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Clark M. Clifford Oral History Interview, March 16, 1972

Oral History Interview with

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

Washington, D. C.
March 16, 1972
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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: In our coverage of the events of the Truman administration, we are now up to the election of 1948 and President Truman's trip to Key West following the election. He was down there from November 7th to the 21st of 1948. Two of the tasks that were facing the staff at that time were the writing of the State of the Union message and President Truman's inaugural message, of course, both to be delivered the following January. Did work on those messages get underway on that trip to Key West?

CLIFFORD: My recollection would be that there might have been some general discussion with reference to it, but the degree of fatigue that existed in the group was the most pronounced, I think, that I have ever seen. I doubt I've ever been as tired in my life, and I wasn't carrying the


main brunt; obviously, President Truman was. We used that time to relax and recharge our batteries. We spent a lot of time on the beach there. It was a very valuable period for all of us.

I'd have to say that I'm sure that he and I may have had some conversations because it was my responsibility to get his thoughts and get up a first draft so that he could see it. As far as any writing was concerned, I'd say that we didn't do any down there. We weren't quite up to it. We were almost in a daze. We were so exhausted after that long and arduous campaign, particularly making it by train.

I have some recollection that in one period of something like sixty days, I think we spent something like forty-eight nights on the train; you can see what that would do to you even if you're young.


But just as soon as we got back, rested and resuscitated, then we really plunged into it.

HESS: Did you write first drafts for both of those speeches: The State of the Union, which was coming early in January, and then the inaugural speech, which was coming on the 20th.

CLIFFORD: Yes, that was my responsibility. Then also, we had to give some attention to the Economic Report which had to be synchronized with the other two messages. That would be my responsibility, after talking with him, to get up the first draft of the State of the Union message. That would have come, I would say, probably in the first week in . . .

HESS: January the 5th, and we have a copy of it here.

CLIFFORD: All right. And then the inaugural address,


which I assume would be January 20th. I'll take a look at the State of the Union address so that that will refresh my recollection. The inaugural address had as its highlight what became known as point 4. I will stop here and take a quick look at this.

You'll note the State-of the Union address is not a long one. My recollection is that the one back in 1946 was a long and detailed address. It seems to me that this was shorter for two reasons: one, because we had not had the time to give to it, and second, he had ano ther speech coming after this one.

HESS: While you're looking over the State of the Union address, one of the important phrases in it that came to be very well known is on the last page, page seven, and this is the phrase: "Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our


Government a fair deal."

Of course, the words "fair deal, " the term, because the motto and the symbol of the Truman administration. Do you recall who contributed that phrase?

CLIFFORD: Yes, I remember it very well, and I can even visualize it in my mind. At one time I had that draft in my possession, and then turned it over to the President for the benefit of the Library.

HESS: It's on display in the Museum, in fact.

CLIFFORD: Oh, is it? Then if you've seen it you will know that it is in his handwriting. In one of the early drafts, President Truman personally wrote in that sentence, "Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal." That is in his handwriting; it was his thinking. It wasn't suggested to him by anybody else;


that is solely and completely the President's idea. I think for that reason it's particularly appropriate that "fair deal" became the slogan and description of the Truman administration, because the phrase actually was coined by President Truman.

HESS: When you're writing messages like the two we're discussing, how do you go about gathering ideas or gathering material for your drafts?

CLIFFORD: It's different with different speeches and messages.

I had long followed in the years I was there the practice of sending a letter to certain departments and bureaus in the Executive branch of Government, about the first of September, asking them for ideas that they might have that could be considered as possible material for the State of the Union message. The State of the Union


address to some extent, therefore, would be more of an assembly job than any other: State would come in with its memoranda; Agriculture would come in; Treasury would come in with the ideas that they wanted. Every department, of course, would want the State of the Union message devoted practically exclusively to their problems. So quite a selective process was necessary. You might get one idea out of a departmental memorandum, you might get none, or you might get two or three.

I would know generally what was in the President's mind in the first place; we would winnow through all this and get up a draft. Then he would look at it and he would say, "Well, I want to address myself to such and such a point," or he'd say, "I just don't like that; let's not waste our time with that." But at least if you get a draft, you have something to start with. It's like having a skeleton


and then you begin to pack the flesh onto the skeleton.

My recollection is that we did not intend that the State of the Union message in January of 149 would be a particularly significant document. I think it was an adequate document. Maybe its major claim to fame is that it contained the expression coined by President Truman that did become the slogan of his administration. It also set forth in a general way what his goals were and the direction in which he would direct the administration and the country during his next four years in office.

HESS: Was it mainly slanted toward domestic matters?

CLIFFORD: No, I would say it covered both foreign and domestic, but with more emphasis on domestic matters. I think already we had decided possibly to give emphasis in the inaugural


address to foreign policy matters.

HESS: Did you notice anything else in the copy of the State of the Union message that I ran off from the Public Papers, that bears mentioning?

CLIFFORD: I would say not. I repeat again, I do not think it was one of his more significant documents for the reasons that I have given.

HESS: All right, now moving onto the inaugural address and that became very famous, of course, because of the fourth point, point 4 about technical aid. Could you give me the background of the inclusion of that fourth point?

CLIFFORD: Yes, in conversations . . .

HESS: With whom?

CLIFFORD: . . . with President Truman regarding the


inaugural address, he indicated that he would hope that we might be able to agree on the submission of a concept that would make the inaugural unique and outstanding. We hadn't really begun to think what it might be. I do recall that we discussed the fact that there were a few famous inaugural addresses, such as Lincoln's second inaugural, and George Washington's second inaugural, which is perhaps not as famous as George Washington's farewell address. But throughout American history there have been very few inaugural addresses that have stood for much and which have been remembered. He just commented generally that he would hope that this might be that kind.

So those of us who were working on the inaugural address thought about what we might come up with at that time. I recall that certainly more than six months before, and maybe


as much as a year before, a man in the State Department had sent over to me an idea. I'm not sure I even remember the man's name...

HESS: How about Benjamin Hardy?

CLIFFORD: Well, that could well be it, but it's so long ago I just don't remember. In any event, he had sent over a memo which had been an intelligent memo and I hadn't any place to use it at the time. I put it in the file, probably the file that would be called "Future Idea File," or something of that kind.

This was not a rare instance. Persons working in the different departments would get ideas, and I knew a great many of those individuals who would send ideas over. Sometimes we'd use them and sometimes we wouldn't; sometimes I'd just discard them and sometimes I'd just put them in a file possibly for future reference.


And during that time when we were searching for the idea that would make this a strong inaugural address and one that would be remembered, I