Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened December, 1979
September 30, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Rowe, when did you join President Roosevelt's staff as an Administrative Assistant?
ROWE: I was on the White House staff before I was an Administrative Assistant. I went over early in 1938 as an assistant to Jimmy Roosevelt who was then the President's secretary. I had been a lawyer in various Government agencies and the last one I was in was the SEC and I was writing occasional speeches for Jimmy because he was very busy, but he was still trying to run for Governor of Massachusetts and when he started to write a speech he tied up large segments of the Government for two or three days, so I
ROWE: '39. There was an act in '37. And I was appointed the first one, the first Administrative Assistant, in July 1939. The President appointed three and I happened to take my oath first so I was number one, in terms of time.
HESS: Who were the other gentlemen at that time?
ROWE: Lauchlin Currie was brought in from the Federal
HESS: Just what were your duties?
ROWE: Well, the President once described my duties as that of a bird dog, which was to do, in effect, whatever he told me to do and occasionally I would do things of my own without being told. I did a variety of things. It was a relatively small staff in those days. This was before the war, when there were the three secretaries. I used to kid some of my friends on the Truman staff after the war when I came back and said I found nine men doing what I used to do. But I did what I would call the political personnel
HESS: How did you carry out your White House congressional liaison work? After the President had decided what measures he wanted to get through Congress, just what steps did he take to get
ROWE: He didn't take them in the involved way we seem to do it now -- the present administration, the Johnson administration, or I suppose the Truman, but I can't remember enough about the Truman administration. In our day, the lead was usually taken by the department concerned, much more than today and much less centralization in the White House. Occasionally he would have someone -- financial legislation was drafted, for instance, by people like Tommy [Thomas] Corcoran, my law partner, and Ben Cohen. I did some work before I went to the White House on these, and they would do the drafting and also carry it through the Hill. So, in effect, you had a functional group in a department or an agency or even some outside who understood the substance very well, drafted it and worked on it, but also did all the political lobbying for it. I would go down on various bills, agriculture occasionally, once in a while, really to
HESS: Did President Roosevelt make calls to the Hill much in the nature of Lyndon Johnson's type of operation?
ROWE: Oh, yes, he did a lot of that. Not, I would assume, as much as Johnson did, but on the important legislation, he would be on the telephone or calling Senators or Congressmen in to see him, that sort of thing. He did that.
HESS: Just how did President Roosevelt conduct his relations with his staff?
ROWE: Very loosely and informally. I'm talking, of course, about the prewar period; I left just before the war broke out. So, I'm not talking about the war period although there was a build-up of staff just the year before that. It was very informal. He did break down the staff duties. He had an appointments secretary, he
HESS: Did he have something in the nature of a daily staff meeting?
ROWE: No, he didn't. The only time the staff ever seemed to get together was before press conferences. He had two press conferences a week, as I remember, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Usually the staff would come in ahead of him, just to sit around. Sometimes he would ask them questions about what he ought to say and shouldn't say but it was very informal. Roosevelt was usually available to each member of the staff. The only problem I ever had was occasionally getting in, when his appointments secretary, who had all the
HESS: What was the relationship between Judge Samuel I. Rosenman and the White House staff during your period of service?
ROWE: He was then a judge in New York. He did appear time to time. I remember mostly he appeared when I was there during the 1940 campaign and that was as a speechwriter. The President had great faith in the Judge as a speechwriter. And the Judge would slip in and out. I think it's fair to say, my memory is not too accurate on this, but on a major speech Sam would appear, irrespective of campaigns. The President had