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Matthew J. Connelly Oral History Interview, August 21, 1968

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
August 21, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Connelly Oral History Transcripts]


Notice
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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

[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
August 21, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess

[325]

HESS: Mr. Connelly, I'd like to go over a list of the men who served on the Cabinet during the Truman administration, and ask a few questions about each man. In most cases we might have specific questions that may apply only in that individual case, but a few general questions would be such items as: Why were those particular men chosen for the post; how effective were they in carrying out the responsibilities of their positions, what were their relationships with the President, and why were they replaced, if that was the case?

Our first one starting with the Department of State would be a holdover that Mr. Truman had from the Roosevelt days: Edward Stettinius. What can you tell me about Mr. Stettinius?

CONNELLY: Mr. Stettinius was Secretary of State

[326]

under Roosevelt, and when Truman took over he had to work with the Cabinet that was in office until he could evaluate the performance of each one. Mr. Stettinius did not remain very long after Mr. Truman took over. He resigned from the position of Secretary of State to enjoy private business. Mr. Truman did not have complete confidence in Mr. Stettinius because his thinking and Mr. Stettinius' thinking were not in total agreement.

HESS: Could you give me an example of that?

CONNELLY: There were several matters of policy that Mr. Truman felt he could not go along with, which Mr. Stettinius advocated. In other words, Mr. Stettinius was brought up to represent the thinking of Mr. Roosevelt. Altogether, Mr. Truman did not agree, and as a result his departure was graceful, but

[327]

not disagreeable to Mr. Truman.

HESS: The next man was James F. Byrnes.

CONNELLY: James F. Byrnes was sent for by Mr. Truman after he arrived at the White House. He had a great deal of confidence in Mr. Byrnes because of their association in the Senate. Mr. Byrnes came from South Carolina, and talked to Mr. Truman and immediately decided that he would take over. Mr. Truman to Mr. Byrnes, I'm afraid, was a nonentity, as Mr. Byrnes thought he had superior intelligence. It later was proved that the opposite was true. So Mr. Byrnes' appointment was based on the association that they had in the United States Senate, but after being sworn in as Secretary of State several disagreements exerted themselves and Mr. Truman eventually had to request the resignation of Mr. Byrnes over clashes in policy and thinking and in politics.

[328]

HESS: Some historians have said that Mr. Truman's appointment of Mr. Byrnes was in the nature of a consolation because Truman had received the 1944 nomination instead of Mr. Byrnes and had it been the other way around, Byrnes would have been President at that time. What do you think about that?

CONNELLY: I don't believe that's true. Mr. Byrnes was placed in nomination, or suggested for nomination as Vice President by Mr. Truman. Mr. Byrnes had previously called Mr. Truman and suggested that he introduce him as a nominee for Vice President under Roosevelt. Mr. Truman left for Chicago with the intention of nominating Mr. Byrnes. However, things as they developed at the convention, ruled out Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Truman received the nomination. Mr. Truman was completely loyal to Senator Byrnes because of their Senate

[329]

association, but it was not very long before Mr. Byrnes thought that he had become President and Mr. Truman had not. Conflicts developed and Mr. Byrnes was later asked to relieve himself of the position of Secretary of State.

HESS: The next man is George C. Marshall.

CONNELLY: George C. Marshall was a great American, highly respected by Mr. Truman, looked upon by Mr. Truman as the Chief of Staff, and Mr. Truman regarded himself as a colonel. He had great reverence for the Chief of Staff and he believed General Marshall could do no wrong. General Marshall was brought into the administration by Mr. Truman, and Mr. Marshall performed with intelligence, and integrity and with good faith, all of which were appreciated by Mr. Truman. And George C. Marshall in Mr. Truman's eyes could never do anything wrong.

[330]

HESS: We have a couple of questions on the Marshall plan, but we'll take those up a little later.

The next Secretary of State was Dean Acheson.

CONNELLY: Dean Acheson became Secretary of State at the departure of General Marshall, who went back. to the Defense Department as Secretary of Defense. Dean Acheson was highly regarded by Mr. Truman. He was an intellectual, he knew foreign policy, he knew the operation of the State Department, but in my own opinion, Dean Acheson, more or less because of his intellect, educational background, and his experience around Washington, impressed Mr. Truman to the end that anything that Mr. Acheson did, as far as Mr. Truman was concerned, was correct. I never quite held that opinion myself. In my book Mr. Acheson was above and beyond the normal realms of

[331]

Government operation. Mr. Acheson, in my vernacular, would be considered an egghead, not a practical administrator, and not a man who represented the opinion of America, or of the people of America. Mr. Acheson, for some reason, was more or less beholden to the operations of the British Government. In my opinion, these things conflicted with the viewpoint of Mr. Truman, who was all American.

HESS: In your opinion, why would Mr. Acheson's views be so closely correlated with the British viewpoint?

CONNELLY: Over a period of many years, the State Department was patterned after the British Government. They thought British, they acted British, and they were under a peculiar phobia that the British way was the right way, and the American's patterned themselves after that. That is true of the history of the

[332]

State Department.

HESS: All right. Moving over the page to the Secretary of the Treasury, the first one was also a Roosevelt holdover, Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

CONNELLY: Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was a holdover. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was a man with ideas of his own, all of which Mr. Truman did not always agree with. He was conscientious, but he was a dreamer. He was also petty in many ways. For instance, he would personally supervise the Secret Service protection of the President. He would personally take trips around at night to find out if the Secret Service were on their posts, which was unbeknown to Mr. Truman. I found out from the Secret Service that he had done the same thing under the Roosevelt administration. This, to Mr. Truman, was quite obnoxious.

[333]

However, I think one of the things that Mr. Morgenthau presented to Mr. Truman in the early stages of his administration was a plan for Germany, in which he wished to reduce Germany to an agricultural state. Mr. Morgenthau gave me a memorandum which he had drawn up incorporating his ideas. I checked that memorandum out with several officials who disagreed. As a result of these consultations I had with these different officials, Mr. Truman refused to accept Mr. Morgenthau's plan. Mr. Morgenthau was very unhappy about the President's decision not to accept this plan.

HESS: Was there ever any serious consideration given to accepting the Morgenthau plan?

CONNELLY: Not beyond me confirming with other members of the existing staff in Washington the value of such a plan, none of whom I consulted were in agreement, whether he felt

[334]

that Mr. Truman rejected it I do not know.

HESS: Did Mr. Morgenthau wish to continue on as Secretary of the Treasury for Mr. Truman?

CONNELLY: After that disappointment of Mr. Morgenthau on his brainchild, he gradually lost interest. And Mr. Truman knowing about that background, and knowing about the discussions that I had with various members of the administration, declined to accept Mr. Morgenthau as a permanent member of his Cabinet.

HESS: The next man was Fred Vinson. Why was he chosen to replace Mr. Morgenthau?

CONNELLY: Fred Vinson was a member of Congress for many years, he had known President Truman for many years, President Truman admired him greatly, and after President Truman found out that Mr. Morgenthau was not the man he wanted,

[335]

he thought in his own mind that the man that he would put in that position would be a man he could trust and who would be for him; therefore, Mr. Truman offered the post of Secretary of Treasury to Mr. Vinson.

HESS: In your opinion, did he make an effective Secretary of the Treasury for the time that he was there?

CONNELLY: Mr. Vinson made a very effective Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Vinson reported regularly to President Truman, explained things, worked things out with him, and as far as I know they never left in any disagreement.

HESS: What is your opinion of Fred Vinson as a person?

CONNELLY: Fred Vinson as a person was one of the most human beings I've ever know