The Bully Pulpit Under Truman
W. R. Underhill
When Harry S. Truman became President in April, 1945, he was 61 years old, and if he had not become the nation's Chief Executive it is unlikely that anyone would remember a single line from remarks or speeches he had made during his preceding twenty-five years of public office. Neither originality nor eloquence made his rhetoric memorable; rather it was the office he held and the crises he met.
Truman had few of what are usually thought to be natural talents for public speaking. His voice was thin and marked by a distinct nasal quality. He spoke rapidly; his normal rate of speech was 150 words per minute, and in moments of excitement it might increase so that his utterances were difficult to understand. 1 Also, his movements on the platform were too wooden to win approval from professional rhetoricians. But effective rhetoric rests upon more than mere voice and gesture.
Truman's rhetorical preparation, like that of every other human being's, began in childhood and was nourished by circumstances of training and experience. One set of circumstances consisted of personal associations which contributed to his verbal habits and which helped crystallize most of his basic beliefs and attitudes long before he got into the White House. Many of these convictions were echoes from language he heard during his youth and early manhood-- language patterns which often came from a strong-willed mother who set forth simple wisdoms phrased in a positive style.
Margaret Truman in an understandably sympathetic biography of her father insisted that the influence Martha Ellen Truman had on her famous son has been exaggerated by writers and students of the Truman Presidency. While it may be impossible to measure with precision the role a parent plays in the shaping of a