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President Harry S. Truman

Updated on January 6, 2017

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was the 33rd president of the United States (1945-53).

Born in Lamar, Missouri on April 12, 1945. In 1919 he married Elizabeth Wallace; they had one daughter. Unable to attend college, Truman worked at a number of jobs before entering politics. He also commanded an artillery battery in World War I. In 1922, with the support of the Kansas City Democratic machine, he was elected judge (actually, an administrator) of Jackson co; in 1926 he was elected president judge, or chief executive, of the county. In 1935 he went to the US Senate as an ardent New Dealer.

In the Senate, Truman was forced to live down his reputation as a machine politician. He was reelected in 1940, despite strong efforts to unseat him. During World War II, he headed a committee to stop waste in government spending. His success at that task-and his acceptability to all factions of the party-made him Roosevelt's choice for his vice-presidential running mate in 1944. The ticket won easily. Truman was vice president for less than three months; on April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died, and Truman became president.

Although ill-prepared, he took quick control of the reins of power. He ordered the bombing of Japanese cities with the atomic bomb, thereby bringing World War II to a victorious end.

The end of the war also saw the end of the alliance with the Soviet Union. The Cold War began, and Truman countered Soviet moves in Europe with such instruments as the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin airlift, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His domestic program, which he named the Fair Deal, was an enlargement of the New Deal programs.

In 1948, Truman was opposed for election by Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, who was widely expected to win, and by two splinter tickets of the Democratic party. Despite the opposition, Truman won in one of the great political upsets in US history. Truman's second term was beset by the issue of Communist infiltration of government, particularly by charges leveled by Senator Joseph McCarthy. His administration was blamed for the "loss" of China to communism. His last years in office were chiefly occupied with waging the Korean War. He chose not to run for reelection in 1952.


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