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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, May 5, 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
May 5, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
May 5, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: All right, Mr. Chapman, to begin this morning, I'd like to get your reaction to one matter concerning the trip in June. There were reports in the newspapers and some of the magazines, that some of the local politicians throughout the West felt they were ill-treated during that trip in June, because they were not given adequate time to talk to the President, or they were not allowed to ride from town to town when the President's train was in their state. Do you recall any such reports from disappointed leaders in the West after that trip?

CHAPMAN: Yes, I did. There were a few people that complained that they didn't have sufficient time with the President, and what they really wanted was to ride on the train within their state with the President across the state. That would have made it so openly a political front


it would have broken down the whole picture that Clifford and I were trying to establish.

HESS: Of a nonpolitical trip.

CHAPMAN: Yes. We were trying to establish it on that basis just as much as possible, and that's why I got this invitation for him to speak at Berkeley, which was purely non-political. He dedicated that generator at the Grand Coulee Dam; then he had another speaking engagement in Los Angeles, I think it was, with the press there; the local press gave a luncheon for him, and had a rather large crowd. They had charge of the luncheon; they invited whom they pleased, they were there, and all and all, it was a most successful luncheon, most successful meeting, and Truman spoke at considerable length there. He had a chance there to explain a lot of these things that he'd been criticized for that the public didn't have full information on, the entire story. That gave him a chance there to


really tell the people his side of the story, that he had been criticized for this or that, different actions that he had taken, and so on.

It was a most successful trip from the point of view of presenting Truman to the country just as Truman is himself, and we didn't try to garnish the lily and do something to try to make Truman something that he wasn't. He just went out and spoke as Harry Truman. Sure he was President; you're always President when you are selected to that high position no matter where you are.

That made it very convenient for us, because when a President stops on a back of. a train or in the other method, but in this case we'll say on the back of a train, he'd come out on the back of the train and make a little speech, usually a very short speech, not long, but he'd pick a particular subject and he went into that. I hope you will get the schedule that's worked out for that trip. That is in the Library, and it's a full record of that trip, the standing on


it, the stops he made, where he spoke, and it's an entire, completed volume of that, and I wish you could get that and take a look at it and you'll see where he stopped at so many little places.

Now, normally, he wouldn't get his name even in the press if he’d have said any of those things there on that page you're looking at; his name wouldn't have been in the press if he'd have made that statement here at the White House. But when a President stops at some little town, every press man there knows that the local press is going to play a story up, good or bad; they're going to write a story. So every press man that went on that train (and they all tried to go, as many as could; we had many requests to go on that train), they all wrote a story on it. So Truman got more publicity, and good publicity, out of that entire trip than any period of his time during the whole campaign, and it set the stage for our...


HESS: For what was coming up in the fall.

CHAPMAN: That's right, it set the stage for what we were going to face coming up. We also were hoping by this time, that the President was going to call a special session.

HESS: You were at this time?

CHAPMAN: Well, Clark and I were doing a lot of talking about it by this time.

HESS: You were?


HESS: Tell me about the background of that matter?

CHAPMAN: Well, the background of that is this: There were several bills before Congress that were really quite important, and Congress should have taken care of them before they went home; they could have done it in any one afternoon if they would have. But they were playing politics to downgrade the President and not to pass his program. So he just


called them back into special session and sent the same bills right back up there to them. So they had, between that and election day, either to get them out or vote them down, and it made a beautiful issue for us. We were sitting right on top of that issue through the country all over. I suppose, I may be wrong on this, but I think I'm right in judging it, that Clark Clifford and I were as much or more responsible for him calling that special session than anybody else. I know we originated the idea with him; at least we thought we did. We talked with him about it. Whether we were the first ones, I don't know.

HESS: About when did you start discussing this with Mr. Clifford, and then when did you broach the subject to Mr. Truman?

CHAPMAN: Clifford and I started talking about it almost before the convention was over in Philadelphia.


HESS: In Philadelphia?

CHAPMAN: We started talking about it, but we started talking in Philadelphia, or here in Washington, I don't remember. I rather think it was here in Washington, and we discussed the importance of the President's calling a special session and feeling that it ought not to be called unless we could base it on a good, sound, logical reason for the Congress to be in session, and that these were important pieces of legislation, and that for the benefit of the people they ought to be there working on them. We felt they were sound enough that the average man would appreciate them, that it was a piece of work they didn't finish, and that they ought to come back and finish it.

HESS: All right, this is a very important topic, and it brings up the subject of the unsigned memorandum of June 29, 1948, entitled, "Should the President Call Congress Back." This is found in various


places in the Truman Library. There's a copy of the unsigned memo in Judge Sam Rosenman's papers; there's a copy also in Clark Clifford's papers, and probably elsewhere as well. While you're looking over that, you'll want to notice that the pronoun "we" is used several times. It sounds like a group effort.


HESS: As you know, I left a copy of the memo with you when we met last week. Did you get a chance to look it over?

CHAPMAN: Yes, I read it. This you will notice by its very language; notice it was discussed by a lot of people at the convention, and before then I don't think it would have been discussed any with the President. But I had the feeling that Clark and I had kind of boxed this issue in by each of us separately going to him and expressing to him the importance of calling the Congress back. We felt that it was the right thing to


start with; we felt it was the right thing to do, that these people in that country were entitled to this help that was being given to this legislation, and we felt that they ought to have it.

Now, you remember that piece of legislation to grant some loans to the farmers to build storage tanks, or storage bins to store their wheat and corn in.

HESS: The Commodity Credit Corporation charter.

CHAPMAN: They turned it down, you know, wouldn't loan them the money. Now, Truman really put the heat on that one really hard, both in making his speeches and in his message he sent to Congress on that issue.

HESS: This particular unsigned memo was submitted or was dated well in advance of the convention. The convention was held in the middle of July.



HESS: I have the 1948 volume here, and Mr. Truman's address on accepting the nomination was on July 15th. So this unsigned memo as to whether or not the President should call Congress back was written two or three weeks in advance.

CHAPMAN: You mean, of the convention?

HESS: Of the convention.

CHAPMAN: That’s right.

HESS: He ended his nomination address, his acceptance, by saying:

On the 26th day of July, which out in Missouri we call ‘Turnip Day,’ I am going to call Congress back and ask them to pass laws to halt rising prices, to meet the housing crisis--which they are saying they are for in their platform.

So this was a subject that was brought up well before the convention. But who do you think submitted this memo? Who do you think wrote the unsigned memo?

CHAPMAN: You know, I read this and analyzed it. It