Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Eben A. Ayers

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

Washington, DC
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess

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


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

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

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

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

Washington, DC
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess

[250]

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

[251]

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

[252]

said at 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

[253]

said--Rosenman 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?

AYERS: Yes.

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.

[254]

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

[255]

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

[256]

Marshall 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

[257]

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.

[258]

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.

[259]

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?

HESS: Yes.

AYERS: Something like 400 million dollars. Wasn't that it?

HESS: Yes.

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

[260]

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 peace.

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

[261]

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 White House?

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

[262]

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?

[263]

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.

AYERS: Twice.

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

[264]

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 read that?

HESS: No.

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

[265]

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 organizations,

[266]

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

[267]

for 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 continue beyond

[268]

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

[269]

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 so suddenly.

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?

[270]

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

[271]

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

[272]

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

[273]

of these and that you might like to do a little bit more work on. One of them, I believe, pertains to George Allen.

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

[274]

something here 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 about it.

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 others.

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.

[275]

I 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 said anything

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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."

I did.

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.

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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 the years.

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

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Louis Johnson. 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 correspondence?

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 which says:

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.

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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?

AYERS: Yes.

HESS: That would be very valuable.

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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 papers?

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 meeting

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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

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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.

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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. He said:

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 business.

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:

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'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

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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 at

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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 resignation.

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

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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.

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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 Navy Yard

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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

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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 association.

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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 feelings.

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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.

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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

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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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