Column: When Harry met Frank

Harry Truman

Harry Truman

Commentary by Jonathan Matthes

Take a second and just look at the picture of the dweeb this article is about. Go ahead, these words aren’t going to run away.

That’s Harry S. Truman. The “S” stands for “S”, no, I’m not kidding. He never went to college. He once owned a clothing store. It failed. He liked bourbon and cuss words, but would never ever partake of either around a lady.

That dweeb was the 33rd President of the United States.

He wasn’t supposed to be. In 1944 he was the compromise candidate for vice president, a position he never wanted. President Franklin Roosevelt only met with him once before the election. It was for a lunch on the South Lawn of the White House.

Truman looked chipper, far younger than 60. Roosevelt looked far older than 62. But there they sat, over sardines and toast, the dweeb and the longest-serving president in American history.

It was an odd paring, and Truman was completely aware of that. Of all the things Truman was, he was self-assured. Not cocky, not arrogant, but he knew who he was. And on the South Lawn of the White House, when he saw Roosevelt’s frail appearance, he knew who he would become — 156 days after the 1944 election, Roosevelt was dead and Truman was president.

At that lunch, on that lawn, Truman marveled with how ill Roosevelt appeared. Roosevelt’s hands shook so badly that he couldn’t even pour his own cream.

Truman was ready to pour the cream for Roosevelt then, and although he dreaded it, he was ready to replace Roosevelt when the time came. He’d spent a lifetime preparing his own way.

Special thanks to:

  • David McCullough, “Truman”
  • Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
  • Lillian Cunningham, the Washington Post and their “Presidential” Podcast