Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened November, 1978
Oral History Interview with
July 29, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: All right, Mr. Biemiller, you were going to relate an early incident in your relationship with Mr. Truman.
BIEMILLER: My first recollection of seeing Harry Truman in action was a meeting in 1942 of the old Truman Committee, which is of course the operation that first brought him into great nationwide fame. At this particular committee meeting, the committee had called up Mr. John L. Lewis, then president of the United Mine Workers, in the middle of one of the perennial labor difficulties with that union. After
a discussion of the issues involved, Mr. Lewis had come out with what was one of his favorite remarks, "My miners have shrunken bellies." Whereupon Senator [Joseph H.] Ball piped up and said, "Mr. Lewis, you know that is sheer demogoguery."
And Lewis replied, "Senator, I hurl those words back in your teeth."
It was quite a crowd. Bedlam broke loose, then Senator Truman rapped for order, and reprimanded Mr. Lewis, saying, "Mr. Lewis, you cannot insult Senators."
Lewis said, "But Mr. Truman, Senator Ball cast the first stone."
Whereupon Senator Truman turned to Senator Ball and said, "That's right, Senators mustn't insult Mr. Lewis either."
From then on the meeting was in John L.'s hands and it didn't wind up with any particular solution of anything at that particular hearing.
Now, actually, my first real contact with Mr. Truman came at the 1944 Democratic Convention when the question of whether or not he would run for the vice-presidential nomination against Henry Wallace, who was the incumbent at the time.
FUCHS: What was your capacity at that convention?
BIEMILLER: I was an alternate from the Wisconsin delegation. And at that time Wisconsin was pretty well committed to the nomination of Henry Wallace, and having only recently become a Democrat, because I had served in the state legislature as the leader of the LaFollette Progressive Party, I wasn't being listened to too much anyhow.
However, during the turmoil that was going on over who would get that nomination, I was asked to go across the street from the stadium to the Democratic Club there and sit
down with Mr. Gene Casey, then one of the so-called anonymous assistants in the White House, and Mr. Joseph Keenan, who had been my superior as labor vice-chairman of the War Production Board. I was his troubleshooter during the war.
As we sat down, Mr. Casey wanted to know if something couldn't be done to straighten out the Wisconsin delegation. I told him what the difficulties were, and he said, "Well, my God, don't your people realize that when we nominate a candidate for Vice President at this election, we are naming the next President of the United States?"
I was a little startled, although not completely. I had known the rumors of President Roosevelt's bad health. But that was where we got into it, and we finally did wind up getting 13 Wisconsin votes out of 26
for Truman over Wallace. That took a little doing but we did it.
FUCHS: Were you personally in favor of Truman at that time?
BIEMILLER: Absolutely, all the way. I had been right from the beginning. I always mistrusted Wallace, I thought held wind up doing the kind of thing that he did of making book with the communists when he ran in 1948 against Mr. Truman.
In that '48 campaign, which is the next thing I want to get into a little bit, we really, in Wisconsin, went all out for Harry Truman. He had come into Wisconsin in 1944 as a candidate for Vice President. We'd had a dinner for him, but very frankly it didn't stir up too much interest. All the interest in that campaign was, of course, on Roosevelt's re-election for a fourth term. But in 1948, when
things were entirely different, and Mr. Truman came into town, he was a hero.
You will remember that in that election he rode a train constantly, up and down the country. He came into Wisconsin on a train, I boarded it at Madison and came on down to Milwaukee on the train. The newspapermen grabbed me, all of whom I'd known because of my previous service in the Congress and with the War Production Board, and said, "Now, come on, Andy, level with us, who's going to carry Wisconsin?"
I said, "Harry Truman is going to carry Wisconsin by 50,000 votes."
They said, "Look, we're not asking you on the record, we're asking you off-the-record."
And I said, "And I'll answer the same way either on or off the record. We're going to. carry Wisconsin by 50,000 votes."
Well, when that train came through Wisconsin huge crowds appeared everyplace. One of them, for example, that I know a .good deal about, was the little jerkwater stop of Wyeville. I think the town's population is about 300 people. This train, being an old steam boiler type, had to stop there, as the name indicates, to jerk water and put it on board. Three thousand people had assembled without any attempt being made to bring them there. The word had simply spread that that train would have to stop.
When he got into Waukesha, midway between Madison and Milwaukee, the station was just crowded so that you couldn't get anybody else into it. He was speaking off the back end of a platform.
In Milwaukee we had done something that everybody told us we were crazy -- "we" meaning Democratic leaders -- we rented the American
Association ball park, simply because we couldn't find an indoors hall worth a presidential visit. Now, this was approximately the 20th of October. I remember when I spoke, I spoke in a topcoat, it was that cold. But in spite of this semi-inclement weather, we had that ball park filled to capacity. There were about 15,000 people. Nothing like that had ever been seen before in Milwaukee. The street from the train to the ball park was just lined with people, and the enthusiasm for Harry Truman was very obvious.
Then the next memory I have of that '48 election that involves our good friend, was that we got a call the Saturday before election. Robert Tehan, then a state senator, the state chairman, and myself, happened to be in the office with him. We got a call from the Democratic National Committee, saying "Do
you fellows still stand by your claim that you're going to carry Wisconsin?"
And we said, "Absolutely, 50,000 votes is what it will be."
Then there was sort of a gasp at the other end of the wire. We said, "What's the matter? Nothing else going well?"
They said, "Well, if you fellows are right, and if everybody else is right that we've talked to, we carry the White House in '48."
Now that was an interesting thing, because later on, when I was visiting one time with Mr. Truman in the White House, he gave me a personal rendition of that skit that he did for so many people on Mr. [H.V.] Kaltenborn, and then added, "I want to say though, that I was wrong about one thing. I put into an envelope the night before election a list of the states
I would carry. I was wrong on two, I had put Indiana in, I did not think I was going to carry Wisconsin. I lost Indiana, but Wisconsin held up, and you've only got one less vote than Indiana in the electoral college, so I was absolutely on the head with what I was going to do."
Now, we did carry, by the way, Wisconsin by 52,000 votes. We knew what we were doing. The thing was there to see, it was evident. The farmers particularly were up in arms and around the milk factories, as we called them, where cheese is made, cheese factories, why, the farmers were just openly talking about Harry Truman and how they loved him and what a great person he was, This worked out very, very well indeed.
FUCHS: How early did you feel confident?
BIEMILLER: As far as the State of Wisconsin was
concerned, we felt confident by the first of October that we had the thing pretty well under control in that state and we kept telling the National Committee this. And we, of course, told Mr. Truman this when he came through, and when he spoke out at the old ball park there, Borchert Field as we called it. The whole thing was going very well, right from the beginning, as far as we were concerned.
FUCHS: After the convention were you somewhat concerned and considerably less confident?
BIEMILLER: No. I was a delegate to the '48 convention. I led the fight there that Senator [Hubert] Humphrey gets most of the credit for. I led the fight there for the minority plank on civil rights, which carried. And I'm not belittling Senator Humphrey; he made a great speech, but it was
actually my resolution that came out of the committee. The way that was passed -- the story is not generally known, but it's worth getting into the record here: When I first came to Congress in '44, I had gotten to know Speaker [Sam] Rayburn quite well. In fact I was down here in December of '44 before I took my seat, and he called me in and wanted to talk with me. He said, "I know about the work you've been doing in terms of parliamentary procedure, both in the labor movement and in your state legislature. I like it. I hope you'll keep it up. I want you to learn the rules of the House from top to bottom because we have virtually nobody from the North or West that knows the rules. Only the southerners know the rules, and I'm having troubles." He added, "And if you ever show me that you're right about a rule, you'll get notice, and you'll
get my attention and you'll get what you need."
So, I went to work and I will immodestly say, I did learn the rules pretty well, with partly some coaching from Speaker Rayburn and partly from the late parliamentarian Lou Deschler, whom the Speaker had asked to work with me. Well, the rules of the Democratic Convention are -- or were in those days -- those of the House of Representatives. Very few people understood this, and so we had to make sure that we were going to get the floor for that minority report, because I was sure Sam Rayburn did not particularly want a civil rights fight on the floor of that convention, he being from Texas and so on. So I worked pretty hard to be sure that I got all set to go on it. I got hold of his private number as soon as the die was cast and we were going to make this
minority report, called him and he sort of grunted at me. "What are you calling about, civil rights, I suppose?"
I said, "That's right, Sam."
He said, "Well, all right, I'll see you on the platform quarter to 12." We started at 12 o'clock. And I went up with Humphrey and the Speaker said, "Now, you're sure you've got your rights protected?"
I said, "Absolutely."
He called over old Clarence Cannon, who had been serving as parliamentarian. He said, "Clarence, Andy got his rights protected?" One of the few times I ever saw Clarence Cannon smile in my life, he was a kind of a sour puss old guy. Clarence said, "Three different ways, Sam."
Sam said, "Oh, my God, the fat's in the fire." And we proceeded to have the issue out. Now, while we were waiting for the issue
to be joined, our old friend Ed Flynn, the leader of the Bronx, and really the leader of New York State at that time, National Committeeman, grabbed Hubert and me. He said, "You kids are right, you know what you're doing. This is the only way we can win this election. Stir up the minorities." Now he said, "You stay right here with me, I'm going to send a runner down." And he brought up Jack Arvey, the leader of the Illinois delegation, Dave Lawrence, the leader of the Pennsylvania delegation, and the inimitable Boss [Frank] Hague of New Jersey. Repeated what I've just said and then said, "Can't you fellows swing your delegations? I'll swing New York."
Well, in those days at Democratic conventions nobody really polled delegations, the leader voted them, and they voted a unit rule. So we got the solid vote of New York,
Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey, and we had California already buttoned up, and that added to Wisconsin and a few other states that we were putting together, is what carried it; and I have always been of the opinion that Ed Flynn knew what he was talking about, that it was that plank that helped carry that campaign, because it did stir people up among the minority groups in this country. I am not taking anything back from Harry Truman, who I think was one of the most effective campaigners I've ever seen. He was great and one of the reasons he was so great was that he was just one of the people. I know a lot of smart alecks around this town to this day are still belittling the line that he was using off the end of the train, that after he made a little-short speech he'd first call out his good wife Bess and say, "I want you to meet the Boss," and then he would call out
his daughter and say, "And now I want you to meet the Boss's boss."
And a lot of smart aleck intellectuals said, "Oh, that's corney stuff," and so on. I don't care what you call it, it's effective. It's the kind of way that the ordinary citizen in this country feels. It's the way that many, many people talk. And very frankly, and again to take nothing away from Franklin Roosevelt, I think the complete shift in style from a patrician intellectual, to a man of the people, who was obviously a man of the people, was a great thing to have happen. This is one reason I was convinced we would win that election, and I was never really worried about it. So I was delighted that the whole campaign worked out the way it did.
Now, very shortly after that campaign we got back in one sense to one of the things I was describing about how Wisconsin was so
important to him to win. We had a fight on as to who should become Federal judge in the Eastern District ,of Wisconsin; and here I was, what in the parlance of the House is called a retread, a man with broken terms. I was in my second term, but they had been broken, and one other guy in his first term, Clem [Clement J.] Zablocki, nobody in the Senate, -- no Democrat, from Wisconsin. So, I suddenly found myself as a retread from Wisconsin, being the ranking Democratic politician in the Congress of the United States from the State of Wisconsin. And so I finally got word from various people that the President wanted to talk to me very much about who was to be the next judge. He knew who I wanted, but he wanted to talk about it and he wanted me to bring Zablocki along.
So, we went on down to the White House, and I had been advised previously by the former
Justice Tom Clark, who was then the Attorney General, and by my old friend Oscar Chapman of the Interior Department, that I had better just talk plain politics, not try to make any highfalutin arguments on this thing. I said, "Okay, I understand it perfectly."
So we walked in and we started out and President Truman said, "What are you fellows here for?"
He knew all right, but you know how you start these things. And I said, "We're here Mr. President to urge you to report the name of Robert Tehan to the Senate as your nominee for Judge of the Eastern District of Wisconsin."
He said, "Look," and turns to me particularly, "here's a wire I have from the president of the Wisconsin State Federation of Labor, George Haberman, urging that I name a fellow named Carl Becker," who was the Federal DA at
the time in Milwaukee.
I said, "Mr. President, I'm aware of that, but you also have a wire signed by 101 labor leaders, from Milwaukee and vicinity, headed by Peter Schoemann head of the building trades, and Jake Friedrick, head of the Milwaukee Federated Trades Council, the AF of L central body in that area."
He said, "Well, you do seem to know what's going on back home."
I said, "Well, I learned that from you a long time ago, that no politician is any good unless he does know what's going on back home."
Then he threw another one at me. He said, "Well, you know this fellow Tehan, he signed that roundrobin with Hague, and that Jimmy Roosevelt" -- and he was shaking his head when he said Jimmy Roosevelt -- "and a few other people, saying that I should not run in '48 and that Eisenhower
should be the candidate of the Democratic Party."
I said, "That is true, he did make that horrible mistake. He has regretted it all the rest of his life and will until his dying day, but," I said, "on the other hand, let me remind you that he was the National Committeeman in the election last fall. You yourself have told me that you were very delighted when you carried Wisconsin because it put you over the top, and he's the man that ran the campaign. And by the normal rules of politics, it seems to me he's entitled to a very great deal of consideration, particularly with the widespread backing he has."
"Well," he said, "that makes some sense."
I said, "You know, you've got to remember, Mr. President, you've been through the political mill as much as anybody I know, there are a lot of people in politics who are looking for rewards
and if the logical guy doesn't get this reward, you're going to discourage a lot of young people in the Democratic Party of Wisconsin."
He said, "Well, you've got something there," and turned to Zablocki and said, "Do you agree with him?"
"Oh," Clem said, "all the way, positively."
So he said, "All right, gentlemen, I'm glad to have had this chat with you. I won't tell you what name I'm going to send up, but I don't think you'll be disappointed."
By the time we got back to the Hill, Tehan's name was up there and we accomplished that. Tehan had been an old friend; I'd served with him. In fact he and I helped put the first merger of Progressives and Democrats together. He was the Democratic leader in the legislature when I was the Progressive Party leader, and we both came to the conclusion that -- the last session that I
served in that legislature was '41 -- we both came to the conclusion that it was pretty hopeless, we were just split. Between us we had just enough votes to stop suspension of the rule, and that isn't a very powerful minority, and it was time to put a stop to this nonsense. And I ran as a Democrat way back in '44, and I'd say Tehan and I were the people that started working on this, putting the thing together, and so on. Today, as you've probably noted, the Democratic Party in Wisconsin has all but buried the Republican Party. It's a very curious development over the years.
But I want to get back to my friend, Harry Truman, whom I have such a high regard for.
In 1950 I was defeated. We came back here for a lame duck session. The Korean war was
on. I got a call one day from Matt Connelly. He said, "Andy, the President wants to see you."
I said, "What the hell does the President want to see a lame duck like me for?"
He said, "I haven't any idea. All I know is he told me this morning, "Get Andy Biemiller down here, I want to see him. I want to talk to him." So Connelly says, "When can you come?"
I said, "Well, what's the first open date?"
He said, "Ten thirty tomorrow morning."
I said, "Fine, I'll be there."
So, I went in and Connelly still said, as I went by his desk, "I haven't any idea what's on his mind."
He opened the door for me, and I walk in and good old Harry Truman jumps up from his desk in the Oval Office, walks across, shakes
my hand vigorously, and says, "Andy, I just want you to know I'm sick that you were defeated in this last election. We need people like you in the Congress, and I want a promise from you that you will run again."
Well, I remember muttering something like, "Well, I've got to have a job in the meantime."
"Don't worry about that, we'll take care of that. We'll get that going. But I want you to run again because you had the guts to take on the doctors of this country, and very few people have got the guts to do that." And he said, "Sit down here, I want to talk to you a little bit."
So we sat down and talked. He started out by telling me how way back when he was chief judge, I think is the title they used out there.
FUCHS: Presiding Judge.
BIEMILLER: Presiding Judge. He had wanted to build a county hospital, and the county medical society tried to stop him, but he said, "I fought the s.o.b.s and we beat them, and by God that county hospital's there today." And he said, "You needn't tell me about the doctors and how they fight everything that's good and progressive in America and I'm glad you've taken them on over the years, I know your record." I had had a health insurance bill in the Wisconsin legislature as far back as '37 and I had handled Mr. Truman's health bill in the '49-'50 session. I ran hearings on it in the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, and so we got along.
And then he said, "Come on, let's just talk a little politics anyhow." He said, "I've got a little time here today."
So, all of a sudden I blurted something out, that I just couldn't believe I said it once I got rid of it. I said, "You know. Mr. President, one of the few things I've never understood about you, is why you opposed my old friend Tom Hennings in the primary for United States Senator in Missouri this past year."
He looks at me as though I'm very stupid, and he said, "Don't you know why I fought Tom Hennings in that primary?"
I said, "I haven't the slightest idea."
He said, "I didn't want the St. Louis boys taking over the state organization," which is about as down to earth a political answer as I've ever heard from anybody. He then backtracked and said, "Now, did you say you're a friend of Tom's?"
I said, "I lived next door to him for
two years at the Deke house at Cornell when we were undergraduates there."
He said, "Fine, you're the man I've been looking for. You take a message to Tom Hennings for me. Tell him I want to see him. Tell him if he'll lay off the bottle, he's presidential timber, and I want to talk to him about it."
Now it's true, and unfortunately my friend Tom Hennings was a bit of an alcoholic. In fact, he became worse and worse and died an alcoholic. But I bumped into Tom a day or two after that somewhere here in Washington, gave him the message. He said, "Andy, that's the first message I've had from Harry Truman since the primary, and you can make sure I'll be going to see him soon," which he did. And for a short time he straightened out, but it later got the better of him. But I was interested that Truman could evaluate a man,
because there was no question Tom Henning was a brilliant person, and it's one of the great tragedies of our time that this unfortunate drinking habit got the best of him.
Now, Harry then came on out, the last time that I saw him in a public speech, when in 1952 he made a big Labor Day speech in Milwaukee. A speech that was directed in large part at trying to get me reelected to the Congress. I regret that neither of us were successful. We bumped into a guy named Eisenhower who, you know, sort of made things miserable, I had predicted early in the campaign that I would get 105 thousand votes and win 105 to 95. About the first of October I corrected that to 105 to 100, because I could see that Republican vote growing. And toward the end of October I wrote to the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee: "I'm sorry, I think all bets are off, God knows how many votes are coming out, I'll still get my 105. I lost 112 to 105, in spite of these heroic efforts and in spite of Mr. Truman coming out to make that speech in an effort to get me back into Congress; and I certainly appreciated his doing that.
We had a huge rally, we filled the Milwaukee Auditorium on Labor Day and he was, naturally, well received. The President of the United States doesn't speak many places on Labor Day. There he was; he came on out and did a yeoman job.
Now, actually, Mr. Truman has always worked pretty well with people in the labor movement, as you know. He very early in the game proved he was a very close friend, and this is an incident that I don't think is too well-known -- people remember him for vetoing the Taft-Hartley bill in 1947, and
unfortunately having it overridden. There had been a forerunner of the Taft-Hartley bill in 1946, the Case bill. This came up while I was a Member of the House. I went down to see Mr. Truman about it, and he said, "Andy, from what you tell me, the bill should be vetoed, but I'd like to have Members of the House ask me to veto it. I'd like to see you get 145 signatures asking me to veto that bill." He said, "That would sustain a veto."
Well, I sent him 145 signatures, and got a very nice note back saying, "You can be sure when that bill hits my desk it's going to get vetoed," and it was. And we sustained him by just two or three votes when the actual vote came up in the House.
Now, that was the forerunner of Taft-Hartley and it was a lesson to all of us. In '46 of course, many of us went down the drain. So that it was no surprise that by the
47 session, the do-nothing 80th as it was correctly called (except it did a lot of bad things); it was do-nothing in the sense of doing anything for people. There were too many of us away who had been in the 79th. Many of us, fortunately, came back for the 81st along with Harry Truman. There we were doing a little bit of coattail riding. I remember I ran neck and neck with him -- in my district I'm talking about -- in the election of 1948. The other thing I remember is that he also was able to keep his friendship with many labor leaders. I think one o£ the few great mistakes he made in his life was when he insisted on passing the so-called "draft railroad strikers into the Army bill." It was a mistake. The strike was over before the House voted, but he insisted the House vote. I unfortunately wasn't present. I had been assured by the then leader of the House, John McCormack, that there
would be nothing on the floor on Saturday. I had gone out to Chicago to debate Morris Pishbein on health insurance, doing what I thought was the Lord's work; and then I got stuck. There was no way of getting back here in time for a vote, when they decided they were going to meet on Saturday. I commandeered a Navy plane, a small one, up at Great Lakes Training Station, but we got grounded in Pittsburg -- it was a stormy day; so I just didn't vote at all on the thing.
Now, in spite of that mistake of his, which, curiously enough, Bob Taft got him out of. Bob Taft killed the bill in the Senate, and that was the end of it. He was able to eventually get back and sit down and agree that this was probably a mistake, and he and the labor leaders got together all right by the '48 election. This was important, because he needed the labor
movement in that campaign, and we needed Harry Truman. So I was delighted to see that work out.
But his bona fides were there, certainly in the veto of the Case bill, the later veto of Taft-Hartley. He was, as I'm sure everyone knows, particularly close to the railroad unions during his campaigns for the Senate. In fact, he gave them credit in 1940 -- told me this himself -- for electing him. You remember that was the very tight one he got into. It was really a tough primary for him, and he had a lots of trouble in that one, but he survived. I think the rail people quite properly respected him, liked him, stuck with him through thick and thin.
Now, the last real memory I have of Harry Truman I want to conclude with this unless you see some gaps here you'd like to have
filled in. You will remember that Lyndon Johnson took a couple of planeloads of people out to the Truman Library for the signing of the Medicare bill, which had been one of Harry Truman's real loves that he wanted to get passed.
FUCHS: I handled the arrangements for that; our Director was ill.
BIEMILLER: You know about it then. Anyhow I was there.
And you remember, Lyndon was passing out pens and then over in a corner the other end of the stage, Harry Truman was talking with people. So, I walked up after I got my pen from Lyndon, and I said, "Mr. Truman, I'm Andy '
He said, "You needn't tell me who you are. You're the guy that had guts enough to take on the doctors. You're one of the few
people I know that had the kind of guts I had to take on the doctors. And God bless you, Andy Biemiller, I hope you last a long time." You know this kind of thing that really sets you up.
Well, that, you see, coupled with the earlier incident I was telling you -- how I was a lame duck Congressman, down in the mouth, and he said, "We need you back in Congress" -- that human side of Harry Truman is something I know a lot of people know about but I experienced it. He could go out of his way and lift you from the depths right on back up where you were out scrapping. And I think it will be a long, long time before we'll see his equal again in this country. As far as I'm concerned he is the greatest President we've ever had.
FUCHS: Very interesting. I don't know how much
time you have, sir, I have a few questions.
BIEMILLER: Go ahead, I've got some time. I've got to go over to the White House in a little while, but not right away.
FUCHS: What did you consider the most pernicious, from a labor standpoint, features of the Case bill -- as an antecedent of the Taft-Hartley?
BIEMILLER: I'd have to really check the record,. because I don't want to say something that's wrong. I'm of the opinion that what was wrong with it was, among other things, it was interfering with the right to strike. But I don't want to say that and not have it stand up, you know.
FUCHS: Of course in the 1940 election, as you pointed out, Mr. Truman, then Senator, was
fighting for his political life, and he did get the support of the railroad leaders, the BLE and the railway trainmen. I believe that was [Alvanley] Johnston, and -- who was the other one?
BIEMILLER: [A.F.] Whitney. He's the guy he had to make up with again in '46.
FUCHS: Then after the '46 strikers draft bill they swore, I guess, eternal hate for him. Now how did he get them back together, in your opinion? They did, I don't know if John L. Lewis did, but they did come back.
BIEMILLER: No. John L. never made up with him, but Whitney did.
Have you ever met a fellow named Walter Monroe?
FUCHS: I've seen the name.
BIEMILLER: He was in the United States Mediation Service, and he took it upon himself to bring Whitney and Truman together. And he worked on it, and he worked on it, and he worked on it. If you could locate him, that is one of the great stories about Truman.
FUCHS: He used his conciliatory talents in an extracurricular
BIEMILLER: And got Whitney and Truman together and got Truman to say, "I made a mistake," you know, and Whitney saying, "All is forgiven;" and he went all out for him. And Whitney was quite a power in his day.
FUCHS: What about Johnston? Did he just go along with Whitney or
BIEMILLER: I don't know. I think they all just sort of went along once Whitney had made his peace. It was Whitney who had been fulminating
more than anybody else; but he made his peace and away they went.
It's an interesting period, but Walter Monroe is the only guy that I know of -- or, I tell you who might also know something about it, and I know he's still around, Eli Oliver. Have you run across that name anywhere? I don't know where Eli hangs out these days. Eli is about 75 years old, more than that, maybe 78, he's damn good -- he was a politician of sorts and a labor leader. In fact, he was my immediate superior in the old War Production Board days. He's the guy who sent me up to listen to that Truman Committee thing you see, and so on.
I saw Eli just about a month ago, he was here. Hale and hearty all right, no problem about that. I'm not sure whether Walter Monroe is still alive. That's why I want to also get ahold of Oliver, because he's the
only other guy who knows much about that. I know he was quietly working with Walter. It was Walter Monroe that deserved the credit. He just wouldn't let this split continue, and he was quite right. That damn thing was bitter enough at the beginning that it could have influenced the '48 election, very badly. We had to get that one straightened out.
FUCHS: What was the basis of, first, your victory in '44 and then, briefly, your defeat in the next election, which would have been '46?
BIEMILLER: Well, that's '46. You remember in '46 everybody was going down the drain that was in marginal districts. I had a district that until Reuss carried it for three times, nobody had ever carried three times in a row. In fact, very few people carried it twice in a row.
It was just a swing district. It isn't anymore. It's now a very safe, Democratic district. I wish to God it had been in the shape those days it is now; although I've enjoyed what I've been doing with [George] Meany. Hell, it's a very pleasant life and it's close as you can be to Congress without being a member; and probably I've had more influence than I would as just a single member, although I would have been chairman of Interstate and Foreign about eight years ago if I'd hung around.
But that '46 election "had enough," you remember, was the slogan that the Republicans very cleverly raised. People were worried and upset over OPA and shortage of meat and so on. It was just a hopeless election. I knew I was defeated before our polls were even closed. I mean I knew it in my heart.
The Louisville polls closed at 7, they had voting machines, and they were an hour ahead of us, and they announced before 8 o'clock that Emmet O'Neal had gone down the drain, and he had been a Congressman for 22 years in Louisville; and I figured if he's getting licked, what chance have I got, a first termer in a swing district, because Louisville was supposed to be a safe Democratic district.
Secondly, the other thing that was happening -- which is really just another side of the same thing I'm talking about -- a lot of labor people were just sort of fed up with everything and they didn't turn out at all; they didn't do anything. My vote went down. In 1944 I had 78,000 to 68,000. I won by 10,000. In 146 I wound up with 58,000 votes and the Republican vote was what it had been, 68,000. This was the answer. But it was this disgust with -- and it's true, I think people were wrong, but I could
understand their attitude. They were so damn mad about rationing, and curtailment of goods and supplies.
A little minor incident but it shows you the other way the thing was working: I had saved up enough gasoline as a Member. My son was then about 5-1./2 years old, and he wanted to see a battlefield, so I took him down to Antietam. And on the way back my wife said, "Hey, there's a butcher shop, I've got some red points with me. At least we can get meat there." So we go into the butcher shop and I said to the butcher, "We have red points with us."
He said, "I don't give a damn about red points, what do you want to buy?"
We must have come out of there with about 12 pounds of meat. They weren't monkeying with rationing in the small towns, and so on, and I suppose people were finding this out.
I was delighted for about a week, we had a hell of a lot of good meat around the house and so on.
I remember also a little incident on that. Driving home I had some pretty bad tires. I drove through my birthplace, Sandusky, Ohio, and two tires blew. I got hold of the Congressman there and he was a Republican, Al Weichel, sort of between my father and me in age, and we both knew him well. So Al got hold of the local rationing guys and said, "I'll verify this guy as a Member of the Congress," and so on and so on, "give him a couple of tires." So I picked up two tires and went on to Milwaukee. You know, it took that poor guy about a year before he got cleared on giving me those two tires, even though you had two Congressmen, Weichel and myself, involved with it. This is the kind of thing that was irritating people,
and causing all kinds of trouble at the time.
FUCHS: What did you campaign on in '44, to support the war and Roosevelt, or labor, civil rights?
BIEMILLER: Absolutely, all out. All out for the war.
FUCHS: Maybe the latter didn't enter in too much.
BIEMILLER: Oh, no I was also talking to labor and civil rights, but above all supporting the war. The fellow that I ran against, had been in from 38 to 42, but he was beat in '42 by my predecessor, Howard McMurray, as a Democrat. McMurray was a Democrat. He beat this guy, Lewis Thill, about as close to a Nazi, as ever served in Congress. Lewis Thill the day after Pearl Harbor, made a speech inferring that Roosevelt had practically
invited the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor so as to have an excuse for taking us into the war. He was playing an extreme right wing game.
An enterprising reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, who was of McMurray's type of thinking, and mind, named Davis -- a hell of a good guy -- goes up to Thill after the speech and says, "Do you have a copy?"
He said, "I'm sorry, all that I've got is my text here, but if you'd like to borrow it for a couple of hours, you may have it."
He took it to his office, reproduced it with even the crude machinery that was in existence in those days, and so there was a copy around of Mr. Lewis Thill's speech, and we had no trouble taking care of Mr. Lewis Thill.
Now, he thought he could lick me, because, as you probably know, Milwaukee has
a very heavy Germanic northside, and he thought that the Germans would go back on me. He forgot that I had a good German name. In fact, it's one of the few districts in the United States that my name was an asset, whereas in most places it would be a difficult name for them to grasp. But Biemiller is not an unheard of name among Germans, and enough of them stuck with me that he couldn't touch me. And also, even then we had a fairly substantial black population. It wasn't as large as it is now, but it was a substantial one. They stuck with me very well. They had even when I had been in the legislature. I had been in the legislature for three terms, I was both majority and minority leader of the La Follette progressives. I wasn't a Democrat in those days. The whole thing just went well, and I ran neck and neck with Roosevelt. And I ran neck and neck with Truman in '48.
FUCHS: Now in '48 you were, of course, out of office, but a candidate. How did you become involved in a convention and with the civi