Oral History Interview with
Director of the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee for the 1948 presidential campaign.
William L. Batt, Jr.
July 26, 1966 and July 27, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
William L. Batt, Jr.
July 26, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Batt, we are interested in your association with Mr. Truman, and with the Truman administration. What was that association and when did it begin?
BATT: It began when the planning for the Truman campaign was underway. You may have heard of a small planning group made up of a number of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet members of the Truman administration who were concerned about the President's re-election well before the campaign began. You've got a reference to this? In this group were Mr. Ewing, who was then administrator of what is now HEW; Charlie Brannan, who was then Under Secretary of Agriculture; Charlie Murphy; Clark Clifford; George Elsey; Dave Bell on the
White House staff (I think Dave was one of the group; I'm not sure; very active in the group were Leon Keyserling, who was then with the Council of Economic Advisers; Dave Morse, who was then Under Secretary of Labor; and "Jebby" Davidson, then Assistant Secretary of the Interior.
Now, these are the names, which particularly come back to me and were the most active members. And they were doing a kind of "Kitchen Cabinet" job of planning the President's campaign for re-election way before the convention, way before any of the formal activities, back at the beginning of that eventful year of 1948.
HESS: Just about when did they get underway?
BATT: It must have been very early in the year, either the end of '47 or January of '48. Their informal method of planning was around a weekly dinner, Wednesday night, I believe, in Jack Ewing's apartment at the Wardman Park Hotel. This group became concerned about the fact that they had very little continuing staff work going on to support their efforts, and very little staff at the national committee or anywhere else. They were all caught up in the business of Government, and there were very few people working on an advance look at the campaign.
So they were casting around, I gather, for somebody to set up a little shop to do some of this backstop work for their efforts. I had known Dave Morse during the war and during a campaign I ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, back in '46, outside Philadelphia. I think it was Dave Morse who suggested my name as someone who might be able to organize a little "think" group and writing group. I was in business at the time in Philadelphia and delighted at an opportunity to get back associated with the administration and with Government. I hadn't been in the Government since before the war. I'd wanted to be outside so I could run for Congress and be active in the community. So they asked me to come down and think about the possibility of heading this up. I didn't have to give it much thought. It was so much more interesting than what I was doing at the time.
Then Clark Clifford took me up and talked over the idea with the then chairman, Senator McGrath, of the national committee, because their hope was that the national committee -- we discussed the pros and cons of setting up this little group in the national committee or in the White House and they thought that in the
national committee there would be much more freedom of action. So we set it up in the national committee. They asked me to go up in a back room and work up a budget, which I did and it came to about eighty thousand dollars, if I remember correctly, to run an operation of the size they wanted for the nine months between then and the election day. This was approved then by Mr. McGrath and we set about looking for space and people. We found a little office space (they didn't have any space in the national committee building, which was then the Ring Building). We found some space up on Dupont Circle. The only trouble with it was that they were digging the underpass that year, and it was miserably noisy, but we took it.
Then we looked for staff.
HESS: In looking for staff what kind of people were you after?
BATT: We were looking for generalists. We were looking for exceedingly knowledgeable guys who knew the issues before the country and who were also good at research and were good at writing. Fortunately, through my association with both the American Veterans Committee, which I was on the national board of, and my association with the Americans for Democratic Action,
which I was also on the National Board of, and chairman in Philadelphia of both of these organizations, I had known Kenny Birkhead. Ken was one of the first people to come on board, and we needed a good journalistic type. He knew of a fellow named Frank Kelly, who he knew was just leaving the Associated Press and was going to start writing a book, so we persuaded him, Mr. Kelly, to come with us. He's now vice president of the Fund for the Republic. He later became Scott Lucas' administrative assistant on the Hill. He was an exceedingly talented writer.
Dr. (Johannes) Hoeber I had known in Philadelphia in organizing ADA, and he worked on my campaign. Later he joined Mayor Clark's reform government in Philadelphia as Assistant Welfare Director.
Dave Lloyd I knew was an exceedingly talented lawyer here in town and I persuaded him to come on board. He later went on the White House staff.
Phil Dreyer I had known, I believe, through AVC. He was from the Pacific Northwest, knowledgeable and active in natural resources matters. He is now in
business and Democratic County Chairman in San Bernardino, California.
Then our junior partner was John Barriere, who is now the assistant to the Speaker of the House, who was an exceedingly bright, Ph.D. candidate from the University of Chicago, who was here on some kind of a research grant and was recommended to me by Joe McMurray of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee.
So, we assembled a staff, and these all, of course, had to be people who could come in a hurry because we didn't have any long lead time.
HESS: What were the main things that the Research Division was expected to do? Just what was the job?
BATT: Well, the first thing we were asked to do, was to put together in a format which could be used both for the present speechwriters and for candidates around the country, what we call the "File of the Facts," which every campaign has had -- essentially boiling down the problems the country faced; the accomplishments of the Truman Administration to meet those problems, and anything we could dig up on the opposition in relation to these particular issues.
It was all issues-oriented; the President wanted the campaign to be issue-oriented. So this obviously broke down into the farm problems; the foreign affairs problems; and the problems of veterans; the problems of housing; the problems of price control -- these were the big issues in '48 -- of prosperity; the same issues on which the election was later fought.
Then we assigned each member of the staff, myself included, an area of work. Then we set about putting together these "Files of the Facts" and then exchanging manuscripts and editing each other; and then we duplicated these and put them together and they became, and I've still got a set, if the Library would like them -- I don't know, do they have one?
HESS: Yes six, we have a set.
BATT: Good. And then these became something which we drew in our speechwriting efforts and all of the other speechwriters drew on in a handy reference of the principal statements that President Truman had made on these issues and the key votes in the House, lining up generally the Democrats against the Republicans; showing the positions of the two parties. I'd say it was a piece of selective
research and it was not objective research because we frankly weren't objective. We were trying to prove a point and argue a case, and that was that the country would be far better served if the President's policies were continued.
HESS: On the subject of speechwriting, just how were the speeches written?
BATT: This is interesting because when it came time to get into the speechwriting, the major speeches were written in the White House. If my memory serves me, Charlie Murphy was in charge of those, and had several people around the administration helping on preparing first drafts of those speeches. We took on the job of first drafting the back platform speeches. Now the back platform speeches were great fun to do. They were brief. The President wanted to get in some local color, and he wanted to get in a national issue which was meaningful in that community and he wanted to get in in short form the position of the Democrats and the position of the Republicans, as evidenced by their votes in Congress. This generally was the framework we used; Now, how do you get local color about Mt. Ida, Arkansas?
Well, we did it through the WPA Guide, which was our secret weapon, and we got a complete set out of the Library of Congress. The WPA Guides are a gold mine about every community of any size in the United States as you know. Also the President himself from his Truman Committee travels had a vast compendium of odd, assorted knowledge. He was a bug on history anyway, and on many of these communities themselves. Between the WPA Guides and Harry Truman, there was an amazing collection of local background, so when he went into James Whitcomb Riley's hometown, he was quoting from Riley's poetry about the old swimming hole. I remember talking to newspaper men later who traveled on both the Republican and Democratic trains and were impressed by the fact that the President had something to say in each place and also had taken some trouble to brief himself on each area, while Dewey's speeches all came out alike. It was the same speech. He used a set speech the way some people do. I think that certainly one of the things that helped the President was this WPA Guide business.
Then on every community he went to, we had a folder made up, and we had a quick sketch of the town;
and the history of the town; and the geography of the town; and the sociology of the town, which we pirated out of the WPA Guide. The political background was supplied by the national committee people in the Ring Building -- "On the State here are the key leaders, here's the national committeeman, the national committeewoman, here's the important people and here's the political breakdown." We never saw that. Then a draft of the speech was in the same folder, so if he had twelve communities to hit in one day, and he often did, he could brief himself on those the night before or on the trip when he wasn't talking to local "nabobs" on the train.
George Elsey, then, was on the train, and he took that material and very often reworked those back platform speeches. We noticed from studying final drafts that he did a lot of rewriting at the beginning and towards the end of the trip when everybody got more exhausted, our drafts were coming out with fewer changes. Either that or the President liked them better and didn't want George to change as much. At any case, George, as I understand it, worked in a cubicle on the train on the back platform stuff essentially,
and Dave Bell worked on the major speeches based on material which had been provided from the White House by Charles Murphy and his crew around the Administration.
All the Washington material was sent out twenty-four hours ahead by the White House air courier system to the train.
HESS: Did any of the members of the Research Division work on drafts of major speeches?
BATT: Not as a rule. Dave Lloyd might have on occasion. I worked up the first draft of the acceptance speech at the convention, but that was simply because nobody else was doing it and I suggested to Clifford one day about three weeks before the convention, "Is anybody drafting the President's acceptance speech?"
He said, "No, do you want to take a crack at it?"
I said, "Sure," So I went home that night and started to work up a draft on the acceptance speech. Very little of which survived.
HESS: On that subject, do you know who proposed the calling
of the Turnip Day Session?
BATT: Yes, we think we did.
HESS: You think you did? Tell me about it.
BATT: Well, I'd be curious to know what other theories you've got.
HESS: Oh, there are several.
BATT: We had staff meetings every day. The President was getting smitten hip and thigh at this time by the 80th Congress. Then the Republican convention came along and passed a very pious platform advocating many of the things that Truman had advocated and all of which the Republicans in Congress had voted against. We were cogitating how in the world to dramatize this fact. It was just before one of these Wednesday night dinners and we had a staff meeting. We were kicking this around...
HESS: The White House staff?
BATT: No, no. This is our own staff at the National Committee Research Division. We concluded that one way in which this could be dramatized would be for the
President to call Congress back and ask them to do what the Republican convention had endorsed.
HESS: Just about when was this, do you remember?
BATT: It was between the Republican convention and the Democratic convention,