Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Harry Truman Speaks:

The President offers his views on art, the courts, decision making, eating, education, government, history, love and marriage, money, music, personal values, politics, popularity, Potomac fever, polls, the presidency, prima donnas, reading, religion, snobs, spelling, and women.

Compiled by Raymond H. Geselbracht

1. Who were the greatest Presidents of the United States?

President Truman: ... I'll name the ones that I consider made the greatest contribution to the maintenance of the republic. Washington, of course, that's established; then Jefferson, who turned the government over to the people; and Jackson, who continued that policy; then James K. Polk, who expanded the country to the Pacific and gave us space as a continental power and a chance to grow into one of the greatest republics. James K. Polk paid the same price for that part of the country that Thomas Jefferson paid for Louisiana. Don't forget that. Then Abraham Lincoln, of course, who saved the Union; he kept the Union from breaking apart. There might have been four or five countries, just like in Central America if that war had been successful.... Then, the next of the great ones was Grover Cleveland; he restored the Presidency to its proper place in the set-up of the government. he refused to be browbeaten by the Congress. And after Grover Cleveland came Theodore Roosevelt, who started the program of taking the government out of the hands of the great exploiters and putting it back into the hands of the people. Woodrow Wilson then came along in 1912 and followed through on that. If it hadn't been for World War One, he would have been very successful in obtaining what he set out to do in his first message. Then, when he finally worked on the peace treaty, he tried his level best to arrange world affairs so that we could not enter into another debacle like the First World War. he was not successful on account of...[the] isolationists.... They helped to bring on the Second World War. Then along came Franklin Roosevelt, who set the Presidency along the same lines as the ones I've names. He set the Presidency where it belonged and got the situation developed so that when the Second World War was over, we were able to establish the United Nations.... (Truman Speaks, pp. 24-25.)

... Some of the Presidents were great and some of them weren't. I can say that, because I wasn't one of the great Presidents, but I had a good time trying to be one, I can tell you that. (Truman Speaks, p. 9.)

2. What was the most difficult decision that you had to make when you were President?

President Truman: Korea. The reason for that was the fact that the policies of our allies and the members of the United Nations were at stake at the same time as ours. We were in the position where we had to enforce the situation; a great many of those friends of ours in the United Nations came in and helped. But that decision on Korea had to be made on the basis or world requirements; it was not entirely a decision of the United States, and every one of the allies approved it. So did the Congress, until they got it into politics. (Truman Speaks, p. 26.)

3. How would you describe the President's job?

President Truman: The President of the United States has six jobs....

The first great job that the President of the United States has is set out in the Constitution of the United States. In the second article you'll find that he's the Chief Executive, with orders to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. The President is the representative of the whole nation and he's the only lobbyist that all the 160 million people in this country have....

Now as to the President's next job in the Constitution: he's Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States when they're in Federal service. He's the absolute commander of the armed forces of the United States in time of war. He's the commander of the armed forces when they're called out for any purpose, if he wants to take control of them. Nobody else can do it. It's his business to outline policy for the military.... It's his privilege to appoint generals--and sometimes to fire them when it's necessary....

The President is also the maker of foreign policy of the United States. The President is absolutely responsible for our relations with other countries. he appoints ambassadors, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to represent him in these other countries. The President directs the foreign policy of the United States all the time. No one else can do it....

Then, he's one of the top legislators in the whole government. It's his business to inform the Congress, at least once a year, on the state of the Union, and to make such recommendations as he thinks are proper for the welfare of the country and for the peace of the world.... The President of the United States makes a lot of recommendations which he thinks are for the good of the country. Congress...usually tells him where to go--half the time. But he's still got to make the thing work. When Congress passes legislation, nobody can enforce that legislation but the President....

He's head of his political party. He sets the policy for the party that's responsible for the operation of the government; he must understand the workings of this approach to the operation of the government; and he must be sure that there is party responsibility for the policies which he makes....

Here's another job that is just as interesting as it can be.... As the head of the state, the President entertains all the visiting heads of state. He entertains kings and queens and princes and prime ministers. And usually, he gives a state dinner in honor of the visiting person.... Every time one of those great dinners comes up, you can only seat ninety-nine people in the State Dining Room in the White House, and you know what a time it is to get those ninety-nine places filled without making some of the great old social leaders feel pretty bad because they're not on the list. But sometimes it does them good to be left off; they behave a little better after that. (Truman Speaks, pp. 5-8.)

4. What do you think about the Constitution of the United States?

President Truman: The longer I live, the more I am impressed with the significance of our American Constitution. I want you to read it and think about it. It's a plan, but not a strait jacket, flexible and short. Read it one hundred times, and you'll always find something new. (Truman Speaks, p. 41.)

In many countries men swear to be loyal to the king, or to a nation, or to a flag, or to something else. We swear to uphold and defend a document, a document that sets up our living government. That's the reason why it is such a sacred document. (Truman Speaks, p. 36.)

5. What principles guided your career?

President Truman: You have to let your own conscience be your guide. My father used to say, that is all you can do. One comment was on a tombstone I saw in Arizona: Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest. What more can a man do? Do the best you can. Sometimes you come out successfully, sometimes you don't. You have to have luck and ability and be ready to meet the situation as it comes. All this happened to me. I never thought I would go to the United States Senate, but then I never thought I would go to the White House either. (Truman Speaks, p. 81.)

6. How did you feel when you found out that President Roosevelt had died and that you were now President?

President Truman: I was very much shocked. I am not easily shocked but was certainly shocked when I was told of the President's death and the weight of the Government had fallen on my shoulders. I did not know what reaction the country would have to the death of a man whom they all practically worshiped. I was worried about the reaction of the Armed Forces. I did not know what effect the situation would have on the war effort, price control, war production and everything that entered into the emergency that then existed. I knew the President had a great many meetings with Churchill and Stalin. I was not familiar with any of these things and it was really something to think about but I decided the best thing to do was to go home and get as much rest as possible and face the music.

My wife and daughter and mother-in-law were at the apartment of our next door neighbor [at 4701 Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC].... They had had a turkey dinner and they gave us something to eat. I had not had anything to eat since noon. [I] went to bed, went to sleep, and did not worry any more. (From Truman's diary, April 12, 1945. President's Secretary's Files.)

7. What are your personal feelings about women?

President Truman: ...I've always thought that the best man in the world is hardly good enough for any woman. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, postmarked November 4, 1913.)

I'm a damn fool I guess because I could never get excited or worked up about gals or women. I only had one sweetheart from the time I was six. I saw her in Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church in Independence when my mother took me there at that age and afterwards in the 5th grade at the Ott School in Independence when her Aunt Nannie was our teacher and she sat behind me. She sat behind me in the sixth, seventh and High School grades and I thought she was the most beautiful and sweetest person on earth--and I'm still of that opinion after...[many] years of being married to her. I'm old fashioned, I guess. (From Truman's diary, June 5, 1945. President's Secretary's Files.)

I was always afraid of the girls my age and older. (From Truman's Memoirs, I, page 115.)

"More hearts are broken and mended between the ages of sixteen & twenty than all the rest of life." (From Truman's high school English theme book for his senior year, Independence High School, 1900-1901.)

8. What were your thoughts when you drove through Berlin in July 1945, just before the Potsdam Conference began?

President Truman: [I] saw absolute ruin. Hitler's folly. He overreached himself by trying to take in too much territory. He had no morals and his people backed him up. Never did I see a more sorrowful sight, nor witness retribution to the nth degree.

The most sorrowful part of the situation is the deluded Hitlerian populace. Of course the Russians...kidnapped the able bodied and I suppose...made involuntary workmen of them. They...also looted every house left standing and...sent the loot to Russia. But Hitler did the same thing to them.

It is the Golden Rule in reverse--and it is not an uplifting sight. What a pity that the human animal is not able to put his moral thinking into practice!

[I] thought of Carthage, Baalbak, Jerusalem, Rome, Atlantis, Peking, Babylon, Nineveh; Scipio, Rameses II, Titus, Herman, Sherman, Jenghis Khan, Alexander, Darius the Great. But Hitler only destroyed Stalingrad--and Berlin. I hope for some sort of peace--but I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries and when morals catch up perhaps there'll be no reason for any of it.

I hope not. But we are only termites on a planet and maybe when we bore too deeply into the planet there'll [be] a reckoning--who knows? (From Truman's diary, July 16, 1945. President's Secretary's Files.)

9. What was it you said about prima donnas and Potomac fever?

President Truman: There are more Prima Donnas per square foot in public life...in Washington than in all the opera companies ever to exist. (From a letter to Martha Ellen Truman and Mary Jane Truman, October 23, 1945. Post-Presidential Papers.)

...Potomac fever [is] a peculiar disease that those mortals...who come to Washington to become >important' people in Government get. Woodrow Wilson said some people come here and grow up with responsibility. Some come and just swell up. (From a letter to Mary Ethel Noland, July 7, 1950. Mary Ethel Noland Papers.)

"I always made the distinction between the office of the President and the person of the President. That may seem to some a fine distinction, but I am glad I made it. Otherwise I might be suffering today from the same kind of 'importance' complex that some people have come down with. Washington is full of big shots whose already inflated egos go up with a touch of 'Potomac fever.' I tried very hard to escape that ludicrous disease." (From Mr. Citizen, 1960.)

10. What are your thoughts on education?

President Truman: [The] school system needs overhauling. Kids should learn more fundamental reading writing and arithmetic. Freud psychology and nut doctors' should be eliminated. (From a handwritten manuscript, May 12, 1945. President's Secretary's Files.)

"My definition of an education is the lighting of that spark which is called a 'thirst for information or knowledge.' A college graduate with the right sort of instruction should find at his graduation that he is only at the door of knowledge. He should have learned in going through his schooling where to find the information on the subjects that make for scholarship. If he hasn't learned that, the time spent in school has been wasted for no good purpose. If, when he comes out of school, that thirst for learning has been brought out he never ceases to find fields for study that open up endlessly before him." (From a handwritten manuscript, ca. 1953, President's Secretary's Files.)

For our day, and our children's day, education must become a continuing adventure in human understanding, shared by all. (From a letter to Dr. F. L. Schlagle, president of the National Education Association of the United States, July 18, 1946.)

I think we need to spend more time and money to make good teachers, both men and women. No one has more influence on the young mind except his mother.

My first, second and fourth grade teachers made more impression on me than all the rest put together. I skipped the third grade. They were good women who taught moral integrity as well as a.b.c.'s and readin', writin', & 'rithmetic. It makes not much difference what sort of a building you're in when you are after knowledge, but it does count entirely on who teaches you. (From a letter to Ellen Tilford (Nellie) Noland, October 29, 1949. Mary Ethel Noland Papers.)

Readers of good books, particularly books of biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers. Many readers become historians and teachers. They are retiring, timid when publicity is involved, and are among the greatest assets to this republic. (From a hand-written manuscript found in Truman's desk after he died, Post-Presidential Papers.)

The lack of home and tough school discipline has been a prime contribution to so-called juvenile delinquency. The Montessori plan, along with lazy parents, baby sitters and a shortage of switches, has made the teacher's role a hard one and has made our educational system a coddling process. (From an address made to a meeting of teachers at the Memorial Building, Independence, Missouri, August 30, 1957.)

11. Please tell me about the private prayer that you said all your life.

President Truman: [This] prayer...has been said by me--by Harry S. Truman--from high school days...as a bank clerk, as a farmer riding a gang plow behind four horses and mules, as a fraternity official learning to say nothing at all if good could not be said of a man, as a public official judging the weaknesses and shortcomings of constituents, and as President of the U.S.A.

...Oh! Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of Heaven, Earth and the Universe:

Help me to be, to think, to act what is right, because it is right; make me truthful, honest and honorable in all things; make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor and without thought of reward to me. Give me the ability to be charitable, forgiving and patient with my fellow men--help me to understand their motives and their shortcomings--even as Thou understandest mine! (From Truman's diary, August 15, 1950. President's Secretary's Files.)

12. What did you do when you heard the shots of the men who were trying to assassinate you on November 1, 1950?

President Truman: I stuck my head out the upstairs window [at Blair House, across the street from the White House, Truman's temporary residence while the White House was being renovated] to see what was going on. One of the guards yelled "Get back." I did, then dressed and went down stairs. I was the only calm one in the house. You see I've been shot at by experts and unless your name's on the bullet you needn't be afraid--and that of course you can't find out, so why worry. (From a letter to Mary Ethel Noland, November 17, 1950. Mary Ethel Noland Papers.)

13. How do you feel about art and music?

President Truman: I am very much interested in beautiful things, beautiful buildings, lovely pictures, music--real music, not noise.

The Parthenon, Taj Mahal, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, York Minster, Chartres Cathedral, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Capitol buildings of Mississippi, West Virginia, Utah, Missouri, the New York Life Building, My. City, the Sun Insurance building, Montreal, the Parliament Building in London, the Madeleine in Paris, the lovely Palace of Versailles, St. Mark's and the Doge's Palace in Venice.

Pictures, Mona Lisa, the Merchant, the Laughing Cavalier, Turner's landscapes, Remington's Westerns and dozens of others like them. I dislike Picasso, and all the moderns--they are lousy. Any kid can take an egg and a piece of ham and make more understandable pictures.

Music, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Strauss Waltzes, Chopin waltzes, Polonaises, Etudes, Von Weber, Rondo Brilliante, Polacca Brilliante. Beautiful harmonies that make you love them. They are not noise. It is music. (From Truman's diary, November 30, 1953. Post-Presidential Papers.)

Did you ever sit and listen to an orchestra play a fine overture and imagine that things were as they ought to be and not as they are? Music that I can understand always makes me feel that way. I think some of the old masters must have been in communication with a fairy goddess of some sort. That is, Mozart, Chopin, and Verdi were. Wagner and Bach evidently were in cahoots with Pluto. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, November 1, 1911. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

"It is too bad that our age has forgotten those things that make real art appealing-or they are too lazy to take the pains to do real work. I saw a bronze monstrosity in one of the art galleries and asked the director if it was meant to be a bronze picture of a devil's darning needle, [or] a vicious-looking bug that's scary to look at. The director turned pale and told me it was a modernist conception of love at first sight! Then I fainted." (From a handwritten manuscript, June 21?, 1956. Post-Presidential Papers, Trip File.)

14. What would your advice be to a young person who wants to go into politics?

President Truman: If a young man chooses politics as a profession he'll find it to his advantage to study the lives of all the great leaders throughout history starting with Greece and the great leaders of the city republics and...the Roman Republic....

He should carefully study the lives of the leaders of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and he should know the lives and motives of every President of the United States. Congressional leaders in every Presidential Administration should be carefully studies along with their ethics and their motives. Then he should know his State History from its colonial or territorial beginnings as well as his county history. If he lives in a town or city he should know his city government and its workings....

It takes a lifetime of the hardest kind of work and study to become a successful politician.... A great politician is known for the service he renders. He doesn't have to become President or Governor or the head of his city or county to be a great politician. There are mayors of villages, county attorneys, county commissioners or supervisors who render just as great service locally as do the heads of the government.

No young man should go into politics if he wants to get rich or if he expects an adequate reward for his services. An honest public servant can't become rich in politics. he can only attain greatness and satisfaction by service....

I would much rather be an honorable public servant and known as such than to be the richest man in the world. (From Truman's diary, April 24, 1954. Post-Presidential Papers.)

15. What is your opinion of polls?

President Truman: I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he'd taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he'd taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn't polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It is right and wrong and leadership--men with fortitude, honesty and a belief in the right that makes epochs in the history of the world. (From Truman's diary, 1954?, Post-Presidential Papers.)

16. What are some of your favorite books?

President Truman: ...Here are a few of the books I studied which helped to lend me confidence on many occasions.

There were the Marquis James books on Andrew Jackson, Claude Bowers' books on Jefferson, particularly his Jefferson and Hamilton, and a collection of Jefferson's letters called A Jefferson Profile, edited by a man named Padover. I think very highly of this last book.

There were all of Carl Sandburg's works on Abe Lincoln, the Memoirs of Thomas H. Benton and those of our former Congressman and Speaker from Missouri, Champ Clark; the Memoirs of General Grant which Mark Twain helped him write; the Memoirs of John Sherman and of William T. Sherman. Also valuable is Sol Bloom's accumulation of George Washington's papers which were published by the government.

When I was young, I read the Bible through many times. I read Plutarch's Lives of the great Romans and, before that, a four-volume set entitled Great Men and Famous Women and Abbot's Makers of History. Later on I came across and read Gibbon's Roman Empire.

In fact, I read everything I could get my hands on about men who made history.

The simplest conclusion I reached was that the lazy men caused all the trouble and those who worked had the job of rectifying their mistakes.

It has been a life-time program [of reading] for me, and if you start out on even this incomplete list, you will find it a lengthy study but well worthwhile. It will keep you out of mischief too. (From a letter to Orville L. Freeman, February 7, 1958. Post-Presidential Papers.)

17. What are your views on religion?

President Truman: I am by religion like everything else. I think there is more in acting than in talking. I had an uncle who said when one of his neighbors got religion strong on Sunday, he was going to lock his smokehouse on Monday. I think he was right from the little I have observed. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, February 7, 1911. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

In my opinion people's religious beliefs are their own affair, and when I don't agree with >em I just don't discuss religion. It has caused more wars and feuds than money, and that seems a shame too. (From a letter to Bess Truman, October 16, 1939. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

I'm not very much impressed with men who publicly parade their religious beliefs.... I've always believed that religion is something to live by and not to talk about. I'm a Baptist because I think that sect gives the common man the shortest and most direct approach to God. I've never thought the Almighty is greatly interested in pomp and circumstance, because if He is He wouldn't be interested in >the sparrow' alluded to in St. Matthew's Gospel. Religious stuffed shirts are just as bad or worse than political ones in my opinion. (From a handwritten autobiographical manuscript, 1945. President's Secretary's Files.)

[The Baptists] do not want a person to go to shows or dance or do anything for a good time. Well I like to do all those things and play cards besides. So you see I am not very strong as a Baptist. Anyhow I don't think any church on earth will take you to heaven if you're not real anyway. I believe in people living what they believe and talking afterwards.... (From a letter to Bess Wallace, March 19, 1911. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

There is great talk and commotion about public prayer. Most of it is not of any value. Prayer is a petition to God in whom all Christians pretend to believe. Jews, Mohammedans, Buddhists and Confucians worship the same God as the Christians say they do. He is all seeing, all hearing and all knowing. Nothing, not even the sparrow or the smallest bug escapes His notice.... No man needs an intermediary [to pray to God.] This intermediary thing was an inheritance of the Roman Gods Pantheon when a Pontifex Maximus was used to placate all the gods.... I don't believe that an intermediary is necessary for me to approach God Almighty. (From a handwritten manuscript found in Truman's desk after he died. Post-Presidential papers.)

"I've never been of the opinion that Almighty God cares for the building or the form that a believer approaches the Maker of Heaven and Earth. ''when two or three are gathered together" or when one asks for help from God he'll get it just as surely as will panoplied occupants of any pulpit. Forms and ceremonies impress a lot of people, but I've never thought that The Almighty could be impressed by anything but the heart and soul of the individual. That's why I'm a Baptist, whose church authority starts from the bottom-not the top." (From a handwritten manuscript [check], April 13, 1952. President's Secretary's Files.)

18. What do you think are the important things in life?

President Truman: You know when people can get excited over the ordinary things in life, they live. You know a good author makes common things seem great in books, and people who can live them that way always enjoy life. I never did know but one boy that way and only one man. Neither of them can cross the street without having an adventure worth telling of. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, March 19, 1911. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

19. Why do you have so much trouble spelling correctly?

President Truman: The English language so far as spelling goes was created by Satan I am sure. It makes no difference how well educated or how many letters a man can string to the back of his name, he never learns to spell so he is exactly sure I shouldn't be e or a, o. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, February 13, 1912. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

20. What is your opinion of vegetarianism?

President Truman: Really I guess we have no more moral right to murder a horse, cow, or hog than we have one another. There really is something to be admired in a South Sea Islander after all. They eat one another, making the chances equal, while we take life we raise for the purpose. Sometimes I have a notion to swear off on meat. Especially right after dinner, when I have had a sufficiency. Like the fellow in [a book I read recently]. He swore to St. George that if he'd spare the life of his friend, he'd quit drinking entirely except for a gallon of ale before dinner, a gallon during dinner, and a gallon after. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, postmarked September 17, 1912. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

21. How do you judge success in life?

President Truman: Success seems to me to be merely a point of view.... Some men have an idea that if they corner all the loose change they are self-made successful men. Makes no difference to them if they do eat beans off a knife or not know whether Napoleon was a man or a piece of silver.

Some others have a notion that if they can get high offices and hold up themselves as models of virtue to a gaping public in long-winded, high-sounding speeches they have reached the highest pinnacle of success. It seems to me that an ability to hand out self-praise makes most men successes in their own minds anyway. Some of the world's greatest failures are really greater men than some of the other kind. To succeed financially a man can't have any heart. To succeed politically he must be an egotist or a fool or a ward boss tool. To my notion, an ideal condition would be to have to work just enough so if you stopped you'd not go busted at once--but still you'd know if you didn't work you couldn't live. And then have you home and friends and pleasures regulated to your income.... I am sure I'd be satisfied then to let vile ambition, political or monetary, starve at the gate. (From a letter to Bess Wallace, ca. summer 1913. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

22. You've met thousands and thousands of people in your life. What's your secret for dealing with people?

President Truman: I've seen so much difficulty caused by sheer unthoughtfulness that I've tried all my life to be thoughtful and to make every person I come in contact with happier for having seen me.... I've never paid any attention to what people...said about me and very little to what they say to me, because most people only mean about half they say. (From a letter to Bess Truman, February 1, 1937. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

I do a lot of analyzing of my own reactions before I blame anyone else, and then I don't blame >em much. But I do like my friends. (From a letter to Bess Truman, August 4, 1941. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.)

23. What sort of person should we pick to be President?

President Truman: Well, the first thing you've got to be sure of is that you have a man who is honorable and who has broad experience in government.... But you can't tell what's inside of a man until you put him into office. if you take a man from a minor position and put him into a job of responsibility, sometimes he will turn out to be a success and sometimes he'll turn out to be an utter fool. There is no way you can tell how the mind of a man is going to work. You have to take a chance on a person.... Experience shows many make good and a great many don't. That's the difficulty. It's the human animal all over again, and you do the best you can in trying to find the right man.

...One thing I am certain about, there's nothing in our history, so far as I am able to find out, that shows that a man can be trained to be President of the United States.... (Mr. Citizen, 1960,
pp. 147-148.)

24. Do you regret any of the decisions you made when you were President?

President Truman: I am not one who believe it does any good to cry over past mistakes. You have got to keep looking ahead and going straight ahead all the time, making decisions and correcting the situation as you go along. This calls for a fundamental policy, a basic outlook, for the making of major foreign and domestic decisions.... A President who hesitates or temporizes usually is not certain of what he wants, and he is greatly handicapped when he has to act without a clear-cut policy.

A President ought not to worry whether a decision he knows he has to make will prove to be popular. The question is not whether his actions are going to be popular at the time but whether what he does is right. And if it is right in the long run it will come out all right. The man who keeps his ear to the ground to find out what is popular will be in trouble. I usually say that a man whose heart is in the right place and who is informed is not likely to go very far wrong when he has to act.

[When I was President,] once I made up my mind, I acted. And I did not worry about the action I took. If you are going to walk the floor and worry yourself to death every time you have to make a decision, or if you fail to make up your mind, then you are not suited for the job. (From Mr. Citizen, 1960, pp. 263-265.)

25. What did you think (from your grave) when the Soviet Union fell in 1989?

President Truman: I have great faith in people, whatever their race or wherever they are. They value freedom above all else, and no conqueror or dictator can ever hold them down for long. (From Mr. Citizen, 1960, p. 272.)

[In my Farewell Address to the American people on January 15, 1953, I predicted that the Soviet Union would some day fall:]

...When and how will the cold war end? I think I can answer that simply. The Communist world has great resources, and it looks strong. But there is a fatal flaw in their society. Theirs is a godless system, a system of slavery; there is no freedom in it, no consent. The Iron Curtain, the secret police, the constant purges, all these are symptoms of a great basic weakness--the rulers' fear of their own people.

In the long run the strength of our free society, and our ideals, will prevail over a system that has respect for neither God nor man....

As the free world grows stronger, more united, more attractive to men on both sides of the Iron Curtain--and as the Soviet hopes for easy expansion are blocked--then there will have to come a time of change in the soviet world. Nobody can say for sure when that is going to be, or exactly how it will come about, whether by revolution, or trouble in the satellite states, or by a change inside the Kremlin.

Whether the Communist rulers shift their policies of their own free will--or whether the change comes about in some other way--I have not a doubt in the world that a change will occur.

26. What do you think of politicians?

President Truman: The good word "politics," which really means the science of government, has been abused in our time, and has been given a definition meaning "dishonest management to win an election for a party or a candidate." The use of the latter definition by newspapers and those who like to turn up their noses up at everyday people has obscured the real meaning of the world "politics."

A politician is a man who is interested in good government. There is a saying in the Senate that a statesman is a dead politician. A statesman must be an honorable man and he must be a good politician in order to become a statesman under our form of government. If you will study the history of our country you'll find that our greatest presidents and congressional leaders have been the ones who have been vilified worst by the current press. But history justifies the honorable politician when he works for the welfare of the country.

I would risk my reputation and my fortune with a professional politician sooner than I would with the banker or the businessman or the publisher of a daily paper! More young men and young women should fit themselves for politics and government. (From a handwritten manuscript in the President's Secretary's Files.)

27. Do you think money and special interest groups have become too important in politics?

President Truman: I've just been informed that the Democratic Party...has gone high hat and is charging one thousand dollars for the privilege of sitting with the President of the United States at a dinner! The President of the United States represents 180,000,000 people who have no other person to look after their interests.... When the Party of the People [the Democratic Party] goes high hat on a cost basis, it no longer represents the common every day man--who is the basis of the Democratic Party. (From a handwritten manuscript found in Truman's desk after he died. Post-Presidential Papers.)

The Democratic Party is the peoples party. It is dedicated to the service of all the people and not just the [service of] the special interests of a few. The record of the Democratic party is blazed across the face of the nation...in a story of better, healthier, happier life for the common people in this great country.... Special interests never let up in their effort to control this free government of ours. It is just as important now to prevent that from happening as it was in times of the great Presidents--[Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt]. (From a handwritten manuscript, Definition of the Democratic Party, found in Truman's desk after he died. Post-Presidential Papers.)

28. What advice would you give to a young person trying to decide what to do in life?

President Truman: Make no little plans. Make the biggest one you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out. (From a handwritten manuscript. President's Secretary's Files.)

29. What is the proper role of the courts?

President Truman: The courts should be strictly judicial and not dabble in policy--except interpretation of the Constitution. It is not at all proper for courts to try to make laws or to read law school theories into the law and policy laid down by the Congress. (From a handwritten manuscript, May 12, 1945.)

30. What do you do to relax?

"…My only relaxation is to work, and I never have known anybody to be injured by too much hard work. It is the lack of it that kills people." (From a televised interview on "Person to Person," CBS, May 27, 1955.)

31. Why did you put a fence around your home in Independence?

"…The fence had to be put up to offset the American propensities for collecting souvenirs and tearing the house down…. The Secret Service decided that the fence would save our property from being destroyed. It is an old story that Americans like to collect souvenirs. When I was in the First World War it was said that the British fought for control of the seas; the French for the freedom of France; and the Americans fought for souvenirs and they are still fighting for them." (From a televised interview on "Person to Person," CBS, May 27, 1955.)

32. Everybody thought you were going to lose the election in 1948. What made you think you would win?

"…I had come to the conclusion that when the people know the facts and they know that you are telling the truth and stand for the things that are for their best interests they will vote for you, and I was very well assured that if I could see enough people and talk to enough people I could be elected, and that is what I did and this is the way it came out." (From a televised interview on "Person to Person," CBS, May 27, 1955.)

33. How do you want to be remembered?

"I hope to be remembered as the people's President. I have always said that there are a great many important organizations with lots of money who maintain lobbyists in Washington. I'd say…[about 10% of the] people in the United States represented by lobbyists in the city of Washington. The…[other 90%] have only one man who is elected at large to represent them. That's the President of the United States. When he goes back on them they are in a bad way." (From a televised interview on "Person to Person," CBS, May 27, 1955.)

34. Do you think women are frail?

"[I read in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice,] 'Frailty thy name is woman.' Why? Why is a woman frail? Is it because she used to stay indoors and do nothing? or because she is dependent? Look over the pages of history and find how many a man or nation would have fallen if it hadn't been for a woman. Look how many would have stood it if hadn't been for a woman in the case. Look at Esther braving the wrath of the greatest of kinds for her country's sake; at Delilah who caused the fall of the strongest of men. We can cite hundreds of examples of the same nature. This doesn't look as if she's frail, does it? She's generally frail to a man when she has the best of him." (From Truman's high school English theme book for his senior year, Independence High School, 1900-1901.)

35. What do you think is the proper place of worldly possessions and worldly wisdom in one's life?

"This world is made up of all sorts and conditions of men, from the best one could wish to the basest one could imagine. There are men who love money who will do anything for money, who will sell their souls for money. Then there are men who love money for the good that is in it, who like to use it to make others happy. There are men who love everything worldly, love wine[,] women and a good time, then there are those who are so religious they have no time to think of anyone or anything. These men are extremists who run the thing into the ground. I like a man who has enough worldly wisdom to take care of himself; but I like him to have time to love both his God and those around him." (From Truman's high school English theme book for his senior year, Independence High School, 1900-1901.)

36. How did you feel about Bess Wallace when you were at school together?

[Aside from Sunday school, Bess and I went to school together for the first time in the fifth grade.] "She sat behind me. I could not keep my mind on lessons or anything else. I read sweet stories. Always she was the heroine and I the hero. She never noticed me. I went all the way to graduation in high school with her and still she never paid me any attention except on occasion to let me carry her books home sometimes. I am still as crazy [about her] as ever and she is the mother of my daughter. I wish I had the power of Tolstoy or Poe or some other genius to tell [our love story]." (From a handwritten manuscript, May 1931, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

37. How important do you believe marital fidelity to be?

"…A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." (From a handwritten manuscript, about 1931, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

38. What is more important to a man in public life, money or honor?

"Since a child at my mother's knee I have believed in honor, ethics and right living as its own reward. I find a very small minority who agree with me on that premise." (From a handwritten manuscript, about 1931, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

"I almost believe that money or the goods of this world, whether it be stone clubs and caves or gold and palaces is all that we struggle for after all. But according to Plutarch, Moses, Buddha and the other ethical enthusiasts it isn't all. I wonder." (From a handwritten manuscript, about 1931, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

"I always did let ethics beat me out of money and I suppose I always will." (From a handwritten manuscript, May 1934, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

39. How did you and Bess feel when World War I started and you decided to join the Army?

"I was stirred in heart and soul by the war messages of Woodrow Wilson and…I thought I ought to go [to war]. I believe that the great majority of the country were stirred by the same flame that stirred me in those great days. I felt that I was a Galahad after the Grail and I'll never forget how my love cried on my shoulder when I told her I was going. That was worth a lifetime on this earth." (From a handwritten manuscript, May 1931, from the so-called "Pickwick Papers.")

40. After you met Bess in Sunday school when you were children, did you try to become friends with her?

"I was too backward to look at her very much and I didn't speak to her for five years." (Source?)

41. Why did you decide not to run for a third term as President?

"…My reason for not running again [was] based on the fact that I don't think that any man-I don't care how good he is-is indispensable in any job. The Presidency itself is a continuing office, the greatest office in the history of the world, and that office ought to be continuing as far as individuals are concerned.

"And another thing…. When a man has been [President] for 8 years…he has-or should have by that time-made all the contribution that he possibly can to the welfare of the Nation….

"I…tried my best to give the Nation everything I had in me. There are a great many people-I expect a million in the country-who could have done the job better than I did it. But, I had the job, and I had to do it. And I always quote one epitaph which is on a tombstone in the cemetery at Tombstone, Ariz[ona]. It says, 'Here lies Jack Williams, he done his damndest.' I think that is the greatest epitaph that a man can have. When he gives everything that is in him to the job that he has before him, that's all you can ask of him. And that's what I have tried to do." (From President Truman's new conference, April 17, 1952.)

42. How do you feel about things being named for you?

"…When I was Presiding Judge of the [Jackson] County Court, people wanted to name every road in the County for me and I wouldn't allow it…. I have no desire to have roads, bridges or buildings named after me." (From a letter to William Southern, Jr., February 25, 1946.)

43. How do you feel about diets? How much do you weigh and what do you eat?

"These damned diets the women go for are all wrong. More people die of dieting these days than of eating too much.

"My good doctor is all the time trying to cut my weight down. Of course he's right and I should weigh 170 pounds. Now I weigh 175….

"When I went into World War I, I weighed 145 pounds. After two years service I weighed 155. While I was in the Senate I was ten pounds heavier-165.

"When I moved into the White House I went up to 185. I've now hit an average of 175. I walk two miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty eight steps a minute, I eat no bread but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast; liver & bacon or sweet breads or ham or fish and spinach and another nonfattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of nonfattening vegetables and an ice, orange, pineapple or raspberry for dinner. So-I maintain my waist line and can wear suits bought in 1935!" (From a handwritten [check] manuscript, January 3, 1952.)

44. How does the American President compare to history's kings and emperors?

"[The Presidency] is the greatest office in the history of the world. Not one of the great oriental potentates, Roman Emperors, French Kings, Napoleon, Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Jenghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Mogul Emperors, the great Caliph of Baghdad had half the power and influence that the President of the United States now has. It is a terrifying responsibility. But the responsibility has to be met and the decisions made-right or wrong.

"I make them as they come, always prayerfully and hopefully." (From a handwritten manuscript, June 15, 1952.)

45. Do you believe in negative campaigning?

"My approach…[to campaigning] was always to explain the principles on which I was running. Don't attack your opponent. Whenever you do, it only gives him free advertising and another chance to attack you. Let him attack you if he will, but you will be all right if you stick to the issues." (Letter to Frank McNaughton, October 18, 1956.)

46. What did you think should be done about the homeless and stateless displaced persons in Europe after World War II?

"When I was at [the] Potsdam [Conference in Germany in July and August, 1945] I looked into the displaced person situation. At that time there were 1,200,000 of them from all the countries named in Eastern Europe. After I arrived at Washington, I asked…[the chairmen of the emigration committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives] to go to Germany and then to come and see me to talk about a plan for taking care of them. Well these two great Chairmen went to Europe and came back. They both reported that we already had enough 'furriners' in this country and we needed no more! I reminded them that 'displaced' persons made this great nation what it is. The idea I had was that we take 400,000, South America take 400,000 and the Commonwealth countries take 400,000. After most bitter legislative fights we finally took 339,000. I hope we will agree to 300,000 more. They are fine people and may be an addition to our blood stream that we need right now." (From a handwritten manuscript [check], April 15, 1952. President's Secretary's Files.)

47. When you went to the Senate in 1935, did you feel intimidated by the other Senators?

"…When I was elected to the Senate in 1934, [a friend of mine told me] not to go to the Senate with an inferiority complex; [he said] that for six months I'd sit in that august body and wonder how I'd attained a seat in it, and after that I'd wonder how in hell the rest of them ever arrived in the Senate! How very true that turned out to be…." (From Truman's diary, Post-Presidential Papers, Memoirs File.)

48. What do you think of snobs?

"I suppose we will always have some snobbery in the world, and that is too bad. I do not think any man should be ashamed of what he does, no matter what it is, so long as it is useful and honorable. The man who is proud of his job has no trouble in this free country of ours, and I do not believe in anyone's taking the attitude that he is better than anyone else because he apparently has a better job.

"I like to think that in this country a man who makes good on one job can always expect promotion to a better one, and I hope that will always be so. I would like to see our youngsters grow up with an outlook that they must not, under any circumstances, feel that they are any better than the other fellow because they have a better financial status in the community.

"It has always been the case that people who live in big houses think that they are better than those who live in small houses. I never thought so, and I guess that is one of the reasons I feel I had little trouble making the people understand what I believe about our kind of freedom and democracy." (Mr. Citizen, 1960, pp. 90-91.)

49. In all your career in politics, which office did you want most?

"I never ran for a political job in my life that I wanted." (Jonathan Daniels, The Man of Independence (Philadelphia and New York, 1950), p. 114.)

50. Do you make decisions right away, or did you wait a while before you decide something?

"When you have to make a decision, you can't wait for tomorrow to make it. You've got to make it now, and then if it's wrong, maybe tomorrow you can make a better one." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 99.)

51. Did you try to do things that were popular when you were President?

"…The question is not whether [something is] popular at the time, but whether it's right, and if it's right, in the long run it will come out all right. But the man who keeps his ear to the ground-You know, it was said of one of the Presidents of the United States that he had his ears so close to the ground they were full of grasshoppers. That's the trouble with most people who put their ears to the ground: They're full of grasshoppers, and they can't themselves make up their minds between what's right and what's wrong. It's not necessarily a popular decision that you want to make; it's one that is for the welfare and benefit of future generations. If it's right, make it, and let the popular part take care of itself." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 100.)

52. When you got to the end of your term as President, what did you want to do next?

"I always thought that when a fellow who had started on a farm and had gone through all the political setup that there is, from precinct to President, came to that point where it was time to quit, he ought to quit, then go back and see if he couldn't give people information on what causes the greatest government in the history of the world to run. I'm a nut on the subject, I guess." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 102.)

"I don't know of anything better in the world that a man can do that's more helpful to the welfare of the nation than to get the youngsters to understand what they have and what they have to do to keep it, but I try to impress upon them that they didn't get this form of government for nothing. It was gotten through sweat, blood, and tears, the shedding of a lot of blood. In fact, we had to spend four years [in the Civil War] whipping ourselves before we made up our minds that we wanted this form of government. We've still got it. It's still the best government in the history of the world, and it always will be if the youngsters want to keep it up on the basis on which it was founded." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 112.)

53. Do you think peace is the most important thing in the world?

"…Peace is a wonderful thing, and we all want it, but freedom and liberty are worth more than peace, and sometimes you have to fight for them." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 112.)

54. Do you think we're bringing up our young people properly?

"No, I think we've been too lazy in bringing them up. You know, it takes a mother and a father who are interested in raising a family to make a family. The greatest institution in the world is the raising of a family in the right way. In order to do that, they must be taught respect and discipline at home. It can't be done anywhere else, and when that fails…then trouble begins. It takes mother and father to raise a family, and they've both got to be interested in seeing that that family grows up to be good citizens. And they can make them that if they want to. But it takes hard work. I know, because I've tried it." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 114.)

"…I don't think we have used the hickory switch and the paddle as often as we ought to on the youngsters as they grow up." (From an interview with Truman, September 10, 1959, in Talking with Harry, Ralph E. Weber, editor (Wilmington, Delaware, 2001), p. 114.)