Oral History Interview with
James H. Rowe
Technical advisor, to International Military Tribunal,
Nuremberg, 1945-46; consultant, on aviation, etc., to the Bureau of
the Budget, 1947; member, Commission on Organization of the Executive
Branch of the Federal Government, 1948-49; member, 1948 Foreign Service
Selection Board, State Department; member, special commission, U.S.
"spy" inquiry, State Department, 1948; chairman, commission to reorganize
government of Puerto Rico, 1949; chairman, committee on personnel to
Secretary of State, 1950.
September 30, 1969 and January
by Jerry N. Hess
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Pages 1-98
Appendix A . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .
. . . .99-126
Appendix B. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .
. . .127-161
[Notices and Restrictions
| Interview Transcript |
List of Subjects Discussed]
The Presidents relationships with an opposition Congress
"There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy
of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or
in the legislature, as its best recommendation ... But however inclined
we might be to insist upon an unbounded complaisance in the Executive
to the inclination of the people, we can with no propriety contend for
a like complaisance to the humors of the legislature .... The representatives
of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they
are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience
and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter;
as if the exercise of its rights by either the executive or the judiciary,
were a breach of privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often
appear disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments;
and as they commonly have the people on their side, they always act
with such momentum as to make it very difficult for the other members
of the Government to maintain the balance of the Constitution."
The Federalist, #70
This is a study of the relationship of the American President to the
Congress when the opposition party holds control of both Houses.
Since the November election, numerous statements in the press by the
leaders of both parties and by private citizens, and much editorial comment
indicate an expectation that the President and the Congress must "cooperate"
if government-by-stalemate is to be avoided. None of this comment attempts
to define that is meant by "cooperation". It is generally expected,
it seems, that some kind of bipartisan mechanism should be created and
that through such machinery, and a willingness to compromise opposing
points of view, the nation will be governed satisfactorily by the Executive
and Legislative Branches together.
The purpose of this memorandum is to examine whether such “cooperation"
is feasible. And if "cooperation", as the term is used here
the sense that it means some sort of machinery, is found to be impracticable,
what course of acts on should the President pursue in his relationships
with the new Congress?
The recommendations are based upon a study of similar situations
in the past; on some reading in the political scientists; by discussions
with disinterested students of the Federal Government such as Emmerich
Merriam and Brownlow, and by a few conversations with observers of the
Congress of 1931-33. Indirect (and discreet) conversations with some of
President Hoover’s advisers during that period also took place.
Also considered were the privately expressed views of the practical politicians.
It should be said in the beginning that the striking phenonomen is the
unanimity among all these divergent groups that formal "cooperation"
between the Democratic President and the Republican Congress is unworkable.
Arrayed against this unanimity, however., is the public feeling that
"politics" cannot be allowed to interfere with action on the
national and international problems facing the United States.. This attitude
is continually reflected in the press. A recent news story, for instance,
says a group of prominent citizens have formed a committee which will
insist that a "mechanism must be set up which will encourage teamwork"
between the Executive and Legislative Branches. And the Washington
Post has several times said editorially that there had been too much
talk about cooperation and the time has come to implement such talk with
The situation President Truman will face is not new -- it is not even
unusual. The majority of American Presidents have been confronted
sometime during their terms with control of either or both Houses vested
in the opposition. Nineteen of them have had this experience. Twenty-seven
times (counting such "repeaters" as Tyler, Johnson, Hayes, Cleveland
and Wilson separately each time they faced a hostile Senate and House)
have the Presidents been forced to govern with a minority of their own
party in one or both Houses. Ten Presidents, including President Truman
(but excluding Hoover, although for all practical purposes his Senate
was hostile because the insurgent western Republicans coalesced with the
Democrats), had both Houses against them.
(Appendix a lists the Presidents and the size of
the majorities against them.) '
To generalize about the Presidents briefly (and unsafely) - Various Presidents
attempted various techniques of "doing business" with opposition
Congresses. The same President was often inconsistent in the
techniques he adopted toward the Congress, and usually he paid dearly
for his changes in attitude. Hoover, for instance, was conciliatory in
the beginning and most of the time thereafter, but too often he spoke
out angrily on specific issues against the proud Congress. When they relied
solely on their constitutional prerogatives, such as the veto power, and
selected those issues which public opinion backed, they seem to have been
fairly successful in sustaining their points of view. But when they sent
their personal "lobbyists" from the Executive Branch to the
Hill or appeared personally to urge specific legislation or used
the telephone for votes or employed the press conference technique to
excoriate the Congress, they failed more often than not.
The administration of President Johnson seems less relevant to the present
situation than later administrations since he was a Democrat selected
as running mate by Lincoln for wartime unity and the internal bitterness
of the war's aftermath makes him sui generis.
Taft and Cleveland could be regarded as having the pleasant experience
of more success with an opposition Congress than when they dealt with
a Congress controlled by their own party. Rarely did these two lose their
tempers despite the provocation. When they did, they, and not the Congress
suffered. President Hayes carried on a long fight with an opposition Congress
on questions of his constitutional prerogatives, using the veto message
unsparingly, but only where public opinion was with him. He was so successful
in his technique that his own party took over control of both Houses,
as well as the Presidency, at the next election. He himself failed of
renomination only because of a patronage struggle with the Senate leaders
of his own party, an issue completely irrelevant to the main theme of
But generalizations are unsafe here as always. History is not necessarily
too relevant for us. The specific issues of the day; such as Hoover's
deepening depression or Cleveland's fights with the western silver Senators
and eastern tariff advocates, were undoubtedly more determinative than
any technique", however highly developed.
(The experiences of past Presidents in specific situations are cited
in the following discussion.)
II. Premises and assumptions about the Presidency and the Congress
"The President is expected by the nation to be the leader of his
party as well as the chief executive officer of the Government and the
country will take no excuses from him. He
must play the part and play it successfully or lose the country's
confidence. He must be Prime Minister, as much concerned with the guidance
of legislation as with just and orderly execution of law; and he is
the spokesman of the nation in everything, even the most momentous and
most delicate dealings of the Government in foreign affairs."
Before discussing the kinds of mechanism suggested to bring about “cooperation",
and the dangers inherent in their use, it is useful to restate the premises
upon which American constitutional government is based. It is equally
desirable to make assumptions on how the new Congress will act add why.
There are three independent branches of the Government, the checks
and balances setup by the Constitution do exist, and the President
of the United States does have specific functions to perform such
as the directive to him by the Constitution to execute the laws of the
nation. They are restated here because much of the discussion about "cooperation"
blithely ignores the historical necessity of these axioms; and also because
the borderlines between the branches of Government tend to blur in times
of flux. This is true at the beginning of an administration when a new
President, with his own party in control of both Houses, so governs that
his actions often give rise to the traditional charges of executive domination
of the Congress. It is equally true when an administration in office for
many years eventually loses control of the Legislative Branch and the
predilection for "congressional government" comes to the fore.
Historically, this pendulum has always swung and these periods of transition
have been noteworthy for the bitterness they engendered. But the fact
remains that the independence of the three branches continues as the political
constant and the inevitable adjustment can always be counted on to be
in favor of that independence.
1. The President. Examination as to the nature of presidential
functioning as it has evolved over the years, particularly since the Civil
War, is profitable. The President of the United States is the leader of
all the people and the sole spokesman for all of the people.
He is also the leader of his party -- a fact almost as important because
of our two-party system, even though the two roles are often contradictory.
He must perform the function of prime minister as well as the head of
state and, on important issues, that of foreign minister as well. Because
of these many portfolios he is exposed to a multiplicity of issues which
too often reach him in the form of piecemeal presentation, and on which,
if he is wise, he will not dare commit himself until adequate study
has been made of them for him and until public opinion has been so developed
that he is fairly sure his people will follow him.
For presidential leadership, if it means anything, means no more than
how to lead the people only as fast as they will follow. The history of
every administration shows that in the final analysis a President has
but one weapon -- public opinion. He may be adept, as was Franklin
Roosevelt, in accurately measuring that public opinion, and in creating
and manipulating it. Or he may be as inept as Hoover, who never did grasp
this principle that no President can force his will upon the nation either
by a executive action or legislative recommendation until informed public
opinion is ready to break him.
Because he operates to control public opinion -- and also simply because
he is the President, our symbol of the state -- there is a spotlight on
his every action. This merciless glare while personally annoying is politically
invaluable. His slightest comment on national matters affects and molds
that opinion upon which he must rely if he is to function at all.
And because of this spotlight practically everything he says becomes
a "matter of record". When he makes a statement he in effect
makes a commitment. If he is not extremely careful he thus creates for