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Opened February, 1980
Oral History Interview with
August 8, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
DAWSON: My name is Donald S. Dawson. I was born in Eldorado Springs, Missouri, August 3, 1908. I received my education in the public schools of Eldorado Springs and Nevada, Missouri and then went to the University of Missouri, graduating with a B.S. degree, economics major. Later I graduated from George Washington University Law School. I then went to New York City and worked for three years in the investment banking business, after brief summer employment in Tulsa, Oklahoma with an oil royalty company.
In 1933 I came to Washington and went to work for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
FUCHS: How did you happen to go to Washington?
DAWSON: I was here on business, selling a legal service, which consisted of a listing of prominent lawyers for world-wide referral of legal matters. I ran into a friend of mine, Fletcher Farrell, a prominent Missourian who was the treasurer of Sinclair Oil Company. He was much older than I, of course, but we were friends and he asked why I didn't go to work for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which had been in operation about a year. He was well-known there and recommended me. As a result I was appointed April 27, 1933, and went to work that day in what was known as the Closed Bank Section which handled all of the loans that had been made to banks that had subsequently closed. It was our job to liquidate those loans and collect the money that
the RFC had loaned. Subsequently I was put in charge of the Trouble Section, which had to do with all of the serious loan problems. One of the loans under my supervision was the Dawes Bank (Dawes was vice-president) loan in Chicago, and others of similar nature, all large loans and all very seriously in trouble.
In 1939 I was appointed assistant to the Federal Loan Administrator, Jesse Jones, and served him in that capacity and also when he was Secretary of Commerce. During the period that I was in that job, the defense buildup for World War II began and I was in charge of all personnel for the Federal Loan Administration and the RFC in particular. I increased the size of that organization from 2700 employees to over thirty thousand, and then went in the Army as a private, by choice, having been offered commissions in both the Army and the Navy. I went through basic training in Greensboro, North Carolina,
BTC 10, then made Air Force Officer Candidate School, and graduated from there, after having been elected to the only elective post in the Officer Candidate School, that of Chairman of the Honor Council. As far as I know, 1 was the only cadet who served for two full terms, by election.
I graduated as a second lieutenant and was assigned back to Washington in exactly the same job that I would have had with a major's commission if I had accepted it.
FUCHS: What was that, sir?
DAWSON: That was in the Army Services of Supply, Office of Industrial Personnel. My background had been to a considerable extent in personnel and they wanted me for their industrial program. They had kept their eye on me, and there I was back in the Pentagon, exactly where I didn't want to be.
FUCHS: You were in the Air Force?
DAWSON: Well, that was the Air Corps in those days, part of the Army. The Officer Candidate School was the Air Corps Officer Candidate School. I didn't like being put back in a desk job in Washington, which I had tried to get out of. I managed to get transferred to the Air Transport Command.
I didn't know anything about what the Air Transport Command did; I just wanted to get out of the Pentagon. I was assigned to Headquarters, Air Transport Command, and put in Civilian Personnel again, but it was the Air Force, or Air Corps then, and so I was reasonably satisfied.
Shortly thereafter they organized a Ground Safety Division in the Air Force, and I was placed in charge of that program for the Air Transport Command as a first lieutenant and established a safety record that resulted in 67 percent accident frequency reduction in the
first year. The division subsequently was awarded the first World-Wide Safety Achievement Certificate by the National Safety Council. That was a program in force all over the world and was very effective. I was proud of that job.
Then I was shifted back to Civilian Personnel and placed in charge for the Air Transport Command. I built that operation up from something like three thousand civilian employees to over 110 thousand civilian employees world-wide. The objective was to release military personnel for other duties, especially overseas, by replacing them with civilian employees. That, of course, kept me on the move a good deal and I was discharged finally when peace came, as a major. I went back to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and proceeded to dismantle the 30,000-man organization that I had built up.
I was there about a year when the Chairman
of the Board called me one day and said that the President, who was then President Truman, wanted to see me at the White House. I was quite surprised and didn't know why he wanted to see me. I knew President Truman. I had met him when he came here as Senator, but I didn't know him in Missouri. I said, "What does he want with me?"
He said, "I think he wants you to go to work over there for him."
So, I went knowing full well that I didn't have the qualifications or the ability to be in the White House, but nevertheless, when the President asks for you to come over you go. I talked to him, told him just exactly what I said to you. He said, "Well, I think that you're the man I want," and I went to work August the 6th, 1947 in the White House as Special Executive Assistant to the President, later on the payroll known as Administrative Assistant.
I can stop now and let you ask questions, or you can let me ramble on, whatever you want
FUCHS: Well, I usually don't interrupt people.
Just to go back a bit, I don't know who your predecessors were in the Air Corps jobs at that time. Did you institute any major type of a change there? You built this Air Transport Command Division up considerably.
DAWSON: The Ground Safety Program was brand new; it had never been in existence before, so I started out from scratch with very little experience and built the organization to a peak of success. It was one of the outstanding programs in the entire Air Force. The demand had not been present for large civilian work forces, but I saw the need for civilian workers who could work in depots, in aircraft maintenance, and do base maintenance, and not take the time of enlisted or officer military personnel. So, I sold that idea to my commanding officer, and we proceeded to recruit large numbers of civilians
which were then available in the war effort and could release military personnel for duties for which they were trained more specially.
FUCHS: Well, had you a Reserve commission, or had you been in ROTC?
DAWSON: I had the two-year basic training course at the University of Missouri in artillery. That does not give you a Reserve commission. My commission came by way of the basic training and Officer Candidate School in the Air Force.
FUCHS: I see. Later on you did get over into the Reserves, is that correct?
DAWSON: Yes. I was asked if I would not stay in the Reserves at the time of demobilization, and said I would. I've remained very active in the Reserve program ever since. I only again accepted the appointment of legislative chairman of the Reserve Officers Association last week, to work on
military programs, Reserve programs in the Congress.
FUCHS: I believe you went ahead and completed your law degree in Washington, is that correct?
DAWSON: I went to night school at George Washington University and graduated, passed the bar in the District of Columbia, at a time when only 38 percent passed. Which was much to my surprise.
FUCHS: Very good, sir.
Well, coming down to the appointment to the White House, was there someone particular you think may have nominated you or brought you to the attention of the President at that time?
DAWSON: I have no idea who it was that may have recommended me to the President. He knew me so it was not a question of his taking on a stranger. It may have been Matt Connelly, his Appointments Secretary, or it may have been John Snyder who was the Secretary of the Treasury,
and who knew me from my work in the RFC, or it may have been a combination of persons. No one ever took the credit or the blame.
FUCHS: How did you happen to meet the President the first time? Do you recall?
DAWSON: He was a Senator here and his secretary was Vic Messall, from Oklahoma. Vic was a good friend of mine; he had been secretary to Frank Lee, a member of Congress from Joplin, Missouri. Things were on a much more relaxed basis then than now. He took me in to meet Senator Truman. I saw him frequently thereafter; went to his office many times and a mutual friendship developed, not of a buddy-buddy type, but one where you have full faith and confidence in the other friend.
FUCHS: Mr. Messall, I had the pleasure of talking with several times and had lunch with him, but I've never been able to get him to sit down for an interview. We finally got some of his papers,
but his health was failing then and I wasn't able to interview him. I'm wondering if you know why he left the employ of Senator Truman at the time?
DAWSON: So far as I know, and I think I know the real reason, he saw an opportunity to go into business for himself. On Government salaries in those days you didn't accumulate very much, so he took advantage of that opportunity and did very well.
FUCHS: Were you acquainted with your predecessor, Mr. Zimmerman, I believe, insofar as liaison management or personnel management went?
DAWSON: Zimmerman was not my predecessor.
FUCHS: He wasn't?
DAWSON: George Schoeneman was my predecessor. He moved over to the Bureau of Internal Revenue as the Director. That had been his career before he went with President Truman. Zimmerman
had been on the White House staff in another role, specially connected with personnel work. My job had a lot more to it than personnel work per se.
FUCHS: Mr. Schoeneman was more in that line...
FUCHS: ...and less in the personnel line.
DAWSON: That's right.
FUCHS: I had almost forgotten; he didn't stay there too long did he?
DAWSON: I merged the two jobs into one.
FUCHS: Oh, you did.
DAWSON: And carried on from that point. No, George Schoeneman had not been there very long, and I think his career ambition was to be the Director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue where
he'd climbed the "ladder."
FUCHS: Would you by chance recall your first assignment in the White House?
DAWSON: No, I can't recall my first assignment, but I can tell you one that came very near the beginning, in November, or the latter part of October. Part of my responsibility was to oversee office space in the Executive Branch. I was what you might call the "space czar" for all the Federal establishments. I settled any disputes, and assigned agencies to vacant space, or told them to move, whatever happened to be necessary.
We were very cramped for space in the President's office. Some people were in the old State, War and Navy Building across the street. General Pershing had a suite of offices there. He had been gone many years, but it was a kind of shrine to World War I veterans. The offices were furnished, but nobody used them, and I
thought that we could put them to good use. So I set about exploring the matter and always ran into a roadblock -- you just couldn't touch those offices, they were General Pershing's and that was that.
So, finally I took the bit in my teeth and I went to the Pentagon and I arranged for finer offices that would be maintained in the Military Establishment and staffed by military personnel as a sort of a Pershing museum. I got the space in the Pentagon and ordered that the furniture and so forth be moved out of the old State Building.
That was just before Armistice Day in November of that year, '47, and in those days the American Legion hierarchy and everybody connected with the top level of the American Legion came to town for the ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery. I didn't know that. They had been accustomed to going over to General Pershing's suite of offices
in the State, War and Navy Building and making that their headquarters.
So, when they found out that I had moved the General out, there was all hell to pay. The roof blew off and I thought for sure I'd lost the next election for President Truman, because there was such an outcry about it, I learned a very important lesson, and that was "timing." You have to know when to do something and when not to do something. If I had waited until after Armistice Day nobody would have said a word because they wouldn't have known about it until the next year.
FUCHS: Very good. Did the President get in on any of that action by any chance?
DAWSON: No, he left that all up to me. He didn't pay much attention. I over-magnified it, I suppose, but it was pretty big in my eyes.
I might also say that the only thing we
found of any consequence in the effects of the General that were left in those offices were several trunks full of long underwear.
FUCHS: You still have a lot of your World War II equipment?
DAWSON: Oh, no. The only item I didn't turn back to the Army at the end was my gas mask. Why I didn't, I don't recall, but it was the only thing that has done me absolutely no good since then.
I might go back to General Pershing's rooms in the State, War and Navy Building. In the spring of 1948, the Congress passed the Economic Recovery Act and I was given the chore of setting that up in the absence of an appointed administrator. When Paul Hoffman was appointed Administrator, he was on his way from Japan. I staffed his office with personal secretaries and furniture in General Pershing's office so that
those offices were the nucleus, the beginning of the Economic Cooperation Administration. I'm sure that General Pershing would have been very proud to know that, because the program, in and of itself, was a great success and saved Europe from communism. So, I did a good job I think in that regard, regardless of the fuss.
FUCHS: Did you know Paul Hoffman?
DAWSON: I knew him well, from the first day he arrived in Washington. I met with him that afternoon, he and Tex Moore, his personal attorney, for many years. We met in the East Wing of the White House. I had assembled a staff of key employees for him, all with established records of service in the Government. Also, in the meantime I had arranged space for the ECA in the Miatico Building, which had just been completed. I had all of the offices furnished with equipment, rugs on the floor, pencils sharpened, an international communications network, people
available and ready to run it, once he said that he wanted them. He took everybody that I recommended except one person; that person was the general counsel. I had recommended George Washington, who was the Assistant Solicitor General, an able, fine lawyer. But he took Tex Moore, who was his longtime personal lawyer; he said he would just feel more comfortable with Tex. They got off to a running start, and were a success before the election. That was one of the contributing factors to the President's reelection, because of the successful way the European Recovery Program was started.
FUCHS: That's very interesting.
DAWSON: If that had not been done, Paul Hoffman and a bunch of people that didn't know anything about Government would have been floundering around for twelve months trying to get off the ground.
FUCHS: Very interesting. Did people coming into the
Government into various agencies being set up, often refer to the White House personnel people for assistance? Was it customary?
DAWSON: To a limited degree, but not very much, Really that wasn't our function. There were people that we wanted to see placed, and we recommended them to agencies. However, by and large, the agencies got their own people.
FUCHS: You've been credited, by some of the people we've interviewed, with having systematized the personnel matters in the White House, very successfully, and that a lot of them are still in practice today. Of course, the people didn't go into detail. Could you delineate a little more what they mean?
DAWSON: I think what they said is true, and I'm happy some people have remembered it. The program, through no fault of anybody's, was more or less hit or miss insofar as presidential
appointments was concerned. This was true of management of the executive branch by the White House, because Presidents come and Presidents go. They bring their own people, so people are frequently changing, and especially is this true of political appointees such as I was, and as George Schoeneman was. But I instituted the practice of having every presidential appointee cleared through a full field investigation, by the FBI. I reviewed every one of them. Where there were questions I sometimes went out and made my own investigation to see whether or not the charges were well-founded. This disproved a number of allegations that had been made by people interviewed by the FBI. There was no mistake on the FBI's part; they were reporting what they had been told.
Later on, John Foster Dulles, I believe it was, claimed that he started that practice. That wasn't so at all; it was done under President Truman. We systematized the filing and record-
keeping insofar as potential appointees were concerned. We did it on a geographic basis, on a congressional basis, on a basis of function, so that on almost a moment's notice we could have a hat-full of good candidates. If you wanted somebody from the South we could get somebody from the South. If you wanted somebody for Senator Blank, we could get somebody that he had recommended. Or if you wanted a top-notch banker, we could pick out a top-notch banker that was well-qualified.
I think that plan has carried out very well. Under Eisenhower a man by the name of Willis ran the office, Only a short time ago at a seminar in Kansas City, Bill Hopkins, who was Executive Clerk in the White House, and I were talking. I had run the office single-handedly for a long time with my secretaries. Then Marty Friedman came with me from the Department of the Army. He had been under my command in the Air Transport Command. Marty and I then ran it by
ourselves, and we had just as many appointments to make then as they do now. Then Mr. Willis came in; he ran it by himself for Eisenhower, and they had just as many appointments to make as they do now. Now they have countless people working in those offices doing no more work, and I don't understand how they all keep busy. Maybe it was a good system we started.
FUCHS: Maybe you worked harder.
DAWSON: Well, I think everybody works hard when they go to the White House.
FUCHS: I suppose so; there always seems to be enough to do. I'm sure you were interested in quality and I feel quite certain President Truman was, but you also had to offset the urging of people, especially in Congress, to take their friends. How did you, in the main, offset this pressure from say Senator So and So, if he might have been pushing someone who was, you felt, not
DAWSON: Well, let's change that a little bit. I found that the members of Congress recommended good people for the most part, and that it was a decided asset to have their recommendations. There were times when pressures had to be balanced out, because you'd have Senator So and So recommending somebody and the Speaker of the House might be recommending somebody for the same job. It was a matter of diplomacy, walking a tightrope, and things had to be balanced out in the long run. Sometimes you'd do it for this fellow and later on you'd take care of the other fellow's point of view. It's a matter of practicalities. We had no trouble in that regard, but if it were not for the help of Senators and members of the House, the job would be a lot tougher.
FUCHS: Do you ever recall disagreeing with the President, in a diplomatic way of course, on an
appointment where maybe he felt that someone should have a position and you felt that there was someone more qualified?
DAWSON: No, I never had a situation like that. Generally speaking, the President's candidates were always good candidates. The candidates that I would place before him for selection were always good candidates, and you could flip a coin and either one would do a fine job.
FUCHS: How often did you see the President?
DAWSON: Oh. I'd see the President three or four times a day, or half a dozen times a day. My office was immediately above his in the West Wing. He'd call me, and I would run down -- Matt Connelly would call me, so I was in and out of the office all day long for the simple reason that my job had many facets to it, not only personnel.
For example, and this could be the prelude
to the advance work that I did for the President in the '48 election. I was called by the President -- Charlie Ross, the President's Press Secretary was there -- and he said, "Frank Land," (the Imperial Potentate of the Shrine) "has the President coming out to Chicago to make a speech on Thursday afternoon in Soldier's Field at 4 o'clock. They are selling tickets at $5 to $15 a seat with few sales. You go out to Chicago and get that stadium filled." So that, I had to do.
FUCHS: How did you go about that, sir?
DAWSON: Well, that was a little sleight of hand. I found that 4 o'clock Thursday afternoon was not really a popular time for people to take off from work and spend five or ten or fifteen dollars for a seat to hear the President of the United States, so that sales were going slow. The reason for selling the seats was that the Shrine parade was going to wind up at Soldier's
Field and people could have a reserved seat and see the Shrine parade, which was a great attraction. But then after all of that, the President would speak.
I worked with the city Democratic organization in Cook County. We got loudspeaker trucks; they let the schools out; we arranged for some people to get in free to fill up seats; and then there was one last thing I did.
I had found out that the Chicago Tribune had an immense American flag that they used to stretch across the end of the field which was horseshoe shaped. So, I cut off many empty seats at the end with the American flag stretching across, and people weren't aware that the stadium was not filled. The part that was used, was completely filled. When the Shrine parade marched in, I locked the gates and they had to stay there seated in the infield and on the football field, all around where the President would speak, and so
the place was jam-packed full.
FUCHS: How did the President select you for this assignment? Was it Charlie Murphy that sometimes acted as an advance man?
DAWSON: No, Charlie never acted as an advance man.
FUCHS: There was another gentleman, I can't...
DAWSON: No one else acted as an advance man, with one big exception. After the President left office, there were others that did that work, but nobody ever did it except me while he was in office. Oscar Chapman had been advance man until September of 1948, when the President was in California. I took over at that point. Oscar was Secretary of the Interior and just had too many things to do so that he couldn't do everything. I was called, one evening during the 1948 campaign when I was in bed. Matt Connelly said the President wanted me to take over the advance work in Texas, and to get down there that night. I said, "I can't
get down there tonight, and I don't know anything about the job anyway. Can't you get somebody else that can do a better job?"
He said, "No, the President's picked you and you get down there." After some more arguing I went. Up until then they had had great difficulty in turning out crowds. The President had made a swing across the western tier of states in the spring of 1948. People had seen him, but crowds were not good then. You may remember the picture in Life magazine showing the empty sidewalks and no crowds out in Wyoming, and other places.
FUCHS: There was an empty hall in Omaha.
DAWSON: In Omaha the auditorium was just partially filled in the first trip. The Hollywood Bowl was not a success. That's when they called me, and from that point on we never had a meeting that was not crowded and overflowing. This was from E1 Paso, Texas, on through to St. Louis which was the last appearance we made in the
'48 campaign, in Kiel Auditorium.
FUCHS: Did you employ some particular tactics in Texas, which was your first assignment, I gather, in this capacity?
DAWSON: Just hard work there. When I went to Texas and got off the plane at Dallas, I was met by Sam Rayburn and Bob Clark, Tom Clark's brother. Sam Rayburn's brother was also there. The three of them took me down to the Adolphus Hotel and gave me the top floor penthouse suite. I thought I was a pretty big fellow. I discovered that the Texas Democrats were split right down the middle. Wright Morrow was the State Chairman, a fine man, old-line Democrat, but he was not representing the Truman Democrats the way they thought they should be represented. The so-called loyal Truman forces included Sam Rayburn, Tom Clark, Bill Kittrell, and Harry Seay. We found that the wrong people had been invited to every
meeting in Texas. The President was to spend two days in Texas on the train. We found that the Truman regulars, loyalists, were not included in any plans or preparation at all. So their feelings were hurt, and I had to take care of that so that there wouldn't be a division wherever the President went. I had to countermand Wright Morrows instructions, and put the Truman forces into the places of prominence. I did that all from Dallas by telephone, with the help of Bill Kittrell and Harry Seay. They knew everybody in Texas.
The President's first stop was El Paso. I worked with the county chairman. The railroad station was at the end of a long street that had another street coming in at an angle. The President spoke from the back platform of the train. When he arrived, both of those streets were filled with crowds backed up for two city blocks trying to see the President and wanting to hear him speak.
From that point the trip was a succession of personal triumphs. The President spoke everyplace where there was a handful, even out on the plains. I remember we stopped at one little place; there must have been two hundred and fifty or three hundred people there. The President spoke from the back platform of the train. A cowboy was on a bucking horse showing off for the crowd and trying to act smart. The President didn't pay too much attention, but everybody else was bothered by this fellow. So the President, after he was through, got down off the platform, went over to this fellow on his horse, and took the horse's mouth and opened it, as only someone raised on a farm can do. He looked at his teeth and he said, "Your horse is eight years old and he's not a very good horse," The fellow rode off with his tail between his legs while the crowd roared.
FUCHS: That's pretty good. While we're on the '48
campaign we might as well go ahead with some of the matters there. One was recounted in Irwin Ross's book, The Loneliest Campaign, in which he told the story that you have recalled about Ed Flynn. I wonder if you could put that in your own words here? And I might have a question about that.
Sarah Delano Roosevelt Park was the site.
DAWSON: Yes. We appeared in New York City, where traditionally the Democratic candidate always has appeared the last week of the campaign. The headquarters of the National Committee were moved to the Biltmore Hotel in those days during the Presidential campaigns. I had organized a big motorcade that started out with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers rally in the garment district -- Dave Dubinsky's and Jake [Jacob S.] Potofsky's organization. They were leaders of the Liberal Party. From there we continued to City Hall and wound up around dusk at Sarah
Delano Roosevelt Park, which was in the nature of a dedication.
There were open touring cars in those days. The President got out of his car to go over to a little platform in the park to make his speech. Ed Flynn just sat in the car. He wasn't going to get out. I said, "Mr. Flynn, you ought to go with the President, and sit on the platform," or words to that effect. He said he didn't think he would go. Well I said, "Mr. Flynn, it's important for you to go." The upshot was that he got out of the car, went over on the platform, and stood up with the President. In my mind, he didn't want to be embarrassed by appearing with a losing candidate. But he went nevertheless.
FUCHS: But he did it by persuasion?
DAWSON: Yes, I twisted his arm.
FUCHS: You took his arm, considerable persuasion.
And then another visit was to New York City on the 28th and 29th of October that year, and I believe you were advance man there.
DAWSON: That's right. The same visit, the same trip.
FUCHS: You recalled once before about the Madison Square Garden speech. Would you care to relate that here so we can get everything in one place?
DAWSON: When I got to New York to do the advance work, I found that the place where the President was to speak, and traditionally, was Madison Square Garden. The Democratic Party state organization had not had enough faith and confidence in President Truman's chances to engage Madison Square Garden. It had to be engaged about January, for an October appearance, you see. The Liberal Party, however, had reserved the Garden for that night. As I say, Dave
Dubinsky, Alex Rose, and Jake Potofsky were the heads of the Liberal Party. As a result I could not work with the Democratic organization, because the Liberal Party had the hall. I will say that the Liberal Party cooperated in every way, but they had sold tickets on a reserved seat basis, to their local unions, and the locals in turn had either sold the tickets or passed them out to the members. But there was no real motivating force for any member after he had gone home, to come back from Brooklyn, or Queens or the Bronx, or wherever he lived, get on a bus and drive in and occupy a seat in Madison Square Garden. After he had gotten home and taken off his shoes and was comfortable, he could listen to the radio. And that's what they were all going to do.
In addition, by selling seats on a reserved seat basis, they had had to pay a tax on each ticket sold. And Mrs. Malloly who ran Madison Square Garden in those days -- a beautiful Irish
woman, and very efficient, would not let me open the doors and get the public in, because she said that people that had reserved seats will come, and if they don't get a seat, they will get mad at the Garden. So she said she wouldn't do it. Furthermore she said, "Everybody that comes in has to pay a tax, and I can't collect tax from everybody that comes in off the street. I won't do it."
Well, we were in a real quandary. The Garden in those days would hold roughly 16,000 people. I didn't know what to do, but finally I won Mrs. Malloly over and she agreed at a certain time to open the gates of Madison Square Garden and let everybody in. So, I made it a big point to get people behind the barricades that were holding the crowds back, ready to rush across and fill up the Garden when the gates were opened. We had a crowd there, again with the cooperation of the city and state organizations of both the Liberal and Democratic Parties, because by that time the Democratic Party leaders
were getting a little agitated. They thought that Truman might win, and were willing to do a little work. Nowadays they all say, "Oh we knew he was going to win - knew it all along," and take credit for it, but that wasn't the fact at all. You could have shot a cannon down the corridor of the Biltmore Hotel at the Democratic headquarters and wouldn't hit a soul the week before the election.
At any rate, I had a plan worked out whereby it would be plan A, or B or C if certain things happened. I was eating dinner with the President at the Biltmore Hotel and was called from the Garden and told there were very few people. I put Plan A into effect. I excused myself, drove over to the Garden and saw the place was half empty. Dave Dubinsky was there; the lights were blazing down from the highest balcony. I walked up there, ran and saw -- there were no people at all. I said, "Mr. Dubinsky, you've got to open the gates, there isn't anybody
here." He wouldn't believe me.
I took him by the arm up to the balconies. I suppose that was the only time anybody ever did that to Dave Dubinsky. He saw few spectators but several photographers. We opened the gates, and the crowd came in. I ordered the top lights turned off, and then you couldn't see from the floor of the Madison Square Garden whether anybody was in the balconies or not, so you had the effect. But I filled them up.
Then, to make a long story short, we had a big motorcade and marching parade coming over from the Biltmore Hotel to the Garden with the President. I marched the parade into Madison Square Garden, and closed the gates so they couldn't go out. I had the whole parade inside of the Garden; it was filled up.
FUCHS: Pretty good.
I want to pick out some of the more important questions; there is so much I could ask.
DAWSON: Let me just say this. As a result of people crowding to those meetings, even somewhat under a ruse or duress, they saw the President, they heard the President, and they became supporters of the President. And that, I think, is largely responsible for the ground-swell that turned out on election day and gave him the vote. If we had gone along and been content to have sidewalk crowds, I don't believe the result would have been the same. I believe it was the first time any organized advance work had been done by other than the Secret Service, I worked very closely with the Secret Service, Jim Rowley was chief of the White House detail in those days, and he was a perfect man to work with. Now they have hordes of people running hither and yon to every city at the same time,
FUCHS: Did you come in touch with the Research Division of the Democratic National Committee in '48, which was a new thing at that time?
DAWSON: Not to any great extent. I fed local news
items, local interest, local questions to the Research group and to the speechwriters, so that they could take notice of it in the speeches they wrote for the President.
FUCHS: You mean when you were out in a city?
FUCHS: You fed this back through the DNC?
DAWSON: Yes, or through the people on the train.
FUCHS: Did you participate in any way on that non-political trip in June of '48?
DAWSON: No, I did not; that was the first trip that I spoke about, in the spring.
FUCHS: That's when Oscar Chapman was acting as advance man?
FUCHS: I was in error in saying Murphy; I had the two
confused in my mind.
DAWSON: No, Charlie never did any of that work. And Oscar did not after August. But he did meet me in Akron, Ohio and then left.
FUCHS: Did you have a good meeting in Akron?
DAWSON: Oh, every meeting was a terrific success. We got Governor [Frank] Lausche to come out for President Truman in Akron.
FUCHS: That's my home town; that's why I ask.
DAWSON: Summit County; a man by the name of Clarence Mott was the state chairman at the time. I worked with him very closely. They had planned to have the meeting in the Rubber Bowl. Oscar and I went out there. It was a cold night in October. We just couldn't see getting a crowd out there at all. So I went to the Armory downtown, and filled it to overflowing.
FUCHS: Did you have any duties in connection with the convention that year?
DAWSON: In '48, I did not. I was present, and I did whatever I was told to do, but from an organizational standpoint I did not.
FUCHS: There was an abortive mission that was proposed in October of Ď48 to send Justice Vinson to Moscow. Did you have any connection with that, or do you have any reflections about it or how it came about?
DAWSON: I remember it well, because I was in Akron when the news broke, and as you recall, Secretary Marshall put his foot down and wouldn't allow Vinson to go. I remember a particularly mean cartoon that came out in the Akron paper purporting to show Marshall giving President Truman orders.
FUCHS: Were you acquainted with David Noyes?
DAWSON: Yes, I knew David Noyes very well.
FUCHS: Did you know that he had a connection with that proposal?
DAWSON: No, I don't know. I don't know the background of it at all.
FUCHS: Albert Carr, did you know him?
FUCHS: And John Franklin Carter?
DAWSON: Yes. Jay Franklin, as we knew him. He was brought in to help. He was a very liberal writer in New York. I used to enjoy reading his articles very much. But there again, I was away from Washington so I do not know the background of that episode.
FUCHS: You don't know who proposed bringing those men into the White House?
FUCHS: What about Jonathan Daniels, did you come in
touch with him in the '48 campaign?
DAWSON: Not very much, no.
FUCHS: You know Jonathan?
DAWSON: Oh, I know Jonathan well, and have a high regard for him. He's a good friend of mine.
FUCHS: Did you ever work on any speeches for the President?
DAWSON: Yes, I did speech work. I wrote generally all the speeches that touched on personnel, loyalty of Federal employees, and then helped with some other speeches in a sort of associate way. Others were working, but I put in my contribution.
FUCHS: Do you have any reflections about the President's loyalty security program either good or bad or indifferent?
DAWSON: I remember at the time it was announced I was working at the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation, in charge of personnel, dismantling that organization as I mentioned. I didn't think too much of it from an operational standpoint. I went over to the White House; I then was placed in charge of the program, and was actually chairman of the White House Loyalty Review Board. It was a program that had to come; it couldn't have been delayed. It served a very necessary role at that time, and on balance I think it was a good program, well administered.
FUCHS: There was a rather major trip the President took in May of 1950 and he, I believe, dedicated the Grand Coulee Dam at that time. Were you on that trip?
DAWSON: No, I did not go on that trip.
FUCHS: Did you ever sit in on Cabinet meetings?
DAWSON: I would sit in sometimes, but not regularly.
FUCHS: What about the staff meetings, the morning
DAWSON: I attended all staff meetings when I was in Washington.
FUCHS: How do you think they were conducted?
DAWSON: The meetings were a practice inaugurated by President Truman, and insofar as I know he is the only President that has ever followed that practice. It was a perfect vehicle for the President to find out what was going on in the United States in connection with his various programs, what the questions were that were being raised about different programs, what the questions were that were coming in to the President's office, and what the solutions were, how to deal with them, and to give him everyday working knowledge of what was going on so that he kept in day-to-day touch, absolutely, physically in touch on an organized basis.
He handled the meetings well; they were
organized, they weren't rambling, we got through with our business and we went out. And when we went out the President knew everything that was happening in the United States. We were followed generally, by Admiral [William] Leahy and Sid [Sidney] Souers, of the Security Council, the beginning of the CIA. They briefed him on the international situation, so by 10:30 he knew everything that was going on in the world.
FUCHS: Generally, if you were going to present him a problem, did he like for you also to present a possible solution at that time? Was that something that he stressed?
DAWSON: I don't know whether he stressed it or not. It was my nature and my military training that always caused me to have a solution, and I think everybody that was on the staff in those days came in with a solution, maybe two solutions or alternatives.
FUCHS: Did you discuss problems much, or was that generally done, say, in a smaller group and sort of a consensus reached and then presented to the President? Was there any extensive discussion in staff meetings?
DAWSON: In my area there were not many problems of a nature that would require staff discussion. In other areas I think that the staff did exchange views a great deal and work out jointly the various solutions that were suggested and followed.
FUCHS: In regard to the press conferences, did you attend the pre-press conference meetings?
DAWSON: I did, And made my input from a political standpoint, and a knowledge of personalities. I worked very closely with the Democratic National Committee on a day-to-day basis so that I had their viewpoint pretty well, and I think made a modest contribution to the pre-press conferences.
FUCHS: Were the pre-press conferences attended by a certain group, or was it just dependent upon what major problems were?
DAWSON: It was just generally by a certain small group, but if there were a question that involved some aspect that was not represented in that group, the proper parties were called in.
FUCHS: Can you recall who the persons were who normally attended?
DAWSON: It would be Charlie Ross, Matt Connelly, John Steelman, Charlie Murphy, generally the military aides, myself, and Eben Ayers. That would generally be the nucleus of it.
FUCHS: Did you go to the actual press conference?
DAWSON: I always went to the press conferences when I was in the city.
FUCHS: Did the President discuss practically all
topics with his staff or was he kind of reluctant to, say not discuss foreign affairs, security matters; any areas that you thought he avoided particularly?
DAWSON: No, I never found any sense of avoidance at all. It was perhaps not appropriate to discuss those areas. He met frequently with Dean Acheson when he was Secretary of State, and also George Marshall, and they ironed out those problems by and large. Security matters were generally handled by Sid Souers so that there wasn't any necessity to go into discussion of those items except insofar as one might come before the staff group for some reason or another.
FUCHS: Who did the President, in your opinion, depend on for political advice mostly, either in the Cabinet or other members of the staff?
DAWSON: Well, you have different kinds of political advice. You have hard rock politics. He would
depend largely on the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He took their advice on practical politics. Then there is perhaps the lace curtain, or parlor politics, where you are theorizing, and developing a political thesis, we'll say. I think Charlie Murphy had a good deal of input there; John Steelman had input; I had a certain amount.
FUCHS: What about Clark Clifford?
DAWSON: Clark Clifford at the time he was there - I forget exactly when Clark left.
FUCHS: He left in '48; I guess it was before the election.
DAWSON: No, he stayed through the election. I think it was just after the inauguration perhaps a short time.
FUCHS: He didn't take part in the new administration.
DAWSON: So, for most of the President's term of elective office, Charlie held that job and not Clark. When Clark was there he, of course, had his input.
FUCHS: Do you recall at any of the Cabinet meetings that there was a secretary, or one of the staff who took notes, minutes of the meeting?
DAWSON: At the Cabinet meetings?
DAWSON: I do not. I think Matt Connelly and John Steelman generally did, from the standpoint of following up.
FUCHS: Who do you think were the most influential Cabinet members in your period of service?
DAWSON: Well, I think anyone would have to say Dean Acheson, George Marshall, Howard McGrath, Oscar Chapman. Now, what departments have I left out?
FUCHS: Well, of course, there was the Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor.
DAWSON: The President had great confidence in Charlie Sawyer, Secretary of Commerce, and relied on him. Jesse Donaldson in the Post Office Department was an outstanding man, and Vince Burke his deputy, both top-notch career men, who had been appointed by the President. He relied on them heavily for the matters in their field.
FUCHS: Not in other fields?
DAWSON: Not in the general political field, although I'll have to say that Charlie Sawyer and Jesse Donaldson did have some bedrock political advice to give from time to time.
FUCHS: Did you ever come in touch with Louis Johnson?
DAWSON: Oh, yes, I worked very closely with him; he was one of the most cooperative of all the Cabinet officers. He would be in my office once
or twice every week; always came up, after or before the Cabinet meeting. I had a very high regard for him from the stand-point of his cooperative way of working.
FUCHS: Did you get into congressional liaison in any way, report on legislation and so forth?
DAWSON: Very little; I'd do a little bit on the fringe but not much. We didn't have any congressional liaison for some time under President Truman. We later established two positions, filled by Charlie Maylon and Joe Feeney. They began the congressional liaison work under President Truman.
FUCHS: What kind of men were they?
DAWSON: Charlie Maylon was a career military man. He had started out as a private and worked his way up; he was brigadier general at that time. He was well-known on the Hill, well-liked, highly
respected. Joe Feeney was an Irishman with a broad smile, great ability, great political insight, who had a wide circle of friends on the Hill. They began to carry the President's viewpoint to Congress.
Cabinet officers did a great deal of it in the early days, remember. If they had a program they wanted to put over, they did the job.
FUCHS: What about John Carroll, who came in a little later, did you know him?
DAWSON: Oh yes, John Carroll was from Denver. Later he was a Senator for a short time.
FUCHS: Did he do a good job?
DAWSON: John did a good job, yes. He was not there very long.
FUCHS: I don't know if you know Phil Kaiser.
DAWSON: I know Phil Kaiser very well. President Truman appointed him Assistant Secretary of Labor, and it was held up for some reason or other for quite a while and then it went through.
I went to his swearing-in, his father was there. But he's Ambassador to Hungary?
DAWSON: Well, that's very interesting.
FUCHS: Yes, he left before I got there. He had been in London with the Encyclopaedia Britannica and he wrote me and suggested that we do more interviewing in the area and, of course, I wanted to interview him. Did you know David Morse, too, who served in the Labor Department and then was director general of the ILO?
DAWSON: I knew him, but not well.
FUCHS: One question that our former Director wanted to be certain about -- he died the other day. I don't know if you knew Dr. Brooks or not.
DAWSON: I saw that he died, and I was very sorry; he was a good man.
FUCHS: Yes he was. He had heard a story from several of the former White House staff members. Well, actually, I guess he had heard it from a man who had attended a meeting of the Truman staff, and I don't know who the man was. He was doing research at the Library. There was also supposed to be at this meeting, a few of the incoming Eisenhower people, on January 19, 1953, which of course, was the day before the end of the administration. According to this source, at that meeting Mr. Truman said that the principal accomplishment that he would be remembered for would not be the Marshall plan or Point IV, but it would be for reorganizing the White House office in such a manner that no future President could make a mistake.
Were you at that meeting, and do you recall such a statement?
DAWSON: Right off hand, I do not recall whether I was at the meeting. I do not remember the statement.
FUCHS: I thought it was rather interesting.
DAWSON: The President did a good job of organizing the White House office. However, every President comes in and reorganizes it to suit his own way of doing business, and I think that's perfectly all right.
FUCHS: Do you have recollections when Korea was invaded by the North Koreans?
DAWSON: Let me interrupt you just a second. Go back to the question of the organization of the White House. As I recall, we had a staff of roughly 250 people, total, in the White House office, as listed in the Budget. That included clerks, messengers, stenographers, typists, and key people. Today they have more than double that amount. It's grown and grown and grown. And yet, if you look back, you will find out that there was every bit as much work to be done in President Truman's day as there is today.
The country was recovering from World War II. We had the tremendous problem of readjusting veterans back to civilian life. We had scarcities in the civilian economy; we had priority of building materials. We had some scarcity in foods; we had to have price controls, and wage controls. Then the Korean episode came along and we were involved in what we might call a Vietnam war then, without any of the implications of Vietnam, but it was conducting an overseas war operation. We had all of the threats of inflation that they have had in the last several years, but they were handled and dealt with and we did not have the resulting runaway inflation. We had the readjustment of Europe after the war. We had the Marshall plan, the Point IV plan; we had the organization of NATO; we organized the United Nations; we had the Greek-Turkish Aid Pact, and you could go on and on. We developed the atomic energy program in those years. There isn't anything today that will equal what I've just told you that they have to cope with.
And yet they've got twice as many people doing it.
FUCHS: Whose principle is that?
DAWSON: That's the "Peter principle" isn't it?
FUCHS: I think so.
I believe there was the practice and I donít know whether it's still extant. I don't know what numbers there were either, of people that would be in the White House that were actually carried on the payroll of another department or agency. Do you have knowledge of what I refer to?
DAWSON: Yes. That was called "reimbursable detail," Sometimes it wasn't reimbursable, however, and when President Truman went into the office of President he found that many people were still on detail from State Department, War Department, Navy Department. Some had gone over there in
McKinley's day. Rudolph Forster, the Executive Clerk; and Judge Latta, the Executive Clerk, had gone over in McKinley's day, and they just stayed on and on and on. They were carried on detail.
In the organization that I worked with, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, we carried, I don't know how many people on detail to the White House. They never showed up at RFC; they were always doing something over in the President's office. President Truman set about changing that. He had what he called an "honest budget," so that everybody that was working in the White House office would be listed in the budget and would be accounted for in the expenditure of funds.
FUCHS: In other words, then, this practice declined in his period?
DAWSON: It declined, I think, to zero. Now there were some people in the White House during President
Truman's administration who were from the Department of Defense in communications, work, but that was properly a function of the military to perform that service.
FUCHS: Do you have knowledge if any of this goes on now?
DAWSON: I don't know whether it does or does not. I have heard that the great rush of correspondence caused the President to have about 60 people detailed to take care of the letters that were coming in. Whether that practice spilled over into other situations I don't know.
FUCHS: Everythingís larger now.
DAWSON: Why? Why does it have to be larger?
FUCHS: I don't know. They assigned two of us to work on the Truman papers from '53 until the Library opened in '57, and Ford has already had, I think, 14 assigned to work on his library.
DAWSON: Well, there you are.
FUCHS: Of course, they have more papers.
DAWSON: And he's had a much shorter period of administration, and no more problems.
Now, I don't say anything critically. I raise the question. I think every President is entitled to do the job he wants to do, the way he wants to do it.
FUCHS: President Truman's administration, of course, as every one of them has, involved so-called scandals. Harry Vaughan was subject to charges, and also Dr. Wallace Graham, and there was a number of others, including yourself, who were subject to certain charges.
DAWSON: No, I was never subject to any charges.
FUCHS: Only by Senator Fulbright.
DAWSON: I was never subject to any charges. That is in the preamble of the committee statement and it's
in the concluding statement by Senator Fulbright, that I was never charged with anything. I was considered to be "necessary background information."
FUCHS: That's a good term, and mine's a poor selection. Generally speaking, I'm thinking of certain things that came out in the paper, and we know how things come out in the papers, certain people did so and so, or it's...
DAWSON: As a matter of fact, I was thanked by Senator Fulbright, in his concluding remarks, for providing the committee with information that they needed.
FUCHS: That's what I'm wondering. My main question is, at one time in connection with this RFC matter you drafted a statement, addressed presumably to the subcommittee and to Senator Fulbright, that said he had never proved anything. He had charged certain things in the beginning,
but later on you showed to everyone's satisfaction, you thought, that they were not as he stated. For instance, in regard to influence on appointments of certain directors, you pointed out that all the directors you backed, or people you backed as directors, had never been appointed. It was sort of reverse influence. I wonder if Senator Fulbright has ever come back to you and apologized, or if you had a friendship of any sort?
DAWSON: I don't recall the paper you refer to. Did I ever use it in any way?
FUCHS: That's what I don't know. This was picked up by Mr. Hess when he was planning on doing an interview with you, I imagine by a research assistant, who sent it to him. I have a copy, and I did not have time, frankly, to go and check it out to see if it ever appeared in the press or if it was ever released. I think you
said you'd stand on the record.
DAWSON: Yes, I would be glad to stand on the record, and have. At the conclusion of the hearings, where I testified, under oath, Senator Fulbright made it a point to say that there were never any charges made against me, that I was necessary for background information, that he thanked me on behalf of the committee for cooperating with them. I never had any disagreement with Senator Fulbright. We have a friendship, but its neither better nor worse since the hearings because I never did know him very well, and I never went with the same crowd of people that he went with. I know his wife; she's a lovely lady, and we always speak cordially whenever we meet, but that was the extent of my relationship before and it's the extent of it now. I think that he, in his own mind, must be mindful of all of the testimony and that there was not one single loan that was made that I had anything to do with. And the one person that I recommended for appointment, to
the staff of the RFC, did not receive the appointment but that the one recommended by Senator Fulbright did.
FUCHS: The Youngs; I believe Mrs. Young, Lauretta Young, had at one time been on Senator Truman's staff.
DAWSON: She was one of his secretaries in the White House.
FUCHS: Oh, she did come to the White House?
DAWSON: Yes, as far as I know that's the only job she had for him.
FUCHS: But she had been in the RFC or just her husband, Merl Young, had been in RFC?
DAWSON: No, she hadn't been in RFC. Merl was in the RFC; he was there after I came back from the war.
FUCHS: Who took your position while you were in the
DAWSON: Frank Elliot.
FUCHS: He more or less held it for you, and then you went back into it.
FUCHS: You did go back in the same position, essentially, for a little while before you went to the White House?
DAWSON: Yes, I did.
Merl was an employee there when I came back, I don't even recall how I met him but I think he introduced himself in the hall, or the lobby, one day as being from Cedar County, Missouri. I had never known him before.
FUCHS: Do you think this whole RFC thing was rather overblown? Was there much substance to it so far as influence on loans, by anyone?
DAWSON: There was no influence proved insofar as I saw in the record. The RFC had an outstandingly fine record as a Government agency. It showed a profit when it was finally liquidated. It did a good job and I don't believe there was any abuse of power what so ever.
FUCHS: It was proposed at the time to replace the five-man board with...
DAWSON: A single administrator, and that was done through a plan of reorganization.
FUCHS: Do you think that was a good idea?
DAWSON: No, I don't. The RFC was not an Executive Department or agency in the sense that it administered programs. A single executive can properly head such an agency.
The RFC was a lending institution. It made loans. A single person should not have the responsibility of saying whether a loan should or should not be made. The original five-member
board exercised this authority very well. It provided a balance politically and practically. It provided continuity of management and policy. It preserved fairness. A single administrator would be open to charges of favoritism to a far greater degree than a five-member bipartisan board.
FUCHS: What about some of the other charges in the newspapers against Harry Vaughan and some of the others in the administration? Do you think any of those were justified, or were they mostly attempts to get at the President through them?
DAWSON: I think all of these things were attempts to undermine the President's power. The only way they could attack him was by attacking his subordinates.
FUCHS: Almost everyone that talks about Harry Vaughan says that the man was charged with all kinds of things, including being a big drinker, and he didn't even drink.
DAWSON: Didn't drink at all. He was an absolutely wonderful, fine man -- a religious man.
FUCHS: What about the time when South Korea was invaded; does anything particularly stand out in your mind concerning the reaction of the President the first time you saw him after he heard about it? Was your work changed in any way?
DAWSON: I was on a fishing trip with Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Bob Ramspeck, and a number of others, off Kiptopeak, Virginia when we got word that the President had recommended to the United Nations that action be taken. We were driven up to Solomons Island and Speaker Rayburn's car met us there. We came on into Washington. That's the first instance that any of the people on the boat knew anything about it.
FUCHS: Did you catch any fish?
DAWSON: Oh yes; and they baited our hooks for us.
FUCHS: Do you recall what the President said? Did you have a conversation with him shortly thereafter?
DAWSON: No, I did not. I was talking with him, but not on that subject.
FUCHS: You probably werenít involved in writing the message that he made on that occasion?
FUCHS: At the time that President Truman was going to visit MacArthur at Wake Island, I believe you went to San Francisco to carry out some duties in connection with that. What did that involve?
DAWSON: That was to handle the advance work for his return, and his report to the Nation, after the visit on Wake Island with General MacArthur.
FUCHS: What would this mean, arranging for television facilities?
DAWSON: Thatís right.
FUCHS: Or radio time?
DAWSON: You were right both times. He planned to make a report to the Nation over the air, and I was sent out to make the arrangements, as I'd always done in his other appearances that called for it. Robinson was the Mayor -- Republican -- of San Francisco; I told him what the situation was and that we needed a place for the President to make his report. We wanted the Opera House in San Francisco, which is a part of a complex in the Municipal Plaza. It was booked for an opera that night. The Mayor saw the importance of the situation, however. He changed the location to another hall and gave us the Opera House; it was the first time that any event had been televised from the Opera House. I got television in there and the President's report to the Nation was via television as well as radio.
FUCHS: Were Matt Connelly and George Elsey involved in that in some way?
DAWSON: Matt was with me in San Francisco, but George was not.
FUCHS: Do you know any of the background of his decision to make that trip? Were you involved in any of that, or have you any reflections about it?
FUCHS: Did you talk to him about it after he came back?
DAWSON: No. Just generally. You'd talk about a lot of things, you know, but of no specific consequence.
FUCHS: What about the dismissal of MacArthur; anything stand out in your mind about that? Any anecdotes, or anything that you might have discussed with the President?
DAWSON; I think the one that all of us remember is that the President had his various advisors in --
Secretary Marshall; Secretary of the Army; Secretary of State, and a number of others. They met at the Blair House and each one gave his viewpoint and said what he thought ought to be done. And then President Truman said, "Well, all of you go back and think it over tonight, and if you have any changes of heart or mind, let me know. And you, Marshall, go back and go over all the files, and call me in the morning and tell me what you find out from going over the files."
Marshall called him the next morning and said, "Mr. President, I've gone over all the files for the last number of years," or whatever it was, and he said, "You should have fired him six months ago,"
I think everybody knows that story.
FUCHS: Did you know this was going on at the time?
DAWSON: I knew it contemporaneously. Now are you talking about the decision to ask for his dismissal?
FUCHS: At the time of his dismissal, did you know that this thing -- it wasn't in your field exactly -- but were you aware of it?
DAWSON: Yes, I was aware of it. It was not in my field. I did not attend the meeting, but there was a certain amount of conversation about it.
FUCHS: It wasn't held in close secrecy in the White House -- that he was considering the decision?
DAWSON: The decision was secret.
FUCHS: Yes. The fact that he was considering it very seriously, dismissing him, was known to you?
DAWSON: Well, let's put it this way. The fact that it was a problem that had to be dealt with was known.
FUCHS: What about the visits to Key West? I believe you went down there on several occasions. Anything that stands out in your memory about those?
DAWSON: I went down on every visit, as far as I know, that the President made there. The one after the election in November of '48 was probably the most joyous one of all, and a good time was had by everybody. It was an ideal place for the President to go, because he was on a naval base, shielded from the public. It had good security. He liked to swim, and there was a beach there, now known as Truman Beach. He worked every day and every afternoon there was a poker game which began about 5 o'clock and lasted until dinner time, It started up again after dinner and always quit at a certain time. These poker games gave him great relaxation and a lot of fun.
FUCHS: Did you have work to do while you were there, or did you make it a vacation, too?
DAWSON: You had what I would call "skeleton work." You didn't have a full day of things to do, but
you handled all of the day-to-day important things that came up.
FUCHS: They were brought to your attention and you had to make decisions regarding them?
DAWSON: Just the same as in Washington. That was true whenever you went out on a trip someplace. Wherever the President went he had to work. But it was "skeleton work."
FUCHS: Did you ever have a vacation, regular vacation, while you were in the White House, in which you would simply take off on your own?
DAWSON: Oh, I'd have weekends. I don't remember much about vacations.
FUCHS: It probably wasn't customary for many people to do that while they were there?
FUCHS: Practically all work-play vacations?
DAWSON: I would not say that all of the work that is talked about is absolutely essential. We enjoyed a normal life. We worked hard, and we worked long, but it was no great burden.
FUCHS: You think a lot of this was over-emphasized?
DAWSON: I think it is over-emphasized; that's the word I was looking for.
FUCHS: You think Mr. Truman would have laughed at it?
DAWSON: Yes, I think he would.
FUCHS: What do you recall about his decision not to run in '52? There has been a discrepancy between his statement in the Memoirs in which he recalls that he made the announcement to the staff at Key West in March of '51, and the logs of William Rigdon...
DAWSON: Yes, Bill Rigdon, fine fellow.
FUCHS: He kept these logs, and he claimed that
it was on November 18, 1951 rather than March, that the announcement was made. According to his logs, you were not on the trip in March of that year, but you were there on November 19, 1951. Do you recall being present at the time he made that announcement?
DAWSON: There was no announcement made in Key West to my knowledge. I'm positive that there wasn't any announcement made. I was there on a trip about March, 1952. It could not have been announced in March, 1951.
FUCHS: This was 1951?
DAWSON: '51? Now, wait a minute, the convention was in Ď52.
FUCHS: The convention was in '52, but according to his statement, in '51 he made a statement, to be kept secret, that he was not going to run, and he confided in the staff.
DAWSON: Let's go back, then. I know absolutely nothing about any statement that was made by the President to anybody on his staff in '51, or in the early part of '52 before he made his announcement at the Jackson Day dinner. I came late to Key West in the spring of '52. The President told me he was not going to run and that Harry Vaughan was the only other person who knew it.
FUCHS: So, you knew at one point in '51?
DAWSON: No, '52,
FUCHS: '52. I see.
DAWSON: Ď52 in March; was Bill Rigdon's reference to '51?
FUCHS: As I have it, in March of '51 Mr. Truman...
DAWSON: No. No possibility.
FUCHS: ...in his Memoirs that he did this. William Rigdon said it was in November of '51.
DAWSON: No, no, no chance. No chance. And it was a bombshell when he made the statement that night at the Jackson Day dinner.
FUCHS: You're quite certain that he made no such statement to the staff assembled in "51?
DAWSON: It defies all political reasoning because he was still being considered as a candidate up until just before he made the announcement. Now, we were trying to get Adlai Stevenson to be the nominee as early as January of Ď52, This was not to count the President out. If the President could get a good and acceptable candidate, it was assumed that he would not run. He was trying to get Justice Vinson to run with him (Truman). Now Adlai Stevenson backed and filled several times, so it was late in the spring before the President finally made his decision.
FUCHS: What do you know of an earlier alleged attempt
by President Truman to get Eisenhower to run for President?
DAWSON: I don't know anything about that firsthand.
FUCHS: Do you think he really wanted Stevenson, deep in his heart, or did he have someone else in mind that he would have liked to have had in there? Someone he probably felt he could not get?
DAWSON: Stevenson was the man.
FUCHS: Do you think he ever regretted his choice?
DAWSON: I think that he realized that Stevenson, while he had tremendous qualities, was not the kind of a man to win an election. He just couldn't communicate with the large mass of voters.
FUCHS: What about the fact that Stevenson, more or less, dismissed the chairman of the Democratic
National Committee and selected his own, Stephen Mitchell. Did you ever discuss that with the President?
DAWSON: He was quite upset about it, because Mitchell had had no national experience. He didn't know the personalities or the organization of the Democratic Party. Frank McKinney was a great favorite of President Truman's as a National Chairman, and thoroughly competent and able to carry on and do the job.
FUCHS: He considered that a mistake?
DAWSON: He thought that was a big mistake.
FUCHS: What do you recall of the transition from the Truman administration to the Eisenhower administration? Is there anything that stands out in your memory about that?
DAWSON: The thing that stands out is that the President perfected an organization to cooperate
with and work with President Eisenhower, and whomever he designated, in the transition. He told us, the staff, to cooperate thoroughly in every way with the incoming President, and to do whatever we could to make his job easier and make it run more smoothly.
I worked out an arrangement in the transition period where everyone who had come to the White House payroll from a department, not by way of detail, but by way of transfer, could go back to that department. For example, my secretary from the State Department; she had transferred to the White House payroll. We had people from the Defense Department. It wasnít fair to take people out of their offices in the Civil Service and then, because of a change in politics, throw them out in the cold. Sherman Adams agreed to that, and insofar as I know -- there were some little misunderstandings that were corrected -- so far as I know, everyone went back to a job and was treated fairly.
At one time I had to call several department heads and tell them that I didn't think that the people who came back were being treated fairly, and they immediately rectified the situation when it was brought to their personal attention.
FUCHS: Who was your secretary?
DAWSON: My secretary's name was Lawrence, Jean Lawrence.
FUCHS: Whose offices were around yours, above the President's in the Executive wing?
DAWSON: There were no executive offices other than mine. The area consisted of Frank Sanderson's office, which was a payroll administrative clerk's operation, a stenographic pool, and Dewey Long's office, which handled arrangements for the President's trips and wire communications. And the switchboard was there.
FUCHS: Where were you when the assassination attempt on the President was made?
DAWSON: At the Statler Hotel having lunch. Matt Connelly and I were there, and we knew nothing about it until we started to walk back, saw the crowds and found out what was going on.
FUCHS: What about the troubles that Matt Connelly had? Did you ever discuss that with him? You were out of the administration, of course.
DAWSON: I never discussed it with Matt. We were always in touch and very friendly, but just never discussed the situation. I suppose it was embarrassing to both of us. I don't want to leave that without saying that Matt Connelly was one of the finest men I ever knew. He was as honest as a man could possibly be; never did anything wrong, never did anything but what he thought he was doing it in the line of duty. He was a victim of politics.
FUCHS: Too bad. Do you recall anything about William Hassett that might be of interest?
DAWSON: Everything about Bill Hassett is interesting. He was the "Bishop." He was an extremely scholarly man, and loved by everybody. There just wasnít any nicer person to work with. Such a sense of humor. The only thing I remember perhaps that no one has said is that he use to bemoan the fact that someone on the Presidentís staff had left and then written a book. He always condemned anybody that would take advantage of their relationship with the President to write a book. Shortly after Bill left he wrote a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post, which I donít criticize him for at all. Iím glad he wrote them, because it added several good pages to history.
FUCHS: Do as I say, not as I do.
DAWSON: Thatís right. But he was a wonderful person.
FUCHS: Even though her husband had been Press Secretary, Mrs. Short was appointed to the position
that Hassett had, as Correspondence Secretary. What do you recall about that, her appointment?
DAWSON: Well, I don't recall too much just because it has slipped my mind, I guess, but Bill left I think for reasons of health. Just what his trouble was I don't know, but at any rate the vacancy was created by Bill's leaving, and the President felt very much attached to Joe Short. Mrs. Short was a wonderful lady of great ability. So he named her to the post. She was perfectly suited for it. That office had to do with preparation of correspondence for the President's signature, such as the writing of congratulatory messages, sympathy messages, and messages to national organizations at the time of their convention or something like that, as well as a lot of personal correspondence on a very high level. She did a wonderful job of it.
FUCHS: Since you were a man heavily involved in appointments and personnel matters, I imagine you
have reflected upon certain appointments. I have wondered about the President's appointment of Tom Clark, in light of later statements that have come out in a so-called oral history. Do you know what I'm referring to?
DAWSON: Yes, the Merle Miller comments. The President appointed Tom Clark. It was one of those appointments that as far as I know, was purely personal with him. What his reasoning, what his reasons were, I don't know.
FUCHS: Did you feel it was a good appointment at the time?
DAWSON: Yes, I thought it was a good appointment; I had no reason to feel otherwise.
FUCHS: Can you imagine President Truman saying the things that Mr. Miller attributes to him?
DAWSON: There are some things in the background that may have moved the President to do that.
I won't say at this time what they are, but I have personal knowledge of them.
FUCHS: I see, well, if you want to record it for history you can close it.
DAWSON: As far as Tom Clark's working hard for the President, he did so. He was a stalwart. I remember in the Dallas meeting that we held at Rebel Stadium in the '48 campaign, he was one of the principal speakers and did everything he possibly could.
FUCHS: But you think there might have been something else in their relationship that...
DAWSON: That came up later. Yes, that's right,
FUCHS: You wouldn't care to say?
DAWSON: No, I don't want to.
FUCHS: Put it on the record for history?
DAWSON: It wouldn't do any good. I may be one of
few, maybe the only one, that knows what I'm talking about, because I was given an assignment by President Truman after he was out of office.
FUCHS: You were given a chore you say?
DAWSON: To do for the President, which gave me an insight and access to the opinion that I have.
FUCHS: Did you have considerable contact with the President after he was in so-called retirement?
DAWSON: Yes, on a diminishing basis.
FUCHS: I gather you had a very good relationship with President Truman?
DAWSON: Oh, yes, absolutely perfect as far as I was concerned.
FUCHS: Do you recall Admiral Dennison...
FUCHS: Öin any detail? Anything that stands out?
DAWSON: I remember Bob well and favorably, an excellent man.
FUCHS: Anything that stands out in your memory, any anecdotes?
DAWSON: No, other than I would see him every day and work with him more or less to a certain degree.
FUCHS: What about Charlie Ross?
DAWSON: Charlie Ross was a great man. He was one of the real reasons behind President Truman's success in my judgment, because he understood the President so well, and knew what things would move the President, and how to work with him. By contrast, he might have had a man, say, like Steve Early, who was also equally wonderful, but had different qualities. Early might not have been able to do the job with Truman that he had done with Roosevelt, because Truman and Roosevelt were different personalities.
FUCHS: David Lloyd came over from the Democratic
National Committee. He helped a lot in speeches, do you recall that?
DAWSON: I don't know where Dave came from to the White House staff. But he was one of those who did a lot of work on speeches, excellent work, and made a great contribution.
FUCHS: He was one, of course, who was brought to public attention by the Honorable Senator McCarthy who implied he was possibly a "pinko." I believe the charge had to do with the Washington Bookshop. There were these things, charges being made. Were there ever any discussions that you recall in the White House, with the President perhaps, on how his personnel might defend themselves against these innuendoes?
DAWSON: No discussions to my knowledge.
FUCHS: There wasn't any overall plan to refute the charges that were being cast about?
DAWSON: No. I don't think there was any plan when
Wallace Graham was involved, or John Snyder was involved, or Harry Vaughan was involved, or when I was involved, and Dave Lloyd or anybody else, because everybody had his own individual record to go on and it wasn't part of an attack on the enemy.
FUCHS: This is a little bit out of your area, but John Steelman had a little different position in the White House in that he was so strong as an advisor on labor matters. How did you view that as against the resources of the Department of Labor, and was there conflict in your mind there? Did you think it was good to set it up that way?
DAWSON: I think that the setup was perfectly fine because his title was The Assistant to the President, and from the way I looked at it, it was as overall operational Assistant to the President, overlapping to some degree into policy formulation. The fact that he was a very experienced man in the labor field, meant that his advice
would be sought to a great extent on labor questions. Perhaps it was to some extent duplication of the Secretary of Labor. But remember we had Maurice Tobin as Secretary of Labor who was an outstanding man. I never saw any conflict or any real duplication. You might say that it was a team working together. You've got two tackles; each one tried to do his job, and he did it. Also remember that practically all outstanding men have a background in some particular area which in no way conflicts with their ability to do a good job for the President.
FUCHS: Do you recall anything of India Edwards' effort to make more jobs available for women in the Government?
DAWSON: Yes. I recommend you read her book.
FUCHS: It just came out.
FUCHS: I haven't read it. She did, you think, try to
advance the women's position?
DAWSON: Without any question, India Edwards was one of the great leaders of our country, man or woman, and she particularly espoused the cause of women in Government, and was magnificent.
FUCHS: Did she bend your ear on the subject?
DAWSON: Always; and thank God I had the good sense to listen to her.
FUCHS: Well, General Dawson, is there anything that you think I've failed to bring out that I should?
DAWSON: Well, if you've failed to bring out anything, you think of it and come back again, because I would like to see you.
FUCHS: Well, very good sir, thank you very much.
Adams, Sherman, 86
Adolphus Hotel, Dallas, Texas, 30
Akron, Ohio, rally for President Truman, 1948 Presidential campaign, 42
Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, 33
American Legion, 15-16
Armistice Day (1947) ceremonies, Arlington Cemetery, 15-16
Army Air Forces, U.S. Air Transport Command, 5-6, 8-9
Army, U.S., Services of Supply, 4
Cabinet officers, Truman administration, 53-55
Daniels, Jonathan, 44-45
Early, Stephen T., 94
Labor, U.S, Department of, 96-97
MacArthur, Douglas, 73, 75-77
Office of Industrial Personnel, U.S. Army, 4
New York, Democratic party politics, 33-39
Texas, Democratic party politics, 30-32
Press Conferences, White House, 49-50
Rayburn, Sam, 30, 72
Sanderson, Frank K., 87
Truman, Harry S.:
Clark, Tom, relationship with, 91-92
Dawson, Donald S., first acquaintance with, 7, 10-11
Key West, Florida, vacations at, 78
MacArthur, Douglas, dismissal of, 75-77
Madison Square Garden, speech, 1948 Presidential campaign, 38-39
Presidential transition, 1952-53, and, 85-86
Sarah Delano Roosevelt Park, speech at dedication, 1948, 34
Stevenson, Adlai, relationship with, 1952 Presidential campaign, 84-85
Texas, 1948 Presidential campaign in, 31-32
third term as President, decision not to seek, 80-83
Wake Island Conference, report to the Nation on, 73-75
White House Executive office, reorganization of, 58-63
White House staff meetings, use of, 47-49
Wake Island Conference, 1950, report on, 73-74
Zimmerman, Raymond B., 12-13