Harry S. Truman

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Harry S. Truman

The 33rd President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), upon being sworn in as FDR’s vice-president, was told by his mother, “Now you behave yourself.”

Like every other president since George Washington, Truman was, warts and all, a character. A highly controversial 1974 book, Plain Speaking, by Merle Miller (1919-1986) has Truman recounting a number of fascinating stories about his life.

One in particular recounts his problems with General Douglas MacArthur (Old soldiers never die, they just fade away!). It seems that MacArthur had a very high opinion of himself and treated Truman as a small town hick from Missouri. He also disregarded several orders from Truman which included talking to the press out of turn and trying to provoke a full scale war with Red China.

Truman finally fired MacArthur and the before and after repercussions have been extensively documented elsewhere. Truman commented that he fired MacArthur for insubordination, not because he was a dumb [son of a gun, censorship of the other word Truman used instead of gun because this is a family newspaper]. He also stated that if generals were jailed for stupidity, three quarters of them would already be there.

Truman’s daughter Margaret published her own biography, simply titled Harry S. Truman, in 1973 and provides some hilarious details of her parents later years in Independence, Missouri. One tells of Truman’s own laziness about mowing the lawn, instead wanting to hire a neighborhood kid, against the opposition of his wife Bess, who could be just as stubborn.

One Sunday morning, Truman told his wife he was going to mow the lawn. Bess quickly realized that people would be driving by their house on the way to church and would see the former president of the United States mowing his lawn on the Sabbath Day instead of going to church. She decided to hire a neighborhood boy.

When Truman was vice-president for a few short months, he rarely saw Roosevelt. However, a photo was taken of them having lunch at the White House; Truman later commented that Roosevelt was already showing signs of his failing health and that, when the latter lifted the cup of coffee to his mouth, he kept spilling it due to his shaking hands.

FDR kept Truman in the dark about a lot of national security issues, including the Manhattan Project, at Los Alamos, New Mexico, but Truman made the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, believing that it would force Japan to surrender a whole lot sooner than otherwise.

At the 1944 Democrat Convention, Roosevelt’s decision to replace vice-president Henry Wallace with Harry Truman became known as the Second Missouri Compromise.


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