Harry Truman: One president elected without funds

Harry Truman: One president elected without funds

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in 1944. His health had been deteriorating at a quick pace. He replaced Henry Wallace, his third term vice-president with a relatively unknown Senator, Harry S. Truman of Missouri. In April 1945 FDR died in Warm Springs, GA. making Truman our 33rd President.

Like so many times in history we remember where we where when the news came over the radio.  The only President I'd ever known to that point was FDR and remember his oratory and fireside chats. His voice calmed the nation during the great depression and eventually World War II.  The question then became was who is our new President?  Harry who?

You see, Truman was kept totally in the background. He was not briefed about any of the issues facing our country with the war and domestic issues of that time. After all, FDR changed his vice presidents for each of his terms and probably didn't know Truman. They rarely saw each other. When President Truman spoke on the radio publicly for the first time, his voice was totally opposite of FDR. The voice was simple without eloquence; scratchy.

Wow, what a let down but as history has proven while his voice was not calming his words were. He spoke to the radio audience as a down under plain talking neighbor. (He did not have a vice president for the balance of his first term.)

In 1948 he was up for re-election and was given no chance of being re-elected to a new term. Governor Thomas Dewey of New York was considered the winner before the campaign started. Dewey, in my opinion, had a mustache that reminded people of Hitler's mustache. Remember this was only three years after the war.

Sounds silly, but Presidents sometimes do or say silly things that cost them their re-election.  While Truman made some of the toughest choices any President had to make his popularity went down to 36%. After all he had to make the decision whether to use the Atomic Bomb on Japan, not an easy decision for any one person. Now the choice of electing Truman to his own term became a campaign issue. The GOP would say we were stuck with him due to FDR's death and that it was time to elect a Republican President. Sound familiar?

Now Truman, a former farmer, haberdasher and Captain in the first World War had the poorest war chest for a campaign. In fact you might say he was the last of our "poor" Presidents. By modern standards he was a pauper and had little money for his campaign. His standard method of campaigning were the railroad whistle stops where he spoke to the crowds from the rear platform of the train. It worked yet he was always scratching for funds to pay for his railroad express.

While Truman sought donations Governor Dewey had no trouble raising his own funds and had some major newspapers endorsing him. But Truman kept going with the crowds growing larger at each stop. Yet, in a telephone poll Dewey was far ahead. (Yes, they had polls then as well!) The problem with the poll was that telephones were not as available as they are today. It was later discovered that many of Truman's supporters didn't have a phone.

On election day 1952 the Chicago Tribune had already printed their front page with blazing headlines DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, an embarrassment to this day. Give 'em hell Harry fooled every pundit literally without any real campaign funds. But, he had the common folk; the folks we used to call the middle class.So, with little funds, the GOP bankrolling Dewey and without major newspaper endorsements we elected one of the greatest Presidents in the history of our country.

Today there isn't room for the common man. In current elections Harry Truman would give 'em hell for literally spending unprecedented amounts of money while the economy is struggling.  Truman told it like he saw it.  After his Presidency he returned home to Independence, MO with his wife Bess Truman where he lived out the rest of his life in the same house that his in-laws owned.  He was a quiet man who had history thrust upon him. His life is an inspiration of what Presidential elections should be.  Of the people, by the people and for the people.


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  • Today's Republicans would call Truman a socialist and a liberal elite.
    Nice blog.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    And do not forget that today's Republicans want the dirtiest water and filthiest air and most polluted land to live in, because their genes are now immune to the threat, and they really want to heave grandma over a cliff, too.

    I'm afraid the liberal elite writes above, a common perch for the enlightened.

  • Truman was probably the most underrated president, and top 5 for sure.

    I don't agree with your last paragraph's first line. Seems unlikely to elect a common man in most cases, but let's not give up hope otherwise the lobbyists have won.

  • In reply to Andy Frye:

    Truman also drove himself and Bessie home after leaving the White House.

    Great post, and a reminder of how things were before the mental infirmity of the liberals and progressives muddled the thinking of so many.

    Aquinas, most conservatives admire Truman, unlike his former boss, FDR. Though I do admire FDR to at least be able to infuse optimism into his socialism, where the current occupant of 1600 Penn. is as dour as the old Soviet chiefs.

    BTW, Aquinas, it was Truman who dropped not one but two A -bombs on the Japanese, something no Republican has done, while his boss, also with a D after the name, locked up thousands of ethnic Americans just because he could, something Obama would do to political enemies with the stroke of a pen, if he could. And he just may in his second term.

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