Harry S. Truman: A Presidential Biography
A short biography of our nation's 33rd President, Harry S. Truman. Called a "common" man, he was an uncommon leader.
On the day following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman is said to have told reporters, "When they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."
The nation, too, was stunned. Roosevelt--aristocratic, fatherly, and seemingly immortal--was gone. In his place stood Harry Truman, a plain-talking, small business man turned politician. He had a Missouri twang, a corny brand of humor, and an irrepressible grin. After the dramatic FDR, it was difficult to realize that Truman was exactly as he appeared at first glance: a typical American who didn't pretend to be anything else. One of his nicknames was "Mr. Average."
But if Truman represented the typical American, he certainly was not the typical president. Never before had there been anyone quite like Harry in the White House. Truman believed he and the presidency were separate entities. "Some men...get to thinking they are the power rather than the instrument of power," he said.
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, in 1884. He grew up in Independence and for twelve years prospered as a farmer. He went to France in World War I as a captain in the Field Artillery. Upon his return, he married Elizabeth Virginia Wallace and opened a haberdashery in Kansas City.
Active in the democratic party, Truman was first a judge, then a senator. During World War II, he headed the Senate war investigating committee, checking into waste and corruption. His biographers note his effects saved perhaps as much as 15 billion dollars.
One in the office of President, Truman made some of the most crucial decisions in American history. Very soon after V-E Day, the war against Japan had reached its final stage. Pleas to Japan to surrender were rejected. Truman, in consultation with is advisors, ordered atomic bombs dropped on cities devoted to war work. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed and the Japanese surrender quickly followed.
Although Truman had followed some of his predecessor's policies, he also developed a few of his own. He presented to Congress a twenty-one point program proposing the expansion of Social Security, a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act and a public housing and slum clearance. It became known as the Fair Deal.
Despite a three-way split in the Democratic party, and practically unanimous predictions for his defeat, Truman won
an astounding victory over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election. His win proved another point: people really liked Truman.
Other foreign affairs required much of Truman's time. When the Russians blockaded the western sectors of Berlin in 1948, Truman created a massive airlift to supply Berliners until the Russians backed down. Meanwhile, he was negotiating a military alliance to protect Western nations, NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, established in 1949.
Truman again faced troubles abroad when Communist North Korea attacked South Korea. A long struggle ensued as U.N. forces held a line above the old boundary of South Korea. Truman kept the war a limited one, rather than risk a major conflict with China and perhaps Russia.
Deciding not to run again, Truman retired to Missouri at age 88. He died in December of 1972.