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Opened November, 1964
Oral History Interview with
October 4, 1963
James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Well, first of all, I'd like to take up a few things concerning your book The Man of Independence, (Jonathan Daniels, New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1950) One thing, you said that Mr. Truman cautioned you not to trust his memory but to check the facts where they were recorded. How did you find the facts checked with his memory, Mr. Daniels, and what did you do to go about finding these facts?
DANIELS: Well, I found the facts checked very well with his memory, but I was not willing, when I was first approached by Lippincott to write this book, to merely write the book that was Truman's recollection. So, while the President was good enough to give me a number of hour-long, two-hour long interviews, in which he told me about his life and various aspects of it, I didn't want to depend on that.
So, being particularly interested and also most unfamiliar with his background in Missouri, I went back to Missouri and did -- the first thing I did, I went to St. Louis and spent two or three days in the morgue of the Post-Dispatch and talked to newspaper men there who had known Truman. Then I went on out to Kansas City and interviewed friends, enemies, relatives, all kinds of people who had known Truman. I also worked long in the morgue of the Kansas City Star. Through a friend of mine in Kansas City, Jerome Walsh, I got in touch with Thomas H. Madden, of the Kansas City Title Insurance Company, who specialized in land-title law.
He did for me a complete record of the purchases, sales, mortgages, and so forth, on the Truman lands. Then I spent a great deal of time in Independence interviewing a great variety of people who had known Truman, such as friends or political associates, or political opponents, business associates, and got their story of Truman and his background.
I was very much surprised when I went to Kansas City. I knew most of the newspapermen who were covering the President. Many of them had been covering Roosevelt when I was press secretary at the White House. I was surprised to be able to find material which was not even remembered by newspapermen in Kansas City. For instance, while everybody knew that he'd been Jacobson's partner in the haberdashery store, apparently it was completely forgotten that he'd been in the building and loan business, in the oil stock business, in lead mine speculation, in purchase of a bank which almost failed while he was involved. All these things were so little remembered that -- I've forgotten the name of the man, I think his name was Shoop, who was Washington correspondent of the Kansas City Star, who when the book came out, called me up from Washington and he said, "My God, you've got this stuff right under our noses that we didn't get."
I was shocked at newspapermen covering a President, going to his press conferences, getting his handouts, the day-to-day news, but while they were waiting around him in his hotel, they didn't do any of the type of research which should be done about any President. I have the feeling that when any man becomes President, the Associated Press, the New York Times, such news agencies ought to put trained research men on his story, and as you are doing now for history, they ought to bring up all the raw material of research for current news background material. That had not been done about Truman. I doubt that up to that time it had been done on any President, and I am proud that I had enough of the historian and the newspaperman in me to want to go and find out from the source, and that's what I did.
FUCHS: You did this while Mr. Truman was yet President and being a former employee of the White House, both under Franklin D. and Mr. Truman, how did he feel about you writing a biography?
DANIELS: I had never known Mr. Truman well at all until the day he came down to the White House to be President. I had met him.
FUCHS: Do you recall where?
DANIELS: In Washington around the Senate, and at Chicago. I remember the day or so before he was nominated, he came into the lobby of the Stevens Hotel and seemed to me a little more than just another senator. And he stopped and we had a long conversation as he was coming in to register, very pleasant. Lucy, my wife, was with me, and we saw him at that convention. But as to my writing the Truman biography: I did a review in the Saturday Review of Literature about some book connected with the death of Roosevelt in which I described the people on the funeral train coming back, the movement in of the new politicians into the new President's car, and so forth. And a friend of mine, George Stevens, who was then and is now, editor of Lippincott, wrote me and asked me if I would do a book about Truman. Well, I was rather uncertain in my own mind as to whether I wanted to do a book about Truman. I had not only stayed with Truman for a brief period after the death of Roosevelt, but he also had asked me to become Director of the Rural Electrification Authority at that time. I didn't want to stay in the Government; I wanted to get out of it; I'd only come into it for the war, but when the campaign of 1948 began, I had been a delegate from North Carolina to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and I had seen Truman there. And then, rather suddenly, he invited me to come to the White House and asked me would I travel with him in the 1948 campaign. I did travel with him on practically all those presidential treks around the country.
FUCHS: Do you remember just when it was he asked you, the month possibly?
DANIELS: Well, it was between the convention and the beginning of the first trip. Now I can't fix that, but in the Truman papers you'll probably find that I was set up as a W.O.C. consultant to the President and so I traveled with him. Then after this, I was asked to write this biography and I went to see the President about it. He said he would be glad to talk to me and give me such assistance as he could, but I wanted to make it clear to him that I didn't want to write a campaign biography; the campaign was over. I wanted to write a biography of an American President and politician. I went out to do it. He helped me tremendously, and he read my manuscript. The corrections he made were insignificant. One or two were amusing. You'll find most of his comments on the margin of the manuscript at Chapel Hill, and I got a lot of satisfaction out of doing the book.
FUCHS: Do you think the fact that he was still President vitiated any of the stories, especially stories by those who might have had unsympathetic feelings about Mr. Truman, here in Kansas City I'm thinking of particularly?
DANIELS: No, I think that the Kansas City people were very willing to talk very frankly. I remember some who were willing to talk more than frankly.
FUCHS: Could you tell me who?
DANIELS: Spencer Salisbury, for instance, and he just let go at what a "lucky son-of-a-bitch" (with the emphasis on son-of-a-bitch) he thought Harry Truman was. I didn't undertake in interviewing a person like Salisbury to go to him as Truman's emissary. I let Salisbury "spill" to use the word. I also found that people like the editor of the paper there...
FUCHS: William Southern in Independence?
DANIELS: Yes, old man Southern was very willing to talk, quite frankly, particularly about Truman's background. Some of the material he gave me I didn't use, about the suicide of Mrs. Truman's father; the rather roughneck fighting of some of Truman's people around the -- I don't know whether you call it the courthouse square or what it would be -- in Independence.
FUCHS: Could you elaborate on any of this beyond what is in your notes?
DANIELS: No, I wouldn't dare to, because in my notes I put down what they told me. And I don't remember as well now as I did then, but Sermon -- a good many of Truman's friends -- you suggest that people might speak only piously about a President. A good many of Truman's friends had a certain sense that they were just as good as Truman and they were perfectly willing to say so and claim so. I didn't approach these people as any emissary from Truman and they talked quite frankly to me. I then assessed what they said about what others said. Now, Bundschu, for instance, is a Republican. He was very helpful in getting me in touch with Salisbury. In the old history of Independence, apparently at one time, it was a community with some very rich people in it and then some people who were much plainer. And while the Trumans were never plain in the sense of the log cabin-to-President tradition, the