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Harry S. Truman “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me”

  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)

Abstract

Like Arthur and Lyndon Baines Johnson, Truman’s homage strategy was developed in the context of a popular predecessor. Unlike Arthur and Johnson, FDR died of natural causes in his fourth term of office and thus the nature of the shock and concern by the electorate was different. Truman’s reaction to the White House press corps when he was informed of Roosevelt’s death (“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me”1) was a conventional response of an accidental president to succession. This particular context, however, created both opportunities and liabilities. As a result of FDR’s phenomenal domination of the political landscape for twelve years, there were few political leaders with whom Truman had to compete. Conservative Democrats had been pushed into regional enclaves and there was no single powerful presidential aspirant in the liberal wing of the party. Both Douglas and Wallace were often mentioned by liberals, but there was no one with the stature of Blaine whom Arthur faced or RFK whom Johnson would confront.

Keywords

Foreign Policy Democratic Party Vice President Price Control Fair Deal 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Harry S. Truman, Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Year of Decisions (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955), p. 19.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Morton Blum, ed. The Price of Vision: The Diary of Henry A. Wallace, 1942–1946 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), p. 448. Truman’s reciprocated this distrust. He told Maury Maverick, the problem with “the so-called FDR people” was that they all wanted to lead because they started at the top and “never polled a precinct or became elected in their lives … at least they’re great on ballyhoo.” Robert H. Ferrell, Harry S. Truman: A Life (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994), p. 186.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Henry A Wallace, “The Challenge of 1947.” New Republic (January 6, 1947), p. 23.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    William E. Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 15.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    On FDR’s populist turn, see Philip Abbott, The Exemplary Presidency: FDR and the American Political Tradition (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), pp. 110–31.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Robert H. Ferrell, Truman and Pendergast (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999), p. 19.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (New York: Putnam’s, 1973), pp. 196, 384.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    William E. Pemberton, Harry S. Truman: Fair Dealer and Cold Warrior (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986), p. 27.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Richard Lawrence Miller, Truman: The Rise to Power (New York: McGraw Hill, 1986), pp. 282–83.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Alonzo L. Hamby, Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 249.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Ibid., p. 260.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Robert H. Ferrell argues that Truman played his cards quite well. Knowing that FDR disliked ambitious politicians, he always feigned reluctance in seeking the office. Choosing Truman: The Democratic Convention of 1944 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994), pp. 93–95.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Donald R. McCoy, The Presidency of Harry S. Truman (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1984), p. 48.Google Scholar
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    Robert J. Donovan, Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945–1948 (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 115.Google Scholar
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    Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, J. P. Mayer, ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 531–32.Google Scholar
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    Harold L. Ickes, Diaries of Harold L. Ickes (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955), p. 204.Google Scholar
  17. 37.
    “The Twilight of the Thirties” (1939) and “The Unfuture of Utopia” (1949) in Philip Rahv, ed., Literature and the Sixth Sense (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 324, 332.Google Scholar
  18. 38.
    Eugene Lyons, The Red Decade: The Stalinist Penetration of America (New York, 1941), p. 129.Google Scholar
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    Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (New York: William Morrow, 1973), p. 330.Google Scholar
  20. 45.
    See Ken Hechler’s memoir for the background of the Hoover references. Working with Truman: A Personal Memoir of the White House Years (New York: Putnam’s, 1982), pp. 99–100.Google Scholar
  21. 46.
    HST: Memories of the Truman Years, ed. Steve Neal (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 2003), pp. 212–15; Hechler, Working with Truman, pp. 103–4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Abbott 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Abbott

There are no affiliations available

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