Friday, April 11, 2003

When Harry Truman campaigned in SW Virginia

From the Harry Truman presidential library, on this page, an excerpt from an interview with a Truman associate on his appearance to politic in the Ninth District:

MORISON: Dave Stowe got in touch with me and said, "I need you and the President has asked that you come and join us. We will finish up down in North Carolina for Luther Hodges and then, at your request, we have agreed to speak for Pat Jennings (who was running for Congress and heavy Republican opposition for re-election from the ninth district of Virginia), and will you set things up?"

And I told him that I would. I had the inn there at Abingdon, Virginia, which used to be a "female academy" -- a girl's school, which now is a fine old hotel serving good food. I got the best suite of rooms there and I had had my kinfolk and friends all around the area of east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina and even parts of Kentucky, to get the word out to be on hand when his plane came in at the Tri-City Airport near Bristol. And I prepared an address for him when he was greeted at the airport. I knew these people would want something and he would want to say something to them. And I reminded him of the great political romance o£ past years in politics in Tennessee which was called the "war of the roses."

A very famous and brilliant theologian by the name o£ Taylor, a graduate of Princeton, came to east Tennessee as a minister and helped to found a college near Johnson City. His farm was called Happy Valley and it was on a river, a branch of the Watauga River and he had two sons. The oldest one was named Alfred Taylor, the younger one was named Robert Love Taylor.

Alfred, following his father, was a brilliant student, he was sent to Princeton. Bob was jocular, full of fun, everything else, but also had a penchant for oratory but was not a scholar. So, in Tennessee for the first time, they had an open invitation for all candidates of either party to address a great rally of both parties. You see, it wasn't long after the War Between the States. And after that there would be the proper conventions of both political parties.

Well, Alf was a favorite son of his father, and being a very erudite man, he wrote a speech for Alf to be delivered as the Republican nominee.

So, Alf asked his brother, Bob, to go out on the river, under a sycamore and having memorized the speech to recite it back and forth to his brother and let him correct him on this speech. Well, they spent several days doing that. Bob had never even made any indication that he had any interest in Nashville convention, but on the day and the occasion of the event in Nashville, Bob showed up as one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination and spoke before his brother Alf, and gave Alf's speech!

Well, this...

HESS: And stole his speech.

MORISON: Yes. And it followed that thereafter they turned out to be the nominees of the two parties, and they traveled together in a buggy; they slept together in the same hotel and oftentimes the same bed, and Bob won! And this was called the "war of the roses." It was a great romance.

And so I put that in the speech. I have it somewhere. So President Truman said in his talk -- remembering those early days in east Tennessee, and remembering that this affected not only Tennessee but other adjacent states who knew of it, "I'm glad to be back on the ground where the famous war of the roses of the famous Taylor brothers occurred."

Well, that just set them afire, that he would remember that, you see, and my God, the speech went over big;

We then drove to Abingdon to spend the night, and the next morning at "milking time," two old nieces of Bob and Alf Taylor way up in years, had got their best Sunday dresses, had gotten somebody to drive them to Abingdon, Virginia to be there at the Inn and they had to see the President to thank him.

And I said, "Mr. President," I said, "these are the relatives of the Taylor boys," and I said, "They've come all the way up here, they are up in years, I think you ought to see them."

He said, "Of course I will." So he brought them right into his suite and sat with them. I had boned him up on every detail and he recalled, from memory, the story of how Bob Taylor pardoned from the Brush Mountain Penitentiary this Negro farm worker for a crime, because he'd stolen a hog. And ended up by saying, "And I will let you off for Christmas, and I know you're going to have good ham hocks for Christmas dinner."

Well, he recounted that, and these old ladies were just in seventh heaven. And it was in every editorial page of every newspaper in the area, that here, Truman, the great historian who forgot nothing, had remembered something that the younger generation didn't know -- about the "war of the roses," and then they began to republish this. So he was a great hit.

And then from there I took him the next day -- Pat Jennings the Congressman . . . was there, Sidney Kellum, the national committeeman from Virginia came down from Norfolk, and the usual presidential press corps from Washington. He went to bed early that night, he took a couple of drinks and went to bed, but we then drove the next morning up to what had been Washington County's poorhouse in the 1700s, and Pat Jennings had had it refurbished to make it into a place for the AAA you know, meetings -- the young people's agricultural thing, what is it?

HESS: 4-H.

MORISON: 4-H Club, and there in the field he made a rip-roaring speech that I had written for him about the fighting ninth district, the heavy hand of [Campbell] Bascom Slemp, who had ruled by corruption the party in the ninth district of good Scotch-Irish people, and who was a handmaiden of Calvin Coolidge and that the mountain district had been emancipated by able and bold men including George Perry, who became Governor of the state, by John Flannigan the fiery orator who had won it, again from the Republicans, and by this young man who came out of World War II with decorations who was the sheriff of Smyth County, Virginia, whose record in Congress was already being noted. And Hell's bells, they just elected Pat Jennings hand over fist, it turned the tide, and it was a great speech. The President concluded by stating that the old poorhouse was a product of Republican rule but under Democratic Congressmen it was now a flourishing AAA center for young farmers.

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