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Alben W. Barkley Oral History Project  

This annotated guide will help you find primary source information on Alben W. Barkley.
Last Updated: Aug 28, 2013 URL: http://libguides.uky.edu/SCLBNBarkley Print Guide Email Alerts

Ablen W. Barkley Oral History Project (Bark 01 - Bark 14) Print Page
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Annotated Guide to the Alben W. Barkley Oral History Project.

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek

2006

06OH01 Bark 03

Date:  July 17, 1953

Location: Quebec City, Canada

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions: None

Former United States Vice President and Senator Alben W. Barkley describes the origins of his surname “Barkley” and his ancestors.  He talks about Sam Rayburn as a member of the House, and his personal relationship with Tom Connally.  He recalls the beginning of World War I and being told by President Woodrow Wilson that he was needed in Washington more than in the army.  Barkley describes going to Europe during the First World War to investigate military expenditures, and meeting Georges Clemenceau.  He remembers his first flight in an airplane.

Barkley also describes members of his family including his parents and grandparents.  He explains his family connections to Adlai Stevenson.  He describes his childhood home near Lowes and Fancy Farm, Kentucky, and what he learned of the Civil War as a boy.  He remembers boyhood fights and going to Paducah with his father to sell the year’s crops. 

06OH03 BARK04

Date:  July 18, 1953

Location: Quebec City, Canada

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions: None

In this interview, Alben W. Barkley alternates between stories of his childhood in western Kentucky and his experiences as a politician in Washington.  He tells of “crawly sugar” in Paducah.  He describes Thomas Corwin, an Ohio politician, and discusses an incident with Rene Viviani, the foreign minister of France.  Barkley provides some further details of his visit to Europe during World War One, and he recalls seeing the concentrations camps in Europe after World War Two.

Barkley explains that he was born with the name Willie Alben, and discusses his decision to change his name to Alben W.  He remembers the first time that he used a telephone.  Barkley also discusses his children and the time that he was able to spend with his family during his hectic career. 

06OH04 BARK 05

Date:  July 20, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions: None

During this session, Alben W. Barkley continues describing his childhood in western Kentucky and his early career.  He recalls helping his mother with the housework and his father with the farm work since he was the oldest child.  He remembers working with his father as a wheat thrasher.  Barkley’s father was a strict Presbyterian and Barkley explains that they had no cards or alcohol in their home.

He describes Elizabeth Lowe, an influential teacher and Dr. Fuller, a country physician who healed more than just physical wounds.  Barkley recalls celebrations in Lowe when he was a child including the festivities after the adoption of a new state constitution and other dances and hayrides.

Barkley worked his way through Marvin College as a janitor, and then paid for law school by working as a clerk and stenographer.  He recalls his early experiences with speechmaking and what it was like to campaign in hot weather.  Barkley remembers the Free Silver debate.  He describes his first political campaign for prosecuting attorney during which traveled through parts of western Kentucky on horseback.  He mentions the first marriage ceremony that he performed, his first congressional race, and he justifies his attempts to get federal funding for Kentucky roads.  He explains the original role of the congressional committee as a means to investigate problems and formulate legislation to solve those problems.  Barkley also remembers his experiences with Irvin Cobb.

06OH05 BARK 06

Date:  July 21, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions: None 

Alben W. Barkley describes his relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He begins with his first associations with Roosevelt and describes the 1928 Democratic Convention during which Al Smith was nominated for the presidency.  Barkley recalls how Roosevelt often held morning meetings in his bedroom.  Barkley continues by describing the 1932 Democratic Convention during which Roosevelt was nominated for the presidency and Barkley announced the Democratic Platform asking for a repeal of the 18th Amendment.  Barkley describes the court fights for New Deal legislation and becoming Senate majority leader.  He describes his respect for the Supreme Court and his associations with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

Barkley details the efforts to pass a tax bill to support World War Two which Roosevelt vetoed.  This caused a short disagreement between Roosevelt and Barkley that led to Barkley’s resignation as Senate majority leader.  Barkley was quickly re-elected and he and Roosevelt came to be on friendly terms once again.  Barkley discusses Roosevelt’s decision to run for a third term and the Democratic Conventions of 1940 and 1944.

 

06OH06 BARK 07

Date:  July 22, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions:  None

Alben W. Barkley continues describing his political career in this interview.  He provides further information about the 1944 Democratic Convention, and states that he never promoted himself as a candidate for vice president during the convention, although his name was mentioned by many people.  He speculates about what would have happened if he had promoted himself for the vice presidency.

Barkley talks about Roosevelt’s appointments to the Supreme Court, and he discusses Senator James “Jimmy” Byrnes.  He describes his relationship with Harry S. Truman and his experience giving the keynote speech at the 1948 Democratic Convention.  He remembers campaigning with President Roosevelt in Corbin, Kentucky in 1932 and amusing the crowd.  He describes how he dealt with embarrassing incidents while speaking and recalls a speech that he gave on a very hot, sweaty day.

Barkley recalls his nomination to the vice presidency and his approach to the office which including traveling throughout the country to explain the administration’s programs.  He describes the relationship between himself and Truman while they were in office together and important events during the Truman administration including the Korean War and the Berlin airlift.  Barkley also describes General George Marshall, General Douglas MacArthur, and a meeting with Winston Churchill in Washington, D.C. 

 

06OH07 BARK 08

Date:  July 22, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions:  None

In this interview, Barkley discusses the 1952 Democratic Convention.  He describes events leading up to the convention at which time he was in the running for the presidential nomination.  He recalls campaigning in the western United States during the election of 1948 and his election to the vice presidency. He particularly remembers the adjustment he had to make when he began presiding over the Senate in which he had been majority leader.  He describes how his power to break ties among the Senate caused problems with other Senators particularly Lucas Scott.  Barkley also remembers his own reaction to the amendment which limited the president to two terms of service.

Barkley discusses Truman’s decision not to run for a third term, although he had not technically completed two terms.  He recalls his conversations with Adalai Stevenson regarding the presidential nomination and working with labor unions prior to the 1952 election.  He describes the Republican nomination of Eisenhower and their desperate need to win.

Barkley reflects back to World War Two and his “bathroom discussions” with Roosevelt particularly after Roosevelt’s return from the Yalta conference.  He comments upon his relationship with and his respect of Roosevelt.  Barkley also tells stories about his friendship with Admiral Rodman, meeting Mikolajczyk of Poland and seeing soapbox orators and singers in Hyde Park in London.

 

06OH43 BARK 09

Date:  July 23, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley discusses his early Congressional career and his associations with President Wilson.  He provides stories about the Senate’s attempt to increase their salaries and the reluctance of some Senators to do so.  Barkley remembers the election of 1912 and joining the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce and the Committee on Rivers and Harbors upon his first session in Congress.  He also recalls the split of the Republican Party in 1912.

Barkley explains how Woodrow Wilson received the Democratic nomination in 1912.  He discusses the tariff commission that Wilson appointed, the Ragweed Amendment supported by those who wanted to turn agricultural crops into currency, and the Federal Reserve Systems.  Barkley describes his own attempts to abolish the short session of Congress, the role of a freshman member of Congress, and his “maiden” speech which addressed the Underwood Tariff.  He recalls William Jennings Bryan and Bryan’s views on both evolution and law.   He discusses his role in the creation of the Federal Trade Commission, the passage of the Good Roads Act, and his views on agricultural reform and the Farm Credit Administration.

Barkley recalls his election to Congress in 1912 and states that even as a freshman Congressman he had no trouble getting an audience with Wilson.  He describes appointing postmasters and allowing Wilson to appoint a friend as a postmaster in his district.  He remembers that causes of World War One and the involvement of the United States in the war.  He describes the women’s suffrage movement, and the World War One draft law.  He recalls noticing a “physical breakdown” in Wilson after the end of the war.  Barkley discusses congressional opposition to the League of Nations.  He also tells a story about Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, and a ladder, explains his nickname “the VEEP”, and describes hearing about atomic energy indirectly from Secretary Henry Stimson during World War Two.

 

06OH44 BARK 10

Date:  July 23, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley’s wife Jane joins him and Sidney Shalette in this interview session.  Jane and Alben discuss the day they met, and their courtship.  Jane took a trip to Washington to visit her friends, the Cliffords.  Clark Clifford was a legal advisor to the president and Alben was invited to one of their parties, which is how Jane and Alben first became acquainted.  Jane explains that they hit it off right away.  Jane and Alben describe attempts to keep their relationship hidden from the press as much as possible.  They discuss the announcement of their engagement and their wedding. 

 

06OH45 BARK 11

Date:  July 24, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley provides details about a trip that he took to Europe during World War One with other members of Congress.  He describes meeting Admiral Hugh Rodman, and King Albert of Belgium.  Barkley recalls getting close to the front lines where he experienced artillery shells landing close by, and he describes the devastation that he witnessed in Europe.  He tells amusing stories that he heard about American soldiers.  Barkley also remembers meeting King Victor Emmanuel and General Diaz of Italy.

Barkley describes his early knowledge of Adolph Hitler.  He discusses a meeting with King George of Great Britain, and he recalls Herbert Hoover’s presidency.  He talks about his campaign for governor of Kentucky in 1923 when gambling was one of the important election issues.  He also describes learning about race relations as a young man and sings a song he heard while working in the fields with African American men.

 

06OH46 BARK 12

Date:  July 25, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

In this interview Alben W. Barkley describes the art of old fashioned oratory.  He explains that there were good orators among the Methodist circuit riders of Kentucky who came to each town only once a month and so felt that it was necessary to give an excellent sermon.  Barkley also comments on the speaking abilities of William Jennings Bryan, Senator Charles William Tobey, and Senator Clyde R. Hoey.  Barkley describes his own experiences and his growth as a public speaker.

Barkley also discusses the role of the Senate cloakroom as a meeting place and discussion area, and he mentions Senator James Thomas Heflin.  He describes life as a senator including visiting constituents and a typical day.  Barkley explains that there has been a vast increase in the business of Congress since World War One, but mentions the importance of members of Congress keeping in touch with their constituents including answering letters promptly.  Barkley also addresses the negative connotation of the word politician.

 

06OH47 BARK 13

Date:  July 25, 1953

Location: Seagle Music Colony, New York (State)

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Former Vice President Alben W. Barkley continues describing the duties of a U.S. senator.  He discusses how improvements in transportation have reduced the traveling time for members of  Congress.  Barkley also mentions Huey Long of Louisiana, referring to him as a colorful senator who was both ruthless and unscrupulous.  Barkley describes one of Long’s filibusters and comments on Long’s son, Senator Russell Long, and his role at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1952.  Barkley mentions the role of women in Congress and provides his thoughts about the need for an extension in congressional terms.  He discusses the convention system of selecting presidential nominees and describes problems with the Electoral College.

Barkley also remembers some of his trips abroad.  He discusses a trip he and Mrs. Barkley made to Korea during the Korean War.  While in Korea, they wore regulation army clothing, met South Korean President Sigmund Rhee, ate with the soldiers, and heard an orphaned children’s choir.  Barkley describes Truman’s decision to get involved in Korea and his first experience with the Secret Service.

Barkley then recounts a trip to Russia in 1930.  This was a personal trip during which he visited both Moscow and rural Russia.  Before arriving in Moscow, he stopped in London where he met David Lloyd George.  He describes the collective farms that he visited in Russia and the peculiar way that the Communists recognized married couples.  He also recalls seeing churches in Russia.

Barkley concludes this interview with remembrances of his friend and colleague John Nance Garner.  He describes the 1930 election and Garner’s role as vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Barkley also discusses a visit to Garner in Texas after Garner’s retirement.

 

06OH48 BARK 14

Date:  August 3, 1953

Location: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

In this interview, Alben W. Barkley describes the election of 1920 and the role of the League of Nations in the election and subsequent events.  He describes President Warren G. Harding and his cabinet and mentions the scandals of the Harding administration including the Teapot Dome Scandal.  Barkley also discusses changes in tariff laws under the Harding administration and the Republican Congress at this time.

Barkley then examines the Coolidge administration and Calvin Coolidge’s actions in dissipating the scandals of his predecessor.   Barkley particularly recalls the experience of having breakfast with President Coolidge and other members of Congress.  Barkley describes the election of 1924 and how an argument among the Democrats affected the race.

Barkley discusses events leading up to the Great Depression and highlights the role of tariff bills such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  He also describes the McNary-Haugen Agriculture Bill.  Barkley recalls Hoover’s reaction to the Great Depression.  He also describes Senator Robert Taft, President William Howard Taft, and his last luncheon with the Truman cabinet.

To browse the Oral History Collection by subject or keyword, search the Louie B. Nunn Center database.

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