Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened April 1972
Oral History Interview with
October 7, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Trohan, to begin with could you give me a little of your personal background?
TROHAN: I was born in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania July 4, 1903. My father moved to Chicago in 1910 so that I was raised in Chicago, went to school in Chicago, and I consider myself a Midwesterner because I have that accent. I don't often admit that I was born in Pennsylvania, and I didn't have much to do with it. I went through grade and high school in Chicago, and then to the University of Notre Dame. Before I went to college I worked for a small paper in Chicago called the Daily Calumet, I was offered a job the night I graduated from high school by a fellow named Bill [William A.] Rowan who was the city editor and who subsequently came to Congress, a Democrat, in the Truman administration, toward
the tail end of it. I think he served three terms. He is now dead, a very fine fellow. And I had intended to go to law school at the University of Illinois but I got fascinated with the newspaper business and I went on to college with the specific idea of becoming a newspaperman and I chose my courses accordingly; English, history and that sort of business.
After getting out of college and I went to New York where I worked a while, didn't like it, and came back to Chicago, where I went to work for the City News Bureau in March 1927. And on February 24, 1929, I was offered a job on the Tribune covering courts, which I did. And I came from -- covered the convention in 1932 and came to Washington in 1934, being brought here by John Boettiger who was to be FDR's son-in-law. Then I have remained here ever since which is a pretty long stretch.
I served as Executive Director of the Washington Bureau and then I was Director of the Bureau, built it up from four men to about fourteen and retired from the Bureau on January 1st, 1969, but I still write a column three days a week, which is about what I did in the last few years I was running the Bureau.
And I don't care much for it and I hope to quit sometime next summer, because I'm building a home in Ireland. I want to get far enough away from here so they won't persuade me to work. I wanted to quit when I did quit, but they talked me into continuing the column.
Then in that time, I was -- oh, I covered the White House -- I was brought down here to cover the White House which is what I did under FDR, and got quite chummy with him, and got very friendly with [James A.] Farley, whom I met during the Democratic convention. And he sought advice from me, and as a matter of fact, so did FDR. When he came through Chicago, he asked me in a -- he was on his way to make a speech in Minneapolis, one of those "Lucky Strike Hour" speeches, and he asked me to arrange an interview with Tony [Anton J.] Cermak, then mayor, which I did. He got nowhere with Cermak, because he thought the greatest man in the world was Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York. Jimmy Walker, of course, was against Roosevelt and for Al Smith, or at least "stop Roosevelt" at practically any cost. And Farley also wanted to know the local situation. We got very chummy and I
ran into Al Smith at that convention too.
I didn't meet Roosevelt again until after I came to Washington. I came to Washington in October 15, 1934, and we went almost immediately down to Warm Springs, in say November, around Thanksgiving time. I met him again down there and got -- we were quite friendly, although I disagreed with him, but you don't fight with your news sources.
In the course of time I met Mr. Truman, rather casually, because I didn't really cover the Hill very much, but I did occasionally go up there, and I was a great friend, and I still am, of B. K. [Burton] Wheeler, who got Mr. Truman on the Transportation Committee -- the Commerce Committee -- railroads. Wheeler was interested in and he...
HESS: Interstate Commerce Committee.
TROHAN: Yeah, Interstate Commerce, and Truman got in this, and because of that connection Mr. Truman got into the subcommittee on the conduct of the war. And he, in those days, sought a great deal of advice from Mr. Wheeler because Wheeler was an old hand at that time, and quite an expert investigator. And in those days, also, Mr. Truman was a friend of [ Lewis B.] Schwellenbach
and Shay [Senator Sherman] Minton from Indiana. I think he sat with them, between them, and I remember some of that. Anyway, they were pretty chummy and I know Shay very well because he came from Indiana, I had to know him. And I knew Lewis Schwellenbach quite well and knew him when he got into the Cabinet. Well, in...
HESS: What was your impression of Mr. Truman's handling of the Truman Committee?
TROHAN: Oh, I thought he did a good job from a political point of view. He wasn't going to dirty up the administration any if he could help it, but he was trying to do the best he knew how. I knew Charlie Patrick Clark on that committee, who claimed to be the brains and the genius in it, which I do not think he was. He wasn't a very bright fellow.
HESS: Did you know Hugh Fulton?
TROHAN: Yes, I knew Fulton, who also claimed to have done the whole thing single-handed, but that happens, and is an old Washington custom. And then in -- oh, in along in, let's see, '44, because of his conduct with that Committee and because he was rather well-liked, Mr. Truman began to be mentioned for President. A great many people didn't take him seriously. Most of the
political experts they'll tell you differently no, but most of the reporters in Washington had been considering him not too seriously before that.
HESS: What was your opinion at that time?
TROHAN : Well, my opinion, I was really not -- I think I was with the majority. I didn't think that Mr. Truman -- I didn't take him seriously. I didn't think he had enough experience and I didn't think he had been around long enough; I didn't think he had a background. And I just thought it was more or less speculation. I knew he was rather well-liked on both sides, very partisan sort of fellow. He would have no use for any Republican. I remember at that time a member of that committee with him was a good friend of mine, Owen Brewster, of Maine. Brewster went out to Missouri, Jackson County, or as a matter of fact to Kansas City, and Truman apologized to him and said, "I can't bring you to the house because my mother don't like Republicans." Now, that's a fantastic story, but I believe it.
HESS: Is it a true story?
TROHAN : That's what Brewster told me. And also when Truman got nominated he wrote a letter to Brewster which ought to be among Brewster's papers somewhere, a very
HESS: Did you think that Mr. Truman being mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate in 1944 was somewhat of a stop [Henry A.] Wallace movement?
TROHAN: Yes. That was part of the anti-Wallace movement, but I didn't take it seriously. I knew they were going to stop Wallace. I was pretty sure they would anyhow. And, of course, in that time, everybody and his brother was -- well, it wasn't as bad as in '40. In '40 everybody was a vice-presidential candidate. Many of them, Jimmy [James F.] Byrnes and Louie [Louis A.] Johnson, former Secretary of War and later Secretary of Defense, oh, there were fifteen -- [Harold] Ickes was trying to get in there. He wrote a letter that's in
his memoirs, telling -- proposing [Robert Maynard] Hutchins of the University of Chicago, President Hutchins, and then he finally wound up in the letter saying that a lot of people say that I would be the logical man. That's in his memoirs. It's a very strange thing.
HESS: One question on 1940: Of course, that was the time Mr. Roosevelt ran for the third term, and James Farley did not like him running for the third term. What do you recall about Mr. Farley himself wanting the nomination in 1940?
TROHAN: Well, I spent the 1940 convention with Farley, as we were great friends, and at that time Farley really was for [Cordell] Hull for...
HESS: He did not want it himself?
TROHAN: Not exactly. He didn't think he was quite there. He thought he would be -- take second place with Hull. He could have it for a couple of terms and then succeed...
HESS: With Cordell Hull?
TROHAN: And then follow Hull. That was his idea. And he had some votes from Massachusetts, but he didn't take them seriously, and he didn't seriously think he was going to be -- that he was a candidate for the presidential nomination.
HESS: Did he think Cordell Hull would make a good nominee?
TROHAN: He thought Hull would make a good nominee and he thought Hull could have had it. He didn't think he, Farley, could have had it. He was -- when it came down to the point where Roosevelt was going to take the third term, he, in my presence, told Jesse Jones that Jones could have it if he would make a play for it. He could have stopped Wallace then. There was a stop Wallace movement at that time if you remember, and [Paul Vories] McNutt, former Governor of Indiana, was interested, but Roosevelt wasn't very hot for McNutt. McNutt had got himself into some kind of income tax trouble.
HESS: What did you hear Mr. Farley say about Mr. Roosevelt taking a third term?
TROHAN: Well, Farley was against a third term on the grounds that he thought that two term limit was a wise decision and taking a third term would stop younger men from coming up in the party and wreck the whole structure, and I think he was right, the third term was a mistake. There were other men that could have done it, Hull could have done it. I think Hull would have made a
good President. I think Farley would have made a good Vice President. However, today Farley is delighted that he didn't get it, because he's alive, and he wouldn't be had he gotten the job.
HESS: Moving on to 1944 and the convention. Did you attend the convention in Chicago in 1944?
TROHAN: Yes, I've attended every convention since 1932. And in 1944 there was an interesting note to me. I was in the room with Farley, in his room in the Blackstone Hotel where I stayed in a suite, when Mr. Truman came in. Mr. Truman walked in the door and said hello to me.
"Oh, I was getting ready to leave," I said.
Mr. Truman said it wasn't necessary; he just had a small thing to say. And Farley said, "You can say anything in front of Walter."
At that time I was preparing -- no, that was a little later. I was preparing to write Farley's memoirs for him which I subsequently did, we were very close friends. And we now talk practically every day on the phone.
Then, anyway, Mr. Truman came in to ask him for his support for Vice President. By that time it was
pretty obvious that it was going to Truman. [Robert E. ] Hannegan, Democratic National Chairman, was for Truman. That's when I first began to take Mr. Truman seriously was when I talked to Hannegan before the convention. But I think I took him seriously before most of them. I began to take him seriously in the fall of '43 because Hannegan would go to the football game and he sat right near me. We'd talk about various things in between plays and I saw him favoring for Truman, and knowing that he was party chairman, that made quite a little difference. He was in the Post Office then.
HESS: When Mr. Truman came to Chicago that year, he came with the idea of putting Jim Byrnes' name in nomination, as you know.
TROHAN: That's right.
HESS: Mr. Byrnes had phoned him and asked him if he would and Mr. Truman replied that he would, and coming to Chicago fully intending to place his name in nomination. Did he say anything about that the time he came in the hotel room?
TROHAN: No, this was the time -- by this time he was a candidate himself. He had been cleared with Sidney --
labor was for Truman and he didn't care much for Wallace. I wouldn't say, "Cleared with Sidney," because I think that's a vile phrase. The point was that it wasn't that Sidney Hillman picked Mr. Truman; it was that labor liked him. Hillman was not a king maker, but he was the spokesman for labor.
HESS: He could have given a veto.
TROHAN: Yes, he could have given...
HESS: A labor veto had he wanted to.
TROHAN: Yes, he could have, but he decided not to and then Mr. Truman came in then and asked for Farley's vote in the convention. And Farley said I'm sorry he had a half a vote -- and he said, "I'm sorry, but I'm pledged to Barkley," which he was.
HESS: What did Mr. Truman say then?
TROHAN: Truman said, "Well, that's all right." And then Farley said (and this is the most amazing thing I ever heard one politician say to another in all of my years -- and that is quite a few), he said, "You're going ahead." And he added: "Before you take it, you've got to ask yourself if you have the capacity to make a decision once the facts are put in front of you."
And Mr. Truman did not say, "Yes, I'm going to
get it," or he wasn't going to get it -- he wasn't feeling that he had it in the bag by any matter of means -- but he was courteous enough to come around to Farley and touch the bases. And as he left I turned to Farley and I said, "That's the