Oral History Interview with
Attorney, U.S. Treasury Dept., 1934-41; Asst. to the Attorney
General of the United States, 1937-38; Special Asst. to the Gen. Counsel,
Treasury Dept., 1941-42; Comdg. Officer, 5th Army Counter Intelligence
Corps, 1943-45; Asst. Gen. Counsel, Treasury Dept., 1946-49; Alternate
Member, President's Temp. Comm. on Employee Loyalty, 1946-47; Dep. Dir.,
Office of Contract Settlement, 1947-49; Asst. to the Special Counsel of
the President, 1949-50; Administrative Asst. to the President, 1950; and
Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission, 1950-53.
Stephen J. Spingarn
March 20, 1967 (First Oral History)
March 20, 1967 (Second Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Spingarn Oral History
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
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript
indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 April, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Spingarn Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Stephen J. Spingarn
March 20, 1967 (First Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Spingarn, would you, for the record, give a little background
information on yourself, where you were born, where you were educated,
and what positions did you hold prior to your service on the White House
SPINGARN: Yes. I think I'll start off by quoting Mark Twain who said
once, "As I get older, I remember less and less of past events, and most
of what I remember isn't true." And this is a good thing for any man to
remember when he's talking about things that happened fifteen to twenty
First of all, I think it might be interesting to square up my background
against my service in the Truman White House. I was born in Bedford, New
York in 1908. My father was a college professor, a professor of comparative
literature at Columbia University. My father certainly had more effect
on me than any other
human being. There is one episode in his life which is particularly significant
from the standpoint of my own life and thinking. In 1896 when he was twenty-one
years old and a graduate student at Harvard, a youngish man who was then
United States Civil Service Commissioner, if I'm not mistaken, made a
speech to a group of Harvard students of whom my father was one. He said:
"Everybody says that politics is a mucker's game and that a gentleman
can only get his fingers dirty if he engages in it. Well, as long as people
continue to think that way, that's the way it will remain. But it's the
bounden duty of you educated young men to get into politics and to try
to help clean it up. Politics, after all, is only the way people decide
how their society is going to be run, at every level."
That speech really kindled a torch in my father's heart. The young man
was Theodore Roosevelt. He was still in his thirties, and relatively,
unknown. He hadn't charged up San Juan Hill yet.
My father went back to Columbia, took his Ph.D., became an instructor,
moved up to full professor eventually. But right from the beginning he
went into Republican politics at the precinct level. He became Republican
leader of his district. I used to have a tattered old poster of the early
1900's, which said, "Professor J. E. Spingarn of Columbia University is
the one and only authorized Republican leader of this district and anyone
else claiming to be so is nothing but a usurper." There was some intramural
feud going on, as often happens in political parties.
In 1908, my father ran for Congress in New York as a Republican, and
he had the personal endorsement of President Theodore Roosevelt.
I carry around in my pocket, have for many years, a facsimile reproduction
of a New York Times article October 20, 1908. The headline
is "ROOSEVELT FOR SPINGARN." The Roosevelt was, of course, Theodore Roosevelt,
who was then President of the United States, and the Spingarn was my father.
The sub-head is "HEARTY ENDORSEMENT FOR THE CANDIDACY OF COLUMBIA PROFESSOR."
Well, unfortunately, it was New York City, and a Democratic district,
and my father didn't win. He ran a good race, better than any Republican
had done before, I believe. He got about 25,000 votes, but the other fellow
got about 30,000. I don't even know the name of the other candidate.
My father told me many amusing anecdotes of that period, one of which,
at least, is worth repeating. It was a rather tough district and most
of the political rallies were held in saloons or in pool halls. On one
occasion, a fellow professor was making a speech on behalf of my father
in a saloon or pool hall and he had gotten along pretty well in his speech
when suddenly a voice from the rear of the room spoke up and it said,
"Jeez, I never hoid of this guy Spingarn. What's he ever done?"
Well, my father's professorial friend was a little taken aback as to
how to answer this particular voice, but he rallied finally and he said,
a little diffidently: "Well, he's written some very good books. He's written
one book about the Renaissance that's particularly good."
And the voice said, "Is he for it or agin' it?"
The professor may have been a professor, but he was no dope. He pounded
on the rostrum as hard as he could and he shouted at the top of his lungs:
"Spingarn is one hundred percent for the Renaissance."
And a cheer went up. "Yea, Spingarnl"
That was affirmative, you see. There probably wasn't a man in the room
who knew what the Renaissance was, but he was for it.
HESS: That put him in the right.
SPINGARN: Yes. Well, there were other episodes like that. In 1912 my
father bolted the Republican Party with Teddy Roosevelt; he was a delegate
to the National Progressive Party, the Bull Moose Party convention, and
he was also Dutchess County, New York chairman of the Bull Moose Party.
And when Teddy Roosevelt came to Dutchess County, father toured him around
the county and was toastmaster for him at the dinner in Poughkeepsie,
which is the county seat. They tried again in 1916 and then the party
broke up. My father -- I don't know whether he actually ever returned
to the Republican fold. I suppose he did. He may have regarded himself
as an independent thereafter, but he never regarded himself as a Democrat.
To his later chagrin, he voted for Harding in 1920 and Coolidge in 1924.
And I should add something else, in 1910 while he was still at Columbia,
he was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People. And shortly thereafter, about 1913, he became chairman
of the board, and he held other offices. In the last nine or ten years
his life, from '30 to '39, he was national president, and Spingarn High
School here in Washington is named after him.
Now, on Christmas Day, 1966, I was rummaging through my mother's library
in New York City. I found an old book, and as I took it from the shelf
a loose letter fell out, not even in an envelope, and I looked at it and
I saw it was dated -- I have it somewhere among these stacks of paper
here -- it was dated January, 1913 and it was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
who was then a state senator in New York. It was addressed to my father
who was then chairman of the board of the NAACP.
It answered a letter my father had written about an anti-miscegenation
bill which had been introduced by another state senator in the New York
State Legislature, prohibiting inter-marriage between the races. And Franklin
Roosevelt said this was the first time this bill had been called to his
attention, that he would keep abreast of it but he didn't think it was
even going to be reported out of committee. This may well have been his
first recorded statement on civil rights. The paper was rather tattered.
A few weeks ago I
called up Dr. Bahmer, the Archivist of the United States, and told him
about it and he said they'd be glad to laminate it for me and preserve
it. I took it down to him, and they have done that beautifully and they
have returned it to me. I have sent a copy to Miss Elizabeth Drewry, the
Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park.
Well, getting back to my father and his politics: In 1928 he supported
A1 Smith; in 1932 he voted for Franklin Roosevelt; and in 1936, which
was the last presidential election of his lifetime, he not only voted
for Roosevelt but he went out and campaigned for him. He was then president
of the NAACP. He campaigned for him among Negro audiences in six or eight
states, as an individual, of course, not as president of NAACP.
I was then a young lawyer in the Treasury, fairly fresh out of the University
of Arizona Law School where I had graduated in '34. I had started at Yale,
put in two years there, gone to the University of Grenoble, France, for
a year, come back, fallen rather sick with sinus difficulties, had several
minor sinus operations. Then the doctors were talking of a major operation,
but they said if I went to a dry climate I might avoid it,
so I went out to Tucson.
I should say that even while I was at Yale, from my freshman year on,
I had spent the summers as a ranger, a United States National Park ranger
in the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and I was very fond of the
West. So I went out prospecting; I went to Boulder and looked over the
University of Colorado; I went to Albuquerque and looked over the University
of New Mexico; and I wound up in Tucson at the University of Arizona.
I've never regretted it. I spent five years there. I got my Bachelor's
Degree and I got my law degree and I was admitted to the bar out there.
I'm still a member of the Arizona bar, although I've never practiced there,
or indeed anywhere, except as a Government lawyer.
Well, as I say, in '36 I was a young Treasury lawyer, a legislative lawyer.
I soon began to understand the value of politics and its worth. Almost
immediately after the 1936 election I began to receive invitations to
the White House. These were based, of course, entirely on my father's
efforts on behalf of the President. These were not perfunctory invitations;
these were invitations to small dinners of twelve or sixteen with the
President and Mrs. Roosevelt; to concerts and receptions
and dances -- I mean, I was on a good list, you can see that.
I will never forget, probably the proudest moment of my life, up to that
point at least, must have been in '37. It was a White House reception
for Government departments, or many of them. There were maybe 2,000 people
there. Before the reception I was a guest at a dinner of sixteen with
the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, and when the reception started the President
and his guests were behind some kind of a little velvet rope, you see,
while the hoi polloi, the others, milled by. When my friends
saw me behind that velvet rope with FDR their eyes bugged out and if that
wasn't a proud moment, I've never known one.
HESS: That would be a moment to enjoy.
SPINGARN: Yes, that was a moment to really savor. So I could see the
value of politics, right there. I have never failed to see it since, even
if I haven't been as effective a politician as I would have liked to have
Well, in 1931, my father gave a series of six lectures at the New School
for Social Research in New York, and after his death, in 1942, in the
1942 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, one of those lectures was
reprinted with a long introduction by Lewis Mumford who was a great friend
of my father, who first met him in 1920, who bought his home from us in
the country, in Amenia, in a little hamlet near the town of Amenia called
Leedsville in Dutchess County where we had our summer place.
Lewis bought this house there thirty-five or forty years ago or more
from my father, and it has been ever since and is today his permanent
residence, year around, except when he goes to some university to be visiting
lecturer for a year or something like that.
There was a long introduction to my father's article in the Atlantic
by Lewis, and it's a rather interesting introduction in the light of where
Lewis Mumford stands today on Vietnam and world policy. Because when my
father met Lewis Mumford, Lewis was a dedicated pacifist (this was in
the twenties). And in this introduction, if I remember correctly, Lewis
says that my father saw things in the twenties more clearly than almost
anyone else, and that he told Lewis something like this: "You liberal
pacifists with your world of disarmament conventions and so forth think
that we are going to
live in a peaceful world, but I see things differently. I believe we're
going to see a return of castes and slavery and that free men are going
to have to fight for freedom" or something to that effect. And Lewis said
then, "Joel Spingarn was right and I was wrong."
I believe if my father was alive today he might convert Lewis to the
truth today, because Lewis has returned to where he stood in the twenties
before he listened to my father. There are other factors -- I'm digressing
here, but it's interesting. There are other factors. Lewis became a dedicated
interventionist in the thirties.
I can remember an occasion in 1940 -- I would place it -- it was the
summer of '40 or '41, between the time that the war started and we got
into it, before Pearl Harbor, but after the war began. There was a debate
in the high school in the village of Amenia, between Lewis Mumford and
Hamilton Fish, an isolationist Republican Congressman, once long before
a political ally of my father.
Digressing again -- I can remember once in the twenties when I was about
fifteen and at Exeter, Hamilton Fish was an Exeter man (Phillips Exeter
I was at Exeter at the time, and Hamilton Fish was making a speech in
Amenia (this would have been, say, '23 or '24, somewhere in there), my
father was under the weather and couldn't go down, but he sent me down
as his delegate with instructions to go up and introduce myself to Mr.
Fish, who was then a Congressman, and express my father's regrets about
not being there. I did that, and Mr. Fish was very friendly, and we had
a nice talk about being Exeter men together, and so forth.
But he was an isolationist, of course, in World War II, and Lewis was
debating him in Amenia. The Buckley family, that is, the family of William
Buckley, the editor of the National Review, and an eminent rightwing
type, sort of the leading conservative ideologist, lived in Sharon, which
is in Connecticut, but is only two and a half miles from where we lived.
We lived in a hamlet which is in the town of Amenia, on the New York side
of the line, but it's two and a half miles from the village of Amenia
and it's two and a half miles from Sharon.
The Buckleys -- the senior Buckley was a rich oil man, lived in Sharon
-- and the little Buckley boys, I'm
sure one of them was William Buckley, because he was about the right
age, were in the audience that day, and they were hissing and hooting
at Lewis Mumford and calling him a Communist, from the audience, heckling
him as a Communist.
This was rather amusing as well as revolting because, as a matter of
fact, the Communist Party line was quite the reverse then. The Communist
Party line was in the Non-aggression Pact era, and they were against all-out
intervention, and that was what Lewis was talking about. It showed that
the Buckleys, then as now, didn't know what they were talking about.
Be that as it may, in any event, to get back to the Atlantic Monthly
and the article which was actually a transcript of one of my father's
six lectures at the New School for Social Research in 1931. It was called
"Politics and the Poet." His thesis was that the four noblest occupations
of man are poetry, or literature if you like; philosophy, religion and
politics. And of these, the first three are in the world of the spirit
and the mind, and politics is the only practical occupation, and therefore
it is the noblest practical occupation of man.
And he elaborated on that thesis. He told how many people see nothing
but the rottenness and corruption of politics and of course there is rottenness
and corruption, just as there is in banking and business and every other
aspect of life. But they don't realize as a politician does, that he's
simply dealing with the essential fiber of human beings and their characters;
and there's good and bad, and they have to deal with both.
You can take a life like Lincoln, said my father, and rip it apart, if
you wanted to. You can prove that Lincoln was a very corrupt man, I suppose,
if you wanted to. Lincoln did things that would never get by today, I
mean our ethical standards have been raised. I recall, for example --
I'm speaking from my own historical experience now -- a situation where
Lincoln wrote a letter in which he undertook to pay the expenses of delegates
to the national convention of the Republican Party in Chicago. I suppose
this was 1860. He undertook to pay the expenses of some delegates from
Kansas, I think, piously disclaiming any intention to influence their
votes, but nevertheless...
HESS: Nevertheless, paying their way.
SPINGARN: ...Nevertheless, he found it expedient or something to pay
their expenses to the convention. I doubt if that would be looked on with
HESS: If he thought they were going to vote the other way, I doubt if
he'd have paid their way.
SPINGARN: I think that's very unlikely. Well, in any event, since 1950,
at least, or earlier -- I think my mother called this thing to my attention
in the late '40s, I would say, this lecture of my father's in the Atlantic
Monthly fascinated me.
And since 1949 or '50 I have been using that as a theme of a speech on
politics which I have made dozens and dozens of times. I have made it
in Phoenix, and Tucson, and Los Angeles, and New York and Washington;
I've made it to 2,000 young Negro high school students at Spingarn High
School here; I've made it to seven or eight hundred young upper socio-economic
ladies at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Last December, 1966, I
made it to the fourth, fifth and sixth grade of the Green Acres Elementary
School, a private school in nearby Maryland here, and last month on Washington's
birthday, I made it to 550 nubile maidens, seventy or
eighty percent Republican by a show of hands, at Marjorie Webster Junior
College here in Washington.
I call this speech "Politics, the Noblest Practical Occupation of Man,
and the Second Noblest of his Nobler Mate." Woman, of course, being the
nobler of the pair has an even higher calling, which speaks for itself.
It is almost always a success. At Marjorie Webster, for instance, last
month, I talked for about forty minutes on this theme.
And the general idea of the thing, I should say, is this; that politics
deeply affects and infuses every waking and sleeping moment of every man,
woman and child in America, in fact, on the face of the globe; every waking
and sleeping moment is deeply affected. It invades the bathroom, for example.
The caliber and quality of the sewage system that carries the wastes away
from your bathroom depends on politics, local and national. The purity
of your water that runs out of your tap depends on politics. "By golly,
it invades your bedroom," I tell them. The ethnic origin and pigmentation
of the other head on the pillow in your bedroom is at least negatively
determined by politics. There are eighteen or twenty states in this country
which to this day have anti-miscegenation statutes, which prohibit a
white man or woman from marrying a Negro, and in many cases, Asiatics,
Indians, or other groups.
It even goes further in the bedroom. Last November, Pageant magazine,
a monthly, had an article, it was the lead article in the issue, and it
was described on the cover in these terms, "Every night sixty million
Americans violate the law in their bedrooms, do you?" And it was a rather
provocative article about the outmoded sex laws of the fifty states, which
are based essentially on the dreams of 19th century spinsters. Even the
dreams of 20th century spinsters aren't good enough for that. And they
actually described the only legally acceptable position in which a husband
and wife could commit the sex act; other forms of doing it are described
as sodomy. There are cases, said this article, and I'm sure they're correct,
in which married people have gone to jail or, at least, been threatened
with jail for long periods because they performed the sex act in some
non-routine way which some malicious or vindictive neighbor who snuck
in, and had some gripe about them, found them doing, and reported it.
There are such cases, said this article. Well, that is an
And politics determines whether the throughway runs through your living
room or the other fellow's; it determines the quality of your school and
your teachers and your doctors and your nurses. Everything is deeply affected
And so, I tell them, anyone who doesn't participate in politics
is a deadbeat and ought to be ashamed of themselves; they are sitting
on the sidelines letting strangers make the decisions that will solve
or foul up practically every problem of any consequence in their lives,
and they're abdicating to strangers the right to do that for themselves,
their families, and their children.
And of course, I tell them that politics doesn't mean just voting or
running for office. Politics involves almost every relationship between
people in a society. When you join your PTA, when you become a member
of an advisory group to your police precinct, when you complain to your
city or town government that there are potholes in the street, or you
want a stoplight in front of your house, all these things are politics.
But then, because the call to responsibility is one thing, but the call
to personal interest is an even
more appealing call, I looked at these young women hard and I said, "Now,
I'm sure that practically every one of you hopes to find a good husband,
an interesting, loving husband, an able husband, who will make a rich,
full life for you and him and your children," and I said, "I'm going to
give you the best general advice on how to get that kind of husband you'll
ever get in your whole lives." You could hear a pin drop.
HESS: They were waiting.
SPINGARN: They were waiting. And I said, "Here it is. I personally speak
with great disinterest. I'm a happy, middle-aged bachelor; I believe that
marriage is a romance in which the hero dies in the first chapter, and
I want to live and I do, but that's for me, not for you."
I said, "What a good man wants, and I believe I know, is a woman who
is interested, involved in life, not sitting on her dead rump on the sidelines
waiting for things to happen to her. He wants a woman who is intelligent,
and with whom he can discuss his problems, and who will understand them.
And he wants a woman who is curious and interested in life, and involved
in it." And, I said, "If you're looking for a good man, you
had better make yourself that kind of a woman. Involve yourself, don't
sit on the sidelines waiting for things to happen."
I said, "I see a lot of very pretty young women here," (they were, they
were beauties, many of them). And I said, "You girls may be unfortunate,
you prettier ones, because it's been my experience that the prettiest
ones are often lazy mentally. They get so much attention from the very
beginning that they don't have to do anything except sit and be pretty.
But you won't be that pretty all your lives," I said, not pointing to
anybody in particular, "You young women here who are not that pretty may
have an advantage, because you have a special incentive to get out and
make yourself an interesting woman. As far as I'm concerned, I would rather
spend time with a woman of average physical appearance who is interesting
and involved and curious and intelligent and witty and delightful than
I would with Miss America or Miss Universe. Oh. I wouldn't mind spending
a night or two with Miss America or Miss Universe, but I'm talking about
a longtime deal." And so on.
I should say that before I started, I polled these
young women on their political orientation. I asked for a showing of
hands on how many of them regarded themselves as Republicans and how many
Democrats -- seventy to eighty percent Republican. This is an upper socio-economic
group from all over the United States -- Marjorie Webster Junior College
in Washington, D.C. In a city in which the population is now about sixty-five
percent Negro, there was not one single colored girl in the whole group.
I asked them how many thought well of Lyndon Johnson as President, as
I do. I didn't mention that at that moment, but I did later. Seventy or
eighty percent did not think well of him. How many thought well of John
Kennedy as President. And seventy or eighty percent thought well of John
Kennedy, and almost that many thought well of Bobby Kennedy. They were
not terribly high on Richard Nixon, probably less than fifty percent.
Higher on Rockefeller and Romney and Scranton. I asked how many thought
well of Barry Goldwater as a possible President -- ten percent roughly,
but they were the noisiest of the whole group. They started yelling and
squealing the moment Barry Goldwater's name was mentioned.
I asked them too for their views on Vietnam. I gave them four possible
alternative solutions there.
1. Stay there and escalate up as far as is necessary to get it over
2. Get out, pronto;
3. Stay there and do about what we're doing now;
4. Stay there, but do less than we're doing now. Withdraw to enclaves
on the coast according to General Gavin's theory, or something like
They were regrettably overwhelmingly for the first solution; escalate
up and win.
Well, after I'd talked for forty minutes, I turned to Martha Sager, the
president of the college, a friend of mine. She's a very able woman who
has only recently been made president of this school and she's a full
professor of biology at American University. I said, "How much more time
do I have?'
And she said, "Five minutes."
So I said,, "I'm going to tell you about Vietnam." Then I changed my
mind and I said, "No. I'm going to say something that's not going to be
very popular with
some of you young ladies. I'm going to tell you why in my opinion, Lyndon
Johnson is a good deal better President than John Kennedy was. Good man
though he was." I said, "John Kennedy was young, he was handsome, he had
a delightful, dry, understated wit, he had great charisma, he had all
those things, and great intelligence. With the exception of intelligence,
Lyndon Johnson has none of those things."
"But that's not the test of a President," I said. "The test of a President
is how well he exercises the powers of the Presidency, and Lyndon Johnson
has proven that he can exercise them better than John Kennedy did, because
Lyndon Johnson moved John Kennedy's own program through Congress and Kennedy,
even if he'd lived, would not have moved it that far or as much of it,"
and so on for five minutes.
Well, I thought that in some ways this was a rather daring thing to do
in an audience that was seventy to eighty percent Republican, and against
LBJ,, but it turned out all right, because I got a standing ovation at
the end of two or three minutes and there was nary a boo all the way through.
I have documentation here somewhere, because afterwards Martha Sager,
wrote me saying the girls were enthusiastic, so was the president of
the faculty, and I was invited back. The girls had wanted to talk: to
me, she wrote me, but I'd gotten away too soon. So I throw this out to
Lyndon Johnson and company as perhaps the way for partly offsetting the
somewhat unfavorable image he has on the campuses, and among the young.
Well, getting back to the Truman White House. After the war -- I was
a counterespionage officer during the war and I was commanding officer
of the 5th Army Counter Intelligence Corps for two years, from the end
of the African and throughout the Italian campaign. I was in the Salerno
invasion, I was at Anzio and at Cassino and at many other places, and
while I was not a combat officer I saw a lot of people get killed, close
by. We went into new cities with the assault troops and did the initial
counterintelligence work, grabbing the human targets of whom we had advance
information, and trying to grab the documents too, at the intelligence
centers and places like that, and other things. And we captured, the counterintelligence
personnel at 5th Army in the Italian Campaign, captured approximately
525 German spies and saboteurs. They were mostly Italians, but they were
working for the German intelligence services, Abwehr and SD, which I
believe is more than any other allied army captured during World War II.
I don't have any figures on the Russians, but as far as I know it was
better than any of the Western allies, and we often modestly stated that
it was more than the FBI had caught in the whole forty years of its history.
With modest pride we described ourselves as the greatest tactical counterespionage
outfit in the history of warfare, which might have been a slight exaggeration,
but we liked it. In any event, I wrote three articles for the Saturday
Evening Post after the war on this work.
In April 1946 I came back to the Treasury, and I was promoted at that
point to assistant general counsel and legislative counsel -- I mean,
the title was Assistant General Counsel and the operating job was legislative
counsel of the Treasury. This was on the non-tax side. There was also
a tax legislative counsel. This involved the preparation of legislation
and its presentation to congressional committees, preparing supporting
material, going up and testifying before congressional committees and
going around and talking to members of Congress, the
House and the Senate, and trying to get them behind it. I was also Legal
Counsel to the Secret Service and to the Coordinator of the Treasury enforcement
agencies, which was a coordination committee of the six heads of the enforcement
bureaus and I was the legal member of that committee. I was also deputy
director of contract settlement. I was also a member of the working committee
that wrote the Truman loyalty program in '46 and '47, and various other
Now, back around 1935, in my first year in the Treasury, I had met a
young Senate legislative counsel lawyer named Charles S. Murphy, and had
worked with him on numerous matters over the years, and become friends
with him. Charlie is about my age and he had come to Washington in ' 34,
fresh out of Duke University Law School, as I had come that same year
out of the University of Arizona Law School.
In January, Charlie had been twelve years in the Senate legislative counsel's
office -- he was assistant Senate legislative counsel, and he should have
been the Senate legislative counsel, but typically of Charlie, he was
too modest and self-effacing for his own good, although it's only fair
to say he's done pretty well,
even at that. A more aggressive chap, and a good fellow, named Steve
Rice, now dead, who later became a United States Tax Court judge -- Steve
Rice was more aggressive but less able than Charlie. I don't mean to say
he wasn't able, but Charlie had more, at least that's my judgment, and
I think it was of most of the men who knew them. But Steve Rice lined
up the support and he was made Senate legislative counsel when everybody
who knew the facts thought that Charlie ought to have been. But anyway,
Charlie was there for twelve years. He was highly respected by everybody
who knew him and he became friendly with Mr. Truman when he was in the
So I think about January, 1947, that's my recollection, that Mr. Truman
asked Charlie to come down to the White House as his Administrative Assistant,
and Charlie came and remained there. In 1950, when Clark Clifford left,
he replaced Clifford as special counsel to the President, and I, by that
time, was in the White House as the assistant to Clifford; I moved into
Charlie Murphy's slot, and became Administrative Assistant to the President,
at the same time he moved up to Clifford's slot. Well, in the fall of
1947, President Truman had appointed a commission
on civil rights, the famous commission, and they had brought out in the
fall of '47, as I recall, I think it was October or thereabouts, a famous
report called "To Secure These Rights," and this was their report on what
ought to be done in the civil rights field.
Then it was on the President's lap as to what to do next. And in January
'48, I was at the Treasury, assistant general counsel and legislative
counsel; and the White House, I think it was Matt Connelly, I don't know
for sure now, called Secretary Snyder, and asked on behalf of the President,
that I be detailed over to the White House. It was Charlie Murphy who
had arranged that.
HESS: What were your duties at the time that you were called over?
SPINGARN: Well, it was simply a one-shot operation for a short time to
go over the report of the Civil Rights Commission, to recommend the provisions
of that report which should be included in a presidential message to Congress
recommending civil rights legislation, and to prepare a bill to carry
out those recommendations.
HESS: Did you work on both the message and the legislation?
SPINGARN: I worked primarily on the legislation. I was solely responsible
for preparing the legislation. Of course, I had help, but I mean I was
solely responsible for supervising the preparation of legislation, but
naturally I got involved in the message too, although that was not my
main function and that was more incidental to the task. But I was one
of those who worked on the message. I was not the number one person or
anything like that on the message, but I was the number one person on
HESS: Who were those who were working on the message? And who assisted
you on the legislation?
SPINGARN: Well, the people who assisted me on the legislation didn't
work on the message because they came from the departments. The White
House staff people who worked on the message were primarily Murphy and
his group: Murphy, and Bell, and Lloyd, and also Philleo Nash and Clark
HESS: Why was it thought necessary to have a special message such as
this? Why weren't these provisions included in the State of the Union
message? Is there any significance in that?
SPINGARN: You must understand that I wasn't told all these
things. I mean, all I knew was that I was called over there to do a job,
but I can speculate easily on why. I've always assumed that the President
wanted to give it special importance. It would have been lost with a lot
of other things in the State of the Union. Moreover, with ten separate
provisions, the State of the Union would be bulged out to enormous size.
That's the new technique anyway, to just hit the high spots in the State
of the Union, but when you have important subject matter things you send
up a special message. It gives it greater weight.
So I was called over there. Oh, I forgot to mention George Elsey who
was very much involved in all this. Now, actually, what had happened was
that -- Clifford, I was to assist Clifford who was the senior staff man
HESS: He was special counsel at that time.
SPINGARN: He was special counsel to the President. Basically, the White
House was divided, in my period, in two departments. They didn't have
these names; there were no names, but this is the way I would describe
them: One was operations, and that was Steelman, and that involved coordinating
the activities of the various departments
and agencies of the Government. I don't mean to say that other people
didn't get into that act but that was his main responsibility. And the
other was what I would call program and planning, and that in