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Richard Farrington Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Richard Farrington

Attorney; Democratic County Committeeman and officer, Greene County, Missouri; member of Democratic State Committee, 1954-58; acquaintance of Harry S. Truman.

Springfield, Missouri
April 27, 1990
Niel M. Johnson

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


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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


Oral History Interview with
Richard Farrington

Springfield, Missouri
April 27, 1990
Niel M. Johnson


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?


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.


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.


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


12th Ward.

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.



JOHNSON: And I think you're listed as . . .

FARRINGTON: Secretary.

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