atomic bomb?
AYERS: Well, I would have to look again at what I have written down;
I wouldn't want to discuss it just from offhand recollection.
HESS: Let's put something here in the record to tell the researchers
that these are reminiscences of twenty years later and actually if they
want to check on anything that we say, they should go back to the record,
the contemporary record that you kept at that time.
AYERS: That's very true, although I have tried on some of these subjects
that we have discussed to go back myself into the record that I kept in
order to refresh my memory.
HESS: I would like to say for the record, that you have done far more
work like that than most people I interview have. Your oral history interview
will have fewer errors in it as it goes along. There will be really less
that will have to be done, but you've done more work than nine
out of ten oral history interviewees do. We really appreciate it.
AYERS: Is that so? Well, that's interesting to know, but I don't know,
I may be overly conscientious or meticulous about wanting to make them
as complete as possible, and I'm afraid that in them I have repeated unnecessarily.
HESS: We can take out any repetition. Do you recall, offhand, if the
possibility of not dropping the atomic bomb had been discussed? Just offhand,
without looking it up.
AYERS: I don't remember if he ever said anything specifically about that
or not. I doubt that he did, but I could tell, again, by looking at what
I have. I know that when I was working on that subject, I tried to find
out whether there was a record anywhere of any written order about dropping
HESS: Where did you look?
AYERS: Well, I checked with the Atomic Energy Commission--thought possibly
their records would show something--and they could find nothing. I checked,
I can't recall whom I talked with, but I checked with someone in the Defense
Department who, I think, whoever had the records there, and they could
find nothing. I am convinced, myself, that
there was no written record.
I think it was all on the assumption from the beginning that the bomb
was created as a weapon--certainly that's the way everybody looked at
it--you may have heard and read what Admiral Leahy said. You know, he
said--and I think he said as much to me at one time or another--"The darn
thing will never work," he said. "I've been an expert on explosives,"
and he had to admit that it did work. He certainly was thinking about
it in terms of a weapon.
HESS: Did he mention that to you in person before the explosion of the bomb?
AYERS: Oh, no, nobody told me. I didn't know anything about the bomb
until it was exploded. I knew it on the day, and announced it.
HESS: That's what we've already gone over. Anything else of interest
on that particular page?
AYERS: You know, he talked one time somewhat about his own early life
in Jackson County politics.
HESS: What did he say?
AYERS: About Pendergast. I'll have to look that up. I can't remember
what he said--and other things, you know, he discussed politics sometimes.
He talked some to me one morning, I think, about the 1952 nominating campaign.
And he talked one time--I remember one morning we were
I think one day I was in to see him, I think it was about the first of
June of '52, Eisenhower was--I guess it was the 31st of May--and Eisenhower
was due back from Europe and he talked some about Eisenhower. He talked
about Taft. I think he said something to me--I don't know whether it was
that day or when it was--he thought if a Republican was going to be elected,
that he'd prefer it be Eisenhower rather than Taft because he felt his
foreign policy would be safer in Eisenhower's hands rather than Taft's
or something to that effect--I can find that somewhere in the records--all
sorts of subjects would come up. I think on that same occasion we talked
about Averell Harriman and the '52 Democratic convention--all sorts of
subjects would come up in these sessions that we had together.
HESS: Who do you think President Truman supported in the 1952 convention?
Who did President Truman actually want to receive the Democratic nomination
for President in 1952--the year that Adlai Stevenson first . .
AYERS: Didn't he come out for Averell Harriman?
HESS: That was '56, wasn't it?
AYERS: Was it?
HESS: Was it? We can check on that. But on November 19, 1951, according
to William Rigdon in his book, White
House Sailor, the President
was at Key West at that time, and he said that he announced to a number
of his staff who were there with him that he was not going to run in 1952
but the announcement was to be kept quiet and the announcement was actually
made at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in March of 1952.
AYERS: I wasn't present when he made that statement to the staff in Key
HESS: When did you first become aware of the fact that the President
was not going to run, do you remember?
AYERS: No, but in going through my records, I ran into something the
other day, but I've forgotten where and I'd have to check back, and I
don't know whether I could find it again, in which he said something on
one occasion, I believe, which pretty well convinced me--there were a
couple of occasions when something happened which led me to think that
he probably wasn't going to. I don't think I ever had positive knowledge
until he made the announcement.
HESS: At the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner.
AYERS: On the day of that dinner. What was the date, do you recall?
HESS: March the 29th, 1952.
AYERS: But I'm pretty sure on that morning--the morning of
I went in to see him about something, or took something in to him, and
he was sitting at his desk and he was doing some writing but he never
let a peep out of it to me, but I've always thought that he was just getting
ready, writing his little statement--that part of it.
HESS: The little tail end of the speech.
HESS: As you know, from about that time on until the convention, the
President spent a good deal of energy trying to get Stevenson to accept
the nomination and to run, and Stevenson finally did at the convention,
and it is the contention of some historians that the President really
honestly wanted Stevenson to receive the nomination, but it is the contention
of other historians that he did not--that perhaps he wanted Barkley or
perhaps even Fred Vinson at that time. What do you recall about that?
AYERS: You're talking about 1952. That's when Stevenson ran.
HESS: That's when Stevenson ran--Stevenson and John Sparkman.
AYERS: I don't know how much I knew at that time or whether I know
anything now, I have an impression that I heard some discussion on it.
Now I know that he did again on
that same March 31st discuss the plans
and prospects of Kefauver and Stevenson and others.
HESS: To carry it on just a bit further--we can come back and cover some
of these things--what do you recall about the '52 campaign? What were
AYERS: I didn't have any duties in the '52 campaign. I had more in the
'48 campaign but in the '52 campaign I had no actual connection. I was
an innocent bystander--an observer as far as I was able to be, but I had
no participation in anything that had to do, as I recall, with the campaign.
Anything I knew about it came from what little discussion there was with
members of the staff or with the President himself, but as far as any
participation--none. In '48 there was much more, in a way, much more.
As I say, I wasn't a politician but there were political things that came
up and naturally I was strongly for Mr. Truman--anything I could do I
wanted to do, and did have some suggestions from time to time.
HESS: We've discussed the '48 campaign--I don't know if we have covered
it adequately or not, but we have covered it some. Were you on one trip?
AYERS: Yes, one main trip--a big trip--the last trip. There were two
or three trips when there was, I think, there was some discussion--Charlie
Ross would suggest that I go on a trip or something, or did I want to
go, and he liked
go on the trips. I know that. I remember there was
one trip that the President was going to make, a short one. Charlie said
to me one day, "Will you go on that trip," or something--"You want to
go?"--and I don't know what my answer was, but he said he thought he might
stay home. Then a few days later he said he was going to go on the trip
and would I look after things.
HESS: He wanted you to mind the office.
AYERS: He wanted me to keep the shop open. I didn't particularly care
about some of the trips. I did want to go on this last trip .
HESS: Where did you go on that trip?
AYERS: I know there was one trip that was suggested I go, I think it
was St. Paul-Minneapolis. I didn't care anything about going and I said
as much, and I didn't go on that trip; but the last trip was the one that
went from--well, it started in Chicago, there was a big meeting in Chicago
and then there were whistlestops all the way back, and I think we stopped
the next night in Cleveland, I believe, more whistlestop and then across
through New York--I don't think there were any stops in New York. We hit
New England then, across Massachusetts to Boston and then down through--and
the stops during the day--and then Connecticut into New York
the big windup speeches in Madison Square Garden and over in Brooklyn.
HESS: He also spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that night.
AYERS: That's it. He went from Madison Square Garden over there, and
that was quite an evening. And then there was this speech he made in Harlem.
I'd forgotten that because we were working. Charlie Murphy was doing a
lot of the work on the speeches and I know that he didn't go out to Harlem,
he stayed at the hotel and I was there and we had our secretaries trying
to get that speech finished. Charlie was writing--as soon as he'd have
a little bit finished, I'd take it, go over it, and then give it to the
secretaries to prepare it and get it mimeographed so that we could have
it in time. That was pretty close shaving.
HESS: Do you recall who wrote those speeches?
AYERS: I'd hate to try to say who--I think, Charlie Murphy did an awful
lot, at least Charlie did the polishing up and rewriting. I think maybe
Clifford had a little hand in it. I don't know whether Jay Franklin Carter
was along on all or only part of that trip; I don't know whether he contributed
anything to the speeches or not. Presumably he would or should have, that's
what he was along for, but I doubt if his contributions in the end
to a great deal. Charlie Murphy was, I would say, the biggest factor in
the final speech. I think maybe Charlie Ross made a little contribution
to that, because--I don't recall the exact portion of the speech or just
how it went--but you will recall perhaps in that last trip the President
made, Dewey was following right behind him about a day behind him, and
in his Madison Square Garden speech the President had an amusing reference
to this shadow following around--I forgot how it was put.
I always suspected Charlie Ross of having a hand in that because it sounded
like Charlie. He had that type of quizzical humor, but Charlie didn't
ordinarily do speechwriting. The speechwriting for the President, which
I was critical of, was too often a matter of too many people involved.
HESS: Was that your main criticism?
AYERS: That was my big criticism because I don't think you can write
a speech in a convention.
HESS: How were the speeches written for Mr. Truman?
AYERS: Well, I think it would be better to take a specific one if you
have one but I don't have one on hand. It depended, I guess, on the subject.
Some speeches, well, if they were like the State of the Union message,
they would get something from every department, and then those
be put together--several of them would be working on it. On an ordinary
speech, it would depend on who was familiar with the principal subject.
HESS: Would they usually write the first draft?
AYERS: Well, I think they might, sometimes two or three drafts with two
or three people working on them. Now, David Bell and David Lloyd were
assistants at that time to Charlie Murphy, and Charlie Murphy himself,
they would all have a hand in it--I couldn't tell you who might have the
final draft. There would be drafts and drafts and drafts, and then when
they got a final draft that was generally considered acceptable, what
happened in most cases would be a session with all of them--maybe go into
the Cabinet Room with the President and the rest of them gathered around
the Cabinet table and there might be seven or eight people there--Charlie
Ross and Charlie Murphy, Clifford and Lloyd.
HESS: George Elsey?
AYERS: He had a hand in the speeches on the campaign trip. George Elsey
did a lot of work on whistlestop speeches. He would get the local color
for it, because you usually expected the President to have something to
say that would be of a local nature, and George did a lot of that work,
I believe. There may have been some others because I
wasn't, as I say,
on those trips, but various people would have a hand in it.
HESS: At the time of the meeting in the conference room when all the
people would get together with the President, would this quite often be
the first time that the President was presented with the specific wording
that they had down?
AYERS: I don't know whether he ever saw any of it before; I suppose perhaps
he may have seen some of the drafts, but this would be, supposedly, the
final speech and the President would sit at the head of the table and
he perhaps would read a paragraph and then if anybody had a suggestion,
and it might be a semantic one, or might have to do with the subject,
but more likely it would be grammatical, or something of that sort; and
it was my feeling always that the attempt to write a speech that way results
in that you get the lowest common denominator. You can't get seven or
eight people to agree. Of course, they did in the end agree in the sense
that it was passed, but it seemed to me to take the life out of it. I
remember saying something like that to Judge Rosenman one time. I didn't
think much of writing speeches that way.
HESS: What did he say?
AYERS: Well, he seemed to agree with me, because with the
it was pretty well limited to Rosenman and Robert Sherwood, and Roosevelt
HESS: Would one man usually write the entire speech for Roosevelt or
would those two men collaborate on a speech?
AYERS: Those two would work together, I believe, I don't know much about
that, just what I've been told or heard. Roosevelt would make some notes,
you know, he would jot down some things and they'd have those. What was
the famous speech that Roosevelt made? What was it he was promising--balance
the budget or was it to not have any troops in Europe or some darn speech
he made one time in his campaign--I think it was in Pittsburgh--and then
after he was elected, he had to do what he had promised not to do, or
something, and they were writing another speech and somebody asked what
they were going to do about that and Sam Rosenman said, "Well, deny you
ever said it," or something like that.
HESS: That's the story as I have heard it. At the time that you were
in New York do you connect the name Philleo Nash with the Harlem address?
Do you remember Dr. Nash being up there?
AYERS: I don't remember. I don't remember if he was there or not, but
I guess he was and I would have expected that he would have had some hand
in that Harlem speech, because
he was working--had worked with David Niles
and after Niles passed out, Philleo had had a great deal to do with these
groups and with the colored situation, and I would have expected that
he would have had a hand in this.
HESS: During the time that you were in the White House, did you have
any particular dealings with Philleo Nash that you recall?
AYERS: Well, I knew him very well. I don't recall any special official
dealings but the day-to-day meetings especially the last couple of years
over in the old State Building as we called it--the President's Executive
Office Building--and Philleo was over there.
HESS: Yes, that's where they had their offices.
AYERS: Because my office was always in the West Wing until then.
HESS: And then when you were a special assistant you had an office in
the Executive Office Building.
Is that about everything that comes to mind on speechwriting?
HESS: Let's put it down here on tape that before we turned the machine
on today, we had a discussion of what we could cover in today's interview,
and in interviews following this, and we have decided that a good deal of
the material is down in writing, and is well documented in your papers,
and to cover it in the oral history interviews would merely be duplication
since these papers are going to be in Independence and available to researchers
anyway. To give people an example of what we are talking about, let's
mention the resignation of Louis Johnson in September of 1950, which was
one of the subjects that I had intended to ask today; and in a discussion
with Mr. Ayers before we turned the machine on, he showed me a good many
extremely interesting papers dealing with the episode of the resignation
of Louis Johnson. Since those papers are going to be at Independence and
available to researchers, we will just leave it there, but I will add
as a personal note that there are many subjects, some of them that we
have touched upon, others that we have not touched upon, that are well
covered in Mr. Ayers' papers; and continuing on in a personal note, I
believe that researchers will be quite pleased with Mr. Ayers' papers
when they become available in Independence.
AYERS: Thank you. That's very nice of you. I hope they will if they ever
get there and they're made accessible, that they will be of some help.
They weren't written consciously, with any thought of that. I don't think
I was thinking about any particular use for them other
than my immediate
use for reference purposes--maybe I did as a writer think someday these
might come in handy, I don't know. I did it as a habit more than anything.
I can remember even as a kid keeping a diary; I think that was a family
HESS: No matter why you kept them, I'm glad you did.
AYERS: I'm beginning to wonder. There's so much stuff that it's beginning
to be a headache for me.
HESS: We're working you too hard. Well, let's put down on tape three
of the subjects that we were going to discuss today and you want to take
a little more time and look over your papers. One is dealing with George
Allen--just the general subject of George Allen; the general subject of
the recognition of the State of Israel, and matters pertaining to Palestine;
and the general subject of the Marshall plan, the origins of and other
subjects concerned with the Marshall plan. Those three you have indicated
previously that you wanted to take a little more time on.
Just thinking out loud, do you have your list of April 9, 1963 that Charlie
Morrissey sent you? I sent you another copy sometime back. Let's go over
this particular list and just discuss his questions and whether we think
we have covered them adequately or whether you
would like to go into them
a little more at a later date.
Will that be all right?
HESS: Now this is Morrissey's list of April 9, 1964: (1) "What were the
functions of White House staff members not mentioned frequently in the
diary?" (This refers to one of your diaries.) Morrissey goes on to say,
"I'm thinking of Richmond Keech, Caskie Collett, George Schoeneman, and
Ed Reynolds in particular. (Reynolds is mentioned only as an assistant
to George Allen.)"
AYERS: I think that covers Reynolds completely. He never had any White
House connection other than that. I never saw him around the White House
at all, only the first day or so when he was helping George Allen try
to get together some kind of speech draft or something.
HESS: The other half of that is George Allen and that's what we want
to take a little more time on. How about Richmond Keech, where is Judge
Keech at the present time, who worked in the White House from October
4, 1945 until October of 1946? Anything come to mind on Judge Keech?
AYERS: Not too much. I got to know Judge Keech very well, he wasn't a
judge then, he was an administrative assistant, and I know that I have
something in my records on this man, but I don't recall what his specific
assignment was. Caskie
Collett is another. He worked mostly over with
John Steelman and I don't remember specifically what he was working on.
George Schoeneman, of course, was the administrative assistant who handled
HESS: He had a couple of titles. He was administrative assistant and
then he was also legislative officer for personnel management before Donald
Dawson came in. He held two jobs.(2) "Why was Edwin Locke so close to
the President and yet not officially a member of Mr. Truman's staff? Was
there any discussion of his joining the staff?"
Now I think on our first interview at your home we talked about Edwin
Locke, didn't we?
AYERS: I can't answer that. I found references to Ed Locke. I think he
had some kind of a White House title briefly--I'm not sure of that--I
may be completely wrong on that so I'd better not say anything.
HESS: He was a special consultant and they sent him to China once. He
was a representative of the President and was sent to China at one time,
even though I don't have that particular list with me.
AYERS: I know he was a couple of times on trips aboard the Williamsburg
down the river or something like that.
HESS: Now this next one caused an exchange of letters between you and
Charlie. Charlie says:
(3) "What was Ben Hardy's relationship to the President and the President's
staff? Some people say the idea for point 4 originated with Hardy." And
George Elsey has something to say on that.
AYERS: I think he's probably better informed than I was. I knew Ben Hardy,
knew him quite well. Well, I thought he was in the U.S. Information Agency,
I think, or was it the foreign aid work--something of that sort. We had
lunch together on occasion and so on, but I never knew until long afterwards--if
it is true--that he had anything to do with the point 4. He may have.
He may have written a memorandum to somebody about it, without my knowledge.
I don't like to talk about the things that I had no personal knowledge
of, because I have to speculate and I don't like too much speculation
in these things because somebody may take for fact what is merely speculation.
HESS: In Eric Goldman's book, The Crucial Decade: America, 1945-1955,
he mentions that Ben Hardy sent a memo to George Elsey dealing with that
AYERS: I never heard it from Ben Hardy or anything about it, I think.
I notice one place here not long ago--just a
little line: "Had lunch with
Ben Hardy today," and Ben Hardy kept my car for me during my vacation
at one time. He took it to his home and used it while I was away--he and
his family--so I knew him fairly well, but it never came up.
HESS: Now here was a time when a man put forward a rather important idea.
Do you recall any other times when he put forward something such as this
AYERS: No, I don't have any recollection of anything of Ben.
HESS: Question number four was: (4) "How did Donald Dawson come to be
a member of the White House staff?"
AYERS: I don't know.
HESS: (5) "Why were Noyes, Carr, and Franklin added to the speechwriting
team in 1948? What was their relationship with the President's regular
staff?" Do you remember anything on that?
AYERS: I know nothing about Carr. I know that he showed up along with
Noyes during '48. David Noyes, according to my information, came to Washington--I
think he may have worked for the Government at some time previously, I'm
sure he did--but he showed up around the White House when Charles Luckman,
who had been the head of Lever Brothers, came to Washington on the food
campaign, and Noyes was, as I
understand it, a public relations man and
that is where his contact came. Now who brought him into the White House--he
could have been called one of the White House staff although I don't think
he ever was in that sense--but he and this Carr, whom I saw and must have
met, but I have no recollection, he made no impression whatever. They
did attend--going through the record--some of the staff meetings--I don't
think very many because I don't recall their presence there. I think I
did have a little note about Noyes somewhere in my notes. How much they
contributed to the speechwriting--political speechwriting--I don't know.
I never had any hand in the political speech pot.
HESS: Do you recall anything about their relationship with the staff?
The reason I asked that is that in one of Albert Carr's books, Truman,
Stalin and Peace, he refers to "our friendly opponents of the White
House staff." Do you recall anything about their relationship with what
might be called the regular members of the staff during the '48 campaign?
Anything come to mind at all?
AYERS: No, but I would think that would probably be a way of expressing
what perhaps was a situation in a way. I don't think that the regular
staff looked on them as anything but--well, I won't say interlopers--something
close to that. I didn't even know that Carr had written a book. That shows
you how close he was to the regular staff. Now I think that Matt Connelly,
perhaps, was the man who may have suggested--I don't know--but I find
it expressed in my notes that maybe at the time I thought that Noyes and
Carr had come in at Connelly's suggestion.
HESS: Speaking of Connelly, how did he get along with some of the other
members of the staff? What were the relationships between Connelly and
Clifford, and Connelly and John Steelman, for instance?
AYERS: Why, I think they were okay. There were feelings from time to
time between different members of the staff, I think, under cover, but
I think a little jealousy arose sometimes. I never saw much evidence of
that on the part of Matt Connelly with anybody. There were one or two
that he got a little exasperated with.
HESS: Whom did he get exasperated with?
AYERS: Well, I would hate to put it down on record, because I don't know
all about it. He did with Vaughan, but so did the rest of us sometimes,
although we thought a great deal of Vaughan, and I do today. I have a
very high regard for Harry Vaughan. But he could make some awful mistakes.
HESS: What mistakes did he make?
AYERS: Well, he would say things that he shouldn't have said and blurt
out something sometime where newspapermen would hear it--he'd get criticized
in print; as he said to me a long time afterwards, well, before we both
left the White House, he said, "I don't know anything about public relations."
HESS: Did you agree with that statement?
AYERS: Well, yes, and I told him so, but he was a very loyal man--very
loyal to the President and he was in many ways a good man to have around.
He hadn't had, despite his association with the President and as Senator
before that, he hadn't--neither had the President for that matter--ever
been in the White House where any word that's spoken is a lot louder than
when it's said by someone else. You know what I mean. He could say things
before that, but when it's said by a close associate of the President's,
then it becomes highly different.
HESS: A phone call by an employee of a Senator carries different weight
than a phone call by an employee of the President.
AYERS: Quite right. That's one thing . .
HESS: Do you think Harry Vaughan realized that?
AYERS: I don't think that he realized it for quite a while. The first
real trouble he got into--I say trouble--he made a talk over in Alexandria,
where he lived, to some local
group, and I don't remember what he said,
but he didn't suppose there was any newspapermen there--there was some
local correspondent from one of the Washington papers--and he reported
this story and it raised the dickens. Well, Vaughan was criticized for
it and two or three other things happened later--more than two or three--and
then something arose which caused Drew Pearson to get after Vaughan.
HESS: What was the basis of their difficulty?
AYERS: Well, I think I know but I'd rather not--I'd have to kind of speculate
on that too much--I couldn't prove it. I believe it grew out of someone
who was going on a mission to Greece, and this was some local man, well-known,
who, for some reason, Vaughan was opposed to. I think that he was opposing
this man being included in the mission and he thought this man was going
to be a stooge for Pearson and that he would report--that was one version,
at least, on it. Pearson took out after Vaughan. He had many columns attacking,
criticizing Vaughan. You know, long afterwards--I think this is already
in our tape somewhere--the Saturday Evening Post carried a story--I
don't know whether it was all about Vaughan or not, but I remember they
carried a picture of Vaughan with a caption under it, and I got the Saturday
Evening Post at that time and I remember as I glanced through it, I came
on this and I read the caption under it and I yelled out to my
wife, "Oh, oh, Harry Vaughan has got a good libel case." And he did.
HESS: What did the caption say, do you remember?
AYERS: Something about charges against Vaughan, you know, that investigation--there
was never any charge against Vaughan. He brought suit against them and
it was settled. I don't know what the settlement was, but it was the kind
of thing that should have been checked--known.
HESS: Well, on Noyes and Carr I have heard that it was their idea to
have Chief Justice Vinson sent to Moscow just before the 1948 election.
Have you ever heard that?
AYERS: Yes, that was what we suspected--Charlie Ross and I--at the time,
that it was Noyes' idea, but whether or not I don't know that we ever--maybe
Charlie had better information than I--but I know that was my thought
and his but …
HESS: You don't recall right now what gave you that suspicion?
AYERS: No, I don't recall. I know that that leaked, you know, it was
decided on and the President was going to go on the air and announce it--told
Charlie to arrange with the radio networks--and he called them in and
the four of them came in. They were going to arrange for time and everything
and then it was cancelled when it was taken up with General
Somebody leaked it. We never knew for sure who leaked it. The story got
out and there was quite a lot about it--criticism and so on--flarebacks.
HESS: Who do you think made the leak, do you know?
AYERS: No, I don't think anybody was ever sure except the one who did
it. We thought at first it might have been the radio people, conceivably
it might have been leaked by--unintentionally--if they had to arrange
with the New York office somebody might have said something. You can't
tell how those things go or it might have come out of the State Department
somewhere--there have been leaks from there from time to time. There were
several places it might have come from. When it was cancelled, it might
have come from the office out there, just a suggestion, whoever might
have been disgruntled about it. It might have been any number of places
and we never tried to find out very hard.
HESS: We've hit on John Franklin Carter several times, in fact, we've
mentioned him today. How involved was he in the speechwriting of '48?
AYERS: I don't know. He was on that last trip that I went on, but I don't
remember his having much part in it. He may have tried to contribute.
HESS: Do you recall any of his efforts in the White House
during the campaign?
AYERS: No, I don't think I ever saw him in the White House. He may have
been in; he probably was at some time or another, but it certainly wasn't
a very lengthy stay there.
HESS: Question number six: "Could you compare and contrast the ways in
which Vardaman, Foskett and Dennison conducted their duties as naval aides
to the President?"
AYERS: That's a little too big.
HESS: Did you have very many dealings with the naval and military and
air aide people--Landry and Vaughan?
AYERS: Oh, yes, I don't know, there were not so many official ones, but
I think more, perhaps, with Dennison--that is, from the naval aide standpoint
than anyone else--any of the naval aides that were there. Vardaman was
very active and I got to know him well. Foskett--well, not so much.
HESS: What kind of a man was Admiral Dennison?
AYERS: Admiral Dennison was a very able man and a very fine man, I think,
very able, and he, I think, was very helpful in many, many times, especially
on board the ship, and in other ways. He knew more of foreign affairs
than any other of the service aides--I think he was helpful on some occasions
in that respect. I don't think of anything specifically. I don't know
about Vardaman. Vardaman
was a different type. They were three different
types entirely. Dennison was a quiet, efficient, more scholarly, I think,
than the other two; and Foskett suffered, I think, from Potomac fever,
and was taken down a little on one or two occasions.
HESS: By the President?
AYERS: I don't know if he was by the President, but reportedly by Mrs.
[James M.] Helm, who was the social secretary, and she'd been around a
long time, and she was the widow of a naval officer. She'd been with Woodrow
Wilson and Mrs. Wilson, and then she was back there. A fine old lady she
was--I shouldn't say "old lady" but she was elderly, and she had her ideas
and she knew the social setup. I don't know just what happened, but I
think the story was true. It may have reached Mrs. Truman--I don't know--anyway,
Foskett was trying to do something--I don't know what it was--I don't
know whether he said something to Mrs. Helm or what, and she supposedly
said, "I was in the Navy before you were born."
HESS: She had seniority on him.
AYERS: I guess there were other things I didn't know about. James Vardaman
had preceded him as naval aide. He had been a banker and President Truman
appointed him to the Federal Reserve Board.
HESS: What kind of a man was he?
AYERS: Well, I don't know how to answer that. You know who his father
was? He was a fiery demagogic southern Senator--United States Senator--and
perhaps his son--I don't mean he was the same type at all--but perhaps
he had some of that fiery nature. I don't know.
HESS: The father was a Senator from Mississippi, wasn't he?
AYERS: I think he was. A good deal like Bilbo, I guess. The son, as naval
aide, attended to his job pretty well, I suppose, but I think there was
some feeling among some of the others on the staff and there might have
been some feeling among the aides--the service aides--I don't know whether
there was or not, but that would not be strange because there is always
some competition in the service.
HESS: You know so many of the service aides that served Mr. Truman were
reservists and not regular.
AYERS: What do you mean, "many?" There weren't many. There was only--there
weren't many of them--there were those three naval aides--only one military
aide in his whole career and that was Vaughan, and only one Air Force
aide, Landry. Those were the only aides there were unless you count the
lesser Navy--Rigdon in his book may have written about more of them--those
are the only ones I would consider aides to the President--not these
pushers--the boys that are assigned socially.
HESS: These next three deal with the press office and we have covered
this to a degree. Do you think we've covered seven and eight, possibly
nine: (9) "What was the relationship between the press office and the
publicity division of the Democratic National Committee?" You remember
much about that in '48?
AYERS: I don't remember too much. If there was, it was largely through
Charlie Ross more than me because I didn't have too much to do with, as
I said, the political end of it. The publicity man, Jack Redding, was
selected, I think, largely on Charlie's initiative.
HESS: Question number ten: "Could you comment on the relationship between
Mr. Truman and Robert Hannegan?"
AYERS: I could do a little better on that if you'd get me some other time.
HESS: Fine, we'll mark this, "to look over." But actually, that's what
we wanted to check over this list for, not really to answer all these
questions now, but just to find out what of these questions we wanted
to spend some more time on. Number eleven: "Could you add anything to
the resignation of James Byrnes in January, l947"--which we've already
covered quite adequately. All right, number twelve is congressional liaison,
and we've probably covered that quite adequately, haven't we--Leslie Biffle,
and Rayburn and McCormack and Lucas.
AYERS: I think we did something on this last one about Mr. Truman and
the Secret Service people.
HESS: Yes, we sure did in the first interview when you were telling me
about the two men who were acting as head of the Secret Service for a
AYERS: I don't have any recollections on that next one.
HESS: That's good. I won't even read it because I don't know anything
about that either. Number fifteen has to do with the nominations of Presidents
in '44; that we've covered. Do you have any additional recollections of
him speaking of his own past?
AYERS: I want to look at my notes here.
HESS: Any additional comments about Mr. Truman's interest in books, about
his reading tastes?
AYERS: Well, I don't know.
HESS: I'll mark that to look over.
AYERS: We did have something on that next one, I think, didn't we talk
about it one day?
HESS: Yes, his style of speaking. "How did Mr. Truman develop his extemporaneous
style of speaking?" I think we covered that. I'll read Mr. Morrissey's
question: "Likewise I get the impression that during staff meetings the
President would discuss issues but not necessarily
he would resolve them later and often by himself. Is this a fair impression?"
What do you think of that?
AYERS: I don't know.
HESS: We'll go on to the nineteenth one: "In the same fashion I have
the impression that Truman could easily separate his individual views
from the views he thought he should take because he was President. Is
this true? Can you give examples of it? Civil Rights?" What do you think
of that general question?
AYERS: I don't know. I'd like to think about that one.
HESS: I'll mark that to look over. And the twentieth question we covered
in the first interview. I've already asked that one.
AYERS: I've got to look that last one up.
HESS: Yes, we'll have to look that last one up. I won't read that.
AYERS: Have I got all my papers back here?
HESS: I think so. This will give us several things to look over--the
relations with Hannegan--Mr. Truman speaking of his own past--interest
in his books--and views of the President--that will give us several things
to look up.
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