Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence

By William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

1
The State of the Art in Truman Research

Charles J. Tull

Thirty years have now elapsed since Harry S. Truman departed the White House for the friendly confines of the Gates-Wallace house at 219 North Delaware in Independence, Missouri. We come here to Hofstra to commemorate, a year early it is true, the 100th anniversary of the birth of this remarkable man by assessing the state of Truman scholarship today.

Seldom has any president been the recipient of so much public affection as Truman has received in recent years. As a result of the political malaise which has settled over this country since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the divisive Vietnam War, and the dispiriting trauma of Watergate, Harry Truman has become an authentic folk hero to many Americans. Truman mania boomed in the mid-1970s; Margaret Truman affectionate Harry S. Truman and Merle Miller's popular Plain Speaking were both best-sellers. James Whitmore triumphantly toured the country with Samuel Gallu one-man play, "Give 'em Hell, Harry," in 1975. This play also became a very successful motion picture. Three television shows, all very favorable to Mr. Truman, appeared within a relatively short span of time. A Republican President, Gerald Ford, who had tenaciously battled Truman as a young Congressman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, proudly proclaimed the Missourian as his own and conspicuously displayed a bust of Truman in the oval office. In the 1976 campaign both Ford and his Democratic rival, Jimmy Carter, outdid one another in claiming to be cast from the Truman mold. As recently as 1980 when the Gallup Poll asked "Of all the Presidents we've ever had, who do you wish were President?", Harry Truman finished an impressive third behind John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. 1

This great outpouring of affection is especially interesting to those of us who remember how unpopular Mr. Truman was as president. For years he held the dubious distinction of receiving the lowest popularity rating ever given to an

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