Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Attorney, Hughes, Hubbard & Ewing, New York, New York, and predecessor firms, 1919-1947; Assistant Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1940-42; Vice Chairman, 1942-47; Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, 1942 and again in 1947; Acting Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1946; Administrator of the Federal Security Agency, 1947-53; and organizer and member of an unofficial political policy group during the Truman administration, 1947-52.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
April 29, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ewing 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Oscar R. Ewing
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
April 29, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Ewing, I wonder if you would mind beginning with a statement of your background, when and where you were born, your education and anything else that you think might be of interest to history.
EWING: Well, I was born in Greensburg, Indiana on March 8, 1889. My father was a merchant. His name was George M. Ewing and he was one of fifteen children. His father and mother had migrated from Kentucky to Indiana in 1826.
The Ewing family, so far as we know their story, began in about 1665. A William Ewing, who had been born in that year near Stirling Castle, Scotland, as a young man migrated to Londonderry, Ireland, where he was married to a Scottish girl living in Ireland. We know that this William Ewing fought in the battle of Londonderry, which I think was about 1689.
In about 1725 , two or three of the sons of William Ewing migrated together to America. One of these sons was Joshua Ewing, who settled in Cecil County, Maryland,
Joshua Ewing had a number of sons and daughters. One of these was my ancestor, Captain Patrick Ewing. The youngest son of Joshua Ewing was Nathaniel Ewing. He was the grandfather of Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who was Vice President of the United States from 1893 to 1897 and the great, great grandfather of Adlai Ewing Stevenson who was the Democratic candidate for President in 1952 and 1956.
My ancestor, Captain Patrick Ewing, lived in Cecil County, Maryland and was a soldier in the Revolution. The story is that he was commissary general under Washington when his army was at Valley Forge. I used to boast a good deal about that until I realized that the American Army at Valley Forge had nearly starved to death, so I stopped bragging about this ancestor.
Captain Patrick Ewing had a large number of children. The son through whom I trace my ancestry was named Putnam Ewing. He married a Jane McClellan from the adjoining county, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Jane McClellan Ewing was, by tradition, a woman of great beauty and fine intellect. In our family it was for a long time thought that she was closely related to General George B. McClellan, a commander of the Union Army of the Potomac in the Civil War. I mentioned
this to General McClellan's son, the former Mayor of New York, George B. McClellan, Jr., when I sat beside him at a lunch back in the 1920s. He said the relationship must be rather remote. He explained that originally there were three McClellan brothers who had migrated from Ireland to America. One settled in Maine, one in Connecticut and one in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mayor McClellan said that his branch of the family was descended from the brother who settled in Connecticut while Jane McClellan Ewing, being from Chester County, Pennsylvania, was undoubtedly descended from the brother who had settled in that county.
Putnam Ewing and his wife had two sons born in Maryland. One of these was my grandfather, Patrick Ewing, born July 28, 1803. Shortly after his birth the family migrated to Bath County, Kentucky, where Patrick grew to manhood amidst nine brothers and sisters.
On September 5, 1826 Patrick was married to Lydia Morgan. About a year after their marriage they migrated to Decatur County, Indiana where they thereafter resided.
Lydia Morgan Ewing had an interesting family background. Edward Morgan, his wife and two children, shortly after 1700 , crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Wales and settled near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The older child was a son, David, who
was grandmother Lydia Morgan's ancestor. The other child was a daughter, Sarah, who in 1720 married Squire Boone and was the mother of Daniel Boone.
In "Annals of North Carolina" (Petree, 1804), Squire Boone is reported to have stated that his wife had another brother, Daniel, who was one of the great American generals in the Revolutionary War. In the first battle of Saratoga, as a colonel commanding a regiment of sharpshooters, Daniel Morgan had ordered his men to pick out the Redcoats wearing epaulets (officers). As a result so many of Burgoyne's officers were killed that he could not handle his troops adequately during the second Saratoga battle, which contributed much to that great American victory in October 1777. Subsequently, Daniel Morgan retired from the army being piqued by the promotion of certain officers over him whom he felt less deserving.
After the fall of Charleston, South Carolina on May 12, 1780, Congress passed a resolution calling on Morgan to join the Southern Army then commanded by General Horatio Gates under whom Morgan had served at Saratoga. At Gates' urging Congress made Morgan a Brigadier General and he was made head of a Special Service. After Gates' defeat in the battle of Camden, South Carolina, August 16, 1780, he was
replaced as Commander of the Southern Army by Nathaniel Green. Greene gave Morgan an independent command and with these troops he battled a British force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton at Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781 and won one of the most brilliant American victories of the Revolution. Out of some 1,100 men the British losses were 600 prisoners and over 200 killed and wounded while the American losses were 72 killed and wounded out of less than 1,000 troops.
As before stated, my grandfather Patrick Ewing and his wife, Lydia Morgan Ewing, migrated from Kentucky to Indiana in 1826. Grandfather had walked from Bath County, Kentucky to Cincinnati where he crossed the Ohio River, then from Cincinnati out to Decatur County, Indiana and there he entered 80 acres of Government land. He paid a dollar and a quarter an acre. He chose this particular land because a half uncle, David Douglas, had already entered an adjoining tract of land. David Douglas was a farmer and a part-time preacher.
FUCHS: Is that near a settlement with a name?
EWING: Yes, it was quite near Greensburg, Indiana, about five miles west of Greensburg, and was very good black land. Having chosen his land Grandfather started on a return
trip going first to Brookville, Indiana, where the Government land office was located and there paid his $100, and formally entered the land. From Brookville Grandfather walked back to Cincinnati, re-crossed the Ohio River and walked back to Bath County. A Bath County neighbor loaned him a horse for the trip back to Indiana. Grandmother rode the horse holding one child. Grandfather led the horse. These were, as I calculated, about a hundred and sixty-five mile trips. They got back to Decatur County, Indiana somewhat late in the fall so that Grandfather only had time to build a three-sided log cabin before winter really set in. The family spent that first winter in that three-sided log cabin with the south side open and exposed to the sun. In the spring, Grandfather rode the horse back to Bath County and then walked back to his new land in Decatur County.
Grandfather and Grandmother had fifteen children. Every one of them lived to have children of their own. At one time I had fifty-four first cousins, two on my mother's side and fifty-two on the Ewing side.
FUCHS: Isn't that amazing?
EWING: Yes, it is. My father was one of the younger sons. He was the twelfth child. He left the farm rather early
and went into Greensburg and became a merchant. He had a farm, also, a little way out from Greensburg; and he continued as a merchant. It was sort of a general grocery store and hardware and almost everything. Then he sold that out when I was quite young and went into farmer's supply business. That continued until his death.
FUCHS: Did you live on the farm any?
EWING: No. Father and mother had gone to housekeeping in a little house in Greensburg that her father had given them, and that's been in the family ever since. My sister lives in it now. I was born in that house and so was she.
FUCHS: Who did your father marry?
EWING: Father married Jeanette Ross. She was a local girl in Greensburg and really a very superior woman. She had had one year at Western College, in Oxford, Ohio, and was really a woman of fine literary tastes and just a thoroughly fine person.
FUCHS: You say that was Western College?
EWING: The Western College, that was a ladies college at Oxford, Ohio.
FUCHS: Where Miami University is now?
EWING: Yes, yes.
FUCHS: Is Western still there?
EWING: It's still there, yes.
I personally had a very happy boyhood in a small midwestern town doing the usual things that a kid does. I attended the public schools in Greensburg through high school. In high school I took part in the usual school activities, particularly debating. I never was very much for athletics. I never had any particular competency there. I was president of my senior class in high school. From there I went on to Indiana University entering the freshman class in 1906. I joined the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and lived in the Beta house for the four years I was at I. U.
I became rather active in college politics and in my junior year I ran for president of my class and was elected, and again in my senior year I ran for president of my class and was elected. I understand that I am the only student in the history of Indiana University who has been elected president of both his junior and senior classes. I had a very happy time at the University. I was valedictorian of my class and this was an unexpected honor because I simply
assumed that many of my classmates had better academic records than mine. However, when the faculty named me valedictorian I asked no questions.
FUCHS: You graduated in what year?
EWING: I graduated in 1910. Then...
FUCHS: What did you major in?
EWING: I majored in philosophy.
FUCHS: Did you take that as a good background for your going into law or did you think of that as good background for politics, or how did you decide on philosophy?
EWING: Well, it so happened that one of the best and most interesting professors was head of the philosophy department. I think it was in my second year that I took a general course in philosophy under Professor Lindley and he was so interesting that I--I mean he made the whole subject so interesting, that I decided to major in it. I was very glad that I had done so because the whole trend at that time and even today is, toward scientific courses which involve analysis, breaking down, analyzing this and that and the other. Whereas philosophy, its main purpose is synthesis, trying to put
things together and make sense out of them, getting the meaning of the whole rather than breaking down the parts and concentrating on those. Synthesis is needed so much, I don't say more than analysis, but there is much less emphasis put on it and I think it is equally needed.
After I graduated from college at Indiana University in 1910, I determined to go to Harvard Law School. I had always known, since I was a youngster, that I wanted to be a lawyer.
FUCHS: What influenced your thinking that way, do you recall?
EWING: Well, I had two uncles and three cousins who had been lawyers and one of these uncles particularly was almost my idol. He was wonderfully nice to me and I was extremely fond of him, so much so that I named my first son for him, James Ewing.
FUCHS: Was he in Greensburg?
EWING: He was in Greensburg. He'd been a judge of the Circuit Court there and really influenced me very much. I had taken one or two law courses at Indiana University, which I was allowed to do, and apply the credits to my A.B. degree. I wanted to go on to Harvard. My father was very much opposed to this. He didn't feel that he could afford it. He also
felt that I could do like my uncles and cousins had done and that was read law in some lawyer's office; that they had been quite successful and there was no reason why I couldn't get my legal education in the same way.
FUCHS: I suppose there was no law school in Indiana at the time?
EWING: Yes, oh, yes there was a law school at Indiana University, but I don't think there was any question but that at that time Harvard Law School was the best in the country. I thought that if I was to go to a law school I might just as well go to the best. My father said he would not help me financially, and so I got a job taking subscriptions for the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal. My sister helped with that. As a result, I saved up about four hundred dollars that summer. This was enough to get me started in Cambridge where I also got a job waiting table in Randall Hall. In the meantime, my father had agreed to go on my note at the bank for what I would have to borrow to see me through.
FUCHS: Was it difficult to gain admittance to Harvard Law School at that time?
EWING: No, at that time if you had an A.B. degree Harvard Law School would admit you. Oh, I think one had to stand reasonably well in college but I had been valedictorian of my class, so I had no problem on that score. The first year in law school I did pretty well and made an A grade, so that made me eligible to be an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
In the fall of my second year I was made a member of the Choate Club. If my memory is correct, each fall the club took in five second year men who were graduates of Harvard College, five of Yale, five of Princeton and five all-American, that is graduates of any other colleges. Besides monthly meetings at which a third year man would read a scholarly paper, the club had two big dinners a year, one in the fall and another in the spring. At the first dinner I attended I was the only