Harry Truman: Biography
President Harry S. Truman led the U.S. through the end of one war and the beginning of another. He showed courage and tenacity as he went from a poor Missouri farm boy to president.
“Give ‘em hell, Harry!” “The buck stops here!” These and other sayings typify Harry S. Truman, the 32nd president of the United States. He was a man who decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, fire Gen. Douglas Macarthur from leading the Korean War, and form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. No matter what he did, Truman did not like to back down from conflict.
Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri, to John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young Truman. The family lived in Cass County, then a family farm in Grandview. The family moved in 1890 to Independence, Missouri, which is considered Truman’s hometown.
After graduating from high school in 1901, Truman worked for the railroad and a Kansas City newspaper, among other places, because of family financial problems. He briefly attended Spaulding Community College in Kansas City, but had to quit to work.
In 1905, Truman joined the Missouri National Guard. He left a corporal in 1911. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Truman rejoined the military. He helped form an artillery regiment, and he was promoted to captain while serving in France. After the war, he served in the reserves, rising to the rank of colonel. Truman also married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919. He worked as a haberdasher, but later left that profession because of financial pressures during the recession of 1922. He refused to file bankruptcy and spent the next 15 years repaying his creditors, according to one source. He ran for judge of Jackson County, which he won. The job entailed administrative as well as judicial duties. However, he lost re-election, so he decided to attend the Kansas City Law School. He ran again in 1926 and won. He loved politics, and he later was asked to run for United States senator in 1934. Truman won again in 1940. In 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Truman rose in national prominence when he served as chairman of a special Senate committee to investigate the National Defense Program, which was accused of corruption. At the Democratic convention in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to drop Vice President Henry Wallace from the ticket. Truman was selected as the running mate for Roosevelt, who ultimately won an unprecedented fourth term as president.
Truman’s term as vice president lasted only 82 days, as Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Truman was immediately sworn in as the 32nd President of the United States. With the war coming to an end in Europe and grinding along in the Pacific, Truman inherited an unenviable situation. After Germany surrendered, and with an invasion of Japan imminent, Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. After attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the empire of Japan surrendered, finally ending World War II.
After the war, reconstruction, both foreign and domestic, dominated Truman’s time. For instance, Truman in 1947 decided to aid Mediterranean countries that were in danger of falling under Soviet domination. This philosophy became known as “The Truman Doctrine.” The aid was expanded into the rest of Europe in what became known as “The Marshall Plan,” after Gen. George C. Marshall. Truman won an election in his own right in 1948 over Republican Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York. His second term would be a most difficult one, as North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, thrusting the United States in another war. In April 1951, Truman decided to fire Gen. Douglas Macarthur from command of the U.S. and United Nations forces in the Far East. This came after Macarthur disagreed with and disobeyed Truman’s policy of containing the conflict with communists to the Korean peninsula. Macarthur was immensely popular in the United States, and Truman suffered intense criticism for the decision.
After leaving office in 1953, Truman spent the remainder of his life in Independence, Missouri, where he wrote and tried to influence politics. He died on Dec. 26, 1972, at the age of 88.