Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1976
Oral History Interview with
May 25, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
RICHARD D. MCKINZIE: Ambassador Brown, I wonder if you might say something about how you came into Government service, and tell something about the formative forces on your thinking about international economic affairs before you entered the Government?
WINTHROP G. BROWN: I came down to Washington on a temporary assignment in June of 1941. I had been practicing law and was a partner in a law firm in New York. But things got so in the middle of 1941 that just moving money from one guy's pocket to another in New York seemed pretty dull compared to what was going on in the world. And I
came down to Washington to look for a job, and was recommended to go to Oscar Cox.
Oscar Cox I'd known when he was representing the City of New York, and I was representing the New York Telephone Company and we'd had a litigation together and I gained a great respect for his abilities; and he at that time was Harry Hopkins' lawyer, and was one of the initiators of the lend-lease legislation. I got down there, I think it was just after the Lend-Lease Act was passed. We had the Lend-Lease Act, which was a brief statute, and four people or five people in Oscar's office, and a seven billion dollar appropriation, and the problem was how do you put it to work? And that was when I started out.
After a few months Governor [Averell] Harriman wanted an assistant in London, and I applied for that job and got it, and went over to work with him in November of 1941, and stayed there with his mission and his successors, Philip Reed, and Amory Houghton, and others, until May of 1945 when the war in Europe was over.
That's a fascinating story in itself.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if you might dwell for a moment on some of your experience in London, particularly anything you might have had to do with the postwar planning that took place between the United States and the British Commonwealth?
BROWN: I had practically nothing to do with that. Harriman's job ostensibly was to coordinate lend-lease operations in shipping and the productive capacity of the different Allied countries to bring the maximum effect on the war. He also, of course, was much more of a direct political contact between Mr. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, and Mr. Hopkins, and Mr. [Winston] Churchill than Ambassador Winant ever was. Those of us who worked for him (young fellows) didn't know anything about foreign service or anything. We thought we were really pretty superior to these poor old fellows downstairs in the Embassy who just did dull things, and we were really dealing with the problems of the war.
I'm not an economist -- never have been -- and I was certainly not knowledgeable in finance. So I didn't get into the Bretton Woods complex which was the most important, of course, of the immediate postwar plans. I did hear a lot about plans for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Some of my friends in the British Government were interested in that, but I really had no direct part in that.
In '45, I guess it was, or late '44 I met a fellow named Harry Hawkins, whom you undoubtedly know about. He was Mr. Cordell Hull's right-hand man in trade agreements. He had a vision of a postwar world in which tariffs and trade barriers would be reduced, and there would be an international institution which would bring order into international trade and provide a forum for settlement of disputes; which would generally aid in international cooperation in trade expansion. I found that a very exciting idea. I had always planned to go back to the practice of the law in New York where I was very
happy, but this was pretty interesting and Harry got me a job as Chief of the Division of Commercial Policy in the State Department.
MCKINZIE: You met him when he came to London?
BROWN: Yes. He was the economic minister or counselor in the embassy in London, I think, beginning in either late '44 or the beginning of '45. So he got me this job and I was then a bachelor and I accepted it. I went in in June, I think, of 1945, and I didn't know a tariff from a toothbrush at that point. Well, at that time the people in the Division of Commercial Policy, who were really quite a remarkable group of people, had developed an idea, which was very revolutionary, and that was the idea of a multilateral tariff negotiation.
MCKINZIE: Do you happen to know the influence, let's say, of Harry Hawkins upon this idea?
BROWN: Oh, yes. We had about thirty trade agreements.
The shortest time that it had taken to do a major agreement, say with the British or the Canadians, up to that time was eighteen months. The proposal that Harry and his young assistants -- such people as John Leddy and Leonard Weiss, Marc [Honoré M.] Catudal -- were putting forward involved negotiating with eighteen countries at the same time. And not only that, but having each of them negotiate with each of the other, so that you would have a total of well over a hundred separate bilateral negotiations going at once. This was regarded by many of the experts, and most of the senior old-timers in the different Government agencies besides the Department, as being "nuts, and quite impossible." But Harry didn't think so, and John Leddy didn't think so, and for whatever value a newcomer's opinion had, I didn't think so either. The thing was going along pretty well and that was the first thing that I had to do. I don't know whose idea it was originally, but the real
moving spirits were Harry Hawkins and John Leddy. And they were supported in that -- I've forgotten who the Secretary was at the time.
MCKINZIE: [Edward R., Jr.] Stettinius. He was Secretary through the San Francisco Conference.
BROWN: Well, anyhow, Harry Hawkins was the senior civil servant who knew about this and he pushed it forward. It was supported upstairs, although there was no great problem about it at first. So, we got started on this thing, and John Leddy and his boys worked out the mechanics of how you do it, and we got the go-ahead from the White House. I was not familiar how that was accomplished or what went on, but anyhow, it was moving when I got there.
My first assignment was to chair the Trade Agreements Committee, which was the committee of the different departments -- Tariff Commission, Commerce Department, Labor Department, Defense Department, Agriculture Department, State
Department, and the Treasury, which recommended to the President what items in the tariff should be reduced and what requests should be made for reductions by the other countries. So we sat down and we went to work -- organized a group for each of the countries involved, and they all got together to prepare lists. This went along fairly smoothly, and then we put the lists to the Trade Agreements Committee and debated it back and forth, and finally came to an agreement on what should be recommended. What tariffs should be reduced, how much, what tariffs should be bound against increase, and what should have nothing done with them, and then what we should ask for from each of the other countries? Well, it was quite a remarkable activity, because a lot of those agencies, Agriculture and Tariff, were pretty conservative in terms of tariff reduction. This list included almost all the sensitive items that you could possibly have -- wool, and feathers, and turkeys, and lace, and toys, and things of that kind. There were sharp
differences of opinion. Nevertheless, we came out and at the end of the day, as I remember, we were able to put up to our superiors recommendations which were agreed, except in about twenty-five cases.
MCKINZIE: On twenty-five commodities.
BROWN: Yes. Out of about five thousand that we proposed to reduce, and about eight thousand that we proposed to ask for reduction. When we got the list ready, and before we came to any conclusions, under the law it was our responsibility to hold public hearings. That was one of the reasons why the old-timers said it was impossible to do this, because you simply couldn't have hearings on that number of items which would mean anything all conducted by this one little group of people. I'll never forget, I was sitting at home one Sunday afternoon and Norman Burns, who worked on the stuff, called up, and he said, "I've been working on this public list. For the first time I've got all the
different parts put together, and," he said, "We just can't publish it. The country won't take it."
And I said, "What do you mean?"
"Well," he said, "let me show you." So he brought these things out to the house, and it was a formidable volume. I mean, there were just pages, and pages, and pages full of items. It really looked as though we were changing damn near the whole tariff law of the United States by this little committee of ours, you know, by executive action. Well, I said, "Norman, can't we do some window dressing? Can't we just have broad categories or have a broad category and then group little things underneath it? Can't we do something that makes it look shorter?" So, he took his hat and he went off, and the experts got to work on it. They worked for about a week on the darn thing, and then they came back and said, "There is no way that you can conceal the fact that we are proposing reductions or bindings in over 80 percent of the whole United
States tariff, all to be done at once."
So, I said, "Well, look, since we can't hide it let's make a virtue out of it." One of the lists that the experts worked on in the committee was the list in technical tariff terminology. But there was also a Department of Commerce list, which reflected the tariffs and identified imports and in, more or less, comprehensible layman's language.
So, I said, "Let's hide the bulk of this thing by making it even bulkier. Let's publish it in both languages." So we finally put out the list in the technical language, and then, "for the assistance of the reader," the same list in the Commerce Department bulletin language, which was more comprehensible. We still worried about this. The meeting was set for April of '47, and there was an election in there.
MCKINZIE: Well, in November of '46 there was a congressional election.
BROWN: November '46. We did defer publishing the list until after the election; but then we published it and the reaction was not particularly excited -- everybody was amazed. Then they held the hearings and they went on for a few weeks, and they were just marvelous, they were really very interesting. The lace industry came in and complained that they were essential to the management of defense, because they made the shoulder patches on the soldiers' uniforms. And various other industries -- the human hair industry came in -- all its representatives in luxuriant wigs.
MCKINZIE: Did you preside at many?
BROWN: I presided at most of them. We had some panels. I think they had three panels. I presided at one.
MCKINZIE: So you directly then took the heat from the industries.
BROWN: We found some of the testimony persuasive, and
some of it just bilge.
Only one industry came in and said, "We won't, we can't take a cut here, or here, or here; but we could, we won't like it, and we hope it won't happen, but we could accept it here." In that case and whenever there was a suggestion of that kind we would adopt it -- go along with it.
MCKINZIE: What industry was that?
BROWN: The shoe industry.
Well, then that was all accomplished and then we had to decide what our recommendations would be. It was at that time that we went over all the cuts and came out with a report that was then sent upstairs which was unanimous except for about 25 items. And at that point -- my chronology is very bad. I can't remember when Mr. Will Clayton became Under Secretary and when Mr. [Dean] Acheson, Assistant Secretary for...
MCKINZIE: Mr. Acheson was Assistant Secretary for
Economic Affairs until just before the Marshall Plan was passed.
BROWN: '47. Yes. Well, he was there. In this great enterprise we had total support from Dean Acheson and Will Clayton or we couldn't possibly have done all the things we did. I don't think we ever would have got permission to publish the list, if we hadn't had the support of those men.
MCKINZIE: They entered it substantively at that point.
BROWN: They entered it substantively whenever they came in. But I've forgotten -- particularly I've forgotten when Will Clayton was in. But from the moment they got into office they supported this enterprise wholeheartedly. They considered it to be very, very constructive, and without that support, obviously, you never could have done it. I often think how great an influence on public affairs is brought about by some people who will never be known, such as John Leddy, who
ultimately became Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Secretary for European Affairs. He came very much to the top. But some of the others who had this idea, and who worked it out and did it, really made a tremendous contribution.
Well, parallel with all of this in the tariff field with all the other related activity going on, because the tariff is obviously only one of the elements in the control of trade -- there are many other elements which are much more difficult and dangerous than the tariff, such things as quotas. The high tariff you can always j