Clark M. Clifford Oral History Interview, April 13, 1971

Oral History Interview with

Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel to the President, 1946-50.

Washington, D. C.
April 13, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]



HESS: To begin today, Mr. Clifford, do you recall if Hugh Fulton may have been under consideration for a position as Special Counsel or Attorney General at the time Mr. Truman took over the office of the Presidency?

CLIFFORD: I would not have any information on that because when I came in about May of 1945, I had had no previous acquaintanceship with President Truman. I had no knowledge regarding the associations that he had with any number of men. I met Hugh Fulton during that period, from time to time at the White House, but I was not privy to President Truman's plans with reference to him.

HESS: One point, to keep things in chronological order, also, what stands out in your mind concerning


the events around the White House at the day that the Japanese surrendered in August. Anything in particular?

CLIFFORD: I remember at that time that we had given some attention to the statement that President Truman made on radio. And it was a time, obviously, of great rejoicing. I remember being interested in when he was going to make the announcement, what was to be said, and when that was done, then I remember everybody pretty well declared the rest of the day a holiday. My wife was in town at the time, and I remember that we went our perhaps in the late afternoon, and stayed out all through dinner time, all through the evening, just mixing with the crowd. It was a marvelous experience. Everybody knew everybody, everybody was everybody's friend, any time a soldier would walk down the street, all the girls would stop and kiss him. It was a most . . .


HESS: A good day to be in the Army.

CLIFFORD: It was a most wonderful spirit of comraderie among all Americans, a time of great rejoicing and all. I know we got a great psychological lift out of it.

HESS: All right, moving on in time, Mr. Truman sent a message to Congress on September the 6th of 1945, the twenty-one point message, and in his Memoirs you are referred to in this context, and Mr. Truman says:

I sent the final revised version to the printer, and when the galley proofs were ready I called Clark Clifford, John Steelman, John Snyder, Charlie Ross, and several other advisers. With Rosenman, we went over the proofs point by point . . . .

What comes to mind when you look back on that message?

CLIFFORD: My recollection of it would be that I had worked with Judge Rosenman on it in a minor


capacity. It was mainly his job. I believe that what Judge Rosenman wished to accomplish by it, and President Truman was to show a continuity of governing and a continuity of policy between the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the Truman Administration. It was something of a reiteration of the basic principles that Judge Rosenman had worked on with Franklin Roosevelt, and I believe that President Truman wanted his team in on a conference to determine whether or not it would be right for him.

At that particular time, my own view of it was that it was a correct position for him to take. I believe that what he wanted to do was to demonstrate continuity of policy to the American people. It was not a time with all that was happening, to inform the American people that they were going to have a great shift in governmental policy. I think


any new President coming in under those circumstances is interested in demonstrating continuity. It helps keep the Ship of State on an even course, so that the public doesn't get an idea that there's vacillation going on on the bridge.

And in this instance, I'm sure that we all met and went over it and exchanged ideas. It is my recollection that the twenty-one point message came out pretty much as Judge Rosenman had originally prepared it. I don't believe that there was much modification of it. I might say (and we'll touch on it later) that as we got on into '46 and '47, I think that we changed from the policy of showing continuity to a policy that showed an affirmative effort on the part of President Truman to develop a Truman program as distinguished from a continuation of a Roosevelt program.

HESS: Was there a conscious effort on the part of the


White House staff at this time, say in the summer and early fall of '45, to show a continuation and to say that we should carry on with the Roosevelt policy.

CLIFFORD: I would say that it was more one of general attitude than it being a specific formulated policy. When President Truman came in, the war was still on in both theaters. I suppose it was in May that the European phase ended, May of '45 . . .

HESS: April.

CLIFFORD: In April the European phase ended, and then in August the Japanese phase ended. We were still carrying on in the Roosevelt tradition through that time. And I'd say for the balance of '45 there was still a basic concept, "Let's carry on with the program the Franklin Roosevelt started." That was very much the


feeling, I believe, on the part of all of us at that time.

HESS: One other quote about that particular meeting that the President had on the twenty-one points message. He said:

Most of my advisers agreed with the message, but some of my more conservative associates advised me against this definite commitment to such liberal measures. One of these was John Snyder, who at that time was Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion.

At this time did you notice any beginnings of a struggle between the so-called liberal and conservative elements for the President's attention?

CLIFFORD: I was not conscious of it that early. The fact is that I had known John Snyder before I came to Washington. I had known him slightly in St. Louis, and I had an office in the White House in the East Wing where he had one. I saw


him from time to time. We were working together and I was, at that early stage, not conscious of the beginning of the struggle that was later to become so important. Also, I had not, by that time, worked into the inner counsel sufficiently to be conscious of the various cross-currents which were even then obviously starting to flow.

HESS: When things began to shape up between the conservatives and the liberal elements who were a few of the people in each camp?

CLIFFORD: I would say that as we got on into '46 I became conscious of two major forces which were pulling and tugging at the President. And on the liberal side, I would say that Oscar Chapman would be an important figure, and I believe, I might have talked about the Oscar Ewing group? Did I go into that?


HESS: We haven't touched on that yet.

CLIFFORD: We haven't? All right, well, that was one of the most significant developments that took place. There were others . . .

HESS: Did that--we'll cover that later, but did that start in '46?

CLIFFORD: Probably that did not start until either the end of '46 or the beginning of '47. I'm not sure I can just designate at the very beginning who the liberal forces were; it wasn't too clear. Most of the old Roosevelt appointees had been of liberal persuasion. By the end of '45 most of them had gone. Now, on the other side, I think that as time went on, John Snyder headed up the conservative group. I think I'd put Clinton Anderson, the Secretary of Agriculture, in that group. That would be about as far as I could go.


HESS: Any White House members, any White House staff members?

CLIFFORD: I think that I would put, generally, I'd put Dr. [John R.] Steelman more in the conservative camp than I would in the liberal camp. Oftentimes the line of demarcation was not too sharp. I think that a man like Charlie Ross might sometime be in one camp and sometimes in the other. He was more likely to be in the liberal camp than in the conservative camp, but in those early stages the lines were not nearly so clearly drawn. Later on they did become very clear.

HESS: Do you recall the incident, or the occasion, w hen you first noticed that there were two such forces?

CLIFFORD: No. I would not be able to pick up . . .


HESS: Can't pin it down?

CLIFFORD: I would not be able to be that specific. I would say that in the first half of '46, while I was still in the Naval Aide's office, I started doing some of the duties that had previously been assigned to Judge Rosenman. Also, I remember working quite closely with John Snyder during that period. I remember writing speeches for him. And then we came to the railroad situation in the spring of '46.

HESS: That's right.

CLIFFORD: And I'm sure that John Snyder probably applauded my efforts at that time in writing that very rough speech for the President. I might add that I later thought that maybe the speech was too rough, but certainly at the time it helped accomplish the purpose. It broke the strike and kept the railroads running.


And then later that year we got into the real serious imbroglio with John Lewis. At that time I suppose that John Snyder probably applauded my efforts in that regard, because I counseled the President to take a very hard line with Lewis.

HESS: Why?

CLIFFORD: Because I thought we could not permit a strike. We were just coming out of the wartime economy, the peacetime economy really was teetering in balance, and a coal strike at that time would have dealt the economy a blow from which it might not have recovered for years. It so happened that I remember there were very short supplies of coal all over the country. And if we had a strike, our public utilities would have been forced to shut down, our office buildings would have had to shut down because


the elevators couldn't run, and our schools and hospitals would have had to close. I felt that Lewis was wrong and I felt that the President was going to have to take a hard stand.

Also, I thought that it was an excellent opportunity for President Truman to be a very strong President. And he was a strong President; and he busted that matter wide open and it did a great deal for him. He took the case to court and it was tried and he won, and it went to the Supreme Court where the decision was affirmed. And I think it was that case together with the railroad strike that began to develop a real place for President Truman. Up until that time he was but a carbon copy, and a rather pale carbon copy, of Franklin Roosevelt. And I think that, although he had to take a very hard position in both of those


situation, they both turned out successfully. In politics, it's really success that counts.

HESS: Do you recall the nature of the advice the President received in the Lewis matter from the Department of Labor and from John Steelman, his labor man in residence in the White House?

CLIFFORD: They were both of the strong conviction that a settlement should be worked out, and that we should not get into a law suit over it. They felt it was better to work it out with Lewis and conceded that some kind of strike might be necessary. They didn't want to get into this kind of head-on contest.

Fortunately, President Truman rejected that advice, and did engage in it, and the courts and the public ultimately held that he was right and Lewis was wrong. And curiously enough, out of that struggle came a lasting friendship between


President Truman and John L. Lewis. John L. Lewis developed a lot of respect for President Truman in that fight, because he had given him a whale of a licking, and there weren't many who had given John L. Lewis a licking up until that time. And it was an interesting result; they both had a very real respect for each other, and later became friends.

HESS: We have mentioned the fact that several of the Roosevelt people stayed over in the Truman administration for a period of time. Did you detect any note, or feeling, of resentment on the part of the Roosevelt people against Mr. Truman, in the nature that they thought he might not be up to Mr. Roosevelt's standards?

CLIFFORD: Oh, unquestionably. As far as I was concerned, that was the attitude of practically all of the Roosevelt appointees.


HESS: How about Judge Rosenman?

CLIFFORD: Judge Rosenman could very well have been the exception to it. And I think there was another exception and that would have been Steve Early. I think that those two could have constituted exceptions, but you have to think back about the climate at the time. Franklin Roosevelt was a towering figure. He had had a very successful term as President; he had helped bring the country out of the depression of the thirties; he had been the wartime President in the first half of the forties (and successfully so), he was bringing the war to a successful conclusion when he died in April of 1945.

Then came President Truman, who was not nearly so well-known, who didn't have the style and the grand manner of FDR, and it was a very serious let-down for the Roosevelt


appointees, and they went rather quickly. And I think it was wise that they did, because President Truman was not comfortable with them and he began to organize his own team, with whom he felt comfortable and with whom he could work more effectively.

HESS: Now, getting ahead of the game a little bit, but in 1946, an off-year election when the 80th Congress came in, during the campaign Mr. Truman's activities were held down, and I recall that there were a good many Roosevelt speeches on records which were used quite extensively. And there were clubs for--it was almost as if the Democrats were running Roosevelt as head of the party and not Mr. Truman.

CLIFFORD: I think that's right, and I think the significance of that is clear. Franklin Roosevelt died a hero in office, and it was claimed that he was a casualty of the war, just like the


man who carried the gun, as the burdens of office had been