Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened September, 1981
Oral History Interview with
September 22, 1978
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Judge Harper, I thought that you might start by giving us a little background -- when and where you were born, your education, and something about your career up until the time you became acquainted with Mr. Truman.
HARPER: Well, I was born in Dunklin County, Missouri, in Gibson, on July 26, 1905, and we moved to Steele, Missouri in Pemiscot County when I was nine years old. There I graduated from high school. I went to the University of Missouri, from 1923 to 1929, and got an AB and a law degree. I graduated in 1929. I went with Shell Petroleum, doing appraisal work for them. It was a temporary job that lasted about a year and
a half. In March of 1931, I opened my office in Steele, Missouri and practiced by myself until December 1, 1934 when I went to Caruthersville, Missouri and became a member and partner in the law firm of Ward and Reeves. I was there until I came onto the bench in 1947.
I first met President Truman during the primary campaign in 1934. At that time I was participating some in the Democratic politics at the township level in my county. I was not for Mr. Truman in the primary. It so happened that one of my college roommate's boss was the campaign manager for John Cochran who was running against him, and I had committed myself to him early in the campaign through my roommate.
I met Mr. Truman when he was in Pemiscot County campaigning. As a matter of fact, I introduced him when he made a speech in Steele, while I was practicing, although I was not one of his supporters.
That fall, during the general election, I was the county chairman. I first became really
well acquainted with Senator Truman when I went with a committee of about 25 or 30 people from Southeast Missouri on a trip to Washington. We went to visit Congress when they passed the first farm bill that put in a provision for allotments with respect to the amount of cotton that you could raise on the farm.
Neat Helm, of Caruthersville, was one of the ones in the group; also included were Ed Coleman and Charlie Blanton of Sikeston, and a good many others. When we went up there, they had just passed in the House the farm bill which would give to the South twenty acres of cotton to the forty, if they had a history. But it only gave to Missouri eight acres to the forty, which meant that our section of Missouri was in real trouble if the bill were enacted as law. It permitted Missourians to raise only eight acres of cotton to the forty.
Most of those in our committee stayed only about three days and then they returned home. Mr. Ed Coleman of Sikeston and I stayed behind.
I was really leading the efforts to have the allotment raised.
FUCHS: Were you acting as the counsel for the committee? What was your interest; were you farming too?
HARPER: My only interest in it was that if we were able to get a fair allotment, the area would do well and I indirectly would profit. The only thing I got out of it was my expenses.
We worked in that matter very closely with Senator Clark and Senator Truman. Senator Truman was very busily engaged in holding hearings at the time, of the Interstate Commerce Committee, and he told us that he would support anything that we could come up with. Actually the one who took the bigger part of the lead was Senator Clark. The final result was that the bill passed by the Senate gave to Missouri sixteen acres to the forty, rather than the eight acres originally in the House bill. We were able to convince Senator Bankhead, who was the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, that if they didn't do that, that we'd defeat the bill.
California and some of the Western states with irrigated acreage were in the same situation. At Senator Clark's direction, I drafted the proposed amendment that would change it. Then it was turned over to Senator Clark, who had it introduced by Senator Hayden of Arizona. It was known as the Hayden Amendment. When it was passed by the Agriculture Committee and by the Senate, we also had the promise of Senator Bankhead who was going to be a member of the Conference Committee, that he would go into the committee and insist that it be the sixteen acres for those states. It was so passed.
At that time, of course, I became very close to both Senators Clark and Truman. From time to time thereafter, almost every year from that time until the war, I was up there when they had the farm program bill up for consideration. I was there to protect, or to try to protect, Missouri's cotton interest because Missouri is a bastard cotton state.
In other words, while cotton was the biggest
cash crop in the state at that time, it was only raised in three counties, in the southern half of three other counties, and the tip of a fourth. The South, of course, wanted all the acreage they could get and they did not look with favor on the irrigated areas or upon Southeast Missouri.
So, up until Pearl Harbor, each summer I would spend about a month or six weeks in Washington just keeping up with the legislation, and I was very active in the National Cotton Council. We were up there from time to time on cotton programs that they were working on and I would see our Senators. I think it would be fair to say that by the late 1930's that I was one of maybe a half dozen people in the state who was a good political friend of both Senator Truman and Senator Clark. Most people favored either one or the other. I was very close to the two of them. In 1940 when Senator Truman ran for a second term, I had a meeting with a group in St. Louis, I think around February, 1940. As I recall it, they had a state meeting of Young Democrats there about the
same time. In conjunction with that a group of Senator Truman's friends came in from around the state on the question of whether or not he was going to run for reelection.
Of course, [Maurice] Milligan, the District Attorney from Kansas City, was a candidate and Stark, the Governor, was a candidate. For the most part, Senator Truman got very little encouragement to run from the group that was there.
John Snyder was one of the ones that was present; he was living in Missouri at the time. I believe he was still living in St. Louis at that time, or he may have moved to Sedalia by then. At that time the Senator asked me to be the chairman of his campaign committee for the eastern half of the state. I told him that I would like to be, but that I had a partner, James Reeves, who was running for the Springfield Court of Appeals nomination, as a judge on that court, and that I would have to check with him, because I didn't want to do anything that would cause him problems.
I discussed the matter with James M. Reeves and he thought from his standpoint that it would be better that I not be the chairman. So I was not the chairman, at least in name. But in truth and in fact, I probably had more to do with his campaign than anyone officially connected with its operation in the eastern part of the state.
One of my very dear friends, and one of Truman's good friends at that time, who had become his friend through me, was Lewis Barringer from Memphis. It was in the off season of Lou's cotton business, so he made provision for me to put in Truman's St. Louis campaign office, a secretary for the office. His private secretary was there half of the time, and then his second secretary was here the balance of the time. We also brought in the head of Lou's mail room to handle the mail room in the office in St. Louis. Mr. Barringer paid their expenses while they were here and kept them on their regular salary.
Just sort of a side note; they drove to St. Louis, but when they reached Steele, Missouri,
where my home was, we pulled the Tennessee license off and put a Missouri license on their car. If anybody asked them where they were from, they said, "Steele." And they referred them to me.
The campaign, of course, became a very bitter, hotly contested race. In the early part of the campaign, probably around the late spring I guess, one of my dear friends and one of my close political friends, who was J.V. Conran of New Madrid County, went with me into St. Louis. He and I had worked together for a number of years at that time, and were always lined up with the same people for state and national office, and were the leaders in our respective county organizations. We both had wide acquaintanceship over Southeast Missouri, too. We came into St. Louis. To make a long story short, that year the Governorship campaign was between Larry McDaniel of St. Louis, and Senator McReynolds.
FUCHS: Was that Allen McReynolds?
HARPER: Allen McReynolds from Joplin. We weren't
particularly concerned about who the Governor was going to be. We were interested in Truman's campaign because he and Clark had been, in our opinion, responsible for doing more for Southeast Missouri than anybody else could have done with respect to farm legislation. And they had been able to keep it that way through the years. We came in, and went to the people here, the leaders of the two groups that represented the two candidates for Governor. We ended up making a deal with Bob Hannegan, who was the city chairman, and who was one of the strongest supporters for McDaniel. We agreed we would give McDaniel the big end of the Southeast Missouri primary vote, what we could get for him, which was the majority. We'd be responsible for that, and they would, in turn, deliver the primary vote of either eight or nine wards in St. Louis to Truman.
As the campaign progressed, it got bitter and more bitter and bitter. When they had the organization of the delegates to the national convention, I was one of the delegates to the convention. So
was Conran. Bennett Clark was chairman of the delegation. We had a meeting of a number of the leaders at the Mayfair Hotel before we actually went into the meeting to organize the delegation. It was obvious that Clark was going to be the chairman. One of the spots that came to the state was an honorary vice-chairman of the convention, which Governor Stark wanted. J.V. Conran and myself said to the group assembled, that under no circumstances would we support him for anything.
At the end of the discussion we said to Senator Clark, "What's the final decision on this?"
And he turned to me and said, "Well, we're going to run you for that spot."
So in the organizing of the delegation for various purposes, Stark was nominated and I was nominated, but I beat Stark for the vice-presidency of the convention.
When we went to the convention, Senator Truman was short of funds and he was staying in some small hotel. I don't remember the name of it now, in Chicago. But he used a suite of rooms
that Conran and I had at the Missouri headquarters in the Sherman Hotel as the place where he could meet various people. He held his meetings there. Prior to that time, of course, he had opened his campaign in Sedalia. A group of us from our area was at the opening of the campaign in Sedalia when he made his original kick-off speech. Later in Chicago we did everything we could to further his candidacy. Then in the later part of the campaign it became obvious that there were problems, because Stark had a very hard core group back of him, and the people on the other side were divided into two camps.
Bennett Clark -- Senator Clark -- was very very much opposed to Stark. He wanted no part of him. His preference for Senator, I think it's fair to say, would have been Milligan.
FUCHS: Why did he have that...
HARPER: Because Milligan was his appointment as District Attorney in Kansas City. He was the one who had appointed him to that place. And while he
was friendly to Senator Truman, he had been very close to Milligan, from the time of their service together, I think, in World War I.
FUCHS: Do you know why he had antipathy towards Stark?
HARDER: I don't know what his antipathy was about that. There were some problems that they had had. They were originally from the same area of Missouri. Bennett Clark's father was the Congressman whose district took in Louisiana, Missouri where the Starks were from. I don't know what the enmity dated back to or anything about it, except I assume that something had happened between them. I don't know what; I don't remember, but I might have at the time. In the latter part of the campaign Clark talked to J.V. Conran and me, and I told him that if he wanted to beat Stark, that the only damn way he could beat him was to get on Truman's bandwagon. We said he couldn't beat him with Milligan. If he stayed over there on that side and took the people that he could take with him, in my opinion Stark was
going to be elected. He said, "Well, that's the story; you all are closer to the situation than I am. I'll take your word for him." Then he turned his support to Senator Truman.
In the closing days of the campaign, I got word that the St. Louis leaders weren't going through with their St. Louis agreement, because they thought that Stark was going to be elected. At that time I telephoned Senator Clark; he was in the hospital up here. I knew where he was; not many people did, but I knew he was in the state and where. I told him what was happening, and I said, "Deliver a message from Conran and myself that when we make a bargain we keep it. We're going to deliver, and they damn well better deliver because if they don't deliver and their man is nominated, we'll cut his goddamn throat in the fall." And they delivered. They were hot as hell about it, but they kept their word. Of course, as everybody knows, he was nominated by eight or nine thousand votes. In other words, if those wards had been taken away from him, he
would have been beaten.
FUCHS: How did the Hannegan-Dickmann alliance there and the fact that it was thought that they were going to stay with Stark, how did that come about? I believe the general story is, too, that Hannegan switched at the last moment.
HARPER: Hannegan didn't switch at the last moment. He made a bargain with us long before. There are a very limited number of people that know that. Then they started to go the other way, and of course, they cussed those Young Democrats from Southeast Missouri. But the truth about the business is that the bargain was made and they kept it. Their primary interest was for the nominee for Governor, for McDaniel. They weren't worrying too much about the others. What other things they did, I don't know. But I know that they agreed to deliver, and they did deliver the wards for us.
FUCHS: Do you think Clark was really the influence?
HARPER: In my opinion, if Clark hadn't have come over, I seriously doubt that Truman would have been nominated. And if the deal that we made hadn't gone through, he wouldn't have been nominated.
FUCHS: You're probably familiar with the story that Victor Messall gave out, that he had implored Clark to get on Truman's bandwagon and Clark wouldn't go along. Then Victor ran into Carl Hatch and recited some of the things that Truman had done, and Hatch went over and worked on Clark. Messall said that Clark agreed then to go for Truman. I'm sure you've heard that story.
HARPER: No, I really hadn't. All I know is that he talked with the two of us, to Conran and myself, and we told him the facts with respect to the campaign. As I say, Conran wasn't all that close to him, but I was very, very close to both of them.
FUCHS: What was Conran's business?
HARPER: A lawyer. Prosecuting Attorney...
FUCHS: He was considered a power down there in politics from what I've read, but I never knew quite what his base was.
HARPER: He was the Prosecuting Attorney of New Madrid County, and of course, he was from an old family. They had a very unusual situation down there. In those times Southeast Missouri was very well organized and there were a few key people that could pretty well do you a hell of a lot of good. Now, you have to realize that with respect to that you are talking about politics above the local level. When it got down to the local level, this is an example of what I mean. In New Madrid County in those days, the local group would never be for anybody that was running for local office before filing day was past. They would file, and then they would have a meeting. They had a number of people, a good-sized group, that came from every precinct in the county and at that meeting, they would vote to see who they would support for each race. The agreement among
all of them was, that come hell or high water, whether they got the man they wanted or not, that when it was over with, they would all support the ones that the majority had agreed upon. That was the reason that they were able to so deliver.
Now, J.V. was the chairman, and they depended upon him for advice above the county level. In other words, they didn't pay too much attention to him in the county offices, because they would do their own job there. But above this level, J.V. was dealing with Washington and with Jefferson City, so the county Democrats felt that in order for him to be able to deal, he's got to be able to deliver local votes. He pretty well determined who they supported for the state races, Congress, Senator and so on. They would deliver, oh, probably 80 percent of the votes, 80 to 85 percent. In Pemiscot County, my home county, we didn't operate the way that New Madrid County did, although our organization normally delivered 75 to 80 percent of the primary vote to the people we supported who
were running for nomination above the county level. We had a very good organization, but the organization as such did not take sides in the primary in the race for local offices. We let the people running for nomination for local offices fight that out among themselves, but in New Madrid County they took part in the race for local offices as well as above the county ticket.
FUCHS: This Dr. Brandon from Poplar Bluff, is he a medical doctor?
FUCHS: What was the basis of his friendship with Mr. Truman?
HARPER: He was an old-time friend of Senator Truman. But actually his support didn't mean that much, because in those days, the area didn't have the big vote they've got now, since it wasn't as heavily populated, and it wasn't that strongly Democratic. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the Republican Committee for the state in those
days, Grover Dalton, was from Poplar Bluff.
FUCHS: There was a man listed as chairman of budgets on that '40 committee, C. L. Blanton from Sikeston; now who was he?
HARPER: C. L. Blanton, from Sikeston, was Charlie Blanton. I'm sure that was the son. I think the father at that time was too old. They had the newspaper there.
FUCHS: Well, this was senior, according to the list, C. L. Blanton, Sr.
HARPER: Senior, well, he was the one who owned the paper at Sikeston, the Sikeston Standard.
FUCHS: He was chairman for publicity.
HARPER: He was the one who owned the paper down there and he had a brother that owned a paper up in northern Missouri somewhere.
FUCHS: Chairman for Budgets was Van Sant.
HARPER: Well, he was from Fulton.
FUCHS: From Fulton. You're acquainted with him?
FUCHS: Was he just an old-time acquaintance of Mr. Truman and active in politics?
HARPER: As I recall he was a banker up there. I think he was in banking, an old-time friend.
FUCHS: We go back a second to that February meeting in the Statler. The story is that they asked quite a number to come, and something like half, or 25, attended.
HARPER: That's about right.
FUCHS: And one story, at least, is that it was unanimous that he not run again, do you recall...
HARPER: No, it was not unanimous, because I for one never said not to run. But it was unanimous, I suppose, of the leaders from the other parts of the state. I think that that was pretty well true. That wasn't unanimous of the entire group
that was there. It was not John Snyder's opinion that he shouldn't run. We didn't particularly voice our opinion about it, but most of the leaders that they called in said he shouldn't run, that he'd get beat.
On this other thing; what occurred I never told anybody about that, about the trading for the St. Louis votes. There are a limited number of people know about it. Some other people here in town who know about it are Al Fleischman and Sam Priest who were strong McReynolds people. They were real good friends of ours, in Young Democratic Club politics. We talked to them and they said, "We can't deliver you anything. You want to make a deal, go to see the other people."
FUCHS: I have copies of a number of telegrams that Harry Easley -- you know Harry?
FUCHS: Sent out, one of which went to you, and to a number of others, including Victor Messall and
other leaders. It was to the effect that he understood that Truman had been traded off, and so they were going to muster the vote for McReynolds. I don't quite understand what he was saying there, do you recall that? They had knowledge that Truman had been traded off, and so they were going to put their efforts behind McReynolds.
HARPER: I never heard of a trade-off. Was just told by a good St. Louis friend that Hannegan's group was not going to deliver to Truman what they promised Conran and me because they didn't think Truman could win, and wanted to vote for a winner. I called Bennett Clark and told him of my information. He was the one who, in my opinion, got hold of Hannegan and those St. Louis people involved and made them keep their word. I knew he could talk to them with authority. If I hadn't known where he was and hadn't gotten hold of him, they would have just gone with Stark because they thought he was going to be nominated. They wanted to be on the one they thought was going to win the nomination.
They didn't have any trading to do because, hell, Stark had nothing to trade them.
FUCHS: As I started to say, this man claimed -- or the article about him said he was a confidant of Truman. He was a free lance reporter in Washington, and we haven't found any evidence that he was a confidant, although he did have some correspondence with Mr. Truman. His name was Joseph Leib. He said that he had a letter from Truman, I believe it was dated February 21, 1938, right after Mr. Truman had given the speech in the Senate against the renomination, or appointment, of Maurice Milligan on February 15, 1938, in which letter Truman said he was not going to run for the Senate again. Then, later on when he decided to run, he said this letter was private, and he made this Mr. Leib give the letter back to him. But Leib had kept a copy. Do you know anything about that?
HARPER: I don't know anything about it.
FUCHS: Did it sound like Mr. Truman would have said as early as '38 that he was not going to run again,
because of the reaction in the newspapers against his speech in the Senate?
HARPER: Oh, I wouldn't think so. I just know that at that meeting in St. Louis he said he was going to run, period.
FUCHS: This was two years later, of course. This gentleman [Leib] said that he sent us a copy of the letter, but we had not made it public. We at the Truman Library don't have any recollection or any evidence that he ever sent us a copy of the letter. Of course, we're not hiding anything like that.
What chance did you give Mr. Truman? Did you feel confident then that he would be elected after Clark came over for him?
HARPER: J.V. and I thought that Clark controlled the votes that would enable Truman to win. And he wouldn't have come over if he hadn't thought that he could bring enough with him to do it.
FUCHS: There is a story that Milligan was urged to
get in the race by friends of Mr. Truman. Do you have any knowledge of that? They'd split the vote of course, the anti-Pendergast vote.
HARPER: No, I never heard that.
FUCHS: Of course, Tom Pendergast by that time had gone to jail.. He did seek out, I guess, Jim Pendergast's assistance. Did you know Pendergast?
HARPER: Met him and that's all. I saw him once. I knew Jim; saw him several times, but the other one, I guess, was his uncle. I met him one time back long ago. As a matter of fact, I knew the other group over there better, because when I was in school, Congressman Shannon, who had I guess they called it the Rabbit faction, had a boy who was at the University. The father used to come down there and see him all the time. He stayed at the Daniel Boone Tavern, and at that time I was in school and working at the Daniel Boone Tavern as a bellhop. I'd sit there and visit with him. We talked many, many times when
he'd be down there, and so I knew Mr. Shannon rather well. But Mr. Pendergast -- I saw him only one time.
FUCHS: Were you acquainted with Jim Aylward?
HARPER: Yes. Believe it or not, in my county, the group I was with respected Aylward, but we were not Pendergast people. Now, later on, in many instances, we aligned with them on people that we liked, you know; we thought it was the thing to do, but it wasn't because they were for the one we supported.
FUCHS: It's been said that Aylward was really proposed in '34 for the Senatorship before Truman, but he wouldn't run because he didn't want the Pendergast connection brought up. Do you think that was likely? Did you ever hear or talk to Mr. Truman about that?
HARPER: No. You see, I wasn't close to him in that campaign, so I didn't know much about it. I was just starting out, and the state stuff was over
my head then.
FUCHS: You were listed in the campaign committee as Chairman for State Offices. Now what did that connote?
HARPER: That's just some fancy name they gave it, because, as I say, he wanted me to be chairman. I would have been the chairman for the eastern half of the state, except I had a partner running in the eastern half of the state for nomination to the Springfield Court of Appeals.
FUCHS: You've spoken about the election of delegates to the convention, the state delegation, in 1940. There is, I believe, one story that Mr. Truman supported. They wanted to keep Stark from being on it at all, and presumably Truman wouldn't go that far. Do you recall that?
HARPER: None of them wanted to go that far. Well, some of them did, but the ones that were halfway intelligent, in my opinion, didn't, because just as a matter of course the Governor of your
state, if he's of your party, belongs on the delegation. To give him a kick in the pants like that would have been helpful to him in his race for Senator, rather than hurting him. Of course, when he went to the convention in Chicago he was running for Vice President too. He had a whole train carload, I think, of apples sent up there to pass out to the outfit. He put them out all over the place, but we didn't get any of them.
FUCHS: Why was the main headquarters in Sedalia?
HARPER: In my opinion, because at that time Snyder was over there as head of the bank. In addition to that, I think one of the groups that he had in his corner was the railroad union people, and I think that that was one of their big spots. I think that some of their officers were stationed over there at the time, and Snyder was running a bank, so that's where they opened their campaign. One of the union groups that he had when he started was the railroad people, the trainmen union, and so on.
FUCHS: Was there anyone that really went out and worked on the trainmen to get behind him?
HARPER: I really don't know; he had that support when he announced the start. I don't know the basis for it.
FUCHS: Victor Messall has been recorded as the campaign manager.
HARPER: Well, they had a St. Louis campaign manager, here, a man over the eastern part of Missouri, a Jewish fellow. I don't remember...
FUCHS: Lew Berenstein was listed as General Executive Director or something like that.
HARPER: Well, that's the one. He was sort of looking after it here. He was a St. Louis fellow.
FUCHS: Director general, Lew Berenstein, and the campaign chairman was Victor Messall, according to the list I have. Who was Berenstein? Were you acquainted with him?
HARPER: Only in that campaign. Frankly, the first
time I met him was on the train going up to Sedalia. He was in the office later set up in St. Louis and did one thing and another up here, but he didn't really know much about politics.
FUCHS: What was the trouble in the St. Louis office? I have a letter from you to Senator Truman in which you mentioned the dissatisfaction and so forth, and you believed it would be a good idea to close that office down as soon as you could after the primary victory.
HARPER: Well, this particular fellow didn't have too much know-how or knowledge of what it was all about. Also, the people that I had in there were going back home to Memphis, and they had been the only ones that were really doing the work -- all the mailing and everything else. Mrs. [Henry Clay] Chiles worked out of there. But it really wasn't; it just wasn't a very good office.
FUCHS: You noted that you were not surprised “that
it ended up in such a furor. I think the office should be closed as soon as possible, but before doing so I think that you should gain possession of the files."
HARPER: It was a mess. It was a mess.
FUCHS: Were they doing a disservice to Mr. Truman?
HARPER: They had a bunch in there, outside of the people from Memphis, that just didn't know what they were doing, and they were bringing others in. The two people that we brought in from Memphis, who were really practically running the detailed operation of mailing, etc. But they had to go back to their regular jobs. The other people were floating in and out from out state. Some of them couldn't get along with one another, and this, that, and the other, and it was just a mess.
FUCHS: What was the affinity between Lew Barringer and Mr. Truman? I realize that he was involved with cotton.
HARPER: Do you know him?
FUCHS: Yes, I've interviewed him.
HARPER: Do you know what he does?
FUCHS: I know he's a cotton broker.
HARPER: No. He has the L.T. Barringer Cotton Company in Memphis, which buys every lock of cotton that Cannon Mills spins. In those days, next to Anderson Clayton, he was the biggest purchaser of cotton in the world. He was very interested in cotton, and he bought a lot of cotton in southeast Missouri, and we got acquainted with him in the National Cotton organization. Truman and Clark both had helped us from time to time with bills the organization was interested in. They tried to get through Congress those bills that were for the benefit of cotton growers and sellers, and
Barringer got well-acquainted with Senator Truman. And he was part of our group there. In other words, he was always in Washington. Hell, he had a suite in the Mayflower practically forever. I mean, he had a suite there at that time that he kept. I think he still's got the damn thing there, although he's supposed to be close to retirement. I think his boy, or boys, are running it now. He liked Senator Truman and so he wanted to know what he could do and I told him what he could do to help out. So that's what he did. He was very close to Neal Helm and myself. He was a real good friend of ours, and he had met Truman and worked some with him and liked him. He wanted to keep him there if he could; that is, help keep him there.
FUCHS: Back in March of '40, you were corresponding with Mr. Truman, and he wrote to you in response to your letter that "you and I will discuss the situation at the Young Democratic Convention." You had written, "I'm still in a precarious
position because it looks as if Jim is going to have opposition."
HARPER: Well, that was my law partner. He was running for the Springfield Court of Appeals.
FUCHS: I see. And Mr. Truman wrote, "I sure hope that Jim doesn't have any opposition for I sure want your help."
HARPER: He ended up with opposition, but that was the reason he didn't think it would be wise to get the two tied together. Each one should run his own race. It'd be like a slate deal. Of course, it turned out that most of his supporters were Truman people, too. A lot of his supporters were also supporters of Truman.
FUCHS: The Truman Committee, of course, was organized in '41. Do you have any insight into that? Did you know his counsel, Hugh Fulton?
HARPER: I met his counsel when I was up there, oh, I guess it was in '41. Pearl Harbor was when?
FUCHS: December 7, '41.
HARPER: I was up there because I was in Washington and Truman and I went over to the Preakness. He was a member of the committee at that time. I was in Washington, and I rode with him over to the Preakness.
FUCHS: You don't know why Fulton kind of disappeared from the scene when Truman became President?
HARPER: I don't know.
FUCHS: You never discussed that?
HARPER: I know some of them tried to use him. I think that Vic tried to use him.
FUCHS: You think that there was some dissension between the two? Of course, Vic resigned right after Truman went into his second term. I guess he became a 5 percenter.
HARPER: Well, he resigned and of course went out to lobby or whatever you want to call it. My impression
is, he tried to take advantage of that prior situation, and Truman wouldn't have any part of it.
FUCHS: They weren't very close after that.
HARPER: I don't think so.
FUCHS: You don't know of any particular reason why he did leave?
HARPER: I don't know of any of the reasons why he left. I just know he left and he brought in Harry Vaughan.
FUCHS: You knew Messall quite well?
HARPER: Yes, I knew Messall fairly well. Of course, he originally went up there with the Congressman from Joplin.
FUCHS: Frank Lee?
HARPER: Frank Lee. When Frank Lee didn't go back, and Truman won in '34, well then he went with Truman.
FUCHS: What was your first impression, if you can recall, of Mr. Truman when you met him back there on the committee for the agricultural bill?
HARPER: Well, I had met him when he was campaigning and was very much impressed with him. I thought he was sincere, honest, friendly fellow, who talked commonsense.
FUCHS: You thought that he was a rather strong individual?
HARPER: Yes, I did. Thought he stood by his convictions; and he did. He was that kind.
FUCHS: You know the relationship between Fred Canfil and Mr. Truman? How did that come about? That has always been sort of a mystery.
HARPER: My best recollection is that it went back to Army days. of course, he was very close to him. I know, for instance, when I came back from overseas, in 1944, the fall of '44, I came into St. Louis and the Browns were playing the Cardinals,
for the world championship. My wife came up and met me, and we rode down to Caruthersville during the latter part of the series with Canfil and Mr. Truman, who was running for Vice President at that time. He made his first campaign speech at Caruthersville at the county fair down there. He used to always come down to that county fair. From ’34 on he was at the county fair. He even came there once after he was President. One of my secretaries down there transcribed the first speech that he made. The newsmen wanted a copy of the speech. They were trailing him, because he was really making the campaign tour. They wanted a copy of his speech and he didn’t have any, so we took him over to the law office and he dictated to her the speech that he delivered. It was the first speech he delivered when he was running for Vice President.
FUCHS: Now, a lot has been written or said about his speechmaking ability. In your recollection, were his speeches generally well received even though
he wasn't an orator?
HARPER: His speeches were, yes. The ones that I heard were well received. Of course, most of the ones that I heard were in our area, or the one at Sedalia, He was not an orator, but he had a sincerity about him that the crowd liked.
FUCHS: Jonathan Daniels in his book, Man of Independence, which you're probably familiar with, says that in 1940 there was one man who was a friend of Truman's. His wife refused to let her house be used for a Truman meeting, but her husband later was richly rewarded for his help, I wonder who that might have been.
HARPER: I don't know who that might have been.
FUCHS: I wonder where Daniels picked that up.
HARDER: I don't know where he got that.
FUCHS: In '44 [Robert E.] Hannegan and Ed [Edwin] Pauley were two principals who were very strong early for Mr. Truman in 1944. Mr. Truman was
supposed to have urged the collector's job on Hannegan very strongly, even though Hannegan was supposed to have not wanted the job. Do you have any knowledge of that?
HARPER: No, because, see, when all of that occurred I was in the Army.
FUCHS: You didn't get back until when?
HARPER: I didn't get back to the states until the early part of October in 1944, late September or October.
FUCHS: I believe I read that you and Harry Vaughan arrived in Australia together?
HARPER: We were on the same boat, went over on...
FUCHS: Just happened by chance; you weren't in the same outfit?
HARPER: No, I went over on the Mariposa and it was in a convoy of three boats with one submarine chaser, or something like it. We went all the
way down the coast, practically to the Equator, and cut across. He was the troop commander on the Mariposa and most of the convoy consisted of infantry people. But there was a number -- at least on the boat I was on -- who were in the Air Corps. I was a draftee in the Air Corps. I just waived my exemption and was drafted. I think we only had one officer in the group; a first or second lieutenant was all we had. On the boat they had a Masonic meeting. Vaughan was a great Masonic individual. I was on the boat, and when he found out I was there, he invited me to come up. I went and saw him, oh, two or three times while he was in Australia, because he was in one place and I was in another.
FUCHS: He came back early didn't he? What happened to him?
HARPER: He went over with this outfit and he was in a responsible position. I don't know what happened to him; he got into a big mess over there. After MacArthur got in there, they sent back, I think,
most of the generals that had come over -- sent them back to the States. Then, MacArthur's people took over. They were up in Brisbane and I was down in the southern part, in Melbourne, where we had a replacement camp. I was down there from when we got there until, I think, August. Then they gave me a second lieutenant's commission and I immediately went up to Port Morresby, New Guinea, with a fighter group.
I saw Vaughan, after we got off the boat, I guess only one time. I spent one leave in Brisbane while he was there, and he was, I think, head of the police, the MPs. Not a very responsible position. Then he came back to the States from there.
FUCHS: You were a rather close political adviser to Mr. Truman. Did you consult with him much when he was going to make a speech, say, like the time he attacked Milligan in the Senate?
HARPER: No, because he was going in one direction, and we were going in the other. We were primarily
taking care of everything from St. Louis south, and actually were not around where he made too many speeches. As a matter of fact, we were out making them ourselves.
FUCHS: How did Helm and he relate to each other?
HARPER: Their time went back to when he ran in 1934. Helm was for him, and he would entertain him when he was down there. They just seemed to be drawn to one another and that was it.
FUCHS: Mr. Truman, the story goes, was offered a position on the Interstate Commerce Commission by Roosevelt, sort of a thought to get him out of the race in '40. Of course, Roosevelt was a big backer of Stark at that time. Did he ever talk about that?
HARPER: I understood Truman turned it down.
FUCHS: He said he received it in a roundabout fashion. I wonder just how that came about?
HARPER: I don't think that it would have made any difference to him one way or another, because I
think he thought they were trying to take him out of the race. And he wasn't running from a fight.
FUCHS: What were your thoughts when Roosevelt died? You were a good friend of the new President.
HARDER: All I could do was pray for him. I thought he was capable of doing it, but I knew he had a hell of a job to do.
FUCHS: You had a lot of confidence in him, to fill the shoes?
HARDER: I sure did. He wanted me to go to Washington. When I got out of the Army, he came down to the fair at Caruthersville, about a month after I got out of the Army. At that time he told me he would like to take me to Washington, and I told him I wasn't in any shape to go. I didn't think I wanted to go because I had lost about 40 pounds overseas, although I'd gained most of it back. Also, I had just been married before I went into the Army, and I didn't have any money
to speak of. At that time I just wasn't looking to anything, except to get my health back a little bit and try to make a little money.
FUCHS: Did he mention a capacity?
HARPER: Nothing. He just said he would like to take me to Washington with him. I thanked him but I told him I didn't think I wanted to go.
FUCHS: How about 1948?
HARPER: In 1948 I was one of the first ones in this area, and one of the few around the country, who early said he would win. I'm no national prognosticator, but I knew that Missouri had never voted for a loser. The only time in history since they've had the Democrat and Republican party that they haven't voted for a winner was in the second Eisenhower campaign. By 1948, when Truman was running, Missouri had always voted for the winner. I did not think that Missouri would vote for him just because he was from Missouri.
Hanging up there on that wall are four
commissions, and that's more than any judge in history has ever had. At that time I was serving on the third without pay, because they wouldn't pay until you were confirmed. I got paid when I got my fourth one. I worked for about seven or eight months without pay. They paid my help, but I wasn't paid. When I took the job, President Truman and I agreed that there was no way that they would confirm me. There was no way that I would be confirmed until after the '48 election; I went in in '47. I took the place right after Pauley had run out on him. He wanted somebody to stay with him. We looked for people that wanted it, but they didn't want to go in and then go out. They thought that was what was going to happen. So, at that time, in '48, during the campaign, I was working on my third commission as Federal judge, with no pay.
I still had my home at Caruthersville. I took July off for my vacation month, and I went down home and spent the month down there. I'd been county chairman for ten years. I knew all of the
county politicians on both sides of the road. In those days, most of your Negroes, or blacks, were Republicans. And I knew the black Republican leaders. Everyone of them that I met wanted to know how "Mr. Harry" was, because they knew how close I was to him, and they were all for him. So I came back and I said, "By God, he's going to carry Missouri, so he's going to win, and he's not going to carry it because he's a Missourian."
And when I told some of them that, they just looked at me and laughed. That was in July, before the election in November. I didn't know a damn thing about it nationally, except that I knew that Missouri had always been with the winner. And based upon what I'd seen in my area of the state, I was convinced that he was going to carry Missouri, so I knew that he was going to carry the country.
FUCHS: Who was John Farrington in Springfield? Do you know him?
HARPER: Just casually. He was a pretty substantial Democratic operator down in that area.
FUCHS: Was Dick Nacy always a booster of Mr. Truman? What are your views about that?
HARPER: Well, Dick Nacy was always in the Pendergast group. They were the ones that had elected him. There was an interesting experience that arose at the '40 National convention. They had about a three or four-way race in the state for Attorney General. McKittrick was the Attorney General and was running and there was one by the name of Taylor, who had been very active in the Missouri House, and one by the name of Drake Watson from New London; they were running. I believe the other one's name was Whitworth, or something like that from around Fulton. So, one afternoon, they came by our suite at the Sherman; they saw the Senator there and they said to him that they were going to have a breakfast in the morning and that Truman needed to be there. Also involved were Howard Cook and Dick Nacy and a fellow from over at St. Joe, who used to be a big lobbyist for the utilities, a lawyer; Meyer, I believe,
was his name. Senator Truman came back and told J. V. and me about the invitation, and we said to him, "Well, what's it about?"
He said, "I don't know what it's about, but they've invited me over there and I think I ought to go."
And we said, "No, by God, you're not going." I said, "I'll go. You just stay where you belong, because you don't need to be getting into any goddamn conglomeration of people where they're trying to do something unless you know what it is."
When I got over there the next morning, what they were trying to do was to set up a thing where they could beat McKittrick; they wanted to beat McKittrick. And, of course, that would have been the last damn thing Truman needed to do -- to get himself involved in a four-way race. They explored the problem and they said, "Well, what's your all's position down there in the bootheel?"
I said, "Well, I can tell you what it is. We don't like McKittrick, but we're going to be
for him because he’s going to win. There’s no need trying to fight a buzz saw. We’ve got a couple of his assistants up there, and if we fight him we’ll lose them. You haven’t got anybody in there that can beat him. Nobody of the three can touch him.” I said, “Now, if you want to beat him, there’s only one way that you’ve got a chance. Get two of the three out, and get their supporters to agree to take the third. Now, if you can do that, we’ll talk to you, but otherwise the answer is no, all the way. We’re not going to get into a deal where you’re going to get the hell kicked out of you in a minority race. It doesn’t amount to that much anyway. But we’ll get some people hurt; we don’t care for this kind of a job.” And I said to the supporters of each of the other three, to some of their supporters there, “Well, would you be willing that two of you get out? Will you get out?”
Oh, hell no, none of the three would get out.
I said, “Forget it.” Well, if he’d gone to
that meeting, in my opinion, he’d have got a backlash out of the damn thing that wouldn’t have been helpful. Since he wasn’t there, nobody could lay anything on his back.
FUCHS: Was that other gentleman, from St. Joseph, Philip Welch by any chance?
HARPER: No, it wasn’t Welch; I think it was Meyer. He was a lawyer up there.
FUCHS: Mr. Truman always seemed to be interested in the Pemiscot County fair. How did he start going to that?
HARPER: He started going to that during the ’34 campaign. He came in early October, and he made a speech there each year from then on until after he became President. During the first year as President he was down there and made one then. Of course, that’s when he went across the river, after it was over, to Reelfoot, and released something about the atomic bomb or some damn thing. I mean, reporters were running all directions; I don’t
remember what it was.
FUCHS: Well, that pretty well covers what I had I mind for now. I appreciate it very much; thank you.
Canfil, Fred, 38-39
Easley, Harry, 22-23
Gibson, Missouri, 1
Interstate Commerce Commission, 44
U.S. Senate election, 1934, 2
U.S. Senate election, 1940, 6-34, 49-51
St. Louis, Missouri, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 23, 30-32, 38
Harper, Roy W., first acquaintance with, 2-3, 38
Interstate Commerce Commission, offer of appointment to, by FDR, 44
Presidential campaign, 1948, 46-48
Senate campaign, 1934, 2
Senate campaign, 1940, 6-35, 49-51
University of Missouri, 1