Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened November, 1992
Oral History Interview with
JOHNSON: Mr. Farrington, I'm going to begin by asking you to tell me where and when you were born and what your parents names are.
FARRINGTON: I was born here in Springfield, Missouri on December 7, 1912. That's the day that will "live in infamy" as you will recall President Roosevelt saying [in 1941] about Pearl Harbor Day. I was born here in Springfield. My father is John S. Farrington, and my mother is Blanche McCann Farrington. I've lived here all my life except the times I've been called out.
JOHNSON: Now, your father John S., did he immigrate into this area?
FARRINGTON: Yes, he did. He was born in Howard County, Missouri, in Fayette. The family place up there was just on the edge of Fayette, and they had a farm about
six miles out of Fayette. He was born in Howard County, and he went to school there. Then, he left and went to Washington University Law School, and graduated there.
JOHNSON: In St. Louis.
FARRINGTON: In St. Louis. He had an uncle who was a lawyer here, named MacDonald Sebree. There are some Sebrees in Kansas City. Frank Sebree is a lawyer there now. MacDonald Sebree, "Mac" Sebree, practiced law here and that's how my father came to Springfield, in 1898.
JOHNSON: Because of this uncle.
FARRINGTON: Yes, because this uncle offered him an opportunity to come into his office.
JOHNSON: Were both sides of your family southern in orientation, or background?
FARRINGTON: Yes sir.
JOHNSON: Is that one of the reasons they were Democrat then?
FARRINGTON: I think that had something to do with it, of course, but my father had very strong feelings about the two parties. He felt the Democratic party was more
humane and more close to the people. [See Appendix I to this transcript for an obituary of John S.Farrington]
JOHNSON: He would have been a William Jennings Bryan type of Democrat?
FARRINGTON: I think so. He was very fond of Teddy Roosevelt, however, but not because Teddy was a Republican. He [John S. Farrington] ran for the Court of Appeals, Springfield Court of Appeals, which is now the Southern District of the Court of Appeals for the state. That court sat here, and still does. He ran for that office in 1912. He ran as a Democrat, and this Southern District is, as you are probably aware, heavily Republican. Because of Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose split in 1912, he was elected. He served on the Court for twelve years, and then when he ran again in 1924 it was "back to normalcy."
JOHNSON: Back to Republican?
FARRINGTON: Yes. He started practicing law again.
JOHNSON: Was he by himself or was he part of a partnership when he went back into law practice?
FARRINGTON: He became a partner with a man named Arthur M. Curtis.
JOHNSON: Well, he was Republican, wasn't he?
FARRINGTON: That's right. While my father was a strong Democrat, Arthur was the Republican County Chairman. They got along very well. They had a rule and they stuck by it, when they came into their office, no politics. They'd get out and campaign and they'd make remarks about each other, and they'd criticize the Republicans and they'd criticize Arthur, and Arthur would criticize him. Then they would come back to the office and were just as amiable as they could be. They would never talk politics in the office.
Now, I'm partnered with two of Arthur's sons.
JOHNSON: Is that right.
FARRINGTON: Jack and E.C.
JOHNSON: Are they still Republicans?
FARRINGTON: They're still Republican and I'm still a Democrat. We've got the same rule. We don't discuss politics. I know they're Republican. In fact, Jack was a state senator down here for a dozen years. They know I'm a Democrat. We get along fine; we don't argue.
JOHNSON: A family tradition I guess.
FARRINGTON: We don't argue about politics. We know that
neither one of us is subject to change in that respect, and we keep our privacy in that regard.
JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
FARRINGTON: Not living anymore. I had three brothers and a sister.
JOHNSON: Are you the oldest, youngest, the middle?
FARRINGTON: I'm the youngest.
JOHNSON: I see. You're the only one that went into law?
FARRINGTON: No. I had a brother named Charles that went into law and he went to California. He practiced law out there and died in 1983, in the Los Angeles area.
JOHNSON: So you have been practicing law here in Springfield since graduation from law school?
FARRINGTON: I graduated in 1935. I was admitted to the bar in 1934. I took the exam at the end of my second year and was fortunate enough to pass it.
JOHNSON: To back up just a little bit, I suppose you were educated in the public schools here in Springfield.
FARRINGTON: Yes sir.
JOHNSON: You went to law school where?
FARRINGTON: At the University of Missouri at Columbia.
JOHNSON: And after two years you took the Bar exam and passed it, but you still had one year of classes to go.
FARRINGTON: I had it a little bit easier. I felt a little bit more comfortable the last year. When the professor would jump on me, like they did everybody, I would leave that room feeling, well, I don't have to put up with this much longer.
JOHNSON: He was speaking to a lawyer.
FARRINGTON: That's right.
One of them one time said, "Well, you may have a license, but you're not a lawyer yet." I knew what he meant after I got out.
JOHNSON: So that was . . .
FARRINGTON: I graduated in '35. Came in here in Springfield in '35 and went to work for my father and Mr. Curtis.
JOHNSON: Of course, 1936 was a very important year politically because of the Landon-Roosevelt campaign. Did you get involved at all in that 1936 campaign?
FARRINGTON: Not a great deal in 1936; however in 1938 I ran for county committeeman in my ward. At that time it hadn't been broken down into precincts here, but they had wards. I was elected county committeeman in the
JOHNSON: How about your father? He had become active in partisan politics here locally, I'm sure.
FARRINGTON: A long time.
JOHNSON: Was he on the County Committee before you?
FARRINGTON: No, not that I know of. I don't think he was ever chairman.
JOHNSON: His name does appear, I think, on some letterhead somewhere back there in the '30s.
FARRINGTON: Did it appear that he was on the County Committee then?
JOHNSON: Well, I'm trying to recall. I have some letterhead here.
FARRINGTON: He was what they called Chairman of the Executive Committee, but he wasn't a member of the County Committee. Fred Moon was the chairman, and these were appointive people that were on the Executive Committee. My father wasn't on the County Committee, John McCormack wasn't, and Tom Watkins wasn't. Tom Watkins was a banker here.
JOHNSON: This is letterhead from 1940. You father was chairman of the Executive Committee.
FARRINGTON: Yes sir.
JOHNSON: And I think you're listed as . . .
JOHNSON: You were listed as chairman of the Executive Committee on some letterhead in 1948. So you seemed to have stepped into his shoes. Mrs. Harry Bissett was co-chairman in '48.
JOHNSON: Your father didn't necessarily go out and canvas or poll wards or precincts for the party?
FARRINGTON: I doubt if he did. He had gotten off of the court in 1925, the beginning of 1925, and he would have been 50 years old at that time.
JOHNSON: Was he involved in that Greenwade-Dickey-Wear dispute?
FARRINGTON: Well, he was on the same side as Wear and Dickey. Greenwade was the other fellow, and he was more successful.
JOHNSON: Greenwade was?
FARRINGTON: Didn't he get to be postmaster?
JOHNSON: Well, possibly. I think Champ Clark was not a
friend of Greenwade. I suppose your father was a close friend of Sam Wear?
FARRINGTON: Yes, Sam, and Hyram "Diggie" Chinn.
JOHNSON: And there was another person here that was very active with Truman.
FARRINGTON: Ernest Scholten?
FARRINGTON: He was presiding judge of the county court. I'll tell you an interesting thing about that. In Truman's 1940 campaign I was secretary of the Democratic County Committee. I got married in 1938 and moved out of the ward. We rented a house in another part of the town, outside the 12th Ward. You had to resign if you didn't live in the ward. Your method of resignation was to write a letter to the Governor. The Governor then would appoint your successor. That's kind of strange but that's the way the law read at that time.
So I wrote the letter to the Governor; Lloyd Stark was the Governor then. I informed him of my resignation by reason of leaving the ward. There was a fellow named Claude Smith who lived in the 12th Ward. He ran a plastering business. He didn't have any friendly connections with most of the so-called
Democratic leaders. I don't know how he got the Governor's attention, but he was appointed to succeed me. Sam Trimble may be a name that you run on to. He was a very active Democrat. He lived across the street. Trimble was very strong for Stark and had a lot of influence down in Webster County, right to the east of Marshfield. He came from Seymour and he carried weight down there. If you were a banker in those days, the people were either friendly to you because they were needing money, or friendly because they owed money.
So, before the primary election in 1940, they started needling him. They asked him if he knew anything about Stark appointing Claude Smith to succeed me in that campaign. He said no, he had never heard of it. They said, "Well, you must be awful close to the Governor. You can't even say who is going to be appointed committeeman in your own ward." They kept needling him and needling him, and they said, "Hell, the trouble with you is that you're for the wrong man. Truman is a loyal man to his friends and he expects loyalty." They kept after him. He had supported Stark. In fact, Stark used to visit him in his house frequently. They got him [Trimble] weaned away from Governor Stark and over to Truman. He went into that campaign in '40 with a vengeance. He went over to
Webster County and spent quite a little money. Truman came out of there with something like a 700 majority, and that wasn't a very big county. It was because of Sam Trimble switching from Stark to Truman. I think Truman won that nomination by something like 7,000 statewide. It was close.
JOHNSON: He was up for reelection. If we can go back, you mentioned that you were active in the '36 campaign, the Roosevelt-Landon. Could you tell me what you did in that campaign?
FARRINGTON: I didn't do a great deal. I think I served in the ward out at this Rountree School, if I recall. We did some polling. On election day I think I was a judge, either on primary or general election day-- probably primary. I was a ward judge.
JOHNSON: In '32 and '36 the county voted Democrat. They were for Roosevelt, and of course in '38 there were Congressional and Senatorial elections in which there was a little bit of a setback for some of the New Deal Senators and Congressmen who were up for reelection. Do you recall anything about the '38 election having any significance here in the area? How about your member of Congress? Who was representing this district in Congress at the time?
FARRINGTON: A fellow named Reuben T. Wood.
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, a labor . . .
FARRINGTON: Labor candidate. You know, they elected a Congressman-at-large for one or two elections, I don't recall exactly.
JOHNSON: Back in the early thirties?
FARRINGTON: Yes. There was a fellow named Jim Ruffin. He got in on that at-large race. He lived here in Springfield. He was a lawyer. Then Rube Wood was a labor leader and he got in. I don't know whether he was in for one or two terms. And then he got beat.
JOHNSON: How many terms?
FARRINGTON: He either got beat in '38 or '40.
JOHNSON: Yes, in '40 he was defeated.
FARRINGTON: In '40, by a fellow named Bennett.
JOHNSON: Phil Bennett?
FARRINGTON: Phil Bennett, who had been Lieutenant Governor. He came from Buffalo up here.
JOHNSON: On that '40 campaign, we need to get into that because you have some rather strong recollections of that. You were telling me earlier about some
experiences there in that '40 campaign and being a chauffeur I guess. So if you want to talk about that.
FARRINGTON: We opened up a Democrat headquarters over here on Boonville Street right across from the Court House, catty-corner across from the Court House. There was a good, sizeable building there. I was the secretary. It was an elective job. You didn't have to be a member of the committee, but a fellow resigned where I was living so I could get on the committee. I think you did have to be a member of the committee, as I recall, that's right. I forget who resigned, who was a member, and I succeeded him so I could serve. Anyway, I was secretary and I was in charge of the campaign headquarters over there. One day in the middle of October, I remember Senator Truman walked in.
JOHNSON: Was this the first time that you had met Harry Truman?
FARRINGTON: No. No, I had met him, but I'm not sure when was the first time. He visited around. He would go to the offices of his friends, of course. He would come to our office; we had an office. My father and Mr. Curtis had an office on the tenth floor of the Landers Building. I was then employed there, working as a lawyer there. I would expect that that was when I met him. It was probably in his visits around . . .
JOHNSON: How about Jackson Day dinners?
FARRINGTON: I would have seen him then.
JOHNSON: You went to all of the Jackson Day dinners?
FARRINGTON: Yes, sir.
JOHNSON: Did Truman regularly come down for the Jackson Day dinners to Springfield?
FARRINGTON: He did, pretty attentively.
JOHNSON: So your first clear recollections of meeting or working with him was what, in 1940? That's when you first saw him politicking?
FARRINGTON: I'd say yes. I'd say we were both involved in the same effort.
JOHNSON: Okay. In 1940.
FARRINGTON: In 1940. He walked in the headquarters that day and I went over and shook hands with him and identified myself to him again. We were talking. I don't know what the conversation was, but he wanted to do a little campaigning out in the county and he asked if somebody could take him out and show him around. I said yes, I would do it.
He came in by himself. Of course, nobody thought anything about that, but when you compare it to the way
Senators travel now. They've got this advance man and that advance man, and they call ahead and make sure he's got a car, this, that, and the other thing.
JOHNSON: A little less formal in the old days.
FARRINGTON: Yes. Very informal. Anyway, we drove out to a little town out here west of town called Republic. That's ten miles out of town. He said he wanted to do a little campaigning out there, and I told him that was a pretty heavy Republican district. But he said, "It doesn't make any difference." He asked if I could help him and I told him I didn't know too many people, but I knew some out there. He said, "No, don't bother to come out. I'll just start down the street, and you just be around."
He'd start down, and somebody would walk by and he would reach out his hand and shake hands with them and say, "I'm Harry Truman. I'm your United States Senator. I'm running for reelection and I'd like to have you vote for me." Then he'd talk about whatever, conversations about farming or whatever. You must know how much at ease he was in that situation.
JOHNSON: He could talk especially about farming interests, having been one himself.
FARRINGTON: Oh yes. I guess he spent a half hour maybe,
not too long there, and then we went to a little town called Ellwood, which is just practically nothing; but there's a little community there. Then we went on to Ash Grove, which was a bigger place and he did the same thing there, and then over to the east side of the county to Strafford. We got through, and I brought him back to the headquarters, I don't recall who his man was there, but somebody came to pick him up.
JOHNSON: Fred Canfil. Do you remember Fred Canfil?
FARRINGTON: He was a marshal wasn't he, later on?
FARRINGTON: It could have been him.
JOHNSON: He chauffeured in '34. Perhaps he helped in 1940.
FARRINGTON: I can't recall that.
JOHNSON: In '34 by the way, did you have any involvement in that campaign?
FARRINGTON: No, I was in law school at that time. I was still in school.
JOHNSON: So, in 1940 you're helping him get around to some of these little places around Springfield.
FARRINGTON: I remember this too--you know back in those
days they used to have rallies. We had a rally at the Central High School auditorium, which was a place that would hold 1500 people at least. Jimmy Byrnes, Senator Jimmy Byrnes, was the speaker. I guess he was from South Carolina, wasn't he?
FARRINGTON: And, of course, Senator Truman was there; Bennett Clark was there. I saw him on that occasion, of course; that was in 1940.
JOHNSON: A big rally at the high school.
FARRINGTON: Yes. We filled her up.
JOHNSON: That would have been the biggest one?
FARRINGTON: That was the big one, yes. We brought Senator Byrnes in. We'd have schoolhouse rallies, maybe one or two a week around different places. It was amazing how people would attend those. Of course, they didn't have television, and times were not the best.
JOHNSON: In 1940 Reuben Wood was running for Congress again wasn't he, against Phil Bennett. Was it the practice of Truman to also speak up for Wood, try to get him elected?
FARRINGTON: I'm sure he did. I'm sure he did.
JOHNSON: But it turned out that Wood lost.
FARRINGTON: Yes. This district has been heavily Republican. Southwest Missouri has had a Republican majority for years. In fact, today it's . . .
JOHNSON: Does that go back to the Civil War? How do you account for that?
FARRINGTON: Probably. There was a Civil War battle at Hartville, Missouri; that's where Arthur Curtis originated from. But it was Union supported.
JOHNSON: They were against secession.
FARRINGTON: Yes. You probably hit the principal reason for that. It's probably 40,000 Republican now, this district.
JOHNSON: A majority of 40,000?
FARRINGTON: Yes. Yes, the vote's there. Once in a while it narrows down. You get a condition in the economy and issues of the country, that would cut that margin. In fact, about four years ago [Gene] Taylor just barely squeezed by a Democratic nominee. Charles Brown was elected twice.
JOHNSON: He was Democrat? Charlie Brown?
FARRINGTON: Charlie was a Democrat, yes.
JOHNSON: That's in recent years.
FARRINGTON: I'd say in '56 and '58, he was elected, in Eisenhower's second campaign.
JOHNSON: Kind of strange how . . .
FARRINGTON: I'll tell you what that's about. Dewey Short had been the Republican Congressman from this district for 20-some odd years. Dewey was a likeable fellow. He liked to take a couple swigs of whiskey every once in a while. If somebody came to him and said he wanted a job, wanted to be Postmaster, Dewey said, "I would get it for you, but I can't do anything because Democrats have got control." He promised an awful lot of people an awful lot of Postmaster's jobs, but there weren't that many to go around. The Republicans had a fellow who was a state senator named Noel Cox, in 1954. Cox ran against Short in the primary, and it was a bitter primary. Short beat him. So, when Charlie Brown ran in '56 the Cox people said, "The way to beat Dewey is to elect a Democrat." So, they stayed home. A lot of people voted for Charlie and Charlie got elected. And in '58 Cox ran against Brown. The Short people said, "We remember who beat us in '56," so they stayed home and Charlie got reelected.
JOHNSON: Noel Cox wasn't the son of Lester Cox?
FARRINGTON: Oh, no.
JOHNSON: Lester Cox was Democrat, wasn't he?
FARRINGTON: Lester was a kind of a funny one. He was a fair-weather Democrat if it was good Democrat times. In fact, I was getting ready to close the campaign headquarters when I was chairman in '54; we did pretty well. It was an off-year, you know. We elected some local people, and I believe Tom Hennings was elected Senator. I got a call from Lester Cox just as we were cleaning up, the day after the election getting ready to get out of there. He said, "Look here, I got a check in my desk. Dern it, I just didn't mail it to you, but can you still use some money?" Of course, we could. He said, "I'm sending you $100. I neglected to mail it." I accepted his check for the committee. We'd had a good year. But he wasn't any kin to the other Cox.
JOHNSON: Back on that '40 campaign, you mentioned that you chauffeured Truman to these little places, and then you had the big rally. Is there anything else about that campaign that comes to mind?
FARRINGTON: Nothing other than this getting Trimble away from Stark.
JOHNSON: Stark said he wasn't going to run. You know,
Truman says Stark came into his office and said if Truman was going to run again he wouldn't run against him. Of course, he did, which made Truman very angry.
FARRINGTON: Well, you know, [Tom] Pendergast got into trouble about that time, and by golly, Truman didn't disgrace himself in that at all. He came out of that looking pretty strong. Pendergast was a boss and he was wrong. He got corrupt in getting money from state officers and that sort of thing.
JOHNSON: Stark did try to . . .
FARRINGTON: He tried to capitalize on that. But there's another fellow in that campaign from Kansas City, [Maurice] Milligan. He was district attorney. But it took a lot of guts for Truman to [turn away from temptation]. It would have been easy for Truman and he could have gotten away with it I suppose. As I recall, Truman went to Pendergast's funeral.
JOHNSON: Yes. Was it known at the time that Stark had gotten Pendergast's endorsement when he was going to run for Governor? Was it known at that time?
JOHNSON: Did Truman win this congressional district, do you recall, in '40, even though Reuben Wood lost it?
FARRINGTON: I'm not sure. I can't answer that. You're talking about the general election?
JOHNSON: Yes. Or even in the primary. Did he win against Stark and Milligan in the primary in this district?
FARRINGTON: Yes, I think he did. I believe he did. He came out of Greene County with some majority, and he came out of Webster County as well. I remember that Webster situation, because we laughed about it.
JOHNSON: That switch of loyalty.
FARRINGTON: That switch of loyalty from . . .
JOHNSON: It made a big difference.
FARRINGTON: It did. And Trimble after that was red hot for Truman.
JOHNSON: Did he ever get any special position?
FARRINGTON: No, he was vice-president and cashier down there at the Union National Bank, which is now Boatmen's. He was interested in politics, as a person. You know how you get interested in it; you just are. You feel some responsibilities for thinking that your idea the way things ought to be is the better way.
JOHNSON: Okay, you were secretary of the local county Democratic Central Committee in 1940. How long did you
stay in that position?
FARRINGTON: Not too long. Bill Collinson was elected prosecuting attorney in that campaign. He's a Federal judge now, retired. He and I have been friends for a long time; we went to school the same class together. He became prosecuting attorney, and he appointed me his trial assistant. So I went into the prosecutor's office in 1941, and I resigned from the Democrat committee shortly after that, because I think the law said you couldn't hold both. Anyway, I could have served out the rest of '41, I'm not sure. Then I went into the Navy after that.
JOHNSON: I notice in 1940 that the Federal food stamp program was initiated here in the county; that's one of the early trials of the food stamp program. Of the county's population of 83,000, it was estimated that about 15,000 were on relief.
FARRINGTON: Could have been.
JOHNSON: You don't recall if the local Democratic Committee had anything to do with getting that food stamp program started here?
FARRINGTON: I'm sure they did. Wasn't there a fellow named Wade? Who was the administrator, do you know?
JOHNSON: I might have some reference to that here somewhere. I'm not sure it's in this folder.
FARRINGTON: Let's put it this way, I don't have any direct recollection on that.
JOHNSON: Here's a notice about it, but . . .
FARRINGTON: Does it say who the administrator was?
JOHNSON: It doesn't mention who the administrator was. Just that Henry Wallace had announced that the food stamp plan for distributing surplus agricultural commodities would be extended to Springfield, Missouri and the rest of Greene County.
So you went into the Navy in '41?
FARRINGTON: In '42. I was in the prosecutor's office almost two years. I went in, in late '42.
JOHNSON: Did you ever go to Washington, ever visit Truman when he was Senator?
FARRINGTON: I went up there after I got back. They had a milk program around here, I forget just what was involved. And Frank Briggs was elected to succeed Truman, when Truman resigned to become Vice President. See, he was elected in '40 and he had two more years left on his term.
JOHNSON: Frank Briggs you say was . . .
FARRINGTON: He took Mr. Truman's place.
JOHNSON: Mr. Truman's job as U.S. Senator.
FARRINGTON: I went up there and saw Briggs on this thing. They had what they called the Greene County Milk Producers Association. I don't remember exactly what they were trying to get. Anyway they were trying to get some change in law, and I saw Frank Briggs in his office. As I recall, I didn't get to see Vice President Truman, but I asked Briggs if I could see him, pay my respects, say hello to him.
JOHNSON: Was that when Truman was Vice President or President?
FARRINGTON: He was President. I saw Briggs on this thing. That's right, Truman was President. Yes, Roosevelt died in April of '45. I was still in the Navy at that time.
JOHNSON: Yes, when did you get back?
FARRINGTON: I got back about the first of October of '45. I had enough points to get out of there.
JOHNSON: Did you resume your job as prosecutor?
JOHNSON: Just went back into private practice.
FARRINGTON: Came back to the law office here.
JOHNSON: And into local politics again, right away?
FARRINGTON: Well, I'd say in the next year or so, you know. You've got to try to get to work before you can play.
JOHNSON: When you went to see Briggs, were you representing . . .
FARRINGTON: I was representing the Greene County Milk Producers Association. I was there as a lawyer trying to help them get a change in the law. It wasn't a lobbying thing. I wouldn't know what a lobbyist is supposed to do. We were just up there to try to see what we could do. They were claiming they were subject to the anti-trust laws, because these milk producers would get together in this association and they'd sell their milk in combine and that sort of thing.
JOHNSON: Sort of like a cooperative?.
FARRINGTON: Yes, they were claiming it was anti-trust and we were trying to make sure that there were not problems with that.
JOHNSON: Do I have the right impression that dairy farming and railroads were the two main industries here at that
FARRINGTON: Yes, dairying and I'd say the railroads would take--Frisco had a big division point here.
JOHNSON: And the Lilly Corporation came in.
FARRINGTON: They came in about 1946-47.
JOHNSON: Truman's successor as Senator, Frank Briggs, was up for reelection in '46, but got swept out in that Republican resurgence in '46. Was he trying to uphold or continue what he thought