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Lewis T. Barringer Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Lewis T. Barringer

Longtime personal friend of Harry S. Truman and treasurer for his 1944 Vice-Presidential campaign.

Memphis, Tennessee
April 15, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Lewis T. Barringer

 

Memphis, Tennessee
April 15, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs

[1]

FUCHS: I'd like to ask you first, Mr. Barringer, if you would give me a little of your personal history. When and where you were born and where you were educated and something about your career, your business and so forth.

BARRINGER: I was born in Spencer, North Carolina, June 30th, 1900.

FUCHS: Where did you go to school?

BARRINGER: I'm a graduate of the University of Memphis Law School and have been connected with the cotton business since 1919.

FUCHS: Is that when you came to Memphis?

BARRINGER: I came to Memphis in 1929, where I have lived since. It was 1937 that I first met Senator Truman.

FUCHS: How did you happen to meet him?

BARRINGER: In our cotton operations, my firm did considerable business in the State of Missouri.

FUCHS: Was that principally in St. Louis or what town?

BARRINGER: Principally in the five Bootheel counties of Missouri.

[2]

FUCHS: This was buying cotton that was grown there?

BARRINGER: Yes. Cotton was the largest agriculture crop for that section.

FUCHS: What towns did you visit in the Bootheel there where you might have met Mr. Truman?

BARRINGER: Caruthersville, Missouri was the main center of most of the cotton marketing activities. It was on occasions that Mr. Truman visited that area that I first became acquainted with him.

FUCHS: Why did he go to Caruthersville, for any particular reason that you remember?

BARRINGER: Naturally being in politics and feeling that to understand the thinking of his constituents and their needs he found that it best served the people for him to have personal contact and get firsthand understanding as to their views.

FUCHS: Well, then as you recall, you didn't know of Mr. Truman as the Presiding Judge of Jackson County. Your first contact with him was as a Senator from Missouri.

BARRINGER: My first acquaintance with him was at a time after he had first been elected Senator.

FUCHS: When were you first active in any degree, even as a contributor to Mr. Truman's senatorial career?

BARRINGER: In the 1940 campaign for U.S. Senator.

[3]

FUCHS: In what way did you become involved there?

BARRINGER: In the cotton business, being a relatively active operation for about eight months out of the year and the cotton year beginning in September, actually the season wound up most of the time in late spring, which gave the person considerable slack time during the summer months. Therefore, learning that Senator Truman had over the years shown distinct interest in cotton's problems, it was only natural that when campaign time came along in 1940 that whenever I had a few spare days I would go to Missouri and join in on the general campaign, helping in any way possible to help to create interest in Mr. Truman's behalf.

FUCHS: Was he generally popular in the Bootheel district of Missouri?

BARRINGER: Senator Truman was unusually popular in southeast Missouri.

FUCHS: Was that because he was a Democrat or do you think it was a lot because of his personal qualities?

BARRINGER: It was both personal and Democratic. However, even though he had always enjoyed much strength in that area, the big problem was to be sure that the voters did not take his re-election for granted just because that area might carry in his favor; but since

[4]

those people were his friends and the main thing was to be sure that the vote turnout was as large as possible in order to offset some areas where other candidates might be somewhat stronger than Mr. Truman. I think, however, that the 1940 election proved the value of southeast Missouri voters to Mr. Truman's successful re-election, due to the fact that by reason that he carried that area so heavy, it was of material benefit in offsetting areas where other candidates were somewhat stronger than Mr. Truman.

FUCHS: That area's closer to St. Louis than to Kansas City, why do you think he was stronger there than say some of your more substantial Democrats in St. Louis who were interested in the senatorship?

BARRINGER: Southeast Missouri being an agricultural area rather than manufacturing, had always found Mr. Truman so much interested in their problems that it was natural for them to feel a close tie with his views.

FUCHS: Now, were you acquainted with Bob Hannegan and Bernard Dickmann in 1940 at the time of the senatorial race?

BARRINGER: I was acquainted with Mr. Hannegan but not Mr. Dickmann.

FUCHS: There was supposed to have been a defection at

[5]

the last moment arranged by Hannegan that threw a lot of votes to Mr. Truman in St. Louis. Do you have any knowledge of that?

BARRINGER: No, I did not.

FUCHS: Well, now, after Mr. Truman was re-elected and went back to the Senate in '41, as you know, he set up the Truman Committee. Did you have any relationship with the Truman Committee or with Mr. Truman during that period?

BARRINGER: I saw Mr. Truman frequently during the time in which he was chairman of the Truman Committee. However, insofar as the committee was concerned, its purposes were not of an agriculture nature and were more in connection with defense contracts; therefore, as agricultural matters went that committee had no occasion to deal with our problems. However, as a United States Senator, agricultural problems affecting Missouri were frequently before Congress; therefore, in matters related thereto, Mr. Truman was certainly consulted.

FUCHS: What do you recall of any of his staff members that he had at that time in his senatorial office?

BARRINGER: Mr. Victor Messall was his Administrative Assistant during most of the period when he was Senator.

[6]

FUCHS: Did you know him personally?

BARRINGER: I did.

FUCHS: Was he, in your opinion, a capable, efficient servant for Mr. Truman?

BARRINGER: He was.

FUCHS: Why did he leave Mr. Truman in early 1941?

BARRINGER: I think that he felt that he could go in business for himself and earn more money than his job in the Senate was paying.

FUCHS: You don't know if he ever tried to go back to Mr. Truman after he became Vice-President?

BARRINGER: No, I don't.

FUCHS: Who else do you recall in his office?

BARRINGER: I think Harry Vaughan was there for a while, wasn't he?

FUCHS: Yes, he succeeded Messall. Were you personally acquainted with Vaughan?

BARRINGER: I knew him real well.

FUCHS: What did you think, upon reflection, about Vaughan and some of the troubles that he got into from time to time?

BARRINGER: It seemed that the General could get himself into situations that were needless, and he tried to help too many people without taking time to find out or learn the merits of the situation and that

[7]

was what did damage. Just slap-happy, he thought he could do forty things at one time.

FUCHS: Well, you were in Washington frequently you say, in connection with cotton matters, I suppose. With whom would you normally deal and what were you trying to do there?

BARRINGER: Most of it was cotton problems and I would say ninety percent were with the various agencies, since cotton and other agricultural commodities were under rigid Government regulation; therefore, any firm with a sizeable operation had to first start with a Washington agency under which regulations were issued covering the various aspects of the handling of cotton.

FUCHS: Were there any principal regulations or problems that were aggravated by the war effort that you had to deal with? Do you recall?

BARRINGER: You experienced much difficulty by reason of the war, which created extensive regulations; however, agriculture in the '30s had come under many new forms of Government regulations and controls by the reason of the fact that agriculture had reached a virtual bankruptcy stage in the early '30s and the Government had sought to establish programs which were of benefit to

[8]

producers. Therefore, you had two situations: One, where the Government was trying to help the farmer's income and then, on the other hand, during the war he had numerous regulations brought on by the war.

FUCHS: Did you ever have any personal contact with Henry Wallace when he was in the agricultural setup there?

BARRINGER: I had some contact with him but it was limited.

FUCHS: What about with Claude Wickard?

BARRINGER: I had a fair amount of contact with him. However, in his instance as in others, the Secretary of Agriculture had limited duties insofar as various regulations were concerned.

FUCHS: Did you have a preference between those two as the Secretary of Agriculture? Just as a matter of interest, do you think one performed more capably than the other?

BARRINGER: I think Mr. Wallace was the stronger Secretary without a question.

FUCHS: What about Clinton Anderson and Brannan? Did you come in touch with them and do you have any comments about their policies or effectiveness?

BARRINGER: Secretary Anderson made a good Secretary. I knew him real well. Secretary Brannan did a good job and I believe was more active as a Secretary than Mr. Anderson.

[9]

FUCHS: Was there anything that either of these last two gentlemen did in regard to cotton, if only indirectly through their department, that you thought was laudable or should have been done differently?

BARRINGER: Secretary Anderson by the reason of the exact time when he was serving, more or less followed the patterns of agriculture laid down by Mr. Wallace by the reason of the fact that the war slowed down any major changes during that particular time. However, when Mr. Brannan became Secretary, we had had so many needs for supplying foreign nations who had been closely associated with the United States in their military activities, that whatever surplus we had had in former years had dwindled to where the big question was how to produce sufficient agriculture products to care for the United States as well as to share a portion with our foreign friends. So, Mr. Brannan was faced with the problem as to how to improve our supply in the face of severe shortages. To this end he had a more difficult job than Secretary Anderson, and it must be said that he did all in his power to meet the needs of feeding the United States as well as sharing with the allies.

[10]

FUCHS: Now, Mr. Brannan succeeded to the office of Secretary of Agriculture in May '48, which, of course, was before Mr. Truman was re-elected and served all of the years, then, of the Truman Administration up till the time when Mr. Truman left office from May '48 on. Do you think agricultural surpluses were not a major problem during that period?

BARRINGER: Shortages existed all the way through Mr. Brannan's term of office. And it was very severe.

FUCHS: What was the situation in regard to cotton during that period?

BARRINGER: The supply of cotton had become so serious that the Security Council placed the disposal of cotton export under rigid control.

FUCHS: To bring us down to the present in regard to cotton. Do you think that the subsequent administrations have made it more difficult for you to operate? The Eisenhower and the Kennedy and Johnson, or have things become better for you as far as regulations and your activities in the world of cotton?

BARRINGER: The Eisenhower administration created unlimited problems for agriculture and, as a matter of fact, Mr. Benson should have been termed "Secretary of Dis-service for the Farmer" instead of

[11]

Secretary of Agriculture.

FUCHS: What was the major problem there as you see it?

BARRINGER: The problem with Mr. Benson was -- he stated that the best way for the farmer to operate was to go it alone. However, if he intended that that should be the program for the farmer he should have offered and sought farm legislation which would have removed some of the acreage restrictions under which the farmer was forced to operate; in other words, if the farmer was to operate without Government help in the way of payments. Agricultural laws which were on the books were very burdensome to the producers.

FUCHS: Did you personally seek any legislation on the Hill that would alleviate this situation, either during Mr. Brannan's years or Mr. Benson's years?

BARRINGER: I worked for agricultural legislation at the time when war controls were placed into effect. The Office of Price Administration issued many regulations which affected agriculture and cotton in particular. Therefore, in order for cotton to maintain its proper place in agriculture and the economy of the country, it was necessary that agriculture statutes be passed by Congress which would give cotton fair treatment.

[12]

FUCHS: Do you recall with whom you worked in Congress on this matter?

BARRINGER: When the agricultural acts were handled by Congress, Senator John H. Bankhead was chairman of the agricultural committee, and it was with him that I talked over most of the cotton problems.

FUCHS: At a later period, perhaps, did you work with the office of the Legislative Counsel on the Hill that was writing legislation and perhaps some on cotton?

BARRINGER: It was through Senator Bankhead that I became acquainted with the Legislative Counsel for the Sena