Harry S. Truman Essay - Critical Essays

Robert H. Ferrell

Harry S. Truman

Those who become historical personages are seldom what they appear to their contemporaries or to those who know them only by reputation. Harry S. Truman was never as bad, or incompetent, or even as corrupt as those who witnessed his departure from public life believed. He was never the saintly, self-sacrificing individual of spotless integrity who inhabits the shadowland of popular history. He had his foibles, his faults, and his virtues in roughly the same proportion as most humans. He was inclined to view any opposition as political in nature, yet at the same time he listened to those around him and profited from the experience.

Although he was normal, Truman was anything but the average person suddenly thrust into a position of overwhelming responsibility as described on the pages of countless American newspapers in spring of 1945. Indeed, none of those who achieved the office of president in the twentieth century should ever be labeled in such a fashion, all appearances to the contrary. Those who achieve and survive the presidency possess particular skills that set them apart from the herd. Admittedly, an adroit campaigner may fail to master the technique of government, but in each instance the particular individual is anything but ordinary.

The Truman who moves through the pages of this biography is a one who ascended the ladder of public service with confidence and persistence until he was afforded entree to the nation’s highest political honor. Harry Truman was a politician at a time when such an activity could be viewed as a respectable human endeavor. He may be the last person to be so blessed, but that is quite another story.