Truman

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Truman








Harry S. Truman.

”Early Life Harry S. Truman, the oldest of three children born to Martha Ellen Young Truman
and John Anderson Truman, was born in his family’s small frame house in Lamar, Missouri, in
1884. Truman had no middle name; his parents apparently gave him the middle initial S.
because two family relatives names started with that letter.
When Truman was six years old, his family moved to Independence, Missouri, where he
attended the Presbyterian Church Sunday school. There he met five-year-old Elizabeth
Virginia (“Bess”) Wallace, with whom he was later to fall in love. Truman did not begin regular
school until he was eight, and by then he was wearing thick glasses to correct extreme
nearsightedness. His poor eyesight did not interfere with his two interests, music and reading.
He got up each day at 5 AM to practice the piano, and until he was 15, he went to the local
music teacher twice a week. He read four or five histories or biographies a week and acquired
an exhaustive knowledge of great military battles and of the lives of the world’s greatest
leaders.
Early Career
In 1901, when Truman graduated from high school, his future was uncertain. College had been
ruled out by his family’s financial situation, and appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point was eliminated by his poor eyesight. He began work as a timekeeper for the Santa
Fe Railroad at $35 per month, and in his spare time he read histories and encyclopedias. He
later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as a mail clerk for the Kansas City Star, then as
a clerk for the National Bank of Commerce, and finally as a bookkeeper for the Union National
Bank. In 1906 he was called home to help his parents run the large farm of Mrs. Truman’s
widowed mother in Grandview, Missouri.
For the next ten years, Truman was a successful farmer. He joined Mike Pendergast’s Kansas
City Tenth Ward Democratic Club, the local Democratic Party organization, and on his father’s
death in 1914 he succeeded him as road overseer. An argument soon ended the job, but
Truman became the Grandview postmaster. In 1915 he invested in lead mines in Missouri, lost
his money, and then turned to the oil fields of Oklahoma. Two years later, just before the
United States entered World War I, he sold his share in the oil business and enlisted in the
U.S. Army. He trained at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but returned to Missouri to help recruit others. He
was elected first lieutenant by the men of Missouri’s Second Field Artillery.
World War I
World War I began in 1914 as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
Though U.S. President Woodrow Wilson tried to remain neutral, the United States was drawn
into the war in April 1917.
Truman sailed for France on March 30, 1918, and as a recently promoted captain was given
command of Battery D, a rowdy and unmanageable group known as the Dizzy D. Truman
succeeded in taming his unit, and the Dizzy D distinguished itself in the battles of Saint-Mihiel
and Argonne. In April 1919 Truman, then a major, returned home, and on June 28 he married
Bess Wallace.
The following November, Truman and Eddie Jacobson opened a men’s clothing store in
Kansas City. With the Dizzy D veterans as customers the store did a booming business, but in
1920, farm prices fell sharply and the business failed. In the winter of 1922 the store finally
closed, but Truman refused to declare bankruptcy and eventually repaid his debts.
Entrance Into Politics
Truman turned to the Pendergasts for help. Jim Pendergast, Mike’s son, persuaded his father
to give Truman permission to enter a four-way Democratic primary for an eastern Jackson
County judgeship, which was actually a job to supervise county roads and buildings. Mike
refused to support Truman. In addition, one of the other candidates was supported by the Ku
Klux Klan. Truman was advised to join the Klan, but he objected to its discriminatory policies
against blacks, Jews, and Roman Catholics. Nonetheless, by campaigning on his war record
and Missouri background, Truman won the primary and in the general election. In January
1923 he was sworn into his first public office. A year later the Trumans’ only child, Mary
Margaret, was born.
United States Senator
After a long, hard battle, Truman soundly defeated his Republican opponent. On January 3,
1935, Truman was sworn in as the junior senator from Missouri.
Truman’s common sense and knowledge of government and history impressed two of the
Senate’s most influential men. One was vice president John Nance Garner, and the other was
Arthur H. Vandenberg, Republican senator from Michigan. With their aid, Truman was named
to two important committees, the Appropriations Committee and the Interstate Commerce
Committee. Truman also joined the subcommittee on railroads, becoming vice-chairman and,
later, acting chairman. Despite pressures from powerful railroad companies, including the
Missouri Pacific Railroad, he recommended major regulatory changes that were embodied in
the Transportation Act of 1940.

1940 Election
To no one’s surprise, two Missouri Democrats challenged Truman for his Senate seat in the
primary. One was Governor Lloyd Stark, whom Roosevelt supported, and the other was
Maurice Milligan, whose nomination for a second term as U.S. district attorney Truman had
opposed in the Senate. Truman began his primary fight with no political backing, no money,
and two popular reformers as opponents. He traveled the state, making speeches about his
record in short, simple language. He won the primary, and despite his Pendergast association,
mentioned frequently by his Republican opponent, he won in November. His reelection was so
unexpected that when he returned to the Senate, his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.
Second Term
In 1941 the United States government was preparing for World War II, a conflict that had
begun in Europe in 1939. The government was building army camps and issuing defense
contracts. Even before his second term began, Truman’s constituents had written him about
waste and confusion in the defense program. Truman toured the camps and defense plants
and discovered appalling conditions. Back in the new Senate he denounced the defense
program, demanded an investigation, and was named the head of the investigating committee.
The Truman Committee
During the next two years the Truman committee produced detailed reports on the defense
programs. Committee members frequently visited defense installations to substantiate the
testimony of contractors, engineers, and army and government personnel. Truman’s success
in uncovering fraud and waste led the Senate in 1942 to give the committee $100,000, an
increase of $85,000 over the first year. It was estimated that the Truman committee saved the
country $15 billion and spent only $400,000.
The committee also put Truman on the national stage. With increasing frequency, leading
Democrats mentioned Harry S. Truman as a potential 1944 vice-presidential candidate.
Vice President of the United States
Before the Democratic National Convention opened in July 1944, it was assumed that
Roosevelt would run for a fourth term, but his health became a matter of great concern to party
leaders, whose most difficult task was to name his running mate. The current vice president
was Henry A. Wallace, a strong proponent of using the federal government to regulate big
businesses, protect the civil rights of minorities, and encourage labor unions. Wallace’s liberal
views offended many of the more conservative leaders of the Democratic Party, and they
encouraged Roosevelt to find someone more appealing to mainstream voters. Among the
leading contenders were Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and Senators Alben W.
Barkley, James F. Byrnes, and Truman. Truman was nominated on the second ballot. After a
whirlwind campaign and overwhelming victory, Truman took the oath of office as vice president
on January 20, 1945.
Truman then engineered the Senate confirmation of Roosevelt’s appointment of Henry
Wallace as secretary of commerce and Federal loan administrator, attended the funeral of
Tom Pendergast despite wide criticism, and cast the tie-breaking Senate vote that ensured that
the United States would continue delivering supplies to U.S. allies after the war was over.
However, he saw very little of the president. Soon after the inauguration, Roosevelt left
Washington for the month-long Yalta Conference, where the Allies discussed military strategy
and political problems, including plans for governing Germany after the war.
When Roosevelt returned in March, he met with Truman in two short meetings. When
Roosevelt left for Warm Springs, Georgia, on March 30, Roosevelt had still not informed his
vice president about the conduct of the war or the plans for peace. Thirteen days later, Truman
was summoned to the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt told him, “Harry, the president is
dead.”
President of the United States
Wartime President
Truman’s first month in office was largely devoted to briefings by Roosevelt’s aides. He asked
the founding conference of the United Nations to meet in San Francisco on April 25, as had
been planned before Roosevelt’s death. When victory in Europe seemed certain, he insisted
on unconditional German surrender, and on May 8, 1945, his 61st birthday, he proclaimed
Victory-In-Europe Day (V-E Day).
Truman convinced the San Francisco conference delegation of the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR) that the general assembly of the new world peace organization should have
free discussions and should make recommendations to the security council. On June 26 he
addressed the final conference session, and six days later he presented the United Nations
Charter to the Senate for ratification.
From July 17 to August 2, 1945, Truman attended the Potsdam Conference in Germany,
meeting with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and
Clement Attlee, Churchill’s successor as British prime minister. The conference discussed how
to implement the decisions reached at the Yalta Conference. As presiding officer, Truman
proposed the establishment of the council of foreign ministers to aid in peace negotiations,
settlement of reparations claims, and conduct of war crimes trials. He also gained Stalin’s
promise to enter the war against Japan. In this first meeting with the other Allied leaders,
Truman confirmed his earlier favorable impression of Churchill, while he called the Soviets, in
one of his typically blunt statements, “pigheaded people.”
On July 26, Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for Japan’s unconditional
surrender and listed peace terms. He had already been informed of the successful detonation
of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico, ten days earlier. Military advisers had
told Truman that a potential loss of about 500,000 American soldiers could be avoided if the
bomb were used against Japan. When Japan rejected the ultimatum, Truman authorized use
of the bomb. On August 6, 1945, at 9:15 AM Tokyo time, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,
virtually destroying the city. The Supreme Allied Headquarters reported that 129,558 people
were killed, injured, or missing and 176,987 made homeless. Stalin sent troops into Manchuria
and Korea on August 8, and the following day a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
About one-third of the city was destroyed, and about 66,000 people were killed or injured.
Japan sued for peace on August 14. The official Japanese surrender took place on September
2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay.
Domestic Affairs
Reconversion
With the war ended, Truman turned to the problem of reconverting the country to peacetime
production without causing the inflation and unemployment that followed World War I. His
message to the Congress of the United States on September 6, 1945, requested a permanent
Fair Employment Practices Commission to aid blacks; wage, price, and rent controls to slow
inflation; extended old-age benefits; public housing; a national health insurance program; and
a higher minimum wage. His program was met with bitter opposition by congressional leaders
who felt he wanted to move too far and too fast.
Congress’s price control bill was so weak that on June 19, 1946, Truman vetoed it, saying it
gave a choice “between inflation with a statute and inflation without one.” When he finally
signed a bill the following month, prices had already risen 25 percent, and basic commodities
had risen 35 percent.
Mounting Opposition
Demobilization had proceeded smoothly, but increased prices led to strikes for higher wages,
particularly in basic industries. Truman had always been on the side of labor, but he would not
allow strikes to paralyze the nation. He used executive orders and court injunctions to end the
strikes, offending labor unions in the process.
Truman was the central figure in three controversial issues concerning the military. First, he
insisted on transferring control and development of nuclear energy from the military to the
civilian Atomic Energy Commission and on placing authority to use the bomb solely with the
president. Second, he persuaded Congress to unify the armed forces under a civilian secretary
of defense. Third, Truman ordered the armed forces of the United States desegregated after
Congress refused to do so. This decision, plus the military requirements of the Korean War,
ended most discrimination in the U.S. Army and gave black men an opportunity for economic
advancement denied them in many other areas.
Truman had at first retained Roosevelt’s Cabinet, but he soon felt uncomfortable with it. By
September 1946 only Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal remained. New Deal
supporters particularly objected to the removal of Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace,
although he had publicly criticized Truman’s foreign policy, including its increasingly hostile
attitude toward the USSR.
Congressional Election of 1946
As the congressional campaigns began, even Democrats were divorcing themselves from
Truman’s programs. By using the Democratic discontent and the issues of rising inflation,
scarcity of meat, and labor unrest, the Republicans scored a resounding victory, capturing both
houses of Congress.
In his 1947 State of the Union message, Truman requested a law to strengthen the
Department of Labor, establish a labor-management relations commission, and end
jurisdictional and secondary strikes. Instead, Congress presented him with its
Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act that greatly weakened the
position of labor unions. The act outlawed union-only workplaces; prohibited certain union
tactics like secondary boycotts; forbade unions to contribute to politica

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