November 20, 2010

Harry Truman.

33rd President of the United States of America
1884 - 1872

Harry S Truman was the 34th Vice President of the US until April 12, 1945 when he succeeded to the presidency after Franklin D. Roosevelt died less than three months into his historic fourth term in office.

Harry Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri to John Truman, a farmer and livestock dealer, and his wife Martha Young Truman. The young Harry was interested mainly in music, reading, and history and maintained a close relationship with his mother. He served as an officer in World War I and as battery commander of an artillery regiment in France. Upon returning from war he married Elizabeth (Bess) Wallace on June 28, 1919. The couple would have one child, a daughter, Mary Margaret.

Truman operated a haberdashery in Kansas City that went bankrupt during the recession of 1921; he managed to pay off the debt by 1934 shortly before entering the US Senate. From 1922 to 1924 he served as judge of the County Court of eastern Jackson County and in 1926 was elected presiding judge for the court, a position for which he was re-elected in 1930.

With the backing of Tom Pendergast he won the 1934 US Senate seat for Missouri. In 1940 Truman won in the Democratic primary for the Senate by 8000 votes. In September of that year he was elected Grand Master of the Missouri Grand Lodge of Freemasonry, a win that he would later say assisted his win in the general election. He gained national visibility by fighting waste and corruption in World War II through the 'Truman Committee', an effort that would culminate in many billions of dollars worth of savings for America and much attention for Truman.

In 1944 Truman was chosen as Franklin Roosevelt's running mate, though he has always maintained he was reluctant to pursue the position of Vice President. Roosevelt-Truman scored a 432-99 electoral-vote victory in the 1944 Presidential election. Truman was sworn in on January 20, 1945 but he would serve less than three months as Vice President.

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. Offering his consolation to the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?" Mrs. Roosevelt responded, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now." (From 'Eleanor & Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S Truman')

The official White House biography of Harry Truman notes that "as President, Truman made some of the most crucial decisions in history". Shortly after he assumed office - just a few weeks later, in fact - the Allies realized victory in Europe on his 61st birthday. In August 1945 Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons against Japan after the Japanese turned down the Potsdam Declaration. On August 6, 1945 the US B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped atomic bomb Little Boy on Hiroshima. On August 9, 1945 the US B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped atomic bomb Fat Man on Nagasaki. The Japanese agreed to surrender on August 14 and Eleanor Roosevelt noted that Truman had "made the only decision he could". The White House biography states that "In June 1945 Truman witnessed the signing of the charter of the United Nations, hopefully established to preserve peace."

Truman strongly supported creation of the United Nations and instituted the 'Marshall Plan' which was designed to assist with the rebuilding of post-war Europe. He also signed the National Security Act of 1947 which, among other things, created the CIA and the National Security Council. On May 14, 1948 Truman recognized the State of Israel, eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.

During the 1948 presidential election, Truman strongly backed civil rights and issued Executive Order 9981 which racially integrated the US Armed Services. He then embarked on a 'whistlestop' campaign tour, criss-crossing the country on a train from the rear platform of which he'd deliver brief speeches at every stop. He opened the election with only a 36% approval rating but final tally showed him with 303 electoral votes while nearest rival Dewey held only 189.

Truman's second term in office saw him announce the detonation of the first US hydrogen bomb on January 7, 1953, offer strong support to NATO, and intervene in the Chinese Civil War in June of 1950. The August 1948 statement of Whittaker Chambers (former Soviet spy and senior Time editor) that there had been an underground communist movement in the US government gave rise to Joseph McCarthy and his attack on the Truman administration's credibility. Truman disliked McCarthy and countered by stating that McCarthy's organization was "trying to create fear and suspicion among us by the use of slander, unproved accusations and just plain lies."

On June 25, 1950 the North Korean People's Army invaded South Korea, precipitating the Korean War. Truman urged the United Nations to intervene and, when the hastily-deployed American troops proved to be few and under-equipped, decided on a roll-back policy; that is, conquest of North Korea. Early victories led to an unfortunate stalemate at the 38th parallel, essentially where the war had begun. General MacArthur wanted to attack Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu but Truman rejected the plan and, when it later leaked to the press, fired MacArthur. The least politically popular move of his career would prove to be the firing of MacArthur. Truman's approval rating plummeted and he endured impeachment calls. The Korean War remained in stalemate for two years until a peace agreement ended the conflict and restored borders.

In 1948 Truman had ordered a controversial addition to the White House: a balcony known as the 'Truman Balcony' which quickly proved the only stable part of a deteriorating House. The White House partially collapsed and was closed for extensive interior renovations from 1948 to 1952 with only the newer West Wing remaining open. Truman and his family moved across the street into Blair House and he walked to work each day. On November 1, 1950 Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman at Blair House. A mortally wounded White House policeman, Leslie Coffelt, killed one of the nationalists before dying himself.

The Truman administration continued to be dogged by accusations of Soviet infiltration and bribery scandals among senior officials. Truman decided not to run for a third term - being that he was the president in power when the 22nd Amendment (making a president ineligible for election a third time) was ratified in 1951 he was still eligible - and instead retired to Independence, Missouri.

~ this history lesson was brought to you by 'We Didn't Start The Fire', Billy Joel, and the letters U, S, and A. ~


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