Oral History Interview with
Attorney, U.S. Treasury Dept., 1934-41; Asst. to the Attorney
General of the United States, 1937-38; Special Asst. to the Gen. Counsel,
Treasury Dept., 1941-42; Comdg. Officer, 5th Army Counter Intelligence
Corps, 1943-45; Asst. Gen. Counsel, Treasury Dept., 1946-49; Alternate
Member, President's Temp. Comm. on Employee Loyalty, 1946-47; Dep. Dir.,
Office of Contract Settlement, 1947-49; Asst. to the Special Counsel of
the President, 1949-50; Administrative Asst. to the President, 1950; and
Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission, 1950-53.
Stephen J. Spingarn
March 20, 1967 (First Oral History)
March 20, 1967 (Second Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Spingarn 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
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript
indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 April, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Spingarn Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Stephen J. Spingarn
March 20, 1967 (First Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Spingarn, would you, for the record, give a little background
information on yourself, where you were born, where you were educated,
and what positions did you hold prior to your service on the White House
SPINGARN: Yes. I think I'll start off by quoting Mark Twain who said
once, "As I get older, I remember less and less of past events, and most
of what I remember isn't true." And this is a good thing for any man to
remember when he's talking about things that happened fifteen to twenty
First of all, I think it might be interesting to square up my background
against my service in the Truman White House. I was born in Bedford, New
York in 1908. My father was a college professor, a professor of comparative
literature at Columbia University. My father certainly had more effect
on me than any other
human being. There is one episode in his life which is particularly significant
from the standpoint of my own life and thinking. In 1896 when he was twenty-one
years old and a graduate student at Harvard, a youngish man who was then
United States Civil Service Commissioner, if I'm not mistaken, made a
speech to a group of Harvard students of whom my father was one. He said:
"Everybody says that politics is a mucker's game and that a gentleman
can only get his fingers dirty if he engages in it. Well, as long as people
continue to think that way, that's the way it will remain. But it's the
bounden duty of you educated young men to get into politics and to try
to help clean it up. Politics, after all, is only the way people decide
how their society is going to be run, at every level."
That speech really kindled a torch in my father's heart. The young man
was Theodore Roosevelt. He was still in his thirties, and relatively,
unknown. He hadn't charged up San Juan Hill yet.
My father went back to Columbia, took his Ph.D., became an instructor,
moved up to full professor eventually. But right from the beginning he
went into Republican politics at the precinct level. He became Republican
leader of his district. I used to have a tattered old poster of the early
1900's, which said, "Professor J. E. Spingarn of Columbia University is
the one and only authorized Republican leader of this district and anyone
else claiming to be so is nothing but a usurper." There was some intramural
feud going on, as often happens in political parties.
In 1908, my father ran for Congress in New York as a Republican, and
he had the personal endorsement of President Theodore Roosevelt.
I carry around in my pocket, have for many years, a facsimile reproduction
of a New York Times article October 20, 1908. The headline
is "ROOSEVELT FOR SPINGARN." The Roosevelt was, of course, Theodore Roosevelt,
who was then President of the United States, and the Spingarn was my father.
The sub-head is "HEARTY ENDORSEMENT FOR THE CANDIDACY OF COLUMBIA PROFESSOR."
Well, unfortunately, it was New York City, and a Democratic district,
and my father didn't win. He ran a good race, better than any Republican
had done before, I believe. He got about 25,000 votes, but the other fellow
got about 30,000. I don't even know the name of the other candidate.
My father told me many amusing anecdotes of that period, one of which,
at least, is worth repeating. It was a rather tough district and most
of the political rallies were held in saloons or in pool halls. On one
occasion, a fellow professor was making a speech on behalf of my father
in a saloon or pool hall and he had gotten along pretty well in his speech
when suddenly a voice from the rear of the room spoke up and it said,
"Jeez, I never hoid of this guy Spingarn. What's he ever done?"
Well, my father's professorial friend was a little taken aback as to
how to answer this particular voice, but he rallied finally and he said,
a little diffidently: "Well, he's written some very good books. He's written
one book about the Renaissance that's particularly good."
And the voice said, "Is he for it or agin' it?"
The professor may have been a professor, but he was no dope. He pounded
on the rostrum as hard as he could and he shouted at the top of his lungs:
"Spingarn is one hundred percent for the Renaissance."
And a cheer went up. "Yea, Spingarnl"
That was affirmative, you see. There probably wasn't a man in the room
who knew what the Renaissance was, but he was for it.
HESS: That put him in the right.
SPINGARN: Yes. Well, there were other episodes like that. In 1912 my
father bolted the Republican Party with Teddy Roosevelt; he was a delegate
to the National Progressive Party, the Bull Moose Party convention, and
he was also Dutchess County, New York chairman of the Bull Moose Party.
And when Teddy Roosevelt came to Dutchess County, father toured him around
the county and was toastmaster for him at the dinner in Poughkeepsie,
which is the county seat. They tried again in 1916 and then the party
broke up. My father -- I don't know whether he actually ever returned
to the Republican fold. I suppose he did. He may have regarded himself
as an independent thereafter, but he never regarded himself as a Democrat.
To his later chagrin, he voted for Harding in 1920 and Coolidge in 1924.
And I should add something else, in 1910 while he was still at Columbia,
he was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People. And shortly thereafter, about 1913, he became chairman
of the board, and he held other offices. In the last nine or ten years
his life, from '30 to '39, he was national president, and Spingarn High
School here in Washington is named after him.
Now, on Christmas Day, 1966, I was rummaging through my mother's library
in New York City. I found an old book, and as I took it from the shelf
a loose letter fell out, not even in an envelope, and I looked at it and
I saw it was dated -- I have it somewhere among these stacks of paper
here -- it was dated January, 1913 and it was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
who was then a state senator in New York. It was addressed to my father
who was then chairman of the board of the NAACP.
It answered a letter my father had written about an anti-miscegenation
bill which had been introduced by another state senator in the New York
State Legislature, prohibiting inter-marriage between the races. And Franklin
Roosevelt said this was the first time this bill had been called to his
attention, that he would keep abreast of it but he didn't think it was
even going to be reported out of committee. This may well have been his
first recorded statement on civil rights. The paper was rather tattered.
A few weeks ago I
called up Dr. Bahmer, the Archivist of the United States, and told him
about it and he said they'd be glad to laminate it for me and preserve
it. I took it down to him, and they have done that beautifully and they
have returned it to me. I have sent a copy to Miss Elizabeth Drewry, the
Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park.
Well, getting back to my father and his politics: In 1928 he supported
A1 Smith; in 1932 he voted for Franklin Roosevelt; and in 1936, which
was the last presidential election of his lifetime, he not only voted
for Roosevelt but he went out and campaigned for him. He was then president
of the NAACP. He campaigned for him among Negro audiences in six or eight
states, as an individual, of course, not as president of NAACP.
I was then a young lawyer in the Treasury, fairly fresh out of the University
of Arizona Law School where I had graduated in '34. I had started at Yale,
put in two years there, gone to the University of Grenoble, France, for
a year, come back, fallen rather sick with sinus difficulties, had several
minor sinus operations. Then the doctors were talking of a major operation,
but they said if I went to a dry climate I might avoid it,
so I went out to Tucson.
I should say that even while I was at Yale, from my freshman year on,
I had spent the summers as a ranger, a United States National Park ranger
in the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and I was very fond of the
West. So I went out prospecting; I went to Boulder and looked over the
University of Colorado; I went to Albuquerque and looked over the University
of New Mexico; and I wound up in Tucson at the University of Arizona.
I've never regretted it. I spent five years there. I got my Bachelor's
Degree and I got my law degree and I was admitted to the bar out there.
I'm still a member of the Arizona bar, although I've never practiced there,
or indeed anywhere, except as a Government lawyer.
Well, as I say, in '36 I was a young Treasury lawyer, a legislative lawyer.
I soon began to understand the value of politics and its worth. Almost
immediately after the 1936 election I began to receive invitations to
the White House. These were based, of course, entirely on my father's
efforts on behalf of the President. These were not perfunctory invitations;
these were invitations to small dinners of twelve or sixteen with the
President and Mrs. Roosevelt; to concerts and receptions
and dances -- I mean, I was on a good list, you can see that.
I will never forget, probably the proudest moment of my life, up to that
point at least, must have been in '37. It was a White House reception
for Government departments, or many of them. There were maybe 2,000 people
there. Before the reception I was a guest at a dinner of sixteen with
the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, and when the reception started the President
and his guests were behind some kind of a little velvet rope, you see,
while the hoi polloi, the others, milled by. When my friends
saw me behind that velvet rope with FDR their eyes bugged out and if that
wasn't a proud moment, I've never known one.
HESS: That would be a moment to enjoy.
SPINGARN: Yes, that was a moment to really savor. So I could see the
value of politics, right there. I have never failed to see it since, even
if I haven't been as effective a politician as I would have liked to have
Well, in 1931, my father gave a series of six lectures at the New School
for Social Research in New York, and after his death, in 1942, in the
1942 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, one of those lectures was
reprinted with a long introduction by Lewis Mumford who was a great friend
of my father, who first met him in 1920, who bought his home from us in
the country, in Amenia, in a little hamlet near the town of Amenia called
Leedsville in Dutchess County where we had our summer place.
Lewis bought this house there thirty-five or forty years ago or more
from my father, and it has been ever since and is today his permanent
residence, year around, except when he goes to some university to be visiting
lecturer for a year or something like that.
There was a long introduction to my father's article in the Atlantic
by Lewis, and it's a rather interesting introduction in the light of where
Lewis Mumford stands today on Vietnam and world policy. Because when my
father met Lewis Mumford, Lewis was a dedicated pacifist (this was in
the twenties). And in this introduction, if I remember correctly, Lewis
says that my father saw things in the twenties more clearly than almost
anyone else, and that he told Lewis something like this: "You liberal
pacifists with your world of disarmament conventions and so forth think
that we are going to
live in a peaceful world, but I see things differently. I believe we're
going to see a return of castes and slavery and that free men are going
to have to fight for freedom" or something to that effect. And Lewis said
then, "Joel Spingarn was right and I was wrong."
I believe if my father was alive today he might convert Lewis to the
truth today, because Lewis has returned to where he stood in the twenties
before he listened to my father. There are other factors -- I'm digressing
here, but it's interesting. There are other factors. Lewis became a dedicated
interventionist in the thirties.
I can remember an occasion in 1940 -- I would place it -- it was the
summer of '40 or '41, between the time that the war started and we got
into it, before Pearl Harbor, but after the war began. There was a debate
in the high school in the village of Amenia, between Lewis Mumford and
Hamilton Fish, an isolationist Republican Congressman, once long before
a political ally of my father.
Digressing again -- I can remember once in the twenties when I was about
fifteen and at Exeter, Hamilton Fish was an Exeter man (Phillips Exeter
I was at Exeter at the time, and Hamilton Fish was making a speech in
Amenia (this would have been, say, '23 or '24, somewhere in there), my
father was under the weather and couldn't go down, but he sent me down
as his delegate with instructions to go up and introduce myself to Mr.
Fish, who was then a Congressman, and express my father's regrets about
not being there. I did that, and Mr. Fish was very friendly, and we had
a nice talk about being Exeter men together, and so forth.
But he was an isolationist, of course, in World War II, and Lewis was
debating him in Amenia. The Buckley family, that is, the family of William
Buckley, the editor of the National Review, and an eminent rightwing
type, sort of the leading conservative ideologist, lived in Sharon, which
is in Connecticut, but is only two and a half miles from where we lived.
We lived in a hamlet which is in the town of Amenia, on the New York side
of the line, but it's two and a half miles from the village of Amenia
and it's two and a half miles from Sharon.
The Buckleys -- the senior Buckley was a rich oil man, lived in Sharon
-- and the little Buckley boys, I'm
sure one of them was William Buckley, because he was about the right
age, were in the audience that day, and they were hissing and hooting
at Lewis Mumford and calling him a Communist, from the audience, heckling
him as a Communist.
This was rather amusing as well as revolting because, as a matter of
fact, the Communist Party line was quite the reverse then. The Communist
Party line was in the Non-aggression Pact era, and they were against all-out
intervention, and that was what Lewis was talking about. It showed that
the Buckleys, then as now, didn't know what they were talking about.
Be that as it may, in any event, to get back to the Atlantic Monthly
and the article which was actually a transcript of one of my father's
six lectures at the New School for Social Research in 1931. It was called
"Politics and the Poet." His thesis was that the four noblest occupations
of man are poetry, or literature if you like; philosophy, religion and
politics. And of these, the first three are in the world of the spirit
and the mind, and politics is the only practical occupation, and therefore
it is the noblest practical occupation of man.
And he elaborated on that thesis. He told how many people see nothing
but the rottenness and corruption of politics and of course there is rottenness
and corruption, just as there is in banking and business and every other
aspect of life. But they don't realize as a politician does, that he's
simply dealing with the essential fiber of human beings and their characters;
and there's good and bad, and they have to deal with both.
You can take a life like Lincoln, said my father, and rip it apart, if
you wanted to. You can prove that Lincoln was a very corrupt man, I suppose,
if you wanted to. Lincoln did things that would never get by today, I
mean our ethical standards have been raised. I recall, for example --
I'm speaking from my own historical experience now -- a situation where
Lincoln wrote a letter in which he undertook to pay the expenses of delegates
to the national convention of the Republican Party in Chicago. I suppose
this was 1860. He undertook to pay the expenses of some delegates from
Kansas, I think, piously disclaiming any intention to influence their
votes, but nevertheless...
HESS: Nevertheless, paying their way.
SPINGARN: ...Nevertheless, he found it expedient or something to pay
their expenses to the convention. I doubt if that would be looked on with
HESS: If he thought they were going to vote the other way, I doubt if
he'd have paid their way.
SPINGARN: I think that's very unlikely. Well, in any event, since 1950,
at least, or earlier -- I think my mother called this thing to my attention
in the late '40s, I would say, this lecture of my father's in the Atlantic
Monthly fascinated me.
And since 1949 or '50 I have been using that as a theme of a speech on
politics which I have made dozens and dozens of times. I have made it
in Phoenix, and Tucson, and Los Angeles, and New York and Washington;
I've made it to 2,000 young Negro high school students at Spingarn High
School here; I've made it to seven or eight hundred young upper socio-economic
ladies at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Last December, 1966, I
made it to the fourth, fifth and sixth grade of the Green Acres Elementary
School, a private school in nearby Maryland here, and last month on Washington's
birthday, I made it to 550 nubile maidens, seventy or
eighty percent Republican by a show of hands, at Marjorie Webster Junior
College here in Washington.
I call this speech "Politics, the Noblest Practical Occupation of Man,
and the Second Noblest of his Nobler Mate." Woman, of course, being the
nobler of the pair has an even higher calling, which speaks for itself.
It is almost always a success. At Marjorie Webster, for instance, last
month, I talked for about forty minutes on this theme.
And the general idea of the thing, I should say, is this; that politics
deeply affects and infuses every waking and sleeping moment of every man,
woman and child in America, in fact, on the face of the globe; every waking
and sleeping moment is deeply affected. It invades the bathroom, for example.
The caliber and quality of the sewage system that carries the wastes away
from your bathroom depends on politics, local and national. The purity
of your water that runs out of your tap depends on politics. "By golly,
it invades your bedroom," I tell them. The ethnic origin and pigmentation
of the other head on the pillow in your bedroom is at least negatively
determined by politics. There are eighteen or twenty states in this country
which to this day have anti-miscegenation statutes, which prohibit a
white man or woman from marrying a Negro, and in many cases, Asiatics,
Indians, or other groups.
It even goes further in the bedroom. Last November, Pageant magazine,
a monthly, had an article, it was the lead article in the issue, and it
was described on the cover in these terms, "Every night sixty million
Americans violate the law in their bedrooms, do you?" And it was a rather
provocative article about the outmoded sex laws of the fifty states, which
are based essentially on the dreams of 19th century spinsters. Even the
dreams of 20th century spinsters aren't good enough for that. And they
actually described the only legally acceptable position in which a husband
and wife could commit the sex act; other forms of doing it are described
as sodomy. There are cases, said this article, and I'm sure they're correct,
in which married people have gone to jail or, at least, been threatened
with jail for long periods because they performed the sex act in some
non-routine way which some malicious or vindictive neighbor who snuck
in, and had some gripe about them, found them doing, and reported it.
There are such cases, said this article. Well, that is an
And politics determines whether the throughway runs through your living
room or the other fellow's; it determines the quality of your school and
your teachers and your doctors and your nurses. Everything is deeply affected
And so, I tell them, anyone who doesn't participate in politics
is a deadbeat and ought to be ashamed of themselves; they are sitting
on the sidelines letting strangers make the decisions that will solve
or foul up practically every problem of any consequence in their lives,
and they're abdicating to strangers the right to do that for themselves,
their families, and their children.
And of course, I tell them that politics doesn't mean just voting or
running for office. Politics involves almost every relationship between
people in a society. When you join your PTA, when you become a member
of an advisory group to your police precinct, when you complain to your
city or town government that there are potholes in the street, or you
want a stoplight in front of your house, all these things are politics.
But then, because the call to responsibility is one thing, but the call
to personal interest is an even
more appealing call, I looked at these young women hard and I said, "Now,
I'm sure that practically every one of you hopes to find a good husband,
an interesting, loving husband, an able husband, who will make a rich,
full life for you and him and your children," and I said, "I'm going to
give you the best general advice on how to get that kind of husband you'll
ever get in your whole lives." You could hear a pin drop.
HESS: They were waiting.
SPINGARN: They were waiting. And I said, "Here it is. I personally speak
with great disinterest. I'm a happy, middle-aged bachelor; I believe that
marriage is a romance in which the hero dies in the first chapter, and
I want to live and I do, but that's for me, not for you."
I said, "What a good man wants, and I believe I know, is a woman who
is interested, involved in life, not sitting on her dead rump on the sidelines
waiting for things to happen to her. He wants a woman who is intelligent,
and with whom he can discuss his problems, and who will understand them.
And he wants a woman who is curious and interested in life, and involved
in it." And, I said, "If you're looking for a good man, you
had better make yourself that kind of a woman. Involve yourself, don't
sit on the sidelines waiting for things to happen."
I said, "I see a lot of very pretty young women here," (they were, they
were beauties, many of them). And I said, "You girls may be unfortunate,
you prettier ones, because it's been my experience that the prettiest
ones are often lazy mentally. They get so much attention from the very
beginning that they don't have to do anything except sit and be pretty.
But you won't be that pretty all your lives," I said, not pointing to
anybody in particular, "You young women here who are not that pretty may
have an advantage, because you have a special incentive to get out and
make yourself an interesting woman. As far as I'm concerned, I would rather
spend time with a woman of average physical appearance who is interesting
and involved and curious and intelligent and witty and delightful than
I would with Miss America or Miss Universe. Oh. I wouldn't mind spending
a night or two with Miss America or Miss Universe, but I'm talking about
a longtime deal." And so on.
I should say that before I started, I polled these
young women on their political orientation. I asked for a showing of
hands on how many of them regarded themselves as Republicans and how many
Democrats -- seventy to eighty percent Republican. This is an upper socio-economic
group from all over the United States -- Marjorie Webster Junior College
in Washington, D.C. In a city in which the population is now about sixty-five
percent Negro, there was not one single colored girl in the whole group.
I asked them how many thought well of Lyndon Johnson as President, as
I do. I didn't mention that at that moment, but I did later. Seventy or
eighty percent did not think well of him. How many thought well of John
Kennedy as President. And seventy or eighty percent thought well of John
Kennedy, and almost that many thought well of Bobby Kennedy. They were
not terribly high on Richard Nixon, probably less than fifty percent.
Higher on Rockefeller and Romney and Scranton. I asked how many thought
well of Barry Goldwater as a possible President -- ten percent roughly,
but they were the noisiest of the whole group. They started yelling and
squealing the moment Barry Goldwater's name was mentioned.
I asked them too for their views on Vietnam. I gave them four possible
alternative solutions there.
1. Stay there and escalate up as far as is necessary to get it over
2. Get out, pronto;
3. Stay there and do about what we're doing now;
4. Stay there, but do less than we're doing now. Withdraw to enclaves
on the coast according to General Gavin's theory, or something like
They were regrettably overwhelmingly for the first solution; escalate
up and win.
Well, after I'd talked for forty minutes, I turned to Martha Sager, the
president of the college, a friend of mine. She's a very able woman who
has only recently been made president of this school and she's a full
professor of biology at American University. I said, "How much more time
do I have?'
And she said, "Five minutes."
So I said,, "I'm going to tell you about Vietnam." Then I changed my
mind and I said, "No. I'm going to say something that's not going to be
very popular with
some of you young ladies. I'm going to tell you why in my opinion, Lyndon
Johnson is a good deal better President than John Kennedy was. Good man
though he was." I said, "John Kennedy was young, he was handsome, he had
a delightful, dry, understated wit, he had great charisma, he had all
those things, and great intelligence. With the exception of intelligence,
Lyndon Johnson has none of those things."
"But that's not the test of a President," I said. "The test of a President
is how well he exercises the powers of the Presidency, and Lyndon Johnson
has proven that he can exercise them better than John Kennedy did, because
Lyndon Johnson moved John Kennedy's own program through Congress and Kennedy,
even if he'd lived, would not have moved it that far or as much of it,"
and so on for five minutes.
Well, I thought that in some ways this was a rather daring thing to do
in an audience that was seventy to eighty percent Republican, and against
LBJ,, but it turned out all right, because I got a standing ovation at
the end of two or three minutes and there was nary a boo all the way through.
I have documentation here somewhere, because afterwards Martha Sager,
wrote me saying the girls were enthusiastic, so was the president of
the faculty, and I was invited back. The girls had wanted to talk: to
me, she wrote me, but I'd gotten away too soon. So I throw this out to
Lyndon Johnson and company as perhaps the way for partly offsetting the
somewhat unfavorable image he has on the campuses, and among the young.
Well, getting back to the Truman White House. After the war -- I was
a counterespionage officer during the war and I was commanding officer
of the 5th Army Counter Intelligence Corps for two years, from the end
of the African and throughout the Italian campaign. I was in the Salerno
invasion, I was at Anzio and at Cassino and at many other places, and
while I was not a combat officer I saw a lot of people get killed, close
by. We went into new cities with the assault troops and did the initial
counterintelligence work, grabbing the human targets of whom we had advance
information, and trying to grab the documents too, at the intelligence
centers and places like that, and other things. And we captured, the counterintelligence
personnel at 5th Army in the Italian Campaign, captured approximately
525 German spies and saboteurs. They were mostly Italians, but they were
working for the German intelligence services, Abwehr and SD, which I
believe is more than any other allied army captured during World War II.
I don't have any figures on the Russians, but as far as I know it was
better than any of the Western allies, and we often modestly stated that
it was more than the FBI had caught in the whole forty years of its history.
With modest pride we described ourselves as the greatest tactical counterespionage
outfit in the history of warfare, which might have been a slight exaggeration,
but we liked it. In any event, I wrote three articles for the Saturday
Evening Post after the war on this work.
In April 1946 I came back to the Treasury, and I was promoted at that
point to assistant general counsel and legislative counsel -- I mean,
the title was Assistant General Counsel and the operating job was legislative
counsel of the Treasury. This was on the non-tax side. There was also
a tax legislative counsel. This involved the preparation of legislation
and its presentation to congressional committees, preparing supporting
material, going up and testifying before congressional committees and
going around and talking to members of Congress, the
House and the Senate, and trying to get them behind it. I was also Legal
Counsel to the Secret Service and to the Coordinator of the Treasury enforcement
agencies, which was a coordination committee of the six heads of the enforcement
bureaus and I was the legal member of that committee. I was also deputy
director of contract settlement. I was also a member of the working committee
that wrote the Truman loyalty program in '46 and '47, and various other
Now, back around 1935, in my first year in the Treasury, I had met a
young Senate legislative counsel lawyer named Charles S. Murphy, and had
worked with him on numerous matters over the years, and become friends
with him. Charlie is about my age and he had come to Washington in ' 34,
fresh out of Duke University Law School, as I had come that same year
out of the University of Arizona Law School.
In January, Charlie had been twelve years in the Senate legislative counsel's
office -- he was assistant Senate legislative counsel, and he should have
been the Senate legislative counsel, but typically of Charlie, he was
too modest and self-effacing for his own good, although it's only fair
to say he's done pretty well,
even at that. A more aggressive chap, and a good fellow, named Steve
Rice, now dead, who later became a United States Tax Court judge -- Steve
Rice was more aggressive but less able than Charlie. I don't mean to say
he wasn't able, but Charlie had more, at least that's my judgment, and
I think it was of most of the men who knew them. But Steve Rice lined
up the support and he was made Senate legislative counsel when everybody
who knew the facts thought that Charlie ought to have been. But anyway,
Charlie was there for twelve years. He was highly respected by everybody
who knew him and he became friendly with Mr. Truman when he was in the
So I think about January, 1947, that's my recollection, that Mr. Truman
asked Charlie to come down to the White House as his Administrative Assistant,
and Charlie came and remained there. In 1950, when Clark Clifford left,
he replaced Clifford as special counsel to the President, and I, by that
time, was in the White House as the assistant to Clifford; I moved into
Charlie Murphy's slot, and became Administrative Assistant to the President,
at the same time he moved up to Clifford's slot. Well, in the fall of
1947, President Truman had appointed a commission
on civil rights, the famous commission, and they had brought out in the
fall of '47, as I recall, I think it was October or thereabouts, a famous
report called "To Secure These Rights," and this was their report on what
ought to be done in the civil rights field.
Then it was on the President's lap as to what to do next. And in January
'48, I was at the Treasury, assistant general counsel and legislative
counsel; and the White House, I think it was Matt Connelly, I don't know
for sure now, called Secretary Snyder, and asked on behalf of the President,
that I be detailed over to the White House. It was Charlie Murphy who
had arranged that.
HESS: What were your duties at the time that you were called over?
SPINGARN: Well, it was simply a one-shot operation for a short time to
go over the report of the Civil Rights Commission, to recommend the provisions
of that report which should be included in a presidential message to Congress
recommending civil rights legislation, and to prepare a bill to carry
out those recommendations.
HESS: Did you work on both the message and the legislation?
SPINGARN: I worked primarily on the legislation. I was solely responsible
for preparing the legislation. Of course, I had help, but I mean I was
solely responsible for supervising the preparation of legislation, but
naturally I got involved in the message too, although that was not my
main function and that was more incidental to the task. But I was one
of those who worked on the message. I was not the number one person or
anything like that on the message, but I was the number one person on
HESS: Who were those who were working on the message? And who assisted
you on the legislation?
SPINGARN: Well, the people who assisted me on the legislation didn't
work on the message because they came from the departments. The White
House staff people who worked on the message were primarily Murphy and
his group: Murphy, and Bell, and Lloyd, and also Philleo Nash and Clark
HESS: Why was it thought necessary to have a special message such as
this? Why weren't these provisions included in the State of the Union
message? Is there any significance in that?
SPINGARN: You must understand that I wasn't told all these
things. I mean, all I knew was that I was called over there to do a job,
but I can speculate easily on why. I've always assumed that the President
wanted to give it special importance. It would have been lost with a lot
of other things in the State of the Union. Moreover, with ten separate
provisions, the State of the Union would be bulged out to enormous size.
That's the new technique anyway, to just hit the high spots in the State
of the Union, but when you have important subject matter things you send
up a special message. It gives it greater weight.
So I was called over there. Oh, I forgot to mention George Elsey who
was very much involved in all this. Now, actually, what had happened was
that -- Clifford, I was to assist Clifford who was the senior staff man
HESS: He was special counsel at that time.
SPINGARN: He was special counsel to the President. Basically, the White
House was divided, in my period, in two departments. They didn't have
these names; there were no names, but this is the way I would describe
them: One was operations, and that was Steelman, and that involved coordinating
the activities of the various departments
and agencies of the Government. I don't mean to say that other people
didn't get into that act but that was his main responsibility. And the
other was what I would call program and planning, and that involved messages
to Congress and speeches and the forward program.
HESS: Who helped Dr. Steelman at that time?
SPINGARN: Well, his principal assistant all through the time that I was
there was Dave Stowe. He had a lot of others, you understand, but Stowe
was his principal assistant. I remember fellows like John Houston, who
worked mostly on small business and anti-depression measures and I guess
Russ Andrews worked there then. There were a lot of people. I don't remember
who all he had. But our group really worked separately from Steelman,
and I don't mean to say we didn't see him regularly and daily but we were
not involved very much together in the same activities.
HESS: Back on the February 2nd message. That, of course, is known as
the famous "Ten Points Civil Rights Message." Do you recall who suggested
some of the points?
SPINGARN: I did.
HESS: You suggested all ten points?
SPINGARN: Well, let me say this. I was told that the President wanted
a message. Here was the report of the Civil Rights Commission. Which should
he recommend? I was to make the first recommendation. So Clifford called
me in and told me all this. George Elsey had talked to me first, and Clifford
called me in and told me that I was to recommend what should be in the
President's message. So I went over the report and then I wrote a memorandum.
By the way, it's out at the Library and I've recently gotten a xerox copy
back because I wanted to have it on file here, It was a memorandum recommending
what should go into the message.
And it's funny when you think how things have moved since then. There
was only one provision in the thing which dealt head-on with segregation
as distinguished from discrimination. And that was interstate travel.
Believe it or not, I was dubious as to whether I could get that through.
I really was, you know. All the others dealt with discrimination. Remember
the doctrine of Plessy versus Ferguson -- separate but equal -- applied
then, generally speaking. That was the rule of thumb.
HESS: That was point number six? "Prohibiting discrimination
in interstate transportation facilities."
SPINGARN: But in any event, I went down the list and I picked out the
things that seemed to me should go into a message, and I prepared a memorandum
incorporating them, and I gave it to Clifford, and he and Murphy talked
about it, and they talked to the President, and my memorandum was accepted
without a single change. My recommended provisions went into the bill
and the message without change.
HESS: During this time did you speak to the President about this?
SPINGARN: Oh, when I went over there, I saw the President occasionally,
but I did not personally speak to the President about the civil rights
bill. I don't recall that I did, although I may have. But in any event,
I saw the President occasionally, but not regularly, not often, and only
sort of peripherally and casually. But what I mean is that I prepared
the memorandum, I gave it to Clifford, but Clifford and Murphy did the
talking with the President on that. So then, this is only a matter of
two or three days, the first part. I was only over there about two weeks
or so. And then the job was to prepare a bill and for that -- there were
bills in the
hopper on many of these points. It was really a matter of assembling
an omnibus bill and in many cases there were already existing bills that
you could use as a pattern, but revising them to accord with administration
thinking and policy. As I recall, the most difficult thing was the FEPC
title, that involved the most problems. And I recall that Ken Meiklejohn,
who was Assistant Solicitor of Labor, was the key man at Labor on that
and there were several lawyers -- I can't remember all the people who
helped me but there were quite a few. There was a fine young Negro lawyer
at Justice named Hertzel Plaine. I think the names of these people are
in that file out at the Truman Library, but I don't remember offhand who
they all were, but there were a number. And it involved a lot of debates
about administrative provisions and how big an FEPC, and what its composition
should be, and all that sort of thing.
It was not the hardest task in the world. I mean, I've done much tougher
legislative drafting jobs. In any event, we got the bill together, and
it was all typed up, and my recollection is, and I think this is confirmed
in the files at the Truman Library, that I gave a copy to Vice President
Barkley, either gave it to him
personally or sent it to him, I'm not sure which, or maybe I gave it
to Charlie and he gave it to him, I don't remember now how that was handled.
But it went to Barkley. But Barkley decided not to have it introduced,
and it never was. At least, that's my recollection.
HESS: So, it was Senator Barkley who kept it from being introduced.
SPINGARN: Well, I don't say he "kept it," but he didn't want to. He was
Majority Leader then. This was February '48.
HESS: That's right.
SPINGARN: He was Majority Leader of the Senate.
HESS: Did you ever hear any expression of why he did not want to introduce
that, or why it was not introduced?
SPINGARN: All that I know would be in the file of the Truman Library.
I don't remember now why he didn't, except that I suppose that he knew
it had no chance whatever. He probably thought "Why do a vain thing?"
I don't know.
Now, as I say, I also did some work on the message, but I was one of
the lesser figures on the message.
HESS: Did you hear any discussion at this time to the effect that after
a strong report in October of 1947 and then a strong message to Congress
in February of
1948, that this might make some of the Southern states feel that they
could no longer stay in the party once the convention time came, as actually
ensued. Did you hear any discussion of that in February?
SPINGARN: Oh, I don't remember any. Just remember I was only there for
about two weeks. I was working night and day and I was not interested
-- I mean, now you're talking about a large, political picture, but I
was doing a job, and I had no time for that sort of thing.
HESS: You were doing a tactical job at that time...
SPINGARN: ...I was doing primarily a tactical job...
HESS: ...not a strategic.
SPINGARN: Not a strategic job. Now, of course, I heard a great deal of
discussion over the years, but just where it all fits in, my memory doesn't
tell me. I mean, what I have read since, what I knew then, you know. These
things are hard to distinguish the two. I've read so much since that I
don't know what I knew then. I remember a novel by John P. Marquand called,
was it B. F.'s Daughter? I think so. Anyway, it takes place during
World War II, and one of the figures is a British intelligence officer
and he says he can
never remember whether he read something in the London Times or
whether it was top secret, classified information. As a result, his conversation
was restricted entirely to cricket and tiger hunting in India. Now, that's
really a perceptive remark, that's the way it works in your mind.
HESS: I'll bet it does.
SPINGARN: When people try to ask you what you knew at the time, you're
a liar if you tell them precisely what you really knew about something
that general, in most cases.
HESS: Well, we run into that in oral history all the time. We just have
to do our best.
SPINGARN: Yes, yes. But I spent about two weeks at the White House. Then
I went back to the Treasury. Sometime in the spring, the White House again
-- Matt Connelly requested Secretary Snyder to detail me over there again
and the Treasury refused. This was gratifying in one way from my standpoint
because it showed the Treasury placed some value on my services; on the
other hand, it was frustrating, too, because everybody likes to work at
the White House. I've forgotten the exact details except that I was very
busy at the Treasury at that time.
HESS: That is one of the questions that I had prepared. In your files
at the Library, there is a memo from Mr. Murphy to Donald Dawson, dated
March 22, 1948, and Mr. Murphy requests that you be detailed to the White
House at that time. One of my questions was, did you know why that you
SPINGARN: Certainly, because they wanted me. I was needed at the Treasury,
that's all. Although this is rather unusual to refuse a White House request.
I don't know the wheels within wheels, if any. But anyway, the next episode
is rather amusing.
In the spring and early summer of '48 I had written three articles for
the Saturday Evening Post on "How We Caught Spies," in World
War II. I decided to take my vacation and to make a project of trying
to sell these articles to the movies. They hadn't yet appeared in the
Saturday Evening Post; they weren't going to until fall.
I had an agent; I had become friendly with Bill O'Dwyer, who was then
Mayor of New York and spent an afternoon with him on the Gracie Mansion
porch, just he and I, and he had put me in touch with some eminent movie
figures. I had an agent, too. I had a literary
agent, and they had an agent out on the coast, a chap, by the way, by
the name of Ray Stark, who has become a very important producer since
then. He was a character right out of Hollywood. I'll never forget my
contacts with him out there.
But in any event I took my vacation in August and September 1948 -- I
had about a month -- and I was going to make a project of trying to sell
this to the movies. I had introductions out there and I thought it would
be fun too, you know, and it was, although I didn't sell it.
So I started in San Francisco and spent some time there, then about the
first of September I got down to Los Angeles. I had appointments with
several important producers. I actually did see Buddy Adler, who was the
head of Columbia; I had a long talk with him; I saw Sam Briskin, who later
became the head of Paramount, and was a Paramount producer; and Armand
Deutsch at MGM. I had a wonderful time. I remember going to a party given
by Sir Charles Mendle, who was Elsie DeWolff's husband; she wasn't there.
And I had an hour's talk with Madeleine Carroll, who had been a great
favorite of mine, and still is. And I met Constance Bennett and Benay
Venuta (who was Armand Deutsch's wife then), and other lovely ladies.
I went on a party with a bunch of movie stars, Bill Powell and others,
on a bus to some benefit. Oh. I had a great time.
But all this loveliness was almost nipped in the bud. I'd been in Hollywood
a couple of days, and I was lying in bed alone at the Beverly Wilshire
Hotel one morning, about eight o'clock in the morning. It would have been
eleven o'clock Washington time. The phone rang. It was Tom Lynch, my boss.
He was the General Counsel of the Treasury. I was Assistant General Counsel.
And he said, "The President's called the Secretary and they want you to
get your tail back here to Washington to work during the campaign at the
As I recall this was Wednesday or Thursday before the Labor Day weekend.
I had just arrived and I had not seen any of the movie people I was slated
to see and I was delighted at the idea of going to the White House, but
I didn't want to rush back. I said, "Oh. Tom, you know I just came out
here. And this is the focus of my whole trip out here; I haven't seen
any of the people, and I have a lot of appointments." And I said, "Look,
if I took the next plane out of here I won't get
back there until Thursday night or Friday," and I said, "Everybody will
go out of town for the Labor Day weekend and I'll be sitting on my tokus
in Washington for several days. You know that will be the case. Can't
you get this to wait until after Labor Day?"
Well, the President had talked to the Secretary, and the Secretary had
called in Tom Lynch, and Tom didn't like to go back to the Secretary.
But he was a good guy, and he is one, and he finally reluctantly agreed
to go back to the Secretary, and he called me up an hour or two later
and he said, "O.K., but you be here on Tuesday or else."
I said, "I'll be there."
So, I got back Tuesday, and I think Wednesday I went over to the White
House. There was a very interesting pow-wow. I should go back a moment
and say this is the time that the Alger Hiss case had broken. In August,
as I flew West, Hess had just been confronted by Whittaker Chambers before
the House Un-American Activities Committee. And every place my plane stopped
the headlines got bigger. It was tremendous news. This was before McCarthy,
but it was tremendous, and the American public were fascinated by this
case, which is
certainly one of the most sensational episodes of that sort in American
history. So, the election was coming on, and this was obviously a very
damaging thing. The President had said it was a "red herring" and Dean
Acheson had said he wouldn't turn his back on Alger Hiss, and the Republicans
were yelling and shouting, and it was a real brouhaha.
I was supposed to be an expert on loyalty. I had been the counsel for
the Secret Service; I had done a lot of writing on the subject, and I
had been on the Loyalty Commission and done other work, and so forth and
so on. In any event, when I got there Wednesday I was ushered into the
President's office. The President, Clark Clifford, Charlie Murphy, Donald
Dawson, and the Attorney General Tom Clark, and me. I think that was the
roster. The President said that I had been brought over to the White House
and I was to coordinate loyalty matters. That was the phrase -- loyalty
and security matters, and he wanted the Attorney General to know, and
so forth and so on. I listened, fascinated; I didn't have the faintest
idea of what was expected of me.
HESS: Great start!
SPINGARN: I mean, this is like pointing to a barrel of snakes and saying,
"You coordinate them."
HESS: How does one go about it?
SPINGARN: How does one go about it, that's right. So, I listened, fascinated,
and the Attorney General said he would cooperate with me in every way
and so forth and so on. And then I went out and I started thinking to
myself: "What in the hell am I supposed to do?" That was as explicit as
my directions were.
Well, one thing seemed obvious to me, and that was that, the purpose
was to try to put the lid on the repercussions of the Alger Hiss case
and other related cases and try to dehydrate it before the election. This
was September, '48. The election was two months later. But just how I
was to go about that was a real puzzler. In any event, I decided that
my first mission was to get the facts Ma'am. So I made an appointment
with the Attorney General and I went over with a long list of questions.
But I didn't get anywhere.
SPINGARN: Well, the Attorney General gave me vague answers. I had sent
him the memorandum of questions. I hoped for written answers, but actually
what happened was, as I recall, he invited me over there and I got vague,
oral answers, and my questions, which were somewhat pointed, were turned
aside tactfully and courteously and I emerged with very little more information
than I had gone in with. He wasn't about to tell me any more than I already
HESS: Do you know why he took that attitude?
SPINGARN: Well, the point was, I had been the principal "borer inner"
at the meetings of the Loyalty Commission a year or two earlier. I had
tried to get J. Edgar Hoover before the Commission. I had prepared a list
of questions for Hoover. My thesis had been, then, that before the Loyalty
Commission comes up with a program we ought to know how big a war this
is. Is it a one division war, a five division war, or a twenty division
war. We therefore need to know the real facts, the secret information
of the Department of Justice, on how widely infected with subversives,
they believed, the Government is. Facts, not speculation -- facts.
HESS: You wanted to know what you had to fight so you could devise a
plan to fight it.
SPINGARN: Right. I mean that the size of the war depends on how many
troops are involved, doesn't it? I mean, how big the opposition is. Since
I'm rather aggressive,
I know I made some enemies in this process, by boring in. That I assume
was one reason that Tom Clark was not prepared to tell me and even aside
from that frankly I doubt if there's anybody more prima donnish than intelligence
people -- and in this capacity, the Attorney General is an intelligence
guy, dealing with an intelligence function. This has been my experience
everywhere. Every intelligence man with information won't give it to anyone
else. That's one of the troubles. It was true in the war, you know. We
spent more time fighting each other sometimes than we did the enemy, really.
When you have information, and the other fellow doesn't have it, you're
more important than he is. When you give it to him he's just as important
as you are. Do you follow me?
HESS: I sure do.
SPINGARN: Anyway, it was obvious I wasn't going to get anywhere that
way. But I decided that there was one main thing that I could do, and
that was to try to write a good speech placing Communism in Government
in perspective for the President to give. So. I spent most of my time
-- well, I wrote a number of papers, but the main one was the first draft
of that Oklahoma City speech. I had lunch with Charlie Murphy a few weeks
and we were reminiscing about White House days, and somehow we got on
that topic, I've forgotten how, that Oklahoma City speech, and he said
that he was out on the train with the President and I was back in Washington,
and he said that my speech was much too long. That's true. I'm prolific.
And against his better judgment I had sold him -- I had argued so hard
for keeping it long that he had given it to the President, I think, in
that length and the President had given it to -- I've forgotten whether
it was David Noyes or someone else. Some outside guy who was involved
in the campaign. I've forgotten. He had rewritten. It had gone through
stages, but eventually -- I've never really squared them up against what
I wrote, but eventually it went back to Charlie and to approximately what
I had written, although naturally there were a lot of revisions.
HESS: Well, in Philleo Nash's files out in the Library, there is a folder
on the Oklahoma City speech and two of the drafts in there are entitled
"Communism, Democracy and National Security" and they have your initials
SPINGARN: Yes, I wrote the first draft. There's no question about that.
But a good many people got in on
the act and just where it went, I don't know.
HESS: Also in your papers, in a folder on "Communism Speech of '48" there's
a draft in that. Well, I've gotten all the drafts together and compared
them with the final speech as given, and...
SPINGARN: You've done more than I have.
HESS: In many cases there are entire paragraphs used verbatim, but the
speech in all is not just exactly like the drafts I've seen. You have
explained where the revisions come in. Who worked with you on that speech;
who else helped to write that particular speech?
SPINGARN: Nobody helped me on the first draft; I wrote it myself. I may
have talked to people but nobody helped me write it. This is a subject
I was fully familiar with, and was perfectly qualified to write at great
length on. Nobody helped me on the first draft, but after that, many people
got in the act and I can't tell you who. It left me; it went out to the
train and it was farmed out. I don't know how many people got into the
act, and I haven't compared the final product with my own, but obviously
a good many people were involved in the final product. I think there's
probably more of mine in it than anybody else's, but I couldn't even
swear to that.
Well, here's another thing that happened then. James Forrestal, who was
then Secretary of Defense, and as we know now, he was probably going downhill
and into his manic-depressive or schizophrenia stage -- I don't know what
you'd call it. In any event, he had an obsession on security and he sent
a memorandum, a long one, to the President in October, I think -- sometime
in September or October, I'd place it October '48 -- in which he talked
darkly about the terrible security dangers to the United States, and urged
that a czar, a security czar for the whole Government, be appointed, with
great powers to impose and enforce security.
It was an outrageous suggestion. And it was referred to me for comment,
Charlie Murphy sent it -- it was sent to the President by Forrestal and
it was referred to me, and it's out in the Library, by the way, this memorandum
and my reply.
I wrote a four or five page memorandum of comments which I read not too
long ago, and which I'll stand on today. The general idea was that I thought,
obviously, there were cases where you could show Government inadequacies
in this field, lack of
coordination and things like that, but I thought they'd been blown out
of all proportions by the press and that, in any event, the cure that
Forrestal was suggesting was worse than the disease. There are things
that could be done.
And I said, "The first thing that should be done, in my opinion, the
main ingredient in national security," and I was talking as an old counterespionage
officer, "is how effective is our counterespionage agency." I said, "Nobody
has ever made a searching examination of the FBI." Nobody knows how effective
they are; nobody's able to get inside. The real question is, are they
At that time, and to be honest with you, even today, it didn't seem to
me that they had a very confidence-inspiring record. I'm thinking particularly
of what I would call the Elizabeth Bentley case. Now, Elizabeth Bentley,
you recall, came out in the open in '48. She had been to the FBI in '45
and I had seen -- it had been circulated around the Government and I had
seen a memorandum based on her interrogation as early as early 1947. She
told the story about how she had become a Communist at Columbia, and then
become the mistress of a man named Jacob Golos, who was a known Soviet
That was the thing. He was known to the FBI and everybody because he
had been convicted as an unregistered Soviet agent, under the Foreign
Agents Registration Act. She was his mistress and lived with him for years.
In 1940 or '41, I think it was '41, she became a courier for him. This
was according to her testimony, and her book later, which I read, Out
of Bondage -- '50 or '51, when it appeared.
Every two weeks for three years or so, she left New York, she came to
Washington, she went to the home of Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, out in
Chevy Chase in Northwest Washington, the Chevy Chase area. A fellow named
William Ludwig Ullman, known as "Lud" Ullman, whom I know, he was a Treasury
economist, lived there. He was a bachelor. He was a photographic fiend,
and he had a photographic development laboratory. And according to Miss
Bentley, and I have no reason to doubt it, this was the focus point of
the spy ring and the various components.
I mean that the people involved in this were in different departments
of the Government, and they would bring purloined documents, or "borrowed"
documents in, they would be microfilmed, returned to them, put back in
the files. Ullman did the microfilming in his laboratory. Every two weeks
she would come down and pick up twenty or thirty or forty rolls, including
hundreds of pictures. She had dinner with them and later in the evening
she would put the films in her shopping bag and she would trot down, take
a bus or taxi to Union Station, go back to New York and give them to Golos.
Now, for three years this went on -- this clumsy espionage operation --
there was no "cut-out" or anything. It was a very clumsy operation. She
was going direct from a known Soviet agent and back to him after picking
up the papers.
About Thanksgiving, '44, Golos died in her arms in bed, and then she
continued with another principal, a Russian, and she became disaffected
and disenchanted by his rudeness and arrogance, she no longer had her
lover who was....warmer, with whom she had a good relationship. And she
In August '45, she went to the FBI in New Haven. She said she didn't
go to the FBI in New York near where she lived, because she was afraid
somebody might follow her. She went to the FBI office in New
Haven. This is her own story in her book, and in the reports I saw earlier.
She told her story to them and they said they'd be in touch with her.
She didn't hear anything from them for a couple of months. And then,
about early November they called her in again and they had her arrange
a meeting…as I remember this.
Now, this is all subject to checking with her book, which you can read
because she gives this story, Out of Bondage, but I'd read the
reports before the book, I'd read the FBI reports because I was the key
man at the working level in the Treasury on internal security, and I set
up the Treasury. loyalty board, I was the legal member.
Every Treasury case came to me first for determination as to what further
procedures there should be, if any. Well, the FBI had her make a contact
with the Russians and they gave her money. They convinced them, apparently
-- the FBI. She received money, a thousand or two thousand, I've forgotten
what it was, but the FBI saw the money pass and got it from her, you see.
In any event, the FBI then whips out an enormous
secret report which they sent to the White House and all over everywhere,
and the gist of it is, that there's a terrible situation in the Government.
They're taking her information. But the thing that has always baffled
me is, what were they doing during those three years she was helping steal
the secret documents. Moreover, here's another thing I want to point out,
she reports repeatedly that she was constantly tailed by the FBI during
all these years, constantly tailed. And she tells how Golos told her to
throw them off the track by going into the ladies room and out another
door. Well, it's mysterious that the FBI -- remember that finally she
came to the FBI under her own power, you know, and it took them two or
three months to believe her. But by the time they got around to investigating
everything, the ring had folded up, but the horse had been stolen, you
see, these thousands of Government documents has been passed to the Russians.
Why did they let this go on for three years?
I was a counterespionage officer. I knew something about this. I'm not
talking in a vacuum. It looked to me as if the real question was "How
effective is our counterespionage?" That's the real question.
Nobody to this day has made a study of that. Nobody to this day; it's
impossible. J. Edgar Hoover has not been the worst of all possible security
chiefs, I'll say that. You might have had a different and worse type of
man in there, but he's been ambivalent. And he has become enormously powerful.
To this day, at least since World War II, there was a day when Senator
McKellar could kick him around and he did, but at least since World War
II any President could more easily fire every member of his Cabinet than
he could fire J. Edgar Hoover. And the first thing the President does
nowadays when he comes to office is take an oath of loyalty to J. Edgar
Hoover, and to assure the country that he's going to keep him. That is
the first thing that he does. Well, I'm not saying that we couldn't have
done worse, but he's been in there for forty-three years and nobody has
ever gotten a real look at his pasture. He's much more powerful than the
Attorney General. The Attorney Generals can't handle him, never have.
Anyway, that was the point that I made in my memo to HST, that the real
issue was how good is the FBI, but as far as appointing a czar, that was
contrary to our
whole tradition -- you did that in Communist and Fascist countries but
you don't do that in the United States, and so on. And it went to the
President and nothing was done about Forrestal's proposal. I don't know
what, if anything, my memorandum had to do with the result, but anyway,
nothing further was done. The whole thing was farmed to the National Security
Council for comment and reports, and that sort of thing, but happily nothing
definitive was done on the Forrestal memorandum. Those were the two main
things, I'd say, that I did during my assignment. Well, that's '48.
HESS: What else do you recall about the '48 campaign, anything particular?
You worked in the White House, is that right, during that time -- Executive
Office Building, perhaps?
SPINGARN: No, actually, I made arrangements -- since I was Treasury assistant
general counsel, I had a secretary and all that you know -- a good office
-- I made arrangements to have a White House phone installed in my office
and I actually worked there. It was more convenient. If I'd gone over
there they would have given me a cruddy little room.
HESS: Were you in the Treasury Building at the time?
SPINGARN: Yes, in the Treasury Building.
HESS: Well, you were just as close as the Executive Office Building.
SPINGARN: Yes. I had a White House phone there and I worked there. Anyway,
most of my time was spent working on writing drafts of speeches and statements.
I wrote some others but I don't remember what they were.
HESS: You don't recall right now what the other speeches were?
SPINGARN: Well, I don't remember whether they were speeches or statements
or what they were. I don't really remember. I did work on some other speeches
SPINGARN: The big Oklahoma City speech and this Forrestal thing are the
two things that stand out in my mind.
Well, then, that takes me up to the '48 election. I went back to the
Treasury, but in the beginning of January the White House again asked
that I be detailed over there and I was at the beginning of January --
detailed. And for a couple of months I worked on the proposed Columbia
Valley Authority legislation. And then in February 1949, the latter part
of February, they
asked for my permanent transfer to the White House, my regular transfer,
and I was transferred to the White House staff. I had already been there
for a couple of months on detail. I was actually, physically there. And
then I was transferred and I was made the Assistant to the Special Counsel
to the President -- that was Clark Clifford. I was his only assistant.
By the way, this is one interesting thing: When I came over there, I think
it was in '49 now, Clark Clifford called me in and he said, "We want to
know all the facts about you. Have you got any skeletons in your closet
that are going to come out?"
"Not as far as I know," I said. "The only thing I can think of is that
my father was, and my uncle is, the president of the NAACP, if you regard
that as a skeleton. I can't think of anything else. As far as I know,
my record will stand up with anybody's."
He said, "There's some indication that the FBI doesn't like you very
I said, "Well, I can explain that to you." And I told him about the Loyalty
Commission thing and then there was another thing. While I was still at
the Treasury, earlier that year, the Department. of Justice
had wanted to put through an internal security bill -- an FBI-sponsored
sort of thing -- and they had sent it to the Bureau of the Budget for
clearance. Now, it dealt with wire tapping and various other things, and
it was sent to the Treasury where I wrote a long report and our report
went back to the Budget.
It's funny, Max Lowenthal later called me a Fascist because I favored
wiretapping under strict limitations and safeguards. I was beset from
both sides. The point was, on wiretapping I said, "Yes, it should be done
in a limited area of cases, but it should only be done with the written
direction in each case by the Attorney General and on a court order."
That was a safeguard. I said, "It's being done, anyway, and this will
give you more safeguard than you have now." Anyway, I think it's justified
in some situations. And there were other things.
In short, they had open-end legislation on everything. They were painting
the barn to cover the knotholes which is typical of the security-type
mind. And I was trying to put in safeguards and limitations. Well, the
Treasury report which I had written went over Snyder's signature to the
Budget and they adopted it, lock, stock and barrel.
They wrote the Department of Justice that, if revised as recommended
by the Treasury, the bill was acceptable.
Justice then sent a young lawyer named Mike Horan over to the Treasury
to try to argue us out of it. Tom Lynch, the General Counsel, and I saw
him together. Horan, presumably, came over to -- you would have thought
he came over to see if we could work out some compromise. Not at all,
he wanted us to recede one hundred percent and accept their bill. This
was ridiculous. And I guess I was a little nettled and showed it.
In any event, this was the background, you see, my work on the Loyalty
Commission and my work on this bill. So I explained this to Clifford and
apparently that satisfied him. They obviously had nothing on me. My record
was impeccable on security. I mean, as far as my personal record was concerned.
But anybody who disagrees with them....so they had thrown this loose smear
over me, which could have blocked me, you know -- could have but didn't.
By the way, I think it was Gus [A. Devitt] Vanech who was sort of a spokesman
for the FBI who passed this comment to the White House -- you know, just
a loose smear, you know. No details.
HESS: Let's go back there just a minute and cover your
service on that subcommittee. You were the Treasury Department representative
on the President's Temporary Commission...
SPINGARN: My actual title was "alternate Treasury representative on the
Commission." Ed Foley, Assistant Secretary, later Under Secretary, was
the Treasury representative. Gus Vaneeh, who at the beginning was Special
Assistant to the Attorney General, but became Assistant Attorney General
during the deliberations of the Commission, was chairman -- a worse choice
I have never known.
SPINGARN: Because he was incompetent and stupid -- both.
HESS: Could you give me a specific example of something he may have done
SPINGARN: In the first place, he was an ignorant, semiliterate. He spoke,
"Dese, dem and dose" English. Perhaps you shouldn't hold that against
a man, but you expect a senior lawyer at the Justice Department to be
able to speak English. That's one thing that could be simply snobbish
affectation, but I don't think so. In the second place, he was unbelievably
stupid. To show you how stupid he was: There was considerable
hostility against his handling of the Committee from the very beginning.
I can't remember individual episodes, but I do remember his generally
handling it very poorly. Not just me, you know, but the members of the
Commission. So one day in the meeting of the full commission with all
the members present -- now, the members, besides Vanech, were John Sullivan,
who was then Under Secretary and later became Secretary of the Navy, he
represented the Navy. This was before "Anschluss" you know, before the
Defense Department came into existence. Kenneth Royall, who was Under
Secretary of the Army, later became Secretary of the Army. Harry Mitchell,
Chairman of the Civil Service Commission. John Peurifoy I think, originally
there were several State Department guys -- but John Peurifoy, now dead,
was Assistant Secretary of the State Department, and the State Department
representative. And Ed Foley, Assistant Secretary, later on Under Secretary,
was the Treasury representative.
Each of these men had an alternate; I was the Treasury alternate. The
alternates composed the working committee that did the work, that met
every day. The Commission met twice a week, or something like that. Well,
anyway, after two or three weeks or so, I don't know
exactly when, one day in the meeting of the full commission with all
members and alternates present, Gus Vanech suddenly burst into an angry
tirade, and he said, "Some 'a youse guys have been talkin' to the Attorney
General behind my back. You're ruinin' my chances of becomin' Assistant
Attorney General." He was Special Assistant. This was an embarrassing
-- you know, this was a stupid thing to say even if it was true -- I mean,
stupid to do it in the full meeting. It was obviously eating him. He went
into this angry tirade about how somebody, some of the Commission members
had gone to the Attorney General and were criticizing his conduct of the
Commission. There was an embarrassed pause, and then everybody denied
they had done it.
Well, this was an indication of the fellow's intelligence. As I said
to you before we started recording, I told Thurmond Arnold later about
this on some occasion (I've forgotten when), and he said, "Gus Vanech,
why, he used to be the fellow that we got desks and chairs and automobiles
from when I was in the Department." And later it turned out that Vanech
had taken the bar three times in Connecticut and flunked it each time
and he finally became a member of the bar in some
extracurricular way, apparently, by going down to Tennessee and getting
admitted in some dubious fashion after a week or so there, although he
was supposed to swear he was a resident. Anyway, he was fired, in '51
or '52. He never should have gotten to this spot. He was absolutely incompetent
HESS: Did that commission come out with a report?
SPINGARN: But fortunately, he was only one member. Yes, that commission
came out with a report, and on our working committee, we had six members,
as there were six on the Commission itself, and a fellow from the State
Department, Goodrich was his name, Stanley R, Goodrich. He was a Maine
Republican -- he'd been an Army counterintelligence officer like myself.
He and I agreed on almost every issue, although our backgrounds were quite
dissimilar. And in many of the votes, therefore, where the rest were against
us, the vote was four to two, and I remember saying, humorously, there
was a song called "Patience and Fortitude," which was popular at that
time -- and I said, "The motto of this working committee ought to be 'Patience
and four to two,'" because that was the way a lot of these votes were
HESS: What was your evaluation of that report, and of the success of
SPINGARN: Well, to give you a really reasoned answer, I would have to
go back and study it, because I wrote an enormous amount on that, and
I haven't studied it in a long time, but I will say this in general: We
never got the information from the Department of Justice as to how big
a "war" it was. Finally, there was a secret session, the only session
from which the alternates were excluded, although, of course, they all
heard from their principals later what had happened. And the Attorney
General told them, they'd been seeking all this information....this is
a long interesting story....I think we ought to go into this at some other
HESS: This came out in a secret session though?
HESS: Fine. Let's make a note of that and go into it...
SPINGARN: I think this ought to come out at some other time. It's a long,
But in any event, going back to my service in the White House. So Clifford
asked me if I had any skeleton in my closet, and I said, not that I knew
He asked me about why didn't the FBI like me. I told him about these
two episodes, and I told him that they would not be able to find anything
security damaging, because my record, as far as I knew, was impeccable
on that. And I think it still is. Of course, I will go one step further
and I will say, there is no such thing as a non-security risk. My definition
of a non-security risk is a deaf, dumb, blind eunuch, who doesn't drink,
smoke or take narcotics, or have any other bad habits. That's a non-security
risk. Anybody who has any human instincts is a security risk.
HESS: Anybody who does anything at all.
SPINGARN: Anything at all. If he likes women, he's a security risk; if
he doesn't like them, he's a security risk, and so on down the line.
HESS: Was there any particular significance that when you started to
work at the White House there was no announcement made? What I have reference
SPINGARN: Yes, I know what you have reference to. Well, first of all,
let me pick up from Clifford. So Clifford evidently decided that I would
do, and I went to work there in February. I had been there from the beginning
of January on a detail, but I went to work
permanently in late February, as Clifford's assistant.
Now, there was no announcement at the time and I have no idea what the
reason was. I suspect, and this is only a suspicion, when the announcement
did come out later it hooked me up with the NAACP, and as the architect
of the controversial civil rights program, and maybe earlier somebody
thought that it was just as well to soft pedal this liberal background
of mine. This was 1949. I don't know what the reason was. Maybe on the
other hand, maybe they just didn't think the job was of sufficient consequence
to make much difference.
The way it came out later was that the White House was then being repaired
and I was part of the escort for a group of Congressmen, and afterwards,
when the press interviewed them they mentioned me as one of the escorts
and the press then said, "Who's he," and they said, "Why, he's on the
staff here." And then they made inquiries and discovered that I was. But
that there was any special significance, I wasn't aware.
HESS: I wasn't sure. In going through the New York Times the other
day, I noticed in April 1, of '49, that they had that article and I didn't
know if there was any
particular significance or not. I thought I'd ask to clear that up.
SPINGARN: I don't know. There was an announcement when I was made Administrative
Assistant to the President in February 1950. Now, I spent a year as Clifford's
only assistant. And it was a rather frustrating year because Clark Clifford
had already made his decision to go out into private practice, and the
reason I was over there actually was because his very able assistant,
George Elsey, had gone to spend a year on active duty in the Navy; he
was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. So I was really replacing Elsey
during that year. Elsey is an extremely able guy. And Clark's mind was
preoccupied apparently -- I mean, from where I sat, it seemed he was preoccupied
with going out into private practice.
HESS: Do you know when he made that decision?
SPINGARN: No, I don't, but my impression is that he had made it by the
time I got there.
HESS: Before the election?
SPINGARN: I don't know. My only impression is that he had already made
it when I got there in '49, early '49. I can't prove this, it's just my
impression by the way, he acted -- he used me almost not at all. He gave
me very limited assignments and yet I was his only professional assistant.
And when I did get assignments, ninety percent of them were things like
this: He would send me a note saying Bishop Ivan Holt (this is an exact
case -- the Bishop of St. Louis -- Clark was from St. Louis), was going
to make an extended trip to Europe that summer and would I please make
arrangements with the State Department to see that the red carpet was
rolled out in every country where he went. That was the sort of thing
I got -- not very high caliber work.
HESS: And you mentioned just a few minutes ago, the Columbia Valley...
SPINGARN: ...that was before.
HESS: That was before.
SPINGARN: That was before. That was on detail to the White House before
I went over there permanently. I was detailed there to work specifically
on that. But then I was transferred a month or two later, in late February.
I went over there in the beginning of January on detail on that Columbia
Valley thing. I mean, I was not working for Clark on that. I was working
on this special project.
HESS: Can you lend us any insight as to why that was never accepted;
why that didn't get off the ground?
SPINGARN: No, I have forgotten. And it still hasn't, so I suppose....I
think history has passed it by. I talked the other day to Norman Stoll,
who was then General Counsel of Bonneville, as I recall, and who is now
in private practice out there ; I think he became Bonneville Administrator
later. Anyway he's the Democratic national committeeman from Oregon, and
he came back for the DNC meeting. He was out there all the time and I
said, "Is there any reason for that now?"
He said, "No, I think all the dam sites have been pre-empted now and
things have moved beyond that." I can't tell you what the reasons were.
Among other things, there was a relapse after the war, and there was a
return to normalcy feeling, and liberal legislation had hard sledding.
Not very much of it got through after the war.
Truman's record on foreign policy was tremendous, but when you look at
his record on domestic policy, it was more of a holding operation. You
can't say there were any major advances. It wasn't just the Columbia Valley
Authority; the Brannan plan didn't go through;
the Medicare health plan didn't go through -- in fact, you'd have trouble
mentioning anything really outstanding. They were rather minor, the things
that did go through, in the domestic field. That was the general picture.
Well, in any event Clifford didn't use me much, so I used to drop by
Charlie Murphy's office and I'd say, "Charlie, I haven't got anything
to do; have you got any work?" Charlie was delighted. He had piles of
work up over his head. "My God -- another hand." That's what it amounted
to. So during that year I was working for Clifford, most of the time I
was working for Murphy, I was doing things that he'd assigned to me. Then
Clifford left and to my absolute...
HESS: Do you recall offhand anything in particular you worked with with
Murphy during that year? Anything of significance? I think it's just an
obvious question before we move on.
SPINGARN: Well, for instance: One thing I recall, and this is interesting
in comparing -- you see, one of the things I want to get to after lunch
is, there's a mythology, I call it that, that Clark Clifford was the
only first-rate man on the Truman staff. As far as I know, the principal
-- there may be others, but from my standpoint, that doctrine was first
espoused between hard covers, it may have been elsewhere but not in hard
covers, by Robert Allen and William Shannon in a book called the Truman
Merry-Go-Round, published in 1950. It was Truman's Washington, you
see -- the White House, the Departments, the Supreme Court, the Congress,
the Pentagon. And it stated in those words that Clark Clifford was the
only first-rate man on the White House staff. The rest were a bunch of
mediocrities and cronies. It sort of damned me with faint praise. It said
I was well above the average at the White House, but that wasn't saying
much, something like that you know. That was the way it treated me.
HESS: Not much of a compliment.
SPINGARN: Not much of a compliment, except in relative terms, but very
few others got even that much. Well, this has been perpetuated. In 1966,
Cabell Phillips published a book, The:Truman Presidency, and he
said practically the same thing in those words. Now, I know Cabell Phillips,
and Cabell Phillips is a good man. I took him to lunch recently, within
couple of months and I said, "Cabell, why did you print such ....why
did you say that?" I said, "What's your basis for that?" Well, I knew
what his basis was. I looked at the book. I browsed through it. I haven't
read it all but I browsed through it. His foreword extends enormous thanks
to Clark Clifford for his valuable help and almost every chapter footnote
starts off with a tribute to the help that Clark had given on this. Clark
Clifford has had the insight and intelligence from his standpoint,
and perhaps from any man's standpoint, since he sees his place in history,
to make himself freely available to the people who he thinks are going
to write consequential works in the field.
Now, Charlie Murphy who replaced Clark Clifford -- I must say this, Clark
Clifford is a very impressive personality. He's a master salesman. He's
a very effective guy in selling other people's ideas. He is a tactician,
a good political tactician, but he is not an idea man, he gets the ideas
from other sources. Now, I say that his contribution is great, and that
it is an important contribution, but I do feel that the men who produced
the ideas, who wrote the speeches, and
who produced the programs, also deserve their full share of credit.
The difficulty has been that Clark Clifford's appearance and personality
are impressive and he sells himself magnificently along with the programs.
The man whom I regard as the key man at the White House, Charlie Murphy,
who has been my friend for thirty years, looks and acts like an amiable
dentist, and he's modest and self-effacing to a fault. He doesn't seem
to place any importance on his position in history, so that when people
come around talking to him, Charlie, as I see it, has a tendency to say,
"Well, it's a long time ago and I don't remember very well." You know,
he's a very busy guy. First he was in a successful law practice, then
he became Under Secretary of Agriculture under Kennedy, now he's Chairman
of the Civil Aeronautics Board under Johnson. He's a very able chap. But
he's shy and he hasn't got Clark Clifford's aggressiveness. And he tends
to be inarticulate in large groups, although in a small group of people
talking about things, he's a fellow with an instinct for the jugular who
gets to the point very fast and makes a great deal of sense when he talks.
Also he has a talent for surrounding himself with extraordinarily able
people. It was he who picked David Bell, and David Lloyd to be his two
chief assistants. Now, David Bell is as able a man as I've met anywhere
at any time. He became, under Kennedy and Johnson, Director of the Budget,
then Foreign Aid director. Now he's vice president of the Ford Foundation.
David Lloyd never had his full due, but David Lloyd was a Renaissance
man of great talents in a wide range. He wrote several books, he was a
talented artist, he wrote most of the first drafts for the good speeches
at the Truman White House. Most of the first drafts started with Dave,
and many other things could be said about him.
It's funny, my assistant at the White House was Dick Neustadt, Richard
E. Neustadt. Dick Neustadt was then about thirty years old; he had been
in the Legislative Reference Division of the Bureau of the Budget and
had worked closely with the White House. Everybody knew him and he is
Actually he was Charlie Murphy's choice or suggestion, not mine, although
I was delighted to have him.
I had intended -- when I became administrative assistant to the President
I was entitled to an assistant, and the fellow I had actually intended
to bring over was Donald Hansen at the Treasury, who had been my assistant
there. He was a very able guy and eventually he did go to the White House
for a while after I left and on my recommendation. By the way, he went
to the University of Kansas and was first man in law school at Kansas
or Kansas State -- I've forgotten which. An extremely able guy, but Charlie
-- I mean, I had a right to pick my own man -- Charlie couldn't tell me
who to pick, but Charlie suggested to me, Dick Neustadt, and I realized
when he did that this was a wonderful choice because Neustadt would start
running. Hansen, able though he was, would have to learn things, but Neustadt
already knew the whole picture and he would start in high gear. And I
brought Neustadt in. And of course he was tremendously able -- the last
thing I did when I left the White House was to write the strongest kind
of memorandum to Don Dawson, who was personnel chief, among other things,
urging that Neustadt be promoted from grade fourteen to fifteen, although
he had only been there five months I think
at the time. I asked Charlie Murphy to add his comments, and he endorsed
what I said, and I don't know whether it happened, but I think it did.
Second Oral History Interview with Stephen J. Spingarn, Washington,
D.C., March 20, 1967. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
SPINGARN: Now, there is one thing that I missed when I went over the
story of my political antecedents and how they influenced me, that is
I forgot the main thing I was building up to, which is the story about
Mr. Truman and myself on this subject.
As I am sure it would amuse a lot of people to know that some of the
then relatively young members of the staff sometimes thought that President
Truman wasn't political enough -- considering all that has been written
about him, that has a certain ironical sound, I know. But the fact of
the matter was that the President was often amazingly nonpolitical.
I was, in effect, legislative counsel of the White House -- I use that
in the terminology of the Treasury Department from which I came. There
was a general counsel and he had as a subordinate a legislative counsel.
Now, in effect, Charlie Murphy was a general counsel of the White House
and while I was not his direct subordinate, I was an administrative assistant
to the President, I was a junior partner -- Charlie had the senior job,
and I was in effect legislative counsel. I mean by that
that I was the pivot man on all the legislative matters. Everybody got
into the act on legislation, obviously, but all legislative matters flowed
through me and I had the job of keeping track, and I was the fellow, for
example, through whom all recommendations for signing or vetoes came to
They first went to the Bureau of the Budget which got the agency advice
-- the advice from the various agency affected. They then came to me and
I took them to the President with whatever recommendations, or none, that
I might have -- well, the Bureau of the Budget made a recommendation,
and I either agreed with them or disagreed with them, usually I agreed
with them -- and the President then made up his own mind. Typically, the
question he would ask me was, "Is there more good or bad in this bill?"
And there were some interesting episodes. I remember, for example, the
Navajo-Hopi rehabilitation bill in '49. I don't remember all the details
of that bill but essentially it was to provide a fund of I think seventy-five
million dollars, or something on that order, to rehabilitate the Navajos
and the Hopis, particularly the Navajos who were the much larger tribe.
I had a special interest in this matter because in my college and law
school days, for five summers, I was a national park ranger in the Mesa
Verde National Park in Colorado and our work force was Navajo. We had
a hundred and fifty to two hundred Navajos there in the summer, and I
used to be straw boss for Navajo work gangs. In the evenings I would go
up to their hogans and dance Navajo dances with them. And, I have had
many good friends among the Navajos. In fact our Navajo foreman, Sam Akeah,
a very fine chap, later became the chairman of the tribal council of the
Navajos -- that's like being President of the United States among the
Navajos. And in 1953 -- 2 or 3 -- when I was Federal Trade Commissioner,
Sam in that capacity as chairman of the tribal council came to Washington
and came to visit me .
I remember one day -- I think he and I had an appointment sometime in
the day or during the evening and somebody called up on his behalf and
said he couldn't make it because he was going to be on television, and
I got quite a hoot out of that. It seemed a far cry from the Mesa Verde.
So. I had a special interest in seeing that the Navajos were well taken
care of in this bill. The
bill was a good bill but there was one obnoxious provision that had been
added in the Congress and I don't remember the details of it, but as I
recall it was essentially to make state criminal jurisdiction applicable
to the reservations -- willy-nilly. In any event it dealt with state criminal
jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservations, which otherwise
would be in Federal hands. And this provision, as I say, the pros and
cons are not now clear in my mind as to what the merits and demerits were,
but the Navajos deeply resented it. They mistrusted the state on such
matters. They felt they had been abused and exploited by the state in
HESS: What was the view of the Department of the Interior on that bill?
SPINGARN: The Department of the Interior's view was that while this provision
was not a good provision, that the bill was so important and worth-while
over-all that it should go through and be signed by the President, and
Secretary [Julius A.] Krug strongly recommended that to the President.
Well, we had another man on the White House staff who was deeply interested
in the Indians and that was
Philleo Nash, who at that time was assistant to David Niles, who was
administrative assistant to the President on minority matters, and Philleo
was a remarkable man -- was and is a remarkable man. He has since been
Democratic State Chairman of Wisconsin, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin
and Federal Indian Commissioner. But among other things and in addition
to being a practicing politician, he is an egghead. He is a Ph.D. in anthropology
and an expert on Indian matters and had taught in this country and in
Canada, and he was very much interested in that and knew a lot about it.
Philleo and I discussed this bill at great length and we both agreed that
this was a bad provision and that the bill should be vetoed on the basis
of that provision, and that in any event we felt a reasonable certainty
that if the bill were vetoed a bill without the obnoxious provision could
be gotten through Congress fairly promptly.
HESS: Which did happen.
SPINGARN: Which did happen. And to make a long story short on our recommendation
(Philleo deserves as much credit as I do, but I happened to be the cutting
edge because I was the fellow who presented it to the President),
it was vetoed.
HESS: It wasn't too long after that that Mr. Krug resigned. Do you think
that this had an influence on his resignation?
SPINGARN: That, I have no way of knowing. I can't believe that this single
episode would have made that much difference. But I do know this: Immediately
after -- perhaps the same day or perhaps either the same day or the next
day -- Secretary Krug called me, telephoned me in great anger and he upbraided
me bitterly. As I remember the situation he seemed to feel that he should
have had a further chance to argue the matter with the President, and
that I had gone into the President behind closed doors and behind his
back and gotten the bill vetoed.
I didn't feel that way about it at all and I told him that he had complete
access to the President. He had chosen, as I recall, to simply stand on
a written communication. He sent it over in writing, but if he had telephoned
the White House he could have seen the President and presented his views.
I further told him that I had told the President that Secretary Krug recommended
signing, so that the
President was aware of that fact and he vetoed the bill nevertheless.
But this didn't make Secretary Krug any happier and we had a rather acrimonious
-- at least acrimonious on his side because I didn't have anything to
be acrimonious about, I was just simply defending my posture, and that
The thing I want to get to though is Mr. Truman being nonpolitical. In
1949 or 1950 there was a bill -- and I am a little hazy about the details
-- but as I recollect, it was a bill that provided pensions for dependents
-- I've forgotten whether it was for the Spanish American War veterans
themselves or for their dependents -- I guess it was for the veterans
themselves, without regard to service connected disability or anything
of that sort, just flatly provided pensions for them all.
I forget the details, but it was in that field -- it is not important
what the details were for present purposes. The point was that it had
passed Congress with scarcely any dissenting votes. There was a small,
but still -- remember this is 1950 that was only fifty-two years after
the Spanish-American War and a lot of them were still alive, although
there hadn't been a very
large army in the Spanish-American War -- a few hundred thousand only.
In any event, there was no organized opposition to it and there was a
substantial number of people who felt this was a very important bill,
and the Congress had passed it with virtual unanimity. But the recommendation
from the Bureau of the Budget was that it be vetoed; that it would create
as I recall -- again I am drawing on memory and I would have to stand
on what the records show, but as I recall from distant memory it was that
this would create a most unfortunate precedent for World War I and II
veterans, and was sure to be extended, and that while the Spanish-American
War situation wasn't going to cost much it would run into enormous money
if this were extended into World War I and II.
Well, a number of us, including myself, thought it ought to be signed,
and the President, however, vetoed the bill. This is what I mean when
I say that sometimes we thought he wasn't political enough. Even those
of us who thought it ought to be signed didn't think it was a good bill,
we just thought that there was no organized opposition to the bill and
there was very substantial support, both in Congress,
and in the interest group affected. So, he had nothing to win and quite
a bit to lose by vetoing the bill, in political terms. In any event, he
I can remember in July -- I believe it was on the first or second of
July, 1950 -- the President went up to Valley Forge to make a speech at
the Boy Scout encampment up there -- I guess we came back by the Williamsburg
-- we went up by train, I think, I've forgotten how we went up. I recall
only coming back by the Williamsburg. And we came down from Philadelphia
through the canal and down the Chesapeake Bay, and it was an overnight
trip, and I remember standing at the rail talking to the President, just
he and I, and I told him about my father's concept of politics and this
thesis of his in his lecture at the New School for Social Research that
I spoke about previously that was reprinted later in the November 1942
Atlantic Monthly, that politics was the noblest practical occupation
I gave him a copy of an excerpt from that speech, which I believe is
in the files at the Truman Library which I sent there previously. And,
also, I had dug out an incident involving Abraham Lincoln -- I think
it was from Carl Sandburg -- which had impressed me because it showed
Lincoln the politician. It was an episode involving the statehood of Nevada,
and I had excerpted this from Sandburg or whatever the source was, a couple
of pages of it. The general idea as I recall was this, that the bill to
make Nevada a state was pending in Congress in 1863, during the Civil
War, and it was very important to Lincoln because constitutional amendments
-- the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth were coming up, dealing with
the freedom of the slaves and the right to vote for former slaves, and
the fourteenth amendment, the due process of law and equal protection
of laws amendment, and Lincoln knew that he would need the vote of every
state possible, and Nevada was a pretty sure vote for his side of the
He was, therefore, most anxious to have Nevada admitted, but there was
some difficulty among some of the Democrats in the House. And Lincoln
went to Dana, Henry Dana, who I think was assistant secretary of war,
and actually walked over to the War Department which I guess was next
to the White House then, I think that was the old Executive Office Building
or its predecessor,
and went in to see Dana and they talked about some of the Democrats who
were doubtful and Lincoln said, "Do you know what he wants?" And Dana
either knew or could find out, and the long and short of it was that Lincoln
authorized Dana to make whatever commitments and deals were necessary
to get those Democratic votes, and Dana called in the Congressmen involved
and asked them what they wanted, and one man wanted a collectorship of
customs or internal revenue, and one man wanted something else, and Dana
said, "You've got it."
And the Congressman said, "Are you talking on your own authority?"
"No. I'm talking on the authority of the President of the United States."
And, in any event, the votes were secured. And this struck me as an interesting
illustration. Some people would say that that was unethical. On the other
hand, well, Lincoln didn't think so. And I remember passing a copy of
this passage to Mr. Truman; the theory being that you didn't have to be
two steps to the right of the Pope or Abraham Lincoln, you see.
HESS: Do you recall what he said at that time?
SPINGARN: No, he just expressed interest in it, but I don't
recall anything that he said; but I mean I don't say that it influenced
him a particle, but you see it was an effort to if nothing else. And I
just thought that would be an interesting insight because generally Harry
Truman is thought of as a consummate politician and a sort of a total
politician, but from the underside view of some of his staff, anyway,
sometimes he seemed to be almost too nonpolitical in things where it seemed
to some of us that politics was not wicked or pernicious at all but perfectly
justifiable in such situations.
Now, the thing I would like to discuss next, I think, is the question
of the quality of the Truman staff -- the caliber and quality. I think
that I am not alone among the staff in feeling a certain unhappiness at
what I would regard as a mythology that had grown up that Clark Clifford
was the only first-rate man on the Truman staff. As far as I know, and
I may not be right on this, but the first time I saw this between hard-covers
-- in more ephemeral items, newspapers or magazines, perhaps, it appeared
often enough -- but the first time I saw it between hard-covers was in
a 1950 book called The Truman Merry-go-Round by Robert
S. Allen, who was formerly Drew Pearson's partner in the Washington Merry-go-Round
column, and William V. Shannon, who was then a youngster but had become
quite a celebrated reporter; a syndicated columnist and so forth. He was
for a long time with the New York Post and he is now with the New
In any event, they collaborated on a book, and Shannon came around --
interviewed a lot of us, including me -- and I remember Charlie Ross,
who was then press secretary, telling us to be cooperative with Shannon.
I suspect he later regretted that. In any event, I had a long talk with
Shannon, and I guess others did too, but when the book came out it flatly
stated -- it covered the Truman staff, and it covered the Cabinet, and
it covered the Supreme Court, and it covered the Pentagon, and so forth
-- profiles, you know, and sketches of everybody. And the long and the
short of it was, it stated flatly that Clark Clifford was the only first-class
man, the only big-leaguer on the Truman White House staff, and that the
rest were essentially a collection of cronies and mediocrities.
I, myself, got off better than most, I was damned with faint praise.
I was described as having a genuine
liberal background, and as being well above the average of the staff,
but then it was added that this was not very high praise since it was
such a lousy staff, or something like that.
But others were dealt with less well. In any event, that tradition, or
the mythology, as I call it, has continued until this day. Last year,
1966, Cabell Phillips of the New York Times, a very able journalist
and a friend of mine of many years standing, wrote a book called The
Truman Presidency, and again the same statement, roughly, almost substantially
identical with what Allen and Shannon said, appears, that Clark Clifford
was the only first-rate man on the staff. Well, I upbraided my friend,
Cabell Phillips, in friendly terms, for this and he said, well, the gist
of it was that Clark had made himself so available and given him such
an enormous amount of material, and this was certainly true. I looked
at the book. I read the foreword -- voluminous thanks to Clark Clifford.
I read the chapter notes, practically every one began with lavish thanks
to Clark Clifford for having contributed so much to that chapter. I looked
at the index and I found that Clark Clifford was indexed
twenty-five or thirty times, and Charlie Murphy, who had held the same
job longer than Clifford had, was -- or at least the same length of time
and was on the staff longer -- that Charlie Murphy was only indexed four
or five times.
It isn't necessary to downgrade Clark Clifford, who certainly had very
substantial talents, especially in one direction. I speak as a man who
was his only professional assistant for one year at the White House. It
is true that during that year Clark had decided to go out into private
practice, and I believe he had already decided it before I came there.
His mind seed to be preoccupied with that, at least as far as I could
see it, because he gave me very few substantive assignments. Most of the
assignments I got from him were very piddling and trifling things, like
making arrangements with the State Department for the red carpet to be
rolled out for distinguished citizens from his state of Missouri who were
going to Europe in the summer, things like that.
So. I used to go around to Charlie Murphy and say, "Charlie, I don't
have anything to do. Have you got any work?" And Charlie had stacks of
to the ceiling around him and was naturally glad to have another hand,
so that is where I got most of my work the year I was nominally working
for Clifford. It worked out well for me that way because I don't see how
I could have gotten -- when Clifford left in early 1950, Charlie Murphy,
who was then administrative assistant to the President, replaced him as
special counsel to the President, and I replaced Charlie Murphy -- I took
Charlie Murphy's slot as administrative assistant to the President. I
certainly couldn't have gotten that on Clark Clifford's recommendation
because I hadn't done anything for him, to amount to anything, so it had
to be on Charlie Murphy's recommendation. I was the most surprised man
in the world because I had had a rather frustrating year in many ways
and, moreover, I knew there were two men who deserved it more than I did.
HESS: Who would you put in that category?
SPINGARN: David Bell and David Lloyd. They were at that time assistants
to an administrative assistant -- to Charlie Murphy. But both of them
on the basis of the extraordinary able and indefatigable work they did
certainly deserved it more than I did, you see, I knew that; so, I was
startled when I got it -- in fact
I was the most surprised man in the world. The President when he called
me in and told me that I was to be made administrative assistant, he said
later to somebody that he had never seen so big a man look so scared.
I was not scared but I was actually startled out of my wits because it
never occurred to me. I felt that I hadn't really had a chance to show
anything that year, and I still think that part of it was the fact that
Charlie Murphy felt some responsibility for having me brought into the
White House from a good Treasury job and that may have had something to
do with it, I don't know.
HESS: Would it be possible to show the difference between the two men
by comparing how they carried out the duties as special counsel to the
President? Did they carry out the duties in any noticeably different manner?
SPINGARN: It is hard for me to compare the two because I saw so much
of Charlie Murphy and so little of Clifford, relatively speaking. To Clifford,
I was his only assistant and he was my immediate boss, but days and days
would go by without my seeing him, and when I did it was usually on some
trifling matter. Whereas Charlie was right in there on the ground floor
rest of us working with his coat off and in his shirt sleeves, and Clark
to me seemed to be sort of above the fray, you know, and rather detached,
and not terribly absorbed in the White House thing.
That is the way it looked to me, but this is a rather superficial impression
of Clark. I don't know. I assume that he knew all that year that he was
going out into private practice, and obviously when you have committed
yourself to something else ahead you can't have as much interest in what
you're doing as if you haven't committed yourself to a different assignment.
In any event I want to say this: In June, 1963, President Truman was
in Washington at the Mayflower, and as usual I went down to see him, as
was customary with members of his staff, to pay my respects.
And I had a nice talk alone with him for half an hour or so. Now this
was '63 -- it was June and Kennedy was President and had been for about
two years -- and I said, "By the way Mr. President, you know it's become
sort of traditional to describe your White House staff as a bunch of mediocrities
and cronies with the sole exception of Clark Clifford."
And I said, "I would like to call your attention
to what has happened -- it is now eleven years since you left office"
-- ten years and a fraction -- and I spun off a bunch of the names of
his White House staff and what had happened to them in the intervening
There was Charlie Murphy, who was then John Kennedy's Under Secretary
of Agriculture, after a successful legal practice; there was David Bell,
who was then Foreign Aid Administrator, after having been Director of
the Bureau of the Budget, under Kennedy; there was Philleo Nash -- whom
I've already mentioned -- who was then Indian Commissioner, after having
been Lieutenant Governor and Democratic State Chairman of Wisconsin; there
was Averell Harriman, of course, who was then Under Secretary of State,
after having been Governor of New York -- I am talking about the things
that had happened to them since Truman left office. There was Ken Hechler,
who was then a third term and is now a fourth term, either fourth or fifth
term Congressman from West Virginia. Ken was a native New Yorker and he
is an egghead -- a Ph.D. and a college professor. He went from Princeton
to Marshall College in West Virginia as a carpetbagger. After only
two years he was elected to Congress. I suspected that this was an overnight
miracle and could be reversed overnight, but he has held his seat, you
see, this is no mean achievement; he may well be Senator from West Virginia
There was Dick Neustadt, Richard E. Neustadt. By '63, Dick was a full
professor of Government at Columbia University, and his book Presidential
Power was used as a guide by President Kennedy -- he slept with it
under his pillow it was said, and Dick was a special consultant to President
Kennedy in connection with the transition from the Eisenhower to the Kennedy
administration and the subsequent organization of the Kennedy administration;
and coming upwards from '63, he is today director of the Kennedy Institute
of Politics at Harvard.
And, of course, Clark Clifford, we have already mentioned. Clark is a
fellow of exceptional ability in two particular fields, as I see it. He
is a magnificent salesman of other people's ideas, and he is an excellent
tactician. He is not, however, especially outstanding in the development
of new ideas himself; he gets his ideas from other sources. Now,
the talents that he has are very real talents, but I don't think that
the fellows from whom he got the ideas should be downgraded.
There was Roger Tubby, who in '63 was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,
and other international organizations, in Geneva after having been Assistant
Secretary of State in the Kennedy administration. He was also at that
time a publisher -- a newspaper publisher in upstate New York. And then,
of course there was David Lloyd, who was dead by then, but who was a remarkable
chap of many, many talents. He wrote books, excellent books; he wrote
a good novel; he wrote serious factual studies. He was chairman of the
board of the national conference on international and social development,
and, of course, he was the Executive Director of the Truman Library.
There was George Elsey. He is very able and a tremendous worker. After
he left the White House, George became vice president of the American
Red Cross, and he was president and is now Vice-Chairman of the Board
of Meridian House Foundation, which gives the initial orientation in this
country to some five thousand official and nonofficial foreigners coming
to the United
States yearly under various Federal programs, and he is also one of the
ten or so top officials today of a billion dollar business, so he has
had a highly successful career.
There was Bob Dennison, Robert L. Dennison. He was a Rear Admiral. He
was the Captain of the Missouri when Mr. Truman discovered him,
and he was the White House naval aide, and he was a remarkable man. He
had a M.A. and perhaps a Ph.D. in some technical field -- M.A. I'm sure
of -- and he had a far ranging mind far outside military and naval circles.
There wasn't anything you couldn't discuss with Bob Dennison that you
wouldn't get intelligent and astute observations on, and this is evidenced
by the fact that in spite of the fact that he was the White House naval
officer for Democratic President Truman, under the Eisenhower administration
he became a four star Admiral and he became Commander in Chief of our
Atlantic Fleet and NATO Commander in the Atlantic.
There was Don Dawson, who established a highly successful legal practice
and for a number of years was president of the National Capital Democratic
Club which is probably the leading club of its type in the United
States. And there was Fred Lawton, who was appointed to the Civil Service
Commission by President Eisenhower in 1953 and reappointed in '57, and
is now retired after forty-two years of Government service. At the end
of the Eisenhower administration he was given the President's Distinguished
Federal Civilian Service Award. And, of course, there was Jonathan Daniels
who is a nationally known author and publisher and editor.
Now, I am not prepared to say that this was the greatest presidential
staff in the history of the White House, but I do not believe you could
say this is a collection of cronies and mediocrities, based only on their
subsequent record, and so I would like to say this; I am not trying to
oust Clark from anything he deserves, which is considerable, but I don't
think that he should be placed on a pedestal with all the others placed
down in the mud.
HESS: Why do you think that that view developed?
SPINGARN: Well, I think the reason it developed...
HESS: Other than the gentlemen that you have mentioned -- Allen and Shannon.
SPINGARN: And Cabell Phillips.
HESS: And Cabell Phillips.
SPINGARN: I cite them only because they span sixteen years, you see,
and I have seen it all often in more ephemeral publications. This is the
mythology that has been established, and mythologies tend to be self-perpetuating.
I think it developed for two reasons I would say -- two main reasons;
one, Clark Clifford is impressive in appearance and personality; he impresses;
he looks the way a top presidential staff man should look, and his personality
is extroverted and impressive; his impact is considerable on everyone
he meets. He is a big, handsome, distinguished looking man and with a
Now, the man with whom he deserves to be compared (because he is the
man who replaced him in the same office), is Charles S. Murphy -- Charlie
Murphy. Charlie Murphy -- and I say this as a man who has been his friend,
and is his friend today, since 1935 -- Charlie Murphy looks like an amiable
dentist or shoe salesman. His appearance is mild, bland, and not impressive
in terms of impact. He is not in, any sense a salesman, but under that
bland exterior there is a very sharp receptive mind that is always probing.
Well, there was never any doubt about who was quarterbacking things when
was around. We all -- everybody -- and we represented a pretty wide range
of backgrounds and abilities, I would say, and expertise, but we all looked
up to and respected Charlie Murphy, and his judgment on anything was very
highly regarded by the men around him, I can tell you that. He was awfully
good in picking men, as I say, he was responsible for picking Lloyd and
Bell, for example. Dick Neustadt was my assistant -- as an administrative
assistant I was entitled to an assistant, and I had intended to bring
over from the Treasury Don Hansen, a very able guy who had been my assistant
in the Treasury. Don Hansen had been first man in his class at law school,
and he was indefatigable and very able.
But, then, Charlie Murphy suggested to me -- and this was only a suggestion
because I had a perfect right to pick anybody I wanted regardless of who
Murphy suggested -- he suggested that I consider Dick Neustadt, and I
hadn't even thought about him. Dick Neustadt was in the Bureau of the
Budget in the Legislative Reference Service. He worked closely with us
at the White House, naturally. We all knew him and we all thought highly
of him, and I realized when I thought about it that
this was a natural, because Neustadt had been working with the White
House for two years; he could move into that slot or any White House slot
and move in running -- there was nothing to learn. Don Hansen was extremely
able but he had the whole thing to learn, you see. So. I realized that
Neustadt was the ideal selection, and I picked him and he certainly turned
out to be invaluable, and in fact the last thing I did at the White House
was to write a strong memorandum to Don Dawson, who was in charge of personnel
management at the White House, urging that -- when I left the White House
to go to the Federal Trade Commission in October, '50 -- that Dick Neustadt
be promoted from Grade 14 -- he was only thirty or thirty-one years old
then -- to Grade 15 and I asked Charlie Murphy to join with me in that
and he did. I didn't follow that up; I don't know what happened but I
assume that Dick got it although he had only been at the White House five
months at that time.
George Elsey had been Clark Clifford's assistant and I guess he just
kind of moved if that job by osmosis, because George had been a young
ensign in the war in the naval aide's office, and Clark found him
there when he got there, and I guess took him over, you see, and brought
him out as his civilian aide, too.
But in any event, Charlie Murphy has got one of the best tactical --
I mean he's got imagination; he's got insight; well he's a first-rate
White House staff man. Here's an interesting thing. Charlie Murphy is
a fellow from North Carolina. He was raised there in a small town in North
Carolina; he went to college and law school there. He didn't come north
until he was in his mid-twenties. I was reminded of this -- I had forgotten
all about this -- but recently I was invited by the American Historical
Association to address a session they were having at their annual convention
in New York in December of 1966, on civil rights in the Truman administration,
and the main paper was presented by a young historian from Stanford named
Barton Bernstein, an assistant professor at Stanford, and it may have
been in the Bernstein paper or it may have been in a Ph.D. thesis by William
Berman, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville -- I've
forgotten, but in any event it reminded me of something that I had totally
forgotten and that is this: That in the fall of '49, this was
while I was Clifford's assistant, I wrote a memorandum to Clifford pointing
out that it was not likely we were going to get any civil rights legislation
in the session of Congress coming up -- it was not likely, and that we,
therefore, ought to think of things that we could do aside from legislation
that would prove to the electorate that was involved and interested that
the Truman administration meant business in the civil rights field, and
it just wasn't giving it lip service.
And, I pointed out that there were only a handful -- I think that there
were only five lawyers in the civil rights section, it was only a section
then of the Department of Justice -- and I urged that it be tripled and
receive a substantial increase in appropriations and staff. And now I
am not citing this from memory because my memory has disappeared, I am
citing this from -- these are papers of mine in the Truman Library which
were culled by one or the other of these young historians I have mentioned,
and he records it in this paper which I read recently, and the gist of
it is that receiving no reply from Clifford, Spingarn turned to Charles
Murphy, Murphy immediately saw the
value of this thing and talked to McGrath, the attorney general, and
they did it.
Now, you see, Clifford was the great liberal and all that, and Murphy
was the boy from the South, but Murphy was the fellow I got action from
on that thing, and this, I say, is only a sample of -- I am sure I could
recount many episodes -- well not many -- but this typifies the situation
as it appeared to me.
I believe that it is obvious also that Clark Clifford -- and very sensibly,
I think he's right -- has a keen sense of his own place in history as
a major figure in the Truman administration, and he has made himself unstintingly
available to people who were going to do important writing in this field.
It is obvious that he devoted an enormous amount of time to Cabell Phillips'
book. You can tell that by reading the credits in the chapter notes, you
see, as well as in the foreword.
Charlie Murphy is modest and self-effacing to a fault, and my impression
is that when historians -- he is a very busy man, he is Chairman of the
Civil Aeronautics Board now; he was Under Secretary of Agriculture before
that. These are the jobs that
he has held since '61, and before that he was a busy and successful lawyer,
after the Truman administration ended. And it is my distinct impression
-- I'm sure it's true, I mean I see Charlie, not infrequently, and I know
him -- and it is my distinct impression that when historians come around
Charlie is likely to say, "Well it is a long time ago and I don't remember
very well," and so forth and so on, and you know -- in other words he
doesn't pay much attention and doesn't attempt to embellish his image,
if you want to call it that.
And in a way, I'm sorry, because I think in a negative way Charlie has
unwittingly contributed to the mythology by not supporting his own case,
and perhaps you might say, too, the case of the team that surrounded him,
but he has done this only because that is the kind of guy he is.
HESS: That's just the way he operates.
SPINGARN: He has the vices of his virtues, as most of us do, as well
as the virtues of our vices; and a modest and self-effacing guy doesn't
place much importance on such things, you see. He sort of thinks, "Well
things will turn out the way they will turn out, and there is nothing
I can do about it, and anyway what
difference does it make?"
HESS: Do you suppose we could point out some differences between the
two men by comparing their relationships with Dr. Steelman; the man who
had the title The Assistant to the President?
SPINGARN: I don't know, because I don't really know what their
relationships were, you see. I mean, I don't really know, except I will
say this; now, basically, John Steelman, as you say, he was The
Assistant and the "The" was spelled with a capital T, and there was a
good deal of good natured kidding about that capital T in the "The."
HESS: How did he come to get that, did you ever hear?
SPINGARN: No. I don't know. I can't tell you. But he was titular the
ranking staff man at the White House, and he was always listed first,
and so forth. But the White House operation broke down basically, aside
from the purely ceremonial and protocol stuff, which the naval and military
and air aides attended to and that sort of thing, it broke down -- and
the press operation which Charlie Ross and later others attended too --
it broke down into two main departments: One, was what I would call --
these were not labeled this way -- but one
is what I would call operations or administration; and that was the President's
job as administrator in running and coordinating the activities of the
Government agencies, and that was basically John Steelman's job, with
the additional factor that because he came from the Labor Department and
had a record as a labor mediator, he was involved in all the strikes and
labor mediations that came to the White House.
And then there is what I would call program and planning; policy, program
and planning. And that involved the preparation of presidential messages
to Congress and speeches, and all presidential writings on policy, and
that was Charlie Murphy's -- first Clifford's and then Charlie Murphy's
department -- with the assistance of the rest of us, and with individual
assignments farmed out to different people.
I should say that David Stowe worked with Steelman. David Niles worked
with nobody. He was sui generis. David Niles was the oldest
senior staff man in point of service. He came over from the Roosevelt
administration. His titular jurisdiction was minorities. But, actually,
his main job, I suppose you could say, was
Jewish problems on the one hand, and the intricate politics of New York
City, those two things; maintaining liaison with Dave Dubinsky and Alex
Rose and the Liberal Party there, you know, and keeping the White House
abreast of that. But David Niles seemed to me to pay very little attention
Negro and other minority matters, so it seemed to me. Philleo Nash was
his assistant and Philleo paid a lot of attention, but it didn't seem
to me that Dave paid much. And there was another interesting thing, Dave
Niles did not attend the President's morning staff conferences -- ever.
HESS: Can you tell me about those morning staff conferences?
SPINGARN: Yes. The President held a morning staff conference every morning
at 9:30 -- I think it was 9:30. It was indispensable to a staff man --
a senior staff man -- to attend that thing, but it was a very delicate
matter as to who attended.
HESS: How was that worked out?
SPINGARN: Well, it wasn't. It was like topsy -- it grew. Let me give
you an example. I was never invited to a presidential conference, but
I started attending after awhile on my own, thinking I might get thrown
out, but I stuck, you see. That was it -- I stuck. I went in
very timidly the first time because I hadn't been invited, you know.
What had happened was this -- I was made an administrative assistant on
February 15th, 1950, that is I was promoted from Assistant to the Special
Counsel to Administrative Assistant to the President on that date.
HESS: That is just about a year after you started working at the White
SPINGARN: Yes. So. I did not immediately start attending these morning
meetings. I wasn't invited and it was obviously a matter of the greatest
delicacy as to ....but then, a couple of months later, I place it in May,
the President went out on a whistle stop tour, and I was the senior staff
man left in the policy, program and planning department at the White House,
and I began to get calls from every direction, you see, Cabinet and congressional
leaders and so forth and so on, and I was the liaison between them and
the train. Emboldened by my rise in status as it seemed, when the President
returned from that trip I started going to these conferences and reporting
little tidbits of information, you know, that John McCormack, the majority
leader had told me, and Cabinet officers and things,
and in any event I stayed, I was never thrown out, I was accepted; and
after I had been going for a week or two then I was a member of the crowd,
but I was never invited.
HESS: How were those conferences run? What was the format?
SPINGARN: The format, as I recall, was simply this: There were maybe
ten or a dozen people who attended. Now, some of them were the aides,
the military and naval aides attended because there were questions about
the President's travels and things that might come up but they didn't
deal in policy. And Charlie Ross and Eben Ayers, the press secretary and
the assistant press secretary attended, John Steelman attended, and Bill
Hassett, Charlie Murphy, Dave Stowe, George Elsey, Donald Dawson, and
I. David Niles never attended. That was interesting because he would have
been perfectly welcome, obviously. I never understood why he didn't attend
it. The only thing I could think of was this -- and still this is just
a conjecture on my part -- he was away from Washington about half the
time and maybe he didn't want to underline the frequency -- part of it
was perfectly legitimate, he was supposed to be in touch with the New
York situation so he was obviously
up there -- but every weekend as I understood it he went up to Boston,
his hometown, and he ran some kind of a lecture…
HESS: Ford Hall Forum.
SPINGARN: Ford Hall Forum. He ran a kind of a lecture operation...
HESS: Sunday night, I believe.
SPINGARN: And he was up there, you know, and this is just a supposition
on my part, but maybe he thought he would be underlining how often he
was away if he did attend, because if he didn't attend it was obvious
that he was out of town, you see.
I don't know what his reason was. The fact of the matter was, it shows
how little involved he was in the real machinery, though. Because the
way it worked, the President might make some comments of his own -- any
information that he thought we ought to know he would tell us at the beginning
and then he would just go around in the circle and ask each man if he
had anything. Now, this gave everybody an opportunity to check things
with the President and get a quick yes or no. Now, you couldn't deal with
major problems at that time, but you could say, well, John McCormack called
me and he wanted to know if ....or something like that, and you would
get a quick answer, you see, and this was damned important to a busy staff
HESS: If at this time a problem was presented to the President, would
he usually want a tentative solution presented at the same time?
SPINGARN: No, not necessarily. It was quite informal. Well, I mean, it
is always sensible if you are presenting a problem to present your
at least tentative recommendation as to what to do about it -- I mean
any staff man would know that, I think. Unless you have something that
only the boss can answer and you don't know, you would ordinarily say,
"Well Mr. President here is what the situation is, and I kind of think
maybe we should ask the Department of State to give us a memorandum or
explore this," -- you know, something like that and the President would
say "okay" or whatever. But, it was very informal and it usually lasted
about thirty minutes I would say, something on that order.
HESS: Back to Dave Niles, just a minute. During the times that he was
out of town and a question on minority matters would come up did Philleo
Nash handle everything
that had to be handled here in town?
SPINGARN: Yes, but of course...
HESS: Jewish matters as well as Negro matters?
SPINGARN: Yes, but Philleo wouldn't have gone very far on a Jewish matter
without consulting Dave because he knew that would be close and dear to
Dave's heart, you see. So, he might give you his own opinion but he would
say we will have to wait and talk to Dave or something like that, that
would be more likely.
HESS: And on Thursdays, the President held a press conference every week
and before the press conference they held a pre-press conference.
SPINGARN: That was another thing, you see. The staff would go in and
each one of them -- he would go around the circle and each one of them
would say, "Mr. President they might ask you about this," you see, and
you would say, "I suggest that you might want to say this, if they do,"
and the President might or might not follow your lead, but anyway you
gave him your ideas. Then, we all filed in with the President and sat
behind him at the press conference.
HESS: Now, this was when they were held in the Indian Treaty Room in
the Executive Office Building?
HESS: Did you attend each of those each week?
HESS: Now, that was probably when Joseph Short...
SPINGARN: Charlie Ross was...
HESS: Charlie Ross died in December of '50.
SPINGARN: I left in October to become Federal Trade Commissioner.
HESS: That's right, you left in October.
SPINGARN: I well remember because when I left the White House I gave
a .bottle of good French brandy, Courvoisier or something like that, to
every one of my colleagues -- my senior colleagues and some of the less
senior ones, I think too, I think I distributed fifteen or twenty of these
bottles. And I remember coming back a few weeks after I had been over
at the Trade Commission late one afternoon and Charlie Ross dragged me
into his office and insisted on sitting down and drinking that bottle,
the one I'd given him, and we drank a good deal of it that evening. He
was a great guy, Charlie; a delightful personality.
HESS: Did he offer very much political advice to the President?
SPINGARN: No. I want to say this: I do not think that -- in all candor
-- that Charlie Ross was the most effective of press secretaries. He was
a sweet and delightful person; he was a good friend; he was a boyhood
friend; they had been friends since the age of ten or twelve or something
like that. He was kind and wise, but he was not a Jim Hagerty or even
a Pierre Salinger.
HESS: Why wasn't he too successful in his job? Any particular reasons?
SPINGARN: I think he was too good and kind. I think you have to be tougher
than Charlie Ross was to be a good press secretary. I think you have to
be more of a Hagerty type.
HESS: Tough towards who?
SPINGARN: I think you have to aggressively try to project the favorable
side of the President, and you have to do it rather aggressively. I think
you have to keep seeking -- I mean after all the press secretary is in
addition to other things the President's PR man -- I mean I suppose it's
not polite to put it that way but this is the fact in the case and anybody
who says differently is just giving you a lot of baloney. Every President
knows that and every press secretary really knows that --
that every important man wants his image presented in a favorable context
to the public -- who wouldn't -- who the hell wouldn't? And the press
secretary is the number one man with that assignment, so he should be
constantly looking for opportunities to present the President in a favorable
HESS: I have heard that he helped in the writing of some speeches, did
he ever help you in any of the speeches you had to write?
SPINGARN: No. Everybody was fond of Charlie. Here's the way it worked.
There was a group of whom Dave Lloyd was number one speechwriter, I mean
of the big speeches, most first drafts came from David Lloyd's gifted
pen. Occasionally others of us, you know, on something that we might have
special expertise in would do it, but normally it was David Lloyd. And
then it would be circulated, and each person -- in the beginning, I guess
we would have unassembled comments, you'd scribble on your draft and send
it back or even write memoranda with suggestions, and then we would get
together for a discussion over a draft, and go over it line by line and
sentence by sentence, and make suggestions. Anyway, it usually ran to
five or six drafts before we got one ready to show the President, and
then at the last meeting, the group, the five or six men that had participated
in the preliminary stages would sit down with the President and Charlie
HESS: Would this be the first time that the President was presented with
SPINGARN: Quite likely. Quite likely, yes. I am told, now this is only
hearsay -- Charlie Murphy and Clifford could tell you more about this
-- I am told that in the early days of his Presidency the President participated
more actively, but after he acquired confidence in his team, he didn't
feel it necessary. By this time they had absorbed his style, if you like,
and they knew his thinking and he didn't feel it necessary to participate
in the early stages as much, and by the time I reached the White House
-- I'm giving you what I saw, you see. And usually it ran -- I remember
a memorandum which I called, "Memorandum to the draft one to draft five
men," or something like that, because that's what we were -- five or six
of us, and we would mull this thing over for five drafts and then when
we had it in form satisfactory to ourselves, we
would sit down with the President and Charlie Ross, maybe Steelman would
sit in, I don't think that he did often, I don't remember frankly, if
it were some matter of interest to him, he might, but I don't recall that
he did. In any event, at this point, the changes were generally only editorial.
Charlie Ross was a great man on style and he had ideas about how semicolons
and sentences should be changed and things like that.
HESS: Particular words that he didn't like...
SPINGARN: Particular words that he didn't like and things like that.
But I do not remember that he made any consequential amount of substantive
revisions in the drafts, at least that is my best recollection. And as
I say, anything I say you should check around with the others and see
what their memory is.
HESS: That's what we do.
SPINGARN: That's my memory of the situation.
HESS: Well, while we are on the press office what was your evaluation
of Eben Ayers as assistant press secretary?
SPINGARN: Not very effective.
HESS: Any particular reason why?
SPINGARN: I don't know. That was the impression that I had.
HESS: Just your general overall impression.
SPINGARN: Let me put it this way -- the impression I got from what I
heard from others. It was not so much my impression because I didn't really
have that kind of dealings with him that I could tell, but I don't know
why, but the impression I got from the newspapermen who talked to me and
from other members of the staff was not particularly ....I mean Eben was
certainly a nice fellow and a pleasant guy and all that sort of thing,
but the general evaluation of him as to the effectiveness of his work
was not terribly high.
HESS: Well, awhile ago you mentioned the trip of May 1950, and in your
papers at the Library there is a folder on the President's speeches for
the western trip -- May of 1950. Did you help to write any of those?
SPINGARN: I don't think I had much to do with those speeches. I couldn't
tell you offhand. I don't remember. My impression is -- I'll tell you,
this was a whistle stop tour and there were an enormous number of short
speeches, as I recall. One thing that I know was done, as I remember,
Ken Hechler was responsible for providing the background material on every
place that he stopped or was talking. In other words, he
would give a profile of that place that would be useful to the President,
you know, the city, the local industry, any prominent local heroes, how
it had voted in the last three, four, six elections, and stuff like that.
And he had provided folders of that sort, as I recall, on every town,
but I don't recall whether he wrote the whistle stop speeches themselves,
or the first drafts of them. I probably worked on -- I'm just guessing
-- I probably worked on some of them...
HESS: There were a few major addresses that time. That was when he went
out to dedicate the Grand Coulee Dam in 1950.
SPINGARN: The Grand Coulee Dam thing would very likely emanate from Dave
Bell -- I'm just guessing -- because he was the natural resource man,
but I don't know for sure.
HESS: While we're on this idea of speeches and whistle stop speeches,
there is a question I failed to ask awhile ago, and in your papers I found
references to Kenneth Birkhead and Frank Kelly, now those two gentlemen
served on the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee in
SPINGARN: Well, that wasn't the connection in which I
knew them. I knew Frank Kelly because he was Administrative Assistant
to the Senate Majority Leader, Lucas, when I was at the White House, so
he was an important guy; and Ken Birkhead, I've forgotten what he was
at that time. His father was the Reverend Birkhead who was the founder
of the Friends of Democracy. Ken -- do you know where he was in '50, I've
HESS: No. I sure don't. He was with the Research Division in '48.
SPINGARN: I don't remember that.
HESS: But you knew them in a different context?
HESS: And you weren't familiar with their activities in 1948?
SPINGARN: I mean I do not recall them in that context. I mean I was familiar
with the work of the Research Division, but not that familiar.
HESS: Did you work with the Research Division any in '48?
SPINGARN: Well, when you say work, I suppose I must have gotten their
material, but I don't remember that I actually worked with them. I probably
got the fruits of their labors without working with them.
HESS: Since you did write the big speech for Oklahoma
City. They were more concerned with information for the whistle stops
-- information on the town itself, but they did help on some of the major
speeches. I didn't know whether they helped you on it or not on that.
SPINGARN: No, they didn't on that speech. But, I didn't need any help
on that -- that was right on the top of my head, that stuff. I had been
working on that sort of thing in the Treasury for a long time.
HESS: One other question on that. You mentioned Dave Noyes earlier. Why
was he brought in to help write speeches in the 1948 campaign?
SPINGARN: Yes. But I can't tell you much about him. You'll have to ask
Charlie Murphy -- he knows all about him. I had very limited contact with
HESS: I have a list of people who worked in the White House, other than
the ones that we have already covered -- Clifford, and Murphy, and Steelman,
and a few of the others. I wonder if you could tell me just roughly what
their responsibilities were, how they came to be members of the White
House if there is anything that you think might not be known. What about
Matthew Connelly? Do you know anything of particular interest about Matthew
Connelly that might not generally
SPINGARN: I remember he was the one member of the presidential staff
-- not the one member, but he was the only senior member of the staff
I can remember who disliked poker and wouldn't play it. With everybody
else it was sort of an obligation to play poker with the President because
he loved it -- to him it was relaxation. The President didn't care whether
he won or lost -- he was a good poker player, but he didn't care whether
he won or lost. He liked the banter of the game, you see, and when we
went to Key West, my goodness, we played poker a lot. In my youth I enjoyed
poker, but there is such a thing as too much of enough. But Matt wouldn't
go through the motions, he never played. That's one thing.
I think on the one hand that Matt Connelly was badly used by being sent
to jail by the Eisenhower administration. I think that they deliberately
threw the book at him, and on the other hand, I can't help feeling that
Matt did not display those elements of discretion and judgment that should
be expected of a senior White House staff man, or any White House staff
There is one fellow I would like to mention, Max Lowenthal, who was not
on the White House staff but was very much in evidence in 1950 at least,
the reason being McCarthy -- Senator [Joseph R.] McCarthy. Now, Max Lowenthal
was a great friend of Matt Connelly's and that's how I happened to think
of him. He was a lawyer and he had been assistant counsel of the Railroad
Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, anyway Truman had been
on that Committee back in the '30 s, or Subcommittee, and in that connection
Matt and he had formed a friendship with Max Lowenthal. So Max had entree
to the White House and he used to, you might say, almost hang out in Matt
Connelly's back office. Now in 1950, starting back in February, the month
I became a presidential administrative assistant, Senator Joe McCarthy
started thundering, and then you had the famous Tydings Committee investigation
of McCarthy's charges of the State Department being riddled with Communists,
and there was an awful lot of the time of the White House staff taken
up with problems related to McCarthy.
For one thing, there was the question of that committee scrutinizing
personally these files in the State
Department, and the President eventually decided to make them available
to the Committee in the White House and in the presence of some White
House staff man. Donald Dawson was the man who sat in with them, and on
one or two occasions he asked me to substitute for him; sit in with the
Tydings Committee while they went over the folders.
But, in any event there was an operation run, more or less, under the
supervision of Max Lowenthal in the basement of the White House which
was to prepare answers to the charges that McCarthy was hurling so freely
during all that period and get them ready in a hurry, not wait until the
lie had gone around the world before the truth has gotten its pants on.
I remember Herb Maletz -- a good man -- worked in that thing and one or
two others whose names I can't remember at the moment.
Max Lowenthal was very much involved in that, and in his book The
Truman Presidency, Cabell Phillips has me teamed up with Max Lowenthal
in running that operation, which is not correct. I did an awful lot of
work on the McCarthy stuff, but I did it in terms of trying to devise
some machinery, or system, or operation
that would counteract McCarthy and put things in proper perspective;
and, the idea I came up with was a Commission on Internal Security and
Individual Rights. I believe I can fairly say, I was the principle progenitor
of that thing -- George Elsey also contributed greatly to it and Charlie
HESS: The Nimitz Commission.
SPINGARN: It later evolved into the Nimitz Commission which aborted because
Senator McCarran -- old Pat McCarran of Nevada, peace to his ashes, I
hope they are where they belong. He was a likeable rascal, I'll give him
that. Pat McCarran, who was bitterly hostile to the whole idea and who
was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would not give the members
of the temporary Nimitz Commission the exemption from the conflict of
interest statutes. Since many of them were lawyers this was indispensable.
If they and their law firms were going to be barred from government business
obviously they weren't going to serve on that Commission. So he killed
it that way.
But I particularly remember this: I had recommended this for some time
to George Elsey and others were strong for it too; in June just a few
days before the Korean war the Tydings report was out, or about to come
out, and the President held a policy powwow at Blair House -- you know
the White House was under reconstruction then and he was living at Blair
House -- and it was just a few days before the Korean war and the congressional
leadership was there; Barkley, as I recall, and McCormack, and I don't
think Lucas was there -- he may have been -- but anyway it is in a memorandum
in the Truman Library. Well, the congressional leadership was there and
Tydings -- I don't remember whether Tydings was there or not -- Senator
[Brien] McMahon, and Senator [Theodore Francis] Green were there, and
the Attorney General was there, as I recall, and Clark Clifford, and Charlie
Murphy, and Steelman, and Dawson, the President and myself, and I think
that was it.
It's all in a memorandum that I prepared on this; and we had prepared
-- I had prepared -- a draft of a message to Congress recommending
that Congress establish this Commission by statute on Internal Security
and Individual Rights -- that was my name, I remember, because
I wanted to be sure that it was balanced; after all every time you exercise
internal security you are infringing on individual rights, and there has
to be a balance here between the national interest and the
personal interest at some point.
HESS: So the title was yours.
SPINGARN: Yes, the title was mine. I remember that. And, I always felt,
if I may digress, that I had unusual qualifications in this one field
if in no other, because on the one hand I had been, you might say, a cop
-- I had worked in enforcement matters in the Treasury; been counsel to
the Secret Service; commanded a counter-intelligence outfit that caught
hundreds of spies and interned a couple of thousand people, you know,
a gestapo-type outfit in the World War; and on the other hand I had a
liberal tradition -- my father had been founder and president of the NAACP
and all that. Usually everybody in this field has either one bias or the
other. They usually are internal security artists and they say; "All
doubts must be resolved in favor of internal security," or they are big
civil libertarians and they say, "Nothing counts but civil liberty." I
say there is something to be said on both sides, you see, and the difficult
thing is to strike a balance between the two, and this will not always
be the same balance, because obviously in a hot war it is different than
it is in a cold war, and in a cold war it may be
different than it is in perfect peace. Anyway that's the problem.
HESS: One of these times we want to go over the staffing of that committee
and discuss why the different people were chosen.
SPINGARN: Well, I didn't have anything to do with that because that was
after I left the White House. You would have to talk to Murphy and others
on that. I don't know how they were chosen. I had submitted lists of dozens
and dozens of people before I left and I am sure others had, too, but,
I don't know how they picked the ones they did.
HESS: On that subject, who would you have preferred to see as Chairman
of the Committee? Do you recall offhand?
SPINGARN: No. I don't. But the thing you were looking for was (a) someone
who was fair minded, and (b) someone who would command the respect of
the country. A fair minded man who wouldn't command the respect of the
country wouldn't be of much value to you, and a man who commanded that
respect but wasn't fair minded, would not be of much value to you, so
that was what you were looking for ideally.
Well, anyway, so we had this powwow, and the point
was that Congress was getting ready to adjourn, it was election year
-- '50 -- the Tydings Committee report was just issued or was about to
be issued; it was already out in draft, I think, and the congressional
leadership didn't want a message. It was going to delay Congress; it would
be very controversial; McCarthy was thundering, and all that. That's what
they said. The Tydings Committee report would put the lid on the whole
thing, and so on. We went around -- everybody was asked for his views
and my memorandum lists how everybody reported. Steelman typically didn't
give any views -- typically. But Clifford and Murphy, and Dawson and I,
as I recall, favored this Nimitz Commission approach, by statute and message
to Congress, but the congressional leadership was against it -- they didn't
I don't think it made any ultimate difference because the Korean war
came along and it would have been blocked anyway, I suspect. Unfortunately
it seemed to me that the President broached the idea of legislation before
he read the message, which was a pretty good message, and I thought if
he had read it first it might have been more effective. But anyway, that's
the way it worked. Anyway, the President wound up by
saying, "Let's think about it some more and we'll get together again
later," but then a few days later came the Korean war and that was. it.
And the same thing happened to another program of mine. That was the
Small Business Program. I was in charge of a task force -- White House
task force -- inter-agency White House task force -- and we spent several
months of meetings and getting this program together and getting the Cabinet
together, and the Federal Reserve Board and, oh my, a lot of work went
I got the bill together and the message together and it went to Congress
on the fifth of May; and I had many, many talks with the President on
that because he was very much interested in that. I remember in March
or April -- March I think it was -- I was down in Key West, I spent a
week there, and for several days I was the only -- I guess you would call
it the only operating staff man there, the rest were ceremonial people,
and I was the fellow that had to do everything. I remember I was driving
poor old Jack Romagna, who was doing the stenographic work, crazy; because
I was giving him so much work and he didn't think this was the type of
work he ought to be doing, you know, he was a court
type reporter who took the President's press conferences, this was beneath
his dignity, I know he felt. Well, anyway, he was a very temperamental
fellow; a great guy, but very much of a prima donna.
And I had a lot of talks with the President about this thing and the
problem was to get conservative gentlemen like John Snyder, the Secretary
of the Treasury, and Charlie Sawyer, the Secretary of Commerce, and Tom
McCabe, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board to go along. Well, we
finally got all our ducks in line, and I was rather proud of what I did
with McCabe, but it is all recorded in the Truman Library.
Here's something, by the way -- I want to digress -- and that's files.
The White House files are the lousiest files I've ever seen in my whole
life in any major agency. They were a disgrace. Typically, when you ordered
a file from the central file it would come over loose, and with this mish-mash
of papers, they weren't even clamped in, you know, just loose with a rubber
band around them. Imagine White House files like that -- that was the
way they were done -- gosh, they were awful -- I mean I was shocked when
I saw them; and I was determined when I did something important we
were going to get that file in good shape.
Well, there was a lady named Helen Chatfield who had been the Treasury
archivist and by this time was the archivist for the Bureau of the Budget,
and she was a friend of mine and she was an elderly woman but a great
archivist; and I turned over the small business files and later the defense
production act -- that was another operation I was in charge of. That
was the bill to mobilize us economically for Korea -- the Korean war.
I turned over these enormous quantities of files to her and she put them
in the most beautiful shape, everything collated and subject matter indexed,
and tabbed and all that sort of stuff, and, oh, it was just great, my
I thought if only all the files here were that way. Last summer, I guess
it was, an Englishman named Martin Rudd, a senior British civil servant
who was studying how other countries are dealing with the problems of
small business for the purpose of making recommendations to his own government
on what they should do, and who was out at the Truman Library, came to
see me -- he wrote me and came to see me -- and he read this Small Business
file and he said what an excellent
file it was.
The whole thing is, a good file, well presented, has a lot more impact
even if the substantive material is better in a sloppy file; again it's
presentation that is important as well as substance.
Well, that was a digression. Where was I? Oh, the Nimitz Commission.
So, the President said we would meet again, you see, but this Korean war
came along and that broke the whole thing up, and I am sorry because I
wish we had gotten something like that.
HESS: But that just never got off the ground.
You mentioned McCarthy awhile ago and this was when McCarthy was starting
to cause a little trouble.
SPINGARN: February 1950.
HESS: Did his accusations cause the members of the White House staff
to take any special precautions or perhaps not to act as aggressively
as they might have? Did his actions cause any special trepidation among
the members of the White House staff?
SPINGARN: Let me say this, I can't say it caused special trepidation
on the part of the White House, it caused special trepidation through
the entire Government of the United States. I mean, for instance, among
people that were in McCarthy's line of fire was David Lloyd, he made
accusations against him you may recall. And as I recall there were accusations
against Philleo Nash, you know, and everybody, practically.
I was fortunate, I don't think there was any way he could have caught
me, but a guy who can say that General Marshall is probably subversive
can say anybody is. The whole climate is so different today. I mean, I
can remember in the Treasury, before I went to the White House, and I
think it was the assistant director of personnel who was on the Treasury
Loyalty Board as I was and I remember his practically having a hemorrhage
because of some newspaper attack on the Treasury, some McCarthyite newspaper
attack on the Treasury, and he kept bleating that he had had a long and
honorable career in the Government and he didn't want to get fired now.
He was scared, scared, scared. I mean this was the climate of the times,
everybody was worried. A man might say, "Well, gosh, I haven't done anything
wrong," but with this guy you don't have to do anything wrong. He's not
interested in whether you're right or wrong, he's only interested in promoting
Joe McCarthy, by any device, hook or crook. He is the smiling demagogue
who will kick you in the
testicles and smile and say, "Hello Steve" while he does it. He does
it with no malice whatever against you personally.
HESS: There really wouldn't be anything you could do to protect yourself
against a person like that would there?
SPINGARN: No. There's not much you can do to protect yourself. But there
was certainly an atmosphere that was quite different than it is today
-- quite different.
HESS: Now, you mentioned Key West...
SPINGARN: I was, by the way, Vice Chairman of the White House Loyalty
Board at the end of my stay there. What were you going to say about Key
HESS: You mentioned Key West and I wondered if the operations of the
staff were any different when they were in Key West? What were the working
operations of the staff while you were in Key West?
SPINGARN: Oh, they were entirely different because Key West was supposed
to be a recreation, and what the Army used to call R and R. Recreation
and rehabilitation or something like that. We would get up in the morning,
and we would go to the beach each day, and there would be swimming. There
was poker in the afternoon
and evenings. Most of the senior staff were down there and they didn't
have any real functions to do -- I'm thinking particularly of the protocol
staff -- except to tend the President; but there were messages flowing
back and forth from Washington and those the working staff had to handle
-- you know how that was. I know I worked several hours a day but it wasn't
at all like Washington. I mean I might work three or four hours a day
down at Key West, where you would be working twelve or fourteen hours
HESS: The next name on our list is Donald Dawson, who we have discussed
a little bit. Just what was Donald Dawson's particular area of responsibility?
SPINGARN: His particular area was personnel, and he was also in charge
of the administrative functions of the White House itself -- but his major
area was the selection of executives for the Government. He was the fellow
who screened and presented names to the President for appointments to
major jobs, that was his most vital function.
Donald Dawson was considerably maligned in the RFC hearings, and I personally
from my knowledge of the thing -- now I don't pretend to be fully aware
I have read the reports of the hearings -- but the thing that made me
feel that this was basically unfair to Dawson was that much was made out
of the fact that his wife was -- Alva, his then wife, they have since
divorced -- that his wife, Alva, was director of files or records at the
RFC, and there was some sort of suggestion that Don planted her there
to keep himself informed. The fact of the matter was that she had been
working there for years, as I recall, before he ever came there. He met
her there and married her, you see, and he had nothing whatever to do
with putting her in that job.
This was typical of the efforts that was being made to stigmatize Dawson,
and much was made of the fact that he was tremendously interested in the
RFC, and who was appointed to the RFC. Well, all I can say is that he
had worked there for ten years, and a man who has worked in an agency
for ten years and who then acquires a responsibility for selection of
its personnel, is bound to be more interested in his own agency than he
would be in other agencies -- I mean this is normal human nature, isn't
it? So, I didn't see anything reprehensible in that, that he was particularly
in the RFC, anybody in his situation who had worked there for ten years
would have been. He knew everybody. So. I found Donald always efficient,
friendly, and cooperative, and that's all I can say.
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