Harry S. Truman: 33rd President: The Most Awful Responsibility

Updated on December 13, 2019
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

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The Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Upon entering the White House after Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman told newspaper reporters, "I've got the most awful responsibility a man ever had. If you fellows ever pray, pray for me." He was referring to the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Though he knew that it would end the war and save lives, it was unknown what the lasting effects would be, as it had never been used before.

Although he was FDR's Vice President, before going into Office, he knew very little about the war and nothing about the development of the atomic bomb. FDR did not communicate much with his Vice President. FDR chose Truman, not because he was the preferred man for the job, but because he was a compromise between Roosevelt and the Democratic party. Although Roosevelt eventually chose him, he did not know him well and had not yet grown to trust him before he died. Due to being kept in the dark, when Truman unexpectedly became President, he told reporters, "I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."

Fortunately, Germany surrendered on May 7th, less than a month into his presidency, but he still had to decide how to defend the US against Japan. A team tested the first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert in Alamogordo to see what effects it might have. A fantastic sight appeared as a mushroom cloud rose 41,000 feet into the air, leaving behind a crater with a glassy, radioactive crust a half-mile wide.

After this test, the US sent an urgent plea to Japan to surrender. They did not; therefore, Truman made the tough decision to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, waited three days then another on Nagasaki. He felt that by doing so, it was saving millions of Americans' lives. It was six days after the second bomb, in which Japan finally surrendered officially ending WWI on August 15, 1945.

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Early Years

Before he became President and made his infamous decision, he lived a much more modest life. He was born in Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884, and grew up in Independence. For many years he managed the family farm, but what he wanted to do was go to West Point. Unfortunately, poor eyesight stopped his dream from coming to fruition, so he did the next best thing and joined the National Guard, where he fought in France during WWI as a captain in the Field Artillery.

When he returned home, he got married to Elizabeth Virginia Wallace and ran a clothing store in Kansas City. He was very active in the Democratic Party, which eventually allowed him to become elected as a judge in the Jackson County Court in 1922, then he became Senator in 1936. He was a very successful Senator and led an investigation into waste and corruption. Some believe, due to these efforts, he saved the government 15 billion dollars.

It was his great success as Senator that eventually earned him the Vice-Presidential nomination alongside FDR, which ultimately led to him becoming President and having to make the atomic bomb decision. Although he is most well-known for bombing Japan and ending WWII, he accomplished many notable things as President.

The Fair Deal and the Truman Doctrine

In June 1945, immediately upon coming into office, he witnessed the signing of the charter of the United Nations. He supported many of the policies Roosevelt had begun, then began establishing many of his own. He presented a 21-point program, which included such things as public housing, the Fair Employment Practices Act, and the expansion of Social Security. It eventually became known as the Fair Deal.

Due to the state of Europe, after WWII ended, he wrote the Truman Doctrine and, eventually, the Marshall Plan, which gave a lot of U.S. aid to Europe to rebuild and recover from the trauma of the war. Specifically, it assisted Turkey and Greece, in hopes to stop the guerrilla attacks against Turkey by the Soviet Union and protect Greece from Soviet threats.

In 1948, Truman ran for reelection. The media had stated that he had no chance of being reelected since the early polls had indicated just that. They stopped running campaign polls, although that did not slow his election campaign. His slogan was the "the buck stops here." Surprisingly, he won.

In June 1950, during his second term, he sent U.S. troops to Korea with the support of the United Nations, after Communist North Korea attacked South Korea. He did well balancing his involvement in the war while also keeping peace with neighboring countries China and Russia. Had he been too aggressive, it may have led to conflict with these countries. Peace talks began in 1951; two years later, the fighting ceased.

He decided not to run another term and moved back to his home state in Independence. He died there the day after Christmas in 1972 at 88 years old.


Fun Facts

  • He was a judge before becoming President.
  • He was an artillery commander during WWI, though poor eyesight kept him from going to West Point.
  • Although he was FDR's vice-president, the President did not know him well and chose it as a compromise to the Democratic party. Because of this, FDR did not trust him with information about the war, which he had to learn on his own after FDR died, and he instantly became President.
  • He survived an assassination attempt, but one of his guards did not. In 1950, when the White House was under renovation, he was staying at the Blair House. His guards stopped two Puerto Rican nationalists, one was killed by the same guard whose life was taken, and the other captured.
  • His middle name is just the letter "S" to honor a few different relatives whose names started with S.
  • Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment while he was in office, stating that "no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice."

Truman Initiating Korean Involvement

President Harry S. Truman is shown at his desk at the White House signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency.
President Harry S. Truman is shown at his desk at the White House signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency. | Source

Basic Facts

May 8, 1884 - Missouri
President Number
Military Service
Missouri National Guard United States Army United States Army Reserve
Wars Served
World War I
Age at Beginning of Presidency
61 years old
Term of Office
April 12, 1945 - January 20, 1953
How Long President
8 years
None (1945–49)[a] Alben W. Barkley (1949–53)
Age and Year of Death
December 26, 1972 (aged 88)
Cause of Death
multiple organ failure

Excerpt from the History Channel

List of American Presidents

1. George Washington
16. Abraham Lincoln
31. Herbert Hoover
2. John Adams
17. Andrew Johnson
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. Thomas Jefferson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
33. Harry S. Truman
4. James Madison
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. James Monroe
20. James Garfield
35. John F. Kennedy
6. John Quincy Adams
21. Chester A. Arthur
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
7. Andrew Jackson
22. Grover Cleveland
37. Richard M. Nixon
8. Martin Van Buren
23. Benjamin Harrison
38. Gerald R. Ford
9. William Henry Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
39. James Carter
10. John Tyler
25. William McKinley
40. Ronald Reagan
11. James K. Polk
26. Theodore Roosevelt
41. George H. W. Bush
12. Zachary Taylor
27. William Howard Taft
42. William J. Clinton
13. Millard Fillmore
28. Woodrow Wilson
43. George W. Bush
14. Franklin Pierce
29. Warren G. Harding
44. Barack Obama
15. James Buchanan
30. Calvin Coolidge
45. Donald Trump


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Harry S. Truman. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/harrystruman.
  • Http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/author/ncc/. "10 fascinating facts about President Harry S. Truman." Constitution Daily. May 08, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2016. http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/05/10-fascinating-facts-about-president-harry-s-truman/.
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz


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      • profile image

        marion d coath 

        3 years ago from aiken sc

        We almost destroyed ourselves along with planet earth cause it was really given to man to govern for positive and we took it and made it evil! Now here I go as a 2nd wave volunteer for yall...so y'all wont destroy yourselves along with mother earth! Youre WELCOMED! :-)


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