Harry Truman. And the Train in American Politics
Harry Truman became the 33rd president of this country in April of 1945 when, as Vice President, he succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who had collapsed and died at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. Truman finished out FDR’s term, then ran in his own right in 1948.
I think historians would agree that a train was a major factor in the outcome of that election.
FDR was an inspiring leader and a gifted orator, revered by much of the nation – a blue-blood from New York. Truman was a blunt, plain-spoken mid-westerner, who suffered by comparison with his predecessor. The political pundits of the day gave Truman virtually no chance of being elected when the presidential campaign began.
But Truman took his message directly to the people in what has pretty much become an American tradition: the whistle-stop campaign. Harry Truman crisscrossed the country by train, speaking to crowds in small towns and big cities from the observation platform of the rear car.
And Harry Truman fooled ‘em. He came from behind to win the 1948 election, soundly defeating the Republican nominee, Thomas E. Dewey, a blaring headline in an early edition of the Chicago Tribune notwithstanding.
The Truman Library is located in Independence, Missouri, the town where Truman lived all his life and where he died. I’ve visited the Truman Library on two occasions and recommend it. It’s a must-see, and worth at least two hours of your time. I promise you will come away with a deep appreciation of this unpretentious man. I don’t know if it’s possible for someone to be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, but it seems to me that Harry Truman was both.
Shortly after leaving office, someone asked Truman what it felt like to be a private citizen again after being President of the United States. Truman responded that since the president works for the people, as far as he was concerned, he’d just been given a promotion.
On second thought, forget what I said earlier. There was nothing at all ordinary about Harry Truman.