Oral History Interview with
James L. Sundquist
Former staff member of the Bureau of the Budget, speech-writer for President Harry S. Truman, staff member of the Democratic National Committee, and Assistant Secretary to Governor W. Averell Harriman of New York
July 15, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July, 1964
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
James L. Sundquist
July 15, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey
MORRISSEY: Mr. Sundquist, we're interested in your relationship to Mr. Truman and to the Truman Administration. When did this relationship begin and what did it involve?
SUNDQUIST: I came into the Government in 1941, as a member of the staff of the Bureau of the Budget, which is in the Executive Office of the President, and was a staff member when Mr. Truman took office. In that capacity, I was borrowed from time to time by the White House, primarily to help draft speeches and messages and then in September of 1952, I was brought up into the White House full time for the duration of the 1952 campaign.
MORRISSEY: Why did the White House staff choose you as the one to borrow?
SUNDQUIST: Well, before I came with the Budget Bureau, I was a newspaperman. So during all the time I was at
the Bureau I got pulled in on various writing assignments and became known as the Bureau's writer. The first writing jobs I did with the White House were in the Bureau's own area of concern and the first time I went to the White House for any length of time was in connection with the 1947 State of the Union Message. Clark Clifford was looking to Jim Webb, who was then Director of the Budget, to help prepare it, and Webb had in mind bringing David Cushman Coyle down to help. Someone in the Bureau, Arnold Miles to be exact, said "Why, we've got a man already on our staff who would be as useful as David Cushman Coyle," and that was how I came to be assigned that year to Clark Clifford to work on the State of the Union Message.
MORRISSEY: Could you give me a little biographical information on how you came to be in the Bureau of the Budget?
SUNDQUIST: I was a newspaper man in Utah from 1935 to 1939 and during that period I finished college. Then I took graduate work at Syracuse from 1939 to 1941, two
years in Public Administration, with the intention then of going back into newspaper work. But the Government was expanding very rapidly in the spring and summer of 1941 and Public Administration graduates were in great demand. So I was hired by Donald C. Stone, who was Assistant Director of the Budget for Administrative Management, and who was looking for a combination public administration type and writer. He needed someone to translate into English the reports that his administrative specialists wrote. So I came in as a writer, but I soon got rather tired of sitting in the office and rewriting other people's stuff; I wanted to go out and do some of the glamorous analysis work too, and Mr. Stone let me cross over from being a writer to what in the Government is the equivalent of an efficiency expert. All during the war I was doing efficiency expert type work -- manpower control and organization studies, primarily in the military -- although from time to time I was pulled back on writing chores. I did some speeches for the Director and that kind of thing. I worked on the message on consolidation
of the War and Navy Departments, which was sent up in the early months of the Truman Administration, wasn't it?
MORRISSEY: 1945. I think after F.D.R.'s death.
MORRISSEY: From your experience, could you comment on the relationship between the Bureau of the Budget and the White House staff?
SUNDQUIST: Well, during my time there, it was very close. The Budget Bureau serves as an extension of the White House and Harold Smith was very conscious of the organizational role of the Budget Bureau as part of the Presidency. He was quite a philosopher about it and we were indoctrinated with the idea that every time we acted, it was the President himself acting. I believe that relations between the Budget Bureau and the President perhaps tended to be more direct in Harold Smith's time than later when they began to filter more through the White House staff. Smith was very jealous of his personal relation with President Roosevelt.
MORRISSEY: How did Smith get along with Truman?
SUNDQUIST: I guess I really can't answer that. I was not close enough to either one of them. But Smith was the man who built the Bureau into the institution it was. It had had a more limited role before he came and I have the impression that it reached its peak of competence and authority during his tenure. The Bureau carried out a very active recruiting program to skim the cream of the Public Administration people out of the colleges and it was a training ground for public administration personnel throughout the government. His successors were more politicians than professional public administrators and I think the agency lost some of the appeal that it had had -- and, well, agencies go through cycles.
MORRISSEY: Could you elaborate a bit on this impression you have that the relationship between the Director of the Bureau of the Budget and the President declined as time went on in the Truman Administration and the relationship became more one between the White House staff and the Director of the Budget.
SUNDQUIST: I don't know that I expressed it accurately if
I said it that way. Smith undoubtedly continued to deal with the President. It may be that the relation between the White House staff and the Bureau staff simply became more intimate. Charles Murphy was the man who organized policy work in the White House on a really systematic basis, and in doing so he spotted people in the Bureau that he could use and worked very closely with them. I'm thinking particularly here of Dave Bell and Dick Neustadt, both of whom he eventually pulled up on his staff. Dave Stowe was another one who came out of the Budget Bureau, but he was on Steelman's side of the White House.
MORRISSEY: Could you describe somewhat how Mr. Murphy handled his work and handled his staff?
SUNDQUIST: Well, that's not easy to describe. Murphy impressed me at that time, and still does, as a man with about as sound a judgment as anybody I've ever known. He would take great pains to weigh all the angles of a question in order to come out with the right position from the viewpoint of the President. He was absolutely selfless and devoted to the
President and completely anonymous. He had a capacity for drawing out of the staff people who worked with him the best they had to offer. They were a harmonious, congenial group. He was always very calm and level-headed and did not get flustered at all under pressure.
MORRISSEY: Could you specify some of the particular chores you did when you were working in the Bureau of the Budget but working with the White House staff?
SUNDQUIST: It was almost entirely on speeches and messages. The first one, as I recall, was the message consolidating the War and Navy Departments, an organizational question on which I had been working as a Bureau staff man. I have already mentioned the State of the Union Message in 1947, which actually meant, of course, December of 1946. I worked on a series of speeches Mr. Truman gave during a Western trip in 1950. Perhaps there will be some historical interest in how the 1947 message was developed. Do you want me to run through that?
SUNDQUIST: I went over with Mr. Webb for a session with
Clark Clifford, where I was introduced and it was explained that I would work on it. Mr. Clifford in a very brief interview talked about the tone of the message. We were confronted, at that time, with the Republican 80th Congress which had just been elected and we had the special problem of addressing a message to a Congress of the opposite party. So there was some discussion as to how conciliatory we should be and so on. It was agreed that Mr. Webb and I would outline what we conceived the tone and general content to be and then arrange another conference. I prepared a document which set out some alternatives. One basic question was whether the tone would be "boldly New-Dealish," or one of "consolidating our gains." Those were phrases which I had culled, I think, from newspaper columnists' speculation. I recall Mr. Clifford scratching out Boldly New Dealish and saying, Well, it wont be that.
As it turned out, it was a pretty prosaic message. There wasn't much innovation in it, as I recall, and it did take a general tone of consolidating our gains. My assignment was to coordinate the domestic phases
while George Elsey pulled together the international and foreign part. On the domestic side, I brought in various people from the Budget Bureau who had particular specialties. One of those, I remember, was Dave Bell, because what we had to say about labor-management relations in that particular message was important and Bell was handling that subject for the Bureau at the time, under Dave Stowe. Joe Reeve wrote a section on the subject of housing. What I tried to do was pull all those contributions into a synthesized domestic half of the message, and I turned my drafts over to Elsey who handled the clearances from there. It seemed to me that it all went very smoothly and simply. The Budget Bureau fellows were able to state the policy about as the White House expected it to be stated. And the White House staff, on messages and policy matters, at that time, was Clifford and Elsey, and that's about all. This may be one reason why relations between the Director of the Budget and the President seemed to be more direct at that time -- there wasn't any White House staff of any size to filter through.
It was quite a contrast from the closing days of the Truman Administration when Mr. Truman had Murphy, Elsey, Dave Lloyd, Bell, Ken Hechler, Stowe, Harold Enarson, Dick Neustadt, and others on policy matters. The brain power really increased over that span of time.
I went overseas in 1947 and came back in 1949. In the fall of 1950, I was assigned to the Budget Message to pull together the whole document, which was done, of course, inside the Bureau without much White House review. Dave Bell, who had handled the Budget Message in 1949, was assigned to work with us and he came over and sweated it out in the Budget Bureau offices.
MORRISSEY: When was that message delivered?
SUNDQUIST: January, 1951, covering the 1952 fiscal year. We had to coordinate the Budget Message with the Economic Report and the State of the Union Message -- we had the three documents to dovetail.
MORRISSEY: Who was in charge of the overall coordination between these three messages?
SUNDQUIST: Charlie Murphy, I'm sure, but Dave Bell handled his relations with the Budget Message -- although not in the sense that Dave was giving orders. As the Budget Bureau's man, working for the Bureau and not the White House directly, I didn't regard Bell as having the final say on anything. He was just there to help, and his method of coordinating it was to sit there and work through with us. If we stayed up till 4 o'clock in the morning, as we did a couple of times, he stayed up till 4 o'clock. I suspect he worked the same way with Leon Keyserling on the Economic Report.
MORRISSEY: In regard to this point about brain power increasing in the Truman Administration as time went by, would you credit this Mr. Murphy?
SUNDQUIST: Yes. I guess it was Clifford who brought Murphy in. After Clifford left, then Murphy built the staff.
In regard to the 1950 Western speech-making swing, we met in Dave Lloyd's office and it was he who laid out the schedule and assigned the work.
MORRISSEY: Dave Lloyd did?
MORRISSEY: Had Mr. Lloyd arranged the schedule himself?
SUNDQUIST: I don't know. I assume he worked it out with Murphy and then took on the job of getting the drafts assigned. I was asked to write two of them -- one on foreign trade and one on foreign policy. I had never written a speech on foreign policy before, so I recall asking, "What do I say?" I didn't get any specific guidance.
Dave Lloyd said, "Well, here are a couple of speeches (Dean) Acheson has given lately; maybe they'll give you some ideas."
So I went around to my room in the Budget Bureau -- this was a Saturday morning -- and asked myself, "What is my foreign policy today?" I decided I would write my ideas on foreign policy before I read Acheson's stuff, just to see how it would work out. I came out with something pretty good, I guess, because hardly a word was changed and it was delivered in Laramie, Wyoming. I was told later
that the newspapermen took a poll and voted it the best speech of the trip. On the foreign trade speech, a draft had been done by some expert somewhere, and all I did was give it a literary touch. The one on foreign policy was scarcely even cleared with the State Department; they did contribute a couple of paragraphs at the beginning on a gift of wheat to India, but apart from that, they didn't change anything either. As you see, the speech writing process under Murphy was a rather informal one.
MORRISSEY: Why do you suppose you were chosen to write these two speeches?
SUNDQUIST: They had an extra body