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Eben A. Ayers Oral History Interview, August 15, 1969

Oral History Interview with
Eben A. Ayers

Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, 1945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.

Washington, DC
August 15, 1969
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]

 



Oral History Interview with
Eben Ayers

Washington, DC
August 15, 1969
Jerry N. Hess

[308]

HESS: Mr. Ayers, this morning let's discuss the White House staff.

AYERS: Well, I think it would be well to define, a little bit, what is meant by the White House staff and the presidential staff. Presumably, you refer to the personal White House staff of the President, that is, to his own appointees who served within the White House offices. Now, this staff normally changes with any change in administration; although a President may ask some of his predecessor's assistants to remain. And when there is a sudden change in the Presidency, such as was caused by the deaths of Harding and Franklin Roosevelt, there is a greater problem than that which comes about normally through elections. In the latter case there is a period of time, about two months and a half I believe, from the election to the inauguration in January, in which the President can line up his staff and know just whom he is going to have. But in any case there are, in effect, three presidential staffs. There is, first, the staff of the President who's gone or who is going out of office; second, there's the staff of the incoming President; and third, there's a staff of which the public rarely hears

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anything, and knows almost nothing. And yet that's the staff that pretty much keeps the White House going year in and year out. In the case of the death of a President, a change in administration, that staff is a presidential staff, it's a White House staff, it may not be the staff that the President himself appoints when he comes in, but it's a more or less permanent staff and I think it has happened that the Government continues, the White House continues, the Presidency continues, even if there isn't a President in there, in fact. There is in theory, of course. And these are largely Civil Service employees and most of them remain in the administration of the incoming President and maybe for years and years. I don't know whether there are now many of those, but there are some who've been in for a long time and are still there. Men like, oh...

HESS: William Hopkins.

AYERS: William Hopkins, yes. He's been there for years and he keeps that White House going no matter what happens.

HESS: How effective was he in his job back during the Truman days? What is your memory of Bill Hopkins?

AYERS: Very effective, of course, that's when he took the job, came into the job. He'd been there as an assistant to Maurice Latta. Maurice Latta was more or less of an

[310]

assistant to Rudolph Forster who was the Executive Clerk in charge of White House offices in the days of Roosevelt, and when he died, Mr. Latta, who'd been with him, became that Executive Clerk; and Hopkins, who'd been in for years, became Mr. Latta's assistant. Mr. Latta died during Mr. Truman's administration and Mr. Hopkins was appointed. Now his job is the running of the White House office staff. He doesn't exercise the same detailed control of the House, by that I mean, the White House proper; that is under the Chief Usher. But in the offices, he has been and was during the Truman administration after he took over, in complete charge really of the whole staff. Changes in the assignment to different jobs in that staff. Now the whole staff in the White House in those days was of considerable size, much larger now, undoubtedly, but...

HESS: About what size was it during the Truman days?

AYERS: Well, that again is a hard thing to answer exactly. I think I got the figures together for a newspaperman at one time and I think it figured up to around three hundred people, perhaps. I do not recall exactly and that figure may be wrong. But at that time, when Truman came into office, many of the people who worked in the White House, the clerks, clerical staff, were people

[311]

who were on the payroll of other agencies and were assigned over there. They might stay for years but their salaries were paid by the agency from which they came; and Mr. Truman thought that wasn't right, that if they worked in the White House they should be on the White House payroll and considered a part of the White House and he changed it. The result was that apparently the White House payroll went up. And one newspaperman I know, at one time, had a news story about the increase--well, his story was correct, on paper, but in fact it wasn't, because it implied a great increase in the White House staff which wasn't an increase in that they had been working right along, but they had been paid from other agencies. As a matter of fact, when I went in on the President's staff, I was employed by the Office of Inter-American Affairs and paid on their payroll. Subsequently, after the end of the war, I was transferred to the State Department payroll. That didn't last very long, very briefly; then I was put on the White House payroll. As I may have explained it, I never was actually working under the title of Assistant Secretary or Assistant Press Secretary. There was no such title. I don't know what came in later years but there was no such thing. I had a Civil Service status,

[312]

as an information officer. I have a letter which I ran onto just the other day signed by Mr. Latta when he was Executive Clerk that said I had been assigned as Information Officer in the White House. I think that was it, something to that effect. And I was paid from the White House. Now that's a little bit extraneous what I'm saying but it explains a little of the difference in those staffs. Now, when President Roosevelt died so suddenly, in April '45, his White House personal staff included three secretaries to the President. His personal staff included Steve Early, who was then serving as Appointments Secretary in the place of General [Edwin M.] Watson, who died on the return trip from the Yalta Conference; Jonathan Daniels, as Press Secretary; and William D. Hassett as Correspondence Secretary. Former Judge Samuel Rosenman was Counsel to the President and Admiral William D. Leahy was serving under a title created by Roosevelt, as Chief of Staff to the President, or something like that. Then there were four Administrative or Special Assistants at that time. Now, we don't count in these staffs such officials as Cabinet officers and Government officials on the outside. They are employees appointed by or under the President, of course, but we never thought of them in the same sense as we used the

[313]

term "President's staff." Generally speaking, they were the men who conferred with the President in his staff meetings in the morning, or from time to time during the day. When President Truman took office he had a small personal staff that had been with him as Senator and as Vice President and that staff included Matthew Connelly and Colonel Harry Vaughan and immediately after he took office there were a number of people who showed up that none of us knew at all.

HESS: Who were they?

AYERS: Well, men like J. Leonard Reinsch, who was employed as a radio man with former Governor Cox's radio station in Atlanta, I believe; and there was Edwin McKim, who was not in any official position with the President, as far as I know, before he came into the office, and then he was made an Administrative Assistant and given the title of Chief Administrative Assistant.

HESS: Who gave him that title as Chief Administrative Assistant?

AYERS: Supposedly the President did, but he may have adopted it himself, I'm not sure about that; I don't recall.

HESS: Mr. McKim did not stay around for very long. What do you recall about that?

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AYERS: Well, he didn't stay very long, that's true. There were various rumors or some gossip as to why he departed.

HESS: What were the rumors and the gossip?

AYERS: Well, I don't know that anything could be accomplished by going into them. I don't know whether they had anything to do with his departure or not, or whether he just got a little bit too ambitious. He was very ambitious, he was going to reorganize everything in the way of staff in the White House and he did a lot of work, on paper at least. In fact, I think somewhere in my collection of stuff there are some sheets with charts which he made of his proposed setup. He was going to be over everybody that was in the White House offices. But that somehow foozied out.

HESS: What was the nature of his relations with the people who were holdovers from the Roosevelt administration?

AYERS: Well, I couldn't answer that too specifically, but I don't think that they were overly enthusiastic about him. Another thing that I heard something about, relating to McKim, was that he was trying to set up in this governmental reorganization, duties for different people and that he had, in the course of it, asked for the resignation of William McReynolds, who had been appointed way back in July of 1939 and he lasted until

[315]

May 31st of '45. Now, according to the story that I had, McKim asked for McReynolds' resignation and the President apparently knew about it. Whether he initiated it or just supported MeKim at the time, I don't know, but I think the Budget Director at that time, Smith, tried to defend Mr. McReynolds and the President said that he didn't want to hurt McReynolds any, and would probably hold the resignation for a while and end up by kicking him upstairs; and McKim was reported as saying that the President asked him to get McReynolds' resignation. So, I don't know whether that contributed towards the speed of his departure or not. It might have, if those are facts. Those are a couple of the things that may have had a part in it anyway.

HESS: Who were some of the other people, Administrative Assistants, that were holdovers from the Roosevelt administration? What do you recall about that? One was James M. Barnes.

AYERS: Well, Barnes stayed for only a short time, not long. I never had any close contacts with any of those Roosevelt Administrative Assistants except Jonathan Daniels, and then only after he ceased to be an Administrative Assistant to Roosevelt, after Truman came into office, except for that brief period between when Roosevelt went

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to Yalta and Jonathan came in as acting Press Secretary.

That was my first meeting with him and we were associated for that brief period, but Jonathan didn't stay long after Roosevelt died. We did have a close relationship in that period.

HESS: Did he ever come back to the White House officially, or unofficially?

AYERS: Well, he did in the '48 campaign for a while and I think he made one or two trips at least, maybe more. I don't recall offhand.

HESS: Of the campaign trips.

AYERS: Of the campaign trips in '48.

HESS: Did he help write speeches in '48? Just what were his duties in '48? Do you recall?

AYERS: I don't know too much, I don't know as I ever discussed it with him. All of those people I think contributed to speeches. Those who were on the trips contributed to some extent. Jonathan was a good writer and probably did do some, but I just don't know specifically.

HESS: Do you recall whose idea it was to bring him back in 1948 during the campaign and make use of his ability?

AYERS: No, I don't. Now, I may have at the time but I just don't recall. You see there were many people in and out during those campaign trips.

[317]

HESS: A pretty hectic time?

AYERS: Well, in a sense; I don't think anybody got very excited about most of it but I was not in contact with some of those people very much. If I went on a trip I would have some contact with them and perhaps know what they were doing there, but much of the time I was in Washington, when he was away on trips, to take care of press relations there.

HESS: Now, what trips in 1948 did you go on? We may have covered this but...

AYERS: I think we covered that, the principal one was the last trip, which was a long one.

HESS: That's what I was thinking. That was the trip into the Northeast, is that right?

AYERS: Well, no, it was more than that. It began at Chicago where he spoke, then Cleveland, and then into the East, Northeast, Boston to New York, through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, into New York with the final windup at Madison Square Garden.

HESS: Who else was on the train at that time? Was Clark Clifford and was Charles Murphy on that particular trip, do you recall?

AYERS: Yes, Clifford was on it; Charlie Murphy was on it; George Elsey was on it; Matt Connelly was on it.

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I remember all of them specifically and Jay Franklin .

HESS: John Franklin Carter.

AYERS: Yes, John Franklin Carter, he was known as Jay Franklin.

HESS: How did he come into the picture?

AYERS: I don't know how he happened to come in, whose brilliant idea that was to bring him to help write some speeches.

HESS: Was he very effective?

AYERS: I don't think he was. I don't think he did very much. He may have done some writing but I don't recall that--I can't say about all those different speeches. Charlie Murphy did a great deal of the work on those speeches. Clifford did some, but I think Charlie Murphy actually was the man in the end who, if he didn't compose them in full, edited some of them.

HESS: How would you rate Charles Murphy and Clark Clifford as to their political advice and as to their political astuteness?

AYERS: It's a little hard to answer that question. I wouldn't know all of the things either one of them did. Charlie Murphy was a much quieter operator. I say quieter, not that Clifford was a noisy one but Clifford drew more attention to himself than Murphy, to put it that way.

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Now, I don't know that he did it consciously but that was his way of working. I always thought that Charlie Murphy's advice probably was better advice on the whole, politically, than Clifford's. Clifford didn't hesitate to offer political advice, and often, for instance, in staff meetings when he was serving as Special Counsel, he made suggestions. Sometimes, it seemed to me they weren't very good politically. Of course, I don't claim to be an expert but I've seen a lot of politics.

HESS: Can you recall an instance in which you thought that his political advice was not the best?

AYERS: No, I can't. I suppose I shouldn't make a statement unless I could back it up with some positive thing, but I can't offhand, because it was a long time ago; those staff meetings were day after day, and many things would come up in the meetings. I think he was rather active in certain things that had a political bearing, for instance, the Palestine situation. I think he was quite active in that and that he saw the political relations that that had as anybody in practical politics knew. The Palestine situation was a bomb and if it wasn't handled properly there was going to be a lot of trouble with a lot of folks in New York City where there is a very heavy Jewish population, and in other

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centers of Jewish votes. And if it was the right decision from their standpoint, we would gain votes.

HESS: What was the basis for Mr. Clifford's interest in that matter? Was it mainly political? In the Palestine matter.

AYERS: Well, I assume so.

HESS: Do you recall if Eddie Jacobson was involved in that matter?

AYERS: Oh, I don't know. I know Eddie Jacobson was much interested and was quite active, but whether he had any influence was another matter. I don't know about that.

HESS: Okay. We have one other gentleman who was a holdover from the Roosevelt administration. One of the Administrative Assistants, that was Laughlin Currie.

AYERS: I never knew him. I don't know anything about him really. I never knew him, I never knew McReynolds. I did know David Niles. Got to know Dave Niles quite well, and they were, I guess, about the only ones--Jim Barnes I knew, too, but those men didn't stay long.

HESS: Now, David Niles did. He stayed for quite some time.

AYERS: That's true, he did.

HESS: What comes to mind when you think about David Niles?

AYERS: Well, quite a number of things in a sense. He was very unobtrusive, and he was called a mystery man by

[321]

columnists and people who wrote magazine pieces about him, but he was a very capable man and he probably exercised some influence, but I think probably more during the Roosevelt administration where he served for quite a long time than he did in the Truman administration. Although he only spent a couple days a week, two or three days a week in Washington, he'd come in, he had interests in New York and in Boston, and I don't think anybody knew exactly what he did other than the President.

HESS: Could he effectively handle his job in the few days that he spent in Washington?

AYERS: Oh, I think so. He, of course, was principally engaged, I believe, as far as the job in Washington was concerned, with the minority groups and towards the later period of his connection, he was assisted by Philleo Nash. Niles' health failed, and when he finally passed out of the picture, Philleo Nash took over that department, but Niles' value lay far more than what he did in Washington, apparently with various groups or persons in New York and Boston. Now, I don't know, I never discussed any of it with him. Things came to my attention a few times, but none of them had any great significance.

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HESS: Did he pretty much like to operate his own shop?

AYERS: Oh, yes, he apparently did. People who knew him had great confidence in him.

HESS: How effective was Philieo Nash, his assistant, who later took over for him?

AYERS: Well, I think what Philleo did was largely in the later months. I don't know how effective you'd call it. Pretty hard to judge those things in their effectiveness. He did, I guess, what he had to do, well. But how much he actually did in those days--he helped I think on some speeches that were made in those areas, the minority groups and Negro rights and such as that.

HESS: One of the men with the highest position who was a holdover from the Roosevelt administration was Samuel I. Rosenman who was Special Counsel to the President. What do you recall about Judge Rosenman?

AYERS: Again, it's hard to answer. I got to know Sam Rosenman quite well, and had a very high regard for him. He had been, of course, very close to FDR and I think President Truman had great regard for him while he stayed with him. He helped, particularly in the first months of the Truman administration. He helped in the preparation of that September address as you remember which . .

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HESS: The twenty-one point message.

AYERS: The twenty-one point message to Congress, yes. And he did, I think, most of the work on that, because later I had occasion, in working on some of the President's papers, to have some correspondence with Judge Rosenman who was then back in New York and had left the Government, and he offered to send his papers dealing with what he had done if the President wanted them. The President said he would like to have them, so he did send them and there was quite a volume, evidencing a pretty careful job and I think he was a very thorough man. And, of course, with Roosevelt, he was very valuable. He and Robert Sherwood together made a very fine speech-writing team. He had a fine mind, and of course, he had been a Supreme Court Justice in New York State. I think he was a valuable man.

HESS: What seemed to be his relationship with Mr. Truman?

AYERS: A good relationship.

HESS: And after he resigned on February the 1st of 1946, did he come back to the White House at any points to offer assistance?

AYERS: I don't know, I can't recall. I know he was in Washington lots of times, but whether he was called to do anything or did do anything I can't say. I might have known at the time if he did but, you know, things

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over the years kind of, like an accordion, squeeze together.

HESS: They run together don't they?

AYERS: Just squeeze and run together.

HESS: Well, shortly after he resigned, Clark Clifford was made Special Counsel. There was a gap of a few...

AYERS: There was quite a little gap in there.

HESS: There was a gap from February the 1st to July the 1st of '46; February to July, when there was no Special Counsel.

AYERS: That's right.

HESS: Then Mr. Clifford became Special Counsel. Did Clifford handle the job in any noticeably different manner than Rosenman, would you say?

AYERS: Well, that again is a pretty hard thing to answer. I don't know.

HESS: Perhaps it would be better just to say, how did Clifford handle the job?

AYERS: I don't know too much about what Clifford did. Before he came into the White House he was in St. Louis and I never knew the man or knew of him. He showed up there in the White House as Assistant Naval Aide, and I assumed at the time, that he was brought in at the suggestion of, or by, the Naval Aide [Commodore James

[325]

K., Jr.] Vardaman and he served as Assistant Naval Aide until, I think, until Vardaman left and then was made Naval Aide himself. Now I don't think he was ever really interested in being the Naval Aide and that belief was supported by others in the White House and in the Naval Aide's office.

HESS: How did he show evidence that he was not interested in being a Naval Aide?

AYERS: Well, they all discovered he was helping out over in the Special Counsel's office.

HESS: In Rosenman's office.

AYERS: In Rosenman's office, and after Judge Rosenman left we had a feeling that he was trying to get that job as Special Counsel. Now, he got it eventually and I don't know whether he operated any differently than Rosenman. I don't think he had the qualifications that Rosenman had, or that he was a good as Rosenman, but he acted as a Counsel does in passing on legislation that came from the Hill or that the President was interested in. Bills that were enacted by the Congress and sent to the White House always went through Counsel's office to be checked. And he dealt with Government agencies which might be affected, and that sort of thing, and he drafted some speeches or messages, and he developed

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a reputation of being a speechwriter. I think he got credit for some of which perhaps others contributed the major part. I shouldn't say that, possibly, but I had that feeling.

HESS: Do you recall what speeches those were?

AYERS: Oh, there were so many speeches over the years there, that's a little hard to answer. In the campaign of '48 there was some of that. Charles Murphy in the meanwhile had come in as an assistant, and Murphy did quite a lot and in the '48 campaign especially. And George Elsey did quite a little writing; I don't know so much of speeches, that is full speeches, formal speeches, as he did on campaign trips where he filled the President in on the whistlestops.

HESS: I think he handled the whistlestop speeches, as you say.

AYERS: Yes. I know he did quite a lot of that. Clifford was quite active in staff meetings, which were held every morning. He offered his suggestions without any hesitancy, and his opinions.

HESS: Were his suggestions and opinions usually pretty good?

AYERS: I suppose some were, others might not be considered as good; at least he offered them.

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HESS: Who served on his staff?

AYERS: It's a little hard to say exactly because there were quite a number of persons who did. Let's see, if I can give an idea here.

HESS: I believe that George Elsey was on his staff for a while, isn't that right?

AYERS: Yes, George Elsey, he worked with him after--George Elsey had been in the service, the Navy, during the war and served in the Map Room of the White House through the war. After that, when that was phased out, he went over and worked with Clifford. There was a little while that he--I think that was late though--he went over to the Pentagon and helped Samuel Eliot Morison on some work dealing with naval history. But he was an assistant to Clifford much of the time from '47 to '49, I believe, and then in '49 he was made Administrative Assistant but he didn't stay until the very end. He...

HESS: Why not?

AYERS: Well, I can't answer you that exactly. He went out in '51 and he went first with Harriman, Averell Harriman, later he went to the Red Cross which was headed then by Harriman's brother. I had the feeling that George got a little bit of "Potomac fever." An awful nice chap and a capable fellow, but he had a bit of Potomac fever

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if you know what I mean by that. He rated himself a little too much. I know the President and I discussed him a little on one occasion.

HESS: After he left or before he left?

AYERS: Before he left.

HESS: Before he left.

AYERS: We agreed that he was a very likeable and very capable fellow but he needed to grow up a little bit.

HESS: Did his departure have anything to do with the conference with MacArthur at Wake Island?

AYERS: I think it may have, in a sense. He gave an interview--I won't say it was an interview, because it wasn't published as an interview, his name didn't appear and nothing to indicate that he was the author of it or responsible for it, but he did fill in a New York Times man, who died not too long after that, on that Wake Island conference. George made at least part of the trip to that conference, and I think that somehow or other, it because known to the President that George was responsible for that New York Times story. Now what may have happened I don't know because things aren't told to the world or to others of the staff. Some of them may have known more than I did about it.

HESS: To the best of your knowledge, Mr. Elsey released that

[329]

information without the knowledge of the President?

AYERS: To the best of my knowledge, yes. I don't think he asked his permission to do that. He did it on his own, thinking that it would be a good thing, and maybe it was. I don't think it did any great harm except it was an exclusive one with the Times.

HESS: What seemed to be the relationship between Mr. Clifford and the people who held the position of Administrative Assistants?

AYERS: Well, he was over them. Clifford was Special Counsel, he had a higher job than they did. Some of them were his assistants really, some of them. If they were actually Administrative Assistants he didn't have any real authority over them.

HESS: They could report directly to the President?

AYERS: Oh, yes, if they were Administrative--but some of them were just assistants, Special Assistants in the White House, or something like that, which was an all inclusive term.

HESS: Mr. Clifford left on January the 31st of 1950 and then Charles Murphy took over. One question: Why did Mr. Clifford leave the White House at this time?

AYERS: That would be pure speculation on my part. I would assume that he felt that he ought to get out when he

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could and make some money for himself. He had a family, three daughters nearing the marriageable age, in fact, one of them did get married during that period. And I just assume that he saw an opportunity to establish himself as a lawyer. That's the feeling that we all had that he was taking advantage of what he had, his associations and everything.

HESS: And the next man was Charles S. Murphy, what do you recall about Mr. Murphy?

AYERS: Well, I know Mr. Murphy quite well, and always had a great regard for him. I didn't know anything about him at the time he came in there; I didn't know him at all. I don't know who brought him in directly or suggested him. He had been up on the Hill, you know, in some capacity, and he came in first as an--I don't know whether he was Administrative Assistant when he first came in.

HESS: I believe so.

AYERS: I think so. That was at the end of 1946, I think, December, the end of December '46 that he came in and he wasn't made Special Counsel until 1950, February 1st, 1950. So that during that '48 campaign he was only an Administrative Assistant as far as the record, but he did--I think he did as much work in the speechwriting

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end and so on, as anybody, more than anybody.

HESS: I understand that a good bit of his work on speeches was done here at the White House. Do you recall that?

AYERS: Now, what do you mean by that?

HESS: That he did not travel on all of the trips.

AYERS: Well, now I couldn't answer that for sure. He traveled on some of the trips, but whether he went on all of them I wouldn't know without looking up the passenger list for those trips. He was on the last one that I know because he was working his head off on the last speech for Madison Square Garden.

HESS: Did Mr. Murphy and Mr. Clifford conduct the functions of the office in any noticeably different manner?

AYERS: I don't think so. Murphy was much quieter, and had a quieter way in a sense. In a staff meeting he didn't push himself, but he would come up with a suggestion perhaps, in a quiet way, which would be a pretty sensible one usually. He had good political sense.

HESS: If you had to choose between the two which do you think would make the more effective Special Counsel for Mr. Truman?

AYERS: Well, it would depend on what you were trying to accomplish. Now Clifford I think made contacts with the higher officials in the Government, Cabinet members and

[332]

so on deliberately and where he saw it to his advantage. Now that is not a charitable thing, perhaps, to say, but I had that feeling and I don't think Murphy would do quite the same thing. He might have the same contacts, for purposes of his job, but otherwise I don't think he would seek it out for any benefit that it might be to himself. Now, I may do him an injustice there. Maybe he would, not that that's an injustice. I think he operated about the same probably, because the routine of the job of Special Counsel wouldn't vary greatly from one man to another, the passing on legislation and those things. The other things like advice, personal advice, that would vary with the individual's own predilection.

HESS: Which of the two men do you think would be rated a little higher on their political advice?

AYERS: It would depend on who was doing the rating, I think. I would think that perhaps I would have more regard for Murphy's advice than I would for Clifford's. Clifford's might be expressed a little more strongly, appear to be more strongly presented, than Murphy's, but Murphy would have a perfectly convincing manner I think, with me. Now, it might affect somebody else entirely differently.

HESS: Speaking of Mr. Clifford and Mr. Murphy, could you compare their relationships with Dr. Steelman, the man

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who held the title The Assistant to the President?

AYERS: I don't know what their relations were to John Steelman.

HESS: What were his duties, just what were Dr. John R. Steelman' s duties?

AYERS: I don't know whether they were ever specified exactly.

In practice apparently anything that came along that the President wanted to have checked up that didn't obviously fall on somebody else, went to John, and John made the most of those things. He would give you the impression that there was no harder working man in all of Washington than John. He is likeable and I always liked John very much. I'm not saying that to be derogatory at all but he did make the most of the job and all sorts of things came to him. The President would hand things over time and again at a staff meeting. Many of them had to do with the Business Council, or whatever that group of businessmen was, and things of that sort. He dealt with many of the Cabinet. I don't think he took any real part in defense matters or foreign affairs, but the other things that came along--labor, of course, was a prime thing with John because he had been a labor conciliator and labor and business

[334]

were his prime jobs.

HESS: Did he seem to be effective in those duties?

AYERS: I think so. I think he did, he seemed to be very good in labor disputes. I think he probably was more effective than most people would be. He knew them, he knew the people and he had had plenty of experience in labor mediation and he was pretty good at it.

HESS: Where did he get that title, The Assistant to the President?

AYERS: I think he created it, as far as I could find. At least he made the most of it.

HESS: Now there were three men, three positions of secretary to the President.

AYERS: Oh, yes.

HESS: Press Secretary we have covered probably adequately in our previous interviews talking about Mr. Ross and Mr. Reinsch and the others, but Matthew Connelly was Appointments Secretary to the President for the full period of the Truman administration. Do you recall, do you know why Mr. Connelly was chosen for that particular job?

AYERS: Well, he had worked with the President on the Hill when he was a Senator. That's all I know, and the President had great confidence in him and Matt had a good personality, everybody liked Matt Connelly, and

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he had rated very highly with everybody. Everybody that met him when he came to the White House was strong for Matt Connelly and always was.

HESS: What were his duties?

AYERS: Just what it says, Appointments Secretary. He makes appointments for the President. Makes appointments and turns down those that should be turned down. Those were the primary duties.

HESS: What were the political--were there political duties?

AYERS: Everybody who's associated with the President has to have a political sense. He's an appointee. If you ask what political duties there were you can't get an answer to that that would cover everybody; all have to think politically. You're just bound to think that way. You never saw an appointment made that didn't have a political aspect to it with any President have you? No, of course not, it must be. If it doesn't have then...

HESS: Do you know if Mr. Connelly sat in on any of the Cabinet meetings?

AYERS: Oh, yes, I think he sat in on practically all of them. As far as I know he did. He was supposed to keep a little record, but I don't believe that he ever put it on paper, really. I had hoped that he did do some

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such thing so there would be a record, but I don't believe that any exists.

HESS: All right. And William D. Hassett was Correspondence Secretary to the President. What do you recall about Mr. Hassett?

AYERS: Well, I had known Mr. Hassett for many years. I first met him way back when I was Bureau Chief of the Associated Press in Boston. Bill Hassett had been an AP man at one time in Europe, principally I guess in England and in the Irish troubles, but I didn't know him at that time. And I never knew him when he worked at the AP, but I met him again the first day I went up to the White House. He was then serving as an assistant to Steve Early. He had been at the State Department and brought over by Early from the State Department to assist him and that's the job he had and he held that until some time in--I don't know exactly when--I think it must have been early in '44.

To go back a little, Hassett, who is a Vermonter, had served, as I say, in Washington and in London in newspaper work and then he came into Government here in 1933 after he came back from Europe. He was detailed to the White House with Early in 1935 and it was early in '44, February, that he became Secretary to the President.

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I think he succeeded Marvin McIntyre, who had served as secretary to Roosevelt and who had died some time previously. I never knew McIntyre well, I don't know that I should put this in the record but there was a story about Hassett's appointment as secretary, to the effect that Early, who had a hot temper, blew up one day and went after Hassett rather vigorously. Hassett was badly upset and the story was someone told Roosevelt about it and he called Hassett in and appointed him secretary to succeed McIntyre as correspondence secretary. Later, after the death of General Watson, who had been both military aide and secretary, handling presidential appointments, while returning with FDR from Yalta, Hassett acted as appointments secretary. Roosevelt asked Early, who had intended to resign after returning from Europe, to act as appointments secretary, and Jonathan Daniels, who had been acting as press secretary, then was officially named press secretary and Hassett went back to the job as correspondence secr