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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, September 1, 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
September 1, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
September 1, 1972
Jerry N. Hess



HESS: To begin this morning, Mr. Chapman, I want to read a paragraph from Harold Ickes' article, "Farewell, Secretary Krug," that appeared in The New Republic of November the 28th, 1949, We have already cited this article in a previous interview, but in the article Mr. Ickes says:

Secretary Krug had run out on his chief during the desperately fought campaign last year. He hid in the sagebrush of the Far West where none could discover him. He failed to volunteer his services in the Truman campaign. He even refused to make speeches, except on one belated and inconsequential occasion.

Is Mr. Ickes' appraisal correct?

CHAPMAN: Unfortunately it is. I say it is unfortunate, but it was unfortunate for Secretary Krug to have made himself unavailable to that campaign. He traveled during most of that time around the country visiting fish and wildlife preserves, and parks, and outdoor places of the Park Service and other bureaus of the Department. He enjoyed those kinds


of things. However, that was not a good excuse for--that was not considered a good excuse for him to not make himself available and useful for the campaign.

HESS: Were there times when the White House tried to reach him to ask him to participate?

CHAPMAN: It did. I was on the train with the President, going to the lower part of California at the time, and we were trying to reach Secretary Krug. I couldn't reach him through even the Department switchboard, and his own secretary here was not able to give me his phone number. And so I was unable to reach him myself.

Let me add a sentence for that. I know of several occasions in which the White House tried to get in touch with Mr. Krug during that time and was unable to reach him at all. This, of course, made it very embarrassing for me and somewhat difficult for the management and continuing to run the office and keep it going,


because I was devoted, and arranged to devote full-time to the campaign, and have Mr. Krug to make special speeches and be at the office to take over the management of the office, but he did not choose to do that.

HESS: What was the President’s reaction? Did you ever hear Mr. Truman make a comment on Mr. Krug's lack of participation?

CHAPMAN: Well, he was very unhappy about the fact that Krug didn't make himself available to participate in the campaign at all. Had he made himself available for a few speeches he might have gotten by with it, but the President felt the way that he handled himself, he was deliberately trying to defeat him.

HESS: The President felt that way?

CHAPMAN: Yes, he did,

HESS: What is your opinion as to why Mr. Krug did not participate?


CHAPMAN: He thought that Dewey was going to be elected and he had been working behind the scenes with Mr. [Bernard] Baruch, and Mr. Baruch was working behind the scenes with Dewey.

HESS: Do you think he thought that he could stay in the same position in the Dewey administration?

CHAPMAN: Yes, or something better.

HESS: Or something better?

CHAPMAN: If he thought there was anything better. There isn't anything better as far as I'm concerned than the Secretary of the Interior; that's the best job in the Government. I think he had in mind that he could stay on in his administration in some high position.

HESS: In the Republican administration?


HESS: Did you ever hear him say that?

CHAPMAN: No, never heard him say it, in any respect.


As a matter of fact he would never talk about the campaign to me, except to comment that Truman couldn't win.

HESS: He did make that comment?

CHAPMAN: Yes, he did to me. And I told him he was going to be a surprised man on November 5th, following the election day in November.

HESS: A11 right. Now to what extent did his lack of participation have in his resignation one year later?

CHAPMAN: Well, I think it had a very definite part, in the overall picture; that with other things.

HESS: Why did he stay there for so long? If the President was unhappy with him...

CHAPMAN: And he knew it

HESS: November of 1948, and he knew it, why did matters drag on? He didn't resign until a year later, in November 1949. And a year in an


appointive position is a long time.

CHAPMAN: What seemed to a lot of people that the White House was dragging its feet on Secretary Krug's action of not resigning right after election, had another reason for it that the public didn't know. There was an investigation that had started, that arose out of a trial that had been filed in New York. As I said, the public was not aware of what was going on in regard to that, and it was not appropriate to make it known, or to make it public at that time, because a hearing was underway on a suit that had been filed against Secretary Krug for the repayment of a rather large sum of money to a man in Philadelphia, who was the--who was in the textile business and had gotten what was considered by some people as favors, in the terms of favored position in getting priorities for material for his plant. Then in this trial it began to base itself on the fact Krug had paid back some seven hundred thousand dollars on this loan, and the public


was not aware of it or anything until that suit was filed, and they wanted to let the investigation finish if they could. But when the suit was filed, the President I'm sure decided that he would move and take an action on this matter at the time. He didn't want the suit to become the opening thing on this first. So, he asked for his resignation at that time.

HESS: All right. Where were you on election night, and what are your recollections of those momentous times?

CHAPMAN: Well, it was a very pleasant time for me that evening. I was enjoying the evening much more than some of my friends were, because I had a different outlook of what was going to happen that evening than some of my friends did. And I was at my wife's uncle, Basil Manmouth Holmes, and we had quite a few guests in and we were looking at the television and discussing the campaign, during the course of the evening, and how many of them that were there had


thought that he could win. And I must admit that most of them that were there, were quite honest about it and said that they had not thought that he could win.

My conviction was really firmed up by different incidents and things that were happening from the first of October until election. The month of October absolutely confirmed my conviction that he was going to be elected. What one of those incidents amounted to was a trip that I made through Iowa to check the different elements that were acting for the party and those elements that were in opposition to the party. I was absolutely certain that Senator [Guy Mark] Gillette would win reelection--he was running for reelection. I was certain he would run for reelection and win. He did, and then I was certain that if he ran, Truman and he would carry Iowa. As the month of October went along and I kept a check on it, my convictions became more definite and concrete that he


was going to carry Iowa.

Now when I tell my friends about that back here, hardly any of them could believe it or would believe it; they thought it was my enthusiasm that was running away with me, but I never let my enthusiasm for my man be the basis for my judgment, because I always found you had to allow for that with everybody. You have a friendship for a man you work with like that, and you might say a wishing and hoping that he would win; you had to discount a certain amount for that, with almost anybody, including myself. I found that most of the people, a lot of the people, that I talked to in the first of September, or the last week of August, and during the month of September, had absolutely changed their minds in October. This was my own Gallup poll that I took and I found out how it would go. I made a little poll of my own in Iowa. I did this in several states, but this is a pattern that I followed. I would go into


the State of Iowa; I would call somebody that was active in the Teachers' Association and get their reaction about this. It would usually be somebody that I knew.

HESS: Why did you single out the Teachers' Association?

CHAPMAN: Well, I was going to follow and tell you that the teachers were one, the American Legion was another, and I would pick different organizations in different states.

HESS: Labor unions?

CHAPMAN: Labor unions. I checked labor union officials and I'd check the officers or friends, not necessarily officers--friends of somebody I knew well, where I knew