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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, August 18, 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
August 18, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
August 18, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: In our fifth meeting, we were discussing the New York Times article by Anthony Leviero of August 1, 1948. In the article he referred to a number of meetings that were held to form a staff of political advisers and it states:

Such meetings have been held after a fashion for a few months. But the group has been enlarged and has scheduled frequent meetings for an all-out campaign. The first of the new high councils was held on July 22. The White House declined to identify those who attended.

In writing to the Library I got a Xerox copy of the page from the White House Appointments Books for July 22, and we see that the meeting was held at 8 p.m. in the evening and included, according to the list in the Appointments Books: The Attorney General, Tom Clark; the Secretary of Commerce, Charles Sawyer; Oscar Ewing; yourself; Leslie Biffle; William Pawley; Senator Carl Hatch; Stephen Early; Judge Samuel I. Rosenman; and


Matthew J. Connelly. Let's discuss that meeting for a moment and discuss what was the subject of the meeting and were there others present who are not named on the list.

CHAPMAN: Well, I'm just reading the list off here to see who was present there that I didn't remember. I see one or two here that were there that I had not remembered.

HESS: Who was that? Which ones?

CHAPMAN: Mr. and Mrs. Warren Pershing. That was arranged by Mr. Ross.

HESS: What time of the day there? Were they at the 8 o'clock meeting?

CHAPMAN: No, no, that's right. They were not at the 8 o'clock. It's got the hours here.

HESS: The 8 o'clock meeting is the last one listed for the day. That starts off with Attorney General Clark, I believe. That's the way I have


it on my list. Yes, that's right.

HESS: What was the subject of that meeting?

CHAPMAN: That meeting in the evening was devoted primarily to the discussion of selecting a few more members to go on the finance committee, add to the finance committee, and to enlarge our activities by that method for the time being. Then we selected from that group; I know we selected from that group, Oscar Ewing, Bill Pawley--I don't see any more on that list that was there that night.

HESS: The article by Anthony Leviero of August 1 mentions that two men at that time were under consideration for chairman of the finance committee, and they were Cornelius V. Whitney, who was Assistant Secretary of the Air Force at that time, and Mr. William Pawley who was former Ambassador to Brazil. Pawley was at the meeting on July 22, but Whitney was not.


CHAPMAN: That's right.

HESS: Was Whitney's name also mentioned as a possible chairman of the finance committee?

CHAPMAN: Yes, it was mentioned.

HESS: Was the job offered to him?

CHAPMAN: I didn't understand that it had been, that it had been offered him. He was discussed in relation to his duties and what he was doing, and whether he would be in a position to be able to help very much. They discussed him for a little while but not long. They seemed to have dropped him from the discussion as the thing went on in the evening, that it would be hard to do with his duties that he had to perform. Somebody got a telegram from him that night, about his not being able to serve.

HESS: What are the criteria that are looked for when you are selecting someone for a position like that? What kind of a man do you want to head


the finance committee?

CHAPMAN: Well, you look for first, a man with courtesy.

HESS: Mr. Louis Johnson was finally chosen, or finally accepted the job. Was he discussed that night?

CHAPMAN: Yes, he was.

HESS: Why wasn't he in attendance that night, do you recall?

CHAPMAN: Wasn't he there?

HESS: Not according to my list. Do you think he was?

CHAPMAN: Yes, I do,

HESS: For just a moment let's discus who else attended that meeting that did not get their names on the list? We have Attorney General Clark; Secretary Sawyer; Oscar Ewing, who was head of the Federal Security Agency at that time, what later became HEW; yourself; Leslie


Biffle; William Pawley; Senator Hatch; Steve Early; Judge Rosenman and Matt Connelly. Who else do you recall being at that meeting?

CHAPMAN: Well, I thought Rosenman was there at the meeting.

HESS: He's listed. What about Clark Clifford?

CHAPMAN: Clark Clifford was there.

HESS: He was there. Sometimes, as I understand it, lists of this nature were drawn up in advance.

CHAPMAN: Quite often they were just a bunch of names that were put down.

HESS: That's right, so the President would know who was coming in at a certain time.

CHAPMAN: Then they would scratch them off sometimes when they didn't show up.

HESS: And other people would come in whose names were not on the list.


CHAPMAN: That's right.

HESS: Do you recall anyone else besides Mr. Clifford--and you say Louis Johnson was there?

CHAPMAN: Yes, he was there.

HESS: Do you recall anyone else besides Louis Johnson and Clark Clifford who attended the July 22 meeting?

CHAPMAN: No, I don't.

HESS: What did Louis Johnson have to say that night, do you recall?

CHAPMAN: Well, he was quite talkative, free in giving his advice and judgment and so on.

HESS: Was it about this time when he was offered the position?

CHAPMAN: I think it was at this time, the next day or soon after when he was asked to do it.

HESS: What kind of a job did Louis Johnson do as


chairman of the finance committee?

CHAPMAN: I thought he did a pretty good job. You've got to remember the circumstances under which he was working. Truman's stock was quite low at that particular time. That was at one of his low points at that time, and, naturally, no one wanted to take it, to serve, at that time. I think Lou Johnson came to that meeting with full intention and everything of taking it. I think he came there with the idea of accepting it if it was offered to him at all.

HESS: Do you recall if he was offered any inducements to take that position? For instance, if he would take that position and raise money for the Democratic National Committee that he might be offered a position if the President was successful in the election?

CHAPMAN: I don't know who would have offered it to him.


HESS: How about Mr. Truman?

CHAPMAN: He wouldn't do that. I have every reason to believe that he wouldn't make that offer in turn for his raising money for the campaign. I just don't believe he would do that.

HESS: There are those who say that an offer of this nature may have been made because when Mr. Forrestal left in March of 1949, Mr. Johnson replaced him as Secretary of Defense, and as you will recall. Mr. Johnson had been in the War Department with Woodring before and had wanted to move up into the top spot when Stimson was chosen back before World War II. But you don't think there's anything to that?

CHAPMAN: I think that came entirely out of Johnson's mind. I think he was spreading it.

HESS: Johnson did?

CHAPMAN: Yes. I think he was giving out information at that time that he had been offered the Secretary


of Defense to take this.

HESS: The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee was Joseph L. Blythe. Do you recall anything in particular about Joseph L. Blythe?

CHAPMAN: Not a thing. I didn't talk with him; I never talked with him on anything that I can remember. He would work mostly with Johnson, and Johnson would keep in touch with him because he was the money man.

HESS: Did you become involved in the matters of fund raising in 1948 in any way?

CHAPMAN: No. He's got things in here that are mixed.

HESS: That wasn't part of your duties as an advance man?


HESS: Anthony Leviero, in his article?



HESS: Where does he get mixed up?

CHAPMAN: He's got some things that are mixed, and I don't mean that he's got them wrong, necessarily, but not in sequence of their actual performance, when they did it and so on.

HESS: What did you find?

CHAPMAN: I was trying to look for that one spot that I found. I found that you'd already marked one of them.

HESS: We should say for historians that what we are looking at is an article by Anthony Leviero which appeared in the New York Times on August 1, 1948, in Section 4, page 1, and starts on column 3.

CHAPMAN: That is right.

HESS: One thing that Mr. Leviero mentions is that two "old hands," as he calls them, are