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Joseph G. Feeney Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
Joseph G. Feeney

Legislative Assistant to the President, 1949-52; Administrative Assistant to the President, 1952-53

Washington, D.C.
September 20, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

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

 


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Joseph G. Feeney

 

Washington, D.C.
September 20, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[1]

HESS: Mr. Feeney, could you give me a brief biographical sketch of yourself? Where were you born, where were you educated and what positions did you hold prior to your service in the White House?

FEENEY: I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I went to grammar school there, high school and college at the University of Scranton. After graduation from the University of Scranton I took a special course in health and physical education at Stroudsburg State Teachers College, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of that course, I took a postgraduate course in adult education at Columbia University for a period of one year. After completion of that course, I went into coaching of high school basketball and football in the high

[2]

schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Following that, I became a supervisor of education and recreation for the WPA. After several months in that employment I became regional director of education and recreation for WPA in thirty-six counties of Pennsylvania. In 1941, I was commissioned in the Naval Reserve and was called to active duty in early '42. I served in the Navy from early '42 until the spring of '49. I entered the Navy as Lt. (jg.) and was retired in '49 as a captain in the Naval Reserve. During the period of 1944 to the spring of '49 I was assigned by the Navy to the United States Senate as naval liaison officer to the U.S. Senate. Upon retirement I was asked to join the staff of Mr. Truman, by the President himself, and I became his legislative assistant in the summer of '49. This assignment lasted until January 20th, 1953.

HESS: Did you know Mr. Truman when he was on the Hill as a Senator?

FEENEY: I met Mr. Truman a number of times in 1944

[3]

shortly after I was assigned to the Senate and came into contact with his staff as the result of many military problems that came up through Mr. Truman's office, as well as his committee staff work.

HESS: During this time, did you ever hear Mr. Truman comment on anything connected with the Truman committee -- any matters that might have been before the committee?

FEENEY: As I recall, the only real meaty comment I heard was, one day in his office a number of subpoenas were being sent out to some of the top leaders of business of the country, and he instructed his staff at that time to assure them that he wanted to be as helpful as possible and he had no intention of punishing anyone. He wanted to try to straighten out many contract matters as well as to assure businessmen that the committee was intent on developing some kind of a re-negotiation plan that would permit businessmen to come to Washington and renegotiate contracts, if necessary.

[4]

He said that he felt that no doubt a great many errors of judgment were made as well as errors by the military in contract work, and he felt that with the cooperation of the committee members as well as his own staff that this could be done without trying to make big headlines in the newspapers -- and this he felt was being done in the fashion that he hoped it would be done.

HESS: Did you see Mr. Truman very often during this time? Did you meet with him in his office?

FEENEY: I had no reason to meet with him personally or directly. My main contact with him was actually for coffee in the morning with he and his staff -- and this was a regular ritual and it had nothing whatever to do with the committee operation. It was more of a friendly thing than anything else.

HESS: Who were the main members of the staff at that time that you met with -- Hugh Fulton?

FEENEY: Hugh Fulton was there and Matt Connelly was there; Charles Patrick Clark was there -- I just

[5]

can't recall at the moment the other members, but most of the time from about 8:30 to 9:15 was generally a coffee klatsch in the Senate cafeteria, and I was fortunate enough to be able to sit around and just shoot the breeze.

HESS: This was the time that Mr. Truman became acquainted with you and familiar with your duties in the Senate, and your connections with the Senate.

FEENEY: That's correct.

HESS: ...then from there we can move up to the time you went to the White House. Is that right?

FEENEY: That's about right.

HESS: Will you tell me then why were you picked for this particular job, and not only why were you picked but why was anyone chosen at this time? Up to this time there had not been such a thing as a congressional liaison man in the White House. Is that correct?

FEENEY: That's correct.

[6]

HESS: Why was it felt that at this time one was needed?

FEENEY: I can't tell you why it was felt that someone was needed. I can tell you this. I was asked by Steve Early who was then Secretary of Defense, to become his congressional liaison man for the Defense Department. Mr. Early -- I agreed to meet Mr. Early at the White House, because Mr. Early had to get a clearance on a so-called "super-grade" at that time from the White House. The morning I went there I was called in to the President's office and the President informed me that he was going to take me into his family and that Mr. Early would have to get someone else. Mr. Truman told me that for some time he had been concerned about the lack of liaison and contact with a large number of the members of the Senate, and that he was finding it very difficult to handle this himself, with the duties of his office, and further, that he did not wish to have a politician appointed. He said he had read my record and he would like me to join, and I agreed and that was the start of

[7]

my employment at the White House.

HESS: You were in charge as liaison for the Senate, and just about this same time General Charles Maylon was also brought in.

FEENEY: That is correct.

HESS: He was to be in charge of liaison with the House.

FEENEY: That is correct.

HESS: Could you give me just a thumbnail description of his background? What type of a man did they choose for that position?

FEENEY: General Maylon -- as the term implies -- was a general in the Army. He had been a career Army man, but as such, as I understand it, he was used by Army people, over a period of time, to contact members of the House in military matters. At that time there was very little liaison work being done by the various departments of the Army and they felt that General Maylon who had been around this area and had been assigned to various army installations

[8]

and who was familiar with the Capital -- it was felt that he could fill the bill and on about the same basis as I was. He was not a politician; his appointment took place shortly after mine.

HESS: Did you report directly to the President or were you assigned to be under another staff member in White House?

FEENEY: I was assigned directly to the President. And one thing was made extremely clear, that the President would be available at any time that I had any kind of a problem to discuss with him, particularly involving legislation in the Senate.

HESS: Could you outline just what your duties were?

FEENEY: Well, I think I should clarify one thing. Every morning at 9:15 the President had a staff meeting of all his staff people in his office -- a very private meeting. All subjects which the President felt should come up during that day, or would come up during that day, was fully covered with each

[9]

staff member. We were each given an opportunity to say whatever we felt was important, and at the conclusion of the meeting the President generally kept one or two or three of us after the group went out to have a further discussion. Invariably, I was kept after the meeting because of Mr. Truman's very close association with the Senate and because of the importance of legislation going on at that time. He had a very keen desire to work as closely as possible with not only the chairman of the committees of the Senate, but with various individuals who had been friends of his for many years, and he made it especially clear that he would be the quarterback as far as the Senate was concerned and I would be the ball carrier.

HESS: What friends in particular did he work with the most?

FEENEY: Senator Connally of Texas was one of the important people of the Senate at that time; Senator Bridges of New Hampshire, who was chairman of the

[10]

Appropriations Committee; Senator Langer of North Dakota, who was a very, very close friend of the President; Senator Fulbright; Senator Green; practically all of the chairmen were very close to him; and a number of others who were on a rather personal basis with him -- that he could talk with either on the tel