‘...Office of President doesn’t belong to me’

Time takes care of many things. Sometimes it’s even kind.

It has placed Harry S Truman on the list of exceptional presidents in U.S. history.

Like many who held that office, he was reviled during his tenure and for some period after leaving office.

Truman had less formal education than most presidents of the last century but he was a voracious reader and obviously very intelligent.

Today’s mood in the U.S. is troubling. There is much hatred expressed, a great deal rooted in racial or religious intolerance.

One Truman remark seemed particularly fitting and, in true HST tradition, to the point: “Religious and racial persecution is moronic at all times, perhaps the most idiotic of human stupidities.”

“When I was president, many people advised me not to raise the whole question of civil rights. They said it would make things worse. But you can’t cure a moral problem by ignoring it.” (Italic emphasis by the writer). “It is no service to the country to turn away from the hard problems — to ignore injustice and human suffering. It is simply not the American way of doing things.”

Truman always identified with regular folks — little fellows, underdogs, someone without advantages.

He had an opinion on everything and, when asked, would share his thoughts. Truman said of Abraham Lincoln: “Lincoln was just himself, and that’s the sort of man I admire.”

Of Calvin Coolidge: “The man got more rest than any previous president.”

Truman said of then Vice President Richard Nixon: “Mr. Nixon lacks the moral sensitivity which the occupant of the White House should possess...he is impetuous, quick to act, rash, and on occasion his conduct is irresponsible. He is a dangerous man. Never has there been one like him so close to the presidency. A mean, nasty fellow. I don’t like Nixon and I never will.”

His only asset when he died was the house in which he and his wife lived in Independence, Mo. When Truman left office, there was no such thing as a pension much less allowances for some staff, an office and office supplies as there is now.

Truman’s retirement consisted of an Army pension, by today’s standards much less than today’s poverty level. Some in Congress learned he was paying for his own stamps and applying them himself. He was granted an allowance and later a pension, which was retroactive to the time he left office. Truman and his wife, Bess, drove themselves to their home, without a Secret Service detail.

Contrary to today’s practices, he refused large salaries to enter the corporate world. Truman’s reason was, “You don’t want me. ...the office of the President, doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people and it’s not for sale.” So strong was his belief that, when he was designated by Congress to receive a medal, he declined once more, saying, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.”

Modern day presidents become wealthy after leaving office, if they weren’t before, and reap the harvest that can come with having been the White House occupant. Truman opposed national primaries to choose presidential candidates.

“A national primary would force a candidate to raise a huge sum of money in order to tour the country and make his good points known,” Truman said. “No poor man or even one fairly well fixed could finance a national campaign. The money would have to be raised and contributed by the wealthy and the special interests. The nominee would become obligated to contributors, and that would not be good for the country.”

And, President Harry Truman would despise today’s lack of bipartisanship: “It has been my experience in public life that there are few problems which cannot be worked out, if we make a real effort to understand the other fellow’s point of view, and if we try to find a solution on the basis of give-and-take, of fairness to both sides.”

Truman also said, “Never use two words when one w ill do best.”


Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at

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