Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration, 1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46. Secretary Snyder has been a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.

Washington, D.C.,
November 8, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess

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


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

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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



Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
November 8, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess


[1]
HESS: Mr. Snyder, for the record would you tell me a little bit about your personal background--where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions did you hold prior to your service in the Truman administration?

SNYDER: Well, Mr. Hess, I was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on June 21, 1895. I spent my early school years through high school there in Jonesboro attending the Jonesboro High School--finished there in 1914.

My father was a manufacturing druggist who

[2]
took a very active interest in civic affairs and in the general human interest life of the small town in which we lived. I think that he gave to me a heritage that has stood me in good stead ever since because I have always found that I was tremendously interested in the welfare of my fellow man, as has been demonstrated by the fact that I have spent so much of my life on sort of a lend-lease from business to Government. While I have never during my life been active in politics as such, I have spent a great deal of time in various Government assignments that have come my way.

Having finished high school, I went over to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with a plan to become identified with the electrical developments of the time. My father sent me to the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 when I was just nine years old and it was like a fairyland opening up to the eyes

[3]
of a country boy who had had rather restricted contact with the outside world. It was a fascinating experience which became so embedded in my mind and recollection that even today I can most meticulously describe the daily contacts and experiences that we had during the week that we stayed at the Fair, and among the things that impressed me terrifically was the possible wonders of what electricity, electrical power, electrical energy, could bring to our growing and expanding economic and social world. Unhappily, about that time that I went to college, we had considerable difficulty in the economy of our neighborhood--the cotton growing section of the United States--and as cotton got down to a pretty low price and even though the university offered to take cotton as part of the tuition, they couldn't take cotton to pay for board and room and things of that sort and I had to postpone my education

[4]
until a little more favorable time came, which I hoped would be very soon.

During the following two years I was associated with my uncle, Judge E.A. Rolfe, at Forrest City, Arkansas, in his timber and farm operations. Then World War I began to loom. I went to the first officers' training camp at Fort Logan H. Roots, Arkansas, and became a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery at that camp. From there I was assigned to the 32nd Division, which was then forming in Waco, Texas. This Division was composed of the National Guard of Wisconsin and Michigan, and I found myself removed from my environment in a pronounced way because I found that I was not only far away from home in the locale of the training camp, but I was far away from home with the people with whom I was associated.

[5]
After a brief period there, I went over to France, took some further courses in field artillery operation and became a member of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade staff, General G. LeRoy Irwin, who was in command, made me his aide and also Brigade Operations Officer. This was a great opportunity for a youngster in his early twenties. For the remainder of the period of the war I was the Brigade Operations Officer for a four-regiment brigade. We had four artillery regiments instead of the usual three. The 32nd Division became the famous Red Arrow Division and the 57th Field Artillery Brigade became known as the Iron Brigade; so dubbed by the French who greatly admired the stamina of the organization in overcoming the enemy and remaining in the line when the infantry elements were moved out. After the war I went up into Germany with the Army of Occupation and became the Division athletic officer of

[6]
the 32nd Division to develop a morale building operation because the soldiers felt as they had won the war, they wanted to go home.

After a few weeks of sightseeing, they thought they had had all of the Army of Occupation that they wanted. So we had to build up some morale programs in entertainment, athletics and in contests between divisions, between brigades. Our division excelled in many fields of athletics so we had quite a large contingency that went down to Paris to the All-American Meet there of the whole Army AEF operation. When at last I got home, why, my hopes of becoming an electrical engineer went out the window, for my uncle wanted me to go in his bank, and so my ambition to be an electrical engineer led me to a lifetime in banking.

I spent several years in Arkansas and Missouri in the banking business and then due to some upset in the economic world again,

[7]
there were a great many bank failures in the Middle West. I found myself the receiver of several closed banks--National Banks--under the jurisdiction of the Controller of the Currency. Our job was to try to reorganize the bank if possible and if not, to try to liquidate it in such a fashion as to return as much cash as possible to the creditors of the bank. This was a tremendous exercise studying human relations and understanding human reactions and in trying to evaluate people. During this time I was trying to build towards a permanent connection with the First National Bank in St. Louis. It seems as though every time I was about to get settled in the bank, something new came up. This next time it was Jesse Jones--one of the great leaders of our country, business leaders--who asked that I come down to Washington from St. Louis and qualify for being the manager of the St. Louis office of

[8]
the RFC, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. This job I undertook because it had a continuity of the same work I'd been doing because the RFC was making preferred stock loans to banks at that time to help them get back on their feet, help them meet the demands for solvency of the bank, and to strengthen them for the reconstruction period. We also did a great deal of financial work for business. We made loans to industry to fortify their balance sheet, or to help them in an expansion for new products, and for enlarged production with the idea of providing more payroll--thus enlarging the economy of our general community. At that time, of course, I came into further contact with some of the more difficult financing problems--we had several floods--so we organized the Disaster Loan Corporation, and I set up the first office in the field at Paducah, Kentucky, to help the people who were facing a real economic

[9]
and moral crisis because they felt as though they had lost everything they had in the flood. Through careful study, giving them restored faith, we were fortunate in being able to overcome what looked like a disaster and it turned out that within much less time than thought, we had a going community again of people who just needed a helping hand to encourage them to put their shoulders to the wheel and put our greater effort to go forward again. All of these lessons, Mr. Hess, had a great bearing on the work that I did subsequently in the National Government and as we talk along, why, I may refer back to the lessons that I learned in those various operations--particularly faith in mankind. When you think of our whole financial structure today in the United States: Here we are enjoying a gross national product, by that I mean the amounts that are paid for goods and services

[10]
in this country, of 760 billions of dollars annually. That's all based on faith in the customer, faith in people, and confidence in the future of our country. Otherwise we couldn't do--we haven't enough base reserves in gold, silver or any other commodity that would back up that size of a gross national product if it wasn't for the faith and confidence in the banks, the lending institutions, the insurance companies, in the individuals and in the corporations run by individuals. Those things come to you only by trial and error. You must feel that you understand people and that you can judge character, if you can judge the desire and intention of the borrower to repay--it's about the same thing that I was just talking about. Do you know that 95 percent of the payments for, goods and services of this gross national product is done by

[11]
check--that, of course, is faith and confidence again. The man has deposited his money in the bank and he has faith that that bank is going to have it ready for him when he wants it. The banks have built up faith and confidence in their customers that they can take the money that's deposited in their banks and loan it so that it can help expand the economic growth of our country and yet have it ready for them when they need it. That is one of the basic explanations of how our country has been able to grow, expand, and become the great world leader that it is today. I may have spent too much time on this phase of it but I hope it gave you a background as to what I was able to do when the opportunity to do it came to me, and how it helped equip me in a modest fashion to meet the problems as they came up.

After the RFC experience, why, I went back to the bank again and was scheduled

[12]
in 19--oh, I left out one of the vital things--I was about ready to go to the bank again in 1940 when Mr. Jones asked me to come down to Washington to help out in some financing for World War II--a great number of pressures being put on manufacturers to manufacture things--airplanes, guns, etc.--for use of the Allies in the European war which had developed into World War II. At that time, of course--this was in July, 1940, about a year and a half before the United States actually got into the war. During our discussions and studies and everything, we came upon the idea of setting up several subsidiaries in the RFC such as the Defense Plant Corporation, Defense Supplies, the Rubber Reserve, and a number of other auxiliary financing groups that would help the Defense Program, as we called it then, because at that time we were only trying to build up our own defenses and to help those that were engaged

[13]
in actual war, who were our Allies. With that, of course, came the end of going back to St. Louis anytime soon, because I was made head of the Defense Plant Corporation as the executive vice president and ran the organization for nearly four years. During that time we developed a most unusual way of financing, construction and equipping large manufacturing plants. The Government would furnish the money and would own the property. We would, upon recommendation of the WPB or the War Department or the Navy--we didn't have the Air Force at that time, the Air Corps was under the Army operation upon their recommendation that a certain firm have financing to build a plant to enable them to build things that were needed for the defense or war effort, the Defense Plant Corporation undertook to supply that money through lease agreements, and then assigned engineers, lawyers and bookkeepers to see that the

[14]
plant was built according to plans approved. The lease agreement with the manufacturer who was to manufacture items for defense and to use of that facility as long as the emergency existed was a unique legal instrument. I am very proud of those leases because we exercised considerable forethought in drawing up the principles under which they were drawn. Among other things, we put a proviso into the lease agreement which gave the manufacturer--the leasee--an option to buy the plant, after the emergency period was over, at an agreed on formula that was written right into his contract. This, of course, was of tremendous value in later years in our swing from war back into peace operations because these very fine, modern plants could be quickly put back into an expanded usage of production for the great demands for commodities that followed the war. We, of course, at that time had no

[15]
idea how long the war was going to last, but we just took that precaution to work out a transition from war to peace in light of the experience of many of us of what happened following World War I. After the problem of the financing had pretty well been solved--incidentally, we advanced over eleven billions of dollars to build plants under the Defense Plant Program. When this was finished, I went back to the bank in 1944 and was slated to become its president on July 1, 1945, but in the meantime I found that they kept calling me--Mr. Jones did, and others back in Washington--to help in this program or another until finally I just had to say, "No." That was about the middle of 1944. In the meantime my very dear friend, Senator Harry S. Truman, had become nominated and elected Vice President of the United States. He took office in January, 1945. As you know, events moved

[16]
rather rapidly and so it was only a few months later that he became President. That somewhat gives you a hasty but somewhat sketchy story of my early background.

HESS: When did you first meet Mr. Truman?

SNYDER: Well, here we're going to clear up a myth that's been existent for a long time--maybe Mr. Truman and I should have corrected it earlier but we never thought it could do any harm and we just didn't go to the effort to put a stop to it, because we didn't see how it would be any damage to history, so we sort of let it go--maybe it would have been better if we had stopped it at the time. I had not known Mr. Truman prior to World War I. I had not known him nor was I with his battery during World War I--I was not with the famous Truman Battery "D"--he was in the 35th Division, I was in the 32nd Division.

[17]
After we got home, the war being successfully completed, he and I, each in our own way, had become invited to retain a Reserve commission in the Field Artillery, the purpose being to use our talents as soldiers who had served in an actual war, as morale builders and as sort of inspiration for the younger officers coming along in the Reserve Corps and in the ROTC. Mr. Truman accepted a commission first and I did later. Along in June, 1928 I received an order to report to Fort Riley, Kansas for a summer camp with the Reserve officer group that would be held there at Fort Riley. On the order was Lieutenant Colonel Harry S. Truman. On July 9th--I believe it was--1928 at Fort Riley, Kansas, I met Harry S. Truman, then presiding judge of the Jackson County Court in Jackson County, Missouri, and who was later to become the President of the United States. That was our

[18]
first meeting.

HESS: Thinking back to that day, sir, what was your impression of Mr. Truman when you met him?

SNYDER: I think it's pretty clear in my mind that I immediately had a feeling that here was a man that you could like--here's a man that you would enjoy getting better acquainted with. He has something that gives you a good feeling whenever you meet him; when he shakes hands with you and looks you in the eye, there's a twinkle there, there's a grip in his hand that gives you a feeling that here is an acquaintance that I'd like to cultivate. I believe that was my instant reaction to him when I met him at Fort Riley.

HESS: Had you heard of Mr. Truman before this time?

SNYDER: Yes, I had because at that time I was in

[19]
Missouri and I had heard of what a great job that he had done as presiding judge of Jackson County. The name was not unknown to me although I had never had the pleasure of meeting him.

HESS: How often did you see Mr. Truman during those early years and what were the occasions?

SNYDER: Well, for one thing I can quickly say that every year, for two weeks, he and I-first I'll say from that year forward until 1939 he and I went to one of the training camps, sometimes in Minnesota, most of the time at Fort Riley, Kansas, and we spent two weeks of very close association, our tents were pitched there side by side or if we were in barracks, we had rooms adjacent and for those two weeks we had the opportunity to become very well acquainted. In the meantime between those camp periods Mr. Truman lived in Independence, Missouri and I lived in St. Louis, but we

[20]
found opportunities for our families to get acquainted; we visited each other when passing through our respective cities where we lived, and then as part of my receivership work I was sent out to Sedalia, Missouri to look after two banks that had failed there. Sedalia is only a short distance from Independence, so for about a year and a half or two years we had an opportunity to see each other rather frequently. After that it became a custom for us, as frequently as possible, to have visits on various matters that were developing and it wasn't very long after that, as you know, in 1934 Mr. Truman was elected Senator and came down to Washington to represent Missouri.

HESS: When did you first meet Mrs. Truman?

SNYDER: I think it was probably about 1928 when we stopped by Independence on the way back from camp. I stopped off in Kansas City for a

[21]
day and I think probably it was at that time.

HESS: What was your first impression of Mrs. Truman?

SNYDER: That's a very easy question to answer. Mrs. Truman is a most delightful person and she has from that very first meeting down to today been a woman I admire very much and I always enjoyed having an opportunity of visiting with her and getting her views and discuss matters of bringing up children and other important facets of life.

HESS: Thinking back to the times that you met Mr. Truman in your annual sojourn to the camp, are there any instances that come to mind that might show the developing man, that might show Mr. Truman in his earlier days?

SNYDER: Yes, very definitely. I soon learned that

[22]
Mr. Truman was a devoted student of history. He had spent a great deal of time studying the causes and effects of history throughout the years and we had many hours at these camps in the evening sitting around discussing what actions might lead to what results. As a matter of fact, we used to sit there and talk and had big plans for Mr. Truman to become Governor, maybe, of the state, and that if he did, why, those around him were all going to pitch in and be part of his organization. That was just musing in connection with talks on economics and history and things of that sort. At no time had we ever dreamed of his becoming a Senator and certainly not of his becoming President of the United States.

HESS: In 1934 Mr. Truman ran for the Senate for the first time--do you recall anything in particular about that election?

[23]
SNYDER: Well, that was not a very difficult election. The Democrats were pretty much in the majority and having received the nomination, why it wasn't too difficult to get the election at that time. That was not his first race. He had run for county judge, as you know.

HESS: Do you recall any other instances about Mr. Truman before we get to Washington? Any Missouri instances? Any times with the National Guard?

SNYDER: Well, Mr. Truman was not in the National Guard after he returned from World War I. He was in the Reserve Corps. He took an active part in American Legion affairs. He took an active part in the Reserve Corps affairs. He took an active study of the defense program of the United States. He had almost a vision that the work that we were doing with those young soldiers had a real purpose and not just

[24]
a peacetime program that would never be called on to show the training that these young men received. It has been a source of much pride to both of us in checking afterwards the record of the young men who were with us at those camps, that, perhaps, due to the inspiration they got from their work and through ambition they had, become good soldiers in time of war. It was a rarity where one of them didn't make a tremendously good accounting of his talents when World War II came along.

HESS: Did you see Mr. Truman very often during his first term in the Senate?

SNYDER: Yes, a great deal. I saw a great deal of him--for within two years of the time he became Senator I was asked to take over the job of manager of the St. Louis office of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, being a Senator from Missouri, Mr. Truman was

[25]
tremendously interested in the banking and economic development of the state and since the RFC's job was to aid and abet that, he and I found much in common in working together and helping various institutions around the state bolster up their finances and get on a sounder basis.

HESS: What was Mr. Truman's view of what should be done?

SNYDER: Naturally as representative of his people he wanted every business to be properly financed and to give it an opportunity to put its best foot forward. He wanted the banking system to be strong so that the depositors were assured that they would get their funds back whenever they wanted them. You see we had had an unfortunate banking experience in the thirties--late twenties and early thirties--which led to President Roosevelt declaring the bank holiday

[26]
immediately after taking office in 1933 because he felt that the only way to get back on a sound foundation in banking was to analyze the whole banking structure and not to let it fritter away by closing banks here, there and other places which would pyramid into greater trouble; he stopped it all at once; had an immediate examination of the assets and liabilities of all the banks in the country and set up a priority of reopening certain banks, which immediately proved that they were solvent and able to continue. These banks were given the license to reopen within a very short time. Others were put on a deferred list and as they strengthened their capital through liquidation of assets or through the sale of additional capital stock, were allowed to reopen. Some of the weaker ones took a little longer in reorganization and at that time the

[27]
RFC started making provisions for preferred stock purchases in banks that needed additional reserve capital.

So all of this became a part of Mr. Truman's prerogatives when he became Senator, to follow through on this action of the Federal Government in its efforts to restore confidence and faith in the operation of our banks and also in our industries, many of which had gotten into difficulties because of lack of demand for their products or for price problems, and so for his own state's welfare it behooved him to get in and take an active part in seeing that these financial facilities were made available to his constituents.

HESS: Do you recall anything in particular about Mr. Truman's service on the subcommittee of Senator Wheeler's Interstate Commerce Committee? That was the committee that was set up to

[28]
investigate railroad finances.

SNYDER: First let's add--I'd like to touch back a little on Mr. Truman's attitude when he came to Washington as a Senator. He had a rather fundamental notion about what a young Senator should do--how he ought to prepare himself for the most effective work as Senator and as a senior officer of his state in representing his people. He was a junior Senator, Bennett Clark was the senior Senator at that time. Mr. Truman had the idea that initially a Senator ought to study the purpose for which the Senate was created--what were the duties expected of a Senator, how could he best go about accomplishing what was prescribed in the setup of the Congress. He felt that in order to get the most out of his work that he ought to be well acquainted with the people for whom he was working. He felt that he should have a fundamental understanding

[29]
of the intent of the various provisions of the Constitution. He felt that he should understand the objectives of the platform of the party under which he was elected. He felt that he had to have a feel of the operation before he moved out into taking too active a part in statements and in the advocacy of certain actions for the consideration of the Senate. Fortunately he was made a member of two of the most important committees, in his opinion, in the Senate at that time. He was put on the Appropriations Committee which is one of the very, very powerful committees because they control the funds that are used for all the operations of the Government and for anything that the Government might undertake. He was also made a member of the Interstate Commerce Committee. He felt, and this goes back to some of his earlier studies, because we had a great many

[30]
railroads out through our part of the country--St. Louis and Kansas City were both large railroad centers and as a matter of fact, St. Louis was the second largest railroad center in the United States--Chicago was first, and he felt that transportation was one of the basic bulwarks of a free enterprise system, of a strong economy, getting the raw material to the market where it could be used in fabrication of products, and getting the manufactured product to the customer. He learned then what we found out since, in the World Bank operation in studying the economies of the world, that transportation was usually the number one necessity that they should have in those developing countries to start toward building a viable economy. So with that notion in mind he was fortunate in being put on those committees that were going to rule over how the money was to be spent that the taxpayer paid in, and how one of the best ways to get it spent

[31]
properly was through building up a strong transportation system through the country. He was delighted with the opportunities presented to him. He went to work on the appropriations, he studied the budget with meticulous care; it turned out that this stood him in great stead in later years because, while I was serving with him it was my privilege each year to go with him before the press and explain the budget to them so that they could interpret it to the public in the best fashion possible. At that time he proved that he understood the various parts of the budget, its various segments, its many applications, its various intricacies, better than any (the press' opinion at the time) President before him. In fact he was the first President to discuss the budget in open press conference. While he had the Budget director and me, as Secretary of the Treasury, present to back him up in anything that he might want to

[32]
ask us about, it was rarely that he really had to refer a question to us. He generally had the answer himself. But he never hesitated when he did get into little complexities to immediately refer to the Budget director or to me. A transcript of those press conferences will be most enlightening as to how well he was able to cope with the questions that were fired at him by these press experts. Budget work was basic training for him as a Senator for later larger responsibilities. His studies of transportation led to his appointment as a member of the committee to study the railroad situation in the United States, the railroad needs and railroad problems under what was later called the Wheeler Committee. Much to his benefit, Senator Wheeler gave Mr. Truman carte blanche to make the study. At the time he finished that report, it was issued, of course, under the committee's name, I would venture to say due to the fact that I

[33]
have heard railroad men say this, both the railroad bankers and railroad operators, that at that time Mr. Truman was probably the best informed man on the whole complex problems of the railroads that we had in the Congress. He went to experts in the field. He asked them about various phases of operation. He made a number of rather deep rooted discoveries of what was going on in the railroad world; what the weaknesses were; what the strong points were. One of the great weaknesses he discovered was in the financing operation. He remarked one time that the railroad holding companies and wholly owned subsidiaries simply were not cooperating with the railroad management in the public interest, nor for the welfare of the country as a whole. Well, that to him was a startling discovery because here was one of the facets of our economy that he thought was necessary in the front row of its requirements. He found that

[34]
the railroads, in his opinion, in studying the traffic requirements and the flow of traffic across the continent and in local traffic movement, that the railroads were a great and necessary adjunct to our country's welfare. "The fact is that the transportation system," he once said, "of the country is its largest and most important industry."

Well, those were interesting facts that were brought out by this committee in its study. In summation I recall how widespread this was accepted and it was very controversial in certain areas. He made the statement that, "I believe that the record that we have set down here will show that there must be reorganization of the finances of our railroads. They must quit using the railroads as a toy for the financial operation." He pointed out that many bonds and stocks of the railroads were issued with no idea of ever paying the bonds off or

[35]
making the stock of real value other than for management purposes.

The Wheeler Committee's Report became one of the textbooks of railroad operations, both to banks and to operators. I think briefly that is the impression I had of his work in the committees, and of course we could spend days going into this more definitely but I think what you're after is the effort that he put into his work and the end results that he came up with.

HESS: Do you recall anything offhand that came up from his duties with the Appropriations Committee?

SNYDER: Within a very short time after he became a member of that Committee, Mr. Truman--Senator Truman--became quite an authority in various areas of the budget. He became a consultant of other Senators who would come to him and say, "Look, Harry, I wish you would explain this section of

[36]
the budget here about this particular appropriations request. Are these people entitled to that? Have you gone into it or is this getting out of line or are these people growing faster than they are producing good results for the welfare of the country?" I found more and more in my visits with him--he had a back office that he called the "doghouse" and every afternoon after the Senate adjourned, that was the gathering place for quite a cross section of the Senators who would drop in there, Senators from both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democratic, and they'd talk over the events of the day and many times what action ought to be taken in regard to certain matters or questions that came up on the floor or in committees. It was a great privilege to me to have the opportunity to sit and listen to this quasi debate that went on as to the merits or demerits of certain matters that were before the Congress.

[37]
HESS: Between this relatively junior Senator and the people who had been there somewhat longer.

SNYDER: That's true. He made many staunch friends with the deans of the Senate.

HESS: Do you think that his working with the Budget and with the county budget in Jackson County, Missouri at the time that he was Eastern County Judge and then presiding judge gave him a good background for and a good understanding of budgets and administration?

SNYDER: Without question, Mr. Hess. Mr. Truman--Judge Truman at the time--was faced with quite a number of important capital outlays in Jackson County. They were going to build a courthouse. He spent months traveling over the country looking at examples of architecture, of the utilitarian merits of various structures that were built for courthouses; he studied the

[38]
pricing operation of contractors in bidding on public structures; he spent a great deal of time visiting with architects and contractors and getting counsel on how things are done; he went over many, many floor plans and revisions and finally came up with one of the--at the time--one of the outstanding courthouses of the country.

HESS: Did you ever hear him talk about the trip that he took around to see the other courthouses?

SNYDER: Oh, yes, many times we discussed them and many times later we'd be traveling around the country and he'd say, "I remember coming here and looking at that courthouse at the time we were building ours."

Jackson County had the first important county grid-system of hard surfaced roads. Mr. Truman put the same research into building those

[39]
roads that he did in the courthouse. The concrete mix, the foundation that was to go there, the analysis of the soil over which the road was to be built, how much rock base would have to be put in, how the traffic flow could be estimated fifteen, twenty years ahead to see whether the road would be adequate for a long time projection, and then of course he instituted a very strict competitive bidding on the materials and the engineering that went into them and as a result he came up with the finest grid-system at that time at a very appropriate cost.

HESS: It still is a fine system.

SNYDER: It's still a fine system; those roads have held up remarkably well. They've been expanded and widened, of course, a great deal since. He built several eleemosynary institutions and he gave them the same interest, and then

[40]
he had his own problem of his budget of his county operation. You see the county judge in Missouri, and in several other states, is not a member of the judiciary, he is actually the business administrator, and the word judge just kind of grew out of an early setup of the county judge who later actually became the administrator of the finance of the county rather than any legal talents that he might have.

HESS: Do you recall anything else about Mr. Truman's first term in the Senate? Anything else come to mind?

SNYDER: Yes, I recall very well. Mr. Truman was given the opportunity to be put on a committee to study the defense requirement of the country. This was back before we ever had any notion that we were going to get in World War II--many people didn't, some of us did have--he had

[41]
just finished that in 1940 at the time that he came up for re-election. He developed some very interesting impressions and reports as to the reorganization much of our manufacturing industrial capacity would have to undergo in case we were ever placed in a position of defending ourselves. That was one of the important things. He began to take quite an important part in internal arbitration among the Senators and smoothing out and trouble shooting relationships, and with that warm friendly approach that he had become one of the very popular Senators on the floor. This was later to be demonstrated by the willingness of his colleagues to go to the front for him when he was running for re-election in 1940.

HESS: Now were you referring to the background of what became the Truman Committee there?

SNYDER: No. I was referring to studies before the

[42]
creation of the Truman Committee.

HESS: What was the relationship between Senator Truman and Senator Bennett Clark during the first few years?

SNYDER: Senator Truman and Senator Clark were always friends. Their offices cooperated extremely well. There were times when Senator Truman felt that Senator Clark ought to take a little more active part in certain matters which were before the Senate and in the state, but by and large they cooperated very well. Senator Clark made a number of speeches for Senator Truman. Mr. Truman put forth a great effort to try to help Senator Clark get re-elected when his time came up for re-election but unfortunately he was defeated. Mr. Truman subsequently, as President, named him judge--Federal judge. Mr. Truman was his best man at his second marriage. They always remained good

[43]
friends I think.

HESS: In his Memoirs President Truman states that in the 1940 election one of the things that helped him get the nomination was that in the last few days before the election Senator Clark did come out for him and make some speeches for him.

SNYDER: That is definitely true as I flagged a moment ago. There were quite a number; go back through the records and you will find letters and public statements and endorsements from quite a cross-section of the members of the Senate in backing up Mr. Truman and endorsing him for the job, speaking of the fine accounting that he had made of himself in his first six years as Senator.

HESS: Mr. Snyder, what do you recall about Mr. Truman's efforts in the primary and the general election of 1940 to gain a second term in the Senate?

[44]
SNYDER: Well, Mr. Hess, we have to kind of roll time back a little. One of Senator Truman's friends, Lloyd Stark, who was in the fruit tree business in Missouri, came to him one time and asked for his assistance in getting an interview with Mr. Pendergast, Tom Pendergast, with the view of soliciting his assistance in backing Mr. Stark in his campaign for Governor, he wanted to become Governor of the State of Missouri. Senator Truman arranged a conference in Denver, Colorado for Mr. Stark to go to see Mr. Pendergast who was out there at the time. Stark went out to see him and that led subsequently to Mr. Pendergast endorsing Mr. Stark for Governor and in the subsequent race Stark won the election. Mr. Pendergast unfortunately got into some difficulty through one of his appointees in some insurance matters. I won't go into detail because it's long drawn out about some reserve funds that had been set up by insurance

[45]
companies on a delayed rate charge and that is a long story in itself, but Mr. Pendergast became involved in some unfortunate transactions which Mr. Stark seized upon to capitalize on as an effort on his part to stamp out machine politics in the State of Missouri and its weaknesses and so forth. This resulted in what is history and Mr. Pendergast was found guilty. The time came up then for Senator Truman's re-election. Mr. Stark felt that he had built up a record that would give him a great standing in the state and that he had a great platform to run on and he decided he would run against Senator Truman for election. Of course, we had first a primary to approach. Along with Mr. Stark was a man by the name of [Maurice] Milligan who was then very active in politics in the state, who decided that it was a great opportunity for him too to become a Senator. Both of them reasoned without doubt that Senator Truman was in a very

[46]
vulnerable position because of his association in Jackson County with Mr. Pendergast. Although in the six years that Mr. Truman was Senator there was never any question that came up as to his integrity or any misuse of Senator Truman's authority or any attempted misuse by the Pendergast organization in Kansas City, but it looked like a wonderful opportunity to those two gentlemen and they proceeded to try to make the most of it. They, of course, continually associated Senator Truman with the whole picture and held it up that this man must be replaced because we cannot have that association representing us in the Senate. It looked like a very devastating barrier. We had a meeting in St. Louis which I'll discuss a little later, and we left that meeting, I'll say, rather depressed.

Senator Truman went back to Washington. I came down to Washington later to talk with him over what our next step might be. We discovered

[47]
that after we started going into matters to see what our tools were, what pluses we had; we'd been overwhelmed with our minuses so we wanted to see what pluses we did have. We received another shock in that a record that we thought was being kept as to people that he had been able to assist in problems that came up, that he had represented as Senator in the State of Missouri, that an adequate record had not been kept as to who you could expect to be your friend in case of a campaign. That was quite a shock to us because there we were with our disappointing result in St. Louis, and we also were faced--Senator Truman was not a man of means--with a heavy cost of what already appeared would be a very expensive campaign and our depression deepened. As a matter of fact, I recall, the thought came to me, "We haven't even enough money to buy the postage stamps to write to anybody to help us."

[48]
So we decided we would mull it over and have another meeting the next day and talk about it. As I started out Senator Truman said, "I want to say one thing right here, I've got to run. I must not walk out on this opportunity of facing the public under the charges that have been poured around. In my own self-conscious I must run and I'm going to if no one but just us two or three right around this room vote for me."

"Well," I said, "Senator Truman, there's no question but what those of us here are going to be in there with you all the way through. It looks pretty bleak right now but let's talk about it tomorrow."

I walked to the elevator, went down and was walking out of the building--the Senate Office Building--and I ran into an old friend from St. Louis, Horace Deal. He said, "John, what happened to you? You look like you've just been run through the wringer."

[49]
"Well," I said, "that couldn't be a better description as to how I feel." And I told him what our problem was.

He said, "It's pretty bad isn't it?"

"Well," I said, "it is."

He replied, "Well, maybe it's not all that bad." He walked over to the fender of an automobile, brought out his checkbook, wrote out a check and handed it to me. It was for $1,000. I didn't even stop to thank him for it. I turned and rushed back into the--then all of a sudden I got to the door and I said, "Well, come on, go up with me, Horace."

He said, "Oh, no, I'm going on back to the hotel. I'm not even going up there; I was coming up but I'm not now, I'm going back to the hotel; if you need me, call me."

I ran back up waving the check to Senator Truman, and said, "Well, there's a silver lining here; we at least can buy postage stamps."

[50]
Well, it was a rejuvenating experience and from that minute on we were determined we weren't going to let anything lick us. We didn't have any money though. We decided that under the circumstances it was best not to set up headquarters in Kansas City or in Independence, so we moved over to St. Louis and established his campaign headquarters there. I borrowed the room from which we operated, a floor in the Ambassador building. We borrowed clerks, we borrowed furniture, we borrowed everything that we could. We financed a mobile loudspeaker system; we got writers for speeches; we got students to make studies of what Mr. Truman had done along with his own recollections of his six years and of his past years as judge, and we made up a set of speeches. Mr. Truman was largely the author himself of the speeches but we did a little polishing for him and so forth.

[51]
HESS: Who else helped on those speeches?

SNYDER: Well, I would have to give you those names later. We had a half a dozen people who were word artists that were able to...

HESS: Any names come to mind?

SNYDER: Yes, I've got two or three--but I'll give you those names later. Senator Truman started out and before the campaign was over he visited every one of the seventy-five counties in Missouri, and while he was a Baptist, I accused him of being a good Episcopalian because whenever he would stop at a crossroads or a town square and four or five people gathered together, he'd turn on the loudspeaker and start talking to them. In that way he communicated his image to the people. They saw the man; they heard him talk. He built up confidence from one corner of that state to the other. It was a quiet infiltration. In the meantime, of course,

[52]
all of this blaspheming and everything else was going on through the papers, and through every means possible.

HESS: Now, Mr. Truman did have a campaign office in Sedalia.

SNYDER: That was later--yes. He did have another one over there.

HESS: The treasurer's office was in St. Louis, is that right?

SNYDER: Yes, for the time being, yes.

HESS: Harry Vaughan was the treasurer that year, correct?

SNYDER: Vaughan did a magnificent job. He worked constantly gathering up whatever funds that we could get, and it was sort of a hand-to-mouth operation but we wouldn't be discouraged--we just kept going. Every now and then we'd

[53]
get a real nice contribution from a good friend and it was most remarkable to see how many postdated checks turned up a day after we won the election.

HESS: That's called getting on the bandwagon, isn't it? Do you recall how Mr. Truman met Mr. Vaughan?

SNYDER: Well, now Vaughan was a member of his Battery and so they met...

HESS: They'd known each other a good long time.

SNYDER: Yes, in World War I.

HESS: Also in the 1940 campaign didn't the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen provide some assistance?

SNYDER: Not only some--magnificent assistance.

HESS: How did that come about?

[54]
SNYDER: It came out of Senator Truman--really that railroad study was the basis of it. In talking with his brotherhood--well, there were actually four brotherhoods, you know; at one time. I don't know what the structure is today, but there were four major brotherhoods of the Railroad Operators, and Mr. Truman established rapport with those people when he was studying how the railroads were run because he penetrated every facet of the question of the operators, of the workmen, of the managers, of the bankers who financed it, of the shippers, he went into every facet. Well, that's how he got to know them and they got to know him: "This is a man we can have confidence in." The farmer--Senator Truman was very faithful to his pledge to the farmer in his first campaign that he was going to look after their interests. He was constantly, during his first term, looking into the bills on agriculture that went through the Senate, and another strong

[55]
point that he had in that campaign was his veteran support because of the activities I was telling you about--the American Legion and the Reserve Corps and his study of the defense needs--he built up quite a support among the veterans, and, of course, to labor groups other than the railroad people. He built up a reputation for carrying out his promises when he could.

HESS: Was A. F. Whitney instrumental in getting the railroad brotherhood to back Mr. Truman that year any more so than any of the other railroad men?

SNYDER: There were three or four of them. I would have to check back in the records to find just whether he stood head and shoulders above the others, but there were three or four there that came in separately, don't you see, there wasn't much cohesion--that's a good word--at that time. Each one kind of ran his own bailiwick.

[56]
HESS: I think he was in charge of the railway trainmen.

SNYDER: Yes.

HESS: In his Memoirs, Mr. Truman says concerning that primary that one of the biggest breaks in the final days of the campaign when Robert Hannegan who had been supporting Stark switched his support to him.

SNYDER: That was because Hannegan at that time was very active in St. Louis politics and I believe he was Collector of Internal Revenue. I'd have to check back.

HESS: I think so but I'm not sure.

SNYDER: To get to be Collector of Internal Revenue required someone who had quite a bit of influence, particularly in St. Louis, which was close to Louisiana, Missouri where Mr. Stark came from. St. Louis at first was lined up

[57]
considerably towards Mr. Stark.

HESS: The mayor of St. Louis was quite a Stark man--wasn't his name Dickmann?

SNYDER: Yes, Barney Dickmann. But Bob Hannegan saw the error of his ways and switched over, it just broke up that situation in St. Louis that had been a pretty solid front for Stark, you see.

HESS: Was this really the first political connection between Robert Hannegan and Mr. Truman?

SNYDER: Yes, Mr. Truman may have met Hannegan at some of the state conventions because up until that time, if my memory serves me correctly, Hannegan had not been very active nationally. I don't want to say that as dictum. We ought to check into that one, and I will. Senator Truman may have casually seen him but so far as being associated with him,

[58]
I doubt it. It could be that we might find if we go back to the 1934 election that Hannegan might have been a member of the St. Louis committee in 1934. That's why I'm so cautious about that because Bob was a growing young fellow there in politics in St. Louis and could well have been on Truman's committee in 1934, but Truman didn't have any real opposition in the '34 campaign and so it didn't call for any real effort on the part of Hannegan.

HESS: Then in the general election he defeated Manvel Davis, the Republican.

SNYDER: The real effort was in the primary and once he had defeated those two why his problems were much lessened because his strength was quite a revelation to the people of the state and it was a demonstration of leadership and capacity that he could beat these two people

[59]
who had the support of most of the papers in the state.

HESS: Who else worked for Mr. Truman that year besides Mr. Vaughan?

SNYDER: Oh, there were a great many faithful, loyal people and...

HESS: Do you recall any offhand?

SNYDER: Yes, I could go back and if you'd like to inject that, I'll give you quite a little list of those who put forth a real effort to help him.

HESS: Well, outside of the meeting in 1940 in St. Louis, which had to do with this and which we want to put off until a later date, does anything else come to mind when you think of the subject of the 1940 campaign and election?

SNYDER: I think one thing that impressed me considerably

[60]
was Senator Truman's manner of handling his campaign. He strictly ran on his own record. He didn't attempt to meet in any fashion the charges that were brought up, the innuendoes. He didn't try to debate those at all; he ran on the Truman record and laid it before the people at every opportunity. As a matter of fact, when we sat down to organize the campaign initially, he set out in very clear fashion the conditions that were going to be observed in his campaign, and he asked all of us who were around at the time to pledge that we would keep the campaign within that framework. And I'd like to read to you just what he said:

The Senator will not engage in personalities and asks his friends to do the same. Avoid mentioning the Senator's opponents in any way.

That was number one. Number two:

Avoid getting into controversial issues. Stick to Truman--his record as a judge, as a Senator, as a military man.

[61]
Three:

While others discuss issues not involved in the primary, each worker will carefully avoid getting into those traps.

Four:

The press is a function of our free institutions. If they are wrong in their attitude, try to make them see the true light, but under no circumstances attack them.

And finally, number five:

Political parties are essential to our republic, our nation, and we must not attack them. What we're doing is to show by our actions that we think what our Party is destined to do. Provide the basic laws for a more abundant life and the happiness and security of our people. Those are the conditions under which I am going to run and those are the conditions I want each of my adherents and co-workers to observe with the greatest of zeal.

HESS: Very good. Did you write those down at that time?

SNYDER: I had that list put in one of my scrapbooks because I thought so highly of it. I dug back and found it and these are just notes that I

[62]
jotted down so as to make what we're saying a little bit more understandable.

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