Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened December, 1979
Oral History Interview with
September 30, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Rowe, when did you join President Roosevelt's staff as an Administrative Assistant?
ROWE: I was on the White House staff before I was an Administrative Assistant. I went over early in 1938 as an assistant to Jimmy Roosevelt who was then the President's secretary. I had been a lawyer in various Government agencies and the last one I was in was the SEC and I was writing occasional speeches for Jimmy because he was very busy, but he was still trying to run for Governor of Massachusetts and when he started to write a speech he tied up large segments of the Government for two or three days, so I
ROWE: '39. There was an act in '37. And I was appointed the first one, the first Administrative Assistant, in July 1939. The President appointed three and I happened to take my oath first so I was number one, in terms of time.
HESS: Who were the other gentlemen at that time?
ROWE: Lauchlin Currie was brought in from the Federal
HESS: Just what were your duties?
ROWE: Well, the President once described my duties as that of a bird dog, which was to do, in effect, whatever he told me to do and occasionally I would do things of my own without being told. I did a variety of things. It was a relatively small staff in those days. This was before the war, when there were the three secretaries. I used to kid some of my friends on the Truman staff after the war when I came back and said I found nine men doing what I used to do. But I did what I would call the political personnel
HESS: How did you carry out your White House congressional liaison work? After the President had decided what measures he wanted to get through Congress, just what steps did he take to get
ROWE: He didn't take them in the involved way we seem to do it now -- the present administration, the Johnson administration, or I suppose the Truman, but I can't remember enough about the Truman administration. In our day, the lead was usually taken by the department concerned, much more than today and much less centralization in the White House. Occasionally he would have someone -- financial legislation was drafted, for instance, by people like Tommy [Thomas] Corcoran, my law partner, and Ben Cohen. I did some work before I went to the White House on these, and they would do the drafting and also carry it through the Hill. So, in effect, you had a functional group in a department or an agency or even some outside who understood the substance very well, drafted it and worked on it, but also did all the political lobbying for it. I would go down on various bills, agriculture occasionally, once in a while, really to
HESS: Did President Roosevelt make calls to the Hill much in the nature of Lyndon Johnson's type of operation?
ROWE: Oh, yes, he did a lot of that. Not, I would assume, as much as Johnson did, but on the important legislation, he would be on the telephone or calling Senators or Congressmen in to see him, that sort of thing. He did that.
HESS: Just how did President Roosevelt conduct his relations with his staff?
ROWE: Very loosely and informally. I'm talking, of course, about the prewar period; I left just before the war broke out. So, I'm not talking about the war period although there was a build-up of staff just the year before that. It was very informal. He did break down the staff duties. He had an appointments secretary, he
HESS: Did he have something in the nature of a daily staff meeting?
ROWE: No, he didn't. The only time the staff ever seemed to get together was before press conferences. He had two press conferences a week, as I remember, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Usually the staff would come in ahead of him, just to sit around. Sometimes he would ask them questions about what he ought to say and shouldn't say but it was very informal. Roosevelt was usually available to each member of the staff. The only problem I ever had was occasionally getting in, when his appointments secretary, who had all the
HESS: What was the relationship between Judge Samuel I. Rosenman and the White House staff during your period of service?
ROWE: He was then a judge in New York. He did appear time to time. I remember mostly he appeared when I was there during the 1940 campaign and that was as a speechwriter. The President had great faith in the Judge as a speechwriter. And the Judge would slip in and out. I think it's fair to say, my memory is not too accurate on this, but on a major speech Sam would appear, irrespective of campaigns. The President had
HESS: What seemed to be the relationship between Sam Rosenman and President Roosevelt?
ROWE: Oh, I think it was a very good one. Sam had been his counsel up in New York when he was Governor and the President had made him a judge. I think that's what Sam wanted. My feeling was the pressures were always with the President in getting Sam, and Sam would have been perfectly content to stay up there and do his work, but the President kept calling him down. When the war came I think he just said you've got to get
HESS: I believe that he was made Special Counsel in 1943, which was after the period of time that you left. Correct?
ROWE: I'm not sure if it was '42 or '43. I went from the White House in November, 1941 to the Department of Justice where I became what was called The Assistant to the Attorney General, which is now called the Deputy Attorney General. And I remember we were very unhappy about Sam getting this job because we felt the Attorney General was the President's lawyer, and I think [Francis] Biddle protested about it. I think I may have even written a memo protesting about it to the President but it didn't do a bit of good. The President wanted it and Sam came down. And then Sam, I think, mostly worked in areas of specific problems. We did not have any legal conflicts between the Department of Justice and Sam once he came. Although we expected we would.
ROWE: No. I wouldn't. I was outside looking at all three of them. My own guess is that, and this is purely in terms of personalities, Charlie Murphy was probably more meticulous and more precise than the other two. I think Clark was probably more on policy than maybe Sam was but Sam was a rather precise fellow. In terms of chasing down all the details, and this is not based on anything other than speculation, I would guess Charlie Murphy was the most precise, Sam Rosenman the next, and Clifford third on working out all the details.
HESS: If you were going to rate them in their political astuteness, and political perception, how would you rate them?
HESS: What do you recall about the relationships both personal and professional, between Louis Brownlow, Harold Smith, and President Roosevelt?
ROWE: Well, Brownie was chairman, of course, as you know, of the Brownlow Commission that studied the Government and made the report, the Brownlow Commission Report, and then was responsible for moving the Budget Bureau out of Treasury into the White House. It was responsible for establishing the Administrative Assistants, and for creating one or two new agencies there. Brownie was a very persistent
Harold, when he came, was really the creator of the new Budget Bureau, a tremendous man, quiet man. The President had done everything he could to keep Danny [Daniel W.] Bell in there. Danny had been an acting Budget Director and always wanted to go back to Treasury and he would never take the title because he wanted to keep his Civil Service status. Danny finally insisted on going back to Treasury, really, and that is why there was a new vacancy at the right time for Harold Smith. Harold came out of Michigan. He, I think, in a way taught all of us how to use staff. I know as time went on, as Administrative Assistant I more and more leaned on the Budget
HESS: Why would you rate Mr. Truman so high on that?
ROWE: Only because all the Budget people told me he was so good. Knew his budget very well, and
HESS: As you know, Mr. Truman ran for reelection to the United States Senate in 1940, during the time that you were at the White House, and I would like to read a short passage from the Memoirs regarding the event. It appears in the Memoirs, Vol. I, page 159:
Were you aware of that offer?
HESS: Do you recall what President Roosevelt's attitude toward Mr. Truman was at this particular time?
ROWE: No. You've got to remember that right at this time Truman was pretty much of a junior Senator. I think, let me see, about this period he was working with Burt [Burton K.] Wheeler on the railroad investigation, and I think that whatever interest we had was what Wheeler and Truman were doing about railroads. I may be a
HESS: The Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program.
ROWE: Yes. Until then he had been regarded as a quiet junior Senator, maybe too much a part of the Pendergast machine.
HESS: Did you ever hear President Roosevelt mention Mr. Truman's connection with Pendergast?
ROWE: No, but that doesn't mean he didn't. I cannot now remember anything. Roosevelt was a realist about the bosses. He played with [Frank] Hague, he played with Pendergast, and the New York crowd. He came up as you know, through that New York machinery and he was not a man to kick the bosses in the face more than once. He might do it publicly, but he didn't do it privately. I wouldn't think -- I just never did hear. I knew Roosevelt had some kind of relationship with Pendergast. You had to
HESS: What do you recall about Mr. Truman's selection as a vice-presidential candidate in 1944?
ROWE: I don't recall anything as I was in the Navy and in the Pacific at the time, but I can tell you of the conversation I had with the President in either December '44 or January '45. I was home on leave and my own opinion as I had sat out on a carrier in the Pacific had been that he would pick Sam Rayburn for Vice President, and I had not thought of Mr. Truman. I had been out of the country for, oh, at least a year and I was a little surprised about where did Truman come from and all that business. Why Truman? So, I .went in to visit the President on leave and he had some time and I, in effect, said, "Mr. President, why did you pick Truman?" And he gave me a very interesting account. He said that he had decided nobody could help him. No vice-presidential candidate could help him and the problem was
HESS: What did he say about Henry Wallace at this time?
ROWE: Well, now, he said that the bosses had been in, Ed Flynn and all the rest. I've forgotten, he told me who they were. They came down and waited on him in effect, and said they just couldn't take Wallace; he would just have to, in effect, get rid of him.
HESS: Did President Roosevelt at this time say anything about Senator Truman's chairmanship of the Truman Committee?
ROWE: I can't remember anything, although as I say, I wasn't following it because I was out in the
HESS: Well, of course, Henry Wallace wanted to get the nomination again. What do you recall about the efforts that he made?
ROWE: I don't recall much because I was away. I think Francis Biddle was for him. I think Judge Rosenman was involved in this some way or another. Now that I think of it, Rosenman originally picked Wallace. He was responsible for Wallace in the first place. I think that the liberal crowd was sort of backing Wallace. But you see we had run into this guru business. I don't know if you know about that.
ROWE: Yes. That had worried Roosevelt a great deal.
HESS: You say Rosenman was responsible for Wallace in '40?
ROWE: That is my memory, yes, that he came up with the Wallace name. And during the campaign we ran into the guru letters and they made us all nervous and they didn't break. I think the President was a little shaky about Wallace from that time on but the other factor about Wallace was that he had been presiding over the Senate for four years and didn't have any allies up there. Rather odd fellow. Competent man. He was a great Secretary of Agriculture. But it was a fact that he didn't have any of these people supporting him.
HESS: Did you ever have occasion to work with the White House staff during the Truman administration?
HESS: What was that work?
ROWE: Well, I did several studies. I did an aviation study for him. At that time, what had happened was, let me see -- I've forgotten the period, I think it was '46 or '47. I had been in Nuremberg and had come back in the fall of '46, the late fall of '46 and I didn't quite know what I wanted to do. I think I was perfectly sure I didn't want to stay in Washington. I was thinking about practicing law in California and Montana where I came from, and I was floating around really doing nothing. Then Jim Webb and I had got to talking somewhere or other about a few things, and before long I was helping him.
The airlines were in as bad a mess as they are now and I think the President gave Jimmy Webb the assignment of taking a look at the whole thing, and getting it straightened out. So he put a task force together, and I remember the
Later, the other things that I did with the White House were really through Webb. I did two studies. I did one on jobs. I can give you a copy of both of them. Here's one. These are both political studies and the first one I see is called "Cooperation or Conflict? The President's relationships with an opposition Congress."* In effect, how does a President handle the Congress when you have both houses against him as Truman did? It was a historical study, but really it was a REALPOLITIK study. I see it's dated December '46, and was about
*See Appendix A for copy of this memorandum.
HESS: How important do you think that his handling of the 80th Congress matter was to his eventual victory?
ROWE: I think it elected him. But I don't want to suggest too much for this memo that I haven't read for a number of years...
HESS: Do you recall if he followed this suggestion?
ROWE: My memory is that he did. But I think the best thing to do is to let you have a copy, which I will get photostated and mail to you, and you make up your own mind on that one.
The other thing I did was this.*
HESS: We can include this in an appendix to our oral history interview.
ROWE: Good, you can do that. Now, I think Jimmy Webb told me that both this, and his own copy of this other memorandum, are in his papers in the Truman Library, and I'm not certain. I'll have a copy of this made and...
HESS: What is the other memorandum?
ROWE: The other memorandum is called the "Politics of 1948." Now, this gets a little complicated. I wrote this and it went to Clark Clifford. It's really a memorandum on how to handle the political campaign of 1948. Clark and I have since discussed what happened to this one. I happened
*See Appendix B for a copy of this memorandum entitled "The Politics of 1948," written by Mr. Rowe and dated September 18, 1947.
When I first wrote this memo, I mentioned it to a couple of people, and Clark heard about it, and gave me a ring. I guess that is what always does happen. I gave it to Clifford and I assumed that my name would be on it. What Clifford did, what he said he did, was that he took this memo and he took some other memos and he put his ideas all together and then gave the President an overall memorandum including, I think, most of this one.
HESS: Would you go so far as to say that the majority, or the largest part of the memo that he turned over to the President was taken from your memo?
HESS: All right, fine.
ROWE: That's a covering letter to Webb -- I guess with
HESS: And this is dated September 18 of '47.
And in the book The Truman Presidency by Cabell Phillips on page 197, Mr. Phillips refers to an analysis of the political situation that was submitted to the President by Clark Clifford in November of '47.
ROWE: Yes. This was probably the basis or the seed corn for it.
HESS: All right. We will include this also in the appendix to your interview.
ROWE: Now what Clark added to this I don't know. It's out there somewhere in the Truman Library.
HESS: Have you ever seen a copy of his memo?
ROWE: No, I haven't.
HESS: Here is a copy.
I don't want to disturb you while you're
HESS: That was?
ROWE: I think you will find that these were very much the same. The beginning doesn't seem that way. You can take a look at it.
HESS: Another point that I want to ask about is on page 40 of the 43-page memo where it mentions setting up a small working committee to coordinate the political program in and out of the administration. Do you recall if that was your suggestion?
ROWE: It was, yes.
ROWE: I haven't any idea. I gave the memo to Clifford and what was done with it after that I don't know. At one stage Clifford had asked me to come over, back to the White House, to be an Administrative Assistant.
HESS: This was before '48?
ROWE: I'm sure it was before '48. I said, no; I had been an Administrative Assistant, and I didn't come back. In the '48 campaign, there is a fellow whose name I've forgotten, from California. I'm sure you're familiar with it, who came in to work on the campaign.
HESS: Dave Noyes?
ROWE: Dave Noyes. He asked me to come in and help him on the speechwriting and that sort of thing and I didn't do it for a variety of reasons. I was busy. But I do remember it was my suggestion that he get Dave Lloyd. Dave was a classmate of
HESS: Do you recall if he was working with the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee at that particular time?
ROWE: I don't remember. I assume maybe somebody was paying him. It might have been that division. I think he was working with Noyes the first time he went over there.
HESS: Concerning the events of 1948. Were you involved in the decisions that were made, political decisions?
ROWE: No, I was not. There was only one thing that I did in the '48 campaign. Howard McGrath
I do remember one interesting point regarding that meeting that stands out. In the middle of it Howard McGrath got a telephone call saying that he had to put up so much money to get the President of the United States to speak on radio. Howard didn't have the money, and didn't know where he was going to get it. I can remember his thumping the desk and saying if Truman wins, by God I'll make sure the President of the United States can speak to the country whenever he wishes. Of course Truman won and Howard forgot all about the pledge, but it was true at that moment that Truman didn't have enough money to make a radio speech.
HESS: They did have a bit of trouble raising funds now and then, didn't they?
ROWE: They had a terrible time raising funds. I
HESS: What was your opinion?
ROWE: I didn't think he had a chance. I thought he was dead. Oscar Chapman and Les Biffle were the only two people of any political background that thought he had a chance. They both went out talking to the people while the rest of us politicians were sitting around doing nothing.
HESS: I understand that Leslie Biffle dressed up as a chicken farmer and went out. Did you ever hear him speak of that?
ROWE: Yes, I talked with Les, probably before the election. I knew he was very close to Truman so I discounted his judgment -- but I know he was out. He always went out just wandering
HESS: And he had been out of the country.
ROWE: He had been out of the country. He saw something in Africa that the rest of us didn't see.
HESS: After suggesting that the small working committee be set up and it was set up, were you somewhat disappointed that you were not asked to be a member of it?
ROWE: I don't remember. I doubt it. I think I knew I had done my job. Frankly, I was never close to Truman, and at that time I was not a
HESS: What has changed your mind?
ROWE: I think at that time the atmosphere was such that the New Dealers thought Roosevelt was perfect and therefore no matter who went in -- if God had replaced him, He wouldn't have satisfied them. I think that is part of it. Truman didn't like New Dealers very much, and said so. I think it's only human nature that we weren't too fond of him. There are a number of the, oh, minor things like the refrigerators; I can't remember when that came. It was that sort of thing, too. I think, looking back on the tremendous things he did do, mostly in foreign affairs -- the Marshall plan, Korea -- I think maybe those things, twenty-five years ago, have given us what you can't call peace, but at least not hot war, either. I think in the foreign field he was tremendous.
HESS: As a New Dealer what do you think are the
ROWE: There are none -- except that the Fair Deal was not as successful in getting programs through. We didn't have the guns by then. I think the Fair Deal was a logical extension of the New Deal.
HESS: All for one day?
ROWE: Good enough.
Second Oral History Interview with James H. Rowe, Jr., Washington, D.C., January 15, 1970. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
HESS: Mr. Rowe, to begin this afternoon, let's discuss the events of 1952, the convention and the campaign and the election in 1952. And to start, let me ask you when you first became aware that President Truman did not intend to run for re-election in 1952?
ROWE: The first time I had any indication of his not running, although there was, of course, speculation as to whether he would or would not, was the night of the Democratic dinner when he announced it.
HESS: Were you there that evening?
ROWE: I was there that evening, yes.
HESS: Did it come as a surprise to you?
ROWE: It came as a surprise to me and I think to the crowd; yet, the reaction of the press was most interesting. They all flocked around him
HESS: At this time, who did you think would be the best standard bearer for the Democratic Party?
ROWE: I hadn't really thought about it; this was March '52 wasn't it?
ROWE: I hadn't thought too much about it because I thought it was academic speculation until Mr. Truman made up his mind. Obviously he was entitled to run, under the Constitution, and if he decided to run he would be the nominee. I didn't have any doubt about that, and I don't think anyone else did. So, until that was out of the way, I didn't really speculate too much. There was talk, of course, at the time, but I don't think anyone had seriously buckled down to thinking about it. Some speculating went on; there was talk about Stevenson and others, but
HESS: Is it difficult for a party not to give its nomination to the incumbent President if he so wants it?
ROWE: I've always thought it was impossible. But it has happened, I think. I'm almost certain it happened with Rutherford Hayes. He was a one-term President. The party refused to nominate him again and I made a statement the other day for some odd reason that he was the only one and my son made a bet with me. He's in his first year of college, and he's studying American history; he came up with Buchanan. I'm not so sure. Buchanan didn't run and he did have the nomination; why he didn't run I don't know. I haven't done my homework and gone back to the books to see whether he wanted it or not, but in general it's such a confession of defeat that if your own party repudiates you, it's almost certain that party will be defeated, I would think.
ROWE: There were very strong elements in '48, the ADA, Jimmy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt -- all the so-called liberals around the country. I've forgotten who else but there were some quite powerful politicians. It seemed to me, at the time, that this attitude was silly. I always felt that the organization would nominate Mr. Truman if he wanted it, and that is exactly what happened. When the chips were down they all got in line. You will hear speculation that Lyndon Johnson would have had a hard time getting nominated. I've always been sure he would have been nominated if he had kept going, because the alternative is a public confession that the man you had in office, you don't think is good enough to run the country. I think that means the country would always turn to the other party.
HESS: After Mr. Truman took himself out of the picture
ROWE: In 1952, until, and through the convention, I was for Averell Harriman. I got into that rather late. He won the District of Columbia primary here. My wife had been quite active for him although she deserted and went over to Stevenson at the convention. I thought Averell would have been a good man, and as a matter of fact I went to the convention with him, and worked actively for him. But I did go to the convention with him and supported him through that period.
HESS: He had an office at the convention, is that correct?
ROWE: Yes, he did.
HESS: Can you tell me something about...
ROWE: Yes. He had an office at the convention itself and he also had one in town, but I've forgotten which hotel. This was so long ago.
ROWE: Oh, let me see. Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. was his campaign manager. As I remember, "Soapy" [G. Mennen] Williams, who was then Governor -- maybe a first term Governor of Michigan, was active for him. The New York delegation was supporting him. He had the District of Columbia. He had strength throughout the Rocky Mountains, wherever the Union Pacific ran, which is an all-Harriman railroad. For some reason he had some union support. I was working actively for him. A fellow named Jimmy Lanigan who defeated Carmine DeSapio years later in New York was for him, as was another rather interesting man who keeps popping up, a man named [Harold G.] Gibbons. He's the head of the Teamsters in St. Louis, and for a long time was thought to be the successor to Hoffa. He's still active, I'm told. I don't know where he is or what he's up to now. He was very active for Harriman at
HESS: Who did it seem to you that President Truman favored for the position, before the convention?
ROWE: Well, as you know, he tried to push Adlai Stevenson into taking the nomination, and called him, as I understand it, into Washington. Adlai, in effect, said he wouldn't run. And I think this was sincere on Adlai's part. I always thought the '52 convention was as close to a draft as we will ever see because I think he didn't really want it. I think President Truman felt that Stevenson would be the strongest candidate. Now, what that was based on I don't know, but I think he always had the feeling. When he came to the convention he made that perfectly clear, even at that late date. We'd had two ballots and there was one more to come, when Sam Rosenman, who was traveling with the President, came into Harriman headquarters and asked me how things looked and what I thought was happening. Then he went in to see Averell, who was in his own office, and departed
Averell told me later that Sam had brought the orders from the President, telling Averell to get out of the race, which is what we did on the next ballot. There had been a great deal of talking between, and meetings between, Kefauver and Harriman in which I was present. We were trying, in effect, to put a "stop-Stevenson" slate together. We could never get it done because -- well, I suppose for the reason "stop movements" never do get very far. You're pretty late in the day when you get to that stage and they couldn't decide who should take first place and who should take second. As Harriman told Kefauver quite accurately, he could not deliver his New York delegation to Kefauver. They would prefer -- if they couldn't have Harriman -- they would prefer Stevenson, and therefore he would have to have first place and Kefauver would have to have second.
HESS: What did Kefauver say to that?
HESS: Did you ever hear any talk about President Truman's support, supposed support, for either Fred Vinson or Senator Barkley?
ROWE: No. I never heard anything, or if I did I've forgotten, about Fred Vinson. There was a movement of some kind for Barkley, as you know, but the labor movement killed that off. I think the day that Truman came to town or the day before, they had a famous breakfast, and you know about the breakfast. Barkley got the bug; he was running for the nomination and he had a perfect
HESS: After Governor Stevenson received the nomination, then what was your view of him?
ROWE: I supported him and I worked very hard for him. I was his first advance man in the West with Mike Riley. We did all that, and I spent time in Springfield, and I spent time in New York with him.
HESS: Will you tell me about the various aspects of the '52 campaign that you worked on?
ROWE: Well, I was disappointed a little in Stevenson because I did think he couldn't make up his mind. It's the feeling I always had. Perhaps all of us have self-doubt, and we should have, and most of us do, but it doesn't show. It doesn't show as much as it did in Adlai; he seemed
The Stevenson campaign, however, was not well-organized. Truman had sent out quite early,
HESS: You thought it would have been a mistake?
ROWE: It would have been a mistake for Humphrey to have done it because it's a form of disloyalty. I pointed out to Humphrey, which I think he knew better than I, that Stevenson had never been as close to Truman as Humphrey had been to Johnson. Yet it still hurt Stevenson. It did hurt in the campaign.
HESS: Do you recall Clayton Fritchey, do you recall that name?
ROWE: Yes, Clayton was there. He was his press man, public relations man then, and he also was in 1956. A nice man, who writes a column. Doesn't work hard enough, or didn't work hard enough in the campaigns to my taste. There were
HESS: Stephen Mitchell.
ROWE: Steve Mitchell was back here and...
HESS: Why was that done? Just why...
ROWE: God knows. I don't know why. Stevenson did
HESS: Do you think it was a mistake for Stevenson to replace Frank McKinney with Stephen Mitchell?
ROWE: No, I think it's important that you have your own man on these jobs and McKinney certainly was not a Stevenson man. The nominee always has this choice and I think he should have. He should have a man that he trusts. Now, I think that Stevenson could have done better if he had had more experience. In '56 he was more experienced. He picked Jim [James A.] Finnegan of Philadelphia who was, with the possible exception, and I use the word "possible," with the exception of Jim Farley, the best politician I've seen in my lifetime. And for what it's worth, the '56 campaign was the best run campaign I was ever in, badly beaten as we were. It was a beautifully run thing. Finnegan knew his business; he had been a boss in Philadelphia. He had great charm; he knew the politicians; they
HESS: Were your duties in '56 roughly the same as they were in '52?
ROWE: No, in '52 I went out as an advance man.
HESS: Where did you go?
ROWE: Oh, heavens, I did all the West. You see the problem was the Democrats had not had, what might be called, an "amateur advance man" for twenty years because they had been in power for twenty years and the Secret Service did most of the work. All of a sudden, there was Stevenson. We didn't have any Secret Service and we didn't have all the connections the President has at his disposal, to travel and to see and talk to the politicians. So, we just sort of threw the thing together and learned as we went. The Republicans are quite good at this. They've been doing it for the twenty years they were out
HESS: What are the duties of an advance man, just what do you do when you go into a town?
ROWE: Well, he has to do everything. You have to go
And you have back in Washington, a fellow who runs all this all over the country, which is what I did in '56. You sit at a desk and you schedule. You have a group of men who are scheduling a month ahead of time where everybody is going to be, and where he will go and what promises he'll make, and what speeches he'll make and that sort of thing. And then you
HESS: President Truman made several speaking trips in 1952. Was his itinerary and Governor Stevenson's coordinated?
HESS: In 1952 did you ever hear Governor Stevenson make any comments about the role that he thought President Truman should be playing in the campaign?
ROWE: No, I didn't, but I think at that time, because of the kind of things I was doing, I wouldn't have heard. I was with him and I was moving through crowds, saying you're going into that room, and you're going to talk to so and so, and we are going to have some trouble with the press down here. When I was in his headquarters in Springfield, it was mostly to go over the mechanics of making the operation run right. What with the advance and the scheduling, it wasn't running right.
HESS: Can you tell me something about the set-up in Springfield? Just what kind of physical facilities did you have down there?
I think Springfield was a little more centered; it seemed the politicians came in quite often. There were a few strategy conferences, but Stevenson did not in '52, so far as I can judge, listen much to the older politicians. I'm
HESS: Do you know why Governor Stevenson chose to leave his principal headquarters in Springfield and not to move it to either Washington or New York?
ROWE: I think the answer that he would give you would be that he was Governor of Illinois and he had to be there. I think the public reason was undoubtedly that, and I think the private reason, too. You know he had a very curious
I remember in '52 we were waiting for him in New York and he was coming in by train, from where, I've forgotten, but he must have been campaigning in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Then out in Illinois they had a prison riot. Of course, your big rallies came right at the end of the campaign, in New York, in those days. But he turned right around and went back, while we were scared to death he was going right out to the prison and take charge. Hell, he could have got caught right there and stuck in that prison for the rest of the damn campaign. We all had said, "Don't go." All the politicians would have said that the smart thing to do would have been to let the Lieutenant Governor worry about it.
HESS: Do you think he had a feeling that politics was somehow bad?
ROWE: Yes and no. He was not an instinctive politician such as, I would say, Roosevelt or Truman, and he certainly didn't love it the way they did. I can't really imagine either of those two, or let's say Lyndon Johnson, ever doing anything else. If they had been garbage collectors they would have ended up in politics some way or another. But Adlai, I don't think, really liked it too much. It was a feeling I had. I thought in the back room he was pretty good. In '56, of course, he was experienced and knew a lot, and knew how to handle politicians, knew how to handle people pretty well. But he was a very ambivalent man;
HESS: What is your view of that? What would be your definition of politics, and what would be your definition of a politician?
ROWE: Well, I've never got either of those down to any pat definition. I've always been willing to accept the fact that your statesman is the dead politician. I suppose the good politician is a man who's learned how to make the machinery work. People used to ask me about it; this was when everything was a little more black and white than it is today. Then Lyndon Johnson was the southern conservative, and Hubert Humphrey was a flaming radical liberal, you know. How can you support both of those folks? I was always asked. That is what I did in '60, one right after the other.
"Well," I said, "this is a tough country.
I think the pressures on a President, if he's intelligent and he knows his politics, he's pretty much going to come out the same place as any other good man. Keep watching Nixon now, who doesn't do things very differently from Johnson. Forget style, in terms of what he does about the problems.
HESS: How important to a politician is style?
ROWE: I think very important. I used not to think so. More and more, I think style has a great deal to do with it. Roosevelt had a definite style which I thought was the best ever. Truman had his own style and didn't try to change it. I didn't think it worked at the time, but looking back now, I do think it worked. Eisenhower, I don't feel, was too interested in the job. Stevenson had his own style certainly; Kennedy had style; Johnson had a style that was sometimes helpful, but most of the time, not. I
HESS: In 1952, did you help write the speeches for Governor Stevenson?
ROWE: No, no. I was working really just on the mechanics most of the time.
HESS: A question on the speeches; it has been said that Governor Stevenson's speeches were too intellectual and on too high a plane to reach the common man. What would you say about that?
ROWE: I don't know. I've thought about it a great deal. The usual comment was exactly that. I liked them, but people didn't seem to understand them. I always kept running into people who didn't like them, and said nobody else would. I don't think they had much to do with his losing. Eisenhower's speeches were utterly illiterate you know. In '56 he could make a good speech, you know, but in '52 he could not
HESS: What could Governor Stevenson and the Democratic Party have done to gain a victory that year?
ROWE: Nothing, is my conclusion. I think the same thing would have been true of Truman, if Truman had run. He would have been beaten, but then, of course, I thought that in '48. I don't know.
HESS: Do you think there was anyone else that the
ROWE: No. Looking back, I think that clearly Stevenson was the strongest candidate. He was clearly the strongest candidate we had in '56.
HESS: Could we have done anything in '56 to have tipped the scales the other way?
ROWE: I doubt it. I don't think so. No, it was in '56, when you had the vote on Suez and the Hungarian issues. Both of them should have helped Stevenson because [John Foster] Dulles had messed them up, but they both redounded to the aid and the help of Eisenhower.
HESS: Did you think that Stevenson was going to win in '52?
HESS: Surprised that he did not?
ROWE: Yes, as a matter of fact. As the last thing we did in the campaign, Hale Boggs and I stayed
HESS: Do you have any other thoughts on Governor Stevenson in 1952?
ROWE: Can't think of any.
ROWE: I was called Technical Advisor to the Military Tribunal. I really was a law clerk, and I was writing the opinions. Butch [Adrian S.] Fisher, who is now Dean of Georgetown Law School; Herb Wechsler who teaches at Columbia Law School; and I had all been law clerks to Supreme Court justices. I was with [Oliver Wendell] Holmes, [Jr.]; Wechsler clerked for [Harlan Fiske] Stone; and Fisher served both [Felix] Frankfurter and [Louis D.] Brandeis. Twenty years later we said, "Look how far we've come. We're all law clerks to Frances Biddle and Judge [John J.] Parker, when we are about fifteen years older, and the judges aren't as good as they were when we were young." This is what we were doing mostly. We were organizing the material. The other judges -- the judges from the other countries -- were not as well-organized as the American judges. They had people supposedly
HESS: And you served as a member of the first Hoover Commission -- the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government in 1948 and 1949. In his book, Present at the Creation, Dean Acheson refers to a proposal made by yourself, George Mead, James Pollock, and himself for the creation by Congress of the post of Chief of Staff of the Armed Services. What do you recall about that?
ROWE: I recall very little except that I wrote the
Now, on Acheson, this event, of course,
HESS: Also Mr. Acheson referred to your role in the attempt to establish a single foreign affairs service in the Department of State. Do you recall that?
ROWE: I do. I've been spending twenty years trying to do that.
HESS: Can you give me a little bit of the background of that?
ROWE: Well, now, ask me the question again, so I'll make sure I've got it.
HESS: In the Department of State.
ROWE: What you had then was a Foreign Service and a large number of talented men who were not in the Service and who spent all their time in Washington. And there were some conflicts between them, which are understandable whenever you have an elite corps like that. Moreover, the Department had grown a great deal during the war. So, the question in effect was, should these two be put together in one group? In other words, should you take a great number of people by lateral entry, let's say middle-career and top-career people, and throw them into the Foreign Service itself? The traditional Foreign Service would have opposed this because they believed you should start at the bottom of the ladder and work up. So, what in effect was
In effect, the Hoover Commission report on foreign policy was written by Acheson. He controlled it and did most of the writing. But in the middle of that, I think before it was published, Mr. Truman grabbed him and sent him over to State. When he got to the State Department, he found a great deal of opposition to this idea of the Hoover Commission by the Foreign Service, including the people he counted on a great deal like "Chip" [Charles E.] Bohlen, and other top people. They said this would destroy the Service. And Acheson decided to have it restudied. So, he set up another commission, or committee or whatever we were, and I was chairman. Bob
The Eisenhower administration appointed another commission and Dulles picked [Henry Merritt] Wriston who was president of Brown [University] then. Wriston just took an ax. My report had recommended doing it over a twenty-year period, and gradually it would have been done and everybody would be happy. That would have taken care of it. Wriston just put them together and said do it all at once. It had
In general, I think that putting them together did, in effect, improve the Foreign Service. A lot of good people left because they wouldn't go abroad. A lot of good people went in, were "Wristonized" was the word they used, and started at the bottom of the class, didn't go up fast enough, got disappointed, and quit. But this is inevitable, I think, in anything as large as the Department of State. Acheson, I think, had so many problems in the Department of State that he just didn't want to take the spite of those opposed. That would be my guess. I don't think he would admit
HESS: What was your evaluation of the job that Dean Acheson did in the four years that he was Secretary of State?
ROWE: Well, I think he's easily the best in my times. He was a very interesting man, and the most fascinating relationship that Truman had, I suppose, was with Acheson. You know, they were entirely different by temperament, but Acheson always had a very simple rule: he always knew who the boss was. He understood that the President had to make the decisions and I think he always felt his job was to present proposals in a way that the President couldn't say, "Why didn't you tell me about that when I was making the decision?" It is my understanding, mostly
HESS: Any other matters concerning the Hoover Commission come to mind? Any other particular subject that you worked on as liaison?
ROWE: I can't think of any. This is an interesting minor point. He, Roosevelt, never let Hoover near the White House and they never liked each other. Hoover didn't speak to Roosevelt when they were riding down the avenue, you know. Roosevelt was sworn in, and Roosevelt had a marvelous story of the ride down. But Truman, just as soon as he became President, started taking
"Well, I suppose he does," said Hoover.
He was quite shocked. But right after the campaign the same relationship went on. Truman started bringing him back into the White House.
I think the interesting thing about the Commission itself was that Hoover definitely thought he was going to use the Commission as a vehicle to overturn the New Deal in substance. The battle we really had in the Commission, which Acheson was very good on and if I may say so, so was I, was this: we argued that we were only to deal with procedure, reorganization,
HESS: Did you ever hear him say that he thought that it would make a good vehicle for overturning the New Deal-Fair Deal policy?
ROWE: He didn't, no. But he was talking about how we've got to change this, that we're spending too much money, and that program has to go and this program has to go. We kept saying that's not our function.
ROWE: I think he was a very earnest, very sincere man, and worked like the devil. He was seventy-five at this time. I remember we used to break up Saturday morning and he'd say, "I'll be back Monday morning with three drafts of various reports." He'd get on the train; he'd work all Saturday and all Sunday; and on the train coming back held have these reports written. They weren't very well written, they had terrible style, but he'd been working on them. He was a hard-working man. He was, I think, an engineer by background, maybe a scientist. I felt he never really grasped what the problems were. I could see why he had a hard time as President.
HESS: What was the story that President Roosevelt told about the ride to the Capitol?
ROWE: He used to tell at the dinner table about
HESS: You mentioned being on the staff of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Just what kind of a man was Justice Holmes?
ROWE: Well, he was a fascinating man. I was a law clerk, his last law clerk. He had one every year and I was with him when he died. He was off the bench when I was with him, but he still kept his law clerks going. As someone said, it didn't make any difference if he
HESS: What impact do you think your association with him has been made on your life?
ROWE: Well, the simple way of putting it -- he opened all the doors -- if you want me to put it in an
Now, I think that's about it.
HESS: We've compared the Presidents from Roosevelt to the present.
ROWE: I'll just add one thing. Do you know where that famous quotation of President Kennedy came from?
HESS: Which one was that?
ROWE: The famous one: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." It came from Holmes in the 1800's. Somebody found it, and pointed it out to me. I pointed it out to Arthur Schlesinger. He's
HESS: Nothing new under the sun.
ROWE: That's right.
HESS: Well, we've compared the Presidents from Roosevelt to the present as far as their political ability is concerned, but I wonder if we could just take a few minutes and rate the Presidents from Roosevelt to the present in terms of their effectiveness, their administrative abilities,
ROWE: Well, I'd rate Roosevelt "one" on all of those. That's my prejudice. He certainly was the most effective. He was the best politician. I don't know how you define who's the best politician, but he stayed in office longer than the rest of them. Of course, he may have had situations that helped that. I thought he was the most effective in handling Congress and getting his legislation through, in my lifetime. He was a great war President; he had the war won, and he died a couple months before he'd done it.
What were your other comments?
HESS: Intellectual ability, administrative ability.
ROWE: Intellectually, I would put him the best. Administratively -- this is an interesting problem. Probably the most flexible and best organized was Truman, and I'm including all of those that followed afterwards. Dick Neustadt argues that Roosevelt, because of the confusion he
Who else? I think Kennedy was a very good politician in a national sense. As a politician I might put Kennedy next to, in terms of the politicking, next to Roosevelt. Oh, we could argue Truman was better; I don't know. Johnson, who was my great friend, was a disappointment as a national politician. I don't think he ever understood it then or now. He was a good administrator in the sense that he had to do everything. I mean, if one man can run everything, he was a good administrator. I think he tried to do too much, and worried about too many fool, unimportant details. As an administrator, Kennedy, in a curious way, was not interested enough in a lot of things. He had quite an interest in foreign policy; he'd be interested in this or that. But on the whole range of problems he did not show the interest that Roosevelt or Johnson had. These are the two Presidents
HESS: What problems would Kennedy tend to overlook or disregard?
ROWE: Well, I don't think he did a "Hill job" in terms of putting the heat on or seeing enough of them as much as he should, which was surprising.
HESS: Do you think he relied too much on Lawrence O'Brien?
ROWE: I think somewhat. I think it's true about Truman, that he started setting up an organized "Hill" group. Roosevelt always used the so-called substance people, policy people, to do the lobbying. As we'd work on a bill, we'd draft it and we'd take it down, so we, the experts, always knew what to give up and what not to give up. Truman switched a little bit, but in general, with people like Murphy, Clifford, and Dave Lloyd -- these people followed the Roosevelt
HESS: The first people that Mr. Truman had with specific titles of Congressional Liaison, were brought in in 1949, and they were Joseph Feeney and Charles Maylon. Do you recall those gentlemen?
ROWE: Yes, I knew Feeney, and who was the other -- Charles...
HESS: Charles Maylon.
ROWE: I didn't know him. I don't think they had as much power as the "Hill man" today. Feeney just died recently, I think, didn't he?
HESS: About a year and a half ago.
ROWE: I think probably Charlie Murphy could give you a darned good rundown on that.
HESS: In your opinion what are the major contributions Mr. Truman made during his career?
He was hardboiled, of course, about Berlin at the right time, and he was a great man in this field I think.
Now domestically, until '48, he didn't have a Congress. He never had the following in Congress that Roosevelt did, and he didn't have as many liberals. He didn't get too much of his program through that I can think of, but I would say in terms of keeping the world together, why, this was the great thing about him. How much of this was Acheson's doing, and how much Truman's, and how much the team's, I don't know. But it was a
HESS: What is your estimation of Mr. Truman's place in history, one or two hundred years from now, and how will historians and the general public view Mr. Truman?
ROWE: Well, he's rising all the time as you know, in the historians' point of view, and I suppose among the people who live long enough. I think I said in my first interview I didn't start as an admirer of Mr. Truman; I came to it later in time. Will he be in the first rank of five or six Presidents, or right below that? I don't know. He might make the first rank; he's not there yet, but he's gaining.
HESS: Do you have anything else to add on Mr. Truman and the Truman administration?
ROWE: I think that's it, sir.
HESS: Well, thank you very much.
ROWE: Well, thank you.
Acheson, Dean, 73-75, 77-78, 79-81, 82
Barkley, Alben W., 47-48
Chapman, Oscar L., 35, 36, 56
Hague, Frank, 17
McCloy, John J., 74
Rowe, James, memo re, 25-30
speechwriters and other Democratic workers, 31-34
Rowe, James, duties in, 55-58
Stevenson, Adlai, as Democratic candidate in, 48-64, 68-71
Bureau of the Budget, U.S., and, 14
evaluation of, as President,' 90-94
Hoover, Herbert, dislike for, 81, 85
political machines, acceptance of, 17
Rosenman, Samuel I., relationship with, 9-10
Truman, Harry S., opposes, 1940 U.S. Senate race, 15-16
Truman, Harry S., selects as 1944 running mate, 18-21
Roosevelt, James, 1-2, 7, 42
Rosenman, Samuel I., 8-11, 21-22, 45-46
Rowe, James H., background, 1-3
Schlesinger, Arthur, 50, 88-89
accomplishments as President, 96-97
budget, U.S., knowledge of, 14-15
80th Congress, makes a political issue of, 1948, 25
Hoover, Herbert C., relationship with, 81-82
Presidential campaign, 1952, role in, 49-50, 53, 60
rating of as President, 37, 90-94
Senate, U.S., campaign for reelection to, 1940, 15-16
Vice Presidential nomination, 1944, selection for, 18, 20-21
Vinson, Fred M., 47
Walker, Frank, 19