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 familyís
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 worldís greatest leaders. Early

Career In 1901, when Truman graduated from high school, his future was
uncertain. College had been ruled out by his familyís 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. Trumanís widowed mother in Grandview, Missouri. For the
next ten years, Truman was a successful farmer. He joined Mike Pendergastís

Kansas City Tenth Ward Democratic Club, the local Democratic Party organization,
and on his fatherís 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 Missouriís

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 menís 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, Mikeís 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 Trumansí 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. Trumanís common sense and
knowledge of government and history impressed two of the Senateís 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 oneís 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, Trumanís 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. Trumanís 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. Wallaceís 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 Rooseveltís 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 Trumanís first month in office was largely devoted to briefings by

Rooseveltís aides. He asked the founding conference of the United Nations to
meet in San Francisco on April 25, as had been planned before Rooseveltís
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,

Churchillís 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 Stalinís 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 Japanís 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. Congressís 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 Rooseveltís 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 Trumanís 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 Trumanís 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 political campaigns; established loyalty oaths
for union leaders; and allowed court orders to halt strikes that could affect
national health or safety. Truman vetoed the bill, but on June 23, 1947, the
bill was passed over his veto. Instead of writing anti-inflation legislation,

Congress voted a tax-cut bill giving 40 percent of the relief to those with
incomes in excess of $5000. The bill became law over Trumanís veto. The
president once again failed to gather support for his employment, national
health, or social security measures. Foreign Policy Truman Doctrine Although the

United States and the USSR had been allies against Germany during the war, this
alliance began to dissolve after the end of the war, when Stalin, seeking Soviet
security, began using the Soviet Army to control much of Eastern Europe. Truman
opposed Stalinís moves. Mistrust grew as both sides broke wartime agreements.

Stalin failed to honor pledges to hold free elections in Eastern Europe. Truman
refused to honor promises to send reparations from the defeated Germany to help
rebuild the war-devastated USSR. This hostility became known as the Cold War. In

1947 British Prime Minister Attlee told Truman that a British financial crisis
was forcing Great Britain to end its aid to Greece. At the time the USSR was
demanding naval stations on the Bosporus from Turkey, and Greece was engaged in
a civil war with Communist-dominated rebels. The president proposed what was
called the Truman Doctrine, which had two objectives: to send U.S. aid to
anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey, and to create a public consensus so

Americans would be willing to fight the Cold War. Truman told Congress that"it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are
resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

Congress fulfilled his request for $250 million for Greece and $150 million for

Turkey. Marshall Plan Trumanís trip to Potsdam and reports from former

President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who headed a postwar food commission, gave
him an intimate knowledge of the problems of war-torn Europe. With General

George C. Marshall, who was now secretary of state, Truman drew up the European

Recovery Plan for the economic rehabilitation of free Europe. This act, also
known as the Marshall Plan, was designed to rebuild the European market, which
would benefit U.S. trade, and to strengthen democratic governments in Western

Europe. The United States wanted to counter the influence of the USSR, which it
was beginning to see as its main rival. The U.S. government also believed that

West Germany, the zone occupied by U.S., British, and French forces, would have
to be rebuilt and integrated into a larger Europe. After careful planning,

Marshall announced in June 1947 that if Europe devised a cooperative, long-term
rebuilding program, the United States would provide funds. When the USSR learned
that the United States insisted on Soviet cooperation with the capitalist
societies of Western Europe and an open accounting of how funds were used, the

USSR established its own plan to integrate Communist states in Eastern Europe.

Under the Marshall Plan, the United States spent more than $12.5 billion over a
four-year period. Berlin Airlift The Marshall Plan and the amazing postwar
recovery of West Germany highlighted the Soviet Unionís failure to stabilize
the economy of the zone it occupied, East Germany. To embarrass the Allies the

Soviets closed off all Allied access to the city of Berlin, which was surrounded
by Soviet-controlled East Germany but the western part of which was under Allied
control. Truman recognized that an accessible Berlin was vital for European
confidence in the United States. On June 26, 1948, he ordered a full-scale
airlift of essential products into the city that continued until May 12, 1949,
when the blockade was lifted. Israel Since his early days in the White House,

Truman supported the British Balfour Declaration of 1917, which had promised the

Jews support for a national homeland in Palestine. He sympathized with the

Jewish survivors of Nazi Germany, and in November 1947 he supported the UN plan
to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. In the face of
sustained pressure from pro-Arab delegations and from those who feared the loss
of Arabian oil, Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

Presidential Election of 1948 When Truman decided to run for a full term, he was
faced with a major split in the Democratic Party. In 1948 Truman had asked for
an end to Jim Crow laws, which maintained segregation in the South. He also
proposed laws to punish those responsible for the hanging of blacks without
trials, called lynching; laws to protect the voting rights of blacks; and a fair
employment practices commission to end job discrimination. All of these angered

Southern Democrats. When Northern Democrats inserted these positions into the

1948 Democratic Party platform, a group of Southerners led by Governor J. Strom

Thurmond of South Carolina left the party and formed the Statesí Rights

Democrats, or Dixiecrats. Henry Wallace and his supporters had also left to form
the Progressive Party, and in addition, some influential Democrats thought
victory would be possible only if the popular General Dwight D. Eisenhower could
be drafted. The prospects were dim as Truman and his running mate, Senator Alben

W. Barkley, set out on their campaign. Truman received the Democratic Party
nomination, and in his acceptance speech, he told the convention he would
reconvene Congress on July 26 to give the Republicans a chance to carry out
their partyís platform pledges. When the special session ended without passing
any important legislation, Truman had his campaign weapon. He embarked on a
cross-country whistle-stop tour, defending his record and blasting the"do-nothing Republican 80th Congress." No one knows who first shouted,

"Give íem Hell, Harry!" but the phrase became the campaign slogan of 1948.

While thousands publicly and privately conceded the election to the Republican
candidate, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Truman continued to campaign,
making as many as 16 speeches in one day. A few hours after the polls closed on

November 2, the Chicago Tribune issued an early edition with the headline DEWEY

DEFEATS TRUMAN, but when the ballots were counted, Truman beat Dewey by more
than 2 million votes. Second Term as President Foreign Affairs Trumanís
inaugural address proposed four points of action. The first was support of the

United Nations, the second was a continuation of the Marshall Plan, the third
was collective defense against Communist aggression, and the fourth was aid to
underdeveloped countries. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Trumanís third
point was developed into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a
regional defense alliance, created by the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April

4, 1949. NATOís purpose was to enhance the stability, well-being, and freedom
of its members by means of a system of collective security. The defense plan was
greeted warmly by Western Europe, which saw Stalin tighten the USSRís grip on
the countries of Eastern Europe and threaten the rest of Europe. The Senate
ratified the treaty, but only after debating it at length. Truman then placed

Eisenhower in command of the defense organization. Korea At the end of World War

II Korea was divided, and a Communist regime was established in North Korea and
an anti-Communist one in the South. Considerable civil strife in the South and
growing opposition to South Koreaís president, Syngman Rhee, persuaded the

North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, that he would be welcomed by many South

Koreans as a liberator intent on reuniting the two Koreas. At the same time, Kim
would also undermine ongoing opposition to his own regime in North Korea. A war
began on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean army, equipped mainly by the USSR,
crossed the border and invaded South Korea. The United States immediately sent
supplies to Korea and quickly broadened its commitment in the conflict. On June

27 the UN Security Council, with the Soviet Union voluntarily absent, passed a
resolution sponsored by the United States calling for military sanctions against

North Korea. Three days later, President Truman ordered U.S. troops stationed in

Japan to Korea. American forces, those of South Korea, and, ultimately, combat
contingents from 15 other nations were placed under United Nations command. The
action was unique because neither the UN, nor its predecessor, the League of

Nations, had ever used military measures to repel an aggressor. The UN forces
were commanded by the U.S. commander in chief in East Asia, General Douglas

MacArthur. Although the official policy of the United States and the United

Nations was to limit the war to Korea to prevent the entrance of the USSR, early
sucA war began on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean army, equipped mainly by
the USSR, crossed the border and invaded South Korea. The United States
immediately sent supplies to cesses persuaded Truman to move troops into North

Korea. As UN soldiers approached the Chinese border, however, China, after
several warnings to the United States, crossed into North Korea and began
driving UN forces back toward the South. In response, MacArthur publicly
requested an extension of the war into Communist China itself, but now Truman
abandoned the idea of reunifying Korea by force and returned to the original
goal of stopping the invasion of South Korea. When MacArthur then publicly
attacked this policy, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command in April 1951 and
replaced him with Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway. Until July 1953 UN forces
mostly engaged in a series of probing actions known as the active defense. Point

Four Trumanís Point Fouróaid to underdeveloped countriesóstemmed from his
belief "that we should make available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of
our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations
for a better life." Congress debated Point Four for nearly 18 months before
approving it on June 5, 1950. By offering technical and scientific aid to those
who requested it, Point Four helped reduce famine, disease, and the economic
hardships of 35 African and Asian nations by 1953. Domestic Affairs Fair Deal

Although he had a Democratic Congress, Trumanís Fair Deal domestic program
again met stiff opposition. Congress approved his public housing bill, expanded
social security coverage, increased minimum wages and passed stronger farm price
support bills, as well as flood-control, rural electrification, and public power
measures. However, the legislators rejected his request to have the Taft-Hartley

Act repealed, his plans for agricultural stabilization, for construction of the

Saint Lawrence Seaway, and for the creation of public hydroelectric companies in
the Missouri Valley and Columbia Valley. They also rejected his civil rights
proposals. However, he strengthened the civil rights section of the Justice

Department by executive orders, and he appointed blacks to a few high offices.

Cold War at Home There was also a Cold War at home. Some of Trumanís opponents
considered MacArthurís removal to be evidence that the administration was
lenient on Communism. This was despite the fact that Truman had begun
investigating applicants for government jobs in 1946; that he had led the fight
to aid Greece and Turkey when the British could no longer do so; and that Truman
had used that issue to create new security and intelligence agencies such as the

Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council. Some Republicans
nevertheless believed that Truman had not done enough. In 1948 American writer
and editor Whittaker Chambers testified before Representative Richard Nixon and
the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he had been a Communist in
the 1920s and 1930s and a courier in transmitting secret information to Soviet
agents. He charged that State Department member Alger Hiss was also a Communist,
and that he had turned classified documents over to Chambers to be sent to the

Soviet Union. Hiss denied the charges but Chambers produced microfilm copies of
documents that were later identified as classified papers belonging to the

Departments of State, Navy, and War, some apparently annotated by Hiss in his
own handwriting. The Department of Justice conducted its own investigation, and

Hiss was indicted for perjury, or lying under oath. The jury failed to reach a
verdict, but Hiss was convicted after a second trial in January 1950 (see Hiss

Case). In China the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, which had been
supported by the United States, was unable to withstand the advance of Communist
forces under Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). By the end of 1949 government troops had
been overwhelmingly defeated, and Chiang led his forces into exile on Taiwan.

The triumphant Mao formed the Peopleís Republic of China. Truman critics
charged that the administration had failed to support Chiang Kai-shek against
the Communists. Many people were also alarmed in September 1949, when Truman
announced that the USSR had developed an atomic bomb. In February 1950 Wisconsin

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charged in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that
the State Department knowingly employed 205 Communists. He later reduced the
number to 57, and after an investigation all of the charges were found to be
false. McCarthy continued to accuse other officials of Communist sympathies.

Without any evidence, he was eventually discredited, and the word McCarthyism
came to refer to accusations of subversive activities without any evidence.

These incidents and others convinced Congress to pass the Internal Security Act
of 1950, called the McCarran Act, over Trumanís veto. The act forced the
registration of all Communist organizations, allowed the government to intern

Communists during any national emergencies, and prohibited Communists from doing
any defense work. The act also prohibited the entrance into the United States of
anyone who was a member of a "totalitarian" organization. Seizure of the

Steel Mills Despite the administrationís efforts to prevent a strike that
would close the countryís steel mills, a strike date was set for early April

9, 1952. Just hours before the scheduled strike, before a nationwide radio
audience, Truman directed Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to seize the
mills to ensure their production to support the war efforts. However, on June 2,

1952, the Supreme Court of the United States in a 6 to 3 decision on Youngstown

Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer declared the seizure unconstitutional.