Harry S. Truman photo

The President's Last News Conference

January 15, 1953

THE PRESIDENT. I am just about to start now.

[1.] I have got a couple of short statements here. For Tony's1 benefit, I will try to read them slowly.

1 Ernest B. Vaccaro of the Associated Press.

"This is my 324th press conference since I became President. It is also my last press conference before leaving the White House.

"I want to thank all of you for the courtesies you have shown me, and I want to urge all of you to continue to do your best to dig out the facts and to put them before the people. Naturally, not all of the newspapers agree with me, and I do not agree with all of them. But in spite of these differences, I want to make it plain that I think it is important for our democratic system of government that every medium of communication between the citizens and their Government, particularly the President, be kept open as far as possible.

"This kind of news conference where reporters can ask any question they can dream up--directly to the President of the United States--illustrates how strong and how vital our democracy is. There is no other country in the world where the chief of state submits to such unlimited questioning. I know, too, from experience that it is not easy to stand up here and try to answer 'off the cuff' all kinds of questions without any advance notice. Perhaps succeeding Presidents will be able to figure out improvements and safeguards in the procedure. I hope they will never cut the direct line of communication between themselves and the people.

"I know you have a great many questions on your mind--for some of the answers I will have to ask you to wait until my broadcast tonight, because I have tried to put into that broadcast my feelings about the years I have spent in the White House."

Now that is the end of that statement.

[2.] Then I have one here that is mimeographed.

"As I take leave as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, I would like to express my feelings concerning the job being done by men in uniform to keep our country strong so that peace can be maintained in the world. I do this because from time to time there have been unfair and malicious attacks upon some of the key personnel in the Armed Forces, as well as upon other Government officials.

"During my service as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, my duties have brought me into close association with the military leaders and senior officers of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and the Marines.

"These men have strongly impressed me with their sincerity, their high sense of duty, and their devotion to their country.

"Directly upon them rests the heartbreaking responsibility for decisions which mean life or death for the courageous men whom they lead; and directly upon them lies an ever greater responsibility of helping to protect our Nation and our ideals.

"In peace or war, they have the additional responsibility for making efficient use of a vast portion of our national resources. The organization they manage is many times the size of the combined steel, oil, coal, and automobile industries. The personnel and material they handle, the transportation problems they face, the financial business they transact--all in addition to their military duties--are almost beyond comprehension.

"Because these men accept the disciplines of military service, a few people have found it easy to criticize them--to charge them with extravagance, mismanagement, carelessness, and a host of other offenses--with little fear that they will fight back, no matter how unfair or unjust the charges. Such criticism makes headlines, no doubt, but in my opinion is generally most unfair.

"I believe that our military leaders are doing a tremendous job and doing it well. To weaken public confidence in them by destructive criticism is reprehensible. I know no group of men more deserving of our respect, gratitude, and support."

I can say that from the heart, because I have been on both sides of the fence. I investigated the military thoroughly during World War II. I served in the Armed Forces during World War I, not with any very high command, but I understand what the difficulties are and the things that the men have to go through with who are responsible for the operation of the military part of our Government. I am hoping that this statement will have some effect.

[3.] I want to say to you, before we start the questions, that I sent another letter. [Laughter]

Q. In longhand?

THE PRESIDENT. I thought that would get you--to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and the chairman of the Finance Committee of the House and the Senate, on the President's salary. I am hoping these gentlemen will release the letters to you. I don't feel that I should release them at this end, but I thought I would tell you about them so you could make some inquiries. [Laughter]

[4.] And I also want to say to you that it might be interesting to you to know that since 1945, when I came up here to the White House, I have taken a thousand and two morning walks. Some of you went on one or two, but you didn't go on any more. [Laughter]

I will try to answer questions now, as best I can.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, as I understand it, that first statement is not mimeographed? There was one paragraph that--you were moving along rather rapidly there

THE PRESIDENT. Where was that, Tony?

Q. About keeping the channels of communication open. What I was trying to make clear, are you recommending the continuance of the Presidential press conference ?

THE PRESIDENT. I am, yes. That is the gist of this little document.

Q. What prompts you--pardon me, Mr. President--any particular reason why you--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have been reading speculation in the press that the press conference is going to be discontinued, and I just don't want to see it discontinued because I want to find out what's going on, and that's the best way. [Laughter]

[6.] Q. Mr. President, may I ask a question?


Q. Not a very profound question, but have you decided on what kind of hat you are going to wear? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Eddie,2 I don't want to get into any hat controversy. The objective of my turning the Presidency over to my successor is to do it as expeditiously and as easily as it can be done, and I am not going to get into any controversy on what I am going to wear. I will wear anything that will conform to decency. [More laughter]

2 Edward T. Folliard of the Washington Post.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, as a result of your 8 years of press conferences, have you any recommendations for changes?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no. The changes I think we made when we came over here, where everybody could sit down and where in the beginning we were not--when I was not so well acquainted--when the person asking me the question would announce his name and the paper he represented, I think that was an improvement over that where we all stood in a crowd.

Q. As of now, would you change it?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No. I am perfectly satisfied with it. I get just as much fun out of it as you do.

Q. What about written questions, do you think that would have

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I have never tried it, Pete3 It might give you more chance to deliberate. But then I like this rough and tumble press conference we have right here. If I can't take care of myself, that's my fault.

3 Raymond P. Brandt of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, well, getting back to the hat, I wonder if your hat would be like Abraham Lincoln's, or Dean Acheson's--maybe that's a simple way to ask?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't answer, Tony.4

4 Anthony H. Leviero of the New York Times.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you think the press conference should be regular--like you hold it--once a week, or twice a week?

THE PRESIDENT. I think they ought to be with regularity. I think it adds to the information of the public as to what goes on, and I think they are entitled to know what is in the President's mind.

Q. Mr. President, it has been said that you made some mistakes or had some embarrassing experiences in press conferences. Granting that, if you will--[laughter]--

THE PRESIDENT. But I don't, Eddie--but go ahead. [More laughter]

Q. Well, do you think the advantages all around would outweigh the risks or the embarrassments ?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, yes, I think so. I have had all sorts of well, in 324 press conferences I imagine I have had all the experiences that a man can possibly have at a press conference, and I have never felt that I would want to discontinue them. And I have never felt that I have been unfairly treated.

Q. Well, Mr. President, is it not true that a President, of course, by his office is somewhat isolated, and that you get from us a look at outside things, too, in your conferences ?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is what I said here at one press conference, that by the questions you ask, I find out a lot of things that you don't think I find out. [Laughter]

[10.] Q. Mr. President, have you reached a decision in the Rosenberg case ?

THE PRESIDENT. The Rosenberg case5 hasn't come up to me; therefore, I can't reach a decision on it until it does come up.

5 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been sentenced to death for conspiring to give atomic bomb data to the Soviet Union. The presiding judge, I. R. Kaufman, had set the execution for the week of January 12, 1953, but granted a stay to allow a plea for executive clemency. The plea was sent to the Justice Department on January 10, 1953, to be presented to the President. President Truman did not make the final decision.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, last week, I think, Senator Watkins of Utah said in the Senate that you were considering transferring the tidelands oil to the Navy?

THE PRESIDENT. I have an Executive order in the mill now, and I will turn it loose just as soon as it is ready.6

6 See Item 379.

Q. Transferring the--

THE PRESIDENT. Tidelands--it isn't tidelands, it's offshore oil. Let me give you the definition of tidelands.

Q. I didn't say tidelands--

THE PRESIDENT. Tidelands is land from high tide to low tide, and that belongs to the adjoining State. The oil land that's in controversy is the offshore oil lands.

Q. I didn't use tidelands. [Laughter] I was just--I wanted to know if it was going to be transferred to the Navy?


Q. How far will that extend--off the Continental Shelf?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, that's the point where I laid claim to the jurisdiction of the United States--the Continental Shelf.

Q. I don't think

THE PRESIDENT. That was long before the veto message. I laid claim to the offshore lands and fisheries in the shallow water-oh, back in 1945, if I remember correctly.7

7 See Item 146. See also 1946 volume, this series, Item 189.

Q. Are you making any provisions in your order for the so-called claims of California and Texas?

THE PRESIDENT. I am making no provisions except to turn the offshore oil lands over to the Navy.

Q. Mr. President, for national defense purposes, I assume?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course. Of course, that's what it's for.

If I had time, I would give you a dissertation on the necessity for maintaining all the oil reserves we possibly can, but this isn't the proper place to do it.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, the new Democratic leader, Senator Johnson of the Steering Committee,8 has broken with some tradition and precedent on the Hill, to put freshmen Members on major committees, to see that each freshman got one important committee--

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is right and correct.

8 Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Senate Minority Leader.

Q. Do you think that is a good thing?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's a good thing. I was very lucky. When I went to the Senate I got three major committees. I was put on the Appropriations Committee, on the Interstate Commerce Committee Q. As a freshman?

THE PRESIDENT. --on the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee. I was put on those three committees when I first got there, and not very long after that I was put on the Military Affairs Committee. So I think it's a good thing to have the membership of the committees fairly distributed. I don't think the Senators with seniority should hog all the good places on the good committees.

Q. Mr. President, just for the record on that, would you explain, there were many more committees in those days.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know, Pete, whether there were or not.

Q. Yes, sir, there were.

Q. Yes, there was more multiple membership.


Q. That's the reason they had--

THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar with the present committees.

Q. There were many more Democrats then, I believe, and they had many more places, too.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, but that would make it difficult for a junior Senator to get places with so many Democrats. I think there were only 17 Republicans in the Senate when I went there.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, would you be accessible, when you return to private life, to newsmen ?

THE PRESIDENT. I have always been accessible. It's a lot easier to see me than it is to see the assistant secretary to an assistant secretary, or to see an editor in your paper. [Laughter]

Q. What was that question, Mr. President ?

THE PRESIDENT. He wanted to know if I would be accessible when I went back to private life.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, you said the Executive order was in the mill. When do you think that will be issued?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as quickly as we can get it ready. I can't give you an exact date.

Q. Not necessarily today, would it be? Q. Before you leave office ?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course. I can't issue it after I leave office. What are you talking about ?

What is it, Tony?

Q. With the Executive order on the offshore oil, will you issue a statement explaining it--the reason for it?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I will. Yes, I will.

Q. You have described it in the past as a billion dollar steal, I think

THE PRESIDENT. You left off two zeros. It's a hundred billion dollars.

Q. You are right.

THE PRESIDENT. A hundred billion dollars.

Q. Millions, or billions?

THE PRESIDENT. A hundred billion. That hundred billion barrels is the estimate.

Q. Could you give us a little preview of how the steal would occur?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no. I will have to cover that in the statement. I have said all I can say on the subject now.

Q. Mr. President, you said you would--I didn't quite understand the question awhile ago, did you say that you would turn over to the Navy the oil in the submerged lands?


Q. Now that doesn't apply to any other commercial products that might be in the submerged lands?

THE PRESIDENT. It affects Oil only.

I don't think the Navy could use fish very well! [Laughter]

[15.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us anything further about your plans when you leave office, in a personal vein ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no, I don't think I am able to give you any definite program because I really haven't any definite plans. I will. tell you what I am going to do on Inauguration Day, if that will help you.

Q. Yes, sir, that would help a lot.

THE PRESIDENT. I am going to the inauguration with the President-elect. I will ride in the same car--several other people in the car--I think Joe Martin9 is one. After the inauguration, I shall go out to Dean Acheson's10 house in Georgetown and have lunch with the members of my Cabinet that are leaving office, and after that I expect I will go on to Matt Connelly's11 apartment and take a nap; and then after that I will go down and get on the train.

9 Representative Joseph W. Martin, Jr., of Massachusetts.

10 Secretary of State.

11 Matthew J. Connelly, Appointments Secretary to the President.

Q. Will Mrs. Truman be with you all this time?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. And Margaret too.

[16.] Q. In your Economic Message you took no notice of the division within your Council of Economic Advisers.

THE PRESIDENT. It wasn't necessary, Pete.

Q. In other words, you agree with the majority, rather than Mr. Clark?12

THE PRESIDENT. My message13 explained exactly what I mean.

12 John D. Clark, Vice Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

13 See Item 376.

Q. You thought that wasn't worthy--

THE PRESIDENT. No--too late in my administration to get into an internecine feud.

[17. ] Q. Mr. President, are you going to write your memoirs?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't answer that. I don't know. Maybe they are not worth writing. Can't tell.

Q. You mean that you are not going to write them immediately ?


Q. We understand that you have had a number of offers ?

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct. That's correct. But I haven't made up my mind on just what I am going to do.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, during the campaign you indulged in some pretty severe criticism of a number of generals, chiefly General Eisenhower. I wonder if you had any--

THE PRESIDENT. Those campaign speeches speak for themselves, and I do not want to comment on them now. There isn't any use in it.

The campaign is over and the election has been won. We are trying to get over that there should be sweetness and light. Now let's not start up any trouble.

Q. I want to get a statement, however, about those other generals. I wonder if-whom you had in mind? I remember, I believe General Bradley was criticized by Senator Taft14 during the campaign--

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to go into any personalities and details. You can take this statement and make anything out of it you choose. It speaks for itself.

14 General of the Army Omar N. Bradley and Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, when is Margaret coming down here ?

THE PRESIDENT. Let's see what time it is-[looking at his watch ]. I expect she's over at the White House now.

Q. Is she going to Independence with you?

THE PRESIDENT. No, she is not.

Q. Are you going to ride in the Magellan15 to Independence?

THE PRESIDENT. The President-elect offered the use of the car. We had asked him if he would like to have it to come to Washington, and he said no, he had made other arrangements, but if I wanted to use it to go home he would be glad to have me do it.

15 The Ferdinand Magellan, the Presidential railroad car.

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. And I said, of course, thank you. And I am going to take it.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, there is one question that is left unanswered.

THE PRESIDENT. What's that?

Q. Well, I mean, you didn't want to get into any controversy over a homburg. Does that mean you will wear a homburg?

THE PRESIDENT. Tony, I have no further things to say about what I will wear. I said I will wear anything that will be decent and I can go outdoors in. [Laughter]

[21.] Q. Do you think the return of the Republicans to power means a realignment of the political parties after the 4 years?


Q. Do you think there will be a division--

THE PRESIDENT. The Democrats have always been the progressive party and the Republicans have always been the conservative party. There won't be any change.

Q. You are including the Southern Democrats in progressives ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I am including the Southern Democrats. You will find that

they will become very progressive when they don't have the chairmanships. [Laughter]

[22.] Q. Mr. President, have you signed the commission for United States Attorney for Mr. Johnson of Nevada?16

THE PRESIDENT. I don't remember whether l have or not. The thing has been pending in my office for quite some time.

16 James William Johnson, Jr., of Fallon, Nev.

Q. Yes, it has--for some time. THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it has.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, in view of your several trips to Latin American countries, and extensive business in that area, would you wish to make any general observations regarding United States relations with Latin American Republics?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, I have always been very, very favorable to the good-neighbor policy. I think that undoubtedly will continue just as it always has.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, have you any ideas on what should be done with the evidence turned up on Senator McCarthy by that subcommittee?17

THE PRESIDENT. I understand that the Justice Department is making an investigation. It has been referred to the Justice Department, so I have no comment to make on it.

17 Senate Rules Subcommittee.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, he just asked about South America. I would like to ask about Canada--the export of Texas natural gas to eastern Canada in exchange for western Canadian natural gas into the western United States. Have you any--as you leave office--and of course this will become a hot issue during the course of next year--have you any thoughts on the subject?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't given the matter any thought at all, but I am always hopeful that the Canadians and the United States will always be friendly, and that the border will always be as free as it possibly can be.

[26.] Q. Mr. President, have you any observations on the oil companies who refused to turn over their books ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no comment.

[27.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us what you and Mr. Mitchell18 talked about today ?

THE PRESIDENT. Politics. That's all the chairman of the committee ever comes to see the President for, is to talk politics.

18 Stephen A. Mitchell, Chairman, Democratic National Committee.

[28.] Q. Have you any comment on this anti-Zionist campaign that Russia is conducting?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no comment.

[29.] Q. Are you going to run for Senator from Missouri?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't say that I will. The Senator from Missouri doesn't come up for--I think it's 4 years yet.

Q. Mr. President, speaking of politics, can you visualize yourself stumping the country again on behalf of anybody in the years ahead ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, Eddie, I can't make any prophecies along that line. You see, I will be a private citizen. I will have to be--as I was in this last campaign--I will have to do what the chairman of the National Committee asks me to do, and of course I am going to help the Democrats all I can, every time I can.

[30.] Q. Mr. President, when a 5-star general is put on the inactive list, I think he gets a pension and a salary of about $19,000 a year.

THE PRESIDENT. They are never put on the inactive list. They are not put on the inactive list. It was provided that they would be the eider statesmen of the military, that they would be on active duty at the call of the President all the time.

Q. My question was, does the President of the United States get any such pension as that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The President of the United States is going to have to commence begging meals after the 20th. [Laughter] He is getting a lot of invitations, so I don't believe he will go hungry.

Q. Mr. President, if you don't mind this question--as a result of what has been done about the President's salary, will you be in a position so that you won't have to--oh, say, join an insurance company or become an editor, or something like that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, Eddie, but I wouldn't do that under any circumstances. I think-as I told you time and again, this Presidential Office--now remember I am talking about the office--is the greatest and most powerful office in the history of the world. It's the greatest honor that can come to any man in the world. And no man, I am sure, would want to exploit it. And under no circumstances would I do anything that would appear to use the great office which I have had the honor to hold as a means for exploitation.

Q. Mr. President, one of the suggestions that has been made for future ex-Presidents is that they be permitted access to the floor of the Senate and take part in the debates there.

THE PRESIDENT. That was the suggestion while I was in the Senate. I made it.

Q. Yes, sir. Well now, sir, from your experience as Senator and President, now that you have been both, could you point out how you feel about that suggestion now ?

THE PRESIDENT. My position hasn't changed although I can't talk about it very much, because I am affected by it now. When I first made the suggestion, there was no idea that I ever would be affected by it.

Q. Wouldn't you like to talk about it, though, sir, in terms of what an ex-President could do in terms of service to his country?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the ex-President can always be of service to his country. I made use of the services of the only ex-President living while I was President. He did a marvelous job, at my suggestion, in the food distribution in 1946. He did a marvelous job as Chairman of the Commission on the Reorganization of the Government19 Dean Acheson was the Vice Chairman of that same Commission, and they came up with some wonderful suggestions-about three-fourths of which we put into effect.

19 In 1946 Herbert Hoover served as Honorary Chairman of the Famine Emergency Committee and in 1947-49 was Chairman of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government.

Q. I don't want to keep pressing you, sir. Do you have any idea that might usefully be put forward for the use of ex-Presidents of the United States?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is a matter that is up to the people of the United States themselves. The ex-President can't go around begging for a job, that's a certainty.

I want to say to you people that f do really appreciate the privilege I have had of becoming acquainted with all of you, of talking to you frankly as best I can, and answering your questions straight from the shoulder. And I hope--one thing I might like to do--I might like to come back here and get me a card to the Press Gallery and see if I couldn't learn something from you people, after I become a private citizen. Maybe that would give me a chance to do something constructive. But I do want to say to you that it has been a pleasure to me; and as I remarked awhile ago, I get as much kick out of these things as you have.

I hope all of you will have a happy and prosperous time from now on, and that you will have just as much fun with my successor as you have with me.

Q. Mr. President--[warm and prolonged applause for the President]. Thank you!

Note: President Truman's three hundred and twenty-fourth news conference was held in the Indian Treaty Room (Room 474) in the Executive Office Building at 4 p.m. on Thursday, January 15, 1953.

The White House Official Reporter noted that at the beginning of the President's final news conference he shook hands with all those present, and that newsreel and still pictures were taken of the conference.
[The President's three hundred and twenty-third news conference, his "budget seminar" of January 8, 1953, was not transcribed by the White House Official Reporter. The tape recording is incomplete and the voices are not always audible. The conference, therefore, has not been included in this volume.]

Harry S Truman, The President's Last News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231368

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