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America needs you Harry Truman

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I’m working up an article about Harry Truman that will feature some BOMBSHELL REVELATIONS, although somebody has to agree to publish it first, so who knows when these will be unleashed on the world.

In the interim, here are a few tidbits that I don’t think are well known, which is to say I wasn’t aware of them before I started digging into the general topic:

(1) Truman had a private meeting with Dwight Eisenhower in July of 1947 in which he proposed that, if Douglas MacArthur were to win the Republican presidential nomination the following summer, Eisenhower should be the Democratic presidential candidate, and Truman would be his vice presidential running mate! One thing I’ve learned in the course of my researches is that Truman could be an extremely unreliable correspondent in regard to matters of personal fact, but this particular revelation was dug up many decades later, when an overlooked diary of the 33rd president was discovered. Truman records this conversation in a contemporaneous entry, so I see no reason to doubt the authenticity of the story, although I suppose how serious Truman was about the offer remains open to question.

(2) For a variety of reasons Truman’s relationship with Ike soured badly after that, to the point where the two men barely tolerated each other’s presence on Inauguration Day in January 1953. Truman shocked the assembled audience when he didn’t invite Eisenhower into the White House for the traditional cup of coffee. I got this story backwards: “When Eisenhower arrived at the White House, he refused an invitation to come inside and have a cup of coffee with the president; he instead waited on him to come outside and join him in the car for the ride to the Capitol. While they were photographed both smiling together in the back seat, the two men were anything but happy to be together.”

By the mid-1950s, when Truman was a cranky old man making all sorts of absurd claims about how he wasn’t really making any money from his $600,000 memoir contract (equivalent to $5.7 million inflation-adjusted). In particular, he obsessed about how Eisenhower had paid a low capital gains tax on his own giant memoir contract back in 1948, because the IRS had ruled that he wasn’t a professional writer, hence the proceeds weren’t taxed as ordinary income. Truman implied to various members of Congress that he had intervened with the Service in Ike’s favor, and now when the shoe was on the other food the “great general,” as Truman sarcastically remarked, wasn’t returning the favor. (Truman had conveniently forgotten that the public outcry over Eisenhower’s sweet tax deal led to a statutory change, signed by Truman himself, closing that particular loophole).

(3) Truman was still considering running for a third(ish) term in March of 1952. Although he lost the New Hampshire primary to Estes Kefauver on March 11, the primaries were comparatively unimportant at that time, and Truman could surely have had the nomination if he wanted it. That week he had a meeting with a dozen or so of his closest confidants at the White House to discuss the question. Supreme Court justice Fred Vinson describes this meeting in his memoirs, and recalls that every person there urged Truman not to run again. Truman seemed inclined in that direction in any case, as he was nearing 70 — this was a 1952 70, not 2021 70, which is the new 47 apparently — and he was convinced that the presidency had literally killed FDR (When Truman met with FDR in the summer of 1944 when the great man was considering Truman for vice president, he was shocked by Roosevelt’s appearance, recalling his skin seemed paper thin and of an unnatural pallor.)

But nevertheless he was still seriously considering running as late as mid-March 1952. What would have happened if he had is an interesting question: Truman’s Gallup poll popularity was in the gutter by late 1951 and early 1952 — at 22% it’s still tied with end-stage Nixon for the lowest ever — but on the other hand opinion polling was a new thing then and not necessarily taken that seriously.

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