Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

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.

Washington, D.C.
October 17, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]


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

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]



Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

Washington, D.C.
October 17, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[257]

HESS: Doctor, in the last interview, you indicated that you had something that you wanted to add on the task force on Indian affairs.

NASH: Well, actually what I had in mind is a supplement to the question you asked me about the Navajo-Hopi Act of 1950, and the Section 9 portion of it which would have placed the Navajo and Hopi reservations under the jurisdictions of the three states in which they are located. I think I told most of that story, but there is a sequel to it.

In 1961 Secretary Udall appointed a task force on Indian affairs, of which Mr. W. W. Keeler was the chairman and there were several members, and I was one of the members. We prepared a report which was submitted in July of 1961 to Mr. Udall and it has been the basis of the administration's Indian affairs policy up to the present time. And even though I left on March 15, I don't think there's been any significant departure from it.

One of the questions that we dealt with was the

 

[258]

troublesome problem of Indian water rights. We asked Bill Brophy, who has since died, but who was then a lawyer practicing in Albuquerque, counsel for a number of Indian tribes and one of the leading specialists on water in the West, especially Indian water rights, and a former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to do a memorandum for us about water rights. I wrote the section of the report that dealt with water rights , and one of the questions that came up was the matter of the San Juan-Chama diversion; the Navajo Dam; and the water rights which had been yielded up in part by the Navajos in order to make the San Juan-Chama diversion possible. It was actually a water trade, you might say. We thought it was rather important to cite the history of the Navajo-Hopi Act in the report, and I had very much in my mind as I have had all these years, the episodes that I related in our last interview, which showed the amount of push there was behind this jurisdictional question, as related to Indian water rights and how quickly Mr. Truman saw through it with his shrewdness and commonsense approach to matters of this kind. So in one page of the task force report, you will find a capsule version of this episode in which

 

[259]

I related the meaning of it as I saw it, although perhaps not as directly as I have just done in talking to you.

I had forgotten that the matter was handled at the White House and at Mr. Truman's direction, in such a way as to spare Senator [Clinton P.] Anderson's feelings. And the nominal excuse which was given in the President's veto message with respect to Section 9, was that jurisdiction would, by the states, in matters of marital relations, of Indian custom marriage; descent and the inheritance of personal property; would wreak great havoc with the tribes, because, of course, under Federal jurisdiction, the matter of domestic relations, of property, of the legitimacy of children and so on, is supervised by the Secretary of the Interior, and he follows tribal customs, so that by this means, tribal custom is given the sanctity of law, both as to property and descent. Of course, there is no such provision in any of the states concerned, and you can imagine what would have happened. Now this is a perfectly legitimate basis for denying state jurisdiction in a matter as sensitive as Indian affairs. It just so happens that this was not the reason why it was done. It was merely the reason that was given for doing it. It was a matter that protected everybody's

 

[260]

feelings, and caused no bunions to burn, and no corns to hurt, and so it was a fine coverup. This was the job that Steve Spingarn was handed, and I was handed the other one of explaining away why we had to do it if it was decided that we would have to do it, which I'm glad to say we didn't do, because it would have been a very wrong decision.

When Senator Anderson came to that page in the task force report, he went right out through the roof.

At a meeting in Secretary Udall's dining room, a breakfast meeting, where the important members of Congress who were concerned with Indian affairs were provided with a preview of the task force report, he went right straight to that page. And he said that there wasn't a word of truth in it, and it was typical of Bill Brophy not to know anything about it and to misunderstand the situation, and to get it all wrong, as he had everything else all his life, and so on, and so on, and so on, except he was looking me right in the eye all the time he was doing it because he knew, he knows today that I knew the whole story then, and he knew that it was true. And so I just thought that tie-in between the task force report and this whole story of Navajo-Hopi matters ought to be a part

 

[261]

of the interview. I may say that I cursed myself for my clumsiness because it did not have to be stated in this particular form in this particular report, and it didn't do anything to gain acceptance for the report. I had just completely forgotten. The coverup was so skillfully done that I just brushed it off and forgot about it in my recollection and I put it down the way I remembered it. That was the basis of my thinking and I was taken completely by surprise when Senator Anderson attacked that portion of the report and therefore indirectly the whole report. But, of course, I realized at once how clumsy I'd been, but there wasn't any way to undo it. I just thought that ought to be in the record.

HESS: Fine, that's good.

Well, let's continue on with the people who worked in the White House. We got down to the naval and the military people. We have a list here. Could you tell me about these people? Did you work with them, do you have anything to relate about them to show how they worked in the White House, what they did, what you did with them, or their relationship to the President. Let's start with Admiral Leahy.

 

[262]

NASH: Admiral Leahy is a man for whom I have great affection. I came to know him at Key West. I did not know, was not fully aware until after I had talked to him the first time at Key West around a lunch table, that we had common roots. He was raised in Wausau, Wisconsin and was very familiar with the Wisconsin River Valley; many people of my parents generation; and knew my hometown very well, Wisconsin Rapids. His sister, Margaret Leahy Akey, who resembled him very closely in physical appearance, was a very sweet old lady when I knew her, after I returned to Wisconsin from being in Washington. She had lived there many years but I didn't know her. Her husband, Cleve Akey, which is short for Grover Cleveland Akey -- he's still living I think, or he was the last time I heard, but living in an old people's home -- was quite a local character. He was a musician and played in the band and gave lessons and played the piano and composed very amusing verses and was an inveterate letter writer to the papers; a passionate Democrat . . .

HESS: As his name would imply.

NASH: As his name would imply. His parents named him for Grover Cleveland. You can see he must be in his late eighties now; if he was named for Grover Cleveland

 

[263]

in the first administration, at least. I got to know Admiral Leahy without knowing of his Wisconsin Valley connection by telling a series of stories to him and President Truman about the alteration of the French names in my hometown. Well, of course, Akey is one of them because Akey is an anglicization of the French-Canadian Etier. And I was telling such stories as the Rosebush family where the land records, after you go back into the late nineteenth century, switch from Rosebush to Le Rosier. Or the site of an old inn that goes back to the logging days when they broke up the rafts as they came down to the grand rapids of the Wisconsin, and it was about three days to run the rafts through the rapids, and then they would come back with fast teams and horses and stay overnight at Verbunker's Corners, where there was an inn. I always supposed this was a Dutch name until I found out by talking to one of the oldtimers that it was Le Bon Coeur, and corrupted to Verbunker. I was telling this and Admiral Leahy was most interested, and then he said, "Yes, you're talking about my brother-in-law." So this is how I found out his connection. Of course, everybody had a good laugh. It made Admiral Leahy and me good friends, and I was there several times, two or

 

[264]

three times with him, and he was a very, very charming old gentleman. We talked many times about all sorts of things concerning Wisconsin. He loved it at Key West, and rumor had it that he was the one who persuaded President Truman to set up his vacation spot there; whether he was the one or not, I don't know.

HESS: Okay. How about Commodore Vardaman?

NASH: Just a name to me. I could add one little piece of intelligence that might be helpful to future historians. His appointment as the Naval Aide caused much eyebrow lifting among what was then the civil rights crowd. This was long before what we think of as civil rights today, the word wasn't even in use. But my contacts in the Negro community in Government were very good and they were very upset. I said, "It looks and sounds harmless. What's this all about?"

"Well, don't you know Senator Vardaman? He's a lineal descendant of the Civil War Senator from Mississippi." He stood for white supremacy to them, and it was an eye opener to me because it showed how completely informed and ultra sensitive Negroes in the higher reaches of government and university circles were at that time, and no doubt still are to the slightest nuance which might

 

[265]

affect their standing or their affairs. It never became a public issue . . . oh, if you go back into columns in the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier in those days, you'll find snide references to Vardaman, and wondering whether the people who were doing this really meant that in view of the fact that they would tolerate a Vardaman around -- I don't think he was ever aware of it.

HESS: What Negro leaders were those that talked to you?

NASH: Oh, well, Bob [Robert C.] Weaver was around at that time. Bob Weaver started out his life in the Interior Department as a special assistant to Harold Ickes.

HESS: That is the man who is now Secretary of Housing.

NASH: Yes, he is now Secretary of HUD. Of course, he was out of Government -- no, he was not. He was still in the War Manpower Commission -- no, he was not, because in 1944 he went out to the American Council on Race Relations, which I helped set up, and where I worked for about three months as a consultant. He was their director of community relations and I was raising money for them. So he had left the Government. Ted Poston was my close associate in the Office of War Information. By that time he had gone up to the New York Post.

 

[266]

Truman Gibson was still around, I think, as civilian assistant to the Secretary of War.

Frank Horne was the race relations adviser at the Public Housing Administration.

HESS: I have it that Vardaman left fairly early in April of '46; April 4th of '46. Do you know how he got along with the other members of the White House staff?

NASH: I have no information at all. I really do not recall what he looked like. I associate him with the year in which Mr. Truman was groping for the staff assistants that he needed and which he was notable to bring with him from the vice-presidency, and of course he quickly used up all the people that had been on the staff of the old Truman Committee, and after that he started reaching out. And where Vardaman came from, I don't know.

HESS: Did Leahy get along pretty well with the other members of the staff?

NASH: By the time I knew him, you see, we were fairly well along on the Truman era. I didn't start going down to Key West, you see, until well after the '48 election. I'd forgotten just when I started to go, but it was around '49 or '50, possibly in March of '49. I did not

 

[267]

go down after the '48 election.

HESS: You weren't there on that trip?

NASH: No, I had home duties.

HESS: On that subject, I have it that you went down to Key West in 1949 on the November-December trip, in March of '51, and November-December of '51.

NASH: That's fairly late, you see.

HESS: And I have it down here that Leahy left in March of '48.

NASH: You see, in other words, he was there as a guest but not as an official member, not a staff member, so I just don't have any information. I would be surprised if he had any difficulties at all, because he was one of the easiest people to get next to that I ever knew; he was no ice water admiral. He was a very fine fellow.

HESS: How about Admiral Foskett?

NASH: Did not know him. Just a name.

HESS: Admiral Dennison?

NASH: Admiral Dennison, I had quite a bit of business with. He was a very, very fine person, just a tremendous person; a scholar, and a gentleman. I don't think he had any enemy anywhere around. My dealings with him, other than

 

[268]

just sitting at a poker table with him around in the President's games when we were at Key West, in which he was very charitable of my amateurism, were in connection with the Trust Territory of the Pacific.

One of the unappreciated items of Mr. Truman's approach to civil rights and civil liberties was his strong feeling that all the territories and possessions ought to have organic acts, ought to have non-military governments, and ought to have a maximum of self-government; and the list of things he was able to do here, you see, he didn't have the emotionalism that surrounded the civil rights at home; and it's much easier to do the right thing overseas. He did a lot in a very short period of time. One of these things, of course, related to Guam, American Samoa, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific.

The Navy was understandably possessive about the Trust Territory, considerably less so about American Samoa, and sort of an between as far as Guam was concerned. It was the Trust Territory they had fought for, and had an intimate association with it, and quite, I think, understandably, felt that nobody could do as good a job in administering it as they could, certainly

 

[269]

not the Interior Department; and who else could provide the facilities that they could provide. If you've got a food problem why you divert a couple of "reefers." If you have a health problem, a hospital ship -- you know -- all the resources could be applied, so why would anybody want it any different. Admiral Dennison really didn't quite see what all the fuss was about. So he and I had many long discussions on the questions of self-government and civilian government, and it was never acrimonious. It was sometimes quite direct. I don't know that I persuaded him. Ultimately Mr. Truman made the decision on his own.

I'm sure the documentation will show just what part Admiral Dennison played in it, but Mr. Truman relied on him very much in matters of this kind. In other words Dennison was a lot more than just the keeper of the President's boats.

HESS: Did the President rely on him very much in political matters?

NASH: If he did I'm not especially aware of it. It doesn't follow that he didn't because I don't know that he did. The President got his political advice where he wanted it. He took as much of it as he thought was good and he

 

[270]

didn't take what he didn't think was good, but I never had any sense of political discussions with Bob Dennison. We talked Pacific territories pretty much.

HESS: Is that about all on him?

NASH: Yes.

HESS: What about General Landry?

NASH: Landry was, of course, the Air Force Aide, and was sort of young and full of bounce and when we were at Key West was mostly busy seeing whether he couldn't get a faster airplane to fly somewhere for a short visit, and I've seen something of him since.

He's engaged in some business promotions in and around the Phoenix area, and as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, this was of considerable interest to me, because we wanted the tribes there to take part in the benefits that might flow from such developments. I like Bob very much and he always seemed like sort of a kid. He had the stars, but he was still a boy at heart. Other than that I have no special comment.

HESS: What about General Vaughan?

NASH: Well, of course, Harry's "Harry" to everybody. I always thought he was greatly underestimated and very much a misunderstood personality. The public image he managed

 

[271]

to get built up around him, partly with Drew Pearson's help, I think, you know, that of the whiskey-drinking, poker-playing, evil old man, and here actually is a Sunday school teacher, a teetotaller.

It's true that he loves to play poker and he's better at it than anybody that played poker with the President, I can assure you. He was sort of the manager of the games, but he was, of course, a lot more than that; not only President Truman's oldest political associate and fundraiser, but a man who stood with him in representing the interests of the National Guard and the part-time soldiers, against the West Pointers and the full-time professionals. It was one establishment against another establishment, and there never was any doubt about where Harry Vaughan stood or where he thought the Boss ought to stand, and very little doubt in the Boss' mind, either.

HESS: Why do you think they went with the part-time military people more than they did with the professional people?

NASH: Well, it's a pretty sound theory of administration that you can't run an organization without the pros, but you can't run it if there isn't anybody else in it but pros. You've got to have a mix. If the President as

 

[272]

Commander in Chief just can't see that a pro can ever make a mistake in judgment or operate out of a prejudice that is not necessarily in the national interest or in the President's personal interest, then you're going to have a lot of trouble. I think there's a lot of American military system, which includes the Reserve and the National Guard, is pretty fundamental and I think Truman did a lot to restore the balance.

HESS: I wonder if it caused any hard feelings on the side of the professionals when Mr. Truman would rely so much on the advice of those they might consider semi-professionals?

NASH: I'm sure it did. I don't have any direct knowledge of it, but I don't see how it's possible that it could have been otherwise. I can assure you Mr. Roosevelt used to do it all the time.

This may or may not be pertinent, but I'll tell you about it anyway. Leave it out if you don't want it. In the middle of World War II, General Somervell caught on to the fact that the Air Force was bringing back its flyers after they had fulfilled their quota of missions for rehabilitation, retraining, reorientation, vacation, reunion with their families, before being shipped out to the Pacific, and this is understandable

 

[273]

in a very hazardous, morale-destroying kind of thing, going up against the enemy in the air, again and again. The only problem is that the services are so rivalrous that if the Air Force did it, then the ground forces had to do it; if the ground forces did it, the services of supply had to do it.

So Somervell caught on rather late in the game, and by this time, all the best resort hotels up and down the east coast and on the west coast had been pre-empted. Of course, they were mostly closed up during the war, or used for military purposes. Now they were going to be used for another purpose. The family could come and stay for 50 cents a day and be reunited with husband and father while he was getting reoutfitted and pointed to the Pacific. In addition to that, the Army was about ten percent Negro and practically all of these were in Somervell's branch, the services of supply, except for a very small number. So when it was pointed out to him that he'd better figure out what he was going to do about, not only Negro soldiers, but all the Negro families, and in resort hotels that had a longstanding policy of discrimination, obviously nobody on the staff had even thought about it; it hadn't occurred to them,

 

[274]

and so on, and they said, "Oh, we'll take over some of the better Negro resort hotels," not even knowing that there weren't any. We forget how primitive those days were. Then they looked up what there were, and of course came across the Theresa in New York, and I've forgotten the name of the one in Chicago; one like the Theresa, but in Chicago. Well, of course, the NAACP got wind of it, they started to raise hell; you had some old ladies living in the hotel; it was the only place at that point where Negroes could stay, and so on. Oh, the flap was just terrific.

Well, eventually, it was 1944 and therefore came to the President's attention, which ought not to have been necessary, but at any rate it was, and he sent Jonathan Daniels over with a very blunt message for Somervell. Somervell thought he was going to get a lot of praise, so he assembled the full staff to hear it and insisted on having them there when Jonathan delivered the message. The message was, "Sir, you are a goddamned fool." Direct quotes from the Commander in Chief. Well, this was Somervell. He asked for it. Jonathan probably wouldn't tell the story, but I heard the story from Jonathan.

 

[275]

So I think this is an old tradition with the Commander in Chief. If you have dealt with representatives of the professional military caste for very long on very many matters, you quickly discover that you'd better have some civilian advisers, and since they're apt not to know too much about it then the next best thing, or the next best ingredient to add to the mix, is your qualified soldier who retained the civilian outlook; because he's part-time. This is the secret of the Commander in Chief's successful role. They all have to find it out sooner or later.

I think Harry Vaughan performed a great service. I think Mr. Truman was well aware of it as a person with a National Guard outlook, irrespective of Harry Truman, but they had had this experience side by side by side over the years. I think it was a most important element in Mr. Truman's development as Commander in Chief.

Well, then, for the rest of it; Harry, of course, was apt to get into anything, either on his own or because the President told him to, or if the President didn't tell him to, because he wanted to and then he would always be sure that the President would say he

 

[276]

told him to if he had to. We all worked this way to some degree. So Vaughan, occasionally, used to get into my department, civil rights, or the haylift of the Navajos or something like that, and we'd just have it out. If he had good advice I was glad to take it, and if he was being bullheaded, I didn't have any hesitation in telling him so, and Vaughan was the kind of guy you could do this with. He was, of course, at times, very much of an embarrassment to the President, not because he intended to, of course. There was no more devoted admirer of President Truman than Harry Vaughan, then or now, but he is a quick man with a wisecrack, even quicker than the President, and this occasionally got him into trouble.

Of course, there's a world of difference between the Vice President's office or a United States Senator's office and the President's office. I think Harry maybe was a little bit inclined to do things from the White House that were identical to what he would have done up on the Hill, and the ground rules are just different. I think this was the major source of difficulty. Of course anybody who was that close to the President is always vulnerable; vulnerable to attack, and vulnerable

 

[277]

to people using him.

HESS: This is jumping ahead of the game here a little bit, we will get on to the speeches and the President's trips, but did General Vaughan go on most of the trips?

NASH: It depended on whether they were political or not. If they were frankly political, then the aides were kept home in order to keep the military out of politics.

The President felt very strongly that the State Department and the Defense Department ought to be out of politics; politics stops at the water's edge; so Defense is the water's edge; the State Department is the water's edge. Therefore, if he was frankly campaigning, then Vaughan stayed behind.

There were a lot of in between trips, and there was the famous dry run in 1948, where they went on an inspection trip out West. And this is the one where all the wrinkles got ironed out. I didn't go on that trip, but Vaughan has told the story -- you probably have it in his interview.

They went up to an airport and they were going to dedicate it and just about the time the President cut the ribbon somebody whispered in his ear -- I don't

 

[278]

remember all the details -- but the point is that it had been named for somebody and whatever the information the President had on the name, he had it wrong, and instead of being a war hero it was a couple that had been in the newspapers and got into an accident and it was just the wrong clipping. So Vaughan was running around trying to recover from that fumble. That's how I know he was on that trip. He always thought this was the funniest thing that ever happened, because he couldn't have cared less whether they had the right person or right name. If the local politicos got it mixed up, that was their business, not Vaughan's.

HESS: That was at Carey, Idaho.

NASH: Yes.

HESS: I've read several different places where most of the members of the White House staff were sort of taken unaware at that particular stop. They didn't know why this stop was being made. I don't know exactly whose idea it was to dedicate the airport at that time. But we'll hit on that a little bit later.

NASH: Yes.

HESS: We've got a couple of other names to cover here before we get on to speeches. Now, does that pretty well

 

[279]

cover Harry Vaughan?

NASH: Well, did you mention Rigdon?

HESS: No. Commander Rigdon.

NASH: Rigdon, of course, was not in the top level -- Commander Bill Rigdon -- but he was a very important staff member because he was the maitre d' at Key West, and on quite a few other occasions, too, but always at Key West.

HESS: He was also in charge of Shangri-La, I believe, wasn't he?

NASH: Yes, but I don't know anything about that. I was never up there in the Roosevelt era, and to the limited extent that Mr. Truman used it I was never there. But I just wanted to say that there isn't any member of the staff that doesn't have a lot of respect for Bill Rigdon's competence and loyalty and devotion to Mr. Truman and the long, long hours he put in making things go smoothly at Key West. He's a tremendously capable guy.

HESS: And we should probably mention two other men who worked in the White House. They both held the title of Special Assistant to the President, Kenneth Hechler and Richard Neustadt. Why were they picked for the

 

[280]

White House staff?

NASH: Well, I don't know that I can answer that fully. Let's start with Neustadt.

Neustadt came into the White House from the Bureau of the Budget and he again was one of those bright young budgeters who was given the annual chore of writing the presidential portion of the budget message -- the narrative portion. And this is one of the ways in which bright young guys are picked up and are fed into the White House staff, because they have to get material from everybody from all over the Government and work with all members of the White House staff and they get to be known to them, and quite frequently to the President too. The next thing you know they're picked up and they're over in the palace guard. My recollection is that this is the way Neustadt came into it. He worked, as I recall, for Charlie Murphy -- whatever his title was. He actually was supervised by Murphy and reported to him, and Neustadt's outstanding contribution was the work he did on the steel strike.

HESS: The 1952 steel strike?

NASH: 1952. He was the staff man on that. I had no doubt that he had other assignments but this is the one I particularly knew about, and it was here that he gained

 

[281]

his intimate knowledge of the Presidency which was the basis of his book on Presidential Power that brought him to the attention of JFK. He was a very bright, very capable, very attractive personality, and one who made it clear that he was observing as he was operating, and he was a practicing political scientist, at the same time that he was a functionary. This was understood by everybody and objected to by none, as far as I know.

HESS: How about Kenneth Hechler?

NASH: I don't know exactly -- yes, I do too. I'd forgotten until this minute. I first got to know Ken Hechler when he was working for Judge Rosenman, and was an editorial assistant compiling the Roosevelt papers. So he came to see me pretty much as you are now -- didn't have oral history -- but he wanted me to check out a document or something that I was supposed to have had something to do with, remotely, in the last three years of the Roosevelt administration. It wasn't long after that that he joined the staff, well, not long, a year maybe -- something like that. He worked with Dave Bell, as I recall, mostly; speechwriting, but of course Dave handled a lot of matters.

 

[282]

HESS: Did you work with either one of these men on any speeches on any particular area?

NASH: I worked with David on some speeches. I worked with, I guess probably, Ken too. It's a long time ago. There wasn't anybody I didn't work with on something at one time or another. I was available, and I was across the board, and I had been around longer than anybody, so if there was a chore to be done somebody was apt to call me up and ask me to help out and I just did. So, you know, I wrote press releases, I did research for legislation, I helped draft legislation, research for speeches, speechdrafting, speechwriting, speech polishing, advance man, interviewing delicate and sensitive people, or sensitive areas . . .

HESS: You were advance man on trips?

NASH: No, no, well, advance man on trips, yes, I did some advance work. And I also interviewed people in the Fish Room and in my own office, who, for security reasons, shouldn't be across the street. This is one of the reasons Niles and I kept our offices over in what, was then the Bureau of the Budget building; it was not part of the White House proper. And nobody who was interviewed in one of those offices was likely to

 

[283]

go back and say that he'd called at the White House. So if you had people you didn't want to say they had been at the White House, that you also didn't want to say they couldn't get to anybody, it was a good place to talk to them, and this was one of my chores over the years, as it was Niles. It was kind of a self-appointed chore. We have had all sorts of kookie people over there, and this was one of our special roles. I interviewed people one time that insisted on seeing the President who wanted to volunteer for the war in Israel. They were Jewish war veterans, and other were outside presenting arms with sticks all the while their delegation was in talking to me.

HESS: Pretty weird bunch of people.

NASH: Plenty weird. Well, they weren't exactly weird. I mean, I've seen kookier than that; they were understandable; but they were emotionally aroused and potentially most embarrassing to the President who was pursuing a policy of no military assistance to either side in the Israeli-Arab war.

HESS: Just exactly where was your office, was it in the

 

[284]

Executive Office Building?

NASH: Yes, what is now the Executive Office Building, on the second floor, and it was 234-1/2. I guess at one time or another I'd had almost every office around that central corridor because Dave Niles had that old office for a long time and then I had his office at the end. Jonathan Daniels was across the hall and a few doors down when he had the job. These various people you've asked me about all had offices over there: Richmond Keech, Ray Zimmerman, Hechler, Bell, Lloyd, Murphy -- there just wasn't enough room over in the West Wing for everybody and Niles just flatly said he wouldn't be caught dead with an office in the West Wing.

HESS: Who had offices in the West Wing?

NASH: Clifford, Ross, Hassett, Connelly, Dawson, Rosenman when he was there, and the service aides were all over in the East Wing; and Steelman, in the East Wing, and that was just about it. Other than that nobody was in the East Wing. The rest of the West Wing space was taken up with communications, transportation and security.

HESS: Okay. Does that pretty well cover these two men?

 

[285]

NASH: Well, I think that pretty well covers them. This was a rather short shrift for Hechler. Of course, I don't have to tell you that he worked for the Political Science Association, and then took a professorship in West Virginia and then ran for Congress and is now a rather securely established M.C. He's very capable, a good writer, thorough researcher, and quite generally liked.

There are a couple of other junior staff people that we haven't mentioned: Martin Friedman, for example, who was on personnel matters, an assistant to Don Dawson. I guess that's it.

HESS: We didn't list them all, just what I considered probably the more important people.

We've already brought up the subject of the June trip, so let's move right on into that. Why did the President make that trip in June of 1948?

NASH: It was a dry run for the campaign in the fall.

He'd made up his mind that he was going to put up a fight in the convention. He was under attack from both the right and the left within his own party, and elsewhere. It was assumed that he was a gone goose and was done for, and his rule in Missouri politics

 

[286]

had been, "When this happens you go to the people," so he had worked out a format in his own mind that he felt would vindicate him and would be successful, because he would be talking over the heads of the politicians, to the voters, and explaining things in simple language. And the word "whistlestop" hadn't been invented, but this whistlestopping was what he had in mind. But he couldn't wait to get going, so this had the great advantage of giving him a trip that was not ostensibly political and therefore he could make it as President. It gave him a chance to get the feel of the situation, to find out for himself what the response of the people would be to taking the issues to them directly, and then from the simple mechanical standpoint, as a dry run, it provided an opportunity for ironing out the wrinkles. And one of the reasons why we didn't have any episodes in 1948 such as backing up the train and swearing at the engineer, were because all those things happened on the June trip, at a time when it wasn't politically crucial, nobody paid any attention to it because the focus wasn't on it, the spotlight wasn't on it to that degree. So, stories like that -- where's that place in Idaho?

 

[287]

HESS: Carey, Idaho.

NASH: Like this Carey, Idaho airport episode is just an amusing fluff in June, and it is an insult to every serviceman in October, and you know it's going to happen, so the thing to do is to do it in June, and then you've got a team that knows what to guard against. What not to agree to do. What to watch for. That June trip was, I think, a very essential ingredient of the November victory.

HESS: You did not go along, is that right?

NASH: No, I did not go along on any of the trips. You have to understand my role at the White House. I was "Mr. Oldtimer." I was the only one by this time, except for Bill Hassett, and George Elsey, who had been in the Map Room, we were almost the only ones that were Roosevelt carryovers. But due to the peculiar nature of my boss, Dave Niles, who was a loner, secretive, brilliant but jealous of every contact that anybody else had at the White House, I was almost in jail over in the Executive Office Building. If I so much as went over to talk to Clark Clifford he wanted to know what about and when and why and who asked me and so on and so on. He was a very paranoid guy. Consequently, I

 

[288]

had to be very careful to do my work through Dave, and Dave wouldn't be caught dead on a campaign train or shaking hands with politicians. Dave was an inside operator only, and the claptrap of politics he despised, and he wasn't very good at it. So, he didn't go, and if he didn't go then I couldn't go. I would have dearly loved to have gone. This would have been my dish. But as it was I had to make a different role for myself and therefore I made of myself an anchor man, and this was more or less inevitable in view of the Niles situation because he was out of town more than half of each week, and therefore, his desk had to be covered by somebody who would protect his interests as well as see that the job got done, and this is what I did for him all the years I worked for him. In other words, I was an anonymous assistant's anonymous assistant.

HESS: Do you think that the President relied on David Niles' political advice very often?

NASH: Yes he did, very much so. He had a tremendous respect and affection for Dave. You see, unless it's changing this year, I don't know whether it is or not up through 1964, which is a long time, one of the key elements in presidential politics has been New York

 

[289]

State, and this is the third party state. There's always been a third party in New York during that entire time.

HESS: The Liberal Party?

NASH: The Liberal Party. Now, I'm not saying that the Liberal Party existed in 1928, as a matter of fact, I don't know whether they did or not. But the forces that gave birth to it existed, and they are partly ethnic, partly religious, and partly social and economic. The rise of the welfare union is a very key element in the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party then has been a key element as a swing party in New York. I think they're about to destroy themselves

HESS: This year . . .

NASH: Yes, I think the Conservative Party is going to outpoll them this year, and after that nobody is going to pay anymore attention to them. I think they made a terrible political blunder; Alex Rose and his followers.

Now, except for FDR, FDR was a master of the situation. He helped bring it into being, he knew the people, he understood the people, he dealt with them as a lawyer, as a state senator, as you know, for twenty-five years, they were his friends and neighbors and political allies. He played the game -- this was the game of which

 

[290]

he was a master.

Now comes Harry Truman, a westerner, a farm boy, a Vice President whose contribution to the ticket was as far removed from this crowd as you can get. But as President he had to know them, to rely on them, to use them, and they brought up all the issues that he had the least knowledge of, the least sympathetic understanding with: conscientious objection, civil rights, labor relations, let's get along with the Russians -- I mean, the whole bit of east coast liberal, intellectual, nonconformism, and he had to have somebody that understood this. This was what Dave represented for him.

The reason Dave went up on this strange routine of his, out of Washington on Tuesday night or Wednesday at the very latest, he would spend Thursday at various meetings with these liberal groups in New York, got to the theater, an ardent first-nighter, up on Friday to do business in Boston connected with the forum and also with Boston politics, but New York politics was Dave's forte.

And Dave always said, "It's not the content, it's the timing." And this was very helpful sort of advice to Mr. Truman.

 

[291]

HESS: Was he a good political adviser?

NASH: Tremendous, tremendous. Well, where would Truman have been in 1948 without civil rights; without the State of Israel. Without the votes of these people and their sympathizers, and these are the people who are becoming alienated today, and whom the President is wooing so ardently, but so unsuccessfully.

Truman and LBJ are basically cut out of the same cloth, farm boys, poor boys, made it the hard way, Populists, come from the free and easy part of the country, and this big city intellectualism is something they don't understand very well, and you've got to understand it. These people are very easily alienated but they are also very easily held, because by and large, the establishment has not been very much interested in them and their causes.

HESS: Now, on that subject, and also on the subject of New York and the "48 election, New York went for Dewey. Of course, we know why, because the Progressive Party went in and took a big bite out. Is there anything that the Democrats could have done to save New York? What more could have been done?

NASH: No, I don't think anything could have been done to have

 

[292]

saved New York. The point is, Wallace and Thurmond were casting their shadows on the wall months before and this means that the solid South isn't solid, and New York isn't solid, and California isn't solid, and maybe none of the big city states are very solid, and therefore you've got to do everything you can to hold them.

Now, there is a lesson here but the lesson doesn't have anything to do with doing more or doing less. The lesson has to do with how little this liberal intellectual crowd understands or appreciates the formulation of national policy, and how little credit they will give anybody for being courageous about things that are very easy to talk about but very hard to do.

It's a crowd that -- I've never had a great deal of respect for them since they tried to draft Eisenhower at Philadelphia, not because they knew he had views that I thought they ought to have disagreed with, but because the one thing that distinguished Eisenhower was that he didn't have any, and here is a crowd for whom viewpoint and doctrine are everything. Except for the Communists, they're the most doctrinaire crowd there is in American politics. So what did they do? They

 

[293]

acted just like any two-bit hometown politician, you think you see a winner, go and get him, never mind whether he stands for anything or not. So they lost my respect right then and there. And I might say that this view is shared by Truman. He'd said many times, "If there's anything I can't stand, it's a professional liberal. They're not really liberal, they just talk that way."

Niles, on the other hand used to say, "If there's anyone I hate to do business with, it's a liberal who's trying to be a politician. Give me, anytime, a politician who is obliged to be a liberal." Now, this is the essence of Niles ' advice to Truman, and it was very good advice for Truman. It was advice that he needed and which he knew how to use. So he did rely on him for this segment. Dave wouldn't plan a trip, wouldn't put pen to paper to write a speech, and if he finally got to the point where he had to do it, then he'd tell me to do it. He wouldn't sit down in an operational meeting. He despised the committee politicians, but he also felt that anybody could get what he wanted in association with them, if he had the right sense of timing, and this was his feeling.

HESS: Fine. Back on the trip, just what were your duties

 

[294]

in relation to the June trip?

NASH: Oh, well, not very many. It had been decided, I think, by that time, that George Elsey was going to be responsible for the off-the-cuff speeches, and . . .

HESS: And what came to be known as the whistlestop speeches.

NASH: The whistlestop speeches and the off-the-cuff speeches. At each whistlestop there was to be a brief appearance and it would be done without benefit of the elaborate text or any apparent elaborate preparations. But there would be the necessary references to local customs, to local politicians of course, to local Federal projects, and George Elsey was to go on the train and have the job of keeping these files up to date and also seeing to it that the President was supplied these just before he spoke, but not so long before he spoke that he'd forget what was on the page.

Now, my recollection is, that as a part of the dry run aspects of the June trip, that preparations of this kind were made. My memory could be playing me tricks on this. At any rate, when we, in the business of setting up the actual trips, which came after the

 

[295]

convention and after Labor Day, all of us who had any local knowledge and wherever anybody on the staff came from, it was assumed that he ought to know something about the politics of that portion of the United States.

HESS: We're running short of tape.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]