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Eben A. Ayers Oral History Interview, April 19, 1967

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
April 19, 1967
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
April 19, 1967
Jerry N. Hess

[100]

HESS: All right, Mr. Ayers, would you like to make a statement?

AYERS: Well, not exactly. I was going to say that any of this political material that I may talk about, I'd like to preface by saying: I was not a political appointee and I never was a politician, in the active sense. I was an observer of politics for a good many years as a newspaperman, everything from a ward caucus as a young reporter on up through, and I know a lot of politicians and I've seen a lot of politics, and in the course of my White House work, which was not in any sense a political appointment, I met a lot more. I did find myself at times rather close to the political activities, particularly in the 1948 campaign, and there are some things in the '48 campaign, perhaps, that I might shed a little more light on. I can only talk about what I had a part in or what I was close to and from what I saw and heard. I won't attempt to tell what others did--things I had no active part in. Some of them expressed their views to me and I might be able to register some of those. Only the things that I was directly connected with. Many of the things are pretty well covered in Mr. Truman's Memoirs; I suppose

[101]

you have the views and statements of others who have been recording for you.

HESS: All right, Mr. Ayers, to keep things in chronological order, can you tell me about the trip Mr. Truman took in June, 1948? Where did the idea for that trip originate? What do you recall about that trip and anything else you want to put down--dealing with the springtime of '48 actually?

AYERS: Well, I recall something about that trip, but I think I ought to go back just a little bit before that.

HESS: That's why I gave you the leeway of springtime.

AYERS: It was on March 8th of that year that it was announced by Senator McGrath, who was the Democratic National Chairman at that time, after meeting with the President that day in his office, McGrath and Gael Sullivan, who was the executive director of the committee, were in and coming out, McGrath was stopped by the newspapermen and he had a little statement; he said he had been authorized to say the President would accept the nomination if the Democratic convention named him, and that he'd run. Then that was followed, you know, on March 17th, by a trip over to New York on St. Patrick's Day for the parade and so forth, and in a speech that night at the Astor Hotel, he repudiated the support of Henry Wallace. Now that was on the

[102]

17th of March and two mornings later, that's on the 19th, at a staff conference he said that he'd been thinking about making a cross-country trip during the summer. He said he had been thinking about it and if he did it would end up in California just before the Republican convention.

HESS: Do you recall if anyone might have suggested that to him? The idea for the trip.

AYERS: Well, it would be purely speculation on my part. He had seen various people like McGrath and Gael Sullivan and, I guess, possibly some others, I haven't gone through all his appointments--somebody might have dropped the idea from the Democratic committee but I don't know.

HESS: For that matter it might have been his own idea.

AYERS: It sounded like his own idea the way he brought it out. Then again, I think it was, that was on the 19th and about a week or so later--it was about the 30th of March at the staff meeting--he brought it up again. He said his idea was that he could travel across country by train making speeches at various points, stopping at many places en route, in other words, it was a so-called whistlestop tour.

HESS: Before the word had been coined.

[103]

AYERS: And he again said it would wind up in California just before the Republican National Convention.

HESS: Do you recall any items of interest about that trip, or about the time that trip was going on?

AYERS: Yes, I can remember something about that. The plans for the trip were finally announced--I think it was around the 7th of May--and I believe that Charlie Ross talked to me about it at the time and he said the plans were working out, and he thought that I ought to stay in Washington so there would be somebody there in the White House to handle things, and he'd go with the President, and that was the way it was settled at that time. There was from time to time some concern about that.

HESS: Mr. Ayers, can you tell me something about the planning for the June trip, and also I want to put a note in here for historians that Mr. Ayers is consulting his very well-documented diaries, which I might add a note to Mr. Ayers, we would like to have in the Truman Library at some date in the future, but we're not too sure if we're going to have them.

AYERS: Well, consulting the diary, I find that on May 21st, which is only about a week or so before they were scheduled to start on this first western trip, I did make a note

[104]

showing some concern over the confusion that seemed to exist about the trip, and the arrangements for it, and the details, it seemed to me, were being worked out in a rather inefficient manner; and I know I wrote down in the diary at that time that few of the people, including Secretary Ross and others, seemed to realize what was entailed and I thought there was something of the same feeling on the part of those who had experience in the past with such trips. I did refer to Dewey Long, the White House transportation officer, as one who had some feeling about it. He was a marvel at planning those things; he'd gone through many of them and was an expert at it and I think he felt that really he wasn't too sure what was going to be done. Anyway, to go on from there, that concern that I was feeling kind of popped up again in my mind in the next few days. A friend of mine who had been over in New York and had run into a woman connected with the Democratic National Committee, had told me that he was disturbed because of the defeatist attitude which this woman had shown, and that led me to take some notes at the time. I said that it seemed to me that was the greatest danger to the President's campaign in '48. I'll quote a little from my diary if you want. I

[105]

don't want to duplicate if you're going to get these someday, but there are many slips between the cup and the lip.

HESS: Your summation is good and I'm sure your quotes will be good, too.

AYERS: Thank you. I said:

Well, polls show that his strength [that's the President's] is down now as compared with some of the possible Republican candidates and there is no reason he should not come up between now and next November, with the proper campaigning and adequate effort on the part of workers, but so long as such a defeatist attitude prevails, there is, I believe, little hope for success. You cannot win battles if you go into them believing you are beat.

Then I added:

I do not think, however, the President thinks he's going to be beaten.

Then I wrote again:

At the same time, however, I do not think he is getting the political advice and help he should have.

Now this is expressing my personal opinions and I am likely to be as wrong as anybody else and I may have been wrong, but this is what I thought at the time. I said:

Some of those who are acting for him politically seem to me to be amateurish, inexperienced, and inadequate. Men such as George Allen [although Allen actually was having no real part in the planning so far as I can learn] are no help. Allen is, in my opinion, chiefly interested in Allen and his fortunes. He has been close to

[106]

General Eisenhower. While this may be purely personal attachment, I cannot believe that Allen is unconscious of the efforts that have been made, and are still discussed, to get Eisenhower to become a presidential candidate.

Of course, you understand this was long before Mr. Eisenhower got into the political battle at all. Then I had another paragraph here and I was being a little critical I'm afraid:

I question, too, the political acumen of Clark Clifford. Clifford is without much practical experience, if any, and I have doubted the political wisdom of some of his suggestions and advice in the past. There are altogether, I feel, too many amateurs trying to run things.

Another paragraph I got in at that time--I'm putting down a lot that perhaps I shouldn't put on the record, but anyway, here goes:

Charlie Ross, despite his many qualities, is not always politically minded for a public relations man as he must be in his position as Press Secretary. He's often i