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The Trials of Harry S. Truman

The Trials of Harry S. Truman Summary

The Trials of Harry S. Truman The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 from Jeffrey Frank, author of the bestselling Ike and Dick, returns with the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years, recounting how so ordinary a man met the extraordinary challenge of leading America through the pivotal years of the mid-20th century.

The nearly eight years of Harry Truman’s presidency—among the most turbulent in American history—were marked by victory in the wars against Germany and Japan; the first use of an atomic weapon; the beginning of the Cold War; creation of the NATO alliance; the founding of the United Nations; the Marshall Plan to rebuild the wreckage of postwar Europe; the Red Scare; and the fateful decision to commit troops to fight in Korea.

Historians have tended to portray Truman as stolid and decisive, with a homespun manner, but the man who emerges in The Trials of Harry S. Truman is complex and surprising. He believed that the point of public service was to improve the lives of one’s fellow citizens, and was disturbed by the brutal treatment of African Americans. Yet while he supported stronger civil rights laws, he never quite relinquished the deep-rooted outlook of someone with Confederate ancestry reared in rural Missouri.

He was often carried along by the rush of events and guided by men who succeeded in refining his fixed and facile view of the postwar world. And while he prided himself on his Midwestern rationality, he could act out of emotion, as when, in the aftermath of World War II, moved by the plight of refugees, he pushed to recognize the new state of Israel.

The Truman who emerges in these pages is a man with generous impulses, loyal to friends and family, and blessed with keen political instincts, but insecure, quick to anger, and prone to hasty decisions. Archival discoveries, and research that led from Missouri to Washington, Berlin, and Korea, have contributed to an indelible, and deeply human, portrait of an ordinary man suddenly forced to shoulder extraordinary responsibilities, who never lost a schoolboy’s romantic love for his country, and its Constitution.

About the Author

Jeffrey Frank was a senior editor at The New Yorker, the deputy editor of TheWashington Post’s Outlook section, and is the author of Ike and Dick. He has published four novels, among them the Washington Trilogy—The Columnist, Bad Publicity, and Trudy Hopedale—and is the co-author, with Diana Crone Frank, of a new translation of Hans Christian Andersen stories, which won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Prize. He is a contributor to The New Yorker and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bookforum, and Vogue, among other publications.

The Trials of Harry S. Truman Introduction

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

President Truman

Just two months ago today, I was a reasonably happy and contented Vice President. But things have changed so much it hardly seems real. I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches—all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway.

—Harry Truman, June 1945

Don’t shoot the piano player—he’s doing the best he can.

—Harry Truman, October 1945 (overheard)

A few days after Truman’s swearing-in, Eben Ayers, a former newspaperman who’d come to work in the White House press office just before Roosevelt’s death, told his diary, “Confusion and uncertainty prevail.” He worried that the late, notorious T. J. Pendergast, to whom Truman once owed so much, might still cast a shadow of disrepute over the White House. He was also reacting to this new crowd, people unknown to him, such as Harry Vaughan, Truman’s military aide and faithful friend, “a man of bouncing enthusiasms and earthy comedy.” It was not quite twenty-five years since the short, scandal-burdened presidency of Warren G. Harding, and Ayers feared a return to low standards.

I have no desire to remain here,” he wrote, “if we are to have a Democratic Harding Administration.” Ayers was letting his Northeastern prejudices show, but he wasn’t alone in harboring suspicions about this new, seemingly rough-hewn bunch, so unlike the Roosevelt crowd, and what it might say about the new president—a stranger to the executive branch. “It was a dreadful time,” one correspondent recalled. “Here was a man who came into the White House almost as though he had been picked at random from off the street, with absolutely no useable background and no useable information.

Sympathy for Truman would have been a more appropriate reaction. The job was, without a pause, crushing, inescapable. Decisions needed to be made rather than debated on the floor of the Senate. Truman worried about his family—especially about Margaret, and how the change in their lives would affect her—but even about the Connecticut Avenue apartment, they’d just vacated.

I’ve paid the rent for this month and will pay for another month if they don’t get the old White House redecorated by that time,” he wrote to his mother and sister four days after being sworn in. The rent! For their five-room corner apartment, it was $120 a month. The Trumans hadn’t entirely moved out, and, in the meantime, were living in Blair House, across Lafayette Square from the White House, where Mrs. Roosevelt would stay for a few more days, while she packed.

He thought about his general unreadiness—and who to blame for it. He told John McCloy, the assistant secretary of war, that Roosevelt had said, “Harry, I want you to follow these things more closely because I feel that I may not last through.” McCloy recorded this in his diary, although with skepticism, noting that others close to Roosevelt said “this was the first time they had even heard anyone say that the President had intimated any such thing.” It was alarmingly obvious that Truman didn’t know a lot that he ought to have known, and that there was no crash course for presidents.

The situation left Truman especially vulnerable to missteps in foreign policy. While Roosevelt had been surrounded with advisers whom he trusted, and with whom he was comfortable, Truman hadn’t given the subject a lot of thought and had no foreign policy team that he could call his own. Nor did he have much of an idea what Roosevelt had been up to. “I was handicapped by lack of knowledge of both foreign and domestic affairs—due principally to Mr. Roosevelt’s inability to pass on responsibility,” Truman wrote in his diary, on May 6. “He was always careful to see that no credit went to anyone else for accomplishment.

One of Truman’s first tutors was W. Averell Harriman, an intense, and nervous, chain-smoker, the son of the railroad oligarch Edward Henry Harriman. He had striking good looks, was a first-rate polo player, and, with a fortune estimated at about forty million dollars, could have led the life of the idle rich. But he’d known the Roosevelts, Eleanor and Franklin, since his student days at Groton, and was drawn to politics and public life.

Since 1940, when he was recruited by Roosevelt to help oversee the Lend-Lease program, he’d held a number of high-level jobs. In 1943, he became ambassador to the Soviet Union, a job, as the New Yorker’s E. J. Kahn Jr. wrote, for which he was “abnormally equipped with energy, curiosity, ambition, and money.” Harriman had been an effective, self-confident minister, one who tended to rely on personal diplomacy—“A country’s policies can only work out successfully if you get to the right people,” he said. He claimed that no other foreigner had spent as much time with Stalin as he had.

The news from Warm Springs had reached Moscow at about 2 a.m. on April 13, and Harriman, knowing that Stalin kept late hours, had set out immediately for the Kremlin, and Stalin’s suite of offices, which seemed to a visitor like an ornate maze, a succession of reception rooms. Stalin seemed to him genuinely distraught. “He greeted me in silence and stood holding my hand for about thirty seconds before asking me to sit down,” Harriman recalled. Harriman tried to assure him that Truman would continue Roosevelt’s foreign policy and that he was “a man of action and not of words”—someone he would like.

But in the two months after Yalta, Harriman had become increasingly mistrustful of Russia, so much so that, a few days before Roosevelt’s death, he’d begun a cable to Secretary of State Stettinius, setting down his concerns.

It continued for eight typed pages, and grew increasingly harsh: The Russians were consumed by “suspicion and resentment,” and “hadn’t carried out all the military agreements made at Yalta”; since then, “the Soviet government has retaliated in the most definite way against one or all of the positions we have taken in both large and small matters.

He suggested that he, personally, inform Stalin, with whom he’d had some “very rough talks,” to change course. If not, “the friendly hand that we have offered them”—namely Lend-Lease—“will be withdrawn.” Harriman must have had second thoughts because he didn’t send the cable; after Roosevelt’s death, he decided to take his views directly to Truman.

By the time Harriman got to Washington, the handholding in Moscow had been forgotten. He talked to Truman as if the President were a schoolboy just learning the fundamentals. He told Truman that he’d hurried back out of a “fear that you did not understand, as I had seen Roosevelt understand, that Stalin is breaking his agreements.” He worried that Truman couldn’t have had time “to catch up with all the recent cables.

Truman told Harriman that he’d done his homework—read, and absorbed, the correspondence between Stalin and Roosevelt, as well as the Yalta agreements—an improbable accomplishment, even for a speed-reader with perfect eyesight.

Harriman said he was “greatly relieved to discover that you have read them all and that we see eye to eye on the situation,” but he was not entirely relieved: During their first conversation, and subsequent ones, Harriman feared that Truman “was being over humble,” and worried “that he would not grasp control of the presidency, that he might be indecisive.” He “kept saying—too often, I thought—that he was not equipped for the job, that he lacked experience and did not fully understand the issues.” But Harriman soon became persuaded that the President “showed the right kind of humility,” and “the capacity to make decisions.

Truman’s reaction was gratitude. “I am glad,” he told Harriman, “that you are going to be available to our delegation in San Francisco. And keep on sending me long messages.” He assured Harriman that he wasn’t all that worried about the Russians—“Anyway, [they] need us more than we need them,” he said.

Truman’s antipathetic view of Russia, though not entirely consistent, seemed to be entrenched, its origins obscure. He’d told Stettinius that “we must stand up to the Russians at this point… we must not be easy with them,” and had remarked to Henry Wallace that they were “like people from across the tracks whose manners were very bad,” a view that certainly appalled Wallace.

Those opinions were reinforced by Harriman, who saw the Russians as “these barbarians,” and help to explain Truman’s diplomatic debut: a testy, off-key meeting with Vyacheslav Molotov, the Russian foreign minister, who’d stopped in Washington before flying on to San Francisco, for the first United Nations conference. That in itself reflected a Soviet change of heart. Stalin had originally refused to send Molotov as a delegate, but Harriman apparently had persuaded him to change his mind. That was interpreted as a friendly gesture, though it was also a way for Stalin to get a reliable secondhand impression of Truman.

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Product details:

EditionInternational Edition
ISBN1501102893, 978-1501102899
Posted onMarch 8, 2022
Formatpdf
Page Count576 pages
AuthorJeffrey Frank

The Trials of Harry S. Truman By Jeffrey Frank PDF Free Download - HUB PDF

The Trials of Harry S. Truman The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 from Jeffrey Frank, author of the bestselling Ike and Dick, returns with the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years, recounting how so ordinary a man met the extraordinary challenge of leading America through the pivotal years of the mid-20th century.

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Author: Jeffrey Frank

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