Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon
News correspondent with the International News Service,
1930-58; served as editor of the service for a time. He first came to
Washington, D.C., in 1938 where he served as their State Department and
foreign relations correspondent. He was a war correspondent, attached
to the British army in France and Belgium, 1940, during invasion of the
low countries; evacuated from Dunkirk but later returned to France; evacuated
with remnants of the British army from Brest, June 20, 1940; covered London
Blitz, 1940-41; war correspondent, attached to United States forces in
European theater of operations, 1942-1943; correspondent in Northern Ireland,
United Kingdom, and Mediterranean theater, participating in North African
invasion and campaign. Covered Casablanca conference, 1943; Quebec conference,
1944; and Potsdam, 1945. Washington correspondent covering the White House
beginning in 1944.
November 20, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nixon 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
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 December, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon
November 20, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Nixon, at the end of our last interview we were discussing
the events of the 1952 campaign. What are your further impressions of
NIXON: One of the things that has come to mind, was the nature of the
Stevenson campaign, which rather appalled me at the time. Up to that time,
it was certainly unique for a man trying to get himself elected President.
We've seen how Truman, by way of illustration, had conducted his '48
campaign. He had gone out and literally shaken the hands of hundreds of
thousands of people. He had met them at railroad sidings in little hamlets,
from coast to coast, thousands of miles all over the Nation. He had spoken
stadiums, and enormous gatherings in cities. He had spoken
face-to-face with literally tens of millions of American people.
When a candidate does this, there is a great psychological advantage.
It means, to the people who come out to see him and listen to him, that
he is identifying himself personally with the individual. This
person goes away feeling that he knows the candidate (especially if this
is a President campaigning for re-election), and knows and is a friend
of the President of the United States. Come November, this person very
likely is going to vote for the man. Not only that, but he will tell his
children and his grandchildren about this occasion in his life when he
met the President.
This was one of the impelling reasons why, in that '48 swing through
Indiana and Illinois, people in the farm country drove hundreds of
to the railroad sidings where the President made these whistlestop speeches.
I enlarge upon the Truman use of this close contact with the people because
in a sense he brought it to its highest peak of accomplishment. He, in
a sense, refined the gold out of the quartz. Roosevelt, to a considerable
extent, did the same, although the intensity of his whistlestop campaigning
was necessarily limited by his poliomyelitis infirmity.
In the Stevenson campaign the contact with the American people was, if
not entirely lost, certainly hamstrung by the decisions that were made
for his campaign. Mind you, these decisions were made by the little group
of people around Stevenson, and Stevenson himself, because he largely
ignored the Democratic National Committee. He insisted on carrying on
his own campaign with a
bunch of bumbling amateurs around him and
without help from the Democratic National Committee or from Truman. Stevenson
felt very strongly that Truman was an albatross, a millstone around his
neck, and he wanted to disengage himself from any connection with the
Truman administration. He seemed to resent the fact that Truman was out
conducting a very intensive whistlestop campaign in his behalf.
All of this did not give reason to the manner in which the Stevenson
campaign was conducted. As I've said, it was a proven fact, proven by
history and by so many candidates before him, that if you are going to
be elected President, you must have very close contact with the American
people. You must associate yourself with them. You must make them
feel that you are a part of them and that there is a very close
If it's the first time you've ever seen a
President, that in itself,
has a great personal impact upon you. You may drive a hundred miles just
to see this man in action. This is an event in your life, and you can
relate it to your children and grandchildren. It's this, "I shook the
hand that shook the hand," sort of idea.
But what did Stevenson do? Did he relate himself closely to the American
people, whose vote decided whether he would be President? Did he stand
a few yards away from them or a few feet away from them and look them
in the eye and speak to them, and talk with them? Hardly ever.
My recollection is that during the '56 campaign, the only time Stevenson
got aboard a train, and did a little whistlestopping, was that dreadful
and abortive trip through West Virginia, on a rainy day. The rest of the
time he was on an airplane flying from here to there.
When he spoke, he
spoke to organized crowds in some auditorium or stadium somewhere.
By way of illustration, he spoke in Los Angeles one day. We then boarded
planes and flew entirely across the country to Boston for him to make
another speech there. On still another occasion, if memory serves me right,
we flew from Miami to Chicago. So went the campaign, always high, high,
high up in the sky, 30,000 feet, cooped up in the fuselage of an airplane.
He might as well have been on the moon without any intendent publicity.
Watching this, I would sit on one of these planes, high in the sky, and
think, "My God, millions upon millions of votes and voters six or seven
miles below us. Not a one knows that this man exists, and he's not speaking
to a single one of them. How can he be elected President on that sort
Of course, the answer was that he wasn't elected President. Granted,
all candidates now must use airplanes to get from one large city to another.
The more they do, the more they lose contact with the voters. The city
vote and the urban vote is just one of the vote factors of this country.
The farm vote, as we have seen, is extremely important. It's not only
the impact of this personal contact with people, but it's the impact of
the reporting of those events which gets in the newspapers and on the
TV and radio, all over the Nation, every day and every night. So, this
is what really struck me as a complete waste, a waste of time, a waste
of effort, and a waste of finances which are always stretched to the breaking
point in these campaigns.
HESS: Now you have been dealing with relations between Stevenson and
the members of the public. What
seemed to be the relations and the nature
of his relations with the local politicians who would come in to see him?
NIXON: Well, that's an interesting point which is really a very important
part of the whole picture of Stevenson's personality as a presidential
Much later when Lyndon Johnson was President, he, against the advice
of the Secret Service, insisted upon very close personal contact with
the people who came out to see him.
HESS: I believe he called that "pressing the flesh."
NIXON: That is the phrase that I was going to use. While he did no real
whistlestopping, at the airport where these crowds would gather, he would
walk from his plane to the gates and shake the hands of just literally
dozens and dozens of people. He said he liked the feeling of the
pressing of the flesh.
I relate this to illustrate, the difference in personalities. In a large
sense, Truman and Roosevelt had also pressed the flesh. By campaigning
from the rear platform of trains, all over the country, they had made
very close personal contacts with individual people. Stevenson was the
direct antithesis of this. This was perhaps one of the reasons why he
did not feel comfortable in any whistlestopping campaign. He didn't like
to get close to people. He particularly did not like people to get close
to him. Local politicians, mind you, more or less, control the politics
and the votes of their state, and most of them, as we know, are glad-handing,
NIXON: ...backslappers. They are usually quite demonstrative.
When anybody would throw their arm around Stevenson, he would actually
cringe. You could see him cringe and pull away. There was sort of the
feeling of resentment of a man embracing a girl when the girl doesn't
want to be embraced. This was the peculiarity of this man, and it did
him no good whatsoever. This was another reason why he didn't want the
closeness of whistlestops, the closeness of getting out of an automobile
and going over and shaking the hands of people.
He was a very reserved candidate. He had no warm gestures for the populace.
Regardless of his intellectual abilities, he was not a warm person
in contact with large groups of people, nor did he have that warm boyish
grin of Eisenhower's. He was a candidate with a personality of an earlier
age. Perhaps his being likened to Woodrow Wilson was accurate. His mannerisms
were those of the times, but they were the mannerisms, of what today we
would call, a stuffed shirt. He was an egghead, which is a description
of an intellectual stuffed shirt.
HESS: But a stuffed shirt nevertheless?
NIXON: Yes. So, he just did not go over as a candidate. It's not the
intellectual qualities of a person that, in these years, takes
them to the White House. The intellectual qualities perhaps do not harm
them, if they have the warmth of personality and the things that go along
with it at the same time. After all, we don't want an idiot in the White
House, or a playboy, or one of those shallow brained Hollywood movie types.
HESS: Anybody in mind there?
NIXON: Well, without specific reference I believe it is obvious.
HESS: The gentleman from California?
NIXON: There have been two of them, one in the Senate, and one I guess
in the state house. With all due respect to them, a man should have more
qualities as a President than to just be a play actor with someone entirely
writing his lines for him.
But they have to have some of these warm qualities as well as having
intellectual qualities. Stevenson was simply miscast in his role as candidate.
I speak of him only in that category, not to diminish in any way, whatever
his intellectual qualities were. But there were guttier things. Breadbasket
things, rather than the academic area, are what brings out the votes.
In all justice to the manner in which the Stevenson campaign was conducted
(and for that matter, the way in which the Eisenhower campaign was being
conducted at the same time), we in this country had begun to move into
the electronic age, in which, by gradual development, the impact of the TV screen
had become enormous. It was a realization, I'm sure, of the
potentialities of TV that had a considerable impact on Stevenson flying
back and forth across the country making one stop one day on the Atlantic
Coast and the next stop the next day on the Pacific Coast, with all these
millions of people in between, never seeing him, never hearing him. The
idea was that by using TV for these national broadcasts, he would
reach the people.
Well, it didn't pan out. Certainly, in 1956, he was lost before he started.
To have an impact on TV one must have a TV personality. They must be able
to project themselves to people through the TV screen. Stevenson was lost
before he began, simply because he did not have a TV personality.
When he got up before a large audience to make a speech (he was before
the TV cameras, if his campaign supporters were able to plunk down a hundred
thousand dollars for a half hour speech), he frequently just didn't go
He frequently muffed his lines. His eyes would
be down on the paper he
was reading. It was bad enough, that they began trying to use a scanner.
This was a device which line by line projected what a person was to say
on a strip in front of the podium, behind which the person was speaking.
It was visible to the speaker, but not visible to his audience. This enabled
a speaker to look out at the audience, project his personality to them
and at the same time read the lines on the scanner. That didn't work either.
Stevenson just could not bring himself to use it. So, his personality,
whatever part of it went over on the TV screen, wasn't particularly good.
While the TV has its tremendous impact, it had it to a lesser degree
in 1956. It must be remembered again, that it's a different thing to speak
to small whistlestop crowds than to huge crowds in cities. These are people
who come there because they want to be there. It's another thing for a
man to put his image on a TV screen and expect to reach people who are
not sitting before the screen necessarily because they want to hear a
political speech. After all,
they haven't gone somewhere to see a man
and to hear a man. They can flip their TV on or off as they wish. The
impact of a political speech, unless it bears upon something of a critical
nature, like the missile crisis in Cuba, may not be of importance to them.
They may be out of the town. They may be in the other room on the telephone.
They may be in no mood to turn on the TV that evening. They may be (and
probably are), anywhere but sitting in their home gazing at a TV
screen. So, you have a tremendous loss of contact there.
Let's face it, the impact of the TV screen has had a great deal to do
with the changing of the methods of conducting campaigns. It may be that
the whistlestop is a thing of the past. It's gotten to the point where
the wiseacres are now saying that the qualities that you need to win a
presidential election are to be a relatively young man, with an appealing,
youthful personality, someone who looks very good on the TV screen (a
pretty boy, let's put it that way), and hires a high powered TV public
If those are the only qualifications, God help this Nation! The reality,
looking back, and looking at today's picture, is that a combination of
all of these various factors is certainly needed. I have a distinct feeling
that if conditions were such that we were in a critical situation, as
we have often been in our past and no doubt will be in our future, that
we could still elect a man with a wart on his nose, as Lincoln was elected
more than a hundred years ago.
Certainly the TV screen has become a great factor in our future campaigning.
It may turn out that what we elect in the future is not only just a pretty
boy, but a pretty boy whose daddy has left him a hundred million dollars,
because the cost of the use of TV networks, on a national scale is virtually
prohibitive. The money has to come from somewhere. While the Republicans
from Wall Street seem to be able to amass that type of money, I wonder
about the Democrats in the
HESS: What do you recall of the reaction in the Truman camp when Eisenhower
said in a speech that if elected he would go to Korea?
NIXON: There were immediate outcries of demagoguery. We learned that
demagoguery was not an aptitude invested only in the southern states of
Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, etc. Certainly this was a piece of demagoguery
written, incidentally, not by Eisenhower, but by a speechwriter, I believe
his name was Jackson. He was a member of the staff of Life magazine,
Time and Life, or perhaps the editor of Life.
HESS: A member of Henry Luce's organization nevertheless.
NIXON: To bring this into focus it must be remembered that the Korean
conflict was highly unpopular, just as the war in Vietnam now is. The reasons
and the necessities for it should be remembered. We were the ones
who were attacked by the Communists foes. This attack was the groundwork
by communism for taking over Japan, and perhaps the Philippines, and the
Western Pacific periphery. These reasons and the necessities, had been
lost and obscured in the later developments that made the war extremely
It was a conflict that the American people could not understand. Our
engagement in wars in the past, and their support, had largely been based
on the factor of an obvious menace to our own national security. All of
these things had been obscured by the length of this conflict and the
great error by MacArthur in his military intelligence. His error led to
the war going on for two more years. Overall, this was a vastly unpopular
Eisenhower's pronouncement, that had been
written for him, was delivered
in Detroit. The date escapes me.
HESS: October 24.
NIXON: Oh, on October 24, which was really the windup of the '52 campaign.
This was sort of the last go-round. He did not say, "I shall end the war,
the conflict in Korea, if elected President," but in this weasel-worded
statement, this piece of demagoguery, he said, "And I shall go to Korea."
Implicit in that was that he would end the conflict in Korea. It was this
obliqueness that made this statement demagoguery.
Eisenhower had already brought himself into intense unpopularity in the
Truman camp, especially with President Truman himself, by another event
which had taken place during the campaign. I've already illustrated, with
direct quotes from Truman, that Truman regarded General George Marshall
as "The greatest living
During this campaign, Senator Jenner of Indiana (one of the most rabid,
anti-Democratic, Republican foes in the Congress, and quite a demagogue
himself, who was part of that bitter, rancid Joe McCarthy group) in a
speech had accused General Marshall of being a traitor to his country.
On a platform, General Eisenhower had walked over, flung his arms around,
and embraced Jenner. This was just too much for Mr. Truman who had, in
the past, had a very high regard for Eisenhower. As I have related,
Truman had told Eisenhower over in Germany that if he wanted to run for
President in 1948, he would support him. Afterwards Truman had made him
Chief of Staff of the Army, the highest rank in the Army previously held
by General Marshall, and then had made him NATO commander. There was nothing
else in the way of great
honors in the military field that Truman could
possibly have done for Eisenhower that he did not do. Eisenhower was a
hero of Truman's and Truman well demonstrated it.
This business, during the campaign, was a shocking thing to Truman and
was the basis for this tremendous split between Truman and Eisenhower.
When Eisenhower threw his arms around Jenner, he lost Truman. That was
the end of the line. On top of it came this piece of demagoguery: "I shall
go to Korea." That meant that he would end the conflict in Korea, regardless
of whether it meant our winning or losing the conflict, or stopping the
spread of communism. It must be remembered that for many, many years in
military parlance, it has been a maxim that Korea (and this is because
of its geographical location), was a pistol pointed at the head of Japan.
The campaign seemed, at that point, obviously to hinge almost entirely
on the Korean conflict. This Detroit statement by Eisenhower, written
for him by a Luce minion, was, in fact, sheer demagoguery. Obviously it
was done to clinch the victory in the campaign.
Aboard the Truman campaign train, with Truman himself and all the members
of his staff, General Eisenhower at that point was not a very popular fellow.
HESS: Let's continue on with your general impressions of the '52 campaign.
NIXON: This was more or less a three month waste of time, energy, and
everything that goes with it. The atmosphere was totally different from
previous campaigns. Personally, on my part, there was a loss of interest,
a loss of personal involvement, and a loss of impact. I think this reflects,
in a great sense, the whole atmosphere
of the campaign.
Compared to previous campaigns, as it must be obvious from my rather
detailed memory of the events of the '48 Truman campaign, this one just
didn't have it. There were a number of reasons for it. My feeling of personal
involvement, which was engendered by interest in the outcome, had become
pretty well wiped out by the development of events. I felt that the Democrats
were simply spinning their wheels. To me it had become obvious that Stevenson
was a sacrificial lamb. He had little, if any, chance of winning. The
Republicans at long last had found themselves a candidate, in General
Eisenhower, who had the general repute, and general acceptance, of having
won the war in Europe single handed. He was a popular hero like George
They found this man. They had made him their chosen candidate, and nominee. Because
of his tremendous popularity, he no more could lose the election
than could have General Grant, many years ago the victor in the Civil
War, Without the other factors, it seemed to me that it was obvious that
General Eisenhower would be elected. Who was Adlai Stevenson? He was a
former Governor of Illinois, period. Eisenhower was a supreme commander
in Europe of all allied forces, and the victor over Hitler Germany.
Unfortunately for Stevenson and the Democrats, there was only one choice
for the American people, and that was Eisenhower. On top of this, there
were other factors that led to this belief of mine. In the four years
of Truman's second term, despite his many fine accomplishments, he had
been pretty well cut to pieces by events.
Even before the Korean war, there had been a whole series of events that
did not reflect well on the Truman administration from the standpoint
of the publicity it was given to the American people. Before the unpopularity
of the long Korean conflict began to have impact, the main Republican
gambit to destroy the Democrats was the long series of investigations
and hearings in Congress. Among them, incidentally, were the Kefauver
crime investigations. While they had no direct bearing on the Truman administration,
and Kefauver was a Democrat, the impact still was, "There is something
gravely wrong in the United States. Why has it not been taken care of?
How can there be such massive organized crime?"
The main gambit the Republicans had used in seeking to destroy the Truman
administration was the so-called Communist in Government witch hunts,
sparked by Senator McCarthy and by then Congressman Dick Nixon in the
Whitaker Chambers-Hiss pumpkin papers investigation. But this was
The Truman administration had taken actions with poor judgment which
resulted in making it highly unpopular. Some of these were happenstance.
Some were lack of judgment, innocent enough in themselves, but they were
inflated by adverse publicity into wrong doings. Some were acts of actual
wrong-doing by persons who took advantage, for their own profit, of the
power of the Presidency. Others were acts of sheer boobery. The whole
thing was called "the mess in Washington." Tom Dewey made a point that
he was going to clean it up in his 1948 campaign. There were the instances
of the so-called "five percenters," of the mink coat, and of the deep freeze.
The deep freeze scandal was one of the first to come along. I say scandal,
because that is what it was inflated into by publicity. Actually it was
a rather amusing thing. Amusing in the sense
that it was quite innocent.
It was simply the result of very poor judgment. Shortly after Truman had
become President, one of his staff aides in the White House, apparently
had no knowledge of simple ethics of Government. The kind of ethics that,
I've said before, Sam Rayburn put into a pithy little phrase of, "If you
can't eat it, drink it, or smoke it in 24 hours, don't accept it."
Mind you, these aides of Truman, whom he had brought down from his office
on Capitol Hill, were not aware of White House presidential ethics.
For a considerable time after the end of the Second World War, civilian
goods were in very short supply. Actually, they were almost impossible
to obtain. The entire industrial fabric of the Nation had been overwhelmingly
converted into war production. There was no
A thing like an automobile was impossible to buy. Things like refrigerators,
typewriters, stoves, household goods, or deep freezers, which were relatively
new, were impossible to obtain.
Harry Vaughan, Truman's Military Aide, had a friend in a factory out
in the Middlewest, who had begun manufacturing these household freezers.
Vaughan was talking with him one day. The manufacturer was perhaps proudly
expounding the desirability and the function of this new freezer that
he was beginning to manufacture for household use. He got around to saying,
"Do you have a deep freeze in the White House? And does the President
have one in his home in Independence?"
Vaughan, of course, said, "Well, no, he doesn't."
The friend said, "Well, don't you think the President ought to have one
and would he like
to have one?"
Vaughan, who should have known better but didn't, said, "Oh, that would
This manufacturer, as a result, gave one to the President, I believe
for his home in Independence, and one for the White House kitchen. I believe
there were several others. Perhaps Vaughan got one. It seems to me there
was something about Connelly getting one, but I'm trying to remember back
twenty-five years, and I may be mistaken. In any event, there were at
least two of them given to the President for use in his home in Independence
and at the White House. It was just as innocent as that and just as simple
as that. But when the story got out, there was a great scandal. This was
really the first time the political opposition had hold of a ball they
could run with. The implication was that these gifts had been made to
and the White House in order to garner favor for whatever
machinations the industrialist was supposed to have had in Washington,
Government contacts being the main implication. This was no action of
venality by Vaughan. It was a simple sort of country bumpkin thing. It
had not penetrated that you do not accept such gifts if you're in Government.
If you do, sooner or later, you are going to find yourself in trouble,
however high or low you may be.
The same error was made by Jake Vardaman, which got very little attention.
This was when he accepted the gift of a Ford for the President without
even consulting him. Both were highly desirable articles in those times
of scarcity of civilian goods. Perhaps because the deep freeze was a totally
new concept, and everybody wanted one, it gripped the imagination.
It was the innocence of the acceptance. This was done
by a member of the
President's staff, a longtime friend, not by the President himself, but
it was inflated far beyond its real aspects.
This was the first of a long series of occurrences over which the President
had absolutely no control. These were done by people like Vaughan, wishing
to do something nice for his friend, the President, but others were done
by people who came into the administration circle for their own enhancement
There was then the big scandal, the mink coat scandal. It goes without
saying that the implications of someone accepting a mink coat as a gift
are widely known and do not need amplification. The normal implications
of a lady receiving a mink coat had absolutely no bearing on the mink
coat case, but the implication, when it came to light in the public mind,
was something else.
There was a young fellow named Merle Young. He had a job in the RFC.
His wife was employed in the White House as an assistant to Rose Conway,
the President's personal and private secretary, a very fine woman. Mrs.
Young was, in a sense, an assistant personal stenographer and secretary
to the President. She was in a very close circle of intimate contact with
all of the secrets of the Presidency. A job in which she had to be cleared
(as the expression is), after intensive investigation by the FBI and military
intelligence. This was a highly select situation.
This young woman was, if ever there was one, was an innocent victim of
circumstance. Her husband, as it came out later, was out to use his position
in Government, but especially his relationship with a presidential secretary.
Whether he had any actual authority at all, he certainly had an assumed
authority, which he used very much to his advantage in lining his own pockets.
People in Government, those more or less close to the White House, told
me that Young would come to them representing himself as a presidential
emissary and would say to them, "The Boss says this for you to do." "The
Boss wants this done." As far as I could tell, this young fellow was not
a presidential emissary at all (unless it was on a few occasions). He
was out to line his own pocket by getting contracts, or influencing contracts,
for commercial enterprises, for people on the make.
This later came out in one of the congressional investigations when he
was called upon to come up to the Hill to testify. He had his hand in
a lot of pockets. Outside of his RFC job, he was working apparently for
himself as an influence peddler.
His influence, incidentally, came through his wife's position on the
White House staff.
Young was a White House frequenter. He had complete
access because of his wife's position as an assistant stenographer to
the President. He would drive this big car of his (first it was a little
cheap, battered car, and then it was one of these five block long, black
Cadillac), into the White House grounds in the late afternoon and pick
up his wife and take her home. He had a White House admittance card, and
complete access. As I say, his influence stemmed from his wife's connections.
This individual, who had an influence peddling job to get Government
contracts (I believe, it was on Connecticut Avenue), as a gesture of gratitude
for Merle Young's influence with the White House and other agencies ("The
Boss wants this"), made a present of a mink coat to Merle Young's wife.
When this came out in a congressional investigation, it became a
first class scandal in Government.
Again, the implications were wrong, I'm sure. They were inflated into
something far greater than they were. Merle Young should never have accepted
this mink coat for his wife, but everybody wants a mink coat, and greed
and avarice can overwhelm judgment. Because of the implications of the
gift of a mink coat, this really became a monstrous scandal for the Truman
Truman had nothing to do with it. It was guilt by association in the
public mind, and the facts were not well-known. Only the sordid part came
to public light. This was played upon by the investigating committee in
Congress with all stops out.
In this brief period of operation as an influence peddler, Young did
pretty well for himself. As I've said, he first drove a broken down old
jalopy into the White House
grounds to pick up his wife. In a short time
it became a large, sleek, expensive automobile. He purchased a very large
and very expensive home in Kenwood, one of the swankiest real estate areas
in Montgomery County, outside of Washington. It was an area of very large
palatial homes, one of which was owned by Senator Kerr of Oklahoma, an
extremely wealthy man. Here was this young fellow with this very large
home in that wealthy circle all within a very short time.
This mink coat thing, like the deep freeze thing, was investigated by
Congress. There were exhaustive hearings. Young was called to appear on
the Hill. I don't recollect what happened to him, whether he was cited
for contempt or not. This investigation resulted in his being, more or
less, discredited. He was able, afterwards, to purchase a large tourist
motel down in south Florida, where I
suppose he is today.
In addition to this, there was a congressional investigation of the RFC.
They tried to involve, and did involve, Donald Dawson, the Presidents
Assistant who handled personnel in Government. When there was a vacancy
in a top Government job, he had great influence. This wasn't all, by any means.
There was then the great five percenter scandal investigated by Congress.
Without going into the details of it, this was influence peddling. There
were these characters, like the ones that Young was associated with, who
operated in Washington to obtain Government contracts for industrial firms,
using influences in Government or posing as being able to do so. They
were taking 5 percent off the top as their payment for obtaining these
Government contracts. Five percent of a billion dollars is a considerable
amount of money. Five percent of a million
dollars is a fair annual income,
which most people would like to have.
Almost from the first, beginning with the so-called deep freeze scandal
and going on through an administration that was in office over seven years,
these investigations were conducted by Congress. They lasted for many
weeks and months, with every detail of the investigation and accusations
being contained in the Nation's news media. The Truman administration
did not have a very good public acceptance. All of the courageous acts
and the acts of great and good judgment, which were also performed, were
swallowed up in the tidal wave of this sort of thing. This is why I felt
that Truman would not run for a second elective term. He was certain to
be defeated. No President likes to go out of office on a wave of defeat.
Look at the obscurity that Hoover fell
into when he left office on the
wave of defeat in 1932.
As I've said, the 1952 campaign was quite different in its atmosphere
from earlier campaigns. In my own personal view, we were spinning our
wheels. I felt that I was just along for the ride, and this, in general,
was the mood on the train.
Actually, the presentation by the President, in his speeches on the twenty-year
record of the Democratic administration, was as good, if not better, than
in the 1948 campaign, but the circumstances were entirely different. In
1948 here was a man fighting for his life, fighting for his political
future, and fighting hard. In 1952 he had pulled his own rug out from
underneath him, and he was just helping out the other fellow, Stevenson.
In other words, we weren't going anywhere.
The main impact of this long exercise, from Labor Day until election
eve, was mainly to justify the record of the Truman administration and
of the Democratic administrations before that. It was a justification,
rather than a fight. In the 1948 campaign, even after twenty-five years,
I can still see in my mind actual scenes of what happened. I can see the
President as he looked standing on the rear platform at his whistlestop
speeches and the crowds at certain little towns and hamlets. I can remember
the words he spoke and the things he did. This is, even today, very vivid
in my mind. It's as though I was looking at photographs and the details
stand out very vividly in my mind. By contrast the 1952 campaign largely
is a blur to me today. The reasons are simple enough. We weren't going
anywhere. We were traveling all over the country, but the end result was
already foretold and meaningless.
There was no verve or excitement to the campaign, because there was no
target in view. Because of all of these things that I have tried to enumerate,
it was a foregone conclusion that this gigantic figure of Eisenhower would
come into office.
The moment that Truman disclosed that he had decided not to run again,
he had also pulled the rug out from under the members of his administration
and all the members of his personal staff. They had nowhere to go but
out, because the Republicans certainly were not going to keep them in office.
In previous elections, in a sense, there had been uncertainties, especially
1948. Would it be possible for Truman to win under all the adverse circumstances?
There were always uncertainties in elections. Even in the Roosevelt years,
there were uncertainties, though I
never felt in my bones that anybody
could defeat Roosevelt. That was a personal conviction and belief. To
many others there were still uncertainties, but none of these things existed
for me in Truman's campaigning in 1952. As I say, we were spinning our
wheels. Stevenson, on Truman's record, could not possibly win. Eisenhower
had to do very little but stand up with that appealing boyish grin of
his, regardless of what he said or did, he was in.
On top of all this, was the rudeness of the people who came out to listen
to Truman, especially at the so-called whistlestops. Almost without exception,
there would be a claque that throughout Truman's speech would be shouting
like the shouts that go off at a football game. This was organized. They
shouted, "We like Ike!. We like Ike! We like Ike!" They were trying to
drown the President out.
He had never run into such rudeness before, except on one occasion at
the height of one of these scandals, the mink coat thing or the five percenters,
when he went out to Griffith Stadium in Washington for the baseball season's
opening game. He was loudly booed there. He had never run into this type
of rudeness before.
There was not only this rudeness, but there were those egg throwing and
tomato throwing incidents in New Jersey and New York which I mentioned
before. To top off everything else, it became increasingly obvious that
the Democratic administration was going down the drain. While it had to
be done, Truman was wasting his time, and this '52 campaign was really
to no effect at all.
HESS: Where were you on election night?
NIXON: I was in Kansas City with the President.
When I say with
the President, he was out at Independence at his home. I was in Kansas
City, staying as usual at the Muehlebach Hotel, where we always stayed.
We had a press room there and Western Union communications facilities.
So, I was there.
HESS: One question about the Muehlebach in general. The president of
the Muehlebach was Barney Allis at that time, did he usually try to have
a nice setup for the newsmen?
NIXON: Oh, yes. Barney saw that we had some of his best accommodations,
which we paid for through the nose.
HESS: Wasn't free at all?
NIXON: Oh, something like, twenty-five dollars a night, which at that
time was considerably more than the overnight charges in most hotels, I
remember running into twenty-five dollar rooms at the Ambassador, the
then top hotel in Hollywood. As I say, we well paid for it. He also set
aside a large room for us to use for our teletypes and our communications
setup, in which the Press Secretary would hold his sessions with us.
HESS: Do you recall anything of particular interest about election night
there at the Muehlebach in 1952?
NIXON: No, I have no recollection whatsoever. That's the way it was.
Truman wasn't running for reelection. There were no real issues. Stevenson,
at that time to me, was more or less a complete unknown. I'm sure I completed
my usual function, which was to report what the President was doing and
that sort of thing, that was pro forma. But in memory I
just had no impression whatsoever, except, "Thank God, this campaign is
HESS: Shortly after the election, President-elect Eisenhower visited
the White House to pay a visit to President Truman. Do you recall anything
at all about President Eisenhower's visit to the White House?
NIXON: This wasn't a call by Eisenhower to pay his respects at all. It
was to come in, with members of his immediate staff, and discuss with
the President and members of the President's staff, a suggestion that
Truman had made to Eisenhower. Two days after the election on November
5th, Truman had telegraphed Eisenhower and had suggested that there should
be an orderly transition in the executive branch, from his administration
to the incoming administration. He wanted to demonstrate to the world,
that in view of all of the international perils that existed, that we
were a united country. In doing so, he invited Eisenhower to visit the
White House at an early
This was the first time in our history that any such offer had been--well,
wait a minute now. Perhaps it wasn't the first time. This was one of the
few times in our history that such an offer had been made by an
outgoing President to an incoming President. It was something quite new.
In doing so Truman was mindful of what had happened to him when
Roosevelt died, and he was suddenly thrust into the Presidency.
As I related much earlier, Roosevelt never gave his Vice President the
time of the day. He never called him into White House conferences. He
never gave him the slightest information of what was going on in Government.
The one occasion on which Truman saw Roosevelt, after the '44 election
was that one occasion right after the election when Roosevelt invited him to
breakfast one morning. This, as I've related, made for tremendous
difficulties for Truman in assuming the Presidency. No wonder errors were
made. The wonder is that many more grievous errors were not made.
Although an opposition administration was coming into power, Truman's
interest was the welfare of the country. Therefore, he suggested to Eisenhower
that he should send his staff members and members of his Cabinet in to
be briefed so they could be told of the national and world situation.
He did not want the new administration to come in cold, completely unacquainted
with these manifold difficulties.
When Eisenhower received this suggestion, he was at first quite suspicious
of it, and not of a mind to accept it. His reaction was that Truman was
trying to put something over on him, and he wanted no identification with
the previous administration. However, after thinking it over, he accepted
the President's invitation to come to the White House to discuss this offer.
On November 18, he and several members of his staff came to the White
House and conferred with Truman. This was the purpose of the visit. It
was a business and not a social call. As to the physical nature of it,
it was more or less pro forma.
HESS: Did you try to query Eisenhower that day?
NIXON: I'm sure I did. I have no recollection of it, because this was
just another man calling on the President. Another man, regardless of
the fact that he was the successor to the Presidency. He was General Eisenhower
to me as he had been for years. I had been accustomed to seeing him, so
it just didn't make any impressions on me. I have no idea what was asked or what
his replies were, if any. Sometimes he could be extremely brusque
and sweep past you and ignore you. I have no recollection of the physical
nature of his arrival and departure. It caused no excitement as far as
I was concerned. It didn't raise my blood pressure one beat.
HESS: During the remaining period of transition, do you recall seeing
any, or very many, of President-elect Eisenhower's associates in the White
House or in the Executive Office Building?
NIXON: In the first place, after conferring with Truman, he, Lodge, Dodge,
and the others went back to the Commodore Hotel where he had post-election
After his doubts and hesitations, he did accept the President's offer
of transition, whereupon he sent his own people into Washington to confer
and to be briefed by the various top departments of Government. Among them the
Budget Bureau, an extremely important and vital area because
the national budget has to be made up ahead of time. This is a very involved,
extensive, and lengthy process. I believe he sent Lodge over to the State
Department and others to places like the Department of Defense.
One morning I was in the White House lobby, oddly enough, I believe it
was on a Saturday morning because there was no one else around. During
the normal weekdays, there are the callers on the President, the people
coming to and fro, and members of the staff. But Saturday mornings were
a very quiet time. There were virtually no reporters in the place. The
President would be in his office only a short time, if at all.
There would be no callers on Saturday, normally. There were exceptions,
but normally none. Of course, I had to be there Saturdays, quiet or unquiet.
I was there almost literally
seven days a week. I was there Saturdays
and I was alone. There were no callers as far as I remember, no members
of the staff in the lobby. It perhaps was early in the morning. I don't
recall a single reporter even having arrived, so this single person stood
out. He walked into the lobby, not the entrance. He was someone I had
never seen before, and I was rather curious because he came out of the
area behind the door occupied and used by the staff. He wasn’t a member
of the staff, so I thought to myself, "Who in hell is this?" He was a
slender, medium height man with a rather grim, if not a sour expression
on his face. He was sort of like a hound sniffing the air, in his manner.
It turned out to be Sherman Adams, a former Governor of…
HESS: New Hampshire.
NIXON: ...one of these New England states, New
Hampshire. He looked like
a movie type casting of a dour New Englander. He had the mannerisms, as
I say, of sort of sniffing the air. He was like a man with a yardstick
in his mind.
I watched him, and he finally came over to the lobby to the entrance
of the press room where I was standing. He didn't know me from Adam. I
suppose he assumed that I was a member of the White House staff, which
I wasn't, I was just a reporter.
He went into the press room, which was a fairly large and commodious
place, because it had to take care of a number of people. The three wire
services had private telephone booths along one wall. We each had a desk
of our own with our typewriters. There was a large, comfortable leather
lounge where we could sit when we weren't working. There were quite a
number of other telephones, not in booths,
but on desks, direct telephones
to the special newspapers that covered the White House daily. Newspapers
like the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, Philadelphia
Inquirer, the Washington Post, the Washington Star,
etc. He stood there looking around the press room. He turned to me and
said, "What is this place?"
I said, "This is the press room."
He humped and hawed and grumbled and said very severely, "Well, this
is too much room for the press. We are going to have to change this. The
news people can do with a lot less room. This whole part of the building
will not accommodate General Eisenhower's staff. We are going to have
to put partitions in, and we are going to have to use this for other purposes.
This is going to have to be partitioned off and that Secret Service office
next door has got to be taken out too."
I just stood there listening to his strange character, and thinking,
"Oh, boy, what you've got to learn."
By this time it had become obvious to me that he was one of these members
of the Eisenhower staff that had been sent in to survey the White House
accommodations for the incoming Eisenhower staff. I didn't like his manner,
which seemed to me rather imperious, so I didn't volunteer the information
that, after all, the old State, War, Navy Building across Executive Avenue,
had long since been converted into what was called the Executive Office
Building. That was where the greater part of the White House staff was
ensconced. I left it to him to sniff that out himself.
HESS: Did they reduce the size of the press room?
NIXON: As I've just said, "Oh, boy, wait until you
When the Eisenhower administration came in, the press room was not touched in the
slightest. It's only been latterly, very, very latterly under the present
HESS: Been redecorated I believe, hasn't it?
NIXON: No. The reason there has been a change is that the coverage of
the White House has outgrown the space that was available. So, under the
present administration, the whole press setup had to be moved from where
it was to what was formerly the Roosevelt's indoor pool.
It has an outside entrance, and it has been done over very lavishly with
separate accommodations for each representative of the news media that
covers the White House. This enlargement has mainly been due to the increasing
news requirements of the TV media.
So, Sherman learned. These grandiose ideas that he had about the architecture
of the West Wing, never came into being.
HESS: Did you see very many other associates of General Eisenhower in
the White House at that time?
NIXON: No, that's the only one. Adams came in to sniff out the--in other
words he was the office provider, surveying the White House West Wing
and making out his little charts of who shall occupy this office, who
shall occupy that office...
HESS: Where desks were. Who gets how much space and things like that.
NIXON: That's right.
HESS: What do you recall about inauguration day,
January the 20th of 1953?
NIXON: Everybody was in formal clothing, that frock coat, striped pants,
and top hat business.
HESS: Everybody looks like they are from the State Department that day.
NIXON: Or going to a very fancy funeral, or wedding, really more a wedding
than a funeral. It's this sort of thing where everybody goes over to a
tailor and for the day hires an outfit with an ascot tie. A great to-do
arose over what kind of a hat would be the uniform of the day. Past Presidents;
most of them, had worn these top hats, ridiculous looking paraphernalia,
but part of this costume. The question was: What should be worn?
This became quite a to-do. Eisenhower
decided that he would not wear
a top hat. He would wear a Homburg. That meant that the President was
supposed to have to wear a Homburg, which he did, graciously. The new
President is supposed to set the pace.
In midmorning, the select few, including the Vice President, Richard
Nixon, and their wives, all dressed up to kill, gradually gathered outside
of the north portico of the White House. I remember Dick Nixon in his
cutaway and striped trousers. I believe he wore a top hat; I'm not sure.
But I remember watching him standing there looking very elegant indeed,
cordial to all, and speaking to and shaking hands with various people
who arrived to go up to Capitol Hill in a motor entourage, for the inauguration.
Shortly before noon, Eisenhower and Mamie arrived in the usual big black
was thinking perhaps it was an open car, but I just don't
remember. Truman and Mrs. Truman came out on the north portico to greet
them and shake hands. After this little ceremony, they all climbed into
their big black car and headed for the Hill.
Eisenhower was looking very grim and not too happy, but Truman just looking
as usual. (It afterwards came out.) This antipathy that had grown up between
Eisenhower and Truman was still blowing pretty hot. Truman was still unhappy
over this Jenner incident and the demagoguery of that Detroit statement
of Eisenhower's, "And I shall go to Korea."
Eisenhower was unhappy for a number of reasons, some that we have gone
over. Eisenhower was unhappy over Truman's criticisms of his campaign
actions. I might add, Eisenhower was a man who notoriously could not book
criticism, or differentiation with his way of wanting things done. There
was something else, that perhaps made Eisenhower look unhappier than usual.
On the way up, driving up to the Capitol for the inauguration, this paraphrased
exchange too place:
Eisenhower: "Why did you call my son John back from Korea?"
His son, John, was an officer in the Army, a West Point graduate like
Eisenhower and was on active duty in Korea.
Truman: "I ordered him back because I think that any son is entitled
to see his father inaugurated as President of the United States."
Eisenhower didn't like it. He made it clear that he felt that Truman
was interfering in his private life and the life of his family. Even more
than that, Truman was calling his
son back from an atmosphere of combat.
He felt his son should be there fighting, or taking part in whatever actions
were going on. Under no circumstances did he want his son to be called
back to Washington just to see his father inaugurated President.
Truman, of course, was flabbergasted. Here, out of the kindness of his
heart, and a genuine feeling for family, he had made what he thought was
a nice gesture. He thought it would be a great surprise to Eisenhower
to have his son, John, home to attend his father's inauguration as President
and then to go back to Korea and take up his duties.
Ike didn't like it. For whatever were the reasons, this turned out to
be another breach between these two men. One trying to be nice, thoughtful
and kind, and the other resenting it.
HESS: After the inauguration did you go to the Hill that day?
NIXON: Oh, yes.
HESS: I believe that after the inauguration Mr. Truman went out to Dean
Acheson's home in Georgetown. Is that correct?
NIXON: That's true. We sat up there on these platforms that they always
erect on the huge steps leading up to the main entrance of the Capitol.
I went with the President to the reception room.
There's a very large reception room in the Capitol out of which doors
lead to these steps where the inaugural platform was set up. The President
and Mrs. Truman went down to their appointed seats to the side (the right
side if you are in the rear looking out over the audience),
near the podium
where the inauguration takes place, with the Chief Justice of the United
States swearing in the incoming President. I had a seat on the stairs
a few yards above, looking down.
The inauguration took place in the usual fashion without incident, and
we left. The President left immediately afterwards, and we drove out to
Dean Acheson's house on P Street in Georgetown, a beautiful, fine old
red brick Georgian house. The President and a few members of his immediate
staff went into Dean Acheson's for a luncheon. You see this was the middle
of the day. The inauguration took place at 12:30, for luncheon and a farewell,
that's what this was. I stood out on the lawn waiting as usual.
After the lunch the President came out and made a brief little talk to
the newsmen who were
gathered there. Incidentally, quite a number of Georgetown
residents, who were curious, had an opportunity to see the President.
What he said was not important. It was more or less a few words of farewell
and that sort of thing.
I and a few other newsmen who were there, were feeling like we were attending
a funeral (which we were, in a sense). We went off to file our stories.
We had been told Truman would go aboard a train at Union Station that
evening for his return to Independence. So, I left him at the Achesons’
P Street house. He was an ex-President, therefore, the urgency had gone.
It was just that simple. But I, of course, went home with him to Independence
on his train.
HESS: Will you tell me about that trip?
NIXON: Yes. The things that I can recall.
HESS: Was there much of a crowd at the station
when they left?
NIXON: I am trying to picture this, and I'll tell you in a moment. The
train was no longer the presidential train. The train he was going out
on, to return to Independence, was a regularly scheduled train. It was
backed up, as they do those trains at Union Station, with the rear car
backed up to the platform, inside the station, beyond the iron fence that
blocks the lobby area off from the train tracks. It was a sad, rather
There was not a large crowd at all. My recollection is that there were
just people who were friends of the Truman's, and associates. They came
down to tell him farewell.
It was emotional. I remember seeing Doris Fleeson, who was a lady columnist.
She wasn't going out to Kansas City, so she was able to go back to the
car in which Mr. Truman
had his accommodations, and bid him goodby. She
came out, streaming tears, weeping and crying. I said, "What's the matter, Doris?"
She said, "Bob, it's just terrible. It'll never be the same." She went
on about what a fine man Truman was, and how she hated to see him leave
the White House. The ending of the Democratic administration that had
done so much for the country, and the fear of what might happen to it
under a different administration, that sort of thing. There were a lot
of others. I just called Doris, but there were a lot of others who were
sort of wet-eyed. This was a very sad occasion for those who had known
and associated with this man for nearly eight years.
Myself and a few other people went back to Independence with him.
HESS: Who else made the trip besides yourself, do you recall?
NIXON: I just do not remember. I mean the only other person I can remember
at the moment is Rose Conway. There was a Secret Service man. The few
news people who were aboard just escape my memory. Some of them had jumped
the train and gone over to Eisenhower immediately, you see. People like
Meriman Smith of the UP, who incidentally, had left the Truman train,
though this was his assignment in '48, to join the Dewey train, with a
conviction in his own mind that Dewey was the next President. He wanted
to be as near top dog as he possibly could be, with the incoming President.
HESS: Did Mr. Truman know that he had gone over to the Dewey train?
NIXON: Oh, indeed.
HESS: What was Mr. Truman's reaction to that?
NIXON: His reaction came out in a very interesting
way. After Dewey's
defeat, Smith came back to the White House run with his tail between his
legs. Trying to make up for his dereliction, this incredible opportunist
went over to Blair House one morning immediately after the election to
try to accompany Truman on his morning walk.
I should add that this was the thing that we never did when the President
was in Washington. At his own request, we had left him alone on his morning
HESS: Respected his privacy at that time.
NIXON: That is right. Respected his privacy at that time.
Smith went over there trying to pick up his marbles. He stood outside
of Blair House until the President came out for his morning walk, to try
to get an interview with him and mend his fences. The President saw him
standing there and said, brightly, "Well, Smitty, I see you're back."
With that, he marched off on his morning walk and the Secret Service then
prevented this character from following Truman and achieving his end.
HESS: But Mr. Smith did come back to the White House after that time
did he not?
NIXON: Oh, indeed! Yes. That was where the President was, but he had
jumped ship. He was so sure, like these other wiseacres, that Truman wouldn't
When Eisenhower was inaugurated, he after all was President, and Truman
was an ex-President. You do what your office asks you to do. They knew
that I was close to Truman, and he had been my assignment. The end of
the road was when he got back in Independence. They had adequate coverage
of Eisenhower in Washington, so my job continued to be to take Truman home.
Despite the fact that he was ex-President, he was still news, so
that's why I went.
Who was along for the UP? It certainly wasn't Smith. It was some substitute,
and I've forgotten who it was. As far as my recollection goes now, it
seems to me that Tony Vacarro went along for the AP.
HESS: He had been the regular AP man.
NIXON: Yes, he was the regular AP man. The only "specials," as we call
them, that is representatives of individual newspapers, I can remember
was Wood of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the others escape my memory.
HESS: Since he was returning to Independence and Kansas City, do you
recall if the Kansas City reporter, Duke Shoop was along?
NIXON: I'll have to tell you about that. The
Kansas City Star,
under Roy Roberts (the managing editor, or publisher, or whatever his
title), was a bitter foe of Truman and of the whole idea of a Democratic
administration, so they didn't bother to send anyone along.
When the train arrived in Independence, it was evening. There was a crowd.
There. must have been three or four thousand people at this little rail
side station. It really isn't a station.
HESS: This was in Independence?
NIXON: Yes. One of these...
HESS: Sort of a small depot isn't it?
NIXON: Yeah, small depot. It was an open thing with a low gabled roof,
and posts to support it on a concrete platform, that's it. Well, anyway,
there was a huge crowd, for a small
town, three or four thousand people
there to greet the ex-President, to greet Truman coming home.
The next morning in the Kansas City Star there was not a single
line, not a single mention that Truman, President of the United States
for three months short of eight years, a native Missourian, had returned
to his home in Independence. Not a single line, not a piece of reporting.
Well, it was very strange. That isn't the way it should be done. That
isn't proper news coverage whether you like them or don't like them, you
report a little of what they do.
HESS: What seemed to be the attitude of Mr. and Mrs. Truman on the train
home? Were they relieved to be away from the burdens of the Presidency
and the burdens of being First Lady?
NIXON: I would say, yes, that was my reaction.
They kept pretty much
to themselves, but I saw and talked with Truman on the way back. He was
in excellent spirits. He wasn't downcast at all. In fact he seemed a little
happy that this burden had been lifted off of his shoulders, and Lord
help the new fellow. That was sort of it.
Offices for Truman had been set up, before his arrival, in the Federal
Building, on I believe the sixth floor. Anyway, it was not just an office.
It was a suite of offices. An ex-President under our system, is happily
entitled to those things. Although it seems to me that I remember Truman
telling me that he was poor enough, and how in hell was he going to maintain
these offices. Well, anyway, there was a nice suite of offices where he
had a large private office himself and Rose Conway had her office. There
was a reception room, and
two or three other members of his staff had
their offices. Despite the fact that the President had left the White
House he still receives an enormous amount...
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