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James I. Loeb Oral History Interview, June 26, 1970

Oral History Interview with
James I. Loeb

National director, Union for Democratic Action (1945-47) and Americans for Democratic Action (1947-51); Consultant to President Harry S. Truman's special counsel (1951-52); Executive Assistant to Governor W. Averell Harriman (1952); U.S. Ambassador to Peru (1961-62); and Ambassador to Guinea (1963-65).

Saranac Lake, New York
June 26, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Loeb 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Loeb Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
James I. Loeb

Saranac Lake, New York
June 26, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

HESS: All right, Mr. Loeb, we should be recording. Would you like to start with a statement?

LOEB: Yes, I should say, in the first place, that I had a "junior" in the brief time that I worked at the White House, but I dropped the junior about ten years ago. I decided I wasn't John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and my father died in 1950, so I dropped the junior.

HESS: I'll mark it off my list.

LOEB: What I would like to say, so that there will be no misunderstanding, is that I'm very happy


to be interviewed about anything that I had any relationship with, but I would like to leave no impression that I consider myself an important person in the Truman administration. I don't think President Truman would remember me at all. My contacts with him were very brief. I had some exciting moments but the excitement, as will be pointed out in the course of this interview, was always through Charles Murphy. I was engaged as a per diem consultant for a period of three months, and then, as I recall, I was extended one month, and that was it. So I don't want anyone to think that I consider myself a close associate of Harry Truman. I would be proud to be if I had been. My partner, Roger Tubby, was, of course, a very close associate, but I was not. And with this reservation, I will be glad to answer any questions you may ask, Jerry.


HESS: Good. Let's start with a little bit of your background. Will you tell me a little bit about your background, where you were born, where were you educated, and a few of the positions that you have held?

LOEB: Well, I was born in Chicago in 1908, in August. I'm about to be 62. I was educated at a private school in Chicago and then we moved out to the suburbs and I graduated from the high school in Highland Park, which is now called the Highland Park High School. It was then called the Deerfield Shields Township High School. I then went to Dartmouth College for four years, although I had to take a semester off for ill health, which was the effect of insomnia, but I made it up and graduated with my class.

From that point on I was, I might say, a nightmare for any career counselor. What I did subsequently seemed to be absolutely by chance.


I graduated in June of 1929, which as everyone recalls, was the height of our prosperity and everybody assumed the prosperity would continue everlastingly. I assumed that I was going into my father's insurance business. Then I made some money during that summer. I had made a little bit of money as managing editor of the yearbook at Dartmouth, but I kind of inherited what we used to call a "play class" in the suburbs of Chicago. Inherited in the sense a University of Chicago football player had, had it. He had graduated from college and so I took this play class and it turned out to be very lucrative. I had five and six year olds that I took care of in the morning, and seven through twelve in the afternoon. I had an assistant. The second year, as a matter of fact, I had as many as seventy kids. We just took them to the public beaches, taught them how to swim, played baseball


with them, and charged their parents plenty, and I made more money that first summer, I think, than I did for the next thirty years. I made considerably over a thousand dollars -- in the 1929 value of the dollar -- in ten weeks. Then I decided that maybe I'd see the world before settling down to my father's insurance business. So another chap from Dartmouth, who is still a bachelor and is now the personal assistant to William Paley of CBS, although he has nothing to do with the radio or television business (he just handles his finances), and I went to Europe and we landed with a walrus-mustached Frenchman, who had been an exchange professor of French at Dartmouth. I had had only freshman French and knew very little. But he was in Montpelier in the southern part of France, and that's where we went. I may say I learned French, mostly playing bridge with the law students at the


cafes and with Professor Morfin. Then one day he said, "Why don't you teach French?"

I said, "I don't know enough French to teach it."

And he said, "Well, you know more than most people teaching French in the United States." I think probably he was correct, but I was too. Through him, to make a long story short, I got a teaching fellowship at Northwestern and I never got into my father's insurance business. I started teaching, then got my Ph.D. after another year in France (so that I had two years in France), and I finished my Ph.D. in 1936. As I often say, having graduated with an A.B. from Dartmouth and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern, and two years in France, I was fully prepared for unemployment. I became unemployed.

I came to New York and was unemployed for a year, and then finally got a job at a place,


a strange institution, called Townsend Harris High School, which was the prep school part of City College and was under the Board of Higher Education in New York City. An interesting reason for that is that I had no education courses, and despite the fact that I had a Ph.D. I was not qualified to teach in the ordinary public school system, but I was qualified to teach in Townsend Harris, because it was under the Board of Higher Education. They had quite a few such Ph.D.s with no education courses. This was an institution that took all the bright boys from all over the city and put them through high school in three years. [Fiorello] La Guardia cut it out of the budget. For some reason he didn't cut out the girls counterpart which still exists at Hunter College, Hunter High School.

At that point I was associated with Reinhold


Niebuhr and others in starting the Union for Democratic Action in 1941, which was enormously expanded and became something of a major institution in 1947 as the Americans for Democratic Action, and I was the first national secretary. I left it in 1951 for only one reason. I thought I had been at this kind of work so long that I was getting stale. Chester Bowles talked to me about going to India with him. Tom [Thomas W.] Braden, who now writes a column with my good friend Frank Mankiewicz, a column which I include in my paper, almost got me in the CIA. Tom was then Allen Dulles' assistant, and I filled out all the CIA forms. But then the suggestion came, probably through David Lloyd, that I join the staff of the White House temporarily on a per diem basis, and that I did. That takes me up to the White House period.

HESS: What are a few of the positions that you've


held since that time?

LOEB: Well, as I say, this was a temporary situation. At the end of the four months Murphy wanted me to go over to work at the Democratic National Committee for Mr. McKinney, and that was all set. I may say, rather immodestly, that it turned out that I had traveled more politically, in a sense, been in more states and had more contacts than most of the people at the White House, on the White House staff at the time, so I began to be given political jobs and Charlie wanted me at the national committee.

Perhaps this is not the right time to go into the whole Stevenson business, but after it was all set for me to go to the national committee, then the Stevenson people in Chicago wanted me to organize the "Draft Stevenson" campaign which I was about ready to do when Stevenson issued the statement, we thought,


pulling out. Then Averell Harriman asked me to open an office for him, and I became executive director of his campaign, which is a story in itself, and then afterwards his personal assistant, not in the Government, just outside the Government. When our side lost in 1952, through a combination of circumstances, Roger Tubby and I decided to try to buy a paper together, and we bought this paper and we have been at Saranac Lake as co-editors and co-publishers of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and since 1960 of the Lake Placid News, a weekly, ever since, except that Roger Tubby hasn't been back since 1960, and I took four and a half years out to serve President Kennedy as Ambassador to Peru and then to Guinea in Africa. Since then I've been right back here.

HESS: Fine. Let's go back to 1941 for just a moment and the Union for Democratic Action. Can you tell


me a little bit about the founding of that organization? Why was it founded? Why was it thought to be necessary to have an organization of this nature at this time?

LOEB: Because it all had to do with the foreign affairs battle at the time. There was the William Allen White Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, but many of us on the liberal side and some who were or who had been members of the Socialist Party, felt that it was a pretty conservative organization. We wanted to be interventionists but at the same time we wanted to express our views about domestic policy, and as I recall, we called it a "two-front fight for democracy both at home and abroad."

A lot of people at that time were pretty disillusioned in terms of the foreign policy, the pacifist foreign policy of Norman Thomas, who was a great public figure and a great human


being, but probably was more pacifist than anything else, and also a civil libertarian, for which I respected him. But many of us didn't go along with him on the issue of war, and as you recall, the interesting thing was that the Union for Democratic Action, with Reinhold Niebuhr as chairman, was founded on May 10th. At that time, the Communists and all of the Communist fellow travelers were also isolationists, because this was during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. But then, following June 22 when the Soviet Union was invaded by Hitler Germany, the Communists immediately became arch-interventionists.

As a matter of fact, it was said of Michael Quill, who was head of the Transport Workers Union, who was at least a fellow traveler, if not more, that he changed his line faster than anybody else. He is reputed to have changed


his line in the middle of a speech when somebody handed him a notice saying that the Soviet Union had been invaded, and he's supposed to have changed his line from calling it an imperialist war to calling it a war of liberation. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but anyway, this was the situation. And we remained, as I may say, staunchly anti-Communist, the Union for Democratic Action did, and later the ADA did too.

As the situation changed, the Soviet Union by this time had broken its pact with the Nazis, was invaded, and then we were at war, we were in effect allies with the Soviet Union, and a great united front grew up in all sorts of circles. As a matter of fact, those of us in the Union for Democratic Action, and later in ADA, were resistant of it, staunchly resistant. In fact, we were called by some people the "hang-back


boys," because we refused to be involved in anything, even most of us in things like the Russian War Relief, bec