Oral History Interview with
Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel
to the President, 1946-50.
CLARK M. CLIFFORD
Washington, D. C.
May 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History
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This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
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HESS: To begin this afternoon, Mr. Clifford, just
a short question, and as the man who held the top position in the Department
of Defense, I'd like to ask your opinion of the possibility, or feasibility,
of the separation of powers between the two major departments, the Department
of State and the Department of Defense. And it seems to me, that decisions
made by the Department of State, bring about a situation where the Department
of Defense is brought in to back up those decisions, and sometimes the Department
of Defense almost makes foreign policy. Can a neat, straight line be drawn
between the responsibilities of those two major departments?
CLIFFORD: My experience would indicate that it cannot. The fact is I
have given some consideration
to recommending to a President at some state,
that a study be made to determine whether a "super secretary" shouldn't
be placed over the two departments which are then maintained in substantially
the same form as they are now.
The degree of cooperation between the two must be very close. Oftentimes,
in my experience, the Defense Department feels that the State Department
moves so ponderously, and so lethargicly, that some better system should
be devised. Also, and this looks at it just from the standpoint of Defense,
it is felt that State operates so in the course of tradition that it prevents
as much flexibility as is needed.
Now, I doubt the wisdom of combining the two departments because Defense
is so enormous and the administrative task there is no great. But I believe
that a new secretary post might some day be created to whom both the Secretary
of Defense and the Secretary of State report; that individual would
be the person that the President of the United States would hold responsible
for foreign policy and national security policy. Some means must be devised
to make that operation a smoother more integrated type of operation than
it is now. Sometimes, as you suggest, State will make policy in an area
which Defense thinks that it is the most important factor; Defense will
sometimes make policies that have an enormous impact on State, and they
won't consult State at all.
A quick illustration: I think State should be taken in on the discussion
of new weapon systems, because State could be very valuable in saying,
"Well, let's don't give any attention now to new weapons systems for fighting
jungle wars, because our longrange planners in the State Department don't
believe we're going to get involved in any more jungle wars." State's
really never consulted in that area.
What the "super secretary" is called makes no difference, but there
is the need for a higher authority so that the decisions of State
and Defense can be ordered with a clear recognition of the interests of
HESS: And there were times during the Truman administration when even
the Department of Commerce got into the foreign policy act. What do you
recall about the difficulties that befell Secretary of Commerce Henry
Wallace in September of 1946?
CLIFFORD: Well, that came awfully early in the Truman administration,
before machinery had been devised which would prevent incidents of that
kind. Later, I think the machinery was established by President Truman,
made it much less likely that an occurrence of that sort
would take place. I recall it generally, and others will have more detail.
Henry Wallace was Secretary of Commerce; President Truman liked him.
He was a sincere, patriotic American, who had different ideas from some
of the rest of us at the time. He had come from a farm state, and he and
President Truman had a good deal in common.
Secretary Wallace had agreed to make a speech at Madison Square Garden,
and he came over to President Truman's office and indicated the type of
speech that he was to give.
HESS: Did he have the draft with him on that occasion?
CLIFFORD: I was not present at the meeting. My recollection of it is
that he brought a draft of the speech along with him. I understood that
he said to President Truman, "I have here a draft of a speech that I'm
going to make later this week in New York at Madison Square Garden. The
substance of it is so and so." And he sort of thumbed through the speech,
and gave President Truman a general description of the content of the
speech. I think that President Truman indicated in some manner that it
sounded perfectly appropriate to him.
As a result, I think Secretary Wallace left with the feeling that he
had cleared the speech with President Truman, which really was not correct.
Wallace went ahead and made the speech, and the roof fell in; the speech
definitely intruded into the area of foreign policy. I have some
recollection that Secretary of State Byrnes was away at the time. I think
he was in Paris, but after he heard the report of the speech and
treatment it received in the papers, he was either on the phone with President
Truman or in touch by teletype. He was outraged by the speech.
It was a pretty serious time as far as the two men were concerned, because
I never had the feeling that as a team they were working together any
too smoothly anyway. It was a serious setback to the effective and smooth
operation of our Government at the time.
HESS: At the time that Mr. Wallace came in, you personally did not read
the draft, is that right?
CLIFFORD: I did not read the draft. I know that no one
read it because, in discussing the incident with the President afterwards,
he was very clear on the fact that a real gap had occurred. We then put
into operation a rule that if someone
brought over a speech, or called
the President to tell about a speech, President Truman would say, "Send
a draft of the speech over here." And that was then done. He would pass
it on to one of us to read and we would get a crack at it. So, as far
as I can remember, that particular mistake did not ever occur again.
And I'll tell you something else that President Truman learned from
that and from two or three other incidents. Sometimes a Cabinet member
would come over and explain orally a course of action that he was going
to take. And in the early days President Truman would say, "Well, that
sounds all right to me," and the man would go ahead and do it. After a
while President Truman said, "Submit a memo to me and I would like to
consider that," and then the Cabinet officer would send the memo over.
President Truman would submit it to the staff
and we might have a discussion
of it. More than half the time it was something that President Truman
wasn't in accord with, and he would then inform the Cabinet officer. Out
of the Wallace incident, there thus came a change in operation of the
White House that was very much to the good.
HESS: That gave the staff time to reflect and to think about what needed
to be done.
CLIFFORD: Right. President Truman did not have time, not does any President
have time to read all of this material. By having the person send over
drafts of the speech or a memorandum of what they intended to do, somebody
could read it and point out to the President what was in it that he should
know. I think we prevented a number of serious misadventures from occurring
after that incident.
HESS: In Volume I of Mr. Truman's Memoirs he has a
"Mama and Mary," one of his letters home, and I won't read it all by any
means, but in it he refers to the firing of Henry Wallace and says:
Charlie Ross said I'd shown that I'd rather be right than President,
and I told him I'd rather be anything than President. My good counselor,
Clark Clifford, who took Sam Rosenman's place, said, "Please don't
say that." Of course Clark, Charlie and all the rest of my good friends
are thinking in terms of 1948--and I am not.
An observation: Are you aware that this reference in Volume I, and the reference
to your participation in the meeting, and the review of the twenty-one point
message in 1945, which we have covered, are the only two times which you
are mentioned in Mr. Truman's Memoirs?
CLIFFORD: I was not conscious of that fact.
HESS: It surprised me when I saw that in the index. Does it surprise
you as one of his--one of the
top members of the staff to find that you
are only mentioned twice in the Memoirs?
CLIFFORD: No, because a staff member to a President does not expect
to attain any particular place in history through the occupying of that
position. You are there to serve the President.
President Roosevelt expressed it very well when he said he wanted staff
members who had a passion for anonymity.
Now, the press does not permit that to happen, because they're interested
in the men around the President. And so, some of us received a substantial
amount of publicity; all staff members do. But when a President writes
his Memoirs I don't believe that any President refers at any length
to his staff men, because they really do not constitute an independent
opinion or even an independent
individual. They become part and parcel
of the Office of the President.
When people ask me did I write speeches for President Truman, I say
invariably, "I worked on the President's speeches. I would talk with him
and get his idea; I would do research and I would prepare drafts. In the
end they became the President's speeches." And that same theory applies
to any other type of service that an assistant would render to a President.
Now, on the other hand, a Cabinet member is in an entirely different
position and a President, in writing his Memoirs, will very likely
refer at considerable length to his contact with a Cabinet member. That
person is a separate individual and the position he holds is set by law.
By comparison, many of the White House staff positions are just created
President. The staff members merge their
identity, their personality, their very being into that of a President.
HESS: All right, one brief question relative to your memorandum on Soviet
Russia that appears in Arthur Krock's book as Appendix A. Were there other
times that you worked on contingency plans of this nature concerning other
countries? Was this something that was discussed in the higher levels
of Government? What should we do if England takes certain action? What
should we do if Germany takes certain actions? What should we do if China
takes certain actions? Did you work up similar memos on other countries?
CLIFFORD: I did not. I think there's a reason for that. Memoranda on
other countries as far as the President was concerned would fall clearly
within the province of the State Department.
That's where the experts
were located and if some problem came up with reference to China, or Japan,
or whatever the country might be, they had experts.
I remember at one stage for instance, the State Department prepared
a so-called "White Paper" on China that set forth the whole background
of the relationship where we were and what we might expect in the future.
The President was very clear that that was all within the province of
the State Department.
Now, if you will give special consideration to what he wanted when he
talked to me about this in the spring of 1946, you will see that this
was really not a State Department function. What he wanted was the opinions
of the top senior personnel, all through the Government, and not
just the State Department. He wanted it to be much broader than that.
There was only one other major power in the world at
that time, and that was the Soviet Union. After the war was over, no one else had the
strength that would constitute any threat to us at all. The fact is, in
my opinion, that continues down to the present day. There is only one
other power in the world today that is a threat to the United States,
and that's the Soviet Union. That's the way it was in 1946, and that's
the way it is now, twenty-five years later.
Our whole preoccupation at the time was with the Soviet Union--what
was our future to be as far as the Soviet Union was concerned and was
there some possibility of building a relationship based upon the fact
that we were allies during the Second World War? That's why it was clear
in my mind that the President said, "I want a broad panorama of opinion
our senior men in Government about where
we go from here with the Soviet Union.
He did not say this, but he clearly didn't want just some Soviet expert
in the State Department to get up a memo. He already knew how they felt.
He wanted War, and Navy, and Justice and Admiral Leahy, and the State
Department, and anybody else whose activities in any way impinged upon
our relationship with the Soviet Union to join in this major senior study.
Our relationship was developing at the time so that I think he just said,
"Well, this is the way I want it done and this is the fellow I want to
HESS: All right, let's take up the subject of the group of liberals
that met at the Wardman Park Hotel in late 1946 and early 1947, whenever
it was, until the time of the election, describing in many books as the
Ewing-Clifford group. When
was it set up, why, and by whom?
CLIFFORD: I cannot recall the exact date. I'm sure somebody who has
explored it and written it would remember it. I came into the position
of Special Counsel on June 1, 1946, and my guess is that sometime toward
the end of that year, or the beginning of ‘47, the group was organized.
It was organized by Oscar Ewing who then held a position in the Government.
Interestingly enough, he was a New York lawyer who had come out of the
old Chief Justice [Charles Evans] Hughes law firm, a very conservative
New York law firm that represented the large corporate clients. But Oscar
Ewing was a basic, living, breathing liberal, and was a very valuable
man to have in Government. He had the feeling that there were these forces
and influences operating within the Administration, and that to some extent
the liberals were at a disadvantage.
We knew that there were men in the Administration
who were close to the President, who were taking a conservative line. There was a good deal
of feeling in a number of areas at the time that the Roosevelt administration
had gone so far in its twelve years of constant liberal attitude that
the time had come for the Administration to be more conservative. And
from time to time events took place which caused considerable concern
on the part of those in the Administration.
Jack Ewing organized the group; we met maybe every other Monday evening
at his apartment at dinner. We talked, and out of the group that he organized,
I think, came the major impact of liberal thinking on the Truman administration
in ‘47 and '48.
HESS: Who do you recall as being present at the meetings?
CLIFFORD: Well, Oscar Ewing was always there;
Leon Keyserling as an economist; a man named [David A.] Morse who was in the Labor Department;
a man named [C. Girard] Davidson, who came out of the Interior Department.
Later on I have the feeling that Charlie Murphy of the White House staff
came in; Oscar Ewing's son would sit in the meetings from time to time;
and there must have been a couple of others.
HESS: Who chose the participants?
CLIFFORD: Oscar Ewing. Oscar Ewing chose them and then it may be after
the nucleus was organized (maybe there were four of us) we discussed who
else might be brought in. My recollection is that we ended up with meetings
in which there were six or seven or eight of us.
And one interesting fact: the group's existence was never known until
after the election
was over in November of 1948. It was one of the best
kept secrets. Ther'e was no reason why it should be known. If it had become
a matter of public knowledge, the effectiveness of the group would have
been adversely affected, and I think we all understood that.
The group was invaluable to me. I was dealing with problems on behalf
of the President week in and week out, and to have a group with whom I
could discuss these problems in complete confidentiality, and in the knowledge
that they were working towards the same goal that I was, made it very
Also it was clear to the group that I was as important to the group
as the group was to me, because I was their link with the President. It
wouldn't do the group much good to arrive at conclusions on major issues
of the day unless they felt that those views could be presented to
HESS: To what extent did political expediency and the winning of the
next election influence the views of the members?
CLIFFORD: I think it influenced them quite a lot.
HESS: Was that the main thing you had in mind?
CLIFFORD: I believe not. I believe that when it started there was a
very real embroglio within the administration, and it was generally known
that there was a conservative-liberal struggle going on. I think that
the original idea was that this was the way to promote the interest of
those in the administration who believed that the liberal principles should
continue to guide the Truman administration.
Now, that's the basis on which I believe it began. I would say that
within a period of a
few months the political overtones of these decisions
began to become apparent and we were clear beyond any question in recognizing
the fact that through ‘47, as the record was being made, it would either
make a contribution to ‘48 or be a burden to ‘48. By the time we got into
1948, obviously, every decision made at that particular time had some
HESS: Do you recall if Oscar Chapman ever attended any of these meetings?
And why I ask, he is usually regarded as a leading liberal of the period.
CLIFFORD: There were a number of leading liberals of the period who
were not included in the group. I would suppose if you pick the the leading
liberals of the period, none of them were 'in the group.
During part of that time Chapman was Under
Secretary of Interior, and
then he became Secretary of Interior. That would be a little too high
up for this group. We had a man from Interior.
CLIFFORD: Davidson would represent the liberal view on all questions
involving Interior; and there are a good many questions regarding our
public parks and preservation of Government lands. There are a number
of liberal-conservative issues that involve Interior.
But this was not an effort to select leading professional liberals.
In the first place you could never have kept it quiet. In the second place
here was a group that worked together, developed together, and were being
effective together. And we didn't have to go out to bring in the publicly
HESS: All right, just a short quote from
Cabell Phillips' book. This is on page 163:
These imperatives called for a liberal approach to the domestic
problems of the nation. But this was not a liberalism focused on poverty
and inequality, as in the New Deal. Rather, it was liberalism focused
on the creation and equitable distribution of abundance, which now loomed
as an attainable reality. What this group sought, in a word, was political
implementation of the theory of a constantly expanding economy.
And when my eyes hit "constantly expanding economy," that was one of the
favorite theories of Leon Keyserling, correct, who was one of the members?
CLIFFORD: Yes, and there's a background to this that's really quite
interesting. I'll comment on it briefly. When the Second World War ended,
our economists and the persons in important government positions felt
that we would go through the usual recession, or sag, in the economy that
follows every war. We had done it every time before, and real efforts
were being made to
prevent that from happening.
Well, it turned out it never really occurred. The basic reason for that
was that for a long period of time we had had wage and price control.
The whole industrial effort was going into the enormous task of winning
You may remember for instance that President Roosevelt said what this
country must do was produce 50,000 planes. People were staggered by that.
We did that many times over; the ships that we produced, the guns, the
artillery, the submarines, were an enormous accomplishment. But all during
that period a very large public demand began to build up
for consumer goods so that as the various restrictions on our economic
effort were removed, this long, backedup consumer demand began to evidence
Months after the war, we began to find out that here was the making
of a whole new period
of prosperity. What this group wanted to do was
to make every effort it could to see that that prosperity was participated
in by all and not by just a favored few.
One of the expressions, I remember we used repeatedly, illustrates the
point. We were opposed to what was known as the "trickle down" theory.
The old idea of economy was that there is a selected group at the top
who participate to a major extent in the prosperity of the country, and
through their largess and beneficence, some of that is permitted to trickle
down to the masses. We were opposed to that concept. We wanted to build
the prosperity of the country with the widest possible participation by
ordinary people. Now, that sounds easy now, but no one knew what
lay ahead. The conservatives didn't want to approach it that way at all.
I remember at a debate one time (and I'm not going
to mention his name) in the Cabinet Room amongst senior advisers of President Truman. At the
time there was a serious wage struggle going on. One of his senior advisers,
a Cabinet member, spoke up and said, "These people have had enough. They
don't know how to spend if they got any more." Well, it just showed the
kind of conflict that was going on.
The thrust of the Ewing group was in domestic areas. Economy was very
important, civil rights was also very important. The major tenets
and bases of a liberal approach were prepared and discussed. We oftentimes
would get up papers so that we would have an opportunity of presenting
these liberal approaches since the President was constantly being exposed
to conservative influences.
Now, it is everlastingly to President Truman's credit
basic inclinations were along liberal lines, or I think the group never
would have succeeded. But the President understood quite well the attitude
of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers,
the American Bankers Association. He knew pretty well what position those
groups were going to take. That was not the position that appealed
HESS: You think Mr. Truman was basically a liberal?
CLIFFORD: I think he was.
HESS: Well, Mr. Phillips seems to be a little bit puzzled about that
and I'll just read two lines.
CLIFFORD: All right.
HESS: And in speaking of the influences that were at work on Mr. Truman,
both from the liberal
and conervative side, Mr. Phillips says:
Where did Truman stand in this ideological crossfire? No one
was quite certain, including Truman himself.
Do you think Mr. Truman was confused in his own mind as to where he stood?
CLIFFORD: I don't believe he was confused. In retrospect, it's really
quite simple to determine what was the liberal position and what was the
conservative position. Oftentimes it's very difficult at the time to know
that. Problems arise and there is a difference of opinion among his advisers
and, ultimately, the President has to make the decision.
Now, these disputes are not labeled for a President. His advisers don't
troop in and here's a group with white hats sitting on this end of the
table, and they're the liberals; and then there's a group of black hats
over here and they're the conservatives.
HESS: Both groups think they have the white hats, don't they?
CLIFFORD: Both groups think they have, and at many times those who I
knew to be conservatives would feel that they were presenting what was
the true liberal position.
Any President goes through issue after issue, at the time, without having
it in such clear delineation that he can say, "Well, this is right and
this is wrong."
As we look back twenty years later, that becomes relatively simple.
I think that what Cabell Phillips says is that on many issues President
Truman did not have a clear opinion of the action he was going to take
until it had all been talked and argued and debated out before him. That's
the way our Presidency worked, and that's the way it should work.
HESS: Who was the principal, or the leading
conservative adviser on the White House staff?
CLIFFORD: I would say John Steelman was probably the leading conservative
on the staff. We've already spoken about the' fact that I think Secretary
of the Treasury Snyder was unquestionably the leader of the conservatives
in the Cabinet.
HESS: How did you try to counter some of the advice that Mr. Steelman
may have been giving to the President? If he gave some advice that you
thought was far too conservative, just how did you set out to change President
CLIFFORD: There would be various ways. Oftentimes the subject would
come up for discussion in the presence of the President. And he would
state his position; I would state mine. We would have an opportunity to
engage in a dialogue in the
presence of the President so that he would
have the benefit of that.
In other instances, as the subject might come
up, I might have the chance to see the President alone on it. He might
at some other stage have the opportunity of seeing the President alone.
There was no formal, rigid, institutionalized plan of presenting your
views to the President. He ran an informal White House. And oftentimes
at our early morning meetings (we met at 8:30 every morning), a subject
would come up. There were five or six of us at those meetings, and anybody
could speak up who chose to.
I followed the practice after awhile of going in at the end of the day
with some item, and seeing President Truman. After a little while it became
almost a custom. And I utilized that opportunity, I think, very effectively.
would be the end of the day and he was a little
more relaxed. We might look at what had gone on that day and then I could get in my blows on
behalf of the position that I thought was right for him to take.
HESS: Whose viewpoint do you think that the President came to accept,
yours or Dr. Steelman's?
CLIFFORD: I don't believe it becomes that clear.
I think as time goes on, the areas of differentiation between our views
have a tendency to narrow.
If President Truman was definitly taking the liberal course, more often
than he took the conservative course, that in itself would have a tendency
to affect Dr. Steelman's views. So I would only say to you that during
those two years in which the struggle went on, ‘47 and ‘48, by a very
substantial margin, the liberal view succeeded over the conservative view.
HESS: We have used the terms liberal and
conservative, just what is liberalism?
CLIFFORD: I believe that in the sense in which I'm using it, it is the
differentiation between a concern over the welfare of the many, as opposed
to the concern over the welfare of the privileged few; and that.'s where
the real debate took place.
For instance we had a whale of an argument over the Taft-Hartley law.
The business interests in the country got behind the Taft-Hartley bill
and had it passed. It put a real crimp into the power of labor. Then the
question came up as to whether or not that was to be vetoed, and there
was a real argument over that. President Truman made the decision to veto
the Taft-Hartley Act and I think he made it wisely. There were any number
of instances in which there were disputes between business and labor and
he came down on the side of business.
In addition, there are questions about education, that is educating
the mass of our people. There's a question of the health of our people,
and there's the question about housing for our people. These are all liberal-conservative
issues. There's the question of civil rights; that's a liberal-conservative
issue. I'm using the word in that sense.
HESS: Why do you take the liberal view? You are a very wealthy
CLIFFORD: I would say that I grew up in the liberal tradition, and I
see no antithetical posture to taking the liberal view and still working
hard to meet the economic exigencies of the day. You can be comforted
by the fact that you can leave your family in very comfortable surroundings
if anything happens to you. I
don't find that anything that is . . .
HESS: Have you ever heard that old saying that you can tell where a
man changes parties from Democrat to Republican by taking a look at his
bank balance and seeing when he gets so much money?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I've heard of that, but I don't think there's anything
inconsistent in being wealthy and liberal. We've had any number of liberals
who've been men of very substantial means. Franklin Roosevelt is looked
upon as one of the leading liberals of this administration. He was born
into wealth. One of our top Democrats who has taken a liberal stand for
the last forty years is Averell Harriman, a man of very substantial
means. I grew up, as I say, in a liberal tradition.
The uncle after whom I was named, Clark
McAdams, was a liberal, crusading
editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was my mother's eldest
brother, and the whole family held him in high regard. As time went on,
as a young lawyer I gravitated toward the liberal side.
I was a natural Democrat. As I went into this extraordinary opportunity
into the White House I could have been one or the other, but it never
entered my mind to urge the conservative position on the President. It
was just inconsistent with my whole background.
HESS: Moving on to another subject: Do you recall if President Truman
offered to step aside for General Eisenhower if the General would accept
the Democratic nomination while he, Mr. Truman, would take the number
two position as Vice President in 1948?
CLIFFORD: I have never known the exact details of that story.
HESS: It is as related in Cabell Phillips' book, page 196?
HESS: If anyone wants to look it up.
CLIFFORD: I have heard it mentioned. I heard it mentioned at the time.
If President Truman chose to keep a particular matter in his own confidence,
then it would be presumptuous on the part of a staff member to question
the President about it.
So, I think the President during that period, in that regard, very much
kept his own counsel.
I believe that he was concerned over the possibility that the Republican
conservative, or even reactionary forces, could get control of the Government.
He thought that would be a calamity. And he was a very modest man. He
had followed this great figure of FDR and I think he had the feeling that
if he could help the Democratic Party find a man who could win,
Truman would be rendering the greatest service that he could render to
I do not know the details of his talk with General Eisenhower. I proceed
on the assumption that he must have explored it with General Eisenhower,
and I believe that General Eisenhower must obviously have been greatly
flattered by it. I think at that particular stage, he and President Truman
were friends and they got along well. President Truman had a very real
respect and regard for him. I do not know what General Eisenhower's opinion
was of President Truman, but in any event, it is my information that those
talks didn't lead anywhere. And there were others talking to General Eisenhower,
representatives of business, representatives of conservative groups and
I do remember at one time, just to illustrate the point, that
before the convention in 1948
in Philadelphia, the ADA made known the
fact, or it became known, that they had approached General Eisenhower
to find out if he would accept the Democratic nomination. If he said yes
then they were going to go to work for him.
And that was, to me, one of the most revealing incidents that occurred.
Here was President Truman who had met every liberal test that existed
in that period. He had fought for the people economically, he had fought
for housing, he had fought for civil rights, and he had fought for labor.
It was one of the finest liberal records that a President had and here
was supposedly the professional liberal organization who demonstrated
their true colors. They weren't interested in a liberal candidate; they
were interested in the candidate who they thought could win. And obviously,
they knew nothing about what General Eisenhower's political opinions were.
Before General Eisenhower left the military service,
I think I remember him telling me one time that he had never voted. He had never become a
member of a political party.
I remember a speech he made one time, perhaps while he was still a General,
in which he said that those people who are so concerned
about security might well think of the value of jail; that gives you complete
security. It seems to me that he made that speech down in West Virginia
or someplace like that.
What President Truman had been concerned about was the security of our
people as they got old: Social insurance, Social Security, unemployment
insurance, old age benefits. And at that time I don't think General Eisenhower
had any real understanding of those problems. I never have really
been convinced that President Truman went the whole way in trying to persuade
General Eisenhower to become a Democrat and run for
the Presidency. I think President Truman was too devoted to basic liberal principles to
take that kind of chance.
Now, that's my own private opinion.
HESS: In the matter of ADA support of General Eisenhower, I have read
that part of the reason behind that was just the feeling that they still
held it against Mr. Truman because he was in office and not Franklin Roosevelt.
CLIFFORD: I think that's part of it. They had always had access to a
President, and they wanted that to continue. And they just felt that there
was no possibility for President Truman to win.
HESS: Now, moving on to a very interesting subject, and that
is the subject of the memo of November the 19th, 1947. And Mr. Phillips
says on page 197:
Late in November of 1947, Clifford put in the President's hands
a 40-page analysis of the status of,Truman and the Democratic Party that
should rank as one of the great dissertations on the art of politics.
It did not promise Mr. Truman he could win. What it did do was cut down
to size some of the mountainous imponderables of his situation and to
suggest that he did not have to lose.
Mr. Phillips has the wrong number of pages, it's a forty-three page instead
of a forty page memo, but this is the memo that you submitted. What do you
recall about the writing of his memo? And just what do you recall about
CLIFFORD: I spent the summer of 1946 in writina the memorandum on the
Soviet Union. Even though President Truman was startled and shocked by
the conclusions that that memorandum reached, I knew it had had a very
real impact on him. Witness all that took place in 1947, starting with
the Truman Doctrine, leading on to the Marshall plan
and the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization and so forth. These are developments which, to some
extent, could be traced back to that analysis of the thinking of our senior
officials as presented in the memorandum of September 1946.
So, as we approached the election of 1948, I had the feeling that maybe
a similar type of memorandum would be useful to the President. Now, I
did not have much of a political background. I had been interested in
politics, but not involved in it. And in the White House, the time I came
in in the spring of ‘45, I was not very much involved in politics. I was
involved in Government, but there's a great distinction between government
In the summer of 1947 I began to have the opportunity, or I made the
opportunity, of talking to persons who had substantial political backgrounds.
I'd question them and I'd get their
opinions. I believe that I could see
it more clearly now than I could then.
I think that what I was engaged in was an experiment to ascertain if
one, by the application of pure reason, could not reduce political imponderables
to understandable equations. I found it a very interesting endeavor.
I might say in this regard, that I had to see a good many people and
reach conclusions based upon, in many instances, the opinions of others.
Then I would assemble it, digest it, and present it as I thought it should
be digested, which after all is one of the major functions that a lawyer
A lawyer is trained (hopefully) first to go out and get the facts, then
to assemble them in an orderly manner, then to analyze them, to reach
conclusions with reference to facts, and then to present his case in the
most effective, attractive and persuasive manner. And that's
process that I went through in preparing this memorandum.
Hess: One further thing on that, Patrick Anderson in his book, The President's
Men, says on page 119:
Drawing upon talks with and memos from former FDR aide James
Rowe and other liberal friends and political leaders . . .
Did Mr. Rowe assist in the preparation of the memo?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I drew a good deal on Jim Rowe for his interest was politics,
he had been in the Roosevelt administration, and had an excellent political
background. I told Jim Rowe, as I told some others, what I was in the
process of doing, and so I got as much help from others as I could get.
HESS: All right, on page 3 of the memo, is something that we have already
mentioned in one of our previous interviews, but you mentioned that:
It is inconceivable that any policy initiated by the Truman
Administration no matter how "liberal" could so alienate the South in
the next year that it would revolt. As always, the South can be considered
safely Democratic. And in formulating national policy, it can be safely
We have more or less covered this already.
CLIFFORD: That's right, and as I said before, that obviously constituted
the one major gaff in the memorandum.
There is a basis for believing that. The South, historically, had gone
Democratic in election, after election, after election. It had gone Democratic
four straight times for Roosevelt, and it seemed a safe proposition at
that time, but times were changing and changing more rapidly than I was
able to foresee.
HESS: And then on page 8, my eye landed on something I thought was interesting.
It says: "It is dangerous to assume that labor now has no where
go in 1948. Labor can stay home." Why was one considered safe and the
other not. If one could stay home, the other could too.
CLIFFORD: Just the expression of my personal opinion at the time.
I thought that the South would go along as it had in the past, and I
won't go into all those reasons, but there were a number of historic reasons
why they should go.
Labor at the time, inclined toward the Democratic Party and President
Truman, but you will recall we had had some very fierce battles with labor.
We had had a battle with the railroad brotherhoods, and we had had a vicious
struggle with the United Mine Workers. What I was saying in this portion
was that although labor would be inclined to vote for the Democratic Party,
and I did not think under any circumstances they could be for the Republican
nominee, yet that
was not good enough. What we needed was an active, militant
support of labor if we were going to have any chance to win.
HESS: I don't know if I can find it in here, but I believe that you
did--here it is on page 2, you said, "Governor Dewey will be the nominee
of the Republican Party." So you did pick Governor Dewey. And on page
4 you say, "Henry Wallace will be the candidate of a third party."
CLIFFORD: That was a long-shot prediction . . .
HESS: That's right. All right, and then on page 29 you say:
So, a President who is also a candidate must resort to subterfuge--for
he cannot sit silent. He must be in the limelight. He must do the kind
of thing suggested above to stay in the limelight and he must also resort
to the kind of trip which Roosevelt made famous in the 1940 campaign-the
'inspection tour.' No matter how much the opposition and the press pointed
out the political overtones of those trips, the people paid little attention
what they saw was the head of state
performing his duties.
This gives rise to the so-called nonpolitical trip the following June, that
CLIFFORD: I would say so. The use of the words there, obviously could
be improved upon as you look at it twenty-five years later, but the thought
is there. Under our system, a President must be a political animal. As
we neared the time when the electorate was to make its decision, I was
searching for means by which, in an appropriate manner, the President
could appear before the people. So that subterfuge, possibly, might be
too strong a word, but after all this was just a private memo between
President Truman and me.
And it was conveying the thought, and was not to be circularized or
released to the public. I don't know when it finally did come out. I don't
know, but by that time it was all over with. It was a great many years
before it ever came
HESS: What is your opinion of its value towards President Truman's eventual
victory that following year?
CLIFFORD: Oh, I think the President read it with interest, and I think
it had some value. I might say that I think the President would accept
those parts of it which were consistent with his own views.
I believe the President had no real regard, or respect for my
political views. I had no particular political background. He'd been through
the mill for twenty-five or thirty, forty years by that time. I had never.
I think he must have found it interesting, but he made his own political
decisions. He certainly didn't depend on me to make political decisions.
HESS: Was he his own principal adviser?
CLIFFORD: I would say so, yes.
I would think again that he might lookupon this as I did as an interesting
experiment in the exercise of pure reason. And from that standpoint, it
may have had some value to it.
HESS: All right, moving on to the subject of the trip of June 1948.
Just what do you recall about that interesting, so-called nonpolitical
trip? Just what were your duties?
CLIFFORD: You'll have to remind me again of what it was. It's been too
long ago and I do not recall.
HESS: Okay, that was the trip that the President took to (here is a
copy of the itinerary), that the President took to Berkeley, California
to receive a degree from the University of California, and he made several
stops along the way.
One of the first major stops was in Omaha, Nebraska
where they attended the 35th Division Association meeting at the auditorium
there, where the crowd was not very large. Do you recall that?
CLIFFORD: Now, this was June of 1948?
CLIFFORD: Oh, I think that there's no question about it. With the Democratic
convention coming on in a month or two and the election only five or six
months off, this was clearly a political trip.
I have some recollection of the visit in Omaha. It was not a very good
crowd, and we were all rather depressed about it afterwards. I think that
maybe we learned something; it hadn't been handled well. The advance work
was not up to what it should have been, but it was an
experiment. I think
we all learned a lot from it.
I think a good many mistakes were made in the trip, but out of it came
considerable benefits. We did not make those same mistakes again. It obviously
was clearly a political venture.
HESS: Do you recall the time in Carey, Idaho when Mr. Truman dedicated
the airfield to the wrong person?
CLIFFORD: I think so, yes. That's one of those unfortunate mistakes
that occur on almost every trip of that kind, and the press always makes
a lot out of those mistakes. Again, we learned a lot about it, because
when the campaign came on, we had an infinitely
better advance group.
I remember one time he hit the bull's eye in Iowa at some little town
like "North Chicken Bristle, Iowa." He commented on the fact that he wanted
to congratulate them on the new sausage factory that they had. And, my
God, it had only been opened about ten days. Oh, it made a great hit with
But we were getting better information then and the team had become
a more professional operation. This was a pretty amateurish effort in
HESS: Was one of the elements that brought a little professionalism
into things the Research Division of the Democratic National
Committee that was set up in 1948?
CLIFFORD: Yes, yes, that . . .
HESS: Do you recall why it was set up and whose idea it was?
HESS: Here is a list of the people who served on the Research Division.
William Batt, Jr. was the director.
CLIFFORD: I would say that it's entirely possible that the basic concept
of setting up the Research division had its genesis in the Ewing group.
The Ewing group was doing a little of it,but the job got too big. And
is that it was the Ewing group that came up with names
like Bill Batt, Ken Birkhead, and Dave Lloyd, all liberal young men. This outfit
had to be established someplace where it could be financed, and that's
why it was put in the Democratic Committee. They went to work digging
up the information that we used to fire at the enemy during the campaign.
They did an excellent job.
I remember at one stage, we began to find some of the material coming
over was quite exceptional. And I made inquiry and found out it was David
Lloyd who was writing those memoranda. So, we just reached in and picked
David Lloyd out of there and brought him over to the White House to help
with speeches. We were woefully understaffed on speeches.
HESS: All right, this gets us up to the time of the convention
in Philadelphia. We have mentioned the effort by the ADA to get General Eisenhower to run.
Did it seem to you at the time of the convention in Philadelphia that
Leslie Biffle was seriously proposing that Senator Barkley should receive
the nomination for the top spot? Do you recall that?
CLIFFORD: That would be a little difficult for me to believe.
By the time we got to the convention, any number of efforts had been
made by groups to try to get somebody else in it. I told about the ADA-Eisenhower
incident, and there were others. Two or three other persons with big names
approached, and in each instance no accomplishment
was made. So, by the time the convention came, it really was quite clear it was going
to be President Truman again. And a number of Democrats reluctantly accepted
the basic political truism that a political party must run on its record.
If the Democratic Party had thrown President Truman overboard and selected
someone else, I could amost guarantee that the party would have been defeated.
It would just have been a confession to the American people that we were
inadequate to the task. As a result, by the time we reached the convention,
we had a lot of problems on the platform, but we were really quite clear
on the fact that it was going to be President Truman for the top spot.
Now, there was very real question as to who was going to be the
second spot. I always
felt that Leslie Biffle was promoting Senator Barkley
for the second spot. I did receive an assignment either just before the
convention or even at the time of it, from President Truman.
I phoned Justice [William 0.] Douglas and talked to him. He was then
out in the State of Washington, and discussed with him his attitude towards
being the number two man.
He had been a favorite of Franklin Roosevelt's. He was quite a hero
to the liberals throughout the country. He was a great conservationist,
and was an outstanding liberal jurist on the Supreme Court.
After talking to him and having him say that he would think about it
for a few days I then called Mrs. Franklin [Eleanor] Roosevelt and discussed
the matter with her and sought her support. I believe I suggested
that she call Justice Douglas and add her voice to it. My recollection
is that she agreed to do so.
Justice Douglas wanted a day or two to think it over
and then he would call me back, which he did, and then reported that he felt it would be
inappropriate for him to accept it.
I always assumed that after thinking it over and discussing it with
advisers he had concluded that the ticket was a real loser. It doesn't
do the man any good to resign from the Court, which he would have had
to do, and run for Vice President and then get licked.
HESS: What do you recall about the events in Philadelphia that year;
perhaps writing the President's acceptance speech, maybe the Humphrey-Biemiller
civil rights plank? What do you recall about the various things that took
place in Philadelphia?
CLIFFORD: I had very little to do with the plank. That was more of a
political problem. I worked on the President's speech. There's one incident
with reference to it that I recall.
We had pretty well agreed on how it was to go, and it was in pretty
good shape, but the whole attitude with reference to the civil rights
question was still uncertain in my mind. And there were those who were
suggesting that he might very well modify his stand on the civil rights
issue, and, that by doing so, he would take less of a risk in alienating
I remember going through a temporary period of giving consideration
to that. I remember discussing it shortly before the convention with President
Truman and his being absolutely positive and unequivocal that he wasn't
going to retreat an inch. He simply said, "I want to lay it down just
the way we have laid it down. This is the way it is going to be, and whatever
the results of it are, we will face those results." It was an outstanding
dramatic illustration of his courage and his forthrightness.
The civil rights part of his speech was very strong and had a good deal to do, I
might say, with driving the South out of the party.
I don't know whether I might unconsciously have been wanting to preserve
my prediction that the South was safe; I can't recall that. Sometimes
subconscious influences of that sort play a part. But he left no doubt,
so it was prepared for him with a very hard-hitting section on civil rights.
HESS: How did President Truman develop the feeling on civil rights that
he had; a man from Missouri, a man from Independence, which is really
a southern town?
CLIFFORD: I do not have the complete answer to that. Part of it was
the basic decency that the man
had and part of it was a fundamental humanitarianism
that he had. Most important of all was his firm belief in what America
stood for, and in our confidence in the Constitution, what it meant and
what it should mean. His expression was, "There should be no second-class
citizens in the United States."
HESS: Do you think political expediency played a part in his thinking
about this subject?
CLIFFORD: I think it probably did not.
One cannot always separate the political factor from other factors ,
but at that particular time the majority opinion would have been that
the political course was to satisfy the South in its demands, and keep
that very large bloc of electoral votes safe. So, I would have to say
to you, I do not believe that this decision was a political decision.
I think the Negro vote would not at that time be considered to be the
kind of vote
that would be determining.
HESS: And you mentioned the writing of the President's acceptance speech;
just how was that handled, and who worked on that?
CLIFFORD: Oh, I'm sure I had input from others, and it would be the
same type of procedure. I would sit down with the President; he would
talk and I would take notes, and I might have some suggestions which he
might either accept or reject. Then it would be my responsibility to come
up with a first draft. That's about the way it went.
HESS: Did Sam Rosenman help on that?
CLIFFORD: I can't be sure, but I have some recollection that possibly
he did. Did he remember? Do you know?
CLIFFORD: And he did help?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I have some recollection that he did help.
HESS: Yes, he said that the President delivered it mainly from notes.
Is that right? Notes that you and he had made available to him.
CLIFFORD: Yes, and that's an interesting little story. We had found
out during the campaign thatthe President did not read a speech very effectively.
Franklin Roosevelt had been a master at reading a speech, but President
Truman would put his head down and start to read, and all you'd see would
be the top of his head and his glasses. We discussed it with him and I
think possibly it was his suggestion that we have a prepared text that
we could give out, and he could make the speech from notes and thus develop
a greater rapport with the convention.
And it was exactly as he predicted. It was about the
best effort he ever made. It was difficult; there were hostile people in the audience.
There was a miasma of pessimism in the Democratic Party at that time.
And yet, although not an orator, and not a natural speaker, his sincerity
and his courage shone through so clearly that he lifted that convention
right up off the seats of their pants. It was a real tour de force and
about the only one that I ever witnessed in which he participated.
HESS: Do you recall Emma Guffey Miller and all those pigeons?
CLIFFORD: Oh yes. She came and let loose a lot of white pigeons. I think
they were to be a symbol of peace in the world, and the pigeons got loose
and flew around the hall and refused
to behave themselves, and generally
created a disturbance.
HESS: At the end of Mr. Truman's acceptance speech he had a kicker,
and he called Congress back into special session; the so-called "Turnip
Day" session. Now, that brings up a subject: what was your advice
to Mr. Truman about a special session of Congress?
CLIFFORD: It's difficult for me to remember. I know we discussed it
beforehand and there were different views on it. You have handed me a
memorandum of June*...(see Appendix)
HESS: This is the famous so-called "unsigned memorandum" of June the
29th, 1948; the question is: whose is it?
CLIFFORD: Well, that's very interesting. I know I have seen the memorandum,
but whether I wrote
the memorandum or not I do not know. I do not have
a specific recollection of writing it.
HESS: Cabell Phillips has the following on page 226: "Late in June,
Clifford had put before him a memorandum from the political strategy board
which said in part .... " and then he quote a portion of the memorandum.
I trust when he refers to the "political strategy board" he means the
Wardman Park group. Do you think so?
CLIFFORD: It's entirely possible that it could have originated there,
but . . .
HESS: Some people think that the Research Division may have had something
to do with it.
CLIFFORD: In a matter that would be of this importance, the idea could
originate, or could be discussed, in the group. The group could have gotten
up some original memo. We could have called upon men like
Lloyd and Bill
Batt to make a contribution to it. My guess would be that it's an assembly
job. And that's why you can't find any one individual that says,
"Yes, I wrote the memo."
HESS: It's really a joint effort. The pronoun"we" is used several times,
as in the following example "Here are the objections to the special-session
plan, and the answers as we see them." So it sounds like a joint
CLIFFORD: That would be my notion. I think that we ended up getting
the views of a number of different people, and then finally reduced it
to a memo of this sort.
My recollection is, and I am reasonably clear on it, that I was in favor
of calling the so-called Turnip Session. I had only one idea in mind at
the time, and I think it was very clear what the idea was. I wanted to
Congress back, as for action in areas where we knew they were
not going to give us action, and then it would help clarify the situation
for the election.
HESS: Was the decision to call Congress back into special session cleared
with the congressional leaders of the Democratic Party?
CLIFFORD: I do not recall it. I do not recall it.
HESS: In an exercise such as this where they are calling Congress back,
wouldn't it have been politically expedient to at least inform Sam Rayburn
that something like this was going to come off?
CLIFFORD: Well, there are two ways of looking at it. One is that in
the efficient operation of Government it would have been appropriate to
inform them ahead of time. That would be a part of the courtesy that exists
executive and legislative branches. A President must weigh
the advantages of that against the disadvantages of a leak.
There is a standing attitude in the executive branch of the government
that you can't tell anybody in Congress anything without it leaking within
twenty-four hours. And if the President wanted to keep an announcement
fresh for his acceptance speech, he would not be able to take the risk
of informing members of Congress what he intended to do. My guess is the
latter consideration probably proved to be the more important.
HESS: Do you think that it worked out to be a politically wise move
to call Congress back?
CLIFFORD: Unquestionably. What I think it did was dramatize the difference
and help highlight the issues that President Truman took to the country.
Keep in mind, if you will, at the time
President Truman was so far behind
in the general public opinion that it was difficult to find anyone who
felt he had a chance to be reelected. Keep in mind that even after the
campaign started it was difficult to find anyone. Also, it's important
to recall that as much as a month before the election the poll-taking
organizations all stopped taking polls because they said, "It is so clearly
a Dewey victory that there is no need to take any additional polls."
I remember an incident that happened about three weeks before the election.
Newsweek had run a poll; they sent a ballot to the 50 top political
experts in the country: David Lawrence, Arthur Krock, Walter Lippmann,
Roscoe Drummond, Scotty Reston, you name them-they'd be on the list. They
picked the 50
top experts in the country and the ballot just said, "In
your opinion who will win, Truman or Dewey?" And three weeks before the
election all 50 ballots had come in.
I remember getting off the train someplace out in the Midwest and going
into the station and getting a copy of Newsweek. It had been announced
in ad after ad that the results of the poll would be listed. The results
were on the front of Newsweek declaring Dewey the winner and listing
the number of his votes. And out of the 50 experts, do you know how many
predicted that Truman would win?
HESS: I don't recall.
CLIFFORD: The vote was 50 to nothing. I can see it now:
"Dewey 50; Truman
HESS: Do you recall President Truman's reaction when he saw that issue
CLIFFORD: I cannot remember it exactly. I just know that at no time
during the whole difficult, exhausting, miserable period did he ever indicate
that there was any chance that he was going to lose. Now, I don't know
what went on in his mind; I do know that Mrs. Truman had the gravest doubts
about his winning.
HESS: Did she tell you about that?
CLIFFORD: Well, I think you just gathered it from her attitude. But,
as far as President Truman was concerned, he never let anyone around him
think that there was any possibility that he could lose.
So, in that kind of climate, and to some
extent this existed back in the spring, my opinion
was that he had to take any kind of extreme action that could possibly
produce some benefit.
Using a modern analogy: he was on his own five-yard line, there were
only three minutes left, and the only thing that could win the game for
him was a touchdown. Now, why would he just go ahead and run plays through
the line? He had to try any sort of innovative, surprising, startling
kind of tactic that might work because he had everything to gain and nothing
to lose. And this was the framework within which he made this decision.
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