Mr. Clyde A. Wheeler
This is an interview with Clyde A. Wheeler, Jr. on the fifteenth
of November, 1990 at his home in Clear Creek Ranch, Laverne,
Oklahoma. The interviewer is Mack Teasley of the Dwight D.
Q: This interview is the fourth we've done with you and so, I
think, what we want to do is concentrate on that period of time
when you went over to the White House at the end of the second
administration. Maybe you could just give us some background on
how it came about that you were asked to come over from
Agriculture to the White House. Who, and why, and where, and
when. The date, for example. I don't think we've got it. You
could recall the exact date or ....
MR. WHEELER: The date as I recall was January 1959. I was there
about two years, a little less than two years. And I went over
there after the reorganization of the White House, from the time
when Governor Sherman Adams left and when General [Wilton B.]
Persons came in as Chief of Staff. That's when I went, right
after that. White House staff was changed a little bit, maybe
the congressional relations part was changed. That's what I
worked in. I went over there mainly because I had been around
the President some and I first ran into him in Chicago at the
convention in 1952. He didn't know me then. Bryce Harlow, who
was from Oklahoma, asked me to come over. And there was an age-
old problem of hiring Republicans, even back at that late date in
the administration there was still some criticism of not hiring
enough Republicans. And I'd been fairly successful in the
Department of Agriculture in hiring Republicans. In fact, I was
able to--I kept lists of something like five thousand, but out of
eighty-five thousand, well, that's not too many. And a lot of
these were part-time committee appointments. So that was one
reason. And then, I think, because Agriculture had had so many
problems. I worked both the House and Senate, both sides. So
Bryce needed someone who had worked both the House and Senate.
Because he had one man--there were three of us--he had one man
that worked the Senate, who was Ed McCabe who was a former labor
lawyer, and Ed McCabe had worked on House Labor Committee. And
then there was a congressman by the name of Jack Anderson from
California, and he worked the House and House side. Since I'd
been used to working both sides, they wanted someone who was used
to doing that. That was a big plus for me, I think, from Bryce
Q: And Bryce was the head of congressional relations at this
MR. WHEELER: Yes, he was.
Q: He was taken over from Persons, or had Persons ever headed
MR. WHEELER: Bryce had always headed it up. Persons--before he
became Chief of Staff I don't know what his title was, because I
wasn't over there. But he appeared to me to be a person that
pitched, caught, and played first base. He did everything, he
was a trouble-shooter for the President. And of course, he had
been involved with congressional relations, to some extent, most
of his career in the army. But he was also involved in policy
matters, issue matters, so ....
Q: So Bryce Harlow was the one who made the contact for you to
come over and visit, face-to-face invitation or phone call ....
MR. WHEELER: I knew him. You see, back then people like myself
who worked for the departments, for a cabinet officer, we met
every Saturday morning in the White House, with Bryce Harlow. I
don't know whether it was ever continued, but every Saturday
morning, from like nine until twelve, every major department,
their congressional person, like me, was over there. So we'd go
over and General Persons attended those meetings. This was from
the very beginning. I went with the Eisenhower Administration in
1954, so I really had seven years with the Eisenhower
Administration. And it was an interesting meeting because we'd
go around the table and each person would tell what was going on
in his department and any problems he might have. General
Persons and Bryce sat at the end of the table. So then they
would ask, "Can any of the rest of you help Clyde with what he's
doing?" Or Al Overton who was with Commerce or a fellow by the
name of [Albert L.] McDermott who was with the Labor Department.
And so we helped each other. We brought a lot of strengths to
the table because some of us knew some members better than
others. About every time, where there would be a problem, some
of the members, a senator or House member, there'd be someone
around the table who would know that person better than the
person who had the problem. So it was a good system. Plus the
fact we were all fairly expert in the administration's entire
Q: That helped you in your own efforts to know where the
administration is headed on all the issues.
MR. WHEELER: Oh yes, that is right. And like the first
extension of the Free Trade Act. It was a fantastic effort
because it was not popular. We extended it for three years and
we all felt so good. I can't remember what year that was, but
that must have been about 1955 or so. But President Eisenhower
was trying to promote international trade as free of barriers as
possible. Agriculture had a big role in it because we were
trying to export many commodities. It was a real team effort and
the people on the hill said it would never pass. We got it
extended for three years. That is the first major bill I
remember--there was the Taft-Hartley Act and some others--but
that was certainly a team effort.
Q: Now these Saturday morning sessions was there a title for the
group or anything? I'm just kind of curious whether ....
MR. WHEELER: I can't remember any at the time. McCabe would
know. There are not a lot of people around yet who went to those
Saturday morning meetings.
Q: Where did you meet?
MR. WHEELER: We met in the cabinet room. It was a lot of fun.
We had a good time and we learned a lot.
Q: When you came over and joined the White House staff, did
MR. WHEELER: I was already pretty well oriented.
Q: And then these same meetings continued on and you just
switched sides of the table or at the other end.
MR. WHEELER: That's right. That is exactly what happened.
Q: So everybody knew you and you knew them.
MR. WHEELER: Oh yeah, I knew all the people anyway. It was just
like changing offices. In the years since then, we have heard
the criticism that the administration was trying to do too much
at once. We would get out of each others way, because the
President had his timetable when he wanted things done. So
instead of having the budget deficit package bill and the farm
bill and the clean air bill all come forward at the same time, we
were able to have some order to it. It made it easier for the
leaders on the hill, the congressional leaders. I'd like to
think it made it easier for the President at the press
conferences and other things when he'd face these major things,
instead of having three or four come up at once.
Q: When you joined the White House staff was your area broadened
MR. WHEELER: Oh yes, I worked all issues.
Q: All issues in the House and the Senate. So basically they
had one and a-half people in each body, whereas before they'd had
MR. WHEELER: That's right. That's exactly right. I worked with
all issues. The Taft-Hartley Act came up fairly soon after I was
there. That was one of my first issues. I remember Senator
Griffin from Michigan and the Landrum-Griffin labor bill. That
was a real team effort. [Cong. Robert P.] Griffin [R-MI] was a
House member then, [Cong. Phil M.] Landrum [D-GA] was a House
member from Georgia. The President went on T.V., went to the
American people, said he needed help and it really came in.
Q: What do you think Capitol Hill's view was of Eisenhower's
MR. WHEELER: I think it was pretty good. In the beginning there
was major criticism because there weren't many Republicans hired.
But I think various areas had problems, and when there were major
problems then that caused the American congress to have problems.
Like the Department of Agriculture, we had low prices and we had
droughts and housewives and farmers marched on the Department of
Agriculture. Dairy people also marched on the Department of
Agriculture. We had major problems but the President, to his
credit, tried to hold to a free market system and Secretary
Benson was the same way. I think in general it was pretty good.
The President met with the congressional leaders fairly often
Q: So was it just a four person shop then with Bryce, Ed McCabe,
Jack Anderson, and yourself?
MR. WHEELER: That's right.
Q: And did Bryce Harlow make the assignments of .... How was it
determined what you were going to do?
MR. WHEELER: The time table sort of determined--what was on the
congressional calendar really determined what we would do. We
would work with the issues as they would come up. In Washington,
it's a one-pager town. Everybody wants everything on one page.
In some of these papers that you have of mine, someplace there
should be copies of these one-pagers I gave to Bryce. I would
write a report at the end of the week also, on how things looked;
just my estimate on how things looked. And I think Ed McCabe did
the same thing and I think Jack Anderson did the same thing. But
Bryce, of course, he was calling us in all the time. His office
was right by ours. And we were in and out. It was a hot spot
for him. And we were trying to help the agencies which is
different in today's world where the agencies try to help the
White House. The President, as I've told you before, tried to
appoint strong people to the cabinet. And he let them have the
responsibility of running their own departments. He'd talk with
them at cabinet meetings, but he wasn't one to tell them how to
run their departments.
Q: So you would have worked pretty closely with your
counterparts in the various agencies?
MR. WHEELER: Oh yes.
Q: Were they usually the person on the point or were you a
liaison between them and the White House or was it, they were
working the Hill and you worked the Hill also.
MR. WHEELER: Here is the difference. They were the point people
with the general membership. We were the point people with the
leadership. But we would occasionally work with the members in
general, would meet with them.
Q: Did you meet with Bryce on a regularly scheduled basis or was
it ad hoc as the issue required? I know there were legislative
meetings with the whole--the President, probably sat in some of
those didn't he?
MR. WHEELER: You see, where we discussed legislative matters
with the President was on the Tuesday morning leadership meeting.
We had congressional leaders in every Tuesday morning and I think
that's been going on since George Washington. At that leadership
meeting we had the congressional leaders in and occasionally we'd
have a cabinet officer. Whichever cabinet officer had major
legislation up that week like the farm bill, the Agriculture
Secretary would be invited. There's where we would really get
down to the nitty gritty on legislation, where the President
would talk to leaders and he'd talk to Bryce, and we would sit
just behind the conference table and all talked. We'd have
input. Bryce would ask us what we knew about something. So
that's the way that worked.
Q: So would Bryce sit up at the table?
MR. WHEELER: Oh yes. He'd sit up at the table, the President
sat there, of course, all the time. Well, he sat on the side.
And Charlie Halleck sat on one side and Everett Dirkson was on
the other and Bryce sat right across the table from him.
Q: And did Bryce brief the President before the meeting or send
him some of these one-page issue papers, maybe?
MR. WHEELER: At that Tuesday morning meeting, General Persons
controlled the agenda and so he made up the agenda. And, of
course, Bryce helped him make it up. We always had a written
agenda. Bryce was seeing the President regularly. I'm sure he
briefed him some, but that was a show and tell meeting, sharing
and developing strategy for the week. And occasionally some of
the leaders would want the President to call somebody, which he'd
Q: Now how involved was the President in this, or how responsive
was he? Was he really ....
MR. WHEELER: He was really responsive. He was very responsive.
Q: And knowledgeable of the issues?
MR. WHEELER: Oh yes. Some people, I think, thought he didn't
have hands on enough on the congress. But I heard him say over
and over that we won't browbeat members of congress. And he'd
tell people that we do not throw our weight around and he said,
"They've got their job, we've got ours." And he said "we will
explain our position," and we all had the responsibility of
making sure that the administration's point of view was
understood. And we supplied all the facts we could. But it was
different than today's world where you have angry exchanges
because some member didn't want to go the way the White House
wanted. And some of them didn't with Eisenhower. But, in fact,
he'd tell them over and over, they had to answer to a
constituency in the state, he had to answer to the whole country.
So his point of view wouldn't always be the same as theirs. But
I don't ever remember his really appearing angry or really
unhappy. We did fairly well. He got knocked down, the
administration got knocked down on an appointment, the Lewis
Strauss appointment, which I worked on, and that was unfortunate.
I can't remember the details right now. Lewis Strauss was
arrogant, he was a difficult person. And brilliant, would have
been brilliant at the Atomic Energy Commission, chairmanship, of
it I think. But he ruffled the senators the wrong way, and
Eisenhower couldn't pull that out of the fire. But we didn't
have very many major defeats. I can't think of any others right
at the minute. We're bound to have had some.
Q: We've had a recent president who sort of was reported to have
gone over the heads of congress to the American people on issues
when he knew that there was a consensus out there and I suppose
Eisenhower had the popularity to be able to do that too. Do you
think there was a conscious effort of him ever doing that?
MR. WHEELER: There was Landrum-Griffin that he did that, and
with the support of the Republican leaders, and some Democratic
leaders. He never, I don't think, would have done it without
being some kind of team effort, but he did it several times. Of
course, President Reagan did it quite a few times. I think every
time that President Eisenhower asked the people to help, as I
recall, they did.
Q: What's your assessment of Eisenhower as far as being a hands-
on type of president, being knowledgeable of the issues of the
day that were facing the congressional relations people?
MR. WHEELER: I always felt he was very knowledgeable. And he
seemed to have a good rapport with his cabinet members. And I
felt like on major issues he had a good knowledge, a good
understanding, of what was involved. And seemed to be able to
converse easily on matters. And Bob Anderson, who was Secretary
of the Treasury, used to brief the leadership meetings and the
cabinet meetings on the state of the financial health of the
nation. The President asked questions all the time. We never
did have a short meeting with leaders. And he'd ask them a lot
of questions. And some of them would ask him questions also.
Especially on foreign affairs because he had a wealth of
knowledge of the international situation. So on foreign aid and
on international matters they were asking him a lot of questions
that probably weren't on the agenda.
Q: So at those meetings, was General Persons conducting the
MR. WHEELER: No, as I recall he was sort of chairman, except
that the President, of course, was the main player. Persons
would have the agenda, I'll put it that way. He was chief of
Q: And did the President give his philosophical view or the
administration's official position on certain things?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, all the time. He, on most issues, would give
his own point of view about every time, that I recall.
Q: And the other people in your office, I wonder if you could
give me a brief assessment of your view of Ed McCabe, and Jack C.
Anderson, Bryce, their effectiveness, their strengths or
weaknesses, what they brought to the job.
MR. WHEELER: Ed McCabe was a lawyer's lawyer. He was a labor
lawyer, knew a lot about labor law. He knew the senators. Ed
McCabe was more of a technician, I guess, than I was. I was more
of a pragmatic kind of person, but Ed had been a committee staff
member on the Hill. I had been an assistant to a congressman
where I was a generalist. Ed was able to analyze legislation,
the technical side of what things would do, what they wouldn't.
So he was good from that standpoint in our little group. He was
also good when we had to change legislation, had to amend it, and
things like that. Now Jack Anderson, of course, had been a house
member, from California. He was a very popular house member,
knew all the .... He was very popular with Democrats as well as
Republicans. So he spent a lot of time up there, in fact. We
had a staff meeting every morning, as I recall. It seems like--
it's been a long time ago, I'm trying to think--General Persons
didn't conduct the briefing, I guess Andrew Goodpaster did,
because it was more foreign affairs. We had briefings all the
time--the White House staff--on what was going on. But back to
Jack Anderson. I'd go to the Hill about 10 o'clock and get back
about five. Jack would go early in the morning. Ed spent more
time on the telephone, but I'd worked on the Hill before and was
in the habit of stopping at the leaders office, also the members
office. I was talking to them all the time.
Q: And so McCabe used the phone a lot?
MR. WHEELER: He used the phone more than I did. I used more
Q: And Anderson was personal contact?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, he did. Of course, Bryce was on the phone an
awful lot. The poor guy was on the phone all the time, because
he had to. He was always busy. Even back then when things
seemed to function fairly well, it was hard for him to get away
before 7 or 8 every night. I'd go by his office and he'd still
be there. He'd wave me on. My cake was a lot smaller than his
and I tried to get out of there by six or seven. We had
breakfast meetings often.
Q: We talked sometime in the past year about examples of certain
Eisenhower traits and so forth. His temper was one thing, I
guess you've seen that in action. Do you recall any anecdotes
about Eisenhower's temper?
MR. WHEELER: Well, I was trying to remember what would set it
off. I must say not very many times. Probably two or three
times in the time I was there when he'd really be completely
unhappy about something. I don't ever remember seeing that more
than two or three times. He would ask for reports from staff
people on what the problem was. Something would go wrong that
looked like it shouldn't have. I'm trying to think of an
incident. There was a House member named Leo Allen [R-IL], who
was chairman of the Rules Committee and he seemed to bring up
things that should never have happened. I mean something crazy,
illogical, like something happened in his district, or perhaps
something that the administration was doing and it would get
announced in his district without his knowing about it. Stuff
like that that is pretty basic and shouldn't happen. It seemed
like he was the one who would bring up things like that. And
that would really irritate the President. Not Leo Allen, but
just because it happened. But it didn't happen very often and he
pretty much left people alone if they would do what they were
supposed to do.
Q: And how did he show his temper other than asking for ....
MR. WHEELER: Well, it would just be sharp words.
Q: Did he use some "army language" too?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, once in a while.
Q: You've read the description where his face would turn red.
MR. WHEELER: Yes, it would.
Q: Start fidgeting with his front teeth or something and ....
MR. WHEELER: Yes, I think he did. And then he'd talk a little
bit but when he got started he pretty well said what he wanted to
Q: People knew where they stood with him.
MR. WHEELER: Oh, yes, they did. I don't know whether it was to
his credit or General Persons or who, but we didn't have
overlapping turf. And maybe it was because we didn't have so
many people. But we didn't get in each others way. Everybody
knew what his job was for sure. That was a mark of his
administration. And I think it was the last time.
Q: I was going to ask you about his management style. I guess
you've already indicated that he was a very effective delegator.
Get good people and let them do the job.
MR. WHEELER: He did. We seemed to have a lot of harmony. I
don't mean to say we didn't have any major problems, but the
people he selected seemed to work in harmony with everyone else.
It wasn't like, it seems like today where someone gets overlooked
or something like that, we just didn't have that. And, you know,
I want to tell you something. I just happened to think of
something. President Kennedy came in right after Eisenhower as
you know. I received a call from someone in Orville Freeman's
office, at the Department of Agriculture--and I was back in
Oklahoma then because I came home to run for congress and I was
in Tulsa--asking me how we got things to work smoothly. This was
four or five or six months after the beginning of the Kennedy
Administration and I was surprised to get the call. They were
having a difficult time making all the horses go down the same
path and he spent an hour on the phone, asking me what we did to
make things go as well as they did. I thought that was quite a
tribute. In fact, I think I told Bryce about it. But it was
kind of funny that they would call and ask how we did it.
Q: At the time of the transition had there been any real--had
you left early to run for congress, you weren't there for the
MR. WHEELER: No, and it was the only inauguration I missed since
1952. I attended them all except that one. There was one heck
of a snowstorm at Kennedy's inauguration and we had little kids
and I just couldn't see getting back up there for it. I was
already settled in Tulsa.
Q: To follow on what you were saying there was, I think I've
read that in the Kennedy administration there was a little bit of
arrogance there in the terms that we don't need to ....
MR. WHEELER: Yes, yes.
Q: .... sweep, new broom, sweep it clean.
MR. WHEELER: Yes, I think that's true. They changed their tune
about five or six months afterwards though because a few months
after, they began to think they better ask some people.
Q: They had the Bay of Pigs by then and a few other things.
MR. WHEELER: Yes, that's right.
Q: .... so the wheels were coming off the wagon.
MR. WHEELER: They were calling Bryce. Orville had called Bryce
a lot and they called him, well, all the time. Everybody called
Bryce. That's true. I was asked about five or six months
afterwards. Orville Freeman was the Secretary of Agriculture for
Q: Speaking of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson stayed on the whole
administration. Did you ever serve as a liaison between the
White House and him or the Agriculture Department? What was the
administration's feeling about Ezra Taft Benson? I know he was a
lightning rod out there with the farmers to a certain extent.
MR. WHEELER: Well, I did to the extent that I was over there
every Saturday morning and I was liaison for Benson to that
extent. But Benson had a lot of criticism. He was a lightning
rod for the administration because of the price situation and
about everything, and drought. I was there five years and my
counterparts on these Saturday morning meetings weren't as
tolerant of Benson because Benson was causing problems for the
administration. So some of them would just say flatly, "Well, he
ought to resign, get out of the way." But the president
supported him all the time. And I was with Benson when the
congressional delegation came down from the Hill to ask him to
resign, that's on one of these previous tapes I told you about
that. But they both felt like getting the government out of
agriculture was the best way to go. And I felt the same way.
Q: Do you recall any of Eisenhower's views on agriculture in
addition to this one?
MR. WHEELER: No, I really don't. I have a feeling he felt a
compassion for the hard times that the farmers were having. I
have a feeling he understood farmers. He came down to Woodward
(Oklahoma) during the drought, during the worst times of his
administration, came himself to Woodward in the middle of that
drought and low prices. He wanted to see for himself. He made
several trips, made one to Iowa. So he got out to see for
himself how things were going. I don't recall too much about
what he had to say about agriculture itself.
Q: Mentioning Iowa reminded me of Khrushchev's visit to an Iowa
farm. I don't know whether, that probably wouldn't have been
handled by the congressional relations people obviously, but I
wondered if you had any knowledge about that trip at all.
MR. WHEELER: Well, I was in the White House when that happened.
I didn't have much to do with setting it up of course. But I was
in on the edges of it. It was the first time we'd had a Russian
leader visit the United States since World War II. And
Eisenhower was very hopeful, he talked about it a lot. About
what he hoped to accomplish. And the first Camp David talks took
place at that time. So we were all aware of the fact that he was
worried about our relationship with Russia. He would ask the
staff people a lot of questions about the tour Khrushchev was
going to take after he left Washington. Because you see, he went
to Camp David, I forget now how long, two or three days, and then
he came back and then he went to Iowa and I think he went to
California, I'm not sure.
Q: He went to California. He wanted to go to Disneyland.
MR. WHEELER: They wouldn't let him because of security. But we
had back then, I recall, I can't remember when the Hungarian
Q: In '57.
MR. WHEELER: '57. Well, it wasn't too long before he came over
here and Czechoslovakia ....
Q: It was '56. It was '56. That's right.
MR. WHEELER: I got over there late '58, early '59 and it hadn't
been too long, because before Khrushchev came it was a common
sight to see on the streets a car with a skull and crossbones
displayed on a big sign on top of the car, driving around
Washington, D.C. with comments like, "Remember the Children"
because there were a lot of young people who fought and who were
killed in Hungary. After it got overrun there were kids out
there in the trenches. There was a strong feeling about not
having Khrushchev over here in the first place. The White House
got a lot of calls. And there was strong criticism of the
President for inviting him.
President Eisenhower would bring letters to the leadership
meetings that the staff had given him from people who would say
that they were praying for him. For the success of the Camp
David meeting, and then later for the success of the summit
conference in Paris in March of '60. Just as we saw President
Reagan read letters to the press, he would bring those letters to
leadership meetings and staff meetings to show how much he
appreciated them. And, which I felt good about myself.
Q: So that was a sincere--I mean, he was sincere?
MR. WHEELER: Oh, yes.
Q: It made him feel good that people were praying for him?
MR. WHEELER: Oh, yes. No question. He really had a sense
of .... I mean he was really burdened for the hope of
accomplishing something. Because he had tremendous hopes of
getting some things done. And he went to Camp David, I think,
and he got eighteen points on paper. Eighteen things he wanted
to get settled. The Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall, and I forget
what all they were. When he came back from Camp David he thought
he'd gotten most of what he wanted, had a pretty good
understanding with Khrushchev on most of those points. But then
after the Paris Summit, everything just came apart as far as
getting some of these points of conflict worked out. It was the
tail end of his administration so he was disappointed. No doubt
Q: And did you sit on the cabinet meetings?
MR. WHEELER: No, not very often. Maybe one or two, and that's
all. Bryce sat in on them.
Q: Your office was in the west wing?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, it was. West wing.
Q: Second floor?
MR. WHEELER: Second floor. Romer McPhee, who was assistant to
Bob Kendall who was the General Counsel, was in one corner of
that top floor, or second floor, the very corner. He was right
over the President's office. And then just a short distance
down, my secretary and Ed McCabe's secretary sat in the same
office. So we had two little offices. I was on one side and Ed
was on the other. Jack Anderson was down around the corner. And
Bryce Harlow had a big office on the second floor. James
Schlessinger, who later became Secretary of Defense for Ford, and
then he was Energy Secretary for Carter, had that office. I've
been in that office many times, with different faces behind that
desk. It has been changed, and most of those other offices have
been cut up differently. I can't really find my old office
Q: Well, when did you decide to run for congress? Was that an
abrupt decision, or ...?
MR. WHEELER: I really hadn't thought too much about it and Henry
Bellmon, who was Republican state chairman, called me in the fall
of 1960 and said that I had to run. Said he thought I could win
and thought President Nixon was going to win. He was a very
popular Vice-President, Nixon was very popular down here. I had
had it in the back of my mind, maybe, that I would run sometime,
but I thought it would be later on. And I said, "Well, I'll talk
to my wife about it." I talked to Barbara and she was not very
enthused about it. We were thinking about coming back to
Oklahoma anyway, moving to Tulsa. And we were sort of
looking for a little different kind of lifestyle, a little slower
pace. And, in fact, she was pretty much against it. And so we
talked about it for quite a while and then Henry Bellmon called
Bryce. He actually called him before he called me. So Bryce
talked to me two or three times. He urged me to do it. He said
"the administration wanted you, you should do it."
Q: He was a fellow Oklahoman so he knew ....
MR. WHEELER: He had some feel for the situation.
Q: So when did you depart the staff?
MR. WHEELER: Well, I think it was late August of 1960. We
didn't have long to campaign, we had like two months. And the
White House staff had a wonderful farewell party for me. It was
wonderful. I'll tell a little anecdote that I never did tell
until about seven or eight years after I left the White House. I
think it was about the time we were getting ready to move back to
Washington, D.C. in 1969. The White House staff had given this
party for Barbara and me and everyone was there. They gave us a
little box as we left, a present to open whenever I felt pressure
or despair or something. And I didn't think too much about it.
I don't know why I didn't look at it then but I was riding pretty
high. I was thinking about getting down here and getting with
it. In the late '60s when we were getting ready to move back to
Washington, D.C. from Tulsa we were going through some stuff in
our attic, some boxes that were never unpacked. I told my wife,
it was the worst mess I ever saw. We had unopened boxes we had
moved down there, that weren't unpacked. I said, "Let's just
throw the boxes out without even opening them." We sure didn't
need to move back boxes we'd left there several years. Well, I
opened this one and here was this little box that the White House
staff had given me. And here was money, two hundred and some
dollars, from secretaries, people I had worked with every day.
They'd passed a hat evidently. Notes said, "This we hope you can
use." Some of these secretaries, had taken little bottles and
put in pills. "Use these when you get stagefright." And another
bottle said, "take this when you get blisters on your hand,"
stuff like that. In fact, I'll show it to you. But the bad part
of it was, here was this money that had been in that box for a
long time. And I didn't know to whom we should write thank you
letters because it was cash and as they had just passed the hat.
Barbara and I agonized over this because we felt the group must
have thought, "What an ungrateful ...."
MR. WHEELER: .... Bryce was in Washington by now representing
Proctor and Gamble. I told him about discovering this box and I
felt terrible. He said, "Well, I remember it." I said, "I never
did thank a person." I'd written a thank you note to him and to
Ann Whitman, I think, and two or three people just to thank them
in general. But there must have been seventy-five or eighty
people there. And he said, "Forget about it." I said, "What
should I do with the money?" And he said, "Spend it, it's your
money." He said, "We wanted to give it to you." So what I did
was, as I saw people through the years, like Ed McCabe and his
secretary, and, of course, Jack Anderson went back to California,
but I would see the people occasionally. And a fellow in
Chicago, I can't think of his name, Bob Merriman, he had a
secretary who was a real good friend. She was one that came from
the Hill and I had a chance to tell her. I told her to tell Bob
Merriman that I was just a real dummy. And I was able to thank
twenty or thirty people. All those years I didn't know I had
that box. [Laughter] It was really interesting.
Q: That's quite a story.
MR. WHEELER: They were pulling for me. When we got counted out
in a special recount completed December 19, 1960, it was a sad
day. Bryce said, the president would ask about every time he had
a meeting how I was doing. Dawson Nail, who helped us with the
campaign, he worked for Television Digest, went to White House
press conferences after the campaign. He was at a press
conference right after I got counted out and I don't know whether
somebody in the formal press conference asked him but, Dawson
heard the President say "They counted out my boy." He was very
concerned about the race.
Q: That's a nice tribute, to say that.
MR. WHEELER: I saw him two years later and when he got off the
plane in Oklahoma City he wanted to know how I was doing. He
said, "I'm still mad about what happened to you down here." So
you know, he was getting old, but he had a better memory than
I've got right now. And I wasn't that high a level. I was just
about a third level staff person. And he remembered.
Q: In retrospect, what do you think were the major contributions
of the Eisenhower administration in the area of agriculture
MR. WHEELER: Well, agriculture was fouled up as anything. I'd
have to say he held the line against lots of people who wanted to
raise price supports and wanted to lower crop quotas, to cut down
acreages that could be planted, but pay more to the farmers for
doing that. He held the line on that and not going that
direction. My father was a small farmer. Those programs were
designed to help the small farmer. They actually hurt the small
farmer because the programs helped the big farmer more. It was
really the beginning of getting the small farmer off the farm.
And the government helped do it when they gave him a little cash
but they gave his neighbor so much more money that they could buy
out the little farmer. So he held the line on that. I think he
strengthened, well, I don't think, I know he strengthened the
Soil Conservation Service. We didn't have a lot of "green"
members, or we didn't have a lot of people who were ecology
experts then or we didn't have demonstrations over the
environment. But we were getting concerned about erosion and
soil conservation, so he strengthened that. He, for whatever
it's worth, strengthened the school lunch program. We expanded
our exports like everything. Secretary Benson had been to Japan
early after the war and a lot of people forget that Secretary
Benson played the role in World War II that Herbert Hoover played
in World War I. Benson was sent to Europe to try to help feed
the displaced people. He had been to Japan also. He had seen
the Japanese people, what they looked like in 1945, then as
Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 on. He said the kids were
like two or three inches taller using our wheat and milk
products. And so, I don't know, we've been blessed with this
tremendous agriculture plan and people forget that Eisenhower had
the first "Food for Peace" program. We gave surpluses to hungry
nations all over the world; South America, Africa, India. Gee
whiz, we sent shipload after shipload of stuff over there and
they didn't, they were so, not to say stupid or anything, about
getting it off the ship and using it. They'd leave it on the
ship and their mores or religious culture would prevent getting
this stuff off the ships, so a lot of it would spoil right on the
ships before it ever was unloaded, even though people were
starving to death two hundred yards from there. That's a little
bit overstated. But we did use that food for peaceful purposes.
We had a successful barter program where we traded surpluses for
strategic minerals. We have about everything we need in this
country, but there's certain minerals we don't have and we had a
shortage of them. A lot of the minerals were in Africa and so we
traded surplus commodities for these minerals that we were short
of. That made a of a lot of sense to me. In the Reagan
administration I worked very hard to get that program going again
but was never successful.
Q: You know when it was discontinued? Was it ....
MR. WHEELER: Well, I think it was pretty much discontinued with
Eisenhower because when Kennedy came in they continued the Food
for Peace, but they didn't continue the barter program. George
McGovern had been a House Member and he was appointed by Kennedy
to manage the Food for Peace program. The Kennedy Administration
made a big thing out of it. They built on what we started. And
they were taking advantage of it politically also. There were
people, large grain dealers, I won't name the names who thought
this barter program interfered with case sales. I never could
see how trading wheat to some country for "millinium" or
"carbillonium" or whatever the Sam Hill we would trade for, that
we were going to have to pay dollars for, interfered. Because it
wasn't a deal we ever were going to make anyway. It just made a
lot of sense. But if I were thirty-five years old, I would give
that another run, real hard. I never did get a satisfactory
answer from the Reagan Administration. "Oh, Clyde, just don't
worry about it, it won't work, and it's the wrong thing." The
State Department was against it. It may have gummed up normal
trading, but not in a bad way. If we had Earl Butz here, Earl
could tell you about it, because he was in the department of
agriculture at the time.
Q: The soil bank was another thing, was it?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, it was.
Q: Was that introduced in the Eisenhower administration?
MR. WHEELER: Yes, it was. It was developed by Eisenhower, and
Secretary Benson. In fact, Oklahomans Bill Sallee and Forrest
Beal were brought to Washington to write the manual on how the
soil bank program was supposed to work. It worked fairly well,
if the crops were good. At least the taxpayers had the
satisfaction of knowing that their money was conserving the land,
having it replenished, and helping the farmers, too. We are
doing it again now. We call it a different name, but were doing
the same thing.
Q: Any other things you can think of?
MR. WHEELER: I was trying to think of the major accomplishments
of the Eisenhower administration. President Eisenhower settled
the Korean War; and he restored confidence in the government.
Things were in turmoil to a large extent because war was not very
far back. I have the feeling he helped the American people get
used to the idea that we had a long run of strained relations
with Russia but that we could handle it. There were a lot of
people who thought, well, we just can't have this. They wanted
to do something. I think that he made us realize that we might
be in for a long haul with Russia before they would quit taking
us on at every turn. He always emphasized the fact that we had
to stay strong militarily.
Q: Did the civil rights issue, and I know ....
MR. WHEELER: I feel strongly about that because I did my
master's thesis on civil rights and I felt President Eisenhower
didn't get the credit, hasn't gotten the credit since then, for
what he did on civil rights. I remember working on the civil
rights bill. I can't remember the year of that first civil
MR. WHEELER: Fifty-eight. When it was finally passed.
MR. WHEELER: Well, we all worked on it. I remember two other
major things I was involved in, in the Eisenhower Administration,
statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. A lot of people thought
statehood for these two territories would bring lots of problems.
But it turned out this was not the case. The civil rights issue,
though, I feel badly about because this was a Republican
administration. I feel good that the President accomplished
this, but in the years since I would hear people talking and it
sounded like we hadn't done anything. I told you a while ago,
the first blacks that were hired in the Department of
Agriculture, the first black lawyers, were hired under Benson.
And the first black loan officer, because there were a lot of
black farmers, was hired under Ezra Benson. The first black mail
carrier was right here in Oklahoma. There were all kinds of
firsts for civil rights. I've gotten to where I worry less about
the criticism today because I think history will take care of
this. I think at some point, twenty-five years from now, I would
like to think that Eisenhower will have been given credit for a
lot of things, like civil rights. And he was very sensitive
about the race issue.
Well, it was a different day. I'm biased about the whole
thing, of course, but I treasure my days in the administration.
I worked there seven years. And of course, I was very involved
in all these other issues for two years, about two years in the
White House. But I think the interesting things are the
friendships that you make, they're lasting. You have to look
back and say, well, something good was going on then to cause
that friendship to last forever. Well, I have those White House
friendships, people, a lot of them, I have not seen for a long
time. Like Rocco Siciliano. He sent word to me through a lawyer
in California whose parents live in Tulsa and he checked to see
how we were doing. Well, I had written him a letter, he had
written me a letter and I haven't seen him for, I don't know how
long, twenty years at least. But you see, we still consider each
other friends. And it wasn't a matter of being involved in a
desperate effort because it wasn't that. Since then I've been in
the Washington area and I, on occasion, feel like gee whiz, the
hay's really down. But we never had a time in the Eisenhower
Administration when I thought the hay was down completely, we
never did. Of course, again I would say I was at third level. I
might not have had all the facts, but there wasn't that sense of
desperation anytime, or panicking like I have seen in the White
House since then. The Vietnam War, if Eisenhower'd stayed put or
if Nixon had gotten elected, either one, we would have never
wound up like it did. Absolutely not. Nixon was elected in
sixty-eight, that is when I went back to Washington, D.C. the
second time. Sometime, I want to look to see what the tie was
with some of these appointments Eisenhower made because I had no
tie with him. In fact, I was Senator Taft's Young Republican for
Oklahoma. I was helping him get delegates for the '52
convention. My boss, Congressman Page Belcher, was for Taft, so
I don't fit in that category at all, because I was, like I said,
down at a lower level. But his first team, the selection for
that first team was unusual.
Q: There's some cohesiveness to.
MR. WHEELER: Right. It could not have been any major,
outstanding brilliancy on the part of the President. I guess it
could have been; something did happen. He chose people that were
completely loyal to him and worked well together. It was just
Q: He must have inspired their loyalty.
MR. WHEELER: He really did. You've heard things like Kennedy
was the one that brought in new faces, new blood and all that
sort of thing. That he tapped a source of leadership that
Eisenhower never did and no one else ever could have since.
That's untrue. Because Eisenhower started the program of trying
to get business to release people for two years, and then go
home. I don't know what the numbers are, but I would say
President Eisenhower probably brought in more business people
from the outside world than Kennedy did. And Kennedy used to
brag about that, as you may recall.
Q: That's very good summation.
MR. WHEELER: He put a stop to major conflicts in Latin America
and, poor Lebanon, he had to send Marines over there once. I
remember another thing, I think I was in the White House when
this happened. He sent the Seventh Fleet over to sail up and
down between Quemoy and Matsu and China. You may recall China
used to bomb across the straits every now and then. You may have
been over there. I never have been over there, but the map shows
China within sight of these two islands. President Eisenhower
decided that had gone on long enough so he sent the Seventh Fleet
over there to stop it. I'm convinced that in these world trouble
spots speaking with a strong voice is vital. That's the way you
Q: And he had the credibility, the military credibility because
of his own background.
MR. WHEELER: Yes, he did.
Q: Well, thank you very much.
MR. WHEELER: Thank you.
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