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Donald S. Dawson Oral History Interview, March 16, 1976

Oral History Interview with
Donald S. Dawson

General Dawson was the personnel officer in the White House during the Truman administration. He was also a campaign advance man fox Mr. Truman during the 1948 campaign.

Washington, D.C.
March 16, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. 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 transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.

Opened July, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Donald S. Dawson

Washington, D.C.
March 16, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley


STILLEY: Mr. Dawson, when were you first employed by President Truman in the White House?

DAWSON: August 6, 1947.

STILLEY: Were you working with a Federal agency at that time?

DAWSON: I was.

STILLEY: Was it Reconstruction Finance?

DAWSON: It was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.


STILLEY: And when did you first start work with them?

DAWSON: April 27, 1933.

STILLEY: What were the circumstances, or how did President Truman employ you in the White House?

DAWSON: I was called to the Chairman of the Board's office of the RFC and told that the President wanted me to come over there and talk with him.

STILLEY: And from there did he just say, " I want you to be my personnel expert," or . . .

DAWSON: No, it was substantially what you say. I went over and talked with the President. George Schoeneman, who had been the President's Special Executive Assistant, was leaving to take another post as Commissioner of Internal Revenue Service and he wanted me to take that position over, which consisted of many facets, many duties, including personnel, but a lot of other dignities.

STTLLEY: Were there any particular qualities the President asked you to look for when you were employing,


or checking out people for positions in the White House?

DAWSON: No, he did not give me instructions as to standards or guidelines. He left it up to me.

STILLEY: You were involved in the '48 campaign, were you not?

DAWSON: I was.

STILLEY: Were you an advance man or what was your position?

DAWSON: I handled all of the advance work after September 1, and from that point on during the President's tenure of office in his second term.

STILLEY: I understand that you helped with the Dallas rally, that was an integrated rally in Dallas, Texas.

DAWSON: That's true, but all of our rallies were integrated from the standpoint that we welcomed the participation of everybody, and discriminated against nobody.


STILLEY: Was there a specific approach to make sure that this was integrated more than the others were?

DAWSON: We had a very active black faction in Dallas that wanted to take part. From that standpoint we made special arrangements, not in the sense that they were special, but that we wanted to be sure that they had every opportunity to take a part.

STILLEY: Okay, let's go back to when you were first employed at the White House. When you first met the President what was your general first impression of him?

DAWSON: Well, I first met the President in 1935 when he became a Senator. I thought he was a very warm, personable sort of an individual, nice man to be with, a man's man, a person you could put your trust and confidence in, and nice to be around.

HILL: How much contact did you have with President Truman?


DAWSON: Not a great deal of contact. We would meet occasionally at social functions. His personal secretary, Victor Messall, was a longtime friend of mine. I would see him on occasion, and he would want me to say hello to the Senator when I would come to the office, and I did. There were other Missourians that would come to town, and would want to see the Senator, and I was frequently with them and so I saw him always in a social capacity.

HILL: What type of man was President Truman to work for in the White House?

DAWSON: A very wonderful man to work for; he was wonderful in every way that I knew him. Easy to work with, he gave you full responsibility to do a job, expected you to do it with a minimum of instruction, and held you responsible. Couldn't find a better relationship.

STILLEY: Were there times when you recommended someone for employment and then President Truman said,


"No, I'm not going to hire him?" Were there any times of, maybe, some conflict in hiring somebody?

DAWSON: I don't recall any, I wouldn't be surprised if there were, because he had his own independent judgment; but I ordinarily would have a panel of two or three people that he could make a choice from, so it wasn't a black or white situation in that sense of the word, although there were occasions like that. If there had been an occasion that he did not agree with my selection, he wouldn't have said, "No, we're not going to hire him." He would have approached it in a much more diplomatic way. He would have said, "Well, let's look a little further," or "I don't believe this individual has what we're looking for," or an approach along that line.

HILL: How close did President Truman work with his Cabinet? Would you say pretty involved?

DAWSON: He did not work with the Cabinet as a body, very much; he worked with individual members of


the Cabinet a great deal, and saw them whenever they wanted to see him, and frequently called them in for their advice.

HILL: But there weren't a lot of Cabinet meetings?


HILL: What program during his administration do you think President Truman thought was the most important, the one that really . . .

DAMSON: I think he believed the social programs affecting the everyday life of the people on the domestic front were the most important, and he believed in strong national security and defense. He believed strongly in the educational programs that were emerging at that point. Social Security was a great interest of his. Medical care was very close to his heart. But I would generally say that his main interests were people interests.

STILLEY: Did the President have problems with White House leaks?


DAWSON: I don't recall any problems that we had. I think there was always a certain amount of curiosity as to how certain columnists got their information, but it was never of a serious national security character that we have today. Although I suppose if I had more time to reflect I could dig up a few instances like that. But it does not impress me now looking back over a period of a number of years that it was a great problem.

HILL: How confident was the President and his staff during the '48 election? Were they pretty confident the whole way, or was there times . . .

DAWSON: Well, I can't speak for the staff, each member will have to give his own impressions. The President, as far as I could see, had great confidence that if the people saw him, enough people saw him and heard him, found out what kind of a fellow he was, he would be elected.

I remember after the convention, he called everybody that was concerned, and that meant the National Chairman Howard McGrath, and certain


Cabinet officers, certain political leaders, into the State Dining Room of the White House; and the principal. burden of that meeting was that he wanted to go into every county in the United States and make a campaign so that the people could get acquainted with him, know what kind of a fellow he was, and, as he used to say, so that they would see I didn't have horns and a spiked tail. That was the premise that he started the campaign on. Of course, it was impossible to go into every county in the United States. I think there were some 15,000 counties then and not all of them fully accessible. Time just wouldn't permit it, but that was his faith in the electorate.

STILLEY: After the president was nominated at the convention, were you yourself personally confident he would go all the way and win reelection, or did you have your doubts along with many of the rest of Americans?

DAWSON: I won't say that had doubts. I was never certain that he was going to win in the period


you described immediately after the convention, because that was a time of great unrest in the Democratic Party; we had had the walk out of the Southern states, the formation of the Dixiecrat Party. Former Vice President Wallace was running on the Progressive ticket, and Tom Dewey was a strong Republican candidate. The feeling of confidence did not generate, as far as 1 was concerned, until after we got into the campaign, and we saw how the crowds of people were turning out and responding to President Truman.

STILLEY: What were, say your reactions or so when you opened up Newsweek and I believe there was a column that 50 experts predict a Dewey victory? Did that do anything to the morale of the campaign train, the Truman Special.?

DAWSON: I don't think it had a big effect. We were used to that sort of thing everyday in the week, morning, noon and night, so finally it just got so that it rolled off your back like water off a duck's back. It was inconsequential as far as


morale was concerned. If anything, it made us work a little bit harder.

HILL: By election night was the Truman camp pretty confident of