Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

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

Washington, D.C.,
February 12, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

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

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

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

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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
February 12, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

 

[1113]

Twenty-eighth Oral History Interview with John W. Snyder, Washington, D.C., February 12, 1969. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.

HESS: All right, sir, shall we continue on with where we were last week?

SNYDER: Last week we were discussing the Marshall plan, the background of its formation and some of the people who were responsible for its early inception. And we had also discussed some of the estimates of how much it would cost to operate the Marshall plan in dollars. In addition to those unofficial estimates, which we discussed last week, as to the great cost of the Marshall plan, many of the more responsible people took a notion that Secretary Marshall's proposal was an outright offer that the United States would pick up the entire relief and recovery tab for Europe. Now, this, I thought, was deplorable, since it tended to negate the good

 

[1114]

effects of Marshall's statement that the Europeans should first get together to help themselves before approaching us for aid. As keeper of the national finances, I felt an obligation to counteract both this notion and the astronomical estimate of how much the foreign aid program would actually cost the United States. I found an opportunity to do so in a press conference that I held on June 26, 1947, where the questions was asked:

Don't you understand Secretary Marshall's speech to mean that he is inviting other nations to come to us with an application for such relief as is necessary?

I promptly answered:

By no means. My interpretation is that he is asking them to make a self-inventory, and see what they can do for themselves.

The question was then asked:

And you don't think that there is any offer of United States assistance in Secretary Marshall's speech on the subject?

 

[1115]

I replied:

No more than we have had evidence of all along.

This incomplete and ambiguous exchange served as the basis for bold, black headlines in newspapers proclaiming a rift between me and the Secretary of State over the Marshall plan. It seemed to reporters at the press conference that I was denying that Marshall had pledged the United States to assist European recovery. For me, I'll have to say that although I failed to make myself completely clear, my intention was to impress upon the reporters and newspaper readers that Marshall's speech implied more than an invitation for other nations to come to us with an application for such relief as was necessary.

Later that day, through the Treasury press relations office, I issued a statement clarifying my early remarks:

 

[1116]

In my press conference this morning, in response to questions regarding the implications of Secretary Marshall's address at Harvard, I indicated that we had had evidence for some time that the United States' assistance might be required in the reconstruction of Europe. As Secretary Marshall indicated in his speech, before the United States can proceed much further in this effort to lend assistance to the situation in Europe and help the European world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreement among the countries of Europe as to their essential requirements, and the part that they will play in providing such assistance and forming an appropriate basis for whatever assistance might be requested of the United States Government. My statements today should nowise be interpreted as disagreeing in any respect with the comments made by Secretary Marshall at Harvard.

Nevertheless the press conference remarks served as a basis for considerable editorial comment in the succeeding days to the effect that, first, I was in favor of only a small amount of aid, and second, favored aid only for the immediate period ahead, and not for a period of years, and third, was opposed to all foreign aid. The truth of the matter was, I did not know, nor did

 

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anyone in the Government at that time know, exactly how much aid could be offered and how much would be needed. I was convinced that the United States' assistance would be necessary for successful recovery programs in Europe, but I did not then know what was possible or what was necessary. As confirmation of this, we may look to an event that occurred on the day following the above mentioned press conference. On June 27, 1947, a report of the National Advisory Council (of which I was chairman) to the Congress, was released. The report had obviously been prepared a number of days in advance of its release date, and thus may be taken as an official statement of my views on foreign aid at that time. The NAC reported to Congress that by the end of March, nearly three months earlier, almost all U.S. resources authorized for foreign financial assistance, other than

 

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subscriptions to the Fund and Bank had been committed, and it said:

It has during the period of review become increasingly clear that such resources as remain available will not, by reason either of their amount or of the nature of developing needs abroad, prove adequate for the accomplishment of the purposes for which foreign financial assistance has been provided. The question of the extent to which this country will need to provide additional assistance to foreign countries can not be readily answered at this time. The agencies requested by the National Advisory Council are giving continued consideration to this matter.

In addition to some public misunderstanding of my attitude to foreign aid, there was also some misconstruction of the relationship of Secretary Marshall and me. Rumors and reports of disagreements were not infrequent, particularly after the press conference of June 26. However, Secretary Marshall and I had, for a number of years, been close friends, and we remained so. To me, General Marshall was a great soldier, an able

 

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statesman, and something of a personal hero to me. In his relations with me the General unbent to a degree that was really unusual, exhibiting a side of his personality that was almost sentimental when compared with the rigid military manner which the General always maintained in public. Marshall did believe that large-scale assistance to Europe was necessary, and he believed that the need was urgent; but he was, as he freely admitted, lacking in a background of economics and finance, and he relied heavily in those fields, upon the advice of those he trusted, and I'm happy to say that I always felt that I was one of those. There was no basic disagreement between us on foreign aid or on anything else. I was in complete accord with the Secretary of State's view that further United States aid to Europe was necessary, and the two of us agreed that before the United States did move, it was necessary for Europe

 

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to get together and help themselves as much as possible. Beyond that, any differences that we had were differences of emphasis or of timing.

My feeling that the emphasis of the Marshall plan should be, first of all, on Europe's self-aid, and second, on U.S. aid, was not modified when I went to Europe that summer of 1947 to attend the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Fund and Bank. But what I saw on the trip did reassure me as to the willingness of the Europeans to work for their own recovery.

I had not been in Europe since the summer of 1945 at the time that I was Reconversion Director. That earlier trip had been a shocking one to me, disclosing as it did the desperate economic condition of Europe in the wake of the war. My 1947 trip during which I visited a number

 

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of countries and talked with government and business leaders, was most revealing. Although I had known from reports available to me of the extreme weakness of the European economy two years after the end of the war, and although I was aware of the bitter impact that the winter of 1946-47 had had on European recovery, it was another matter to see it and talk about it with responsible men on the scene.

Returning to New York, I told newsmen that, "The task confronting Western Europe today is complicated and difficult, but I feel that some progress has already been made." I further added, "It should be remembered that economic health is contagious. Western Europe, I believe, is really beginning to face up to its problems, and with continued courage, unity of effort, and hard work, the people of Western Europe can face the future with real confidence."

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