Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Transcripts of White House Office Conversations, 08/22/1940 - 10/10/1940

6. President Roosevelt and His Aide Lowell Mellet Talk. Side 2, 0-821 (pt. 1) 821-1640 (pt. 2). Sometime between August 22 and August 27, 1940.

As the tape begins, the President is being told he has a visitor outside. His aides say, "You've met Mr. ----" And FDR tries to remember. He is told the visitor is "The man from the Guardian," just as his guest comes in and begins the conversation.

Visitor: Glad to see you.

FDR: It's been a long time, Mr. -----.

Visitor: Well you know, I read the editorials about...

FDR: The only thing in Hyde Park.

Visitor: That's right.

FDR: How are things going? Tell me about the newspaper situation in England. You've had to cut down on the pages, haven't you, and now they have very small papers.

Visitor: (failing to annunciate properly) There are a couple of papers that come out, five pages.

FDR: I see, I see. I heard you met -----.

Visitor: ...-----I took her to Italy

FDR: How many more weeks to go do we have?

Aide: It looks like, it's something we have to look at each month. ( FDR: Yes) Start when we get to Portugal.

FDR: Let --- do it. (laughter)

Visitor: I'm waiting for the other side now.

FDR: Uh, Lowell, on this...ah...thing. I...I don't know if you remember, we were talking about the story...and so forth and so on. There was a guy once upon a time shoe name was Daugherty, and he helped run Harding's campaign against the Democrats. He was slick as hell. He went down, through an agent, to a Methodist minister in Marion, the town where Harding's mother and grandmother came from. This friend of Daugherty's got hold of the Methodist minister and told him the story about Harding's mother having a Negro mother. In other words, Daugherty planed it on the Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, and showed him certain papers that proved it, that proved the case. The Methodist minister, who was a Democrat, got all upset and he started the story all over the place. The press took it up, and it was the most horrific boomerang against us.

Now, I agree with you that there is, so far as the other man goes, we can't use it (tape garble) spread it as a word of mouth thing, or by some people way, way down the line. We can't have any of our principal speakers refer to it, but people down the line can get it out. I mean the Congress speakers and the state speakers, and so forth. They can use raw material as a matter of fact. Now, now, if they want to play dirty politics in the end, we've got our own people...Now, you'd be amazed at how this story about the gal is spreading around the country.

Mellett: It's out.

FDR: ...Awful nice gal, writes for the magazine and so forth and so on, a book reviewer. Nevertheless, there is the fact. And one very good way of bringing it out is by calling attention to the parallel in conversation. Jimmy Walker, once upon a time, was living openly with this gal all over New York, including the house across the street from me...and she was an extremely attractive little tart...very happy. Jimmy and his wife had separated - for all intents and purposes, they had separated. And it came to my trial - before me was Jimmy Walker, nineteen hundred and thirty two, and Jimmy goes and hires his former wife, for ten thousand dollars, to come up to Albany on a Saturday. Jimmy was a good Catholic and he hadn't been to church in five whole years - and he paid his wife ten thousand dollars to go up there, to Albany, on a Friday afternoon, after my trial had finished for the week - we were to go on on Monday. Jimmy had never spent a Sunday in Albany in his life, but Mrs. Walker comes up to Albany, lives with him ostensibly in the same suite in the hotel, and on Sunday the two of them go to Mass at the Albany Cathedral together. Price? Ten thousand dollars (laughter).

Now, now, Mrs. Willkie may not have been hired, but in effect she's been hired to return to Wendell and smile and make this campaign with him. Now, whether there was a money price behind it, I don't know, but it's the same idea.

Mellett: Doesn't have to be a money price. It's a nice place to live. ( FDR: Uhmhum, uhmhum) I never heard the Daugh- ( FDR: What?) the ah Daugherty planting that Negro story.

FDR: He planted it on us. ( Mellett: Yeah) Did you know that?

Mellett: I didn't know he planted it. I knew the story, of course. I know that it was a very unwise story to disseminate, but I didn't know that-

FDR: Here's another interesting point.

Mellett: We may be using it, so go ahead.

FDR: Yeah...Maybe you didn't know. Here's another interesting sidelight, an amusing situation. After we got licked that November, Cox and I, Van-Lear Black came to see me in, ah, oh, I guess I went to see him in Baltimore, right after the election when I was going down to recuperate and shoot some ducks down in Louisiana, and I stopped off in Baltimore. and Van Black, whom I'd known rather slightly, he said, "Look, we want to make you the head of New York, New Jersey, and New England of the Fidelity and deposit Company as vice-president."

I said, "Van, there are two considerations. I don't want to give up my law practice entirely, want to keep my hand in, keep my hand in. I will do this, if you let me, I'll make a contract to spend from one o'clock every day with the F&D. But up to one o'clock - noon - I'll be doing my law work. Your job with the F&D is partly giving out glad hand stuff, so I'll spend my lunch hour for you." I said, "The other condition is that you let me look over your list of officers and vice presidents. I've got to pick 'em. They may be alright, but I've got to pick 'em, myself."

He said, "That's fair enough," and went out. And there on the list was Daugherty, in charge of Ohio for the F&D.

I said, "Mr. Black, I can't do that."

"Well, he said, "he's been our agent there, he's handled all our legislative work in Ohio in the legislature and so forth, and I can't let him go. Well," he said, "I think he's going to the cabinet."

I said, "I think so too, but I can't work for a company that Daugherty remains in." So, in order to get me for the F&D, the F&D fired Daugherty outright.

Mellett: I delivered to you last week...concerning the candidate for the ( FDR: What?) the candidate for the governor. ( FDR: Where?) Georgia.

FDR: The only thing I am, personally, in a position in, although I can't say so out loud, is to appeal to Talmadge.

Mellett: McCormack told me he'd win.

FDR: I think so.

Mellett: But they could only put -

FDR: All polls are for Talmadge, one or the other.

Mellett: He let me ask him, and I said it wouldn't happen. Is that right?

FDR: I told the delegation that came in, I said that for, and Eugene Cox was in here, and Walt Drolls, I said, "Listen boys, the vote for governor, I spend a lot of time there, and we need a good governor. And from what I hear, Talmadge is going to be elected, unless..." And I said, "I don't know, the weaker one of the two may be equally strong," but these fellows won't tell me which is the weaker of the two. "Now, I don't know. I am merely giving you a piece of advice. Yet none of them should pull out of the race." And then I turned to the delegation and said, "Look here. The question of who's the stronger, Nix or ours, the answer is who can go back to the awkward center, the caucus home." Well, they went out laughing, and that's the way things stayed.

Aide: The picture taken up at the front at the Times, I saw that last night, and...

FDR: Fine, fine.

Mellett: The sun came out, it was just right.

FDR: I didn't need any paint on my face. (chatter)...Yeah, Alright. Now, now, ask, ask the secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy if they would approve a meeting here on Monday, and would they telephone to the committee and ask if Tuesday be alright ( Aide: instead of Monday) instead of Monday, to meet an hour. I think it's a good idea. Oh, ah get a hold of Dan, and tell Dan I want some maps on the Potomac, if not, on the charts, showing the entire layout of Newfoundland. I want large scale, no small scale stuff, large scale stuff...east coast of Nova Scotia. (Tape here becomes inaudible, then cuts off).

pt 2: Here President Roosevelt and his aides are solving problems concerning the dispensation of Federal patronage jobs, and sifting through the assortment of requests sent by the party leaders throughout the nation. The tape succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of a sleeves-up work session in the oval office, with simultaneous conversations while people are making suggestions and jotting notes. Much of it is impossible to decipher, yet it is not necessary that all that is spoken be clear for the listener to achieve an understanding of the tone of the session. The image of FDR, relaxing at his desk, cigarette holder in hand, humored by the activities of the notorious Hauge of Jersey City, and reciting letters explaining why such and such a candidate will not be appointed, is one that allows a more complete view into the daily activities of the people of the oval office.

FDR: (Amid random conversations) Arnold?

Aide: Nine million dollars.

Aide 2: I think it's good pay!

Aide 3: Without working. Pay without working! (Laughter about the room)

Aide 1: Pay without work! (Chatter, as various conversations are engaged).

FDR: They can't print that...What are you doin' Frank? (The tape here becomes extremely fuzzy. Then,)

FDR: (FDR explains his itinerary) Well, I'm leaving tonight on the midnight and I'm going to Hyde Park...and on Thursday New Orleans, then Sunday night...then to Chattanooga, get there Monday morning...and ah then right down to Charleston...and get back here Wednesday night. (The tape becomes extremely unpleasant at this time).

Aide: Well, I'm here, so is everybody, I think...

Aide 2: (after some incoherent talk) I think that'd go alright, don't you?

FDR: Yes, now which fellow was which judged alive, and which was killed?

Aide: Ah, now I think it was ah James who ah ( FDR: Yeah) ( both: ) killed.

Aide 2: Au, yeah, before the last election, Charlie Pickery, from Louisiana. We got a ah a reconciliation? (more incoherency)

FDR: Do that, ah, the old boy. That's very smart. You never spare anything, for it matters.

Aide: Charlie paid him ten thousand dollars, and ah there was more scandal about Charlie...Hauge says he's unfit, but Hauge says he's also got to write you a letter saying ah he's alright (chuckle), but he doesn't mean it. This fellow, ah Charlie, has just been one thing after another.

FDR: It's very simple, send him a letter saying we cannot appoint Charlie. Give me another name... (tape is momentarily unintelligible) Find somebody else. I gave him three separate chances, and every time. Number one man? No! Number two man? No! Number three man? No! Three strikes are out. I'm putting in Saunders.

Aide: This fella Charlie is (whispering) right on the corner.

Aide 2: Ah, now, ah, um, there just might be other situations that -

FDR: How about we'll be ----J up there? Can you get him out, free.

Aide: I mean a D.A.

FDR: One's a judge, one's a district attorney, one's a marker.

Aide: He's coming down, and he wants to bring ----- down, and he's coming down and going to try to work something out.

FDR: Hauge is a, Hauge is a lot of trouble...therefore your proposal is canceled, it is impossible, give me another name. (chatter)

Aide: In Chicago, (Yes)...we'll have to tell him that the fellow appointed was involved in a have the responsibility, I have your authority.

FDR: If I actually hired this man, and this is a campaign, they could make a nice little issue, you can't talk to the nation.

Aide: He admitted...

Aide 2: He's the fella that raped the girl in his office and paid three thousand dollars to get off -

FDR: Three thousand dollars, and he's led a clean life, so far as we know, ever since. (speech becomes incoherent).

FDR: That's Tom Paine.

Aide: Tom Paine from ------'s office (more chatter)

FDR: Prepare another letter from me: "Dear Christie, Bob Wagner, as you know, has for years pleaded ah for the appointment of Ripkin. I don't see how I can confirm this. You said, "Franklin, Ripkin is qualified." (He is, too.) Now say, paragraph, ---sent me very high class name for the other position. I feel Paine is...." (chatter)

Aide 2: It's like ( FDR: What?) It's like sixty years ago. ( FDR: Yeah).

Aide: Ah, two other matters, Ah we're holding a set of -------s. I don't know what you want to do about it.

FDR: I'm holding it now.

Aide: And ah, we have ours, a situation in which Gillette wants the amount...on the market. He has proof we can expect a fight here. Ah I think the thing to do later, put the other thing on the desk, and he'll come down a bit. I don't believe it's best to try to bargain with him.

FDR: I think you're right. Please get those ready...

Aide: Now, ah, I said I'm going...for Labor Day and ah...

FDR: I may have to have your opinion in the mean time...Now, how about that, Steve?...

Steve Early: (chatter) Now that' the best I can give you...of what I can get from Bigger. Now yesterday... these are actually (noise in the background). Now between the Navy and the Army, and the Treasury, the Treasury gets reports from manufacturers. ( FDR: Yeah) Then, they say there's so many planes on the way. They are, according to those figures of the Treasury Department. ( FDR: Yeah) But Mr. President, they may be able to be built. I know letters that have the intention ( FDR: Yeah), and I got a typical letter of intention here for you. ( FDR: Yeah) And I could get one. This letter was sent to indicate the intentions of the program of building airplanes. Then they go to work (yeah) and they hire their subcontractors (yeah) and they go to work (yup). Now here in this full report from Jack Biggers. Mr. President, in addition to this... figure here which I gave you here, the Army has three thousand some planes. Now out - (interuption) in letters of intention... and the Navy has six hundred, in the letters of intention. Now, Mr. President, now, excuse me, the, the War Department -

Aide: ...The government says the planes are being built until they find a pilot. (Yup) Now, bear in mind please the increments that the secretary of war and Secretary of the Navy ask of the government for a number of planes, combat planes (yeah), not training (yeah), on the other hand the public may wonder why we need all of these combats if planes are needed to learn to fly. Awkward position. We ask for combat only (yeah)...For this type of aircraft, it's a hundred days...we could build up to a possible fifty thousand planes.

FDR: I have no authority of that kind...

Aide: Made one, not two months before they take to the air...

Steve Early: But, Mr. President, on June 28, two days before they were to set to take to the air, the Congress of the United States passes a law that reduces the margin of profit on income twelve to eight percent... (yeah), and all the contracts that were piling up on Louis Jenkins' desk in the war department, has to be rewritten...

Aide: Those profits don't mean so much.

Steve Early: On the 28th of June when this act passed the Congress, it's all wrecked and has to be rewritten. (Why?) Because there was a volume of them that falls back to contractors, the manufacturers, the disgust with them with the reduction from twelve percent profit down to eight and so forth. This is for negotiation and renegotiation of each contract, that was made by the committee. (cut off) (See attached xerox from the President's secretary's file for the document Early was speaking from.)