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Opened September, 1976
Oral History Interview with
Kansas City, Missouri
FUCHS: Mr. Aylward, I wish you would give me, sir, a brief autobiographical statement--when and where you were born, your schooling, and so forth.
AYLWARD: I was born in Peoria, Illinois, 1885. My father and mother were Irish immigrants. They brought me to Kansas City when I was six months of age and I have lived here continuously ever since. All the other members of the family were born in Kansas City, Missouri--some twelve brothers and sisters. I went to parochial and public schools until the fifth grade and then I got a job. I was a newsboy, newspaper carrier, Western Union messenger boy, a cash boy in the department stores; had jobs of a similar character, office boy for a merchandise brokerage here. About 1899 I was in an office in the
West Bottoms and transferred from there to the New York Life Building. There I met Mr. Frank P. Walsh, who was a very prominent lawyer, and became fascinated with his career and reputation and ability, and wound up as his office boy. Frank Walsh was actively engaged in local and state politics--he was a member of the state committee and prominent in politics for his own crowd, the Shannon organization in Kansas City as opposed to the old State House crowd that was in power at that time. That was Governor Dockery and Allen who was treasurer, and Sam B. Cook, who was Secretary of State, and Joel Stone who was in the Senate--who really dominated and controlled the politics of Missouri at the time.
There was a controversy over the leadership and a division in the party. Joseph Folk of the City of St. Louis was the circuit attorney and prosecuted the boodlers in St. Louis; those who had received and accepted bribes or solicited bribes for the support of franchises granted to suburban railroads and other utilities; and he made an enviable reputation for obtaining convictions of members of the council and other leaders from the outside who had any connection with the bribery scandals. He became a candidate for Governor, and he established a statewide
reputation as a law enforcement officer, the leader of the party in St. Louis; and he ran against Mr. Harry Hawes, who was the leader of the Jefferson Democratic Club in St. Louis and who was aligned with Ed Butler, the boss of the City of St. Louis, for Governor of the State of Missouri. He won the primary election of the delegates to the state convention--the majority of them--and he was nominated over Hawes for Governor of the State of Missouri.
FUCHS: And this was what year, sir?
AYLWARD: 1904. Walsh supported Folk and so did Shannon, and they became the dominating leaders in Jackson County, Missouri on account of the Folk election. As far as patronage is concerned, why, they were in control of practically all of it.
Well, during those campaigns, as office boy I kept track of all of the charges and the debates, that is an account of them carried in the newspapers, concerning all the personalities in these campaigns, and from then on I kept a scrapbook, for every year thereafter I assume, about politics. So that's my introduction to
politics, and I was a member of the Shannon organization, faction in those days. I was unanimously selected by the leaders of the Democratic Party in Jackson County in, oh, say 1920 or maybe prior thereto, as chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee; and I continued in the office of chairman of the county committee for a period thereafter of sixteen to eighteen years. I was engaged in organizing the Democrats in the party into one unified and harmonious group, so that we could present a united front to the Republican organization, and we set up all the latest departments for accomplishing that effect. We perhaps had the strongest, the most powerful, and the most efficient political organization in this state at that time--all that time up until past the election of Truman.
FUCHS: Were you ever affiliated with the Shannon organization?
AYLWARD: I was affiliated originally with the Shannon organization.
So the leaders, Pendergast and Shannon and others, agreed that I should be selected as chairman of the Democratic County Committee and that was done and, as I
say, I was the man who was selected every two years thereafter. I used my good offices to keep the so-called bosses together. When they'd have a controversy, why, I did everything I could to bring about a rapprochement to prevent disunity, so that we could continue to win. There were many good experiences of that type.
FUCHS: You were practicing law all this time?
AYLWARD: Practicing law at this time, I was a partner of Frank Walsh--started as office boy and wound up as his law partner. He supported Woodrow Wilson for President and he was named by Woodrow Wilson as chairman of the Industrial Relations Commission in Washington to set up an investigation of the labor practices, the labor situation, and conditions throughout the country for the purpose of introducing legislation to correct evils that they encouraged in industry such as child labor, sweatshops, wages and hours, and sanitary conditions, and so forth; so he went from here to New York and Washington and opened an office in New York and Washington and I continued to practice law here in Kansas City and attended his office. He remained away for practically the rest of his life. He
came here occasionally. After his service on the Industrial Relations Commission he was appointed, with William Howard Taft, as co-chairman of the War Labor Board during the First World War. He served until Wilson went out of office in 1920.
I said I continued to manage the executive organization and to set up all the departments, I don't want you to think I did it all on my own. I had plenty of cooperation and help from the party leaders and the workers and the precinct captains and every person who was a member of the organization. We built this organization to the zenith of its power and we had I'd say 7,500 persons who were directly interested in winning elections for the Democratic Party. We had plenty of precinct workers--ten or twelve people to a precinct. They were not all jobholders; we didn't have that many jobs. We set up a registration department and polling department. We polled every householder, every voter in the community--this hasn't been done here for some twenty years. We knew from day to day who the voters were and what their predilections were, their selection of candidates in either party, or if they were independent or irregular. Whenever we polled
a voter and he manifested some doubts, why, we didn't put him down as doubtful, we put him in the Republican column. So that we actually had a substantial, accurate, truthful poll, and, as I say, it covered the entire city and most of the county--the townships out in the county. We had that kind of a working organization. We had all the various committees usually operating in an election; speakers' committee; habeas corpus committee to take care of members of the organization who were arrested for some violation of the law, when they really weren't violating the law, just to get rid of them, get rid of their services in the precinct. So we managed to get them out of jail so they could continue to work. In those days, from 1920 to '32, for twelve long years the Republicans were in power in this state. Hyde was elected Governor in 1920 and Baker in '24 and Caulfield in '28; so we had considerable opposition at that time and we were out of office almost out of the county and city until '26, when there was a charter election. There was a conference among the leaders of the party as to whether or not we should support this charter that was prepared and drafted by a political committee who were not close to the
Democrats. We believed that it was dominated by the Republicans. Prior to the adoption of the charter we had a councilmanic form of government. We had sixteen wards and sixteen aldermen in a lower house and sixteen in an upper house, and a mayor, and comptroller, and treasurer, and an auditor. That was the old form of government. So that was scrapped but the question for the leaders to decide was whether or not we should support this charter or be against it--what would be best for the party organization--whether we could live viably under it--continue to be a success as a political unit in Jackson County and Kansas City, particularly. So Pendergast and Welch after a conference decided they'd support the charter, and Shannon decided he'd be against it; so the charter was adopted.
FUCHS: That was Cass Welch?
AYLWARD: Cass Welch on Fifteenth Street, yes. He was the leader of the second ward in those days and he became aligned and affiliated with Pendergast, and we were all friends. Part of the Shannon crowd then departed from Mr. Shannon and joined Pendergast in support of the
adoption of the charter and thereafter in the election to nominate the candidates to office. After the charter was adopted, there was a primary election and we filed candidates for all the offices. The twelve councilmen and mayor- perhaps at that time they didn't have that many but that was the setup--one from each district. There were four councilmanic districts--one from the local district and the other four at large and a mayor, so that's nine. Shannon filed a ticket in the primary and Pendergast and Welch, and the others who went along with Pendergast, they supported the Pendergast slate in that primary, and the Pendergast slate won. Shannon was defeated by a substantial majority. Then the question arose what we were going to do about the division that would occur because of Shannon's defeat. So I waited a few days until after the election and then I went to see Mr. Thomas J. Pendergast; and I suggested to Pendergast that something ought to be done to induce Mr. Shannon to support the ticket in the general election because there was great danger of suffering a defeat if he didn't go along, if he bolted the ticket it had been bolted before and then been defeated. Well, he said, "Nobody can talk to him. You can't make deals with him."
I said, "Well, don't despair about it. I've got a suggestion I'd like to make to you."
He said, "oh, what is it?"
"Well," I said, "why don't you agree to give him one third of the patronage if we win, and two members of the nine directors to be appointed by the mayor or city manager, in a city manager form of government."
"Oh," he said, "he won't do that, you can't induce him to accept it."
"Well," I said, "you never know until you try."
I came uptown from his office at 1908 Main, and the Shannon organization had headquarters in the Law Building on the second floor, 9th and Walnut; and I went into the club's office and there was only one person there that morning and that was Peter J. Kelley, who was one of the first lieutenants of Mr. Shannon. Of course, they were in the doldrums, they were much disappointed, and despairing about what was going to happen to them politically, because it was either quit or bolt the ticket to try to beat the Democratic ticket. Of course these candidates did not run under any party label; they were just filed by organization but the candidates
we filed were all Democrats. Well, I said to Kelly, "I've got a suggestion I'd like to make to Mr. Shannon and I'd like to have you confer with him and transmit this suggestion to him."
And he said, "What is it?"
I said, "Assume that Pendergast and the crowd with him would consent to give Shannon a third of the patronage and two of the nine directors, don't you think it's a matter of justice and fairness in a division of the patronage that Shannon should support the ticket?"
Well, he said, "There's nothing we can do now but bolt."
Well, I said, "If you bolt, you're through forever--never come back at your age and that probably goes for others, too.
He said, "They won't do that."
I said, "You never know what they'll do until the effort is made;" I said, "You go and see Mr. Shannon." So he went over to see Shannon and of course Shannon laughed at him. He contacted Mr. Shannon and Mr. Shannon called me on the telephone. He said, "Pete Kelley is in my office and he tells me that you called
on him this morning at the Law Building and made certain suggestions to him what might be done to induce our organization to support the ticket."
I said, "Yes, that's true."
He said, "Well, I'd like to see you."
I said, "I'll come over to your office."
He said, "No, I'll come over to yours."
He sat down and he looked me over very carefully and critically, and asked me about this proposal and I said, "Well, now, I'm not committed to make that proposal to you but I'm willing to suggest that it be done, if it's satisfactory to you. I think it's fair and just and if you're reasonably minded, you'd accept it, because if you go out of politics now, you're through, and that may be true for Pendergast, too. You're both in the same shape although Pendergast is much younger than you."
He said, "I believe if Pendergast were to agree to do that I'd go along."
Well, I said, "Let me call Mr. Pendergast here in your presence." So I called Pendergast on the phone and I said, "Now, Mr. Shannon is in my office and I've been talking to him ab