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Alben W. Barkley Oral History Project: Alben W. Barkley Oral History Project (Bark 15 - Bark 26)

This annotated guide will help you find primary source information on Alben W. Barkley.

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.

 

06OH49 BARK 15

Date:  August 3, 1953

Location: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley recalls the campaign of 1948 when he traveled the country in a chartered airplane.  He explains that he earned the nickname “Iron Man” for his constant speech-making.  He recalls that campaigning using an airplane was much more flexible and describes his relationship with the press during this and other campaigns.  He discusses the actions of Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren during the 1948 presidential campaign.  He states that they acted like they had already won the election.  Barkley also provides his views on the future role of television in campaigning and congressional hearings, and his opinion on the broadcast of the 1951 crime hearings.

Barkley describes some of the senators and members of Congress that he has worked with over the course of his career.  He talks about Senator Ollie James, the man he succeeded, and Champ Clark of Missouri.  Barkley also discusses Cordell Hull, his involvement with income tax legislation and his role as Secretary of State.  Barkley mentions the Hay-Pauncefont Treaty and Wilson’s views of the position of the United States with the Panama Canal.  Near the end of this interview, Barkley sings a song that he heard as a young man working in the fields of Kentucky and he tells the “Mint Julep” story of a man on his deathbed who asks his wife to pour him some liquor and force him to drink it.

 

06OH50 BARK 16

Date:  August 4, 1953

Location: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley begins this interview with an explanation of where he was when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  He describes the atmosphere when Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed both houses of Congress to ask for a declaration of war.  He recalls the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died and meeting with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt shortly afterward.

In the remainder of this interview, Barkley discusses his experiences in Congress and the people with whom he served.  Barkley states that the House of Representatives is too large and it hinders the workflow of Congress.  He mentions Congressman Carter Glass and Attorney General Mitchell Palmer.  Barkley also remembers Miss Hebe Hamilton, a newspaper reporter and the first-short haired woman that Barkley ever saw.

Barkley explains how a member of the Secret Service was assigned to him after an attempt on Truman’s life in Puerto Rico.  He reflects upon meeting King Michael of Romania and King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece.  Queen Frederika was kind enough to tell Barkley about her courtship by King Paul and he retells the story.

Barkley continues discussing his congressional colleagues.  He mentions Claude Kitchen of North Carolina, James Mann, Senator Kenneth McKellar, James Farley, Henry T. Rainey, and Sam Rayburn.  He describes Joseph Cannon in detail and tells of a feud between Cannon and Nicholas Longworth.  Barkley recalls that older members of Congress were happy to share advice with new members.  Barkley also reminisces about picnics in the Kentucky countryside, he mentions his interest in visiting historic sites, and he remembers practicing his oratory skills in the woods as a young man.

 

06OH51 BARK 17

Date:  August 5, 1953

Location: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley recalls members of the Senate whom he has worked with over the course of his career.  He describes Senator Thomas J. Walsh and their friendship.  He remembers Hiram Johnson as an isolationist during World War Two, and describes Senator Carter Glass who was incapacitated by illness but continued to serve in the Senate, although he was criticized by other members.  Barkley discusses how Senate committees dealt with an absent senator and the role of the pair clerk who voted for a senator who was not present.

Barkley explains the old role of the Senate as a Gentleman’s Club in which one member would come to the rescue of another who was criticized by some outside force.  He describes the friendship among senators who called each other by their first names.  Barkley remembers Senator Robert Wagner who played an important part in the New Deal legislation and who wrote the Wagner Labor Relations Act.  He describes Senator Charlie McNary and Horace Wilkie, who changed his party allegiance.  Barkley remembers Bob La Follette whose father has also been a senator but who became recognized on his own as an able legislator.  Barkley describes his role in attempting to convince La Follette to join the Democrats.

Barkley explains the use and the rule of the filibuster and states that a member of Congress can read anything he wants, including the telephone book in order to keep a filibuster going.  He recalls bills that have been filibustered and his disagreement with the use of this legislative tool.  Barkley takes on some lighter issues near the end of this interview including his love of the old-fashioned minstrel show and his memories of seeing President Woodrow Wilson at shows in Washington.   

 

06OH52 BARK 18

Date:  October 18, 1953

Location: Washington, D.C.

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley begins this interview recalling a time when he was not recognized while traveling through Marshall County, Kentucky.  He describes his disagreement with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s veto of a tax bill in 1944 and the speech that he wrote in response.  He talks about his family and his children, and addresses his children’s accusation that he is a procrastinator.  He describes his fear the night the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre collapsed in Washington, D.C., because he was afraid that his son David was inside.  He explains how he received the nickname “Sinister” after a trip to Panama.

Barkley also provides some more details about his experiences campaigning.  He recalls his first race for United States senator against Richard Ernst and describes how Ernst was always on his mind.  He discusses in detail his Senate campaign against A.B. “Happy” Chandler and hints at his personal feelings about Chandler.  Barkley remembers when Roosevelt came to campaign with him in Kentucky.  He discusses his memories of Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, particularly events surrounding Vinson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Barkley explains how he was able to procure votes in largely Republican areas of eastern Kentucky simply by talking to the people there.  He recalls taking his mother to a county fair in Rockville County when she came to visit him in Washington and he comments on his mother’s longevity.  He describes an amusing incident involving a club in Kentucky called the KKK Club which had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan.  Barkley also discusses Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court, hearing of the death of Senator Robinson, and his conversation with Colonel House about the possibility of Barkley running for president.

 

06OH53 BARK 19

Date:  October 21, 1953

Location: Washington, D.C.

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

In this interview, Barkley tells stories about both his career and his family, and provides some details about New Deal legislation.  He describes a watch that the McCracken County officers gave him when he was first elected to Congress.  He explains his ambition to visit every county in the state of Kentucky and his involvement in U.S. loans to Britain which prompted a comment from Lady Astor at an art exhibit.  He discusses his knowledge about the Russian production of a hydrogen bomb, and he provides anecdotes about his experiences with the Secret Service.

Barkley describes his reaction to a newspaper column that stated some negative things about his receiving a gold medal from Congress.  He discusses his speech nominating Roosevelt at the 1944 Democratic Convention. Barkley recalls the influence of the William Goebel assassination on his own political aspirations.

Barkley explains in detail the problems that confronted President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first administration.  He provides extensive information about the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the role of Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace.  Barkley explains his views on the importance of agriculture and the need for agricultural regulation by the government.  He tells a story which compares the farmer to a man trapped under a load of hay.  Barkley also talks about efforts to help the agriculture industry that pre-dated the New Deal including the McNary-Haugen Bill.  He discusses the Tennessee Valley Authority and the involvement of Joe Cannon.  He mentions the importance of soil conservation and a bill he introduced which aided in the construction of highways.  Near the end of the interview, Barkley’s daughter Laura Louise “Wahwee” joins the discussion and tells stories about campaigning with her father and remembers a reporter who got a little too friendly.    

 

06OH54 BARK 20

Date:  October 22, 1953

Location: Washington, D.C.

Interviewer:  Sidney Shalette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

Alben W. Barkley describes two important legislative acts of the New Deal.  He explains the purpose of the National Industrial Recovery Act which was administered by General Hugh Johnson.  The act provided for universal standards for wages, and Barkley discusses some problems that this caused for Kentucky industries that did not have skilled labor forces.  Barkley also discusses early supporters of the New Deal who later became bitter including General Johnson.  Barkley also provides information on the “Gold Clause” legislation that devalued the dollar.

 

06OH56 BARK 21

Date:  October 22, 1953

Location: Washington, D.C.

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  Final Draft

Restrictions:

In this interview, Alben W. Barkley continues providing information about the Gold Clause and other New Deal legislation.  He states that part of the devaluation of currency was to bring the United States in line with other countries.  Barkley discusses the Social Security legislation and misconceptions of it.  He describes the formation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  Barkley also recalls the establishment of the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the differences between this organization and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Barkley describes his interest in agriculture and the regulation of agriculture.  He recalls some agricultural disasters.  He discusses his understanding of the establishment of American tariffs on foreign products and describes the U.S. Merchant Marine and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s program to improve this group.

Barkley also discusses the rise of Adolph Hitler beginning with a description of World War One and his view of Paul von Hindenburg as president of Germany.  He recalls a trip that he made to Germany in the mid-1930s and recognizing the early signs of a growing war mentality.  Barkley discusses the role of the Neutrality Act in making a war in Europe more likely especially in light of the aggression by Hitler.  He remembers an attempt by Roosevelt to repeal the Embargo Act when he saw that a war in Europe was imminent.  He discusses Senator William Borah and Borah’s statement that there would not be another war in Europe.  Barkley also provides his views on the formation of the United Nations and his hopes for the future of this organization.

 

BARK 22

Date:  November 1, 1953

Location:  Unknown

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  No Restrictions

In this interview, Alben W. Barkley recalls a speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt for the presidency.  Barkley remembers that he was asked to change the speech, but he decided the deliver it the way that he had prepared it.  Barkley discusses his significant in the Congressional investigation into Pearl Harbor at the end of World War II.  He states that there was a demand for an investigation into the attack to see if anyone was neglecting their duties.  Yet, he explains that some of this push was political, and certain politicians wanted to look for a reason to blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor.  Barkley recalls that he introduced the resolution for the joint investigative committee and was then appointed chairman of the committee.  He remembers other members of the committee, and people brought before the committee.

Barkley discusses an FCC investigation.  He recalls some stories about his first race for Congress, the poll tax fight during which a warrant was served on Senator McKellar, and he demonstrates how to call a hog.  Barkley recalls the Democratic Convention of 1940 and the nomination of Henry Wallace as Vice President.  He talks about Wilson’s campaign for reelection in 1916 and the resulting Republican majority in Congress.  He questions whether or not this had any effect on the Treaty of Versailles not being ratified.      

BARK 23

Date:  November 2, 1953

Location:  Unknown

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  No Restrictions

In this interview, Alben W. Barkley revisits some topics that he has mentioned in other interviews in greater detail.  He explains that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been urged by friends to consider the presidency as early as 1920, and recalls when FDR was nominated for the Vice Presidency at the Democratic National Convention of 1920.  This convention was the first at which Barkley served as a delegate.  Barkley also revisits the Democratic National Convention of 1952 and his relationship with the labor unions.

Barkley skips back to the political situation after World War I, and states that people all over the country wanted to disassociate themselves from the war.  He discusses the scandals of the Harding administration and feels that although people lost faith in the individuals involved, they did not lose faith in their government as a whole. He talks about Calvin Coolidge’s presidency and the election of 1924.

Barkley also looks back at the Truman administration and ponders when the American people and historians will be able to look at Truman’s presidency with perspective.  He talks about Truman’s great accomplishments including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and aid to developing nations.  Barkley discusses the role of the United State in the Korean conflict, and states his opinion that if the United States had not become involved the United Nations would have been discredited and the USSR may have taken the U.S.’s inaction as a sign of weakness.

Barkley discusses General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election to the presidency in 1952.  He feels that the Republicans were looking for a strong man to nominate and they found a sure winner in Eisenhower.  Yet, Barkley feels that it was an Eisenhower victory rather than a truly Republican victory.

Barkley describes his association with Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court.  He explains that Brandeis was raised in Louisville and became a prominent lawyer after moving to Boston.  He states that Brandeis was a “fascinating character” with a “clean sense of humor.”  Barkley also discusses his sympathy and respect for the Jewish people and his support of the new nation of Israel.

Barkley mentions some of his collectibles that he has gathered in his various travels including a stone from the British House of Parliament, a table that once belonged to Henry Clay, and various Senator shaving mugs.  He discusses Franklin D. Roosevelt’s amazing memory.

BARK 24

Date:  November 3, 1953

Location:  Mayfield, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  None

Alben W. Barkley describes Franklin D. Roosevelt’s views on limiting the influence and power of aggressor prior to World War II and specifically discusses a speech in which Roosevelt used the term “quarantine the aggressor speech.”  He recalls that Roosevelt was called a “war monger” for this speech.  He describes Roosevelt’s views on balancing the government’s budget, and how his attempts had to be reversed to combat the Great Depression.

Barkley remembers campaigning in statewide elections, and states that he gave as many as sixteen speeches in one day.  He talks about his membership in the Elks Lodge and tells a story being nominated to be the Exulted Ruler of the Elks Lodge.

Barkley talks about interesting family members like his Aunt Betty who married her childhood sweetheart at the age of 80, his “Aunt Pus,” and his brother John who was a salesman and worked in the Atomic Plant in Paducah. He mentions his associations with Harry Hopkins.  He talks about techniques for getting a good bargain on goods.

Barkley talks about the close friendship between Senators William Edward Borah and James Hamilton Lewis and how this began when Lewis was horsewhipped by a woman and Borah helped him to keep it out of the press.  He describes Senator Capper of Kansas, a widower who had hearing problems.  He discusses a James Hamilton Lewis’ retort to Huey Long, and George Holden Tinkham, a Congressman from Massachusetts.  Barkley describes his home “Angles” in Mayfield, Kentucky and how he acquired it.

BARK 25

Date:  November 3, 1953

Location:  Mayfield, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  None

In this interview, Barkley recalls preparing his 1952 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.  He states that he was only informed that he would be giving the speech the week of the convention, and he arrived at the convention the day he was supposed to give the speech.  Barkley states that he had now time to prepare, but during the day he kept thinking about what he was going to say.  He describes adding his dinner experience with both white and black soldiers in Korea to his speech.

 

BARK 26

Date:  November 5, 1953

Location:  Mayfield, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Sidney Shallette

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript: No 

Restrictions:  No Restrictions

 

In this final interview, Alben W. Barkley recites a prayer when he gave when he opened the Senate early one morning and the normal chaplain was unavailable.  He mentions the Roosevelt’s court reform plan and the veto of a tax bill which resulted in Barkley’s resignation.  Barkley affirms that his ongoing Senatorial race in Kentucky had nothing to do with his resignation. 

 

Barkley discusses the role of committees in Congress, and mentions that he urged regular meetings of all the committee chairmen.  He describes selection of committee chairmen and states his opinion that allowing the senior member the chairmanship prevents scrabble among the senators.  Barkley talks about the ways that investigations are conducted by committees, and legislation that can come out of investigations.  He particularly mentions Charles E. Hughes’ meticulous investigation of the aircraft industry during Wilson’s presidency.     

 

Barkley describes his support of federal funding for education.  He recalls a cyclone that hit his hometown when he was a boy, and which moved his family’s home fifteen or twenty feet.  Shallette and Barkley recall visiting the areas where Barkley grew up, and Shallette reads notes from David “Bud” Barkley’s scrapbook which explain that Truman called Barkley “Boss” while he was in the Senate, Truman’s tribute to Barkley at the Inaugural Ball, Barkley’s athletic prowess, and the 1949 fight for civil rights legislation.

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