I mentioned a short time ago that my parents are committed readers of biography (which makes Christmas and birthday shopping really easy). A couple of years ago I bought them a copy of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning life of Harry Truman. My mother was particularly taken with the biography and its subject and I’ve since enjoyed hearing her reflections on Truman. I asked her if she would write some reflections and what follows is the result. I loved reading it and hope you will too!
To my great surprise, I have come to heartily respect a New Deal Mason. And who is that? Harry Truman—someone I knew little about until I recently received the Truman biography by David McCullough. I am trying to learn more about American history, specifically the history of the twentieth century, so I took it on willingly. I became fascinated by this man almost immediately. Who doesn’t love to read the obscure beginnings of someone destined for fame, and try to understand the hows and whys of his life?
The golden thread that runs through Truman’s life, from first to last, is that of an honorable, incorruptible character. The tributes paid to his integrity would be unbelievable did they not come from so many people over such a long span of time. Here is a sampling, from everyone from his housemaid to Winston Churchill:
A fellow military officer from World War One said he was, "…one of the cleanest fellows morally that I ever saw or know….he was clean all the way through."
Vietta Garr, a servant in the Truman home for many years said, "I never heard a squabble the entire time I was with them. I have never seen Mr. Truman angry."
His long-term secretary said, "Never in all the years I worked for him did I ever see him lose his temper. He was always soft-spoken and very considerate to his staff."
Winston Churchill called him a "man of exceptional character."
And, from General Marshall, "The full stature of this man will only be proven by history. … It is not the courage of the decisions that will live, but the integrity of the man."
When Dean Acheson, his final Secretary of State, asked him to speak at Yale, he said, "it is not what he says but what he is which is important to young men, and gets communicated."
And, finally, Eric Sevareid looked back on Truman with these words, "…It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now."
And where did his noble bent of mind come from? From a mother who was unbending in her desire that he "be good", and from extensive exposure to historical heroes and to the Bible-which he had read twice by the time he was twelve years old. Truman was by no means a Christian-rather, he was a committed Mason-but he loved the ethics of Scripture and tried his best to live by them. His respect for Scripture, as he understood it, was both deep and sincere. As with his great hero, Andrew Jackson, he kissed the Bible at both of his inauguration ceremonies.