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 was 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
May 28, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
May 28, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Snyder, did President Truman himself ever express in your presence
any viewpoint about the operation of the presidency or Government organization?
SNYDER: Yes, Mr. Hess, on many occasions we talked about the Presidency
and the tremendous responsibility that it placed on an individual; that
there should be a better organization of the President's job; that the
President had so many responsibilities that had accumulated through the
years without any particular statute or regulation or anything. There
is a matter of the tremendous number of signature required of a President;
appointments -- I'm talking about where he would appoint somebody to a
job, he had to sign their
certificates. There were so many things that he gradually began to pass
part of that work-load over to someone else -- got it authorized -- but
there are just so many calls on a President to do so many things that
he shouldn't have to do. There should be greater delegation, if you can
get the right people in the right job. Some Presidents have undertaken
to almost run in detail some of the various departments. Teddy Roosevelt
tried it; President Wilson did; certainly FDR. Frankly, Roosevelt tried
to run the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Army and Navy,
all those things. He attempted to get in it and try to run them himself.
And Mr. Truman began to realize that, and we did try to do some reorganization.
Still a lot more should be done with that Executive Office. Under that
I think there is
some thirty or forty different agencies and departments, all under the
President's control. He has somebody, like the Director of the Budget,
things of that sort but it all stems right back to him.
HESS: What can be done to streamline the office of the President?
SNYDER: It's going to take some objective analysis and study to try to
come up with it but entirely, I think, too much time is taken up in meaningless
appearances. He goes to so many things that are a lot of wear and tear
on him. There would be no problem for you to get up and drop in to see
a group and come on back out, but with a President, it's a major operation.
You have to get organized, you get the routes laid out, you get all this
up, you get the police coverage, the news media, and you have to case
the place that you're going to, and it's a terrific job.
HESS: As Mr. Truman has said several times, it's like transporting a
SNYDER: Well, he's put it that way and it's certainly true. And particularly
these meaningless appearances that do not serve any constructive purpose.
HESS: Do you think some of those could be given off to the Vice President?
SNYDER: Oh, there's no question about it. It's got to be carefully organized.
I know it's nice, but from my point of view -- his going to these media
dinners you know, TV dinners, White House photographers, all affairs,
people see the President all the time, he doesn't carry any message.
It's nice, of course, if he'll come but then if they just break the habit
of it, why, then -- if some President would just have the courage to quit
it, don't you see. Then these TV appearances. People begin to get tired
of those constant TV appearances of a President announcing some trivial
decision or appointment. I say trivial, I mean less than important, don't
you see. Kennedy began to do that. If he would appoint a fellow to catch
jackrabbits almost, he'd announce it. I've heard him talk about it. Well,
that's wear and tear on a President. Nixon is beginning to outdo LBJ.
He may have enjoyed it, but it's still not giving him time he needs. And
he is beginning to demonstrate this, that instead of sitting meditating
analyzing a decision that he had to make on something really important,
if he had spent that time in review and study instead of all this preparation
that he has to go through for an appearance -- and the waste involved.
Well, I think you get my point there. Then going to dedications and things
of that sort. I know there's the political angle. The President wants
a certain exposure and he wants the public to see him. And everybody loves
to see the President, there's no question about that, but he could have
appearances on occasions of importance. I think that more consideration
should be given by the President to public rather than political welfare.
The pressures on the President always, of course, are great. He is the
leader of his party, but at the same time, I think his stature -- his
image -- would be
greatly enhanced if a president could conscientiously back up something
that's for the public good even though it might not be just exactly for
the political good at the time. And I think that we have let our Presidents
and our whole political machine draft toward just getting the vote. It's
been entirely too much the emphasis of things.
HESS: Don't they have some fear, particularly in their first term of
office, that if they don't keep their political fences mended, more or
less, they may not be there the second term?
SNYDER: Well, that's probably part of it, and then in the second term
the party then leans on them to see to it that somebody in the party gets
in the next term, don't you see? And frankly FDR tried to break that down
don't think -- I have my grave doubts that we'll ever elect a President
for a third term again. That's been ruled out.
HESS: Yes, that's the twenty-second amendment. That amendment would have
to be repealed.
SNYDER: I think that they decided that the general public's feeling is
that two terms is enough and, frankly, I have a very strong feeling personally
that a six years' non-repetitive term would be probably of greatest value.
The President in for six years could get in and do a good job and then
HESS: Do you think there is much chance that the law will be changed
SNYDER: Oh, I don't see any likelihood of it at this time although personally,
I would be
strongly in favor of careful consideration to that. I think that the
President's time has got to be so organized so that he will have to have
more time for reflection and concentration on matters of great importance.
The President is under such pressure that he rarely has the opportunity
and that, of course, is why Mr. Truman used to take advantage of those
Key West trips. He could get out of the pressure pattern to get down there
to think and to reflect on the cause and effect of occurrences and give
greater attention to important matters and less to lesser important pressures
that are put on him. Something that I believe very strongly as a help
towards giving the President a little more seclusion, would be give him
a home away from the White House. Make his residence another place and
White House for the social functions and for a show place and let the
crowds go through there. He could keep his office in the Executive wing
and identify it that way as the President's headquarters and so forth.
But as the actual living, he could get a nice estate here...
HESS: Somewhere in the District?
SNYDER: Somewhere in the District, yes. But, in complete retirement and
not have it open to the public and that sort of thing and when he goes
there, he can relax a little, don't you see. But, around the White House
he's always on display, even when he goes upstairs, and he can't get out
and walk around the yard, the lawns, or the, garden. People are looking
through the fences at him with binoculars and so forth. I think it would
give a sense of
relaxation to leave that place and get away. Take a place like Mrs. Merriweather
Post's. That's private and withdrawn. It's got a big fence around it,
and you could get out and walk around the gardens and no one ever see
you then. You could get a feeling of great relaxation.
HESS: Well, was this ever discussed during the Truman administration?
SNYDER: I don't think so but these are my own ideas. Most of these things
I've been talking about are just that, maybe not thoroughly thought through,
but they are the seed of ideas.
HESS: Of course, when Mr. Truman was there, for a long period of time,
for several years, he was in the Blair House, across the street.. Do you
think that that, even moving across the
street, do you think that that helped him any?
SNYDER: No. No, because there was that parade across the street everyday
with people lined up. He was on display, don't you see. And when he got
over there, there was no place to go. He was cooped up. You get a sense
of claustrophobia. He couldn't get out. He did try to get out and make
his early morning walks around the streets, but in these days I don't
know whether you could risk even trying to do that now.
HESS: Probably not. Okay, everything on that?
SNYDER: Well, it's endless. It's not complete but just some seeds of
HESS: Of things that could be done to improve the office.
SNYDER: I think so. It certainly ought to be given a careful study, I
HESS: All right. Mr. Snyder, what in your opinion were Mr. Truman's major
contributions during his career?
SNYDER: Well, Mr. Hess, you're asking a tremendously important question,
and you're asking it of a person that is highly prejudiced about Mr. Truman's
nearly eight years in the Presidency. I think that he did a great
many very fine things. I think that the biggest decision
that confronted him immediately after he became President, was the dropping
of the atomic bomb. Mr. Truman, up until he became Vice President, knew
very little about the atomic bomb, or about the Manhattan Project, as
it was called. Mr. Roosevelt told him some
of it, but actually it was not until after he became President that he
was told the whole story and exactly the status of the work on the bomb
and how near it was to completion. He actually did not know that until
he was briefed by the Secretary of War on it after he became President.
HESS: One question on that. When did you first find out about the bomb?
SNYDER: I don't know whether I've ever told you this story, but that
was one of the great secrets that I tried hardest not to know about.
HESS: Was it that difficult not to know about it?.
SNYDER: Yes. You see I was running the Defense Plant Corporation and
I was being called on to finance plants with some rather large expenditures
and -- "Well, don't ask about this."
This was not on the project exactly, but on some plants and equipment
connected with the project.
SNYDER: Yes, for one. The Defense Plant Corporation was called on to
do some of the financing there. I had a friend Earl Stewart, who was the
president of Comstock Company who had been given the contract to install
some of the highly top secret electrical machinery that went into...
HESS: Oak Ridge?
SNYDER: Oak Ridge and also Hanford. And Earl used to come and want to
sit down and talk about the problems that he had. I'd say, "I don't want
to know about it. Please don't tell me." And then...
SNYDER: Frankly, I had all sorts of notions and I just wanted to keep
it that way that I didn't know precisely what they were up to.
Many of my British and French friends would ask me a good number of questions.
You see, we didn't have a French government to deal directly with, but
we had some friends of the French people who were always around trying
to find out what was going on. I had known them in the banking business
and so on, and they would keep coming in and, "There's some thing big
going on. The United States is working on something now. You ought to
know about it."
"Well," I said, "I know nothing about it."
I remember going down to Knoxville to address the Tennessee Bankers Association
and, oh, the pressure they put on me about that Oak Ridge plant. They
said, "Great carloads,
trainloads of stuff pour in there and we never see anything come out.
What's going on over there?" Well, it was fascinating and when I actually
knew about it, I think was along in the spring when I knew precisely what
was going on. I think it was in the spring of '45.
HESS: About the same time Mr. Truman did, or perhaps a little before
SNYDER: Well, I don't want to measure the days but I think it was along
about the same time.
HESS: I think he says in his Memoirs that Mr. Stimson came in
on April 25th to inform him of this.
SNYDER: It was a couple of weeks after he became President.
HESS: Well, did you ever hear Mr. Truman say why he thought the bomb
should be dropped?
SNYDER: Yes. Yes. I don't know whether I mentioned it to you or not but
I'm going to repeat it. I had some most interesting experiences later
when Mr. Churchill and Mr. Truman were discussing whether it was right
to have dropped it, looking back, don't you see. They both always came
to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do. You had to think
about all the reasons that the President had to consider. Number one,
I think, was the military decision. The Germans had capitulated, and we'd
had V-E Day, when word reached Mr. Truman that the bomb was ready to drop,
that they had had a test -- you see, they first had a test out there on
the desert and it worked perfectly.
The greatest problem was the stabilization of the explosion, so that
they could transport it around without danger of it going off. And that
triggering, as they called it, was one of the most delicate things that
they had to work on and they finally demonstrated in the test that they
could command the moment that it would be triggered and that was reported
to Mr. Truman. Here is a schedule of the bomb program involving President
1. President advised of bomb project by Stimson April 12, 1945.
2. Committee appointed to determine use -- May, 1945 -- 8 members
-- 4 scientists..
3. Four cities were selected as military targets if bomb would work:
Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki. Stimson, Marshall and Arnold
took part in conferences. Report of committee was submitted to the
President by Secretary Stimson on June 1st. President Truman left
for Potsdam on July 7, 1945:
4. Test bomb drop successful July 16th. Reported by Stimson to President
5. Order prepared to General Carl Spaatzto to arrange for dropping
bomb around August 3rd. Order dated July 24, 1945. (Potsdam)
6. Ultimatum issued to Japan from Potsdam on July 26th
-- was rejected.
7. Decision made to drop bomb. (Potsdam)
8. Bomb dropped on Hiroshima August 5th while President
was en route home from Potsdam. President Truman reached U.S. on August
9. Second bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th.
10. Japan surrendered August 10th.
HESS: I believe that it was in Potsdam that Truman told Stalin that the
U.S. had a super weapon more or less, something like that. He did not
tell it was an atomic bomb?
HESS: And, according to the history books, Mr. Stalin was not too surprised.
SNYDER: Oh, no. He didn't seem to be surprised at a1l.
Does that cover the subject of dropping the bomb?
HESS: Yes, that's good. But one more question.
HESS: Was there actually a decision by the President personally of this
nature? Did it ever come down to a point when there might have been a
decision not to use the bomb?
SNYDER: Yes. Yes, there was a final decision that the President had to
make. If he had said, "No, I will not authorize the use of it,"
that was within his scope. I mean, you could say, "Well, it would have
been an impossibility for him to have made such a decision." But he had
the power to do it, and he could have, at one time said, "I'm not going
to drop this bomb."
HESS: Do you know if any of the people around him in the military perhaps,
advised him that way, not to do it?
SNYDER: I don't think there was any opposition of the military, they
were all pretty much for doing it. That brings up one of the strongest
reasons, as I said, the military aspect of it, because they were so certain
that the Japanese were going to fight to the last island, that they were
going to make the kamikaze effort to protect the emperor to the last second,
don't you see. The loss would have been tremendous
in men, so General Marshall has told me time and again, at that time
and later, that it is just incalculable how many men we would have lost
if we would have continued the war after we were ready to drop the bomb.
So, that was a decision. Mr. Truman had to be concerned with the moral
decision also. Was he justified in dropping the bomb? And whenever he
would measure one against the other, they were careful in selecting a
military target to drop it on, because Hiroshima was just a composite
of manufacturing plants. And the later one that they dropped was on a
SNYDER: Yes, Nagasaki. But the justification seemed to be very strong
because of the bringing the war to a close, getting us back working towards
peaceful pursuits. Get the world repaired. We were being kept from rehabilitation
programs in Europe. Our attention was divided between continuing the war
in Japan and trying to straighten out the Continent of Europe following
the devastation of World War II, and the feeling that we ought to be able
to concentrate on rehabilitation of the world and those pressures, finally
helped to make the decision. And it was a tremendous decision to make
and when you ask what were the outstanding things, I think that was the
first one. That was the first one he had to make.
The next important...
HESS: I've got a couple of questions about the atomic bomb.
SNYDER: Oh, okay, before we move on.
HESS: Number one: Was the possibility discussed by the President and
his advisors, of not dropping it on a city but dropping it over a desert
island or an uninhabited place -- a demonstration, more or less?
SNYDER: That was discussed, but it was so inconclusive. Dropping it on
a desert would not prove anything. You had to prove that you could knock
out working operation. Some of the professors, before and during and afterwards,
began to get great conscience stricken feelings about what they had wrought,
you know. And later, I've seen them, particularly when we got up to the
hydrogen bomb, I've been present when some of them came in to talk to
Mr. Truman with tears in their eyes to think that they had moved into
the seat of God, you know, and were...
SNYDER: Well, I won't name names but it was some of our top scientists.
HESS: Don't want to give any names out?
SNYDER: No, I don't.
HESS: Back on the atomic bomb, what part did the fact that the Russians
were getting ready to enter the Asiatic and Japanese war play in the fact
that we dropped the bomb? Now we dropped the first bomb on August 6th;
the Russians declared war on Japan two days later on August 8th; we dropped
the second bomb on August 9th.
SNYDER: I don't know when the Russians would have really entered the
war against the Japanese, but I think that they saw the war was over,
that's when they rushed in and declared war on the Japanese. The dropping
of the bomb convinced them the war was coming to a close, and I think
that they would have waited until they were sure the war was over, or
nearly over, before they committed themselves, but they wanted to get
in on sharing in the victory, don't you see.
HESS: Do you, or do you not think that if we had not dropped the bomb
and the war had gone on, that the Russians would have got further in and
we might have had a stalemate in Japan as we have in Germany?
SNYDER: I doubt it.
SNYDER: I just do. I think that the Russians were
so concerned with trying to. get a good foothold into Europe that I don't
think they would have. I think they were watching it and they were going
to jump in just before the close in order to share in the division of
the spoils as it turned out. As you know, they moved in and just ripped
out of Manchuria and certain parts of Japan, the machinery; and that which
they didn't move out they broke up. But they moved in just at the right
time to share in the victory.
Now, the next important decision, and I think its effect was so outstanding
that it must be mentioned, is the prompt decisions that Mr. Truman made
in times of crisis. I think that the ability stands out in his administration
all through the time he was President. But it showed up so vitally important
in the early
days when he was having to make decisions on matters where there were
no signposts, no guidelines, and he had to step in. For instance, one
of the first ones that he had to make was the Interim Aid to the war-torn
countries of Greece and Turkey, and put a stop to the invasion of the
Russians into those areas. They were already moving in further north into
the Balkans. The Communists were headed right straight into Turkey and
into Greece. So that was one of the first early, very important decisions
and had a great effect on history afterwards. I think that his prompt
reconversion from a war economy to a peacetime economy was outstanding.
He engineered some splendid legislation through Congress to help in their
reconversion. We didn't have near the vast unemployment that was predicted
Nathan's figures in the June 1945 report of the Office of War Mobilization
and Reconversion. Mr. Nathan put that estimate in the report against Max
Gardner's and my protest. We never had over three and a half million people
unemployed, as I remember. Within nine months of V-E Day, we had changed
the production from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy to the extent
that we were turning out of those former wartime factories a greater supply
of peacetime commodities than we had ever in the history of the United
States. It's a great tribute to industry itself, and to our banking structure,
that under Mr. Truman's leadership, they moved right in and got things
to rolling in a great hurry. That has meant a great deal to our country's
aid. I think our foreign policy was outstanding under Mr. Truman's
regime. He was able to accomplish leadership in the world in an exemplary
fashion. That leads us to the Marshall plan. Without any question, it
is unique in history that a victor would go in and try to patch up the
damage done by a devastating war. That's what was done under the Marshall
plan. It got Europe back on its feet so it could start being what it is
today, a great economic success. It all roots right down to the early
assistance that this country gave with -- well, go back a bit, lend-lease,
UNRRA, Interim Aid, and then the Marshall plan. All of those were programs
of assistance that we were doing for the vanquished and for our allies
who had been pretty badly beaten up. Then another one was the creation
of NATO. We can't measure how important that was
to maintaining the freedom of Europe, to have had that strong force there
constantly available against further encroachment of the Communists. We
hadn't done it along. Those countries in Europe had not been able unaided
to rebuild their military forces quickly without having had the assistance
of a coordinated defense program which NATO furnished. Of course, there
were great leaders in the other member countries too, but we stood out
in the leadership and we were able to offer substance earlier than the
other countries to the armament of NATO. That was one of the great things.
And I think that all of his domestic social developments and improvements
were also of great importance.
HESS: What do you have in mind there?
SNYDER: Well, all the development, expansion and putting into operation
of many of the programs that had been started under Mr. Roosevelt, and
were still in the making when Mr. Truman became President. He got bills
passed through. The Full Employment Act, and things of that sort. I think
the GI bill that helped give so many young people educations was very
important. There were so many. We could talk for a long time on these
various things. We would almost have to go down the legislative calendar
to see what all he did do. Then, of course, in 1950 he was confronted
with the decision about Korea. That I think was one of the very great
decisions that he made, that we would say, "You are stopping here, you're
not going any further," to an aggressor nation.
Then to get into the inner operation of
Government, 1 think one of the outstanding things that his leadership
brought about was the complete reorganization of the Treasury. It put
the Internal Revenue on a business basis and the same, of course, in Customs.
The complete reorganization of practically the whole Treasury was done
under various bills that we were able to put through. Mr. Truman's financing
program in the Korean situation. I have told you, from the time that I
went into the Treasury until the Korean war came up, we had actually taken
in more money in the Treasury than we had spent. We had actually been
in balance for that one whole period of five years. And then when the
Korean war came along, the president agreed to go right to Congress and
ask for tax bills to help defray the expenses while we were entering the
war. We didn't
know how big it was going to get. We'd seen two world wars develop from
lesser incidents than the invasion of South Korea. He began to slow up
on many of the domestic projects that weren't absolutely essential. He
began to cut down on spending. He prevented inflation by those steps that
were taken promptly. And it was just amazing to even the Congressmen themselves,
they passed three tax bills there within a very few months. They were
all singularly helpful in making folks realize that we did have a very
serious situation. These Treasury activities helped bring on a so-called
battle between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board. The Fed plan,
at least under the leadership of Allan Sproul of the New York Federal
Reserve Bank, was that it was the time to tighten up on money and to
raise interest rates to stop war inflation. I was very definitely opposed
to any sudden big raise. The record shows that we had been easing upward
on the interest rates from the very stringent rate pattern held in World
War II when bills were down to 7/8 and the going rate was around 2 percent
on many of the notes and bonds. We began to loosen up and expand that
somewhat, and we intended to do it gradually. Lee Wiggins was my Under
Secretary during several of those earlier years of my administration,
and we were making an effort to gradually get a better pattern in the
financial and fiscal operation. But then, all of a sudden, they wanted
to press forward. I as deadly opposed to enter into a war of unknown dimensions
on a rising interest rate not knowing what it would cost us. Suppose
we had gone into World War II on a rising interest rate pattern, and
had built up the deficit financing that we did on a constantly rising
interest rate pattern. You can't operate a government in war time on the
normal procedures of monetary control. We worked it out all right, we
reached what was called the "accord," but that only adds to the important
things that Mr. Truman did in times of crisis at the right times. I'm
sure there may be a great many other things that different persons would
like to say they thought were among the great things he did, but just
quickly here, without any research, those are the ones that think were
the most outstanding -- were outstanding -- I wouldn't say most,
but were outstanding of the things that he did and decisions that he made.
HESS: Fine. You and I have discussed several times the meaning of the
words liberal and conservative, but judging from the decisions that we've
made about those two words, just where would you place Mr. Truman on a
scale from a liberal to a conservative?
SNYDER: This, of course, is just a freewheeling mental exercise because
I don't know of any device or instrument yet that's been invented that
can measure the extent to which man is this, that, or the other but I
would venture a shot and shoot my arrow into the air. I would say about
60 percent liberal and 40 percent conservative.
HESS: Do you have any particular programs that he may have tried to implement
that you have in mind when you make this evaluation?
SNYDER: Yes, I have. There were a great many of these social programs
that he favored and pressed for and yet on the other hand, he always felt
like we ought to operate on a balanced budget. He wasn't a deficit financing
advocate. He would have liked to have the country pay off some of the
debts that the extreme liberals didn't think were necessary. They all
said, "We owe it to ourselves, and therefore we don't have to ever be
bothered about a big debt." There were many, many evidences of conservatism
in Mr. Truman that I observed from time to time, which leads me -- and
this was just a stab in the dark this sixty-forty -- but I thought he
leaned a little bit more toward the general ideas of liberalism. It's
awfully hard to get a definition of what is a liberal politician and what
isn't. I don't believe you could get any three,
so-called liberals to define their position and have it to make a pattern.
And so, as I say, it's just a freewheeling mental exercise to attempt
it, but he leaned towards many of the so-called liberal things for social
development in the country; yet underneath that, and back of it, he was
many times very conservative in his thinking.
HESS: One of the liberal programs that was put forward in his day dealt
with civil rights, and there are those that say that Mr. Truman's actions
in civil rights were taken from the standpoint of political expediency,
and that he really wasn't in favor of some of the measures that he was
espousing in public. What are your views on that?
SNYDER: Well, I told you the story of my experience.
HESS: That's right, I think we covered that.
SNYDER: I think we covered that, I think he was sincere. I don't think
he was for everything that came up. Many times he would say, "No, I don't
think we ought to go to that extent," or "We ought not to do this." But,
in general, he was sincere about what he did do, in my opinion.
HESS: Okay, fine. What is your estimation of Mr. Truman's place in history?
How will he be regarded by historians one or two hundred years from now?
SNYDER: Well, I just jotted down here something that I think maybe will
fit into an answer to that question. "In motivation, self-discipline,
personal adjustment, vitality,
human reactions and political sensitivity, Harry Truman stands high in
measurement of the performance of all Presidents. And I'm confident that
he will rank among the top in courage, concept of office, sincerity, capacity
for growth, and a well-balanced leadership."
HESS: How would you rate the Presidents of recent years, from Mr. Roosevelt
to the present, in terms of their effectiveness, their administrative
ability, their intellectual ability, and as men?
SNYDER: If we would actually list down all of the effective steps that
each took, I think maybe Mr. Roosevelt has the edge a little, but Mr.
Truman is pretty close. When it comes to administrative ability, we've
got to go back to the thirties and see the skillful manner in
which Mr. Roosevelt brought about a complete reorganization of the concept
of government and its positions of responsibility and the management of
the war, and I think that again, we've got to give Mr. Roosevelt a little
edge on administrative ability, but Mr. Truman's was very close. As to
intellectual ability, I think Kennedy stood out without any question.
His agile mind and education, background, his preparation for the job.
His father had prepared him for political life, for public life, and had
educated him both on this continent and in Europe, something that none
of our recent Presidents have had, that type of education. Mr. Joe Kennedy
set up trust funds for his boys which would enable them never to be bothered
about having to earn a living, and that their entire efforts in their
and their work experience would be bent towards public service. And with
this sort of intellectual platform I think Mr. Kennedy stood out. I wouldn't
want to go back into the effectiveness or the administration because I
don't think you can rate him very high on those. But so far as pure intellect,
I think that he had it over most of our presidents, perhaps all the way
back to Wilson. I think Wilson was a great intellect. But, as a man,
I don't think that anybody comes anywhere near matching Mr. Truman. As
a President and as a man. You blend those together and I think he just
is outstanding. I think I somewhat defined that in what I said just before
about motivation and self-discipline and went on and described all his
attributes. I think that gives you the detailed reasoning behind my saying
that as a man I think he rates on top.
HESS: Good. Mr. Snyder, did President Truman ever consider relieving
J. Edgar Hoover of his position?
SNYDER: I don't think that he actually got to the point of seriously
thinking about removing him. I think that he felt many times that Mr.
Hoover had overstayed his time; that he had developed a sort of a dictatorial
operation in the FBI that needed revamping and recasting. There were quite
a number of times that he took very firm stands about some of Mr. Hoover's
operations. There was a constant effort on the part of the FBI
to move into some of the Treasury operations. They wanted to take over
the Secret Service for one. They wanted to not necessarily takeover the
Secret Service, but they wanted the responsibility for looking
after the President, and his family, shifted to them. In investigative
matters they wanted to take over narcotics, they wanted to take over investigation
into forgery and counterfeiting, and things of that sort. Just creeping
encroachment on any other investigative units. Because, as you know, the
Treasury up until the time I left there, did a tremendous amount of investigative
work in many areas; in Internal Revenue and tax evasion, narcotics, customs,
and the Secret Service. There was a very interesting story recently in
a book that's come out on the FBI. It is related in the book that each
one of the juniors in Mr. Hoover's organization had tried to write something
justifying the actions or programs in the FBI; when they got through and
put it all together (in this recent book) there was a
great big question as to just what kind of an organization Mr. Hoover
had put together during his long tenure, and whether what he had assembled
was all for the good of the country. That was, I think, Mr. Truman's general
feeling that Mr. Hoover had built up a Frankenstein in the FBI.
HESS: What's your opinion?
SNYDER: I feel the same way.
HESS: What do you think can be done?
SNYDER: Well, of course, eventually the departure of Mr. Hoover is going
to have an effect. I don't know of any one who could step into his
shoes. Of course, there always is a successor who can be found, there's
no indispensable man, but Mr. Hoover went beyond the normal man. Once
he got into that area and started
to building up the investigative part of the Justice Department, he absolutely
devoted every waking hour of the day to working on it. He had no family,
he devoted himself strictly to that. He dedicated every effort that he
could make towards building up this, great Frankenstein, as I call it.
You never know exactly the effectiveness of the FBI's work because it
is so propagandized that you're never certain how much it has really accomplished
when you stop to think of how many things they have not solved
in major thefts, of major bank robberies and major violations that they
are responsible for investigating. You learn years afterwards that finally
they caught the last man but they never got the money back or anything
of that sort. They take full credit for eliminating kidnapping, but we've
had some very serious kidnappings
in recent days, and some of them have been solved and some of them haven't.
We don't know how much of it we really do know and these ten most wanted
men have been so propagandized and played up, and the stories of the invincibility
of the FBI has been so dramatized that one wonders how much is true and
how much isn't. When we look downtown and see that enormous building that
they are going to have for the headquarters of the FBI, when you realize
how many offices they must have scattered around the world, then you begin
to realize what a tremendous complex Mr. Hoover has assembled, what a
web he's woven in the years that he has been in charge, to built it up
to where it's so huge an operation today; and yet you don't know exactly
what its effectiveness is. If it was ever possible to have some organization,
in there and make a detailed analysis as so many businesses do, and as
I did in the Treasury, brought in outside -- Kinsey and others, you know,
and had them just go right through with the probing effort to find what
was done right, what should be improved, what the effectiveness of the
operation was, we would have been absolutely mired to the hilt in the
Internal Revenue if we hadn't brought in new processes and new planning
and new ideas. But we don't know, and there's no one dares to go into
the FBI to really analyze their programs, costs and effectiveness. There's
no question in my mind but that Mr. Hoover has built up dossiers on every
man of importance in the Government and they don't dare go against him.
HESS: What do you recall about the inception of
William Hillman's Mr. President book project?
SNYDER: Well, Bill Hillman and I were very good friends. We were discussing
Mr. Truman's work one time and I thought it would make a very interesting
book. Mr. Truman had not had a great deal written about him and I thought
it would help to sort of humanize him a little to write a book of the
character of Mr. President. Frankly I don't think it ever reached
any great sales. It was fairly popular as current reading matter, but
it did give a side of Mr. Truman that was not too well-known up to that
time and I really, frankly, regret that there hadn't been a great deal
more written -- serious and scholarly research on Mr. Truman I understand
that one or two are now in the making but it would have been so much better
if we could have gotten them much earlier. Mr. Truman did not gather
around him as Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Kennedy, and Mr. Johnson did, a lot of
historians simply to do that kind of job. He just didn't do that and he
was extremely reluctant on this book, many times, to go about it in a
way projecting himself, you know, and I wish he had done that. But this
was among the first ones and I think it served a good purpose. Do you
have any questions in regard to it in the back of your mind?
HESS: No. That's all. And this clears up all of our questions and gets
us down to the subject of taxation and the public debt. Thank you very
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]