It was late afternoon of a
warm spring day. Vice-President Harry S. Truman had just
finished listening to a Senate debate. He was given a telephone
message, asking him to get to the White House as soon as
possible. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died at Warm
Springs, Georgia. That evening, April 12, 1945, at 7:09 P.M.,
Harry S. Truman took the oath of office as the 33rd president
of the United States.
The end of World War II was in sight, but American forces were still fighting
in Europe and the Pacific. The people at home were supplying the needs of their
own fighting men and helping their Allies at a total cost of nearly 90 billion
dollars a year. An atomic bomb had been developed. It was the most powerful weapon
the world had ever known. President Truman knew that he must decide whether or
not to use the bomb in the war with Japan.
Victory and peace brought their problems too: the new Administration faced questions
of how to deal with the defeated nations and how to help newly freed peoples.
They had to share in planning a world organization of nations to enforce peace.
On the home front there was the gigantic task of re-establishing the nation's
Harry S. Truman, the man who was to guide the United States through this critical
period, was born May 8, 1884, at Lamar, Missouri. He was the son of John Anderson
Truman, a cattle trader, and Martha Young Truman. Shortly after Harry's birth,
the Truman family moved to nearby Independence, Missouri, not far from Kansas
City. There Harry attended grade school and high school.
After graduation from high school Harry tried for an appointment to West Point
but was rejected because of poor eyesight. Having no money to pay his way through
college, he took a job in a Kansas City drugstore. At the same time he joined
the Missouri National Guard.
After a brief stay in the drugstore, Truman became a clerk at the Kansas City
Star. He then tried working as a timekeeper for a railroad construction gang
and a clerk in a Kansas City bank. Five years after he had left high school,
Truman was tired of city life. He returned to his father's farm and worked there
for the next ten years.
Truman was still a farmer when the United States entered World War I. As a member
of the Missouri National Guard, he was called for a short period of training
at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla. He went overseas as a Captain
with the 35th Division and commanded Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery in
the St-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. After the war, he was commissioned
a Major in the Field Artillery Reserve.
On June 28, 1919, Truman married Bess Wallace of Independence. They had been
childhood sweethearts. A daughter, Mary Margaret, was born to the Trumans on
Feb. 17, 1924. After his marriage, Truman invested all his savings into a Kansas
City haberdashery. The business was successful for two years, then failed during
the depression in 1922. Truman and his business partner, Eddie Jacobson, faithfully
repaid their creditors, though it took them the next 12 years to do so.
At the Democratic National Convention in June, 1944, a lively contest developed
between several candidates for the Vice-Presidential nomination. Most conspicuous
were Henry Wallace, who had the support of the radical wing of the Democratic
Party, and James Byrnes, who represented the Conservative wing. Naming Truman
as the compromise candidate broke the deadlock. Truman at first flatly refused
to take the nomination because he wanted to remain in the Senate. However, Roosevelt
was insistent, and Truman finally agreed. As vice-president, Truman had little
to do with shaping America's policies at home or abroad. Roosevelt seldom consulted
with him. As a result, when Roosevelt suddenly died, Truman, as President, faced
many problems. Presidential aides and others did their best to help him, and
Truman learned quickly.
Two weeks after he became President, Truman learned of the top-secret project
to develop an atomic bomb. On July 16, 1945, he was told a successful atom bomb
test had been made at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Truman consulted with his aides
to decide whether the bomb should be used against Japan. An invasion of Japan
was being planned and they estimated that if the bomb worked, it would save a
quarter of a million American lives. Truman suggested that the United States
warn Japan that, if it did not surrender, the bomb would be used. They did so,
but Japan refused to yield. On August 6, 1945, the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima,
shattering three fifths of the city. On August 10, Japan sued for peace.
The election of November 2, 1948, was the most dramatic political upset in the
nation's history. Truman was the first Democratic president to be elected without
the "solid South." He won 28 states and 303 Electoral votes. The Democrats
also won control of Congress.
On June 25, 1950, war broke out in Korea. This was a great personal blow to President
Truman. He had often said he wanted more than anything else to be regarded by
Historians as a President who brought peace to the world. Truman ordered the
United States military forces to support the United Nations "police action" in
Korea. On December 16 he declared a state of national emergency to help prepare
the United States for a possible "all-out" war with Communism.
In the midst of these problems an amendment was added to the Constitution — the
22nd ammendment which limited a President to two full terms or to a total of
ten years if he had served part of an unexpired term. The amendment was passed
in 1947 by a Republican Congress, mostly as a reaction against Franklin D. Roosevelt's
four Presidential election victories. It has been argued that this controversial
amendment served to weaken a President's effectiveness during the second term,
because the incumbent cannot run for reelection.
Between 1948 and 1952 the White House was completely reconstructed. During most
of this period the Truman family lived at Blair House, across the street from
the Executive Mansion. It was while the Trumans were living there that an attempt
was made to assassinate the president by two Puerto Rican terrorists, Oscar Collazo
and Greselio Torresola. On Nov. 1, 1950, President Truman was upstairs taking
an afternoon nap when the two-armed men ran up the steps to the front door of
Blair House. Armed White House police rushed to stop them, firing as they ran.
In a few moments Torresola lay dead and Collazo was severely wounded. Two police
officers were wounded; a third, Leslie Coffelt, was killed.
President Truman took the attempt on his life calmly, keeping all the rest of
his scheduled appointments that day and going for his customary early-morning
walk the following day. He was familiar with the fact that Lincoln, Garfield,
and McKinley were murdered while in office and that assassins had tried to kill
Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. "A President has to
expect such things," Truman said. His would-be assassins were members of
the Puerto Rican revolutionary Nationalist party determined to obtain Puerto
Rican independence. Collazo was convicted of murdering Coffelt and sentenced
to die in the electric chair. Truman later commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
The President had previously assured the Puerto Rican people they were free to
work out their own political future. President Truman refused to seek reelection
in 1952, and the Democratic nomination went to Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of
Illinois. The candidate for the Republican Party was General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was inaugurated President on January 20, 1953, and Harry Truman retired
to his home in Independence, Missouri. When he left office, Truman said, "I
have had a career from precinct to president, and I'm proud of that career." Friends
raised funds to build the Harry S. Truman Library at Independence. After his
death on Dec. 26, 1972, Harry Truman was buried in the courtyard of the library.
His memoirs appeared in 1955-56. In 1959 his birthplace at Lamar was dedicated
as a Missouri State shrine. In 1965 the Medicare act -- government health insurance
for the aged, first sponsored by Truman in 1945 — was signed in the Truman