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
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
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This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
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of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ayers, in our last interview, I believe it was in June of last
year, we were discussing a few of the things that we want to cover in
the rest of our interviews, and one of the points is the Marshall plan,
which brings up the subject of foreign aid. Let's just start off today
with a general question, a general subject, about Mr. Truman's foreign
aid policies and plans, and your knowledge thereof.
AYERS: Well, let me preface anything I might say about foreign policy
or foreign aid programs with this statement: I am not an expert on foreign
policy. I was not an expert at that time, and I made no effort to be one.
What I did was talk with the President about his policy, when it was developed
and how it was developed, and that was very largely a result of his own
suggestion that he would like to have me put together something of a record
on his foreign policy. Now I consider the Marshall plan and the aid program
all a part of the foreign policy, and I think that in any discussion of
it it would be better to start at the beginning, because anything of foreign
policy that developed over the years developed from what he started with
when he took office. Do you see
what I mean? You're getting into the middle,
in a sense, or you're leaving the initial development of the policy hanging
in the air. For that reason I'm going to go back to the very beginning
because the President's foreign policy, in my opinion, would be roughly
divided into two parts, and those would be the period from his accession
to the Presidency after Franklin Roosevelt died until the development
of the Greek-Turkish aid program. He felt that the Greek-Turkish aid program,
or the Truman Doctrine, as it came to be known, marked the beginning of
his own foreign policy. Up to that time he was very largely concerned
with carrying out the policy that he inherited from Franklin Roosevelt.
Almost immediately after he took office he had in mind a statement or
address on that policy, and I think the first real development was the
message to Congress which he had sent up in September of '45. That was
known as--I think it was September the 6th--the twenty-one point message.
Now that he discussed with me one time after I had begun some work on
his foreign policy. I discussed that with him, but previous to that, in
one of my morning talks with him, he brought it up and said he would like
to have me get together some material on his foreign policy. He
the time that the foreign policy started in Cleveland, Mississippi on
May 8th, 1947, when Dean Acheson made a speech there--a speech which he
said he was supposed to make.
HESS: Mr. Truman was supposed to make?
AYERS: Yes. And he said that speech, and I guess it's been generally
recognized, was a forerunner of General Marshall's speech at Harvard,
which resulted in the Marshall plan. But the original message, the September
'45 message, was largely drafted, I think, by Judge Rosenman, and in talking
with the President about that he said that Rosenman at that time was special
counsel and that the White House, he said, was not very well organized
at that time, and that's true. There was considerable confusion and there
were numerous discussions and conferences over the message when it was
decided that he would sent it to Congress. Rosenman had written me something
about those and finally he offered to send me his papers that dealt with
the preparation of that message, and he said he would like them back if
the President didn't want them. Well, he sent them down and I talked to
the President about it and he said, yes, he'd like to have them. Those
are already in the records out at the Library, I assume, so there's no
need of going into that. I think otherwise--beyond
the fact that he
said--that in one of the conferences that were held with various people
in the preparation of that message, I know he wrote me that one of those
conferences that he recalled, included among the conferees, John Snyder,
who was Secretary of the Treasury at the time Rosenman wrote me--he wasn't
then--and John Steelman and Matt Connelly, Clark Clifford, Charlie Ross
and himself, so that they were all having a little hand in things that
early--September of '45, you see. And the President in talking to me indicated
that there were some people at that time that wanted him to go all the
way out for the New Deal--the Roosevelt New Deal--and there were some
others, and he mentioned particularly Snyder and Judge Vinson, who were
on a more conservative side. He did comment at that time--I note I had
that in my notes afterwards--that there were some people who were trying
at that time to take him over.
HESS: Take Mr. Truman over?
HESS: Who did he put in that class?
AYERS: Well, I don't know exactly. You'd have to draw your own conclusion,
I guess. I know he suggested I talk with John Steelman and Clark Clifford
about it, but I don't think I ever did.
HESS: That message was largely on domestic and internal matters, wasn't it?
AYERS: That message--that twenty-one-point one? No.
HESS: I can't remember all points, of course, offhand, but I remember
that housing, the Fair Employment Practice Committee.
AYERS: Oh, I have in my records the whole copy of the message but I don't
myself remember just what now.
HESS: If I had the 1945 volume of the papers here with me, we'd be all set.
AYERS: Here, I have it right here. You don't want me to list those twenty-one
points I'm sure.
HESS: I wonder what the ratio was between domestic and foreign matters?
AYERS: Well, I think that a very large part of it was domestic. As you
go through these different points, unemployment, compensation, the Fair
Labor Standards Act, wartime controls and war powers, things like that
and I see very few references actually to the war itself. Some things
like recommendations for legislation for returning veterans and something
about lend-lease and postwar resources and reconstruction and the sale
of ships and matters of that sort, but as far as foreign policy--that
is, relations with foreign powers and that
kind of thing--there was practically
nothing in it.
HESS: Mainly the things that touched on foreign countries, such as lend-lease,
were involved in winding up the end of the war, things of that nature?
AYERS: That's right. But, now, later, in fact April of '52, one morning
I went in with him, I had an appointment, and went in and had quite a
long talk about a lot of things; that was the morning that he said that
he wished I would try to get together something on his foreign policy.
As I say, I wasn't so much concerned with the foreign policy itself except
to make a record such as he wanted, and I didn't try to form any opinions
whether it was good or bad policy or anything of that sort or get him
to say--simply to get the facts of what it was and when it started and
how, and as I say, it was then he said that his foreign policy started
at Cleveland, Mississippi on May 8th, 1947 when Dean Acheson made that
speech; and he said that that was the forerunner of General Marshall's
speech at Harvard, which resulted in what was called the Marshall plan.
And I know he said then, and I can quote him on this, he said, "I want
it to continue to be called the Marshall plan." But the whole plan from
the Greek-Turkish aid program which began in March had been an administration
plan and point 4 was the peacetime continuation of the Acheson and
program. He said he wished that they hadn't named the Greek-Turkish program
the Truman Doctrine. He said, "I don't want to take anything away from
anyone, Acheson or Marshall." He said, and this is another interesting
little quote, perhaps, he said, "I have not, as you know, ever wanted
anything named after me, even a road in Jackson County, although they
did after I left there, they named one highway between Kansas City and
Independence, Truman Road." I don't know whether you've got him saying
that anywhere else in the record or not. Well, that's the beginning of it.
HESS: Did you ever hear the name Joseph M. Jones used in relation to
that speech that Dean Acheson gave in Cleveland, Mississippi? I believe
he worked for Mr. Acheson in some capacity.
AYERS: That could be but I don't recall. But the development of his program
after the September 6th message up to the time in '47 might be marked
by, well, several things--speeches particularly. As on October 27, 1945,
when he went over to New York in observance of Navy Day. Now he made two
speeches that day--well, the first one was at the commissioning of the
carrier Franklin Roosevelt at the Navy yards, which wasn't so much
a foreign policy speech--but the same day he spoke up in Central Park.
There was a
huge crowd. Now that was in further development of his foreign
policy, I would say.
HESS: Were you on that trip?
AYERS: Yes, I was on that trip.
HESS: What do you recall about that?
AYERS: About that speech?
HESS: Just offhand--about that time.
AYERS: I don't recall much except that before we went over to New York
I held a press conference--I don't know whether it was the day before
or not--I remember I said he was going to make a speech there, which would
be, perhaps, the most important speech he'd made. That gave it a pretty
good boost, and I think it was up to that time, perhaps, considered the
most important thing he'd said, as far as foreign policy at least was
concerned. Then as I noted at the time, I said that that October speech
in New York outlined or contained the most comprehensive outline of foreign
policy that he had set forth at any time. Then you know what led up to
the foreign aid program was that the foreign situation grew so serious,
economically. In '45 the British financial setup was pretty serious, and
there were long negotiations in Washington which led to the United States
extending quite a big line of credit to the British.
HESS: During those early winters after the war the food and fuel situation
became quite serious in Europe. Do you recall any particular discussions
around the White House about the necessity of providing some additional
food and fuel for Europe?
AYERS: Well, there may have been. I don't recall specifically. I think
probably I might have some notes here and there on it, but the thing that
brought it all to a head, insofar as the Greek-Turkish program, was that
the British were in kind of hard shape and they made appeals, you know,
for assistance to meet the emergencies which faced them early in '47 and
it was as real as that. They said at the time that they thought there
was a very great threat of Communist domination in both those countries
if some help wasn't given them economically. During the war they had both
received aid from the United States and Great Britain, and I think it
was in March of '47--March 3rd--that the Greek government appealed directly
to the United States for help, and in February the British government,
you know, announced that it couldn't any longer give any aid, and that
was the thing that brought it really to a head, I think, when the British
made that announcement and then the Greek government applied directly
to the United States for help.
HESS: It was on March the 12th that Mr. Truman spoke to a joint session
of Congress on Greece and Turkey.
AYERS: March the 12th?
HESS: March the 12th.
AYERS: Funny, I've got March 3rd. That's when he went before Congress
and asked authority for assistance to the two countries?
AYERS: Something like 400 million dollars. Wasn't that it?
AYERS: And then on May 8th Acheson delivered that address in Cleveland,
Mississippi and he cited the situation in the devastated countries of
Europe and that address attracted a great deal of attention, both in the
United States and abroad, and that resulted in the passage of the legislation
that authorized this money--appropriation of 400 million of which something
like 300 million, I think, went to Greece alone.
HESS: Do you recall Secretary Acheson coming into the White House to
discuss these matters with President Truman during this time?
AYERS: No, I don't remember. I wouldn't have known perhaps --well, except
his name might appear on an appointment list or something like that. I
wouldn't have known or thought
anything about it; of course, being Secretary
of State he'd be in and out anyway.
HESS: What was he at this time? Was he Under Secretary of State in '47?
He didn't become Secretary of State, of course, until the second term.
AYERS: I don't know what he was. I'm not sure what he was at the time.
Then you see, General Marshall delivered his address in June at Harvard
and out of that the Economic Cooperation Administration was formed and
the mutual aid programs grew out of that. Marshall said in that speech,
you know, the world situation was serious as a result of the economic
situation caused in Europe by the war and that without a return to normal
economic health there wouldn't be any political stability and no assured
HESS: Do you think that the British or the French were tipped off as
to what General Marshall's address was going to contain? You know it didn't
take them very long to grasp the meaning of what he had to say.
AYERS: No, I know it didn't, but I doubt if they were. It's conceivable.
The ways of the foreign policy operations and so on, diplomatic operations,
are strange things and not all of it is always told publicly, but as you
know [Ernest] Bevin was then a foreign secretary
in Britain, and [Georges]
Bidault in France--foreign minister--they invited all the European nations
to join the conference to consider a reconstruction program. I don't think
the Soviet Union did.
HESS: You know there for a little while the Soviet Union had said that
they were thinking of setting up a similar type of program for Eastern
Europe, which nothing came of. Did you hear anything about that in the
AYERS: I didn't hear anything. As I say, I paid relatively little attention
to foreign policy because we had enough to do just in the things we got
involved in from time to time. I got involved in quite a number of things
at different times a little later. Now that point 4 program derived its
name from, as you know, from the fourth of four points in the inaugural
address on January 20th of '49. And, as I said before, he said that--somewhere
or other--he told me that--how did he put it--I don't recall exactly,
but anyway, he said the specific origin was:
The thought I had given to what would happen after the recovery
program had been carried out.
Then he went on to say he got to thinking of the British and the French
and the Dutch investments in this country and he talked with the President
of Mexico. I always
thought that that had had--I just got that impression--
that this time when he talked to the President of Mexico, had something
to do with the point 4 program, or the origin of the point 4 program.
And he said:
I also talked with the President of Mexico who is now doing
much along the same lines in his country, and I wondered if we couldn't
get the foreign countries to guarantee they would not confiscate risk
capital invested in those countries.
Now I don't know exactly why, but I had in the back of my head that he
had been influenced to some extent by a conversation with the President
of Mexico. He must have mentioned something about that on more than one
occasion because I've always had a vague recollection of something about
Mexico, that is, knowledge of what they were doing in Mexico.
HESS: And this helped to influence his thinking on point 4 and the development
of underdeveloped countries?
AYERS: In the origin of point 4 and he says as much there, you see, or
did say. And then it was included in that inaugural address. That's about
all I can say about it.
HESS: Just as an opinion, how would you evaluate the success of Mr. Truman's
foreign policy during this time, taking into consideration the Truman
Doctrine and the Marshall plan and point 4?
AYERS: Well, again, I don't want to set myself up as any authority whatever,
but I think that everybody acknowledged that the program probably saved
both Greece and Turkey, at least saved them from falling into the Communist
orbit. Don't you think most everybody thought so, or still thinks so?
HESS: One thing of interest during this time when we seem to be having
a little trouble with France, just what is your opinion of the fact that
we saved France and then.
HESS: That's right, twice, and then our friendship does not seem to be
returned. Just what's your general opinion of that?
AYERS: Well, again, it's purely a personal opinion. My opinion would
be much probably that of many people that it isn't the French people that
we're at odds with, it's the great Charles. Now I know Roosevelt didn't
like De Gaulle; Churchill didn't like De Gaulle; Truman didn't like De
Gaulle. I don't know anybody in authority who liked De Gaulle.
HESS: Did you hear Mr. Truman make some specific comments about Charles
De Gaulle during the time that . .
AYERS: I can't quote any, but I'm sure that I heard him make some references,
perhaps, at some time or other. I certainly
had that impression that he
didn't care for him any more than the others did. I never heard Roosevelt
make any, of course, I wouldn't have been in any position to hear Roosevelt
make them. I never heard Churchill make any. I suppose you have read,
perhaps, Mike Reilly's book. Mike Reilly was the chief of the White House
Secret Service detail during the war. He was at Casablanca. Have you ever
AYERS: Mike tells--I believe I have the book at home--how when De Gaulle
came over there and met with Roosevelt, and I guess with Churchill, inside
this villa, or wherever it was, and Mike was in the room behind the--I
believe--behind the draperies at the windows or something, keeping his
gun in his hand. I never talked to Mike about it. I haven't seen him very
many times since that book of his, which isn't too good a book; I mean,
it wasn't too well done, it was ghostwritten. I don't think that Roosevelt
or Churchill knew that he was there, but it shows the feeling about De
Gaulle at the time was not exactly a trusting one. I don't think any of
them liked him very much. I'm sure that Churchill didn't and Roosevelt
didn't, but they had to deal with him. He was the head of the French government
in exile, as
they called it. It was in Britain.
HESS: One other point on foreign policy would be the President's recognition
of the State of Israel. Do you have your notes there today for that?
AYERS: I have some. I don't know whether they're intelligible or not,
but I made some notes. I don't know--what do you want to know about it?
I could tell you again, like I said about foreign policy in general, I
am no authority on Palestine. There are a lot of professed experts who
I think don't know too much about it at this stage. Don't you think so?
HESS: That's probably quite right.
AYERS: It's been a very confusing thing.
HESS: Well, one thing that interests many historians is the development
of the background for the decision. Whose idea was it? How did the idea
develop? Tell me a little bit about the background.
AYERS: Well, I don't know how to answer that. You know that the Palestinian
situation had been boiling for years and with the end of the war it was
coming to a head, and I think from the moment that Truman came in he found
himself involved in a way, because this Government was more or less involved
all the time. There was, of course, great sentiment in this country--Jewish
you know that--I don't know much about it. I didn't know
much at the time. I didn't pay very much attention to it. I know that
many times some aspect, some little thing, not in itself of any great
moment, but some little thing would come up in the staff meeting in the
morning; there'd be some reference to something. Way back in September
of ''45, I know that I had a little reference in something I had on a
staff meeting one morning, to something that Charlie Ross brought up--I
think he brought it up--about, I don't know whether he or I had some telephone
calls, and they had to do with some kind of a statement that was put out
by a Jewish organization headed by former Senator Gillette. And this attributed
to Gillette a statement that he and Senator Brewster of Maine and Senator
Magnuson had called on the President, I think, on the 10th of September
and that the President told them he had written to Attlee--Prime Minister
Attlee in Britain--urging that 100,000 Jews who were in concentration
camps be moved to Palestine. Well, the President was very much concerned
about this thing. He said that there had been such a meeting and that
it was confidential and that nothing was to have been said publicly. He
was quite disturbed about it. Then the matter came up again a few days
later. Ross said Gillette informed him that he was not responsible
this getting out, and the President asked, "Who else could it be?" And
the President said he had received a message from Attlee--now Admiral
Leahy had told Ross that a day or so before--urging that nothing be made
public about the whole thing. Well, things like that came up, and some
questions about some phases of it would arise in a staff meeting, somebody
would bring it up. All through 1946 and '47, many times it came up at
staff meetings--all sorts of questions. Then in April in '47 the problem
was placed before the United Nations by the British, you know. Now, Clark
Clifford seemed to have gotten himself involved in it, or maybe it was
just because he was more or less involved in it, or maybe it was just
because he was more or less involved in foreign matters that came up with
the State Department, but anyway, Clifford was one who frequently brought
it up, as I recall, at staff meetings, or some phase of it. Now in February
of '48 Clifford brought it up one morning and said it was getting serious.
People were blaming the United States for not acting, and Truman at the
time said that there was nothing further he could do. We had done everything
possible except to mobilize troops, and the British, you know, were planning
to withdraw their mandate, and efforts were being made to get them to
the time when it was going to expire, which I think was
in May. That's the way it went on. Now as I say, all of that was boiling
all the time and I didn't pay very much attention to these day-to-day
things that came up. That was somebody else's affair, and I know way back
in June of '46 the President had appointed a Cabinet committee on Palestine
and its related problems, consisting of the Secretaries of State and War
and Treasury, I believe. There is no need in my trying to list all these
different things because you'll find it scattered all through those years
up until the time when the British mandate expired and that's when we
stepped in. I think it was on May 14th of '48 that the mandate expired
and the Jews proclaimed their new state then. That was to be effective
at 6 p.m. on that day. Now, this was a sudden action as a result, I guess,
of a lot of secret planning, but late in the day there was a statement
completed, and shortly before 6 o'clock Ross and I were sitting in his
office, I know, when Clifford brought in this brief statement that the
government had been formed, that the Jewish state had been proclaimed
in Palestine, and that recognition had been requested, and that the United
States recognized the provisional government as the de facto
authority of the new State of Israel. Now that was the United States recognition
and it came just as suddenly as that. Neither Ross nor I had any knowledge
of it before then. I can still remember Clifford coming in with that statement
HESS: Who do you think prevailed upon the President to come out with
this statement in such short order?
AYERS: Well, I wouldn't know. I don't think I ever tried to know. I think
Clifford, probably, was a considerable influence. This statement had been
agreed to by General Marshall--Secretary Marshall--he was Secretary of
State then, I believe, and Under Secretary Lovett, but the United States
delegation to the United Nations hadn't been informed, at least that's
a note that I made right afterwards, and we waited about giving out this
statement, I believe, while Lovett reached Warren Austin, who was then
head of the delegation, and told him around 6 o'clock at night. That's
the way that United States recognition came. It was so sudden, so quick
after the British mandate expired that I think there were probably plenty
of people who were not only surprised but perhaps not too happy about
it at the time. I don't know, but I just suspect there were. I suspected
then that there were.
HESS: Do you have any opinions as to the basis of Clark Clifford's particular
interest in this problem?
AYERS: No, it would be pretty much speculation. I think perhaps to some
extent it would have been political. Not that I credit Clark Clifford
with any very astute political ability, certainly at that time; quite
the contrary. It seemed almost too political to be political, if you know
what I mean. It would seem a rather blatant political move in '48 with
an election coming up. There was a big Jewish vote, you know, especially
in New York City.
HESS: That's right, New York State and New York City.
AYERS: But, as I say, it would have to be speculation on my part. I don't
think it was ever openly said, we've got to look out for this vote. He
might have said it but he didn't say it where I heard it in those words.
HESS: Was David Niles instrumental in the President's recognition of
the State of Israel?
AYERS: I don't know. I don't know. Dave Niles didn't operate under a
bright light, not under the klieg lights at least. He was a very able
man and one whom I had a great regard for in the end, but in the last
years he only spent a couple of days a week in Washington. I'd see him
when he came over to see the President. I might run on to him and chat
a few minutes with him, but never discussed what he was doing, and then he was
off again. I don't think he spent more than two or three days a
week at the most in Washington. Then he was in New York and he was in
Boston and he had his connections everywhere, in those three places, at
least. I don't even know what his attitude was. I think Eddie Jacobson,
while I don't know whether he had any influence really with the President,
I know he was a very strong supporter of the policy and of help to Israel.
HESS: Was he at the White House a little bit more frequently at this time?
AYERS: I couldn't tell you whether he was or not. Once in a while he'd
be in town. He wasn't there so terribly often; he'd come in once in a while.
HESS: One question about David Niles, just looking back on those days,
what was your opinion of his effectiveness as a political adviser?
AYERS: I wouldn't know how effective he was. I think that probably politically
he was as effective as almost anyone. I think if I had wanted political
advice I would have felt that so far as eastern politics at least was
concerned that he would probably be as good a man as anybody to go to
for it. I don't think he operated as a politician publicly or anything
like that, but I think behind the scenes he knew what was going on and
whom to talk with in New York and Boston.
HESS: In the realm of, shall we say, Jewish politics, do you recall the
name Abraham Feinberg?
AYERS: Yes, but it doesn't mean anything to me really. I can't think
who was Feinberg. The name does register, now that you've mentioned it,
but it isn't a name that I had any...
HESS: I believe at that time he owned the Kayser Hosiery Company, for
one thing, and he is attributed with being influential in Jewish circles.
AYERS: The name kind of registers but it doesn't mean much to me. That,
unfortunately, is the case that comes up every once in a while with people.
So many people that you run up against or ran up against during those
years and you forget who they were or what they were doing.
HESS: Do you recall anything else about Palestine?
AYERS: No, I don't think I do and I don't think I want to. It's not a
nice thing to say it that way. I don't mean it quite as it may have sounded.
I get awfully tired of some of these other things.
HESS: We pump the wells pretty dry sometimes.
AYERS: I hope so, so far as my own little well.
HESS: We have several other things to mention today but before we turned
the machine on you mentioned some
of these and that you might like to
do a little bit more work on. One of them, I believe, pertains to George
AYERS: Well, I want to do a little more on that still, if I may.
HESS: We'll mark that for next time. Now, one of the subjects that we
were going to cover dealt with Robert Hannegan, and just his general relationship
to the President.
AYERS: Well, I think I can try to find something on that and I don't
know whether I did or not. I don't have it here.
HESS: If we don't, we can get it later. Of course, when we've had seven
interviews already and most of them were just about this time last year,
we may get a little duplication on some of the things that we want to
cover today and in the days to come, but if we do we can just take it
out. I'm not sure if I've even broached the question of your memories
of the days of the 1952 campaign and convention.
AYERS: Oh, I think so. I think I told you that I had nothing to do with
the 1952 campaign and convention.
HESS: I couldn't remember.
AYERS: I didn't have anything to do with it. I might have
and there and might know very little because at that time I had moved
out of the press office.
HESS: Just looking back on those days, another question on the same subject,
whom did you think that the President wanted to run on the Democratic
ticket that year?
AYERS: Did he come out for Averell Harriman?
HESS: I think that was in '56. Now in '52...
AYERS: Oh, '52.
HESS: . . . when Stevenson finally did run, and there are several stories.
AYERS: I don't know whether I've got--I may have some notes of a conversation
with him. I did have some in which politics was discussed. We got to talking
HESS: Because it was in '52 when you did many of your special projects
for him. We can mark that down for future reference if you want to take
a little while to look it up because that would be a good one to cover--just
some comments on Mr. Truman's choice. There are those that say he did
want Stevenson to run and there are those who say that he actually preferred
AYERS: I don't know whether he ever said anything about that to me or
in my presence. You once asked me about his saying that he wasn't going
to run, you remember. That was supposedly down at Key West. I was at Key
West part of that visit. I wasn't there the day that that happened.
never heard it. Of course, I had formed an opinion long before that myself
pretty much. I couldn't have sworn to it as I could have just hearing
him say flatly.
HESS: What was your opinion? That he was not going to run?
AYERS: I didn't think he would. I got a hunch sort of on a couple of
rather flimsy things that he probably wasn't going to.
HESS: What were those? Do you recall at this late date?
AYERS: No, I can't tell you the date. One was quite a long while before
that, and then little things he said about Mrs. Truman or something like
that. I can't now. I remember I went to Chicago with him, Matt Connelly
and I went and I think Donald Dawson. He made a speech out there, it was
a Shrine affair, and we flew out and stayed at--it was the Stevens Hotel
then--I don't know what it is now--I haven't been there in years--I think
that was the time. I know the next morning I had breakfast with him--I
think the Secret Service came and said that the President was going to
have breakfast in there and we all straggled in and out. There was a couple--I
think that's where it was--I overheard two men talking to him. These were
local politicians--nobody whom I knew--and he brushed them off rather
sharply--not sharply either, but rather positively. I don't know as he
as definite as that he was not going to run, but I know
it lasted only a few minutes--I never forgot it. We weren't sitting down
or anything, you know, it was kind of a standup breakfast and these two
men were there. I don't know that they were there for breakfast and they
were talking to him, and as I came along--the thing stuck in my head from
that day right on and has ever since. I don't know who they were but I
just thought, well, he's telling them he isn't going to run. That's what
it amounted to--that's the feeling I had. On the other hand-I don't know
if I want to put this in the record, however, I'll tell you about it later.
A man came to me here in Washington, an old friend, he wasn't living here
in Washington, but he came to Washington and he's a writer. He called
me up and he was over at the Carlton Hotel and I went over. He said, "Eben,
I've got this magazine piece all written." He said, "Read it."
He said, "Am I right or not," or something like that, and he knew President
Truman very well, and it was a prediction that he would be nominated and
would run and be elected. Now, I didn't discourage him exactly but-and
I probably should have, but I couldn't pin my opinion on anything
specific enough to tell him he was wrong.
I guess I said, "You're going pretty strong," or something like that,
and it was run in one of the leading magazines. It was wrong, but it never
did him any harm.
HESS: You mentioned before we started recording that you want to go a
little bit more thoroughly into the morning staff conferences, and that
you want to give a good deal of research to that.
AYERS: Well, I thought I'd tell who they were; we'd name some of them
and discuss some of them, and at least show who attended those conferences.
Specifically I could give you the dates which would show the change over
HESS: That would be very good and then when we do that perhaps we could
discuss the staff itself--some of the men whom we have mentioned in times
past. If some duty that they had comes to mind, something that they did
that might not be generally known, then we can cover that at that time.
AYERS: That's what I thought. I had made--I'm still kind of checking.
Now that file is on Clifford. I've got quite a file on Clifford but mostly
of clippings and stuff, you know, magazine pieces and then notes that
I had in the White House, memos and things like that. And this is on Johnson.
I don't know how much of that you would be interested in.
HESS: All right, the general subject of the resignation of
What can you tell me about that? Do you feel up to that today? We haven't
been going at it too long, have we?
AYERS: No, not too long. I don't know how much you have in your files
out there about it. I suppose that Truman's own files probably have something.
Whether they have what I have or not I don't know.
HESS: We never know until we gather all the information.
AYERS: Now this is a peculiar setup. This is something that's in the
personal file of the President and it's a long, long piece and I don't
know whether that--it must be in the Library if it's in the President's
personal files. That doesn't mean that you've ever seen it, does it?
HESS: Not necessarily. Just roughly, what is it? Is it an exchange of
AYERS: Well, it is an exchange of correspondence but what I'm speaking
about is not an exchange of correspondence. Apparently, it's just something
the President sat down and wrote, because it begins like this: It's dated
September 12, 1950, and the first paragraph is a one sentence paragraph
On General Pershing's birthday, September 12, 1950, I had to
insist that the Secretary of Defense sign his letter of resignation--and
I had to insist.
And then it goes on for three pages.
HESS: Does it outline the area of dispute with Mr. Johnson?
AYERS: I guess so, yes. Well, it's quite a letter and on-top of that
I have also--this is pretty much a history of it which I put together.
How much of this would you want?
HESS: Well, one question here. If in future years your papers are going
to be out in the Library, then scholars when they reach this point can
just take it as a footnote and go from here to the record. Of course,
we hope that your papers will be available in the Library. I'm putting
in a bid for your papers right now--another bid.
AYERS: I understand.
HESS: But if not, if you might decide to do something else with those
very valuable papers, perhaps we could read it into the record at this point.
AYERS: I'd just as soon do that. I could give my own version here. Charlie
Ross dictated his version of what happened. I don't recall whether he
was present when Truman fired Johnson or not--I think he was and he came
back into his office and he dictated what had happened, at the instigation
of George Elsey and myself.
HESS: Just after the firing?
HESS: That would be very valuable.
AYERS: Now that I have somewhere and I thought that was it, but this
is the President's own version. Now that tells the background of it.
HESS: Did you copy this from a memorandum that you found in the President's
AYERS: I must have, but I don't recall. I don't recall where that came from.
HESS: Could you give me just the gist of it there?
AYERS: Yes. He gives the background of his selection of Johnson for the
job when he saw Forrestal was kind of going to pieces or cracking up under
the pressure of the reorganization of the Defense Department, he looked
around for a successor and said he had known of Johnson since 1918, and
he talked to various people and came to the conclusion that he could relieve
Forrestal and that Johnson could take over and do the unification job.
He was appointed and he said he did good work with Forrestal. Then the
President said something happened and he said he was of the opinion that
Potomac fever and a pathological condition were to blame for the fiasco
at the end. He said Johnson began--this is pretty strong stuff--to show
an inordinate, egotistical desire to run the whole Government. He said
he offended every member of the Cabinet and he said they never had a Cabinet
that Johnson didn't show plainly that he knew more about the problems
of Treasury, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture than the Secretaries of those
departments. He played no favorites, he said, all of them were included.
He said he never missed an opportunity to say mean things about the President's
personal staff. Then he tried to use the White House press for blowing
himself up and everyone else down, particularly the Secretary of State.
He said he had conferences with "enemy" Senators of the President and
he named some of them--made terrible statements. He said he misrepresented
facts to every committee before which he appeared. He said all of this
was carefully reported factually by men who were present. He, finally,
in June of 1950, made up his mind that Johnson would have to go.
HESS: In June of 1950.
AYERS: Yes. He said he made a trip to Leesburg--talked to General Marshall
about China, Formosa and so on, and finally he got to the Defense Department
but that's the gist of it. And then he said finally things came to a head.
HESS: Was this before or after the Korean invasion that was in the latter
part of June? Do you recall offhand if he
had decided to replace Johnson
before the Korean invasion or not?
AYERS: Well, he says along in June in '50, "I made up my mind," and the
invasion was on the 24th of June.
HESS: Oh, was it?
AYERS: Because I was with him out in Independence when it happened. And
then he said finally things came to a head; he said one time in September
the General came to see him and he told him he had to get rid of Johnson.
He asked Marshall if he'd become Secretary of Defense if he, Truman, could
get congressional approval, and he said he'd do whatever the President
thought was necessary. He said, "He told me he'd be haunted by Hearst
and Scripps-Howard, McCormick and all the rest of the traitors and sabotage
press, but he'd take it if I wanted him to." And then he had on Friday,
September 1, '50, "I made up my mind to tell Johnson what was necessary,"
but he said, "I had to talk to the nation that night," and he postponed
it until Monday and then another week and in the meantime in the usual
Washington manner a leak appeared in the form of an item by Tony Vaccaro
saying Johnson was to be fired. Where it came from no one can find out.
I knew something about that. Well, then he tells about firing him.
HESS: If in future years the memo is out at the Library, then the researchers
can go to your papers and read it in its entirety.
AYERS: Oh, here it is. This is a memorandum for the record by George
Elsey which says that: "On Tuesday, September 12th Mr. Charles Ross dictated
the attached motes to me in his office concerning the circumstances of
the resignation of the Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. The notes are
in Mr. Ross' own words." I could read into the record if you want me to.
HESS: That's fairly short. Why don't you read that in.
AYERS: Well, this is Charlie Ross' dictated memorandum of what happened.
Sometime before Tuesday, September 5th, the President decided
that he would ask Lou Johnson to resign when he came over to see the President
that day at 12:30 for his regular weekly appointment. The President, however,
could not bring the matter up at that time because Johnson brought Francis
Matthews, the Secretary of the Navy, with him to discuss some routine
The President then decided that he would ask for Johnson's resignation
on Monday, September 11th and he called Johnson to the White House for
an off-the-record meeting at 4 p.m. that day. Johnson came and left
by the side entrance and the reporters did not hear about the visit.
He left at 4:40 p.m. and then the President came immediately to my office.
The President told me about the interview as follows:
'Lou came in full of pep and energy. He didn't know anything
was wrong. I told him to sit down and I said, "Lou, I've got to ask
you to quit." He just folded up and wilted. He leaned over in his chair
and I thought he was going to faint.
He said, "Mr. President, I can't talk."
The President said that he told Johnson that the pressure on him, the
President, to get rid of Johnson had become so great he could not withstand
it any longer. The President said he put the whole thing on the pressure
that was being brought to bear on himself. He said he did this to make
it as easy as possible on Johnson. The President told Johnson that members
of Congress were coming to him and telling that Johnson's continuance
in the Cabinet would beat them in the November elections. The President
said that Johnson sought to argue the case but was told it was no use,
that 'I have made up my mind, Lou, and it has to be that way.'
The President told me that Johnson left in a terribly dejected frame
of mind. He was really beaten down. 'I felt pretty bad myself,' the
President told me. 'This is the toughest job I have ever had to do.
I feel as if I had just whipped my daughter, Margaret.'
The President told me that Johnson said he would like to have a couple
of days to think it over. The President told him he could, of course,
have a couple of days but that there wouldn't be any change. Secretary
Johnson came to the White House again at 12:30 on Tuesday, September
12th for the regular weekly appointment. This time he brought the Secretary
of the Air Force, Tom Finletter, with him and it was again impossible
for the President to bring up the matter of the resignation.
I saw the President a few minutes after Johnson left at 1 o'clock and
the President told me he had just hung up the phone after calling the
Deputy Secretary of Defense, Steve Early. The
President said he had
urged Early to try and bring the matter to a head. The President also
asked me to talk to Steve. I did this and Steve assured me that he would
try to get Johnson to write and sign an appropriate letter of resignation
as soon as he got back to the Pentagon. The urgency of getting the matter
closed out had been heightened by newspaper leaks that Johnson had been
asked to resign.
About 3 o'clock Steve called me and read the rough draft of a letter
which he, and I assume other advisers, had prepared for Johnson's signature.
I told Steve I thought the letter was excellent. Steve said he would
put it before Johnson right away and try to get him to sign it and bring
it with him to the Cabinet meeting at 4 p.m. Steve succeeded in persuading
Johnson to bring the letter with him to the White House, but when Johnson
handed it to the President after the Cabinet meeting was over, it was
unsigned. The President told me later that when Lou handed him the letter
he expressed the hope that the President would not ask him to sign it.
The President told Johnson that he had to sign the letter and Johnson
did. It was 5:45, after Johnson had gone, and in my presence the President
called up General Marshall in Leesburg, Virginia and told him that what
they had been talking about had been consummated, that he, the President,
would send up to Congress the next day the enabling legislation which
would permit General Marshall to take the office.
General Marshall evidently assented. It was then arranged that I should
prepare a letter for the President's signature replying to Johnson.
I did this right away and read a rough draft to the President before
he left for Blair House. I then proceeded to finish it and I took it
to Blair House a few minutes before 6. The President signed the letter
and it was taken by White House messenger to Johnson. Both letters were
released to the press by me about 6:40 after I had received word that
the President's letter was in Johnson's hands. I told the press when
I released the two letters that the President had called General Marshall
4:45 and that General
Marshall had accepted, subject to the necessary
congressional approval. Several members of the press then told me that
they had heard something hours earlier about the resignation and that
General Marshall was going to be appointed as a result of leaks on the
Hill. The President apparently had told some congressional leaders about
his intentions earlier in the day and this was responsible for the leak.
The effective date of Secretary Johnson's resignation was fixed as Tuesday,
September 19th, at Steve Early's suggestions, in order that Johnson
could fulfill a speaking engagement at the American Bar Association
in his capacity as Secretary of Defense.
That's Charlie Ross' version of it, which I think is an accurate one.
Now those seem to be all the facts, I guess. Johnson was nominated for
the job on March 4, 1949, by the President, so that's the story of Johnson's
HESS: One thing comes to mind--in the autumn of 1950 was when Mr. Truman
took a trip out to Wake Island to talk to General MacArthur. I don't know
if we have discussed that or not. What do you recall about that?
AYERS: I do not recall whether we discussed that in any of our previous
sessions or not. In any event, my personal recollection of details of
the Wake Island trip is very slight now.
I believe, however, that among the materials that I have is a quite detailed
file covering the President's
trip and also relating to the recall later
of General MacArthur. There is, I think, a complete copy of this file
now in the Truman Library so I think it would be something of a waste
of time for me to try now to dredge up anything solely from my memory,
and it would probably be inaccurate as well as incomplete. Perhaps we
can go into this again later, if it seems that it would be desirable.
HESS: Well, we've done a pretty good job today of paring down some of
our questions. I have.
AYERS: I would like to do this over some time. I've got the data now
and I don't care about doing it now, it's on the record anyway, but I'd
like to put it down for my own--what Truman's relations with FDR were
after Truman was nominated Vice President. I've got that, I think, pretty
accurately in my own records.
HESS: Do you want to give that now?
AYERS: Well, we could, I suppose. There's not much to it, but I just
thought I'd put that in and then replace what I had.
HESS: Maybe we could put that down and then call it a day on that note,
even though I have other questions. You know the other questions I have;
they're on the list that you've been working on.
This is on the subject of Mr. Truman's relations with Franklin Roosevelt
after the nomination.
AYERS: Up until the time of Roosevelt's death.
HESS: So this will carry us through the nomination convention in the
summer of '44 through the time of Roosevelt's death.
AYERS: Well, I might as well start and put this from the beginning to
the end just to have it on my record.
HESS: A good chronological basis.
AYERS: Everybody else can find it anywhere they want to. There are numerous
places, but I'd like to get this down in my own record. On July 11, 1944
at a press conference Roosevelt announced that he would run again. Now
on the 13th he left on his trip to the Pacific coast. Well, that was an
off-the-record thing because wartime censorship was on, and on the 20th,
while he was out there on the west coast, the Democratic convention nominated
him and he addressed the convention by radio during the evening and he
disclosed that he was speaking from a naval base on the west coast. Then
on the next day, the 21st, Truman was nominated for Vice President and
we have recorded somewhere that Truman has told about that, I think, what
I heard him tell. Then after going to Honolulu and coming back up by the
Aleutian Islands and Alaska, Roosevelt spoke on August 12th from the Bremerton
and on August 17th he returned to the White House.
That was on August 17th. On the 18th he had luncheon with Truman, or
Truman had luncheon with him, at the White House--that was on August 18th.
He had had a press conference at 11 o'clock in the morning--Roosevelt
had--and that was the first he'd had since July 11th when he announced
that he would run again, and he was asked at that conference how Truman
would be used in the campaign next year, and he said he didn't know. Later,
after the luncheon, the reporters talked with Truman and he said that
they had decided to leave the campaign plans principally to the national
committee. He said he was going to deliver his first speech on August
31st at notification ceremonies at Lamar, Missouri. Now somehow or other
we got the impression that Roosevelt was--well, he was a little kind of
peevish at his press conference that day for some reason--just why, I
don't know. I know that I had that down in my notes; apparently it's repeated.
Then he had a luncheon again with Truman or Truman came to the White House
for a luncheon with him on December 21st. That would have been the second
time that he saw him, wouldn't it, after the nomination. Then the next
time that he came up was on January 2nd when he came at 10:30 in the morning
with Vice President
Wallace and Senator Barkley, Speaker Rayburn and Representative
McCormack. That was a regular thing that when Roosevelt was here, for
those leaders--the congressional leaders--to come up and have a conference
with the President. They'd come practically every week if he was there.
But after that January 2nd conference some of them said--the congressional
delegation said--somebody said that considerable time had been spent in
hazing the Vice President-elect. Mr. Truman said he'd been hazed all his
life by experts. Then on January the 9th the same group was up again in
the morning and Truman and the three leaders, Barkley, Rayburn and McCormack.
Now the inauguration came on the 20th, and shortly after the inauguration,
FDR left, you know, and went over to the Yalta Conference. On March 8th
he was in again with Barkley, Rayburn and McCormack and again on March
19th with them.
HESS: After the return from Yalta?
AYERS: Yes, and those were the only times that my records show that Truman
even saw Roosevelt after the nomination. Of course, on inauguration day
he stood up there and took the oath and all of that, but I mean the only
times that they got together and there couldn't have been any very intimate
HESS: Just offhand do you recall seeing Mr. Truman in the White House
during those two visits in March?
AYERS: I don't know. I doubt if I even looked out of the press office.
I didn't pay much attention to things like that.
HESS: Thinking back to those days, what were your thoughts on this man
who had obtained the vice presidential nomination and had been elected?
AYERS: I didn't have any particularly--why have any--I mean, the Vice
President didn't count for very much in those days, you know, normally.
I didn't have any great thought. My wife and I, on the 30th of January,
went to the luncheon that they had for the movie people and then Mr. and
Mrs. Truman were there in the reception line with Mrs. Roosevelt, because
he was then away. So we shook hands with them both but I didn't have any
thought or impression whatever as far as I can recall. I didn't ever expect
him to be President. You never thought anything about he might become
President. I think on inauguration day there was a little luncheon and
we didn't go to that because we weren't invited; purposely weren't, because
the man whom I was succeeding and his wife had been invited and his wife
didn't know that he was being released, and we didn't want to hurt any
HESS: I've probably asked you about this in the past, and if I have we
can scratch it out, but what were your thoughts about President Roosevelt's
health at this time during the last month or two of his life?
AYERS: Oh, I think we did discuss that. Well, nobody thought his condition
was what it was, of course. We did know that he was not up to what he
had been. I don't think that any of us thought it was as serious as it
was, obviously. The doctor didn't, you know. [Ross T.] McIntire. He didn't
go down to Warm Springs.
HESS: I believe we've discussed this before and you mentioned that the
doctor stayed back here.
AYERS: I've got the transcript of the press conference--not that one
but another one that was held with Steve Early when Roosevelt had been
down to Baruch's plantation to rest, and Steve got McIntire in and he
held a press conference. That was before, I think, that I went into the
press office. Then I've got the transcripts of the press conferences right
after he died when they got McIntire in then. Now there were times when
you could see he was very tired. This press conference on that day that
I speak of there, January--whenever it was--January 9th I guess it was--no,
January 2nd when he had a press conference.
HESS: You mentioned there was one in August.
AYERS: Oh, the August 18, that was one when he--I think he spoke so low
you could hardly hear him. He was tired. At Yalta now, they sent back
from Yalta a bunch of pictures which Jonathan [Daniels] and I had to go
over because that was wartime, and there was censorship. We went over
to the Pentagon for a lot of shots they had. The Navy people were looking
at some of them of the ships, because they showed radar which at that
time was off-the-record and other things, and then we had a bunch that
were taken over there at Yalta, and Jonathan and I went through them and
weeded out some of them and even then there were some that made him look
pretty bad, but nobody thought that he wouldn't do what he had done before--rested
he would snap right back in fine shape. But he didn't come back as much
as he had before. I don't know whether I showed you or not that letter
I have that was signed--you could see his signature, after he had signed
a few letters, wasn't the old signature.
HESS: It just gave out on him.
AYERS: Yet on the other hand I don't think that we were actually terrifically
shocked or surprised when he didn't snap back. I don't recall--of course,
it was a sudden shock there because it came so suddenly. I remember one
day after Jonathan Daniels was commissioned Secretary to the President,
and he had his commission framed and hung it up in the press office--his
part of it--and one day he called me and he said, "Eben, come here." So
I went in. He says, "I'm worried. Just look up at that." It was the signature.
"I know," I said to Jonathan, "I am too," I said. Because that signature
showed that there was a failing, but to say that he was going to die or
anything was another matter entirely. You might think that, well, maybe
he was laid up or something like that--tired out with the back braces
on. I don't think it occurred--I think I said to my wife that I was worried
about his condition--I think I did say way back at election time--I'm
not sure--but I think I did say to her one time, "I'm afraid if he's elected
he'll never survive," or something like that. That was different from
saying it right then. I guess I told you about the weird rumors that were
circulated at different times. One time during wartime, you know, they
had the darndest stories. They had him in hospitals and all sorts of things
and places when he wasn't at all.
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