-Harry S. Truman, (1884-1972), became president at a critical moment in American history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Truman, a Missouri Democrat, had been vice president for only 83 days. World War II (1939-1945) still had to be won. Plans to establish the United Nations had just started.
-Childhood. Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884. He was the oldest of the three children of John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young Truman. His parents named him Harry in honor of his uncle, Harrison Young. They chose the middle initial "S." But they gave him no middle name. They intended that both his grandfathers, Solomon Young and Anderson Shippe Truman, could claim that he was named for them.
-First jobs. Truman wanted to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point. But his vision was not good enough to meet Army standards. After graduating from high school in 1901, Harry briefly attended business school in Kansas City, Missouri. He also worked for a short time in the mailing room of the Kansas City Star.
-Soldier. Truman was a member of the Missouri National Guard from 1905 to 1911. The United States entered World War I in 1917. Truman helped organize a field artillery regiment that was attached to the 35th Division. He became a lieutenant. Truman was sent to France early in 1918. There, as a captain, he commanded an artillery battery.
-Truman's family. Six weeks after he returned home, on June 28, 1919, Truman married Elizabeth "Bess" Virginia Wallace (1885-1982). The couple were childhood sweethearts. They had met at Sunday school when they were children. They had one child, Mary Margaret (1924-2008), whom they called Margaret. She was a concert soprano, actress, and broadcaster for several years. She later became an author of best-selling detective stories.
-U.S. senator. In 1934, Truman was elected to the United States Senate.
-Vice president. In 1944, many Democratic leaders believed that President Roosevelt would not live through a fourth term in the White House. They realized that the man they chose for vice president would probably succeed to the presidency.
The contest for the vice presidential nomination almost split the party. Many liberals supported Vice President Henry A. Wallace for renomination. Others favored Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Southern conservatives preferred James F. Byrnes, a former justice of the court. Roosevelt refused to name a preference. Robert E. Hannegan of St. Louis was a Truman supporter and chairman of the party's national committee. Hannegan backed Truman as a compromise candidate. Truman had a national reputation as a result of his committee investigations. He also had a good voting record as a senator. Roosevelt was willing to accept him. Byrnes withdrew. The delegates nominated Truman on the second ballot.
-First administration (1945-1949) Late in the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Truman was summoned to the White House by telephone. He was taken to Eleanor Roosevelt's study. She stepped forward to meet him. "Harry," she said quietly, "the president is dead." Truman's first words were: "Is there anything I can do for you?" Mrs. Roosevelt replied: "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."
-The end of World War II. When Truman became president, Allied armies were winning the war in Germany. They were preparing to invade Japan. Events moved swiftly. Thirteen days after Truman took office, the first United Nations conference met in San Francisco. Then, on May 7, Germany surrendered. Truman proclaimed May 8 as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). It was his 61st birthday.
-Atomic Bomb. Truman had believed the United States would have to invade Japan to get that country's leaders to surrender. He and others said dropping the bombs would help end the war more quickly. The bombing thus saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Japan agreed to end the war on August 14. It formally surrendered on September 2.
-Domestic program. Truman wanted to extend Roosevelt's "New Deal" policies. He drew up a program for reconstructing postwar America. The president presented it to Congress in September 1945. His requests included extensive authority over the economy in the conversion from wartime to peacetime. He also asked for national health insurance and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to protect minority rights. In addition, Truman proposed government aid for scientific research and public power projects on the Arkansas, Columbia, and Missouri rivers.
-The Truman Doctrine. Soon after World War II, the Cold War developed between the Soviet Union and its former allies. The Communists gained control over Eastern Europe. Truman realized that the United States would have to lead in the fight for freedom. The country would have to spend as much as necessary to strengthen its war-torn allies. In 1946, Congress approved a $3,750,000,000 loan to the United Kingdom. Then, on March 12, 1947, Truman announced a doctrine of international resistance to Communist aggression. The Truman Doctrine guaranteed American aid to free nations resisting Communist propaganda or sabotage.
-The Marshall Plan was outlined by Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1947. The Marshall Plan extended the Truman Doctrine. It proposed that the war-damaged nations of Europe join in a program of mutual aid for economic recovery. They would be assisted by grants from the United States. Communist nations rejected the plan. But 18 other countries accepted it.
-Election of 1948 seemed certain to bring victory to the Republicans. United and confident, they faced a divided Democratic Party. Every public opinion poll predicted that Thomas Dewey would win a landslide victory. But, with fighting spirit, Truman made the experts look ridiculous. He traveled 31,000 miles (49,900 kilometers) by train in a "whistle-stop" campaign. He made more than 350 speeches. He attacked what he termed the "do nothing" Republican Congress. He called it "the worst in my memory." Truman received a warm response with his simple language, earthy humor, and pluck. He also appealed to the groups that had supported Franklin D. Roosevelt. These groups included labor, farmers, liberals, minorities, and many middle-class consumers. In one of the biggest upsets in political history, Truman won 28 states. Dewey won 16 and Thurmond, 4. Truman won with less than 50 percent of the total popular vote.
-Life in the White House. Early every day—often as early as 5:30 a.m.—Truman arose and went for a brisk walk. He was always accompanied by Secret Service agents and members of the media. At the White House, Truman often played the piano for visitors. He particularly enjoyed the music of the Polish-born composer Frederic Chopin and the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Trumans spent most evenings in a family living room upstairs.
-The Korean War began on June 25, 1950. Communist forces from North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations demanded that North Korea withdraw. Truman decided to intervene to save South Korea's independence. On June 27, he announced that he had sent U.S. planes and ships to help South Korea. Congress cheered the announcement. That same day, the UN approved sending troops of other nations to join South Korean and American units. Truman ordered ground forces to South Korea on June 30. He later said that sending U.S. troops to South Korea was the hardest decision of his political career. By doing so, he risked starting World War III.
-Campaign of 1952. On March 29, 1952, Truman announced that he would not seek reelection. "I have served my country long, and I think efficiently and honestly," he said. "I do not feel that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House." Instead, he campaigned for the Democratic candidate, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois. Stevenson lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
-Death. Truman became ill late in 1972. He entered the hospital on December 5 with severe lung congestion. He died on December 26. He was buried in Independence in the Truman Library courtyard.
Hamby, Alonzo L. "Truman, Harry S." World Book Student. World Book, 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2012.
Has any president not liked living in the White House?