Oral History Interview with
William J. Randall
William J. Randall was Chief Real Estate Appraiser for the Jackson County Assessor's office (Eastern Jackson County), 1932-34, and appeared before Truman as a member of the Board of Equalization. He served as a member of Congress, 4th Missouri District, 1959-77.
March 15, 1976
by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill
See also: William J. Randall Oral History by Niel M. Johnson of the Harry S. Truman Library.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. 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 transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.
Opened July, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
William J. Randall
March 15, 1976
by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill
STILLEY: Congressman Randall, you said that you grew up in Independence near President Truman's home. What are some of your earliest recollections of President Truman?
RANDALL: My earliest recollection was in that very--shall I say bitter and divisive--primary campaign of 1922; and that's been a long time. It was Mr. Truman's first effort to public office, Eastern Judge of the County Court. The principal contender was a banker by the name of E. E. Montgomery of Blue Springs, Missouri. Mr. Truman at that time enjoyed the support, as he did during all of his contests, of the Pendergast faction. There
was another faction in Jackson County of substantially equal strength known as the Shannon faction.
As you so well know, Bill, the Pendergast faction took the name of the Goats, while the Shannon faction took the name of the Rabbits. This was a very long, and very bitter primary, and Mr. Truman prevailed; but two years later--and I believe I'm correct on my dates--in 1924 he was defeated. But perhaps, or probably because of the bitterness of the campaign, he was defeated by a man by the name of Rummel, Judge [Henry W.] Rummel, who was Republican. And then he was out of office for two years and came back to win the office of Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court.
Yes, my first recollection of Mr. Truman was as a younger man, and also his appearances in that campaign, sometimes with the late E. E. Montgomery. One of the things that I remember particularly was the caravans, the long caravans of the partisans of those two opponents. And at one point, I'm not certain whether it was Blue Springs, or at
least somewhere in that vicinity, in the outlying parts of the county, the caravans were so long that they came almost upon a collision course with each other. They were going at right angles to each other, and I distinctly recall an arrangement was made in fairness to both of the caravans that there was not a break and one was left to pass while the other waited. To show total and complete impartiality, one car would go through the intersection at right angles to the other caravan, and then one car of the other caravan, and they switched back and forth, one car and one car, until. the caravan finally cleared that intersection. I guess that's one of my first memories of Mr. Truman,
The next would be, of course, his services as Presiding Judge. I was away after our graduation in 1927 for four years in the university and, finally, I came back to know him in the fall of 1932, The election of 1932, which you so well remember was the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And then for those two or three years there was rather closely associated with him.
Again, not closely in the sense that we would see each other every day, but I became the chief real estate appraiser for Eastern Jackson County in the Assessor's office, under Walter Miller. Mr. Truman during those two years there really three years, '32, '33 and '34 (he ran for the Senate in 1934)--we had occasion to appear as sort of an expert witness before the Board of Equalization during those summer months when the Board would meet on those three years, and appeared before him as a member of the Board of Equalization many times. Of course, we knew him then.
Then I think something that might not have reached the notice of too many persons, was the fact that as Eastern Judge during those years in which Mr. Truman was Presiding Judge, was the late E. I. "Buck" Purcell, known as "Buck" Purcell. Buck Purcell was my first sponsor in political life, and Mr. Truman relied on his good right arm, Buck Purcell, for many chores to be done, particularly in that 1934 campaign. I recall
during the summer of 1934 I made several trips, several hurried trips, in the last week of that campaign to different places in western Missouri in behalf of Mr. Truman. To speak for him at the last moment when he perhaps had planned to be there himself, or had accepted the invitation, accepted the date, and found that he couldn't do it. We did that pretty much up and down the state line there; Harrisonville, Butler; and I guess one of the most interesting, or I could even say dramatic appearances, was at Nevada, Missouri, to which we had to drive very fast one evening in order to get there in time for the meeting. We found quite a substantial anti-Truman attitude in Vernon County, largely because of his association with the so-called "Pendergast Machine." I had to do my best that night to try to say to them that not everyone associated with the Pendergast Machine were evil men, that there were many, many good men that were part of that organization, and that many honorable men belonged to it. They were not in any way associated with some of the things for which the
organization had been criticized.
Well, Buck Purcell who was my sponsor--I was his protégé, I suppose is the best way to put it--asked me to make trips to such places as Warrensburg and even to Clinton, in Henry County, to speak in behalf of Mr. Truman. It wasn't always easy, because he had some very formidable opposition. As I recall at that time he had a man by the name of Jack Cochran--John Cochran, who was the City Counselor of the City of St. Louis--a very formidable opponent; and he had the other--his principal opponent, Tuck Milligan,
After Mr. Truman was nominated and elected in 1934 to the Senate, of course, he left Missouri and his job was to be in Washington. Some of us didn't see him during those six years nearly as much as we preferred; he was up here in Washington. But he would come home from time to time. He knew that he was going to have a very serious campaign against him in 1940, and actually it was so close that the decision was not made until quite some time after the polls closed. He had
running against him Governor Stark from the State of Missouri, Lloyd Stark, who disavowed many times that he would run, but yet at the last minute filed and made a very strong campaign for the Senate seat.
Hunter Allen had been Mr. Truman's driver for many years, both when he was on the County Court and during those visits home after he came to the Senate. And it fell to Mr. Allen's lot to drive him across the state in the 1940 senatorial primary.
Now the difference between those days and now is that a candidate in order to have any flair or any flamboyance, or attract attention, he always comes floating in on a helicopter, or comes in on a little plane. In the interest of saving time I suppose that had some considerations. But there was very little of that in 1940, or almost none. It meant that long distances had to be traversed by surface travel. That's all there was to it. And after the primary, not during the primary, but after the primary, Hunter Allen was so exhausted, so worn
out, as a result of criss-crossing back and forth across the state during that bitter primary of 1940, that he simply took down ill, he was exhausted. It fell my lot in 1940 in September, and I drove Mr. Truman myself for about, oh, the latter part of the month of September.
I found him at that time to be a hard worker, a sort of never say die sort of candidate, who took all of the reverses in stride, with coolness and calm, and, incidentally, he did have a lot of reverses, plenty of them. You must recall the Pendergast machine had just become a shambles as a result of the 1939 vote frauds, and Mr. Truman had to carry and shoulder his association with that organization; and he did so, in my judgment, handled it very, very, very admirably and very well. He pretty much paralleled what we said in connection with the Watergate scandals, that here the fact that there are a few rotten apples in every barrel doesn't mean all the apples in that barrel were spoiled or rotten. The fact that there were a small handful of those in connection with the Pendergast organization who had been
involved in certain vote frauds, didn't mean that there was many, many. In fact the great majority, the preponderance of all those in that organization, were honorable, decent, law abiding men; and that was the position he took, somewhat like some of the defenses in connection with Watergate would be, something parallel. But anyhow, I found from those weeks with Mr. Truman that he was a very unselfish person There was no-oh, he had the ordinary necessary ego of anyone who runs for public office. It's sort of a must, it's a necessity that you must not be lacking in confidence, or not suffering from any inferiority complex; but at the same time, with it all he was a very humble man. Humility was one of his trademarks, or certainly one of his principal characteristics. And as I said, he was an unselfish person; nothing domineering about him, treated everyone as if they were his equal. He never had at any time any appearance of looking dow