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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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