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Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman

President Truman in November 1945
Order:33rd President
Term of Office:April 12, 1945 - January 20, 1953
Followed:Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Succeeded by:Dwight D. Eisenhower
Date of BirthTuesday, May 8, 1884
Place of Birth:Lamar, Missouri
Date of Death:Tuesday, December 26, 1972
Place of Death:Kansas City, Missouri
First Lady:Elizabeth "Bess" Virginia Wallace[?]
Profession:farmer
Political Party:Democrat
Vice President:Alben W. Barkley (1949-1953)

Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 - December 26, 1972) was the 33rd (1945-1953) President of the United States. Truman's presidency was very eventful, seeing the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, the formation of the United Nations, and most of the Korean War. Truman was a notoriously folksy president, issuing many famous phrases including "the buck stops here".

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Early Life

Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri. When Truman was six years old, his parents moved the family to Independence, Missouri, and it was there that Truman would spend the bulk of his formative years. After graduating from high school in 1901, Truman worked at a series of clerical jobs before he decided to become a farmer in 1906, an occupation in which he remained for another ten years.

With the onset of American participation in World War I, Truman enlisted in the National Guard, was chosen to be an officer, and then commanded a regimental battery in France. At the war's conclusion, Truman returned to Independence and married his long-time love interest, Bess Wallace[?], and they would have one child, Margaret, shortly thereafter. Some claim that he was for a short time a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but this has not been verified.

Political Career

In 1922 Truman was elected to local office with the help of the Kansas City Democratic machine, led by Boss Tom Pendergast, and, although he was defeated for re-election in 1924, he easily won in 1926 and then again in 1930. Truman performed his duties in this office diligently, and won personal acclaim for several popular public works projects. In 1934 the Pendergast machine selected him to run for Missouri's open Senate seat, and he ran as a New Dealer in support of President Roosevelt. Once elected, Truman supported the president on most issues and became a popular member of the Senate "club."

Having always taken a keen interest in foreign affairs, Truman first gained national prominence in his second term when his preparedness committee made a scandal of military wastefulness by exposing fraud and mismanagement. His advocacy of common-sense cost-saving measures for the military gained him wide respect, and he emerged as a popular choice for the vice-presidential slot in 1944. Yet he was barely installed as vice president when FDR died on April 12, 1945, elevating him to the presidency.

Presidency

When Truman first took office, he was initially preoccupied with foreign policy: the Allied conference in Potsdam, the conclusion of the war in Europe, and then in August, with the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Realizing that the interests of the Soviet Union were quickly becoming incompatible with the interests of the United States in the absence of a common enemy, Truman's administration articulated an increasingly hard line against the Soviets. Nonetheless, as a Wilsonian internationalist Truman strongly supported the creation of the United Nations, and he sent a distinguished American delegation to the UN's first General Assembly that included former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Although some people were distrustful of his expertise on foreign matters, Truman was able to win broad support for the Marshall Plan, and then for the Truman Doctrine which sought to contain Soviet power in Europe. Truman also issued the executive order integrating the U.S. Armed Services following World War II.

As he readied for the approaching 1948 election, Truman made clear his identity as a Democrat in the New Deal tradition, advocating universal health insurance, modest civil rights legislation, and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act in a broad legislative program that he called the "Fair Deal[?]." While it was widely expected that Truman would lose, he campaigned furiously and managed to pull off one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history by defeating Thomas E. Dewey and earning a term in the White House in his own right.

Shortly after Truman's inauguration, he presented his Fair Deal program to Congress, but it was not well received and only one of its major bills was enacted. A few months later the nation's attention was focused solidly on foreign policy once again with the "fall of China" to Mao Zedong's communists. The incident would prove to be catastrophic for the administration, because it signaled the end of the Democrats' ability to manage the early Cold War in the eyes of the American public. Within a year of Nationalist China's collapse, Alger Hiss had been exposed as a former communist, North Korea had invaded South Korea, and Senator Joseph McCarthy had publicly accused the State Department of being riddled with communists. The Hiss case damaged the Truman White House and Senator McCarthy initially commanded broad public support, but events at home took a backseat to the war in Korea where the vain and brilliant Douglas MacArthur had won the imagination of the American people. MacArthur advocated extending the war into China, but when Truman disagreed with him MacArthur publicly aired his views and the president retaliated by relieving him from command. It was a deeply unpopular action that seriously wounded Truman's credibility with the American people. His unpopularity grew even more pronounced as the military situation in Korea became increasingly stalemated. On January 7, 1953 Truman announced the development of the hydrogen bomb. Realizing that in all probability he could not be reelected, Truman declined to run and instead retired to Independence in January of 1953.

Unlike other presidents, Truman however did not live in the White House. Structural analysis of the building early in his term had shown the White House to be in immediate danger of collapse, partly due to problems with the walls and foundation that dated back to the burning of the building by the British in the early nineteenth century. The President was moved immediately to Blair House nearby, which became his White House, while the White House was systematically dismantled to the foundations and rebuilt, using concrete and steel, with the interior re-inserted over the new floors and walls. A new balcony was inserted on the curved portico, now known as the Truman Balcony.

Post-presidency

Truman's active years were hardly behind him, however. He would live until 1972, during which time he wrote his memoirs, remained active in politics, and occasionally commented on political and public policy issues. By the time of his death in December of 1972, Truman's presidential image had been significantly rehabilitated by the longer view of history and he had come to be regarded as a genuinely great American president.

Truman's Middle Initial

Truman did not have a middle name, but only a middle initial. It was a common practice in southern states, including Missouri, to use initials rather than names. Truman said the initial was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. He once joked that the S was a name, not an initial, and it should not have a period, but all official documents, and his presidential library all use the name with a period. [1] (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/speriod.htm)

Supreme Court appointments

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References

Much of this article (as of this writing on January 25, 2003) was copied from the National Parks Service: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/elro/glossary/truman-harry.htm), material from which is in the public domain. The original authors of the article cite the following references:

  • American National Biography. Vol. 21. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 857-863.
  • Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 51-85.
  • Graff, Henry F., ed. The Presidents: A Reference History. 2nd ed. New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1996, 443-458.
  • Lash, Joseph. Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, 23, 36-37, 142-145, 210, 214, 296.
Preceded by:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Presidents of the United States Succeeded by:
Dwight D. Eisenhower



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