President Harry S. Truman: Political Career and Road to the White House

About the political career of President Harry S. Truman as he moves towards the White House first as vice-president to Roosevelt.

On the Way to the White House: During his 1st term in Washington, Senator Truman earned the respect and affection of other members of the Senate "club," but won few headlines. In 1940, he faced an uphill battle for reelection. The Pendergast machine was in ruins ("Big Tom" had been jailed for tax evasion in 1939) and Truman faced a primary challenge from a popular Democratic governor. President Roosevelt favored Truman's opponent and urged the senator to drop out of the race and accept an appointment to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Truman refused, and sitting behind the steering wheel of his own car, be began a tireless tour of Missouri, meeting the voters where they lived and worked. Truman won by a narrow margin, and he returned to Washington with a new issue. During his campaign tour, he had been struck by the waste and inefficiency in the army bases and munitions plants that he had visited. Truman made an angry speech to call attention to the situation, and the Senate decided to placate its "uppity" member by naming him as chairman of the committee to "investigate" the situation. No one expected that in a matter of months, the senator from Missouri would turn up unbelievable tales of governmental stupidity and corruption. When the U.S. entered W.W.II., these revelations assumed new importance, and the Truman committee became front-page news. Demonstrating consummate political skill, Truman kept his committee at work on an efficient and bipartisan basis and made a series of common-sense recommendations that were generally adopted. It is estimated that his efforts saved taxpayers more than $15 billion during the war years. In 1944, a poll of Washington newspaper correspondents named Truman as 2nd only to President Roosevelt in his contribution to the U.S. war effort.

As a leader of national stature, Truman agreed to make the nominating speech for one of the rival candidates for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 1944. When he was told that President Roosevelt wanted Truman himself to accept that nomination as a compromise candidate, Harry shot back: "Tell him to go to hell. I'm for Jimmy Byrnes." At a convention hotel room, however, a prominent group of Democratic kingmakers sat down to twist Truman's arm. In the middle of their harangue, the President called. FDR always spoke loudly over the phone and the Democratic national chairman, Robert Hannegan, held the receiver so the others could hear.

"Bob," the President said, "have you got that fellow lined up yet?"

"No, Mr. President," Hannegan replied. "He is the contrariest Missouri mule I've ever dealt with."

"Well, you tell him that if he wants to break up the Democratic party in the middle of a war, that's his responsibility."

Hannegan hung up the phone and turned to Truman. "Now what do you say?"

"My God," Truman mumbled.

The next day, the man from Missouri was nominated for Vice-President, and the ticket of Roosevelt-Truman swept to victory in the November elections.

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