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
July 17, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
July 17, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
Twentieth Oral History Interview with John W. Snyder, Washington, D.C., July 17, 1968. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
HESS: Secretary Snyder, we finished the Secretary of Defense position last week; the next three are the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force. Let's skip those because they are of minor position, they were not actually full Cabinet members, and go on to the Attorney General, if you'd like to.
SNYDER: Well, Mr. Hess, I wouldn't exactly call them minor Government officials. They were not Cabinet officials, they did not have Cabinet rank: I think all of them liked to consider themselves as junior Cabinet members, but they did not hold the rank of Cabinet members and were not treated by protocol in that capacity. So, if you would like to pass those up for the time being, and if you want to go back to them at
some future date I think that would be satisfactory.
The next Cabinet members that we have would be the Attorneys General. The first of those was a holdover in the Truman administration at the time he succeeded to the Presidency. He was Francis Biddle who had served under President Roosevelt. Francis Biddle resigned in May of 1945, effective June 30, 1945. He had been in the President's Cabinet, of President Roosevelt, since September of 1941. Mr. Biddle was only there a very short time and therefore I did not have many contacts with him during that period.
HESS: Cabell Phillips states in his book, The Truman Presidency, that Francis Biddle stated his disagreement with the choice of Tom Clark to replace him. Do you recall anything about that?
SNYDER: Yes, Attorney General Biddle did voice an objection to Tom Clark's appointment to succeed him on the ground that he had not had the experience and he did not consider him to be qualified for that type of work. The President gave it due consideration and proceeded, though, with the nomination. And Tom Clark did succeed Attorney General Biddle on June 30, 1945. I think that Attorney General Clark grew in capacity in office, he was probably unprepared for the responsibilities and the work that was required of an Attorney General when he first assumed the office. He was most diligent in his studies, researches, and care in which he handled the matters which came before him. In my opinion, by the time he left the office in 1949, he had shown material improvement and certainly that steady improvement continued throughout his Supreme Court assignment. I consider that
Tom Clark was one of our very able Supreme Court Associate Justices in the latter years of his tenure of office on the bench. While Attorney General he was loyal to the President and to the administration, and I believe gave good account of himself in the office.
Now the next one was J. Howard McGrath. Howard McGrath was sworn in in 1949. Tom Clark had served a little over four years and Howard McGrath was sworn in on August 24, 1949. He remained Attorney General until April of 1952, April 3, 1952. His resignation was effective, however, four days later, April 7 of 1952.
HESS: How instrumental do you believe Mr. McGrath's service as chairman of the Democratic National Committee was to his appointment as Attorney General?
SNYDER: Well, having served as the chairman of the
National Committee does not necessarily qualify a man to be Attorney General; however, it doesn't disqualify him. Howard McGrath had been an attorney for many years, he was educated in the law and was, with his experience and the knowledge that he had of law and his practice in the courts, certainly qualified him as well as many men who have served in the Attorney General's office. Howard McGrath had a number of controversial matters that developed during his tenure, and he had had difficulty getting along with quite a number of the various members of the administration. His problems came to a climax when a great deal of criticism was beginning to be generated as to the abilities of various appointees in the different departments, the claims that there had been a great infiltration of communism and that the various departments had incompetent employees of top rank. So one of the chief critics and most verbal was a lawyer up in New
York, Newbold Morris. McGrath in an unfortunate, impetuous moue named Newbold Morris as sort of a czar to investigate the various departments and come up with recommendations in regard to all these criticisms that had been leveled at the various departments in the Government. Mr. Morris started at once to throw curves at McGrath. Mr. Morris immediately shocked McGrath by starting on the Attorney General's office. He sent out a very improper, in my opinion, questionnaire regarding the personal affairs of employees, many of which were strictly private matters that had no business in a record of any character. It was a rather unusual and amazing procedure. This upset Attorney General McGrath very much. Then before he could get into action, why, quite a number of the Cabinet members had received questionnaires regarding their personal affairs. The result was that after some firey
newspaper discussions back and forth, the argument went on largely in the newspapers, because Morris rushed to the papers immediately with all his problems and McGrath tried to answer them in the newspapers, and it ended by the removal of Morris from his job and subsequently was followed by Mr. McGrath's resignation as Attorney General. He was succeeded by James McGranery who was sworn in on May 27, 1952 and served until the end of the Truman administration, January 20, 1953.
HESS: What had been his background?
SNYDER: James McGranery was a lawyer from Philadelphia. He had been in Government work, and was somewhat familiar with Government procedure. He had been very active in politics in Philadelphia and in the Pennsylvania area and in national politics, and was a very capable man.
However, he didn't have an opportunity to really demonstrate his abilities because he was largely, in the few months that he was there, just about six or seven months, he was trying to straighten out some of the things that had gotten snarled up because of McGrath's preoccupation in other matters that should have had action; quite a backlog had been built up in the Attorney General's office, because some of McGrath's associates, the Deputy Attorneys General, had failed to complete matters that were assigned to them and had in many cases gone contrary to the instructions of the Attorney General and of the President of the United States. There was quite a number of shipping matters that came into this category, and as a result of that McGranery spent a great deal of his time trying to get those matters straightened out, and get the work load reduced that the log-jam
had created there in the Attorney General's office.
HESS: Before we move on and leave the Department of Justice, several historians had indicated that it is their belief that that particular department was the "weak link," to use that term, of all of the departments in the Truman administration. What would you say to that?
SNYDER: I would limit my remarks to say that it wasn't one of the strongest departments. It could have had improvement.
HESS: What would bring about such a situation? Are there any characteristics that are particularly related to the Department of Justice that would not be related to the other departments that would bring about such a situation?
SNYDER: Yes. When the President would like to know
about whether or not he can legally take a step in any matter, he goes to the Attorney General, for an opinion from the Attorney General's office, as to the legality of a certain course of action. The Attorney General's office, of course, actually had, with the FBI as part of it, the responsibility of making a check on the personnel, the appointments, the presidential appointments as well as Civil Service appointments. And there was some question as to how thorough that was at times, and there was always a question as to how free the Attorneys General were of influence by Hoover, who was and is head of the FBI. It was generally conceded that Hoover was pretty independent and if it suited him he did what he was instructed to do by the Attorney General, and if it didn't, he was independent enough not to do it. Of course, that was not solely an experience of the Truman
administration. Apparently that is still one of the controversial matters in Government. As you know, no department of Government, no agent of the Government can handle a case in court against the Government or for the Government, it must be handled by the Solicitor General in the Attorney General's office. And so all tax matters, in the Treasury, particularly, in the Internal Revenue, when it became a matter of suing on a tax matter it had to go to the Solicitor General for handling in the courts. This was one of the areas in which difficulties developed because many times the department didn't feel like their case was being handled the way they wanted it to be handled. When you think of it, the Attorney General's office handles the legal matters of the Government in a way that's similar to the Treasury handling the fiscal matters. So it's sort of a clearing house
for all litigation.
HESS: One question pertaining to the FBI. You as Secretary of the Treasury, of course, were head of the Secret Service, head of the organization of the Secret Service: Do you feel at the present time, and did you feel at that time, that there is sort of an unnecessary rivalry between the Secret Service and the FBI?
SNYDER: There has always been. The FBI, and the Attorney General's office has largely supported the FBI in this, has been very anxious through the years to take over the protection of the President and the various responsibilities of the Secret Service. That has never been the desire of any President,. When I went into the Treasury Department, I found that the Secret Service had no actual official entity; that they were kept in existence through appropriation
amendments as riders on other bills that went through Congress. To correct this I got one of the Congressmen to introduce a bill authorizing the Secret Service, making them official, and authorizing them to have their own budget. That was most assiduously opposed by the FBI. I was accused of all sorts of maneuvers by certain members of the FBI staff. One of them went so far as to leak to one of the columnists that I had slipped up in the night and had persuaded Congress to put this bill across. Of course, in itself it's so ridiculous in view of the fact that you have to appear before committees in both Houses and present your case and they come up for hearings, and so forth. I have never known of any legislation that could have been slipped through unless there was ample notice. Anyway, this was rather ridiculous, but we did get them set up as an independent
unit. There has always been snide remarks in the background, never out in the open, all this went through leaks to columnists and through rumors and things of that sort. It came up again recently in the Kennedy assassination. There were some brickbats thrown back and forth in that case. Some FBI staff intimated that the Secret Service was not as alert as they should have been and hadn't planned the protective measures properly, and then in turn, the FBI was accused of withholding information which was essential and vital, but when the investigation went through it they found that those matters were largely rumors and gossip. The Attorney General's office has been seeking for many years to have the Narcotics Department and to have the investigative department of Internal Revenue and quite a number of those investigating units that are in the Treasury, they have been trying to get
those for a number of years.
HESS: I saw something the other day about the Bureau of Narcotics might possibly be transferred to the Department of Justice.
SNYDER: Yes, the transfer took place on April 8, 1968.
Now, the next Cabinet position we were going to discuss will be the Postmaster General. The Postmaster General who was in office at the time of Mr. Truman's becoming President was Frank Walker. Frank Walker had been in the Postmaster General's office since September 11, 1940. It had been the custom up until that time for the national chairmen of the different parties to become Postmaster General. The Postmaster General had been considered somewhat the patronage distributor for the administration in power. They had used that because up until -- well, it began
to change under the Roosevelt administration when many of the postmasters of the smaller towns were put under Civil Service. It used to be back before the Roosevelt time that the in administration had the power of appointment for postmasters throughout the land, and this was quite a bonus in patronage, that and the appointment of judges and a number of very important jobs in the communities...
HESS: That would reach right into every community in the land.
SNYDER: Every community, and also the Revenue Agents were appointments of the President. However, when Mr. Hannegan was made national chairman of the Democratic Party by President Roosevelt, he did not elect to name Hannegan to the Postmaster General's office, and Frank Walker stayed on until Truman became President. However,
he had not been well, he had been urging President Roosevelt to accept his resignation, but the President was so overloaded with the problems of the war, and that sort of thing, and as he had great confidence in Frank Walker, who was a very, very close friend of his, so he persuaded him to stay on. However, when Mr. Truman came in Postmaster General Walker urged that he be relieved of his job, and although he and Mr. Truman were good friends too, President Truman listened to his plea and accepted his resignation. On June 30, 1945, Robert Hannegan, who had been and was chairman of the national committee became the Postmaster General, and he served for about two and a half years in that capacity. He resigned on December the 1st in 1947, about two and a half years. Hannegan was, of course, heavily steeped in politics. He had come up in politics all of his life
from a ward worker in St. Louis and worked up through the St. Louis political organization and had become the Internal Revenue Agent in St. Louis. There he had attracted the attention of a number of the people on the political scene and had become rather influential in St. Louis. When he was called to the attention of Mr. Roosevelt, he was brought down to Washington and he became the Commissioner of Internal Revenue here in Washington. His predecessor from Kansas, Guy T. Helvering, recommended Hannegan as his successor. He became Commissioner of Internal Revenue. When Mr. Truman became President, he returned to the old procedure of having the chairman of the national committee being the Postmaster General.
HESS: One question on him: How did he get to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee? I have heard it said that Mr. Truman was influential
in that. Did Mr. Truman really have that much influence back at this time when he was a Senator?
SNYDER: Well, he had some. How much -- don't know whether he had that much or not. I'm sure Senator Truman endorsed him because in 1940, Bob Hannegan had been very helpful in Mr. Truman's election. He was particularly helpful when he came out for Mr. Truman in the primaries.
HESS: That helped to swing a lot of St. Louis votes, isn't that right?
SNYDER: That's right -- he had been supporting Stark. Stark was the Governor of Missouri and was running against Mr. Truman in the primary for the Democratic nominee for the Senate and had put up a fight there for it. Hannegan, who at that time, was one of the Democrat leaders in St. Louis, stepped forward and announced that the
St. Louis group was going to back Truman. And because of that, Mr. Truman felt naturally very kindly towards him and they became certainly political friends, whether they were personal friends, I've never felt that there was a real warm accord between the two, but political friends, yes.
HESS: Who do you think was giving Mr. Hannegan the biggest boost at this time that he was appointed Democratic National Committee chairman, do you recall?
SNYDER: No. Mr. Hannegan, as I say, resigned in December. He had had a very serious operation on his spinal column, I believe, some kind of a nerve operation similar to the one that Senator Symington had, and they had a very serious unusual operation, which was known to be very dangerous, and had to be handled with great
care and you had to restrict yourself most carefully afterwards. Hannegan was disturbed with that ailment, had the operation and did not do well about it and it later brought on his death. But ill health, among other things, brought about his request to be released. This was in 1947, and the election was coming up the following year and it began to get pretty cloudy. So President Truman accepted his resignation and appointed a longtime friend of his from Kansas City, Jess Donaldson, to be Postmaster General. Donaldson had been a lifetime civil servant in the Civil Service starting in Kansas City. He had been postman and he had worked up through the post office in Kansas City and had been brought to Washington as one of the junior Assistant Postmasters General. So he was a career man. Unfortunately, Mr. Donaldson had never learned to delegate his
work and as a result it all piled up awaiting his personal solution of many problems, and personal approval of many of the actions taken, and as a result, the Post Office work did suffer considerably in the later years for lack of activity and improving the maintenance and general reorganization of the Post Office Department. He did put through a few things there, but it was very hard to do. While he was competent in the daily routine, he did not have the vision or the drive to recognize the Post Office Department was becoming strongly outmoded in its operation.
HESS: There was quite a little bit in the paper recently about changing the Post Office completely and making a Federal corporation out of it, as I understand. In your opinion is one of the reasons the Post Office is so antiquated because it has been a sort of a political football for so long?
SNYDER: It has been, and continues to be, but not because of the patronage, that's largely been removed. There are some certain classes of postmasters that are still appointed, but all of the small and medium size Post Offices now have been removed from patronage, but that isn't the biggest problem there. There is so much franked mail that the Post Office simply cannot operate on a break-even point, because they are loaded with free mail, particularly from Congress, and every department, and that sort of thing, which is not adequately covered by budget transfers. Now, the great handicap that would face any corporation operating the Post Office, would be the elimination of a great deal -- not only the Government franking but it is the very low rates at which newspapers and magazines and farm journals and various fourth class mail -- it's so bad that it is referred to generally
as "junk mail." Those rates are just out of reason. They came into being in the early days of the Post Office because it was felt that it was valuable as an educational adjunct of our Government to get the newspapers and the magazines out to the far distant places, that they weren't getting the daily newspaper, or didn't have contact with the paper, and the weekly papers would get to them out on their rural routes or out in these small Post Offices even before the RFD was inaugurated. And it's grown to where they have one of the strongest lobbies in the United States on fourth class mail. The Luce organization probably is about the most potent of the lobbies -- the Henry Luce organization: Life, Time, and Fortune. They have a department which spends their entire time working on plans and so forth to defeat any proposal to raise the rates. Among other
things, that would be one of the vitally difficult things for a corporation to take over and try to run on a break-even or a profitable basis. If you're going to have this franked mail, at least the departments ought to be charged sufficiently. They are charged a certain amount, but it ought to be charged into the allowances in full, not just the allowance and then they are allowed to run over it, don't you see. The big problem is in the fourth class mail.
HESS: The next department is the Department of the Interior.
SNYDER: Mr. Harold Ickes was Secretary of the Interior and, of course, he was quite a character, and one of the great controversial Cabinet members of Mr. Roosevelt. Mr. Ickes, I think, would have liked to have remained in the Truman Cabinet, but of course on his own terms.
HESS: What difficulties arose in connection with his remaining?
SNYDER: He was such a controversial person in connection with a number of matters. He did stay on until February, 1946, as you know.
HESS: How did he and Mr. Truman get along, what was their relationship?
SNYDER: Well, distant. It wasn't too cordial. It was friendly, but it was not too cordial, and Ickes had a way of resorting to bringing outside pressure for anything that he particularly backed.
HESS: How would he go about doing that?
SNYDER: He would do that through leaks to the press and through leaks to columnists, and it just didn't suit Mr. Truman to operate with that kind of a procedure.
HESS: He didn't like doing things that way.
SNYDER: That is correct. So, Mr. Ickes, after about eight months resigned, effective February 15, 1946. There's no question but what Mr. Ickes was a forceful, able man. He really did a fine job, in my opinion, in the Department of Interior. He was a courageous man, and he surrounded himself with some very able assistants. And so I do want to pay him tribute in saying that I think he ran a good department. His biggest problem was his inability to get along with other Cabinet members and his somewhat arrogant way of running his own department. In the Roosevelt administration, there was a constant in-fighting between Mr. Ickes, Mr. Morgenthau, Mr. Wallace, and Mr. Jones. Each, of course, of those were rather individual persons themselves, particularly Mr. Jones was a very determined man. Mr. Wallace was, in his way. I wouldn't say that Mr.
Morgenthau was a strong-willed person by reputation, but he did have a way of pressing for matters that he was interested in getting accomplished and he used a great deal of his contacts with the Roosevelt family to obtain things. Mr. Morgenthau's wife was a schoolmate of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, so most of his contact in the White House was through Mrs. Roosevelt. While he did have some access to the President, he didn't have near the access that is generally considered to have existed.
HESS: Did those gentlemen try to step in and take over authority that actually belonged to the other departments?
SNYDER: Many times, yes, many times. Or to deny cooperation to the other departments when matters came up that required cooperation. They wanted to do the job themselves. Mr.
Roosevelt would frequently give two or more of them the same job to do just to kind of stir up things a little.
HESS: Unbeknown to them.
SNYDER: Oh, yes, unbeknown, until they finally would run head on to each other and then had to go to Mr. Roosevelt to get straightened out.
Mr. Ickes was succeeded by Julius A. Krug.
HESS: Who recommended Mr. Krug?
SNYDER: I really don't know. Mr. Krug had been in the WPB and had been a very able administrator. I really don't know who recommended him first.
HESS: I have heard that you and Bernard Baruch recommended him, is that not true?
SNYDER: I certainly would have endorsed him. I
don't know that I recommended him.
HESS: One other question in this before we move on. Mr. Chapman, I believe, was in the Department at this time, and had been in the Department of the Interior for a long time.
SNYDER: That's correct. He had been there for years.
HESS: Why was he passed over at this particular time and Mr. Krug made Secretary?
SNYDER: Well, as I recall, it wasn't considered that Mr. Chapman had the stature, the force, the administrative ability for a job of that type.
HESS: Back on Mr. Krug, what type of a Secretary did he make; how effective was he in the job?
SNYDER: Initially he did a very good job. Towards the end he began to slip. I don't know whether
the pressures were so great that he couldn't face them, but there were a great number of problems with the oil people. Towards the end, he failed in his ability to operate the department in the manner in which it should have been run.
HESS: I have heard that during the 1948 campaign, he couldn't be found?
SNYDER: Mr. Krug failed to measure up to the loyalty that the President could expect of his Cabinet in the time of an election. He was not among those counted as supporting the President, and that, of course, had a lessening of his influence and his ability. He stayed on, though, for about a year after Truman was reelected. He didn't resign until the latter part of 1949.
HESS: Do you recall if it is a fact or not that during
the campaign that the Democratic National Committee could not locate him to try to get some help?
SNYDER: I have been told that was true.
HESS: He was asked to give a speech or something and they couldn't locate him.
SNYDER: That fits in with my saying that he was not the loyal supporter that a Cabinet member should be.
HESS: He left in September of 1949. And then Mr. Chapman was made Secretary.
SNYDER: Mr. Chapman was and served for the remainder of the time. Oscar Chapman is one of the finest people that you'd ever have the opportunity to meet. He isn't a forceful person. He's more of a compromiser. He's a negotiator. Very loyal. He has been very active in the more
liberal side of politics, I'd say. He's always been very active in the organization of Christians and Jews. He was, I think, a very close friend of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. He didn't do anything particularly spectacular as Secretary of the Interior, but on the other hand he didn't cause any undue criticisms of the Department's operation.
HESS: Just one thing about him and the 1948 campaign, if you recall: I understand that during the campaign sometimes when they would take a trip to the West Coast, that he would act as an advance man?
SNYDER: He was well-known in the far west, and therefore he became a very valuable advance man for the President when he went out to visit the mountain states.
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