Oral History Interview with
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Director
of the Office of Public Information, Dept. of Defense, 1950-52; Assistant
to the President of the United States, 1952; and Deputy Chairman of the
Democratic National Committee, 1953-57.
May 6, 1970
By Jerry N . Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Fritchey Oral History
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. ) within the transcript
indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral
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 It may not be
published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 August, 1972
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Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed |
Additional Fritchey Oral History
Oral History Interview with
May 6, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
Mr. Fritchey, to begin today, I'd like to read an excerpt from the book,
The Politics of Honor: A Biography of Adlai E . Stevenson, by Kenneth S .
Davis, and get your reaction to it. This is on page 278 and 279:
There were other grave disadvantages to headquartering in Springfield.
Travel in and out of the town was much more difficult than travel in and
out of Washington would have been, and Springfield was deficient in
mass-communications facilities. The latter complication was enhanced by
the apparent fact that Bill Flanagan, whom Stevenson retained as his
personal press secretary, seemed not to enjoy the candidate's full
confidence. When newsmen asked Flanagan questions to which, they felt, he
should have immediate answers, Flanagan was likely to reply that he didn't
know, he'd try to find out. For this, and various foul-ups in news
facilitation, the unfortunate Flanagan was soon very much in the doghouse
with reporters. The situation was considerably improved when the White
House loaned to Stevenson one of the President's principal assistants,
Clayton Fritchey, who had had a brilliant newspaper career (he'd been
editor of the New Orleans Item, managing editor of the Baltimore Post, and
won a Pulitzer prize for reporting while on the Cleveland Press) before
coming to Washington in 1950 as assistant to General Marshall, then
Secretary of Defense.
Now, my question is, if you agree that the situation was considerably
improved, as Davis says, what did you do to improve the situation when you
FRITCHEY: Well, in justice to Bill Flanagan, it was not that he
was not up to the -- let me put it this way, it was not that he was
incompetent, it was the fact that he had served Stevenson as press
secretary while Stevenson was Governor of Illinois, and therefore,
overwhelmingly concerned with relatively local affairs.
It is not a fair test of Flanagan's ability or intelligence or general
competence that he was not in the best position to serve as press
secretary to a presidential campaign. Stevenson himself had been
concentrating on purely state and local matters for four years. Even as
experienced as Stevenson was in international affairs, and to some extent
national affairs, he had been away from the scene. That was one reason he
was reluctant to run. He realized that he would have to do a cram course
during the campaign, which he did. Fortunately he could fall back on many
years of very professional experience. Flanagan could not. He was an
Illinois lad, and I think the reporters liked him, but it's true, he was
not in a position to deal with many of the intricacies of affairs that
had been occurring on the Washington scene and the
So, while I was serving as Wilson Wyatt's executive assistant (he was
the campaign manager), I inevitably got involved in the press area, and I
think I was able to be of some help, simply because we had a hundred or
two hundred correspondents in or around Springfield and on the campaign
train, the campaign plane, all of whom I knew because of my Washington
experience, and from my having served on many different newspapers around
the country. So it was inevitable that they would gradually drift to me,
especially in matters within my competence.
And, of course, the reason Governor Stevenson asked Dave Bell and me to
come out there was the fact that we had been close to the national and
international scene, and it was only natural that Stevenson should rely on
us perhaps more than some of the men who were with him while he was Governor.
HESS: One question about Mr. Stevenson choosing you and Mr. Bell. Did
he personally know you before this time, or did someone on his staff know you?
FRITCHEY: Yes, he knew me.
HESS: When did you first meet him?
FRITCHEY: I think I first met him through Barry Bingham, the publisher
of the Louisville Courier-Journal. We spent a weekend together one time at
Mr. Bingham's house. We also had many good mutual friends, and many of the
people who came to Springfield, like Arthur Schlesinger, Ken [Kenneth]
Galbraith, David Bell, and others, were close friends of mine, so we were
a very congenial group. We had all known each other, and worked together.
We had all served in the New Deal-Fair Deal administrations.
HESS: Do you happen to know if Governor Stevenson knew Dave Bell before
FRITCHEY: I can't answer that. I really don't know whether he ever met
Bell before or not, but he knew of him, and he was a very able man, and
instantly supplied what Stevenson wanted, which was a great deal of
know-how, and sophisticated knowledge of the issues we were going to deal
HESS: Fine, we'll get further into your duties in Springfield
in just a minute, but at the conclusion of our last interview,
we had just mentioned the campaign trips, and you said that you had
traveled on some of them. Just how were the campaign trips conducted?
FRITCHEY: Well, I think not too differently than is customary. We had a
logistical team planning the itinerary. We had a group in Washington and a
group in Springfield coordinating this. It was under the general direction
of Wilson Wyatt, because, naturally every political boss and every state
chairman and county chairman in the country wanted the candidate to come
to his particular area, and so this required the judgment of Wyatt and a
number of his associates, as to which were the most strategic spots to go
to and when to go to them and how. So, we would fan out from Springfield
for, say, a week at a time, or four or five days at a time, sometimes
So every trip had to be plotted from morning to night. This required a
tremendous logistical operation, because we also had to provide
facilities, room and board so to speak, hotel arrangements, telephone and
other communications for a very large press corps that was
with us. There were always two planes: the candidate's plane
and the press plane. With us, of course, many times, were visiting
political leaders who came to Springfield to see the candidate and who
also wanted to be on the plane when we were visiting their particular
states and cities. They usually rode the candidate's plane. This required
a very big staff just to plot this out, and to keep it moving all the
time. It's one of the biggest and most important things in a campaign,
coordinating the logistics, especially these days, where you're moving so
fast with planes.
HESS: How would you compare the difficulty of arranging a campaign with
planes as opposed to a campaign with trains?
FRITCHEY: Planes are more difficult, because you're trying -- I
remember on one occasion we started, I believe, in New Mexico, spent the
afternoon in Oregon, and went to a major rally, I believe, that evening in
Kansas City. In the days of trains, that would have taken two weeks. We
did it in less than twenty-four hours. I must say, it's a wonder we
weren't all dead.
It was a remarkable thing about Stevenson, he had this
excessive weight, as you know, and he didn't look like an especially
strong man, but he never even got a cold during this incredible campaign,
when we were getting three and four hours sleep. He didn't lose his voice
once, and very seldom lost his temper.
HESS: How many trips or campaign swings did you make, do you recall?
FRITCHEY: I can't recall now.
HESS: Did you go on most of them?
FRITCHEY: I went on about half of them, because it was necessary for
people to keep the shop in Springfield.
HESS: The times when you did not go, just what were your duties in
FRITCHEY: As I think I said before, I was Wilson Wyatt's executive
assistant, and he was the chief campaign manager, and when he wasn't
there, I had to pinch hit for him.
This is very like a G. H. Q in war. It isn't
possible , if you took a call every two minutes, a long
distance call every two minutes, to take all the calls that are coming in
during the course of the day, because almost every political leader in the
country, every candidate in the country, wanted to talk to Stevenson or to
the campaign manager, almost constantly. We would have calls backed up
forty and fifty to the most important people in the United States. This
creates probably more ill will than any single thing in a campaign,
because people who could ordinarily get through at any other time, have to
take their turn in this kind of an operation.
Take a man of the stature of a president of a very large university, or
the president of a very large steel company. Normally, Stevenson would
take the call right away himself, for he knew many of them. If a Governor
called, or a prominent Senator, they'd normally get through right away. In
a campaign it's impossible. Everyone who calls is a celebrity, so to
speak, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to take them all.
Much of my work was taking the calls that Stevenson and Wilson Wyatt
couldn't take. Of course, they all
prefer to start, first with Stevenson, and secondly Wyatt, and
when worst comes to worst, settle for me. Bit by bit, when they found out
that I had access to the candidate, and their message went through, they
became more comfortable with this arrangement.
HESS: Did Jacob M. Arvey lend any assistance to Stevenson during that
campaign? Jake Arvey of Illinois.
FRITCHEY: Well, you know Jake always prefers to be called Jack. He
played a very considerable part in Stevenson's life. Stevenson probably
would never have been a candidate for Governor if it had not been for
Arvey. And at that time he was certainly an extremely influential man, and
in my opinion a very useful one. He had, aside from his political
experience and sophistication, and his ability to deliver in a key state,
he just had general good sense. Unlike many professional political
leaders, he was an extremely intelligent man and had a good grasp of the
issues. So, it was congenial for Stevenson to work with him. He never
imposed on his old friendship with Stevenson. I considered him a very
valuable man to have in our camp during that time.
HESS: Did he lend a good deal of assistance, did he lend a good
deal of help?
FRITCHEY: Yes he did. I think he was very fond of Mr. Truman, too, and
I think Mr. Truman trusted him. At least, that's the impression I had.
HESS: What was the relationship between Wilson Wyatt and the man who
held the position of chairman of the Democratic National Committee,
FRITCHEY: This posed some somewhat awkward moments. Stevenson's
reluctance, as I've said repeatedly, to taking the nomination, was that he
had been away from the national scene, and he had not been working with
anyone who was a natural candidate for national chairman. There was a
unanimous feeling that the then chairman should be replaced, not because
of any inadequacy on his part. He had only been national chairman, I
believe, six months or so.
HESS: Frank McKinney.
FRITCHEY: Frank McKinney. But there was the desire to create an
entirely new image.
I think you know as well as I do that Mr. Truman had been
subjected to a very critical campaign, by what we then called the
"one-party press." It is not so much a Republican press today, but it was
overwhelmingly so then, plus the fact that the Democrats had been in power
for five straight terms, and there was a tremendous desire for change. In
the process of it, the press, as well as the Republican Party, became
extremely partisan. Mr. Truman,, being President, was the natural butt of
this. They had been able to magnify what I regard as very small
delinquencies in the administration into the so-called "mess in
Washington" (mostly a figment in the imagination of the press).
And so there was a general feeling that, without respect to Mr.
Truman's performance, the only chance for success was to create a whole
new image. Of course, that required a new national chairman, regardless of
how well McKinney had been doing.
Stevenson did not want to appoint an established political pro. The
upshot of it is that he fell back on his friend, Steve Mitchell, who had
had no national experience, and he too had to start from scratch.
Fortunately, Wilson Wyatt had a clear mandate to run the
campaign, and Steve Mitchell wisely ran a complementary operation. He ran
the national committee and its relations with the party around the
country. He did not try to substitute himself as campaign manager. So it
worked out better than some of us thought it would.
Fortunately, Mitchell is a man of personal integrity and good temper,
and a situation that could have been full of jealousies and acrimony
managed pretty well just because of the personal character of the two men,
Wyatt and Steve Mitchell.
Wyatt is a man of great charm, and the greatest tact, and very careful
of other people's feeling and their dignity. So he went to great lengths
to keep in touch on a day to day basis with Steve, and so did I. Of
course, there are times when you slip and we did things that they didn't
know about, and vice versa, but that's inevitable. But there was a general
feeling that no one was really trying to hide anything from anyone else.
On the whole it was not an ideal situation, but it worked out reasonably well.
HESS: Did he do a fairly good job as chairman of the Democratic
FRITCHEY: Steve's performance, I think, especially after the defeat,
was quite a notable one.
We had a substantial debt which he cleaned up. He started the
Democratic Digest at a time when we had neither the House nor the Senate,
and at a time when our leadership on the Hill was composed of two Texans
who did not altogether share the political outlook of the northern
liberals of the Fair Deal and the New Deal. And so it was necessary for
Mitchell to do three things: To rebuild the morale of a party that had
been defeated; to make the national committee into a viable institution,
to clean up the debt; and to provide a political line to which the party
He brought in for consultation many of the big figures of the party. He
kept close touch with Mr. Truman, Dean Acheson, Harriman, all of whom
later became members of what we called the Democratic Advisory Council.
This turned out to be very important, because at that time Congress was
dominated by the Republicans.
They had control of both Houses, and Johnson was not well-known
then. He was a junior Senator and Sam Rayburn was almost 80 years old. And
they were both southerners. And while their outlook was broader than most
southerners, the Democrats elsewhere in the country did not feel that they
were the best spokesmen for the party as a whole.
The Democratic Advisory Council did provide a consistent guidance,
politically, on issues and ideology for the party. The Digest got up to a
paid circulation of almost 100,000 so it reached almost every Democratic
leader of any consequence in the country. It was not given away, they paid
for it. So I think those were very substantial contributions that Mitchell made.
HESS: What do you recall about the relationships between President
Truman and Stephen Mitchell, after Mitchell had replaced the man that
Truman thought should be there?
FRITCHEY: Mr. Truman, I think, showed the true measure of his greatness
during that campaign, because a petty man could easily have become offended,
and would have sulked and have done the campaign harm. But he
was big enough, and generous enough, to see what the political problem
was. And he knew the seeming disassociation of the Stevenson camp from the
Truman administration was wholly impersonal, and was a political
operation, and was not directed at him in any personal way. He didn't know
Stevenson, really, nor did Stevenson know him, but he knew all the rest of
us extremely well. He was sure of our loyalty to him, and he knew we would
never do anything that would ever reflect on him. And so he did not take
this, so far as I know, in a personal way.
You cannot read a man's mind. I'm sure there must be times, if he was
human at all, when he must have been a little upset. But if so, he
certainly didn't show it. He cooperated to the fullest, he made himself
available, he just gave Stevenson carte blanche to call on him, he agreed
to make any speeches we wanted, wherever, and under whatever
circumstances. He couldn't have been more first-class.
HESS: How would you evaluate the success of the cooperation between the
two campaigns: The Truman campaign and
the Stevenson campaign?
FRITCHEY: I'm not quite sure I understand you, Jerry?
HESS: Well, Mr. Truman went out on some trips, speaking trips, and was
there adequate liaison, adequate cooperation between Mr. Truman's effort
in 1952 and the effort that Mr. Stevenson was putting out in 1952?
FRITCHEY: Well, we felt that as self-effacing as President Truman was
that it would be improper for us to suggest what his speeches should be,
or what he should say.
HESS: Or where he should go?
FRITCHEY: No, he asked for suggestions on that. He realized that it
would be foolish to waste ourselves by both covering the same place, or
getting in each other's way, or using up our publicity unnecessarily. So
there was very close liaison on where and when. There was no problem on
that. He simply said, "You say." So we fit it in to the master chart, as
to where he would carry the most weight, where he would get the most
attention, where he would get the most radio and television time. I don't
recall any argument over the logistics on that, or the itinerary.
HESS: In his Memoirs he seems to express that he thought that
maybe a little bit of cooperation could have been given. This is on page
499 of Vol. II of the Memoirs
Another mistake in the 1952 campaign was that there was little or no
coordination between Washington and Springfield. Actually there were two
campaigns being waged by the Democrats, and this often led to overlapping
and confusion. It was an unfortunate situation that could have been avoided.
FRITCHEY: Well, this is almost twenty years ago now, and I literally
cannot remember the details. Of course, we knew where he was going, and I
can't recall his ever making an independent decision on that. He may have
suggested, "I think it would be better for me to speak in Kansas City, or
Texas," or what. I have no doubt that he did. I can't remember any
controversy over that.
We did not try to coordinate themes, ideas, or try to suggest or
dictate what he was going to say. We felt that Truman was so much an
individual that he would simply have to be himself. And we felt it was
probably better for him to be himself and for Stevenson to be himself.
They were very, very different men.
I've always thought that President Truman's choice
of Stevenson was based not on a matter of personal friendship
or the advancing of an old associate; I think it was a very impersonal
decision on his part. To the best of my recollection, he knew Stevenson
only in a slight way, but that in looking around, he simply decided that
he was probably the best candidate the party could produce.
He was the Governor of one of the key states, had made a very good
record, was almost sure of re-election, and had won the support of many
Republicans and Independents in Illinois. His reputation had radiated
nationally in that way. It was clear to us that we were going to have to
have that broad support to hold off anyone like Eisenhower.
The personalities of Truman and Stevenson are about as distinct as you
can imagine. What held them together was a rapport on the ideas that held
the Democratic Party together, because in style, personality, background,
and tastes, and so on, they were very, very differently cut. This became
more marked during the campaign and after. Both men in the years after the
election maintained contact and communication, but essentially it was polite,
cordial, but never warm or the crony type.
I think there were many things about Stevenson that puzzled Mr. Truman,
more so as he got to know him. Many of us admire Mr. Truman for a certain
bluntness, whereas Stevenson was always suave. Mr. Truman was
plain-spoken; Mr. Stevenson was essentially a man who was devoted to wit,
not always the most successful thing in politics.
So, during the campaign, there was some communication between them, but
not a great deal. I think that perhaps is the basis of the reference you
just read from his Memoirs, but there was considerable communication
between the two camps, so to speak. I, myself, encountered very little
hostility or any sulking on the part of the Washington camp, so to speak,
during the campaign. It may be that I was on naturally good, friendly
terms with them, having been a part of them, but also that very fact would
have seemed to me to have encouraged them to have expressed to me any
concerns, or feelings of estrangement they might have had.
I think it's fair to say they felt out of it, as indeed they were,
because this was a deliberate policy, as I say, to try to overcome the
slogan of the campaign, which was "Time for a change." The
whole effort was to project Stevenson as a new entity. This, inevitably,
resulted in a somewhat arm's length operation.
HESS: What are your thoughts on the idea of a change, the idea of a
need for a change? Do you personally think it's a good thing for one party
to have the responsibility shifted to them every so often?
FRITCHEY: Well, I resisted the idea then, and I still do. But I am less
certain of it today than I was then. Of course, I was more partisan
because I was involved in the campaign. I regarded it as a purely
contrived slogan, and I did not want to see the kind of changes that I
thought would be introduced if they came to power.
As against that, looking back in perspective, I think it is fair to say
that in a democratic society the longer you keep a party out of power, the
more irresponsible it becomes, the more savage it becomes, the more
partisan. This makes it increasingly difficult to conduct government,
especially when the "outs" acquire a sizable representation in the
a majority or a near majority. And then, feelings become so
strong, it's almost impossible to get a coalition to get anything done.
They can veto the President; the President can veto them. You end up with
stalemate government. I'm not sure that there doesn't have to be a change
from time to time to maintain our type of two-party system.
I don't know what would have happened to McCarthyism, for instance, if
the Democrats had remained in power, because the Republicans would have
continued to use him to the hilt, probably even more desperately than they
did before, regardless of the consequences. What destroyed McCarthy, of
course, was Eisenhower coming to power. They no longer had any need for
him or use for him, so they liquidated him, as they did many other of
their old shibboleths: The balanced budget, public debt, all these things
went by the board as soon as they came into power.
HESS: Do you think McCarthy's attacks in that year, or in those years
played a part in the Republican victory?
FRITCHEY: Yes, I do. That's why the Republicans embraced him. He was an
effective instrument for them. It seems
logically impossible to have ever conducted a campaign against
Mr. Truman on the basis of his being soft on Communists, the man who
introduced the Marshall plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the
Truman Doctrine in the Mediterranean, the Korean war. He's the greatest
anti-Communist fighter this country has ever known, and to think that you
can convince a number of millions of Americans that there was something to
this, the fact that you can charge General Marshall with being a Communist
agent, I think, indicates how extreme our politics has become, and to what
lengths a party will go to when it's been defeated five straight times. It
will use any weapon whatsoever, no matter how destructive it is to the
country, in order to get back to power, and it may be that the Democrats
will do the same thing if they are ever denied office in five straight
elections. It's something to worry about.
Yet, it seems on the other hand, hardly desirable to put a party back
in power out of blackmail when it says, so to speak, "If you don't put us
back in power, we'll destroy the political fabric of the country." So, as
you can see, I'm of two minds now, where I was
of only one mind then.
HESS: Do you recall General Eisenhower's statement that he would go to
Korea and try to straighten the thing out? Did that cause any particular
problems or trouble during the campaign?
FRITCHEY: Yes, it did. The truth is in Springfield we had high hopes
right up until the election. This is primarily based, not so much on our
instinct, as on the polls, which showed a very close race. The penultimate
poll, I believe, showed Eisenhower winning by one percent, 51.49.
We knew from past experience that the Gallup poll, for instance, had
made a consistent error of 3 percent against the Democrats for many years
in many elections. On that basis, I myself had concluded that Stevenson
had a chance of squeezing in.
I made a point of going back over the polls all the way to 1936 and
every year there was the same error of 3 percent. I think this is
perfectly legitimate on Gallup's part. I think it's just that there is a
bias, a Democratic bias that cannot be totally caught by ordinary polling,
especially first and second generation
>Americans who, in the old country, would never tell anybody how
they vote. And they're all Democrats. Many workers have nameless fears
against revealing their political stand. As many of them said to me, "Big
Boss Republican." So they don't tell you the truth or they don't say anything.
I think Gallup is trying to make a perfectly sincere, scientific effort
to get at the exact truth. But he couldn't. I have since been told that
Gallup himself felt that since this error was so consistent, that he ought
to make some allowance for it. I don't know whether he did or not.
HESS: But the 3 percent wasn't there in 1952?
FRITCHEY: The 3 percent wasn't there.
It's fair to say that the reporters didn't understand our confidence
because they felt in their bones that Eisenhower was going to win, as most
people did. But I had become impressed by this 3 percent factor over a
number of years, and had bet on it in 1936 and 1940, also, in 1948. I bet
on Mr. Truman, fairly heavily for me, using the Gallup poll as a basis,
with a 3 percent
deduction from the Republican total. This formula showed Dewey
carrying just sixteen states and that's precisely what he carried. In
1940, it showed Willkie carrying nine states, and he ended up carrying
eight. In 1936 , it showed Roosevelt carrying 45 and he carried 46. That's
how accurate the formula was.
But you asked what the feeling was in the camp, and I know some of my
colleagues in the camp at Springfield were surprised when I made a bet of
several thousand dollars on this. One of them said, "Are you doing this
just to cheer up the camp?" So I told him the theory.
HESS: And did you feel that Eisenhower's statement that he would go to
Korea swung some votes the other way?
FRITCHEY: Oh, yes. We now feel, all the pollsters feel, that this must
have caught all the undecided. There was almost a unanimous feeling about
this, that there was a shift, a very, very big shift, in the last week or
ten days because of this. This had an instant impact, and there was no way
of answering. All you could do was make fun of it. That's not a good
answer. It fitted in with Eisenhower.
HESS: The military man going to visit the battlefield.
FRITCHEY: And it fitted in with the cravings and wishes of the country,
just like today in Vietnam. They want to get it over with. No question
about it, it was a remarkable political ploy. It suited Eisenhower
HESS: Were there any mistakes that the Democrats made that year?
FRITCHEY: I don't think so. Of course, we had endless postmortems. The
fact that Stevenson was renominated, virtually by acclamation, four years
later, I think is the best proof of the fact that the party felt that no
one could have defeated Eisenhower.
HESS: Did you work with Stevenson in '56?
FRITCHEY: I was his press secretary in the '56 campaign.
HESS: Did you do anything differently in 1956?
FRITCHEY: Very little, no. Of course, in the fall of 1955 the party
naturally thought it was going to return to power after Mr. Eisenhower had
his heart attack. No
>one dreamed that he would be running again. It looked like a
very severe heart attack, as indeed it was. He made a remarkable recovery.
I don't think, at the time, Mr. Eisenhower himself dreamed he would ever
be a candidate again.
And by that time, it was pretty certain that Stevenson would be the
nominee again, and there was an almost universal feeling, right or wrong,
that he could defeat Nixon. At that point Mr. Nixon did not have a very
impressive position even within his own party, as you know. President
Eisenhower showed no inclination to have him with him again in 1956.
None of us in the 1952 postmortem felt that the outcome would have been
substantially changed by any different type of campaign. Secondly,
Stevenson could only conduct one kind of campaign, so it was foreordained
as soon as he was nominated that it would be pretty much as it was before.
Of course, by that time, television was a much more broadly used
instrument. It was just barely coming into use in 1952. We had to be very
careful how we plotted the itinerary in '52, because there were many
cities where you could not broadcast from. There
were not the sending facilities. By 1956...
HESS: They had to be on the coaxial cable at that time, didn't they?
FRITCHEY: And the coaxial cable was by no means complete, where in 1956
it pretty much was.
HESS: How would you characterize Governor Stevenson, what kind of a man
was he -- from someone who worked so closely with him?
FRITCHEY: Well, in a sense, he and Eisenhower both came to politics
quite late. They were both products of the war. Had it not been for the
war, the world would probably never have heard of either one.
Eisenhower's career during the war, of course, surpassed anyone else's.
But during that time, Stevenson was acquiring a small reputation, and when
he returned to his own city, he became quite active in civic affairs, and
he did a great deal of public speaking in and around Chicago, and this,
I'm sure, is how Arvey happened to spot him.
Also, I'm told (I've never checked this out but
I believe it's substantially true), on a trip East, Arvey saw
Jimmy Byrnes and said, "We've got a very, very big election coming up
[this was in 1948], both a senatorship and a governorship. The Republicans
are in disrepute, and we have a chance if we can find the right kind of
candidate to contrast with the ones the Republicans are going to nominate.
Our man's got to have class, integrity, no flavor of bossism about him."
And Jimmy Byrnes said to Arvey, "Well, why look any further. You've got
a fellow back there who was with me during the war, you know (State
Department, United Nations, and so on) Adlai Stevenson, and he's quite a
gifted speaker, he's got a good war record, been Frank Knox's assistant
during the war, and was on the advisory committee to set up the United
Nations. It seems to me that his credentials would be just right."
I don't think Arvey knew Stevenson personally at that time. In any
case, I think that had a lot to do with Arvey's later actions. As you
know, they went out and recruited Douglas and Stevenson, and it was a
The two candidates wanted to reverse their positions: Mr.
Stevenson wanted to run for the Senate, and Douglas wanted to run for
Governor, but Arvey, and the other political leaders out there at that
time, felt that the ticket would be better served the other way. So the
result of this was that Stevenson, in politics, began at the top, so to
speak, sort of like Eisenhower: One began as President; the other began as
Adlai's son, on the other hand, young Adlai III, at the age of 38 had
far more political experience than his father had at 48. This is a
round-about-way of answering your question of what he was like, for he had
none of the conventional attributes of the politician; for instance, he
had not been in a city council or a state legislature or in Congress; he
had none of the caginess, or to put it in a nicer way, none of the
sophistries of the professional politician. Not that I think political
experience is a liability. Quite the contrary. I'd much rather vote for a
politician than a football coach, or television star, or opera singer, or
astronaut, or whatnot.
But, politically, Stevenson did start out almost as a
dilettante, although he had certain advantages that Eisenhower did not. He
had the advantage of being a lawyer. He had the advantage of having served
in the New Deal. He was in the AAA, and a couple of the other New Deal
agencies, and he served largely in a political role as Frank Knox's
assistant in the Navy, and then in the State Department and the UN. So he
was politically sophisticated in the large sense of issues and policies,
even though he had no background in day-to-day politics. In men around
him, as you know, he probably had one of the most remarkable brain trusts
that anybody has ever put together.
He was perhaps a little too fastidious for day-to-day politics, but he
had an underlying natural good sense. He was a rational man, a logical
man, and he was able to get along with politicians because he understood
their problems. I don't suppose we'll see anyone quite like him for a long
time again, because he's kind of an accident in politics, a sport in politics.
HESS: Just briefly, how would you rate the Presidents of recent years,
administrative ability and intellectual
ability, starting with Mr. Truman?
FRITCHEY: Well, to start with, Roosevelt: I think we'll see as time
goes by that he's really one of the giants of all time in politics; that
is to say, he brought off something the world has hardly ever seen: A
revolution by democratic means. Seldom has a country been so immensely
altered so peacefully, and without any interruptions or derailment of the
Mr. Truman's reputation will be different, but I believe it will be
notable because he brought to the office qualities which were
pre-eminently desirable at the time he was in office; that is to say, he
had a certain raw courage, a disdain for catering to popular prejudice, a
willingness to go against the grain if he felt it was right. He would
always risk his own political gain to do what he thought was right, and he
didn't get up and make speeches as Nixon did the other night saying, "I
could take the easy path to do so-and-so, but I'm going to take the hard
path." He just took the hard path, and it was, many times, momentarily
He came to power at a time when the other great
leader of the world (Stalin) was a man who understood only
Truman's kind of language.
I believe Stevenson made a great contribution to the party in the fact
that he sustained it on the highest level, during the interregnum of
Eisenhower, for it was interregnum. It had to do totally with his
personality. It seemed to me that Eisenhower neither tried to do anything.
It was a very bland period. I think he will always hold the affection of
the people, even historically, but he did not change his party. I don't
believe he made any lasting contribution of any kind.
With Kennedy, as you know, the record of the first two years, was not
remarkable, but the potential was remarkable: From the spring of 1963 on,
he began to move.
When Kennedy came to power he lacked appreciation of the New Deal and
the Fair Deal, and of Stevenson, too. Kennedy, at that time, was far too
impressed by the hard-liners. I suppose this was to some extent due to his
father and his background, but he learned awfully fast. There was no
hypocrisy about him. He
attracted to him men of the highest caliber; he knew how to
treat them, how to respect them, and the team was improving in quality all
of the time.
As you know, his last statement, about three or four weeks before he
died, on Vietnam showed pretty much which way the wind was blowing. His
last statement was that it was essentially their war, they must fight it,
and that there must be reform in Vietnam, and if Diem didn't reform, he
would have to look out for himself.
His successor had certain advantages, obvious advantages, coming to
power on the momentum of an assassination, which created a great deal of
good will for the Democratic Party and the Democratic program.
It also, in fairness to Johnson, presented many problems for him. Most
Presidents, including Mr. Truman, quickly changed the team. Mr. Truman
changed the entire Cabinet within a few months, as well as his personal
entourage. This was difficult for Johnson to do because it was necessary,
for many reasons, to carry on the Kennedy administration until he could
get elected himself. So for over a year, and for much
longer, he continued to be surrounded by men he inherited,
which was both good and bad for him. I have always felt it was better for
any President to bring in his own team.
The Vietnam war, unfortunately, exposed fundamental weaknesses in
Johnson and, of course, led to his downfall. Once you make a mistake on a
very big issue, it tends to upset you on other ones. Vietnam upset
Johnson's economic programs; it upset him on taxes and inflation. He
wouldn't consider wage and price controls, because if he had it would have
made the war unpopular; it's hard to estimate the radiation of his fatally
bad war decisions.
During the years that he was on the Hill, Johnson's personal energies
and time were spent with the Armed Services Committee. He had a natural
sense of power. The Pentagon can do countless things for any politician.
He had many friends, many men he admired, in that area, and I think it was
a great misfortune that he listened to them instead of men like George
Ball. You know how his pride has been part of his greatness, but like all
pride it can lead to stubbornness and refusal to admit an error or correct
it. I still believe that he could
easily have been re-elected. If he could have brought himself
to alter his Vietnam policy, he would have been easily renominated, and, I
think, would have been easily re-elected. But, as you can see from his
statement in Chicago the other day, he still thinks he's right and still
wants to be proved right.
Now, Jerry, I think I'll have to go to my public piece.
HESS: Thank you very much.
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Additional Fritchey Oral History
List of Subjects Discussed
Acheson, Dean, 5, 39, 41, 88
Agar, Herbert, 68
Arvey, Jacob M., 84-85, 103-104
Barkley, Alben, 49-52
Ball, George, 71, 109
Bell, Dave, 20, 34, 55, 68, 71, 78-79
Biffle, Leslie, 37, 50
Bingham, Barry, 79
Blair, Bill, 57, 71
Bradley, General, 16
Brightman, Sam, 44
Brownell, Herbert, 33
Byrnes, Jimmy, 104
Clifford, Clark, 24-25
Cohen, David, 68
Connelly, Matthew, 32-33
Dawson, Donald, 26
Democratic National Committee, 42-44
Dewey, Thomas, 100
Edwards, India, 43, 63
Eisenhower, Dwight David, 14, 32-33, 44, 59, 72, 98-103, 108
Flanagan, Bill, 77
Feeney, Joe, 35-37
Fritchey, Clayton, 1, 12, 39-41
Liaison with DNC, 42-45
Fulbright, J. William, 36, 68
Stevenson Campaign – 1952,: 54
Stevenson Campaign - 1956, 101
Galbraith, Kenneth, 68, 79
Gallup Poll, 98-100
Harriman, Averell, 88
Hersey, John, 38
Humphrey, Hubert, 68
Integration of Armed Services, 3
Johnson, Louis, 2-3
Johnson, Lyndon Baines, 37, 89, 109-111
Kefauver, Estes, 48-49, 52-53
Kennedy, Jack, 23, 38, 71-72, 108-109
Knox, Frank, 59, 104, 106
Korean War, 2-16
Lawrence, David, 47, 54
LeMay, General Curtis, 16
Long, Russell, 36
Lloyd, David, 20, 38
Lovett, Robert, 11-13
Marshall, George C., 1-3, 8, 10-11, 15-18
MacArthur, Douglas Gen., 3-11, 13-14, 30
Maylon, Charles, 35
McCarthy, Joseph, 96-97
McGowan, Carl, 57, 70-71
McKinney, Frank, 43-45, 85-86
Mitchell, Stephen, 44-45, 64, 85, 86-89
Murphy, Charles, 22-26, 38, 50
New Orleans Item, 1-2
Nixon, Richard M., 102
Pace, Frank, 11
Partisan politics, 95-98
Perlmeter, Irving, 20
Rating the Presidents, 107-108
Rayburn, Sam, 89
Reddig, Bill, 68
Rosenman, Sam, 25, 38
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 20, 100, 107
Ross, Charlie, 19
Schlesinger, Arthur, 68, 79
Short, Joe, 13-14, 19, 26-27
Sparkman, John, 66
Steelman, Dr. John, 21-22, 24, 26
Stevenson, Adlai: 38, 90, 93-94, 102-106, 108
Truman, Harry S., 1-3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 14, 16-18, 20-21, 25, 31-32, 43, 46, 85-86, 88-89, 92-94, 97, 99, 107, 109
Congressional liaison, 35-36
Tubby, Roger, 19, 27, 29
Decision making style, 30-31, 37
President's Role in 1952 Campaign, 54-64, 89-90, 91
Press conferences, 27-31
Speech writing, 37-42
Staff functions, 41-42
Staff meetings, 21
Stevenson nomination, 47-53, 57-58, 92-94
Vaughan, Harry, 35
Vinson, Fred, 53
Wake Island, 5
War with limited objectives, 14-16
White, Harry Dexter, 33
Wilkie, Wendell, 67, 100
Wyatt, Wilson, 65-66, 71, 74, 78, 80, 82-85, 87
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed |
Additional Fritchey Oral History