Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration, 1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46. Secretary Snyder has been a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
November 22, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
November 22, 1967
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Snyder, did you attend the meeting in St. Louis in 1940 at which it was discussed if Mr. Truman should run for re-election that year?
SNYDER: Yes, I was present. It occurred, as I recall, along in June of 1940. Mr. Truman thought it would be well to gather some of his acquaintances in the eastern part of the sate and feel them out on the prospects of his running for second term. At that meeting I think there were some sixteen-seventeen people. Among those that I remember particularly were Roy Harper, Horace Deal, Harry Vaughan, Jake Vardaman, Eddie McKim, Neat Helm, Clarence Turley, and of course the Senator and me. It was frankly a very disappointing meeting. As we've already noted there had been quite a build-up of Governor Stark as a candidate, and also Mr. Milligan. Those two candidates,
because of the Pendergast background of Senator Truman, had become very vicious in their attack on machine politics and Senator Truman's connection with them. So, we found a rather lukewarm response to a campaign for the second term. And after some hours of discussion back and forth we adjourned with no decision having been made regarding procedures or recommendations or anything of that sort in connection with the second term. And it was left on the basis that we would get in touch with everyone later.
HESS: Do you recall at this late date what some of the views were of some of the various people that were there? Who advised Mr. Truman to run and who advised him not to run, basically?
SNYDER: I'll be very frank with you there, he had very little backing or encouragement at that meeting. As I recall it, there were only two
or three that even suggested that he should run for the second term.
HESS: Who were they?
SNYDER: I don't want to press my memory too hard on that. As I recall it, Jake Vardaman said that it would be a hard race, but that maybe Mr. Truman should run again; Vaughan, of course, urged him to run; the man that I had hoped would come out very strongly found that he was going to be awfully busy for the next six months, and that was Mr. Harper, later, Judge Harper; and of course, I felt that Mr. Truman should run. But of course my position was less influencing than the others because I was not active in politics and did not fully understand the problems of such a campaign.
HESS: What was Mr. Truman's attitude during that meeting?
SNYDER: No, that's been quite awhile ago--twenty-seven years.
HESS: Anything else of importance come to mind when you look hack upon that meeting in St. Louis?
SNYDER: No, except our disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm.
HESS: At a later point, of course, the President did make the bid for re-election, and was re-elected. Were there any of the people that were at the meeting who expressed a note that the President probably couldn't win who later came back "into the fold," shall we say?
SNYDER: Oh, they all did before the election was over. Without exception, there wasn't a one that I mentioned that didn't lend some aid to the campaign once it got started. I have already told of the Horace Deal incident and how it
gave us a good start because from that time on, in spite of the fact that we ran a very, very tight race as far as finances were concerned, we were able to meet the urgent demands with a very economy-minded campaign, and Mr. Truman, through his own efforts, through his own constant presenting his case to the public, prevailed and came out with a good margin in the election, first in the primary when he defeated Milligan and Stark, and of course, later in the general election he won very handily.
HESS: Who were a few of the others that were helping Mr. Truman in his campaign in those early days?
SNYDER: Well, we enlisted quite a number of people, professional writers and we established headquarters over in St. Louis. As a matter of fact, Clarence Turley, who was at that first meeting, gave a whole half a floor of the Ambassador building for the use of the
headquarters. Vardaman, of course, helped from, time to time, but Vaughan was...
HESS: What duties did these men have--while we run down the names what comes to mind?
SNYDER: Well, Vardaman was with the First National Bank in St. Louis; Vaughan was, of course, working for Mr. Truman and at that time I was beginning operation of the Defense Plant Corporation in Washington.
HESS: Do you recall what Mr. Vardaman did to help out in the campaign?
SNYDER: Well, he was very effective in helping us get small contributions and he was very good in soliciting certain people. I don't recall specifically the incidents, but I do remember that we relied on him for help from time to time.
HESS: I believe Mr. Vaughan was the treasurer, is that correct?
SNYDER: That's right.
Neal Helm contributed, worked in southeast Missouri and was very helpful. Neal was a capitalist down in Caruthersville, Missouri. He was in the farm business, in the banking business, real estate business, real estate business, and quite a number of activities. Roy Harper was a lawyer down in southeast Missouri, and he helped in the campaign when it once got started.
HESS: What did he do, do you recall?
SNYDER: Well, he went out and solicited votes and tried to raise a little money, and was generally helpful.
HESS: What are the big problems that arise in a campaign like that? What kind of help did he really need?
SNYDER: First and foremost, we needed financial
help, because there were so many expenses, transportation, telephone, office space later in Sedalia, clerk hire, however, most of our office people we had donated to us, and it was only towards the end of the campaign that we began to pay anything for that sort of help. We had the question of speeches. Of course, in those days, there was no television, and the radio was not used a great deal in our campaign, as it was too expensive. We got together a sound truck for him and he canvassed every county in the state, and stopping at the court square, he would get a few people together and tell his story, sticking strictly to the outline I gave you the other day. He campaigned on his own merits, accomplishments, and record. He never once referred to the opposition or to the tactics of the opposition. He ran strictly on his own record.
HESS: Did he usually have a speech written out for such occasions, or was this more or less off-the-cuff?
SNYDER: He had five or six speeches on labor, agriculture, railroads, various subjects of current interest in the electorate of his state, and he sort of used those as the background according to the audience that he had.
HESS: Who helped Mr. Truman write those speeches?
SNYDER: Well, we had a half a dozen people who were assisting. I'll have to give you the names of the two who did most of the actual assembly of the speeches. I don't recall their names right now, but I'll give them to you later--two St. Louis people.
HESS: Did you sit in on any of those speechwriting sessions?
SNYDER: Oh, yes, constantly. They were brought
over and shown to me or mailed to me because I was in Washington and this was going on out in Missouri, you know.
HESS: How were those speeches written? Did the speechwriters get together with Mr. Truman before they started to work, or would they work up a draft and then present it to him?
SNYDER: They largely would get his ideas of what he wanted, write the speech, and send it to him for editing.
HESS: Fine, then we'll get the names of some of those people who helped write those speeches at a later date. Anything else come to mind about the 1940 campaign?
SNYDER: Yes, it was a very interesting thing. Bob Hannegan, at the beginning of the campaign, was very closely tied in with Lloyd Stark, and was supporting him, but as time went on, he
began to find that his people around St. Louis, were losing their confidence and their respect for Stark.
HESS: What caused that?
SNYDER: Well, I think that it was just the unfairness of the attack on the record of Mr. Truman. When they began to check on it, they found that Truman had done a pretty good job as Senator and that the whole campaign of the Governor's--the import of his campaign, was attack rather than demonstration of any ability. It also became known that Stark had solicited and received Pendergast's aid in running for Governor. It just evolved and one of the brightest initial things was when Hannegan announced one day that he was going to back Mr. Truman.
HESS: Mr. Truman mentions in his Memoirs that that gave a great deal of impetus to his campaign.
SNYDER: Well, it did.
HESS: Were he and Hannegan particularly close?
SNYDER: I don't recall that they were. They were acquaintances, of course, but Hannegan had been in the St. Louis Democratic organization, and Stark had allied himself with that organization, coming from just north of there from Louisiana, Missouri, where he was in the fruit tree business. And so it was only natural that Hannegan should have supported him maybe, and at least he did. But along towards the end of the campaign, he switched over and that had a very stimulating effect on the Truman campaign, because it gave us a toehold in the eastern part of the state which we had been lacking. And of course, it had a snowball effect.
HESS: One question about the headquarters. There was also a supplemental headquarters in Sedalia?
Is that correct?
SNYDER: That's correct. We had a small office in Sedalia. Later we opened up one over at Independence, in Jackson County, after the primary, I believe it was.
HESS: Do you recall who was stationed in Sedalia? Who was in charge of that office?
SNYDER: I don't remember.
HESS: Now, Mr. Vaughan and the treasury department were in St. Louis.
SNYDER: That's right.
HESS: Was that the main headquarters?
SNYDER: It was.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, what was the relationship between Bennett Clark and Mr. Truman during the early hours when Mr. Truman was in the Senate?
SNYDER: They were very good friends. They cooperated, worked together very well. At times, Villmore, his secretary, was not too cooperative with Senator Truman's staff, but by and large the staffs worked together very well. Clark, frankly, had a little attitude of superiority because of his family background. His father was the famous "Champ" Clark, one of Missouri's outstanding Senators in history. As a matter of fact, he ran largely--his name was Bennett, but he injected the "Champ" into it and ran as "Champ" Clark, and was actually elected on the background of his father's reputation. And with all that, and the fact that he had been a colonel in World War I he felt that he was considerably the senior Senator from Missouri. But, at the same time, he was always friendly, and he did, in the 1940 campaign, make some speeches in the interest of Mr. Truman and supported him in that election.
HESS: In the primary or the general?
SNYDER: In both, particularly in the general.
Later, when Bennett married the second time, Mr. Truman was best man, and after Senator Clark was defeated as Senator in Washington, Mr. Truman appointed him Federal judge. So, their relationship was very good.
HESS: Mr. Snyder, in his Memoirs, Mr. Truman said in speaking of the need for a committee to investigate the expenditures on national defense in early 1941, "I talked over the prospects of a committee with my close friends--with John Snyder in particular, and Senate leaders whose advice I respected--and they were interested." What do you recall about the background of what came to be known as the Truman Committee?
SNYDER: Senator Truman, from the time he first came to the Senate, had taken quite an interest in the defense efforts that were being made
because of his military connections. As a matter of fact, along in 1940, he was a member of the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. And he became extremely interested in what was being done and what was not being done and the manner in which it was being done. In our long conversations from time to time about the general welfare of the Nation, when war was impending, as it appeared by the headlines that we were being drawn closer and closer into it, we discussed the aftermath of World War I, and how mixed up so much of the investigations were that weren't started until after the war--people had died, records had been lost, particularly in the settlement of contracts, we discussed at great length, particularly the fact that some of those investigations and settlements were so long drawn out that the final settlement when it came through woul