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 30, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 30, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Do you have something to add about the Minnesota episode?
EWING: Well, yes, as I said the merger of the two parties in Minnesota was completed just before the Democratic National Convention in 1944. After the election and after around the first of the year, Mrs. Ewing and I were at the White House for lunch with President Roosevelt and others. As we walked in, of course President Roosevelt was sitting down. As Mrs. Ewing went up to greet him, he pulled her head down so that he could whisper and I wouldn't hear, and he said to her, "Helen, your husband is a miracle man."
Naturally she was surprised and replied, "What do you mean, Mr. President?"
"Well," he said, "I have been trying to get the Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor people in Minnesota together for the last twelve years and I got nowhere, and your husband did it in two years. He's a miracle man."
That was, of course, very nice for the President
to say. It certainly showed how appreciative he was of any help one gave him.
FUCHS: Very interesting. What else do you recall about the 1944 convention and what part did you play in that?
EWING: In the 1944 convention it was all set that Roosevelt was to be renominated for a fourth term. The real fight was over the vice-presidency. In 1940 Henry Wallace had been elected Vice President along with Mr. Roosevelt as President, and when the 1944 campaign came around Mr. Roosevelt indicated that he would again like to have Henry Wallace as the candidate for Vice President. There was a great deal of opposition to Mr. Wallace's renomination and Bob Hannegan, who was National Chairman at the time, was a strong booster for Mr. Truman. There were various other candidates, too, such as Jimmy Byrnes, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, shipbuilder Henry Kaiser and a few favorite sons. Mr. Hannegan was so busy with his activities on behalf of Mr. Truman's candidacy that he really had very little time to arrange for the convention. As a result, I as vice chairman, had to more or less arrange the program and attend to other details such as arranging
for the resolutions that had to be adopted and so forth. The mechanical details of the delegate's rooms, the convention hall and all similar things were managed by the treasurer's office. Ed Pauley was treasurer. But actually because of Mr. Hannegan's involvement in the fight for the vice-presidency I had a great deal to do with the actual running of that convention. The way things went I had to make sure that all necessary material was with the platform committee, as an example of what I'm talking about. Then there were some matters that were bitterly controversial and it was necessary to appear before one committee or the other, so that the committee members would know what was the administration's position on the contested issues.
FUCHS: Do you remember any of these specifically?
EWING: Well, as I recall, there was the matter of the seating of the delegation from South Carolina. An all white delegation had been certified by the state authorities and there was a Negro delegation which was contesting the action of the state authorities. There were similar matters, for instance, a similar contest
regarding the Mississippi delegation.
EWING: There was nothing of earth shaking importance. These were just routine details.
FUCHS: Had you come in touch with Mr. Truman other than the incident that you related yesterday regarding the speeches by Stark and then your appearance before the Truman Committee? Had you come in touch with him in any other way during this period from the 1940 campaign of his up to 194 4?
EWING: Well, there had been various social how-do-you-dos. But I don't recall anything special. We had, however, got to know each other fairly well. One thing I remember distinctly. During the 1944 convention, in Chicago the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee were in the Stevens Hotel and I had an office there. One day, I think perhaps the first or second day of the convention, Senator Truman and Senator Tunnell of Delaware came into my office. Senator Truman said to me, "Oscar, some of my friends are trying to nominate me for Vice President and I do not want it. If there's anything you can do to prevent them from
doing it I would appreciate your help. I want to stay in the Senate, I don't want to run for Vice President."
I replied, "Well, Senator, I don't know whether I can do much, but I'm glad you told me what your desires are. "
And that was all, because I did speak to Bob Hannegan and told him what Senator Truman had said. Mr. Hannegan was all hot and bothered about getting the nomination for Senator Truman, so he paid no attention to anything I said, and I knew he wouldn't.
FUCHS: Did you talk to Hannegan about this before Truman's call?
EWING: Oh, yes. He was full of it. Every time I would see him he would say something about it. And Ed Pauley, who was treasurer of the National Committee, he was just as enthusiastic for Truman for Vice President as Bob Hannegan was.
FUCHS: Why do you think that they were so enthusiastic for Truman?
EWING: Well, number one, I think they felt that Henry Wallace would not be a good candidate and you can't beat somebody
with nobody. They believed that, all things considered, Senator Truman was the best man for the job. Of course, Mr. Hannegan took the lead because he had been prominent in Missouri politics and his support of Truman in the 1940 primary when the latter was running against Governor Stark for the Democratic senatorial nomination contributed much towards Truman's victory. It was therefore, quite natural for him to take the lead in trying to get the vice-presidential nomination for someone from his own state. Mr. Pauley, I think, was genuinely fond of Truman and very sincerely thought that he was the best man that could be got for the nomination.
FUCHS: I wonder how Pauley became acquainted with Mr. Truman, how he became so enamored with Mr. Truman?
EWING: I am not sure that I know. Pauley knew every angle of the petroleum business and rendered invaluable assistance to our Government on petroleum problems from about the time World War II began in Europe. This kept him in Washington much of the time and I imagine he got to know Senator Truman during this period. Anyone who got to know Truman could not help but like and admire him.
FUCHS: Do you recall attending any meeting in which they
were planning their strategy to get Truman the nomination?
EWING: Not particularly. You see, we were there in headquarters and I might be asked to sit in on the discussion of some problem or might have casual talks in the hall but actually I was so busy with the details of the convention that I had little time to devote to who would be nominated for Vice President.
FUCHS: You didn't attend any in the months prior to the convention, say starting in January 1944 on through when Hannegan, Pauley and some of the others were conspiring to do this?
EWING: Yes, I am sure I did but I do not recall any specific sessions. In any event, I wouldn't call it a conspiracy.
FUCHS: Well, it wasn't a conspiracy, a poor choice of words.
EWING: On the planning you mean. I don't recall. I have a feeling there were one or two but I don't remember any details. We're talking about things that happened twenty-five years ago.
FUCHS: Yes, it's very difficult. Did you have any intimate knowledge of the call that Mr. Roosevelt was supposed to have put through to Hannegan which Mr. Truman was supposed to have overheard, in which he asked Mr. Truman to run and Hannegan said that Mr. Truman was against it and Mr. Roosevelt was supposed to have said, "Well, all right, if he wants to wreck the Democratic Party they can always make excuses." Did you ever talk about that with Mr. Hannegan? The reason I ask is that there are several different stories about it as to whether Mr. Truman actually talked with Mr. Roosevelt or whether he just overheard this.
EWING: Well, I'm not sure that I have an accurate recollection of just what happened. I was very busy on the details of the convention and I wasn't deeply involved in the vice-presidential nomination. In fact I would say that most of what I know of those details was accidentally acquired. But there was a great deal of talk at the National Committee's headquarters obviously. If my memory is right, the President was passing through Chicago on his way to San Diego. Before he had left Washington, I think Mr. Hannegan had had a talk with him and I think the President still indicated he preferred Mr. Wallace. His
train was to go through Chicago at the time the convention was in session or just a day or two before. The President did not leave the train and I think it was in the course of that conversation that the President told Mr. Hannegan that if he were a delegate he would vote for Henry Wallace but that if the convention felt otherwise he would accept either Senator Truman, or Bill Douglas. Is that right?
FUCHS: That's right.
EWING: And that was the word with which Mr. Hannegan came back from that train talk with President Roosevelt. And then he and the people who were working with him for Mr. Truman felt that they had the permission of the President to nominate, in addition to Wallace, either Senator Truman or Mr. Justice Douglas. This gave a great lift to activities for Senator Truman. The labor people were very active at this time and I had been in close touch with the labor people right along. I recall that Sidney Hillman asked me to arrange for him and some of the other labor people to have breakfast with Mr. Hannegan, and I may also say that I think this took place a day or two before Hannegan's talk with
the President to which I just referred. At that time the labor people were pushing very hard for Henry Wallace. As I understood it, Mr. Hillman wanted to talk with Mr. Hannegan and express labor's views in the hope that he would stop urging Senator Truman so strongly and go along with the nomination of Vice President Wallace. Of course, I'm sure that Mr. Hannegan at the breakfast still maintained his position and I got the impression that the labor people were very unhappy about that.
FUCHS: You didn't attend the breakfast?
FUCHS: Was this at the Stevens, the breakfast?
EWING: I think it was. It could have been at the Palmer House or someplace else. I've just completely forgotten where they did hold that. I know I did not attend, but Mr. Hillman did afterwards express his disappointment that he hadn't made more of an impression on Mr. Hannegan.
FUCHS: Did you have any contact with Jimmy Brynes at this time who, as you know, had aspirations?
EWING: No, I did not. I did not. I always had a very high opinion of Mr. Byrnes, Governor Byrnes, Senator Byrnes, Mr. Justice Byrnes and still do. I think he had been encouraged by Mr. Roosevelt to seek the vice presidency after the President had begun to have doubts about Henry Wallace as a candidate. The labor people were dead opposed to Byrnes and still wanted Wallace but had indicated that if it could not be Wallace they would take Truman.
I well remember the Thursday night of the convention. President Roosevelt had been renominated and had accepted the nomination by radio. All the galleries had been packed by Wallace followers. At the conclusion of the President's acceptance speech there was a tremendous demonstration which soon turned with great shouts for Wallace and demands that the convention proceed with the nomination of the vice presidential candidate. The tumult was so great that Senator Samuel Jackson, of Indiana, the Permanent Chairman, warned the crowd that they were packing the aisles until it was becoming dangerous. I realized that if the convention remained in session it might very well nominate Henry Wallace. So I went to Chairman Jackson and said, "Senator,
you've got to adjourn this convention tonight and let the nomination go over until tomorrow."
He shouted back, "Why, I can't. There's too much noise here to even put a motion."
I said, "Well, now listen, I'll go down on the floor and find Dave Lawrence," who was Mayor of Pittsburgh and chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation. "I'll ask Dave to make a motion to adjourn. No matter how much noise there is you recognize Dave and put the motion, declare it adopted and walk off the platform. Nobody can stop you, and everybody will soon walk out."
In this way we got the convention adjourned until the next morning and Senator Truman was nominated on the second ballot.
FUCHS: Do you recall anything then that occurred after Mr. Truman received the nomination? I mean there in Chicago?
EWING: No, I don't. No, I don't. I know later, and I'm not sure how much later, but the labor leaders came around to me and told me how they were for Truman all the time.
FUCHS: How did your duties as vice chairman differ from--
besides managing the convention--from those you had as assistant chairman?
EWING: Not at all.
FUCHS: Was there more than one vice chairman at this time?
EWING: Yes, but they were completely inactive. Frank Hague, as I recall, was a vice chairman; then the head of the Women's Division was a vice chairman, Mrs. Tillett. Whether there were any others I do not recall but I'm sure that Mrs. Tillet and I were the only two that were active.