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 22, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 22, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Snyder, did you attend the meeting in St. Louis in 1940 at which
it was discussed if Mr. Truman should run for re-election that year?
SNYDER: Yes, I was present. It occurred, as I recall, along in June of
1940. Mr. Truman thought it would be well to gather some of his acquaintances
in the eastern part of the sate and feel them out on the prospects of
his running for second term. At that meeting I think there were some sixteen-seventeen
people. Among those that I remember particularly were Roy Harper, Horace
Deal, Harry Vaughan, Jake Vardaman, Eddie McKim, Neat Helm, Clarence Turley,
and of course the Senator and me. It was frankly a very disappointing
meeting. As we've already noted there had been quite a build-up of Governor
Stark as a candidate, and also Mr. Milligan. Those two candidates,
because of the Pendergast background of Senator Truman, had become very
vicious in their attack on machine politics and Senator Truman's connection
with them. So, we found a rather lukewarm response to a campaign for the
second term. And after some hours of discussion back and forth we adjourned
with no decision having been made regarding procedures or recommendations
or anything of that sort in connection with the second term. And it was
left on the basis that we would get in touch with everyone later.
HESS: Do you recall at this late date what some of the views were of
some of the various people that were there? Who advised Mr. Truman to
run and who advised him not to run, basically?
SNYDER: I'll be very frank with you there, he had very little backing
or encouragement at that meeting. As I recall it, there were only two
or three that even suggested that he should run for the second term.
HESS: Who were they?
SNYDER: I don't want to press my memory too hard on that. As I recall
it, Jake Vardaman said that it would be a hard race, but that maybe Mr.
Truman should run again; Vaughan, of course, urged him to run; the man
that I had hoped would come out very strongly found that he was going
to be awfully busy for the next six months, and that was Mr. Harper, later,
Judge Harper; and of course, I felt that Mr. Truman should run. But of
course my position was less influencing than the others because I was
not active in politics and did not fully understand the problems of such
HESS: What was Mr. Truman's attitude during that meeting?
SNYDER: No, that's been quite awhile ago--twenty-seven years.
HESS: Anything else of importance come to mind when you look hack upon
that meeting in St. Louis?
SNYDER: No, except our disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm.
HESS: At a later point, of course, the President did make the bid for
re-election, and was re-elected. Were there any of the people that
were at the meeting who expressed a note that the President probably couldn't
win who later came back "into the fold," shall we say?
SNYDER: Oh, they all did before the election was over. Without exception,
there wasn't a one that I mentioned that didn't lend some aid to the campaign
once it got started. I have already told of the Horace Deal incident and
gave us a good start because from that time on, in spite of the fact that
we ran a very, very tight race as far as finances were concerned, we were
able to meet the urgent demands with a very economy-minded campaign, and
Mr. Truman, through his own efforts, through his own constant presenting
his case to the public, prevailed and came out with a good margin in the
election, first in the primary when he defeated Milligan and Stark, and
of course, later in the general election he won very handily.
HESS: Who were a few of the others that were helping Mr. Truman in his
campaign in those early days?
SNYDER: Well, we enlisted quite a number of people, professional writers
and we established headquarters over in St. Louis. As a matter of fact,
Clarence Turley, who was at that first meeting, gave a whole half a floor
of the Ambassador building for the use of the
headquarters. Vardaman, of course, helped from, time to time, but Vaughan
HESS: What duties did these men have--while we run down the names what
comes to mind?
SNYDER: Well, Vardaman was with the First National Bank in St. Louis;
Vaughan was, of course, working for Mr. Truman and at that time I was
beginning operation of the Defense Plant Corporation in Washington.
HESS: Do you recall what Mr. Vardaman did to help out in the campaign?
SNYDER: Well, he was very effective in helping us get small contributions
and he was very good in soliciting certain people. I don't recall specifically
the incidents, but I do remember that we relied on him for help from time
HESS: I believe Mr. Vaughan was the treasurer, is that correct?
SNYDER: That's right.
Neal Helm contributed, worked in southeast Missouri and was very helpful.
Neal was a capitalist down in Caruthersville, Missouri. He was in the
farm business, in the banking business, real estate business, real estate
business, and quite a number of activities. Roy Harper was a lawyer down
in southeast Missouri, and he helped in the campaign when it once got
HESS: What did he do, do you recall?
SNYDER: Well, he went out and solicited votes and tried to raise a little
money, and was generally helpful.
HESS: What are the big problems that arise in a campaign like that? What
kind of help did he really need?
SNYDER: First and foremost, we needed financial
help, because there were so many expenses, transportation, telephone,
office space later in Sedalia, clerk hire, however, most of our office
people we had donated to us, and it was only towards the end of the campaign
that we began to pay anything for that sort of help. We had the question
of speeches. Of course, in those days, there was no television, and the
radio was not used a great deal in our campaign, as it was too expensive.
We got together a sound truck for him and he canvassed every county in
the state, and stopping at the court square, he would get a few people
together and tell his story, sticking strictly to the outline I gave you
the other day. He campaigned on his own merits, accomplishments, and record.
He never once referred to the opposition or to the tactics of the opposition.
He ran strictly on his own record.
HESS: Did he usually have a speech written out for such occasions, or
was this more or less off-the-cuff?
SNYDER: He had five or six speeches on labor, agriculture, railroads,
various subjects of current interest in the electorate of his state, and
he sort of used those as the background according to the audience that
HESS: Who helped Mr. Truman write those speeches?
SNYDER: Well, we had a half a dozen people who were assisting. I'll have
to give you the names of the two who did most of the actual assembly of
the speeches. I don't recall their names right now, but I'll give them
to you later--two St. Louis people.
HESS: Did you sit in on any of those speechwriting sessions?
SNYDER: Oh, yes, constantly. They were brought
over and shown to me or mailed to me because I was in Washington and this
was going on out in Missouri, you know.
HESS: How were those speeches written? Did the speechwriters get together
with Mr. Truman before they started to work, or would they work up a draft
and then present it to him?
SNYDER: They largely would get his ideas of what he wanted, write the
speech, and send it to him for editing.
HESS: Fine, then we'll get the names of some of those people who helped
write those speeches at a later date. Anything else come to mind about
the 1940 campaign?
SNYDER: Yes, it was a very interesting thing. Bob Hannegan, at the beginning
of the campaign, was very closely tied in with Lloyd Stark, and was supporting
him, but as time went on, he
began to find that his people around St. Louis, were losing their confidence
and their respect for Stark.
HESS: What caused that?
SNYDER: Well, I think that it was just the unfairness of the attack on
the record of Mr. Truman. When they began to check on it, they found that
Truman had done a pretty good job as Senator and that the whole
campaign of the Governor's--the import of his campaign, was attack rather
than demonstration of any ability. It also became known that Stark had
solicited and received Pendergast's aid in running for Governor. It just
evolved and one of the brightest initial things was when Hannegan announced
one day that he was going to back Mr. Truman.
HESS: Mr. Truman mentions in his Memoirs that that gave a great
deal of impetus to his campaign.
SNYDER: Well, it did.
HESS: Were he and Hannegan particularly close?
SNYDER: I don't recall that they were. They were acquaintances, of course,
but Hannegan had been in the St. Louis Democratic organization, and Stark
had allied himself with that organization, coming from just north of there
from Louisiana, Missouri, where he was in the fruit tree business. And
so it was only natural that Hannegan should have supported him maybe,
and at least he did. But along towards the end of the campaign, he switched
over and that had a very stimulating effect on the Truman campaign, because
it gave us a toehold in the eastern part of the state which we had been
lacking. And of course, it had a snowball effect.
HESS: One question about the headquarters. There was also a supplemental
headquarters in Sedalia?
Is that correct?
SNYDER: That's correct. We had a small office in Sedalia. Later we opened
up one over at Independence, in Jackson County, after the primary, I believe
HESS: Do you recall who was stationed in Sedalia? Who was in charge of
SNYDER: I don't remember.
HESS: Now, Mr. Vaughan and the treasury department were in St. Louis.
SNYDER: That's right.
HESS: Was that the main headquarters?
SNYDER: It was.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, what was the relationship between Bennett Clark and
Mr. Truman during the early hours when Mr. Truman was in the Senate?
SNYDER: They were very good friends. They cooperated, worked together
very well. At times, Villmore, his secretary, was not too cooperative
with Senator Truman's staff, but by and large the staffs worked together
very well. Clark, frankly, had a little attitude of superiority because
of his family background. His father was the famous "Champ" Clark, one
of Missouri's outstanding Senators in history. As a matter of fact, he
ran largely--his name was Bennett, but he injected the "Champ" into it
and ran as "Champ" Clark, and was actually elected on the background of
his father's reputation. And with all that, and the fact that he had been
a colonel in World War I he felt that he was considerably the senior Senator
from Missouri. But, at the same time, he was always friendly, and he did,
in the 1940 campaign, make some speeches in the interest of Mr. Truman
and supported him in that election.
HESS: In the primary or the general?
SNYDER: In both, particularly in the general.
Later, when Bennett married the second time, Mr. Truman was best man,
and after Senator Clark was defeated as Senator in Washington, Mr. Truman
appointed him Federal judge. So, their relationship was very good.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, in his Memoirs, Mr. Truman said in speaking
of the need for a committee to investigate the expenditures on national
defense in early 1941, "I talked over the prospects of a committee with
my close friends--with John Snyder in particular, and Senate leaders whose
advice I respected--and they were interested." What do you recall about
the background of what came to be known as the Truman Committee?
SNYDER: Senator Truman, from the time he first came to the Senate, had
taken quite an interest in the defense efforts that were being made
because of his military connections. As a matter of fact, along in 1940,
he was a member of the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense
Program. And he became extremely interested in what was being done and
what was not being done and the manner in which it was being done. In
our long conversations from time to time about the general welfare of
the Nation, when war was impending, as it appeared by the headlines that
we were being drawn closer and closer into it, we discussed the aftermath
of World War I, and how mixed up so much of the investigations were that
weren't started until after the war--people had died, records had been
lost, particularly in the settlement of contracts, we discussed at great
length, particularly the fact that some of those investigations and settlements
were so long drawn out that the final settlement when it came through
would have saved the
company from bankruptcy had they gotten it at a more appropriate time
after the war. Among other things he and I both recalled the scandals
and the problems that came up during the mobilization of our defense forces
in World War I, the scandals on the cantonment building and on wax plants
and war contracts. We both felt in these conversations that it would be
a fine thing if an arrangement was made to have a committee, a congressional
committee, concurrently with the development of the defense program make
some of these investigations as they developed and stop them before they
turned into formidable problems. I recall particularly an evening, we
had a dinner over at the Army-Navy Club and I had brought in two of our
attorneys from the RFC who were associated with me in the Defense Plant
Corporation operation, particularly Hans Klagsbrunn. He was a brilliant
young lawyer, and was particularly informed on
the history of the litigation and the contracts of World War 1, as he
had made a study of those in connection with our preparation of our bill
for the Defense Plant Corporation, which was presented to Congress and
approved for the RFC to create certain subsidiary corporations to help
in the defense program. Harry Vaughan was at that dinner that night, and
Mr. Truman was particularly interested in some of the suggestions that
were made as to the areas in which investigations would prove very beneficial.
HESS: Who made some of those suggestions?
SNYDER: Many of them came from Hans Klagsbrunn and from me. Concurrently
with that however, Senator Truman had been talking with three or four
of his colleagues in the Senate and had been discussing their views of
the likelihood of such a program being worthwhile, among
them was Senator Connally, Senator Wallgren and Senator Hatch, particularly.
I think he had discussed it some with Senator Barkley, and they all seemed
to think, too, that it would be a very beneficial program. As a result
of those various discussions, he wrote up a resolution to form such a
committee, we were able to help him in the formulation of that resolution.
HESS: At one time Mr. Truman took a trip around the country to look at
some Army installations that were under construction.
SNYDER: That was in connection with the Special Committee to Investigate
the National Defense Program, and he was somewhat alarmed at some of the
things that he heard and saw on that trip.
HESS: Did he take the trip before you talked to him at the Army-Navy
SNYDER: No, I think it was after if I remember correctly.
HESS: The meeting at the Army-Navy Club was first, and then the trip
came after that.
SNYDER: That's my recollection.
HESS: What were some of the suggestions that were made to Mr. Truman
at that little informal get together at the Army-Navy Club?
SNYDER: The one that I particularly recall was to nip these construction
problems in the bud; that whenever rumors came of graft or waste in the
construction of some of the big camps, cantonments, that the time to stop
them was right at that time. Go in and investigate them and if they were
true put a stop to them, with the people who were at fault, and if those
people didn't cooperate, then to bring about the proper corrective measures
publicity. Also history showed back in World War I that there were many
contracts that became real scandals in the manufacture of defense goods.
Our plan was that whenever any rumor or suggestion came up that there
was something at fault with a certain contract, to go into it and see
what was wrong with it, if there were labor troubles to investigate and
see if they couldn't get straightened out, because this was the emergency
period and nothing ought to interfere with the operation of a plant. If
there was a pending shutdown of a plant because of labor disputes, that
might be well to check into; if it was a matter of the distribution of
materials, it might be well to check on the priority of the necessity
of the products, and see to it that one plant wasn't piling up a big surplus
of a needed material while some other plants that needed it weren't getting
any. We ran into a lot of that in the Navy, stockpiling steel plate and
electrical equipment, and things of that sort. It was things of that character
which it was intended to prevent. In the records, we found that in World
War I, very bad records had been kept, and it was with difficulty after
the war to trace things. We thought that while the war was going on was
the time to see to it that proper records were being kept.
HESS: Do you recall offhand what suggestions Mr. Vaughan may have made
at that time?
SNYDER: No, I don't.
HESS: Now, who else was present besides...
SNYDER: That's all.
HESS: That's the group. Fine. Speaking of the Truman Committee, I'd like
to ask you a few questions about some of the men who served on the staff
of that committee, and ask you if you know how they came to be members
staff, or your impressions of their effectiveness as members, just what
you recall about them. Hugh Fulton was the first chief counsel. What do
you recall about Mr. Fulton?
SNYDER: Hugh Fulton was among the first to join the staff. Mr. Truman
was looking for a competent chief counsel for the committee, and through
recommendations he went to the Cravath law firm in New York and got Hugh
Fulton. Fulton turned out to be a very capable, able counsel for the Truman
Committee, and did splendid work during the investigations.
HESS: Jumping ahead just a bit, but Mr. Fulton left the committee about
the same time that Mr. Truman did in August '44. Do you recall that he
helped in the campaign in 1944?
SNYDER: My recollection is that his assistance was very minor.
HESS: All right, Charles Patrick Clark also served on the committee.
SNYDER: I did not know a great deal about Charles Patrick Clark. He was
one of the investigators, and I personally don't recall any outstanding
contribution that he made to the Truman Committee.
HESS: Rudolph Halley?
SNYDER: He was brought in by Fulton as his assistant counsel. His work
was largely in specific investigations and in planning investigations
that should be made. As I recall it, his job was to dig through all the
letters of complaint. You see, when the Truman Committee once got into
operation there was a flood of mail constantly coming in, some of it pertinent,
some of it simply mail, and that all had to be carefully sifted and appraised,
and the more meritorious had to be put into the schedule for investigation,
because it would have been impossible
to have given individual attention to the tremendous volume of suggestions,
complaints, inquiries, and gossip that came in, although each letter was
answered. It had to settle down to which ones should be followed up. And
Halley, as I recall, contributed to that work and to several specific
HESS: On that subject, did you ever recall hearing Mr. Truman say just
how it was decided what investigation should be pursued?
SNYDER: That would come up in committee. The staff would present a half
a dozen candidates for investigation, and the Senators would talk it over
and determine the priorities that they would give the various investigations.
It was largely on the pressure pattern of which seemed to be the most
important at the moment. Each Senator would be assigned a certain investigation
and would go out to the plant or to the
cantonment or to the construction job or to wherever the investigation
was to be held. The whole committee would not go along, but occasionally
for a big nationwide investigation they'd hold the hearings in Washington.
Largely, however, they were spot investigations at the scene of the problem.
HESS: There were several investigations that were especially noted during
the Truman Committee time. The Canol Project--that was the pipeline they
were going to build through Canada. And also the problem of the tank lighters,
getting the boats to put the tanks ashore, and then the Curtiss-Wright
SNYDER: Oh, yes, airplane engines. Well, those hearings were held in
Washington largely, although they did send out some investigators to do
ground checking, but those investigations were largely held in Washington.
HESS: Do you ever recall hearing Mr. Truman mention any of the investigations,
any of the work that had been done?
SNYDER: Oh, we talked about it constantly. The Truman Committee was of
tremendous assistance to the Defense Plant Corporation. D.P.C. was charged
with the financing of a great many plants for the defense program. The
Defense Plant Corporation had a policy that they would only finance plants
when they were recommended by an agency that was charged with the responsibility
of conducting the defense program, such as WPB, the War Department, the
Navy Department, and various other defense oriented agencies. We would
not proceed with negotiating defense plant contracts with the corporation
and industry, without a recommendation of that sort, as we did not have
the facility for determining the necessity for the product, the end product,
of course. The War Department and
the Navy, WPB, were working out these arrangements and therefore they
knew where they needed the additional capacity for certain items, and
if they knew of a program that was coming on in the future, and could
in advance know how much law material was going to be required, how many
machine tools, how much of the various necessities, labor for instance,
or plant construction, so we solved it by only negotiating contracts upon
recommendation of one of those defense agencies. As a result, we built,
during the war, that is we contracted and financed some eleven billion
dollars worth of plants. That is a tremendous amount of construction,
and therefore, we were constantly running into problems on material supply,
labor supply, on contracts that were being slowed down, or rumors of waste
in the construction of these plants. The Truman Committee was most
cooperative in investigating wherever we felt there was a
particular need for a check on what was going on in some of these huge
plants we were building. See, the Defense Plant Corporation itself in
South Bend, Indiana, built the first plant that had nearly two sections
of land under one roof. It had over eighty acres under one roof, and that
created quite a bit of conversation and it created quite an opportunity
for rumors of waste and this, that and the other. So, the Truman Committee
was most helpful in helping us to get those things straightened out in
the early days, that is in the early days of the trouble. I don't mean
the early days of the war, they were useful all the way through the war
in helping us, because we were constantly being called on to finance plants
right up until 1944.
HESS: Were there other ways that the Truman Committee helped you during
SNYDER: Such as what -- I don't quite...
HESS: Well, I was trying to phrase a question here on the connection
between the Defense Plant Corporation and the Truman Committee.
SNYDER: Well, we were purely a Government agency. It wasn't because of
HESS: Well, connection is a bad word--advice that might have been given.
SNYDER: Well, there was constant discussion, as I say, between Senator
Truman and me unofficially. Members of the Truman Committee and Senator
Truman many times would go with me out to take a look at a certain project;
for instance, when we were building the synthetic rubber complex. We started
out with a test tube and built a composite plant; that is, of all the
various synthetic rubber plants that we financed, we raised the capacity
up to hundreds of millions
of pounds of synthetic rubber products. This was brand new. There were
no guide posts along the way. The butadiene plants, the copolymer plants,
this kind of plant was brand new. So there was always danger of there
being excessive expenditures or waste or problems coming up in connection
with plants of that character. In the aviation plants, we were headed
towards a goal of 50,000 airplanes that President Roosevelt had mentioned
in one of his speeches, and just overnight we were called on to build
huge plants for making propellers, air frames, engines, landing gear,
electrical equipment. When you suddenly start to contracting for a great
volume of items, there's always a chance to run the costs up, you know.
The minute something like that would show up the Truman Committee would
get right on top of it and would nip them in the bud.
HESS: During the days when you were dealing with
the Truman Committee, who would you phone when you phoned over there?
Who would you deal with, Mr. Truman, or some of the members of the staff?
SNYDER: It all depended on what it was, many times Fulton, many times
one of the Senators; if it was something long range, I would probably
talk with Senator Truman about it preliminarily; if it was something of
an urgent nature, why, a member of the defense plant organization would
get in touch with field investigators or something of that sort. There
was no set pattern, there was no routine, we didn't set up any line of
authority in raking the contact. We found that they worked very cooperatively,
and if it was just a question of something that should be looked into,
one of our executives in D.F.C. would call somebody he knew in the Truman
Committee, and it might be anyone from Senator Truman down to one of the
HESS: What do you recall about some of the Senators that served on that
committee? Were they helpful to you also?
SNYDER: Yes, it was one of the finest groups that I've ever seen in Government
in their dedication to this work. And I think one of the outstanding parts
was that this committee did not seek headlines in time of war. Whatever
they were investigating was handled as quietly as possible, and in the
interest of the overall defense effort. All of the Senators cooperated
wholeheartedly in that effort, as long as Mr. Truman was chairman of that
committee, I don't recall of any great scandal headlines that came out
except in some very unusual cases where they were well-deserved. The original
committee was composed of seven Senators. You know, when Mr. Truman first
petitioned, that is filed a resolution for the formation of a committee,
it turned out it wasn't as popular
as we hoped it would be; President Roosevelt was not too enthusiastic
for it; Senator Byrnes was not particularly enthusiastic for it either.
HESS: What caused their opposition?
SNYDER: My recollection is, they just didn't want such activity--they
thought they were going to be able, through normal operations, to be able
to keep track of those things; they just didn't want an additional congressional
group looking into the defense program. They were afraid it might stymie
production or that the committee might get embroiled in a lot of wrangles
and so forth and create barriers rather than help. So, it turned out that
Senator Truman asked for only $25,000 to start with. Senator Byrnes wanted
to give him $10,000. It was finally settled on $15,000 and was to be made
up of seven members. Those
seven members were Mr. Truman, Carl Hatch, Tom Connally, James Mead, Mon
Wallgren--those were all Democrats and then they had two Republicans,
Joe Ball and Owen Brewster. That was the committee for some time until
in 1942, about a year later, they changed the name of the committee. The
committee's first name, by the way, was Special Committee to Investigate
Contracts Under the National Defense Program. In May of the next year
they dropped the Contracts out of the title and it became the Special
Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. At that time they
added two more names--three more names I believe it was, Clyde Herring
and Harley Kilgore, Democrats and Harold Burton was the third one. He
was a Republican from Ohio. The committee thus functioned until Mr. Truman
resigned at the time he was nominated to run for Vice President, and James
M. Mead was named chairman of the committee to continue the operation
HESS: Were there any of those Senators that you found particularly helpful
in your duties at the Defense Plant Corporation--other than Mr. Truman?
SNYDER: All of them I'll say. I had splendid cooperation, and I was told
by other agencies that they had the same kind of cooperation. The RFC
didn't just have the Defense Plant. It had the Rubber Reserve, the Metals
Reserve, Defense Supplies and Pre-emptive Buying and quite a number of
other subsidiary operations which were also having problems and the committee
was extremely helpful to all of them. Senator Brewster was very helpful
in a number of cases up in New England and later Senator Burton was most
helpful to me with the plants in Ohio. Senator Wallgren was helpful in
some of our Light Metals Plants out in the northwest. We had to work out
contracts with some of the big hydroelectric plants out there through
Interior Department for power for the Light Metals Plants--magnesium,
aluminum--and later some of the Atomic Energy Plants, and he was very
helpful in helping us negotiate those various matters.
HESS: On the subject of that Atomic Energy Plant I understand that Mr.
Truman heard about some big expenditures going on and was asked not to
press his investigation. What do you recall about that?
SNYDER: That is correct. Yes. He was told that we were spending a great
deal of money on something that was as secret as anything could possibly
be and because of his--I think it was Secretary Stimson who asked him
to please not press for examination, but to let him work it out if there
was something that ought to be looked into. Mr. Truman acquiesced. He
said he did not want to interfere with something
that was that important to the defense program and actually it was not
until he became Vice President that he ever learned just exactly what
it was all about. I recall personally that the Defense Plant Corporation
had a great number of priorities in connection with the Manhattan Project.
We had the machine tool pool, and we would get frequent requests to direct
priorities of certain machine tools and certain manufacturing space for
building machine tools of a specific custom type for an unnamed consignee.
I would get requests to schedule these and put them ahead of any other
type of tools, without any questions asked. The funny part was that a
very close friend of mine who was in charge of the electrical installation
in a plant would come over; he would be so concerned about his priorities
and getting his equipment and everything he wanted to talk to me about
it and I said, "I do not want to know. Please don't tell me."
And I put real effort in trying not to learn what it was because they
did want to talk to me about it for assistance, and I didn't want to know.
HESS: Well, there were a couple more people who worked on the staff--George
SNYDER: George Meader later became Congressman. I did not come in contact
with Meader, as I remember, in the committee work. I understand he did
some very fine work on the committee, but personally I never came in contact
HESS: And do you recall anything in particular about Matthew Connelly
in connection with the Truman Committee?
SNYDER: Matt Connelly had been working on some other committees--investigative
committees--and as the Truman Committee grew, Matt, who was from New York,
was recommended to be added to the committee.
I think Jim Mead recommended him--Jim was from New York, too. I think
that was probably how he got there, but he was largely in the investigative
HESS: Do you think we've fairly well covered the subject of the assistance
that the Truman Committee gave to you in your duties during those early
SNYDER: I think we have pretty well.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, I'd like to ask you about some of Mr. Truman's regular
staff. Now Harry Vaughan we have mentioned a few times.
SNYDER: As to his initial staff when Senator Truman was elected in 1934,
he came down to Washington without any personnel. Congressman [Frank Hood]
Lee of Missouri had gone out of office at the same time Mr. Truman came
in. Senator Truman took Victor Messall who was Congressman Lee's secretary,
as his secretary. He took him upon
recommendation of Congressman Lee, and also took one of his assistants,
Miss Catherine Bixler, who had been one of Congressman Lee's employees.
Miss Bixler came from Maryland, I think Messall did also; he was not a
Missourian as I recall. Mr. Truman brought Mildred Dryden from Missouri,
Harry Vaughan joined the staff and Miss Reathel Odum of St. Louis. Miss
Odum had been in my employ in the liquidation of banks and when Senator
Truman was building up his staff, he asked me for help. I gave him the
choice of anyone in my organization. He selected Miss Odum and brought
her to Washington. She stayed with him through all his various jobs until
he became President. At that time she became Mrs. Truman's secretary and
stayed with them until they returned to Independence. As a matter of fact,
she and Vaughan were the only ones that remained after he left the Senate.
Vaughan was out for a while in the Army on
active duty in the Pacific, but he was invalidated back home and returned
to the Truman staff as soon as he was able to get back on active duty.
HESS: I understand Miss Odum is still in your employ, is that right?
SNYDER: Yes. She still looks after my personal correspondence.
HESS: Who else served on that staff?
SNYDER: Matt Connelly didn't come on the staff until much later after
Mr. Truman became Vice President.
HESS: He left the Truman Committee about the time Mr. Truman did, and
then when he was Vice President he was his Executive Assistant.
SNYDER: Well, it was such a short time and, of course, I was in St. Louis
most of that time. It could well have been that way because when
Mr. Truman went over to the Presidency, he took him as his Appointments
HESS: During those years did you have any occasions to work with these
people--work with Mr. Truman through these people that were in his office?
SNYDER: I was well acquainted with all of them and worked with them,
would write to them about people out in Missouri who wanted some help
from the Senator, or if the Senator wanted me to look up something, why,
any one of those people wouldn't hesitate to call me, write to me or mention
it when I was in the office; I worked very closely with all of them.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, what do you recall about the events in 1944 that led
to the nomination and election of Mr. Truman as Vice President?
SNYDER: There had been some talk casually in the fall of '43 but nothing
very serious. As I
recall, Bob Hannegan had brought it up once or twice that Truman would
make a good candidate, but it wasn't serious.
HESS: Did he mention this to you?
SNYDER: He mentioned this to me and to Mr. Truman and to others whenever
we were sitting around talking about things. I recall that at Christmas
time our families--the Truman family and my family--were having dinner
together--this was in Christmas week of 1943--and the matter came up in
sort of a conversational way and Mrs. Truman and I both voiced a protest
that we didn't think that that would be in Mr. Truman's best interest
to ever agree to be a candidate for Vice President. He was making a splendid
Senator; his record had been excellent during both of his terms; as I
have mentioned Mr. Truman was not a man of wealth and he had geared his
life--he and Mrs. Truman had geared
their lives so they could well enjoy life and do good service to his state
and to his country as a Senator, with great prospects of becoming one
of the top Senate leaders in due course with seniority. We discussed it
to great length and finally jokingly or seriously--I don't ever want to
pin him down to too definite a commitment of that sort--but he jokingly,
there may have been an undercurrent of seriousness in it, said that he
would never agree to be the candidate for Vice President unless Mrs. Truman
and I agreed to it, and we let it go at that and thought no more of it
for some time. In the spring, it came up again and Mr. Truman passed it
off. By the time he had thought about it carefully and was, I think, definitely
determined that he did not want to be a candidate for Vice President.
Along in June, as I recall it, I had a call from Bob Hannegan. I was in
St. Louis at the First National Bank
at that time and Bob said, "I wish you would come up to Chicago to the
convention. We'll fix it up officially or unofficially."
I said, "I'm not in politics as you well know. Why would you want me
to come to Chicago?"
He said, "Well, the Boss wants you to come up. The Senator would like
you to come up and be with him. He's asked me to see if you wouldn't come."
I replied, "Bob, I think Senator Truman's and my relationship is such
that if he really wants me to come up there and be with him, it's a pretty
simple matter for him to pick up the phone and call me. I will talk with
him about it when he does. I appreciate your calling me, that's very nice
Well, a few days later I did have a call from Mr. Truman who asked me
if I would go away for a week to be with him in Chicago; that he,
Mrs. Truman and Margaret were going up for the convention: He was a delegate
from Missouri and he'd just like for me to be there with him. I told him
I'd be very happy to come. When I arrived for the convention, it was,
I think, on maybe Friday or Saturday before the convention opened, Mr.
Truman and Mrs. Truman were over at the Morrison Hotel, although Mr. Truman
had set up headquarters at the Stevens for his conferences and meetings
with his various delegations and whatever work that you have to do he
was removing it from his family hotel, and I had quarters over at the
Blackstone which is right across from the Stevens. At that time among
the first things that Senator Truman said to me upon arrival was that
he had committed himself to nominate Jim Byrnes for Vice President and
said we've got to write his speech; so we started going over an outline
and brought in other people--Ed McKim was there
at the time--and we brought in some other folks who were good at writing
nominating speeches, and we'd drawn up a very good draft for the speech
for Byrnes. Jim would drop in every now and then and we'd talk about it
and so forth. One morning, however, I think it was along the first of
the week, Jim came storming in and said, "Well, I'm going back to Washington."
Senator Truman said, "You can't do that. We're working on your nominating
speech. You know I told you I'd nominate you." He said, "We're working
on it right now. I have the draft right here before us. Sit down here..."
"I don't want to hear anything about it. I'm going back." He said, "I
just talked with the boss and of all things after telling me that I was
his choice, he told me just now on the phone, 'What are you doing in Chicago?
I thought I left you to run the store in
Washington."' Byrnes said, "I'm through. I'm going home." And he stormed
Well, that was rather startling. However it wasn't very long, either
that same day or the next day, I think it was probably the same day, Senator
Truman had a call from Bob Hannegan over at the Blackstone Hotel asking
him if he could come over there a few minutes. He said, "Yes, John and
I will be right over." And I could hear Bob, "Well, never mind John, we
want to see you."
So he excused himself and went across the street. He was gone some little
time. When he came back he told me what had transpired. It seemed that
when he got there, why, there were several of the party leaders present.
He found that Hannegan had Kelly of New York, [Frank] Walker, Jake Arvey
of Chicago and, I think, Hillman was there, Sidney Hillman. They asked:
"Well, have you made up your mind that you will
accept the nomination for Vice President? The President wants you to accept
it." They also said, "It was a matter of you or Bill Douglas. Douglas
has said he wouldn't take it and it's up to you now to make a decision."
And Senator Truman again asserted that he did not want to be a candidate;
that he was greatly honored, but he felt like he should stay a Senator
and, as though it were timed, the phone rang and it was President Roosevelt
out in San Diego answering Hannegan's call. He was on a tour at that time
of investigation of the defense operations in the country--the defense
program--and while Mr. Truman couldn't hear what President Roosevelt said,
"Mr. Hannegan said, "No, we've talked with him about it and he still says
he doesn't want to accept it."
Then Hannegan put his hand over the mouth piece of the phone but everyone
could hear the President say: "Well, if he wants to be
that stubborn and ruin the Democratic Party, why let him do it."
Mr. Truman said, "Well, let me think about it." And so that was passed
on and he came back across the street then and talked about it. We quickly
decided he had no choice but to accept if it's put in that light. He got
in touch with Hannegan and said he'd go along. Our first job was to see
Mrs. Truman and tell her about it. That's my recollection of it.
HESS: Did he say at that time what some of the other people who were
present there may have said--Walker--Kelly...
SNYDER: They were all pressing him to do it.
HESS: What about Hillman?
SNYDER: My recollection was that he was, too. I've got to check Hillman.
I'm sure that he was
there, but I just don't want to make an error about that.
HESS: Well, fine. We'll check on that. As you know when...
SNYDER: But they were unanimous in their pressure when he was over there.
HESS: As you know when the convention opened, Hillman was definitely
for Wallace and I believe after a day or so, he said that they would take
Truman as second choice; they still wanted Wallace. William Green of AF
of L was for Mr. Truman from the beginning, as I understand.
One question. When did Robert Hannegan become chairman of the Democratic
SNYDER: In early 1944.
HESS: Was he chairman of the Democratic National
Committee at the time that he was first making these overtures to Mr.
HESS: He was.
SNYDER: That's my recollection.
HESS: How did he become--how did he get the position of chairman of the
Democratic National Committee?
SNYDER: Well, Hannegan had built himself up in St. Louis in the party
to the point that when in 1942 there was a vacancy in the Collector of
Internal Revenue job out there, Bennett Clark and Judge Moore strongly
pressed for his appointment and it was given to him. Hannegan apparently
did a very good job in St. Louis and built himself further up in the good
graces of the party. In 1943 he was brought to Washington as Commissioner
of Internal Revenue in the Treasury Department and as Commissioner
of Internal Revenue he continued very active in his political activities.
Frank Walker was Postmaster General and chairman of the Democratic National
Committee. His health was failing and he stepped out. Hannegan was put
in his place, as chairman, on January 22, 1944. And that was his background.
HESS: Who else was instrumental in getting Mr. Truman to take the vice
presidential nomination? In this context have you ever heard the names
Ed Pauley, George Allen, perhaps Bill Boyle?
SNYDER: Boyle was not in the picture as I recall at that time. Allen--I
don't recall that Allen was a particularly close acquaintance of Mr. Truman's
until the campaign started. He was assigned by someone to go with the
Truman campaign train.
HESS: Why? What was his function?
SNYDER: Presumably to see that Mr. Truman got along all right, T suppose.
Allen was very close to Steve Early and through Steve had become somewhat
of a visitor to the White House, and, as I recall, he was present at the
time that Mr. Truman was first mentioned at a meeting in the White House
that President Roosevelt had with a number of his close advisers--Flynn,
Pauley, Hannegan, Walker, I think that Steve Early was there, George Allen
was present, when three names were mentioned--Byrnes, Douglas and Truman--that
was back in the spring of--late spring of 1944 as I remember.
HESS: Why were these men being mentioned at this time? What did these
men have against Henry Wallace?
SNYDER: Well, it wasn't anything they had against Henry Wallace, but
word had been pouring in that Wallace would be a detriment to the ticket
and would not be a good running mate and that
was what this meeting was held to discuss. If that was the case, they
didn't want to nominate Wallace. Not that he was being selected or anything
at the time, but just who would be--canvas the situation and see who would
be a likely substitute in case Wallace didn't run.
HESS: Isn't it true though that most of the people at that meeting were
quite averse to having Henry Wallace on the ticket?
SNYDER: Well, as I understand it, I was not at the meeting, but as I
understand it, they were the ones who were bringing in the news about
him--I think Jim Parley might have been at that meeting--I'm not sure.
I'm sure Walker was though. We'll have to double-check because I don't
want to misstate any of this--this is digging back a long way, you know,
and they were bringing in the news that they had gathered
that Wallace just was not an appropriate candidate with the feeling of
the country being what it was. I was told about this later by Hannegan.
HESS: Well, one question back on when Mr. Truman was being presented
with the idea of being a possible candidate now, we've come through the
fall of '43 when Hannegan...
SNYDER: That was just casual. You know you're always probing, and saying
how would you like to be so-and-so, don't you see. What would you think
about being Governor of Virginia? That's always going on and sometimes
it's half way in jest and half way probing seriously, so it could have
been way back that far that the thought of Truman began because Mr. Truman--Senator
Truman--had been making a splendid record in the Senate and as chairman
of the Truman Committee, and he had a good standing in the country and,
therefore, for those who
had something to do with canvassing the party for material it would be
only likely that they'd just try him out and see what his reaction might
HESS: In your opinion were there other reasons why Mr. Truman's name
was being mentioned than his success at the Truman Committee?
SNYDER: Oh, I think it was because there was less controversy about him;
that he would be a non-controversial selection.
HESS: Now one thing that might be brought up on that is his connections
with the Kansas City Pendergast machine.
SNYDER: That had been pretty well buried and forgotten.
HESS: By 1944?
HESS: Pendergast died when Mr. Truman was Vice President.
SNYDER: Yes, he went out there to the funeral. It had somewhat gone into
limbo I think.
HESS: Well, I have read in the New York Times and in other papers
that some people were a little hesitant about putting Mr. Truman out at
this time since he did have connections with--past connections with a
big city boss and it seemed that many of the people that were backing
him--Arvey and Kelly and Walker--were also products of big city machines
and it looked like it might have...
SNYDER: That might have come up at some of the discussions, but I don't
think it was given much weight.
HESS: What was Mr. Wallace's general attitude toward Mr. Truman during
SNYDER: Mr. Wallace was determined to get the nomination at that time
and believed that he had the organization to get the nomination and so,
therefore, he was not at all--was not thinking kindly at all of any opposition.
As a matter of fact, a tremendous demonstration was organized by the Wallace
forces and they crashed the convention and practically took over at the
night session before the nomination started. That was somewhat controlled
the next day, but the Wallace forces stayed very, very positive right
up to the last minute; they were determined, but after the nomination
speeches got under way and there were two or three switches, it became
very apparent that Wallace did not have the strength they thought he had.
HESS: I understand the Wallace forces wanted to have the vote that night.
SNYDER: They did. They kept calling--demanding--there was a tremendous
demand from the gallery for the nominating speeches the night of the demonstration
but that was overruled.
HESS: I understand that was overruled when Senator Jackson recognized
David Lawrence on the floor.
SNYDER: David Lawrence of Pittsburgh. That is correct in my recollection,
because I was sitting with Senator Truman and his family during that session
and that's very vivid in my memory.
HESS: I understand that was all prearranged if it looked like they wanted
to move it into the next day.
SNYDER: That's right. They anticipated that that might be a maneuver.
HESS: Did you hear that being discussed beforehand?
SNYDER: No, I did not hear it. That was talked out by the convention managers,
the chairman of the convention--permanent chairman and his advisors.
HESS: During the convention President Roosevelt did not come out strongly
for any particular candidate for the vice presidential nomination.
SNYDER: That is correct.
SNYDER: That I don't know personally because I was just not in the picture
that close. Of course, I think actually he would have preferred to have
had Wallace because he was satisfied with Wallace. He got disturbed about
Wallace's loss of vote getting power. By that time, you see, Mr. Roosevelt
had served three terms and he felt the power of the office and to select
a new running mate or
a new number two man was a very difficult thing to determine--how will
I get along with this man and how will our teamwork be; will he do the
things the way I would prefer to do; after all I'm the one that's getting
elected and I want to have someone along who is sympathetic with all my
aims and desires. That's the only reason I can guess as to why he hadn't
made up his mind definitely as to who it was he thought he could cooperate
with or would cooperate with him the best.
HESS: Now the New York Times at that time had an article in which
they said something to the effect that due to the President's health there
was a great deal of discussion that he might not live for four more years
and that the person that was picked for Vice President would be President.
SNYDER: That all fits in to what I'm saying, you
know, who was going to succeed him in case anything did happen although
he did not permit that, I don't think, to become much of an issue with
himself; he was determined to go through with it, and I don't think he
allowed that to interfere too much with his plans--although it may have
been part of the background--"Can this fellow carry on my policies in
case he should be catapulted into the job."
HESS: What had seemed to be President Roosevelt's attitude towards Mr.
Truman during the time that he was a Senator before this time, before
SNYDER: When Mr. Truman was chairman of the Truman Investigating Committee,
I recall he used to drop up to the White House to keep the President informed
on what was going on, and he was always received in a friendly fashion
and considered himself a friend and supporter of the President.
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