Oral History Interviews with
Chief Examiner, US Bureau of the Budget, 1943-47; Deputy to the Assistant to the President of the United States, 1947-49; Administrative Assistant to the President of the Untied States, 1949-53; Labor arbitrator since 1953, including Organizational Disputes Arbitrator, Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, 1955-70, and member, National Mediation Board, from 1970 until retirement in 1980.
There were four separate interviews done on separate dates that were combined in one continuous Oral History volume in the origiinal hard copy version. The List of Subjects Discussed accessed from any of these four Oral Histories provides access to the particular subject in ALL four of these Oral Histories. They are as follows:
There were two additional interviews done with David H. Stowe that stand alone with their own unique page numbers and List of Subjects Discussed. They are as follows:
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened July, 1991
Oral History Interview with
HESS: Mr. Stowe, how did you come to be associated with the National Security Resources Board?
STOWE: I think, Jerry, before I answer that question I have to go into a little history. And this, after all the years have gone by, may not be so accurate. The National Security Resources Board, I believe, came into being at the same time the Department of Defense Reorganization Bill passed the Congress and the Department of Defense was being established. The National Security Resources Board was to be, as its name indicates, a planning agency and not an operating agency. It was originally set up in the Department of Defense. During this time I wasn't familiar with the board or its operation at all. I do know, that after a year or year and a half's
operation many people, and I think this might well have been primarily in the Bureau of the Budget as opposed to the President himself, thought that the planning was not being done in the way that it had been contemplated and perhaps, even more importantly, the civilians who had been placed in charge of the agency, in the Department of Defense, were becoming sort of captives of the military.
The National Security Resources Board was transferred over to the Executive Office of the President and thus became, as was the Bureau of the Budget and the Council of Economic Advisors, a part and parcel of the Executive Office of the President. At that time, or shortly thereafter, Arthur Hill, who had been the head of the Board, resigned and the President was seeking someone to replace him. I believe that, at that time, the President asked John Steelman, who was then The Assistant to the President, to also assume sort of guidance of the NSRB on a temporary basis, while awaiting the appointment of a new director. And, as of that time, I was deputy to John Steelman. I had not been made an administrative assistant to the President and practically everything that John got involved in, I got involved in. We had been there only a short time when the President decided to nominate former
Governor, former Senator, Mon [Monrad C.] Wallgren. Once that was known, I had suggested to Mon Wallgren that he should send, in advance of his arrival at the Board, one or two people in whom he had great confidence who could spend that time while he was waiting for confirmation and arranging his affairs, to come to Washington to get a feel of the Board's operation, so that John Steelman and I, in effect, could pass the wand to them.
The two people that I recall who were sent were former secretary to the Governor, Jack Gorrie, and a former associate, and incidentally, a close personal friend of mine for years before that, by the name of Jack Davis. There was a third staff member from Wallgren's staff who was sent whose name I do not recall, and he did not stay very long. Actually, this becomes important only because later it became quite an issue in the question of confirmation of Mon Wallgren. Now, briefly, I never was quite sure what created the problem so far as the Senate was concerned, except perhaps this was part and parcel of some of the old cry of "administration by cronyism" because it was well known that Mon Wallgren was a very close personal friend of President Truman. However, the fact that these men had come in and were preparing to take over, added fuel to the fire that
this was sort of a prearranged, predetermined method of moving the whole thing into Mon's hands as a crony. Fortunately for the agency, Jack Gorrie remained and eventually became the Director of the program in his own right some years later.
However, during the time that the confirmation hearings were going on, Steelman and I continued to operate the agency with sort of our left hand, and continued our other work with our right hand. When the Senate refused to confirm Mon Wallgren, and the President was then faced with selecting another nominee for the position, I moved over practically full-time into the Board, with John coming in two or three hours a day. But I moved my office into the Board and took over, for all intents and purposes, the actual direction of the Board during that time. Subsequently, the President nominated the then Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, to be the Director. He was confirmed and became the Director and acted in that capacity for one or two years. I'm not quite sure of the length of time.
HESS: What were a few of the problems that arose at the time that you were connected with the Board?
STOWE: The first thing was to try to orient the agency back out of its military attitude into the civilian
planning to determine what functions of planning were needed. One which comes to mind, very quickly, was the fact that nothing had been done in the area of civil defense, and subsequently, under the Korean impact, this became extremely important. Not that we had to have a full-blown agency but we at least had to have some planning on it.
In the areas of shipping and the areas of the resources themselves, stockpiling, it all had been dominated by people who had been oriented into the military concept. Now, when I say military concept versus civilian I'm not quite sure what it means. But we did have to, first of all, change the personalities of a number of department heads there to the extent that once I was dubbed as President Truman's hatchet man.
HESS: You fired quite a few?
STOWE: And to assist in convincing some people that they would be happier elsewhere. So, I would think that in the early days--actually while we were waiting for Mon--we didn't try to do any changes. We just wanted to hold the agency together and keep it going. But when it became obvious that there would be a period of time, we then did start moving. One of the most important things was that as a planning agency the
NSRB had to use and rely upon staff of other government agencies in the areas that might be performing their planning--a thing that apparently had not been done at all in the Department of Defense. And there was considerable resistance on the part of the agencies, feeling either that their jurisdictional rights to do all this planning on their own were being threatened or feeling there shouldn't be any higher level of planning. That we had to overcome, and we had to get cooperation and participation. Now this was made, I think, easier on us in that John Steelman was wearing two hats: namely, The Assistant to the President, and the Director. There weren't many agency heads who were prepared to argue with him, particularly if it took on the aura of a jurisdictional dispute, with them trying to protect their so-called rights to do something.
Another area that was emerging, and did become a problem area, is that planning agencies, I think, historically have had to face the problem that planning in the abstract is not the most interesting thing in the world to do. And once you have something reasonably well planned, then comes the desire to operate it. And in each area where planning had gone on, the individuals involved were
now getting in to telling the agencies what they must do; in other words, becoming a super administrative device on top of agencies in the government. It was our philosophy that the job of the National Security Resources Board was to centralize, not to perform, but to centralize and coordinate long-range planning as opposed to short-range planning, and that in such a perception there's no room for becoming an operating agency. So, John Steelman and I developed a term which subsequently, I think, Stuart Symington accepted, which was "spin off the operating." Once we had planning fairly well in hand, and if there became a need to move into the operation as there did in Civil Defense, to "spin it off" from the Board and set it up as an independent agency, an operating agency. Naturally it would continue to carry the burden, the burden of planning, but its planning would be more immediate planning for immediate actions as opposed to long-run planning. And secondly it would be free to operate the agency as an operator, and in that way not interfere with continued planning.
HESS: On the subject of Civil Defense, I believe you took a trip to England. Is that right?
HESS: What do you recall about that trip and your findings?
STOWE: Somehow or other I'm trying to figure out just where Mr. [Millard Fillmore] Caldwell came in now as the head of the agency. Oh, he was at Civil Defense--after we set up Civil Defense as an independent agency. And one of the reasons that the President selected him, I believe, was that as a former Congressman and as a former Governor, he would command respect. One facet of the problem was reflected in the opinion that the people had during World War II when civil defense was often referred to as "fan dancing." So we needed a head of the agency who could command respect of Congress, and our feeling was that a former Congressman might fit well in relation to his former colleagues. Furthermore, in a Federal-State arrangement, the cooperation of the states was extremely important. And having a man who had been both a Congressman and a man who had been a Governor, we felt provided the impetus to good relationships in these two areas of need, namely the Congress and the states.
Shortly after he came in as the head, it was suggested that since the British had had such dramatic experience during World War II, that in order that our planning and thinking would get the
benefit of the practical needs of civil defense as opposed to some of the guesswork that we had been considering, it would be well if the head of the agency went to England and spent two or three weeks. Prior to that time I had been fortunate enough to meet the head of Britain's civil defense program during World War II. He had offered that at any time that we came over, he would be delighted to give us the entire background history and methodologies that they had used during the time of the bombings of Britain. He had also pointed out, in prior conversations with me, that if it hadn't been for what he called the "year of the phony war," when they were getting ready but no one was fighting, that they would have been in very bad shape because they made progress only during that year. So, when the bombing actually started they were in much better position. So we felt that it would be advisable for the head of the new agency to go over and spend some time. It would be a practical, laboratory-type relationship.
He asked me to go with him. I did go with him, and spent two weeks with him reviewing all the planning and activities that went on during World War II, and what they were continuing to do. It was as a result of this that subsequently the Governor asked, and Sir John Hodsel who was head of the Civil Defense
over there agreed, that they send a British team over here. This team helped in the planning, and it actually helped design and construct our one Civil Defense center that ever got off the ground. It was out in Olney [Maryland] which was modelled after some of those they built in England for actual practice under simulated conditions of bombing and rescue, of digging people out of rubble, and all that.
HESS: I have read that some Congressmen did not want to get too deeply involved in Civil Defense because they thought it would be a sign of belligerent intentions on our part. Is that right? Did you run across any thinking like that?
STOWE: No, I don't recall any. You see, I was in Civil Defense, getting it started, getting it off the ground, getting it transitioned over to the agency. Then after this trip to England--as a matter of fact at the time of the trip to England--I had already left the planning area and was working with the people back over in what was supposed to have been my job about a year or so earlier, over in the White House as an Administrative Assistant to the President. And I think I probably went to England only because I did know the people and Governor Caldwell didn't, and this was a way of facilitating
HESS: Tell me a little about the Civil Defense facility at Olney. How was that set up?
STOWE: One of the things that the British soon discovered was that there was a very definite form of practical training. It's not just running around the street blowing whistles and directing traffic.
For example, they soon discovered that all of the pipelines in London, water pipelines, had been down in the ground so darn long that no map of London showed where they were. So every time a bomb would burst and a main broke, they would have no idea where that thing went to or came from. In the year of planning, they were able to realize this. Practically all the water supply used in sections of London was transmitted by two-and four-inch mains lying just in the gutters. If a bomb hit one of those, you could see the segment of pipe and you could replace it and they were back in business again. In the meantime, they would still be digging to try to find some of the old mains that were down under the streets of London. I illustrate that only for the practical argument.
They did learn very quickly. One of the great problems was not only trying to get the civilian
population in a safe place, but that many never got there and they had to be dug out of the rubble of bombed-in houses. There are tactics, much as miners use, on how you can get in the rubble and get people out with the least continuing damage to that person.
HESS: How to shore it up and things of that nature?
STOWE: Yes. So, they created, in a number of locations, some half dozen or perhaps even more, actual simulated bombed houses where they created rubble. They had trap doors by which people could be put into these little places, and then the squads were trained to go in and get them out the way that they would have to get them out [in a real situation]. It was rather dramatic, but still it turned out to be very important in saving lives.
Now, we had had no concept of this. We were still in the whistle blowing, "everybody get to the shelter" idea. The practical fact of life is that there is another side of this thing and the Civil Defense squad has to be well trained. It has to be a rescue squad; it has to have a number of facets that really cause you to say, "Why didn't we think of that first?" So, to build and construct some of these ingenious sorts of devices and to simulate these things, they sent a team over here. It helped us to
construct one. This, unfortunately, as a Civil Defense project, sort of deteriorated. I suppose it's because its need was evaporating, so this center deteriorated and I think it was finally sold and disposed of.
HESS: Was there ever very much discussion about building large shelters?
STOWE: Yes, that was discussed. We, of course, urged the construction of shelters but we had a situation quite different from the British in the construction of shelters. I think, about all we really urged was that where local authorities were going to build big public parking facilities, they should go underground, under that, and simultaneously construct something that would resist a certain amount of bombing.
HESS: Okay, fine. And awhile ago you mentioned the problems of stockpiling. Just what were the problems that you were faced with at that time.
STOWE: The concept of stockpiling was to have a ready source of certain hard-to-get minerals and what have you which we, as the word implies, bought and put in safe position for use. As often occurs in a government as big as ours, sometimes they realized
they had too much of something. Or more importantly, in the changing military requirements oftentimes something that was needed three years ago is no longer needed because something better has been discovered to take its place. So, the question of what you do with this stockpile, when does the Government move with it, when does the Government sell off of it, when does the Government buy, becomes very important in timing, vis-a-vis your needs.
I don't know whether it was the beginning of what President Eisenhower called the military- industrial complex or not, but one of the greatest pressures always was that when there was a shortage of something, the military seemed to always support the industrial request that the stockpile be released so that the manufacturer could get a supply of copper or whatever it was, at a time when we were still struggling to get our, quote, "stockpile" up to where it was thought it ought to be. So, when we talk about stockpiling, it was a problem of when do you manipulate the amount of the stockpile and the disposition of the stockpile, and who gets it. This was beginning while I was at the NSRB, the National Security Resources Board, and I held a number of meetings about stockpiling. Various people were contending that different things should be done at
the same time with the same resources and we had to finally come out with a judgment as to what we felt, and then recommend it to the President.
HESS: Do you recall what minerals were the most critical and most difficult to obtain and may have given the stockpiling people the most trouble?
STOWE: No. Platinum, I recall, was one because the great supply of platinum in the world, at that time at least, was Russian-controlled. But I think the one that perhaps caused the greatest amount of argument was copper, because it was in such demand commercially. We were doing building that had been stopped during World War II and everybody wanted building materials, and copper was a very important building material. It seems there was more argument over copper than over anything else.
HESS: Did they try to place quite a bit of pressure on you to release copper?
STOWE: Well, through the agencies, but not directly. It was one of the advantages, also, that the NSRB was very difficult to get to directly, just like the Bureau of the Budget and any other of these offices in the Executive Office of the President. It was a little difficult to get direct pressure. They put
pressures on the agencies who were cooperating in these decisions.
HESS: What was President Truman's attitude towards the Board during the time that you were on it?
STOWE: First of all, please remember that I was never on the Board. I was there first as John's deputy in the White House and just went over with him. And secondly, I became an Administrative Assistant to the President and remained there. I never had a title in the agency.
I often wondered why, in my signing papers, somebody didn't object. I know that during the time John Steelman was the Director and certainly during the early days of Symington, the President was interested in the Board. He was consulted rather regularly on the direction that the planning would take, and I think it reflected in great part his feelings of how it should be set up. I'm afraid that it was more of a problem, in the early days, than it was a help to him. So, whether he had a reaction to it, as he did to the Bureau of the Budget, and whether we were being an agency that was extremely important to his administration, I'm not sure we were ever able to demonstrate that. I think that he recognized, though, that it was an attempt to do
comprehensive staff work, for decision-making in areas of long-run planning.
HESS: What was the general relationship of the Board to the other members of the White House staff--or did you have very much relationship with the White House staff at the time, on Board matters?
STOWE: On Board matters, we had practically no relationship with other staff members. One area in which we did have was in the planning for the continuous operation of the Office of the President--in the event of an emergency. [See oral history interviews with David Stowe, July 27 and December 7, 1963, for a discussion of emergency planning for continuing White House operations.]
HESS: Did you ever have occasion to talk with Mr. Ferdinand Eberstadt?
STOWE: No, I didn't in this area. Eberstadt was a consultant, or was actually in the Bureau of the Budget--I don't remember--with Harold Smith whom I was very fond of when I worked in the Bureau of the Budget. I know Eberstadt has made real contributions in Government organization.
HESS: Was the NSRB his idea?
STOWE: This I don't know. You see, I inherited it. I
didn't get into it and didn't have time to read the history of it--it was going so fast. I talked with a fellow by the name of Blaisdell quite often. Now, it seemed to me...
HESS: Thomas C.?
STOWE: Tom Blaisdell, and I think he had worked with Ferdinand Eberstadt in the past somewhere, but I never did talk with Eberstadt.
HESS: Speaking of Mr. Blaisdell, just what do you recall about your conversations with him? What particular subject was he interested in?
STOWE: Basically, in the function of the NSRB as a long-term planning agency.
HESS: I believe he was at the Department of Commerce at this time.
STOWE: Yes. Yes.
HESS: Okay. One quote that I would like to read is from a book by Edward Hobbs, Behind the President: A Study of Executive Office Agencies, and on page 178-79 he says, "Strained relations with departments were commonplace in NSRB's earlier days. The forthright efforts made by Steelman and Stowe to gear the departments into the NSRB staff planning programs
smoothed over many of the rough spots." I'd like to ask a couple questions about that. What were those planning programs and could you tell me about the rough spots that he mentioned?
STOWE: The "rough spots," I would guess, concerned the concept which we disliked so, which was that the military was going to plan things in their own image, although in many of these fields civilian agencies had the responsibility for planning. When the NSRB was extracted and brought over to the Executive Office, these people that came with it still felt that what they needed were large planning staffs and they weren't interested in utilizing the agencies. Our feeling was that the basic planning had to be done in the agencies with the basic know-how. Therefore, we welcomed their participation as opposed to trying to close the door on them, but we put the basic responsibility back in the civilian agencies who had the long-term responsibility in these areas.
HESS: Is it, or is it not, sort of a natural characteristic for the military and the military-minded people to take over agencies that are substantially civilian in character, and run them from a military viewpoint?
STOWE: Yes, I suppose there is a logical explanation for
it. Civilian agencies can get bogged down in discussions, conferences, conferring, and re-conferring. And the military, as I observe it, does have within its power to stop all this at some point and simply say, "Now we're making a decision." So, I think I could understand why they might feel that planning would advance farther if they got a group who would do it within their concept of planning. Yet, the problem was that they would be duplicating other efforts and probably showing less skill than existed among those who had worked for a number of years in the civilian agencies and who had great competency in the many fields of resources planning.
You have a case, for example, in wartime where a whole industrial complex becomes pretty much part and parcel of the military operation. Civilians become pretty much a part and parcel of the military operation. Mr. Truman, I believe, felt very clearly that those parts should never come under one hundred percent dominance of the military. Otherwise, you would, in effect, have a state of martial law, when it should operate as a civilian agency. However, obviously, the operation must relate to the military, and this perhaps explains the basic difference in approach. I must say I've attended some of these
planning sessions where it just seemed interminable, with discussion going around and around and around and it comes to a point where you would feel like cooperation is futile. So then, you think, "Let's go ahead and do it ourselves and forget these people."
HESS: What's your opinion of the success, your estimation of the success, of the NSRB in carrying out its programs during the years that you were associated with it?
STOWE: I think it was coming around on the right course. I think it did make some contributions. However, with the establishment of the Charlie Wilson office [Office of Defense Mobilization] which was supposed to have been concerned with short-run, immediate problems vis-a-vis the Korean situation, as compared to the long-run nature of the NSRB, inevitable conflicts developed. I think that beginning there, both agencies began to go down the drain more or less. One was supposedly purely wartime and the other was long-range, in character. You would think that even the long-range would survive, but I'm not even sure there is a vestige of its survival in the Government of today. Maybe, but I'm not aware of it.
HESS: Any other thoughts on NSRB?
HESS: Concerning White House staff, Sam Rosenman, who was the first Special Counsel, had left before you got to the White House, it that right?
STOWE: Yes, but you see, I had worked with Sam in the Roosevelt administration and I had been detailed over by the Director of the Budget to work with Sam when he was legal counsel to President Roosevelt. Sam Rosenman was coming down one or two days a week from his duties on the Supreme Court of New York, so that I used to see Sam at least once or twice a month, getting up papers and things that were important to him and doing such jobs as he wanted me to do. Now, I wasn't his full time assistant, and when he came down full time I went back to the Bureau of the Budget full time I had been spending some time working with the Judge so I knew him before I'd ever met Clark Clifford.
HESS: Did the two men carry out the job of Special Counsel in any noticeably different manner?
STOWE: It would be very difficult for me to compare, because the nature of the problems he discussed with the President, and the nature of those things that he asked me to prepare a little staff work for, might be
completely different. I don't know. I, too, have watched him sit in meetings where issues were being thrashed out, on which he was to make a recommendation to the President, and as I say, he also was the same type of person who was able to listen, to analyze, to get a grasp of the problem even though it had been something brand new to him and he'd never heard of the type of issue before. He would come out with what I thought were very good recommendations. In that respect they were pretty similar.
HESS: There is some discussion and some mention in history books that perhaps before the 1952 convention, after the first of the year, that Mr. Truman may have supported various men as Presidential candidates--such as Alben Barkley, Averell Harriman, Fred Vinson. Did you ever hear any talk like that around the White House?
STOWE: For Barkley, yes.
HESS: What were Mr. Barkley's difficulties in Chicago that year?
STOWE: I think the greatest difficulty was when a group of trade unionists held a meeting with the Vice President, and, as I understood it, frankly said they
couldn't support him because they said he was too old. I know this made Mr. Truman very unhappy. I think the fact that Barkley, then without consultation as far as I know with the President, took himself out of the play which left him as a candidate who could no longer be supported with any strength. Now whether that decision was made at that moment, which was only a few days before the final decision or not, I don't know.
HESS: What had you heard about Mr. Barkley?
STOWE: I knew that the President was quite fond of him. I think he admired him greatly and would, I suspect, have supported him unhesitatingly for the office of the Presidency. But whether or not he was, in effect, Mr. Truman's candidate up to that point, I don't know.
HESS: Do you think that Mr. Truman was in favor of Adlai Stevenson receiving the nomination?
STOWE: I don't think there was any question that at the time he went to the convention to support Mr. Stevenson, and in the subsequent period where he campaigned for thirty or forty days on the train and made many other speeches, that he was fully in support of Mr. Stevenson. Whether or not earlier in
the pre-convention period there were other candidates that he might have been more eager to support, I can't say. I just don't know.
HESS: In Cabell Phillips' book, The Truman Presidency, he relates an incident in which Mr. Stevenson and a number of his staff visited the White House in August of 1952 to lay out plans for the campaign. Do you recall anything about the visit of Adlai Stevenson and his group to the White House?
STOWE: Only one and its anecdotal; I don't think it will help history any.
HESS: Well, let's hear it anyway. What is it?
STOWE: There were some people who thought for awhile that at certain angles Mr. Stevenson and I tended to look alike. This occurred when his picture was on Time magazine or something, and someone had laid a piece of paper across it and I must admit that at certain angles there was a slight comparison. So, on that trip, we sort of stood next to each other in the Cabinet Room and we didn't look alike at all.
HESS: Do you recall any of the staff members discussing what went on at that meeting?
STOWE: No, I do not.
HESS: What do you recall about the trips in '52 and the speeches that were made?
STOWE: I suppose two things come to my mind about the trip. Those who had been on the train in '48, and I think this led to a real misinterpretation, just felt that the crowds that we drew, almost from the beginning, were as large and as enthusiastic as those in '48. You see, we had that enthusiasm, that desire. We had a town in West Virginia where people had to stand around for three or four hours, and we understood that they had been sent home saying that the train would be late. This upset us because we figured that can only make for a lesser crowd, and without being accurate on the figures it seems to me they could have estimated the crowd at around three thousand at four o'clock in the afternoon when we were supposed to come through. When we got through, there were almost eight thousand. The town had only about five thousand people, so they had to come from all around. This was the thing, I think, that throughout the entire campaign tended to mislead those of us on the train, that there could be a Democratic victory coming in spite of the name of Eisenhower, the opposition candidate.
The other thing that I remember is that this was the first time in my experience that anything got
thrown at the trains. If I recall correctly, our first engagement with it was in the town of Muskegon, Michigan where a couple of eggs and something else hit the back part. None of them ever hit the President, but one hit a photographer. We didn't have much of it during that campaign, but this was the first time I had ever heard of such an outrageous thing. I think we did have maybe two or three incidents of this nature. Since then, it has become more popular but I had never heard of it before and was so outraged by all this.
HESS: What was the basis for that?
STOWE: We have no idea except that in some crowds, occasionally, you find people who are there to heckle. You usually ignore it, except when we were at that academy up at Phillips Exeter and all the Phillips Exeter students came down and had obviously prearranged a heckling session. Mr. Truman stopped in the middle of his remarks and he gave them a lecture on etiquette that I don't think they'll ever forget. He said it with a great deal of force and conviction, and surprisingly I think that each and everyone of those young students realized that they were being talked to that way, because it stopped.
HESS: Who, of the staff, was along on the train?
STOWE: In '52?
HESS: Yes, '52.
STOWE: Matt Connelly was in overall charge. I had the President's car. Margaret was substituting for her mother. Her mother was ill at that time and Margaret was acting as hostess and Mrs. Truman joined us, I think, one day here and one day there on occasion, but not for very long. In the speech writing area, Charlie Murphy was in charge, and there was Dave Lloyd. The press was handled by...
HESS: Joe Short died on September 18th of 1952.
STOWE: He made the first trip out.
HESS: And then Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter took over.
STOWE: Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter took over, jointly. Irving had a heart attack out in Washington and came back on the train with us; from then on Roger took it over. There was that shift in the press relationship. Now, in terms of other people, there was the secretarial force, three, four or five secretaries, the switchboard, the usual arrangement, mimeograph operators and everything. Well, there could well have been some others in the same category
as those I named.
HESS: Did the President, or did he not, seem more relaxed than in 1948 when he was the actual candidate?
STOWE: The only thing I could say about whether he seemed more relaxed was that in 1948, when he was the candidate, people remained in his car almost all of his waking hours. They felt that they had a right to stay there, and people were hanging, as I understand it, virtually from the chandeliers. One of the decisions that we made on this trip, in 1952, and the one that I became the enforcer of, was that people would not come back to that car until five minutes before we were about to stop. I even had them lined up two cars beyond so we could get them through quickly, so they wouldn't be back there milling around. In the same manner, within five minutes after we took off from a town, that car was cleared. This permitted the President time to relax, time to read, and more importantly, time to work with Charlie Murphy and Dave Lloyd on upcoming matters and to handle the business of the presidency, which was carried on. That's why, I think, there may have been someone else on the train working on, you know, administrative problems, but I can't place who it would be.
HESS: What seemed to be the degree of cooperation between the Stevenson campaign train and the Truman campaign train once the campaign got under way?
STOWE: I think there continued, throughout the campaign, difficulties at what I call the staff level. It's very difficult to get to.
HESS: Did you think that there was anyone that the Democrats could have put up that year that would have defeated General Eisenhower?
STOWE: I've always thought that Mr. Truman might have, but I'm not positive of it.
HESS: Dr. John Steelman, whom you worked for for a number of years, had the title "The Assistant to the President." Just where would he fit in in this context? You have mentioned that the legal counsel would really ride sidesaddle with the President. Where did Mr. Steelman fit in, and do you know where he got the title "The Assistant to the President?"
STOWE: I do not know where he got the title "The Assistant to the President." I think the easiest way to distinguish them [Steelman and Clifford]-- perhaps it's an oversimplification--is that John Steelman's functions were primarily in the day by day operation as sort of the chief administrator under the
President, as opposed to the chief policy determiner or political determiner, or someone that you would use as a private citizen does as legal counsel. Fortunately, no real feeling of conflict, I think, ever developed. There was period of time when there was some public discussion that these two were in conflict. I don't think this was ever the case however. When I went over as John Steelman's deputy, one of my unusual duties was to be liaison with [Charles] Murphy, because of our old relationship, so that through a Stowe-Murphy liaison, any possible conflict between Steelman and Clifford could be held to a minimum if not eliminated. Secondly, when I was debating whether or not I would go over with John Steelman, I was urged to do so by the Director of the Budget. The Budget Director was quite anxious that I go over there to again eliminate any conflicts which might develop between the functions of the Director of the Bureau of the Budget and those of John Steelman. I don't think there was a big conflict. Of course, with Murphy there was never a whisper of it. And I don't think the President would have stood for it.
HESS: What about Matthew Connelly? What was Mr. Connelly's background?
STOWE: Outside of his relationship with the Truman Committee, I don't know. Matt's primary function was to arrange appointments; that means determining who should and who should not see the President and things of that kind. It doesn't mean just setting them down in a book, you know, "at 2:30 somebody is coming in." Matt was basically determining who the individuals were who would be coming in to discuss things with the President. Of course, the reason that I'm sure many staff members feel as I do about Matt was that whenever we had problems that were not of the type and kind that you would want to take up at the morning staff meeting, because they were too long or others would not necessarily be interested in them, Matt could always get you in to see the President within almost a matter of minutes if it were that urgent or certainly within the day if it was more or less routine. Although we didn't take up routine matters; it had to be more than routine to go in. Matt would always see to it that the President was available to the staff on important things; at least he did with me.
HESS: Joseph Feeney and Charles Maylon came to the White House staff in 1949. Just how was congressional liaison carried on before then, do you recall?
STOWE: No, I don't. I don't think that Mr. Truman ever really formalized it. My observation would be that having been a former Senator, he felt that it was not the proper role of the White House to continue to send great numbers of people up there trying to influence legislation. As a former member of the club he took a different attitude than Roosevelt had had. Therefore, my impression was that it was always sort of an informal, on a "when necessary" basis, that he himself conducted a part of it, as did Mr. Clifford, I think, when he was legal counsel. I know Mr. Murphy, when he was legal counsel, did that work in part. That's why I was never quite sure what these two full-time people [Maylon and Feeney] did, vis-a-vis legislative matters.
HESS: Was Leslie Biffle instrumental in congressional liaison?
STOWE: I wouldn't doubt that the President may well have spoken to him on occasions, or maybe on more than just occasions. But I think the main thing is that he did not set up formal groups as we had before and we've had since.
HESS: Such as the Larry [Lawrence] O'Brien operation?
STOWE: Yes. In effect, to tell Congress to do this, that
or the other thing. Mr. Truman, it was my understanding, just didn't believe in that philosophy. Obviously, however, there have to be relationships, and there have to be contacts and it can't all be done by the President of the United States. I think he did it more on a "when needed" basis.
HESS: How would you rate Mr. Connelly as a political advisor?
STOWE: Oh, I think he was very sharp. He always seemed to know when people were not, what we might say, the right ones to see the President, at certain times, because of something this guy had said or done. He was aware of when the relationships were, you might say, good for a face-to-face meeting, and when they were poor. I think he personally followed a lot of this. I think that he kept track of the multitudinous relationships and then was able to evaluate them.
HESS: After the administration, Mr. Connelly had some difficulty. What do you recall about that?
STOWE: Well, I recall alleged charges. I recall that they dropped all of them except one which might be called "giving full time and attention to your
driving," which is a technical charge of a traffic violation that perhaps I improperly equate to what was almost a technical charge against Matt. The end result was, however, that he went to prison for a year. I have a personal feeling that the administration that followed us had their eyes on one or two other people that they would have loved to have gotten something on to incriminate or to embarrass Mr. Truman. And failing to do that, they picked on the only thing they could find left which was this rather tragic slight impropriety, if you want to call it that, on the part of Matt. But he was close to the President, and if he had been anywhere but close to the President, nobody would have bothered him.
HESS: Who were the people they were primarily interested in, do you recall?
STOWE: Well, rumor had it that they spent considerable time and effort trying to get something on John Snyder.
HESS: I have been told that Herbert Brownell had an office set up just to get information and derogatory information on Truman employees. Is that right?
STOWE: I had never heard that, but I know there was a
period of time after the change in administration where I had been informed by employees who were then in the Department of Justice, that they were spending some time on attempting to get derogatory information. I must say again this was mostly geared and directed at John Snyder, I suppose, because he was in the very key position of Secretary of the Treasury, plus the fact that he was a long-time close personal friend of the President, and they thought they might find something. I guess the record shows they never did.
HESS: Our next White House staff member is William C. Hassett.
STOWE: William Hassett was the most interesting person I think on the White House staff. As a former reporter he had the greatest facility in and command of the English language, which stood the President in great stead in writing all those various kinds of letters that a President has to write. Bill was great at it. He had such a breadth of experience, not only as a reporter, but serving in the same capacity with President Roosevelt. He developed a philosophy which I'm sure endeared him to the President.
HESS: What was that?
STOWE: Just a general philosophy of life. Of course, one of their great pleasures was playing with words and Hassett was an expert on words, and I must say that Mr. Truman very rapidly became an expert on words just to keep up with Bill Hassett. I have seen them move to two, three, four dictionaries in the middle of an argument over words. Bill was philosophic. Bill and Charlie Ross were the two people that I felt, as a new and relatively young staff member, when I had doubts or qualms, or even questions of propriety of action, never a hesitation in going to them because they both took, as I say, this philosophical approach based on great wisdom and great experience. And although they would never tell me what to do, I usually came out of such conferences quite convinced what I should do.
HESS: All right, a man that we mentioned just a minute ago, Charles Ross. What was his background?
STOWE: I felt about Charlie Ross the same way I did about Bill Hassett. He was a particular, personal advisor when I needed help, and I think in Charlie's case it was more that he was very interpretive of what might be Truman's philosophy and Truman's reaction in certain situations, while Bill Hassett was more what would be called a Presidential reaction. Charlie
lived out here where I did and I had to see him from time to time outside the office. A very, very fine man. I think he did an extremely good job as press secretary to the President. Charlie was certainly devoted and dedicated both to the President and to his job of keeping a good public image of the President. I suppose this is why he virtually worked himself to death.
HESS: Well, he died on December 5th of 1950 and that night Margaret sang at Constitution Hall and the next morning a music critic by the name of Paul Hume received a letter. Do you recall that?
STOWE: Yes I do.
HESS: What to you recall about the Paul Hume letter?
STOWE: Well, I recall the concert first. I was there with our guests, in our box. I suppose on the first number or two Margaret was quite properly nervous and also was singing some of these things which were Wagnerian-type, which [Helen] Traubel was getting her into. So I don't think that the first couple of numbers in her program were of the caliber that the people might have been led to expect. Fortunately, she got into something rather light and airy and Margaret had a wonderful voice for that type of
thing. Everything was beautiful from then on, but there was this little rough spot at the beginning of it. But Mr. Hume, I think, recognizing what might have happened, had to be the music critic, and really took off. The next thing I know, he had received the letter. I didn't see it before it went. I don't think anyone did. It really created a lot of consternation. But I think it also reflected something. If I haven't already put this in, I should put it in. A number of years later when we were sitting around with a group of shipyard workers in Baltimore, Maryland, where I was the umpire [in a labor dispute], something came up--I think Mr. Truman may have made a speech or something. The shipyard workers began talking about him. They had done this many times before with statements like, "Well, our boy's back on the road again. Did you see what Mr. Truman said last night?"
So I finally asked them. I said, "Look, what is it that causes you fellows to have this warm feeling about President Truman as you have expressed it not only now but on numerous occasions?" There was sort of a silence and I thought maybe somebody would think of Greece and Turkey or some of the more dramatic things. Finally, one shipyard worker said, "You remember the letter he wrote to that damn music
critic?" I said, "Yes, I certainly do." He said, "Well, that's what a shipyard worker would have done." And with that, all of the union men sitting around the table nodded, "That's right. That's right."
HESS: Stick up for their daughters.
STOWE: Well, it was a warmth that came through. It came through in Mr. Truman's relationship with people in a speech. In spite of the fact that I am sure it upset some people, this was what many people felt just made Mr. Truman great. He just wasn't going to be kicked around, or have his daughter get kicked around.
GO TO Page 41 September 25, 1972 Oral History by Jerry N. Hess