Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.
Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, Taxation Division, 1946; Executive Assistant to the U.S. Postmaster General, 1946-48; Assistant Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1948-49; Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1949-50; and Secretary of the Army, 1950-53.
New York, N. Y.
January 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Pace 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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.
New York, N. Y.
January 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin, Mr. Pace, and for the record, will you give me just a little of your background?
PACE: Well, I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1912, son of two citizens of Arkansas, both born and raised in northwest Arkansas. My father was a distinguished lawyer and my mother had been president of a bank at 27.
I was an only child, and moved very rapidly through school, finished high school when I was fourteen. My mother very wisely didn't allow me to go to college, I went to preparatory school and then on to Princeton and Harvard Law School. From there I returned to my native heath of Little Rock, Arkansas and became an Assistant District Attorney and served in that capacity for two years and then I became a General Counsel for the Revenue Department of the State of Arkansas. I tried a great many cases in the Supreme Court of our state and a couple in the Supreme Court of the United States.
Then came the war, I was in the Air Force, at home and abroad, and after the war I came back to Washington and went into the Federal Government in the Department of Justice, in the Tax Division, as an Assistant Attorney General. After that I became Executive Assistant to the Postmaster General; Assistant Director of the Budget; Director of the Budget; Secretary of the Army. Later I became executive vice president and then president and chairman of the board of General Dynamics Corporation. Today I am president of the International Executive Service Corps, an organization that sends retired businessmen to the developing countries on a non-profit basis to upgrade the management capabilities of developing countries. And I am chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
HESS: Very good. We'll elaborate on a good many of those points, but what are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?
PACE: Well, I had met Mr. Truman when I was in the Department of Justice, but I had only met him. I had been recommended for the Department of Justice by Senator [John L.] McClellan, who was an old friend of Mr. Truman's and of course, Attorney General Tom Clark, who also was a friend of Mr. Truman's. While I had met him, it was not until I went into the Post
Office Department that I really first came to know Mr. Truman more than casually. I was selected for this position by Postmaster General [Robert E.] Hannegan, who was also chairman of the Democratic Party. And he said, "I need someone who has the ability to keep his hands on the administrative functions of the Post Office, because a great deal of my time will be addressed to the requirements of the Democratic Party."
When Mr. Hannegan left as Postmaster General, he evidently had spoken to President Truman about me as to his own sense that I might possibly make a further contribution in Government. And during that period, James Webb, who was the Director of the Budget, had spoken to me about becoming the number two man in the Budget.
President Truman called me over one day and offered me the position of Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. I'm sure this was as a result of a conversation between him and Mr. Hannegan, although Bob never said anything to me about it. I told him that Mr. Webb had talked to me about the other position, and said I'd like the opportunity to think about it. He said, "Fine." And I returned two days later and said that I felt I preferred to be the Assistant Director of the Budget.
"Well," he said, "your choice surprises me Frank."
I said, "I thought it might, Mr. President, but I believe
the Budget will give me an almost X-ray view of the whole governmental process. Chairmanship of the CAB is a more glamorous, but in my estimation a more specialized assignment, and I prefer the more fundamental."
"Well," he said, "you made a wise choice."
HESS: Going back just a little bit, were you familiar with Mr. Truman's handling of the Truman Committee?
PACE: Not really, no, I did not know him during that period.
HESS: Did you attend the Democratic National Convention in 1944, that was held in Chicago?
PACE: I did not.
HESS: What was your reaction when Mr. Truman was selected for the second spot on the ticket, any particular reaction at that time?
PACE: Not really, I didn't know Mr. Truman that well at that time. Mr. Roosevelt was such an overpowering figure as President that the selection of the Vice President seemed almost inconsequential, and since I wasn't in on the infighting involving Mr. [Henry] Wallace, it really did not make a deep impression on me.
HESS: When did you become aware that President Roosevelt's health was failing seriously?
PACE: I think very much towards the end of his life. People whom I knew discussed it, I didn't know it personally, but it was quite clear that he only had a limited period of time to continue as President.
HESS: Where were you when you heard of his death and just what were the impressions that went through your mind at that time?
PACE: Well, I must say to you I can't tell you where I was when I heard of his death. I think I felt the shock that every concerned American citizen felt.
Here was a man who had moved us through possibly the greatest crisis of our entire national history. He had brought us out of one of the most difficult periods in history. He had an absolutely pervasive personality, and one tended to equate the future of the U.S. with Mr. Roosevelt. And therefore, I guess I had the same sense that a great deal of the things you had counted on were now gone.
HESS: What kind of a job did you think Mr. Truman would do?
PACE: You know, I have now known six Presidents, some of them quite well, but I don't think anyone can predict in advance what kind of a President a man will be. The Presidency is
essentially a rack on which a man is either stretched or strained. If he has stretch, those qualities show; if he doesn't, the strain likewise shows.
I had no way of knowing the really enormous amount of stretch that existed in Mr. Truman and I had no real way of realizing his potential, and I doubt that the people that knew him much more intimately than I fully realized what he could be.
HESS: One further question about Mr. Truman's earlier years, but you had graduated from Princeton in '33 and from Harvard in '36 and then you went back to Arkansas. You were going back to Arkansas just about the same time that Mr. Truman was elected Senator and coming to Washington, but do you recall anything about his particular associations in Missouri with the Pendergast machine or any of that?
PACE: Well, I didn't know anything about that. My family as I said came from northwest Arkansas which borders on Missouri. Members of my mother's family lived in Joplin, Missouri, they knew Mr. Truman quite well, and thought very highly of him. My uncle, Grover James, was one of Missouri's most distinguished attorneys and he told me that he held Mr. Truman in very high regard.
Now, if you think well of a man in a state when he's in politics, and you are somewhat a politician as my uncle was, you can be reasonably sure that the assessment is a sound one, because you know men very well in states like Missouri and Arkansas. So, I came forward with an impression of quality.
HESS: Two other gentlemen from Arkansas, such as yourself, who played prominent roles in the Government during the Truman administration, were John Snyder and Leslie Biffle. Did you have any association with those gentlemen in the early years?
PACE: Oh, yes, very intimate association. Of course, John being Secretary of the Treasury when I was Director of the Budget, we were opposite sides of the same course. We had an excellent relationship, never a difficulty between us. I think our points of view were really quite similar. And I would say that we worked very effectively in harness.
Les Biffle was very special, he had known my father very intimately, and Les made my path in the Congress a very simple and easy one. I believe he was one of the most respected men in the whole Congress and if you were treated well and thought of well by Les Biffle, your capacity to be effective in the congressional scene was indeed very great and I can't tell
you how many times Les, had me out for lunch with top Senators and top Congressmen and my relationship with the Congress over my years in Washington was of the highest order.
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little bit, but do you recall in the 1948 campaign when Mr. Biffle dressed as a chicken farmer and went out around the country. Did you ever hear him tell about that trip?
PACE: Oh, yes, indeed I did. Les had a great human touch. You look in any room and Les would be in the last seat in there, an enormously modest man, but a man of great intuition. When he went out on such a tour he got a clear sense of farmer reaction.
Of course, Mr. Truman was very special. Particula