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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 about consenting to support the slate in
And I suggested that this be done and that be done and he said, "Well, I told you that was all right."
I said, "Well, now take it easy. I want you to tell Mr. Shannon over this telephone that you're willing to consent to this arrangement," and I said, "Don't hang that telephone up after you've finished talking to Shannon because I want to talk to you in his presence." So I said to Mr. Shannon, "Here's Mr. Pendergast. Let him make his statement to you direct."
He did. Shannon agreed. So I said, "Don't hang the phone up. I want to talk."
So when they finished their conversation I said, "Now, Mr. Pendergast, in the presence of Mr. Shannon I want to say to you in order that there not be any misunderstandings as to the arrangement which you've agreed to, so that neither one of you can ever charge me with making any misrepresentations as to this matter, I want you to reconfirm it in person tomorrow some place. Make an appointment now where you can both meet." So I put Shannon back on the phone and he said, "All right." They met out on Hospital Hill out here in the car and reconfirmed it.
So we went on to do battle with the Republicans, who controlled the other side. Al Beach was mayor and he was running for reelection, and certain members of his council were running under this new charter setup for reelection for office. We won by 309 votes. The fifth man was George Goldman, who was in the jewelry business--he's still around here. And it was very close, too close for comfort. That gave us the majority of the council and the power under the charter provisions to appoint a city manager and the board of directors. Ben Jaudon, who had formerly been treasurer and made a good reputation with the voters and the tax paying people of the city, was our candidate for mayor. He was defeated by 500 votes by Beach, the former mayor who was running for reelection.
FUCHS: He was really a Republican?
AYLWARD: Oh, yes, oh, devout Republican, you understand. One of the old, most intense and bitter Republicans that ever held the office, and so were all the others--Langworthy had been mayor, was one of the leaders in the writing of this charter. Langworthy was one of the leaders of the Republican Party and all of the old line Republicans who
took an interest in national, state and local politics. There wasn't any question about it being a genuinely Republican setup as against the Democratic setup without labels.
Well, we had a law on the books that permitted the opening of the ballot box, if an affidavit were filed containing charges to the effect that irregularities had been committed in the voting in the precincts, which is a very general law and it was unconstitutional, in our opinion. Well, they proceeded to open the boxes in the Goldman contest in an attempt to count him out. We always appeared before the election commissioners; we had had to fight to keep our Democrats from being stricken from the rolls, the registration rolls, the voting roll. At times they filed against every naturalized citizen in this community, and we had to bring them down and stand them in line. We had lines with 1,500 people in them. We fed them during the day, took care of them until they got straightened out on the rolls. These were the troubles we had. This was all in the newspapers. You can read it. And we had an election committee that appeared before the election board--I usually went over there myself. Well, when these affidavits were filed to count
the votes in the tenth precinct, Edward Curtain, who was a Democrat and formerly assistant prosecutor, and a prominent lawyer--we went over and had a conference with the election board which was dominated by the Republicans. See, this was in '26. Billy Bucholz was the chairman of the committee, Hiller and the other members--there was four men--two Democrats and two Republicans. Of course, the Democrats were picked by the Republicans, lukewarm Democrats. We made an argument to the effect that they didn't have the constitutional right to open these ballot boxes and of course they said the law is on the books and we have a right to open them and we're going to do it. Well, I said, "Let's be fair and reasonable and practical about this." I said, "If you'll agree to open these boxes and count the ballots in these ten precincts that are now tallied and to stop after you've finished the count in the ten precincts, we'll not take any legal action to prevent you from doing this, if you'll certify that either candidate is elected unless the vote is materially changed to the extent to give the Republican candidate a majority, you certify Goldman's election."
They said all right. So we waited around there and the count was made and we were ahead, didn't change the vote substantially, and then they filed fifty more affidavits to open fifty boxes more. It was then about six o'clock in the evening and I said, "Well, I've got some other things to do tonight. I don't want to stay around here " and suggested we adjourn. They agreed. Then we prepared a petition for a writ of prohibition against the election board to prohibit the election board from making this count on constitutional grounds. Under the constitution ballot boxes could only be opened in an election contest or a grand jury investigation, so under our construction of the law they had no right to do this, but they were doing it. And we also prepared a petition for Writ of Mandamus that compelled the election board to certify that Mr. George L. Goldman was duly elected a member of the council from the district in which he was a candidate. I went out to see Judge Willard P. Hall, who was the Circuit Judge in Independence--he was a Democrat--at his home--he lived out around 28th and Tracy. We presented the legal question to him and he said, "oh, I don't think you're entitled to the writ."
I said, "Judge, don't be so summary about it. Give us a chance to present it to you." I said, "I've got some petitions here that hold we're entitled to this writ." I said, "Let me make a suggestion about the matter. Will you give us a stop order and if you do, we'll travel tonight to Jefferson City to the Supreme Court of this state and in the morning we'll file a petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent them from counting Goldman out and a petition for an extraordinary Writ of Mandamus to compel them to certify that he's been duly elected. Following the decision of the Supreme Court I'll have one of my assistants dismiss this case from your court so that you will no longer have jurisdiction."
He said, "All right. Under those circumstances I will issue the order," which he did.
Then he drove to Jefferson City--an all night trip-and went to see Judge Walter W. Graves, who was the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and members of the court who had been empowered to pass on whether these writs should be granted or denied. I presented the matter to him and he read the decision and he issued the writ.
So, he set the case down for briefs and argument in the Supreme Court fifteen days after we saw him. Then I filed an election contest against Beach challenging his right to the office of mayor, claiming that he didn't receive a proper, legal vote. They voted them out of the jail, the poor farm, and military establishments; we set it up and set out the facts so as to make that kind of case against him. Well, they got fighting about that. of course, we were determined to do so until the Supreme Court passed on the question of Goldman's right to the seat in the council. I served notice to take depositions--kept that alive time to time and they were frightened. Charlie Blackmore who was a solid Republican and Gilmore, who was former police commissioner, and others were representing the Republican candidates in this fight, that's Beach and all the rest of them. So Blackmore jumped up and said, "Oh, I'm busy today. I can't take those depositions next Tuesday and I'd like to have it continued," and so forth.
I said, "All right, how much time do you need?" So it was continued.
Well, we argued and presented the case to the
Supreme Court and the Supreme Court unanimously held that the law was unconstitutional and void, and prohibited the election board from counting any more ballots in the precincts that were challenged, and issued a writ compelling them to certify Goldman's election to the council. So, I stalled around and played with them for awhile in this election contest and they were afraid. So, after stalling around with them I came in one day and they said they wanted another continuance, and I said, "Now, I'm going to end this."
So, we dismissed the election contest against Beach and he became mayor of Kansas City, and then we had a five to four council and we ran the government. Shannon got his two directors and one-third of the patronage, and Welch got about one-sixth, and they proceeded to elect members of the council and the mayor every election thereafter, until they fell from grace. If certain leaders in the party had behaved so as not to bring about any scandal, the Democratic Party would have been in forever. We were electing these tickets by 25-30,000 normal majorities. We even elected members of the council from Republican districts. So, the debacle occurred in
1939 on account of vote frauds and other things that reflected upon party leadership. We were driven from power. The ill feeling and hate for each other was such that they couldn't get together. If we'd been together that time, we could have won. John B. Gage was elected by about 10,000 votes. He was a Democrat running with the mixture--Democrats and Republicans--and that is the way it's been ever since, with the exception of one term; and we had a knockdown drag-out fight. Shannon and Pendergast had a ticket--that's Jim Pendergast--and I ran a ticket.
But it was no place for us. They just moved us out. The ticket supported by my friends and myself received about 19-20,000 votes in that primary.
FUCHS: What year was that?
AYLWARD: 1940 I think it was. They nominated Robinson, a lawyer, who was a very fine person against Gage who was a lawyer; and I made a speech supporting Gage in that fight after the nomination and Gage was elected. So, the Democrats were out thereafter and are still out in city hall. And there were other times along the road
where they were about to break up and I negotiated with them to stay together and kept them together; otherwise we couldn't have won.
FUCHS: What is your first recollection of Mr. Truman?
AYLWARD: Well, Truman was a member of the county court.
FUCHS: You had never met him until he became a judge?
AYLWARD: No, I didn't know him. He was affiliated with the Pendergast organization and he lived down in Independence in Jackson County; and then I got to know him around the courthouse.
FUCHS: You knew him when he was eastern judge?
AYLWARD: Yes. He was elected eastern judge first, presiding judge later, and another time he was defeated because the Shannon crowd bolted him in the election.
FUCHS: That was in '24.
AYLWARD: And this charter election was in '26. Well, the effect of that was to bring all of the feuding factions together and we had harmony and unity from that time on
until the debacle occurred, as they called it. Well, then in 1932 we were supporting Francis Wilson for governor. He'd been nominated four years before and defeated by Folk. He'd been a member of the state senate and he was United States District Attorney and he was a popular person. He had the skill and ability and capacity to serve as governor, so he filed in '32 for the nomination for governor and he defeated Russell Dearmont. Russell Dearmont was the candidate from Cape Giradeau in southeast Missouri. Wilson informed me that he wanted me to serve as state chairman in the event he was elected governor and I said I didn't have any particular desire to be state chairman. There were many other persons that were better qualified than I was. He said, "No, I wanted you in '28. Smith was a Catholic and you were a Catholic. I thought it would be better to have someone who wasn't a Catholic as chairman."
Well, one morning I got a call from Francis Wilson about five o'clock and he said, "I hope I didn't get you out of bed."
I said, "Well, where do you think I've been all night." It was five o'clock in the morning.
Well, he said, "Something terrible has happened to me--this is in the primary fight."
Well, I said, "Did someone excoriate you for your political misdeeds, something like that happen to you?"
"No," he said, "worse than that."
I said, "Well, what happened?"
He said, "Get your morning paper and read it, would you please."
I said, "Now, after I read the morning paper what do you want me to do?"
"Well," he said, "I wish you'd use your good judgment and try to help me."
I said, "Would you have any objection to me issuing a vitriolic, excoriating statement against the man who made these ugly charges against you, whatever they may be. I don't know what they are, but then if I determine to do it with your permission, can I do that?"
He said, "Yes."
I got the morning paper and Dearmont had said he was a "tool of the boss," you understand. Was made to order. He'd do their bidding and he was running under the camouflaged representation that he was decent and
pure in politics, when in actual fact he wasn't. He was representing the interests for years and so forth. So after I read the paper I prepared a loud scream to these newspapers in which I said that Russell Dearmont represented the big interests of the state, particularly the utilities, and made a fight to obtain a franchise for a utility in southeast Missouri so they could increase their rates; that he was supported by big business and all of the representatives of the big interests--the railroads, the utilities, and so on, and named them, these persons, because they were in politics. One was the mayor of St. Joe, the lawyer for the Frisco in Springfield, and the lawyers for the other railroads in St. Louis and the other public utilities. Well, anyway, it created quite a stir. So, Dearmont had to admit that he was in these fights, and that was enough to murder him. So, Wilson was nominated for governor, and so was Bennett Clark for the Senate. Well, Bennett Clark didn't want me for state chairman, someone from the western part of the state, too closely aligned with the Pendergast organization, although I supported Clark for the Senate against Charlie Howell who was supported by Pendergast. At that time Howell wasn't a very popular person. He'd been state chairman
for years and he'd been representing these different insurance companies being reorganized.
FUCHS: Now at this time you were considered more or less a right-hand man for Mr. Pendergast.
AYLWARD: Not necessarily. I never was a member of the Jackson Democratic Club. Never a dues-paying member. I advised him--never was an active member of the club. I did everything I could to keep these leaders together, to keep them from fighting each other unto the death, politically.
FUCHS: Were you Mr. Pendergast's lawyer? .
AYLWARD: No, I wasn't. Never was. The lawyers who represented Pendergast in the proceedings against him for violating the income tax law were: John Madden and R.L. Brewster of Madden and Burke, and Julius Shapiro represented him in some civil maters for many years.
FUCHS: The reason I said that was one writer has said that, in writing of the 1934 primary, that you were Pendergast's lawyer and his right-hand man and his ablest organizer.
AYLWARD: Well, I was never his lawyer and I've read those books and they are filled with misstatement and improper conclusions and inferences and falsehoods.
FUCHS: That's what we want to get, your story.
AYLWARD: I'll point them out to you as we go along.
AYLWARD: Even in Reddig's book some of the facts are not true. Now the truth is that at the time of Wilson's death, Pendergast wanted me to run for governor and I declined. "There must be someone else to run for governor; now this is the opportunity." We'd been out for twelve long years and it looks like a Democratic year. Roosevelt's running for President. He looks like a cinch to win--he carried the state by several hundred thousand. So we had to get a candidate for governor.
Well, getting back to Mr. Wilson. He came to see me and said, "I want you to be state chairman."
" Well," I said, "if that's what you really want, why, I'll do it."
We went over and talked to Bennett Clark and Bennett Clark said I want Rubey Hulen for state chairman.
Jim's all right and so and so, but I want Hulen and I think I'm entitled to name the state chairman because I'm running for the Senate and you're running for governor." Well, it has always been traditional for the governor to name the state chairman but it didn't make any difference to me. So, I got a call from Wilson one evening and he said, "I'm down at the Baltimore Hotel and I'm here with Bennett Clark and we'd like to have you come down."
"Well,. I said, "now, I've got a hunch that Bennett Clark doesn't want me for state chairman. That's what you want to discuss with me." So I said, "Just forget it. I'm still for you and for Bennett. I don't care who's state chairman."
"Oh," he said, "please come down," so I went down and that's what it was all about.