Harry S. Truman

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Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
33rd President of the United States
Term of office April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
Preceded by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Succeeded by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Date of birth May 8, 1884
Place of birth Lamar, Missouri
Date of death December 26, 1972
Place of death Kansas City, Missouri
Spouse Bess Wallace Truman
Political party Democrat

Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the thirty-third President of the United States (1945–1953); as Vice President, he succeeded to the office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Truman, whose personal style contrasted sharply with that of the patrician Roosevelt, was a folksy, unassuming president. He overcame the low expectations of many political observers who compared him unfavorably to his highly regarded predecessor. President Truman suddenly assumed office at a watershed moment in the twentieth century: the end of the Second World War both in Europe and Pacific took place in his first months in office; he was the only President ever to authorize the use of the atomic bomb (against Japan); he sponsored the creation of the United Nations; he presided over the rebuilding of Japan and helped rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan; he recognized the new state of Israel; and the Cold War began in his first term which took the form of a hot conflict by 1950 in the Korean War. Although he was forced to abandon his re-election campaign in 1952 because of the quagmire in Korea and extremely low approval ratings, scholars today rank him among the better presidents.

Early life

Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri, the eldest child of John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young Truman. A brother, John Vivian, soon followed, along with sister Mary Jane Truman.

Did you know?
Truman's middle initial "S" honors his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young

Harry's father, John Truman, was a farmer and livestock dealer. Truman lived in Lamar until he was 11 months old. The family then moved to his grandparent's 600-acre farm at Grandview, Missouri. When Truman was six years old, his parents moved the family to Independence, Missouri, so he could attend school. After graduating from high school in 1901, Truman worked at a series of clerical jobs. He returned to the Grandview farm in 1906 and stayed there for the next decade.

For the rest of his life, Truman would hearken back nostalgically to the years he spent as a farmer, often for theatrical effect. The ten years of physically demanding work he put in at Grandview were real, however, and they were a formative experience. During this period he courted Bess Wallace and even proposed to her in 1911; she turned him down. Truman said he wanted to make more money than a farmer before he proposed again. He did propose to her again, successfully, in 1918 after coming back as a captain from World War I.

He was the only president after 1870 not to earn a college degree, although he studied for two years toward a law degree at the Kansas City Law School in the early 1920s.

World War I

Truman in uniform ca. 1918

With the onset of American participation in World War I, Truman enlisted in the Missouri National Guard. At his physical, his eyesight had been an unacceptable 20/50 in the right eye and 20/400 in the left eye; he passed by secretly memorizing the eye chart.

Before heading to France, he was sent for training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He ran the camp canteen, selling candy, cigarettes, shoelaces, sodas, tobacco, and writing paper to the soldiers. To help run the canteen, he enlisted the help of his Jewish friend Sergeant Edward Jacobson, who had experience in a Kansas City clothing store as a clerk. Another man he met at Fort Sill who would help him after the war was Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, the nephew of Thomas Joseph (T.J.) Pendergast, a Kansas City politician.

Truman was chosen to be an officer, and then commanded a regimental battery in France. His unit was Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Division. Under Truman's command in France, the battery performed bravely under fire in the Vosges Mountains and did not lose a single man. Truman later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, and always remained proud of his military background.

Marriage and early business career

The Trumans' on their wedding day, June 28, 1919

At the war's conclusion, Truman returned to Independence and married his longtime love interest, Bess Wallace, on June 28, 1919. The couple had one child, Margaret.

A month before the wedding, banking on the success they had at Fort Sill and overseas, the men's clothing store of Truman & Jacobson opened in downtown Kansas City. After a few successful years, the store went bankrupt during a downturn in the farm economy in 1922; lower prices for wheat and corn meant fewer sales of silk shirts. In 1919, wheat had been selling for $2.15 a bushel, but in 1922 it was down to a catastrophic 88 cents a bushel. Truman blamed the fall in farm prices on the policies of the Republicans and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, a factor that would influence his decision to become a Democrat. Truman worked for years to pay off the debts. He and his former business partner, Eddie Jacobson, were accepted together at Washington College in 1923. They would remain friends for the rest of their lives, and Jacobson's advice to Truman on the subject of Zionism would, decades later, play a critical role in Truman's decision to recognize the state of Israel.


Jackson County judge

In 1922, with the help of the Kansas City Democratic machine led by boss Tom Pendergast, Truman was elected judge of the county court of Jackson County, Missouri—an administrative, not judicial, position similar to county commissioners elsewhere. Although he was defeated for reelection in 1924, he won back the office in 1926, and was reelected in 1930. Truman performed his duties in this office diligently and won personal acclaim for several popular public works projects, including an extensive series of roads for the increase in automobile traffic, the construction of a new county court building, and the dedication of a series of 12 "Madonna of the Trail" monuments honoring pioneer women.

In 1922, Truman gave a friend $10 for an initiation fee for the Ku Klux Klan but later asked to get his money back; he was never initiated, never attended a meeting, and never claimed membership. Though it is a historical fact that Truman at times expressed anger towards Jews in his diaries, it is also worth remembering that his business partner and close friend Edward Jacobson was Jewish. Bess Truman however was proud that a Jew had never set foot in her or her mother's home.[1] Truman's attitudes toward blacks were typical of Missourians of his era. Years later, another measure of his racial attitudes would come to the forefront: tales of the abuse, violence, and persecution suffered by many African-American veterans upon their return from World War II infuriated Truman, and were a major factor in his decision to back civil rights initiatives and desegregate the armed forces.

U.S. Senator

In the 1934 election, Pendergast's political machine selected Truman to run for Missouri's open United States Senate seat, and he campaigned successfully as a New Deal Democrat in support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Democratic primary, Truman defeated Tuck Milligan, the brother of federal prosecutor Maurice M. Milligan, who would eventually topple the Pendergast machine—and run against Truman in the 1940 primary election.

Widely considered a puppet of the big Kansas City political boss, Truman assumed office under a cloud as "the senator from Pendergast." Adding to the air of distrust was the disquieting fact that three people had been killed at the polls in Kansas City. In the tradition of machine politicians before and since, Truman did indeed direct New Deal political patronage through Boss Pendergast—but he insisted that he was an independent on his votes. Truman did have his standards, historian David McCullough later concluded, and he was willing to stand by them, even when pressured by the man who had emerged as the kingpin of Missouri politics.

Milligan began a massive investigation into the 1936 Missouri gubernatorial election that elected Lloyd C. Stark; 258 convictions resulted. More importantly, Milligan discovered that Pendergast had not paid federal taxes between 1927 and 1937 and had conducted a fraudulent insurance scam. He went after Senator Truman's political patron. In 1939, Pendergast pled guilty and received a $10,000 fine and a 15-month sentence. Stark, who had received Pendergast's blessing in the 1936 election, turned against him in the investigation and eventually took control of federal New Deal funds from Truman and Pendergast.

In 1940, both Stark and Milligan challenged Truman in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Robert E. Hannegan, who controlled St. Louis Democratic politics, threw his support in the election to Truman. Truman campaigned tirelessly and combatively. In the end, Stark and Milligan split the anti-Pendergast vote, and Truman won the election by a narrow margin. Hannegan would go on to broker the 1944 deal that put Truman on the Vice Presidential ticket for Franklin D. Roosevelt.)

Truman always defended his decisions to offer patronage to Pendergast by saying that by offering a little, he saved a lot. Truman also said that Pendergast had given him this advice when he first went to the Senate, "Keep your mouth shut and answer your mail."

Truman Committee

On June 23, 1941, a day after Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Senator Truman declared, "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word" (The New York Times, June 24 1941). Liberals and conservatives alike were disturbed by his seeming suggestion of the possibility of America backing Nazi Germany, and he quickly backtracked.

He gained fame and respect when his preparedness committee (popularly known as the "Truman Committee") investigated the scandal of military waste by exposing fraud and mismanagement. His advocacy of common sense, cost-saving measures for the military attracted much attention. Although some feared the Committee would hurt war morale, it was considered a success and is reported to have saved at least $11 billion. In 1943, his work as chairman earned Truman his first appearance on the cover of TIME. (He would eventually appear on nine TIME covers and be named its Man of the Year in 1945 and 1949.[2])

Truman's diligent, fair-minded, and notably nonpartisan work on the Senate committee that came to bear his name turned him into a national figure. It is unlikely that Roosevelt would have considered him for the vice presidential spot in 1944 had the former "Senator from Pendergast" not earned a new reputation in the Senate—one for probity, hard work, and a willingness to ask powerful people tough questions.

Truman was selected as Roosevelt's running mate in 1944 as the result of a deal worked out by Hannegan, who was Democratic National Chairman that year. Roosevelt wanted to replace Henry A. Wallace as Vice President because he was considered too liberal. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina was initially favored, but as a segregationist he was considered too conservative. After Governor Henry F. Schricker of Indiana declined the offer, Hannegan proposed Truman as the party's candidate for Vice President. After Wallace had been rejected as too far to the left, and Byrnes as too far to the right, Truman's candidacy was humorously dubbed the "Missouri Compromise" at the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The nomination was well received, and the Roosevelt-Truman team went on to score a victory in 1944 by defeating Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. He was sworn in as Vice President on January 20, 1945, and served less than three months.

Truman shocked many when, as Vice President, he attended his disgraced patron Pendergast's funeral a few days after being sworn in. Truman was reportedly the only elected official of any level who attended the funeral.

On April 12, 1945, Truman was urgently called to the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt informed him that the President was dead. Truman, thunderstruck, could initially think of nothing to say. He then asked if there was anything he could do for her, to which the former First Lady replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."[3]

Presidency 1945–1953

First term (1945-1949)

End of World War II

The mushroom cloud created by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Truman was the only President who authorized the military use of this weapon.

Truman had been Vice President for only 82 days when President Roosevelt suddenly died. He had very little meaningful communication with Roosevelt about world affairs or domestic politics since being sworn in as Vice President, and was completely in the dark about major initiatives relating to the successful prosecution of the war—notably the top secret Manhattan Project, which was, at the time of Roosevelt's passing, on the cusp of testing the world's first atomic bomb.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Truman said to reporters: "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."[3]

Momentous events would occur in Truman's first five months in office:

  • April 25—Nations met in San Francisco to create the United Nations
  • April 28—Benito Mussolini of Italy killed
  • May 1—Announcement of the suicide of Adolf Hitler
  • May 2—Berlin falls
  • May 7—Nazi Germany surrenders
  • May 8—Victory in Europe Day
  • July 17-August 2—Truman, Josef Stalin, and Winston Churchill met at the Potsdam Conference to establish the political landscape of post-war world
  • August 6—U.S. drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan
  • August 8—USSR declares war on Japan and enters the Pacific theater
  • August 9—U.S. drops atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan
  • August 14—Japan agrees to surrender (Victory over Japan Day)
  • September 2—Japan formally surrenders aboard the USS Missouri

The United Nations, the Marshall Plan and Beginning of the Cold War

As a Wilsonian internationalist, Truman strongly supported the creation of the United Nations, and included former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on the delegation to the U.N.'s first General Assembly in order to meet the public desire for peace after the experience of the Second World War. One of the first decisions he made in office was to personally attend the San Francisco UN Charter Conference. He saw the United Nations as in part the realization of an American dream, providing essential "international machinery" that would help America re-order the world by allowing states to cooperate against aggression. Some critics argue the United Nations should have admitted only democratic states, and Truman should have resisted the Soviet Union's permanent membership on the Security Council, which from the outset compromised the United Nation's integrity. But most of the provisions of the UN Charter had already been negotiated by Roosevelt with Stalin, and the Soviet Union obtained not only permanent UNSC membership but three seats in the General Assembly (for three Soviet socialist republics); moreover, the USSR was still an ally in April 1945 and no one could predict when World War II would end.

On the other hand, faced with Communist abandonment of commitments to democracy in Eastern Europe made at the Potsdam Conference, and with Communist advances in Greece and Turkey, Truman and his advisers concluded that the interests of the Soviet Union were quickly becoming incompatible with those of the United States. The Truman administration articulated an increasingly hard line against the Soviets, and by 1947 most scholars consider that the Cold War was in full swing.

Although he claimed no personal expertise on foreign matters, and the opposition Republicans controlled Congress, Truman was able to win bipartisan support for both the Truman Doctrine, which formalized a policy of containment, and the Marshall Plan, which aimed to help rebuild postwar Europe. To get Congress to spend the vast sums necessary to restart the moribund European economy, Truman used an ideological approach, arguing forcefully that Communism flourished in economically deprived areas. He later admitted that his goal had been to "scare the hell out of Congress." To strengthen the United States against Communism, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 and reorganized military forces by creating the Department of Defense, the C.I.A., U.S. Air Force (originally the U.S. Army Air Forces), and the National Security Council.

Fair Deal

After many years of Democratic majorities in Congress and two Democratic presidents, voter fatigue with the Democrats delivered a new Republican majority in the 1946 midterm elections, with the Republicans picking up 55 seats in the House of Representatives and several seats in the Senate. Although Truman cooperated closely with the Republican leaders on foreign policy, he fought them on domestic issues. He failed to prevent tax cuts and the removal of price controls. The power of the labor unions was significantly curtailed by the Taft-Hartley Act, which was enacted by overriding Truman's veto.

As he readied for the approaching 1948 election, Truman made clear his identity as a Democrat in the New Deal tradition, advocating universal health insurance, the repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, and an aggressive civil rights program. Taken together, it all constituted a broad legislative program that he called the "Fair Deal."

Truman's Fair Deal proposals made for potent campaign rhetoric that helped Truman to win the 1948 presidential election, but the proposals were not well received by Congress, even after Democratic gains in the 1948 election. Only one of the major Fair Deal bills, an initiative to expand unemployment benefits, was ever enacted.

Recognition of Israel

Truman, who had been a supporter of the Zionist movement as early as 1939, was a key figure in the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In 1946, an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended the gradual establishment of two states in Palestine, with neither Jews nor Arabs dominating. However, there was little public support for the two-state proposal, and Britain, its empire in rapid decline, was under pressure to withdraw from Palestine quickly because of attacks on British forces by armed Zionist groups. At the urging of the British, a special United Nations committee recommended the immediate partitioning of Palestine into two states, and with Truman's support, this initiative was approved by the General Assembly in 1947.

The British announced that they would leave Palestine by May 15, 1948, and the Arab League Council nations began moving troops to Palestine's borders. Support for a Jewish state in Palestine was strong in portions of European nations, many of whose citizens were eager to endorse some kind of tacit compensation for the genocidal crimes against Jewish communities perpetrated by the Nazis. The idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East was also extremely popular in the U.S., and particularly so among one of Truman's key constituencies, urban Jewish voters.

The State Department, however, was another matter. Secretary George C. Marshall resolutely opposed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine on the grounds that its borders were strategically indefensible. Nonetheless, Truman, after much soul-searching, agreed to the fateful step of holding a face-to-face meeting with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—arranged by Truman's old Jewish friend, Eddie Jacobson—who deeply moved Truman. Truman promised the "old man" that he would recognize the new Jewish state.[4] According to historian David McCullough, Truman feared Marshall would resign or publicly condemn the decision to back the Jewish state, both disastrous outcomes given the rising tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union. However, in the end, Marshall chose not to dispute the President's decision. Ultimately, Truman recognized the state of Israel eleven minutes after it declared independence on May 14, 1948, one day before the British mandate expired.

Berlin Airlift

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin. The Allies had never negotiated a deal to guarantee supply of the sectors deep within Soviet occupied East Germany. The commander of the American occupation zone in Germany, Gen. Lucius D. Clay, proposed sending a large armored column driving peacefully, as a moral right, down the Autobahn from West Germany to West Berlin, but prepared to defend itself if it were stopped or attacked. Truman, however, following the consensus in Washington, believed this entailed an unacceptable risk of war. On June 25, the Allies decided to begin the Berlin Airlift to support the city by air. The airlift continued until May 11, 1949, when access was again granted.

Integration of the military

After a hiatus that had lasted since Reconstruction, the Truman administration marked the federal government's first steps in many years in the area of civil rights. A series of particularly savage 1946 lynchings, including the murder of two young black men and two young black women near in Walton County, Georgia, and the subsequent brutalization of an African American WWII veteran, drew attention to civil rights and factored in the issuing of a 1947 report by the Truman administration titled To Secure These Rights. The report presented a detailed ten-point agenda of civil rights reforms, including making lynching a federal crime. In February 1948, the President submitted a civil rights agenda to Congress that proposed creating several federal offices devoted to issues such as voting rights and fair employment practices. This provoked a firestorm of criticism from Southern Democrats in the time leading up to the national nominating convention, but Truman refused to compromise, saying "My forbears were Confederates…. But my very stomach turned over when I had learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten."[5]

Second Term (1949-1953)

1948 Election

The presidential election of 1948 is best remembered for Truman's stunning come-from-behind victory.

At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Truman attempted to place a tepid civil rights plank in the party platform so as to assuage the internal conflicts between North and South. A sharp address, however, given by Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and candidate for the United States Senate—as well as the local political interests of a number of urban bosses—convinced the party to adopt a strong civil rights plank, which was wholeheartedly adopted by Truman. Within two weeks he issued Executive Order 9981, racially integrating the U.S. armed services.[6] Truman took considerable political risk in backing civil rights, and was very concerned that the loss of Dixiecrat support might destroy the Democratic Party.

With Thomas E. Dewey having a substantial lead, the Gallup Poll quit taking polls two weeks before the election[7] even though 14 percent of the electorate was still undecided. George Gallup would never repeat that mistake again, and he emerged with the maxim, "Undecided voters side with the incumbent."

Truman's "whistlestop" tactic of giving brief speeches from the rear platform of the observation railroad car Ferdinand Magellan became iconic of the entire campaign.[8] His combative appearances captured the popular imagination and drew huge crowds. The massive, mostly spontaneous gatherings at Truman's depot events were an important sign of a critical change in momentum in the campaign—but this shift went virtually unnoticed by the national press corps, which simply continued reporting Dewey's (supposedly) impending victory as a certainty.

The defining image of the campaign came after Election Day, when Truman's held aloft the erroneous front page of the Chicago Tribune that featured a huge headline proclaiming "Dewey Defeats Truman."[9]

Nuclear standoff

The Soviet Union, aided by espionage on America's "Manhattan Project," developed an atomic bomb much faster than expected and exploded its first weapon on August 29, 1949, commencing the Cold War arms race. On January 7, 1953, Truman announced the detonation of the much bigger hydrogen bomb.

Communist China

On December 21, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist forces left the mainland for Taiwan in the face of successful attacks by Mao Zedong's Communists. In June 1950, Truman ordered the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy into the Strait of Formosa to prevent further conflict between the PRC and the Republic of China on Taiwan. Truman also called for Taiwan to cease any further attacks on the mainland.[10]

Rise of McCarthyism

A period of intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States began in the late 1940s that lasted a decade. It saw increased fears about Communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the actions of Republican senator Joseph McCarthy, "McCarthyism" later took on a more general meaning of a witch-hunt against alleged communists. During this time many thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before governmental or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists.

The reality was that the Soviet Union in some instances had made successfully penetrations of the U.S. government both prior to and during World War II, and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin benefited from highly classified American information that informed his own decisionmaking. The most prominent alleged Soviet spy, named by former communist and writer Whittaker Chambers, was State Department official Alger Hiss, who presided over the United Nations Charter Conference in San Francisco in 1945.

Korean War

President Truman signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency that initiates U.S. involvement in the Korean War.

In June 25, 1950, armies of North Korea invaded South Korea, nearly occupying the whole of the peninsula. Truman promptly urged the United Nations to intervene; it did. The Soviet Union was not in attendance at the Security Council vote that authorized U.S. forces and those of 15 other nations to take military action under the UN flag.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the UN Forces, pushing the North Korean army nearly to the Chinese border after scoring a stunning victory with his amphibious landing at Inchon. In late October 1950, the Peoples Republic of China intervened in massive numbers on North Korea's behalf. MacArthur urged Truman to attack Chinese bases across the Yalu River and use atomic bombs if necessary; as it was, he was not even permitted to bomb the Chinese end of Yalu bridges. Truman refused both suggestions. The Chinese pushed American forces back into South Korea, and temporarily recaptured Seoul. MacArthur, who had given assurances that he would respect Truman's authority as Commander in Chief during a one-on-one meeting at Wake Island on Oct. 14, 1950, publicly aired his views on the shortcomings of U.S. strategic decisionmaking in the conduct of the war, appearing to indirectly criticize Truman. MacArthur reached out his hand to Truman for a handshake, instead of saluting him as Commander in Chief, a small gesture that held great implications in military protocol.

Truman was gravely concerned that further escalation of the war would draw the USSR which now possessed a few atomic weapons into the conflict. He was also personally offended at what he interpreted as MacArthur's insubordination. On April 11, 1951, Truman finally relieved MacArthur of his command. The Korean War turned into a stalemate until an armistice took effect on July 27, 1953, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The war, and his dismissal of MacArthur, helped make Truman so unpopular that he eventually chose not to seek a third term. Truman thus earned a strange—and, so far, unique—distinction in American history: He ascended to the presidency to inherit the responsibilities of conducting a war already in process—and left office while an entirely different armed conflict with a foreign enemy was still underway.

White House renovations

Unlike most other Presidents, Truman lived in the White House very little during his second term in office. Structural analysis of the building in 1948 showed the White House to be in danger of imminent collapse, partly because of problems with the walls and foundation that dated back to the burning of the building by the British during the War of 1812. While the interior of the White House was systematically dismantled to the foundations and rebuilt (the outer walls were braced and not removed), Truman moved to nearby Blair House, which became his "White House." Before this demolition took place, Truman had ordered an addition to the exterior of the building, an extension to its curved portico known as the "Truman Balcony."

Assassination attempt

On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman at Blair House. One mortally wounded a police officer, who shot the assassin to death before expiring himself. The other gunman was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in 1952. Truman later commuted his sentence to life in prison.

Major legislation signed

Important executive orders

  • Executive Order 9981 establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services

Administration and Cabinet

President Harry S. Truman 1945–1953
Vice President None 1945–1949
Alben W. Barkley 1949–1953
State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. 1945
James F. Byrnes 1945–1947
George C. Marshall 1947–1949
Dean G. Acheson 1949–1953
Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. 1945
Fred M. Vinson 1945–1946
John W. Snyder 1946–1953
War Henry L. Stimson 1945
Robert P. Patterson 1945–1947
Kenneth C. Royall 1947
Defense James V. Forrestal 1947–1949
Louis A. Johnson 1949–1950
George C. Marshall 1950–1951
Robert A. Lovett 1951–1953
Attorney General Francis Biddle 1945
Tom C. Clark 1945–1949
J. Howard McGrath 1949–1952
James P. McGranery 1952–1953
Postmaster General Frank C. Walker 1945
Robert E. Hannegan 1945–1947
Jesse M. Donaldson 1947–1953
Navy James V. Forrestal 1945–1947
Interior Harold L. Ickes 1945–1946
Julius A. Krug 1946–1949
Oscar L. Chapman 1949–1953
Agriculture Claude R. Wickard 1945
Clinton P. Anderson 1945–1948
Charles F. Brannan 1948–1953
Commerce Henry A. Wallace 1945–1946
W. Averell Harriman 1946–1948
Charles W. Sawyer 1948–1953
Labor Frances Perkins 1945
Lewis B. Schwellenbach 1945–1948
Maurice J. Tobin 1948–1953

Supreme Court appointments

Truman appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • Harold Hitz Burton—1945
  • Fred M. Vinson (Chief Justice)—1946
  • Tom Campbell Clark—1949
  • Sherman Minton—1949


Truman (seated right) and his wife Bess (behind him) attend the signing of the Medicare Bill on July 30, 1965, by Pres. Lyndon Johnson.

Later life and death

In 1956, Truman took a trip to Europe with his wife, and was a universal sensation. In Britain, he received an honorary degree in Civic Law from Oxford University. He met with his friend Winston Churchill for the last time, and on returning to the U.S., he gave his full support to Adlai Stevenson's second bid for the White House, although he had initially favored Democratic Governor W. Averell Harriman of New York for the nomination.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill at the Truman Library and gave the first two cards to Truman and his wife Bess. Truman had fought unsuccessfully for government sponsored health care during his tenure.

He was also honored in 1970 by the establishment of the Truman Scholarship, the official federal memorial to him. The scholarship sought to honor U.S. college students who exemplified dedication to public service and leadership in public policy.

Upon turning 80, Truman was feted in Washington and asked to address the United States Senate. He was so emotionally overcome by his reception that he was unable to deliver his speech. He also campaigned for senatorial candidates. A bad fall in his home in 1964 severely limited his physical capabilities, and he was unable to maintain his daily presence at his presidential library. On December 5, 1972, he was admitted to Kansas City's Research Hospital and Medical Center with lung congestion from pneumonia. He subsequently developed multiple organ failure and died on December 26 at age 88. He and Bess are buried at the Truman Library.

Truman's middle initial

President Truman's signature.

Truman did not have a middle name, but only a middle initial. It was a common practice in southern states, including Missouri, to use initials rather than names. Truman said the initial was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp(e) Truman and Solomon Young. He once joked that the S was a name, not an initial, and it should not have a period, but official documents and his presidential library all use a period. Furthermore, the Harry S. Truman Library has numerous examples of the signature written at various times throughout Truman's lifetime where his own use of a period after the "S" is very obvious.


  • Truman was the first president to travel underwater in a modern submarine.
  • "Tell him to go to hell!"—Truman's first response to the messenger who told him that Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted him to be his running mate.
  • Truman watched from a window as guards had a gunfight with two men trying to break into Blair House and kill him (November 1, 1950). One of the men was killed, the other was convicted and sentenced to death, Truman commuted his sentence to life in prison. President Jimmy Carter freed the man in 1979.
  • One of his Secretaries of State, George C. Marshall, won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Truman loved to play the piano. In 1948, a piano leg went through the floor of the White House.
  • Truman was a great-nephew of President John Tyler.
  • Truman was the first president to be paid a salary of $100,000. (Congress voted him a raise early in his second term.)
  • Truman was left-handed, but his parents made him write with his right hand, in accordance with the custom for all students in American elementary schools at that time.
  • Truman popularized the saying, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." He had first heard this line in the 1930s, from another Missouri politician, E.T. "Buck" Purcell.
  • Truman was named one of the 10 best-dressed senators.
  • Truman was named after an uncle, Harrison Young.
  • Truman once said, "No man should be allowed to be president who doesn't understand hogs."
  • Truman was the first president to take office during wartime.


  1. Michael Beschloss, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, ISBN 0684857057).
  2. TIME, Inc, Harry S. Truman, Man of the Year, Dec. 31, 1945, Harry S. Truman, Man of the Year, Jan. 3, 1949 Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Senate to the White House Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  4. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988, ISBN 0671662414).
  5. Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1974), 429.
  6. Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, Executive Order 9981 Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  7. John H. Lienhard, [hhttp://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1199.htm Gallup Poll] The Engines of Our Ingenuity. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  8. Ferdinand Magellan Presidential Railcar Atlas Obscura. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  9. Elizabeth Nix, 'Dewey Defeats Truman': The Election Upset Behind the Photo History Stories, November 1, 2018. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  10. Taiwan Status: From Grotius to WTO. Taiwan Civil Government Pre-2012. Retrieved January 22, 2019.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Secondary sources


  • American National Biography. Vol. 21. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 857–863. ISBN 0195206355
  • Donovan, Robert J. Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1948. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1996. ISBN 082621066X
  • Ferrell, Robert H. Harry S. Truman: A Life. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994. ISBN 082620953X
  • Fleming, Thomas J. Harry S. Truman, President. New York: Walker and Co., 1993. ISBN 0802782671
  • Gosnell, Harold Foote. Truman's Crises: A Political Biography of Harry S. Truman. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980. ISBN 0313212732
  • Graff, Henry F., ed. The Presidents: A Reference History, 3rd ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002. ISBN 0684312263
  • Hamby, Alonzo L. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0195045467
  • Kirkendall, Richard S. Harry S. Truman Encyclopedia. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. ISBN 0816189153
  • McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0671869205
  • Truman, Margaret. Harry S. Truman. New York: William Morrow, 1974.

Foreign Policy

  • Beschloss, Michael. Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. (see Ch. 25, "No People but the Hebrews") New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN 0684857057
  • Collins, Larry, and Dominique Lapierre. O Jerusalem! New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. ISBN 0671662414
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. "Reconsiderations: Was the Truman Doctrine a Real Turning Point?" Foreign Affairs 52(2)(1974): 386-402.
  • Ivie, Robert L. "Fire, Flood, and Red Fever: Motivating Metaphors of Global Emergency in the Truman Doctrine Speech." Presidential Studies Quarterly 29(3)(1999): 570-591.
  • Matray, James. "Truman's Plan for Victory: National Self Determination and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel Decision in Korea," Journal of American History 66 (September, 1979): 314-333.
  • Merrill, Dennis. "The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism and Modernity" Presidential Studies Quarterly 2006 36(1): 27-37.
  • Offner, Arnold A. "'Another Such Victory': President Truman, American Foreign Policy, and the Cold War." Diplomatic History 1999 23(2): 127-155.
  • Pelz, Stephen. "When the Kitchen Gets Hot, Pass the Buck: Truman and Korea in 1950," Reviews in American History 6 (December, 1978), 548-555.
  • Smith, Geoffrey S. "'Harry, We Hardly Know You': Revisionism, Politics and Diplomacy, 1945-1954," American Political Science Review 70 (June, 1976): 560-582.
  • Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards. The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. ISBN 978-0813123929
  • Wainstock, Dennis D. Truman, MacArthur, and the Korean War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. ISBN 0313308373
  • Walker, J. Samuel. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ISBN 0807846627
  • Walker, J. Samuel. "Recent Literature on Truman's Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground" Diplomatic History 29 (2)(April 2005): 311-334

Domestic Policy

  • Hartmann, Susan M. Truman and the 80th Congress. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1971. ISBN 0826201059
  • Heller, Francis H. Economics and the Truman Administration Lawrence, KS: Regents Press of Kansas, 1981. ISBN 0700602178
  • Kirkendall, Richard S., ed. Harry's Farewell: Interpreting and Teaching the Truman Presidency. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004. ISBN 0826215521
  • Koenig, Louis W. The Truman Administration: Its Principles and Practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. ISBN 0313211868
  • Levantrosser, William F. ed. Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. ISBN 0313251789
  • Marcus, Maeva. Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994. ISBN 0822314177
  • Ryan, Halford R. Harry S. Truman: Presidential Rhetoric. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. ISBN 031327908X
  • Theoharis, Athan. The Truman Presidency: The Origins of the Imperial Presidency and the National Security State. Stanfordville, NY: E.M. Coleman Enterprises, 1979. ISBN 0930576128

Primary sources

  • Bernstein, Barton J. (ed.). Politics and Policies of the Truman Administration Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1974. OCLC 4167214
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (ed.). Dear Bess: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman, 1910-1959. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1998. ISBN 0826212034
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (ed.). Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997. ISBN 0826211194
  • Neal, Steve. (ed.). Miracle of '48: Harry Truman's Major Campaign Speeches & Selected Whistle-Stops. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003. ISBN 0809325578
  • Truman, Harry S. Memoirs of Harry S. Truman. 2 vol., New York: Da Capo Press, 1986-1987, (original 1955-1956). ISBN 030680266X
  • Truman, Margaret. Harry S. Truman. (original 1974) New York: Quill, 1984. ISBN 0688039243

External links

All links retrieved January 22, 2019.


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