Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
CLARK M. CLIFFORD

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

Washington, D. C.
March 16, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

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


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

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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



[344]

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

[345]

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.

[346]

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,

[347]

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 this one.

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

[348]

Government a fair deal."

Of course, the words "fair deal, " the term, because the motto and the symbol of the Truman administration. Do you recall who contributed that phrase?

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;

[349]

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

[350]

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 or three.

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

[351]

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

[352]

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 point?

CLIFFORD: Yes, in conversations . . .

HESS: With whom?

CLIFFORD: . . . with President Truman regarding the

[353]

inaugural address, 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

[354]

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.

[355]

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 about it.

It seemed to be what we were looking for,

[356]

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.

[357]

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

[358]

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:

[359]

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?

[360]

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 to ourselves.

HESS: Would you have been talking with him on broader things about the State Department

[361]

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,

[362]

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

[363]

in Government.

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

[364]

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

[365]

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 agency.

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,

[366]

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?

[367]

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

[368]

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

[369]

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 time.

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

[370]

quickly. If 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

[371]

Europe failed, 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

[372]

the 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

[373]

you will 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

[374]

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 the

[375]

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

[376]

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.

[377]

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.

[378]

I might say, you can get it out today and read it and the conclusions are pretty sound. They've stood up very well.

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

[379]

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

[380]

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

[381]

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 would

[382]

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 not?

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,

[383]

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

[384]

have and 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

[385]

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 morning

[386]

group attended.

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 sessions.

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

[387]

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?

[388]

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

[389]

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 substance

[390]

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,

[391]

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?

[392]

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

[393]

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

[394]

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

[395]

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

[396]

were given 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

[397]

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 White House.

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 President.

[398]

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

[399]

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 title?

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 special standing.

HESS: He was paid more.

CLIFFORD: Yes?

[400]

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.

[401]

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 in stride.

HESS: Just a short quote on this subject. It is

[402]

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

[403]

be within 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 him.

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

[404]

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 administration.

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

[405]

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.

[406]

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

[407]

mentioned about 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 West Wing.

CLIFFORD: Well, then I think he probably still would have worked a lot with Steelman.

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

[408]

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

[409]

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

[410]

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

[411]

(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

[412]

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.

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