Oral History Interview with
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.
Eben A. Ayers
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
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This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
March 26, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ayers, in our last interview, I believe it was in June of last year, we were discussing a few of the things that we want to cover in the rest of our interviews, and one of the points is the Marshall plan, which brings up the subject of foreign aid. Let's just start off today with a general question, a general subject, about Mr. Truman's foreign aid policies and plans, and your knowledge thereof.
AYERS: Well, let me preface anything I might say about foreign policy or foreign aid programs with this statement: I am not an expert on foreign policy. I was not an expert at that time, and I made no effort to be one. What I did was talk with the President about his policy, when it was developed and how it was developed, and that was very largely a result of his own suggestion that he would like to have me put together something of a record on his foreign policy. Now I consider the Marshall plan and the aid program all a part of the foreign policy, and I think that in any discussion of it it would be better to start at the beginning, because anything of foreign policy that developed over the years developed from what he started with when he took office. Do you see
what I mean? You're getting into the middle, in a sense, or you're leaving the initial development of the policy hanging in the air. For that reason I'm going to go back to the very beginning because the President's foreign policy, in my opinion, would be roughly divided into two parts, and those would be the period from his accession to the Presidency after Franklin Roosevelt died until the development of the Greek-Turkish aid program. He felt that the Greek-Turkish aid program, or the Truman Doctrine, as it came to be known, marked the beginning of his own foreign policy. Up to that time he was very largely concerned with carrying out the policy that he inherited from Franklin Roosevelt. Almost immediately after he took office he had in mind a statement or address on that policy, and I think the first real development was the message to Congress which he had sent up in September of '45. That was known as--I think it was September the 6th--the twenty-one point message. Now that he discussed with me one time after I had begun some work on his foreign policy. I discussed that with him, but previous to that, in one of my morning talks with him, he brought it up and said he would like to have me get together some material on his foreign policy. He
said at the time that the foreign policy started in Cleveland, Mississippi on May 8th, 1947, when Dean Acheson made a speech there--a speech which he said he was supposed to make.
HESS: Mr. Truman was supposed to make?
AYERS: Yes. And he said that speech, and I guess it's been generally recognized, was a forerunner of General Marshall's speech at Harvard, which resulted in the Marshall plan. But the original message, the September '45 message, was largely drafted, I think, by Judge Rosenman, and in talking with the President about that he said that Rosenman at that time was special counsel and that the White House, he said, was not very well organized at that time, and that's true. There was considerable confusion and there were numerous discussions and conferences over the message when it was decided that he would sent it to Congress. Rosenman had written me something about those and finally he offered to send me his papers that dealt with the preparation of that message, and he said he would like them back if the President didn't want them. Well, he sent them down and I talked to the President about it and he said, yes, he'd like to have them. Those are already in the records out at the Library, I assume, so there's no need of going into that. I think otherwise--beyond the fact that he
said--Rosenman said--that in one of the conferences that were held with various people in the preparation of that message, I know he wrote me that one of those conferences that he recalled, included among the conferees, John Snyder, who was Secretary of the Treasury at the time Rosenman wrote me--he wasn't then--and John Steelman and Matt Connelly, Clark Clifford, Charlie Ross and himself, so that they were all having a little hand in things that early--September of '45, you see. And the President in talking to me indicated that there were some people at that time that wanted him to go all the way out for the New Deal--the Roosevelt New Deal--and there were some others, and he mentioned particularly Snyder and Judge Vinson, who were on a more conservative side. He did comment at that time--I note I had that in my notes afterwards--that there were some people who were trying at that time to take him over.
HESS: Take Mr. Truman over?
HESS: Who did he put in that class?
AYERS: Well, I don't know exactly. You'd have to draw your own conclusion, I guess. I know he suggested I talk with John Steelman and Clark Clifford about it, but I don't think I ever did.
HESS: That message was largely on domestic and internal matters, wasn't it?
AYERS: That message--that twenty-one-point one? No.
HESS: I can't remember all points, of course, offhand, but I remember that housing, the Fair Employment Practice Committee.
AYERS: Oh, I have in my records the whole copy of the message but I don't myself remember just what now.
HESS: If I had the 1945 volume of the papers here with me, we'd be all set.
AYERS: Here, I have it right here. You don't want me to list those twenty-one points I'm sure.
HESS: I wonder what the ratio was between domestic and foreign matters?
AYERS: Well, I think that a very large part of it was domestic. As you go through these different points, unemployment, compensation, the Fair Labor Standards Act, wartime controls and war powers, things like that and I see very few references actually to the war itself. Some things like recommendations for legislation for returning veterans and something about lend-lease and postwar resources and reconstruction and the sale of ships and matters of that sort, but as far as foreign policy--that is, relations with foreign powers and that
kind of thing--there was practically nothing in it.
HESS: Mainly the things that touched on foreign countries, such as lend-lease, were involved in winding up the end of the war, things of that nature?
AYERS: That's right. But, now, later, in fact April of '52, one morning I went in with him, I had an appointment, and went in and had quite a long talk about a lot of things; that was the morning that he said that he wished I would try to get together something on his foreign policy. As I say, I wasn't so much concerned with the foreign policy itself except to make a record such as he wanted, and I didn't try to form any opinions whether it was good or bad policy or anything of that sort or get him to say--simply to get the facts of what it was and when it started and how, and as I say, it was then he said that his foreign policy started at Cleveland, Mississippi on May 8th, 1947 when Dean Acheson made that speech; and he said that that was the forerunner of General Marshall's speech at Harvard, which resulted in what was called the Marshall plan. And I know he said then, and I can quote him on this, he said, "I want it to continue to be called the Marshall plan." But the whole plan from the Greek-Turkish aid program which began in March had been an administration plan and point 4 was the peacetime continuation of the Acheson and
Marshall program. He said he wished that they hadn't named the Greek-Turkish program the Truman Doctrine. He said, "I don't want to take anything away from anyone, Acheson or Marshall." He said, and this is another interesting little quote, perhaps, he said, "I have not, as you know, ever wanted anything named after me, even a road in Jackson County, although they did after I left there, they named one highway between Kansas City and Independence, Truman Road." I don't know whether you've got him saying that anywhere else in the record or not. Well, that's the beginning of it.
HESS: Did you ever hear the name Joseph M. Jones used in relation to that speech that Dean Acheson gave in Cleveland, Mississippi? I believe he worked for Mr. Acheson in some capacity.
AYERS: That could be but I don't recall. But the development of his program after the September 6th message up to the time in '47 might be marked by, well, several things--speeches particularly. As on October 27, 1945, when he went over to New York in observance of Navy Day. Now he made two speeches that day--well, the first one was at the commissioning of the carrier Franklin Roosevelt at the Navy yards, which wasn't so much a foreign policy s