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.
March 16, 1972
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History
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HESS: In our coverage of the events of the Truman
administration, we are now up to the election of 1948 and President Truman's
trip to Key West following the election. He was down there from November
7th to the 21st of 1948. Two of the tasks that were facing the staff at
that time were the writing of the State of the Union message and President
Truman's inaugural message, of course, both to be delivered the following
January. Did work on those messages get underway on that trip to Key West?
CLIFFORD: My recollection would be that there might have been some general
discussion with reference to it, but the degree of fatigue that existed
in the group was the most pronounced, I think, that I have ever seen.
I doubt I've ever been as tired in my life, and I wasn't carrying the
main brunt; obviously, President Truman was. We used that time to relax
and recharge our batteries. We spent a lot of time on the beach there.
It was a very valuable period for all of us.
I'd have to say that I'm sure that he and I may have had some conversations
because it was my responsibility to get his thoughts and get up a first
draft so that he could see it. As far as any writing was concerned, I'd
say that we didn't do any down there. We weren't quite up to it. We were
almost in a daze. We were so exhausted after that long and arduous campaign,
particularly making it by train.
I have some recollection that in one period of something like sixty
days, I think we spent something like forty-eight nights on the train;
you can see what that would do to you even if you're young.
But just as soon as we got back, rested and resuscitated, then we really
plunged into it.
HESS: Did you write first drafts for both of those speeches: The State
of the Union, which was coming early in January, and then the inaugural
speech, which was coming on the 20th.
CLIFFORD: Yes, that was my responsibility. Then also, we had to give
some attention to the Economic Report which had to be synchronized with
the other two messages. That would be my responsibility, after talking
with him, to get up the first draft of the State of the Union message.
That would have come, I would say, probably in the first week in . . .
HESS: January the 5th, and we have a copy of it here.
CLIFFORD: All right. And then the inaugural address,
which I assume
would be January 20th. I'll take a look at the State of the Union address
so that that will refresh my recollection. The inaugural address had as
its highlight what became known as point 4. I will stop here and take
a quick look at this.
You'll note the State-of the Union address is not a long one. My recollection
is that the one back in 1946 was a long and detailed address. It seems
to me that this was shorter for two reasons: one, because we had not had
the time to give to it, and second, he had ano ther speech coming after
HESS: While you're looking over the State of the Union address, one
of the important phrases in it that came to be very well known is on the
last page, page seven, and this is the phrase: "Every segment of our population
and every individual has a right to expect from our
Government a fair
Of course, the words "fair deal, " the term, because the motto and the
symbol of the Truman administration. Do you recall who contributed that
CLIFFORD: Yes, I remember it very well, and I can even visualize it
in my mind. At one time I had that draft in my possession, and then turned
it over to the President for the benefit of the Library.
HESS: It's on display in the Museum, in fact.
CLIFFORD: Oh, is it? Then if you've seen it you will know that it is
in his handwriting. In one of the early drafts, President
Truman personally wrote in that sentence, "Every segment of our population
and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair
deal." That is in his handwriting; it was his thinking. It wasn't suggested
to him by anybody else;
that is solely and completely the President's
idea. I think for that reason it's particularly appropriate that "fair
deal" became the slogan and description of the Truman administration,
because the phrase actually was coined by President Truman.
HESS: When you're writing messages like the two we're discussing, how
do you go about gathering ideas or gathering material for your drafts?
CLIFFORD: It's different with different speeches and messages.
I had long followed in the years I was there the practice of sending a letter
to certain departments and bureaus in the Executive branch of Government,
about the first of September, asking them for ideas that they might have
that could be considered as possible material for the State of the Union
message. The State of the Union
address to some extent, therefore, would
be more of an assembly job than any other: State would come in with its
memoranda; Agriculture would come in; Treasury would come in with the
ideas that they wanted. Every department, of course, would want the State
of the Union message devoted practically exclusively to their problems.
So quite a selective process was necessary. You might get one idea out
of a departmental memorandum, you might get none, or you might get two
I would know generally what was in the President's mind in the first
place; we would winnow through all this and get up a draft. Then he would
look at it and he would say, "Well, I want to address myself to such and
such a point," or he'd say, "I just don't like that; let's not waste our
time with that." But at least if you get a draft, you have something to
start with. It's like having a skeleton
and then you begin to pack the
flesh onto the skeleton.
My recollection is that we did not intend that the State of the Union
message in January of 149 would be a particularly significant document.
I think it was an adequate document. Maybe its major claim to fame is
that it contained the expression coined by President Truman that did become
the slogan of his administration. It also set forth in a general way what
his goals were and the direction in which he would direct the administration
and the country during his next four years in office.
HESS: Was it mainly slanted toward domestic matters?
CLIFFORD: No, I would say it covered both foreign and domestic, but
with more emphasis on domestic matters. I think already we had decided
possibly to give emphasis in the inaugural
address to foreign policy matters.
HESS: Did you notice anything else in the copy of the State of the Union
message that I ran off from the Public Papers, that bears mentioning?
CLIFFORD: I would say not. I repeat again, I do not think it was one
of his more significant documents for the reasons that I have given.
HESS: All right, now moving onto the inaugural address and that became
very famous, of course, because of the fourth point, point 4 about technical
aid. Could you give me the background of the inclusion of that fourth
CLIFFORD: Yes, in conversations . . .
HESS: With whom?
CLIFFORD: . . . with President Truman regarding the
he indicated that he would hope that we might be able to agree on the
submission of a concept that would make the inaugural unique and outstanding.
We hadn't really begun to think what it might be. I do recall that we
discussed the fact that there were a few famous inaugural addresses, such
as Lincoln's second inaugural, and George Washington's second inaugural,
which is perhaps not as famous as George Washington's farewell address.
But throughout American history there have been very few inaugural addresses
that have stood for much and which have been remembered. He just commented
generally that he would hope that this might be that kind.
So those of us who were working on the inaugural address thought about
what we might come up with at that time. I recall that certainly more
than six months before, and maybe
as much as a year before, a man in the
State Department had sent over to me an idea. I'm not sure I even remember
the man's name...
HESS: How about Benjamin Hardy?
CLIFFORD: Well, that could well be it, but it's so long ago I just don't
remember. In any event, he had sent over a memo which had been an intelligent
memo and I hadn't any place to use it at the time. I put it in the file,
probably the file that would be called "Future Idea File," or something
of that kind.
This was not a rare instance. Persons working in the different departments
would get ideas, and I knew a great many of those individuals who would
send ideas over. Sometimes we'd use them and sometimes we wouldn't; sometimes
I'd just discard them and sometimes I'd just put them in a file possibly
for future reference.
And during that time when we were searching for
the idea that would make this a strong inaugural address and one that
would be remembered, I thought about this memo that had been sent over
to me by, you say it's Mr. Hardy.
HESS: Benjamin Hardy, according to Eric Goldman in The Crucial Decade.
CLIFFORD: All right, for lack of better information, we'll accept his
word for it. I got the memorandum out; it was about the way I had remembered
it. I remember discussing it with George Elsey, who I think was still
working with me at the time, and we got pretty excited about it. I went
into President Truman with it and we discussed it and he got pretty excited
It seemed to be what we were looking for,
for it did offer something
that was new and innovative and I remember'that we used the language in
describing it where it said, "Our country must embark on a bold new program,"
for making the benefits of our scientific advances available for the improvement
and growth of what we called "underdeveloped areas."
The concept was a sound one; it was exciting; it was bold; it was new;
and I think President Truman showed excellent judgment in deciding to
make it the highlight of his State of the Union message. And rather than
starting with it as the first point, we all agreed that it should be the
last point, so that you build up to it. You go through the dog
acts and the acrobats on up to the headline, and that's the last act of
the evening. That's why it was made point 4.
I might say that it was exceedingly gratifying to him and to the rest
of us that it had the impact that it did. It caused enormous reaction
throughout the world. It was the subject of editorial comment and caused
study groups to be formed. We received a great deal of reaction from foreign
countries. The time was ripe for it, and this country in that message
asserted its role of enlightened leadership in the world. It was everything
that he and the rest of us hoped that it would be.
HESS: We should probably mention the other points: The first point was
support for the United Nations; the second point was the Marshall plan;
and the third point was NATO. Pretty important things.
CLIFFORD: They were, and as you have already pointed
out, that whereas
the State of the Union message dealt mainly with domestic matters, the
inaugural address dealt mainly with foreign policy matters.
HESS: On page 254 of Dean Acheson's book, Present at the Creation,
Mr. Acheson states that Robert Lovett and you gave him broad instructions
in a few secret meetings in your homes just before he was sworn in as
Secretary of State. Of course, he was sworn in on January 21st of '49,
the day after the inauguration. But he said the first time he knew anything
about point 4 was while he was on the platform in front of the Capitol
listening to the President's inaugural address. It seems a little bit
odd to me, the man who was--now, point 4 was placed under the State Department.
The man who was going to run the' State Department didn't know anything
about point 4. Why?
CLIFFORD: Well, I'd think there would be two reasons:
One, the idea
of using point 4 in the inaugural address originated within the White
House. The idea originated maybe a year before with Mr. Hardy, but I believe
that the inaugural address is peculiarly a presidential and a White House
matter. It's different from the State of the Union in which he's reporting
to the people. It is a personal message from the President of the United
States in his personal words to the people of this country and to the
world describing what he hopes to accomplish in his four-year term. We
all agreed that this was very much a personal matter that belonged within
the White House, and I believe we just didn't go out asking other people
their opinions or informing them as to what was to take place.
HESS: Not even the man who was going to head the State Department?
CLIFFORD: Not even the man who was to head the State Department.
HESS: Now, that brings up a very important subject. In his book Mr.
Acheson says that you and Robert Lovett had him out to your homes for
secret meetings, or meetings that he called secret. What was discussed,
what did you discuss with him on those occasions?
CLIFFORD: Was this prior to the President delivering the message?
HESS: That's right.
CLIFFORD: Well, obviously we were going over questions that were to
go into the message, but it seems to me that we must have kept this one
HESS: Would you have been talking with him on broader things about the
broad policies and plans about the State Department?
He said Robert Lovett and yourself "gave me broad instruction in a few
secret evening meetings in their homes ... " Do you recall those meetings?
CLIFFORD: I don't have an independent recollection of them because meetings
like that were going on all the time. I don't get the impression from
what you've told me that we were discussing with him the inaugural address.
HESS: No, that's the point. I was wondering what you were discussing.
CLIFFORD: He had not been in the State Department for awhile, and Lovett
had been; and I had been working very closely with the Department. I was
the liaison man . . .
HESS: Mr. Acheson was out of the State Department,
wasn't he, from '47
to '49, I believe.
CLIFFORD: He was, that's right. Marshall had been in during that time,
and Lovett had been Under Secretary of State. I was the liaison man in
the White House with the State Department. Lovett and I had worked very
closely together, so I think these were briefing sessions that Acheson
had with Lovett and me so he'd be brought up to date as to what had gone
on in the two years held been out.
HESS: General things affecting the State Department.
CLIFFORD: Oh, sure, policies and all. It gave him the chance to ask
questions: What was the background of this policy and how did we happen
to reach a conclusion on that policy? It would be a natural period of
preparation for a new man coming into that important place
Now, you made a comment awhile ago that needs amplifying. You said,
"Why wouldn't you have talked to Acheson about this, since the State Department
was to administer the program?" No decision had been made at that time,
that the State Department was going to administer it. This was one of
the fights that was conducted within the White House and I lost it. I
lost other fights, but this one I remember so well, because I thought
I was going to win it.
We were discussing the point 4 concept with the President, and he finally
decided to put it in the inaugural address. I talked to him about it.
I had been the liaison with State and was deeply immersed in all of the
matters that would go on between State and the White House. I presented
to the President
a plan whereby the point 4 concept would be handled by
an independent agency. I thought that in order to maintain the concept
that this program was bold and new, we should bring in new people with
new ideas. You want to bring in some representatives from the American
international business community that had experience abroad; pick a director,
who might be a corporate executive who would be making three or four hundred
thousand dollars, but would be willing to take a leave of absence because
of the enormous potential of this plan. I can even remember that we had
in mind a man who would do that. His name was Paul G. Hoffman and he had
been president of the Studebaker Corporation. I remember suggesting it,
and I think the President, at first, responded sympathetically and favorably
to that concept: Create a new agency and bring in a lot of bright people
and then let them
start sending representatives into underdeveloped areas
of the world. A whole new concept, not hidebound by bureaucratic traditions
or bureaucratic redtape.
Now, that concept became the subject of much debate. The State Department
said that was wrong, that it should be within the State Department. They
argued that you could not separate it from the State Department, that
it downgraded the State Department and you shouldn't create a new freewheeling
The debate continued for some weeks because some of us had visualized
the kind of agency that we felt could do an outstanding job. I personally
was concerned that if it got into the State Department it would not be
given the preferred status that I thought it deserved. If it had been
a State Department idea which the State Department had sold to the President,
then I believe they might have reacted differently. But in this instance,
it was an idea that originated outside the State Department, as far as
the concept and the scope and including it in the inaugural address was
concerned, and I felt that for that reason it might be treated as a stepchild
by the State Department.
But finally, the President made the decision. To keep the peace within
the official family, and because Acheson and his top lieutenants did not
feel so strongly about it, he thought that it was not wise to make this
an issue at that time; he was assured by State Department representatives
that the full potential of the plan would be realized. I might add as
a footnote that unfortunately that was not so.
HESS: It didn't work out that way?
CLIFFORD: It didn't work out that way. All my worst fears about it were
realized regarding the manner in which the State Department handled it.
They assigned it to a man who already had another job in the State Department,
so this became just a part-time responsibility of his. It was not
pushed the way it should have been pushed. At no time did we ever realize
any part of the potential that the plan had. It ultimately just
became bogged down in State Department bureaucracy, and to this day I
think that was an unfortunate decision. The result justified our deepest
concern about putting it in the State Department. We weren't able to get
the people into it that could have given it life and color and drama;
it just became another State Department program, and finally, I think,
pretty well died on the vine.
HESS: I have read that Mr. Lovett and Charles Bohlen
were opposed to
having point 4 in the inaugural address. They thought it was too premature.
Do you recall that?
CLIFFORD: I have some recollection but I'm not clear on it. I have some
recollection that State did not think well of the idea.
HESS: They thought it probably hadn't been developed enough.
CLIFFORD: Exactly. Exactly. They didn't bother us at all, because we
were offering it as a bold new concept and it could be developed later.
It served every purpose that we wanted it to serve at the time. Again,
we faced bureaucratic thinking which places roadblocks in the way of new
concepts. If it wasn't good enough to be thought of by the State Department
then it really wasn't good enough to be given preferred attention.
HESS: Do you recall if Judge Rosenman had anything to do with the writing
of the inaugural address?
CLIFFORD: I can't recall his participating in it at all. By January
of 1949, he had been gone three years since January of 1946.
HESS: I asked that question because I found one reference in a secondary
source, that's all I've ever seen, that he had something to do with it,
and I don It know that he had anything to do with the White House at that
CLIFFORD: I don't recall it at all. Now we might have sent him a draft
to see if he had any ideas. We used to do that sometimes. We might have
done that, but I would be sure that after three years he would have lost
touch with what went on in Government. You lose touch very
he participated at all, we might have sent him a draft to see what kind
of response he might have. I do not remember doing that, and I would rather
doubt that it would have happened.
HESS: The inaugural message itself had a good deal to say about communism;
it outlined the differences between communism and democracy. Now, that
brings up the subject that in a book just published this year by Richard
Freeland, The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism, he
sets forth the theory that the Government was purposely trying to frighten
the American people by invoking the visions of Communist world conquest
to try to develop support for our foreign policy in aiding Europe, the
Marshall plan, etc.; and that the reason he wanted to restore Europe was
only to restore our old prewar markets for our products. If
our markets would fail and would dry up, and unemployment and depression
would result in the United States. This is one of the new revisionist
theories that has been put forth.
CLIFFORD: There's an expression that's used a great deal now; the first
syllable of the word starts with the word "bull." Now, I won't use the
expression because I do not think it's refined, but this would be an almost
perfect time for the use of that particular word in describing that attitude
toward what went on. I've not read the book. I would say to you: There
is no truth whatsoever. There is no semblance of truth; there is no iota
of truth in that.
What did happen is that when President Truman came into office in the
spring of 1945, the war was still on in both theaters; thereafter
war ended in Europe and he went over and attended the Potsdam Conference
with Stalin and Churchill. You'll remember that Churchill lost the election
about midway through that and was succeeded by Clement Attlee. At that
conference, President Truman and Premier Stalin developed a mutual regard
for each other and a relationship. The President had real hopes that under
the leadership and cooperation of the United States and the Soviet Union
a way could be found to bring peace to the world.
From that time on, all during the Truman administration, that original
idea that he had had was shown to be clearly false. The Soviet Union did
not intend to work with the United States in bringing peace to the world.
What the Soviet Union was interested in doing was advancing the interests
of the Soviet Union, greatly to our danger in this country. If
just remember, before and after the end of the European phase of the war,
the Soviet Union aggressively acquired all those nations on its western
border, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia.
You name it; they acquired it. They acquired those nations by force of
arms. It was the most aggressive period of Soviet communism.
In addition to that, they promoted strenuously the development of Communist
power in the nations of Western Europe: France was prostrate; Italy was
prostrate; England was set back very substantially; so were all of the
nations of Western Europe. Stalin felt that this was a great opportunity.
You say, "Was it a great opportunity for communism?" It was more a great
opportunity for the Soviet Union, because what the Soviet
Union was engaged
in bore no resemblance to what Karl Marx envisioned as communism. This
was just an aggressive plan of control and conquest.
Now, I feel this very deeply. In the summer of 1946, President Truman
gave me the assignment of interrogating the leaders of our Government
and ascertaining their views regarding the relationship between the United
States and the Soviet Union. It was going very badly. The Soviets did
not keep a promise made at Potsdam, as I remember. They broke other agreements
we had. They were just scraps of paper to them.
At the President's direction, I wrote a memorandum that has since received
a good deal of attention, and I delivered it to him in September 1946.
It described what had gone on in the past between the United States and
Soviet Union; one chapter was devoted to the agreements that they
had broken with us; another chapter was devoted to the efforts of penetration
in countries all over the world, including the United States. There
was a specific chapter on Communist penetration in the United States.
In short, from the end of World War II on and all during the Truman administration,
I would say that the most continually pressing and difficult problem that
confronted President Truman was the aggressive designs of the Soviet Union.
I finally finished that memorandum and gave it to him in September of
‘46. My task had been to get the ideas and put them in readable form for
him. The concluding chapter was my own. I remember delivering a copy to
him. I got it printed in the offset printing style at the Government Printing
Office; it was top
secret. I delivered it to him late one afternoon, and
he said, "Well, thank you very much. I'll read it this evening."
About 7 o'clock the next morning my telephone rang and he said, "How
many copies of that memorandum do you have?"
I said, "I have ten...
He said, "I want them all. I think you'd better come down now, Clark,
and go to your office and get them out of the safe and I want them all
delivered to me. If this got out it would blow the roof off of the White
House, it would blow the roof off the Kremlin. We'd have the most serious
situation on our hands that has yet occurred in my administration."
He felt that this analysis, which I submitted, was exhaustive. I believe
the conclusions were correct. He felt that if it got out that it could
cause a complete breach between the Soviet Union and the United States.
So I got all ten copies and I walked right in with them and gave them
to him. He put them in the safe, and they never saw the light of day as
far as I know.
HESS: Isn't this the memo that's in the appendix to Arthur Krock's book?
CLIFFORD: It is. It's there because I let Arthur Krock see it twenty
years later. It was written in 1946. I think it was '66, '67, or '69,
sometime along in there, that I let Arthur Krock see it. It had remained
in the safe for twenty years. I thought by then, "Heavens, this whole
picture has changed; the whole world has changed; why wouldn't it be a
good idea?" As far as I knew, they never were going to let it go. I think
it was a good idea to release it. I think it showed people the conditions
which confronted President Truman.
I might say, you can get it out today
and read it and the conclusions are pretty sound. They've stood up very
Now, I can remember one time as a much younger man, there was a period
in literary history where writers would take a historical character and
debunk him. I remember a book about King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, in which
they were all made to be a pretty scrubby lot. Now, that comes about every
now and then. Somebody will say, "I'm going back and in effect I'm going
to rewrite the history of that period. I wasn't involved in it; I really
didn't know what went on. I've got a set of preconceived ideas, and I'm
going to rewrite the history of that period so that it will conform to
this set of preconceived ideas which I have twenty-five years later."
Now, I've given a detailed answer to that question, because I know what
went on. I was
intimately involved in it. We weren't concerned about markets;
we were concerned about preventing Soviet control of larger areas of the
world than they already.controlled. When the Second World War ended, France
was decimated. England was almost brought to its knees, you'll
remember, and if Hitler had moved at one time, he could have probably
brought them to their knees. The Soviet Union had gone through the most
traumatic experience of its career. I read that in the Second World War
it's estimated that the Soviet Union lost between twenty-five and thirty
million men. So I think they were just determined that it was never going
to happen to them again. But an enormous vacuum had been left in the free
world by the end of World War II, and the Soviet Union was determined
to move into that vacuum.
Now, that was the basis of the Marshall
plan when we were thinking about
reviving Europe. At the time the Soviets were pressing and searching and
trying to find every soft spot where they could insert themselves. That
was the reason for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it was the
reason for the Truman Doctrine.
How anybody can explain that in any different way I do not know. So
I will end this dissertation by saying you can see, according to my intimate
knowledge of what went on in the period, that the approach by the gentleman
you mentioned in his book would have to be described in such language
that you could dramatize the fact that it's sheer eyewash.
HESS: All right, now the night before the inauguration, on January 19,
Mr. Truman had a good time. He attended the dinner of the Presidential
Electors Association. That was the time that he imitated H. V. Kaltenborn
over at the Mayflower Hotel. Were you present that night?
CLIFFORD: I think not. I don't have a recollection. After that I heard
him do it, and we'd get him to do it from time to time. It was . . .
HESS: He enjoyed that.
CLIFFORD: Oh, it was a marvelous act. And Kaltenborn was an excellent
fellow to mimic because he had that specific kind of voice and all.
He enjoyed it. The Kaltenborn remarks were dumb and there was great
euphoria at the time that President Truman had brought off this unbelievable
victory. And he got a great kick out of the picture where he was standing
on the back of the train holding up the Chicago Tribune which said
"Dewey beats Truman." This would be the same type of incident that he
enjoy, i.e., Kaltenborn was telling why President Truman was losing.
I do not remember being at the electors dinner. I don't remember the first
time he did it, but I remember he did it again on occasion. We'd egg him
on to do it.
HESS: The President held staff meetings just about every day, did he
CLIFFORD: Every day, except Sunday.
HESS: Could you tell me about the mechanics of the staff meetings? Who
would attend and what would be discussed and how would they be run?
CLIFFORD: It was the first order of business six days a week. I can't
recall whether it was 8 o'clock or 8:30, but it was held in his office.
He sat at his desk. He started it with our support. The group consisted
of Charles Ross,
the Press Secretary; Matt Connelly, the Appointments
Secretary; Bill Hassett, the Correspondence Secretary; General Vaughan,
the Military Aide, and me. Those would be the regulars with John Steelman,
who was the main economic aide.
HESS: Did Matt Connelly sit in?
CLIFFORD: He did every day. Those were regulars. Once in awhile, somebody
else might be invited if there was something specific to take up.
We would discuss the developments of the day before. He would tell us
what was going on. We might have some ideas and pass on to him what we
were doing. It would last anywhere from a half an hour to an hour, depending
on just how much had been going on and what the exchange was. It kept
us fully informed as to what he was doing, which was very valuable
to us, and kept him informed about any questions that we might
what we were doing. It gave us the chance either to support ideas that
he had, or raise questions about ideas that he had. I believe it in some
respects was the one most important means of the conduct of the Presidency
in the Truman administration.
We all worked together well; there were no cliques; there was really
no backbiting. He got a lot out of personal contact with men with whom
he worked. I think he got more out of that than he might have gotten from
a written memorandum.
HESS: How would you evaluate Mr. Truman's ability as an administrator?
CLIFFORD: I would have to say that when he came in, it was quite mediocre.
He had never administered a job that approached anything like the size
of this task. I would say, offhand, the governor of a large state has
considerable executive experience before coming into the White House,
but President Truman had been a county commissioner in Missouri, and he
had had his own business. Then he had gone to the United States Senate;
so I think he had not had any important administrative experience before
coming into the Presidency. It is greatly to his credit that he learned
so fast, and ultimately, I think, did become a good administrator.
HESS: Did you attend the pre-press conferences, the sessions that were
held every Thursday before the President would go into the press conferences?
CLIFFORD: I doubt that I missed one. I was very interested in them.
At the beginning there wasn't any pre-press conference, and I think it
maybe started with Charlie Ross and me. Pretty soon I think that the same
HESS: Did something happen that made you see the need for this type
of meeting, or how did it evolve?
CLIFFORD: In the early days there would be the usual difficulties that
would take place when there was not thorough preparation. If one would
go back to that era they would find that a number of gaffes took place.
That is normal; it's par for the course.
Charlie Ross and I discussed it together and then we discussed it with
the President. We then instituted as routine procedure the pre-press conference
We would even start before then. If he was going to have a press conference
on Friday, I can remember Tuesday or Wednesday, he'd say, "Now, you all
be thinking about what I'm
likely to be asked, and let's be thinking about
what it is I want to get over." It just wasn't that last half hour before
he went into the press.
We would talk two or three times perhaps at the morning meetings about
items that would come up. It was good to raise them early, because sometimes
it would take some exploration or research to get the facts, and then
we'd be ready. That improved as time went on. He improved; the preparation
improved. The machinery ran more smoothly, but it was very rough at first.
HESS: Were there ever times when you thought a question was going to
come up and it did come up, but once Mr. Truman was asked the question,
what he said in the press conference was not what he was advised to say
in pre-press conference?
CLIFFORD: I don't recall any specific instance, but I'm sure it happened.
HESS: He generally spoke his mind.
CLIFFORD: He did. Then, too, if you expected to get ten questions, you'd
cover maybe fifty or sixty, and nobody can retain all that information.
So sometimes the answers didn't come out quite the way they should. They
never have with any President. And then, oftentimes, there would
have to be what is called a "clarification." That is a euphemism. I see
from time to time now after President Nixon has had a press conference,
the staff will come up with what is called a clarification. Oftentimes
the clarification will be directly opposite from the comment that he made
in the press conference. But that's understood.
HESS: Do you recall the time in September of 1946
when Henry Wallace
made his Madison Square Garden speech, and Mr. Truman was asked in the
press conference if he had read the draft of the speech, and he said,
"Yes," he had read it, and he had approved it. Then the clarification
had to come out that what he meant was, he approved the right of
Henry Wallace to make the speech.
CLIFFORD: I remember the incident, but not in detail. I remember the
President talking about it.
Henry Wallace was going to make this speech in Madison Square Garden,
and he came over to talk to the President about it. My recollection Is
that he brought a draft of the speech along with him, and sat and talked
with President Truman. Wallace commented in narrative form about parts
of it and he may have read parts of it. In any event, he was giving the
of it to President Truman, and in effect clearing it with President
Truman. Then he went and made the speech and the roof fell in. President
Truman, I think, felt defensive about it, and said, "Yes," when somebody
asked if he had read it.
The fact is that he had not. He took Mr. Wallace's word for what it
was. I think that even if Mr. Wallace may have touched on some of the
subjects, due to the manner in which Mr. Wallace was presenting it, the
President did not get the full import or impact of it. The commotion that
was caused by that incident was so far-reaching, that it led to a change
in procedure at the White House.
I remember again talking with Charlie Ross. We worked together very
closely about matters of this kind, and then we talked to President Truman
about it. President Truman,
I think at our urging and suggestion, laid
down the rule that if anybody in the Executive branch wanted to clear
a speech with him after this, he was to send it over ahead of time so
that the President would have a chance to read it or he might get his
staff to look at it. From that time on, by God, he kept that rule. It
saved innumerable difficulties. There were speeches sent over that the
staff would read and then take into him, or he would read and then discuss
with the staff that would contain a misstatement of policy as he saw it.
So I remember that incident specifically because it led to a change
in procedure in White House clearance.
HESS: Mr. Truman was sometimes spoken of by the press as "shooting from
the hip" in his press conferences; the "red herring" matter for one. Did
you find that a problem?
CLIFFORD: I think so. I think particularly at the beginning, and as
time went on he learned and became more cautious about his answers. There's
an enormous distance between the Capitol at one end of Pennsylvania and
the White House at the other. When you're in the United States Senate
you can get up on the floor and say anything you want to . . .
HESS: They quite often do.
CLIFFORD: . . . and they do. Not only are you completely privileged
because you're on the floor of the Senate, but if you didn't say exactly
what you meant, you get a chance to correct the record. You don't get
that chance in the White House. So that a President coming out of the
Senate, I think, has to go through a period of orientation and apprenticeship
to work himself out of habits that became ingrained
in the Senate but
aren't right in the White House.
HESS: Do you think that President Truman worked himself out of the difficulties
that he had the first few years; did he progress and improve?
CLIFFORD: Enormously. He had an open mind and he accepted suggestions.
He even would solicit advice. He was the easiest and best man to work
for that one could imagine. He just didn't have preconceived conceptions
that were frozen in place.
He knew when he came into the White House that he really was not prepared.
Franklin Roosevelt did not prepare him; he didn't have him sit in with
the Cabinet or sit in with other meetings, and as a result, you remember
the famous remark, President Truman said, "I
felt like the moon and the
stars had fallen on me." He was a man who was conscious of the limitations
he had. He didn't know it all, and we were all really starting off together.
There was a lot of exploring going on as to the best way. We all learned
together, and he improved. You could see it week after week after week;
each week there would be an improvement in his handling of matters.
I recall, for instance, another area, a Cabinet man would come over
and talk to him orally about an idea that he had, and he'd present it
very attractively. And the President would say, "Well, that sounds all
right to me." The fellow might launch it and we might be in a lot of trouble.
So it wasn't very long before we had talked over how to prevent the problem.
Thereafter when somebody would come over to talk with him, he would listen
and say, "Now, I'll tell you what you do. Send that over to me in written
form so that my staff and I have a chance to study it."
Sometimes the idea would die right there because they didn't want to
expose it to that kind of inspection. Other times, they'd send it on over
and Mr. Truman and the staff might think it was all right; or we might
raise questions about it.
The President of the United States is so pushed, his time is so occupied,
and he is so harrassed, that it's not very often that he has the time
to sit down and read a speech that somebody's going to give, or read a
five or ten page memorandum. That's what the staff is for. So I might
say that when he came into the White House, at first he did not really
know how to use his staff. As time went on he learned how to use his staff,
and the product began to improve; the staff improved as they
more and more responsibility, and his Presidency improved.
HESS: I'd like for you to help me in clarifying one aspect about the
staffing. Just where did you see your position on the staff--you were
Special Counsel--where did you see yourself in relation to Dr. John Steelman,
and to the three people who were the secretaries, the Press Secretary,
the Correspondence Secretary and the Appointments Secretary? Was there
a structure that you felt you were in or not?
CLIFFORD: I did not feel that I was in any formal structure. There was
no hierarchy within the White House. There was no organization chart.
I never saw an organization chart in the White House. If the President
had come out of a business consulting firm, for instance, he might very
well, as his first act, have had somebody
get up an organization chart;
he did not. He came out of the Senate, and as I've said before, the President
got more from personal contact than he did from other forms of contact.
The organization of the White House was a group of individuals, and they
were individuals who were equal in status. That is the way the President
treated them. There was no particular rank between the persons in the
As I said, this morning group that existed was really the heart of the
White House staff. They were all equals; they were treated as equals.
I never received any instructions from any other staff member; I got them
from the President. Nobody would have thought of giving me any other instructions.
Now, oftentimes, work that we were all doing might impinge on another,
so that all staff people were entitled to discuss each matter before the
For instance, I think that Dr. Steelman was generally in charge
of problems that affected the economy such as the production of coal.
When the coal strike came on, which I recall was toward the end of 1946,
he was generally in charge of it; but I remember taking a part in those
discussions. I recall that he and I differed on what action should be
taken; but even though that was his particular province, the rest of us
had the right to speak up and differ with the man who was handling it.
I'm sure there must have been times that other people might speak up and
differ with me. There was no setup in the Truman administration, which,
for instance, was developed in the Eisenhower administration. President
Eisenhower named Sherman Adams, really, as his chief of staff; he had
the military concept. I remember, for instance, this morning staff meeting
was conducted every morning in the Eisenhower
administration, but President
Eisenhower wasn't there; Sherman Adams presided, and President Eisenhower
was relieved of all that. As a result, I think he missed a great deal
by not having the exchange. Everything that came in was filtered through
Sherman Adams as his chief of staff.
HESS: I would like to point out one thing about Dr. Steelman: He had
the title "The Assistant to the President." Do you know where he got that
CLIFFORD: I have some distant recollection that he and the President
agreed on that. I think that maybe that was to indicate that he had some
HESS: He was paid more.
HESS: According to the Official Register of 1949, he had a $15,000
salary; you were second at $12,000; and then all three secretaries and
the administrative assistants drew $10,330. But I have heard (I won't
say who answered the question), but I have heard in asking similar questions,
"Well, Dr. Steelman had the title; Mr. Clifford had the job." What would
you say about that?
CLIFFORD: Somebody else could put it that way; I wouldn't put it that
way. That title apparently was based on some understanding between President
Truman and Dr. Steelman. I don't think it bothered anybody; it didn't
bother me. The feeling was perfectly good among all the men.
Again, I think there was the feeling of equality. I did not know what
anybody else received. There was no particular matter of interest to me.
I would say that the relationship which I had with President Truman, as
time went on, became steadily closer, and I think that I had a substantially
broader range of activity and responsibility.
I don't recall that Dr. Steelman and I ever had any difficulty. We certainly
never had any in the open. I think that there was maybe some feeling of
competition between us, but there shouldn't have been because we were
really operating in different areas.
HESS: But no feeling of animosity?
CLIFFORD: I wasn't conscious of any. As time went on, and maybe the
press gave more and more attention to the part that I played, sometimes
that rubbed other people the wrong way, but everybody seemed to take it
HESS: Just a short quote on this subject. It is
taken from Patrick Anderson's
book, The President's Men, p. 95.
The fight between Clifford and Steelman was bureaucratic as
well as political. In theory, the Special Counsells Office dealt with
the government departments on 'forward planning' (i.e., legislation) and
the office of The Assistant to the President dealt with operational (i.e.,
day-to-day) affairs. In reality the line between the two offices was never
clearly defined and there was a continuing struggle between them.
What do you think about that? Overblown?
CLIFFORD: I think it's an overstatement. There would be some merit to
it. There is always a struggle that goes on around the office of the Presidency.
But President Truman handled each individual, I believe, with such skill
and warmth that it never got to the point that it looked as though there
was a real struggle going on.
I never reall having an unpleasant word with John Steelman. I think
that there were times that I took views on matters that might
his province and I guess he didn't appreciate it, but that's what we were
all there for. I know we disagreed about the coal strike and disagreed
really pretty strongly. I think he was more conservative than I, and I
think that we, from time to time, would run into that conservative-liberalistic
debate that went on around the President all the time. I was told by those
around President Roosevelt that FDR encouraged it among the people around
HESS: Why did he do that? That's common knowledge that he did, but in
your opinion, why did he do that?
CLIFFORD: Well, I've heard two reasons. Judge Rosenman would be the
source of my information. One is that I think he felt that you got more
out of a man that way--when you have flint striking steel, you get sparks,
and there would
be cross-fertilization of thinking if you kind of kept
everybody active as though they were competing with each other. That's
the first explanation. The second is that it apparently seemed to amuse
him. It was just kind of a little idiosyncrasy in his nature that he got
some kind of enjoyment playing people off against each other, like you'd
move chessmen around on a board.
HESS: That's what I have read. Because he was crippled and could not
play tennis or could not play golf, he played with people.
CLIFFORD: I could only speculate about it because I wasn't in the Roosevelt
HESS: Now, moving on, let's discuss Charles S. Murphy. I want to know
about your general relationship with him after he joined the White House
staff. He came down from Capitol Hill
as Administrative Assistant in December
of '46, and held that position until you left and then he replaced you
as Special Counsel. But what was the nature of your relationship at the
time that you were Special Counsel and he was Administrative Assistant?
CLIFFORD: I had not known him before. He had been in the Legislative
Counsells office on the Hill. President Truman had known him, and it was
either at President Truman's initiative or on someone's recommendation
that he was brought in.
I got to know him. We liked each other and we worked well together.
To some extent, he became my assistant, and I don't know quite how it
happened. I think that there was just so much to do that I was calling
on him and pretty soon he was just spending all of his time on matters
that were assigned to me.
He was thorough and able and honest as the day is long. You could depend
on him twenty-four hours a day. When I finally reached the point where
I knew I had to leave--I would have been there five years-I went in and
talked to President Truman about it, and recommended that Charlie Murphy
succeed me. I did it privately because the President might have had different
ideas, and it was not my decision; but at least I wanted him to take into
consideration my recommendation, and the degree of respect that I had
for Charlie Murphy's ability and sense of dedication.
The President indicated when l talked with him--we had a long talk about
it--that that had been in his mind anyway. He felt very comfortable that
somebody like Murphy was available to succeed me. I remember then telling
Murphy about it before President Truman had spoken to him about it. He
was deeply touched and delighted because he wanted the opportunity to
do a more important job. He had grown into it and he earned it.
HESS: Just for a second I want to pursue one thing you
Mr. Murphy being your unofficial assistant. Did you have that same feeling
or relationship with the other administrative assistants? Donald Dawson
was there for awhile.
CLIFFORD: No, I did not.
HESS: He was mainly in charge of personnel. And David Stowe?
CLIFFORD: He was involved in labor matters almost exclusively. I had
the feeling that Stowe might under some certain circumstances be called
a quasi-assistant to Dr. Steelman.
HESS: He was for a long time. He was deputy to Dr. Steelman in the East
Wing and then he was made an Administrative Assistant and moved to the
CLIFFORD: Well, then I think he probably still would have worked a lot
HESS: One other Administrative Assistant was Mr. Elsey.
CLIFFORD: Well, he was almost completely my assistant during part of
the time. I don't remember how
that developed. I guess he was still there
when Murphy came in; I'm sure he was.
HESS: Yes, he was.
CLIFFORD: And I would say that George Elsey just devoted all
his time to me. The job kept expanding and by the time Murphy came in
I was using all of Elsey's time and part of Murphy's time. Before long,
I was using all of Murphy's time. So I guess I ended up with two
assistants. That's about the way it seems to me.
HESS: Right now I can't remember when Mr. Elsey was appointed Administrative
Assistant. Was that during your time or was that before?
CLIFFORD: I don't remember.
HESS: I don't either.
CLIFFORD: I don't remember the title, but he was there. He was there,
I think, almost all the
time I was.
HESS: He would do a good job no matter what the title.
CLIFFORD: Oh, yes; he was very able.
HESS: One further thing on Mr. Murphy. Do you feel that you conducted
your job in any noticeably different manner than the way he did when he
took over? Were there any similarities or differences in the way that
you two handled the job?
CLIFFORD: Well, there would be obviously a number of similarities, because
if you take a job that another man had, and you've worked with him, there
will be a number of similarities. I believe Charles institutionalized
the job to some extent, and I think properly so. The job was growing all
the time, and he gathered a group around him and they did a lot of group
work. I worked
more alone. It was a more personalized job when I was there.
I think maybe it was dramatized more because our natures were different.
Charles is a more retiring person than I am, and I think not so assertive
as I. I think that, as a result of his institutionalizing the job and
his being a quieter, more retiring fellow, the job perhaps wasn't out
in front as much thereafter. I think he did an excellent job, and maybe
the time had come to institutionalize it and to depersonalize it to some
extent. He was thorough and loyal and, by that time, experienced. He did
an excellent job and he and President Truman got along very well.
HESS: Now while we're on this, some historians have written that although
the provisions for setting up the office of Special Counsel and also for
a regular number of Administrative Assistants
(you know, of course, there
were three) came during the Roosevelt administration, that it wasn't until
Mr. Truman's administration that this machinery was really put into use
and the organization emerged. Do you agree with that?
CLIFFORD: I don't believe that President Truman had any real organization
as that term is ordinarily used. He perpetuated positions that existed
at the time he came in. There was a Special Counsel; that was Rosenman.
And Rosenman stayed for about six months.
HESS: He left on February 1, 1946. It lacked about three months of being
a year. He was there about nine months.
CLIFFORD: All right. Then there was a Press Secretary, and there was
a Correspondence Secretary, and there was an Appointments Secretary, and
there were some Administrative
Assistants. He pretty well adopted the
Roosevelt White House, and then as time went on made some changes.
HESS: Is that all for today?
CLIFFORD: That's all for today.
HESS: Fine. Well, thank you.
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