The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third president, was raised and educated in Independence, Missouri, where he worked as a store clerk and a farmer. When America entered World War I, Truman enlisted in the National Guard and commanded a regimental battery in France. He returned home and opened an unsuccessful haberdashery shop with a close friend from the service.

In 1922, Truman, with the help of Boss Tom Pendergast's Kansas City Democratic machine, won election as judge of the county court (a position similar to county commissioner) and although he failed to win re-election in 1924, voters returned him to office in 1926 and 1930 because of his diligent support for local public works projects. In 1934, the Pendergast machine tapped Truman to run for the U.S. Senate, and he ran a vigorous campaign as an ardent New Dealer. As a senator, Truman supported FDR on most issues and developed expertise in transportation issues. Yet he faced serious problems as he prepared for re-election: Pendergast was in jail, his machine had unraveled, and Governor Tom Clark had announced he wanted Truman's seat. Truman won by assembling an urban coalition of blacks, unions, and Clark's political rivals. He began his second term chairing the Truman Committee investigating business and labor fraud in the defense industry. In 1944, FDR, in a move designed to deflect criticism from party leaders, picked Truman as his vice-presidential running mate. Truman was barely installed as vice president when FDR died on April 12, 1945, elevating him to the presidency.

As president, Truman oversaw the end of World War II, attended the Allied conference in Potsdam, and decided to use nuclear weapons against Japan. An avid cold warrior who agreed more with Churchill than FDR, Truman's administration articulated an increasingly hard line against the Soviets by announcing the Truman Doctrine and urging the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, recognizing that more than military containment was needed to fight communist expansion, Truman supported the creation of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Marshall Plan. At home, he struggled to develop consistent wage, price, and rent control policies and promoted loyalty oaths and background checks of federal employees. As the 1948 election approached, Truman reinforced his New Deal credentials, advocating a "Fair Deal" that included universal health insurance, farm price supports, public housing proposals, modest civil rights legislation, and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. While few thought Truman would be re-elected, he campaigned furiously and defeated Thomas Dewey in a four-candidate race to win one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history.

Shortly after Truman's inauguration, Mao Zedung's victory in China redirected national attention to foreign affairs. By 1950, war erupted in Korea, Alger Hiss was accused of treason, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of treason, Senator Joseph McCarthy had publicly accused the State Department of being riddled with communists, and General Douglas MacArthur challenged Truman's decisions. At the same time, Congress rejected the Fair Deal. By 1952, inflation had exacerbated domestic economic problems, the public had tired of the war in Korea, and much of Truman's support had eroded. He declined to run for re-election and retired to Independence.

Truman remained a strong political voice, editing his memoirs, campaigning for liberal Democrats, attacking "egg-head" liberals who seemed more interested in positions than policy, and occasionally commenting on public policy issues. He died at home in Independence on December 26, 1972.

Source: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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