Oral History Interview with
Assistant to the General Counsel of the War Production Board, 1941-43; Captain, United States Marine Corps, 1943-45; Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, 1945; Executive Assistant to the Attorney General, 1945-48; Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Division, 1948-50; Assigned to establish the Office of Economic Stabilization, 1950; Acting Deputy Attorney General, 1950; Assistant Attorney General and head of the Anti-Trust Division, 1950-52; and private law practice in Washington, D.C., 1952-76.
H. Graham Morison
August 1, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Morison 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. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Morison 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
H. Graham Morison
August 1, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin, Mr. Morison, would you tell me a little about your personal background: where you were born, where you were educated and what positions you have held?
MORISON: I was born in Briston, Virginia-Tennessee.
HESS: Were you born on the Virginia side?
MORISON: No. I was born on the Tennessee side. It's hard for a Tennessee mountaineer to just tell "a little," but I'll try.
I am the only living child of Judge Hugh G. Morison and Lucile Barker Morison. My mother was the oldest child of Colonel J. M. Barker, a Confederate veteran who had served with Mosby in the War Between the States, and Margaret Kane Barker. My father
was the oldest child of Judge H.S.K. Morison and Annis Kyle Morison of Scott County, Virginia. My father graduated from Virginia Military Institute in the Class of 1899, and one of his roommates was General George C. Marshall. After admission to the Virginia Bar he joined the legal staff of what was to become the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad. In time, he became its General Counsel and briefly served as president until he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee in 1923.
As a teenager, the unexpected and premature death of my father from a heart attack in 1926, was a deeply traumatic experience for, as an only child, the relationship with him was close
and he was the center of my life. Because there was a depression at the time, I worked my way through the academic school at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and its law school, graduating in the law class of 1932. I then joined my uncle, A. Kyle Morison, in the practice of law in Bristol, Virginia. Remember now, this was in the depths of the depression and I took any case that came along. In most cases, my fees were paid in produce since "cash was scarce."
I argued my first appellate case in a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1935, and won by a unanimous court. A partner of a New York law firm was there to hear argument in the case that followed mine and asked me to become an associate in the New York law firm of Miller, Owen, Otis & Bailey. After some deliberation, I went to New York and joined
the firm as an associate. (The firm name is now Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher.)
I introduced myself to the senior partner, Governor Nathan L. Miller, and in time we became friends despite my lowly position in the firm. From Governor Miller's beginnings as a country lawyer in upstate New York, he was employed by Andrew Carnegie to effect the mergers that created U.S. Steel Corporation and was vice President and General Counsel of U.S. Steel continuously except during the term he served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and later when he was Governor of New York State. Governor Miller and I, despite the disparity of our ages, shared the same belief about the role of the lawyer and he took a personal interest in me, which contributed much to my maturity as a lawyer.
Governor Miller was called back to U.S. Steel to devote full time as their General Counsel in 1941 as the war clouds in Europe deepened. It was at this time that the Governor introduced me to John Lord O'Brian whom he had come to know as an able lawyer and as "Governor Hughes' man" in the State Legislature.
Mr. O'Brian had been appointed General Counsel of the War Production Board which had been created to regulate the nation's resources and production in order to provide armaments for our Western Allies and to fulfill the massive needs for our Army, Navy, and Air Force. Mr. O'Brian had asked Governor Miller to recommend capable young lawyers who might want to join his staff. Governor Miller had measured my feelings rightly and knew that I would welcome the experience and challenging opportunity
that this undertaking offered. So, I was named Assistant General Counsel to the War Production Board in 1941, and served under Mr. O'Brian.
I met President Truman for the first time while he was a member of the Senate and had been appointed Chairman of the so-called Truman Committee whose task was to hold hearings on complaints of violations of the act establishing the War Production Board, etc. This was prior to the declaration of war in December by President Roosevelt and Attorney General Robert Jackson had insisted that unless and until there was a declaration of a state of war, the War Production Board had no authority to impose limitations on material, etc. and that the industry committees which had been appointed were suspect because of the probable agreements made by competitors
in such capacities. Mr. O'Brian took the position that although war had not at that time been declared, its imminence was so probable and the need for war production to supply our Allies with armaments so imperative that the Justice Department should not set aside this structure and its operation, agreeing to confer with the Attorney General at any time.
Senator Truman was aware of the position of the Department of Justice and felt strongly that some area of accommodation should be provided by the Department of Justice. At that time point, Mr. O'Brian suggested to Don Nelson, the Chairman, that a meeting be held with Senator Truman and Senator Truman invited Nelson, Mr. O'Brian and any others on the staff they wished to bring to meet with him. I was asked to go with them and met President Truman at that meeting and for the first time discovered his
breadth of understanding of the problem of production and the function his committee would perform in aiding the war effort. After stating briefly his intentions as to holding hearings not alone in Washington but throughout the United States on complaints of violations of the limitation orders, the alleged theft and misappropriation of critical materials and all other matters related to the needs of those times, he said something along this line:
I have spent most of my adult life in studying ancient and modern history and from this you find that from the decline of the Roman Empire until the present, the venality and greed of man has occurred over and over in times of great stress of the nations of the world. This is occurring in our country today and I believe that my task with the Committee is to unearth the truth and if there is found to be theft, misappropriation of critical materials, particularly in industries that have been subsidized by the taxpayers' money or if hurriedly made and defective weapons have been delivered for our Allies abroad and this was occasioned by theft or mismanagement, it
should be exposed as a lesson to all others that our Government will not condone such venality.
Indeed, despite Bob Jackson's proper position as to the lack of a state of war, I must take into account that in truth the United States will be impelled to go to the defense of our Allies against Hitler and I am sure that he can be persuaded to understand this.
I confess that I was overwhelmed for I did not know President Truman and in what he said so pointedly, I had the first glimpse of the breadth and earthiness of his understanding of the function of the Government of our nation facing a state of war.
Senator Truman was a quiet-spoken and modest man. I knew that he had been associated with Tom Pendergast of the Democratic organization in Kansas City who had elevated him to be judge of the County Court, but this seemed to me a thing of the past in view of his understanding of this critical problem. He ended our conference by asking our group to give
him guidance in the areas of violations suspected or known and where the orders we had issued appeared to have not been followed. Mr. O'Brian agreed that we would do so and thanked him although Donald Nelson had little to say. On our way back to our offices, I talked with Mr. O'Brian and the others and expressed my view that in Senator Truman we had a powerful ally who completely understood the necessities of our function in the interim and until a declaration of war should come.
I remained in that position until, by agreement with Mr. O'Brian and with Donald Nelson's delayed approval, I secured my release and enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps.
After "bootcamp" training at Parris Island, South Carolina, I attended Officer's Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia and was appointed
a second lieutenant and joined in the formation of the Fourth Division of the Marine Corps in Hawaii, under the command of General Clifford Cates. The Division participated in several assaults in the Pacific -- Kwajalein-Roi-Namur, Saipan, and Tinian. When I enlisted I gave my occupation as "steamfitter" to avoid being commissioned and assigned to serve in some legal capacity in Washington. Through a "fluke," however, my legal background was discovered after the Division had "secured" at Saipan and I was ordered back to Washington as an Intelligence Officer on the staff of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The "spit and polish" life required of me as a member of the Commandant's staff in Washington was just too much for me to bear. I tried every way I could to be transferred back to the Pacific or -- if the war really came to an
end -- to be released from service. Finally, I went to the only friend I had in Government who I thought might help me; Tom C. Clark of Texas, who was then Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and who is now a retired justice of the Supreme Court. Tom said he would do his best, but thought all Marines "wanted out" and it was not going to be easy.
Thereafter, President Roosevelt died and Vice President Truman became President; "the bomb" was dropped on Hiroshima and the war in the Pacific was ended. President Truman terminated Francis Biddle as Attorney General and named Tom Clark Attorney General. Out of the blue, I received my discharge from the Marine Corps!
When I went to Tom Clark to thank him, he told me there was a "trick" to my discharge. He had requested my discharge on the basis that the Department of Justice urgently needed
my services. He felt the "Biddle men" in the Department were bitter about Attorney General Biddle's dismissal and were out "to do him in." He wanted me to join the Department for about six months and, since I had no close relationships with attorneys in the Department, to serve as his Special Assistant and as a roving emissary to meet, come to know, and talk with attorneys in the Department and advise him of what I learned about the workings of the Department so that he could effect a sound reorganization. He said he felt that in six months I could return to my law firm in New York. During that six months period, however, I found that the challenge to me as a lawyer of public service in the Department was most satisfying and I served in the Department for over six years, resigning in 1952.
During my six years at Justice, I was,
successively, Special Assistant and Executive Assistant to the Attorney General, Head of the Japanese Claims Program, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division, during which time I was selected by Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, to head the American delegation to the Economic and Social Council at Geneva in 1948. Upon my return and at President Truman's request, I took on the special assignment of organizing and preparing for the establishment of the Office of Economic Stabilization at the start of the Korean war. When I accomplished this the President requested and the Attorney General appointed me Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division. After my retirement from Justice in 1952, I established my own law firm here in Washington and still maintained an active practice here.
Let me go back a little. Before permitting my name to be sent to the Senate for confirmation as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division, I requested Attorney General Clark to arrange for an appointment with President Truman. I met with him and explained that, although I had been a life-long Democrat, I had organized and campaigned vigorously as the head of the National Lawyers Committee Against the Third Term when Roosevelt announced as a candidate for a third term. President Truman replied that this was proper for me to have done and that history would in time reveal that it was a tragedy that Roosevelt was persuaded to seek a third term. He also said that he had introduced a resolution in the Senate for a constitutional amendment to limit the Presidency to two four-year terms. Shortly thereafter, my nomination was confirmed by the Senate
Judiciary Committee and the Senate.
My new post was a challenging one. The Civil Division is the largest civil "law office" in the world, responsible for every type of civil action involving the U. S. Government.
As head of the Division, I personally tried two lengthy and difficult trials against the United Mine Workers and its president, John L. Lewis, involving the national emergency created by strikes of the United Mine Workers. Following the last United Mine Workers trial in 1948, my devoted friend, the late Dean Acheson, suggested to Tom Clark that he needed a proper official to head the American delegation to the Economic and Social Council at Geneva and since I seemed a bit "weary," he thought I should be the one to go and that the sea voyage would give me a good rest and I
could take my wife with me. He said the staff that would accompany me would do all the work and permit me to have a good rest.
My wife, my mother, and I went. We had ten days in Paris and then went to Geneva. I found the work of the Committee at the League of Nations Building a demanding but stimulating challenge. The task of the Committee of the Economic and Social Council was to recommend to the Economic