Oral History Interview with
Mayor of Pittsburgh, Penn., 1946-59; Governor of Pennsylvania, 1959-63; Member of the Democratic National Committee, 1940-66; and chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 1944 when Harry S. Truman was nominated for the vice presidency.
David L. Lawrence
June 30, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[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. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Lawrence 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
David L. Lawrence
June 30, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Let's begin, Governor Lawrence, by having me ask you, when did you first meet Mr. Truman?
LAWRENCE: Mr. Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934. My old friend Joseph F. Guffey was elected the same year. They came here in 1935, and were "back-benchers" together with a number of other so-called "young Turks" who were among the real liberals in the Senate, and being closely associated with Senator Guffey I naturally met up with Senator Truman. I had known not too much of him prior to that time, and of course with Senator Guffey I then met up with him a good deal, because we had a lot in common, because we were both supporting President Roosevelt and his legislative program, and so forth; and we were both on the liberal side, very definitely, and I grew to know him through that.
One of the very memorable things I remember about Senator Truman, was a famous hunting trip Senator Guffey got up, I believe it was in December of '36, in the
deer hunting season in Pennsylvania. Senator Guffey got about ten Senators, friends of his, and the party included also John Garner, who was Vice President at the time; and we went up to Elk County, Pennsylvania -- St. Mary's, Pennsylvania -- to the preserve and home of Colonel William Kaul, and we had a very delightful time there for a couple of days together. They went up on a special car that was arranged for them, railroad car, and that was sort of the real beginning of a friendship with Mr. Truman.
HESS: Did Mr. Truman shoot anything?
LAWRENCE: I don't recall that. It was sort of deer hunting deluxe. It was one of these wonderful preserves. They shoo the deer down through the woods and you get a shot at them. I don't know just what Senator Truman did at the time, but it was the only real hunting trip I was on in my life and I got a deer, and I'm sure that was some sort of a setup made for me to get it because I'm no crack shot by any means.
Then, of course, over a period of years, we would meet intermittently up in the Senate Dining Room at lunch, most of the time with Guffey.
Where I became attracted to Senator Truman was prior to the '44 convention. I had not been in sympathy
with the nomination of Henry Wallace in the 1940 convention. At that time, I was for Paul McNutt who was Governor of Indiana and a friend of mine. I met up with him in the American Legion. He was National Commander and I was just an ordinary member, but I observed him and the fight he made in Indiana, and therefore thought he would be a very attractive running mate for President Roosevelt. But President Roosevelt didn't agree with that. He insisted on Henry Wallace. And then I had some minor difference with the President on the selection and of course he naturally insisted that he should have a great deal to say about who his running mate should be. Finally McNutt withdrew. There was a famous scene in the Democratic Convention of that year at Chicago when the President prevailed on McNutt to drop out and the convention was very much opposed to it. McNutt had great difficulty in getting heard by the convention; they kept yelling and booing because they were not in sympathy with him. However, the President's wishes prevailed and they went on, and Henry Wallace became the Vice President of the United States.
Then the scene shifts to the '44 period and associated with me in Pittsburgh in politics was a man named John J. Kane, who was chairman of the board of
county commissioners. He had been into Washington a number of times on county business, and on several occasions drifted into the so-called Truman Committee, which was investigating war contracts and so forth; and Kane became very much impressed with Truman and the things that he was trying to do. Kane had a boy of military age who was, I think, then in West Point and subsequently graduated from West Point, and now is a colonel in the Air Force, Francis X. Kane. And Kane would come back from these meetings and tell me what a great job he thought Truman was doing in seeing to it that war contractors did their job according to specifications, and the great service he was rendering to every boy that was in military service, and so forth.
Well, as the pre-convention period wended its way along, Bob Hannegan was the national chairman at the time and Bob indicated a desire to push Truman forward. That same idea prevailed with Ed Kelly who was then mayor of Chicago and national committeeman of Illinois. I was then, as now, a member of the National Committee. We would meet here in Washington and discuss the possibilities of Truman. Finally, of course, the convention came on and the battle lines were drawn.
HESS: One question, sir. How long before the convention
was this that Mr. Truman was seriously being considered?
LAWRENCE: I would say it was months.
LAWRENCE: Months. Now, in fairness to Senator Guffey, he and Truman were great friends. Senator Guffey early in the year when Truman -- and I've had this from both President Truman and Senator Guffey. A lot of people had the wrong impression of what Guffey did in this situation. He and I parted company on the candidacy because Philip Murray, who was then head of the United Steel Workers, and Sidney Hillman were leading a campaign at the convention for Wallace. They were both good friends of mine, both Murray and Hillman, and I was a great admirer of theirs then and still am. I think they contributed as much if not more than any two men in the country in saving this country from communism because in both their unions they prevented communism from moving in and gaining any ground in their respective unions. And it was a very difficult position that I got into, because I'd known Murray particularly from the time I was a youngster working in the law office in Pittsburgh that was attorney for Murray's union then, which was the United Mine Workers of America,
District Number 5, with headquarters in Pittsburgh. It was a little bit hard to be on the opposite side from Mr. Murray and I think he was a little bit provoked at me for the fact that I was not going along with Wallace. And of course labor generally was supporting Wallace, and that put me in an awkward position in Pennsylvania, particularly in the Pittsburgh area, which is strongly organized in the labor movement.
Senator Guffey, as I started to say, and then got off on a tangent, was in the same position. He had talked to President Truman -- then Senator Truman -- and Truman had verified this with me since. At that time Truman dismissed any thought of being a candidate for Vice President, and therefore Guffey felt free to then make a pledge to support Wallace. A lot of people misjudged and misconstrued this action on Guffey's part but it was perfectly honorable. President Truman has on a number of occasions since said that he really was to blame for that himself.
So, anyway, we went on into the convention, and there we developed quite a large vote for Truman, and of course, I sat in on the strategy with Bob Hannegan, Mayor Kelly, Frank Walker -- Frank Walker was Postmaster
General I think at the time. He was from Pennsylvania although he never took a real active part, but he was a delegate at large and he supported Truman. We had a famous meeting under the stage after midnight on one of the days of the convention. When the convention adjourned we moved down there to Bob Hannegan's office, the national chairman's office, at the convention hall in the stadium. We were laying lines for the next day.
HESS: Who was present, sir?
LAWRENCE: Well, there was Bob Hannegan, Frank Hague, Mayor Kelly, Frank Walker, and myself. That's all I can remember.
HESS: Was that after the first or the second day of the convention?
LAWRENCE: I think it was the second day. What had happened, I can identify as the night when the nominations were made and the great demonstration was put on for Wallace.
HESS: And you were recognized.
LAWRENCE: Yes, by pre-arrangement, Senator Jackson, who was presiding, recognized me and I made the motion for the convention to recess until the next day because we were fearful if it stayed in convention the CIO and other organizations were putting on terrific demonstrations for Wallace -- parading the aisles -- and
pandemonium had broken loose. By pre-arrangement with Senator Jackson, the presiding officer, he was to recognize me and I made the motion that we recess until the following day and that carried. Then we went into caucus under the platform and counted noses as to just what we had and what we didn't have.
HESS: How did the situation seem right then?
LAWRENCE: Well, it was very, very close. Wallace was very close to the nomination, and we felt that if it had gone into another ballot, some of the weaker-kneed delegates might run away from Truman and to Wallace or run away from some of the other nominees and go to Wallace. So then we went on, of course, into the next ballot the next day, and we had, I think, twenty-five votes from Pennsylvania for Truman, which was a great disappointment to Senator Guffey because he felt he would be able to deliver a whole delegation.
Joining with me in Pennsylvania, I think it's important to state, was James P. Clark, who was then chairman of the Democratic City Committee of Philadelphia, and eleven of the twenty-five votes we had were from Philadelphia. He was able to influence eleven out twelve delegates there. He only lost one, and he was a member of organized labor and very friendly to Sidney
Hillman and felt that he had to go along with Wallace for Hillman's sake. If you remember, I think the record will show there was about twenty-five votes in the California delegation, which did the same thing, supported Truman. That was the real break, those fifty votes, I think, that won the nomination and started the movement for Truman to be nominated.
HESS: During the meeting that night, what plans were made?
LAWRENCE: Well, I don't know in full detail, but naturally the plans were to check on all the delegations and to have the lines hold. I remember one of the things we did was to arrange for Bennett Clark to place in nomination Senator Truman. We picked him because he was his colleague at the time in the Senate from the State of Missouri.
One of the things that I might add that happened prior to this, early in the year, I would say probably in April, Senator Truman came to Pittsburgh to make a speech at a banquet of the motor association there, the transportation people, and they called me and asked me if I wouldn't come down to the dinner. I got Commissioner Kane and we went, and went afterwards to have a snack in a restaurant close by the Senator's hotel, the Penn-Sheraton, and that was the first
opportunity that Commissioner Kane had to really get acquainted with Senator Truman and it was a very happy meeting.
The next day I drove Senator Truman from Pittsburgh over to York, Pennsylvania. It was on a Saturday. Because he was booked in to speak to the Young Democratic Society of York, Pennsylvania at their annual dinner, and I was booked in also to speak at the same dinner. So it gave me my best opportunity to have a real visit over four or five hours of driving across the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The turnpike was built during the Earl administration of which I was a part and I was very happy to drive the Senator across the turnpike to York. Of course that day I had an excellent opportunity to discuss the Truman association with Tom Pendergast. I didn't know Pendergast except by reputation and I recall very distinctly that day Truman expressing his friendship for Pendergast. I remember he told me he had asked -- Pendergast at that time was incarcerated -- and he indicated to me that he was urging President Roosevelt to pardon him -- grant him a pardon -- because he said that Pendergast was the best political friend that he ever had. He had got him to run for county judge in Jackson County and one of the
very interesting things he said was, "Tom Pendergast knew me; he knew when he put me on that board that I wouldn't do anything that was wrong," and I remember him saying that he wanted to emphasize the fact that during the time that he served on the board of county judges, or whatever they call it there, Tom Pendergast had never asked him to do one single thing that was wrong. He added to that statement, of course, he said, "Of course, he knew I wouldn't do it anyway."
HESS: You touched on this awhile ago, just how influential was Robert Hannegan in Mr. Truman's obtaining the nomination?
LAWRENCE: Well, I think he was quite instrumental, because Hannegan was the national chairman and the national chairman has a lot of power. And Hannegan, naturally, worked among his friends on the National Committee throughout the country, and then in the convention. He had a great deal to do with the selection of Senator Jackson as the chairman, and of course when the national chairman asked Senator Jackson to recognize me to make the motion to recess the convention, that was a very vital and important moment in the convention.
HESS: To stop things before they snowballed any further for Wallace.
LAWRENCE: Yes, because if the convention had gone on that night this demonstration was, like most of those convention demonstrations, pretty phony. It was manufactured; they had just hundreds and hundreds of people marching. They had arranged to get them in the convention; the Illinois delegation was divided, as I recall it. A great portion of it had the votes there for Secretary [Harold] Ickes and a number of other people. I think Scott Lucas had some and so on. So if the convention had gone on, I'm quite sure Wallace would have been nominated.
HESS: What was your impression of Mr. Truman at that time?
LAWRENCE: Well, I always had a very high regard for his innate honesty, particularly -- the thing that impressed me very much was my discussion with him o