Charles S. Murphy Oral History Interview, May 21, 1969

Oral History Interview with
Charles S. Murphy

Former staff member in the office of the legislative counsel of the U.S. Senate, 1934-46; Administrative Assistant to the President of the United States, 1947-50; and Special Counsel to the President, 1950-53. Subsequent to the Truman Administration Murphy served as Under Secretary of Agriculture, 1960-65; and chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, 1965-68.

Washington, DC
May 21, 1969
Jerry N. Hess

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
Charles S. Murphy

Washington, DC
May 21, 1969
Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Murphy, you mentioned in one of your earlier interviews that the President asked you to mingle with the crowd to test their reactions to his "whistlestop" remarks during the campaign trips. Now I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about that. Did you just listen, or did you actually quiz the people in the crowd?

MURPHY: Mostly just listened. Occasionally, if the people seemed to be receptive, we would carry on casual conversations with them.

HESS: And did you report what you heard to the President?

MURPHY: Yes. When there seemed to be anything that was worthwhile reporting, we did.


HESS: Do you recall any of his reactions that we may have had, anytime there was something that may have been particularly interesting?

MURPHY: Well, not specifically. I think, in general, his reaction was one of pleasure and gratification that the crowds received him as well as they did. This was somewhat surprising I think to many of us and certainly very pleasing to all of us because the crowds did like President Truman. This was obvious and the feeling seemed to grow as we went along. This was in the trip in June 1948, I think, that I was talking about particularly, but this same pattern continued during the campaign trip in the fall. This pattern of reaction on the part of the crowd came as rather a complete surprise, both to the crowd, I might say, as well as to us. And so I think that this boosted President Truman's spirits and courage and he


thrived on it then and ever after that and I suppose before as well.

HESS: Who besides yourself would do this--mingle with the crowd like that?

MURPHY: Oh, as I recall, Clark Clifford and George Elsey among our White House staff. Of course, there were Secret Service agents out in the crowd. But Elsey and I had no particular assignment at these stops ordinarily. Other people had assignments to greet official visitors and things of that kind but we did not. Occasionally, we were not able to leave the work that we were doing to get out in the crowd at all. But, it was generally our assignment to get out in the crowd and find out as much as we could about what they were thinking and saying, how they felt, and get the feel of the whole thing.

HESS: On the subject of the Research Division of


the Democratic National Committee, you referred to that organization in one of your earlier interviews but I would like to enlarge upon that just a little bit. Could you tell me why that organization was set up?

MURPHY: It was set up mainly to provide research material, material for speeches, in the 1948 campaign.

HESS: Do you recall who served on that?

MURPHY: The head of it was William L. Batt, Jr., David Lloyd--there were about six, if I recall, of the people that were brought in at a professional grade. David Lloyd and Kenneth Birkhead and Phil Dreyer and Frank Kelly and John Barriere and Johannes Hoeber.

Now this was done, I think, largely at the urging of the members of the White House staff, Clark Clifford and those of us who


worked with Clifford on the President’s speeches and material for the President’s speeches. We recognized that in the campaign there would be a great demand for things of that kind having to do with current issues and having to do with the places where the President might go. And we urged the President to get this kind of thing set up at the National Committee and he did. He arranged to have this done, have this set up, I think, about July 1948 and so they did send over memorandums having to do with issues. They sent over background material relating to places where the President was going and they sent over drafts of speeches. Their material was sent to the White House staff.

HESS: What was the relationship between the members of that organization and the regular members of the White House staff? Do you recall? Was it a good working relationship?


MURPHY: It was a quite good working relationship. They had people that I had not known before I guess. The head of the group, Bill Batt, was a very fine person, a capable fellow. And after the campaign began in September, when the President began to travel in September- -I recall he was on the road most of the time after that until the election, Clifford and Elsey went with him on the train. Now, I did not except for the last ten days swing. I stayed in Washington and operated the home base operation to provide material of this kind for speeches to the group on the train and so I worked with the Research Division quite closely. It turned out to be my responsibility to get the material out to the train. This included, usually, a draft of one major speech a day. And this was a very large undertaking for a small group to do and so the Research Division and its material were quite


helpful. Their drafts they sent over had to be substantially revised and I needed someone to work with me more closely than that, so I asked Bill Batt to send over the best man he had to work with me full time and he sent Dave Lloyd. And that’s the way Dave Lloyd first came to the White House and he stayed there from then on until the end of President Truman’s administration.

HESS: What was your estimation of Mr. Lloyd’s efficiency when he joined you?

MURPHY: Well, well, when he first joined us, I guess, I didn’t have any, but very quickly I came to have very high regard for his efficiency and ability and that’s why he stayed at the White House. I was not willing to let him go after he once got there.

HESS: Do you recall why some of the other members of the division were hired? Did you know anything


about these particular men?

MURPHY: No. No, so far as I remember, I didn’t know any of them before that. I’ve known some of them since then. Ken Birkhead has, over the years since then, been a very close friend of mine and John Barriere I’ve kept up with fairly well. Frank Kelly, I saw something of him after that. The other two I’ve lost track of. Phil Dreyer, the last I heard was out in Portland, Oregon, I guess.

HESS: It may have already been covered in Mr. Morrissey’s transcripts, but just what were some of the other duties that you had during the 1948 campaign, first while you were here in town before you joined the train, and then after you joined the train, what did you do besides work on the speeches? Anything particu1ar?


MURPHY: No. No, that’s all.

HESS: That was a pretty full-time job.

MURPHY: Well, that’s an understatement. I worked at it night and day, every day.

The arrangements were not well organized in the beginning. Part of this was due to a lack of understanding as to who was to be responsible for what in this regard and perhaps some lack of appreciation about the magnitude of the job.

Now the staff at the White House that regularly helped the President with his speeches was not very large. It consisted of Clark Clifford, George Elsey and me. Of course, we got help on the President’s behalf from government departments and agencies that had to do with the subject matter about which he might be speaking. From the State Department on foreign


policy matters and the Department of Agriculture on farm questions and so on. But the normal pattern of the President’s speeches was such in regular times, you would have a week or two notice ahead of time that he was going to make a speech and he would only make a major speech once a week or so perhaps. So, you would have considerable amount of time for a small number of people to work on it. But it was another matter in the campaign to turn out a major speech every day along with a good many smaller speeches at the same time.

Now, the President brought in, late in the summer of 1948, Dave Noyes and Bill Hillman. He did this without consultation, if that’s the proper word, with the members of the White House staff that worked in this field regularly. I think--and I don’t quarrel with him about this--I think he and perhaps some of his other advisers had some feeling


that the demands for help in this field during the campaign would be such that the regular White House staff could not handle them, either by reason of lack of capability or otherwise. But when he brought Dave Noyes and Bill Hillman in, he did not tell any of us exactly what functions each of us was to perform and this was very much in the nature of an Alphonse and Gaston act. That is, not wanting to overstep whatever bounds there might be.

My recollection is that the regular White House staff handled the staff work for speeches that the President made on his Labor Day trip. We went for a day, and maybe a day and a night out to Detroit and he spoke at a good many other places in Michigan and some in other states on the way out and back. Then after that, when he started out on his first long campaign trip, his first major speech, I


think, was to be a farm speech at the plowing contest and that would have been Dexter, Iowa.

HESS: Dexter, Iowa on September 18th.

MURPHY: That’s the speech. All right. Well, now, just because it was part of our regular business, we on the White House staff got up and prepared a speech for Dexter, Iowa and unbeknown to us, why Dave Noyes and Bill Hillman had just come in with a speech for Dexter, Iowa. And so, here’s the President with drafts of two speeches and no staff arrangements set up to resolve what to do with them. And no solution was reached for a long time.

He went, it must have been on the weekend before he started on that trip, he went on the Williamsburg down the Potomac River and he took some people from both crowds along with him.

HESS: Who went?


MURPHY: Well, I’m sure Clifford would have been there, and I suppose Dave Noyes and Bill Hillman. I didn’t go. The reason I was to stay at home and not go on the campaign trips was that my wife was expecting a baby and the baby was born on the fourth of October. Now, I began to worry about going off and leaving her so I went to the President in September, I guess, and asked if I could stay at home and he said, "Yes." I didn’t stay home as a part of a plan to run this office here, I stayed at home because we were expecting a baby, and he said that I could stay home. Well, also for this reason I didn’t go on this weekend trip down the Potomac at the beginning, but I did arrange to go down there and join them, I think, early Sunday morning when I went over here--and it was the only time I ever flew in an amphibian airplane--and took off at the naval air station and flew down to the lower part of the Potomac


where the Williamsburg was. This plane landed on the water and we bounced over to the Williamsburg, and somebody took me on a little boat and transferred me over there.

When I got there Sunday morning to see what had happened to that speech, and nothing had. So there it was Sunday morning and nothing had happened to that speech and no procedure had been set up for solving this question. I went around poking at different people to see if we could get some arrangement for doing this and I perhaps talked to the President. Told him he needn’t be unduly sensitive about this, that we were all working for him and we would do what he told us. I don’t remember actually whether I said that, but this might well have been the kind of thing. But we did, during the course of that day, work out an arrangement for completing that speech and my recollection is that the major part of the speech that he used eventually


was that prepared by the Noyes group--whoever prepared it. I think maybe "Bob" Carr had worked on that speech. At about that time, Dave Noyes and Bill Hillman brought in with them a man named Albert Z. Carr, "Bob" Carr, and he was the one of that group that actually could write. But as a result of this impasse, if that’s the proper word, when the President started out on his campaign trip, my recollection is that he had the completed draft of only one major speech. That is he had not more than two days worth of material when he left here and that was the situation when he started out on that campaign trip in 1948. And so we then had to send him out a major draft each day.

The pattern that evolved was that we would send a draft of a speech from here at night, it would be flown by courier plane that would land wherever that train was before day in the morning and they would put it on


the train and Clifford would get it and start to work with the President on it on the train until they had what the President wanted, and they usually used it that night.

Elsey was on the train with them and Elsey’s responsibility was to get up some notes, outlines, or texts for the whistlestops so that at the whistlestops the President would have somet