Harry S. Truman photo

Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Oregon.

June 11, 1948

[1.] PORTLAND, OREGON (American Red Cross Broadcast, 1 p.m.)

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, Acting Governor Scott, ladies and gentlemen:

I tried very hard this morning to get a chance to see from the air just what this flood looks like here, but one of your western mists prevented me from seeing it. It certainly wasn't a rain, although I got wet. I wanted to have a first-hand look at the situation and I am still hoping that I can take a look after this meeting is over.

I had with me, however, the Chief of Engineers of this District of the U.S. Army, and the Federal Works Administrator, General Fleming, and we had about 40 or 50 pictures taken within the last 2 or 3 days, which showed me the effects of the river from the Canadian border to its mouth.

It is a terrible disaster. And I am in sympathy with trying to get that disaster met. I ordered out every agency of the Federal Government to cooperate with the Red Cross and the State of Oregon, and the city of Portland, too, to meet the situation as best

We Can.

I am told by General Fleming that there is complete harmony between all the agencies, both State and national, and the Red Cross, and that every effort is being made to meet the situation as far as we can.

Ordinarily the President of the United States has an emergency fund for such things as this, but last year that fund was eliminated, and it was not renewed again this year. There was only $25,000 left in that fund, and I gave that to General Fleming so that some immediate emergencies could be met as far as possible.

There is on the way to me now a joint resolution of the Congress authorizing the expenditure of $10 million from the housing fund, which has already been appropriated. As soon as that arrives and that resolution is signed, which I hope will be before I leave Portland today, that much money will be available for immediate emergency relief. We are trying to get a resolution to authorize the Department of Agriculture to make grants to those farmers who have had their livestock washed away and whose stock had to be moved from farms to other places. I hope that can be arranged immediately.

Now that is so much for the present immediate situation. I have always been interested in the development and the control of the great rivers of this country. I live on the Missouri River at Independence, Mo., where a great many people started when this town was first organized over the Oregon Trail. Independence, Mo., is by the Missouri River, and about 1 year in 3 the damage from that river basin has been all the way from $100 million to $500 million. This same situation has been true in the valley of the Ohio, and true in the lower valley of the Mississippi until the lower valley of the Mississippi has been controlled so that these floods that came in the last few years have not affected the lower Mississippi.

I want to see a regular flood control program in all these river valleys.

As I said yesterday at Seattle, I want to see the river developed for the benefit of the people, for power, for navigation, for reclamation, and for flood control, and that can be done, and should be done.

I was informed by the Chief of Engineers before I left Washington that the Missouri plan is completed, so far as the plan is concerned, but it will take 6 more years to get that flood control into effect.

There is a plan for the Columbia River Basin, not only for flood control but for power and for irrigation and for navigation. And I am hoping to see that Columbia River plan outlined completely.

Had it not been for the immense power dams on the Columbia River, it would have been much harder to win World War Two. These immense dams at Bonneville and Grand Coulee--I went to see the Grand Coulee just the other day, and there are a million acre-feet of water pouring over that dam every 24 hours. That is the cause of some of your trouble down here. But if those dams had not been built over the opposition of people who wanted to look backward, it would have taken longer, and many more lives, to win World War Two.

There is not any reason in the world why these plans should not be carried out, and if we can get the cooperation of every branch of the Federal Government, we can get that done.

There are some people, you know, who do not like public power, and there are some people who do not like to expend money for the reclamation of the land in the West. You know, Daniel Webster said the West wasn't any good, and the further away they could keep it from the East the better he would be pleased. That was along in 1835. There are a lot of people who still believe like Daniel Webster. But I am trying to convert those people, and if I succeed in that, we will get the proper developments of those rivers.

I am extremely sorry that you are faced with this disaster, but every disaster has some good at the conclusion of it. This will give you more sympathetic hearts when you hear that the Connecticut or the Missouri or the Ohio or some other great river in this country has gone on a rampage. You will understand just exactly what other people are faced with. They understand exactly what you are faced with, and they are sympathetic, and they are going to help you. And I am glad they are.

I have had a most appreciative welcome in this part of the world. I have been out here time and again before, but I didn't attract so much attention as I do now. I was here during World War Two, in the capacity of chairman of an investigating committee of the United States Senate. I have been here in Portland on two occasions, and I have been in Bremerton, Wash., and San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento-in nearly every town in the West. I have been out here before that, so I know something about what your problems are. I know something about what this country is in this part of the United States, and I know what a contribution it made to the war effort, not only in its power program which I have just talked about, but in the food production, in manpower, in ship production, and everything else that went to win that war.

Now I want to use those same facilities to win the peace, and I know we can do that.

Everybody thought that, when the war suddenly ended, that everything was going to pot, there wouldn't be any jobs, there wouldn't be any work, there wouldn't be anything to do. Well, you know what a surprise it has been to everybody during the last 3 years, since the war ended. There is more work, and more jobs, and more things to be done than has ever been the case in the history of the world. We finally have come to the conclusion that we must assume our position as leader in the world.

In 1920 Almighty God, I think, intended for this country to assume that position, but we turned our backs on it--and see what happened? We can't do that any more. We must accept our responsibility, and when we accept our responsibility--that leadership which God Almighty intended us to assume-there will be peace in the world. There will be enough for everybody to have the good things in life, not only in this country but in the rest of the world. We now have more than 61 million people at work-more jobs than ever before in the history of the country. And the income of the United States is $200 billion or over. Now that can be continued, if we use our heads and our judgment. That is what I am out here to explain to you. And I know how to do that. I know what to tell you to do. I told the Congress time and time again what they should do to continue that situation, and I hope eventually we will get action on it.

I sincerely hope that when this severe flood subsides out here, we can immediately go to work and begin to put in a plan of construction along this river so that it will never happen again; and by the next time I come out here you won't be afraid of floods, and you won't be afraid of not having power, not having a lot of other things that will be good for you when they happen.

That will take several years, but I would like to come out and see it, when it is finished.

Thank you very much.

[2.] SALEM, OREGON (Rear platform, 4:30 p.m.)

You know, I never had a nicer, more appreciated introduction. I have known the Governor for a long time. He is my kind of a Democrat. He knows how this public power fight started out here. He knows what we had to go through with to get Grand Coulee and Bonneville, and we still shall have a fight to get the rest of the dams on the Columbia River that we ought to have, in order to make the Columbia River produce as much power as all the private power companies in the United States now produce. Did you know that?

The Columbia River has a potential of 50 million kilowatts of power. That is all the private companies produce now.

I am so glad that the Governor came down. I hoped he would. I have known him a long time, almost ever since I have been in politics. He was far and away my senior in the Congress, and as Governor of his State I am glad to come back here and rank him just this one time.

I landed here this morning. I flew here from Olympia, McChord Field at Fort Lewis, and I had hoped to be able to look at the Columbia River floods, but you had one of your early morning mists, and I couldn't see it. As I went through this town, I saw what I thought were all the people in Oregon, but here they are--I was mistaken. As I went along the roads from here to Portland, in order to see the flood damage in that city, it seemed that everybody in every town was out to greet the President.

Now I understand very well that that greeting is to the Chief Executive of the greatest Nation on earth, and is not to Harry Truman as a private citizen.

Voice: It is, too!

You have to be very careful always to keep that in mind when you are President of the United States, because if you don't keep that in mind, you will get a bad case of "Potomac fever," and then you are ruined. You know, Woodrow Wilson said that a great many men came to Washington and grew up with their jobs, and a very large number came and just swelled up. I am trying awful hard to keep that swelling down. My hat hasn't increased a single eighth of an inch since I have been President of the United States.

I am interested in flood control as well as power and navigation and reclamation in this part of the world. I understand that your Willamette River is due to go on a rampage. Well, its rampage can be controlled. All you need to do to control it is to control the tributaries. The Columbia River requires about 15 million acre-feet of storage to prevent such a flood as they are having now. The Missouri River and the Ohio River and the Connecticut River in New England have the same sort of floods, and the same sort of control would take care of those floods in every one of those valleys.

Since I have been in politics--and I hate to tell you how long that has been--I have been interested in flood control, because the old Missouri--when the old Missouri goes on a rampage, it goes on a rampage! The year before last, if my memory is correct, the Missouri wiped out 500 million dollars' worth of crops. And that happens once every 4 years on the average.

Now you haven't had a flood on the Columbia River in this region since 1894 that was worthy of the name. I am sorry to say that sometimes disasters have their good points, and this one undoubtedly will make this part of the country flood-conscious, and you will sympathize with the Ohio and the Missouri and the Connecticut, as they sympathize with you now, because they know what you are going through.

And when we have that sort of a situation, we have the country working together as a whole--as a unit.

This is the greatest Nation on earth, I think. The greatest Nation in history, let's put it that way. We have done things that no other nation in the history of the world has done. We fought two wars in one generation for liberty and the right of the individual, and we have taken a part of the territory of a nation, with whom we went to war, and whom we defeated, and made a nation out of that territory. That never happened before in the history of the world. No nation ever gave back any territory it ever took.

We made a republic out of Cuba, we made a republic out of the Philippines, and we are giving Puerto Rico self-government.

All we ask in this world is peace, for the welfare of all the people in the world.

If we want it badly enough, and if we go along with the program which has been outlined as the foreign policy of the United States, we will get that peace, and it will last, I hope, indefinitely, or maybe a thousand years. There is plenty of room in all the world for everybody. The resources of this great Northwest would support 4 or 5 times the number of people that are in it now, if it was properly developed.

That is what I want to see done all over the whole world. Then we can live together as neighbors.

I have talked to you too much and on too many subjects. You have been very kind. You are very hospitable, and I wish we could stay longer, but I have a schedule that was made for me in Washington, and I have to keep it, so we have to go.

[3.] ALBANY, OREGON (Rear platform, 5:20 p.m.)

Well, this certainly is a very great pleasure. I thought I saw all of Oregon in Portland and Salem. Apparently, I didn't.

Voice: You're close enough to see your dimples.

THE PRESIDENT. Not dimples, they're wrinkles. You can't have dimples at 64!

I certainly have enjoyed the visit to Oregon, except for the fact that I had to go out this morning and look at those flooded areas north of the town. That was not pleasant. I saw where that city had been entirely washed away. You can count the chimneys where each chimney marked 14 apartments. Nothing there but the chimneys. All sorts of broken up houses and automobiles upside down, and everything you could think of, of that sort. It was not pleasant, and I hope that some time or other the country will come to the conclusion that those things can be controlled. And they can. All we need to do is to decide to do the thing and go ahead and do it.

I have had a most wonderful reception here in the West. I have been here many a time before, and I have driven from San Francisco to Portland through this city. I have ridden from San Francisco to Portland through this city. Nobody paid any attention to me.

Of course, I understand that the only reason they pay so much attention to me now is because I own the greatest office of the world.

Same voice: And you are a Democrat!

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, that may have some bearing on it, too. But the office is the thing that causes every American citizen to be curious, to see how the man who has that office is wearing it, to see whether he is trying to use that office for their benefit, or to make a stuffed shirt out of himself.

I am trying my best to work in your interests, and in the public interest. I have no other ambition. And to see that this country continues to be the most prosperous and the greatest country in the world.

No President can do that by himself. He must have the cooperation of his constituents, and he must have the cooperation of the Congress. I haven't had either one.

I came out here so you might see and understand the things for which I stand, and so that you might get the truth and the facts, which you haven't been getting through the press.

I have only one ambition, and that is to get a peace in the world that will be lasting, that will work, and that will keep this country prosperous for generations to come.

I was a field artillery captain in the First World War. I had three nephews in the Second World War, and I wanted to go into the Second World War myself, but I was in the Senate, and General Marshall, who was then Chief of Staff, told me that I was too old to go into the field artillery. After I became President, one of my secretaries asked him what he would say now if the same question was put up to him by the same person. He said, "I would say the same thing, but I would be a little more diplomatic about it."

Same voice: If you call those wrinkles dimples then you are too old.

THE PRESIDENT. Now you're speaking for yourself not for me.

Thank you a lot for your appearance and for your welcome, and I appreciate it most highly, and I hope some time I can come back and talk politics to you.

[4.] EUGENE, OREGON (Rear platform, 6:25 p.m.)

It certainly is fine to see all of you here today. The last time I was here it was 7 o'clock in the morning. There weren't quite so many of you up that time. I was going from San Francisco to Portland in 1944, in the campaign of 1944. It was my duty to start that campaign in Los Angeles, Calif., which I did, and I came to San Francisco, and then to Eugene, then to Portland, then to Seattle, and all the way across the country. Thirteen thousands miles I went on that tour. I won't go quite so far on this one, but I may take one later on that will take a little more time.

I came out here this time to discuss with you certain things in which you are interested, and I think I have been rather successful in making you see that there are things in which you are interested, and which I am interested in also, but I fear very much that the Congress is not so interested as we are in those things. I want you to find that out for yourselves. I understand that this is the seat of the University of Oregon, and that more than half the students are GI's. That is a wonderful thing. Those GI's found out that they needed an education and they found out that they could get it and they found out that those of us who had been in the Congress were thinking about them and trying to make arrangements so that they could get an education. You know that education is one thing that can't be taken away from you. Nobody can rob you of your education, because that is in your head; that is, if you have any head and are capable of holding it. Most of us are capable of holding an education, if we try to get it.

I sent my daughter to George Washington University, and it took her 4 long years to get a degree, and I got one the same night for nothing! I have never been to the University of California either, but I am going down there tomorrow to get another degree, and I didn't do anything for it, only I am going to make a graduating speech there, and tell them all about the foreign affairs, and the foreign policy of the United States of America. I hope you will all listen to that because it is only a repeat of what I have said at least 100 times. It is the foreign policy of the United States that I am going to discuss tomorrow at the University of California, and you are all interested in it, because if we carry out that foreign policy we will have peace in the world. And that's what everybody wants. I want peace in the world just as badly as anybody in the world.

I went to Potsdam in 1945 with that in view, I went there with the kindliest feelings in the world toward Russia, and we made certain agreements, specific agreements. I got very well acquainted with Joe Stalin, and I like old Joe! He is a decent fellow. But Joe is a prisoner of the Politburo. He can't do what he wants to. He makes agreements, and if he could he would keep them; but the people who run the government are very specific in saying that he can't keep them.

Now sometime or other that great country and this great country are going to understand that their mutual interests mean the welfare and peace of the world as a whole. I am going to tell you about that tomorrow at the University of California.

[5.] OAKRIDGE, OREGON (Rear platform, 7:40 p.m.)

Mr. Mayor and citizens of Oakridge city, Oregon:

The Mayor tells me that he is a blacksmith by trade.

You know, that is what makes this country great. Anybody can be Mayor, Congressman, Senator, President, you see. And that is the reason I am happy to be a citizen of the great State of Missouri.

You know, all of you had to come through Missouri--your ancestors did--before you could get to Oregon. You all came down the Oregon Trail, which originated in Independence, Mo.

I am most happy that the train stopped here tonight, and I am most happy to have a chance to say a word to you.

Thank you a lot. I certainly appreciate this welcome.

[6.] KLAMATH FALLS, OREGON (Rear platform, 10:55 p.m.)

Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. I have had a most enjoyable visit on this west coast. I don't think I ever received a more cordial welcome than I have received in Washington and Oregon. They have been exceedingly kind to me, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

The President, you know, has to receive all the criticism that it's possible for a man to receive and still survive. So when he sees smiling faces such as yours, and such as I have seen along the railroad today, it is a compensation for what he has to go through with being President.

The President's job is a remarkable one. He is the Chief Executive of the greatest Nation in the world. He has certain responsibilities which he cannot forego. He must stay at the table and work day in and day out, and year in and year out, hoping that he will accomplish something that will be for the benefit of all the people of the Nation. And if he can do that, then he is satisfied. Sometimes he thinks he has succeeded. More often he is afraid he has not, especially if he believes the columnists that write in some of the newspapers.

Since I have been in the White House, since April 12, on that sad day when President Roosevelt died, I have had a varied experience. Two wars have ended in that time, and we have been endeavoring ever since those two wars ended, to get a peace. That is my one ambition, to get peace in the world.

I had hoped in September 1945, when the Japanese surrender terms were signed, that by this time we would have peace in the world. We are going to get peace in the world, because that is what we must have. The United Nations is the vehicle through which we will get peace in the world. And when that peace comes, I am just as sure as I stand here that the atomic age is going to be the greatest age in history. I have said many times that I wish I were 18 years old, or younger, so I could go along with the world that is to come.

You know, way back in 1845, there was a certain Prime Minister of Great Britain who said that he was glad he was retiring as Prime Minister of Great Britain, because he thought the Empire was going to break up. Well, Britain accomplished its greatest period after 1845.

We had a Patent Commissioner along in 1843 who went down and told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Patent Office ought to be abolished because there was nothing new to invent. That was in 1843. What great changes--this business I am talking over right now, this radio--the automobile, electric light, and everything else that we use and think we cannot get along today without, they were all invented and patented since 1843. Suppose the Senate Appropriations Committee had followed the advice of that old Patent Commissioner? We would be in exactly the same position that we will be if we listen to the gloom artists today.

I am not gloomy. I think we are facing the greatest age in history. And I think all you young people are going to have a glorious future. I think this great Nation has only begun to be great, because in 1920 Almighty God expected us to assume the leadership of the world, which we refused to assume, and we had another war.

We are faced now with that same situation. We must assume that leadership, and I am trying my best to see that this Nation does assume that leadership; and if you support me in it, we are going to assume it.

Note: In the course of his remarks on June 11 the President referred to Earl Riley, Mayor of Portland, Leslie Scott, Acting Governor of Oregon, Lorenz F. Gerspach, Mayor of Oakridge, and Ed Ostendorn, Mayor of Klamath Falls. The remarks in Portland were not broadcast nationally.

Harry S. Truman, Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Oregon. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232449

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