Oral History Interview with
Matthew J. Connelly
Chief investigator for the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (the Truman Committee), 1941-44, Executive Assistant to Senator and Vice President Truman, July 1944-April 1945; and Appointments Secretary to the President, 1945-53.
New York, New York
November 30, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Connelly 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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May 1969
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Connelly Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Matthew J. Connelly
New York, New York
November 30, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Connelly, at the end of our discussion Tuesday, we were talking about the Cabinet and your duties in relation to the Cabinet, and there are a couple of other questions I would like to ask you on that subject. Today, don't want to get into the Cabinet appointments themselves, but just about your duties on the Cabinet--to keep things in a chronological order. Did any of the other members of the White House staff have occasion to sit in on the Cabinet meetings, other than yourself?
CONNELLY: No, none of the members of the White House staff sat in on those meetings, with one exception, John Steelman, who regularly sat in on the Cabinet meetings.
HESS: What percentage of the Cabinet meetings would
he sit in on?
CONNELLY: Well, he sat in on practically all of them. He sat there as a participant in the discussion, and I sat there as a reporter.
HESS: I see. So he didn't take notes or anything of that nature?
CONNELLY: Except when I was not available, and he would take the notes in my place.
HESS: Did he give you those notes?
CONNELLY: Oh, yes.
HESS: Fine. So you have the complete set even from when you weren't there?
CONNELLY: They're all there in the Library.
HESS: Was there an agenda worked out ahead of time for the business that was to be taken up at the Cabinet meetings?
CONNELLY: Well, Cabinet meetings were very seldom held with an agenda, except the President might want to bring up some particular subject. Otherwise, it was just an open meeting, and he handled that deliberately because his predecessor, unfortunately, did not have a Cabinet (the members would not talk in front of each other), and he was determined that he would eradicate that procedure and have a real Cabinet and let each Cabinet officer bring up his own problems and there would be discussion among other members, if they agreed or did not agree with his position.
HESS: On September 23, 1945, the New York Times published a story that in a Cabinet meeting Wallace had proposed that Russia be given the secret of the atomic bomb, and according to a statement in the book Out of the Jaws
of Victory by Jules Abels, Wallace said that the idea was proposed by Henry Stimson, and he blamed you for that particular leak. Do you remember anything about that episode?
CONNELLY: No, offhand, the only comment I recall Wallace making was that the Russians would have the atomic bomb in seven years anyway, so why should it be such a big secret. So, with reference to any leak from me, I never heard of it.
HESS: This was one thing that I had run across in my background work, and I wanted to bring that up.
CONNELLY: Well, I know that there was never any leak about Cabinet proceedings from me in any event or in any discussion.
HESS: At a later date we will cover the Cabinet appointments them selves, but right now I'd
like to ask one question that I should have asked in our last interview. During the time that you were with the Truman Committee, did you have any working relationships with Mr. Truman's private staff; and the second part of that question: What do you remember about the various members of that staff?
CONNELLY: Oh, certainly we had relationships because that was his principal project at that time. Prior to that he was just a Senator from Missouri, but even lower than that because the Senator from Missouri. in those days was Bennett Clark, and Truman was not known publicly outside of the Senate, except in the State of Missouri. But when you referred to the Senator from Missouri, it was taken for granted that you were talking about Bennett Clark, who was the senior Senator, and had been in the Senate for many years. But Truman, before the Truman
Committee was organized, was not well-known.
HESS: What was the relationship between Senator Truman and Senator Clark?
CONNELLY: The relationship was very cordial up to a point. They had minor differences, naturally, but Senator Clark seconded the nomination of Senator Truman for Vice President. So they worked very closely together in the interest of the State.
HESS: On Mr. Truman's private staff, who was there besides Victor Messall, Harry Vaughan, Mildred Dryden, and Catherine Bixler?
CONNELLY: Reathel Odum, and Lauretta Young--that was the total staff, until General Vaughan left for the wars in Australia, and then Bill Boyle left the committee to act as secretary to Senator Truman in General Vaughan's absence.
HESS: Were those people particularly effective in their work?
CONNELLY: Well, the people in his office had very little to do with the committee activities. Their work was principally Missouri business, and there was never any direct conflict between his office staff and the committee staff, because the committee was set up independently of his personal office.
HESS: When Mr. Truman became President, of course, Harry Vaughan made the switch with him from his personal staff to the White House, but why didn't the others? Miss Odum was the secretary to Mrs. Truman, is that correct, in the White House?
CONNELLY: That's correct.
HESS: Mildred Dryden did not make this switch.
CONNELLY: Mrs. Dryden had left before he was sworn in as President. She had other employment in Washington. Miss Bixler had other employment in Washington, and the other girls, who had been with him for many years, stayed with him. They were Reathel Odum, Shirley Green, and Lauretta Young, and of course, General Vaughan. He had returned from Australia.
HESS: Taking April 12, 1945, as the date now, just what were the problems relating to staffing, that presented themselves at this date? I have reference to probably the decisions about which of the Roosevelt people to keep, what other people to bring in. Were those problems during those days?
CONNELLY: Those problems were problems, but we decided that the best thing to do was to keep as much of the Roosevelt staff together as possible, because Senator Truman, myself or Harry Vaughan
knew nothing about how the White House was operated. We had to keep these people together so that we would have a continuity of the running of the Government. We purposely made that decision because we needed them, and there should be no blanket-turnout of people who knew what they were doing when we did not. So, those people were largely kept because of that fact. Secondly, Steve Early, who had already announced his retirement from the White House, stayed on to help us in that transition, and to work out a blend between the White House people of Roosevelt and the little group that Truman arrived with.
HESS: Did the President rely on anyone in particular to make these decisions?
CONNELLY: Those decisions were largely worked through me.
HESS: Through you?
HESS: Did he ask you to do this to take on yourself the responsibility of looking out after the staff?
CONNELLY: He said to keep the ball game going.
HESS: Shortly after he became President, he left for Potsdam, of course. Was this part of your duties when he was gone?
CONNELLY: Yes, he asked me to go to Potsdam with him, and I said, "No, I think somebody should be here to take care of the store." So, I stayed in Washington while he was in Potsdam, to coordinate the communications between the White House and him in Potsdam, and of course, on route.
HESS: I have the names of several of the people
who worked in the White House during Mr. Truman's administration. Some of these were holdovers from the Roosevelt administration. Some of them came in sometime later, but I'd just like to ask you a few questions about these various individuals, and a little bit about what their backgrounds were, what their duties were in the White House, how effective they were in those duties, and things of that nature. Let's start with the gentlemen who were Special Counsels to the President, the first one being Samuel I. Rosenman.
CONNELLY: Judge Rosenman had been counsel to President Roosevelt for several years, and in the same theory of keeping Roosevelt's people together because they should know what was being done in the White House, what was required, Judge Rosenman agreed to stay on and help President Truman, and did for several
months or years. I forget when he did leave.
HESS: He left on February 1, 1946. He was there a little less than a year. What seemed to be his relationship with President Truman?
CONNELLY: It was a very close relationship. President Truman relied on him for legal decisions and points