Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened September, 1981
Oral History Interview with
September 22, 1978
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Judge Harper, I thought that you might start by giving us a little background -- when and where you were born, your education, and something about your career up until the time you became acquainted with Mr. Truman.
HARPER: Well, I was born in Dunklin County, Missouri, in Gibson, on July 26, 1905, and we moved to Steele, Missouri in Pemiscot County when I was nine years old. There I graduated from high school. I went to the University of Missouri, from 1923 to 1929, and got an AB and a law degree. I graduated in 1929. I went with Shell Petroleum, doing appraisal work for them. It was a temporary job that lasted about a year and
a half. In March of 1931, I opened my office in Steele, Missouri and practiced by myself until December 1, 1934 when I went to Caruthersville, Missouri and became a member and partner in the law firm of Ward and Reeves. I was there until I came onto the bench in 1947.
I first met President Truman during the primary campaign in 1934. At that time I was participating some in the Democratic politics at the township level in my county. I was not for Mr. Truman in the primary. It so happened that one of my college roommate's boss was the campaign manager for John Cochran who was running against him, and I had committed myself to him early in the campaign through my roommate.
I met Mr. Truman when he was in Pemiscot County campaigning. As a matter of fact, I introduced him when he made a speech in Steele, while I was practicing, although I was not one of his supporters.
That fall, during the general election, I was the county chairman. I first became really
well acquainted with Senator Truman when I went with a committee of about 25 or 30 people from Southeast Missouri on a trip to Washington. We went to visit Congress when they passed the first farm bill that put in a provision for allotments with respect to the amount of cotton that you could raise on the farm.
Neat Helm, of Caruthersville, was one of the ones in the group; also included were Ed Coleman and Charlie Blanton of Sikeston, and a good many others. When we went up there, they had just passed in the House the farm bill which would give to the South twenty acres of cotton to the forty, if they had a history. But it only gave to Missouri eight acres to the forty, which meant that our section of Missouri was in real trouble if the bill were enacted as law. It permitted Missourians to raise only eight acres of cotton to the forty.
Most of those in our committee stayed only about three days and then they returned home. Mr. Ed Coleman of Sikeston and I stayed behind.
I was really leading the efforts to have the allotment raised.
FUCHS: Were you acting as the counsel for the committee? What was your interest; were you farming too?
HARPER: My only interest in it was that if we were able to get a fair allotment, the area would do well and I indirectly would profit. The only thing I got out of it was my expenses.
We worked in that matter very closely with Senator Clark and Senator Truman. Senator Truman was very busily engaged in holding hearings at the time, of the Interstate Commerce Committee, and he told us that he would support anything that we could come up with. Actually the one who took the bigger part of the lead was Senator Clark. The final result was that the bill passed by the Senate gave to Missouri sixteen acres to the forty, rather than the eight acres originally in the House bill. We were able to convince Senator Bankhead, who was the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, that if they didn't do that, that we'd defeat the bill.
California and some of the Western states with irrigated acreage were in the same situation. At Senator Clark's direction, I drafted the proposed amendment that would change it. Then it was turned over to Senator Clark, who had it introduced by Senator Hayden of Arizona. It was known as the Hayden Amendment. When it was passed by the Agriculture Committee and by the Senate, we also had the promise of Senator Bankhead who was going to be a member of the Conference Committee, that he would go into the committee and insist that it be the sixteen acres for those states. It was so passed.
At that time, of course, I became very close to both Senators Clark and Truman. From time to time thereafter, almost every year from that time until the war, I was up there when they had the farm program bill up for consideration. I was there to protect, or to try to protect, Missouri's cotton interest because Missouri is a bastard cotton state.
In other words, while cotton was the biggest
cash crop in the state at that time, it was only raised in three counties, in the southern half of three other counties, and the tip of a fourth. The South, of course, wanted all the acreage they could get and they did not look with favor on the irrigated areas or upon Southeast Missouri.
So, up until Pearl Harbor, each summer I would spend about a month or six weeks in Washington just keeping up with the legislation, and I was very active in the National Cotton Council. We were up there from time to time on cotton programs that they were working on and I would see our Senators. I think it would be fair to say that by the late 1930's that I was one of maybe a half dozen people in the state who was a good political friend of both Senator Truman and Senator Clark. Most people favored either one or the other. I was very close to the two of them. In 1940 when Senator Truman ran for a second term, I had a meeting with a group in St. Louis, I think around February, 1940. As I recall it, they had a state meeting of Young Democrats there about the
same time. In conjunction with that a group of Senator Truman's friends came in from around the state on the question of whether or not he was going to run for reelection.
Of course, [Maurice] Milligan, the District Attorney from Kansas City, was a candidate and Stark, the Governor, was a candidate. For the most part, Senator Truman got very little encouragement to run from the group that was there.
John Snyder was one of the ones that was present; he was living in Missouri at the time. I believe he was still living in St. Louis at that time, or he may have moved to Sedalia by then. At that time the Senator asked me to be the chairman of his campaign committee for the eastern half of the state. I told him that I would like to be, but that I had a partner, James Reeves, who was running for the Springfield Court of Appeals nomination, as a judge on that court, and that I would have to check with him, because I didn't want to do anything that would cause him problems.
I discussed the matter with James M. Reeves and he thought from his standpoint that it would be better that I not be the chairman. So I was not the chairman, at least in name. But in truth and in fact, I probably had more to do with his campaign than anyone officially connected with its operation in the eastern part of the state.
One of my very dear friends, and one of Truman's good friends at that time, who had become his friend through me, was Lewis Barringer from Memphis. It was in the off season of Lou's cotton business, so he made provision for me to put in Truman's St. Louis campaign office, a secretary for the office. His private secretary was there half of the time, and then his second secretary was here the balance of the time. We also brought in the head of Lou's mail room to handle the mail room in the office in St. Louis. Mr. Barringer paid their expenses while they were here and kept them on their regular salary.
Just sort of a side note; they drove to St. Louis, but when they reached Steele, Missouri,
where my home was, we pulled the Tennessee license off and put a Missouri license on their car. If anybody asked them where they were from, they said, "Steele." And they referred them to me.
The campaign, of course, became a very bitter, hotly contested race. In the early part of the campaign, probably around the late spring I guess, one of my dear friends and one of my close political friends, who was J.V. Conran of New Madrid County, went with me into St. Louis. He and I had worked together for a number of years at that time, and were always lined up with the same people for state and national office, and were the leaders in our respective county organizations. We both had wide acquaintanceship over Southeast Missouri, too. We came into St. Louis. To make a long story short, that year the Governorship campaign was between Larry McDaniel of St. Louis, and Senator McReynolds.
FUCHS: Was that Allen McReynolds?