Oral History Interview with
Attorney, Securities Exchange Commission, 1941; attorney, National Labor Relations Board, 1941-46, legal assistant to the general counsel, 1945-46; Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Labor, U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1946-47, to the Under Secretary of Labor, 1947-50; special assistant to the Secretary of Labor, 1950-55; and Deputy Under Secretary of Labor, 1955-71.
October 5, 1977
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1984
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
October 5, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
CASS: My name is Millard Cass. I served in the National Labor Relations Board as legal assistant to the general counsel at the time that David A. Morse returned from active duty with the United States Army and became general counsel. He inherited me, along with a desk and certain other people, and stated that he would keep me and see how we got along. We got along very well and I continued to serve as his legal assistant until he went to the Department of Labor as Assistant Secretary for International Labor Affairs.
He went over there in, I think, the first of July, 1946 and told me he would send for me; he did, and arranged for me to come to the Labor Department as of September 3, 1946 as a special
assistant to him. I stayed at the Labor Department until the 31st of January, 1971 in the Secretary's office.
I was the only person whom David Morse took from the NLRB to the Labor Department with him, and I stayed with him until he became Director General of the International Labor Office and left for Geneva near mid-August 1948. He invited me to come to Geneva with him; I declined the offer and remained in the Labor Department because I did not care to go overseas. And since he stayed at the ILO twenty-two years, I'm inclined to think, although it meant I was no longer with David Morse, for whom I have great respect and deep affection, that my decision was correct.
The Department of Labor had had an Assistant Secretary, a 1st Assistant Secretary, and a 2nd Assistant Secretary prior to the time that Lewis Schwellenbach became Secretary of Labor. He obtained a congressional reorganization of the Department of Labor in 1946, which for the first time established, as in other departments of the Government
an Under Secretary and Assistant Secretaries on a different basis from the previous arrangement. He had an Under Secretary, who of course was the number two man in the Department, and three Assistant Secretaries. The legislation did not provide for it, but in practical terms there was an Assistant Secretary from the AFL, an Assistant Secretary from the CIO, and an Assistant Secretary for International Labor Affairs. Dave Morse became the Assistant Secretary for International Labor Affairs, which was the neutral spot, as opposed to the AFL and CIO Assistant Secretaries. Keen Johnson was the Under Secretary and Phil [Philip] Hannah was the Assistant Secretary from the AFL and John Gibson was the Assistant Secretary from the CIO.
Dave Morse’s background was very deep in both the international affairs area and in the area of labor-management relations. Also he was a lawyer, whereas neither Hannah nor Gibson was a lawyer, and neither was Keen Johnson. `The latter also did not have a background in labor relations, but he had experience in politics as former Governor
of Kentucky. He had had a business background, too.
Therefore, Lewis Schwellenbach utilized David Morse in a far wider area than that of international labor affairs. He utilized his labor relations background. Also he was aware of the fact that David Morse had had substantial experience in Government before coming to the Labor Department, and that was very helpful in the administrative area and in the intra-governmental and inter-governmental relations fields. So, David Morse was a very useful person in a wide variety of areas.
I had no experience or training in international relations whatsoever. I did have a background in labor relations, having been five years at the NLRB and having served as a general assistant to Dave Morse. Some of the other people whom he brought in had specific expertise in international relations or in economics, and filled gaps in both Dave's and my background.
FUCHS: How did you happen to go to NLRB; was that right after you were out of college?
CASS: No, I had been previously in the Securities and Exchange Commission and before that in private law practice. I had a very brief but exceedingly intensive background in private practice, the kind that few people would get in twenty years, because I was in court every day. In the morning I was in the police courts and the civil court, and in the afternoon I was involved in jury cases primarily. We were exceedingly busy, so I had intensive training there.
With Dave Morse I had to learn the international field rapidly. I don't say I ever became an expert in the true sense of the word, but I knew my business and did it. So, when Dave Morse became Under Secretary on the resignation of Keen Johnson in 1947, I became Morse's assistant again.
Dave Morse's own situation was an unusual one in that, although he was "only" an Assistant Secretary, he had direct access to the President
of the United States and the Secretary of State, and other top officials of Government, to a degree which Assistant Secretaries before him and since him have not had, to my knowledge. He could talk, and did talk, directly to General [George C.] Marshall and Dean Acheson whenever and as ever he needed to, and frequently saw the President of the United States as well as the President's top assistants.
This made it possible for him to operate on a basis which meant that what he was doing was going to be it. He didn't have the layers of supervision above him that would impair his ability to make decisions and make commitments and to do things. It was a unique situation in my thirty-odd years of experience in Government and one which I think both bespoke his own unusual ability and the confidence that his own bosses had in him. It also was perhaps a measure of the times.
Harry Truman was more inclined to be direct and less inclined to be a bureaucratic type; he
was more willing to deal directly with the people who had the responsibility than were his successors, to my knowledge. Therefore he gave their "head of steam" to, I'm sure, a number of top officials of Government. Whether any other Assistant Secretary had been as free as Dave Morse to deal directly with the very top echelons of the Government is doubtful, but others would have to speak to what they saw at the time.
FUCHS: You would say then that Secretary Schwellenbach deferred largely to David Morse's judgment in the field of international labor affairs?
CASS: No question at all. And not without cause, because he had somebody who knew the area and who had the ability, and whose later career demonstrated he was uniquely qualified for it.
FUCHS: Do you recall any occasions where the Secretary might have differed from Morse on a particular matter? I know that that's difficult to do.
CASS: No, I don't. I'm sure that if he did they
talked it out and reached a rapprochement and came out with a decision that would be satisfactory to them both. I do know that in dealing with the AFL-CIO split, Schwellenbach probably had ideas of his own, but I feel that they were sufficiently discussed with Dave Morse so that they found an accommodation that they could both work with.
FUCHS: Did you have occasion to see Secretary Schwellenbach frequently?
CASS: Oh, yes. I saw all of the top officials in the Department of Labor very frequently, very easily, and on a "whenever I needed to" basis for twenty-five years. I didn’t find any of them either inaccessible or sufficiently impressed with their own importance to be unwilling to see career staff people. At least none of them was ever inaccessible to me, and none of them ever felt that my position was such that they didn't need to see me. It was a relationship which made it possible for me to do my job because they were willing to trust me as a
careerist to do my job.
On the other hand, when I needed the top policy guidance that could only come from the Presidentially appointed and Senatorially confirmed people, I could get to them anytime. I was treated well by all. I have no complaints.
FUCHS: Do you have a general assessment that you could make of Secretary Schwellenbach as a Secretary of Labor, maybe viewing him against his predecessor Mrs. [Frances] Perkins, or as against [Maurice] Tobin or those of some of the later administrations?
CASS: Frankly, I could assess every Secretary of Labor from Perkins through to the present, but I don't care to. I don't think it is up to me to try to assess a man's place in history or by any comments I would make to influence historians of the future in trying to determine what the individual Secretary's strengths and weaknesses were. I don't think that's fair. I think it's very presumptuous of me. I don't want to try to play the great
evaluator of the people for whom I worked.
I will just say that all of the people for whom I worked treated me well, and I have no complaints about their relationships to me at all. And I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and try to write the definitive biographies of the people who, first, are dead and can't defend themselves, and secondly, were good to