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 19, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
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and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
August 19, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Dr. Nash, yesterday we finished up with William Hassett who was the Correspondence Secretary for Mr. Truman. He left in July of 1952. Did they hire someone else to take the post of Correspondence Secretary after that?
NASH: Yes, indeed, Jerry. When Mr. Hassett left he was succeeded by Beth Short, that is Mrs. Joseph Short, the widow of Joe Short who had been Mr. Truman's Press Secretary and who died on the job.
Beth, who is a very fine person, very experienced in the ways of Government; is in Washington now where she has been working on the Hill for the past several years; and Joe's sudden and unexpected death left her with two boys, and possibly a third child, but two that I know of, to look after and not too much to do with; and Mr. Truman, who was very understanding in matters of this kind, wanted to be certain that Beth was able to take care of herself in an adequate way and she moved into the Correspondence Secretary job, and was the Correspondence Secretary when we all went out on the
20th of January, 1953.
HESS: And she fulfilled the same role that William Hassett did?
NASH: Same role. She was the Correspondence Secretary, the number three spot in the President's personal staff.
HESS: All right, fine. Now that, with what we had yesterday and what we had today, takes care of the three gentlemen who were Special Counsels and the Appointment Secretary, Matthew Connelly, and the two people that served in the spot of Correspondence Secretary. So now let's move on to the third secretarial position, which was Press Secretary. I think we will probably just discuss that in the light of just the White House press office. The first gentleman to have the job was J. Leonard Reinsch. Is that pronouncing his name correctly?
NASH: Yes, that's right -- Leonard Reinsch.
HESS: As far as I can tell from the Times Index, he was appointed a few days after Mr. Truman took the Presidency, but he did not hold the job very long. Can you tell me why he was appointed, and why he served for just such
a short time?
NASH: Yes. This is a well-known story. Leonard Reinsch was an executive of the radio network operated by Mr. Cox, who was the presidential nominee in 1920, the year that FDR was the vice-presidential nominee. Mr. Cox quite regularly made his executives available for special assignments. He was always interested in the Presidency, interested in Democratic politics, and interested in the White House.
In 1944 the vice-presidential nominee had to carry the burden of the campaign. The Commander in Chief was busy with the war and his campaigning was restricted to the "instant reply" which I referred to in an earlier interview.
J. Leonard Reinsch was made available to Mr. Truman who, of course, was the nominee, as press officer for the campaign. He was with him throughout the entire campaign, traveled with him on the vice-presidential campaign train, and I presume did the general chores of a personal campaign aide, that is everything from speechwriting to the press relations and the actual mechanical conduct of the tour. Consequently, when Mr.
Truman became President only a few months after the campaign, and had to put together a White House staff on short notice, he turned first of all, for the press relations function, to the man with whom he had personally been associated in this capacity only a few months before.
This led to an explosion in the press corps. The old established members of the White House press are newsmen, particularly the wire service men. They were then following the growth of radio news, and the soon-to-come growth of television news, with sensations of rivalry and all the jealousy and envy that goes with this traditionally proud craft. Consequently, it was unacceptable to the elite of the White House press corps, who run that group with an iron hand, that a non-print news media man should be their contact man in day-to-day affairs with the President.
The routine mechanics of the White House office are that at 10 a.m. everyday the Press Secretary holds a briefing in his office at which he tells the members of the White House press corps what the President's schedule is going to be, who he's going to see on the
record, and, if it is wanted for them to know off-the-record who is going to come in off-the-record, he tells them that. They ask him questions about upcoming plans, speeches, so that they don't get caught unprepared and their editors can make decisions as to how they want to handle the news. Otherwise you are dealing with news on a hit-or-miss basis and you will not get good coverage or proper press treatment.
Now, of course, there are other functions and other special activities that the Press Secretary will engage in, but from the standpoint of the working newspaper, radio or TV man, the big moment of everyday is the 10 o'clock briefing. Now this may be held at various times on different days -- 10 o'clock is a little bit late, but it is not so early that it is always on the morning papers time or the afternoon papers time and it is alternated back and forth. But everyday there's got to be a rundown, and in my time, as I recall, it was held at 10 o'clock. That's why I call it the 10 o'clock briefing.
Now the oldtimers simply refused to sit still and receive this information at the hands of a rival media,
namely, radio. And their influence and their importance in the day-to-day conduct of the affairs of the Presidency are such that they were immediately listened to.
I don't know what your records show as to the time that Mr. Reinsch actually served; my opinion is that it was about three days that he actually served as Press Secretary. After that, other people stepped in.
Now, no doubt, he retained the title for awhile and a good face was put on it -- I mean, that nobody had any desire to hurt him. His boss called him back because of very important duties in connection with the Cox chain of radio stations, and so on, and he couldn't be spared for this purpose, and so he just gradually went on back. Well, we all know what that means. Now he has had a very active and successful career since then. You will find him as the pressman, at I think every Democratic nominating convention from 1948 on. He's very important to Democratic politics, very important to the Democratic National Committee and a very popular and well-liked person.
Now whether the same thing would happen today with TV fully established as a news medium, equal in every
way, except maybe in the hearts of the oldtimers, with the printed page and telegraph, I don't know, but I don't think you will find a Press Secretary in modern times who has not been a working newspaperman, that is, a writer of news for newspapers.
This conflict was especially acute because of the well-known dispute that centered around the death of FDR. The top White House staff was in the process of being reshuffled after the 1944 election. "Pa" [Maj. General Edwin M.] Watson had died at sea. Steve Early was slated to succeed him, Jonathan Daniels became Press Secretary, Dave Niles took over the minority assignment, which is how he inherited me from Jonathan; and at the time of FDR's death the notification in the normal course of the events would have gone from Jonathan Daniels to the press. Actually, this was handled by Steve Early who simply moved in behind the desk and took over.
HESS: He was not Press Secretary at that time?
NASH: No. Steve Early was Appointment Secretary and Jonathan Daniels was Press Secretary and Early just moved in. He had been with FDR for so long, he had that function and he was, of course, emotionally involved, and he was
not about to let someone else handle this one for his old boss, so he just "dood" it. I don't think Jonathan will ever forget it or ever forgive him.
HESS: Steve Early was Acting Press Secretary in 1950 for two or three days between the death of Charlie Ross and the appointment of Joseph Short, I think from the sixth to the eighth of December of '50.
NASH: Who was?
HESS: Steve Early. But in April of '45, he was not Press Secretary. Is that right?
NASH: No, he was Appointment Secretary. He succeeded "Pa" Watson, who was dead. You see, Watson had been Appointment Secretary, Early, Press Secretary, and I don't know who the Correspondence Secretary was, if, indeed, there was one. "Pa" Watson died coming back from Yalta, I think, or maybe it was one of the early summit conferences. At any rate, it was one of those. He died and was buried at sea; and he was almost irreplaceable to FDR, but Early was his next closest intimate and he moved Early into Watson's slot, Daniels then into Early's slot, and this was very, very late in the Roosevelt administration.
But you can see with this kind of confusion and Daniels having been in, and then being edged out, and then a new President coming in, and he doesn't really know who he wants or how he wants to work with them, turns to the first person available, just grasping at straws, picks Leonard Reinsch, and the press corps, with whom he has to work, explodes. At this point then, the President turned to one of his oldest and closest friends, Charlie Ross.
Charlie Ross, of course, was a great liberal newspaperman, really a giant figure in the newspaper world going way back into the '20s. He was about the same age as Mr. Truman and they had the same grade school teacher. Charlie was, I think, the family's closest friend.
HESS: They were in the same class in high school.
NASH: So, here was a man who nobody could say wasn't fitted to the job, and Truman was desperate and he sent for him, and Charlie agreed to do it. I became very attached to Charlie Ross and I would say that I would put him second only to Clark Clifford in his influence on the liberal Truman policy. Maybe I've
got that in the wrong order.
HESS: You think maybe he had more influence than . . .
NASH: He might have had more
HESS: . . . than Clark Clifford?
NASH: . . . he might even have had more. After all, with a person like Mr. Truman to whom the past and the associations of the past mean so much, somebody that you grew up with is very important when it comes to seeking advice.
HESS: Can you relate an incident that might illustrate Charlie Ross' importance, or his particular relationship with the President?
NASH: Well, once again, these individual things are hard to recall twenty years after. I can tell you a couple of stories about Charlie.
We were all at Key West together, and we were sitting around the living room of the Little White House at Key West, it was rather late one night, we had all been playing poker and finally the game was over, and it was 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, and Charlie asked me what I was going to do -- by this time we knew that Mr. Truman wasn't going to run again and he asked me
what I was going to do after it was over -- and I said, "Well, I don't have time to think about that Charlie, I made up my mind in 1945 I was going to stay with him to the end," and, I said, "as far as I'm concerned, it isn't over yet and when it's all over I'll start thinking about that."
"Well," he said, "I've already stayed longer than I want to, longer than I should. But he said, "I want to stay with him long enough to be sure that he has his right place in history." He said, "Here's a man who's visceral in his judgments." And he said, "His visceral judgments are practically never wrong, and this makes of him a great, but unappreciated President, and I want to stay with him until that is made clear; that he ought to be more appreciated than he is."
Well, now when it comes to specific episodes, of course, Charlie was the final arbiter on the format of the speeches. Charlie was a wordsmith, and when it came to whether you could say "and" or "but" or -- well, he was very famous in the meetings because he had a particular bug-a-boo against the word "presently," and to this day I can't say that so-and-so is "presently
sheriff of Dade County." I always say "currently" and it was Charlie that taught me to do this because he would not let that be used in a presidential statement.
HESS: That's right. He always said that meant, "in the near future," and not "now."
NASH: Not "now," that's right. So in these little things I had a lot of dealings with him, but I think you will find that Charlie Ross was quite important in the development of Mr. Truman's civil rights thinking. And one of the reasons I say this, is that much of the work in the 1948 Restrictive Covenant case in the Supreme Court, which was the first of the really big Supreme Court cases where the Federal Government came in amicus curiae.
Now the NAACP had argued a great many cases -- by Thurgood Marshall -- before that, but there had been a "hands off" policy in the Federal Government, if it did come in amicus it didn't like to, and my recollection is that it did not at all. In the 1948 case and again in the school cases in 1954, which, of course, were prepared in our administration, you will find a brilliant, sophisticated, psychological, social science
type thinking in the brief amicus of the Justice Department.
That brief was prepared by a lawyer named Weston, who was Charlie Ross' brother-in-law, and it is not an accident that the brief was prepared by this particular person and I know that Charlie was the liaison in this whole work. Now, I'm talking particularly now about the school cases in '54, but I'm pretty sure this was true also back in the housing case. At any rate, the record will show either that that brief had the name Weston on it or if it didn't -- and the clue is that Weston is Charlie Ross' brother-in-law.
You see what happened is that as the Truman Presidency went along a group of men gradually were built up around Mr. Truman, all of whom felt that the future, for him and for the country, lay in his pursuing a course that his natural instincts led him to -- one of Government helping people through active, intervening type programs. And it doesn't make any difference whether you're dealing with housing or education or health or human rights. Fellows like Clifford and Ross were always there to urge Mr. Truman to go on and do what he
felt like doing naturally.
HESS: Did you or Mr. Niles confer with Mr. Ross very often on civil rights matters?
NASH: Dave Niles was not a man to confer with anybody very much. Dave Niles was a loner -- he knew exactly what he intended to do and how and when and where, and he didn't confer much with other people because he found that if their views didn't coincide with his it just resulted in a conflict. So he operated very much on his own. I saw a good deal more of other people on the White House staff than Dave Niles did, and this, as a matter of fact, was the cause of some friction between us.
HESS: Between you and Mr. Niles. Is that right?
HESS: Who were the people that you relied on mostly for advice in the White House?
NASH: Clark Clifford, George Elsey, and Charlie Murphy, Steve Spingarn, Dave Stowe, and the other Dave . . . Dave Lloyd, Don Dawson, Dave Bell, those are the main ones.
HESS: We'll get into your relationship with them a little bit later.
NASH: Let's go back to Charlie Ross. I don't know that
I could go any further than I have in pointing to specific episodes.
HESS: I have one question here dealing with the pre-press conferences in which the President was briefed by Charlie Ross and other members of the staff on what might come up in the press conferences. Two questions, actually: How did Charlie Ross run those conferences, and did you at times attend those conferences?
NASH: I attended a handful. Not more than that in seven years -- only when I put through a memorandum indicating that I thought something was likely to come up that was in my area. The way in which we handled those were that the various specialists on the staff would submit a memorandum to Charlie in advance, of not only the press conference, but the pre-press briefing -- and with a very short paragraph saying, "I have reason to believe that such-and-such may come up. I suggest the following," which couldn't be very long.
My field was very touchy and delicate, of course, and so I would . . . well, in the beginning, nobody paid attention to those. Then, after awhile, after there had been a couple of embarrassments that were unnecessary,
somebody would say, "Hey, you know that assistant of Niles over there, we ought to talk to him, he caught that last one," so then Charlie would perhaps call up and say, "Well, I wish that you would come over and talk to me about this." So then I would go over and talk to him, and over a period of years then, confidence is built up in your own expertise; do you know the people, do you know the issues, are you the kind of guy that hits the panic button? You don't have time to alert the President if it isn't necessary, so if you've got a false alarm then you've used up a calling card unnecessarily, so you weigh these things pretty carefully.
So then, after a good many years have gone by and Mr. Truman had developed confidence in me personally, and other members of the staff had, too, well, then I would come in to conferences like that, because they would say, well, you know, why have Nash brief Charlie -- he's knuckled through it twice, get him in and you talk to the President on the way over or something like that. I mean, in other words, it was handled on an ad hoc basis, and in the beginning I was a good long distance away.
HESS: Communicating through memorandums.
NASH: Through memoranda, and two or three people in between. At the end, I had access to the President, and didn't bother him if I didn't have to, but when I did he knew it was for real.
HESS: What staff members usually attended those pre-press conferences?
NASH: The Press Secretary primarily. The various Administrative Assistants with their areas of specialty, and then anybody else that was working on a particular problem if it was deemed necessary; but it wasn't too good an idea to let those get too big.
HESS: Did Charlie Ross have any particular method of running the pre-press conference, or not? Was it fairly informal?
NASH: Very informal. Everything connected with Mr. Truman was always very informal. Mr. Truman characteristically started the meeting, most times by walking into the room; of course everybody would be pretty well settled there before he came in. We'd all get up and held say, "Well, let's not have any of that," and then we'd sit down and we'd wait for him to start the meeting and he would say, "Well, what's this one for?" That was
about as formal an opening of the meeting that you were likely to get.
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little bit, I really don't want to get into this too far, but you mentioned that Charlie Ross was a word expert and helped with the speeches. Did he help with the campaign speeches also?
NASH: Yes. There wasn't anything that went out from the President to the press that he didn't edit personally, and usually he would be in on the final session. Maybe the one just before the last one -- the one with the President--these are all presidential decisions, either he likes it or he doesn't, but in order to get it exactly ready for him all the staff work would have been done. In the so-called freezing session -- this is the one where the language is frozen -- Charlie wouldn't want to participate very much in the earlier draft, but this one he wanted to participate in, and he would look it over there primarily from the standpoint of language and secondarily from the standpoint of policy.
HESS: Fine. Well, we'll get into that a little bit later when we discuss the speeches. We want to go into how speeches are written. Anything else on Charlie Ross?
NASH: Well, I suppose -- I was reminded last night -- the TV news on Channel 4 disclosed for the first time the complete text of the Paul Hume letter, and I've known for a long time that what I think was a great piece of Americana was in it: "You are a four-ulcer man at an eight-ulcer job."
HESS: And it was in the Daily News last night also.
NASH: Was it? Well, I think -- Charlie's dead and can't tell the story and the President did tell it to me so I think it ought to be recorded as I remember it -- maybe it's been recorded elsewhere.
At any rate, most people are not aware of the fact that Charlie dropped dead at his desk the night that Margaret Truman sang that concert. I'd been in to see him about, my recollection was about 5 o'clock, at 5:30 he just slumped over at his desk and was dead. Margaret was going to sing that night and the oldest family friend there was, a schoolmate of her father's, and they kept it from Margaret, they didn't want to upset her at the concert.
So the President had to go through this ordeal of appearing in the presidential box and, of course,
Constitution Hall was a sell-out -- there wasn't anybody that wasn't going to hear the President's daughter in her big concert -- and photographs; then they went backstage and finally, after it was all over -- Charlie had been dead for six or seven hours -- he broke the news to her. She was very much upset. So the Boss got to sleep -- he was living at Blair House at the time -- quite late, I mean not only just late for him, but late for anybody, 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. He woke up at his usual time and tired and out of sorts, and he sent for the paper. The first thing he hit was Paul Hume's blistering review of Margaret's singing. And the President told me about this at Key West one time when we were all on the beach together, and he said, "You know, he didn't even like the paint on the piano."
At this point, I'm not sure how much he's told me, how much I've imagined, but I know that he sat down and wrote the letter out and I can visualize he was mad, and he reached for the first thing at hand, and those White House desks were always kept filled with this heavy green paper that is used for the President's personal notes; it's almost as stiff as cardboard, and from what
he told me, I think he may have written one and then crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket and then wrote another one. This time, I think, on those memo pads that are all over the White House, as a matter of fact, all over town -- almost every big office has got one, they mean very little -- but it was a holograph document, and several of these things -- but there may have been in existence at one time one of these on green personal stationary. Then he knew, he confessed to me -- he said, I knew you fellows wouldn't let me send it." He didn't tell us.
HESS: I've heard that Mr. Hassett was rather upset over that.
NASH: Well, there wasn't anybody that wasn't upset. After all! But on the beach he talked about it freely and a couple of years later he said, "Well, I knew you fellows wouldn't let me send it so I reached for an envelope and I put it in the envelope." And I can see him, and at this point I think he got one of those big green ones -- I don't know, I'm just kind of visualizing now -- I wasn't there at this time. The Secret Service man outside the door heard him stirring and wondered what was up, and he wasn't going to go in and break in on the President. He couldn't find a stamp -- there were no
stamps -- well, they don't keep stamps around, you know, with people to stamp his letters for him. So he opened the door and that was the first that the Secret Service knew that anything was up and as I get it the President said to him, "Get me a stamp." Well, they started scurrying around. The Secret Service man couldn't find a stamp either; so finally they did and he gave it to the President and the President put it on and licked it; and I can visualize it probably wasn't square or anything else, he was still mad. And then, as I recall the way he told me this at Key West, he said, "All right, let's go."
And the Secret Service man said, "Let's go?"
And he said, "Yeah, let's go mail it." So the Secret Service man swallowed hard and said, "Okay," and he went down to the front door of Blair House. Well, these were steel shutters, you know, heavily secured. And the image I have of it is that he made the Secret Service man open up and there were the two men on the sentry boxes outside, you know, quite exposed to the street, so right then and there they went out leaving Blair House empty and unguarded and they didn't have enough men to take care of the situation;
so the two left their sentry boxes and followed him down the street one on each side and they went to the nearest mailbox, Truman put it in, mailed it personally, turned around and grinned and said, "Okay, we can go home now."
HESS: I bet they were wondering what was going on.
NASH: He walked back up the street and went in the front door. You may get a different version of this from the Secret Service and I wouldn't -- they were there and I wasn't -- I'm telling you what I remember of what the President told me on the beach at Key West one day when we were there. The way this came up was that my own children, who were little girls then, were in a dance concert here in Washington and their dancing was mentioned favorably in this . . .
HESS: Same issue.
NASH: . . . in this -- well, no, the Washington Star, and you know, it was a couple of years afterwards -- after Margaret's concert -- and he was there. But there were some negative references in the same review, and when I came home from a trip my children showed me this review. I said, "Well, it's nice that they like you," but then,
"this critic didn't like your recital very much, did he?" I mean the whole thing.
And they said, "No," and then they said, "Daddy, are you going to write him a letter?"
So, of course, I had to tell this to Mr. Truman, and he laughed, and that's when he told me the story about Charlie Ross dying. Well, shall we go on?
HESS: Joseph Short.
NASH: Joe Short was a great man. He was a reconstructed southerner -- he had a southern accent that you could ladle right out with a gravy spoon, and he was as dedicated and convinced a man on civil rights as I've ever seen. He was a fine, fine Press Secretary. I worked with him very closely, I suppose in some respects maybe even closer than Charlie Ross. For an example, the Executive Order that set up the Government Contract Compliance Committee was one that I had worked on, and we actually brought that up to the President, contrary to the rules, on the beach at Key West, because business was not supposed to be conducted down there . . .
HESS: On the beach?
NASH: . . . on the beach. But we were running out of time because a leak was developing in Washington while we were at Key West, and Joe and I felt that it was important to release the Executive order and get the actual text of it out , and to do that it had to be signed first. At any rate, we had to have the President's clearance on the order itself, so he and I wrote out in longhand a statement by the President that he was doing such-and-such, and we cleared it with him at the beach.
We were all in swimming trunks, and there is probably some salt and sand still stuck to those pieces of paper, they are part of the files, and the President initialed it on the beach and then we phoned it from the telephone in the beach house. And then when Joe went up for his daily press briefing -- and he used to alternate morning and afternoon so that there wouldn't be any favoritism for the morning and evening papers -- and it was, I think, right around noon, we came back from the beach and we went up to where the press was and we were still in trunks and so on, and we released the order and the statement of the President accompanying the order to the
press right then and there, and this was very characteristic of Joe. Most anybody else would have wanted to handle the questions from the press himself, but not Joe. Joe said, "You're the author on this -- the draftsman -- this is your idea; you come along with me, you handle it." So I went along and responded to the questions from the press as to what the meaning of it was and what was intended to be accomplished by it and what it would do, and also what it wouldn't do, and what it wasn't. Joe was a very, very fine man.
Coming back from Key West on that particular trip I was his seatmate. The big plane, The Independence, was too full so a number of us took a DC-3 which, of course, meant a stop at Jacksonville, and an all day trip from Key West to Washington, and Joe, for reasons of his own, decided to go on that plane and General Graham, and I, and I don't really remember who else -- and I was sitting and visiting with Joe when he complained of a headache and General Graham motioned to me to move over. So he went over and sat down by Joe and then he sent to the pilot for oxygen. This was a Navy plane. And there was no oxygen aboard this DC-3 and Graham
was really burned up, and he ordered the plane down to a lower altitude and Joe felt much better. Now this was the first indication I had that there was anything wrong with Joe. Actually he was under treatment for a heart difficulty by General Graham at that time, and it was really a very serious oversight that this plane wasn't properly equipped with oxygen, because Joe was a patient -- a heart patient. It wasn't very long after that that he died, also I think at his desk.
HESS: It was September of '52 when he died.
NASH: September? Well, it would have to be longer than I thought then after that, because those Key West trips were always either in the late fall or the early spring -- favorite times were November and March.
HESS: Is there any way that you can contrast the ways that Charlie Ross and Joseph Short managed the press office? Was it just about the same?
NASH: Yes, there is only one way to do it. I don't think the way in which a press office is managed has anything to do with the temperament of the Press Secretary.
You know there is a story about Charlie Ross that I should tell you at some point. It concerns the
President's civil rights speech at Harlem in the 1948 campaign, and maybe we can save that for then.
HESS: That will be fine because we ere going to cover the subject of speeches later on.
NASH: I'll tell you about that at that time.
No, I don't -- this is a professional newsman's job and any professional newsman will handle it in the same way.
HESS: Did Mr. Short help you with the speeches in the same way that Charlie Ross did?
NASH: Well, now you recall it -- you ask that question -- I suppose that maybe it would indicate a difference of Joe was more concerned with the working press, and I think of a number of speechwriting and speech freezing sessions where he wasn't present, although in the same situation Charlie Ross would have been. Maybe that does indicate a slight difference in the way the two men operated.
Joe was certainly not as influential in the formation of presidential policy, in shaping the President's views as Charlie Ross was -- that was a unique role -- nobody did that but Charlie; nobody did it like Charlie.
HESS: All right, let's see . . .
NASH: Roger Tubby?
HESS: Yes. Joseph Short died in September of '52 and then two men, Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter, were called in as Acting Press Secretaries until December, at which time Roger Tubby took over for the last month, and a couple of days, as Press Secretary. Could you tell me about these two men?
NASH: Yes, I knew both of them very intimately. Roger Tubby is from upper New York State. He had been in the State Department, his special interest was UN and UN affairs, and he had been one of two -- as you say -- two Assistant Press Secretaries. He and Irving Perlmeter were coequal. Irving had been with the Internal Revenue Service where I think he still is, and you will probably want to talk to him if you haven't already. They came in, of course, quite far along to the end. Joe died in September of 1952 and of course in January of '53 the term was over. Tubby later became Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the State Department and is now publishing a newspaper with Jim Loeb in Saranac, isn't it.
HESS: There are two newspapers up there that Mr. Loeb is
connected with: One in Saranac Lake, and one, the Adirondack News, I believe, in Lake Placid. I believe Roger Tubby is associated with one but I'm not sure if he is associated with both newspapers.
Joseph Short died on the eighteenth of September, which was fairly well into the campaign, but did Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter take an active part in the '52 campaign?
NASH: Yes. I'll have to dredge my memory a little bit. Tubby went with the President; the Press Secretary's primary responsibility is to be with him; and Perlmeter held down home base. He was the anchorman. Actually, the night of election in November of '52 both of them were in Kansas City, at any rate both of them were away from the White House, and Eben Ayers was handling things -- Eben and I actually were the ones to hold down the White House that night -- not that there was much to hold down.
HESS: That was in '52?
NASH: That was in '52.
HESS: Does that pretty well take care of Tubby and Perlmeter?
NASH: I would think so.
HESS: Well, how about the gentleman that you just mentioned,
Eben Ayers? He was Assistant Press Secretary. When did he start to work at the White House?
NASH: I don't know, except he had been in the White House not as long as I was because he didn't go back into the Roosevelt administration at all; but a long, long time because he was Assistant Secretary when Charlie Ross was Secretary. Eben was an old -- again, a working newspaperman, and I can remember his telling me stories about the great tidal wave and the big storm that inundated downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
HESS: Was he there at that time?
NASH: He was there at that time covering it for the Associated Press. When he came to Washington, I don't exactly know.
HESS: What was his main function as Assistant Press Secretary?
NASH: Well, the Assistant Press Secretary's primary responsibility is to be there when the Press Secretary is with the President. There has always got to be somebody there to deal with emergencies, to answer questions, to alert people if a news crisis involving the President arises.
A good case in point, the Hume letter. All right, the first thing anybody wants to know, is there such a letter in existence? The person they are going to ask is the guy at the end of the telephone in the White House press office. You can't expect the girls that are answering the telephone to deal with matters of that kind. Nobody outside the press office is going to handle an inquiry from the press, not if they know what they are doing and they certainly wouldn't do it twice. If the Press Secretary is with the President, maybe he's down making a speech or laying a wreath somewhere, and when a call comes in it's got to be handled by an expert, by a professional, and in a knowledgeable, tactful way. As a matter of fact, I think Eben Ayers did have to handle the Hume matter -- that's my recollection but rather vague. Now, I can't tell you why he wasn't appointed Press Secretary -- all I can say is that being an assistant anything around the White House is not a work-up type of situation. The President has to pick his personal aides for his own reasons, in his own way, and in his own time. Now as you can see, he is not always a free man, as the
story of Leonard Reinsch shows. Now whether somebody didn't happen to think that Eben was suited in the number one job, or whether maybe the press didn't want it that way, I wouldn't know -- I don't know and, therefore, I can't say and shouldn't speculate; but there are some people who were assistants to Administrative Assistants and got promoted. Other people didnít.
Some people got promoted very, very late -- I'm one. I did Dave Niles' work for two years without having the title or the salary. Why? Because as long as Dave Niles was sick, but alive, the President was not going to put anybody in his job. It's simple. I knew that. It wasn't a reflection on me; it was just the way in which Mr. Truman's personal sympathies and loyalties had to operate. Now -- in other words I don't know the answer why Eben Ayers wasn't made Press Secretary, but I think it rather bothered him.
HESS: You think it did bother him?
NASH: I think so, yes.
HESS: Well, in 1951 he was appointed as Special Assistant in the White House office. What were his duties at that time?
NASH: Well, here you've got something that I'm not sure I even knew that he was given that appointment. What you are saying is that he was no longer Assistant Press Secretary and was Special Assistant in the White House office?
HESS: As I understand it.
NASH: And was not Assistant Press Secretary?
HESS: Yes. I have heard that he was appointed to go back to Kansas City and in the Independence area, to take on the job of doing some research on Mr. Truman's earlier history. Whether that came out in a written form I am not sure -- I suppose so. Did you ever hear anything like that?
NASH: No. Now, you are beginning to ring a faint bell in the distance. It seems to me that he did have some duties in connection with the accumulation of documents of the presidential history. I do not recall his doing this in Kansas City. As far as I know he was around Washington and the White House all the time. And if you had asked me without giving me the information I would have said that he was Assistant Press Secretary even at the end. In other words, he was gradually eased
out, and why, I don't know.
HESS: Okay, that pretty well covers him. That's everyone that worked in the White House press office, is that correct? Did anybody else work in there?
NASH: Well, there were some people, people maybe not even on the list (see Appendix), Jeannette Rudellat, for example, who is now with the United States Information Service. I knew her back in the Office of War Information days when she was in the news bureau of OWI, and then she . . .
HESS: Did she have a title?
NASH: . . . probably not.
HESS: What did she do?
NASH: I think maybe she was -- oh, yes, I know what. She went from the Office of War Information over to the United States Information Service and all the agencies in between, and she was around the White House, not because she was working there, but because she was a member of the press corps attached to the government and was getting presidential news for the Voice of America and other government functions. Yes, that's it; and she was very good friends with everybody and she was in
and out of the office all the time.
HESS: What did you say her name was? Jeannette.
NASH: Jeannette Rudellat.
HESS: Okay. Anybody else?
HESS: All right. The next group that we have are the Administrative Assistants to the President and I would like to ask you for some of your observations on the men who served in that capacity for the President. I have included those that were holdovers, so to speak, from the Roosevelt administration since you worked quite closely with the White House from about 1943, is that the correct date?
NASH: Yes, that's right.
HESS: So, you will probably be about as familiar with those men that I speak of as holdovers as the men who served under Truman. And if you could, I wish you would give me a brief rundown on each man, just who were they, what were their backgrounds, how did they come to be a member of the White House staff, what were their various duties. One thing that might be valuable -- and
I realize that it probably can't be done on each one -- but if you could relate an incident about some of the men that would illustrate, perhaps their particular relationship with President Truman and other members of the White House staff. A pretty tall order, but let's just start off with number one.
NASH: Some of these are very familiar and some are not. William McReynolds was known to me as Judge McReynolds. He was an older man. He must have been a judge somewhere
at one time. He was, I believe, handling personnel matters. He was the Personnel Administrative Assistant, I think, for Roosevelt, but I had very little contact with him; I recall seeing him in his office and that's about all. He did not last very long past the succession. He was one of the earliest of the anonymous assistants but I had very little contact with him, even from '43 to '46. My duties as a detailed assistant to Jonathan Daniels, whose office was across the hall from Judge McReynolds, and then later as Dave Niles, just didn't bring me into contact with him. He's a very shadowy figure to me.
HESS: Would you expand a bit on that anonymous assistants?
NASH: Oh, well, this is something that has been written about so very, very much.
HESS: It's late in the day for me, and I forget.
NASH: Okay. Prior to 1939 there was no White House office, not even a detail. And FDR had the whole thing studied by the Public Administration Clearing House, and Leonard White, and the Chicago crowd generally, and another one whose name I forget. They made a survey of the Executive Office of the President and made some recommendations.
One of these recommendations was that there should be created the position of Administrative Assistant to the President, and the recommendation was that there should be six. And the stipulations of this study were that these should be men with a passion for anonymity, and this phrase has stuck in my mind, and I thought it would be familiar to you, too. The point was that they were to be personal assistants to the President, who could be eyes and ears, who would be on his personal staff, who would have very high standing in the executive community but who, of course, for statutory reasons, could not get between the President and the Cabinet. So it was rather explicitly set forth in the memorandum that they should have such assignments as the President personally handed them, but that in working on their own initiative they were not to intervene between the President and the various executive departments. It was a very distinguished group of men that were the first six. I don't know if I can even recall the names of everyone of those six. There was Jim Forrestal, there was William McReynolds, there was Jim Rowe, Lauchlin Currie, and another one who is from
Maryland whose name I forget [Eugene B. Casey], but he got involved with a tax problem and that's maybe why I don't remember his name. He's not on this list, by the way. By and large these were men who were asked to become specialists in various segments of the American community; farm, business. Forrestal was business, McReynolds was the Federal establishment, Currie was economics -- you see, you didn't have a Council of Economic Advisers and so on. And this is what I mean by the anonymous assistants. In the case of Dave Niles, it was often said -- it was said by somebody at one point -- that they were all supposed to have a passion for anonymity but in this case it was a mania.
HESS: He rather went overboard?
NASH: That was true of Dave. So coming back to your list (see Appendix), McReynolds was, as I say, a name, and I can visualize him but that's about all.
Jim [James M.] Barnes was an ex-Congressman from Illinois and basically his job was congressional liaison and he lasted on into the summer of the first Truman year. I had quite a bit of dealings with him. He had an office next to Jonathan Daniels, and Barnes, Daniels and Niles were the "instant reply committee" in
the campaign of 1944, in which I served as a staff volunteer.
Jonathan Daniels is, of course, the son of Josephus Daniels, the editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, a very old friend of FDR's and . . .
HESS: He just came out with a new book.
NASH: Came out with a new book, in which I guess the family is rather upset at what he has to say about the President's fruitless love affair. I have no information on that; he did not discuss any of this with me during the years I worked for him. I guess maybe I'm the only person that doesn't know anything about it, I'm glad to say. Jonathan was a brilliant operator, a great writer. I reported to him for over two years, saw him everyday. I don't know -- what do you want to know about him? I think he did most of the work on putting together the Office of War Information. I think he actually assembled the components of the former Office of Facts and Figures and the Information Service of the Office of Emergency Management into the Office of War Information and had a good deal to do with picking Elmer Davis for it. He was anxious to leave Washington and get back
to the newspaper business, and he did not care to stay on as Press Secretary for Mr. Truman. At one point he had under consideration for becoming Secretary of the Navy -- I know that was under discussion but it didn't come through.
HESS: He did come back at various time to help out though.
NASH: Oh, yes.
HESS: In the '48 campaign for one thing.
NASH: In the '48 campaign and in '52.
HESS: Was his job at that time principally speechwriting?
NASH: Oh, I think a little of everything. Speechwriting, planning, advance work; what about the South, what about civil rights; he was into a little of everything.
HESS: Being from the South he would more or less . . .
NASH: This is why FDR handed this hot potato problem of racial disturbances to him -- he wanted a southerner, but he wanted a liberal southerner on the race question.
HESS: Perhaps that's enough on him.
NASH: Lauchlin Currie, whom you have, I knew very, very slightly, just by sight. I think he lasted just a very short time into the new administration -- well, you have him down here for the 30th of June, 1945. He had been one of the original six. He was a very
influential member of the Roosevelt family, dealing almost entirely with matters of economic warfare, and long after he left the White House was accused of all sorts of things in connection with Harry Dexter White; and I felt very sorry for him and very sympathetic with him personally, and I just didn't have any knowledge of the facts. I note that he has taken up residence in South America.
HESS: I should add that I'm not too sure about some of these dates on the list I have prepared. I hope they're correct, but they may not be right.
NASH: Well, you see, of the ones that had been with FDR, Dave Niles was the only one that stayed, and I stayed with him. The reason why was that each of us felt that the postwar and civil rights was going to be a time when we would be needed.
HESS: What about the man who had stayed for awhile and had the special title?
NASH: Eddie [Edward D.] McKim.
HESS: Who was Chief Administrative Assistant.
NASH: Well, the reason he had that title was that Mr. Truman when he became President didn't really know his
Administrative Assistants, he didn't know whether he should have confidence in them or not, whether they should stay, whether they would be loyal to him, whether they would want to stay, whether he ought to want them to stay, and his old friend from Battery D, Eddie McKim, was an insurance man, a successful business man, and he volunteered his help and I think Mr. Truman felt that here was somebody he could really rely on. So Eddie McKim was made Chief Administrative Assistant and all the Administrative Assistants were asked to give him memoranda as to what they were doing and that he would assemble some recommendations to the President. What became of those recommendations, I don't know. I do know that Mr. McKim was not very well versed in the ways of government, or in the way of anonymous assistantry; and the story that I have heard is that he promised somebody to do something about a veterans hospital in a certain state -- either to get it or to see that it wasn't obtained, I don't know which -- and of course in this so doing he did violate the basic rule that you don't get between a Cabinet level department and the President, especially not in one as highly involved in
politics as the construction program of the Veterans' Administration. And so he just wound up between the rock and the hard place and he went back to his business where I am sure he was much happier.
HESS: He didn't stay there very long.
NASH: No, you can get into trouble awfully fast. It doesn't take more than a couple of weeks.
HESS: Did you run into him very often when he was here?
NASH: I doubt that I would even know him if I saw him, and I'm sure that he didn't know that I was even around.
I prepared a basic statement for Mr. Niles on what I was doing, and Mr. Niles prepared a basic statement on what both of us were doing, and turned it in as the President requested to Eddie McKim. And he said, "That is the last we'll ever hear of that," and he was right.
HESS: And it was? Well, let's go on to . . .
NASH: George Schoeneman. George Schoeneman was the personnel man among the President's Administrative Assistants, between, so to speak, McReynolds, whose work. I don't even know very much about, and Don Dawson, who came in from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and who was known to the President in a way that I guess
Mr. George Schoeneman wasn't. A very likable person -- I had no duties with him -- I used to see him around and we talked.
HESS: Let's go back here a little bit on David Niles, since you worked so closely with him. Tell me a little bit about his background. Where did he come from?
NASH: Well, of course I was -- here you're dealing with pretty basic things. I was Niles' assistant for the last, approximately the last, five months of Mr. Roosevelt's life, and then I was his assistant from Mr. Truman's succession to the Presidency until Mr. Niles resigned for reasons of ill health, which took place between 1950 and the 1952 campaign. Now, he then went into a hospital and died between the nominating convention of '52, I would say, and election time, is my recollection. I had been very close to him during all those years and Mr. Truman appointed me to represent him at Dave Niles' funeral in Boston. Admiral Dennison was also appointed for this purpose and provided us with transportation in a Navy plane; of course, at a funeral the President usually had a service aide and then, I , because I had been so close to Dave.
Now, Niles was a child of an immigrant family of Lithuanian origin, raised under poor circumstances in Boston, and early in his life he became interested in the Ford Hall Forum in Boston. This is the oldest public discussion group in the United States and it is one in which, for years and years and years every Sunday night two speakers would face each other on the platform representing antithetical views on an issue of public policy, and would not exactly conduct a debate but would each state a position and then answer questions from the audience and sometimes ask questions of each other. And it was always the seat of controversy and was a matter of pride that both points of view were represented where there was a controversy. Mr. Niles was the manager of that forum for most of his life. In the late 1920s he became involved in the Sacco-Vanzetti controversy and thus got to know Justice Frankfurter. Consequently, when the New Deal . . .
HESS: What was his involvement?
NASH: What was his involvement? I think he was the -- either the chairman of the defense committee or the executive
secretary of the defense committee, and tried hard to save them from execution.
Consequently when the New Deal came along, being in the information business and an information specialist, he was made information director of the Works Progress Administration for Massachusetts, and in that connection he was called upon to go to Florida to handle the very acute information problem that arose after a hurricane wiped out the work camps that were building the causeway down to Key West.
You are too young to remember this, but in the depression the Flagler railroad collapsed economically and consequently there was a railroad route along the Keys down to Key West but no money to run it, and all those communities and, indeed, our bases down there, military bases, were left without adequate supplies. So one of the big public works projects of the depression was to take this railroad right-of-way and convert it into an overseas highway of 200 miles length, and which also carried a pipeline with fresh water in it for the community and the base at Key West. This was constructed with relief labor during the depression,
and a hurricane came up and wiped out several of the camps with a severe loss of life, and was a public relations crisis for the Works Progress Administration, or the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, whatever it was that was handling it, and Niles was called upon to go down and handle this information part of it. This brought him to the attention of Aubrey Williams, and he was brought to Washington to handle some special problems in connection with the Washington end of the emergency public works program.
Soon after we got into the war, or maybe even in the preparation for war, he was assigned to the production board -- after the war was declared it was called the War Production Board and I don't know what it was called before that. This was a joint enterprise, as you may recall, of labor, industrial management, and the public; and he -- Sidney Hillman, I think, was the head labor representative on the board and Dave Niles was his principal assistant. He performed so very well there that FDR moved him over to the White House as Administrative Assistant fairly early in the war.
I began to hear his name when I first came to
Washington; he was regarded even then as somewhat of a mystery man.
I first became personally acquainted with him during the campaign of 1944 when he was on the "instant reply committee," and soon after that campaign he inherited me as his assistant and was placed in charge of race relations, succeeding Jonathan Daniels in that respect, as I indicated the other day. Well, then, he inherited me and we began to work together on a daily basis.
Mr. Niles had a rather peculiar schedule. He always had to be in Boston for the Sunday night forum; he hadn't missed one of those for thirty or forty years. He was a bachelor. In Washington he lived at the Canton ; he spent Sunday night in Boston; came down on the night train every Sunday; then went over to the Carlton; went to his barber and got himself shaved -- I still have my hair cut by the barber that shaved him for all these years -- he never shaved himself. He was in Washington Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon he would go up to New York, he was an avid theatergoer; he never missed a first night for years, and
was a venturer -- participant in quite a few Broadway productions.
So he had his weekly theater binge and then spent the next day in New York politics or in New York minority group affairs. He was FDR's contact man with the Liberal Party, with [David] Dubinsky, and Alex Rose; with the political arm of the labor movement with [Sidney] Hillman, and then with Jack [Jacob B.] Potofsky for the formation of COPE, in the early days of the politicization of the labor movement.
And then during the war he attended the sessions of the big Jewish committees; the Jewish Agency for Palestine in its New York office, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the various Zionist affairs, and so on. Now this had a dual purpose. In the first place, the Joint Refugee Committee was responsible for rescuing many tens of thousands of Jews from concentration camps, saving them from death, and it was the private agencies that did most of this, and in it they were aided by U.S. Government agencies wherever possible, and Dave was the liaison between the voluntary agencies and the White House in these rescue efforts.
Now this, of course, is politics at the highest
level because the groups that are responsible for these humanitarian efforts are also very much concerned with who is in the White House and very anxious to have someone in the White House whom they can talk to, sympathetically and understandingly, and Niles was that person.
He then went up during the day on Friday so that he would be at his sister's house for the traditional Jewish services -- family dinner on Friday night -- observed the Sabbath meticulously on Saturday, did Ford Hall Forum business on Sunday, and Sunday night would go back on the night train to Washington. So I became used to this routine and quickly learned to handle his affairs for him at the Washington end -- you know, from Wednesday afternoon on.
Dave became quite ill in about 1950 -- he had a stomach cancer which was not diagnosed, and by the time it was diagnosed properly it had gone to his liver and the end was not very long in coming thereafter. So from about, roughly from 1950 on, he was pretty much out of the picture -- not in Washington even the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Mr. Truman had become very devoted to him personally. This whole area of New York liberal politics --
which is so complex that even the people that practice it don't understand it -- was a foreign world to Mr. Truman. He was intuitively sympathetic to Zionism and he had, of course, his old business partner to consult with in this area.
HESS: Eddie Jacobson.
NASH: . . . Eddie Jacobson. But this is not quite the same thing as having an oldtime New York operator.
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little bit, how influential was David Niles in the recognition of Israel?
NASH: I would say he was crucial in that. And the State Department and the Defense Department thought that he was intervening between them and the President in this matter. Neither one of them -- the State Department nor the Defense Department, thought the Zionist movement was a valid movement. The State Department, I think, was inclined to adopt the British view in regard to the Middle East -- that the thing to fear is Pan-Arabism, and they did not want to see this encouraged by creation of a sovereign state which was identified as a Jewish state. The Defense Department was very concerned about oil and did not want -- after all, Middle Eastern oil
is Arab oil. Dave's view which he expressed to the President, at his own time, and in his own way and which I kept pretty much out of -- that is, by and large we divided our work -- the Zionist movement and the Palestinian and Middle Eastern problems were his bailiwick and Negro-white relations, civil rights, and pretty much all the rest of it, refugees, were mostly mine. Well, not exclusively. I had pretty much independent operations in what today would be called the civil rights field. Naturally, I relied on Dave because he had judgment, and because of his position, and he gave me a great deal of freedom in this area, but refugees were what made me draw back, because Dave was very much interested in the refugee problem and he was not about to turn that over to anybody on his own. So the things where we polarized were Palestine and the partition for him, and civil rights for me.
Now, Dave's views, which he expressed to me repeatedly, were that the State Department specialists and the Defense Department specialists were telling the President what other countries thought. The State Department reports were largely based on British
views of the Middle East, and while he didn't have any desire to try to replace their role with his, he just thought somebody had to be responsible for telling the President what the American people thought about it.
There has never been any question, of course, but what the American public was solidly pro-Zionist. There is no big body of pro-Arab sentiment in the United States; there has not been since the Zionist movement got started. The sympathies of the American people have been with the Jewish people on this before World War II, and of course very much so afterwards.
And it came as a big shock to Mr. Truman, as it did to everybody else that when the Jewish people in the concentration camps in Dachau and Buchenwald were queried by our representatives as to what they wanted to do, they did not want to come to the United States because they were afraid to, and they only felt safe in a country where they were their own sovereigns. And when he found people who were the victims of Nazi atrocities wanted only one thing, to go to Palestine and there be the citizens of a Jewish sovereign state,
he was very much impressed and he was shocked, and this is where he began to rely very heavily upon Mr. Niles. Now this was not an area where the State Department or the Defense Department could inform him. Consequently he relied very heavily on Dave for the evaluation of this type of information.
HESS: Just as a point for my own information, why didn't the Jews want to come to the United States?
NASH: Well, they had been so beaten down. After all, in Germany, before Hitler, German Jews were very, very much accepted in German society and yet this did not prevent them, a respectable middleclass people, from being thrown into concentration camps and being tortured and killed, and seeing their dear ones being tortured and killed; and they said this can happen anywhere else, too. And the only way we can protect ourselves -- see they were not interested in Canada, or Australia, or Latin America or the United States -- this will only happen if we have our own government.
HESS: It wasn't that they were opposed to the United States, they just didn't want anything except their country?
NASH: That's right.
HESS: Well, how about calling it a day . . .
NASH: We'd better call it quits.
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