Last year about this time I wrote about President Calvin Coolidge, who, as Vice-President to Warren Harding, was working on his father’s farm in Vermont when he learned of Harding’s untimely death. He took the oath of office by lamplight in his father’s farmhouse, with his father, who was a notary public, officiating.
This year during Presidents’ Day week, I recall another unlikely President, who started out life working his family’s Missouri farm. The hard work, work ethic and toughness that were required of Harry Truman in those early days served him pretty well during the challenging days of his Presidency.
You could trace a good share of the men who have served the country as President to roots on the farm. But Harry Truman was no gentleman farmer. He got his hands dirty, lived in an overcrowded farmhouse with his family, rose early for chores and worked the family’s 600-acre farm with his father for nearly a decade, before his father passed away in 1914. His father’s death allowed Harry to slowly ease out of farming and into other pursuits. In 1917, his career path was altered again when the U.S. entered World War I and Harry joined up with the 129th Artillery Regiment, serving in the war in France in 1918.
Harry was born in the small town of Lamar, Missouri in 1884. Growing up, he worked several jobs to help the family make ends meet. Finally, in 1906, he gave up a job as a bank clerk to help run the family farm near Grandview, Missouri.
Before Harry became Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice-President in the national election of 1944, he had earned a reputation as a hardworking, plain-spoken Senator from Missouri. He didn’t shy away from responsibility and liked to say things plain, so everyone would understand, even if they didn’t like what he was saying. A lot of farmers are the same way. They don’t like to beat around the bush, so to speak.
When Harry became President after Roosevelt’s death, he was again quite honest in his response, asking the country to pray for him as he took on the weight of ending World War II and all of the economic, domestic and international challenges of his new office. But, as Harry would say, “The buck stops here.” He willingly took on responsibility and didn’t run away from it. Even his detractors would give him that.
Although he was widely expected to lose the election of 1948 to Thomas Dewey, Truman campaigned relentlessly, traveling by train throughout farm country. He blamed his opponent’s party for low farm prices, and reminded them of FDR’s farm reform policies. It is said that he miraculously won that re-election bid for the Presidency on the farm vote. When his Presidency came to a close, he and his wife Bess moved back home to Independence, Missouri, where Harry could be seen many mornings walking his old neighborhood and visiting with old friends, just as any farmer might do. Here is this week’s discussion question. Name one thing you know about Harry Truman? You can share your thoughts here.
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