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.
October 18, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
October 18, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Dr. Nash to start with, we ended up yesterday by talking about the President's trip in June of 1948. We had got down to my question of what were your duties on that trip, and we had started to discuss one of the speeches that you helped write. I believe it was one of the earliest speeches, is that correct?
NASH: Yes, that was the Swedish Pioneer Centennial speech and until you mentioned it yesterday, I: had completely forgotten the episode, forgotten the work that I did on it, and I've rather enjoyed thinking about it since you brought it back to my memory.
HESS: In your papers at the Library in the folder on this particular speech there are nine drafts; numbered one through nine. I checked them against the final draft and they are not in what might be called a word-for-word agreement, but there are many statements and many paragraphs that are lifted from your drafts and are as given, which leads to several different questions. Who did you work with on that speech, which leads to the general subject of just how are speeches written?
NASH: Well, first let me recall as much as I can about this particular speech. I don't know that I'm going to be as helpful as I might because as you can see from my answer to the question yesterday, it really had gone out of my recall.
The speech was one that it was important to give but it was in no sense a major speech. Consequently, there wasn't any great rush to see who had the honor of the chore of putting it together. I was rather anxious to get more work as a speechwriter and to have an active role in the '48 campaign. I had been active in '44 and it would give me kind of a taste for presidential politics and I didn't want to be off in a corner, and buried behind Dave Niles' distaste for this sort of thing, and I had to be rather careful about being helpful, but being helpful in a way that it would not be personally distasteful to him.
HESS: How did you go about that?
NASH: Well, I first told him what I wanted him to do and . . .
HESS: Mr. Niles?
NASH: Yes, Mr. Niles and, of course, he agreed -- I mean, you know -- it wasn't the sort of a thing that he would
disagree on. He just wanted to be sure that he knew what was going on and there were no surprises, and so on. So, he said, "Well, certainly, certainly," and he said, "I'll speak to Clark Clifford about it." Well, this was the secret of getting along with a man of Niles' temperament. A great human being, but capable of being very petty, and he was filled with small jealousies. So as long as he arranged it with Clark Clifford and I didn't go to Clark and -- you see we had a frank talk about it one time. I'd done something he didn't like, he said, "Well, how would you like it if George Elsey came over here and volunteered to do some of your work?"
And I said, "Well, I wouldn't like it very much."
"Well," he said, "that's all I'm talking about."
So, I mean from this standpoint it was perfectly reasonable and I must say it was a valuable lesson to me. If Steve Spingarn and George Elsey had had a couple of lessons along that line, from someone who was capable of being as direct as Dave Niles was, to a subordinate, they would not have left the White House when they did.
HESS: They would have been there on January 20th, 1953, also.
NASH: Yes. They would. I'm sure. Because there was never any question about the ability or talent of either one of them but they most certainly did get careless about the prima donna qualities of just about everybody that works around the President. Well, anyway, I did work it out with him.
Now, this was a field in which I felt I could stake out a little claim, I was, so to speak, the ethnic man. Here was a minority group, a nationality group in this case Swedes, in the Middle West, pioneers, my part of the country, my area of general concern and so I volunteered to help, and was answered by being told to get up a draft. Now, you say there are nine drafts in my folder. I'm not a bit surprised, because in the first place I saved most of my drafts, unless somebody else got hold of them to work with them and I didn't get them back. I don't have every one, but I just thought they should be saved. Most presidential speeches go through a good many drafts, I think nine might be a little bit high. The famous one at Harlem just before the election in '48, 1 think went through
six. But this was my first major effort, and the first one where I had practically all the responsibility shoved at me, and it's not too easy to satisfy everybody in speechwriting. In the first place, if it's any good, it's got to be in the style of the man. You are going to have a lot of empathy with him. I think you need to have studied his speech habits, his mannerisms, his vocabulary choice, his sentence structure when speaking, not formally. In Mr. Truman's case there isn't any sense in getting up a great big long-winded Victorian thing with every sentence a paragraph long because he'd ride right through the punctuation anyway. As I said yesterday, to him punctuation is a challenge.
HESS: Had you studied Mr. Truman's speaking habits before this time?
NASH: Oh, yes. And I had done a little speechwriting in the Roosevelt years. Really speechwriting is too dignified a term for it. I got a sentence here, and a paragraph there, in one or two of the very last of FDR's speeches, at a time when there was so much work to do that everybody was brought in and Jonathan
Daniels, to whom I was reporting, you see, at that time
HESS: Do you recall offhand what speeches you worked on?
NASH: No, but I expect my chrono file would show it. I can see if I can dig those out. It would be of interest to me to find out, too. I think I had a sentence, and maybe more than one, in that one that he never gave. The one that he was working on when the stroke hit him.
HESS: What was the subject of that particular one?
NASH: Well, it was one of those forward looking speeches in which you talk about what tomorrow will be like; the nature of the world. It had a social science concept in it which is why I was interested in getting in. I'll check that out.
Mr. Truman's short, direct, snappy sentence style-at its best in off-the-cuff remarks, and rather in exaggerated form in the give and take of a press conference, where it was inclined to be too quick, too short and too sharp, was his natural style and I did try to use it in preparing letters for him. As you'll note in my file in the Library I did a lot of letter
drafting, and I tried to use that as much as I could, and it isn't a very big step from that to a speaking style, if you're writing informal letters. Of course, the whole concept of pioneers and what they came West for; religious and political freedom, has been my lifelong interest. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to work this into the Swedish Pioneer Centennial speech, and use it as an opportunity to do more than just pay a ceremonial bow to an ethnic group and to pioneers; but to say something about what it meant.
Now, as to who I worked with on it. At this time Clark Clifford was generally in charge of speechwriting, George Elsey was his principal assistant, and had been the sole draftsman for so many years. George drafted almost everything-I mean he had the job they call the Drafting Officer in the State Department. He worked long hours and weekends and holidays and nights and everything else. In the early years of the Truman administration, nobody else was doing it, nobody else was really permitted to. So George had a very important role. Then Clark Clifford expanded it, they had to, of course, for the '48 campaign, and
closely associated with him was Murphy, and my recollection is that I worked primarily with George Elsey and, secondarily, with Charlie Murphy, and that it was reviewed by Clifford and I naturally took care to see that Mr. Niles had a look at all my drafts, so there were no secrets from him. Characteristically, he would look at it and he would say, "Why don't you put some more sex appeal in it," or, you know, a generalized comment, and that was all.
HESS: Did you ever work with President Truman? Did you ever sit in any sessions with him?
NASH: Not at this stage. The first time where I actually sat down with Mr. Truman in a speechwriting session was just before the Harlem speech, which is quite a story in itself.
HESS: Which we will get to a little later.
NASH: Nova, I had spent some time with him in "freezing" sessions, as they were called, on those two Executive orders. But, you see, that was to come after June of '48. Those were after the convention. So, I did not deal with the President directly on this particular speech of the Swedish Centennial. I was delighted that he gave it as written. My memory just fails me on any sessions
where everybody went over it, or where it was finally agreed on; or who monkeyed around with it after it left my hands; why I had nine drafts. Now, I could refresh my recollection by taking a look at the June chrono for 1948, which now for the first time is available to me. I have it unpacked at home. I think it would be worthwhile in terms of what you're trying to do to let me take a look at that and perhaps bring it in and go over it with you. There may be some details that I may recall.
Now, with respect to speechwriting, generally, I'd say the routine Mr. Truman followed was about like this: First would be the general discussion as to the occasion; you have an invitation, or if you haven't gotten one you get one, and then comes the question; "Well, what is there that needs saying, and what is a suitable occasion for it?" So, you have to work back and forth, with the invitation and the subject matter, so that the event becomes a forum, and not just a wasted appearance -- there's enough of those anyway -- where you've just got to satisfy somebody that was made a promise to one day. But a thing like the Swedish Centennial is a good opportunity to talk to the Middle West, and to talk
to country people in the Middle West. So there would be a decision to go somewhere, and to talk to a certain group, and to then either find a suitable subject or with the subject to be discussed, to find a suitable occasion. Once that's done -- the President in later years, when I did sit in on the original discussion, which I did not at this time; would usually turn it over to somebody.
There wasn't anybody who was automatically the head speechwriter. And in this, as I understand it, President Truman differed a little from President Roosevelt. Rosenman was in charge of speechwriting, and he would draw on fellows like [Archibald] MacLeish and other well-known speechwriters but it was understood this was his bailiwick. Now, generally speaking, this was Clifford's, but not exclusively; and Clifford in later years at least never assumed that he was going to be given the speech coordinating job . . .
HESS: On each and every speech.
NASH: On each and every speech, just because he was Special Counsel. Charlie Ross did not care for speech drafting, and he would usually not take part in the early discussions,
but he liked to be in towards the close, because he was very particular about language and the use of certain words, and some that he had a real mania about, such as "presently" for "currently."
HESS: I've heard him described as a "word mechanic."
NASH: Well, he's the first one I heard use the word, "wordsmith." I was talking to him about Merriman Smith, and maybe he used it because of the pun on Merriman's last name, or maybe this was just natural to him, and he said, "Oh well, a good wordsmith." It's a good phrase.
Well, anyway, there would be a decision by the President to go somewhere and to say a certain thing, in general. And the length of a presidential speech was determined by the occasion, of course. The Swedish Centennial is not a major occasion, you're talking ten minutes; if you have a major speech, you're talking twenty minutes, and that's the rule. Anything less than that is off-the-cuff, so you've got about three levels of speeches. The off-the-cuff, the remarks by the President, and the address by the President. So the length of it is really not up for discussion, and usually whoever is handed the job -- sometime Mr. Truman would give to two or three people, something to one
person, and he would say, "Well, get me up something." And he liked to see it -- in the beginning before he developed confidence in the ability of writers to turn on something that was natural to him, I think he wanted to see things fairly early in the game. By the time I got into the picture, it wasn't like that. He didn't have time; he had to rely on others, and he had found that he could. But the format, of course, was subject to constant revision, and there were a lot of changes that took place just through the 1948 campaign in itself.
Now, a speech like the Swedish Centennial was written out; was duplicated and handed to the press as a release, and the President then had to follow it pretty closely, and if the light was such that he couldn't see, or it was set up in front of him in such a way that the punctuation didn't lie naturally on the page, it was quite possible that people wouldn't be able to understand it, as read. So, a lot of thought was given -- not at this particular time, but later on in the campaign, to a physical format that would be very natural to him. Now, I did not make much of a contribution
to this, I think it was basically Clifford and Elsey, and they tried everything. What do they call that thing that unrolls in front of you?
HESS: A teleprompter.
NASH: A teleprompter was brand-new about that time. They tried that. It drove him crazy. He said he couldn't keep up with it. He felt he was paced by it, so he would go faster and faster and faster, and, of course, then the operator would go faster, and faster, and then he would go faster, and the first thing you would know they were racing through it, so that was disastrous.
Then, of course, we tried the large typewriter, I mean, that's commonplace. But this is not really Mr. Truman's problem. Mr. Truman's problem is that he does not regard the punctuation as a natural dividing point. So, what we worked out -- and my little contribution with it didn't amount to much -- was a page format in which each phrase was written as a natural spoken phrase, and was a line to itself -- a page of that begins to look like poetry -- and it was much easier to read, and it was also much better discipline for the speechwriter. Because it has to be spoken English to do this, and it makes you very conscious of the natural rhythm of speech,
and the pauses, and the musical qualities of a language then get to be important. A speech that is written that way, even then if it's rewritten in paragraph form, will be a much better speech, and will sound better, and lie better on the tongue. It could be heard and understood without effort, and for Mr. Truman it was absolutely essential.
HESS: I have another question about the June trip. You mentioned yesterday that it was taken as a practice trip. Was there any particular significance in the fact of where they went? That it was a Western trip? In other words why didn't they go to New England?
NASH: Well, I'm doing some second-guessing here. I did not take part in the discussions where the basic campaign strategy was laid out. Mr. Truman wasn't that aware of me as an individual, and I didn't have any special competence. What I did in the '44 election was highly technical, and I am quite proud of it. As actual political technology it was pretty difficult. But you couldn't expect Mr. Truman to be aware of that. Jonathan Daniels knew about it, but he wasn't around. So, he had no reason to call on me, and I didn't really
know what the basic strategy decisions were. You have to bear in mind that when I say it was a dry run, I mean that as I look back on it now, I think of it as a dry run. You can't interpret this to mean that I know that Mr. Truman said it was a dry run, because as far as I 'know he never did.
Secondly, it seems to me that what we know about modern campaigning today is highly colored by the jet airplane and by television. In 1948, a campaign planner did not think in terms of television, and he did not think of anything except trains. You couldn't have done it by airplane, it wasn't commonplace, and I personally regret it, I think that campaigning has suffered quite a bit from too much speed and too easy mechanical communication without the face to face contact.
Now, if given the train as a premise, then in a national campaign there is a certain inevitable logic to the travel arrangements, because your final close of the campaign has got to be where the most people are. So, you start out in the sparely settled parts of the country; the Northwest, the Southwest, the Deep South, the Southeast is always a special question and it most certainly was for Mr. Truman. So knowing that between
October, Labor Day and election day, you are going to have to spend a lot of time in the heavily populated states, which means the Northeast, and the Far West, you better get the North and Northwest and the rural Middle West taken care of right away.
HESS: But in the '48 campaign, didn't he almost retrace the route taken in June? Perhaps not to the same towns but in a general sense.
NASH: This is why I refer to the June trip as a dry run. It is my recollection that he went out about to Montana and he turned around and came back, didn't he? Chicago and the Dakotas and Havre, and then -- have you got it here?
HESS: That list is for the June trip.
NASH: That's what I'm talking about, the June trip.
HESS: He went down through Los Angeles.
NASH: Oh, yes, the Washington State Press Club, and then the commencement address . . .
HESS: At Berkeley, and then he went down to Los Angeles.
NASH: Greater Los Angeles Press Club. Well, of course, he did have to do that over again.
I still think this is a reasonable premise that you are probably not going to be going out through the
Dakotas and Montana and giving a lot of extended treatment, therefore, if you can get it taken care of before the campaign opening, you are well off.
HESS: Well, Mr. Truman on that June trip had six major addresses. He had many back platform speeches, but he had six major addresses. And in your files at the Library, in the folder on the University of California -- this was the speech given at the commencement address at the University of California on June 12th, and let's see . . .
NASH: Is it in here [Public Papers of the Presidents, 1948 volume]?
HESS: Yes. It's on June 12th, and the draft in the folder is substantially the same as the one given, but not quite.
NASH: Here we are. It's number one hundred twenty-nine.
HESS: Now, did you write that?
NASH: Well, I worked on it, but my recollection is not that I was the major writer on it, or the major draftsman. George Elsey and I did a lot of work on it. Foreign policy speeches, of course, are a different "kettle of fish" from any others. They require a lot more checking out, more people work on them, there's more cooks and, therefore, the broth is liable to be rather thick.
HESS: Do you check most of those with the Department of State?
NASH: Oh, I never knew a foreign policy speech that wasn't checked out draft by draft with the Department of State -- it's just another eater at the banquet as far as . . .
HESS: Was there anybody in particular over to the State Department who handled such matters or did you drop a thing in the mail and send it over there?
NASH: Oh, no. George was handling that, as I recall, on the commencement speech at Berkeley. On other occasions, I worked with Myrna Loy's husband. It's a shame not to be able to call him by his right name [Howland Sargeant]. I was just wondering whether that draft is not in my folder because I was reviewing it, or was working on it, but it was not necessarily my dictation. Does it show?
HESS: No. Of course, all I have here is just the note that I wrote at the time that I went over it, and I did not find your initials on this draft, which I did on some drafts. If I did, I would have put it down here on my notes.
NASH: My recollection of what I had to do with that June speech, was that George was troubled, he talked to me about it and I said, "Well, I sure wouldn't do thus and
so, or I sure would do thus and so."
And, he said, "Well, why not take a look at it?"
And I made some suggestions for language changes. I recognize this paragraph. This was my way of writing for Truman, "Anyone can talk peace but only the work that is done for peace really counts." This was my idea of Truman style. I can recall putting that in.
HESS: So, you may not have written the whole thing, but you worked on it?
NASH: I worked on it, all right. No one person could possibly write a foreign policy speech anyway. I wouldn't attempt it.
HESS: Did you work on the other four? Now, there was the address in Omaha, which is a story in itself.
NASH: I don't think anybody that had anything to do with that meeting in Omaha would admit it.
HESS: Tell me what you've heard about that meeting.
NASH: That was the one where Eddie McKim wanted to be the state chairman, I think, wasn't it?
HESS: He was co-chairman of the reunion.
NASH: Well, the story is that he wanted to be something -- I always thought it was state chairman -- and, therefore,
he handed out tickets only to those who would agree to support him, and the result was they had an empty hall. And the press and the newsreels, which were not very friendly to Mr. Truman anyway, delightedly put up their cameras in the back of the hall and made repeated still and motion picture shots of the rows upon rows upon rows of empty seats. It was a very valuable lesson to me in advance work.
Let me look at the commencement address again.
HESS: I know that he was co-chairman of the 35th Division Association reunion that was being held at that time.
NASH: No. I'm sure my recollection is correct on this, Jerry. I reviewed it, I made some contributions, I put in a few paragraphs, mostly in the way of simplification and clarification -- saying things that are a lot closer to the Truman style.
HESS: Eddie McKim and a man by the name of Robert A. Drum, who I don't believe I have ever heard of.
NASH: I don't know Robert A. Drum.
HESS: They were co-chairman of the reunion. Of course, Life
made quite a to-do of that when not too many people were there. But
the other addresses were in Butte,
Montana, the Washington State Press Club, and the Greater Los Angeles Press Club.
NASH: As far as I know. I had nothing to do with any of those.
HESS: But you worked on two of the six?
NASH: Yes. Two of the six. And now I recall. Reading this speech makes it quite clear. This was a joint effort in which the State Department had a big hand. George Elsey, I think, was the coordinator, as far as the White House was concerned, and I did make some minor contributions to it.
HESS: I understand that at the luncheon in Berkeley, Dr. Robert Sproul introduced the President in a not too courteous manner. bid you ever hear anything about that?
NASH: Never did. No. After I got to know Mr. Truman much better and we exchanged stories and anecdotes many times about things like this, but I never heard about this one.
HESS: Who went on that trip? Do you know?
NASH: I don't recall at the moment.
HESS: It will probably be in the newspapers if people want to find that out.
NASH: Do you have anything down about the President's trips to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico?
HESS: Mr. Truman?
NASH: Was that after June or before June, I think it was before June, wasn't it? This was a pretty important trip in terms of the buildup to the convention in the campaign.
HESS: Tell me about it.
NASH: Well, in the winter of 19 -- either late 1947 or early 1948 --
the President made a trip to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. He went
to both St. Thomas and St. Croix. At St. Thomas, he dedicated a monument
which had to do with emancipation in the Virgin Islands. I think it was a
centennial. I think the slaves were freed there in 1847. The remarks on St. Croix were just polite
ones. The remarks in Puerto Rico were made at the airport when he was greeted by Muñoz-Marin . . .
HESS: February 22nd, 1948.
NASH: Well, now that I have the speech in front of me and just let me say, on February 21, 1948 the President arrived at the airport in San Juan. There was an airport reception and he spoke in English, but the prepared text had been translated into Spanish, and was available as an advance
in Spanish, which greatly cheered the Puerto Rican press. It was the first time this much consideration had been given to them, I guess, perhaps ever.
You see, territorial matters were more or less assigned to Dave Niles, and he just turned them over lock, stock, and barrel to me. So, matters connected with the Virgin Islands, with Puerto Rico just as with Guam, American Samoa, the Trust Territories of the Pacific, the Canal Zone, insofar as it involved the President, and Alaska and Hawaii which were then territories, and where he was seeking statehood, were roughly matters that insofar as anybody was doing anything about them, I could freewheel. Consequently, when it was learned that he was going down there -- you see, I had been there the year before -- not on an errand, but on vacation; and this is a story worth telling, too, I suppose this is as good a time as any, I guess.
The President of the Puerto Rican Senate at that time was Luis Muñoz-Marin. He had founded the Popular Democratic Party, Partido Democratico Popular, in 1940, because he had grown up in the independence movement and
decided that it would work. There was a liberal party but they didn't want him. So he founded the Popular Democratic Party and carries many of the old Independentitas as would go with him and those members of the liberal party that thought it was wrong and outrageous that the liberals wouldn't have him. And this was the beginning of the modern era in Puerto Rico. Now, he ran for the Senate, and then for the president of the Senate, which is an island-wide elected post, then and now. Since the Governor at that time was appointed by the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the president of the Senate and the territorial delegate to Congress were the only two island-wide electoral positions.
Now, Muñoz -- I didn't know him at the time -- had come to Washington in 1947 together with his wife, Ines. They were having difficulties in the Island. At that time, the position of commissioner of education was an appointment made by the President of the United States, with Senate approval, and this was provided for in the Puerto Rican relations act. It was, of course, outrageous that the administrator of a local education
system should be appointed by a distant president and legislature. The reason for it is quite clear. They feared that the educational system would not be a vehicle for making Americans out of cultural Spaniards -- it was a cultural matter -- and especially the language.
Now, in 1947 the position of commissioner of education was vacant. The principal candidate was named Mariano Villaronga. He had been the head of the teachers' association of Puerto Rico, and stood four-square for the education in the public schools of Puerto Rico, of the Puerto Rican children, in the language of the home -- namely Spanish. And all previous incumbents had had a condition set on them that they would have English be the language in the schools, or they wouldn't get confirmed by the United States Senate. The Senate was standing firm, at least the Senate committee was, and was refusing to approve Villaronga. It was a very touchy, sensitive political matter in Puerto Rico, and Munoz as president of the Senate, came up to see if he couldn't get it straightened out. I did not know him at this time, nor did I know anything about Puerto Rican problems, but I was planning a winter vacation; the first one I had ever been able to take.
My wife and I were planning on going West; actually had reservations at a resort in the Tucson area.
I got a call from the Interior Department where my friend "Tex" [Arthur E.] Goldschmidt was chief of the power division, and where Abe Fortas, now Justice of the Supreme Court was the Under Secretary: "We have here the wife of the president of the Puerto Rican Senate, Mrs. Muñoz-Marin, and she would like to see schools." And then they got very confidential over the telephone, "And, of course, she cannot go to the public schools of the District of Columbia without embarrassment, and where else can we send her? What about Georgetown Day School where you are the president and your wife is the assistant director?"
And I said, "But, of course."
So, I called the school, and my wife was delighted, and the Interior Department took Mrs. Muñoz-Marin out to see Georgetown Day School, which at that time was the only unsegregated school, public or private, in the entire metropolitan Washington area. So, my wife fell in love with her immediately, and she with the school. When my wife found out that her husband was here on presidential business, she said, "Why don't you go to see
my husband at the White House?"
So, Ines left the school and came to call on me the same afternoon. Later I had cocktails with the Muñoz-Marins, and this was my first meeting with Muñoz. We have been friends now for twenty years. I became interested in Puerto Rico -- she immediately persuaded me not to go to Tucson, but to come down to Puerto Rico for my vacation. I felt I must go on to the Virgin Islands, so we just stayed a weekend in Puerto Rico, and then on to the Virgins, and then back in` Puerto Rico. And those two weekends fascinated me so that I have maintained an interest in Puerto Rico, and connections with Puerto Rico, ever since; considerably more so really than the Virgins. And it was the beginning of a great friendship and of a very important political development for Puerto Rico and very important for Mr. Truman.
Now, all of this is by way of background. I had had this just brief contact with the Caribbean. No one knew this, and no one cared. When it was decided that Mr. Truman should go to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- when I found out about it, I said, "I'd like to have a look at the speeches, because how are we going to find whether
he says the things that it's important to say. You know, they have an economic development program down there in Puerto Rico that they are very proud of. And it's about time that they chose their own Governor or at least that a Puerto Rican was appointed as Governor." Well, this had happened, you see [Jesus T.] Pinero had been appointed. "And there are a lot of things that need to be said, and can be said, and some ways of doing things that ought to be translated into Spanish, and provided, and so on."
Well, Dave said -- I said all this to Niles.
And he said, "Well, that's absolutely right."
So, the next thing I got was a call from Charlie Ross, would I help out on these matters -- these were all minor speeches -- nobody in the major speechwriting division wanted to bother with it, but it wasn't minor of course to the people of Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. So, I did do the speech which is in here, and word for word . . .
HESS: Which one is that?
NASH: This is number thirty-five, "Address Upon Arrival at the Airport in San Juan, February 21, 1948," and you will see a number of references in here to very important
matters connected with self-determination in Puerto Rico.
"The Federal Government has supplied financial help. But your own efforts, especially during the last few years, have enlarged the economic opportunities of your people, have attracted new industries, and have improved your educational and health facilities." [Public Papers of the Presidents, 1948 volume, p. 154].
HESS: Did you write the other speeches that he gave while he was down there?
NASH: Yes. St. Thomas on a visit to the Virgin Islands.
Bill Hastie, with whom I had stayed the year before was, and is, a very remarkable fellow. He had drafted the Organic Act of Puerto Rico, as a member of the Solicitor's staff in the Interior Department when Ickes was Secretary. Then he was appointed Federal judge and finally Governor, so here is the only individual who has been on all three branches of Government in one of our major possessions.
There were certain things that were very important to say, and you will find in the collection of still photographs, that they started a boom for "Truman for President" while he was down there. They were all photographed wearing great big, you know -- "Reelect
Harry S. Truman," buttons. And this was at a time when it wasn't being said very much. This was a pretty important occasion politically, and it was a clear demonstration that the civil rights fights that the President had been engaged in up to 1948 were known to the Negro people, and were appreciated by them. Bill Hastie, after all, who was, and still is, one of their outstanding spokesman; and at this time, he wasn't a judge, he wasn't under the limitation, but he was later, so this was a highly political event.
Now, the other speech that was done, which I also did was -- apparently its regard was too minor to get into the book -- he went over to Christiansted and made a few remarks on St. Croix.
HESS: Well, the criterion for getting in the book was whether or not it was released by the White House press office.
NASH: This would indicate that they did not release the one for the Virgin Islands.
HESS: Just exactly what was Mr. Truman's main reason for going down there?
NASH: I don't know that I knew, or that I know now. Obviously, a President should go, during his term of
office, to places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and to Alaska and Hawaii, when they were territories; and Mr. Roosevelt regularly did. Puerto Rico, in particular, is a very important defense installation, and there were some naval games as I recall, naval exercises, between Vieques and Roosevelt Roads, between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
HESS: I spent three months on Vieques.
NASH: You know about Vieques then.
I think that was the main reason now -- I'm groping now -- for going.
HESS: In 1948 was there a large Puerto Rican population in New York?
NASH: Oh, sure.
HESS: This might have been a way to swing Puerto Rican votes. Do you suppose?
NASH: If it was, it wasn't discussed. February of '48, I think, if you want to swing Puerto Rican votes in New York you go to New York.
There are very, very close ties between the Puerto Ricans in New York, Puerto Rico itself, Florida; these are the main centers. The practicing politicians are not short of ties or connections. I did not hear it
discussed in connection with this particular trip.
HESS: This is jumping ahead just a little bit, but this is something else I xeroxed out of your files that has to do with the Puerto Rican constitution, which I believe you worked on.
NASH: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.
HESS: On one of those I saw that it was a memo to Donald Hansen. Just who was Donald Hansen?
NASH: Donald Hansen was a lawyer. He had been at the Treasury Department, I think, in the last year or maybe two years of the Truman administration. He was on the staff; he had an office on the second floor of what's now the Executive Office Building -- the Old State War -- Navy Building. And he was reporting, I think, to Murphy, who was then Special Counsel, I'm quite sure. Well, if you want to take up the question of the Puerto Rican constitution we can do it later, or do it now, it makes no difference to me.
HESS: Let's do that a little bit later.
NASH: This is something that tickled me. I have maintained a very close connection with Puerto Rico since 1947, so I always stayed then with Muñoz at La Fortaleza after he became Governor. And my daughter lived there in the
Fortaleza for six months. Very close friends.
HESS: Did you mention that you wanted to go through some of your folders before we go into details very much?
NASH: No, I think as we recall -- as you bring these things up, I will remember things that I have forgotten years ago and if there comes a question as to whether I did something or what a draft means we can look it up.
HESS: Fine. In that case let's postpone the subject of the Puerto Rican constitution because that is a 1952 item . . .
NASH: You see, our whole economic development program in the Bureau of Indian Affairs is modeled right straight after what we did in Puerto Rico, with appropriate alterations for the fact that you can't have a tax-island inside a state.
HESS: We'll make a separate subject out of that.
This actually gets us through the June trip, and the trip down to Puerto Rico. The February trip and the June trip. One other question on that June trip. Did Oscar Chapman act as an advance man for that particular trip? Do you remember anything about that?
NASH: I just don't recall. This was quite possible, of course, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were
administratively within his department . . .
HESS: Actually, what I was referring to was the June trip; the Western trip.
NASH: Oh, I see. I don't know.
HESS: Did you help to write the civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform in 1948?
NASH: I certainly reviewed it. I'm trying to recall whether -- I'll just grope through my memory again. Every time the quadrennial convention comes up, there comes the question of how the White House will have some influence and effect, upon the platforms as drafted and then finally accepted by the delegates. Someone usually has had this role and I think logically, as the White House was organized under the Truman administration, would be Special Counsel function; Clifford or Murphy, as the case might be. And actually he would work very closely with the chairman of the platform committee, and the views of the White House would be sought on any major item, obviously civil rights is one of them.
Now, when the 1948 convention came up, I am quite sure that Mr. Niles was consulted. He and I discussed it. I was not consulted directly, as far as I can
recall, by anybody that was going up there. You must remember that in 1948, my father had only been dead two years, and my arrangement with Mr. Truman was that I could take my leave without pay during the busy time in the cranberry growing season.
So, in '47, I was gone almost six months and in '48 I was gone during the period around the convention and then came back for the campaign. So, this would be the active time when this liaison was going on, so I think the correct answer is that I had some general discussions about it, but I was not there when the detailed matters came up. I can tell you what my impression is. The 1944 plank was looked on as a pretty good plank. The question was, in what ways did it need to be altered in view of the special message to Congress in February of 1948. I am quite sure that a decision was made to soften the civil rights fight by not having a tough plank in the platform, and this was the decision that Humphrey and Biemiller couldn't accept, and they therefore, went into a floor fight. Now, the details of why it was done that way and -- I can tell you who was given the major responsibility for getting a plank that would be acceptable, and yet wouldn't be tough, was Bill
Dawson, the Congressman from Illinois. You see, Jonathan Daniels and I had seen to it that for the first time in the 1944 campaign, Bill Dawson didn't have the title of Chief of the Negro Division, but had a generalized title as Deputy Chairman, without any reference to his special functions. And this has been followed -- I don't think the full title Deputy has been used, but in 1948, he was Deputy Chairman, and there hasn't been a Negro division, there had just been some Negroes that had responsibilities ever since. This was a very important political fact. Now, he, I think, had the basic job over at the committee of engineering a plank that would be acceptable all around, and it wasn't, and there was a floor fight.
HESS: One question dealing with the February 2nd message, then. Now, that wasn't moderate.
NASH: No, indeed, it wasn't moderate at all, it was very strong.
HESS: Then, why wasn't that carried through by the administration?
NASH: I think the reaction in Congress to the February 2nd message was such that there was some question in everybody's mind as to whether the President would get the
nomination if he didn't back off a little bit.
HESS: So, you think that softening on the civil rights plank was in effect backing off from that message?
NASH: I think, the plank that Bill Dawson tried to put over was very soft compared to the report of 1947, and the message of 1948. It sure was. And the liberals in the convention were not about to stand still for it.
HESS: Was this in some measure a "sop" for the South?
NASH: I think it was an estimate of political reality. The President was going to have kind a hard time getting the nomination, let alone . . . in other words, if you are looking at blocs of voters, and you are interested in their sympathies, the pro-civil righters had been taken care of with a report and a strong message. Now, some of the President's advisers, I'm sure, thought it was time to ease off. I don't think that they were wrong, in general, they were just wrong, when reference to a convention where some people undoubtedly had concluded that Mr. Truman was going down to defeat anyhow and, therefore, they might as well take care of themselves.
HESS: Do you think that if a softened civil rights plank had gone in that the South might not have bolted?
NASH: Sure. The South bolted because -- the four states that bolted, bolted because the gauntlet had been thrown down. It was thrown down in the form of a refusal to accept a committee report with a filing of a minority report and, eventually, the adoption of the minority report instead of the majority report. Procedurally, that is what had happened in Philadelphia. Now, if the gauntlet hadn't been thrown down, then the way that southern politicians operate, their pride is not involved, their posture has not been threatened, and they can then go along.
HESS: I had always heard that referred to as the Humphrey report and you used his name along with someone else. Is that right?
NASH: Andy [Andrew J.] Biemiller. Oh, yes. Andy Biemiller was just as instrumental in this as Hubert Humphrey. Andy Biemiller was then a Congressman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had been an assemblyman in the Wisconsin legislature. Then, he ran for Congress from the Fifth District on the north side of Milwaukee, now represented by Henry Reuss. Henry has made a safe district of it. In Andy Biemiller's time -- today he is the legislative representative in Washington for the AFL-CIO. At the
time of the 1948 convention, the north side of Milwaukee was a swing district. In presidential years you could elect a Democratic Congressman, and in the off years they would elect a Republican Congressman. And so Andy had two years, and then he was out two years, and then he had two years, and then he was out two years. I don't recall if he was in or out in 1948. But he was a delegate to the convention and Wisconsin has always been a strong civil rights state, especially in matters of the Democratic platform and planks, and so on. When it comes to voting, they turned out twenty-five percent for Wallace, which is just about what I thought they'd do. In 1964, I was within a percentage point of what I said they'd do and what they actually did. But when it comes to telling other people how to live, Wisconsin is very strong on civil rights. And so this was good politicking for Andy; it was good politicking for Hubert, and they went to the floor of the convention and got the strong civil rights plank -- the minority report -- adopted by the convention.
Now, it seems to me inevitable that the South would walk out at that point. They could hardly hold their heads up at home and they didn't.
HESS: That's when they did, too, is that right?
NASH: And, that is, when they did, and this is regarded, I am sure, as a great triumph in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. And I think they were right. I am quite sure that if I had been around and had been asked I would have done it. But I was brought up to protect the President's position. I mean these fellows didn't have that responsibility, and they were protecting their own. And, as it turned out, they were politically right because I am quite sure if Mr. Truman had not -- if that fight hadn't taken place -- or if there hadn't been a Southern walkout, I don't think Mr. Truman would have been elected.
HESS: You do not think he would have been elected?
NASH: No. Civil rights was the touchstone of the Truman election in 1948. It was via the civil rights route that he first showed he was master of his own party. I mean he had some help that he didn't ask for in this. But anyhow, as it turned out, it showed that he could get the nomination in spite of his strong stand on civil rights. Then since his -- it was his position with the liberals that was most in question, and this made it possible for the liberals to support him. This
made him solid with the urban industrial area where he was naturally the weakest, and, thirdly, he had to show both good faith and a willingness to take a bloody nose. In other words, his integrity had been called into question by opponents. Does he really mean all the things he says? What kind of a guy is he? And everybody expected him to fold on this issue. After sending a special message and after having a commission, and all the histrionics, they still didn't think he would stand up in the face of opposition from various parts of the country, and inside his own party, and inside the convention. So the three things that a successful political leader must have were demonstrated in a form that even the dumbest voter could see in the civil rights issue, good faith, strength, and courage.
HESS: One thing on that subject that still puzzles me, though, is that he did want the softened civil rights plank -- the weakened plank, you might say.
NASH: No, I don't think you heard me say that Mr. Truman wanted it softened. I have been talking about those people who were handed the assignment of taking care of this matter. I am quite sure that his advisers recommended softness at this point in order to avoid
a divided convention. Now, my advice was not sought, but if it had been sought, I would have recommended that course of action myself.
HESS: A weakened plank?
NASH: A soft plank. Not necessarily a weakened plank. A soft plank on civil rights. I did not think this was the time . . .
HESS: We were discussing the weakened or softened civil rights plank that went in. And isn't it true, or is it true, that the platform is pretty well set up the way the President wants it set up?
NASH: I think it depends on who's President and what position he's in with his own party. Mr. Truman was in a very weak position in the Philadelphia convention. I don't think he was in a position to do very much insisting. Many of the most important convention people were looking for another candidate; the ADA was openly looking for another candidate. I don't think you can take a rule that the President determines the platform, and then apply it.
This was not the case, for example, in Los Angeles in 1960, because there was still too much of a contest among various people. Chester Bowles had a completely
free hand with that platform. And as a result it was an outstanding liberal document, and cast in the true Bowles image. There was a movement to draft Bowles, you know, and if that had come to anything, then it would have been a case of the President-to-be writing his own platform, but other than that, well -- there was a lot of Stevenson in it -- there was a lot of other people that made contributions, including myself, but it wasn't a presidential document. Now, when you've got a President in the White House, if he's in a very strong position, sure, they are not going to go against an expressed wish conveyed by somebody -- in this sense, he'd have a veto power -- and if he wants to get in and manipulate, he might have more. But it isn't automatic because he's President. In other words, it's got to be accomplished. Here again, I just have to stop short because I wasn't at Philadelphia, and I had gone out to my business after that June trip, and I don't know exactly what took place.
I can tell you what I would have done if I had been asked, but I wasn't asked. I assume Mr. Niles was, and I know that doggone well that Dave Niles, in 1948, would not have been for a strong civil rights
plank in the Democratic platform. Why? Because he despised platforms and planks. He thought they were a lot of nonsense and would just make trouble for the President. So, "He's taken a stand, he's done certain things, he had a commission, then he sent a message up to Congress, he's done a lot of things in the executive branch, and if we want to demonstrate where he stands wait 'til the convention is over and then do something dramatic, but don't pick a fight when you're already gasping for breath." And he wasn't wrong, he was right; but you see what happened, he was right in the immediate sense. But you can take two views of what Hubert Humphrey and Andy Biemiller did. You can take the view that they were better politicians than Bill Dawson, and the others who had the job of shepherding this thing on the civil rights side, which they undoubtedly are —- were -- but it is also open to another interpretation; that by the time that it got to the floor fight and when it was time for the report of the majority, they had failed to win their cause in committee, ADA had failed to find a candidate more to their liking than Mr. Truman and they, therefore, had to go back, Hubert to his senatorial campaign and Andy to whatever
his campaign was, I presume for Congress for the Fifth District of Wisconsin -- and they needed something to take home, and they didn't, at that point probably care very much what happened to the nominee. I doubt if they did.
HESS: This may have been just their own politics then -- their own internal state politics.
NASH: It is open to this interpretation. Now, if you think that all politicians are statesmen, well, then, you adopt viewpoint number one; if you think that even the best of statesmen are at time politicians, then you are willing at least to consider the existence of alternative number two.
HESS: Does that pretty well cover that subject?
On the subject of the man, or the men, who were considered for the vice-presidency, who did Truman want to run with him?
NASH: In '48?
HESS: In '48.
NASH: I only have one piece of information that would have any bearing on that. I have heard, and I can't tell you who I heard it from either, but it was somebody at that time Who was closer to Mr. Truman than myself, that
he called Bill Douglas and offered it to him, and this would have been in line with Mr. Truman's thinking then, and at all points about the vice-presidency. That is, he wanted a young liberal, and he wanted his successor to be a young liberal. And he said this to me at Key West on one occasion, and more than one occasion, so it's within the personal philosophy that Mr. Truman has expressed to me, and within his style to go ahead and make the call to Bill Douglas. Dave Niles once made the wisecrack that there was one person in the United States the morning after election in 1948 who was more disappointed than Tom Dewey-Bill Douglas.
NASH: Well, because he could have been Vice President.
HESS: Do you think he would have taken it if he thought that Mr. Truman . . .
NASH: Oh, if he thought that Truman could have won? Yes, I think so.
HESS: Why did Mr. Barkley want to be Vice President do you suppose?
NASH: Well, in the first place Alben Barkley always was a good soldier. In other words, if somebody showed him
that this was his duty and that it would strengthen the ticket and without it -- with him they'd win, without him they might lose, and so on -- he would do it. The other thing is that we always have to remember Alben Barkley's personal problem. His frightful medical expenses with his wife, and the reason he was on the lecture circuit all the time was because he was paying bills, huge bills, bills that he didn't have the money to pay. And one thing about the vice-presidency, you're never short of speaking dates. Barkley used to charge a good fat fee, you know.
HESS: Well, he knew at the time that he was not first choice, so to speak, because he referred to himself as a "warmed-over biscuit."
NASH: Oh, yes. But I mean just a certain kind of politician talks about himself. Bobby Kennedy did the same thing, I don't think he believes that for one minute.
HESS: You don't think he thinks he's a "warmed-over biscuit?"
NASH: I don't think so. He's not either.
HESS: At Philadelphia, at the tail end of his acceptance speech, the President made a dramatic announcement to call Congress back into special session. Do you know
the background of that? Do you know who came up with that idea?
NASH: No, I really don't. I've heard some discussion about it since. Once again, at the time when this would have been talked about I was out in Wisconsin. I discussed it with Dave Niles afterwards, and others, although Dave is the one I principally recall. I suspect this is straight out of Mr. Truman's own book. I don't think anybody had to put that idea in his mind. The "Turnip Day" he came up with himself, I know that. Which was a brilliant stroke, and a typical Trumanism.
HESS: To give it a title.
NASH: Well, you know a handle that's . . .
NASH: It's folksy, it's trenchant, it's concise, it's short, it's sharp, it's something you don't have to have explained, and you know, not only Joe Doakes, but Joe Doakes' child can get it without an explanation. That was great. The only thing I can add to this, is that it is part of the whole strategy of handling the 80th Congress. I think from the very beginning, the day the 80th Congress came in, the theory was to get up every liberal measure that the Democratic Party
has stood for over the years and shove it at the Republicans, and let them take the onus for not being willing to put it into effect; we're going to do our part, let them do theirs. So, it was really just a continuation of what we had been doing all along.
HESS: Was that a regular planned strategy?
NASH: It sure was. It sure was.
HESS: Were you in any meetings before 1948, when that was discussed?
NASH: No, I didn't have the level of position, or the nature of position, at that time where anybody would call on me and ask me how I thought Mr. Truman ought to handle the Congress. But I discussed it with Dave Niles, at length, and there wasn't any question but what Dave thought this was the right thing to do. And there is no question in my mind but that he recommended it to the President. And he expressed considerable satisfaction that it had been done that way because he was satisfied that this was the only way to handle an opposition legislature.
HESS: In his Memoirs, Mr. Truman said that he attempted to make the 80th Congress Exhibit "A" in his campaign,
and as you know, he many times wouldn't even refer to Dewey, running against the man -- but would not even refer to him. Actually, that is one of the questions I usually ask people at this point. Why did Mr. Truman disregard the man he was running against and run against the 80th Congress, and you have just answered the question. You answered it before I asked it. So that's all on the special session?
Now this gets us up to the 1948 campaign. Were you back from Wisconsin at this time?
NASH: Yes. I had -- knowing that I wanted to be in the campaign at the same time that I had a business to look after, and so on -- I arranged my summer schedule so that I would be back as quickly as possible after Labor Day. However, you are anticipating -- because there was a very important event which took place in August -- which didn't involve the trip or anything else, but it had a great deal to do with the campaign itself, and with the civil rights aspect of it.
The convention in Philadelphia had adopted the strongly worded plank on civil rights, picking its cue from the report of the committee and the special message, and had used among other things, the phrase "equal rights and
opportunities in the Armed Forces." Oscar Ewing was of the opinion that not enough had been done in civil rights and that we'd been silent too long, and that it was hurting us, and that there had been a floor fight and that it was kind of up to the President to move next and the special session of Congress, of course, hadn't done anything and wasn't going to do anything, and, therefore, the President ought to act. He came to the President and persuaded him that he should get out Executive orders dealing with the Armed Forces and with fair employment as far as he could go without legislation; namely, in the Federal establishment itself.
Mr. Clifford was handed the assignment of getting this done. He turned it over to George Elsey. George looked around and said, "My gosh, Nash is away and he's the only one that knows anything about this. This is his bailiwick -- it's his department." And of course, I had left a number with the White House operators where I could be reached, and they did call out to my sister in Wisconsin Rapids, and she rushed upriver to get me. I had a date that night, by a curious coincidence,
with Jack Conway, who is now married to a Wisconsin Rapids girl, and he is now head of the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. So, I cancelled that date and jumped on the night train and was in Washington the next day, went into Charlie Murphy's office, and over that weekend we got out two Executive orders, one creating the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity and the other one creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee within the Civil Service Commission.[Executive Order No. 9980, Regulations governing fair employment practices within the Federal establishment, dated July 26, 1948; and Executive Order No. 9981, Establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, dated July 26, 1948]. George Washington, collateral descendant of the first President, was then Solicitor General, and is now a judge, and he took care of the legal end of it. I had been working on these things a very long time, so there was just a question of just bringing them out and polishing them. The theory which we used, was one that I had worked out in advance, so it was really a question of opening up the "deepfreeze."
HESS: What was the title for that?
NASH: An Executive order creating the President's Committee on Equal Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, and the other one was an Executive order creating the
Fair Employment Practice Committee in the Civil Service Commission.
HESS: Both of them on July 26th.
NASH: I said August, didn't I -- July 26th.
HESS: So, that was when you came back . . .
NASH: It was right after the convention. I rushed in over the weekend and we got those out and there is a ten year history on each of these, which I think I've gone into on other tapes haven't I?
HESS: I don't think that we have. Just how important were they at this time?
NASH: Oh, well, they were extremely important in terms of the campaign. Just as I said, civil rights was the real touchstone. The President's good faith, his courage, and his strength; these are the three things that the President has to establish about himself in the minds of just about everybody in the country, or he won't get elected. And you see, even those who were opposed to him on civil rights, well, they are not going to be for him if he lacks courage or strength. They probably are going to be against him if they feel that he is sincere on a subject with which they disagree so fundamentally that it is almost a matter of religion
with them. But, you can't have the one unless you are ready to lose the other; and if you have the one you may not lose the other. This, I think, is the secret of presidential success in dealing with unpopular issues.
Now, the detractors of the Presidency are likely to say, "Well, but he could change this with the stroke of a pen." This is a favorite cliche of the opposition speechwriter. "He could end the war in Vietnam with the stroke o f the pen." "He could create equal treatment of the Armed Forces with the stroke of a pen." Whatever you can do -- you can have fair housing with the "stroke of the pen." Well, it's fine . . .
HESS: But it doesn't work that way.
NASH: You have to have the pen and the ink and the paper and get them all together at the same time and that's not very easy to do. Now, the President is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. You really cannot hide behind the need for legislation, if you are dealing with personnel practices in the Armed Forces, the Commander in Chief can issue orders. Now, getting them obeyed is another matter, because the establishment will not accept this
kind of drastic change just on the Commander in Chief's say so; even the brass probably can't get its will done that easily, and a civilian commander in chief just has that much more trouble.
The Federal establishment is clearly the President's responsibility. The United States, as an employer, has as its head the President of the United States. And, two, two and a half million people, are promoted, demoted, hired, fired, etc., in accordance with guide-lines that are basically presidential. Sure, there is a commission and there is legislation, but it all rests ultimately, on one of two things, the power to hire and fire which goes from the constitution, right straight through the legislature, and on to the Cabinet officer, created by act of Congress, and he is subject to presidential selection. Then, the commission is set up with the purpose of administrating a competitive service but the rules of selection are not written in detail. The act that created the Civil Service Commission merely forbids discrimination on a great many different grounds; political, sex, religion, and race and color happened to be mentioned in there. It is one of the few statutes that is specific on this
subject. So, you had statutory authority here as well as the longstanding accepted responsibility of the President.
Now, consequently, if you have a campaign coming up based on a convention that's had a floor fight, where the strong language of the presidential message was repeated in plank form, then, if there are things the President could do and he doesn't do them, he's vulnerable. And this is what Oscar Ewing was worried about. This was Oscar's contribution and nobody elses. This didn't come out of Mr. Clifford, or Mr. Niles, or Mr. Nash, or anybody like that. We had our blinders on. I was acutely aware of the many things that had been done from day to day in dealing with the departments on civil rights, a much more rapid progress than I had thought possible four years before. Not being aware of the fact that this doesn't really mean anything to the voter. What means something to the voter is something he can see and handle, such as an Executive order, even if the Executive order doesn't change anything, the mere fact that it is an Executive order and is presidential, it gets it out where he can see it. Then he says, "Well, he does mean business after all."
So, Oscar Ewing saw this, and he was right, and he persuaded the President and we went ahead and got it out. I think it was very important in the outcome of the campaign. And, so you had, you see, partly by design and partly by happenstance, a progression of events which led to a harder and harder and harder civil rights position.
First; the end of the war, and the expiration of the war powers; then racial violence; then demonstrations; then a committee; then a report; then a special message; then a floor fight and a walkout; and finally, the President taking action. And, the last thing, a direct appeal to the voters, specifically Negro voters, on the subject of civil rights, just at the end of the campaign.
HESS: Fine. Well, we'll get into that some more when we get farther on into that subject.
NASH: Well, this is the political importance of these two. In addition, from the administrative standpoint they are both very ingenious documents. I'm quite pleased with that portion of it and the way it worked out. You see, we were pretty well tied up in knots. Senator Russell is no slouch as a lawyer, and he had to put
up with FEPC during the war, but he was damn sure it wasn't going to happen afterwards. So, one of the first big fights in Mr. Truman's administration was over the FEPC appropriation. They asked for a small amount of money -- five hundred thousand dollars -- eventually they filibustered and held up the war appropriations for several weeks, and, finally, it was compromised -- two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, terminal.
Now, in the report, or maybe in the appropriations act itself -- oh yes, the fact that it was terminal brought into play a little -- known piece of appropriation language for which Senator Russell is responsible and it says that if the President creates an organization, an agency, by Executive order, and it is substantially similar in purpose to another organization for which an appropriation has been sought and has been denied by the Congress, then the agency so created shall be deemed to have been in operation for one year, the day it opens its doors. Now, the effect of this is to bring the head of an agency created by Executive order, if it is similar in purpose to another one that has been denied appropriations by Congress, under the
Anti-Deficiency Act, the minute he puts his first dime in the slot to make a phone call. In other words, you can't do it. Hence, the words "and for which there is no authorization."
Now, this is where the importance of the Civil Service Act of 1887 -- '84, '85, '87, whatever it is -- comes in. Racial discrimination is forbidden by that statute and the Commission is authorized to prevent it. Consequently, you couldn't have a generalized FEPC, but you could have an FEPC for the Civil Service Commission because the Russell amendment didn't apply. There was no authority for FEPC. That is the same thing that had been done by Executive order and if you couldn't cite a specific statutory authorization, then the chairman would be subject to prosecution and go to jail for spending money that hadn't been appropriated. You wouldn't have a year of grace.
So, we got around that, and then, administratively speaking, the Committee on Equal Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces was tailormade to cope with the problem of discrimination in the Armed Forces. I was reasonably familiar with the way it is done over
there, because for FDR and then for Truman I had worked with the Secretary of the Army, and McCloy when he was Assistant Secretary for Troop Policy, and Truman Gibson, and before him Bill Hastie had been special assistants to the Secretary of War, roughly for race relations. I spent a lot of time with that office -- well, a period of five or six years at that point.
So, it seemed to me that you ought to have a committee that had a slightly different approach than the usual. That is, what is a presidential committee usually? It's to sift facts and recommendations and conditions, analyse conditions and then they make a recommendation of policy. In other words, the policy shouldn't be called into question. The policy was set by the President. He said many times that he was opposed to it -- there had been a committee, a policy committee, so if you are going to take some executive action, well, then, why not wipe out discrimination with "a stroke of the pen," as the opposition speechwriters were saying. Now, the reason why, of course, is that the methods by which racial discrimination are practiced in the Armed Forces are secret methods, they are intended to be concealed from public view, from scrutiny,
even from administrative review -- code marks on personnel cards. It's the personnel officers who basically have to administer the secret system and agree to it, and therefore, you have to have a watchdog and you also had to have somebody that would dig enough to ferret out these secret methods and then prevent them from being used before the policy could take effect. This was the real problem in the Armed Forces. Therefore, we created an action committee, not a review or study committee, but a committee that was instructed to dig and find out about these things and then take the necessary steps to see that they didn't work. So, the Executive order, you will find, is worded quite differently as to the mandate from the President in the case of the Armed Forces committee from the fair employment committee.
HESS: Those will be separate subjects that we will take up at a later date, both the Armed Forces and the FEPC. Is there anything else that we are skipping before we get into the campaign itself?
NASH: No. That's all that I know of.
HESS: What were your responsibilities during the 1948 campaign?
NASH: Oh, just to make myself useful. Dave was very busy
with the Zionists in New York and all these matters arising out of the partition of Palestine. I forget my exact timing, but the UN Assembly was meeting in Paris, and General Marshall, who was then Secretary of State, was there heading the U.S. Delegation personally. And the question of the terms of the partition, for example, whether the southern part of Palestine, the Negev, would be included or wouldn't be included, and the UN had to be involved because Great Britain had withdrawn from an old League of Nations mandate, so whatever it was the Israelites had the strength to do locally, in the way of proclaiming a government and then keeping that government in being, and so on, was still subject to approval or disapproval by the UN Assembly even though they might be somewhat helpless in the face of reality. And we had spokesmen there, and the spokesmen in the particular case was General Marshall, for whom the President had great personal admiration, and that had been publically expressed. So, this was about as tense as things can get and it looked more than once as though that might blow sky-high. So, Dave Niles was very busy putting out that fire in New York, in largely
dealing with the Zionist organizations, and I was not invited to go along on the campaign train, and I don't think Dave would have agreed to it even if I had been -- well, for all I know maybe he was asked and said, "No."
Because by this time I was used to working with Clark Clifford, and
George Elsey and others who did go on the train. Of course, I was eager to
go, but at the same time my job was essentially one of a "fireman,"
putting out fires so that little episodes of racial violence didn't grow
into major riots, and you can't do that from a campaign train. So, I
stayed home and did my job and tried to see that the campaign wasn't
interfered with by any untoward events in the domestic front that were
capable of being handled by the Federal Government, as most of them are.
However, this is not a very satisfying role, personally, when there is a
big campaign going on. So, I volunteered as a speechwriter and turned out
a few drafts and I don't really remember -- well, let's see -- I remember
two. I did one at Charleston,
West Virginia which was used pretty much, I think, the way I wrote it, and then I was given another one to do and apparently I just "flubbed" all
over the place, because nobody liked it when it was done. I was doing the -- it was one on health. The Ewing report was out and the President wanted to make a speech on the general subject of medicare, and I'm sure that in my folders, you'll find a number of drafts, unless I got so embarrassed about it that I just took them out and destroyed them. Finally, Charlie Murphy started me over two or three times and finally, he said, "You can't seem to get your foot out of your mouth," and he finally wound up doing it himself.
Now, there were a couple of speechwriters around at that time who were moderately interesting. Does the name Jay Franklin or John Franklin Carter mean anything to you?
HESS: Yes. But tell me about John Franklin Carter. Why was he brought in?
NASH: Because he was a very gifted phrasemaker. This was a facile writer and he always claimed credit for some of Harold Ickes' sharpest remarks, whether this is true or not, I don't know. do know that he was responsible for a couple of things that struck home in the '48 campaign.
HESS: What were those?
NASH: He is the one that referred to "Dr. Gallup" as offering "sleeping polls." And then he is also responsible for the one about, "I have the feeling I'm being followed, but there is one place he won't follow me, he will never follow me into the White House." This is a talented guy.
HESS: In your files out at the White House . . .
NASH: He wanted to rescue me. He thought I was not properly appreciated and he put me into that article he did for Life magazine, and it was those two articles, especially the second one which caused him to leave so abruptly.
HESS: November 15th and January 10th.
NASH: I think it was the January one that really set Mr. Truman's teeth on edge.
HESS: That was on foreign affairs. The one on November 15th was mainly just about the campaign.
NASH: The Saint Crispin's Day piece. I must say it was a pretty good piece.
HESS: Who recommended that he be brought in, do you know?
NASH: I'm sure I don't know. He'd been a pretty well-known
columnist, in New Deal days writing under the name "Jay Franklin."
HESS: He also wrote books under the name of the "Unofficial Observer."
NASH: Yes. He did an imaginary thing called The Catoctin Conversation -- not very good, rather dull. That's the kind of thing that has got to come off just superbly or it's no good at all.
HESS: Did he work pretty much with Murphy, on the speeches?
NASH: Basically, I would say he was working more with Dave Noyes. Dave Noyes may have been the one who invited him in, I don't know. Dave Noyes and -- Noyes had an assistant, whose name I can't quite . . .
HESS: Could it be Albert Carr?
NASH: Doesn't quite ring bells, but maybe it was. At any rate, those two fellows had an office down the hall from me, and Carter had an office next to one of them. Now, I worked with Carter -- you see he also was not on the train -- he had a homebase assignment -- so he and I saw a good deal of each other, and he'd bring his drafts in to me and I'd take my drafts over to him and he was a professional writer which I was not and am
not now -- he was quite helpful to me, and I liked him. I don't see anything of him anymore. He was a little too paranoid for my taste, but anyway . . .
HESS: Why was David Noyes added to the staff at that time?
NASH: I just thought of something about the campaign and Carter. Then we'll get on to Noyes.
You know, I told you in 1944 my function in the campaign was to be on the staff of the "instant reply committee." I relayed that -- of course, Dave was a member of the committee, so I reminded him of this in 1948 and he agreed that it was a good idea to get it going again. But they didn't bother with the committee. After all, it was a different situation, a different President and all of that. So, Carter and I were given the instant reply assignment. And so we got ourselves a newsprinter, and it was set up in Carter's office, and, of course, in the first place, this provided us with a lot of good material because your advanced drafts of everybody elses speeches come in that way, as well as your own and you can find out what is happening on the road if you have a handy newsprinter. But we also used it to make recommendations, and then
as the basis for research for things that we thought needed replying to, or working up, and we would sometimes do the research ourselves, and sometimes get it done over at the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee.
HESS: Now these were mainly Dewey's speeches?
NASH: Well, it wouldn't necessarily be on speeches. Primarily, of course, Dewey's speeches. But, you never can tell what's going to come up in a campaign -- sometimes from totally unexpected sources. For example, in 1948, along toward the end of the campaign, they brought up that old saw about Truman being a Klan member in Kansas City. Well, it so happens I did the research on that in 1944 when Mr. Truman was the vice-presidential nominee.
HESS: Tell me about that.
NASH: It was alleged, and these things always come late in the campaign, you know, they know there is a reply and they try to bring them up late enough so that you won't have an answer, and by the time you get an answer the election is over.
In 1944, it was alleged that the relatively unknown vice-presidential candidate with FDR, was not only
basically a Southerner and not really a liberal and everything else, but really a Ku Klux Klan member, and the proof of it was a story in the Kansas City Times, the morning edition of the Star, about 1924 or 5, which reported a Klan meeting at which a political candidate had spoken, one Harry S. Truman, who was running for a member of the judges -- the county board there -- that administer the county there in Independence, and purported to show not only that he had addressed the rally, but that he was in some way a participant, and the implication was that he was a member. Copies of this article are awfully hard to find and those who drag it out as political ammunition, you see, are very careful never, never to give any details as to date or the page on which the story appeared because it is actually a fragment from a much larger story, and if you have the whole story it is perfectly clear that in this context, that there was a political rally at which a number of candidates appeared and they all left and then they turned it into a Klan session . . .
HESS: After the candidates left?
NASH: After the candidates had left, and not only is it innocent, but if you take account of all the other people
that are there, then it's got a tremendous boomerang, you know, some of the people who are spreading the story were there, and as innocent as anybody else, but if it's bad for one, then it's bad for all.
In addition to this, I think it goes even further, because it appears either later in the same story or later in the same paper, that there was a factional row as there so often was in Kansas City among the Democrats, and that this then turned out to be a canard that had been spread by one against the other, and so on, and I think that it actually turned out that Mr. Truman wasn't even there. At any rate, it is now more than forty years old, and the story was known in its entirety as far back as 1925, and it never had any value and the full story left Mr. Truman in the clear and all that. But it was brought up and it was quite a shocker to some of the people who thought maybe they had a candidate they weren't too sure of back there in 1944, so I did the research on it . . .
HESS: How did you do that?
NASH: Library of Congress. Well, this is one where Jonathan Daniels really should tell the story. When the matter
came up the then White House staff was a little bit worried about what might be involved. They wanted it checked out, of course, with extreme quiet. So I was put on it by Jonathan Daniels who said, "Philleo, you seem to be pretty ingenious." I had figured out how to get the advance copies of Dewey's speeches before anybody else had them without putting any spies around, just by using the newstickers, and that was a signal contribution.
So, Jonathan said, "If you wanted to run down a Kansas City story, and run it down damn fast, how would you do it?" He didn't tell me what the story was. I thought for a minute, and I said, "Would it be on a White House request?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "All right, in that case I would call up the Librarian of Congress, and I would ask him to put his entire force going through the bound volumes of the newspapers for the decade or the year -- you know, narrow it down as much as you can -- until you find all the stories you are looking for."
And I told him that is the only way I know to do it fast.
And he said, "Well, looks to me like it's the best way." And then he told me what it was. So it was then fairly late in the day, and we didn't do it with the Librarian of Congress, but we did it with the research department over there, Mr. Mearns, isn't it?
HESS: David C. Mearns.
NASH: Dave Mearns was a close friend of Niles at that time. He was the Research Librarian, and so Jonathan called him up and he didn't tell him what it was about either, but he asked him to hold enough people for overtime duty to find a story that was of considerable importance. And then we got Mearns over and told him the whole thing, and I think they found the complete story in about three hours. And the thing is, the Times had the accusation, but the Star had the whole story -- as you can see, I'm rather groping for recollections . . .
HESS: It's very difficult for this length of time.
NASH: And so I said at various times, it was in the same story and then it was another story, or then it was even in the Star rather than the Times, but the point is, if you take the whole of which the accusation is a part, you get a hundred and eighty degree different
kind of a story. This is the substantive point, and this is what we did. We got the whole thing, and then we simply documented it and got it up in a packet for Steve Early. This thing broke about 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and we had it in the hands of the Democratic National Committee, for issuance as a memorandum to editors, not from the White House, at 8 o'clock the next morning. So, this shows the merit of instant reply. Now, in 1948 . . .
HESS: One question back there in 1944 about Matthew Connelly. When you were working on the Ku Klux Klan matter in 1944, did you have any communications with Matthew Connelly?
NASH: No. I never knew him until much later.
HESS: And he was with -- I believe he was with President Truman at that time.
NASH: I didn't meet Mr. Truman at that time. I was working for Elmer Davis and was assigned to the White House for liaison purposes, and so on, and I suppose in a sense maybe I shouldn't have been doing that at all, but at any rate I did . . .
HESS: You were requested to do it.
NASH: I did what I was requested to do, and I did it in
the White House, and I did it willingly and happily, and would do so again.
Now, let's see. In 1948, along toward the end of the campaign they brought up that same old saw. It was hard to believe that anybody would drag it out, and think they would get away with it. Well, fortunately, in the first place, I'm a pack rat as you found by going through my papers, but this was just too obvious, this was the kind of thing you don't throw away. So, you see, in '48 -- who was the Press Secretary then, was it Charlie Ross?
HESS: Charlie Ross. He died in '50.
NASH: And Eben Ayers was his assistant. So, when this story broke, I just went right to my file drawer, opened it up, took out the 1944 folder, walked over with it and I said, "Here's the answer."
So, Eben Ayers went through it and he said, "Well, what do you know, what do you know?"
Eben took it into Charlie and Charlie said, "What do you know, what do you know?"
And the committee again got out the same old stuff, issued a memorandum to editors, and the story died right like that.
HESS: On the subject of the committee, did you receive very much help, or did you work with the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee?
NASH: Yeah. You see there was Dave Lloyd was over there and also . . .
HESS: William Batt, Jr.
NASH: Yeah, Bill Batt.
HESS: Johannes Hoeber.
NASH: Oh, I knew Johannes afterwards. I didn't realize that he had been there at that time.
HESS: Kenneth M. Birkhead.
NASH: Kenny Birkhead, of course.
HESS: Phil Dreyer.
NASH: Not so well.
HESS: Frank Kelly.
NASH: Not so much.
HESS: And John Barriere, a junior member. Could you tell me what they did?
NASH: Sure, they got out any kind of document that was not of major importance, that would help in the campaign. For example, Dewey's strategy, you recall, was to put everybody to sleep -- "I'm for unity, we're not going to
raise any issues." And his speeches were -- he was so sure that he was going to win, all he had to do was not rock the boat -- they were masterpieces of dullness, apathy and so on, and were about on a par with that famous cliché of Cal Coolidge's, "When large numbers of men are out of work -- unemployment results."
I think it was in Oklahoma City that Dewey said, one time, "Everywhere I go in America, I see Americans."
So, the research committee took this, you see, and said, "There are certain things in this campaign that we really should agree on and not discuss anymore in order that we can get at the issues. Now, we don't expect the Republican candidate to agree with us about Medicare, and so on, because they have never been for anything that was any good for anybody, anyway. But generally speaking, everyplace that President Truman goes in America, he does see Americans."
So then they got a whole list of places that they agree on. Well, this is good for speech material. They did a tremendous amount of work on the "cuffs."
HESS: The whistlestop speeches?
NASH: I always refer to them as the "cuffs," because the
speeches were off-the-cuff, but the cuffs had been written with invisible ink. A lot of meticulous detail in those, and George had the job aboard the campaign train -- George Elsey -- of keeping those files in order and keeping them in a form that the President could use. In the beginning, he thought he was going to do all the research on them and just take it with him. Well, this soon got way beyond him, so the Research Division over at the committee was put on the job of building this material up, and then they would send it out to the train in packets. Once it got out of their hands, there wasn't too much chance of getting it back, so it had to be first-class work and those are all topflight men.
HESS: Did you work with them any on the work that you did on the major speeches?
NASH: Not that I know of. If I did, I don't recall it.
HESS: On that subject, do you recall offhand what major speeches that you worked on?
NASH: Well, of course, the big one was Harlem . . .
HESS: Before we get there -- that's a little bit later, isn't it?
NASH: Late October.
Charleston, West Virginia, that's all I can think of.
HESS: On Charleston, West Virginia, I have it that your draft was on the same general subject, but not in the same wording, but on the Oklahoma City speech, which is a very important speech, your folder contains drafts number four and five of a speech, and on the top it is entitled, "Communism, Democracy, and National Security," and it is initialed "SJS."
HESS: Stephen J. Spingarn, of course. And also in that folder is "Fifth Auxiliary Draft of P.N.," Philleo Nash, dated 9-20, and this goes on and on -- there are other drafts in there, but . . .
NASH: All this means is that Steve handed me his draft number so and so and I thought something ought to be said in a different way, so I just made up my own, but in order to identify it, I said it was an auxiliary draft.
HESS: I checked all the drafts against the speech, as given, and I found some of the paragraphs that appear in the draft were used verbatim in the final speech, but actually most of the wording found in the speech is not
that of the particular drafts, but they did incorporate paragraphs, and sentences here and there. But did you work with Spingarn on this particular one?
NASH: Yes. Now that you speak of it I remember it, yes.
HESS: Did you work with anyone else on this? In other words, what do you remember about writing the Oklahoma City speech, which was, of course, one of the most important speeches given during the 1948 campaign?
NASH: Sure, it was because it was on the whole issue of McCarthyism. Well, again, I had just forgotten -- memory had drawn the veil -- it begins to come back a little bit. Spingarn was our specialist on this subject, as I indicated in our last interview. He had been a counterintelligence officer for Mark Clark, and he was, as Assistant Counsel for the Treasury, he was in a sense the lawyer for the Secret Service, or at least in part. He was brought over to the White House to work on legislation on civil rights, but once that was over, he stayed to work on other legislative drafting and other legal problems in connection with Clifford and Murphy, and was a very able, brilliant lawyer. Because of his interest in counterintelligence and civil liberties,
both, it was natural for him to be drawn into the whole question of how to handle loyalty and security. The McCarran Act came up and he was the actual author of the veto message on that . . .
HESS: That was in '50, is that right?
NASH: Which was in '50. And on the -- it's hard to recall the exact posture as things were in 1948 because it was before the big McCarthy attack. Now, Steve and I were friendly, and, therefore, if I had a draft, I'd take it up with him and if he had a draft, well I'd probably ask him about it if he didn't voluntarily take it up with me, so this is probably why these things were floating around in our files. I was just into everybody's business, and making myself useful, and made suggestions, and if they weren't taken, that was all right with me.
HESS: On that one particular subject, I have found in the file a very good memorandum by William L. Batt, Jr. who was the director of the Research Division, on where some of the more important speeches should be given, and in his memo it mentions that the "Communism in Government" speech was first scheduled to be given in Los
Angeles. Mr. Batt recommends that it not be given there, but in Oklahoma City, I believe, where it was given actually, but were you in on any of those decisions?
NASH: I was not. No, and I personally find them rather fruitless. In the '52 campaign, it was thought rather important to give a speech about McCarthyism, and one that would be particularly appealing to Jewish voters. And there is an obvious locale for that, you go into the east side, you go to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, or you go to the foot of Williamsburg Bridge, and this is the place, this is where the people are. So the speech that I had strongly urged should be given, and should be given there was transferred to the board of the National Jewish Welfare Association meeting in a hotel here in Washington, which is about like reversing the crowd in its nature, and its appeal, and everything else.
HESS: Now, that was in '52?
NASH: In '52. You just can't run a campaign along those precise lines.
HESS: On that subject. Wasn't there a speech given at the Williamsburg Bridge?
NASH: Sure, but not the one I wanted.
HESS: I see.
NASH: I thought they gave the wrong one.
HESS: You had written on the top, "Draft Four, Williamsburg Bridge, New York City." And this was on the displaced persons and immigration, it was given -- but it was given someplace else. I think we are about to run out of tape.
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