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 24, 1967 (Eighth Oral History)
March 24, 1967 (Ninth Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Spingarn 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Stephen J. Spingarn
March 24, 1967 (Eighth Oral History)
By Jerry N. Hess
Eighth Oral History Interview with Stephen J. Spingarn, Washington, D.C., March 24, 1967. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
SPINGARN: First of all this is going to be in the nature of a memorandum or letter to Dr. Brooks, Director of the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. However, I would like this to be part of the Spingarn files, too, the archival records because at least the second part of this letter I think will be of general interest to historians.
The first part of my letter to you, Phil, is specific, and the second part will be general. First, the specific. This is Friday morning, March 24th, 1967, and I am in my fifth day of tape recording my memories of the Truman administration and related matters as well as more up-to-date memories of political affairs that I have been involved in.
I am doing this at the invitation and the instigation of your Library. I have turned over to your able oral historian, Mr. Jerry Hess, a substantial number of papers which I have asked him to Xerox and return to me. In addition, yesterday, I turned over to him four boxes which I would estimate contain four or five
cubic feet of my files which I understand will be shipped out to the Library.
Now, with respect to the stuff that is going direct to the Library; that is, the four boxes or however many there are when they are shipped, I have no record or inventory of what is in those. I simply shoveled files from my White House and Federal Trade Commission periods into boxes and I couldn't even tell you what the titles of those files are.
I would, therefore, like you to do the following: I would like a detailed listing of each file by the name that I placed on it with some description of what is in it and particularly a description of how much of it is printed or mimeographed material and how much is in the form of copies of my own letters and memoranda or letters or memoranda to me or other typewritten documents or copies of typewritten documents.
In principle, I would like to get a Xerox copy of every typewritten document or carbon thereof in those files sent back to me in files under the same tabs or the same listing -- as I sent them to you. It is also
possible that I may want copies of some of the ephemeral printed or mimeographed material which I am sending you and which I could not possibly reproduce, there would be no way of getting it now -- I don't even know what is there and even if I did it would be a terrible task and probably impossible to duplicate that material, so I am asking you, in effect, first, to give me an inventory -- a listing -- showing the name of each file as I named it, but not merely that, giving me some idea of what is in each file; and, second, I would like you to begin to Xerox the copy of all the typewritten material in those files and place them in the same file covers and after I have examined your inventory I will advise you to what extent I want other than typewritten material Xeroxed and returned to me. If there are any questions on this would you write me or tell Jerry Hess and let me know so that we can have a meeting of minds.
So much for the specific. Now to the general which I think may be of interest to some historians.
Under your direction, as I understand it, Jerry Hess has tried vigorously to keep me confined to the
events of the Truman administration, whether actually White House events or Federal Trade Commission or whatever, and a lot of my recording has been on that.
On the other hand, like any other man, I am naturally somewhat more interested in current events that I am engaged in even more than I am in reminiscing about my past days in the Truman administration. Moreover, I think that Mr. Truman himself, and many historians, would be interested in things which I have discussed because all of them are political in character. I have never engaged really in any activity that wasn't in one term or another political, in the broadest sense of the word.
Some of my work has been to try to beef up the Democratic National Committee in one way or another, for example. Other items that I have touched on are an attempt to defend President Lyndon Johnson who is a good friend of President Truman and who I see as a man rather similar to President Truman because, as I see them both, each is a regional politician, who started as a rather parochial local politician, and who grew to national stature and became a great national
politician, but who did not shed, as no man really does, all of his parochialism and who therefore encountered the distrust in some cases, and the animosity or the contempt if you like, of some people, especially a certain ivory tower type of intellectual who found that these parochialisms or regionalisms grated, or who don't like Lyndon Johnson, for example, because he didn't go to Harvard and his wife can't speak French to Andre Malraux, and who would not have liked Lincoln for very similar reasons.
And who didn't like Harry Truman when he was President because he had been a haberdasher, and he didn't have a Harvard education either, or even a degree from Southwest Texas Teachers College.
It therefore seems to me that my activities on behalf of Lyndon Johnson, my -- shall I say -- unauthorized and self-starting activities on behalf of Lyndon Johnson and his administration might be of interest to Mr. Truman and to historians who are interested in the Truman administration, because there is a very real link, both personal, because there is a deep friendship between the two men and in character and style between the two men.
The main difference between them, as I see it, is that Lyndon Johnson, by nature, is a very hard-driving type of man, who drives himself hard and drives people under him. And while Mr. Truman was a hard worker, he was not that driving kind of man. He worked hard himself, but he did it in what seemed to be a sort of relaxed way. He got up early in the morning, he did his homework, he took papers back at night and read them, but as I have pointed out, he never really beat his staff over the ears as Lyndon Johnson is reported to do, and as Winston Churchill was reported to do, and as Dwight Eisenhower from time to time was reported to do, and as many other top executives have done. As I have said before it has been my experience that the hard-driving executive, is usually difficult with his staff from time to time -- he's hard on himself and he's hard on them.
I remember, for example, I served eleven years in the Treasury, from '34 to '49 with the exception of four war years, during most of which I was overseas in the Army, and eight of those eleven years were under Henry Morgenthau who died last month. I wrote a letter
to the New York Times at that time which appeared in the New York Times on February 18th, 1967.
And I said that I had great satisfaction remembering my years in the Treasury under Henry Morgenthau. I said that he was a hard-driving man. He drove himself hard and he drove his staff hard. He was not an easy man to work for, and I said he probably wasn't always right in all of his decisions and I don't know any man who is. But looking back on that period from the vantage point of a generation, almost, it seemed to me that I felt then and I still feel now, that the men who worked in the Treasury in those days (and they worked nights and weekends, too, a lot), felt that they were making some contribution to the freedom and security and welfare of their country, and the free world for that matter, and that gives a man a good deal of psychic income. I said that might be Henry Morgenthau's best memorial and let us not say that this memorial perished with him.
I got two letters as a result of that; one was from a fearless and courageous patriot who, however, refrained from signing his name. Two days later on the 20th, I received a letter from him, he had evidently
written it -- the 20th was a Monday -- he had evidently written it the same day my letter appeared in the New York Times, and he said that Henry Morgenthau was a dirty Jew Communist, a traitor to his country, worse than Benedict Arnold, and obviously I was cut out of the same cloth, or words to that effect. It made my day. I could see this poor sick man sitting in his garret somewhere, thinking of ugly, anonymous letters he could write to people who, unlike him, were not afraid to sign their names to documents, in which they expressed their views.
I sent a copy of that letter to Bob Morgenthau, Secretary Morgenthau's son, who is United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and who was the unsuccessful candidate for governor of New York back in 1962 on the Democratic side, and Bob wrote me back a few days ago saying he had enjoyed my letter and appreciated it in the New York Times and said he also enjoyed my "fan" letter -- the "fan" letter I sent him -- he felt the same way about it I did. We feel sorry for this poor fellow, this patriot, this fearless, courageous, anonymous, faceless patriot.
Among the things that have interested me, as I say, has been the Democratic National Committee, and within the last month I succeeded in persuading them to launch, and they are going to do it they tell me within the next two or three months, a program which I call KOED to attempt to harness the energies and expertise of the activist Democratic professors on the 2,000 campuses of the United States, not just the prestige colleges, to the Democratic Party, with a home base in the committee run by a hard-hitting, extroverted, politically savvy political scientist, with actual experience in politics, the purpose being to run this around the year and not just in campaigns, and to give those who wish to an opportunity to work for our officeholders at every level, members of Congress and at lower levels, our candidates, our party organizations at all levels, write speeches, fact sheets, position papers, do political intelligence, political market research, surveys on politics, on issues, make their own speeches to local groups that are interested, and many other things. The name KOED is an acronym for Knock On Every Door, a rather gimmicky title
mainly for promotional purposes.
Mr. Truman expressed favorable sentiments about this program way back in 1956 when I first originated it. I have a letter from him which I referred to on that and, so did Mrs. Roosevelt at that time. I've put in the Archives a letter of January '57 from her and she wrote several letters to Paul Butler, who was then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in support of KOED, and Speaker John McCormack has written innumerable letters over the years and has been a major factor in getting this program into being.
At my request, only last month in a long telephone conversation I had with him, he called John Criswell who is the staff man who is really running the Democratic National Committee to urge him to put this KOED program into effect.
So did many others call or write Criswell at my request. Senator Claiborne Pell, Dean Stephen Bailey of the Maxwell Graduate School of Public Affairs at Syracuse, Evron Kirkpatrick the executive director of the American Political Science Association, James MacGregor Burns of Williams College, the Roosevelt and
Kennedy biographer, and many other professional politicians, as well as these hard-boiled eggheads, as I call them, not the ivory tower type but the pragmatic type.
Well, it would seem to me that program ties in with Mr. Truman and it should be of interest. He once spoke well of it and I am sure he would now if I were to submit it to him again, but it didn't need it this time.
Similarly I have talked about my activities in attempting to get launched an organization to counteract the lunacies of the extreme right and left. Again, this was a field that Mr. Truman was very much interested in and I don't see why bringing that up to date is not strictly within the purview of the Truman Library. It is a continuation of his sort of thing, I mean, actually, such as his proposal for the Nimitz commission which aborted because Senator Pat McCarran, the then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee would not give the lawyer members of that commission the exemption from conflict of interest laws that they needed to take on this thankless, unpaid job. But the Nimitz commission
was exactly in the same context -- I mean, it wasn't the same operation, but it was in the same context. I am sure that Mr. Truman would think well of the new Institute for American Democracy which I have talked about.
By the way, I want t