1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, September 22, 1972

Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, September 22, 1972

Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Assistant Secretary of the Interior, 1933-46; Under Secretary of the Interior, 1946-49; Secretary of the Interior, 1949-53.

Washington, DC
September 22, 1972
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Chapman Oral History Transcripts]

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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Chapman Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
September 22, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: Did you want to start off with clarifying a few of the points about the June trip, today?

CHAPMAN: I think I should review a couple of records that I have, and I believe that they are available in copy forms here in my office, before I proceed into the discussion of the June trip. I want to get thoroughly identified as to the dates and the exact timing of that trip. There has been some confusion about the dates of that trip and some dates have differed from others on that trip, and I find that mine is not the only one. I think somebody else has another date on the June trip, and he had it set back in May--more or less coincided with my dates that I had on it. I want to clarify that before we make this a permanent part of our record here. So, if you will permit me to, I will take this part of the record and I’m going to go through some


files here at the office. I'll have one of the secretaries to do that, to search through my files here to find that piece of record that I want; two, three sheets of paper that's got some data on it that I think will clarify very definitely, convince me of my position either one way or the other, because I made a notation of that trip in that particular part; I made a memorandum.

Now, I want to point out and clarify it if I can. Some parts of it confused me considerably the other day when we were talking. I didn't have any records with me to take a tape recording down. I think that if you will permit me to, we'll shut this interview at this point and let me pick it up here at a later date.

HESS: All right, Mr. Chapman, to conclude what we want to say about tidelands oil, let me give a further quote from the book, The Tidelands Oil Controversy, by Ernest R. Bartley; this is a quote from pages 257 and 258:



Truman added further fuel to the fire with his Executive Order 10426, which was issued 16 January 1953. This order created the continental shelf as a naval petroleum reserve and placed the area under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy. While the order apparently was a sweeping one, in reality the status quo was not substantially disturbed.

The order was issued for political purposes. As a measure designed to gain time for the proponents of national control and as a tactic for harassing the incoming Eisenhower administration, the action was masterfully conceived and executed. The timing was most adroit. True, the action evoked criticism from many persons who felt that it was not in the American spirit of 'fair play.' Yet as a political maneuver, the order may have served to delay quit-claim legislation at least a short time, while the resulting legal snarl was unraveled.

Was that a political maneuver?

CHAPMAN: You will find, Mr. Hess, that there are many people who are very well-acquainted with the history of this case from the very beginning of the time the order was discussed with the staff, both at the White House and my own staff, and there was a wide difference of opinion among a lot of people. I made a real effort to bring them together with an understanding of the value of that order irrespective


of any political implications whatsoever. You couldn't possibly support that order and not have a lot of people disagree with you and think that it was for political purposes, because there wasn't any question about it; there was no way that you could remove the political implications. It did have some political implications, and a decided benefit to Truman's campaign. It was helpful, but I would have supported this order entirely without any respect whatsoever to the campaign, because it could stand on its own feet, on the merits of economics of managing public lands.

Now, you see, we had pretty general control of most public lands, as such, public lands broken into several divisions, some parts managed by the Agriculture Department, such as the Forest Service; some naval lands were under Navy control already that we had given them for management purposes.

Now, having to examine that from an economic


point of view without any regard to politics whatsoever, I think any reasonable man would have come to about the same conclusion I did--that you couldn't avoid seeing that there were some definite benefits in that order for the public generally, and that was mostly for the little man to get a chance at these oil leases that we located. I studied that case very hard, briefed it very cautiously, and I came to my own conclusion that there was no question in the world but that this was a piece of administrative action that definitely was an advantage to the little man at dealing in these oil leases and gas leases in the continental shelf.

Now, there had been no oil issue previous to this time, regarding the management, power, and control of this area of public domain that is under the water, because there had never been a Supreme Court decision clarifying the control of that.

Now, this order gave us a chance so we got it in a judicial forum to get a hearing. I was


looking at the next step; if we issued the order this month, what would we be doing with it next month.

Well, obviously, I was looking at it from the point of view of the President, who had talked to me so much about how you ought to really try to help him find a way to give more benefits, an easier and simple way of operation. And that is what this did. It simplified the operations a great deal, by managing it this way under this order. The Navy was naturally very pleased about it, to have it, because they had a Naval Reserve in California, a very good one as a matter of fact, which Ickes had signed for. You see, under the law, the Secretary could sign an order affecting the regulations and the matter of managing this land 12 miles under the low water mark, and could affect the management in a very simple way, but could become a very dangerous thing if you handled it wrong. That's an area in which a Secretary can get into most serious difficulty with


the management people or the company per se when they are managing this thing for the purpose of making a profit, and you are helping manage it from the point of view of helping save some of their profit for the public good, and the oil would go to the oil people.

And so, I can say to you that irrespective of whether the effect of that order was a political benefit to the campaign for Truman, it was a benefit to the American people.

Now, I measured this case on that basis first and decided in my own mind that this was the right thing to do for good management; and I took it up on that basis first to study the management of this bill and whether the method of how he was handling it and who he had handling it there in the Department, would determine the good or bad affects of this executive order. I was strongly for this order and I think it took Clark a little while before he was thoroughly convinced that it also had an overriding effect politically.


Well, it did have; I wouldn't use the word overriding, but I think he did feel that he would be accused, and the President would be accused of having an order issued that was so overriding in its implications of the campaign that he'd be accused of that. Well, my point was, he’s going to be accused of that whenever he does it.

HESS: Is that Mr. Clifford?

CHAPMAN: No, not Clifford. Clifford was...

HESS: He had left.

CHAPMAN: He had left, I think, by that time. I think he had left, but I don't think he was...

HESS: He was not involved--was he involved in this at all?

CHAPMAN: He was some; he was really personally advising the President and talking to him.

HESS: Even though he had left the staff?


CHAPMAN: Yes, the President would call him down and he'd stop by the next morning and go in and see him.

HESS: I believe at this time, too, there was some discussion of taking a part of the profit of the oil drilled from the submerged lands and spending that on education in all of the states. Is that right?

CHAPMAN: Yes. That was a strong argument. For several months in these conferences, discussions went on concerning what to do with that money. Should it go to the general treasury, and come back through the appropriation method? That, of course, was what Congress wanted. But, while we had it in this position, we wanted to put into this order, that the money be set aside for the purpose of education--strictly an educational bill. The proceeds from this bill would be built up in the Treasury Department for the purpose of an educational fund to help boys or girls who


were trying to make it through college and just didn't have money to go on.

HESS: I believe that that provision made it into the final order,