Harry S . Truman (May 8, 1884 December 26, 1972) was the thirty-fourth
(1945) Vice President and the thirty-third (1945 - 1953) President of the
United States, succeeding to the office upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
Truman's presidency was very eventful, seeing the end of World War II,
the beginning of the Cold War, the formation of the United Nations, and
most of the Korean War. Truman was a notoriously folksy president, issuing
many famous phrases including "the buck stops here".
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, in 1884. He grew up in Independence,
and for 12 years prospered as a Missouri farmer.
He went to France during World War I as a captain in the Field Artillery.
Returning, he married Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, and opened a haberdashery
in Kansas City.
Active in the Democratic Party, Truman was elected a judge of the Jackson
County Court (an administrative position) in 1922. He became a Senator
in 1934. During World War II he headed the Senate war investigating committee,
checking into waste and corruption and saving perhaps as much as 15 billion
Truman was elected Vice-President in 1944. During his few weeks as Vice-President
1945, Harry S Truman scarcely saw President Roosevelt, and received no
briefing on the development of the atomic bomb or the unfolding difficulties
with Soviet Russia. Suddenly these and a host of other wartime problems
became Truman's to solve when, on April 12, 1945, he became President.
He told reporters, "I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets
had fallen on me."
As President, Truman made some of the most crucial decisions in history.
Soon after V-E Day, the war against Japan had reached its final stage.
An urgent plea to Japan to surrender was rejected. Truman, after consultations
with his advisers, ordered atomic bombs dropped on cities devoted to war
work. Two were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese surrender quickly followed.
In June 1945 Truman witnessed the signing of the charter of the United
Nations, hopefully established to preserve peace.
Thus far, he had followed his predecessor's policies, but he soon developed
his own. He presented to Congress a 21-point program, proposing the expansion
of Social Security, a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment
Practices Act, and public housing and slum clearance. The program, Truman
wrote, "symbolizes for me my assumption of the office of President in my
own right." It became known as the Fair Deal.
Dangers and crises marked the foreign scene as Truman campaigned successfully
in 1948. In foreign affairs he was already providing his most effective
In 1947 as the Soviet Union pressured Turkey and, through guerrillas,
threatened to take over Greece, he asked Congress to aid the two countries,
enunciating the program that bears his name--the Truman Doctrine. The Marshall
Plan, named for his Secretary of State, stimulated spectacular economic
recovery in war-torn western Europe.
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, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, established in 1949.
In June 1950, when the Communist government of North Korea attacked
South Korea, Truman conferred promptly with his military advisers. There
was, he wrote, "complete, almost unspoken acceptance on the part of everyone
that whatever had to be done to meet this aggression had to be done. There
was no suggestion from anyone that either the United Nations or the United
States could back away from it."
A long, discouraging 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, he retired to Independence; at age 88, he
died December 26, 1972, after a stubborn fight for life.
Truman's middle initial
Truman did not have a middle name, but only a middle initial. It was a
common practice in southern states, including Missouri, to use initials
rather than names. Truman said the initial was a compromise between the
names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shippe Truman and Solomon Young. He
once joked that the S was a name, not an initial, and it should not have
a period, but all official documents, and his presidential library all
use the name with a period. The Harry S. Truman Library states publicly
that it has numerous examples of the signature written at various times
throughout Truman's lifetime where his use of a period after the "S" is