Oral History Interview with
Member California Senate, 5th Senatorial District, 1941-49; Secretary, Shasta County Democratic Central Committee, 1941-48; Vice Chairman, California State Central Committee for 2nd Congressional District, 1948; Vice Chairman, California Democratic State Central Committee, 1948-51; and U.S. District Judge Northern District California, 1950-76.
Judge Oliver J. Carter
San Francisco, California
February 26, 1970
by James R. Fuchs
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Judge Oliver J. Carter
San Francisco, California
February 26, 1970
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Judge Carter, would you begin by giving us a little of your personal background, when and where you were born, your education, and some of your business or professional experience before you went into politics?
CARTER: Well, just a brief resume. I was born in San Francisco in 1911, while my father was attending law school here. Shortly after he graduated from law school, we moved north to Redding, California where I was raised. I went to public schools there, and from there I attended Stanford University. Then I went
to Hastings Law School at .the University of California and obtained my bachelors degree in law there. Then I went back to Redding where I practiced law in my father's office, starting in 1935. My father was appointed to the Supreme Court of California in September of 1939, but prior to that time he had been elected to the State Senate of California in January of 1939, during the period of the term of Governor Culbert L, Olson. Of course, prior to that he had been the northern California chairman of the Olson campaign. Now, Olson was the first Democratic governor of California in forty-four years. So, needless to say, I was involved in Democratic politics, having been active in the Roosevelt campaigns in the thirties and in my own father's campaigns and in United States Senator Downey's campaign in '38.
FUCHS: In what capacity were you active in these campaigns?
CARTER: Well, in Young Democrats. My father was a great friend of Senator Downey's. Downey being a Sacramento lawyer who was personally acquainted with my father, who was a man who was well-known all up and down the Sacramento Valley. He was also a Democrat and we supported him in those days. He was elected and he defeated William McAdoo, who was the so-called administration candidate and was the Democratic incumbent at that time.
FUCHS: This is Sheridan Downey?
CARTER: Sheridan Downey.
FUCHS: He defeated McAdoo in what year?
CARTER: In 1938. In that same year Olson was elected Governor of California, he defeated
the then Governor of California Frank Merriam, who was running for re-election. Olson, of course, was in turn defeated by Earl Warren in 1942 when Olson ran for re-election. Warren had been elected Attorney General of California in 1938, and he was a public officeholder during that period of time. When my father was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1939 there was a vacancy then in his office of State senator. It could not be filled by gubernatorial appointment and it was just allowed to remain vacant and no special election was called; and in the regular election of 1940 I ran for the office of State senator and was elected.
FUCHS: Why was there no special election called?
CARTER: Just because there were no sessions in operation at that time. The 1939 session was over and there was no regular session until
1941 when the newly elected senator of 1941 would take office. So, because there was no regular session to be called, the Governor decided that it would be wiser to let the people elect a senator at the regular election. And, while there were some special sessions that were in operation during that interim period they were not of sufficient importance that it was felt that it was necessary to call a special election. Based on that, I ran during the 1940 period, and was nominated on the Democratic ticket and was elected in November.
FUCHS: Where were you living then?
CARTER: In Redding.
FUCHS: You were practicing law there?
CARTER: Practicing law there. So, I started my term as State senator in January of 1941. I
was age 29, and it was my first experience at holding elected public office. I had previously been an assistant district attorney of Shasta County, which was an appointive office, for two years; but that was a part-time job and I left that but stayed in private practice. But the first elective office I held was the office of State senator. I had never had any legislative experience before and so I devoted myself to the legislative work and attended those sessions. As a legislator I was also automatically a member of the State Central Committee for the party. All of the legislators are automatically members of the committee. I was also designated as a member of the executive committee of the State Central Committee for the Second Congressional District, in which congressional district I resided. At that time the principal Democratic
leader in that area was a man by the name of Francs J. Carr, who was called Judge Carr, and he was a Democratic leader of some importance in our area. He was a very fine man and took quite an interest in me personally. I was very well acquainted with his children, and his sons who were active in public affairs. Two of them were lawyers and one was an engineer and they have since distinguished themselves in the public life of California and of the country. But, through him I became well acquainted with the personnel and people who were connected with statewide Democratic politics at the organizational level of the State Central Committee.
FUCHS: Who were some of these people?
CARTER: Well, the then chairman was William M. Malone. I also became acquainted with the
man who followed him, who was a man by the name of John McEnery. And, of course, then Jimmy [James] Roosevelt was elected State chairman and he was the immediate chairman to precede me in office. McEnery was a vice-chairman from the north. Under our system here we have a State chairmanship that goes from north to south every two years and the office of State chairman is held for two years. One two-year period is held by someone from southern California and one two-year period is held by someone from northern California. And in the 1948 to 1950 period it was designated to go to the north. At that time it was difficult to get anyone to accept the burdens of that office, I suppose, principally because the Presidential campaign of 1948 was approaching. All of the other races were pretty much attached to that Presidential
campaign and it was rather anticipated that the Democratic candidates were going to take a beating in 1948. A number of people talked to me as to whether or not I might be interested. Among them was Bill Malone and John McEnery and a number of others who suggested that as a young and active Democrat in the State legislature it might be wise for me to attempt to undertake this task.
FUCHS: They were both residents of this area?
CARTER: Of northern California, yes.
FUCHS: Malone being from...
CARTER: From San Francisco, and McEnery from San Jose. They both understood the difficulties. First of all they had both been in the office of State chairman or vice-chairman, as the case might be, from the
northern part of the State. They were both active in Democratic Party politics at a statewide level.
The chairman and the vice-chairman are elected by the State Central Committee. The State Central Committee then had some three or four hundred members in it, maybe five hundred, who were delegates to the convention, who then voted for a chairman and a state chairman and for the members of the executive committee. These were all elected by the committee.
FUCHS: Did you have some opposition, then?
CARTER: No, I had no opposition. They finally agreed to offer my name. They caucused by congressional districts, and the congressional districts then agreed, or either disagreed, as the case might be. They all had the opportunity to nominate candidates if they desired --
but it ended up that my name was the only name presented and there was no opposition.
FUCHS: James Roosevelt had no candidate?
CARTER: No, he was from the south and he understood that there was to be no one from the south who would run to...
FUCHS: I thought there might have been someone in the north that he wanted to have succeed him.
CARTER: No, he was perfectly willing to support me. No, he was not opposed to me because when he was state chairman I was very active in working with him. He always expressed a warm support for my position. I think he also urged me to run, if my memory serves me correctly. I don't know whether he was very active in that, but my memory is that he urged
me to be a candidate, because my memory is that it took some urging to get me to do it. I wasn't too much interested in accepting that office at that time. I was also concerned about whether or not there was, as the political leaders put it, any winning in that one. You don't like to preside over a losing campaign. I finally concluded, however, that, win or lose, it was a task that was worth doing. This was an opportunity to give leadership to some people who had a real cause, and, if that were true, who was I to say no. If I was willing to give my efforts, in an honest and conscientious cause, and do this with effort, I couldn't see that there would be anything improper or wrong in it, and that couldn't do anything but redound to my benefit. I could learn many things from it. I was a young man and it was part of the learning
process and I didn't see anything wrong with that. The only real problem was what compensation were you going to get for the time spent. Now, I'm not talking about dollar compensation because no dollars could ever have compensated me for the hours that I put in in that 1948 campaign or some of the hours afterwards in the Central Committee State chairmanship's work. Those were some of the most exhausting periods of time that I have ever spent in my life. Political campaigning may be thrilling and may be very alluring to the people who were in it, but it's darned hard work. It's very taxing physically. I was young and strong and I was able to withstand it, but it was very rigorous, and I wouldn't want to attempt to do it again. Having said that, I submitted myself to the task and undertook to work at it. Do you have a question?
FUCHS: Well, for the record, in what month was the State convention?
CARTER: In August of 1948.
FUCHS: In other words you were elected after the national party's nomination?
CARTER: Oh, yes. Now, I should point out this. Before this, of course, there had been a great deal of political activity and I was on the Presidential delegation, that is to the national party convention. This was a separate thing. We submitted a Presidential primary list of delegates to the national convention. I was the one from the Second Congressional District who'd go, there were a number of other people. We all got together and caucused by congressional districts as to who the delegates were going to be and that ticket was presented. James Roosevelt was on that ticket; Malone was on
it; and there were, oh, a number of people.
FUCHS: Now, this ticket is on the ballot in the primary?
CARTER: In the primary election.
FUCHS: And you're committed to a particular candidate?
CARTER: Yes. We were committed to President Truman at that time. This is one of the things that you're supposed to do. This was one of the real problems that we had with Roosevelt at that time -- whether he would live up to that commitment? And he took the position that this was not a binding and absolute commitment; it was just simply a statement of purpose at the time.
FUCHS: Do you recall anything specifically about your conversations, if you had any, with Mr.
Roosevelt at that time?
CARTER: Oh, I had conversations with Roosevelt and many others because I was working very closely with Jack Shelley, who was the chairman of our California delegation to the national committee. We interviewed every delegate to the convention on our trip. First of all you have to understand how the delegation gets together. First of all in those days we went by train. Most of us went by train from California to Philadelphia. The convention was in Philadelphia. We had a special train and it was made up in San Francisco and in Los Angeles. The trains left San Francisco and left Los Angeles and met in Ogden, Utah. These are Southern Pacific trains, and we went over the SP lines and that's where the Southern Pacific meets the Union Pacific and
then it goes on. There's SP, UP, and what is that. I think it's Rock Island from then on into Chicago and then it goes from Chicago over B&O or on in through Pittsburgh and then into Philadelphia, and that's the way we went. The point is that we were separate sections, north and south, until we met at Ogden, Utah. Well, most of us came to San Francisco and joined the train although some joined in Sacramento on the northern section. And this was a train with sleeping accommodations and eating accommodations. Of course, there were no communications between trains while the trains were en route. They didn't have telephonic communications nor did we have radio communication. Except for what could be done at station stops along the way, there was very little communication between trains. So, actually speaking, the southern delegation
and the northern delegations were doing their own politicking on the way over to Ogden, and there's where they met and the two separate sections got together. So what we attempted to do from the north was to poll our people carefully to ascertain where they stood on this question: Were they going to stand with Truman or weren't they? Were they going to stand by their commitment that was made when they went on the ballot or weren't they? We found that we had an almost solid group from the north, with a very few people who were either equivocal or not sure. By and large the northern group was very strong for standing by its commitment to President Truman and there were no "ifs" or "ands" about that.
FUCHS: In other words they wanted to go beyond
the first ballot?
CARTER: Right, stay with him until it was concluded. This was the basi