1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. John M. Leddy Oral History Interview

John M. Leddy Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
John M. Leddy

Member of the staff of the Trade Agreements Division, U.S. Dept. of State, and participant in the negotiations to conclude the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the International Trade Organization, 1945-58. Later Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, 1961-62, U.S. Ambassador to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France, 1963-65, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, 1965-1969.

Washington, D.C.
June 15, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie

[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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Leddy 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


Oral History Interview with
John M. Leddy


Washington, D.C.
June 15, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE:  I would like to ask you why you chose a career in Government service, to hear something about your personal background, and how you came from Chicago to work in the Pan American Union, and then into the State Department,

LEDDY:  Well, I was born in Chicago, my family moved down to Florida when I was about ten or so.  I went to high school in Miami Beach.  It was a rural, community at that time, not like it is today.


MCKINZIE:  You mean the town was rural?

LEDDY:  Oh, yes, pretty much, yes.  Large open spaces.  Also open beaches, not that mass of concrete that you now find along the waterfront.  It was not built up that way in those days.

My father died when I was about sixteen or seventeen, and after I got through high school I took a short course in business school in Miami, mainly learning how to type, do a little shorthand, a little accounting, and that sort of thing.  This was during the depression years and I came up to Washington in 1933 or 1934.  My aunt lived up here (one of my mother's sisters) working for the National Wooden Box Association, as I recall, as a secretary to the manager.  I was able to come up here and look around for a job, and also start to school, which I wanted to do.  I wanted to go on to college.  So, I did that at night at Georgetown University and worked during the day, first as


a messenger at the Homeowners Loan Corporation, then I got a job at the Pan American Union.  I had known a little Spanish, I'd studied it in high school and also in college.  There I was able to work in the division of financial and economic information -- a very small outfit -- for three or four years.  We used to put out publications on Latin America.  We'd write our own economic pieces, or translate them from Latin-American publications, depending; and type it out ourselves on mimeograph.  There were about four of us in the office.  We did everything, three analysts, and a stenographer.

There I met somebody going out just as I was coming in.  One of the fellows -- H. Gerald Smith -- who was leaving was going to the State Department in the Trade Agreements Division, and we got to know one another.  When I got my degree from Georgetown he was successful in getting me


interviewed with Harry Hawkins at the head of the Trade Agreements Division, and a few other people there.  And I was able to get a job there at a very fine raise in salary, as a low grade professional assistant of some sort.  I’ve forgotten what they were called – P-2 or P-3 -- or something of that sort.

So that's how I got started in the Government, and it was partly a question not so much of sitting down and thinking what are you going to do in life, but how the hell are you going to survive.  I was interested, anyhow, in international affairs by that time, and, of course, in Georgetown I studied various international subjects.

MCKINZIE:  Do you have a particular interest in economics?

LEDDY:  Well, I had sort of acquired that, you see.


Partly because of the fact that I had been working in the Pan American Union on economic and financial information.  I am not a professional economist, although I took a number of economic courses at Georgetown.  I certainly never qualified as anything remotely resembling a trained economist.  But, at any rate, economics in the State Department is not really professional economics.  I mean, it would help a great deal to be a professional economist, but it isn't essential.  It's really a mixture of law, diplomacy and economics, and you need to know enough about economics to be sure you know what you are doing or to consult the people who do know; and also you pick up a great deal in studying and reading books during the course of your career. So, I would say I knew more about economics than I would, let's say, history.

But at any rate, that was how I got started


in Government, and I was fortunate in getting in the Trade Agreements Division, because it was very active.  They had a fine group of people there, especially the head of that division, Harry S. Hawkins, whom I came to know very well -- he is a man about twenty years older than I am.  I think he's about 79 now.

MCKINZIE:  He's living in California isn't he?

LEDDY:  Yes.  Northern California, and we keep in touch with them.  Our family and their family are great friends.  But at any rate, in my judgment he was probably the most influential and important man second to Cordell Hull, in launching, operating, and administering the Reciprocal Trade Agreements program.  I had gone into this partly as a matter of my own education when I came in in 1941.  I came in the Latin American Division, naturally enough, working with H. Gerald Smith, and he was a


Latin American expert.  He had married a girl who was the daughter of a former Cuban diplomat; he spoke Spanish well; and he was familiar with the area.  So, I worked on Latin American things for a while.  Worked on the Peruvian trade agreement and the Mexican trade agreement, and one thing or another.  Then I went to work with Marc [Honore Marcell] Catudal who is a lawyer, an international lawyer.  He had written articles on the unconditional most-favored-nation clause and, generally speaking, his office looked at all of the legal aspects, and the so-called "general provisions" of trade agreements -- the legal framework and that sort of thing.  I worked with him, and began to study very carefully all of the provisions of the old trade agreements.  The general provisions, what they were supposed to accomplish, what they meant. Their interpretation; how they tied one with another, in other words, the framework of international commercial


policy.  The trade agreements program can be learned through that method, as well as the history of these provisions -- how they started and developed.  For example, the old arguments of conditional versus non-conditional most-favored-nation clause; the origins of the idea of a multilateral convention, etc.  So, in that way I acquired a good historical background and it was out of this that I discovered the way in which the trade agreements program got born.

One of the key problems in the trade agreements program was this issue: if you granted tariff concessions in a trade agreement with one foreign country and the benefits had to be extended to other countries under the principle of equality of treatment (the unconditional most-favored-nation clause), how did you meet the arguments of opponents that these other countries were getting something for nothing?


Harry Hawkins figured out the solution for that problem by a technique of granting tariff concessions on those products of which the other trading partner, the one you were negotiating an agreement with, was the principal supplier.  And from his studies on the complexity of international trade you usually found that for any given commodity, any particular specific commodity -- and of course, they are all broken down in considerable detail in the tariff -- you would find that one or -- two, possibly, maybe three, countries made up the bulk of the whole imported supply.  They were the chief and most effective competitors, and that, therefore, you would not lose much bargaining power by extending the concession to others.

It was quite important to avoid discriminating among different countries, partly for economic reasons but also because of the political frictions that would result.  So, he worked out this notion of the "principal supplier" rule and from my


recollection of talking to him, and looking into the background, he had talks with Cordell Hull about it when Cordell Hull was in the Congress, before he became Secretary of State.  (As you know Hull had very strong convictions, you know, on the need for reducing trade barriers.  The Tariff Act of 1930 was a great shock to all those who believed in liberal trade.  In the South in those days, of course, the "liberal traders" believed in this passionately as against the Northern, and especially the northeastern industrialists.  They felt that historically the manufacturers had tended to penalize them by putting high tariffs on the things they bought, and impeding their ability to export.)  At any rate, because of Cordell Hull's leadership, convictions, an