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Clayton Fritchey Oral History Interview, December 22, 1969

Oral History Interview with
Clayton Fritchey

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Director of the Office of Public Information, Dept. of Defense, 1950-52; Assistant to the President of the United States, 1952; and Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1953-57.

Washington, DC
December 22, 1969
By Jerry N . Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Fritchey 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. [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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript || List of Subjects Discussed|
Additional Fritchey Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
Clayton Fritchey

Washington, DC
December 22, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Fritchey, when did you first become aware that President Truman did not intend to run for re-election in 1952?

FRITCHEY: Well, I was never really sure until he publicly announced it. Like some of the other members of the White House family, we had had some indications and hints from time to time, and it may very well be that Mr. Truman confided to others but he did not confide to me. And so we had only a little inkling on the day, on the night that he drew down.

HESS: At the Armory? What was the inkling that you received?

FRITCHEY: Well, around the first of the year, it seemed to me, and to others, that he was possibly preparing the way for a successor. By that I mean he drew attention nationally to Adlai Stevenson. This turned out not to be an accident. As we see now, he had been thinking very seriously for some time of not running again. But I think, like most chief executives,


they find it necessary to conserve their power and not always to reveal precisely what they have in mind publicly. And also circumstances can change, so that it is better, on balance, to run again.

HESS: What do you think first brought Adlai Stevenson to the President's attention in this context, as a successor?

FRITCHEY: Well, leaders of the party around the country always had a great regard for Truman. Some of the most respected political leaders, bosses, if you like, such as Dave Lawrence of Pennsylvania, and the leaders in New York County, and the politicians in the Middle West, kept in touch, sometimes indirectly, once in awhile directly, and the word began drifting back to the White House of the impression that Stevenson was making. Especially after a trip to New York, I believe late in 1951, in which he took a large meeting pretty much by storm. So, I think this idea began to develop in his mind, and I think it's fair to say now, that Stevenson would not have been nominated had it not been for Mr. Truman. As you know, Stevenson was not interested, and it took a great deal of


persuasion. Finally, it took Mr. Truman to do it personally in the showdown in Chicago.

Whether the New Hampshire primary brought things to a head is something we'll never know for sure. I think it was a factor. As you know that occurred around the middle of March and it was a surprise around the White House and a disappointment. I must say, Mr. Truman himself never showed any particular reaction to it. So, I have concluded that he had already pretty well made up his mind. After the New Hampshire primary I think he felt he had better move because it was clear that Kefauver was going to be very successful in the primaries. As it turned out, he won, I think, fifteen in a row, probably the all time record. An interesting sidelight on American politics is that a candidate can win that many primaries and still not have a serious chance of getting the nomination, if the President of the United States doesn't want him to have it.

HESS: Did Mr. Truman seem to be supporting any other prominent party members other than Adlai Stevenson, about this time, about the first of the year?


FRITCHEY: From the time that Mr. Truman made his public announcement that he was not going to run again, it seemed to me that his first choice, if not his only choice, from then until the convention, almost to the convention, was Stevenson.

HESS: Did you ever hear of any support for Vice President Barkley?

FRITCHEY: This came about two weeks or so before the convention. There had been communications, not a great deal, but some, back and forth to Chicago and Springfield, Illinois; some directly with Stevenson and some with his associates. And I think the President, President Truman, finally became convinced that Stevenson absolutely would not run. This put him in a difficult position because the principal regional and state leaders had more or less deferred to the President in developing a successor. Very few of them, as you know, were keen on Kefauver. Mr. Truman had, in effect, undertaken, in their minds, to produce the alternative to Kefauver in Chicago. And thus when it became seemingly certain that nothing could prevail on Stevenson, it was necessary for the President to


act, and he came to the conclusion that Alben Barkley was the answer to this. Just how he arrived at this, none of us knew for certain, but it had its own logic. Probably the only serious drawback to Barkley at that time, was his age, because he was a widely esteemed man, extremely experienced, highly regarded by the public and a very popular man, and a very popular man in the party, and a great campaigner and a great speaker. I think it was on a Sunday, about two weeks before the convention was to open in Chicago, that Mr. Truman had a quiet meeting one Sunday morning in his study at the White House about 11 o'clock. And I can't recall exactly who was there, but Charlie Murphy was, I remember that. I believe the national chairman was Barkley's sort of man Friday, he's now dead, oh, I can't remember his name to save my soul, his name was so well-known, it'll come to me in a minute.

HESS: Leslie Biffle?

FRITCHEY: Les Biffle, sure. Mr. Truman began with a general review of the political situation, and then he disclosed what he had on his mind. Shortly thereafter Mr. Barkley came in, and it was apparent


that he had no foreknowledge of this. And when the President's feelings and desires were made known to him I thought he reacted with great dignity, in a most courteous way, but still firmly, I thought. He pointed out to the President his own infirmities as a candidate, with particular attention to his age. I thought it was quite a remarkable performance. There wasn't any false modesty about it nor any coyness, it was a very sensible recital of what he thought his drawbacks were.

HESS: What other drawbacks did he see in himself other than his age?

FRITCHEY: That's the principal one of course, and the ability to carry on a vigorous campaign. And the age factor is a very serious one, there's no doubt about that: The party looks forward to eight years for a candidate, you see. That would have taken Barkley into his eightieth year.

HESS: Did he give Mr. Truman an answer at this time?

FRITCHEY: It was decided at that time, that all things being equal, this is the way it would be. And so


about a week before the convention opened, the word was gradually spread to various political leaders of the party coming into Chicago for the convention, what the strategy was going to be. This surprised a good many and some really couldn't believe it because of the age factor. But gradually it became known that this was the wishes of the White House. I don't know what finally would have happened had it not been for the revolt on the part of labor, and that was enough to -- that occurred on a Sunday I believe, before the convention opened. It was a meeting of labor groups who were very friendly toward Barkley, personally, but they felt they had a great stake in this election and they thought they had a possible winner in Stevenson. And when Mr. Barkley learned about this, it reconfirmed in his own mind that he had liabilities that were too great. And on that same day there was a caucus of the Illinois convention, late in the afternoon in Chicago, Sunday, at which Mr. Stevenson made a final effort to extricate himself from any draft, and news of that leaked out. At this time, I believe, Kefauver had an ironclad commitment of over three hundred delegates


which he had won the hard way. And one never knows for sure how things would have worked out. Well, my own view, if President Truman had not decided to sort of take over the convention and run it, and actually, forcibly draft Stevenson, I think the chances are strong that Kefauver might have gone on to get the nomination. But as you know, the President, by his personal intercession, prevailed on Stevenson.

HESS: Did you ever hear Fred Vinson mentioned as a possible candidate?

FRITCHEY: Yes, all kinds of possibilities were mentioned, but so far as I know there wasn't a single delegation lined up for Vinson. There had been no preparation for him. I think that it is true that an incumbent President can -- his power is immeasurable and it might have been that he could have put over anybody. I don't mean to suggest that Vinson was just anybody, because he was a man of great reputation, very popular, and so on, but there had been utterly no preparation for him either in the party leadership or in the public mind.


HESS: Now, we've mentioned the principal regional and state members, the so-called political bosses, what political bosses do you think had the most influence with Mr. Truman during this period of time, the latter part of his administration?

FRITCHEY: I would say the single greatest was Dave Lawrence of Pennsylvania, who was almost an ideal type of political leader in the sense that he himself was the mayor of a major city. He had his own constituency and he had the gift for practical politics as well as a very good record as a mayor in his own right. So he had a nice balance, a nice appreciation of the need for first-class political performance and also the practical requirements of politics.

HESS: Good. And I understand that you were associated with Governor Stevenson's staff during the 1952 campaign and I'd like to ask you to tell me about that epi