Harry Truman was an ‘every man’ President from Missouri. He had the reputation of being a no nonsense tough talking fellow who called them as he saw them. I stumbled across this as I dug into something said by someone about Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) along the lines of this: “When you go into politics poor and come out rich, you’re stealing”. While that seemed appropriate in this case, that actually was among the pearls of wisdom attributed to Harry S. Truman. More of his wisdom follows based on the President Truman Library.
The following, from the book “Truman Speaks”, are attributed to President Truman and are found on the Internet if you Google President Truman Library:
What was the most difficult decision that you had to make when you were President?
President Truman: Korea. The reason for that was the fact that the policies of our allies and the members of the United Nations were at stake at the same time as ours. We were in the position where we had to enforce the situation; a great many of those friends of ours in the United Nations came in and helped. But that decision on Korea had to be made on the basis of world requirements; it was not entirely a decision of the United States, and every one of the allies approved it. So did the Congress, until they got it into politics. (Truman Speaks, p. 26.)
What principles guided your career?
President Truman: You have to let your own conscience be your guide. My father used to say, that is all you can do. One comment was on a tombstone I saw in Arizona: Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest. What more can a man do? Do the best you can. Sometimes you come out successfully, sometimes you don’t. You have to have luck and ability and be ready to meet the situation as it comes. All this happened to me. I never thought I would go to the United States Senate, but then I never thought I would go to the White House either. (Truman Speaks, p. 81.)
What are your personal feelings about women?
President Truman: …I’ve always thought that the best man in the world is hardly good enough for any woman. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, postmarked November 4, 1913.)
I’m a damn fool I guess because I could never get excited or worked up about gals or women. I only had one sweetheart from the time I was six. I saw her in Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church in Independence when my mother took me there at that age and afterwards in the 5th grade at the Ott School in Independence when her Aunt Nannie was our teacher and she sat behind me. She sat behind me in the sixth, seventh and High School grades and I thought she was the most beautiful and sweetest person on earth–and I’m still of that opinion after…[many] years of being married to her. I’m old fashioned, I guess. (From Truman’s diary, June 5, 1945. President’s Secretary’s Files.)
I was always afraid of the girls my age and older. (From Truman’s Memoirs, I, page 115.)
“More hearts are broken and mended between the ages of sixteen & twenty than all the rest of life.” (From Truman’s high school English theme book for his senior year, Independence High School, 1900-1901.)
What was it you said about prima donnas and Potomac fever?
President Truman: There are more Prima Donnas per square foot in public life…in Washington than in all the opera companies ever to exist. (From a letter to Martha Ellen Truman and Mary Jane Truman, October 23, 1945. Post-Presidential Papers.)
…Potomac fever [is] a peculiar disease that those mortals…who come to Washington to become >important’ people in Government get. Woodrow Wilson said some people come here and grow up with responsibility. Some come and just swell up. (From a letter to Mary Ethel Noland, July 7, 1950. Mary Ethel Noland Papers.)
“I always made the distinction between the office of the President and the person of the President. That may seem to some a fine distinction, but I am glad I made it. Otherwise I might be suffering today from the same kind of ‘importance’ complex that some people have come down with. Washington is full of big shots whose already inflated egos go up with a touch of ‘Potomac fever.’ I tried very hard to escape that ludicrous disease.” (From Mr. Citizen, 1960.)
Please tell me about the private prayer that you said all your life.
President Truman: [This] prayer…has been said by me–by Harry S. Truman–from high school days…as a bank clerk, as a farmer riding a gang plow behind four horses and mules, as a fraternity official learning to say nothing at all if good could not be said of a man, as a public official judging the weaknesses and shortcomings of constituents, and as President of the U.S.A.
…Oh! Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of Heaven, Earth and the Universe:
Help me to be, to think, to act what is right, because it is right; make me truthful, honest and honorable in all things; make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor and without thought of reward to me. Give me the ability to be charitable, forgiving and patient with my fellow men–help me to understand their motives and their shortcomings–even as Thou understandest mine! (From Truman’s diary, August 15, 1950. President’s Secretary’s Files.)
What did you do when you heard the shots of the men who were trying to assassinate you on November 1, 1950?
President Truman: I stuck my head out the upstairs window [at Blair House, across the street from the White House, Truman’s temporary residence while the White House was being renovated] to see what was going on. One of the guards yelled “Get back.” I did, then dressed and went down stairs. I was the only calm one in the house. You see I’ve been shot at by experts and unless your name’s on the bullet you needn’t be afraid–and that of course you can’t find out, so why worry. (From a letter to Mary Ethel Noland, November 17, 1950. Mary Ethel Noland Papers.)
What would your advice be to a young person who wants to go into politics?
President Truman: If a young man chooses politics as a profession he’ll find it to his advantage to study the lives of all the great leaders throughout history starting with Greece and the great leaders of the city republics and…the Roman Republic….
He should carefully study the lives of the leaders of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and he should know the lives and motives of every President of the United States. Congressional leaders in every Presidential Administration should be carefully studies along with their ethics and their motives. Then he should know his State History from its colonial or territorial beginnings as well as his county history. If he lives in a town or city he should know his city government and its workings….
It takes a lifetime of the hardest kind of work and study to become a successful politician…. A great politician is known for the service he renders. He doesn’t have to become President or Governor or the head of his city or county to be a great politician. There are mayors of villages, county attorneys, county commissioners or supervisors who render just as great service locally as do the heads of the government.
No young man should go into politics if he wants to get rich or if he expects an adequate reward for his services. An honest public servant can’t become rich in politics. he can only attain greatness and satisfaction by service….
I would much rather be an honorable public servant and known as such than to be the richest man in the world. (From Truman’s diary, April 24, 1954. Post-Presidential Papers.)
Why do you have so much trouble spelling correctly?
President Truman: The English language so far as spelling goes was created by Satan I am sure. It makes no difference how well educated or how many letters a man can string to the back of his name, he never learns to spell so he is exactly sure I shouldn’t be e or a, o. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, February 13, 1912. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)
What sort of person should we pick to be President?
President Truman: Well, the first thing you’ve got to be sure of is that you have a man who is honorable and who has broad experience in government…. But you can’t tell what’s inside of a man until you put him into office. if you take a man from a minor position and put him into a job of responsibility, sometimes he will turn out to be a success and sometimes he’ll turn out to be an utter fool. There is no way you can tell how the mind of a man is going to work. You have to take a chance on a person…. Experience shows many make good and a great many don’t. That’s the difficulty. It’s the human animal all over again, and you do the best you can in trying to find the right man.
…One thing I am certain about, there’s nothing in our history, so far as I am able to find out, that shows that a man can be trained to be President of the United States…. (Mr. Citizen, 1960,
What do you think of politicians?
President Truman: The good word “politics,” which really means the science of government, has been abused in our time, and has been given a definition meaning “dishonest management to win an election for a party or a candidate.” The use of the latter definition by newspapers and those who like to turn up their noses up at everyday people has obscured the real meaning of the world “politics.”
A politician is a man who is interested in good government. There is a saying in the Senate that a statesman is a dead politician. A statesman must be an honorable man and he must be a good politician in order to become a statesman under our form of government. If you will study the history of our country you’ll find that our greatest presidents and congressional leaders have been the ones who have been vilified worst by the current press. But history justifies the honorable politician when he works for the welfare of the country.
I would risk my reputation and my fortune with a professional politician sooner than I would with the banker or the businessman or the publisher of a daily paper! More young men and young women should fit themselves for politics and government. (From a handwritten manuscript in the President’s Secretary’s Files.)
Do you think money and special interest groups have become too important in politics?
President Truman: I’ve just been informed that the Democratic Party…has gone high hat and is charging one thousand dollars for the privilege of sitting with the President of the United States at a dinner! The President of the United States represents 180,000,000 people who have no other person to look after their interests…. When the Party of the People [the Democratic Party] goes high hat on a cost basis, it no longer represents the common every day man–who is the basis of the Democratic Party. (From a handwritten manuscript found in Truman’s desk after he died. Post-Presidential Papers.)
The Democratic Party is the peoples party. It is dedicated to the service of all the people and not just the [service of] the special interests of a few. The record of the Democratic party is blazed across the face of the nation…in a story of better, healthier, happier life for the common people in this great country…. Special interests never let up in their effort to control this free government of ours. It is just as important now to prevent that from happening as it was in times of the great Presidents–[Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt]. (From a handwritten manuscript, Definition of the Democratic Party, found in Truman’s desk after he died. Post-Presidential Papers.)
What is the proper role of the courts?
President Truman: The courts should be strictly judicial and not dabble in policy–except interpretation of the Constitution. It is not at all proper for courts to try to make laws or to read law school theories into the law and policy laid down by the Congress. (From a handwritten manuscript, May 12, 1945.)
Everybody thought you were going to lose the election in 1948. What made you think you would win?
“…I had come to the conclusion that when the people know the facts and they know that you are telling the truth and stand for the things that are for their best interests they will vote for you, and I was very well assured that if I could see enough people and talk to enough people I could be elected, and that is what I did and this is the way it came out.” (From a televised interview on “Person to Person,” CBS, May 27, 1955.)
What is more important to a man in public life, money or honor?
“Since a child at my mother’s knee I have believed in honor, ethics and right living as its own reward. I find a very small minority who agree with me on that premise.” (From a handwritten manuscript, about 1931, from the so-called “Pickwick Papers.”)
“I almost believe that money or the goods of this world, whether it be stone clubs and caves or gold and palaces is all that we struggle for after all. But according to Plutarch, Moses, Buddha and the other ethical enthusiasts it isn’t all. I wonder.” (From a handwritten manuscript, about 1931, from the so-called “Pickwick Papers.”)
“I always did let ethics beat me out of money and I suppose I always will.” (From a handwritten manuscript, May 1934, from the so-called “Pickwick Papers.”)
How very, very refreshing!