1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, August 25, 1972

Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, August 25, 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 25, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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


Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
August 25, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: All right, continuing on with our discussion of the 1948 campaign, and we have just been talking informally about the Dexter plowing match, the National Plowing Match at Dexter, Iowa. Tell me what you recall about that occasion.

CHAPMAN: I remember the occasion with a good deal of pleasure, because the President was called on to plow. Instead of using the machinery for plowing, he used a two mule team and he plowed a straight row with a twelve inch cut in the soil. He was plowing as straight a row as any man that ever has driven a mule anywhere. They were two of the most beautiful mules I ever saw that he was using to drive that day, and they were well-trained, well broken in for this work. That was also the occasion at which we had lots of fun, more or less teasing Margaret.


We didn't let her know the truth about the situation, but we told her that we were going to call on her to sing, that the committee, local committee, had asked that she sing a song they'd heard her sing--"Ave Maria." She, of course, didn't want to sing in the great outdoors space and there were several reasons that she didn't want to do it, and they were legitimate reasons, But she was really scared that I was going to introduce the President or make him introduce Margaret too--and ask her, at the request of this committee, if she would sing "Ave Maria" for them, that they had been so impressed with her singing of "Ave Maria" when she sang at Constitution Hall in Washington.

HESS: Had you talked to the members of the committee about that?

CHAPMAN: No. Because I wasn't going to do it; I wasn't going to do it anyhow, I was just having fun with the inside group. It was just the inside


group and we were having the fun with Margaret.

HESS: And she didn't want to do it.

CHAPMAN: And she just didn't want to do it, and I was very much amused by it and he was--I spoke to the President about it first before I started the little cabal on her, and he laughed. He said, "'You get her to sing, introduce her, let her sing."

I said, "All right, I'll see if I can get her to do it."

He said, "Well, you ask her and see. I don't think she will do it, but you ask her."

I said, "All right, she may come to you to get you to call me off."

"Oh," he said, "I'll tell her I've given you carte blanche authority to run this thing; you'll have to run it your way."

And, if I remember correctly, she did go to see the President at the head table, went around to see both Charlie Ross at the head table, and the President, and told them to make me--to call


me off of doing this particular kind of a thing and to ask me not to introduce her to sing. She said she just could not sing in the great outdoor theater of this kind, and that she just thought this would be out of place for her to try to do it. She, oh, she had a good argument that she'd made up, with some good answers for me, and she didn't know that I really wasn't planning to use it anyway; I wasn't going to introduce her anyhow to sing, because we just did it for having some fun with her.

HESS: That was on September the 18th, 1948.

CHAPMAN: That's right.

HESS: I have a list of the speeches. Let me see, "September the 18th, Address at Dexter, Iowa, at the National Plowing Match."

Did you leave with the President when he left Dexter?

CHAPMAN: I took a plane and left there way ahead of


them, and left them about three stops in between that and Portland. I let them take those stops and handle them; they were small places behind the platform on the train.

HESS: The whistlestops.


HESS: Did you generally try to stay about two or three days ahead of the President?

CHAPMAN: About a week. I tried to stay ahead of him. I couldn't always do it; there were several places I had to remain with the President's party because I felt certain differences among some of the local committees that would be in controversy with each other about what they were going to do and wanted to do, and sometimes I…

HESS: Can you give me an illustration, a point to illustrate that fact?


CHAPMAN: Well, just to illustrate that perfectly, was--well, Portland. I had to stay with him in Portland during the whole trip he was there. I couldn't just leave him and go on then ahead of him and leave somebody in charge to introduce him; some one of his men on the train would introduce him. Charlie Ross--I mean Clark Clifford was on the train and he would help me out beautifully, and if something came up like that I could always call on him and get him to fill in to introduce the President on the back of the train and he knew just what to do and how to do it. Clark was extremely helpful, and he knew--he had the touch and the feel of the President and the local citizens, how to deal with them and how to handle them, better than any man that I have ever known. He made a perfect man to--not to do the footwork. In the way I'm telling it it may sound like that. Not the question of the footwork and things like that; there were other people that had to do


that. But Mr. Clifford would come along and do the important things and things that would give it standing and give it prestige as we went, because he is a man of nice physical stature and intellectually he was a man of real stature, and he could speak on the subject that applied to that locality and community as well as anybody. He had this brief that we had with the President that was bigger than any one of these you've got here, one of these books; we had two of them as a matter of fact. One continued on with the subject matter. But I was used to people. Well, particularly the one in Portland, I had to stay there, not so much for the question of introducing the President; that was not an important factor in most cases. Sometimes that became an issue with the local people about which one of the leaders of this faction, of that faction, was going to introduce the President; it got down to where there was--a question would be resolved by my just saying, "Oh, there is a man on the


train with him, Clark Clifford, who will introduce the President, because he understands the program, how long it will have to run, and so on."

HESS: What were the main problems in Portland?

CHAPMAN: First, they had a real political difference going on among the political parties there; political leaders were having this little controversy about what to do and how to do it and what they ought to do. For instance, one group was recommending that I schedule the President in the "Rose Parade," an annual event. They wanted us to keep that schedule and put him on there because we'd have a lot of publicity on this, but two or three days before, that devastating flood had come.

HESS: This is in June.

CHAPMAN: This was...


HESS: Yeah, we discussed that last time; this was in June,


HESS: The same year though.

CHAPMAN: I didn't discuss this phase, on June 5th; it was the same trip I believe.

HESS: Yes, that's right, what was called the western or that so-called nonpolitical trip.

CHAPMAN: Nonpolitical trip, yes.

HESS: So-called nonpolitical trip, usually seen in quotes.

CHAPMAN: That is right.

HESS: One of the important trips though for 1948.

CHAPMAN: One of the most important trips; it is one of the most important trips that made the groundwork for the pattern which we followed. And I was really laying it out as to what I was


trying to do, which was to leave a pattern to follow so that we could make another trip and do it easier, and so on. I was trying to do that, and having to try to settle the differences between the local political people, and you ask the question what were some of the problems they had. Well, it would go into problems like this where the official committee, the proper committee that had charge of this, that legally was their representatives, who had legally been elected as their national committeemen and committeewomen and so on, and they wanted to do it a certain way, and they thought they had the right to set the course. Normally that would be true, but sometimes you would run into a situation where you couldn't follow what would be the normal procedure and what ought to be followed. There were circumstances that intervened on a lot of these occasions that meant you would have to change their pattern and


their plans. You didn't want to change their local plans a bit more than you had to, and you wanted to...

HESS: You didn't want to step on any toes.

CHAPMAN: No, you wanted to leave them actually in control as much as possible, you know, to ma