Recollections of the 1948 Campaign
Special Assistant to John R. Steelman in the White House, 1947-49; assistant on the 1948 presidential campaign train; Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, 1949-52; Assistant Chairman, Democratic National Committee, 1952; and Assistant Postmaster General, 1952
by William J. Bray
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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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Recollections of the 1948 Campaign
by William J. Bray
At the start of the campaign in 1948 a group of President Truman's friends were concerned about the need for campaign funds. The Democratic National Committee was in very bad shape financially and since the public opinion polls and newspapers generally predicted a landslide election for the Republicans, immediate money was not forthcoming to the Committee. This group of friends, headed by Louis Johnson and consisting of Monroe Johnson, Martin Coffy, Ed Pauley, George Killion, Bob Butler, Fred Morrison, and several others, made an appointment in the last part of August, 1948, to discuss the bleak situation with the President. This group was concerned because they felt the President had been somewhat isolated from his friends by his staff and they wanted to be reassured that the President would be agreeable to meeting different individuals and groups wishing to shake hands, and that they would
be able to place before him their ideas upon certain matters. The President assured the group he would cooperate with them in every way that would help to continue the present Administration in office. This group came away from the meeting filled with enthusiasm and went out to do a difficult task with success. With this important phase over, the campaign plans began in full swing.
We started out on the first campaign trip with our first stop for a speech scheduled at Rock Island, Illinois, at 5:45 in the morning. While we were on the way to Chicago we were informed that the Chicago political powers wanted a conference with the President. We endeavored to have it postponed because we would not arrive in the Chicago railroad yards until about two o'clock in the morning. To have the President get up for a conference at that hour, with a speech scheduled for a few hours later, seemed like a terrific imposition. However the President overruled us and said he would be glad to see the delegation. They boarded the train and conferred with the President for about forty minutes about the political
situation in Chicago and downstate Illinois. After they left the train we proceeded to Rock Island.
We arrived there at about 5:35 in the morning and to our amazement about four thousand people were waiting to hear Mr. Truman. It was just barely daybreak. The President talked for ten minutes and was well received. I was standing with him on the back platform as the train pulled out and I remarked that it was a good beginning. He asked why. I said: "Well, those people had to get up maybe at 4:30 in the morning to be here and if such a crowd is willing to come out to hear you it looks like a good omen because maybe in spite of the polls there are a lot of people who have not made up their minds and are willing to listen, and that's all we can hope for."
We proceeded into Iowa and at every stop from Davenport to Des Moines there were tremendous crowds, apparently due to the fine organizing of Jake More. The President was very pleased with the enthusiastic reception to his speeches. Leaving the train at Dexter, Iowa, we went to a big outdoor area where
more than a hundred thousand people were expected. They were arriving by plane, train, bus and car, and it was quite a sight to see this mass of humanity assemble to hear the President's first major speech on the farm situation. It was boiling hot; the temperature was between 110 and 115 degrees. After he spoke the President stepped down from the platform to demonstrate that he could still plow a straight furrow. This was a pleasant surprise to the crowd.
Finally we returned to our train and continued stopping at other towns in Iowa so the President could make more speeches. We were still amazed at the large crowds assembled at the railroad stations.
By this time certain problems had arisen which we had to find ways to deal with. One was the tremendous amount of flowers we were receiving. We made arrangements to find out about veterans hospitals in towns we were going to visit and to send the flowers to these hospitals. We sent them to the local hospital if there was no veterans hospital in the area.
Another problem which developed was that people
introducing the President tended to make little speeches which consumed time and delayed the train's departure, making us late at the next stop. It became a practice to inform the leading citizen who was to introduce the President that all he could say was "I am happy," or "I am proud to present to you the President of the United States, and the next President of the United States."
I recall that on the train I addressed Miss Truman as "Miss Truman." Mrs. Truman called me over and said: "After this, I want you to call her 'Margaret."' This illustrates the kind manner of the First Lady. Other instances of her friendly manner occurred frequently throughout the trip.
From Iowa we went through Missouri and then on to Denver, Colorado. When the President was informed that a veterans hospital was near-by he insisted on visiting it to see some of the improvements that had been made, despite the fact that this visit delayed us since we were running very close to our established schedule.
The President would never make a political speech on Sunday. He would bring his family out onto the platform, however, and say "hello," but he would tell the people that he didn't believe in making political speeches on Sunday. This did not satisfy these people, of course, but there was nothing else that could be done.
As we traveled the President would introduce his family to the crowds. This made the crowds very happy. When they chanted "We want Margaret" the President was very pleased. Mrs. Truman and Margaret certainly stole the hearts of the people as we went along.
The President was scheduled to make a major speech in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and at Provo, Utah, where we stopped during the afternoon of September 21st, the President recognized a familiar face in the crowd. It was his old friend, the barber from Battery "D". Mr. Truman waved to him to come aboard the train and then he suggested that this old friend ride the train to Salt Lake City. He told the President that he had gotten married just the day
before so the President invited his wife along and advised me to bring them back to his private car when the train started to move. The President visited with them and introduced them to his family. After they had spent a reasonable length of time with him we tried, in a nice way, to have them move forward to one of the other cars on the train so the work at hand could be transacted. The couple showed no inclination to leave. We went about our business until Margaret suggested we not disturb them since the barber was an old friend, etc. When the President's daughter spoke, of course, we complied. Not only did the barber not leave the President all the way to Salt Lake City but he also rode in the car to the hotel (and we tried to reserve every seat in the car for leading local citizens) and then he went up with the President to his room and stayed there. This made it impossible for the President to review his speech with his aides or to get anything to eat. Margaret finally came to assure me that if I would take charge of the situation she would never again interfere with the procedure we had outlined. Then
we succeeded in persuading the barber and his wife to leave for dinner and for the Tabernacle, where they could hear the President's speech. So after entertaining this friend for four hours the President was able to get to work. The speech for delivery that night in the Tabernacle required careful attention because it had to be shorn of anything that might bear on politics. The occasion was inspiring and everything worked out well.
Finally we reached the Pacific Coast and started to visit different cities in California. The crowds which gathered to hear the President continued to be enormous. Their size was beyond the expectations of those of us on the train.
At each station we would pick up a delegation of the most prominent people of the particular community and these people would ride the train to the next stop. They were sufficiently important to visit with the President if he had time to do so. This posed another problem for us.
This is what we would do: after the train left one station I would find out how much time we had
before arriving at the next stop. If the time between stops was one hour, for example, I would tell the President and he would say "Give me twenty minutes." He would go in to lie down and sleep for twenty minutes -- he had the capacity to go to sleep almost immediately. After twenty minutes I would rap on his door. He would say "Okay," and then come back to the dining part of his private car. Once he was ready we would usher in the people who had boarded the train at the last stop. Having interviewed them all we knew which ones wanted only to shake hands and which ones had some special message for the President. These latter people we kept at the end of the line. In this way the line would not get held up, and the President would have the chance to converse with these people during the few minutes remaining before the train stopped for another speech.
In the course of interviewing these people I would ask them about the political situation in their respective communities, how strong his oppo