Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Oral History Interview with

Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel to the President, 1946-50.

Washington, D. C.
April 13, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess

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

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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


HESS: To begin today, Mr. Clifford, do you recall if Hugh Fulton may have been under consideration for a position as Special Counsel or Attorney General at the time Mr. Truman took over the office of the Presidency?

CLIFFORD: I would not have any information on that because when I came in about May of 1945, I had had no previous acquaintanceship with President Truman. I had no knowledge regarding the associations that he had with any number of men. I met Hugh Fulton during that period, from time to time at the White House, but I was not privy to President Truman's plans with reference to him.

HESS: One point, to keep things in chronological order, also, what stands out in your mind concerning


the events around the White House at the day that the Japanese surrendered in August. Anything in particular?

CLIFFORD: I remember at that time that we had given some attention to the statement that President Truman made on radio. And it was a time, obviously, of great rejoicing. I remember being interested in when he was going to make the announcement, what was to be said, and when that was done, then I remember everybody pretty well declared the rest of the day a holiday. My wife was in town at the time, and I remember that we went our perhaps in the late afternoon, and stayed out all through dinner time, all through the evening, just mixing with the crowd. It was a marvelous experience. Everybody knew everybody, everybody was everybody's friend, any time a soldier would walk down the street, all the girls would stop and kiss him. It was a most . . .


HESS: A good day to be in the Army.

CLIFFORD: It was a most wonderful spirit of comraderie among all Americans, a time of great rejoicing and all. I know we got a great psychological lift out of it.

HESS: All right, moving on in time, Mr. Truman sent a message to Congress on September the 6th of 1945, the twenty-one point message, and in his Memoirs you are referred to in this context, and Mr. Truman says:

I sent the final revised version to the printer, and when the galley proofs were ready I called Clark Clifford, John Steelman, John Snyder, Charlie Ross, and several other advisers. With Rosenman, we went over the proofs point by point . . . .

What comes to mind when you look back on that message?

CLIFFORD: My recollection of it would be that I had worked with Judge Rosenman on it in a minor


capacity. It was mainly his job. I believe that what Judge Rosenman wished to accomplish by it, and President Truman was to show a continuity of governing and a continuity of policy between the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the Truman Administration. It was something of a reiteration of the basic principles that Judge Rosenman had worked on with Franklin Roosevelt, and I believe that President Truman wanted his team in on a conference to determine whether or not it would be right for him.

At that particular time, my own view of it was that it was a correct position for him to take. I believe that what he wanted to do was to demonstrate continuity of policy to the American people. It was not a time with all that was happening, to inform the American people that they were going to have a great shift in governmental policy. I think


any new President coming in under those circumstances is interested in demonstrating continuity. It helps keep the Ship of State on an even course, so that the public doesn't get an idea that there's vacillation going on on the bridge.

And in this instance, I'm sure that we all met and went over it and exchanged ideas. It is my recollection that the twenty-one point message came out pretty much as Judge Rosenman had originally prepared it. I don't believe that there was much modification of it. I might say (and we'll touch on it later) that as we got on into '46 and '47, I think that we changed from the policy of showing continuity to a policy that showed an affirmative effort on the part of President Truman to develop a Truman program as distinguished from a continuation of a Roosevelt program.

HESS: Was there a conscious effort on the part of the


White House staff at this time, say in the summer and early fall of '45, to show a continuation and to say that we should carry on with the Roosevelt policy.

CLIFFORD: I would say that it was more one of general attitude than it being a specific formulated policy. When President Truman came in, the war was still on in both theaters. I suppose it was in May that the European phase ended, May of '45 . . .

HESS: April.

CLIFFORD: In April the European phase ended, and then in August the Japanese phase ended. We were still carrying on in the Roosevelt tradition through that time. And I'd say for the balance of '45 there was still a basic concept, "Let's carry on with the program the Franklin Roosevelt started." That was very much the


feeling, I believe, on the part of all of us at that time.

HESS: One other quote about that particular meeting that the President had on the twenty-one points message. He said:

Most of my advisers agreed with the message, but some of my more conservative associates advised me against this definite commitment to such liberal measures. One of these was John Snyder, who at that time was Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion.

At this time did you notice any beginnings of a struggle between the so-called liberal and conservative elements for the President's attention?

CLIFFORD: I was not conscious of it that early. The fact is that I had known John Snyder before I came to Washington. I had known him slightly in St. Louis, and I had an office in the White House in the East Wing where he had one. I saw


him from time to time. We were working together and I was, at that early stage, not conscious of the beginning of the struggle that was later to become so important. Also, I had not, by that time, worked into the inner counsel sufficiently to be conscious of the various cross-currents which were even then obviously starting to flow.

HESS: When things began to shape up between the conservatives and the liberal elements who were a few of the people in each camp?

CLIFFORD: I would say that as we got on into '46 I became conscious of two major forces which were pulling and tugging at the President. And on the liberal side, I would say that Oscar Chapman would be an important figure, and I believe, I might have talked about the Oscar Ewing group? Did I go into that?


HESS: We haven't touched on that yet.

CLIFFORD: We haven't? All right, well, that was one of the most significant developments that took place. There were others . . .

HESS: Did that--we'll cover that later, but did that start in '46?

CLIFFORD: Probably that did not start until either the end of '46 or the beginning of '47. I'm not sure I can just designate at the very beginning who the liberal forces were; it wasn't too clear. Most of the old Roosevelt appointees had been of liberal persuasion. By the end of '45 most of them had gone. Now, on the other side, I think that as time went on, John Snyder headed up the conservative group. I think I'd put Clinton Anderson, the Secretary of Agriculture, in that group. That would be about as far as I could go.


HESS: Any White House members, any White House staff members?

CLIFFORD: I think that I would put, generally, I'd put Dr. [John R.] Steelman more in the conservative camp than I would in the liberal camp. Oftentimes the line of demarcation was not too sharp. I think that a man like Charlie Ross might sometime be in one camp and sometimes in the other. He was more likely to be in the liberal camp than in the conservative camp, but in those early stages the lines were not nearly so clearly drawn. Later on they did become very clear.

HESS: Do you recall the incident, or the occasion, w hen you first noticed that there were two such forces?

CLIFFORD: No. I would not be able to pick up . . .


HESS: Can't pin it down?

CLIFFORD: I would not be able to be that specific. I would say that in the first half of '46, while I was still in the Naval Aide's office, I started doing some of the duties that had previously been assigned to Judge Rosenman. Also, I remember working quite closely with John Snyder during that period. I remember writing speeches for him. And then we came to the railroad situation in the spring of '46.

HESS: That's right.

CLIFFORD: And I'm sure that John Snyder probably applauded my efforts at that time in writing that very rough speech for the President. I might add that I later thought that maybe the speech was too rough, but certainly at the time it helped accomplish the purpose. It broke the strike and kept the railroads running.


And then later that year we got into the real serious imbroglio with John Lewis. At that time I suppose that John Snyder probably applauded my efforts in that regard, because I counseled the President to take a very hard line with Lewis.

HESS: Why?

CLIFFORD: Because I thought we could not permit a strike. We were just coming out of the wartime economy, the peacetime economy really was teetering in balance, and a coal strike at that time would have dealt the economy a blow from which it might not have recovered for years. It so happened that I remember there were very short supplies of coal all over the country. And if we had a strike, our public utilities would have been forced to shut down, our office buildings would have had to shut down because


the elevators couldn't run, and our schools and hospitals would have had to close. I felt that Lewis was wrong and I felt that the President was going to have to take a hard stand.

Also, I thought that it was an excellent opportunity for President Truman to be a very strong President. And he was a strong President; and he busted that matter wide open and it did a great deal for him. He took the case to court and it was tried and he won, and it went to the Supreme Court where the decision was affirmed. And I think it was that case together with the railroad strike that began to develop a real place for President Truman. Up until that time he was but a carbon copy, and a rather pale carbon copy, of Franklin Roosevelt. And I think that, although he had to take a very hard position in both of those


situation, they both turned out successfully. In politics, it's really success that counts.

HESS: Do you recall the nature of the advice the President received in the Lewis matter from the Department of Labor and from John Steelman, his labor man in residence in the White House?

CLIFFORD: They were both of the strong conviction that a settlement should be worked out, and that we should not get into a law suit over it. They felt it was better to work it out with Lewis and conceded that some kind of strike might be necessary. They didn't want to get into this kind of head-on contest.

Fortunately, President Truman rejected that advice, and did engage in it, and the courts and the public ultimately held that he was right and Lewis was wrong. And curiously enough, out of that struggle came a lasting friendship between


President Truman and John L. Lewis. John L. Lewis developed a lot of respect for President Truman in that fight, because he had given him a whale of a licking, and there weren't many who had given John L. Lewis a licking up until that time. And it was an interesting result; they both had a very real respect for each other, and later became friends.

HESS: We have mentioned the fact that several of the Roosevelt people stayed over in the Truman administration for a period of time. Did you detect any note, or feeling, of resentment on the part of the Roosevelt people against Mr. Truman, in the nature that they thought he might not be up to Mr. Roosevelt's standards?

CLIFFORD: Oh, unquestionably. As far as I was concerned, that was the attitude of practically all of the Roosevelt appointees.


HESS: How about Judge Rosenman?

CLIFFORD: Judge Rosenman could very well have been the exception to it. And I think there was another exception and that would have been Steve Early. I think that those two could have constituted exceptions, but you have to think back about the climate at the time. Franklin Roosevelt was a towering figure. He had had a very successful term as President; he had helped bring the country out of the depression of the thirties; he had been the wartime President in the first half of the forties (and successfully so), he was bringing the war to a successful conclusion when he died in April of 1945.

Then came President Truman, who was not nearly so well-known, who didn't have the style and the grand manner of FDR, and it was a very serious let-down for the Roosevelt


appointees, and they went rather quickly. And I think it was wise that they did, because President Truman was not comfortable with them and he began to organize his own team, with whom he felt comfortable and with whom he could work more effectively.

HESS: Now, getting ahead of the game a little bit, but in 1946, an off-year election when the 80th Congress came in, during the campaign Mr. Truman's activities were held down, and I recall that there were a good many Roosevelt speeches on records which were used quite extensively. And there were clubs for--it was almost as if the Democrats were running Roosevelt as head of the party and not Mr. Truman.

CLIFFORD: I think that's right, and I think the significance of that is clear. Franklin Roosevelt died a hero in office, and it was claimed that he was a casualty of the war, just like the


man who carried the gun, as the burdens of office had been so great for him. There was a great outpouring of sympathy and admiration for FDR, and it was a very difficult time for the Vice President to come in. With the elections coming on in '46 the Democrats in a great many parts of the country, instead of pushing President Truman, pushed the Roosevelt program. They thought they had a more saleable article. "Keep the present administration in and you keep the Roosevelt program," was pretty much the philosophy at the time.

HESS: Do you recall President Truman's attitude about this particular happening?

CLIFFORD: Not in any detail. I think he accepted it philosophically. I think he sensed why people felt that way about it. You will remember that when he ascended to the office of the President, he said that he felt like the roof had just fallen


in on him. And I think he understood it very well. I don't believe it was a matter of very much concern to him that certain people felt that way. As a matter of fact, the election of November of '46 was to a great extent a question of whether or not the country wanted to continue on with the Roosevelt program. By that time President Truman had pretty well adopted it in the twenty-one point message in September of '45. He continued to go on with FDR's programs without rocking the boat. In November of '46, the people were sick and tired of the war, and tired of the effect of the war on the economy.

I remember one of the big issues at that time were price controls, that people had gotten sick of. I think to a certain extent, the election in November of 1946 was rather comparable to the British election in the spring of '45


which seemed absolutely unbelievable to us. After Winston Churchill took the British people through the most grievous experience in British history successfully, to a great extent by the strength of his character and his integrity, they turned him out of office under the most embarrassing circumstances. The British election was held in the spring and early summer of '45 during the Potsdam Conference.

HESS: Right during the Potsdam Conference.

CLIFFORD: And Winston Churchill was representing the British Empire at the Potsdam Conference; the election then takes place, and he is defeated in a most humiliating way. He had to get up and leave the Potsdam Conference and go back to England and Clement Attlee came over and took his place. So, there was a certain amount, I think, of that general public reaction when the


November '46 election came up. They were sick of the war and they were sick of all that went with it, and . . .

HESS: Time for a change, more or less.

CLIFFORD: . . . turn the folks out--time for a change, that's right.

HESS: Return to normalcy, as they said after the First World War.

CLIFFORD: That was Warren Harding's slogan, "Return to normalcy."

HESS: That's right.

At one point you mention that in your opinion Mr. Truman was a very strong man. I would like to ask when you first noticed that characteristic about Mr. Truman.

CLIFFORD: I would say that one would not notice it


at first because when he came into the Presidency, the office was so new to him. Franklin Roosevelt had taken no steps at all to prepare Vice President Truman to assume the former's office. My own view of it is, I believe, that Franklin Roosevelt did not think he ever was going to die and so there was no need to prepare anybody else to be his successor. And when President Truman came in, it was a trying time, and since he was new at the job, it took him quite a while before he began to assert himself. I believe the first time (and I'm sure there were more minor ones) that it was dramatic and important and came to the attention of the public in the early spring of '46, when he had the railroad strike. He showed plenty of courage at that time. Nobody had stepped up to these fellows before. They really had run it just the way they had wanted to run it; he stepped up to them and there was


no question at all about President Truman's courage from that standpoint.

He did the same thing in the contest with John L. Lewis. On the other side of the ledger, he showed quite a lot of courage in stepping up and vetoing the Taft-Hartley Act, since he felt that the Act was definitely inimical to the interests of labor. He was getting a lot of advice at the time to go ahead and sign it but he stepped up and vetoed it. He wrote a fine veto message, a strong, ringing veto message.

Two or three years ago I had some occasion to check that and it has stood the test of time very well. It was a cracking good message.

HESS: Did you help write that?

CLIFFORD: Yes. It's his message, though; all an adviser does is to help a President draft it. You get his ideas and then you try to formulate his ideas. You turn them over to him and he does


what he wants with it. It becomes the President's statement.

Nobody really writes anything for a President. You assist a President, but it's the President who makes the policy, and it's the President in the final analysis whose words they become.

HESS: How important do you think Mr. Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act was in his victory in 1948?

CLIFFORD: It had some usefulness. It was one of a series of actions on his part that showed his interest in, and dedication to, the advancement of working people in the country. Labor was very helpful in that campaign.

You're familiar with the political memorandum that I wrote for the campaign. What we were aiming for at that time were various large voting blocs. In that regard we made a real pitch


for labor, and rightly so, because the President felt a very real sympathy with the working people. That was one of the voting blocs we went out to get.

Another was the Negro. There had been a lot of talk prior to President Truman about civil rights. He's the first one who really did something about it, in my opinion. He put into operation, for instance, certain regulations in our military forces that had never been in operation before. He had a civil rights program and that's why the South walked out on him. That was another voting bloc.

Another bloc was the consumers. Another was the farmer. And those were four great blocs, voting blocs, that we made a very real bid for, and they are the ones that pretty well carried us through.

HESS: When we get up to the subject of the 1948


campaign, we will want to go through that very important memo quite extensively. I will just mention one thing in passing, though, I think you missed it on the South, isn't that right?


HESS: Remember that?

CLIFFORD: I did, I had some language in there that . . .

HESS: "The South has nowhere else to go," or something to that effect.

CLIFFORD: Oh, it was terrible!

HESS: I have it here with me today, but I won't dig it up right now. We'll get into it later.


HESS: But, why did you feel that way about the South? Do you recall?


CLIFFORD: It was traditional. I felt that when the chips were down in 1948, that although the South had bucked before, and the South had not been fond of Franklin Roosevelt or Mrs. Roosevelt, when the time came to vote, why, they had voted Democratic. And I thought that we had not pushed the South beyond the limit that they would accept. I was wrong.

Now, in some other parts of the memorandum that I think the prophesies, or predictions, turned out to be pretty accurate. On that one I placed too much reliance on the tradition of past elections, and the historic loyalty of the South to the Democratic Party. The fact is they were completely fed up with the progress that he was making in the ci vil rights field.

I remember, for instance, a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in the spring, I think it was, of 1948, in which South Carolina had taken a


table, and Alabama, and Georgia. There were about five or six of those tables that ended up completely empty at that dinner. That was the South's way of protesting. They were not going to come and attend a Democratic dinner at which the President of the United States would speak. I saw all that.

At the same time I still did not think that the South had turned that far away from the Democratic Party. Well, it turned out that they had. But I believe that we had still made the right decision. I think the statistics bear this out. In the early morning of the day after the election, before all of the returns were in, the election hung on the results in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and California. My recollection is that by very narrow margins we carried each of those four states. And I believe the margin by which we carried the Negro vote in each of those four states substantially exceeded


the margin by which we carried each state which was a rather significant development. So, the votes we lost in the South, I think we made up in other places. When the final electoral count was made, it didn't turn out to be a very close election. President Truman had won by really quite a handsome majority.

HESS: That's fine. Well, we will go into that extensively when we reach the '48 campaign.

One question on the time you took over as Special Counsel: do you happen to know if anyone else was in the running for the position?

CLIFFORD: I had not heard that, and I believe that nobody else was. My progress in the White House occurred, if I might say, not through any intrinsic merit or ability, but because of the existence of a vacuum.

When Judge Rosenman said he was going to


go, President Truman made the decision not to replace him. I think Rosenman left the lst of January 1946. All of the jobs that he had been performing up to that time were no longer being performed because he had left, and yet somebody had to do them. I don't know quite how President Truman thought they were going to be performed.

HESS: And you had been assisting in that office anyway, on your own.

CLIFFORD: I had been assisting Judge Rosenman on a voluntary basis. As we got into '46, January, February and March, I began to do some of those matters on my own that I had been helping him with. And the fact is, that's what I really was interested in.

The war was over and I had no real reason to want to stay in the Navy. I would have been


glad to have been out of the Navy, but I was then serving as Naval Aide, which doesn't take much of your time. I don't know if I mentioned it, but about 25 percent of your time as Naval Aide, you serve as a "potted plant," you see, at White House festivals and parties and so forth. And that didn't interest me at all.

But the President would use me more and more because somebody had to do the various tasks Rosenman had done, and there was nobody else doing it. I wasn't particularly equipped to do it, but somebody had to do it, and fortunately I had had previous experience with Rosenman. I was learning fast and I did them. And then came the railroad strike and President Truman said to me, "I want a good hard-hitting message." He gave me some notes, some handwritten notes, as I remember.

HESS: According to Cabel Phillips, the notes that he


handed you were rather inflammatory, is that right?

CLIFFORD: Plenty! He was mad.

HESS: Do you recall that?

CLIFFORD: Oh, yes. And that was, of course, one reason that the speech was so tough.

HESS: When he handed you those notes, were they more or less in the form of notes or what he would have--sort of a draft as he would have liked to have given?

CLIFFORD: It was not so much a draft, but rather contained points that he might have expanded on. It might be a paragraph that would contain an idea, and then there might only be a sentence or two to hit hard, and then he might have started to write another paragraph. And I might say to you, Charlie Ross and I looked at


those notes and we agreed that he never could have given that speech. I mean . . .

HESS: Isn't that the one where he ended up saying, "Come on boys, let's go hang some traitors?"

CLIFFORD: I don't remember the words, but it was just rough as a cob. We toned it down a great deal, and I think he felt it was right to tone it down. He just let go. It's like writing a letter to somebody in which you just pour out all that you feel and when you finish you feel a lot better. Then you tear it up and put it in the wastebasket. And I think he didn't intend that we go that far, so we toned it down quite a lot, but it was still a very rough speech.

HESS: Two of the men who are mentioned in that speech are A. F. Whitney and Mr. Alvanley Johnston, or however you pronounce his first name. I understand they came into the White


House for discussions about this time. Is that correct? They came in to discuss . . .

CLIFFORD: Yes. I think he saw them before he reached the decision to go up to the Hill, and I think he had conferences with them that contributed to his attitude. I think he felt that they were completely intransigent.

HESS: Did you sit in on those conferences?

CLIFFORD: No, I don't know whether anybody did. I'm quite sure that I did not. I think he felt that they were really awfully arrogant, and this is what really got his goat. And that was the background of his writing these very tough notes.

HESS: I believe it was at this time, when President Truman--when A. F. Whitney said he would spend every penny in the union treasury to defeat Mr. Truman in the next election.


CLIFFORD: That's right. That's right. After the President hauled off and let them have it in his speech, they were outraged and just as bitter as they could be. And they took a pretty stiff trimming, which people don't like to do, and nobody had trimmed them before. And that's when, I think it was Whitney who said, "I will spend every cent in the treasury to beat President Truman." It didn't turn out that way at all. By the time '48 came around these men were for him.

HESS: That's right, he was a real supporter during the '48 campaign.

CLIFFORD: He was. And I think John L. Lewis was too.

HESS: That's right. Now, this is also the speech at which Mr. Truman was handed the note by Leslie Biffle . . .


CLIFFORD: That's right.

HESS: During the speech.

CLIFFORD: Halfway through the speech.

HESS: Now, some people at that time felt that was staged.

CLIFFORD: I know it was not. I know that I rode up to the Hill with President Truman in his limousine. John Steelman, I think, was at the Statler Hotel in conference with Whitney and Alvanley Johnston. The idea was all set up that if he made any progress there, he was to get in touch with me, or I was to get in touch with him at the intervals, because I could locate him more easily since I had his phone number.

When we got up there, I did not go sit in the chamber, but instead I sat in an anteroom


off the chamber, the House chamber, for the very purpose of trying to get any word that came through. I don't recall whether he had my number. I may have called him and given him my number after I got there. I believe that's the way it went, and he was to call me if any developments took place that were significant. Approximately halfway through the speech, the message came from Steelman (I talked with him directly over the phone), and he said, "We have reached an understanding. The strike is broken. The men are going back."

I wrote a quick note in longhand, took it up to Biffle who was sitting within the Chamber. He then looked at it, recognized the significance of it, stepped up and handed it to President Truman while President Truman was delivering his message to the joint session. And President Truman stopped and then read the


statement there to great applause. A photographer fortunately took a very dramatic photograph of Les Biffle handing the note to President Truman, and President Truman receiving it, and then that photograph appeared in the paper.

Now, it was Wayne Morse of Oregon who contended in a public statement within a day or two, that he thought the whole affair was framed and he thought it was staged. President Truman got in touch with Wayne Morse and explained to him everything that happened and Wayne Morse apologized to him and said he was awfully sorry that he had gone off half cocked.

HESS: All right. We have mentioned Judge Rosenman. After Judge Rosenman left, did he ever come back to assist you at any time?

CLIFFORD: Very rarely. On, I'd say, two or three occasions he came back. I think sometime in


1946 we had a crisis over the question of whether meat should be decontrolled. It was a great issue with the housewives of the country. The President had to prepare a message and, I think, the President asked Judge Rosenman to come back at the time to help with it, because I remember Judge Rosenman working with me on the message in the Cabinet Room. We worked late one evening. I think he didn't get down until dinner time and we worked most of the night because the President had to deliver the message the next day. But that's one of the few times that he was called back.

I believe that what President Truman wanted to do was to have as clear a cut-off with the old Roosevelt administration as possible, and that would include a complete separation from the former Roosevelt personnel.

HESS: What was your view on that?


CLIFFORD: I thought it was probably wise. I was interested in President Truman developing his own status, his own personality, his own image, and not being a reflection of FDR. As time went on, President Truman did do that, and it was right that he should do it, and he could never have gotten anyplace in 1948 unless he had. People weren't interested, in 1948, in voting for a pale carbon copy of FDR.

HESS: This brings up the standard stock question. Was the Fair Deal a continuation of the New Deal, and is that even valid, would you want such a continuation?

CLIFFORD: This is really quite clear. The Fair Deal was not a continuation of the New Deal.

My interpretation of it would be as follows: Through the lengthy Roosevelt administration the New Deal was a great liberal move. It accomplished a great deal, and at a time when we had to work


out of the awful depression of the late twenties and early thirties it was very definitely needed. I like to view President Truman's Fair Deal as an analysis of the New Deal, with the preservation of some of its tenets, and the discarding of others. I think it was more of a stopping to study, and reflect, and regroup.

If you wanted to compare it to the field of battle, let's say that President Roosevelt conducted a constant offensive for twelve years, and finally then he left and President Truman came in. I think President Truman found that maybe we had advanced to a point where it was not a good idea to advance further. Stop and establish a line at that point, bring up your supplies, bring up your lines of communications, reorganize, and re-evaluate, and then gradually, and slowly, start a gradual new offensive under the name of the Fair Deal. That's the way I


like to visualize it, and I think that's the way it turned out.

HESS: All right, fine.

In our first interview we mentioned the memo that Arthur Krock has as Appendix A of his memoirs, but I would like to continue on just a little bit in that because as I see it, two of your most important roles as Special Counsel were advising on foreign affairs, and advising on domestic affairs. And, using this memo, I think, to start a discussion on your role as an adviser on foreign matters, foreign affairs matters. One thing: Who helped you, who assisted you in the compilation, or in the writing of this particular memo. Do you recall?

CLIFFORD: Yes, his name was George Elsey.

I would say that after I was first precipitated into this vortex at the White House


(and that's what it was in those early days), I gradually became involved in (in the year '45), domestic problems. Afterwards, I gradually began to have some part in foreign policy and national security problems.

You go into those things slowly. One reason I went into them slowly is that I had such an enormous amount to learn. I had no real background in them. I had, I think, an excellent background in American history, but no previous background in government. And I had to learn as I went; it was catch as catch can, and those were pretty hectic days.

As we began to get into 1946, I became involved in more matters all the time. During '45, the President gave me an assignment to conduct a study and write a memorandum on the possibility of putting universal military training into operation. Also at one other time in '45,


I had an assignment to start preparation of a study on the unification of the services. These were fascinating.

Then we get along into '46 and in the spring of '46 the President gave me the assignment of preparing memoranda for him on our relationship with the Soviet Union. That was the occasion when I talked with different individuals that we have mentioned. And with Elsey's help, we obtained a great mass of material, distilled it, synthesized it, and wrote the report. I might say, that as I began to get into these areas, I found that the enormous, attractive, and almost magnetic force that was pulling me on was in the area of national security and foreign policy. I obviously dealt some with domestic policy, but I found out after a while that foreign policy became my major interest. This happened in a rather interesting way.


When I had been in the Naval Aide's office, I developed a relationship with Jim Forrestal, who was then Secretary of Navy. I began to get involved in military matters. When he became Secretary of Defense, I was very much involved with him. I gradually grew into the position of liaison between White House and first the War Department and Navy Department and then the Defense Department.

These matters developed through my personal relationships, and the same development took place in the field of foreign policy. When I came in there, Dean Acheson was Under Secretary of State. I had met him here in Washington and we had developed an excellent relationship. When Jimmy Byrnes went out at State, and Dean Acheson went out, General George Marshall came in. I did not have much of a relationship with him, but the Under Secretary of State then was Robert Lovett and he and I were already friends.


So that gradually during the time I was there, the Special Counsel's office became the liaison with the State Department, and with the Defense Department. That helped contribute to my interest in national security affairs and foreign policy affairs.

HESS: I have some specific questions that I want to get into about your relationship with Mr. Forrestal, but let's continue on here for just a moment and I'd like to ask you some general questions about some of the specific wording in your memo that was published, published by Mr. Krock in 1968. By the way, do you know where he came about his top secret copy?

CLIFFORD: Yes, I do. He came in (I'm not going into detail on that for there was some kind of misunderstanding and maybe I'll call it that), but I let him read my rough copy, and I had


no hesitancy in doing so. By that time it was eighteen years old, and time had long since passed when I thought there was any sensitivity connected with it. Now, I let him read it, but I let him read it in my office. Now, whether thereafter he went out and was able to find a copy of it to put in his book, I do not know. It was done without consulting me.

HESS: Which was a wrong thing to do.

CLIFFORD: I would reserve my opinion on it, I am just making a statement of fact.

HESS: All right. Now, in reading through the memo, I found several things that I would like to bring up just on general wording. The first is perhaps the least important of all, and you say:

The language of military power is the only language which the disciples of power politics understand.

Valid statement?


CLIFFORD: I consider it a valid statement as far as I know. I would assume that would come in the part that I had written. I guess those are my own words.

HESS: The next is a little bit longer:

The Soviet Union's vulnerability is limited due to the vast area over which its key industries and natural resources are widely disbursed, but it is vulnerable to atomic weapons, biological warfare and long range airpower. Therefore, in order to maintain our strength at a level which will be effective in restraining the Soviet Union, the United States must be prepared to wage atomic and biological warfare.

Have your views changed any in the ensuing years on atomic and biological warfare?

CLIFFORD: Well, keep in mind that this was the very beginning of the relationship. We had not really needed to concern ourselves before, with reference to the Soviet Union. Keep in mind also, that when the war was over, the greatest military force in the world was the Soviet Union. We


wrecked ours; people were sick of the war. I don't know if you remember it, but . . .

HESS: "Bring the boys home."

CLIFFORD: Bring the boys home, let them out. Our troops rioted in Europe. I don't know if people remember that.

HESS: And in the Philippines too, as I recall.

CLIFFORD: And so that we dismantled our military machine perhaps much too quickly. The Russians did not. They had this enormous, trained, powerful military machine. And I was writing a confidential memo for the President pointing out the danger that existed at the time, and saying that we must be prepared not only to defend ourselves but also the entire free world at the time. I was indicating that we should be prepared to undertake the defense


in any way that became necessary.

Now, a great deal has happened since then. In my opinion, the type of communism that exists in the Soviet Union today is not the kind of communism that existed twenty years ago when the memo was written. Let's see, that would have been '46, twenty-five years ago.

Our whole concept of our role in the world, I hope, has changed a lot. As far as biological warfare is concerned, it would be perfectly all right with me if we destroyed every form of biological means of warfare that we have in this country.

Now, as far as our nuclear capacity is concerned, we must continue to maintain that. It never occurs to me that we would make a first strike against the Soviet Union. This is not part of our planning, and I think I will never see that day. I hope that I never will. However,


what we must do in this country, is maintain such an enormous striking capability in our nuclear weapons, that the Soviets will know that they cannot attack us without being destroyed.

HESS: Massive retaliation.

CLIFFORD: Massive retaliation. That must be the basis as far as our nuclear strength is concerned, vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. And that's what I believe today. So, as far as that statement there is concerned, there's not very much difference between our attitude then and our attitude today. We must maintain this protection. I believe the reason the Soviets have not chosen to strike us is because they are convinced that they would be destroyed, and that's what maintains the peace.

HESS: And one of the most interesting paragraphs I



In conclusion, as long as the Soviet government adheres to its present policy, the United States should maintain military forces powerful enough to restrain the Soviet Union and to confine the Soviet influence in its present area. All nations not now within the Soviet sphere should be given generous economic assistance and political support in their opposition to the Soviet penetration.

Now that brings up two very important subjects, the so-called doctrine of containment, and far more important, it seems to me to be an early stirring of the Marshall plan.

CLIFFORD: I think there's no question with reference to either of those statements.

Keep in mind that at the time that was written in September of '46, the Soviet Union: A. Had the most powerful ground military force in the world; B. They had already started a period of expansionism. They had taken Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania,


Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia; the whole western periphery of the Soviet Union had been subjugated. And it was just a step from there into Europe and Hungary. Hungary had not yet fallen, but . . .

HESS: Nor Czechoslovakia at this time.

CLIFFORD: That's right, nor Czechoslovakia, but both later did and that completed the whole periphery of nations. And it seemed very clear to me at the time we were the only ones who could stop this from going on. The nations of Western Europe were prostrate. England had nothing left; France had nothing left; Italy was a shambles; Belgium had nothing left. All that they had was the support of the United States. And it seemed very clear to me that we had to make it clear to the Soviet Union that they were not going to expand any more. To do so would bring them


into direct confrontation with us.

Now there is the germ of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which later came. In there it says too that our job is to help rebuild the nations of Western Europe to a point where they could defend themselves. Their defense wouldn't be entirely our responsibility. There is the Marshall plan.

So, I think that the memorandum contained the seeds of the Marshall plan, the seeds of NATO and the basic principles upon which the President relied for the Truman Doctrine which, I believe, he announced on March the 12th, 1947. That date was only six months after this memorandum was submitted. I think that the significance of the memorandum is that it contained the condensation and the thrust of the top thinking in the government at the time. It set the frame of mind and set the framework within which these great foreign policy decisions were made.


This is the area in which President Truman has carved out his niche in history. As far as I'm concerned, this is as proud a period in American history as exists. After having gone through an extremely costly war, both in terms of men and money, the United States, at great cost to itself, then squared its shoulders and said we are going to do even more. We are going to save Europe, and we did. We saved Europe and we saved the world. That's what happened.

HESS: Do you recall Winston Churchill's speech at Fulton? Of course, the very famous Iron Curtain speech was in March of 1946. Now, what that is remembered for, mostly, is his statement about the Iron Curtain. But one of the main points that he brought out was the idea of an Anglo-American alliance, a balance of power alliance. Instead of the two big powers, instead of the U.S. and Russia, it was a proposal


by Churchill to establish an Anglo-American balance of power. This was not picked up. In the press conferences just after this, several of the reporters tried to get Mr. Truman to comment on the subject, and he would not comment. Do you recall if this was discussed in higher places?

CLIFFORD: I cannot recall the details of it. I would know that that proposal would not be appealing to President Truman. There was no reason why there should be an Anglo-American commitment of some kind; the alliance had to be broader than that. England didn't have very much to bring to such a commitment; they had taken a terrible clobbering during the war. They still had some Navy, but they had serious problems. They had problems economically, politically and militarily, so that I would think that a proposal of that sort wouldn't have any particular appeal.

I can remember toward the end of 1946, the British informed this government that they no longer could continue to give the support to Greece and Turkey that they had previously given, and


they were going to have to pull out. And it created a very real crisis in this government. I remember attending some of those meetings over at the Pentagon and the White House about what was to be done. There was a number of different approaches to it. Out of that crisis came the decision by President Truman to make this public announcement and he did. You may note some of the language in there is very interesting. I don't recall the wording, but in his message of March 12, 1947, which was the response to the formal note of the British. President Truman informed a joint session of the Congress that it must be our policy to support those people who are resisting armed subjugation, either from within or without; this pretty well laid down the gauntlet to the Soviet Union.

That was the purpose of it--to let them know, by God, we understood what we were up to, and we were prepared to defend the freedom of the nations of Europe.

Greece and Turkey were very important because


they were anchors in the Mediterranean. If they had gone down the drain, the Mediterranean would very well have gone down the drain.

We previously had a nip and tuck situation with the Soviet Union earlier than that over Trieste (I don't know if you've been into that), and again President Truman took a very forthright position. He could have weaseled during that period and the Soviets could just have spread out. The world would be a very different place than it is today if it had not been for the intelligence and the perception and the courage of President Truman. I have no doubt about that at all.

I say again, I think it's one of the proudest periods in American history.

HESS: On the subject of containment, of course, the word is very closely associated with George Kennan, and his "long telegram" to the State Department was in February of 1946. And I notice


you quoted a portion of George Kennan's "long telegram" in your memo. And then, of course, his famous article by "X" appeared in the July '47 issue of Foreign Affairs quite a bit later than this. In trying to find Kennan's first use of the word containment, as far as I could find, it was in a speech that he made to the personnel of the State Department on September the 17th, 1946, almost the same time as your memo was submitted to the--your memo was dated the 24th . . .

CLIFFORD: Of September.

HESS: September 24th. As far as I could find, Kennan's first use of the actual word "containment," came just a few days before. How much influence did Kennan's view, his long telegram of February '46, how much influence did Kennan have on your thinking, on the President's thinking, on the thinking


of people in high places?

CLIFFORD: I'm unable to recall. It would be one of a number of inputs, and I'm not conscious of the time that any particular significance was attached to it. Now I do remember great significance later was attached to the memorandum by "X", that caused a great deal of comment, but as you suggest, that came later. That came in '47.

HESS: That came the following summer.

CLIFFORD: Yeah, that's right. Well, we'd been all through this early thinking before he came up with that. I don't know, did I use the word containment in the . . .


CLIFFORD: . . . in the September '46?


HESS: No, the words you used were "restrain" and "confine."

CLIFFORD: Yeah. Well, then the word containment was perhaps his word; I had no recollection of using it. But there was no particular magic at the time. This was what we were thinking about.

Keep in mind that when President Truman gave me that assignment in the spring of 1946, he was still hopeful that we were going to find a way to get along with the Soviets. We had been their comrade in arms. We had fought, and together won, the greatest war in history; we had shipped millions of tons of war material to them, and it seemed perhaps reasonable that allies who had won a war could get along and try to find a basis for world peace. And it was just a constant source of concern to him.

They broke one agreement after another.


They took attitudes that obviously were thoroughly inconsistent with any desire to work with us to develop peace in the world. It looked to us at the time that they were engaged in a program of world conquest. What's more they were, and we stopped them. It's just about that simple. And one of the main reasons we stopped them was that we had the bomb and they didn't. That was an enormous factor.

HESS: One more quote. This is from Patrick Anderson's book, The President's Men, page 123:

It would be unwise to place too much emphasis upon impact of one document in moving Truman towards the Cold War policies he so resolutely followed. Yet the Clifford memorandum does give us an excellent picture of the state of mind in high levels of the government in mid-1946 as the U.S. moved towards such major decisions as the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO and the defense of Korea. The document shows how Kennan's view, with its stress on the political containment of the Russians, was swept aside by the doctrine of military containment.


Did you feel that you were sweeping something aside, and advising military containment?

CLIFFORD: No, not quite that way. I do not recall at the time of being conscious of any particular impact from the Kennan memorandum.

Keep in mind we had memos from the Secretary of State, War, Navy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Leahy; these were all top people. Kennan had not achieved the reputation then that he later was to achieve. It came in, but I wasn't conscious at the time of saying, "Well, now this is the famous Mr. Kennan, and therefore, we are going to discard this theory of political containment and turn to military containment." I would say to you I was only conscious of the fact that the Russians were engaged in the most aggressive type of expansionism and you were going to have to face up to it in whatever way that you could. And It didn't occur to me


that in this kind of a situation that we were limited to political opposition. When you are faced with that kind of a crisis you come up with whatever weapons you have--political, military, economic, psychological, whatever they might be.

HESS: One more thing on Mr. Kennan. And in his memoirs, discussing his "long telegram," in referring to his "long telegram":

To say the least, it went "the rounds." The President, I believe, read it. The Secretary of the Navy, Mr. James Forrestal, had it reproduced and evidently made it required reading for hundreds, if not thousands, of higher officers in the armed services.

Did you ever recall discussing the "long telegram" with Forrestal? Was Forrestal impressed by the telegram?

CLIFFORD: I cannot remember.

HESS: Okay.


All right, Mr. Clifford, now we have mentioned a couple of times your position as the President's coordinator and liaison between the Department of Defense and the Department of State and the other agencies of government. Is there a danger of having a White House staff member, a man who cannot be called to testify before Congress, by claiming executive privilege, in a high position of the President's foreign policy mechanism?

CLIFFORD: I believe the trend is one that would give all thoughtful Americans deep concern. Now back in the Truman administration, government obviously was not quite so complicated. It wasn't as large then, but this was conducted on a basis whereby we served as liaison. Papers would come over from State and Defense to my office and then be sent into the President. I oftentimes went in with either the Secretary


of State or Secretary of Defense, when conferences were held. It worked well. We had very strong Secretaries of State and Defense. My own view is they never in the world, for one minute, would have stood for this kind of operation that exists today.

What we did at that time was perform with a very small staff in an informal manner; this later became an institutionalized process. I think at one time Mr. McGeorge Bundy, in the early days of the Kennedy administration, assembled a staff of forty or forty-five men. I'm now informed that Mr. Kissinger who serves that function under President Nixon, has a hundred and twenty-eight men on his staff. They are broken down into geographical areas. He has a man on his South American desk, his European desk, his Middle Eastern desk, Southeast Asian desk. It's another State Department.


I believe it's a very poor arrangement. I believe that it creates within the White House, really, a replica of the State Department. I think that it cheapens the importance of the State Department, and the Secretary of State.

My own belief is that you can have a small liaison group, but you ought to select a man as Secretary of State who is a man in whom the President of the United States has the most confidence in that field. Foreign affairs should be conducted as they were when Dean Acheson was Secretary of State and when General George Marshall was Secretary of State. I might say that in the Eisenhower administration, President Eisenhower had great confidence in Foster Dulles; he served as Secretary of State and a competing organization within the White House was not established.


I think it is exceedingly unfortunate, from our standpoint, that it exists as it does today. If you wanted to carry it to its logical conclusion, you could have one group in the White House serving as the State Department, another group serving as Defense, another group serving as Interior, or Treasury, and the Congress of the United States couldn't get anybody up to the Hill who knew anything, because it was all being done within the White House. I've carried it out to the point that's ad absurdum, but it's to demonstrate the basic problem that exists.

HESS: Were there any times during the Truman administration, when acting in your capacity as liaison and adviser to the President on important matters, the President took your advice over that of the Secretary for the departments?

CLIFFORD: I would think it would not work so clearly or dramatically as that. I think that . . .


HESS: I'll tell you what I have in mind, and that is Israel.

CLIFFORD: Yes, I think that there could be rare exceptions, but ordinarily these matters were thoroughly discussed and various recommendations would be made. The recommendations usually followed conversations that were held, and there might be modifications occasionally suggested. It seems to me that the relationship was such that these things were talked out pretty well before the formal recommendation came over. Now, an exception to that is Israel, and whenever you want me to I will tell you about that.

HESS: How about right now.

CLIFFORD: All right. In early 1948 (maybe toward early spring), a question arose as to whether the United States would recognize the new nation


of Israel. Up to that time it was a protectorate. It had been called Palestine. They were going to announce their entry as an independent nationhood on a certain Saturday in March or April. I think they were going to do it about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Early that week, say on about a Monday, the President spoke to me and said, "I want to have a conference on this problem of Israel. I would like you to prepare yourself and you be the lawyer for the position that we should recognize Israel." He said, "I am inclined to believe that General Marshall is probably opposed to it, but," he said, "you get ready and we'll set up a meeting for Tuesday morning."

All right, 10, 11 o'clock Tuesday morning, over comes General Marshall and Bob Lovett and their Middle Eastern expert (the name gets away from me); it could have been Loy Henderson, but I'm


not sure. I appeared on behalf of the one side and I believe that David Niles appeared too. He was the White House assistant in charge . . .

HESS: In charge of minority affairs.

CLIFFORD: . . . of minority affairs, right. And I retained my longhand notes. I got them up just as though I was going to make an argument to a jury. I've done it I don't know how many hundreds of times in my career. I got up those longhand notes and fortunately I saved them; they are now with my Truman Papers out in Independence. President Truman called on General Marshall first, and General Marshall presented the case in opposition to our recognizing Israel. In general, the argument was that there were twenty or thirty million Arabs as compared to a million and a half Israelis and the Israelis were going to end up by being pushed into the


Mediterranean. Further, General Marshall spoke of the natural resources that existed, the oil in the area, our relationship with the Arabs, our ability to keep peace, and so forth and so on. And he spoke maybe ten or twelve minutes. Then it was my turn and I spoke. I had my material assembled, with an introduction and a body to the argument, and a . . .

HESS: Just like a good lawyer.

CLIFFORD: Well, it was the way I had been trained to do, and ended up with a ringing peroration.

Well, it infuriated General Marshall. He said something to the effect that he had been proceeding on the assumption that he was Secretary of State and that this was his area of responsibility; he didn't understand why Clifford was even there at the meeting. And President Truman rather tartly said that Clifford was


there because President Truman had asked him to come there.

That didn't deter General Marshall at all. He said that this was an important, serious question of policy and that he rather assumed that I was there because there was some political facet to it. He argued that it should not be decided on a political basis, but should be decided upon the merits. And certainly from his standpoint he didn't need any assistance from Clifford in reaching his own judgment on the matter.

That's a rather mild report of what took place. The President then hastened to mollify General Marshall by saying he wanted a thorough discussion and that he just felt that it was wise to hear both sides. He added that he had been greatly impressed by General Marshall's presentation, and the General need not concern


himself because as far as President Truman was concerned we would not recognize Israel.

Now, that was not the way President Truman wanted it to turn out, but I think he felt that it was very likely the best way to get out of a very bad situation at the time. He was a great admirer of General Marshall's and so forth.

They then all left. I gathered up my papers and he said, "I'm sorry, Clark, how this turned out. I didn't have any idea it would turn out this way."

I remember saying, "Mr. President, this isn't the first case I've lost, nor will it be the last."

Later that day Bob Lovett called and said that he was awfully uneasy about the decision and about the attitude of the State Department. He asked, "What do you think we had ought to do?"


Well, I said, "There isn't anything I can do at this end. The thing for you to do is persuade General Marshall that he's wrong. But, Bob, I'll tell you, he's just as wrong as he can be. This would be a terrible mistake."

My recollection is that I reported that to President Truman and I got the feeling from President Truman that he felt that Marshall just needed a little time. And sure enough, he was right on that because on Thursday Lovett called me and said he thought General Marshall was coming around. By Friday General Marshall had come around and the President was perfectly content with having it work out that way. The President felt very strongly about Israel; he believed in it. I think he just wanted to give General Marshall some time to come around.

I remember Bob Lovett called me Saturday morning and invited me to luncheon at the


F Street Club. We sat there after the luncheon and wrote out the release that would be given out. Then I hurried back to the White House, phoned the representative of Palestine (he was still called at that time), and said, "Get your request at once to the State Department." I told him the manner in which it must be handled. It was now going to break all right.

He got that done right away and sent a copy of it to the White House. The State Department responded and sent the request over. The President said, "Yes," and at 4 o'clock that afternoon (I remember it was terribly dramatic and exciting) Israel announced its creation as an independent nation. About five minutes after 4 it was recognized by the United States, and about twelve minutes after 4 it was recognized by the Soviet Union. We had wanted to recognize Israel before the Soviet Union did.


So, that's a rather interesting story. I think Jonathan Daniels goes into some detail on that in his book, but I can't remember.

HESS: The subject has been covered in various books.

What were your reasons for seeing that the recognition of Israel was necessary?

CLIFFORD: Well, they are in all--they are in detail so that you could apply when you look at those notes, generally . . .

HESS: Were political considerations a factor?

CLIFFORD: Political considerations were not a factor, and that's why I think both President Truman and I were pretty incensed at the position that General Marshall had taken.

The fact is there had to be a settlement of the whole Jewish problem. It has exacerbated that part of the world and major powers for


years, going back as far as the Balfour Declaration, which occurred in the very beginning of the Twentieth Century. It had to be settled. These people were entitled to have their own nation, and they were entitled to the support of the major powers.

That was it mainly. The President, I think, felt all along that he had a commitment in this regard. He had had talks with Mr. [Dr. Chaim] Weizmann and with a number of other prominent Jewish leaders. It was very clear at the time that this was the decent and honorable course of action.

Now, the military approach to the question, which I think General Marshall reflected, was exactly the opposite. The oil in the Middle East was a very important military factor. Maybe by that time the Soviet Union was poking around over there, and I think the military was concerned


that in the Middle East the Soviets would end up with all the Arab nations as allies, while we ended up with this poor pitiful little country, Israel. That's about the way that the arguments went.

HESS: Do you recall that Eddie Jacobson was very influential in the President's thinking on the Israeli matter?

CLIFFORD: I had heard that, but I don't know. I knew Jacobson, since he occasionally would be on the boat with us. I'm sure he felt strongly about it, and I suppose he talked to the President, but he just didn't happen to hold any discussion in my presence.

HESS: You mentioned David Niles. Did he speak with force in this particular meeting?

CLIFFORD: He was not called on, as I remember. I


think that he was there to be present and hear all the arguments. He may have taken part in the discussion, but I don't recall his presenting any argument, in opposition to that submitted by Marshall.

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