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.,
March 26, 1969
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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
March 26, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

HESS: Mr. Snyder, the President's Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty was established by Executive Order 9806 of November 25, 1946. What do you recall about that commission?

SNYDER: The man in the Treasury who was named to that commission was Edward H. Foley, Jr. who at the time was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. The other members of that group which were representatives of their various agencies were: A. Devitt Vanech, Special Assistant to the Attorney General at the Justice Department, he was named chairman. Subsequently, I think that Mr. Foley acted as chairman from time to time but Mr. Vanech was the nominal chairman of the committee. And John E. Peurifoy of the Department of State; Ken [Kenneth C.] Royall, Department of War;


John Sullivan, John L. Sullivan, Under Secretary of the Navy; and Harry B. Mitchell, the president of the Civil Service Commission. Now, the purpose was to make a study of all the procedures that were being followed by the various agencies, then come to a uniform plan that would be a proper program for looking into the loyalty of prospective employees, and also review the files of the employees in the various agencies. The commission was supposed to adopt a uniform set of guidelines on what should be checked and what shouldn't be, and to see that all the various departments, particularly those with security exposures, were, giving the right attention to their employees which they already had, as well as the new ones. And I delegated that work entirely to Mr. Foley. And I think that they did a very good job. The hue and cry certainly diminished a great deal after that, except in political areas where sometime later the


Republicans went back and tried to stir up a lot of problems in some of those investigations that they conducted mostly after 1952.

HESS: I've heard some criticism of the commission in that instead of trying to concentrate on finding serious security violations, communists in high places, in other words, that it sort of degenerated into searching for homosexuals and people of that nature in lower positions.

SNYDER: Unhappily, I think that there is some substance to that criticism. The actions of the commission were somewhat motivated by the pressures of the time. And I think that was wherein they fell into the trap, except for trying to be so flexible as to run here and there instead of setting up a program and going straight through on it. Fortunately, in the Treasury, we did not have many great problems in the field of loyalty. The few we had were that many too many but, generally


speaking, we were fortunate in having a higher record of loyalty, a better record of employees not questionable in their loyalty, either as to security or morals.

HESS: What would be your evaluation of the overall effectiveness of the commission?

SNYDER: I think that it served its purpose.

HESS: All right, fine. That's about everything on that isn't it?

SNYDER: I don't have anything pertinent to add.

HESS: Okay, fine.

SNYDER: There is no need in going in and rehashing all the publicity and all the arguments that came up at the time because those pretty soon gave way to other matters. I think by and large it pretty well straightened out, although, as you know later some of the Republicans put in many hours


trying to dig up and rehash old stories.

HESS: Who were those who gave the most trouble along those lines. Do you recall? During the days of Joe McCarthy?

SNYDER: Well, during the McCarthy days and later. I suppose that the most of it was stirred up by the McCarthy investigation. Later, as I say, guidelines were set up to help the personnel units of the various departments, which I think were a help, and in dealing with the new employees particularly.

HESS: During the McCarthy era, did you ever have any Congressmen who came down to the Treasury Department and wanted to go through personnel records?

SNYDER: I don't recall personally. Mr. Foley may have had some such approaches but they were never


serious enough for him to bring them up to me that I recall.

HESS: Our next subject for the morning deals with the writing of the State of the Union messages, shall we move right on into that?

SNYDER: Yes, if you like.

HESS: Did you help in the writing of any of the State of the Union messages?

SNYDER: It was President Truman's policy as he was preparing any of his messages to Congress, or any public statement for that matter, to consult with the department heads or agency heads whose activities were going to be treated in his speech. Perhaps some action was going to be taken or some new legislation was to be requested. If it affected any department or agency he normally called in the head of those units to discuss at least their phase of it. In the State of the Union


message, of course, that somewhat is a blanket speech that covers all activities of the Government in the past and plans for the future. I was always present at the preparation for the general review, and was always consulted as to any matters that affected the Treasury operation or that the Treasury Department was to be called on to take any particular action or position. As a matter of fact, the President would give us a list of things, of taxes or any new legislation having to do with the administration of any of the various agencies, for instance the Internal Revenue or the Customs. Those matters were presented to me, our staff would get to work and we would prepare insertions in the speech for the President. And those were presented to him and they may have been edited or expanded or contracted as they saw fit and then passed back, and if they were within keeping of the ideas and the workability of the Treasury, they went into the


speech. Then after all the various agencies and departments had gone through the same procedure, then the draft of the speech itself would be read before a certain group, largely White House staff people. The Attorney General and I were usually invited in for that, or, if it vitally affected any agency, the head was called in, and we would go over it paragraph by paragraph and whatever discussion was brought out, it was duly weighed by the President. Sometimes some rather lively discussions came up.

HESS: Do you recall any of those offhand?

SNYDER: Well, frankly, I don't. If it's of particular importance, we could go back and look through some of the old drafts of speeches and see if there were any points that were controversial.

My greatest problem was largely generated by the economic advisors. They would come up


with various projections and proposals and notions that didn't jibe with the economic facts or some of the views, and it was largely in that area where I experienced the few controversial interludes that arose.

HESS: Who were the principal economic advisors that you used to have these slight disagreements with?

SNYDER: Well, it was largely with one man.

HESS: Who was that?

SNYDER: Keyserling, Leon Keyserling. Leon was quite a person. He came down to Washington as a clerk for Senator [Robert F.] Wagner in the housing job and by some strange process he became reported to be a great economist. Unless he did it by night school work, or correspondence course, I could never find where he actually prepared himself to


be a professional economist. But he certainly has become widely reputed as a liberal economist.

HESS: What seemed and seems to be the main philosophy of his school of economics?

SNYDER: Well, it was largely, I think oriented towards the labor situation. More liberal legislation affecting the labor unions, and more pressure put on higher wages without properly weighing the price structure, things of that character. Housing -- he was always for low-priced housing regardless of the economics involved.

HESS: When he would submit a suggestion to the President and to the White House staff that ran counter to your views, what would be your next step? How would you try to counter his actions?

SNYDER: Well, it was just a matter of trying to talk with him or some of his people about it and give


our views, and if we were persuasive enough, sometimes they dropped them. If we were not, then the matter had to go to the President himself, and to his staff. Normally, I say normally, and I think that this is true, my staff and his staff were able to iron out a great many of the matters without making them become a presidential controversy. But, if we weren't able to, then it fell on me to go to the President, or discuss my views in an open meeting of the staff.

HESS: Do you recall an example of something that may have been taken to the President for a high-level settlement?

SNYDER: Oh, I think it was probably the language regarding pressures to be put on price structures and more liberal attitudes toward labor. I always had a strong feeling that if you're going to get a balance there you had to give a consideration to both sides. The laborer should be willing


to work for his wage and produce the greatest amount of productivity for the wage that he earns, and I thought that it was incumbent upon the manufacturer to price his product at a proper level, but I always felt that he had a right to make a profit on what he did. That's where some of the controversy came from. The figures that were produced by the Economic Council, at times, didn't jibe with the figures that were available to me. I had accountants, usually one of the large public accounting firms, make a projection for me on the necessary profit of corporations. The Economic Council had the notion that a wage raise with no assurance of increased productivity always could be absorbed without a price raise, that seemed to be their regular refrain almost anytime that we came up with the matter.

HESS: On all matters, not just prices and wages,


but whose view do you think that the President was more closely attuned to, yours or Mr. Keyserling?

SNYDER: Well, I wouldn't want to comment on that. We got along all right.

HESS: Fine.

SNYDER: And, when the decision was made, that was the decision, and we went along with it whether it was pro or con for the Treasury. Once it was made then it became administration policy and the Treasury supported it.

HESS: Did you or did you not feel that there were certain White House staff members who might have been a little more receptive to Leon Keyserling...

SNYDER: Oh, why, sure there were, yes.

HESS: Who would you think would try to write in some of his ideas into the President's speeches?


SNYDER: I think that, without doubt, Clifford leaned in that direction, because he had somewhat labeled himself a liberal. You know, it's very difficult to measure what a man means by saying that he has liberal views and he is for liberal ideas and so forth. Mr. Clifford, in running his law office in later years, was not too liberal with his fees and I have never found that at any time, to my knowledge, did he ever make special concessions, or take as clients, any of the group of people that he was so concerned about as a liberal in the Government. Somehow he confined his clientele to the very rich who could pay extremely favorable fees.

HESS: Why do you think he tried to take upon himself the label of a liberal during his White House days?


SNYDER: He thought it was popular, I'm sure, he felt that it was politically popular.

HESS: Do you think he would place political expediency above principle, more or less?

SNYDER: Oh, now, let's don't...

HESS: Okay, all on that subject?

SNYDER: I think so.

HESS: Mr. Snyder, one thing that will be of interest to historians would be your recollections of Mr. Truman's reactions to the Korean invasion. And on that subject, how long was it after he received the news, that you saw him?

SNYDER: President Truman and I were out in Missouri at that time and on Sunday morning he called me and told me that he had some very disturbing news that there had been an invasion from the


north in Korea, and asked me to be ready to go back to Washington with him that afternoon, that he would come by St. Louis and pick me up in his plane. My records show that at 1:30 p.m. on June 25th that Mr. Truman had the plane land in St. Louis and picked me up and we flew non-stop on to Washington arriving here at 4:20 p.m. In the interim he had communicated with Secretary Acheson and Secretary Johnson and told them to get together the appropriate people to discuss this communiqué that they had received and to explore what steps should be taken.

When we arrived at the airport, Secretary Acheson and Secretary Johnson were there awaiting us.

HESS: One question. When you got on the plane in St. Louis, what seemed to be his reaction? What seemed to be his mood at that time?

SNYDER: The President was tremendously disturbed


because he immediately said, "Of course, we don't know the depth of this. We've had this communiqué that they moved in with force along the border." This would be the first breach of an area of understanding between the Communists and the free world as to encroachment on the independent nations. The U.N. had been formed and was in operation and many members of the smaller nations were really looking to the stronger nations to protect them from encroachment, and this would, to him, probably be the first test of just how strong the free world should stand against any further infiltration of the independent countries that had associated themselves with us in the United Nations. We, of course, had gone through the attempted expansion of Communist influence into Turkey and Greece right after the war, and had effectively held that back. But that was just a general expansion of the Soviet Union in trying


to extend its lines as far into the west as it could following World War II. Of course, we had set up NATO, and we had set up several other organizations as protective forces to back up the U.N. in giving aid to countries that were threatened with invasion, encroachment, or take over, and this was the first time that an actual invasion had taken place. The line dividing Korea into North and South Korea had been set up by agreement. Governments had been established and had been in operation. The South Korean government had become a Republic that was relying a great deal on the United States for assistance, and we had quite a number of troops in there under MacArthur's jurisdiction.

So, it was a matter of real concern to him and he was very anxious to get to Washington and find the extent to which this invasion had taken place and in what force. My recollection is that he was deeply concerned about it.


HESS: Where did you land, Andrews Air Force Base?

SNYDER: No, we landed at National.

HESS: Who met the plane?

SNYDER: Well, there were several but the principal ones, I remember, were Secretary Acheson and Secretary Johnson. We conferred briefly, and then Mr. Truman discussed with them the question about where should they meet, and he said, "Well, I think I should go directly to the Blair House, and then you folks bring all the proper people there and bring such documents as you have that will help us not only know the situation, the latest communiqués, but also what other documents would help us in arriving at a decision or what steps to take."

They advised of those they had already asked to be there -- who they had already alerted -- and there was some adjustment in the people that


were coming. Mr. Truman and I proceeded to the Blair House and Secretary Acheson and Johnson, as I recall, came on later in their own cars.

When we arrived at the Blair House some of the people had already arrived and others came in and we went out on the patio to have our discussion. It was in the summertime and there was a patio on the north side of the Blair House -- the rear of the Blair House -- and we went out there to have this discussion. My recollection is that we started right in with the reading of the documents that some of them had brought. Secretary Johnson brought the Defense Department's communiqués, and Secretary Acheson brought the messages he had received from our ambassador in Seoul.

HESS: Who do you recall as being in attendance at the meeting?

SNYDER: Well, to my best recollection, Mr. Acheson


brought with him his Under Secretary James Webb, and Secretary Johnson, as I recall, had Secretary [Thomas] Finletter, and probably [Frank] Pace. He probably had Pace there, because of the fact that Finletter and Pace had troops in South Korea -- Army and Air Force personnel, and also Secretary of Navy Francis Matthews. And then Bradley was there and had with him, as I recall, General [J. Lawton] Collins. Others present were: Air Force Chief, General Hoyt Vandenburg; Chief of Naval Operations, Forrest Sherman; Under Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Assistant Under Secretary of State, John Hickerson; Ambassador at Large, Philip Jessup. Admiral [William D.] Leahy was present because there was a question regarding what was to be done with the naval forces, how they were to be deployed. Those were the ones that I recall specifically being present.


HESS: Were there any of the people that were there that were opposed to the final action that was taken?

SNYDER: None that I recall. There was a great deal of discussion back and forth as to what the effect was going to be and what should be done, and, of course, Dean Acheson said that by all means we should bring the U.N. in on this. Whatever action that we took should be done under the direction of the U.N. Number one, the decision was, something must be done, some action -- some positive action -- must be taken and taken quickly. Then the decision was made to put the whole operation under the U.N. Secretary Acheson and the President got in touch with Warren Austin, our Ambassador at the U.N. at that time, and one of the first things that took place the next day was the U.N.'s action condemning the invasion.

The matter was brought before the Security


Council of the U.N. They called on all the invading troops to return north of the 38th parallel immediately, and member countries of the U.N. were called on to give every assistance possible, including troops, to the protection of the sanctity of the South Korean area. It was pointed out very positively that the peace of the world was threatened by a strong power impressing its will on an independent, reluctant member nation of the U.N. As I recall, the statement of the U.N. was to the effect that the Communists had defied the order of the Security Council to preserve international peace and security, and that they had violated the commitments under that order.

Of course, there was great confusion, at the time, as to just where the support and the equipment and the training that was behind this North Korean force had come from. Of course, it subsequently developed that the airplanes,


and many of the tanks, and many of the instructors for the various arms, particularly the air force, were Russian. Supplies, however, were being very liberally moved in by the Chinese, so they were actually getting assistance from both sides of the Communist world at that time. The more advanced, technical assistance came from the Russians. .And Russia was a member of the U.N., China wasn't. China hadn't developed to a point where they could supply the type of equipment, and we quickly learned that the airplanes were Russian manufactured.

HESS: Were any of the congressional leaders consulted about the position that was taken?

SNYDER: My recollection is that the phones were busy about this matter. Of course, the time was so short that...

HESS: There were no congressional leaders at Blair


House on Sunday evening. Is that correct?

SNYDER: No. No, there was not, because this was a matter of deciding what should be done, what we could do, and then what our position was as a member of the U.N.

Well, of course, that came up later, Dean Acheson advanced it early because he evidently had been giving it some very serious thought. I considered it a very, very inspired thought right at the beginning, the minute he mentioned it, because it was broadening this thing out and kept it from being just an action by the United States, although we did bear the brunt of the protection of South Korea. But for history it was a United Nations action and they had taken the position, although, as you know, we got very little real assistance other than the initial Security Council action.

HESS: There have been those that have said that the


United States should not become involved in a land war in Asia.

SNYDER: I believe that, and still do. I just think that it's like quicksand. And with their vast areas, the unlimited number of people, the general attitude of the Asiatic mind toward death -- they could sacrifice a million people and no harm's done to them if they can win -- and even if they don't win, they've only accomplished what in the old days famine used to do and reduce the population to a more manageable proportion. That is so clear. Never, never has there been any successful invasion of any part of Asia, except economically and by trade.

HESS: Do you recall...

SNYDER: They can absorb so much, and time means nothing to them.

HESS: Do you recall if somebody mentioned that on


Sunday night during the discussion?

SNYDER: Yes, that was very positively brought out that we do not want to get involved in a conflict with China, and that at least on the face of it it should be kept in the confines of a dispute between these two countries, North and South Korea. That's why we didn't want to go beyond a certain point, the Yalu River.

HESS: Was the possibility of Chinese intervention discussed at this meeting?

SNYDER: I don't think that it came up at this particular meeting. Because we were still feeling our way out -- we just weren't too darn sure. But a warning went up that we did not want to get involved with a principal nation, don't you see -- it would just be devastating, financially, economically, and manpower wise because you could


see how the Chinese could lose millions of their citizens, and it would mean very little to them. You can see in the case of this little Vietnamese war: We call it little and it is little when you think of world battles, but there is no way of getting a toehold there, you never know when you've won. There are little pockets of resistance. And that would have been true throughout Asia. You never would have known when you had actually conquered anything because the government would fragment and then it would all come back and be Chinese again. And that is a part of our greatest difficulty in trying to probe the Oriental mind. They just don't think like we do. Their standards are different from ours. Their morality is different, their principles are different, and then you add to that the Communist theory of the end justifies the means, and you see pretty clearly how impossible the situation is getting involved with an Asiatic country.


HESS: That pretty well cover the meeting on Sunday night?

SNYDER: I think so, as I recall, unless you've got some questions.

HESS: That's all on that. Now, as you know, in September of that year General [George C.] Marshall replaced Louis Johnson as Secretary of Defense. When was the decision made to replace Louis Johnson, do you recall?

SNYDER: I think along in August, it began to be discussed.

HESS: I have heard, I don't know if it's true or not, that it was even discussed prior to the Korean invasion. Is that incorrect?

SNYDER: I don't want to say positively because I don't remember right this minute. Louis Johnson


was a very aggressive person and he began to tread on the toes of quite a number of people in the State Department, the Commerce Department, and several of the others, and unfortunately, because of the very driving person that he was he was creating an atmosphere in the Cabinet and in the administration that President Truman did not want to develop. It began to appear in the early summer and late spring of 1950 that there were areas of argument and controversy and encroachment of jurisdiction. But it was probably augmented by the Korean situation, as I recall.

HESS: What do you recall about the President's reactions when the Chinese Communists crossed the Yalu River in late November that year?

SNYDER: Well, it was pretty shocking because it was then clearly evident that the Chinese were pouring great strength behind it, and any move that we made to go beyond the Yalu River then


appeared to be a threat of invading the soil of a great power. There was a great deal of controversy about bombing beyond the Yalu River. That is a matter that I will have to leave to the military experts. In my visits with General MacArthur in November of 1949, the General felt that given the proper forces that they could hold the situation. There had been some rumblings and so forth, this wasn't just overnight, although General MacArthur had not given any imminent danger signals. The real problem came from airplanes flying way back inside the Chinese borders beyond North Korea. And so that only came to light after they actually started their invasion, don't you see.

HESS: Is it true that in their meeting at Wake Island on October 15, 1950 that General MacArthur told President Truman that in his best opinion the Chinese Communists would not invade?


SNYDER: That is my understanding, I was not there, but I was told that when they came back.

HESS: By whom? President Truman?

SNYDER: I'm pretty sure it was.

HESS: What do you recall about the events that surrounded the...

SNYDER: You see, when they got back I talked with quite a number of them, particularly General [Harry H.] Vaughan who was along, but I was given to understand that MacArthur had assured Mr. Truman that there was not any real danger of the Chinese invading as a Chinese army. They thought that there might be some danger of the so-called volunteer Chinese units becoming involved in fighting.

HESS Tell me just a little bit more about the trip that you took to see the General. Who sent you


and just exactly what was the mission?

SNYDER: Well, that will take some time, it really should be the subject of one of our interviews.

HESS: All right.

SNYDER: Actually, the official mission was to inspect Coast Guard installations. My trip was really three-fold. It was based, however, on the visit to General MacArthur to review and check up on the assistance that the Treasury had rendered to General MacArthur in setting up tax reforms, monetary assistance, schools reforms and I think that could well be a topic for discussion.

HESS: What time was that trip? Do you recall offhand?

SNYDER: If you can cut it off just a minute I can tell you.

HESS: All right.


SNYDER: In answer to inquiry about when that trip was made, I left Washington on November 11, 1949, and was visiting in Tokyo from November 15 through the 21st. I was there about a week. I was the houseguest of General MacArthur during that period. So we'll take that matter up then unless you have a closing question that you want to ask.

HESS: Well, just one question. You said that it was a three-fold mission?

SNYDER: One of the missions was to check with the Coast Guard and our commitment for weather observation (Loran) that the Coast Guard was charged with in operating those outposts for inter-ocean travel. We had these weather stations all over Alaska, Japan, and in the Philippines, Wake Island, places of that sort. And I took with me the Commander of the Coast Guard Admiral [Merlin] O'Neill and a staff of his


officers. One of our objectives was to check all of those operations of the Coast Guard in those areas. Another was to consult with the Philippine government about a surplus property problem that had developed in the south seas there which was operating out of Manila, and the other was to spend time with General MacArthur reviewing these various operations that the Treasury had sent a taskforce over to help him accomplish. So that was the three-fold purpose of the trip. But I repeat: The official mission was to check Coast Guard installations.

HESS: Fine. Let's discuss that the next time and then move on into the events surrounding the dismissal of General MacArthur and make that our next interview. Will that be all right?


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