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.,
December 27, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
December 27, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess

HESS: Mr. Snyder, we have a list from Mr. Connelly's appointment book showing a few of the people who saw Mr. Truman in the first few days after he became President. Of course this does not list everyone who was in the White House during that time. This is one of the things I would like to discuss with you just who you saw in the White House during the first few days that Mr. Truman was President and were you present at any times that they were discussing matters of interest to them? Shall we start down Mr. Connelly's list and just see what he has to say here? Now on April 12 no names were on the list, only the information that the oath for the office had been administered to Mr. Truman at 7:09 p.m. in the Cabinet Room, and, of course, April the 13th was still the day

that you were traveling back from Mexico City, correct?

SNYDER: That's correct.

HESS: And then on April the 14th the first person to see Mr. Truman at 9:15 in the morning was yourself. Shall we start right there and take it from that point on?

SNYDER: Well, as early as I could get over to see the President on April the 14th, I went over first to express my felicitations and to assure him of the deep feeling that the Nation had for him in his time of great trial--this was a tremendous responsibility that had fallen on his shoulders--and that he had the good will of the Nation behind him. I had noted in my trip across the country coming up from Mexico that an intense sadness rested on the people. As you know, in those days we

didn't have the fast jets, so we stopped very frequently for passengers and refueling. There were many people around the airports who were shocked by the death of Mr. Roosevelt and had a very warm feeling for the man who was going to take over the great responsibilities of the Presidency. Mr. Truman was greatly comforted by this word from out in the country. He was very serious. Of course, there was this sudden falling of this burden on him, and we discussed briefly as to what had gone on up to then, who had been in to see him; he said he had principally discussed the matters that were currently being handled by the Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Secretary of Navy, and had had himself brought up to date as quickly as possible in those critical spots because the war was still on at that time. He said that there was a tremendous amount of double-checking that he would have to

make because he had not been too well informed by Mr. Roosevelt as to the conduct of the war, nor by the various agencies, for that matter. Of course, this was a day that many events would take place and many things were to be done, so I assured the President that I would be standing by to talk with him whenever he had a moment in which he wanted to discuss anything with me.

One of the first people who came in to see him after I had visited for a short time was the Secretary of the Treasury, [Henry, Jr.] Morgenthau. He had not been over so far and he wanted to pay his respects and assure his cooperation. He brought the President up briefly on the matters that were going on in the Treasury and the financial situation of the country; the bond program and the war financing. While he was there, I sat through most of that visit, and while he was still there word came that

Jimmy Byrnes had arrived with Secretary of Commerce Wallace and that they were ready to go down to the station to meet the funeral train that was bringing President Roosevelt up from Warm Springs, so that conversation was rather short. The President left and was gone for about an hour and a half. When he returned, he saw a few people. I was not in the office at that time. I was over talking with Steve Early and Sam Rosenman about whatever help I could be as I wanted to be helpful in getting them acquainted with Mr. Truman and do any of the chores that would be helpful at that time.

HESS: What seemed to be their attitude at that time?

SNYDER: They were completely stunned, is the only word to use. They were under real shock yet although there had been some knowledge that

Mr. Roosevelt had not been doing too well down at Warm Springs. He had seemed to have had a pickup just a few days before and talked a great deal about things that he was going to do, and as a result of that, the actual happening was somewhat of a shock when it came. You can imagine how having worked for many years with a person in daily contact and suddenly have him taken away leaves you somewhat in a dazed state. I think it was a comfort to them to be able to talk a little and to discuss matters. Mr. Truman had called Harry Hopkins over because he felt that Harry knew more about what was on the President's mind from day to day as he had been so close to him. They discussed particularly the fact that the President was extremely anxious to learn if there had been any agreements or commitments or discussions between Stalin and Mr. Roosevelt that were not of record. As a matter of

fact, their conversation prolonged on through lunch, and afterwards Mr. Truman told me that Hopkins had said, even though he had not been very well, that he would undertake, if Mr. Truman wanted him to, to make a trip to Moscow to talk off-the-record with Stalin as a friend paying respect of the former President and see if he could learn anything from Stalin that was not anywhere in the record.

After luncheon Mr. Truman had two or three people in and, of course, there were a number of people that just stopped in to shake hands and went on their way. But the principal conference that he had, as I recollect, was a very important one with Admiral Leahy on the war situation and get briefed on just what was happening and what was the current situation, and at that, as I recall, he had Jimmy Byrnes sit in with him, because Jimmy until a very short time before this, had been in the OWMR

job and had been extremely close to President Roosevelt.

HESS: What seemed to be Mr. Byrnes' attitude at this time? Did you speak to him?

SNYDER: Oh, yes, I talked with him very frequently. He and I had been friends for many years. His feeling, that he expressed over and over again, was, as he said, "Harry is undertaking a tremendous job. He's had a real load put on his shoulders and everybody has got to get in here and try to help him out and I'm certainly going to do everything I can to help him and furnish him with all the knowledge I have accumulated in my relationship around the White House."

HESS: As you know he tried very hard to get the nomination as Vice President and he would have been President on this day.

SNYDER: Yes, he wanted to be Vice President very much at the convention in 1944. That is correct. I think I mentioned that Mr. Truman and I were working on his nomination speech--Mr. Truman was going to nominate him, had agreed to nominate him. That's correct. At that time I did not detect the feeling of resentment that Mr. Truman had the job rather than he. As a matter of fact, it didn't come along until much later after they began to have conferences and Mr. Truman was beginning to get all the prerogatives of a President, and he suddenly began to realize that he would have liked very much to have been in that same position. It didn't crop out fully until his trip to Moscow, in my recollection. I'm going back a long way trying to remember these things.

In chronology, following that conference which was with Leahy and Byrnes, the funeral

services were held in the East Room of the White House about 4. The room was filled with people who had been invited, the President's family, the Supreme Court, important members of Congress and the Cabinet, quite a number of Mr. Roosevelt's friends, as a matter of fact, the capacity of the room was packed. Chairs had been placed there in the East Room for the funeral service.

HESS: Were you there?

SNYDER: Yes, I sat with Jimmy Byrnes during that period, during the ceremony, and following the ceremony, they left for the train and President Truman went up for the funeral services and was gone until 8 the next evening. When he returned from the funeral, of course, he was pretty well exhausted and except for reading over some reports, he retired rather early that night. How late he worked I don't

know, but it was his custom to work late in the night and early in the morning, so he usually came in to all conferences early in the morning pretty well prepared because he had done his homework very well. He had certain newspapers that he carefully read on certain items. He had his early morning time pretty well organized and looked over his appointment sheet for the day to see what people were coming in, with what reports he was going to work on, so he came over to his office pretty well organized. As I recall, the first person that went in to see him on the morning following the funeral, that was on the sixteenth I believe, was [Edward R., Jr.] Stettinius, who was Secretary of State, and they had a very brief discussion of the situation up to date. Later he had two or three other people and among them was Hugh Fulton who'd been his general counsel in the Truman Committee. Mr. Fulton didn't stay very long, however.

HESS: Why wasn't Mr. Fulton given a position in the White House or the Truman administration at this time?

SNYDER: Well, Mr. Fulton resigned from the Truman Committee at the same time that Mr. Truman became Vice President, and he had gone back to his practice of law in New York but, unfortunately, when Mr. Truman suddenly became President, Mr. Fulton made it appear from his talk that he was going to have to carry the great part of the burden of the Presidency, and Mr. Truman somehow or other didn't seem to care for that approach to an association so he had a very cool reception when he came down to see the President. Then, of course, there followed that morning a series of important conferences, several of the ambassadors came in to check up on relationships and get acquainted with the new President, get better acquainted with

him if they didn't already know him. Of course, most of them, I think, had met him but were not accustomed to working out negotiations, and conversations and cooperations with him. Among the first who had come over was Anthony Eden and the British Ambassador Viscount Halifax; they proved to be extremely helpful in establishing a warm rapport between Mr. Truman and Churchill. Shortly after that Mr. Truman went up to address Congress and had lunch up there.

HESS: Did you go along with him?

SNYDER: Yes, I went up and sat in the gallery.

HESS: What do you recall about that episode?

SNYDER: It was a rather serious delineation of the situation as it stood and it went into considerable detail as to the things that were to be done, how much responsibility the Congress

would have in the completion of the war and the reconstruction following the war because at that time it was evident that Germany was going to crack up pretty soon. They were already cracking up. The Nazi Germany was falling apart rapidly and that seemed to be evident. How much longer the Japanese would hold out after the Nazis broke up was a question, although the advices (the military advices) were that they might hold out a long time and that it would be a most difficult undertaking to actually invade Japan, it'd be a fight to the last ditch. So that was the problem that Mr. Truman had to convey to the Congress; that while we were approaching victory on the European scene, we may have to conduct a semi-reconstruction program, and at the same time carry on a war in the Pacific.

That impressed me greatly. His speech

was very gravely received by the Congress. It was a well-received talk and, of course, having just shortly before been a member of their body, they were extremely sympathetic with Mr. Truman.

HESS: Do you recall Mr. Truman making any statements to you along about this time about how difficult he thought it might be to end the war with Japan?

SNYDER: Oh, yes, because of the very matter that I have spoken about. He had been receiving advice that they were determined to fight to the limit. That was of great concern to him. You see, at that very moment he hadn't been fully appraised of the atom bomb progress. He had been told by Secretary Stimson that it was in being, in process, but how far the progress had been, he had not been fully brought up to date. As a matter of fact, no one was sure

of it until they actually tested one out in New Mexico, I believe it was. That was after he had gone to Potsdam.

HESS: When did you first become aware that there was work being done on an atomic bomb?

SNYDER: Not until the day he left Potsdam. I am trying to recall, it was very sketchy, just that something important was under way.

HESS: Who told you this?

SNYDER: Well, I heard it. Then, of course, after he came back from Congress, he got into the organization of the office. There was a tremendous amount of mail piled up and the press was pressing him for details. They were anxious to get better acquainted with Mr. Truman insofar as what he would do as President, and they were clamoring for interviews and there was a great deal of mail to

be answered, and there was the continued operation of the White House responsibilities to be considered, and so he undertook then to organize his office and get better acquainted with the procedures and so forth, and at that conference, as I recall it, I think that Steve Early was extremely cooperative and helpful in trying to get him oriented there, and Bill Hassett, William Hassett, was one of the stalwarts around the White House in the staff operation. Also Mr. Latta, the executive clerk.

Later that afternoon Bob Hannegan came over to discuss the general political situation with Mr. Truman, the reaction of the public.

HESS: What members of Mr. Truman's staff had been brought into the White House by this time?

SNYDER: Well, Connelly was one, and he had brought Vaughan in. I remember Ed McKim was

there. Rose Conway, Miss Reathel Odum. Those are the principal ones that I remember right now.

HESS: Steven Early and Sam Rosenman, who else...

SNYDER: Bill Hassett was there.

HESS: Who else from the regular Roosevelt staff was in evidence about that time, do you recall?

SNYDER: I can't remember that. They are the ones that stand out.

HESS: And that evening Mr. Truman moved into the Blair House.

SNYDER: That's right. He told Mrs. Roosevelt to take all the time that she wanted to prepare to leave the White House; that he was in no great hurry; the Blair House would be very comfortable for him, and he wanted to ease

the shock to her as much as possible and she expressed great appreciation for his consideration. The Trumans lived over in the Blair House some two or three weeks, I think, before they moved over to the White House.

Then the next day was one of extremely great importance to me because that was the day that Mr. Truman called me into the office after he had been in a discussion with the Secretary of State discussing with him the holding of the first meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco. He had reached the decision to go--he had been told about the preparation that had been made for it and it was up to him to decide if they wanted to go forward with that program, and, of course, he subsequently decided to go ahead with it and the meeting was held on schedule.

Right after that he signed the Lend-Lease Bill which had been prepared by Congress to

assist in the assistance to our allies on the basis that we would loan them certain things, not actually give them, and there would be an obligation to pay back in kind or to return the loaned items. At this time when he called me in, Jimmy Byrnes was present. President Truman said, "Well, John, I want you to come to Washington and take the Federal Loan Administrator's job."

Frankly, I was not anxious to have any appointment in the White House or in the Government. I'd spent a great deal of my life coming and going from St. Louis to Washington in the RFC and the Comptroller's Office in the reorganization and liquidation of banks, in the Defense Plant Corporation and I was just beginning to get myself re-established in the bank and was to have become president of the First National Bank in St. Louis in July--this was in 1945 when Mr. Roosevelt died in

April and brought on this conference. But he said, "I want you down here, and even if you do think that you can do as much for me out there, why I'd like to have you near me."

Jimmy Byrnes spoke up and said, "Don't argue with me, Mr. President, you remember who you are now." After some laughing about it, I said, "Well, we'll have to talk with Walter Smith," and he picked up the phone immediately and called Mr. Smith, president of the bank, and told him he had just appointed me Federal Loan Administrator. Walter said, "Was that the plan of Mr. Roosevelt?"

The President replied, "No, it's my own plan. I just appointed him."

Smith said, "Well, I guess if you want John down there, you're the President and you're the man who really needs help at this time. We're going to miss him a lot. We had planned on having him here with us to head up

our bank, but if you feel that you need him, why we'll have to let him come." He added, "I'll, of course, talk with John about it later."

The President then hung up the phone and immediately called Jesse Jones. That turned out to be rather amusing because he said to Mr. Jones, "The President has just appointed John Snyder Federal Loan Administrator."

"Did the President do that before he died?"

"No, the President has done it just now."

Jones realized what had happened, and he seemed to be very pleased about it because he said that he had recommended that appointment to Roosevelt, and he had talked with Mr. Truman about it as Vice President.

Well, that, of course, is how I became Federal Loan Administrator. It was announced shortly thereafter and was the first major

appointment that President Truman made. He had made a number of staff appointments, but no appointments of that caliber at that time. Later in the course of the day Ed Pauley was appointed as U.S. member of the Allied Reparations Committee, and then he made Ed McKim a White House assistant. Well, of course, all of this was announced at a press conference. Following that he had one or two callers and then I went with him over to the Blair House for lunch and we discussed there the procedure and decided I should go back to St. Louis to get matters closed up out there. Coming on back across the street, across Pennsylvania Avenue, to the White House, we got about half way across the street and Mr. Truman said, "Oh, my goodness, I left my White House pass on my dresser."

Everybody had a big laugh about that because

he had four Secret Service men right along with us. It shows you the humble feeling with which he was taking his suddenly having been catapulted into the Presidency.

HESS: Do you recall anyone in particular who saw the President that might have had an interesting problem that you sat in...

SNYDER: Well, they were all interesting problems. And I, of course, was privileged to sit in a number of the conferences with the Cabinet members, particularly the Treasury conferences and in the Secretary Stimson and Admiral Leahy conferences. Of course, everything was important at that time and of very grave portent, because we were changing the leadership right at a crucial moment when part of the war was coming to an end.

HESS: Looking back on those days, what were some of

the problems that were being raised?

SNYDER: Well, I would have to study to bring out the really important, of course, as I have mentioned just previously about what the President had said to Congress in the morning. Well, those were the things that were uppermost in his mind--how can we bring this European phase of the war to a close as quickly as possible and move in to the rehabilitation of Europe because there was great distress there. The war had devastated the whole of the continent. There was hardly a country in Europe that hadn't been affected by it some way and there were people in want and the destruction had been terrific. Food was a problem that had to be given prompt consideration. When war stopped, how were we going to go about helping Europe get back on its feet, and then concurrent with that was the grave problem of the persistence

of the Japanese holding on. Of course, we were beginning to have rumbles of labor problems and as the war signs showed evidence of the war being over, why there was more and more of an undercurrent of rumblings about wages and prices.

HESS: What was Mr. Truman's view at this time of what should be done to help rehabilitate Europe? Did he make any comments during these early days?

SNYDER: We talked a great deal with Fred Vinson. Fred had been with OWMR for the last several weeks and so we discussed with him quite a bit about what steps OWMR was planning at that time should the war come to a close. That we can take up a little later after I get into the OWMR picture.

HESS: Does this pretty well cover the events of

the first few days?

SNYDER: As I recall right now, yes.

HESS: On April the 30th when you were sworn in as Federal Loan Administrator, Ed Pauley and Ed McKim, who we have mentioned a few minutes ago, were also sworn in. Ed Pauley was sworn in as the United States member of the Allied Reparations Commission and Ed McKim was sworn in as Chief Administrative Assistant. What do you recall about that particular occasion on April the 30th?

SNYDER: Well, Mr. Pauley had been doing some work in connection--anticipatory work as to how they would work out reparations; as a matter of fact, he went over to Europe and had been getting some indication of what the problem was and it hadn't been very sharpened at the moment, but some considerable discussion was

given to just what steps we would take, of course. It was the United States position that we wanted no reparation, but that was not the case, however, with a great number of the countries that had received great damages in property. And, of course, the Russians were extremely persistent in their demands for reparations because they had been very badly mauled in the invasion of Hitler into Russia and their losses around Stalin-grad and a number of other places were very great, and they were very positive. The French were coming in with great demands, particularly for the devastation that was done during the Battle of the Bulge and when the armies marched across France into victory. The Belgians, of course, had had damage, and the British suffered damage, and there was quite a pressure for very heavy and substantial reparations. Of course, Nazi Germany had been horribly mauled also. I

recall a short time later shortly after the surrender, I took a flight over to Europe and visited the bombed out cities of Germany. It was an appalling sight to see the industrial cities, and particularly in Berlin, to see these gaunt walls standing there with the entire interior burned out by the incendiary bombs. These were the towns of the people that the nations were thinking of demanding reparation from and they were in dire need themselves. So you can see there were many, many serious problems facing the situation when Mr. Truman walked into the White House.

HESS: On the subject of the devastation in Germany, I believe that Secretary of the Treasury, Morgenthau wanted to make an agrarian nation out of Germany, is that right?

SNYDER: Mr. Morgenthau made that proposal to Roosevelt and Churchill at the meeting in

Canada, and it was accepted at first by Roosevelt and Churchill but was later rejected. He had become obsessed with that idea, however, and later when Mr. Truman went to Potsdam, was extremely anxious to make the trip, but Mr. Truman would not consent to have him go.

HESS: Why do you think he was so anxious to make the trip? Was he still trying to press this particular point?

SNYDER: I think he was convinced that he should have the opportunity. Mr. Morgenthau had been Secretary of the Treasury for about twelve years and he felt that he was a very important part of the President's Cabinet and of the President's organization. He felt like he'd been very close to Mr. Roosevelt and he wanted to be part of the closing operation.

HESS: Did you ever hear Mr. Morgenthau discuss his plan?


HESS: What do you recall about Mr. Ed McKim?

SNYDER: Well, I'd known Ed McKim for many, many years. He, Mr. Truman, Vaughan, and I had gone to summer camps--military camps--for some fifteen or twenty years and we were very good friends, very well acquainted and frankly I was pleased to have him come down because he had established himself rather well at the Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance Company and had become a very effective executive of that company in the insurance business. I felt that he would be helpful to Mr. Truman in his organization of staff work.

HESS: Mr. McKim served as Chief Administrative Assistant only until June the 15th of that year. Why was his stay on the White House staff so short?

SNYDER: Well, it was determined that he didn't fit into the organization probably because the transition from private business to public business was difficult for him as it was for so many business leaders during the war who came down to try to help. In our discussions I got Mr. McKim to come over to the RFC, the Federal Loan Administration, and got him to undertake an assignment of studying the disposal of surplus property and what that problem might be and got him to take a trip over to Europe to survey it for me, and by the time he got back, he decided he'd rather go back to private business.

HESS: A few minutes ago we were discussing the people who were in the White House. In April of 1945 Mr. Truman met with V.M. Molotov when Molotov was on his way to the San Francisco conference. What do you recall about that?

SNYDER: I recall that visit; they had a reception over at the Soviet Embassy and had quite a turnout. They were extremely cordial at that time and it was one of the big parties of that period. Molotov, as usual, wasn't very responsive. He was always a very dour sort of person, and he and Mr. Truman, frankly, were never very friendly. Mr. Truman, of course, as you know, went, on out to the United Nations meeting and addressed them there. That's something I think we ought to check up on. There's quite a bit of confusion because some of the papers had it that he gave his address by transcription, but actually he was present and he delivered his speech...

HESS: At the Opera House in San Francisco.

SNYDER: That's right.

HESS: Now, the President did talk to Molotov a couple

of times, I believe, in the Blair House, is that right?

SNYDER: That's correct.

HESS: And I believe Mr. Truman used some rather strong language, is that correct?

SNYDER: Mr. Truman took a firm position on what we were going to do and not do, and Molotov was beginning to show some signs of what Stalin had in his mind all the time, and, of course, at that time Mr. Truman had not had an opportunity to thoroughly explore the situation. He was establishing a beachhead there from which to take his position later. I don't believe that Hopkins had made his visit to Moscow. For that reason Mr. Truman was not too sure of his position as to what had gone on between Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Stalin.

HESS: Do you recall any statements that Mr. Truman may have made about this time--April, May--that would show his thinking--how it had developed on the U.S.-Russian relationship early in his administration?

SNYDER: To me--I was not present at any of the Molotov discussions--but to me he was already reaching the conclusion that it was going to be very difficult to deal with the Russians. And while he tried to be very gracious at times about Stalin, he had no illusions about what sort of person Stalin was.

HESS: I believe it was after he returned from Potsdam that he made his "Good old Joe" remark.

SNYDER: That's right, but Mr. Truman...

HESS: You don't think he really meant that Stalin

was a "Good old Joe"?

SNYDER: No, no, no, never. It was just a quip that he gave at the time that probably was unfortunate.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]