Oral History Interview with
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.
John W. Snyder
November 8, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
November 8, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
After the RFC experience, why, I went back to the bank again and was
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
SNYDER: No. I was referring to studies before the
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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."
"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,
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."
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.
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,
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
HESS: I think he was in charge of the railway trainmen.
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
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
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,
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
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
SNYDER: I think one thing that impressed me considerably
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.
While others discuss issues not involved in the primary, each worker
will carefully avoid getting into those traps.
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
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
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]