|Harry S. Truman
Truman pictured c. 1945
33rd President of the United States
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
Alben Barkley (1949–1953)
||Franklin D. Roosevelt
||Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th Vice President of the United States
January 20, 1945 – April 12, 1945
||Franklin D. Roosevelt
||Henry A. Wallace
||Alben W. Barkley
United States Senator
January 3, 1935 – January 17, 1945
||Roscoe C. Patterson
||Frank P. Briggs
||May 8, 1884(1884-05-08)
||December 26, 1972 (aged 88)
Kansas City, Missouri
||Bess Wallace Truman
||Mary Margaret Truman
||Small businessman (haberdasher), farmer
||Southern Baptist 
||Missouri National Guard
United States Army
|Years of service
||Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Infantry Division
||World War I
Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953). As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice-president and the 34th Vice President of the United States, he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his fourth term.
During World War I, Truman served as an artillery officer, making him the only president to have seen combat in World War I (his successor Eisenhower spent the war training tank crews in Pennsylvania). After the war he became part of the political machine of Tom Pendergast and was elected a county commissioner in Missouri and eventually a Democratic United States senator. After he gained national prominence as head of the wartime Truman Committee, Truman replaced vice president Henry A. Wallace as Roosevelt's running mate in 1944.
Truman faced challenge after challenge in domestic affairs. The disorderly postwar reconversion of the economy of the United States was marked by severe shortages, numerous strikes, and the passage of the Taft–Hartley Act over his veto. He confounded all predictions to win re-election in 1948, helped by his famous Whistle Stop Tour of rural America. After his re-election he was able to pass only one of the proposals in his Fair Deal program. He used executive orders to begin desegregation of the military and to create loyalty checks which dismissed thousands of communist supporters from office, even though he strongly opposed mandatory loyalty oaths for governmental employees, a stance that led to charges that his administration was soft on communism. Truman's presidency was also eventful in foreign affairs, with the end of World War II and his decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan, the founding of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the Truman Doctrine to contain communism, the beginning of the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Chinese Civil War, and the Korean War. Corruption in Truman's administration, which was linked to certain members in the cabinet and senior White House staff, was a central issue in the 1952 presidential campaign and helped cause Adlai Stevenson, Truman's successor for the Democratic nomination for president, to lose to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.
Truman, whose demeanor was very different from that of the patrician Roosevelt, was a folksy, unassuming president. He popularized such phrases as "The buck stops here" and "If you can't stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen." He overcame the low expectations of many political observers, who compared him unfavorably with his highly-regarded predecessor. At different times in his presidency, Truman earned both the lowest public approval ratings that had ever been recorded, and the highest to be recorded until 1991. Despite negative public opinion during his term in office, popular and scholarly assessments of his presidency became more positive after his retirement from politics and the publication of his memoirs. Truman's legendary upset victory in 1948 over Thomas E. Dewey is routinely invoked by underdog presidential candidates.
Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri, the oldest child of John Anderson Truman (1851–1914) and Martha Ellen Young Truman (1852–1947). His parents chose the name Harry after his mother's brother, Harrison Young (1846–1916), Harry's uncle. His parents chose "S" as his middle name in an attempt to please both of Harry's grandfathers. The initial did not actually stand for anything, a common practice among the Scots-Irish. A brother, John Vivian (1886–1965), soon followed, along with sister Mary Jane Truman (1889–1978).
Truman at age 13, ca. 1897
Truman did not have a middle name, only a middle initial. In his autobiography, Truman stated, "I was named for ... Harrison Young. I was given the diminutive Harry and, so that I could have two initials in my given name, the letter S was added. My Grandfather Truman's name was Anderson Shippe [sometimes also spelled 'Shipp'] Truman and my Grandfather Young's name was Solomon Young, so I received the S for both of them." 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. 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 conspicuous. The Associated Press Stylebook has called for a period after the S since the early 1960s, when Truman indicated he had no preference. However, the use of a period after his middle initial is not universal. Prior to 2008, his official White House biography did not use it. All official United States Navy listings of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) include the period after the S.
Truman's bare initial caused an unusual slip when he first became president and took the oath of office. At a meeting in the Cabinet Room, Chief Justice Harlan Stone began reading the oath by saying "I, Harry Shipp Truman, ...". Truman responded: "I, Harry S. Truman, ...".
John Truman was a farmer and livestock dealer. The family lived in Lamar until Harry was ten months old. They then moved to a farm near Harrisonville, then to Belton, and in 1887 to his grandparents' 600 acre (240 ha) farm in Grandview. When Truman was six, his parents moved the family to Independence, so he could attend the Presbyterian Church Sunday School. Truman did not attend a traditional school until he was eight.
As a young boy, Truman had three main interests: music, reading, and history, all encouraged by his mother. He was very close to his mother for as long as she lived, and as president solicited political as well as personal advice from her. He got up at five every morning to practice the piano, and went to a local music teacher twice a week until he was fifteen. Truman also read a great deal of popular history. He was a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention at Convention Hall in Kansas City.
After graduating from Independence High School (now William Chrisman High School) in 1901, Truman worked as a timekeeper on the Santa Fe Railroad, sleeping in "hobo camps" near the rail lines; he then worked at a series of clerical jobs. He worked briefly in the mail room of the Kansas City Star. Truman decided not to join the International Typographical Union. He returned to the Grandview farm in 1906 and stayed there until 1917 when he went into military service.
The physically demanding work he put in on the Grandview farm was a formative experience. During this period he courted Bess Wallace and even proposed to her in 1911. She turned him down, and Truman said he wanted to make more money than a farmer before he proposed again.
World War I
Truman in uniform ca. 1918
Truman enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard in 1905, and served until 1911. At his physical in 1905, his eyesight had been an unacceptable 20/50 in the right eye and 20/40 in the left. Reportedly, he passed by secretly memorizing the eye chart.
With the onset of American participation in World War I, Truman rejoined the Guard. Before going to France, he was sent to Camp Doniphan, near Lawton, Oklahoma for training. He ran the camp canteen with Edward Jacobson, who had experience in a Kansas City clothing store as a clerk. At Ft. Sill he also met Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, the nephew of Thomas Joseph (T.J.) Pendergast, a Kansas City politician. Both men were to have a profound influence on Truman's later life.
Truman was chosen to be an officer, and then battery commander in an artillery regiment in France. His unit was Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Infantry Division, known for its discipline problems. During a sudden attack by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, the battery started to disperse; Truman ordered them back into position using profanities that he had "learned while working on the Santa Fe railroad." Shocked by the outburst, his men reassembled and followed him to safety. Under Captain Truman's command in France, the battery did not lose a single man. His battery also provided support for George S. Patton's tank brigade during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On November 11, 1918 his artillery unit fired some of the last shots of World War I into German positions. The war was a transformative experience that brought out Truman's leadership qualities; he later rose to the rank of Colonel in the Army Reserves, and his war record made possible his later political career in Missouri.
Family, education and early business career
The Trumans' wedding day, June 28, 1919
At the war's conclusion, Truman returned to Independence as a captain and married his longtime love interest, Bess Wallace, on June 28, 1919, the same day that the Treaty of Versailles was signed. The couple had one child, Mary Margaret (February 17, 1924 – January 29, 2008).
Truman was the only president who served after 1897 not to earn a college degree: poor eyesight prevented him from applying to West Point (his childhood dream) and financial constraints prevented him from securing a degree elsewhere. He did, however, study for two years toward a law degree at the Kansas City Law School (now the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law) in the early 1920s. Later in his life, at age 60, Truman was invited to join Alpha Delta Gamma National Fraternity and Missouri-Kansas City's Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity; he accepted the invitations and is recognized as an honorary member of both organizations.
A month before Truman was married, banking on their success at Fort Sill and overseas, Truman and Jacobson opened a haberdashery of the same name at 104 West 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. After a few successful years, the store went bankrupt during the recession of 1921, which greatly affected the farm economy. Truman blamed the fall in farm prices on the policies of the Republicans; he worked to pay off the debts until 1934, just as he was going into the U.S. Senate, when banker William Thornton Kemper, Sr. retrieved the note during the sale of a bankrupt bank and allowed Truman to pay it off for $1,000. At the same time Kemper made a $1,000 contribution to Truman's campaign.
Former comrades in arms and former business partners, Jacobson and Truman remained close friends for life. Decades later, Jacobson's advice to Truman on Zionism played a critical role in the US government's decision to recognize Israel.
Truman in Grand Master Mason's Regalia
On February 9, 1909, Harry Truman was initiated into Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Belton Lodge, Missouri. In 1911 he helped establish the Grandview Lodge, and he served as its first Worshipful Master. In 1940, Harry Truman was elected the 97th Grand Master of the Masons of Missouri. In 1945, he was made a 33° Sovereign Grand Inspector General and an Honorary Member of the supreme council at the Supreme Council A.A.S.R. Southern Jurisdiction Headquarters in Washington D.C. In 1959, he was awarded the 50 year award, the only U.S. president to reach that anniversary.
Truman was a member of Sons of the Revolution and a card-carrying member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Harry S. Truman had at least two relatives who were Confederate soldiers. First, William Young, son of Solomon and Harriet Louise (Gregg) Young, served under Upton Hays. Solomon & Harriet were the grandparents of Harry S. Truman. Federals ("Redlegs") stole the family silverware, killed over 100 hogs, and burned his barns and haystacks. This occurred after Harriet had fed the men. Young rode with Hayes, Virgil Miller, Cole Younger, Dick Yeager & Boon Muir in August 1862. The other man was James J. "Jim Crow" Chiles, an in-law, his wife was a daughter of Solomon Young. The President's grandfather Anderson Shipp Truman was a Kentuckian and Southern in sympathy, but unwilling to fight in the Civil War. Instead he loaded his slaves onto a wagon and drove them to Leavenworth, KS, where he gave them their freedom with blankets and food for several months  His son, John Truman was too young to fight but he had two uncles in the Confederate Cavalry under General Joseph O. Shelby.
President Harry Truman's grandmother Harriet (Gregg) Young was put in a "prison camp" due to Gen. Thomas Ewing's General Order#11. Harry's mother was Martha Ellen Young. She, from childhood, remembered her home being burned, following Order #11. In 1861, when Kansas "Redlegs" made their first raid on the Truman's family's property, the Youngs were living southeast of Kansas City near Hickman Mills. At this time, the Redlegs tried to make Harrison Young, Harry's uncle, turn informant and reveal information about Missourians loyal to the South. Harrison refused and was repeatedly "mock hanged", and his neck was stretched to torture him and make him talk. Harrison Young never broke to this torture: "They tried to make my uncle Harrison into an informer, but he wouldn't do it. He was only a boy... They tried to hang him, time and again they tried it, 'stretching his neck', they called it, but he didn't say anything. I think he'd have died before he'd said anything. He's the one I'm named after, and I'm happy to say that there were people...around at the time who said I took after him."
During Harry's WW1 service, Harry never wore his "dress blues" when visiting home, as Mamma "...didn't like the damned Yankees..." Martha Ellen, the daughter of an old-line Confederate family, had been briefly locked up in a Federal "internment camp" during the Civil War and she never forgave either President Lincoln or the U.S. government. Many years later, when she came to visit her son in the White House and was offered accommodations in the Lincoln Bedroom, she said she would rather sleep on the floor "than spend the night in the Lincoln bed." When she was dying, the president flew out to see her. Looking up at him from her bed as he walked into the room she said, "I don't want any smart cracks out of you. I saw your picture in the paper last week putting a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial."
President Truman also visited the Confederate Soldiers Home of Missouri on at least two occasions. So proud was President Truman of his uncle that he actually attended some of the Quantrell Reunions of survivors of Captain Quantrill's command and other Missouri Partisan ranger heroes: "But Quantrill and his men were no more bandits than the men on the other side. I've been to reunions of Quantrill's men two or three times. All they were trying to do was protect the property on the Missouri side of the line..."
Jackson County judge
In 1922, with the help of the Kansas City Democratic machine led by boss Tom Pendergast, Truman was elected as a judge of the County Court of the eastern district of Jackson County—an administrative, not judicial, position similar to county commissioners elsewhere.
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 Truman at times expressed anger towards Jews in his diaries, his business partner and close friend Edward Jacobson was Jewish. Truman's attitudes toward blacks were typical of white Missourians of his era, and were expressed in his casual use of terms like "nigger". 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 issue Executive Order 9981, in July 1948, to back civil rights initiatives and desegregate the armed forces.
He was not reelected in 1924, but in 1926 was elected the presiding judge for the court, and was reelected in 1930. In 1930 Truman coordinated the "Ten Year Plan", which transformed Jackson County and the Kansas City skyline with new public works projects, including an extensive series of roads, construction of a new Wight and Wight-designed County Court building, and the dedication of a series of 12 Madonna of the Trail monuments honoring pioneer women.
In 1933 Truman was named Missouri's director for the Federal Re-Employment program (part of the Civil Works Administration) at the request of Postmaster General James Farley as payback to Pendergast for delivering the Kansas City vote to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election. The appointment confirmed Pendergast's control over federal patronage jobs in Missouri and marked the zenith of his power. It was also to create a relationship between Truman and Harry Hopkins and assure avid Truman support for the New Deal.
Senator Truman seeks senatorial re-election during this July 1940 speech in Sedalia
Senate desk used by Truman
After serving as judge, Truman wanted to run for Governor or Congress, but Pendergast rejected these ideas. In 1934, Pendergast's aides suggested Harry Truman as a candidate for Senator; after three other men turned him down, Pendergast reluctantly backed Truman as the candidate for the 1934 U.S. Senate election for Missouri. During the Democratic primary, Truman defeated John J. Cochran and Tuck Milligan, the brother of federal prosecutor Maurice M. Milligan. Truman then defeated the incumbent Republican, Roscoe C. Patterson, by nearly 20 percent.
Truman assumed office under a cloud as "the senator from Pendergast." He gave patronage decisions to Pendergast but always maintained he voted his conscience. Truman always defended the patronage by saying that by offering a little, he saved a lot.
In his first term as a U.S. Senator, Truman spoke out bluntly against corporate greed, and warned about the dangers of Wall Street speculators and other moneyed special interests attaining too much influence in national affairs. He was, however, largely ignored by President Roosevelt, who appeared not to have taken him seriously at this stage. Truman reportedly had difficulty getting White House secretaries to return his calls.
The 1936 election of Pendergast-backed Governor Lloyd C. Stark revealed even bigger voter irregularities in Missouri than had been uncovered in 1934. Milligan prosecuted 278 defendants in vote fraud cases; he convicted 259. Stark turned on Pendergast, urged prosecution, and was able to wrest federal patronage from the Pendergast machine.
Ultimately Milligan discovered that Pendergast had not paid federal taxes between 1927 and 1937 and had conducted a fraudulent insurance scam. In 1939, Pendergast pled guilty and received a $10,000 fine and a 15-month sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison. No charges were filed against Truman.
Truman's prospects for re-election to the Senate looked bleak. In 1940, both Stark and Maurice Milligan challenged him in the Democratic primary for the Senate. Robert E. Hannegan, who controlled St. Louis Democratic politics, threw his support in the election behind Truman. (Hannegan would go on to broker the 1944 deal that put Truman on the vice presidential ticket for Roosevelt.) Truman campaigned tirelessly and combatively. In the end, Stark and Milligan split the anti-Pendergast vote in the Democratic primary, with Stark and Milligan having more combined votes than Truman.
In September 1940, during the general election campaign, Truman was elected Grand Master of the Missouri Grand Lodge of Freemasonry. In November of that year, he defeated Kansas City State Senator Manvel H. Davis by over 40,000 votes and retained his Senate seat. Truman said later that the Masonic election assured his victory in the general election over State Senator Davis.
The successful 1940 Senate campaign is regarded by many biographers as a personal triumph and vindication for Truman and as a precursor to the much more celebrated 1948 drive for the White House, another contest where he was underestimated. It was the turning point of his political career.
Defense policy statements
On June 23, 1941, the 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." Although the sentiment was in line with what many Americans felt at the time, it was regarded by later biographers as both inappropriate and cynical. The remark was the first in a long series of prominently inopportune off-the-cuff statements by Truman to members of the national press corps.
Truman gained fame and respect when his preparedness committee (popularly known as the "Truman Committee") investigated the scandal of military wastefulness by exposing fraud and mismanagement. The Roosevelt administration had initially feared the Committee would hurt war morale, and Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson wrote to the president declaring it was "in the public interest" to suspend the committee. Truman wrote a letter to the president saying that the committee was "100 percent behind the administration" and that it had no intention of criticizing the military conduct of the war. The committee was considered a success by investigators and historians and is reported to have saved at least $15 billion and thousands of lives. Truman's advocacy of common-sense cost-saving measures for the military attracted much attention. 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 the magazine's Man of the Year for 1945 and 1948. After years as a marginal figure in the Senate, Truman was cast into the national spotlight after the success of the Truman Committee.
See also: The Democratic vice president nomination of 1944
Following months of uncertainty over the president's preference for a running mate, Truman was selected as Franklin Roosevelt's vice presidential candidate in 1944 as the result of a deal worked out by Hannegan, who was Democratic National Chairman that year.
Although his public image remained that of a robust, engaged world leader, Roosevelt's physical condition was in fact rapidly deteriorating in mid-1944. A handful of key FDR advisers, including outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Frank C. Walker, incoming Chairman Robert Hannegan, party treasurer Edwin W. Pauley, strategist Ed Flynn, and lobbyist George E. Allen closed ranks in the summer of 1944 to "keep Henry Wallace off the ticket." They considered Wallace, the incumbent vice president, too liberal, and had grave concerns about the possibility of his ascension to the presidency. Allen would later recall that each of these men "realized that the man nominated to run with Roosevelt would in all probability be the next President. . ."
After meeting personally with the party leaders, FDR agreed to replace Wallace as vice president; however, Roosevelt chose to leave the final selection of a running mate unresolved until the later stages of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina was initially favored, but labor leaders opposed him. Roosevelt also opposed Byrnes, but was reluctant to disappoint any candidate and did not want to tell Byrnes of his opposition directly; thus the president told Hannegan to "clear it [Byrnes' nomination] with Sidney", meaning labor leader and Byrnes opponent Sidney Hillman, a few days before the convention. In addition, Byrnes' status as a segregationist gave him problems with Northern liberals, and he was also considered vulnerable because of his conversion from Catholicism. Reportedly, Roosevelt offered the position to Governor Henry F. Schricker of Indiana, but he declined. Before the convention began, Roosevelt wrote a note saying he would accept either Truman or Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas; state and city party leaders preferred Truman. Truman himself did not campaign directly or indirectly that summer for the number two spot on the ticket, and always maintained that he had not wanted the job of vice president. As a result, Roosevelt had to put a great deal of pressure on Truman to accept the vice presidency. On July 19, the party bosses summoned Truman to a suite in the Blackstone Hotel to listen in on a phone call that, unknown to the Senator, they had rehearsed in advance with the President. During the conversation, FDR asked the party bosses whether Truman would accept the position. When they said no, FDR angrily accused Truman of disrupting the unity of the Democratic party then hung up. Feeling as if he had no choice, Truman reluctantly agreed to become Roosevelt's running mate.
Truman's candidacy was humorously dubbed the second "Missouri Compromise" at the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as his appeal to the party center contrasted with the liberal Wallace and the conservative Byrnes. The nomination was well received, and the Roosevelt–Truman team went on to score a 432–99 electoral-vote victory in the 1944 presidential election, defeating Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Governor John Bricker of Ohio. Truman was sworn in as vice president on January 20, 1945, and served less than three months.
Truman's brief vice-presidency was relatively uneventful, and Roosevelt rarely contacted him, even to inform him of major decisions. Truman shocked many when he attended his disgraced patron Pendergast's funeral a few days after being sworn in. Truman was reportedly the only elected official who attended the funeral. Truman brushed aside the criticism, saying simply, "He was always my friend and I have always been his."
On April 12, 1945, Truman was urgently called to the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt informed him that the president had died after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Truman's first concern was for Mrs. Roosevelt. He asked if there was anything he could do for her, to which she replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now!"
First term (1945–1949)
Official White House portrait of Harry S. Truman
: Clement Attlee
, Ernest Bevin
, Vyacheslav Molotov
, Joseph Stalin
, William Daniel Leahy
, James F. Byrnes
, Harry S. Truman and others.
, Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill
in Potsdam, July 1945
Sitting (from left): Clement Attlee
, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin
; behind: William Daniel Leahy
, Ernest Bevin
, James F. Byrnes
and Vyacheslav Molotov
Truman had been vice president for only 82 days when President Roosevelt died, April 12, 1945. He had had very little meaningful communication with Roosevelt about world affairs or domestic politics after being sworn in as vice president, and was completely uninformed about major initiatives relating to the successful prosecution of the war—including, notably, the top secret Manhattan Project, which was about to test 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."
A few days after his swearing in, he wrote to his wife, Bess: "It won't be long until I can sit back and study the whole picture and. . . there'll be no more to this job than there was to running Jackson County and not anymore worry." However, the simplicity he had predicted would prove elusive.
Upon assuming the presidency, Truman asked all the members of FDR's cabinet to remain in place, told them that he was open to their advice, and laid down a central principle of his administration: he would be the one making decisions, and they were to support him. Just a few weeks after he assumed office, on his 61st birthday, the Allies achieved victory in Europe.
Truman was much more difficult for the Secret Service to protect than the wheel chair–bound Roosevelt had been. The Secret Service had been protecting Roosevelt for over 12 years. Because he was wheel chair–bound most of the time, if he needed to go anywhere, his Secret Service agents would push him at their own speed. Truman had no such restrictions and was an avid walker, regularly taking walks around Washington.
Atomic bomb use
For more details on this topic, see Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
||We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.
—Harry Truman, writing about the atomic bomb in his diary, 
Truman was quickly briefed on the Manhattan Project and at the Potsdam Conference, he indicated cryptically to Joseph Stalin the U.S. was about to use a new kind of weapon against the Japanese. Though this was the first time the Soviets had been officially given information about the atomic bomb, Stalin (through his spies in the U.S.) was already well aware of the bomb project, in fact learning about it long before Truman himself did.
In August 1945, after Japan did not accept the Potsdam Declaration Truman authorized use of atomic weapons against the Japanese.  The atomic bombings that followed were the first, and so far the only, instance of nuclear warfare.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, at 8:15, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima. Two days later, having heard nothing from the Japanese government, the U.S. military proceeded with its plans to drop a second atomic bomb. On August 9, Nagasaki was also devastated with a bomb, Fat Man, dropped by the B-29 bomber Bockscar. The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, with roughly half of those deaths occurring on the days of the bombings. Truman received news of the bombing while aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31) on his way back to the U.S. after the Potsdam Conference. The Japanese agreed to surrender on August 14.
Supporters of Truman's decision to use the bomb argue that it saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost in an invasion of mainland Japan. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke in support of this view in 1954, saying that Truman had "made the only decision he could," and that the bomb's use was necessary "to avoid tremendous sacrifice of American lives." Others, including historian Gar Alperovitz, have argued that the use of nuclear weapons was unnecessary and inherently immoral. Truman himself wrote later in life that, "I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war... I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again."
Strikes and economic upheaval
President Harry Truman with "The Buck Stops Here
" sign on his desk
The end of World War II was followed in the United States by uneasy and contentious conversion back to a peacetime economy. The president was faced with a sudden renewal of labor-management conflicts that had lain dormant during the war years, severe shortages in housing and consumer products, and widespread dissatisfaction with inflation, which at one point hit six percent in a single month. In this polarized environment, there was a wave of destabilizing strikes in major industries, and Truman's response to them was generally seen as ineffective. In the spring of 1946, a national railway strike, unprecedented in the nation's history, brought virtually all passenger and freight lines to a standstill for over a month. When the railway workers turned down a proposed settlement, Truman seized control of the railways and threatened to draft striking workers into the armed forces. While delivering a speech before Congress requesting authority for this plan, Truman received word that the strike had been settled on his terms. He announced this development to Congress on the spot and received a tumultuous ovation that was replayed for weeks on newsreels. Although the resolution of the crippling railway strike made for stirring political theater, it actually cost Truman politically: his proposed solution was seen by many as high-handed; and labor voters, already wary of Truman's handling of workers' issues, were deeply alienated.
United Nations, Marshall Plan and 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 carnage of World War II. Faced with Communist abandonment of commitments to democracy made at the Potsdam Conference, and with Communist advances in Greece (leading to the Greek Civil War) and in Turkey that suggested a hunger for global domination, Truman and his foreign policy advisors 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.
Although he claimed no personal expertise on foreign matters, and although the opposition Republicans controlled the United States Congress, Truman was able to win bipartisan support for both the Truman Doctrine, which formalised 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 argument, arguing forcefully that Communism flourishes in economically deprived areas. His goal was to "scare the hell out of Congress." As part of the U.S. Cold War strategy, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 and reorganized military forces by merging the Department of War and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment (later the Department of Defense) and creating the U.S. Air Force. The act also created the CIA and the National Security Council.
Main article: 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 bitterly on domestic issues. He failed to prevent tax cuts or 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 national 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 agenda that came to be called the "Fair Deal".
Truman's proposals made for potent campaign rhetoric, but were not well received by Congress, even after Democratic gains in the 1948 election. Only one of the major Fair Deal bills, the Housing Act of 1949, was ever enacted.
Recognition of Israel
Truman was a key figure in the establishment of the Jewish state in the Palestine Mandate. In shaping his policy toward Palestine, Truman experienced continuous pressures, especially from the Jewish community, virtually from the moment he took office as president. Truman writes, "Top Jewish leaders in the United States were putting all sorts of pressure on me to commit American power and forces on behalf of the Jewish aspirations 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 Zionist support for the two-state proposal.
At the urging of the British, a special U.N. committee, UNSCOP, recommended the immediate partitioning of Palestine into two states, and with Truman's support, this initiative was approved by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947. According to Truman, "The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been seen there before, but that the White House, too, was subjected to a constant barrage. I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders—actuated by a political motive and engaging in political threats—disturbed and annoyed me." The president noted in a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, "I regret this situation very much because my sympathy has always been on their [Zionist] side."
The British announced on November 30, 1947, that they would leave Palestine by May 15, 1948. A civil war broke out in Palestine and the Arab League Council nations began moving troops to Palestine's borders. The Zionist idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East was popular in the U.S., and Truman eventually came to support it.
The State Department, however, disagreed with the idea. Secretary of State George Marshall and most of the foreign service experts strongly opposed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Thus, when Truman agreed to meet with Chaim Weizmann at the request of Edward Jacobson, he found himself overruling his own Secretary of State. In the end, Marshall did not publicly dispute the president's decision, as Truman feared he might. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal was vocal on the issue of Palestine and spoke repeatedly about the perils of arousing Arab hostility, which might result in denial of access to petroleum resources in the area and about "the impact of this question on the security of the United States." Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.
Initially, he was merely interested in relieving human misery by urging admission of displaced Jews to British-ruled Palestine. In that early stage, he appeared to be quite firm in rejecting "a political structure imposed on the Middle East that would result in conflict." He was also aware, as we have seen, of the gains likely to accrue to the Soviets if Arabs were to be antagonized. Yet he ultimately chose a policy that did lead to conflict and opened the gates to Soviet penetration in the Arab world, as the examples of Nasser's, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and other states showed. Was this policy based on his genuine conversion to the idea that the thus generated conflict in the Middle East was of secondary importance and that the Soviet factor could be safely disregarded? This alternative does not quite square with his determination to stop Soviet advances in the northern tier of Iran, Turkey, and Greece. Furthermore, as his arms embargo indicated, he did not identify US interest with Israel's victory and never went on record claiming that Israel was America’s ally or strategic asset. This leaves us with the other possible alternative—that despite his resentment of the political pressures at home he chose to give them priority over other considerations. Certain observers who stood close to the decision-making process of that era were convinced that domestic politics constituted a major motivation in Truman's behavior. In the often quoted statement addressed to four American envoys from the middle east who, at a meeting in the White House on November 10, 1945, warned him of adverse effects of a pro-Zionist policy, he declared: "I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."
Truman's future Vice President Alben W. Barkley
, shortly after its liberation by American forces, on April 24, 1945
For his part, Truman once asserted,
Hitler had been murdering Jews right and left. I saw it, and I dream about it even to this day. The Jews needed some place where they could go. It is my attitude that the American government couldn't stand idly by while the victims [of] Hitler's madness are not allowed to build new lives.
Coupled with such strong humanitarian concerns was Truman's pragmatic need for cash during the 1948 campaign. One particularly critical donor, Abraham Feinberg, arranged for a gift to the campaign of $100,000 in support of a cross-country campaign train trip that Truman wanted to make, but that the Democratic National Committee could not afford. The trip became known as the "whistle-stop tour," and emerged as the centerpiece of the Truman campaign. Feinberg, who helped secure many donations to the cash-starved campaign from supporters of the Zionist cause, was president of Americans for Haganah Incorporated, whose mission was to support unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.
For more details on this topic, see Berlin Blockade.
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 the Soviet-occupied zone. The commander of the American occupation zone in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, proposed sending a large armored column driving peacefully, as a moral right, down the autobahn across the Soviet zone to West Berlin, with instructions to defend itself if it were stopped or attacked. Truman, however, following the consensus in Washington, believed this would entail an unacceptable risk of war. He approved a plan to supply the blockaded city by air. On June 25, the Allies initiated the Berlin Airlift, a campaign that delivered food and other supplies, such as coal, using military airplanes on a massive scale. Nothing remotely like it had ever been attempted before, and no single nation had the capability, either logistically or materially, to have accomplished it. The airlift worked; ground access was again granted on May 11, 1949. The airlift continued for several months after that. The Berlin Airlift was one of Truman's great foreign policy successes as president; it significantly aided his election campaign in 1948.
Truman, Congress, and the Pentagon followed a strategy of rapid demobilization after World War II, mothballing ships and sending the veterans home. The reasons for this strategy, which persisted through Truman's first term and well into his second, were largely financial. In order to fund domestic spending requirements, Truman had advocated a policy of defense program cuts for the U.S. armed forces at the end of the war. The Republican majority in Congress, anxious to enact numerous tax cuts, approved of Truman's plan to "hold the line" on defense spending. In addition, Truman's experience in the Senate left him with lingering suspicions that large sums were being wasted in the Pentagon. In 1949, Truman appointed Louis A. Johnson as Secretary of Defense. Impressed by U.S. advances in atomic bomb development, Truman and Johnson initially believed that the atomic bomb rendered conventional forces largely irrelevant to the modern battlefield. This assumption eventually had to be revisited, however, as the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon in the same year.
Nevertheless, reductions continued, adversely affecting U.S. conventional defense readiness. Both Truman and Johnson had a particular antipathy to Navy and Marine Corps budget requests. Truman had a well-known dislike of the Marines dating back to his service in World War I, and famously said, "The Marine Corps is the Navy's police force, and as long as I am President that is what it will remain. They have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin's." Indeed, Truman had proposed disbanding the Marine Corps entirely as part of the 1948 defense reorganization plan, a plan that was abandoned only after a letter-writing campaign and the intervention of influential congressmen who were Marine veterans.
Under Truman defense budgets through Fiscal Year 1950, many Navy ships were mothballed, sold to other countries, or scrapped. The U.S. Army, faced with high turnover of experienced personnel, cut back on training exercises, and eased recruitment standards. Usable equipment was scrapped or sold off instead of stored, and even ammunition stockpiles were cut. The Marine Corps, its budgets slashed, was reduced to hoarding surplus inventories of World War II-era weapons and equipment. It was only after the invasion of South Korea by the North Koreans in 1950 that Truman sent significantly larger defense requests to Congress—and initiated what might be considered the modern period of defense spending in the United States.
Election of 1948
For more details on this topic, see United States presidential election, 1948.
Truman was so widely expected to lose the 1948 election that the Chicago Tribune
ran this incorrect headline.
The 1948 presidential election is best remembered for Truman's stunning come-from-behind victory. In the spring of 1948, Truman's public approval rating stood at 36 percent, and the president was nearly universally regarded as incapable of winning the general election. The "New Deal" operatives within the party—including FDR's son James—tried to swing the Democratic nomination to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a wildly popular figure whose political views—and party affiliation—were totally unknown. Eisenhower emphatically refused to accept, and Truman outflanked opponents to his nomination..
At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Truman attempted to calm turbulent domestic political waters by placing a tepid civil rights plank in the party platform; the aim was to assuage the internal conflicts between the northern and southern wings of his party. Events overtook the president's efforts at compromise, however. A sharp address given by Mayor Hubert Humphrey of Minneapolis—as well as the local political interests of a number of urban bosses—convinced the Convention to adopt a stronger civil rights plank, which Truman approved wholeheartedly. All of Alabama's delegates, and a portion of Mississippi's, walked out of the convention in protest. Unfazed, Truman delivered an aggressive acceptance speech attacking the 80th Congress and promising to win the election and "make these Republicans like it."
Within two weeks, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, racially integrating the U.S. Armed Services. Truman took considerable political risk in backing civil rights, and many seasoned Democrats were concerned that the loss of Dixiecrat support might destroy the Democratic Party. The fear seemed well justified—Strom Thurmond declared his candidacy for the presidency and led a full-scale revolt of Southern "states' rights" proponents. This revolt on the right was matched by a revolt on the left, led by former Vice President Henry A. Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket. Immediately after its first post-FDR convention, the Democratic Party found itself disintegrating. Victory in November seemed a remote possibility indeed, with the party not simply split but divided three ways.
There followed a remarkable 21,928-mile (35,290 km) presidential odyssey, an unprecedented personal appeal to the nation. Truman and his staff crisscrossed the United States in the presidential train; his "whistlestop" tactic of giving brief speeches from the rear platform of the observation car Ferdinand Magellan came to represent the entire campaign. His combative appearances, such as those at the town square of Harrisburg, Illinois, captured the popular imagination and drew huge crowds. Six stops in Michigan drew a combined total of half a million people; a full million turned out for a New York City ticker-tape parade.
The large, 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 continued reporting Republican Thomas Dewey's apparent impending victory as a certainty. One reason for the press' inaccurate projection was polls conducted primarily by telephone in a time when many people, including much of Truman's populist base, did not own a telephone. This skewed the data to indicate a stronger support base for Dewey than existed, resulting in an unintended and undetected projection error that may well have contributed to the perception of Truman's bleak chances. The three major polling organizations also stopped polling well before the November 2 election date—Roper in September, and Crossley and Gallup in October—thus failing to measure the very period when Truman appears to have surged past Dewey.
In the end, Truman held his midwestern base of progressives, won most of the Southern states despite his civil rights plank, and squeaked through with narrow victories in a few critical "battleground" states, notably Ohio, California, and Illinois. The final tally showed that the president had secured 303 electoral votes, Dewey 189, and Thurmond only 39. Henry Wallace got none. The defining image of the campaign came after Election Day, when Truman held aloft the erroneous front page of the Chicago Tribune with a huge headline proclaiming "Dewey Defeats Truman." Truman did not have a vice president in his first term. His running mate, and eventual vice president for the term that began January 20, 1949, was Alben W. Barkley.
Second term (1949–1953)
Truman's inauguration was the first ever televised nationally." His second term was grueling, in large measure because of foreign policy challenges connected directly or indirectly to his policy of containment. For instance, he quickly had to come to terms with the end of the American nuclear monopoly. With information provided by its espionage networks in the United States, the Soviet Union's atomic bomb project progressed much faster than had been expected and they exploded their first bomb on August 29, 1949. On January 7, 1953, Truman announced the detonation of the first U.S. hydrogen bomb.
Truman was a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which established a formal peacetime military alliance with Canada and many of the democratic European nations that had not fallen under Soviet control following World War II. Truman successfully guided the treaty through the Senate in 1949. NATO's stated goals were to check Soviet expansion in Europe and to send a clear message to communist leaders that the world's democracies were willing and able to build new security structures in support of democratic ideals. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Iceland, and Canada were the original treaty signatories; Greece and Turkey joined in 1952.
Chinese Civil War
On December 21, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and his National Revolutionary Army left mainland China, fleeing to Taiwan in the face of successful attacks by Mao Zedong's communist army during the Chinese Civil War. In June 1950, Truman ordered the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to prevent further conflict between the communist government at the China mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan. Truman also called for the ROC not to make any further attacks on the mainland.
Soviet espionage and McCarthyism
Throughout his presidency, Truman had to deal with accusations that the federal government was harboring Soviet spies at the highest level. Testimony in Congress on this issue garnered national attention, and thousands of people were fired as security risks. An optimistic, patriotic man, Truman was dubious about reports of potential Communist or Soviet penetration of the U.S. government, and his oft-quoted response was to dismiss the allegations as a "red herring."
In August 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former spy for the Soviets and a senior editor at Time magazine, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and presented a list of what he said were members of an underground communist network working within the United States government in the 1930s. One was Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official. Hiss denied the accusations.
Chambers' revelations led to a crisis in American political culture, as Hiss was convicted of perjury, in a controversial trial. On February 9, 1950, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy accused the State Department of having communists on the payroll, and specifically claimed that Secretary of State Dean Acheson knew of, and was protecting, 205 communists within the State Department. At issue was whether Truman had discovered all the subversive agents that had entered the government during the Roosevelt years. Many on the right, such as McCarthy and Congressman Richard Nixon, insisted that he had not.
By spotlighting this issue and attacking Truman's administration, McCarthy quickly established himself as a national figure, and his explosive allegations dominated the headlines. His claims were short on confirmable details, but they nevertheless transfixed a nation struggling to come to grips with frightening new realities: the Soviet Union's nuclear explosion, the loss of U.S. atom bomb secrets, the fall of China to communism, and new revelations of Soviet intelligence penetration of other U.S. agencies, including the Treasury Department. Truman, a pragmatic man who had made allowances for the likes of Tom Pendergast and Stalin, quickly developed an unshakable loathing of Joseph McCarthy. He counterattacked, saying that "Americanism" itself was under attack by elements "who are loudly proclaiming that they are its chief defenders. ... They are trying to create fear and suspicion among us by the use of slander, unproved accusations and just plain lies. ... They are trying to get us to believe that our Government is riddled with communism and corruption. ... These slandermongers are trying to get us so hysterical that no one will stand up to them for fear of being called a communist. Now this is an old communist trick in reverse. ... That is not fair play. That is not Americanism." Nevertheless Truman was never able to shake his image among the public of being unable to purge his government of subversive influences.
President Truman recognized the newly created state of Pakistan in 1947 and the United States was one of the first countries in the world to do so. President Truman personally invited Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his wife Begum Ra'ana to the United States for talks. Liaquat Ali Khan accepted the invitation and arrived in Washington in May 1950. Liaquat toured the United States and gave various speeches to the US Senate. At the time of the visit Pakistan was non-aligned between the US-led Western Bloc and the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc and it had recognized the Communist-led People's Republic of China, ignoring Washington's opposition to Peking. Despite the success of his US tour, Liaquat Ali's Government did not make any drastic change in its foreign policy of semi-non-alignment in the Cold War rivalry. In the UN Security Council, it did oppose North Korea's aggression against pro-American South Korea but refused to send Pakistani combat troops to join the UN force in the Korean Peninsula. This was mainly because Pakistan was recently recovering from its war with India over the disputed Kashmir in 1948.
For more details on this topic, see Korean War.
President Truman signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency that initiates U.S. involvement in the Korean War.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People's Army under the command of Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea, precipitating the outbreak of the Korean War. Poorly trained and equipped, without tanks or air support, the South Korean Army was rapidly pushed backwards, quickly losing the capital, Seoul.
Truman called for a naval blockade of Korea, only to learn that due to budget cutbacks, the U.S. Navy no longer possessed a sufficient number of warships to enforce such a measure. Truman promptly urged the United Nations to intervene; it did, authorizing armed defense for the first time in its history. The Soviet Union, which was boycotting the United Nations at the time, was not present at the vote that approved the measure. However, Truman decided not to consult with Congress, an error that greatly weakened his position later in the conflict.
In the first four weeks of the conflict, the American infantry forces hastily deployed to Korea proved too few and were under-equipped. The Eighth Army in Japan was forced to recondition World War II Sherman tanks from depots and monuments for use in Korea.
Giving Them More Hell
"I fired him [MacArthur] because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President... I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."
Harry S. Truman, quoted in Time magazine
Responding to criticism over readiness, Truman fired his much-criticized Secretary of Defense, Louis A. Johnson, replacing him with retired General George Marshall. Truman (with UN approval) decided on a roll-back policy—that is, conquest of North Korea. UN forces led by General Douglas MacArthur led the counterattack, scoring a stunning surprise victory with an amphibious landing at the Battle of Inchon that nearly trapped the invaders. UN forces then marched north, toward the Yalu River boundary with China, with the goal of reuniting Korea under UN auspices.
China surprised the UN forces with a large-scale invasion in November. The UN forces were forced back to below the 38th parallel, then recovered; by early 1951 the war became a fierce stalemate at about the 38th parallel where it had begun. UN and U.S. casualties were heavy. Truman rejected MacArthur's request to attack Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu, but MacArthur nevertheless promoted his plan to Republican House leader Joseph Martin, who leaked it to the press. Truman was gravely concerned that further escalation of the war might draw the Soviet Union further into the conflict: it was already supplying weapons and providing warplanes (with Korean markings and Soviet fliers). On April 11, 1951, Truman fired MacArthur from all his commands in Korea and Japan.
The Dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur was among the least politically popular decisions in presidential history. Truman's approval ratings plummeted, and he faced calls for his impeachment from, among others, Senator Robert Taft. The Chicago Tribune called for immediate impeachment proceedings against Truman:
President Truman must be impeached and convicted. His hasty and vindictive removal of Gen. MacArthur is the culmination of series of acts which have shown that he is unfit, morally and mentally, for his high office. . . . The American nation has never been in greater danger. It is led by a fool who is surrounded by knaves. . . .
Fierce criticism from virtually all quarters accused Truman of refusing to shoulder the blame for a war gone sour and blaming his generals instead. Many prominent citizens and officials, including Eleanor Roosevelt however supported and applauded Truman's decision. MacArthur meanwhile, returned to the United States to a hero's welcome, and, after his famous address before Congress—which Truman was reported to have said was a bunch of "damn bullshit". MacArthur was even rumored as a candidate for the presidency.
The war remained a frustrating stalemate for two years, with over 30,000 Americans killed, until a peace agreement restored borders and ended the conflict. In the interim, the difficulties in Korea and the popular outcry against Truman's sacking of MacArthur helped to make the president so unpopular that Democrats started turning to other candidates. In the New Hampshire primary on March 11, 1952, Truman lost to Estes Kefauver, who won the preference poll 19,800 to 15,927 and all eight delegates. Truman was forced to cancel his reelection campaign. In February 1952, Truman's approval mark stood at 22 percent according to Gallup polls, which was, until 2008, the all-time lowest approval mark for an active American president. However it didn't last beyond March.
For more details on this topic, see First Indochina War.
United States' involvement in Indochina widened during the Truman administration. On V-J Day 1945, Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France, but the U.S. announced its support of restoring French power. In 1950, Ho again declared Vietnamese independence, which was recognized by Communist China and the Soviet Union. Ho controlled a remote territory along the Chinese border, while France controlled the remainder. Truman's "containment policy" called for opposition to Communist expansion, and led the U.S. to continue to recognize French rule, support the French client government, and increase aid to Vietnam. However, a basic dispute emerged: the Americans wanted a strong and independent Vietnam, while the French cared little about containing China but instead wanted to suppress local nationalism and integrate Indochina into the French Union.
White House renovations
View of the interior shell of the White House during reconstruction in 1950
In 1948 Truman ordered a controversial addition to the exterior of the White House: a second-floor balcony in the south portico that came to be known as the "Truman Balcony." The addition was unpopular.
Not long afterwards, engineering experts concluded that the building, much of it over 130 years old, was in a dangerously dilapidated condition. That August, a section of floor collapsed and Truman's own bedroom and bathroom were closed as unsafe. No public announcement about the serious structural problems of the White House was made until after the 1948 election had been won, by which time Truman had been informed that his new balcony was the only part of the building that was sound. The Truman family moved into nearby Blair House; as the newer West Wing, including the Oval Office, remained open, Truman found himself walking to work across the street each morning and afternoon. In due course the decision was made to demolish and rebuild the whole interior of the main White House, as well as excavating new basement levels and underpinning the foundations. The famous exterior of the structure, however, was buttressed and retained while the renovations proceeded inside. The work lasted from December 1949 until March 1952.
For more details on this topic, see Truman assassination attempt.
On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate Truman at Blair House. On the street outside the residence, Torresola mortally wounded a White House policeman, Leslie Coffelt, who shot Torresola dead before expiring himself. Collazo, as a co-conspirator in a felony that turned into a homicide, was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death in 1952. Truman later commuted his sentence to life in prison. Acknowledging the importance of the question of Puerto Rican independence, Truman allowed for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico to determine the status of its relationship to the United States. The attack, which could easily have taken the president's life, drew new attention to security concerns surrounding his residence at Blair House. He had jumped up from his nap, and was watching the gunfight from his open bedroom window until a passerby shouted at him to take cover.
Steel and coal strikes
For more details on this topic, see 1952 steel strike.
In response to a labor/management impasse arising from bitter disagreements over wage and price controls, Truman instructed his Secretary of Commerce, Charles W. Sawyer, to take control of a number of the nation's steel mills in April 1952. Truman cited his authority as Commander in Chief and the need to maintain an uninterrupted supply of steel for munitions to be used in the war in Korea. The Supreme Court found Truman's actions unconstitutional, however, and reversed the order in a major separation-of-powers decision, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer. The 6–3 decision, which held that Truman's assertion of authority was too vague and was not rooted in any legislative action by Congress, was delivered by a Court composed entirely of Justices appointed by either Truman or Roosevelt. The high court's reversal of Truman's order was one of the notable defeats of his presidency. After coal miners went on strike in the spring of 1946, Truman threatened to draft the miners into the Army if they didn't return to work, or use members of the Army to replace the workers.
Scandals and controversies
In 1950, the Senate, led by Estes Kefauver, investigated numerous charges of corruption among senior Administration officials, some of whom received fur coats and deep freezers for favors. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was involved. In 1950, 166 IRS employees either resigned or were fired, and many were facing indictments from the Department of Justice on a variety of tax-fixing and bribery charges, including the assistant attorney general in charge of the Tax Division. When Attorney General Howard McGrath fired the special prosecutor for being too zealous, Truman fired McGrath. Historians agree that Truman himself was innocent and unaware—with one exception. In 1945, Mrs. Truman received a new, expensive, hard-to-get deep freezer. The businessman who provided the gift was the president of a perfume company and, thanks to Truman's aide and confidante General Harry Vaughan, received priority to fly to Europe days after the war ended, where he bought new perfumes. On the way back he "bumped" a wounded veteran from a flight that would have taken him back to the US. Disclosure of the episode in 1949 humiliated Truman. The President responded by vigorously defending Vaughan, an old friend with an office in the White House itself. Vaughan was eventually connected to multiple influence-peddling scandals.
Charges that Soviet agents had infiltrated the government bedeviled the Truman Administration and became a major campaign issue for Eisenhower in 1952. In 1947, Truman issued Executive Order 9835 to set up loyalty boards to investigate espionage among federal employees. Between 1947 and 1952, "about 20,000 government employees were investigated, some 2500 resigned 'voluntarily,' and 400 were fired." He did, however, strongly oppose mandatory loyalty oaths for governmental employees, a stance that led to charges that his Administration was soft on Communism. In 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy and Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. claimed that Truman had known Harry Dexter White was a Soviet spy when Truman appointed him to the International Monetary Fund.
On December 06, 1950, music critic Paul Hume wrote a critical review of a concert by Margaret Truman: "Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality ... (she) cannot sing very well ... is flat a good deal of the time—more last night than at any time we have heard her in past years ... has not improved in the years we have heard her ... (and) still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish."
In response Truman wrote a scathing response: I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay." It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.  Truman was criticized by many for the letter. However, he pointed out that he wrote it as a loving father and not as the president.
Further information: President's Committee on Civil Rights
A 1947 report by the Truman administration titled To Secure These Rights presented a detailed ten-point agenda of civil rights reforms. 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 storm of criticism from Southern Democrats in the run up to the national nominating convention, but Truman refused to compromise, saying: "My forebears 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." In retirement however, Truman was less progressive on the issue. He described the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches as silly, stating that the marches would not "accomplish a darned thing".
Instead of addressing civil rights on a case by case need, Truman wanted to address civil rights on a national level. Truman made three executive orders that eventually became a structure for future civil rights legislation. The first executive order, Executive Order 9981 in 1948, created a Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity to make report on racial policies in the armed services. The Executive Order did not specifically address or even mention racial segregation, as Truman "wanted to give the least offence to voters who supported segregation." Nonetheless, it was a milestone on a long road to desegregation of the Armed Forces. Under the pressure of manpower shortages during the Korean War, Army units became racially integrated.
The second, also in 1948, made it illegal to discriminate against persons applying for Civil Service positions based on race. The third executive order, in 1951, established Committee on Government Contract Compliance (CGCC). This committee ensured that defense contractors to the armed forces could not discriminate against a person on account of race.
Administration and Cabinet
All of the cabinet members when Truman became president in 1945 had been previously serving under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
|The Truman Cabinet
||Harry S. Truman
|Alben W. Barkley
|Secretary of State
||Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.
|James F. Byrnes
|George C. Marshall
|Dean G. Acheson
|Secretary of Treasury
||Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
|Fred M. Vinson
|John W. Snyder
|Secretary of War
||Henry L. Stimson
|Robert P. Patterson
|Kenneth C. Royall
|Secretary of Defense
||James V. Forrestal
|Louis A. Johnson
|George C. Marshall
|Robert A. Lovett
|Tom C. Clark
|J. Howard McGrath
|James P. McGranery
||Frank C. Walker
|Robert E. Hannegan
|Jesse M. Donaldson
|Secretary of the Navy
||James V. Forrestal
|Secretary of the Interior
||Harold L. Ickes
|Julius A. Krug
|Oscar L. Chapman
|Secretary of Agriculture
||Claude R. Wickard
|Clinton P. Anderson
|Charles F. Brannan
|Secretary of Commerce
||Henry A. Wallace
|W. Averell Harriman
|Charles W. Sawyer
|Secretary of Labor
|Lewis B. Schwellenbach
|Maurice J. Tobin
Main article: Harry S. Truman Supreme Court candidates
Truman appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
- Harold Hitz Burton—1945
- Fred M. Vinson (Chief Justice)—1946
- Tom C. Clark—1949
- Sherman Minton—1949
Truman's judicial appointments have been called by critics "inexcusable." A former Truman aide confided that it was the weakest aspect of Truman's presidency. The New York Times condemned the appointments of Tom C. Clark and Sherman Minton in particular as examples of cronyism and favoritism for unqualified candidates.
The four justices appointed by Truman joined with Justices Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, and Stanley Reed to create a substantial seven-member conservative bloc on the Supreme Court. This returned the court for a time to the conservatism of the Taft era.
Main article: Harry S. Truman judicial appointments
In addition to his four Supreme Court appointments, Truman appointed 27 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 101 judges to the United States district courts.
For more details on this topic, see United States presidential election, 1952.
From left: President Harry S. Truman, Vice Presidential nominee, Alabama Senator John J. Sparkman
and Presidential nominee, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson
. Oval Office
In 1951, the U.S. ratified the 22nd Amendment, making a president ineligible to be elected for a third time, or to be elected for a second time after having served more than two years of a previous president's term. The latter clause would have applied to Truman in 1952, except that a grandfather clause in the amendment explicitly excluded the current president from this provision. However, Truman decided not to run for reelection.
At the time of the 1952 New Hampshire primary, no candidate had won Truman's backing. His first choice, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, had declined to run; Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson had also turned Truman down; Vice President Barkley was considered too old; and Truman distrusted and disliked Senator Estes Kefauver, whom he privately called "Cowfever."
Truman's name was on the New Hampshire primary ballot but Kefauver won. On March 29 Truman announced his decision not to run for re-election. Stevenson, having reconsidered his presidential ambitions, received Truman's backing and won the Democratic nomination.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, now a Republican and the nominee of his party, campaigned against what he denounced as Truman's failures regarding "Korea, Communism and Corruption" and the "mess in Washington," and promised to "go to Korea." Eisenhower defeated Stevenson decisively in the general election, ending 20 years of Democratic rule. While Truman and Eisenhower had previously been good friends, Truman felt betrayed that Eisenhower did not denounce Joseph McCarthy during the campaign.
Truman Library, Memoirs, and life as a private citizen
Truman returned to Independence, Missouri to live at the Wallace home he and Bess had shared for years with her mother. Four months after leaving office, Truman was invited to address the Reserve Officers Association in Philadelphia. Refusing official transportation, Truman instead drove his brand-new Chrysler New Yorker, with Bess accompanying him in the passenger seat. The trip, which included stops in Washington, D.C., New York City, and smaller towns, caused a media sensation, especially when the former President was pulled over by a policeman for driving too slowly in a passing lane.
Truman's predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had organized his own presidential library, but legislation to enable future presidents to do something similar still remained to be enacted. Truman worked to garner private donations to build a presidential library, which he then donated to the federal government to maintain and operate—a practice adopted by all of his successors.
Once out of office, Truman quickly decided that he did not wish to be on any corporate payroll, believing that taking advantage of such financial opportunities would diminish the integrity of the nation's highest office. He also turned down numerous offers for commercial endorsements. Since his earlier business ventures had proved unremunerative, he had no personal savings. As a result, he faced financial challenges. Once Truman left the White House, his only income was his old army pension: $112.56 per month. Former members of Congress and the federal courts received a federal retirement package; President Truman himself had ensured that former servants of the executive branch of government would receive similar support. In 1953, however, there was no such benefit package for former presidents.
Truman (seated right) and his wife Bess (behind him) attend the signing of the Medicare
Bill on July 30, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson
He took out a personal loan from a Missouri bank shortly after leaving office, and then set about establishing another precedent for future former chief executives: a book deal for his memoirs of his time in office. Ulysses S. Grant had overcome similar financial issues with his own memoirs, but the book had been published posthumously, and he had declined to write about life in the White House in any detail. For the memoirs Truman received only a flat payment of $670,000, and had to pay two-thirds of that in tax; he calculated he got $37,000 after he paid his assistants.
Truman's memoirs were a commercial and critical success; they were published in two volumes in 1955 and 1956 by Doubleday (Garden City, N.Y) and Hodder & Stoughton (London): Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Year of Decisions and Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Years of Trial and Hope.
Truman was quoted in 1957 as saying to then-House Majority Leader John McCormack, "Had it not been for the fact that I was able to sell some property that my brother, sister, and I inherited from our mother, I would practically be on relief, but with the sale of that property I am not financially embarrassed."
In 1958, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, offering a $25,000 yearly pension to each former president, and it is likely that Truman's financial status played a role in the law's enactment. The one other living former president at the time, Herbert Hoover, also took the pension, even though he did not need the money; reportedly, he did so to avoid embarrassing Truman. Hoover may have been remembering an old favor: Shortly after becoming President, Truman had invited Hoover to the White House for an informal chat about conditions in Europe. This was Hoover's first visit to the White House since leaving office, as the Roosevelt administration had shunned Hoover. The two remained good friends for the remainder of their lives.
Later life and death
In 1956, Truman took a trip to Europe with his wife, and was a sensation. In Britain he received an honorary degree in Civic Law from Oxford University, an event that moved him to tears. 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.
Upon turning 80, Truman was feted in Washington and asked to address the United States Senate, as part of a new rule that allowed former presidents to be granted privilege of the floor. Truman was so emotionally overcome by the honor and by his reception that he was barely able to deliver his speech. He also campaigned for senatorial candidates. A bad fall in the bathroom of his home in late 1964 severely limited his physical capabilities, and he was unable to maintain his daily presence at his presidential library. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill at the Truman Library and gave the first two Medicare cards to Truman and his wife Bess to honor his fight for government health care as president.
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 at 7:50 a.m. on December 26 at the age of 88. Bess Truman died nearly ten years later, on October 18, 1982. He and Bess are buried at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Bess Truman opted for a simple private service at the library for her husband because of her advanced age and frail health, though a state funeral in Washington had been planned. Foreign dignitaries, instead, attended a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral a week later.
When he left office in 1953, Truman was one of the most unpopular chief executives in history. His job approval rating of 22 percent in the Gallup Poll of February 1952 was lower than Richard Nixon's was in August 1974 at 24 percent, the month that Nixon resigned. American public feeling toward Truman grew steadily warmer with the passing years, however, and the period shortly after his death consolidated a partial rehabilitation among both historians and members of the general public. As early as 1962, a poll of 75 distinguished historians conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. ranked Truman among the "near great" presidents. Since leaving office, Truman has fared well in polls ranking the presidents among Americans. He has never been listed lower than ninth, and most recently was fifth in a C-SPAN poll in 2009.
He has also had his critics. After a review of information available to Truman on the presence of espionage activities in the U.S. government, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded that Truman was "almost willfully obtuse" concerning the danger of American communism. As early as the late 1960s, revisionist historians began attacking Truman. Today, the consensus among historians is that "Harry Truman remains a controversial president."
Truman died during a time when the nation was consumed with crises in Vietnam and Watergate, and his death brought a new wave of attention to his political career. In the early and mid-1970s, Truman captured the popular imagination much as he had in 1948, this time emerging as a kind of political folk hero, a president who was thought to exemplify an integrity and accountability many observers felt was lacking in the Nixon White House. Truman has been portrayed on screen many times, several in performances that have won wide acclaim, and the pop band Chicago recorded a nostalgic song, "Harry Truman" (1975).
Due to Truman's critical role in the US government's decision to recognize Israel, the Israeli village of Beit Harel was renamed Kfar Truman.
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)
Ironically, in view of Truman's attempt to curtail the naval carrier arm, which led to the 1949 Revolt of the Admirals, the navy decided to name an aircraft carrier after him. The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) was christened on September 7, 1996. The ship, sometimes known as the 'HST', was authorized as USS United States, the same as the carrier that Truman had cancelled in 1949, but her name was changed before the keel laying.
The Truman Scholarship, a federal program that seeks to honor U.S. college students who exemplified dedication to public service and leadership in public policy, was created in 1975. The President Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering, a distinguished postdoctoral three-year appointment at Sandia National Laboratories was created in 2004. The University of Missouri established the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs to advance the study and practice of governance. The university's Missouri Tigers athletics programs have an official mascot named Truman the Tiger. To mark its transformation from a regional state teachers' college to a highly selective liberal arts university and to honor the only Missourian to become president, Northeast Missouri State University became Truman State University on July 1, 1996. A member institution of the City Colleges of Chicago, Harry S Truman College in Chicago, Illinois is named in honor of the president for his dedication to public colleges and universities. The headquarters for the United States Department of State, built in the 1930s but never officially named, was dedicated as the Harry S Truman Building in 2000.
In 1991, Truman was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians, and a bronze bust depicting him is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol. Thomas Daniel, grandson of the Trumans accepted a star on the Missouri Walk of Fame in 2006 to honor his late grandfather. John Truman, Truman's nephew, would accept a star for Bess Truman in 2007. The Walk of Fame is in Marshfield, Missouri, a city Truman visited in 1948.
- Harry S. Truman National Historic Site includes the Wallace House at 219 Delaware in Independence and the family farmhouse at Grandview, Missouri (Truman sold most of the farm for Kansas City suburban development including the Truman Corners Shopping Center).
- Harry S. Truman Birthplace State Historic Site is the house where Truman was born and spent 11 months in Lamar, Missouri.
- Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum—The Presidential Library in Independence
- Harry S. Truman Little White House—Truman's winter getaway at Key West, Florida