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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, February 9, 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 9, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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

Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
February 9, 1973
Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Chapman, to begin this morning, let's discuss the events of 1952 concerning the election. When did you first become aware that President Truman did not intend to run for reelection in 1952?

CHAPMAN: I think that it kind of developed in my mind, and strictly in my imagination, as to what was taking place in the administration. I began to feel it without any expression from Mr. Truman one way or another. He at no time ever made any expression of whether he was going to or not going to run. But I gathered from the--you get as much from a man's smile as you do his words; but when he was talking to me one time, I got a feeling that he was telling me something that he wasn't saying in words.

HESS: Do you recall about when that was, what date?


CHAPMAN: Yes, that was about less than 60 days before that dinner was that night that he...

HESS: That's right, that was March the 29th of 1952 at the National Guard Armory.

CHAPMAN: That's right.

HESS: So this was about two months before then?

CHAPMAN: Just about two months before that dinner.

HESS: What did he say...

CHAPMAN: I began to get a feeling that he was thinking in his own mind of some new approach for his own life.

HESS: What did he say that led you to believe that?

CHAPMAN: Well, one comment he made during our little visit was a comment about some of the--well, just for classification purposes, I'd call them the more conservative group, some on the Hill that were critical of Mr. Truman instead of openly


taking the lead to support him and help him. They were letting their feet drag and weren't really helping us as they ought to.

During that conversation, as we were talking about this, he made a comment, and he was looking at me when he said it, and I was looking him right in the face, and as I said, a man's smile and his expression often convey an impression of a man, more than what he's telling you, his words.

And I got an impression from him at that moment that he was thinking of whether he should or shouldn't run. He made this comment when we were both a little critical in our discussion with each other. We were a little critical about a certain party who had been not helping us but handicapping us a little bit, and we made a comment and he said, "You know, what they don't know is I don't have to run for President." And he was looking at me right in the face, and I caught a grin on his face when he said that.


I said, "No, you don't have to, Mr. President, but you have an option, in this case. Not many people will ever have a chance to have the option that you have, because you have served, for all practical purposes, practically all of Roosevelt's fourth term." You see, Roosevelt was elected on the fourth term, but he served, what, up until April?

HESS: From January 20th until April the 12th.


HESS: Two or three months, something like that.

CHAPMAN: Something like that, but Truman for all practical purposes served...

HESS: Just about eight years.

CHAPMAN: That's right, about eight years. And that law, the spirit of that law was really carried out the way Truman did it, the fact that he had...


HESS: Even though he was exempted.

CHAPMAN: He was exempted through a technicality here of a situation, but...

HESS: The 22nd Amendment, was it not? I think it is.

CHAPMAN: I believe it was. Yes, that was a Norris amendment; don't you remember that was a Norris amendment that changed the inauguration date.

HESS: I'm not sure, but the amendment that limited the times that a President could serve and cut it down to two terms was passed during Mr. Truman's administration, but he was specifically exempted in the wording of the amendment.


HESS: It said something or other; the present holder of the office is not bound by this amendment or something like that. He could have run if he had wanted to.

CHAPMAN: That's right, he could have run.


HESS: In your opinion why didn't he run?

CHAPMAN: Well, I think it was just one of those things where he had his feet on the ground and was thinking solidly with the people. Why should he take on another four years when his own party wasn't giving him much help or trying to give him any help, and he was carrying the whole fight and was very successful in helping the party to hold itself together. Had we been able to get the more conservative group and some of the so-called liberals; a few of the liberals were not doing too much to help us.

Now, you see, lead that over into this problem that Stevenson was faced with in '52. Here he had been living, and did live, in a community where the Chicago Tribune was the dominant force of all the news media in that area, and so he saw something critical about Truman in every issue of the paper nearly. I think that he had been influenced to some extent, enough to feel that if he publicly tied himself to Truman, too--if he


did it too openly and too strong, he might hurt himself with the reaction of people who considered him a Truman man to the extent that Stevenson didn't want to be considered as anybody's man. But he didn't understand Truman. That was the whole truth of it there and it took him about four years after that campaign before he began to understand Truman and what his problem was; because Truman had served up through '52, and then when President Eisenhower defeated Stevenson for reelection in '52, Stevenson had time to do a little thinking, lecturing and writing some articles, and he was doing some thinking. He was quite a thinker and quite a writer and he was an extremely conscientious man, but he was--I was more or less like a go-between, between one group of the party element here and the other group.

HESS: Did you ever speak with Mr. Stevenson about his views on Mr. Truman? Did he ever convey


to you what he thought of Mr. Truman?

CHAPMAN: Oh, yes, we discussed it quite thoroughly, to a great extent. I went out and I did this at President Truman's request, now. I went out to Springfield.

HESS: About what time of the year was this?

CHAPMAN: I went out on Lincoln Day and gave the Lincoln Day address, at a luncheon that day.

HESS: February the 12th.

CHAPMAN: That's right. I went out there that day and spent the two nights with Stevenson at his mansion there. And Mark [Marquis] Childs was there spending a weekend with him, and I had quite a fine opportunity for really consulting with Stevenson and talking with him, going very deeply into his thinking about this thing. And I talked with him about this and I raised this question. I said, "Now, Governor, if you are thinking of running for President;" I said,


"I have not talked with you before. Let me say to you, I would like very much to see you run and I will certainly do everything in my power to support you, but," I said, "you've got a problem here. You've got to find a proper way to approach it to the public." I said, "Your expressions on Truman have been that you didn't entirely agree with him on some of the things he handled. You didn't seem to be in opposition to any particular policy that he was putting over; therefore, that left it more or less a personality difference of opinions of people." I made that statement to Stevenson.

He said, "Oscar;" he said, "my trouble is, he could get along with these fellows like [Richard J.] Daley out here in Chicago, and," he said, "I can't, I just can't get along with them. It isn't easy for me to get along with them, but I have no feeling against Daley. It's just," he said, "I find I let that run over into my thinking about Truman. I find it not easy for


me to be close to him in some way or another."

"Well," I said, "I think, maybe, if you will forgive me for saying so; I think it's your approach to this, your method of handling it, that has created that situation more than anything else." I said, "You have known that Mr. Truman has spoken very kindly of you on several occasions, and I'm talking with you today to say that Mr. Truman wanted me to tell you that he was hoping you would run, that he'd give you every support he could, to do whatever you wanted him to do to help you. And he would help you, and he wanted you to run, and he told me that I could pass that on to you and let you know."

HESS: One thing I want to clear up; this was before the announcement at the National Guard Armory?

CHAPMAN: That was before the Armory thing.

HESS: Yes, see, the announcement at the National Guard Armory was March the 29th.