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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, April 28, 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
April 28, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
April 28, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: All right, Mr. Chapman, to begin this morning, let's make a correction on how Colorado went in 1948. All right?

CHAPMAN: Yes, I made a mistake when I said that Colorado did not go for Truman in ‘48; I was in error. It did go for Mr. Truman, if my memory serves me correctly, somewhere around 25,000 votes or more.

HESS: You had thought that there was one state that you had missed.


HESS: Looking at this list, do you recall now which state went for Dewey that you thought was going to go for Truman?

CHAPMAN: Just offhand here, I don't see it.

HESS: Perhaps we can come back to it.


Iowa went for Truman, and you thought Dewey was going to take the farm states.

CHAPMAN: At that time (before the plowing contest) I thought Dewey was going to take Iowa, yes.

HESS: That was quite a surprise.

CHAPMAN: I would like to connect that particular thought up with another phase of that campaign. I would like for the people to know those who contributed so much to the different phases of this campaign. The Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Charles Brannan of Denver, made a most significant contribution in guiding and helping to direct the campaign program through those farm states. I thought he had done a magnificent job in informing the people, as well as the President, on what the situation was regarding their legislative program that was in the Congress at the time, and the lack of support that the farmers were getting from Congress. I thought


Secretary Brannan made a most significant contribution to that whole campaign, in the planning stages, and in the intimate contact and work with the President on this.

HESS: There was an interesting thing that came up about both Iowa and agriculture at that time. Do you recall the rewriting of the charter of the Commodity Credit Corporation at that time, and the Republicans had stricken out the provision for purchasing and providing Government storage for grain, of which Iowa was one of the big growers. There was a bumper crop that year and so when the Iowa corn growers got ready to store their corn, there was no provision for it; they couldn't get Government price support. Do you recall that?

CHAPMAN: You have hit the very key, the thing I had in mind, when I was referring to Secretary Brannan. He had done a magnificent research job in having that piece of legislation researched carefully as to how much money was cut out of


that bill so that the farmers were not given any help in building some storage tanks to help store their grain, instead of pouring it out on the ground where you could see it, and where it was being ruined every week it stayed out there. Mr. Brannan did a splendid job in briefing that case through for the benefit of the President and for the benefit of the people of the State of Iowa.

Now, he did the same thing for other farm states, but that particular one always stands out clearly to me, because I didn't realize at the moment how far-reaching that issue was. I discovered before the election, of course, that it was really cutting very deeply, and therefore we pressed that issue hard in that section of the country, and in other parts of the country we explained why the farmer wasn't getting his share of help that he should have been getting from his Government.

HESS: As Mr. Truman said at the National Plowing Match


at Dexter, Iowa that year, "The Republicans are sticking a pitchfork in the back of the farmer."

CHAPMAN: That's the very words he used, and I was standing right behind him when he said that. I was at that meeting.

HESS: What was the impression that you came away with there? How was he received by the farmers? Now, as I understand, the airplanes were lined up and the Cadillacs were lined up, a lot of wealthy farmers came to that meeting.

CHAPMAN: Very much so. A lot of people had driven in there for miles and miles to be at that luncheon. We had a big luncheon under a great big canvas tent out there in the field, and had this plowing contest carried on, and the feeling and atmosphere among those people was, to me, perfect. It was a great day, good, jovial and friendly. They were most friendly to the President; they gave him a very warm reception.


HESS: Did you speak with some of the farmers there? Did you circulate through the crowd and speak with them to see what the tenor of the crowd was like?

CHAPMAN: Yes, that was one of the things I did quite a bit of, to get their reaction to what should be done to help them, and to ask them to tell me what they really felt we should do to help them. I found invariably that they would come back to this, "Why didn't Congress let us have a little money to build storage tanks to save our crops when they were giving money to every industrial plan in the United States to increase their industrial capacity and efficiency and everything else?" They felt that they had been left out.

HESS: After you circulated through the crowds, talking with people, how were your findings relayed to the President? Would you speak directly to the President to tell him what your impressions were?

CHAPMAN: Usually each one of us would be doing this


kind of a thing, such as Charlie Brannan, Secretary of Agriculture, Oscar Ewing of the FSA, and Clark Clifford, and, oh, there were many, many others doing this very same thing, and somewhere along the way, we'd get a chance for them to come aboard the train to talk with the President for a few minutes. Sometimes they might only have a few minutes, but they'd give him their story and relate their problems to him, and these fellows would relate the problems they had picked up from the farmers to the President. They would give him a thorough briefing on what they had picked up from this particular plowing contest, I did a good deal on that, and I'm sure Mr. Brannan did, too, in that case.

HESS: But even after speaking with the farmers in Iowa, you still thought Iowa was going to go for Dewey, is that right?

CHAPMAN: Not for long. About a week after that, I was sure we had it.


HESS: You were sure that they had it?

CHAPMAN: I was sure we had it.

HESS: Before we get along too far in the campaign, let's go back to the very beginning of events during 1948 to that trip in June that Mr. Truman took to the west coast, and I understand that you were the only advance man used on that trip. Irwin Ross, in his book, The Loneliest Campaign, states that you brought to the President's attention that Robert Gordon Sproul, the president of the University of California, wanted the President to deliver a commencement address at Berkeley on June 19 that year. Is that correct? Do you recall that?

CHAPMAN: That is correct.

HESS: How did that come about?

CHAPMAN: I knew the president of the university, and I spoke to him by telephone and asked if what I was told by a friend was correct; did they really


want the President to speak there at that commencement. He said, "Why, by all means, we would love to have him. I haven't yet cleared it with the board of regents, but I'll call a meeting and get them together right away."

I said, "Well, I wouldn't want to create a situation here where there would be any embarrassment, either to the school or to the President. I wanted to be sure that you wanted him and that there isn't a political trick involved in this thing; it's got to be a genuine desire to hear the President of the United States discuss the problems."

He said, "Well, I'll assure you that's what we want. We want the President of the United States to talk to this class. We feel that he can contribute a great deal to these young people who are graduating from the school this year, if he'll just give one of his plain, back platform train speeches." He had heard him on two occasions, I think. At least he had heard him.

By telephone we arranged the whole thing.


He called the regents together in a matter of days (I don't remember), and they agreed to invite the President. They didn't want to be out on a limb, extending an invitation and then be turned down either, and I didn't want the President to be caught in a trap like that in his case.

So I then discussed the matter with the President, and he raised some of the same doubts that I had as to whether they really wanted him, whether there might be some political reaction or attempting to create a political situation. Well, I assured him that I was convinced at that time that they were sincere about it, that they really wanted him, and I was sure they were sincere in wanting him to speak and there would be no problem involved at all, no problem.

HESS: What did President Truman seem to think about the general wisdom of taking a trip of this nature at this time? In other w