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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, February 2, 1973

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
February 2, 1973
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
February 2, 1973
Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Chapman, to begin this morning, in our last interview we were discussing Cabinet members. We have a list with us this morning of Cabinet members, and just looking over that list, which members of the Cabinet should we comment further on?

CHAPMAN: I would like to make just a short statement about Mr. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury. He was not too well-known and it was not but a very short period of time that he served under President Truman, but he had a very fine and pleasant relationship there with President Truman; and, of course, this was well-known through every media and every other method of dispensing this publicity. Mr. Morgenthau really worshipped President Roosevelt. He came with him; he had lived up there in New York close to


him at his home, then he came with Roosevelt to Washington and then he stayed in the Treasury for quite a while. He was succeeded, I think, by John Snyder. No, I'm mistaken, he was succeeded by Fred Vinson. Mr. Vinson, incidentally, later made a great reputation for himself as a wonderful Chief Justice, and he was most loyal and most helpful to President Roosevelt. He was a great friend of his in the true sense.

HESS: Did Mr. Vinson make a good Secretary of the Treasury for Mr. Truman?

CHAPMAN: I think he did. I think he made a good Secretary of the Treasury. He was more conservative in his general attitude on the monetary system than I think Mr. Truman might have been, but he had very good thinking and he had a pattern of planning out what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. He did a very good job for him.

HESS: Was he as conservative as the gentleman who


followed him, Mr. John Snyder?

CHAPMAN: No, I don't think he was; I think he was a little bit more liberal, little bit more liberal than Mr. Snyder was--I would so interpret that. They both were good men; they both served at the right time, and they served at a time which they could give the best in them, and they...

HESS: Were there times when you felt that Mr. Snyder may have been giving Mr. Truman advice that was a bit too conservative for the good of the country?

CHAPMAN: I felt that he was a good fiscal man, fiscal from a true sense of the word, but he was not imaginative enough in the terms of projecting projects into our system to keep it growing.

Our democratic system of government that we have, that we function under, is the type of a system that you have to keep projecting new ideas and new thoughts into the program to keep the country growing. Its economy and its social


status need to be kept fed with new ideas and new things to try to help people, and I didn't think that he had quite that--not enough initiative in that field.

HESS: There was a time, as you may recall, September the 6th of 1945 when Mr. Truman sent his famous 21 points message to Congress, calling for additional housing, more housing for the United States, and calling for a medical program, 21 points that were fairly liberal. Now, I understand that Mr. Snyder was opposed to a good many of those points.

CHAPMAN: It was my understanding that he had opposed those very vigorously. Rather definitely he made his position known to the President, that he thought they were too liberal and the President, in his usual way of getting advice--he knew enough people on both sides of an issue that he could get information from two sets of people on the same subject and he'd pretty much come out with the


proper answer that he ought to make good in.

The only trouble with that is that it has a tendency toward a drawback so that your opposition can organize around that so easily, especially if he's a member of the President's Cabinet and is opposing the President's program of that kind. It makes it easier for the general opposition to organize a program against it and can easily kill it in the House and Senate. That's a danger of that kind of a freedom of expression (if you want to put it that way). You had to be very careful about how much we assume of our Cabinet members; how much freedom do we have a right to assume in expressing ourselves, especially publicly, in opposition to a Presidential program.

Now, in my mind I always took the position that when the President submitted something that I considered extremely important and valuable and something that was for the benefit of the people as a whole, and it was so clear to me that that


just ought to be done, I felt compelled to express myself on it. I never had come to the position, at any time, of publicly expressing myself against any of Truman's programs, because President Truman a lot of the time was ahead of most of his Cabinet in suggesting liberal things.

HESS: Can you give me an illustration of something that the President may have proposed that you were somewhat in opposition to? Can you think of anything that we can give as an illustration?

CHAPMAN: I don't think he definitely proposed this idea, but there was heavy pressure on him to sell him the idea, to get him to change the whole oil policy of the United States, to make a change in policy. It could have meant millions and millions of dollars. I was very concerned about that and expressed myself pretty freely about my opposition to any change in the direction that


they were discussing. I was for some change, but not the kind they wanted. I was for a different type of change in the oil situation, and there ought to be better equalized comparison of their competitor's industry.

HESS: Did you present your opposition to the President, did you tell him about your views?

CHAPMAN: I did. I had a very fine talk with the President. He assured me (the President in talking with me), he assured me, "I'm not going to make my mind up on this overnight." He says, "I'm inclined to feel that the big boys have done their share already, out of the industry as such, and there may be an equalizing point to be yet passed. I don't know, but," he said, "I don't want to make my mind up upon it just yet until I've talked to a few more people." And he said, "I'll assure you that I'll talk to you again before I--if I don't, before long, on this I'll talk to you again."


Well, he did talk to me again and he went along with my position on it completely; went along with it and I couldn't have asked for better support. Now he could only do so much because of the opposition. The opposition was so clear here he couldn't then do very much because it was so strongly expressed at that time. So, he did discuss the subject matter with me, and I appreciated it very much. It gave me a good light on what I thought was a proper attitude of the opposition. If there was any opposition, he had the right format to discuss it on, to start out on the format that he had in mind.

Now, that being true, I was not too worried about the oil matter with Mr. Truman after I talked with him a few times, because he was so definitely--you know, Truman never left you in doubt. He might disagree, but you were never in doubt where he stood. And he'd tell you very frankly, and he always did, and it was so helpful to us all. A Cabinet member is so often left in


the cold, not being able to get quite through to the President all the things he wants, because there are so many people that cut in between you and the President.

HESS: Did you find that a problem in the Truman administration?

CHAPMAN: Not at all with him; I didn't have one bit of it. That was the one thing that I shall always appreciate about President Truman, he never cut across a program we were working on. He had suggestions for changes; he'd discuss them with me and we'd agree on them, work them out, and we would work out changes in many programs. We did that, but it was done in a way of development and progressing along the road that we all hoped to go and wanted to go, if circumstances permitted it, that being circumstances political and economical.

HESS: As you know, in the present administration, there are those who say that the Cabinet members have a


great deal of difficulty scheduling appointments with the President and they are blocked from seeing President Nixon by some of the members of the White House staff. Did you have any difficulty with members of the White House staff in the Truman administration? Here I have in mind such people as Clark Clifford and Charles Murphy, Matthew Connelly, people in that particular category.

CHAPMAN: No, I never had any problem whatsoever with any of those.

HESS: They did not attempt to place themselves between the President and the Cabinet?

CHAPMAN: No. No. Every one of those men that you have menti