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John E. Barriere Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
John E. Barriere

Member of the staff of the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee during the 1948 presidential campaign and of the House Banking and Currency Committee, 1948-65.

December 20, 1966
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


These are transcripts of tape-recorded interviews conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of each transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that these are essentially transcripts 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 Barriere oral history interview.

See also John E. Barriere Papers finding aid.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
John E. Barriere


Washington, DC
December 20, 1966
Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Barriere, for the record, would you give me a little of your personal background, where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions have you held during your career?

BARRIERE: I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, December 8, 1919, and I was educated in the public schools of Worcester; and I graduated from Clark University with an A.B. degree in 1942, and with a major in history. After the war, in 1946, I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago in the Department of Political Science. I was there for five quarters June of '46 through


September of '47. From September of '47 to May of 1948, I was an intern with an organization called the National Institute of Public Affairs, which was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The objective of this organization was to interest young men and women in permanent careers in the Federal Government. The bulk of the people that were selected by this organization were of this type, but they always admitted two, or three possibly, each year who were interested not primarily in a permanent career with the Government, but rather who were interested in teaching political science; and I came down on that basis. I planned to return to the University of Chicago in 1948 and complete my work for a Ph.D. My first placement was with the National Labor Relations Board, my second with the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, and that was the start of my connection with the 1948 Truman presidential campaign. The Republicans were in control of the Senate at that time, but Senator [Robert F.] Wagner


of New York who was the ranking minority man had a minority staff employee, Mr. Joseph P. McMurray, who at the present time is president of Queens College in Queens County, New York. When my second placement was about to end in the spring of 1948, I told McMurray that I was interested in some type of temporary employment for the summer. As I wanted to wait and go back to Chicago for the fall quarter around the first of October, and just perchance, he said that a Mr. William Batt, who has been recently Area Redevelopment Administrator under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and at that time was the research director of the Democratic National Committee was coming to see him that afternoon and he said he would give Batt my name. A couple of weeks later I got a telephone call from Batt who asked me to come down, and he said that he was assembling a research organization, that he had not completed his establishment and they had a rush job to help the President get ready


for his so-called nonpolitical trip to the Pacific Northwest; and as I recall he was leaving Memorial Day or the day afterwards, and this was approximately ten days before that, and he hired me on a purely temporary two week basis to do research for that trip. I was to prepare a one page memorandum on each of the towns, and Batt gave me an itinerary he had got from the White House as to where the President was going to stop on this trip, and I was on my own from that point. While I did make use, to some extent, of newspapers that we had in the office from various areas, and also a few memorandums that Batt had secured from some local people, the chief source was the WPA guidebooks.

HESS: Was that your idea to use those?

BARRIERS: Now, I'm not certain. I know I wound up at the Washington, D. C. public library looking at the WPA guidebooks. We did not have them in the office at that time, although later Batt did get


a set of them. My mind is blank as to whether it was my idea or Batt suggested I go there. If I remember correctly, I think the President was gone for ten days or so and we got about half of the material ready before he left, and the other half was sent to some point where it was picked up before he started back. The trip was a train trip, as you recall, and I think everybody agreed, at least according to newspaper accounts at the time, that the trip was a success; it gave the President a lot of publicity and he got to see and talk to a lot of people. Batt then continued me doing similar work on a temporary basis until I think up to about the time of the Democratic National Convention that he went to see Senator McGrath and got an okay from McGrath that I could stay on for the campaign. At that time, I thought it would probably still be until just the first of October when I wanted to go back to school. I think that is probably enough in the way of background.


I think we can proceed to questions now.

HESS: Did you or any of the other members of the Research Division help on the speeches for the June trip?

BARRIERE: I did not help on those speeches.

HESS: Your duty was the research and the background material on the stops, is that right?

BARRIERE: That's right. Later on, Batt gave me orders to prepare duplicates of this stuff, that is, there was a set to go to the White House that was to be included for the trip, but there was also to be a set for the office to be used by the fellows that were writing the speeches. I am sure this was not done at this stage, and I don't remember anybody in the office other than Batt himself, although I am sure there were some. I have a remembrance that there were others there, but who they were, and what they were doing, and just what they did for the trip, my mind is completely



HESS: During the campaign, did the Research Division help with the speeches and the whistle-stop speeches?

BARRIERS: Oh, yes, yes. On the whistlestop speeches, these very short ones, particularly later in the campaign, the speeches were generally used exactly the way the Research Division prepared them. On the longer speeches, I think, the general practice was that a factual statement on a subject was prepared in one of the departments or bureaus in the executive branch of the Government. It then came to us and our speechwriters prepared a speech draft and then it went to the White House for final polishing; and generally (just from my memory, I didn't hear many of those speeches, but I did read them in the New York Times), if I remember correctly, generally there was some of the material that came from our shop that was preserved in there, but the style generally had gotten a major rewrite when it went to the White House.


HESS: Did you personally write any of the speeches?

BARRIERE: I wrote no major speeches, and I wrote none of the short speeches until the very end of the campaign when I think the President was campaigning in the Eastern area where there were more stops and they had to have a large supply of these things, and I was pressed in, oh, maybe the last ten days, to do a few of these; and I remember consulting that little book that Senator [Frances J.] Myers brought out shortly after the election, and I found one of my speeches, not in the community I had written for -- it was given someplace else.

HESS: The research that you did during the campaign was bound and put in as the "Files of the Facts," is that correct?

BARRIERE: Yes. Besides working on the memoranda for the President's trips and to help the speechwriters when they were writing for the President, I also did research on what the 80th Congress had done in various areas. I did not write any of those, that


I recall now, putting them in final form. I would assemble the factual information and one of the other staff would prepare the product.

HESS: On number six of the "Files of the Facts," "The 80th Congress and the Lobbies," it is indicated that you and Frank Kelly were the authors.

BARRIERS: Well, I can't be dogmatic about this, but my recollection of this thing is, that I was the only one who had had any practical experiences on the Hill, and I think I did a considerable amount of research work on that one, and Kelly thought I did a very good job and as a reward, he put my name on it. I don't think I did any of the actual writing.

HESS: On that subject, in Mr. Truman's campaign, he attacked the 80th Congress far more than he attacked Mr. Dewey, why did he do that?

BARRIERS: Well, the only thing I can give you is general opinion that the 80th Congress had an extremely


conservative, vulnerable record and, of course, its record was in marked contrast to Mr. Dewey's relatively progressive record as Governor of New York, and also a rather relatively progressive platform the Republicans had adopted at their convention, and somebody, the President or someone advising him decided that it would be good strategy to zero in on the 80th Congress.

HESS: Many historians like to point out that the 80th Congress really wasn't all that bad particularly on foreign affairs, and many of the things Mr. Truman will be remembered for were passed by the 80th Congress; the Greek-Turkish Aid Bill, the Marshall plan, and things of that nature. What is your reaction to that?

BARRIERE: Well, I have a general thesis on this that goes beyond the 1948 election, that I don't believe except in the case when you're in a shooting war and mothers and fathers are seeing their boys drafted, foreign policy plays a major role in the usual election, and it certainly didn't play a


big role in the '48 election. World War II was far enough behind us, both as an immediate conflict and, also, the irritations that had played a role in the 1946 election, and Korea was ahead of us, and 1948 was an election which was fought out on purely domestic issues. The Truman Doctrine on Greece and Turkey and the Marshall plan may have been great things for our country and what was needed in the world, but I doubt if they lost or gained a vote for Mr. Truman in the 1948 election.

HESS: What were the big issues in the '48 campaign?

BARRIERE: Housing was one of them. It wasn't just a matter of the social welfare aspect of housing. I am sure that the people who drafted material on housing stressed this aspect -- and a lot of the things the President talked about were orientated towards social welfare, which culminated, of course, next year in the Housing Act of 1949 -- but,


you also had a very practical bread and butter issue in that there was actually an acute shortage of the number of housing units. This had been hid for many years by the depression and by rent control during the war and when the dam broke, you had all of this long-term demand, plus that large number of returning veterans who were either married or soon got married; and this, in my opinion, was a real bread and butter issue in the urban parts of the country in 1948.

HESS: What were some of the other big issues that you particularly watched as a member of the Research Division?

BARRIERE: Well, we watched the development of the farm issue. The Republicans had botched up that thing In the first place, the Republican Congress had refused to provide adequate storage facilities for grain in the Middle West, and it was clear that the Republicans were at fault there, the President and the Secretary of Agriculture had


recommended this. And even conservative farm organizations, as I recall, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out the need for this storage; they were opposed to mandatory price controls for the long haul, but they felt that we were faced with a practical situation and private enterprise couldn't do it and the Government had to provide the storage facilities.

HESS: Did the members of the Research Division pay any particular attention to the polls that were running heavily against the President?

BARRIERE: Well, you must remember, of course, that this was a long time ago, and polls weren't as perfected as they are today. I don't think that there was a feeling of confidence in the Research Division that the President was going to win but I think probably that they were hopeful, but they were not confident he was going to win, and I think that is about all I can say on that. I think I would have to transfer to my personal feelings


at this point. I felt that Truman was nowhere as bad off as the polls indicated.

HESS: Did you think he would win the election?

BARRIERE: I thought it was possible. I thought it was quite possible. You recall, in 1948 Gallup was still using that system by which, even though he had a very small sample, he was giving individual states, and we had information which indicated that the Republicans were in bad shape in the Middle West, but Gallup kept giving most of those, if not all of those Middle Western stat