Oral History Interview with
Member of the Federal Trade Commission, 1945-56, and personal friend of Harry S. Truman since about 1935.
Lowell B. Mason
April 12, 1967 and April 13, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
See also the Lowell B. Mason Papers finding
[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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July 1968
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Lowell B. Mason
April 12, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Commissioner Mason, we are interested in your relationship to President Truman and the Truman administration. What was that relationship and when did it begin?
MASON: Jerry, my relationship with the Boss was, I should call, social, friendly and personal, because when he was President of the United States, I belonged to that rare, small, dedicated group which wasn't very important and not very powerful -- I was a Republican. In fact, the Boss calls me a "Truman Republican" even to this day. But perhaps because I was a Republican we didn't have to have any barriers between the two because there was no favor that I could ever ask him for that he could grant -- we were just close friends. That
all came about from a very interesting (to me) circumstance. When I was a young man back in 1934 and I came to Washington with Clarence Darrow, I became an attorney for a fellow who put up the money, the silent partner of Clark Griffith, on the Washington baseball team. Back in those days, the Washington Senators used to win league pennants, and they were very popular, and on opening day the seats were always gone, but as an attorney for Billy Richardson I had the best box in the park; and I wasn't a lobbyist and I wasn't in politics, though I had been when I was in Illinois as a young man, and all of the important members of the United States Senate and House used to come and sit in my box because there wasn't any obligation to them as if they were going to sit in, perhaps, a lobbyists box. Out of this habit grew the "Lowell B. Mason Chowder, Marching, and Baseball Club" -- [Alben] Barkley, [Arthur] Vandenberg, [Robert A.] Taft,
[Robert] LaFollette, Jerry [Gerald] Nye, Bert [Burton K.] Wheeler, Ed [Edwin C.] Johnson (I wish I could remember all of the men who were my close friends back in those days) -- always came. Curley [C. Wayland] Brooks was a Republican senator. And out of this sort of loose organization grew this club and its membership was dictated by the personal likes of the members who were in, I mean, the new people who were asked to join. I never importuned them to put anybody in after the first group; the Republicans would tell me who they liked; and it never had anything to do with seniority or political importance. Membership was controlled entirely by the man's personality, was he well liked by his colleagues, and it was a very interesting thing that many of the senior senators wouldn't be invited, I wouldn't be told to put them on the list; and some of the new ones who came in who endeared themselves to the hearts of the senior senators would get on the list very soon. I could name some very
prominent and powerful senators who rose to great heights -- well, we won't say anything about that -- but who never did get on the list to join our little informal baseball club. Vandenberg always said the only reason I invited him was because he had a private dining room so we could all eat lunch in there before we went to the game. He was a delightful and well beloved member of our group, but he used to make fun of himself on that basis. One day Senator Barkley spoke to me, and Mr. Sam too. He said, "Lowell, we want you to put a new senator on the list because we think he's a comer and we like him personally; he's a fellow by the name of Truman, newly elected senator from Missouri, and we want you to put him on the list of the invited." And so that's how I came to meet Harry Truman, and I shall never forget the second year that he had belonged to our group. It takes a good deal of organization when you move -- at that time there were only a dozen of the leaders -- when
you move them out to a ball park, and I used to borrow the cars of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House so as to save the taxi bills. And so I was always careful to call them all ahead of time and let them know what time we had to eat lunch, and we would eat in the Vandenberg room, so that we could all climb in these cars and get out there before the rush and also get out there before the President of the United States was there to throw the first ball. So this year I had very carefully checked all the senators and they all had agreed to come for the luncheon, which was promptly at 12 noon, because we had to leave before one o'clock. That morning I got a call from four of the most prominent ones. They said, "Lowell, we’re sorry, but the British ambassador has the Archbishop of Canterbury visiting him and they're going to the game and they would like to have me sit in their box -- maybe it's because I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee
or what, but I don't know. I'm just afraid that you'd better not count on me having lunch with you this day or going out, because I'm going to have to go with the British ambassador and the Archbishop of Canterbury."
I was worried because I knew that Mr. Truman was, by that time, a very important figure in national and international affairs, and I wondered whether he too -- I called -- and he said, "Oh, yes, Lowell," he said, "I was invited by the British ambassador and the Archbishop of Canterbury to eat lunch and sit in their box, and I told them I had already accepted an invitation from you."
Here I was, a young, punk attorney with no position at all, no standing in official Washington. Well, of course, that warmed my heart to this man and we have always been close friends and I have always been one of his ardent admirers; for Harry Truman was always a man whose personal. considerations were never controlled by what we call in Washington the "Potomac fever." I'll never forget when he
became Vice President of the United States, and he was a fellow who could stand a lot of kidding on him, so there were about fifteen of us all seated around the Vandenberg room, and I deliberately put him all the way down at the bottom of the table and put one of the very junior senators on my left. Mr. Sam always sat on my right, he was the Speaker of the House, and after grace, which for thirty-three years I have always given before we eat -- Jerry, let me read this grace because I think it should be in your record, because for thirty three years this has always opened our baseball luncheon:
Oh God, teach us to pay our debt to Thee by the quality of our lives not by the quality of our words. Grant us such a measure of Thy Spirit that our fellowship at this luncheon, the baseball game, and all places where we have gathered together, may echo the fellowship of the spirit Thou has taught us in the quiet of cathedrals, the solitude of woods and the majesty of sea and mountains. Teach us to respect the feelings of others more than our rights, and the rights of others more than our own feelings, to differ without anger, to know the bad, not just the good, and to know that it is better to earn liberty than to praise it.
I remember the first time Harry Truman heard this grace, he told me afterward how much he liked it, and I think this is so; because I've always felt that this man, Truman, was one whose approach to life was always personal rather than an approach to life of things, and he seemed to me a man who always respected the feelings of others more than he did his own rights, and the rights of others more than his own feelings. Maybe some people get to be President by a ruthless determination to be President; and perhaps others, like I feel about Harry Truman, get there because of their own innate quality of character.
Here we were, seated in the Vandenberg room, a dozen and a half of us, Harry Truman the newly elected Vice President of the United States -- I had stuck him way down at the bottom of the table along with Billy Richardson, the man who was half owner of the club, and as I said, I put a very junior senator on my left hand and Sam Rayburn was on my right. After grace, one of
the White House staff, it was either Harry Vaughan or Matt Connelly, who always came with us, and Matt was Harry Truman's secretary when he was a senator, I think it was Matt Connelly that got up, and he said, "Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that you know nothing whatever about protocol, because here you have the Vice President sitting way down here at the bottom of the table, furthest from the salt, and you've got a very junior senator [incidentally the senator was a good friend of all of ours] sitting on your left-hand side, and I think this is an affront to the Vice President and I think you should correct this before we go ahead with our eating."
And then Bert Wheeler and some other senator stood up and offered the same observations. Of course, I appeared to be very confused, Harry Truman was in on the gag all the time. The others weren't, and so I said, "Yes, you're right and I apologize, and therefore I shall ask the Vice
President to come and sit up here next to me." Whereupon Billy Richardson, who was vice president of the ball club, got up and came and sat down next to me, much to the amazement of everybody there...
HESS: He thought he was the one being referred to.
MASON: Yes, and, of course, we pretended he was too, and President Truman got a big kick out of this. He had that quality, you know, a lot of fellows don't have the ability to laugh at themselves. This is something that Harry Truman certainly had. He and I had an understanding with one another. I don't know how many others, but not many people, not many men in the United States read Pickwick Papers every year, but Harry Truman and I always read Pickwick Papers. We were brought up on it, I suppose, as children. I know my father read it to me. And so when the two of us were together, why, if he wanted to classify
somebody as a character or tell what sort of a person they were, why, he would refer to a character in Pickwick Papers, and he didn't have to say what kind of a man he was, because I knew instantly what kind of a man he was. I remember one day we were standing in the doorway of his office -- the Vice President's office -- in the Capitol, it looked out on a corridor that lead into the Senate chamber, and a fellow went by, and Mr. Truman turned to me and he said, "Lowell, there goes Alfred Jingle." Well, I knew right away what kind of fellow this guy was, He was -- well, anybody that's read Pickwick Papers will know what kind of a fellow Alfred Jingle was. I learned a lot of things from the Boss, a lot of things. I don't know whether they are apocryphal or not, but I think they helped me in my life a great deal. I used to smoke an awful lot, and I thought, "Now, when I'm around the President of the United States, he doesn't smoke; it's a discourtesy to smoke, especially in his own office
or anyplace else," so I gave up smoking. And strangely enough I found my eyesight became better. A doctor told me that smoke shrinks the capillaries that feed the blood to your eyes; anyway, this is what he told me and I found my eyesight greatly improved. I'm glad that I did give it up.
Another thing that some of the people might not agree with, but I do -- Harry Truman took a drink. He says, "Lowell, one drink is enough. Two is not enough." I always followed his rule on that. Before dinner I always have a drink of bourbon and that does relax the capillaries and sort of takes away the gnawing exasperations of life, and I think one does his family a favor when he can sit down to dinner without carrying over to the dinner table all the petty irritations that accumulate during the day. And I learned that from Harry Truman.
And I also learned another thing -- Harry Truman would always make his important decisions in the
morning. When he had to front-up to a world-shaking problem and he had to be surrounded by a lot of people who were brilliant, and many of them, apparently friendly, but men with all their own special interests at heart, and you have to be on the guard. He'd see those people in the morning. He said, "Lowell, in the afternoon if you're a little tired, just have your friends around you." I noticed the Boss always liked to have me around, because we were what the Italians would call simpatico. So I'd get around in the afternoon when he didn't have to have his guard up. No one should have to have their guard up all the time. They shouldn't have to have their guards up when they're not keyed up to the very pitch of what one has to be when he lives in the great white heat of the most powerful office in the world.
Well, anyway, so we always went to the ball games together. Strangely enough, after he got
to be Vice President, he still came, and then when he became President of the United States, he still came to our luncheon, but then instead of sitting in my box, he always invited our whole group to come and sit in the box with him. And so, of course, we had lots of fun, and strangely enough, after he left the presidency, Harry Truman, if he was anywhere in the East, he would always come back and eat lunch with us, but he wouldn't go on to the ball game. He would say, "No, Lowell, I've got to meet Bess now." He wouldn't go on to the ball game. That, Jerry, was how I came to know this man on a very personal., intimate relationship, which had nothing to do with politics.
Then one day, Charlie March, who was the Republican member o