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.
February 14, 1973
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History
Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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
Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed
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HESS: To get underway this afternoon Mr. Clifford,
let's discuss Key West for just a few moments. What was the general routine
in Key West? How were the functions of the White House staff office carried
on while you were down there?
CLIFFORD: I believe the outstanding characteristic of the Key West visits
was their complete informality. A house had been prepared there for President
Truman. We all lived in the same house. We had our meals together there.
After breakfast in the morning the President would have what might appear
to be an informal staff meeting, at which time he might make assignments
of some sort and receive comments or observations from teh group. We had
complete communication facilities there that had been set up. The President
made it a point to do
as little work as possible in Key West, so as not
to interfere with the benefit of the rest and relaxation.
You will recall we went there for perhaps as much as two weeks after
the election in 1948. It was by far our best vacation.
After the informal conversation following breakfast in the morning, usually
there was the visit to the beach, and the morning volleyball game, which
President Truman enjoyed watching. Members of the staff and the Secret
Service had volleyball teams. He would get a good deal of enjoyment out
of the competition and the humorous exchanges that went on. Most of the
morning would be spent on the beach. We would return and have luncheon
together. Then the afternoon belonged to teh individual. Mr. Truman usually
napped in teh afternoon and read some. The rest of us were ordinarily
available in the event that he needed to go
into anything with us. The
group would gather together in the late afternoon for a cocktail hour.
Mr. Truman would ordinarily have a drink or two before dinner.
After dinner almost invarialby we'd settle down and play poker, which
was one of his great relazations. I might say about the poker games that
they offered a medium first for the interest in and excitement of the
contest, but to a great extent they offered a convenient way for the group
to sit around the table and relax together. The stakes were not large
enough to be engrossing, and it was more an opportunity for the good fellowship
that comes from it. There was a great deal of humor in the different exchanges
that went on. And I've always had the feeling that that was one of the
major interests that Mr. Truman had in these games. It got the group together
and kept them together all
evening. It provided for the opportunities
of the good fellowship that came from it.
HESS: Was Mr. Truman a very good poker player technically?
CLIFFORD: He understood the game well, but he was too optimistic a poker
HESS: Trying to fill inside straights and things like that.
CLIFFORD: He would stay in too many hands in the hope that he might make
a lucky draw. You can get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but you can't
win playing that kind of poker. He didn't win too much, but as a matter
of fact, it was not his basic purpose to win.
HESS: Over the years I have often asked the question who was the best
poker player, and almost invariably people will say, "Well, Clark Clifford
was." What do you think about that? Do you
think you were the best poker player there?
CLIFFORD: I'm not sure that I was the best poker player in the group.
I think that possibly I was the most careful poker player in the group.
I was operating on a very limited budget at the time, and I possibly paid
more attention to it. As a result, I would say, I probably came out about
as well as anybody else.
HESS: In the logs for the President's trips to Key West I noticed for
the first trip, trip number one of November 17th to the 23rd of 1946 that
you were along, and that was the time the President's party boarded the
captured German submarine the U-2513 and the sub was submerged, and as
you know there were reports in the press, some criticism of the captain
of the submarine for submerging the submarine
with the President aboard.
Also in the press at the time was the indication that's also mentioned
in the log there that Admiral Leahy didn't care much for the submerging
of the vessel. Do you recall anything about that incident?
CLIFFORD: Not the detials, but I do remember that there was quite a lot
of publicity about it at the time. I remember quite a well-known picture
that was published all over the country of a group of us standing on the
superstructure of the submarine. My recollection is that obviously we
would not have submerged had not President Truman's acquescence been obtained.
And, althought I don't remember the detail, it would be completely typical
of Mr. Truman to take the position that, well, now we were on the submarine
let's see what it was like to go down in a submarine. There wasn't much
point in riding around on the surface.
HESS: Airplanes fly and submarines submerge.
CLIFFORD: It was interesting to go through with the routine and see the
efficiency with which the men handled their various assignments. I think
the Navy personnel involved were delighted to have that opportunity of
demonstrating their competence to the President. It did not involve any
particular danger of any sort--that submarine must have submerged and
come up hundreds of times, and it did it on a routine basis again.
HESS: According to the log for the eleventh Key West trip--this was March
the 7th tot he 27th of 1952--this was a little over two years after you
left the White House, but you were along on that particular trip, and
also listed as guests were Roy Harper, Frank E. McKinney, and
E. Wilson. This was at the time of the 1952 steel strike--steel trouble--difficulties
and Wilson was down to talk about the steel trouble. Now in some of the
logs it would give the duration of the stay of people. In this particular
log it did not. Do you recall being along in March of 1952?
CLIFFORD: My recollection would be really quite indistinct about it.
I recall being asked to come over at the time to discuss the steel seizure
problem. I happen also to remember that, although it obviously did not
have any real impact on President Truman, I was opposed to that particular
action at the time, and felt that there was some better course that should
have been taken.
HESS: What course did you advise? Do you recall?
CLIFFORD: I do not recall at the time what the
HESS: Well there were several, one was the Selective Service Act; one
was I believe Taft-Hartley. There were several--the one that the President
was operating on was the "inherent powers of the President to take such
actions in times of trouble."
CLIFFORD: My recollection is too indistinct. I do recall being definite
about the position. That I thought it was unwise to test the "inherent
power" issue under those circumstances and . . .
HESS: Did you articulate that to the President?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I did at the time.
HESS: What did he say?
CLIFFORD: I do not remember. I have a recollection
of attending more
than one meeting on-it, and I'm sure we discussed a number of other alternatives,
but I'm not clear now on just what took place. I had known Mr. Charles
Wilson for a long time. It's entirely possible that as you suggest that
we were down there for a number of other alternatives, but I'm not clear
now on just what took place. I had known Mr. Charles Wilson for a long
time. It's entirely possible that as you suggest that we were down there
for a day or two for this kind of discussion. There were other occasions
I remember going down there.
One time I know Chief Justice Vinson and I were guests for maybe four
or five days. I know we were there for quite a while, as guests, and sat
in the games and generally were relaxing.
HESS: I believe that was the previous trip in
November of 1951, I think.
CLIFFORD: It might well have been.
HESS: Two days after the President returned from that particular trip
he announced at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at the National Guard
Armory that he did not intend to run for reelection. The announcement
was March the 29th, very shortly after his return from Key West. While
you were in Key West was the subject broached? Do you recall him saying
anything about his having made up his mind whether or not to run in that
CLIFFORD: My memory on that is quite good. I would say with considerable
positiveness that he did not discuss it with me nor did I hear it discussed
with anybody at all. I think that was a private decision of his, and that
he must have been in the process of arriving at it over a
very considerable period of time.
HESS: On the subject of Mr. Truman's Cabinet, what did Mr. Truman see
as the proper role of his Cabinet? Were they his principal advisers on
all matters, or on some matters, or just what was their role?
CLIFFORD: Different Presidents use Cabinets in different ways. I believe
that President Truman used his Cabinet in two ways: one, they were his
specific representatives in the various departments, which it was their
administrative responsibility to conduct. And then from time to time matters
of broad general interest would be presented for discussion so that he
might get, if possible, some thrust of agreement in general areas. He
did not use his Cabinet as a board of directors.
I understand that to a certain extent President Eisenhower used his Cabinet
as part of
the policymaking machinery. President Truman did not
use his Cabinet that way. He understood that that was not the function of the
Cabinet under our governmental system. The Cabinet as a group has no power.
It does not even have any existence in our law. It is just a term that's
been applied to a group of men who happen to be appointed to specific
President Truman was very much aware of the lack of power of the Cabinet.
He, on occasion, would refer to the incidents that occurred in the administration
of President Lincoln. I believe it had to do with the Emancipation Proclamation,
when Mr. Lincoln submitted the Proclamation to the Cabinet. Lincoln received
quite a negative vote from the Cabinet, and in effect said, "Well, I'm
glad to get the opinions of all, but inasmuch as this is a presidential
responsibility I shall exercise that authority and responsibility and
I herewith sign the
Proclamation." He would not call the Cabinet to discuss
important specific problems. At Cabinet meetings he oftentimes would start
discussions which would give him a general feeling of their attitude toward
matters; but he did not depend on them as a policymaking body, nor did
he assign any responsibility in that regard to his Cabinet.
HESS: We hear today of occasions when White House staff members interpose
themselves between the President and his Cabinet members. Were there similar
actions attempted by any staff members during the Truman administration?
CLIFFORD: I doubt that one could say that staff members would interpose
themselves. President Truman used his staff a great deal. He developed
a good feel for the kind of contribution that his staff could make. He
was closer to his staff
than any President that I know.
As an illustration, I believe President Truman was the only President
who took his vacation with his staff. Other Presidents would take their
personal friends and might even prefer as part of the relaxation to get
away from their staff. President Truman was comfortable with the staff,
he used them well.
A system developed to some extent whereby Cabinet members would use staff
members as contacts with the President. There grew up in my operation
as counsel, a relationship with the State Department and the Defense Department
that I think became an important part of the operation. For quite a while
Robert Lovett was Under Secretary of State. He and I were friends and
he used me as his contact in the White House. Dean Acheson was Under Secretary
and then Secretary, and he would use me as his contact. I'd had
days of my coming to Washington in the spring of ‘45 a relationship that
developed with James Forrestal, who at that time was Secretary of the
Navy. We went through those long and arduous difficulties that led ultimately
to the unification of the services. So there developed informally an exceedingly
effective system of cooperation between State and Defense and my office.
At times when they would like information, and they couldn't call the
President, they would call me. Often the President would say to me, "Pass
the message on to Acheson or to Forrestal." And in that way we developed
a closely coordinated operation that I think served the President well
and served the Government well.
There would be times when staff members would differ with Cabinet members.
It is good for a President to hear different views. Maybe
we touched one
time earlier on a dramatic meeting that I remember when Secretary of State
George Marshall came over with Lovett and we had a conference on whether
or not our Government should recognize Israel. We had very sharp differences
There is one comment also that I think has value: the President learned
so much as his Presidency progressed. At the very beginning, I believe
he accepted as carte blanche representations or recommendations from his
Cabinet members, and sometimes got into trouble by doing so. You remember
the Henry Wallace incident, and the speech in Madison Square Garden which
must have been back in . . .
HESS: September of '46.
CLIFFORD: . . . September of '46.
After some experiences of that kind President Truman would many times
have Cabinet officers
submit recommendations in the form of a memorandum.
Then he would have the staff go over the memorandum almost from the standpoint
of presenting the other side of the issue. So, there began, I think in
the Truman administration, a system whereby certain staff members developed
relationships with certain departments which made the machinery operate
HESS: You have mentioned several departments that you worked with; the
State Department, the Defense Department. Did you ever hear of any Cabinet
members who thought that you might have been interposing yourself with
the President--not working--trying to put your views in front of theirs?
CLIFFORD: I do not recall any. I'm sure there must have been times that
they felt that maybe I did not agree with them as much as I should
I'm not sure I would be the one to hear about it. I think others would
be more likely to hear about it than I.
HESS: Did any of the members of the White House staff sit in on the meetings
of the President's Cabinet?
CLIFFORD: I know I sat in on a number. I know that John Steelman sat
in on a number. I believe it would depend on whatever the subject might
be. John Steelman was in the economic phase of the White House operation,
and I know he would sit in on Cabinet meetings when they were discussing
economic phases. I was more likely to sit in on them in those areas of
my major interests which were State and Defense. Sometimes I would sit
in at meetings if there was likely to be the discussion of a presidential
speech, so that I would be exposed to different ideas, because as you
know . . .
HESS: To help you in your speechwriting.
CLIFFORD: . . . help me with my speechwriting. I'm not conscious of the
fact that certain staff members were part of the Cabinet apparatus. Ordinarily
the President would indicate there was a Cabinet meeting he thought that
I might attend, and I think he would have done that with other staff members
on a selective basis.
HESS: And so there was no one who was assigned to go in and take notes--take
minutes of the meeting so to speak?
CLIFFORD: I'm not conscious of that fact.
HESS: I understand that Secretary Forrestal may have had an interest
in establishing something more formal. Something such as a secretariat
to the Cabinet, is that correct?
CLIFFORD: Yes. I developed an early relationship
with Secretary Forrestal
when I came into the Naval Aide's Office in the spring of 1945. He was
Secretary of the Navy. Later I became Naval Aide to President Truman and
I saw a lot of Secretary Forrestal at that time. The Navy used the Naval
Aide as a conduit to the President, and we developed a close personal
friendship. On any Wednesday morning that we were both in town and both
free, I would have breakfast with him, and it would give us an opportunity
to exchange ideas and discuss Navy matters. Later those discussions concerned
all of the controversy over the unification of the services.
He discussed with me a good deal two theories of government that he had
that I think would be interesting to refer to: one, he thought that more
could be done with the Cabinet than was done. He thought the Cabinet should
be institutionalized. He was much impressed by
the British system, and
he from time to time did discuss it with me and possibly with President
Truman. I do not recall President Truman mentioning it specifically.
Secretary Forrestal suggested that there be a Cabinet secretariat, that
an individual be named to that position, and that one of his functions
be to prepare an agenda for Cabinet meetings, and send that agenda out
ahead of time to the Cabinet members with supporting data. In this manner
the Cabinet members woul be prepared to discuss the major questions and
issues of the day. Forrestal felt that this would allow the Cabinet to
serve a more useful purpose. President Truman never accepted that plan.
I thought that the form of it sounded attractive and efficient, but fundamentally
it was inimical to our system of government, because the Cabinet is not
a policymaking body; the British
Cabinet operates in such a different
After a while I think as Secretary Forrestal himself became more experienced
in Government, that is going from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary
of Defense, I believe the idea began to lose appeal to him. He found that,
for instance, as Secretary of Defense it made very little difference to
him what the rest of the Cabinet members thought about important problems
that he had. I think the idea lost much of its appeal as time went on.
The second concept he had was really quite a valuable one. He had been
a businessman himself, and he said that the large corporations in this
country gave a great deal of attention to the selection of the best men
they could get. That the corporation that succeeded was the corporation
that had the best brains. "Here," he said, "it seems to be an absurdity
that we were engaged in a struggle with the Soviet Union (at the time)
determine whether our Nation survived, and yet we had no real
system whereby we could go out and find the best brains the country had
and bring them into Government." He felt that what we should do as a Nation
was develop a pool of the most competent men in our country. That a man
could come in and serve in Government for whatever period of time two,
three, four years. He then would need rest and need possibly to look after
his private affairs. He would then be available sometime later for a second
His experience in that regard was very similar to mine. The first time
a man serves in Government he has a certain value. The second time he
serves that value has increased substantially. And then if by chance you
can later on get him back a third time then that man makes an outstanding
public servant. There's a lot in Government to learn, and if a man comes
into Government and serves in a position let's say four years,
the first two years he spends a lot of that period learning and it cuts
short his major productiveness. With our political system I suppose that
the concept offers problems, but it has great merit to it, and to some
extent it's done in an informal way. Mr. Acheson maybe had three separate
tours in Government. I know Mr. Lovett did and Mr. McCloy did. Many of
our outstanding servants have come in and out of Government. It's an enormously
valuable asset. More attention should be given to it, and persons should
be encouraged better to engage in Government service. There are a good
many disadvantages in Government service, as you may know, and we lose
good men as a result of that.
HESS: Do you recall if Secretary Forrestal asked some of the other Cabinet
members what they thought about setting up a Cabinet secretariat
and what their views were?
CLIFFORD: I don't have any personal information in that regard, but I'm
sure that he did. And Iknow that he was one of the motivators in having
the Cabinet meet in between regular Cabinet meetings.
HESS: For Cabinet luncheons.
CLIFFORD: For Cabinet luncheons. They used to do that a good deal. I
think he felt that it developed a certain camaraderie that was valuable,
and in addition to that it enabled the Cabinet to discuss matters together.
It was part of his plan to make the Cabinet a more important force in
the operation of our Government. The reason he did not succeed is that
it just isn't part of our system of operating the executive branch of
HESS: Your resignation from the White House staff
became effective on
January the 31st of 1950. Why did you leave the Government at that time?
Wanted to make some money?
CLIFFORD: In important decisions of this kind there probably are more
than one motivating factor. I have a theory about Government. I developed
it during this period, and all that I've seen helps corroborate it. There
is a limit to the effective period in which a man can serve in an administration.
I think some men come in and stay too long in Government. I had come in
the spring of ‘45; I'd now reached the spring of ‘50. I'd been there practically
One, I was worn out physically.
Second, the freshness goes. I found that
everything that I would write for the President would begin to sound like
something else that I had written for him. It had a stale sound to
it and feel to it.
Third, perhaps even more important if you're in a position around the
President where you do participate in the policymaking process, then you
become known in a certain capacity and to a certain extent you become
a target. I do not mean target from outside the Government; I mean target
from inside the Government.
You develop areas of resistance from those with whom you have competed
for so long. I think it has a tendency to some extent to diminish the
effectiveness of an individual. There were some men in the administration
whom I had opposed so consistently that I would know that if I were for
an issue or proposition they'd be against it.
HESS: Irregardless of what it was?
CLIFFORD: Irregardless almost of the merit of the issue. Those are factors
that operate around
a President. Then there was a personal issue. I had
left my law practice by going into the Navy for a while; then I had these
five years in the White House. I had a growing family with increasing
You take all of those factors, put them together, and it led me to a
series of conversations that I had with President Truman toward the end
of 1949. (Forty-nine was an interesting year following the election. We
worked very well together.) I had discussed it with him during that year.
I had a man working with me, Charles Murphy, whom the President liked
and who was a very able, conscientious fellow. He could very easily step
in and take over the position that I had. It seemed the right course to
me, and in talks that I had with President Truman he came to see it as
I did. He recognized that we could make the change with practically no
interruption in the smoothness
of the staff operation. And I must say
I will always be deeply appreciative of the wonderful letter that he wrote
for me. It's one of my most prized possessions.
HESS: Now according to a memo dated December the 15th, 1952, from PPF-4269
in the Library's file, you had been working on a matter for the President
and requested to come in and see him. Do you recall what that matter was?
CLIFFORD: No, I don't know. From time to time in the three years that
he was in office after I left he would call me. We had worked so closely
together that in some areas I think his mind naturally would turn to me
when a problem of that sort came up. I do not know how many times it occurred,
but in that three years I may have had ten assignments, or fourteen, or
eighteen, something of that kind. I continued to see him steadily through
Often he would call and I would come down. We would talk together as
we had in the past. Our relationship continued on in a manner that I might
say was most gratifying to me.
Sometimes issues would come up that we might have had come up before
and he would not remember the details. Held call and I'd go over and I'd
give him the details of a certain situation. It might have involved a
dispute that we had with the Mineworkers or some issue on unification,
or something of that kind.
I was close and he used me. I think it is possible that he even said
something in the letter that he finally wrote me, that he was glad that
I would be available so that he could make use of my services in any way
that he saw fit.
HESS: Did Mr. Murphy ever call you up and ask for advice, or ask for
CLIFFORD: At the beginning he did, which is only natural.
HESS: During the transition period.
CLIFFORD: During the transition which I was going out, and he was coming
in, we had a good deal of contact in those early weeks. Then as it progressed
that pretty well terminated. In the first place he didn't need me, and
in the second place he organized the job differently. I had done it more
on a personal basis and he gathered a staff around him. He made it work
that way really very well. It was just a different type of work habit
that he had, than I had had. So I would say that during the three years
President Truman continued to serve, each year he would have less occasion
to call on me. I was out and he would look, ultimately almost exclusively,
to those around him.
I might say one function I continued to have through the full three years
was to organize the poker games.
HESS: And according to Mr. Dean Acheson in his book Present at the
Creation, you attended a small dinner party he held for Mr. Truman
near the end of the administration. Do you recall being in attendance
there and perhaps what the President's attitude was--was he reflective--did
he talk about what he wished he had done? Recall anything about that?
CLIFFORD: I recall the occasion. The main reason I recall it was because
of the warmness of the atmosphere. I recall the obvious pleasure that
President Truman had being there with men with whom held been so close
during his term.
In the course of the dinner conversation I detailed an
incident that had come up in one of the poker games that involved President
Truman and Chief Justice Vinson. It amused the President greatly, and
was a matter of some minor embarrassment to the Chief Justice. In front
of the dinner party the President had me tell the story, and it was really
a very amusing story. I remember that as one of the highlights of the
The President retired from the Presidency with unique grace. He had no
regrets, really, about it. He did not want to go on in the position as
some Presidents do.
I think we all know now that when President Coolidge said in 1928, "I
do not choose to run," he really wanted the party to persuade him to be
its candidate again. There was none of that feeling on the part of President
Truman at all. He had served well. He'd won on his own in the famous election
of ‘48. He had matured in the job. He had been a good and faithful servant,
and he was ready to step out and let others take over.
As you know, and I'm sure you've gone through it with many, he had attempted
to some extent to guide his party in the selection of a man whom he hoped
would be his successor, and that had not worked out. But, those closing
days were exceedingly satisfying to him and to all those around him. It
was, "Well done my good and faithful servant. You have well earned, now,
years of retirement."
Often a man leaves office (and we've seen some other Presidents leave
office) with regret, with hopes unfulfilled. This was rather remarkable
in that regard. The atmosphere was one of acceptance, it was one of grace.
It was one of tranquility; and you could sense it and you could feel it.
Also, by the time that he left there was developing already a much greater
appreciation for his accomplishments.
People now forget the depth, extent and bitterness of the criticism Mr.
Truman received while in office. Now people say, "Well, there's just no
doubt about it. He was one of our great Presidents." That's come about
to a great extent since he left office. The amount of criticism he endured,
the amount of vilification was very substantial. But by the time he left
there was a sense of appreciation, and I shall always be thankful that
he lived during the period in which each year saw an increase in the peoples'
appraisal of his accomplishments in office.
I remember a rather touching incident; held been out of office maybe
ten years and he came back to Washington, D.C. I went by the Mayflower
Hotel and walked with him from the Mayflower over to the Statler where
we were to have the poker game. He told me about going out to some place
like Phoenix or Tucson
to make a speech. He'd been out of the Presidency
maybe ten years, and there was something wonderfully appealing and rewarding
in his saying, "Do you know there were three thousand people there at
the airport." And he said, "You know what?"
I said, "What, Mr. President?"
He said, "They just came down there to see me." He had a wonderfully
continuing modesty. He knew when he was President that people came out
to see a President. But here held been out a number of years, and people
had still come out to see him. And, as I've mentioned before, the continuing
simplicity of the man was one of the most appealing facets of his nature
and onethat made him perhaps most endearing to those of us who had the
privilege of being close to him.
HESS I understand that the Lashly law firm of St.
Louis (that was the
firm that you used to be associated with), defended Matthew J. Connelly
in his case that arose after Mr. Truman left office. Just what are your
views on that particular difficulty, and why that particular difficulty
arose, and the outcome of the case?
CLIFFORD: It is my recollection that President Truman had a very real
regard and respect for Mr. Jacob M. Lashly who was the senior member of
that firm with which I had been associated. When Matt Connelly became
involved in that particular difficulty I believe it was Mr. Truman who
asked Mr. Lashly to look out for the matter in Connelly's behalf. Mr.
Lashly was too old to handle the matter himself, but he had one of his
partners handle it. I deplore that whole affair. I think it was unjust
in a most aggravated form.
When President Eisenhower came into office
he brought in a group with
him that were very political minded. I'm not being critical of President
Eisenhower in this regard, but he brought a group in whose concept of
politics, as far as I could tell, was to start in and see what they could
get on their predecessors. They made a great effort to see if there wouldn't
be something they could find that had been done wrong.
I know they went through my record with great care. I knew I was being
investigated from every standpoint. I know they investigated John Snyder;
they investigated Edward Foley; and they investigated Matt Connelly. I've
never known the details of the charge. I've known that it was, but as
I can remember, insignificant and inconsequential. I think Mr. Connelly
assisted some taxpayer who was old and ill in getting out of a tax charge
by the Government. He had him pay the amount that was owed, including
all the taxes and all the penalties, but the man was actually not sent
to prison. It was something of that kind.
Some charge was brought against Mr. Connelly that I'd never heard before.
Something along the line of conspiracy to refrain from giving his full
services to the Government. It was some curious charge of that kind, and
I never thought there was any substance to it.
I don't know how good a defense he had. I think it was a real misfortune
that he had to be penalized. Nothing was accomplished by it. I don't think
there'd been any moral turpitude involved. I suppose, even if there had
been some technical violation, that it was a crushing blow to Mr. Connelly.
I would have to say to you, that he and I were not particularly close,
as friends. We were in entirely different parts of the operation with
the staff, and I wasn't intimate with him. At the same time
what happened to him just as I would with anybody whether he was a close
personal friend or not, because of the injustice of it.
HESS: In your opinion what were Mr. Truman's major accomplishments and
what were his major failings?
CLIFFORD: His accomplishments are so clear. I would synthesize it by
saying: After World War I the United States did not meet the responsibility
of world leadership. It was presented to us. We had never had world leadership
up to that time. We were an emerging country. And the manner in which
we handled the problem of the League of Nations, and our refusal to exert
the kind of influence that we could in the world, to a very considerable
extent was one of the contributing factors to all the problems that later
crystalized when World War II came.
I believe historians will look back at
the period of Mr. Truman's administration
and take the position that for the first time the United States did step
up and meet the responsibility of world leadership, and that is the brightest
star in President Truman's crown. He led this country into the recognition
of our responsibility; he was able to persuade the Congress and our people
to face up that responsibility. He convinced them that there would be
no peace in the world if we did not take the leadership that was thrust
upon us. It is my feeling that all over the world at that time the grave
question existed, "Will the United States now accept its responsibility?"
And as historians in other countries write their accounts of the period,
it is my opinion that this will be the outstanding accomplishment of Mr.
Now, the manner in which he met that responsibility was enormously effective.
remember his first approach when the problem came up regarding Trieste.
After study, he took a sound firm position on Trieste. That was important.
Then along came the Truman Doctrine, which was in March of 1947, in which
he in effect told the Soviet Union that we were not going to permit the
Soviet Union to engage in this all out period of aggressive expansionism
without having to take us into consideration. I think that this action
in 1947 saved those two important anchors in the Mediterranean, Greece
Then came the Marshall plan in which a practically nonexistent Europe
was built back to a point where it became the important factor that it
had to become. That was then augmented and amplified by the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization. I regard that period in American History as one of
our proudest eras, because
at a time when we could have retired back into
a certain type of isolationism after making this enormous contribution
in World War II, we did not do so. And to a great extent that was due
to the farsightedness and vision of Harry S. Truman.
As he carried on he went through the Berlin Airlift. People forget today
how all embracing Soviet expansionism was during that period. People forget
that in the closing days of World War II and afterwards, they just took
Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and later Hungary.
People forget that they started what was known as the Comintern; the development
of a Communist cell in practically every country of the world. People
forget how close some of those tough elections were in France and in Italy
when theCommunist Party was so strong. So that had it not been, in my
opinion, for the courage and tenacity of President Truman the
of this globe would be a great deal different than it is. And I think
that the regard that our country has in the world and has had since the
Second World War is due to a great extent to the policies enunciated by
President Truman. I regret to say that I think some of our more recent
policies have caused us to lose some of that high regard that we had previously.
So this unquestionably is his great place in history. As far as I'm concerned
it's likely to grow and not diminish.
It is interesting to make a brief comparison between Truman and FDR.
When President Truman came in, Franklin Roosevelt was considered a giant
of a man and President Truman was an unknown quantity. As time goes on
it seems to me that President Truman's accomplishments are believed to
equal, if not surpass, those of Franklin Roosevelt. So it is a memorial
that he put into the Presidency that his programs led the world
in the direction that it did.
As far as failures are concerned, the failures look minor to me today.
Some of the domestic programs were not achieved as he wished. They were
good liberal programs. Some of them didn't turn out as he hoped that they
might, but they had no permanent impact upon the direction of the country.
Some of his programs caused people to become extraordinarily bitter at
the time, but he blazed the way. There was an awful lot of conversation
in the Franklin Roosevelt administration about civil rights, but not a
whole lot of action. And President Truman got a lot of action at great
personal risk and difficulty to himself, particularly in the ‘48 election.
I was proud to say, when I went to the Pentagon years and years later
that it was President Truman who really instituted those measures
began to bring about the elimination of racism in our armed services.
We began to get equality in our armed services. He instituted those policies
back in his term. So that, in my opinion, his accomplishments so greatly
overshadow minor disappointments, that the administration will be remembered
as a forward, progressive, and aggressive administration. The eight years
that followed it help dramatize how active and how full of accomplishments
President Truman's years were.
HESS: What is your favorite memory of Mr. Truman?
CLIFFORD: I think I do not have any individual recollection that I could
come up with quickly. I would say to you that the outstanding sensation
that I have whenever the conversation turns to him was his kindness toward
me. If you just want it on a personal basis I never can
recall his saying
or doing any unkind thing to me. He would disagree with me on recommendations
I might make. I might strike him at a time when he was harrassed and possibly
pushed almost to the limit. I not only did not ever receive a reprimand,
but not even a harsh word through five difficult, trying years. My memories
of the man who was as benigh, and as kindly, and as thoughtful as he was
is really one of the great rewards that I have for that experience with
HESS: After seven long sessions do you have anything to add on Mr. Truman
or your duties in the Truman administration?
CLIFFORD: I do not. I think you've done an excellent job in preparing.
You've certainly gotten everything out of me that I think I have to give.
HESS: Thank you very much for your time, sir.
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