Study Guide

Harry S Truman in Truman Doctrine

By Harry Truman

Harry S Truman

A True Man

Harry Truman is easily one of our sassiest and most underrated presidents to date. He's also the one with the best taste in eyewear—no offense, George W. Bush.

Bold, blunt, earnest, and incorruptible, Truman was dealt one of the toughest hands a president could be dealt when FDR suddenly died a few months into his fourth term in office. From the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to what role the U.S. should play in the postwar era, Truman's presidency was plagued with a number of tough decisions that required many sleepless nights and seemingly endless days in Washington.

Whether you agreed with him or not, you can't say the guy didn't give it everything he had. (This is in strong contrast to, say, someone like Calvin Coolidge, who had a two-hour nap planned into his schedule every. single. day while he was president…) (Source)

"The Buck Stops Here"

But Truman also had an explosive temper and was known for his sometimes salty language. (Huh. Maybe he should have had a two-hour nap…)

Still, he could fire up a crowd like no one else. Like FDR, he also knew the power of connections and the importance of surrounding himself with the right people.

Perhaps Truman's most distinctive quality, though, was his ability to speak his mind. A self-described "simple man from Missouri" with no college education, Truman spoke with a southern twang and style of plain speak that many Americans could appreciate and understand. He faced plenty of challenges, rejections, and failures over the course of his life and refused to take any guff from anyone. (Except, you know, Truman didn't use PG language like "guff.")

Some of his more famous quips (in addition to the one titling this section) that reflect his special brand of sass include: 

If a man can't stand the heat, he ought to stay out of the kitchen—in response to the criticisms and pressures faced in a high-stress environment like DC. (Source)

And speaking of our nation's exciting, but cutthroat capital:

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. (Source)

This frankness and plain speak also carried into the language of his address to Congress. Upon reviewing Clifford and Elsey's initial draft of the speech, the President had a few comments. "I wanted no hedging." he recalled of his suggested edits, "it had to be clear and free of hesitation or double talk" (meaning no added fluff).

As a result, the most important wording in the speech was changed to reflect an even stronger, more declarative statement of the President's stance on foreign policy.

See for yourself: 

It is the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

was changed to:

I believe it MUST be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. (Source)

Not only did Truman add a declarative "must" to his statement, but he also caught the attention of listeners and readers alike with his use of a single letter and personal pronoun ("I"). (Check out our section on rhetorical devices for more on why this is such a big deal.)

Not Everything's Roses

And yet, despite his likeability and even his surprise victory in the 1948 election, Truman's 22% approval rating when he left office in 1953 was one of the lowest recorded in presidential history.

But, like a fine wine, his historical rating and legacy have improved with age. Most historians today agree that Truman deserves credit for:

  • Being one of the first twentieth-century presidents to support a platform of civil rights, as indicated by his Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the army. (Source)
  • Recognizing the legitimacy of the state of Israel in 1948—a decision made with plenty of objections on both sides of the issue. (Source)
  • The sense of honesty and accountability associated with his presidency, which has since come to symbolize an earlier age in politics free from corruption or a series of –gate scandals.
  • And finally, his foreign policy, which—although by no means perfect—ultimately did not lead to World War III (after all, we're still here telling you this, and you're still here reading it, right?)

Hogwarts House: Gryffindor: brave leader, honest, driven, sometimes came across as a bit too sure of himself. (*Maybe* Hufflepuff if you're including his folksy, down-home character.)