The courts must be kept free from public controversy.
Tom C. Clark, 1953
HARRY TRUMAN’S EMOTIONAL REACTION TO Youngstown Sheet and Tube may have been exacerbated by the circumstances he was experiencing as president. The early 1950s were an exceptionally difficult time for Truman. China entered the Korean War and our troops were in retreat; the firing of General MacArthur for insubordination created a storm; McCarthyism was at its height; and the president’s approval rating sank to an all-time low. The early 1950s were difficult for my father as well. The 1952 election was looming, and the Republicans, still reeling from their unexpected defeat in 1948, were determined to win at any cost. They launched a campaign to discredit the Truman administration by leveling charges of corruption and of mishandling the communist threat. Tom Clark, though out of political office for more than two years, became a target.
The trouble began in the fall of 1951 when a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, while investigating misconduct on the part of officials in the Bureau of Internal Revenue, expanded its search to include the Department of Justice’s Tax Division, headed by Assistant Attorney General Theron Lamar Caudle. The subcommittee, chaired by Democratic congressman Frank Chelf, sent President Truman information on Caudle that it considered incriminating. Truman fired Caudle, citing “outside activities incompatible with the duties of his office,” but adding that as far as he knew, Caudle had done nothing illegal.1 As attorney general, Tom Clark had recommended Caudle to Truman for appointment as assistant attorney general, and consequently he was immediately brought into the controversy as questions were raised about his reasons for the recommendation.