Oral History Interview with
Special Assistant for Domestic Operations, Office of War Information, 1942-45, and special consultant to the Secretary of War, 1943. Special Assistant to President for minority problems, 1946-52, and an Administrative Assistant to the President, 1952-53. Later served as Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, 1959-61, and as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1961-66.
August 18, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
August 18, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Dr. Nash, let's begin today's session by discussing some of the people who were on the White House staff during the Truman administration. Let's start with the Special Counsels to the President. Samuel I. Rosenman served in that capacity for Harry Truman from April 12, 1945 until February of the following year. What seemed to be the relationship of Judge Rosenman and President Truman during that time?
NASH: Judge Rosenman, of course, had been much more than Special Counsel to the President in the Roosevelt administration. He was one of FDR's oldest associates and one of his law partners in the brief period that he was engaged in the practice of law. He retained very much this special relationship to President Truman, and it extended beyond the dates that you have put down here as his official appointment. The President naturally gets his advice wherever he wants it, wherever he seeks it, and Judge Rosenman always had a special role to play throughout the whole seven years of the Truman administration, and even after.
HESS: We want to cover that area first, what he did as Special Counsel when he was an official member and then get into his duties, if that is the correct word, what he did in the years that he was a quasi-official member.
NASH: In a place like the White House, the titles don't have very much to do with the work that people do. The titles have to do with the way in which the organization chart is set up, but when a President comes in under stressed circumstances, as Mr. Truman did, he inherits an organization chart and there are slots, in the slots there are people mostly, some of whom he may know, most of whom he won't know, and in the course of time he has to surround himself with people in whom he has confidence, and who are personally supportive as well as normally loyal to him, and have that extraordinarily great devotion and sense of personal loyalty that a President's personal staff must have to help him.
Now the role of the Special Counsel to the President was pretty well defined for Judge Rosenman by President Roosevelt. President Truman found this to be a useful and helpful kind of formal definition of a certain kind of staff assistant, and he therefore
maintained it in that form for all three of his Special Counsels.
Now during the seven years that Mr. Truman was President, Judge Rosenman first, and then Clark Clifford and then Charles Murphy, were his principal policy advisers on his personal staff. Nominally the role of Special Counsel is to examine documents from the viewpoint of the President's lawyer. The technical legal services come in from the Solicitor General's office of the Department of Justice, the certification as to the technical legality of any presidential document whatever its nature, comes from a technical staff of lawyers who are there for that purpose. In actuality, Judge Rosenman was FDR's head speechwriter. This is, of course, the way in which many presidential policies are made. An opportunity arises and there is a necessity to say something significant on a given occasion. The skeleton of the whole structure is the three statutory presidential messages to the Congress at the beginning of each year; the State of the Union message, then the Budget, then the report of the Council of Economic Advisers. These, of course, took this format after 1946.
The Council of Economic Advisers' economic report did not have the stature that it has today during the Roosevelt era. This is one of Truman's creations, incidentally. But the State of the Union message and the Budget have always been major documents and this was one of Judge Rosenman's assignments. And he continued this for Mr. Truman. On these, of course, he would call on other members of the White House staff; he would call on anybody in the executive branch, and outside too, who could make a significant contribution. The preparation of a presidential message is team effort. If you're talking about the Budget, then you have an eighteen-month cycle, and a huge organization to prepare it. If you are talking about the State of the Union message, well, the work on that usually begins in November, and it should, of course, be a review of the year and of the year to come. This is, from the standpoint of manpower, in the Truman administration, was headed up in the Bureau of the Budget, because it was so closely related to the Budget itself. And Mr. Truman made of the Bureau of the Budget an administrative management institution to a much greater extent than
it was under Mr. Roosevelt.
But in all of these policy utterances, the personal representative of the President shepherding the whole enterprise from start to finish on behalf of the President, was all through the Truman administration the Special Counsel to the President, and this was a continuation of a role that Judge Rosenman had had for Mr. Roosevelt, and which he has described very fully in his book about working with Roosevelt.
HESS: Did he assist the other gentlemen with those duties after he left the office?
NASH: Well, on any touchy matter he was very likely to be called in, and he had ready access to the White House during the whole of the Truman administration, as he had, both officially and unofficially and on a personal basis in the Roosevelt administration, so that if he thought something needed to be done he didn't have any hesitancy about putting in his nickel's worth. And his judgment and his taste were very good and he was a very forceful, persuasive advocate.
Now he was also, of course, deeply involved in New York politics and very much interested in them and had
been from the days when he was FDR's principal political adviser, not political operator, but political adviser, in New York State politics; so this is an area in which Mr. Truman was not particularly at home, not exceptionally so, and so he relied very extensively upon Judge Rosenman's knowledge and advice of personalities in the issues in New York, so that he would even after his official departure in 1949 -- well, his departure was before that -- I mean, you'll find papers up to '49 and don't worry, on '48, '50 and '52 , he was around -- was called on and provided a lot of assistance. If you're interested in lore, you may be interested to know that as long as he was in the White House, on his birthday he used to always have a wiener roast in his fireplace.
HESS: In the White House?
NASH: Yes. In his office. So a couple of times when I was working for Dave Niles, I was sent down to 14th Street to get kosher hotdogs, because the Judge insisted that they be kosher; and we toasted them on forks over the wood fire, in his fireplace, and put them on buns, and had coffee, and that was the Judge's birthday party. Incidentally, Toy Batchelder, who was his secretary and
who became personally acquainted with FDR at Warm Springs because she also was recuperating from polio, was his secretary and then was Clark Clifford's secretary, or one of them, and is in the White House even today. So she's now serving her one, two, three, four, fifth President.
HESS: What's her first name?
NASH: Toy -- Toy Batchelder.
Well, then you have down here Clark Clifford and he was, of course, as you have correctly noted here, an Assistant Naval Aide, and then succeeded Mr. Rosenman as Special Counsel. There was perhaps no more important member of the Truman administration than Mr. Clifford, in my judgment.
I do not know -- of course, we do know, that Mr. Clifford had been active in Senator Truman's campaigns, and as a candidate for Senator, Mr. Truman had some weaknesses on the eastern side of the State, he was not as well-known in St. Louis as he was in the Kansas City end, and Clark Clifford carried the ball for him in all his campaigns.
Clark went into the Navy and when he came out of the
Navy, it was a natural -- while he was still in uniform -- to put him into a uniformed slot, which Mr. Truman did.
Clifford was very keenly aware of the unused potential in the Bureau of the Budget and it was he who advised Mr. Truman to make much more use of the Bureau of the Budget, not just from the standpoint of the preparation of the dollar figures, but from the standpoint of having an administrative management tool, and this was advice to which Mr. Truman was very receptive. He operated naturally as a committee chairman, it was a very natural role for Mr. Truman; he was very good at it.
So he did rely heavily on the Bureau of the Budget, and Clark Clifford was his agent, among other things, in working that up. But as you will recall, the first two years of the Truman administration, from April 12, 1945 until about the spring of 1947, were very stormy years, particularly as to a number of administrative decisions that were made, and the building up of the White House staff, and in my judgment, it was at that time Mr. Clifford achieved a more dominant role in guiding the development of policy through the preparation of public utterances as well as
the drafting of legislation and that sort of thing. But I mean, the public appearances of the President, and through them the formulation of policy were very much Mr. Clifford's business, and the change in the image of Mr. Truman began to take place when Clark Clifford did achieve that dominant role.
HESS: How do you think his image changed? Could you develop that just a little bit?
NASH: Well, I mean from 1945, when Mr. Truman went up to Congress and said, "Last night the sun and the stars caved in on me." He was an accidental President, he very quickly made it clear that there were many important things that he hadn't known about, decisions that had been made by others which he inherited, and he was living in the shadow of a strong, and dead wartime leader. It was very hard for him to become President in his own right and to exert leadership and in his role as chairman of an important senatorial committee he hadn't had the opportunity to develop a large, personally devoted capable staff that Governors do, or that executives, Cabinet officers do. Consequently, he had to rely on those people whom he inherited from FDR, salted down with
the people that he brought along from the Truman committee, plus some old friends. Some of these were adequate and some were not, and he had a very hard time.
Some very serious errors in judgment were made. The abrupt cancellation of lend-lease, for example; the decision to let Cyrus Ching go. These were decisions that Mr. Truman publicly regretted, afterwards, and which were quite damaging to his prestige personally, because each of these causes had strong and articulate advocates. Mr. Ching was very greatly respected. The abrupt cancellation of lend-lease was made on a memorandum where Mr. Truman has said he was following the principle that if you have an adviser you better take his advice or get another adviser. Well, he found out afterwards that he had to get another adviser. So, his image then was of a humble, but not particularly qualified or a very successful national leader. He had to adopt some policies that were his own, to advocate them forcefully and successfully and take them to the Congress. It was this that Clark Clifford preeminently did for him, and it was this change, not just in his image, because
images by themselves are empty, it was the change in his role, that enabled him to come through the opposition in his own party and win the nomination and the election in 1948.
HESS: Dr. Nash, what particular policy decisions do you believe helped to bring about this change in the President's image?
NASH: Well, Jerry, you're asking me to give you details on things that are now twenty years old. Let me do the best I can with this.
I'm talking specifically about a program which I think was a twenty-seven point program which was submitted to Congress in the annual message on the State of the Union and perhaps supplemented with some other messages afterwards, which would either be the State of the Union in '47 or '48. Now, it could have been done in the annual message of '46, but Mr. Truman was too new a President with too green a staff, in some cases, and a staff that was still thinking in Rooseveltian terms to do it as early as '46. So, you're stumbling along through May, June and July of 1946, and then the legislative session of '47 (this was the 80th Congress, you recall), and working with things pretty much on a piecemeal basis.
Then comes a comprehensive program of social legislation, some of which was enacted only as recently as last year. This is why Mr. Johnson went out to be present in Independence for the signing of the Medicare Bill.
Various task forces were created. There was a special one on civil rights, that I helped to handle. There was another one, that I had nothing to do with, on health insurance, and there were others. What I'm trying to contrast, is such episodes, isolated episodes, as the handling of the big strike in '46 , was it not, in which Mr. Truman went up to Congress to ask for legislation to draft . . .
HESS: The railroad strike.
NASH: .The railroad strike. I wasn't sure if it was railroad or coal. He had both railroad and coal. And then was in the middle of making an address to the Congress when an aide handed him a message and he announced that it had been settled. Well, this is not good for a President. In the first place, to those who think it was staged, it looks as though the Congress has been used as a prop instead of as a great arm of government.
This business of drafting strikers -- well, you can
see how reluctant Congress is right now to interfere with collective bargaining via the legislative route. You can see that in the present time, that the President is very unwilling to declare a state of emergency. It's troublesome, but it hasn't reached that point. If at this point, twenty years later, you have this kind of reluctance on the part of the Executive and the Congress, you can imagine the mood of the country when a President steps up and goes all the way to a personal appearance, and then says, "Well, it's all over. I've just got it settled." Now the aides who were handling that for Mr. Truman thought that they had accomplished a great public purpose and a great personal service to him in letting him be in the limelight and receive public visible credit for the solution of the difficult situation. I maintain they did him a terrible disservice.
Now in contrast to this is the role of a person like Clark Clifford who sat down in long conversations with the President and members of the executive and members of the President's personal staff, and proceeded to develop a comprehensive program of humanitarian, liberal legislation of a kind that the New Deal had been associated
with; gave it a name -- the Fair Deal -- proceeded to put it in package form, knowing that it might very well be indigestible as far as the 80th Congress was concerned, but also knowing that you would be holding before the country a picture of what the President and the party stand for. Now this is leadership. And it is this change that I am referring to. Now, what the specific items were other than broad programs of housing, of aid to education, health insurance, civil rights, I don't really recall at this moment.
HESS: That pretty well covers that.
NASH: Well, shall we go on now with these names. I've mentioned this in connection with Clifford.
Now, you have down here the name of Charles S. Murphy. Mr. Murphy, of course, is the present chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, a close friend and associate of President Johnson, as well as of Mr. Truman's. Mr. Murphy is a North Carolinian, who was in the legislative drafting service of the Senate when Mr. Truman was a Senator. So he came to know him in that connection and brought him over as an Administrative Assistant, primarily in legislative matters, fairly
early, in the new administration, December 30, 1946. I had not known Mr. Murphy up to that time, but we quickly became friendly, and he's the kind of person I find it very easy to like, and he had an office not far from mine, just down the hall, so that we saw quite a bit of each other.
He had two very capable young men as assistants, Dave Bell and George Elsey. Both subsequently became Administrative Assistants to the President when Mr. Murphy became Special Counsel, and both went on to distinguished public careers afterwards.
HESS: One question before we get a little bit further, why did Mr. Clifford leave in 1950?
NASH: Well, that's a question I wouldn't necessarily know the answer to. I think that he had had a very successful and substantial law practice in St. Louis, which he abandoned for wartime service and then was called into public service by the President, and I just think that he thought the time had come when he had to pick up the threads of that practice, and he chose to do it and could do it in Washington.
I think like some of the rest of us he found public
service rather costly in terms of his own income and just had to begin to meet his responsibility to his family. This is my opinion. I had discussed matters like this with him at various times and he made an observation that has a lot of truth in it: He said, "The real way to enjoy public service is to be able to get in and out at will."
In other words, if you are so bound by your Government job, whatever its nature, that you can't do anything else, and you don't feel comfortable with anything else, then you are, in fact, limited in your opportunities and your freedom of action.
HESS: Dr. Nash, would you compare and contrast the ways in which Clark Clifford and Charles Murphy carried out their roles as Special Counsel to the President?
NASH: This isn't a very easy question to answer. I don't think that there really was a great deal of difference in the way in which they carried it out. Each was basically responsible for the formulation of policy via the official communications of the President, especially, as I say, the messages to the Congress, and then everything that flows from that, including major public addresses. Each worked with a number of assistants who
called on other agencies of Government. It started out by having a discussion with the President in which he would say that he wanted a certain line to be followed or in which a question would come up, "Well, what are we going to say about thus and so, on such and such an occasion," and the first decision and the most important one is the President's, and that is that an occasion will be used for a public utterance on a specific subject, and the acceptance or the decline of the invitation is usually based on whether the occasion in question is a suitable forum. Once the policy line is laid down by the President personally, it's a mechanical problem of getting the words into a form that represents his natural mode of expression, which are entirely consistent with his policy views and desires, and which at the same time reconcile any conflicting or opposition views, that are serious, within the official family, in order that he will be speaking for the whole executive, and not just out of his own pocket. This takes a large number of people. And the ability to put yourself into the President's shoes and speak and think as he does in one that requires quite a bit of practice and a good deal of personal
devotion as well as art in wordsmithing.
Now, I guess the answer is that while Clark Clifford and Charles Murphy are very different personalities, very different kinds of men in the superficial way in which you meet and know them, that they worked very much the same, because there is only one way to do this job for a President of the United States, and that's the way he wants it done.
Mr. Truman's way was to make the initial decision, to leave it to others to run this speech or message to Congress through several drafts, bring it back in for checking, and then finally go over the final draft and make any changes in phrasing, or emphasis that he wanted to at that point, which he did very, very quickly.
HESS: Mr. Murphy had a slightly larger staff than Mr. Clifford did. Was there any reason for that? Was that just the development in the White House office?
NASH: Well, I think it was a natural evolution. The White House office only came into being about the time that Mr. Clifford became Special Counsel. Mr. Clifford had to rely primarily for his drafting services, the initial drafting services upon George Elsey. Why? Because George Elsey was in uniform, Mr. Clifford was
in uniform, so that end of things was being run for Mr. Truman out of the Naval Aide's office.
With the formation of the White House office, the Special Counsel then received an assistant, and George Elsey did all this drafting.
He was single, he was hard working, he was young, and he could endure these colossal hours, seven days a week, and twelve, fourteen hours a day.
Now, when Mr. Murphy became Administrative Assistant, and he in turn was reporting primarily to Mr. Clifford, it was because the work burden was getting to the point where one Special Counsel and one draftsman couldn't handle the workload. So, it was a normal evolution of the task. If you look at the inventories, as I'm sure you probably already have, of the numbers in the presidential filing system, you will note the geometrical increase from Roosevelt to Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson. The twelve years of Roosevelt, I think, presented a certain number of thousand docket numbers, press releases, messages to Congress and so on -- all official utterances of the President. That number exceeded in the filing system by Mr. Truman, I think
at about the end of five years. It just takes more people.
HESS: You mentioned something of interest awhile ago about the differences in the personalities, in the natures of the two men, Clark Clifford and Charles Murphy. Could you give me just a capsule description of each man?
NASH: Charlie Murphy is a very soft-spoken, self-effacing individual without flamboyance.
I recall one occasion when he had a little controversy and some discussion about an official matter that came over from Oscar Ewing when he was the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare [Administrator of the Federal Security Agency]. I think it was a proposed addition to the special message on civil rights, but I'm not sure that was it. At any rate it doesn't make any difference. We had a discussion in Clark Clifford's office, Mr. Murphy was there, George Elsey, myself -- I don't remember who else -- and I recall Charlie Murphy saying with respect to the accompanying letter that he didn't know whether Secretary Ewing was right or wrong, but it was phrased in such extravagant and intemperate
language that he didn't see that it made much difference. Well, this is Charlie Murphy; in favor of understatement, in favor of putting things in language that ordinary people can grasp and understand; a plain man, in other words.
Clark Clifford is considerably more flashy as a personality; no more, and no less a liberal than Charlie Murphy, but let's say somewhat more colorful. These are superficial aspects of personality, not fundamental.
HESS: I thought it might be of some interest, but it is, as you say, not fundamental.
NASH: Really not basic, no.
HESS: Could you compare their relationship with Dr. Steelman, the man who had the title "The Assistant to the President?"
NASH: Well, this, of course, is a very touchy question. I don't know what your other subjects have had to say on this, and I don't especially care. The rivalry between John Steelman and others on the staff, whether they were Special Counsel or anything else, was intense and vigorous all through the entire period of Mr. Truman's Presidency, and I think it was resolved in part by the Special Counsel yielding the title, and retaining the substance. So
there never was one "The Assistant to the President." Dr. Steelman had the title and it seemed to mean something to him to have the title, and I think that was all he had.
HESS: Who seemed to carry on the biggest burden of this rivalry?
NASH: I think John Steelman was on the prod and Clark Clifford was on the defensive, I'd say.
HESS: Was that about the same for Charlie Murphy too?
NASH: I think so.
HESS: Anything else on those two men?
NASH: No, just don't take my statement as derogating John Steelman's capabilities. It's simply that subsequent Presidents, certainly Eisenhower, have found it advisable to have a principal assistant and an executive officer, and this might lead to the interpretation because of the title that Dr. Steelman was somehow "The executive officer. "The Assistant to the President." He would have liked this to be the case, but it never was the case except as to the title.
HESS: He was in charge of mediation of labor disputes, things of that nature. What else did he . . .
NASH: Well, he came up, as you say, through the labor conciliation service and then eventually the war mobilization, reconversion after World War II, and then this was reconverted back again, to what was an effective defense mobilization office for the limited emergency of the Korean war, and at this he was very capable, a brilliant performer, a brilliant administrator. It gave him, I think, the feeling that this was the focal point around which everything else revolved.
Now, I never had this type of encounter with him because I wasn't important enough to be an adversary to him and we were personal friends in any case, and still are. I have a good deal of respect and affection for him. But I kept out of the labor business, and I expected him to keep out of civil rights.
When occasionally something would come up, as it often did, in which in his self-assigned role as the kingpin he would receive a document or a query, I felt that my responsibility to the President was satisfied if he told me about it, and gave me an opportunity to fill him in, or express an objection, or offer a comment or some advice, or some background material, or tell
him what else had been done on the same subject, before the President's views were publicly stated or his time was committed or something else of importance in the area of my responsibility. I never had any hesitancy in bracing him on a matter of this kind, and I always found him completely willing to give ground, but you do have to assert yourself, and I did. This is understandable. I never objected to it.
HESS: Let's move on to the secretaries of the President: Matthew Connelly was the Appointments Secretary to the President from April '45 to January of '53. Just why was he chosen for the job?
NASH: Because as I indicated in answering your earlier question, Mr. Truman chose his initial staff from those who had been with him in the old Truman Committee. And of this group, Matt Connelly was number one. So he was an old associate of Mr. Truman's from the investigating days of that committee. What was the full name of that committee, I forget?
HESS: The Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program.
NASH: Yes. Matt was the number one member of that staff,
I believe, so he was quite close to the President, and the Appointments Secretary is traditionally the number one secretarial job.
HESS: What are the duties of the Appointments Secretary?
NASH: Well, the Appointments Secretary basically controls the President's time. Of course, this structure is pretty well gone now. President Kennedy made every body a Special Assistant.
In my day, Special Assistant was a rather lowly title. I was a Special Assistant. So this has some advantages that enables -- you have a large staff, all of whom are co-equal and you break up all your hierarchies and cliques and so on, and if you get some contests of the kind we have just been discussing this is one good way to break them up. But at the time I'm talking about it hadn't been broken up. So there were three Secretaries, three service aides, six Administrative Assistants, the Executive Clerk, and that's about it.
HESS: The Executive Clerk was Mr. Hopkins, is that right?
NASH: Yes, still is.
HESS: That's a permanent position.
NASH: Yes, that's non-political in the sense -- well, there's
only been three, I believe, since the time of McKinley. Bill Hopkins is serving Johnson. He served President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, he served Truman. Then he was the number two man when Judge Latta had that position. Judge Latta had had it for all of Roosevelt, and way back into Hoover and Coolidge, I think, and maybe Wilson. And then he had been the number two man to somebody else who I think went all the way back to McKinley.
Well, anyway, at that time of which I was speaking, there were three men with the title of Secretary, and the number one was always the man who controlled the President's time, that is, who sees him and where he goes.
HESS: And where he goes?
NASH: And where he goes. In other words, the decision and the advice to the President for his decision, on whether he will or will not go to the UN in New York, or whether he will or will not go up into Massachusetts and Rhode Island on the weekend of thus and such fall season, is a very important piece of advice, and is highly political, and requires a great knowledge of the conflicting and
competing pressures on the President's time.
HESS: Was Mr. Connelly usually in on the decision of setting up the itinerary for the campaign trips?
NASH: Those are details in which he might or might not be heavily involved. As a rule you will have somebody who is in charge of a particular trip. This work is so time-consuming and so arduous, that it has to be farmed out. In the recent presidencies, it has brought this to a very high point indeed, much more so than in our day.
HESS: How would a decision like that be made? That's getting off of the subject a little bit, but would the Democratic National Committee be in on that, I suppose?
NASH: Well, they probably would make the request or else they would be asked for their views on that, but nobody makes this decision ultimately except the President, and the job of the Appointments Secretary in the structure that I'm talking about is to see to it that the pertinent facts are brought to the President's attention, so that when he decides to go or not to go, that it's more than just a personal whim.
HESS: This is a question that has been brought up at the Library, many times, about how are the decisions made to include certain towns in the itinerary and to decide to have a major address at certain cities and completely ignore other areas of the entire country?
NASH: I can tell you. That's a good question. I can tell you how it happens.
You start out at the level I'm talking about, the Appointments Secretary to the President, the staff, anybody else who needs to be brought in -- I don't know -- someone the President wants brought in for some personal reason -- and you sit down and say, "Well, we have an invitation to go to so and so."
"Well, I wouldn't want to do that all by itself. What else could we include? I'd kind of like to go up there. I've been thinking about it for sometime."
"Well, then, we could combine it with thus and so, and thus and so, and thus and so."
"Well, that's too much. We'll have to cut that back. What about these three major ones? That would be about right, and that would be one a day for three days, that would work out very well. Let's do that." And the President would decide to do it.
At this point, staff work has to be done and this means that various people get to know about it, and there are no real secrets in this town anyway, so pretty quick, although there isn't a public announcement, word gets out and at that point, the chairman of thus and so in such a county, or the president of thus and such a lodge, or the women's group of thus and so who were told last time that they would certainly be counted in the next time around, start asking and pretty quick you've got so many requests coming in through this Congressman, and that Senator, the Democratic National Committee, other people on the White House staff, various personal friends calling in, that you've got just more than you can handle.
HESS: A job of cutting back more than building up.
NASH: Oh, yes, you have no problems building up. At that point, you cut it back as far as you can and if you have an activist President, as you did with Mr. Truman, and Jack Kennedy and now LBJ, they're always ready to go more. But you can get to the point where you just tax a man's endurance to the point where it shouldn't be done.
HESS: Did Matthew Connelly have very much to do with patronage matters, or was that mainly Donald Dawson's field? I'm getting off on another man.
NASH: Well, when you talk patronage -- that's not a very respectable word -- I don't think it's ever true that Donald Dawson handled patronage. He was the President's personnel adviser. One of the important things the President has to do is to make appointments to the executive and the judiciary. There are large numbers of commissions and bodies where choices have to be made, and somebody has to keep track of all this and to do so in terms of the President's needs, requirements, and interests. And that was Don Dawson's job. There isn't anybody on the White House staff who doesn't get brought in on something of this kind, if they have knowledge or competence. It was no more Matt Connelly's province than it was anybody else's.
HESS: Did Connelly ever help in the formulation and writing of any of the speeches?
NASH: He would frequently be in on the final discussions, but Matt was not a word man. He didn't regard this as his speciality. He probably would leave and go back about
some business that he regarded as more important. He found the haggling over words . . .
HESS: Rhetoric and grammar . . .
NASH: . . . as a form of nitpicking. He didn't like it.
HESS: . . . Did he ever sit in on any of the Cabinet meetings?
NASH: I wouldn't know. I never sat in on any Cabinet meetings myself and therefore, I wasn't necessarily privileged to know who did.
HESS: Did any of the White House staff?
NASH: I'm sure some of them did at times, and there were some meetings that were not regular weekly meetings of the Cabinet, but partial Cabinet meetings, or sub-Cabinet meetings, to consider special areas where I did attend because I was perhaps the draftsman or maybe a member or even head of the task force that was assigned to the particular problem, but these were working sessions rather than what you're asking about. The formal Cabinet meetings -- I think I'm just not a very good witness.
HESS: Anything else on Connelly?
HESS: How about Mr. William Hassett?
NASH: Well, you've written down here some questions about Charles Maylon, Joe Feeney and Frank N. Parks.
HESS: We sort of covered that yesterday, but I'd like to cover that as much as we could.
NASH: Well, it doesn't make any difference. Mr. Truman found, after he'd been in office for awhile, I think as most Presidents do, that the day to day chores and details of legislative liaison are very time consuming and it takes a certain kind of person. The kind of person who would make a good speechwriter or who can seek out executive talent is not necessarily the best person to talk to a Congressman or a Congressman's assistant. This is a kind of an art all to itself. The Congress is a highly variegated body of men and it takes a wide variety of men to deal with them. Accordingly, Colonel Maylon and Joe Feeney were brought in by Matt Connelly, or were brought in and then were assigned to Matt Connelly, for legislative liaision purposes, and they did a lot of day to day footwork.
HESS: Was there any formal congressional liaision before that time that they were brought in. In other words, here are some men that are brought in with a definite title, at a
[page missing from oral history]
they were added. And one of the gentlemen at that time said, "Perhaps we could find out just how it was carried out on a specific example."
NASH: Well, I think the person that asked that question just never had any experience at the work. Legislative liaison is highly personal. It does not lend itself to institutionalization or to formalization. The man who can talk to a member of Congress about a pending legislative matter is the man who knows him the best. As far as the White House is concerned, of course, they all would like to talk to the President, because they would like to have the President ask them to do something so that they in turn can ask him to do something for them. So one of the jobs of legislative liaison is to satisfy the one without satisfying the other; essentially not to satisfy either one. You can't obligate the President in that way. At the same time, you have to use the President's prestige and his position to ask people to do things that they perhaps wouldn't do if they were left entirely to themselves. This is part of the task of leadership. But I can assure you that no matter how it is set up on paper that is not the way it is done. Possibly
between now and the next time -- you see, if I gave you an example, and I can think of one although I don't recall -- we called it "Operation Mixmaster." I do not quite recall the legislative matter that it was related to, but I could describe it for you and I will the next time, but I can assure you that this is going to be as misleading as if I kept still, because this may well have been the only operation of its kind.
HESS: Let's get hack to the gentlemen that we have listed here. They came in, I believe, in '49, is that correct? Is that the dates I have down there for those?
NASH: Well, what you have is that they were on a certain list (see Appendix) that you had as of December 1952. Now, you have three men here: Charles Maylon. He was a colonel, a retired colonel of the Air Force, and I think he retired as a general, and he was a great friend of General Mara, and of General Vaughan.
HESS: Here is another list that I have and it shows Feeney coming in ' 49, Maylon in ‘49, and John Carroll in '52.
NASH: Yes, well, John Carroll wanted to run for the Senate, did run successfully for the Senate a little bit later . . .
HESS: Had been a Representative, I believe . . .
NASH: He had been a Representative, and this was an interim period in which it was possible to take advantage of his congressional experience and at the same time provide him with a buildup and a suitable launching platform for his senatorial campaign.
HESS: Who was Joseph Feeney? What had he done? What had he been?
NASH: Joe Feeney was a Navy man, and he had been in, I think, the Navy legislative liaison, and came onto the staff with a wide variety of congressional contacts and much experience in the personal side of congressional liaison, that I had been telling you about. And he was with us right up to the end of the Truman administration and is still living in town.
Your other man, Frank N. Parks, I'm sorry I can't help you. I don't know what he's doing on the list of 1952, and I don't really recall him.
HESS: That's the only place that I have found his name listed, on this list of December 9, 1952.
NASH: That's kind of a peculiar list. I don't know what that list is.
HESS: Well, that pretty well covers those.
NASH: Let's finish this one page and go on and I'll tell you about William Hassett and then I think we'd better call it a day.
HESS: That would be just fine.
NASH: Well, William D. Hassett, of course, had been a close personal friend of FDR; he was Assistant Press Secretary; old-time member of the Washington Press Corps; a bachelor from Vermont; a great raconteur; wit; very learned, and by reputation at least -- I never took part in these meetings, but FDR loved to exchange witicisms with him -- and I was very fond of Bill Hassett, and very devoted to him, and we were quite good friends and remained so right up to his death. Mr. Truman became especially fond of him. He was one of those whom he inherited. I doubt if he'd known him particularly before he became President. As Vice President he might have had some contact with him as Assistant Press Secretary, and then he was so well-known as a Washington press corpsman, perhaps I'm underestimating the degree of personal relationship that might have developed before the Presidency.
At any rate, just as soon as Mr. Truman became
President, Bill Hassett became a very key member of his staff, closer to him than many, many others. Mr. Truman loved his sharp tongue; his boyish irreverence; love of puncturing stuffed shirts, and Bill Hassett was one of the greatest deflators in Washington.
Now you asked what were his duties as Correspondence Secretary. Well, of course, the incoming mail, telegrams, and so on, to the White House, are a veritable flood. At times of national excitement -- and what will cause this degree of excitement is rather unpredictable -- it can easily reach a figure as high as 50,000 communications a day. The relief of General MacArthur, for example; the FEPC filibuster on the war appropriations in 1945, are times when communications easily will reach that height.
Now, somebody has to sit on top of these written communications. In the first place the President can't and shouldn't reply to all of these himself. The nature of things -- they cannot all be replied to, they can't all even be acknowledged, even if you spread it all over the Government, you can't acknowledge them all because the
"mountain" is coming at you too fast. So, there has to be a policy decision as to which ones are important enough to be replied to, and one person can't make all those decisions so there has to be somebody in charge. Bill Hassett was the one in charge.
Then the replies to letters of this kind may commit the President or express a policy which isn't really his, and so somebody, looking for the protection of the President's views and public personality, must review all the important letters to make certain that they say what they're supposed to say, because they're written actually by very many different people. So from the standpoint of policy coordination, what is not said and what is said and what is even answered to at all, does have to be handled by somebody who is very close to the President. And that was Bill Hassett's responsibility. In addition to this, as a Catholic, he was responsible for very much of the policy advice in our relationships with the Catholic hierarchy.
HESS: Is that right. Do you have an illustration of that?
NASH: Oh, dozens, I would think, if I would dredge my memory a little bit. The question, for example, of
whether or not there was to be a U.S. representative to the Vatican.
HESS: That was the time after Myron Taylor resigned . . .
NASH: . . . and should there be a replacement. Should there or should there not be. Truman had to have advice on this from somebody who was in a position to know, but of whose personal devotion and loyalty there was no question, and who would make a recommendation to him that would be totally disinterested except in terms of the President. That was Bill Hassett's role; as it is the role of any presidential advisor. Others may propose. They'll propose from some special interest viewpoint because they are thinking of their department, or their policy, or their future, or some program that they are intimately involved in.
Somebody has to look at that and analyze it and present it to the President who has only one thought in mind, "What will this do for the Boss," and this was Hassett's role. This has to be done with inside knowledge. You can't do it -- in a matter involving the hierarchy it has to be done by a Catholic. It's possible that a non-Catholic could do it, but it would
take him years of study to know what a person who has been involved in hierarchial politics, as an observer at least if not as a participant, knows intuitively. But at this level of advice giving, you don't have time for analysis; you have to be so familiar with the subject matter that your instinctive reaction, the first one, will stand up. Very often there isn't time.
HESS: Is that enough for today?
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]