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Dr. Johannes Hoeber Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
Dr. Johannes Hoeber

Assistant Director of the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee for the 1948 Presidential election campaign.

Washington, D.C.
September 13, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendicies | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 December, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Dr. Johannes Hoeber

 

Washington, D.C.
September 13, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[1]

HESS: Dr. Hoeber, would you, for the record, give me a little of your personal background. Where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions did you hold prior to your service on the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee in 1948?

HOEBER: I was born in Switzerland and raised and educated in Germany. I studied economics and political science at several German universities.

[2]

I did a year of graduate study in political science under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1926-27, and then returned to my alma mater, the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where I obtained my Ph.D. in political science with a thesis on the post-World War I history of the British Labor Party for which I had gathered the materials during my year in London, which coincided with the year of the first Labor government under Ramsay MacDonald. After graduating from Heidelberg I became director of information and assistant to the mayor of the German city of Mannheim, where I worked from 1928 to 1933 until the Hitler government came to power in January, 1933, arrested the entire city government from the mayor down, including myself. After my release from "protective custody"

[3]

in April 1933, I stayed on in Germany for five years as circulation manager for the Rhineland of Germany's most famous liberal paper, the Frankfurter Zeitung, which was the only one of two independent papers which survived for a while as an independent newspaper under the Nazis, until control got tighter and tighter. At that time, my father taught in the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and so in 1938, my family and I came to Philadelphia. By one of those fortunate coincidences, I became part of a group in Philadelphia, very shortly after my arrival, which was working on a new city charter for the city of Philadelphia. The group had been looking for somebody who could, from personal experience, advise on the structure of city government in various European countries, and I was initially employed as research assistant for the Citizens' Charter

[4]

Committee Committee of Philadelphia to prepare a number of position papers on the manager plan, proportional representation, and the experience European countries had both with full time professional career mayors and with the system of proportional representation in government. Via this route I became very quickly involved in Philadelphia in a broad range of what you would call, for lack of a better term, independent democratic politics. And out of the city charter committee developed a strong, independent reform movement in Philadelphia, which--I'm jumping ahead now by about fifteen years, which later on formed the nucleus of the reform movement in Philadelphia which came to power in city hall thirteen years later when the now U.S. Senator, Joseph Clark, was elected as the first Democratic reform mayor of Philadelphia in November of 1951. Through this activity I had become involved originally

[5]

in the Philadelphia Citizens' Political Action Committee over the issue o£ whether the committee would back in 1946 the candidates of the Democratic Party, or whether the committee would back Henry Wallace's Progressive Party and the candidates which the Progressive Party was running in the 1946 congressional elections. The non-Communist liberals succeeded in retaining control of the committee and thereby throwing the weight of the independent movement behind the Democratic candidates in Philadelphia. One of the Democratic candidates in the 1946 congressional elections was William L. Batt, Jr., who was running for the congressional seat in Pennsylvania's Montgomery County. This upper income suburban county immediately adjoining Philadelphia to the north has always been, and still is, a one hundred percent safe Republican seat. But Bill Batt, who had returned

[6]

from the war in, I believe, 1945, and whose father was a very prominent Philadelphia industrialist, with a very well-known name and had become active both in the liberal political movement and very active in the American Veterans Committee decided to run for Congress in Montgomery County on the Democratic ticket. I met Bill Batt through the Philadelphia Citizens Committee on Political Action, and became active in his campaign. Out of it developed a friendship which has lasted all these twenty years. The Philadelphia Citizens' Political Action Committee was disbanded right after the 1946 congressional elections and was converted early in 1947 into the Philadelphia chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, then organized on the national level. A group of us from Philadelphia, including Bill Batt and myself, attended the

[7]

organizing convention for the Americans for Democratic Action in Washington in the early spring of 1947, and then proceeded to organize the ADA chapter in Philadelphia. Bill Batt became the first chairman of the chapter in Philadelphia and I became the first secretary-treasurer of the chapter. We participated in the following year, very actively, both at the local level and on the national level, in ADA's organization and growth. Both Batt and I became members of the National Board of ADA, the first national board formed in 1947.

In the spring of 1948, out of a clear sky I received a call from Bill Batt, who had gone to Washington, that he had been asked by the Democratic National Committee to organize a research division of the Democratic National Committee to help in the preparation for the 1948 presidential campaign. This is how I became involved in the research activity of 1948. I took a leave of absence from my job

[8]

with the Community Chest in Philadelphia for four months, from May through September 1948, to join Bill Batt and a group of others in Washington as assistant director of the Research Division. As Batt explained it to me, the function of the research committee was to be to prepare factual background papers on the issues which were likely to be the prime issues in the 1948 campaign, and to assist with speechwriting and other campaign activities. So in May 1948 I came to Washington. I think I was the third or fourth to join the group. Batt, of course, was already there. Ken Birkhead, who had been with some independent liberal organization in New York City, whose name I do not recall at the moment (I think it was called Friends of Democracy), and Frank Kelly, a newspaperman, who had just completed a Neiman fellowship at Harvard, were already there, and soon after I came, we were

[9]

joined by Phil Dreyer, another young liberal from the West Coast, who had also been very active in the American Veterans Committee on the West Coast. This constituted the original nucleus of the Research Division.

HESS: David Lloyd joined later, is that correct?

HOEBER: David Lloyd joined later.

HESS: When did he come in?

HOEBER: I do not recall exactly when he came in. My guess would be not until about July, but I'm not absolutely certain.

HESS: One reason I mentioned that, in the New York Times article of August 1, 1948, the article that was written by Anthony Leviero, and it mentions all the members of the Research Division, but not Mr. Lloyd. And I wondered if

[10]

he joined sometime after that?

HOEBER: Yes, let me talk about that after a moment. This article came as a bombshell for all of us. We had all been told right at the beginning that this Research Division was to operate in the strictest anonymity, that even its existence should not be publicly known, mainly for reasons of security. We were given office space in the Hamilton National Bank building on Dupont Circle, about two blocks away from the Ring Building, where the Democratic National Committee was then located. And except for Bill Batt, all of us were really kept away completely from the Democratic National Committee. I don't recall visiting the Ring Building more than maybe two or three times during the four months I was there. It was quite obvious

[11]

that there was a very strict rule that the existence of this group should not become a public issue, and consequently we were quite shocked when the Leviero article appeared in the New York Times, really spilling the beans about the existence of the entire group.

By then we were working full speed on the preparation of what became known as the Files of the Facts. My initial assignment was to prepare two of the twelve files which had then been planned, one file on labor and the other file on price control, those two, of course being major issues, in the 1948 campaign.

HESS: In drawing up these Files of the Facts, what particular sources did you go to, or did you go to any, just how were these built up?

[12]

HOEBER: Largely, really, by utilizing existing materials; official reports of the departments and agencies involved; congressional hearings, prior campaign materials; newspaper files very extensively. We did not do anything like what you might call original research, but it was simply compiling the materials which we had available and converting them into handy briefs for the campaign. The purpose of the Files of the Facts was to be available to the White House staff--to Truman's White House staff--as background materials for speechwriting, for interviews, for campaign materials and so on. Later on, when President Truman started to travel around the country, the Files of the Facts traveled with him and with his staff and were constantly and extensively used on the campaign train for the daily needs of the campaign staff. Actually,

[13]

the Research Division did not report to anybody in the Democratic National Committee. The Research Division reported directly through Charlie Murphy to Clark Clifford and the White House staff.

HESS: What seemed to be the general relationship between the Research Division and the Democratic National Committee. Were they friendly relations or not friendly relations?

HOEBER: The Democratic National Committee did not have a research staff of its own. The contacts which existed were carried on exclusively by Bill Batt himself with Charlie Redding and Sam Brightman, in the public relations department of the Democratic National Committee. I wouldn't say the relations were at dagger's point, but they were kind of exceedingly cool. I think the Ring Building

[14]

fellows considered this long hair crowd as kind of interlopers into their professional business.

HESS: Did you ever hear them say anything of that nature?

HOEBER: No, I wouldn't recall any such statements. It was more a general atmosphere than anything that was ever said in so many words. I think as the Research Division became more and more involved in, for instance, preparing background briefs about the whistlestops--the places where the President's train was going to stop--preparing short background papers on who were the important politicians, who should be recognized, who should not be recognized, what was the socio-economic background of that particular town, what were the issues the President should hit there,

[15]

I think the fellows in the Ring Building felt more and more that this was really their prerogative. Why these assignments came increasingly to the Research Division, I don't really know. My assumption would be that they came to the Research Division by default.

HESS: By default. One question on those Files of the Facts: Was each particular man given an area to cover and draw up a File of the Facts?

HOEBER: Yes, and of course on each of the Files you find who carried that particular assignment.

HESS: I'll just read those off into the record:

Files of the Facts Number 1 - "Human Resources, Social Security, Education, Health, and Veterans," William L. Batt, Jr., Director.

[16]

Number 2 - "Agricultural Abundance," by Phil Dreyer

Number 3 - "Housing" by Phil Dreyer

Number 4 - "Veterans' Benefits" by Frank Kelly

Number 5 - "Loyalty and Subversive Activities" by David Lloyd

Number 6 - "The 80th Congress and the Lobbies," by John E. Barriere (who is a man we didn't mention awhile ago), and Frank Kelly

Number 7 - "Labor" by yourself, Johannes U. Hoeber

Number 8 - "Civil Liberties" by David D. Lloyd

Number 9 - "Foreign Policy" by William L. Batt