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Harry S. Truman

Truman, Harry S. (1884–1972), 33rd president of the United States. The challenges of Truman's presidency, which began after the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, included the end of World War II, use of the first atom bomb, the Cold War, the Marshall Plan and NATO, the controversial McCarthy hearings, and the Korean War.

Early life

Truman's poor eyesight kept him out of West Point, so he worked at odd jobs in Kansas City, then on the family farm. During World War I, he served in France as a member of the Missouri National Guard. In 1919, he married Elizabeth Wallace, known as Bess; they had one child. Truman co-owned a men's clothing store that failed in the 1921 farm depression.


Truman left business to serve as a Jackson Co. judge (1922–24), attend Kansas City School of Law (1923–25), and serve as a chief judge (1926–34). As a U.S. senator (1934–44), Truman chaired a defense-related Senate committee, gaining influence and respect in Congress. In 1944, when a three-way contest developed, Truman became the compromise Democratic vice-presidential candidate. He was elected with incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt. Only 83 days into his fourth term, President Roosevelt died and Truman became president.


Truman's first task was the resolution of World War II. With Stalin and Churchill, he made postwar arrangements for Europe. To end the war in Asia, he twice used the atom bomb on Japan—the first and only times that devastating weapon has been used in war.

Domestically, Truman's conflict with Congress contributed to rising inflation and a wave of strikes. Congress passed the antilabor Taft-Hartley Act over Truman's veto, and buried his ambitious Fair Deal program, which included civil rights proposals, a medical insurance plan, and federal aid to education. But eventually he won a higher minimum wage, increased social security, and was able to pass aid-for-housing laws.

Overseas, a “cold war” was growing as the Soviet Union expanded its control over Eastern Europe. Truman announced the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, which pledged aid for nations resisting Communist takeover. He also supported the 1949 creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance that would defend Western Europe from Eastern-bloc attack.

Truman won the 1948 election to remain in office. In 1950 Sen. Joseph McCarthy launched a campaign to drive Communists, real and imagined, out of government. The investigations grew in fervor until it was finally discredited, but for a time it all but overwhelmed Truman's domestic attention. Also in 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. Truman immediately sent U.S. troops to Korea, winning UN approval of the “police action.” His policy disputes with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN forces (of which 90% were from the United States), led him to dismiss MacArthur in 1951, sparking controversy at home. The Korean War ended by armistice in July 1953; loss of life was heavy on both sides.

Truman survived an assassination attempt in Nov. 1950 and, in 1950–51, congressional exposures of corruption and wrongdoing in some executive agencies. In 1952 he announced that he would not run for reelection.


Truman retired to his home in Independence, Mo., to write his memoirs and plan Independence's Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. He died Dec. 26, 1972, in Kansas City, Mo.


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