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Chief Justice Earl Warren Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Chief Justice Earl Warren

Governor of California, 1943-53, and Chief Justice of the United States, 1953-69. Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, 1948. Delivered principal address at the dedication of the Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri, July 6, 1957, and also the principal address at the dedication of the Thomas Hart Benton mural in the Truman Library, April 15, 1961.
Washington, D.C.
May 11, 1972
Jerry N. Hess

[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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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,1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Chief Justice Earl Warren


Washington, D.C.
May 11,1972
Jerry N. Hess


HESS: All right, Mr. Chief Justice, to begin this afternoon, what are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?

WARREN: I believe the first time I met President Truman, at least as far as I can recall, was when he came out to the United Nations convention in nineteen hundred and forty-five, very shortly after he became President, I was the host Governor of the convention and made the first speech at that convention welcoming it to


California. And when President Truman came to town I met him at the airport and rode in his car with him to the St. Francis Hotel where he was staying during the convention. There I visited with him in his quarters and so on.

HESS: It is well-known that you and Mr. Truman are good friends. Now just what is the basis for that friendship?

WARREN: Well, as far as I am concerned it came from admiration of his forthright qualities. To me he was a man of no guile, a man who was forthright in his positions that he took. I believe not only from what he said, but the manner of his actions, that he was acting from his own inclinations and was not being pressured into any positions that were alien to his nature, and I always felt that he felt highly toward me, too. And as time went on my regard for him grew and


I came to consider him a most valuable man in the public service.

HESS: As you know, Mr. Truman has said that you are "a Democrat and don't know it."

WARREN: I suppose. I know when he would come out to California, as usual he would just give the Republicans the heck; and it got to be ritualistic, someone in the crowd would say, "But how about Warren?"

He would say, "Oh, Warren is just a Democrat and doesn't know it." And of course, he couldn't have said anything better for me, talking to a Democratic crowd, and me being a Republican with our crossfiling system out there, and my having a penchant for crossfiling. It was that kind of a relationship all the way through.

I remember once I was back here when he was having real difficulties with the Congress, it was quite bitter, and...


HESS: Was this the 80th Congress that came in in '46?

WARREN: I'd have to look that up. I don't recall. It seems to me it was later than that but I won't be sure. Anyway, the Republicans, most of them didn't show up and the House of Representatives room wasn't filled by any manner of means, and I came in there when he was speaking. I was here on a committee of the Governors' Conference and I suggested we adjourn and go down and hear the President and his state of the Union message. We went down there and I was standing in the back, and when he was talking he apparently saw me, so when he concluded his speech and had gone out, the first thing I knew a young man came in and said to me, "The President would like to see you outside."

I said, "Oh, yes."

He said, "Yes, that’s true, he's out at the elevator and he'd like to see you."


I said, "Very well, I'll go out."

I guess it was a Secret Service man and I went out and there was the President standing at the elevator and he said, "Well, I just wanted to know how you are getting along and how your family is and so forth."

I told him I thought he had made a good speech and so forth, and we visited a little and he got into the elevator and went away. I was the only one he spoke to out of that whole crowd. You know, I never had any close association with him in which to really become sociable. We didn't have a relationship of that kind, but I admired him greatly and still do.

And I remember another time, not so long after he became President, I was on a committee of the Governors' Conference to see the President about some matters that involved Federal-state relations, and we had a date with the


President. And the day we had set for the date was the day after the Japanese surrender. It was in the morning and I remember we came in and this city looked like it had been hit by a tornado, papers and everything--you know what a wild night they had that night. We went and he was there waiting for us, and we went in and visited with him.

As I recall it, I've been doing a little thinking about it, my recollection is he told us that the pressure was already on to bring the boys home. And I won't be sure, but I believe he told us that he had already cancelled some war contracts. Now this was about 10 or 11 in the morning, and it was in the evening of the preceding day that the surrender was announced.

HESS: Did he give any indication either by word or tone of voice that he thought bringing the boys


home at that time would be premature?

WARREN: Well, I wouldn't want to say that he said that, but I just had the idea that he thought it was pretty hasty, you know, and that he could feel this pressure building up. Now that's not too vivid a recollection, but that's the impression that was left with me from the visit that we had.

HESS: All right now, as you stated, your first meeting with President Truman was in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference.


HESS: When did he first come to your attention, if you can think back?

WARREN: As far as I can recall, he first came to my attention as the chairman of the war committee.


HESS: What came to be known as the Truman Committee.

WARREN: The Truman Committee, yes. I thought that was a very important committee, and it received a good deal of publicity, you know. I thought it was serving a very, very good purpose. I thought it was a great service that he rendered in the war effort through that committee. But I didn't know him at that time.

HESS: What was your opinion when he was selected in 1944, in Chicago, as the vice-presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket? Were you a little surprised? Now if you'll think back you'll remember that Vice President Henry Wallace, of course, wanted to remain, and James Byrnes would have liked to have had it. There was no shortage of candidates in 1944.

WARREN: Oh, no, I know. Well, I don't think that I


was tremendously interested in that, because...

HESS: You were looking from the other side of the picture.

WARREN: ...that was the year that they tried to force the vice-presidential nomination on me at Chicago, and I had run for Governor just a little over a year and a half before on the theory that I wanted to be the war Governor of California, that our incumbent Governor wasn't giving it the attention that it should have been given; and the people had accepted that, and had elected me and we were still in the war, and I just felt that I couldn't honorably do it then. They just took it for granted that I would do it, they wouldn't believe me. Tom Dewey talked with me for upwards of an hour, the day of nomination, but I told him that I just could not do it, and so I didn't do it. So, I don't know that I


thought a great deal of the vice-presidency in either party.

HESS: Does it seem to be an idea that's a little difficult to get across that a man would like to remain in state government? Now what I'm thinking of is a parallel with Adlai Stevenson in 1952.


HESS: As you will recall he wanted to remain in Springfield.


HESS: And he was prevailed upon in 1952.

WARREN: Yes. Well, it's a very exciting position to be in in a big state where you have a complex situation and mine was a very happy situation, people were treating me very well, and I felt


I had a great feeling of independence out there that I didn't always have other places, and it was really a very attractive place to remain and I wanted to do it.

HESS: How did you assess Governor Dewey's chances in 1944?

WARREN: I remember the pictures of Roosevelt during the campaign in New York, you know, where he went through the rain.

HESS: He caught cold in the rain in the open convertible.

WARREN: They talked about it then and so forth. I felt he was not in good health.

HESS: When did you first notice a deterioration in President Roosevelt's health?

WARREN: Oh, really I don't know, but I think it was...


HESS: Sometime before the election.

WARREN: Sometime, I think, before the election, yes.

HESS: As you know, he died on April 12, 1945.


HESS: What were your impressions upon hearing the news of President Roosevelt's death?

WARREN: Well, it gave me a very depressing feeling. I hadn't been of the party of Roosevelt, but I thought he had been a great President anyway.

HESS: What kind of a job did you think that the new President, Mr. Truman, would do at that time and just what did you know about him? Now, we've mentioned the Subcommittee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which became known as the Truman Committee, but just what did you know


about Harry Truman on April the 12th of 1945?

WARREN: Well, as far as I can remember, I didn't know anything except about his work on that subcommittee, and also whatever I heard about the convention when he was nominated for the vice-presidency. I think that's about all that I knew about him at that time.

HESS: All right, now moving on to the 1948 election. As you were the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party, would you give me your assessment of that election and why Mr. Truman and the Democratic Party were supported in 1948?

WARREN: Well, I think one reason, the main reason, that he was elected was because he was such a plain and simple man, going out on his own, on a whirlwind trip to talk with the people, whereas Governor Dewey was talking at them, and there's a great difference. I don't believe it was


because the people were satisfied with all the things President Truman had done in his administration, but I think it was largely a matter of personality between him and Governor Dewey.

HESS: Support for the underdog?

WARREN: I think that played a part in it, I think the 80th Congress played a great part in it and I think his carrying the Midwest, by going out for the farmers had a lot to do with it. I don't know that I could describe any one thing that would be responsible for his election other than that.

HESS: Do you think that part of it could have been that the many Republicans thought that Mr. Dewey's election...

WARREN: Oh, yes.

HESS: …was a foregone conclusion and therefore


they didn't have to go vote ?

WARREN: I sure do. They started me out on a train on, I think it was the 15th of September, from Sacramento and I was on this train for thirty-five days, never got off of it; and we went to thirty-eight states around the country. When I came home about ten days before the election--and I was entirely out of touch with what was going on at home while I was on this train--and talked with some of my friends there, they told me that the Republican office in San Francisco was closed, and some others told me some other city headquarters were closed. I said, "Closed, what do you mean by that?”

They said, "Well, there isn't anything to fight, nothing to fight. The Democrats aren't making any fight out here, they have no offices running, and there is just no money available,


people think there is just no contest."

I wouldn't take that, and I went around the state right up to midnight before election giving talks and so forth; but they were just lackadaisical, everybody thought it was all over, you know.

HESS: The vote in California was extremely close.

WARREN: Eighteen thousand that day.

HESS: If there had been a shift of 8,933 votes California would have gone for Dewey.

WARREN: Yes, that's right, that's about half a vote a precinct.

HESS: About half a vote a precinct.


HESS: What could have been done? Ways it just lackadaisicalness...


WARREN: Oh, yes.

HESS: ...or was it overconfidence at that time?

WARREN: Oh, absolutely, they didn't work, they didn't work at it