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C. Girard Davidson Oral History Interview, July 17, 1972

Oral History Interview with
C. Girard Davidson

Attorney Tennessee Valley Authority, 1934-37; Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, Oregon, 1940-42, general counsel, 1943-46; consultant Office of Production Management, Washington, 1941-42; assistant general counsel, War Production Board, 1944-45; Assistant Secretary of the Interior, 1946-50; national Democratic elector, 1952; member of the Democratic National Committee from Oregon, 1956-63; chairman, National Democratic Committee on Natural Resources; chairman, Western States Democratic Conference, 1960-63; Member Oregon Educational Coordination Commission, 1972; Chairman, 1974-75; President Alaska Pacific Lumber Company, 1958-; Attorney, Portland, Oregon, 1950-.

Washington, D.C.
July 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Davidson 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Davidson Oral History Transcripts]

 



Oral History Interview with
C. Girard Davidson

Washington, D.C.
July 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[1]

HESS: Mr. Davidson, to get underway this afternoon, would you tell me a little about your personal background, where you were born, where you were educated, and what positions have you held?

DAVIDSON: I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, July 28, 1910. I went to public schools, elementary and high schools in Lafayette, and then to college in Lafayette also at what was then known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute. It is now Southwestern Louisiana University. I received my A.B. degree there in

 

[2]

1930 and then went on to Tulane University in New Orleans where I received my LL.B. degree (Bachelor of Laws) in 1933. Since this was the midst of the depression and the best job one could get as a lawyer in New Orleans was $5O a month, I managed to get a Sterling Fellowship to Yale Law School. I was in residence at New Haven for the school year 1933-34 and completed my dissertation a year later. In 1936 I received the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science at Yale. But at that time I was with the TVA in Knoxville, Tennessee.

HESS: Then you went to Bonneville...

DAVIDSON: Then I stayed at TVA -- this was the early days of the New Deal. My field was power. Joseph Swidler and I were the two attorneys who primarily handled power matters of TVA. I stayed there until 1937 and returned to Lafayette to practice law with my brother under the firm name of Davidson

 

[3]

and Davidson. After being there about a year, I was asked by David Krooth and Leon Keyserling, who was then Deputy Administrator of the United States Housing Authority, to come to Washington, D.C., and head a rate negotiation section of the United States Housing Authority. That must have been in 1939, so I spent nine months at that time obtaining state utility company rulings for master metering of housing projects. I then went back to Lafayette to practice law and at the same time taught a course at Southwestern Louisiana on American Government and Constitutional Law. However, the American Government course was only the first semester. The second semester I taught Lousiana government which was quite difficult immediately after the rule of Huey Long.

While in Lafayette I was called by Billy Martin, who had been at TVA with me and who was then with Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon. James Lawrence Fly who had been General Counsel of TVA was also at Bonneville,

 

[4]

and asked me to come out there to help negotiate the purchase of Puget Sound Power and Light Company by the Bonneville Power Administration. So I went to Portland and agreed to stay six months as a consultant. That six months started in 1940 and my residence has been in Oregon ever since.

HESS: What are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?

DAVIDSON: I did not know Mr. Truman as an individual until I was appointed Assistant Secretary of Interior. That took place in '46.

HESS: How did you receive that appointment; how did that come about?

DAVIDSON: Well, I went out to Bonneville in 1940 and I was made Assistant Secretary of the Interior in '46. While at Bonneville I also worked with

 

[5]

the Office of Production Management. We were in the midst of developing a stepped-up power program at Bonneville to provide power for aluminum companies, because President Roosevelt had said we needed 25,000 airplanes. At the request of Cap [Julius] Krug, who was at that point at the Office of Production Management, I went down to Atlanta, Georgia to ration power throughout the Southeast. We had to save power so that it could be diverted into defense materials rather than unessential uses. I first met Cap Krug when he was chief engineer of the Kentucky Public Service Commission and I was at TVA. As I was in the power field at Bonneville it was natural for him to call on me to come help him down in Atlanta. I was there the day of Pearl Harbor.

At the end of that job I returned to Portland

 

[6]

as General Counsel of Bonneville. The War Production Board was then created. During this period I was General Counsel at Bonneville in Portland, and I was an Assistant General Counsel of the War Production Board in Washington, D.C.. Krug had been head of WPB's Power Division and when he became head of the War Production Board I stayed as counsel for the Power Division with Edward Falck as its head.

While at WPB, and at the same time I was at Bonneville which is in the Interior Department, there was a great deal of correspondence going back and forth between the Power Division of the War Production Board and with Mr. [Harold] Ickes in the Department of Interior. Abe Fortas was then Under Secretary, and Tex [Arthur E.] Goldschmidt was head of Interiors Power Division. There were great fights about who would have jurisdiction over power. I would write one letter for Mr. Ickes' signature and then turn around and prepare an answer

 

[7]

for Mr. Krug. Thus, I knew Krug and worked closely with him not only in Atlanta but also at WPB. When Ickes was fired by President Truman and Krug became Secretary of the Interior, I was about the only one in Interior Department that Krug knew, and I immediately came back to Washington from Portland and worked with him during the time that he was getting confirmed and afterwards. I think it just became natural for him to appoint me, as well as Warner Gardner, who was then Solicitor of the Department, as the two Assistant Secretaries. He elevated Oscar Chapman to the position of Under Secretary.

HESS: Before we leave Mr. Ickes, what is your opinion of his handling of the Department of Interior at the time he was Secretary?

DAVIDSON: Well, I liked Mr. Ickes. You knew where he stood, and one had a definite feeling as an underling that when you were carrying out his policy,

 

[8]

that you wouldn't be run out on. This was very important during the time that I was General Counsel at Bonneville, because we were trying to buy out the Puget Sound Power and Light Company. We needed financing, and Mr. Ickes, I remember, tried to get us money through Jesse Jones over at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. They had a nice set-to on that question because Jones basically did not believe in any kind of public ownership of utilities and Ickes did. Obviously, we never got the money from RFC.

But while at Bonneville I was advocating a Columbia Valley Authority for the Pacific Northwest because I felt that the great TVA experience should be transferred to other river basins.

HESS: Just one thing more and then I want to get into the development of your thought about CVA, the Columbia Valley Authority.

 

[9]

What do you recall about Mr. Ickes' resignation?

DAVIDSON: Well, at that time, I was, of course, out in Portland, Oregon, as General Counsel at Bonneville. I do not remember much about it except that it seemed to me there was some argument he had with the President. I've forgotten what it was about but his resignation was pretty sudden. But it was not so sudden that there was not time for Mr. Fortas to resign as Under Secretary first. I think Ickes' resignation came within about a week or ten days later. Mr. Ickes liked his department, was jealous of its jurisdiction and he had the reputation of wanting to take on additional agencies from other departments such as the Forest Service. He did not want to give anything up.

HESS: Was he an empire builder?

DAVIDSON: I think so, but that so often happens in

 

[10]

Government, and I guess this is why I would sometime get myself into trouble. My first experience in Government was at the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the one thing we prided ourselves on was that this agency was a self-contained operation covering a region, and no other agency could come in and interfere. We did not report to anyone in Washington, D.C. except the President. The board of directors reported to the President and to Congress. They were administering the law and the agency operated extremely efficiently. I had been with the U.S. Housing Authority, the Department of Interior and I had seen other agencies operate. TVA was an extremely efficient operation. When I went to the Northwest we had the same kind of problems that were encountered in the Tennessee Valley, but the Government administration was different. The Columbia River needed dams on it but the Army Engineers were building some of the dams, the Bureau of Reclamation building some, the Army Engineers in charge of