Harry S. Truman

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I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they think it's hell.

Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States (1945–53), an American politician of the Democratic Party. He served as a United States senator from Missouri (1935–45) and briefly as vice president (1945) before he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945 upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was president during the final months of World War II, making the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman was elected in his own right in 1948. He presided over an uncertain domestic scene as America sought its path after the war, and tensions with the Soviet Union increased, marking the start of the Cold War.


When a High Explosive shell bursts in fifteen feet and does you no damage, you can bet your sweet life you bear a charmed life and no mistake.
At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.
No government is perfect. One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.
All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
I've said many a time that I think the Un-American Activities Committee in the House of Representatives was the most un-American thing in America!
  • I think one man is just as good as another so long as he's honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman. Uncle Wills says that the Lord made a white man from dust, a nigger from mud, and then threw what was left and it came down a Chinaman. He does hate Chinese and Japs. So do I. It is race prejudice I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion that negroes ought to be in Arica, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America.
  • Now days battles are just sort of a "You shoot up my town and I'll shoot up yours." They say that Americans don't play fair. They shoot 'em up all the time. I hope so because I want to finish this job as soon as possible and begin making an honest living again... Have fired 500 rounds at the Germans, at my command, been shelled, didn't run away thank the Lord and never lost a man. Probably shouldn't have told you but you'll not worry any more if you know I'm in it than if you think I am. Have had the most strenuous work of my life, am very tired but otherwise absolutely in good condition physically mentally and morally... When a High Explosive shell bursts in fifteen feet and does you no damage, you can bet your sweet life you bear a charmed life and no mistake. I didn't have sense enough to know what was going on until the next day and then I was pretty scared. The men think I am not much afraid of shells but they don't know. I was too scared to run and that is pretty scared.
  • If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word.
  • People are very much wrought up about the Communist bugaboo... the country is perfectly safe so far as Communism is concerned—we have too many sane people.
    • Letter to George H. Earle, former governor of Pennsylvania (received 28 February 1947); reported in The New York Times (3 April 1947), p. 17, quoting Earle.[1]
  • I am not worried about the Communist Party taking over the Government of the United States, but I am against a person, whose loyalty is not to the Government of the United States, holding a Government job. They are entirely different things. I am not worried about this country ever going Communist. We have too much sense for that.
    • Responding to a question at his press conference (February 28, 1947); reported in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947, p. 191
  • It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in our country's efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens. Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to insure that all Americans enjoy these rights. When I say all Americans, I mean all Americans.
  • Some of my best friends never agree with me politically.
    • Statement to a group of four congress freshmen (2 July 1947), as quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44
  • The Russians are like us, they look and act like us. They are fine people. They got along with our soldiers in Berlin very well. As far as I am concerned, they can have whatever they want just so they don't try to impose their system on others.
    • Statement to a group of four congress freshmen (2 July 1947), as quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44
  • The Russians are liars – you can't trust them. At Potsdam they agreed to everything and broke their word. It's too bad the second world power is like this, but that's the way it is, and we must keep our strength.
    • Statement to Richard Nixon and his wife Pat in 1969, as quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44
  • Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me. I've got the most terribly responsible job a man ever had.
  • Never bring that fucking cretin in here again. He did not drop the bomb. I did. That kind of weepiness makes me sick.
    • Comment to Secretary of State Dean Acheson regarding Robert Oppenheimer, after Oppenheimer's comment to Truman about having "blood on my hands" due to his role in creating the atomic bombs. As quoted in Alan Axelrod (2009). The Real History of the Cold War: A New Look at the Past. Sterling, ISBN 9781402763021
  • No nation on this globe should be more internationally minded than America because it was built by all nations.
    • Harry Truman at Chicago, 17 March 1945, as recorded in Good Old Harry
  • Mr. Luce, you've asked a fair question and I'll give you a fair answer. I've been in politics thirty-five years and everything that could be said about a human being has been said about me. But my wife has never been in politics. She has always conducted herself in a circumspect manner and no one has a right to make derogatory remarks about here. Now your wife has said many unkind and untrue things about Mrs. Truman. And as long as I am in residence here, she'll not be a guest in the White House.
    • Letter to Henry Luce (1945); as quoted in Good Old Harry
  • I sincerely wish that every member of Congress could visit the displaced person's camp in Germany and Austria and see just what is happening to 500,000 human beings through no fault of their own.
    • Letter to Walter F. George (October 1946); as quoted in Great Jewish Quotations (1996) by Alfred J. Kolatch, p. 463
  • At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.
    One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.
    The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.
    I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
    I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.
    • Speech to a joint session of the US Congress (12 March 1947), outlining what became known as The Truman Doctrine
  • Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it. He'd no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs. Henry brought a thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed. When the country went backward — and Republican in the election of 1946, this incident loomed large on the DP [Displaced Person] program. The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DP as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes. Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on DP — and they all come from DPs.
  • This is a Christian nation.
    • "Exchange of Messages With Pope Pius XII," American Presidency Project, August 28, 1947.
  • The people can never understand why the President does not use his powers to make them behave. Well all the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
    • Letter to Mary Jane Truman (14 November 1947)
  • On tight money: It reflects a reversion to the old idea that the tree can be fertilized at the top instead of at the bottom — the old trickle-down theory.
    • Harry Truman at the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Convention, Atlantic City (May 13, 1954), Good Old Harry
  • Your old friend Congressman Hartley of the Taft Hartley team ... has written a book ... The title of this book is Our New National Labor Policy, the Taft-Hartley Act and the Next Steps. Get that: "The Next Steps" ... They're going even further! ... The Republicans favor a minimum wage — the smaller the minimum the better.
    • Harry Truman at Akron (11 October 1948), Good Old Harry
  • Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it — don't forget that! We will do that because they are wrong and we are right, and I will prove it to you in just a few minutes.
  • One of the difficulties with all our institutions is the fact that we've emphasized the reward instead of the service.
  • All of you, I am sure, have heard many cries about Government interference with business and about "creeping socialism." I should like to remind the gentlemen who make these complaints that if events had been allowed to continue as they were going prior to March 4, 1933, most of them would have no businesses left for the Government or for anyone else to interfere with — and almost surely we would have socialism in this country, real socialism.
    • Harry Truman in Detroit (14 May 1950), as recorded in Good Old Harry
  • I was the only calm one in the house. You see I've been shot at by experts.
    • Comment on his World War I experience after an assassination attempt on (1 November 1950) as quoted in Bess W. Truman (1986) by Margaret Truman
  • I have read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an eight ulcer man on a four ulcer job ... Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below.
    • Letter to critic Paul Hume, as quoted in Time magazine (18 December 1950)
  • On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government's farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government's labor policy.
    That's plain hokum. It's an old political trick: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em." But this time it won't work.
    • Address at the National Plowing Match (18 September 1948); as quoted in Miracle of '48: Harry Truman's Major Campaign Speeches and Selected Whistle-stops (2003); edited by Steve Neal. Truman's mention of an "old political trick" is often quoted alone as if it were a strategy he was advising rather than one he was criticizing.
  • I've seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn't believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.
  • Of course, there are dangers in religious freedom and freedom of opinion. But to deny these rights is worse than dangerous, it is absolutely fatal to liberty. The external threat to liberty should not drive us into suppressing liberty at home. Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.
    All freedom-loving nations, not the United States alone, are facing a stern challenge from the Communist tyranny. In the circumstances, alarm is justified. The man who isn't alarmed simply doesn't understand the situation — or he is crazy. But alarm is one thing, and hysteria is another. Hysteria impels people to destroy the very thing they are struggling to preserve.
    Invasion and conquest by Communist armies would be a horror beyond our capacity to imagine. But invasion and conquest by Communist ideas of right and wrong would be just as bad.
    For us to embrace the methods and morals of communism in order to defeat Communist aggression would be a moral disaster worse than any physical catastrophe. If that should come to pass, then the Constitution and the Declaration would be utterly dead and what we are doing today would be the gloomiest burial in the history of the world.
  • You know, the United States Government turns its Chief Executive out to grass. They're just allowed to starve . . . If I hadn't inherited some property that finally paid things through, I'd be on relief now.
    • Interview with Edward R. Murrow on CBS Television (2 February 1958)
  • I'm proud that I'm a politician. A politician is a man who understands government, and it takes a politician to run a government. A statesman is a politician who's been dead 10 or 15 years.
    • Impromptu remarks before the Reciprocity Club, Washington, D.C. (11 April 1958)
    • As quoted in The New York World Telegram & Sun (12 April 1958)
  • Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.
    • Lecture at Columbia University (28 April 1959)
  • They couldn't include me in it because I was the President, and I can be elected as often as I want to be. I'm going to run again when I'm ninety. I've announced that a time or two, and you know, some damn fool looked the situation over and said, "When you're ninety, it's an off year," so I can't even run then. I didn't know I was going to stir up all that trouble . . .
    • On the 22nd Amendment limiting a president to two terms, in a lecture at Columbia University (28 April 1959)
  • I don't believe in anti-anything. A man has to have a program; you have to be for something, otherwise you will never get anywhere.
    • Lecture at Columbia University (28 April 1959)
  • I've said many a time that I think the Un-American Activities Committee in the House of Representatives was the most un-American thing in America!
    • Third Radner Lecture, Columbia University, New York City (29 April 1959), as published in Truman Speaks : Lectures And Discussions Held At Columbia University On April 27, 28, And 29, 1959 (1960), p. 111
  • And as I say to you, whenever you put a man on the Supreme Court, he ceases to be your friend, you can be sure of that.
    • Reported in Truman Speaks (1960), p. 59.
  • Student: Some people suggest that you are getting mellowed and less militant. Is that so?
    Truman: Not in the slightest degree. They are trying to make an elder statesmen of me, but they will never succeed.
    • Mr. Citizen, Harry Truman (1960)
  • I do not believe in shooting anything that cannot shoot back.
    • Mr. Citizen, Harry Truman (1960)
  • My favorite animal is the mule. He has more sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating — and when to stop working.
    • Mr. Citizen, Harry Truman (1960)
  • We are in a troublesome period, and some "nonsense" as you term it — but this is a great nation with a high purpose, and we shall come to our senses and resume our course.
    • On problems during the Vietnam War, in a letter to Charles Kennedy (18 March 1970)
  • My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth there's hardly any difference.
    • As quoted in Esquire, Vol. 76 (1971), also in Truman's Crises : A Political Biography of Harry S. Truman (1980) by Harold Foote Gosnell, p. 9; sometimes paraphrased: Being a politician is like being a piano player in a whorehouse.
  • The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.
    • As quoted in Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Miller, p. 26
  • He's one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides.
    • On Richard Nixon, as quoted Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Miller, p. 179
  • I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the president. That's the answer to that. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.
    • On General Douglas MacArthur, as quoted in Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Mille
  • When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn't for you. It's for the Presidency.
    • As quoted in Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974) by Merle Miller, p. 228
  • What do you mean "helped create"? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.
    • Response to being described by his friend Eddie Jacobsen as "the man who helped create the state of Israel." (November 1953); as quoted in "With Eyes Toward Zion" (1977) by Moshe Davis
  • It isn't important who is ahead at one time or another in either an election or horse race. It's the horse that comes in first at the finish line that counts.
    • As quoted in Bush's Brain : How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (2003) by Wayne Slater and James Moore, p. 173
  • I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they think it's hell.
    • As quoted in My Fellow Americans : The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents (2003) by Michael Waldman, p. 137
  • My forebears were Confederates... but my very stomach turned over when I had learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten.
    • As quoted in Harry S. Truman (1973), by Margaret Truman, New York: William Morrow, p. 429
  • I am not sure it can ever be used... I don't think we ought to use this thing unless we absolutely have to. It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn't a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses. So we have got to treat this differently from rifles and cannon and ordinary things like that.
    • Comments on nuclear weapons made after they had been used on his orders, as quoted in Harry S. Truman: A Life, by Robert H. Ferrell, p. 344
  • There isn’t any difference between the totalitarian Russian Government and the Hitler government and the Franco government in Spain. They are all alike. They are police state governments.
    • News Conference at Key West, March 30, 1950

Address to Congress (1945)

Address Before a Joint Session of the US Congress (16 April 1945)
The task of creating a sound international organization is complicated and difficult. Yet, without such organization, the rights of man on earth cannot be protected.
If wars in the future are to be prevented the nations must be united in their determination to keep the peace under law.
  • So much blood has already been shed for the ideals which we cherish, and for which Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived and died, that we dare not permit even a momentary pause in the hard fight for victory.
    Today, the entire world is looking to America for enlightened leadership to peace and progress. Such a leadership requires vision, courage and tolerance. It can be provided only by a united nation deeply devoted to the highest ideals.
  • In this shrinking world, it is futile to seek safety behind geographical barriers. Real security will be found only in law and in justice.
    Here in America, we have labored long and hard to achieve a social order worthy of our great heritage. In our time, tremendous progress has been made toward a really democratic way of life. Let me assure the forward-looking people of America that there will be no relaxation in our efforts to improve the lot of the common people.
  • It is not enough to yearn for peace. We must work, and if necessary, fight for it. The task of creating a sound international organization is complicated and difficult. Yet, without such organization, the rights of man on earth cannot be protected. Machinery for the just settlement of international differences must be found. Without such machinery, the entire world will have to remain an armed camp. The world will be doomed to deadly conflict, devoid of hope for real peace.
  • In bitter despair, some people have come to believe that wars are inevitable. With tragic fatalism, they insist that wars have always been, of necessity, and of necessity wars always will be. To such defeatism, men and women of good will must not and can not yield. The outlook for humanity is not so hopeless.

  • If wars in the future are to be prevented the nations must be united in their determination to keep the peace under law.
    Nothing is more essential to the future peace of the world than continued cooperation of the nations which had to muster the force necessary to defeat the conspiracy of the Axis powers to dominate the world.
    While these great states have a special responsibility to enforce the peace, their responsibility is based upon the obligations resting upon all states, large and small, not to use force in international relations except in the defense of law. The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not to dominate the world.
  • Today, America has become one of the most powerful forces for good on earth. We must keep it so. We have achieved a world leadership which does not depend solely upon our military and naval might.
    We have learned to fight with other nations in common defense of our freedom. We must now learn to live with other nations for our mutual good. We must learn to trade more with other nations so that there may be — for our mutual advantage — increased production, increased employment and better standards of living throughout the world.
    May we Americans all live up to our glorious heritage.
    In that way, America may well lead the world to peace and prosperity.

Announcing the Bombing of Hiroshima (1945)

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy.
We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city.
White House Press Release Announcing the Bombing of Hiroshima (6 August 1945); this announcement was based largely on a draft of 31 July, by Secretary of War Henry Stimson (see text and photocopy)
  • Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British "Grand Slam" which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.
    The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet.
  • It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.
    Before 1939, it was the accepted belief of scientists that it was theoretically possible to release atomic energy. But no one knew any practical method of doing it. By 1942, however, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world. But they failed. We may be grateful to Providence that the Germans got the V-1's and V-2's late and in limited quantities and even more grateful that they did not get the atomic bomb at all.
  • We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war.
    It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.

Report on the Potsdam Conference (1945)

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come.
The Japanese have seen what our atomic bomb can do. They can foresee what it will do in the future.
We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.
Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference (9 August 1945) - Sound clips from address
  • Any man who sees Europe now must realize that victory in a great war is not something you win once and for all, like victory in a ball game. Victory in a great war is something that must be won and kept won. It can be lost after you have won it — if you are careless or negligent or indifferent.
    Europe today is hungry. I am not talking about Germans. I am talking about the people of the countries which were overrun and devastated by the Germans, and particularly about the people of Western Europe. Many of them lack clothes and fuel and tools and shelter and raw materials. They lack the means to restore their cities and their factories.
    As the winter comes on, the distress will increase. Unless we do what we can to help, we may lose next winter what we won at such terrible cost last spring. Desperate men are liable to destroy the structure of their society to find in the wreckage some substitute for hope. If we let Europe go cold and hungry, we may lose some of the foundations of order on which the hope for worldwide peace must rest.
    We must help to the limits of our strength. And we will.
  • The British, Chinese, and United States Governments have given the Japanese people adequate warning of what is in store for them. We have laid down the general terms on which they can surrender. Our warning went unheeded; our terms were rejected. Since then the Japanese have seen what our atomic bomb can do. They can foresee what it will do in the future.
  • The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost. I urge Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities immediately, and save themselves from destruction.
  • I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb. Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this Government. But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we knew the disaster which would come to this Nation, and to all peace-loving nations, to all civilization, if they had found it first. That is why we felt compelled to undertake the long and uncertain and costly labor of discovery and production. We won the race of discovery against the Germans.
    Having found the bomb we have used it.
    We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.
  • The atomic bomb is too dangerous to be loose in a lawless world. That is why Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal that secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction.
  • It is an awful responsibility which has come to us.
    We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
  • Our victory in Europe was more than a victory of arms.
    It was a victory of one way of life over another. It was a victory of an ideal founded on the rights of the common man, on the dignity of the human being, on the conception of the State as the servant — and not the master — of its people.

    A free people showed that it was able to defeat professional soldiers whose only moral arms were obedience and the worship of force.
    We tell ourselves that we have emerged from this war the most powerful nation in the world — the most powerful nation, perhaps, in all history. That is true, but not in the sense some of us believe it to be true.
    The war has shown us that we have tremendous resources to make all the materials for war. It has shown us that we have skillful workers and managers and able generals, and a brave people capable of bearing arms.
    All these things we knew before.
    The new thing — the thing which we had not known — the thing we have learned now and should never forget, is this: that a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.
  • We know now that the basic proposition of the worth and dignity of man is not a sentimental aspiration or a vain hope or a piece of rhetoric. It is the strongest, most creative force now present in this world.
    Now let us use that force and all our resources and all our skills in the great cause of a just and lasting peace!
    The Three Great Powers are now more closely than ever bound together in determination to achieve that kind of peace. From Teheran, and the Crimea, from San Francisco and Berlin — we shall continue to march together to a lasting peace and a happy world!

Special Message to the Congress: The President's First Economic Report (1947)

  • But America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.[3]

Special Message to the Congress on the Threat to the Freedom of Europe (1948)

There are times in world history when it is far wiser to act than to hesitate. There is some risk involved in action — there always is. But there is far more risk in failure to act.
We must earn the peace we seek just as we earned victory in the war, not by wishful thinking but by realistic effort.
"Special Message to the Congress on the Threat to the Freedom of Europe," March 17, 1948. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
  • Almost 3 years have elapsed since the end of the greatest of all wars, but peace and stability have not returned to the world. We were well aware that the end of the fighting would not automatically settle the problems arising out of the war. The establishment of peace after the fighting is over has always been a difficult task. And even if all the Allies of World War II were united in their desire to establish a just and honorable peace, there would still be great difficulties in the way of achieving that peace.
  • The principles and the purposes expressed in the Charter of the United Nations continue to represent our hope for the eventual establishment of the rule of law in international affairs. The Charter constitutes the basic expression of the code of international ethics to which this country is dedicated. We cannot, however, close our eyes to the harsh fact that through obstruction and even defiance on the part of one nation, this great dream has not yet become a full reality. It is necessary, therefore, that we take additional measures to supplement the work of the United Nations and to support its aims. There are times in world history when it is far wiser to act than to hesitate. There is some risk involved in action — there always is. But there is far more risk in failure to act. For if we act wisely now, we shall strengthen the powerful forces for freedom, justice, and peace which are represented by the United Nations and the free nations of the world.
  • I believe that we have learned the importance of maintaining military strength as a means of preventing war. We have found that a sound military system is necessary in time of peace if we are to remain at peace. Aggressors in the past, relying on our apparent lack of military force, have unwisely precipitated war. Although they have been led to destruction by their misconception of our strength, we have paid a terrible price for our unpreparedness.
  • The recommendations I have made represent the most urgent steps toward securing the peace and preventing war. We must be ready to take every wise and necessary step to carry out this great purpose. This will require assistance to other nations. It will require an adequate and balanced military strength. We must be prepared to pay the price for peace, or assuredly we shall pay the price of war. We in the United States remain determined to seek peace by every possible means, a just and honorable basis for the settlement of international issues.
  • The United States has a tremendous responsibility to act according to the measure of our power for good in the world. We have learned that we must earn the peace we seek just as we earned victory in the war, not by wishful thinking but by realistic effort. At no time in our history has unity among our people been so vital as it is at the present time. Unity of purpose, unity of effort, and unity of spirit are essential to accomplish the task before us.
Executive Order 9981 (July 1948)
  • It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.
  • There shall be created in the National Military Establishment an advisory committee to be known as the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which shall be composed of seven members to be designated by the President.
  • The Committee is authorized on behalf of the President to examine into the rules, procedures and practices of the Armed Services in order to determine in what respect such rules, procedures and practices may be altered or improved with a view to carrying out the policy of this order. The Committee shall confer and advise the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force, and shall make such recommendations to the President and to said Secretaries as in the judgment of the Committee will effectuate the policy hereof.
  • All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Committee in its work, and to furnish the Committee such information or the services of such persons as the Committee may require in the performance of its duties.
  • When requested by the Committee to do so, persons in the armed services or in any of the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall testify before the Committee and shall make available for use of the Committee such documents and other information as the Committee may require.
  • The Committee shall continue to exist until such time as the President shall terminate its existence by Executive order.

Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States (1950)

"Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States" August 08, 1950. The American Presidency Project.
  • Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

Other quotes

  • No man can get rich in politics unless he's a crook. − Harry S Truman, quoted in Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman by Merle Miller, 1973-1974 SBN 425-02664-7 LOC 73-87198, Berkeley Medallion Edition, October, 1974, Chapter 10. "The Only Defeat − and Then Victory", pg. 134.
    • Similarly on pg. 136: "About this getting rich in politics. Like I said, you just can't do it unless you're a crook." And earlier: "An honest public servant can't become rich in politics." - Truman's diary, 24 April 1954.
  • Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home--but not for housing. They are strong for labor--but they are stronger for restricting labor's rights. They favor minimum wage--the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all--but they won't spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine--for people who can afford them. ...They think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. − Harry S. Truman, October 13, 1948, St. Paul, Minnesota, Radio Broadcast.[4][5][6][7][8][9]




  • Always be sincere, even if you don't mean it.
    • Attributed without citation in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1992) by Angela Partington, disputed in The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes, p. 224, as something Truman is not known to have said.


  • If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
    • This saying was not originated but popularized by Truman after he publicly used it in 1952. It was soon credited to his aide Harry H. Vaughan in Time (28 April 1952) but apparently originated with a Missouri colleague of Truman, Eugene "Buck" Purcell, according to The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, And When (2006) by Ralph Keyes. Truman himself later made reference to his popularization of the remark in his book Mr. Citizen (1960), p. 229:
There has been a lot of talk lately about the burdens of the Presidency. Decisions that the President has to make often affect the lives of tens of millions of people around the world, but that does not mean that they should take longer to make. Some men can make decisions and some cannot. Some men fret and delay under criticism. I used to have a saying that applies here, and I note that some people have picked it up, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Sign on Truman's Oval Office desk
  • The buck stops here!
    • This saying, also popularized by Truman, was on a sign on his desk, but did not originate with him. According to the Truman Presidential Library, it was sent to him nearly two months after the Hiroshima atomic bombing.
  • It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit*
    • This is attributed to Truman in some sources, but a similar saying is recorded as early as 1909.

Quotes about Truman

  • Tuesday, August 14, 1945, dawned clear and warm in Washington. Official and unofficial Washington spent a nervous day, listening, watching, waiting. When the marble columned office buildings were emptied, the streets filled rapidly; suburban gardens went unattended; eating places filled beyond their normal capacity. Crowds began an early vigil in Lafayette Square, opposite the White House. News and radio correspondents were summoned at 6:45 to a White House Press Conference. At seven o'clock the President greeted reporters. In his hands was a message from the Swiss Legation; its contents were the Japanese diplomatic words accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. War was over. Peace had come at last.
    • Battle Stations! Your Navy In Action (1946) by Admirals of the U.S. Navy, p. 359
  • In 1948 the Democrats had little choice but to nominate President Truman, under the banner HE'S GOING TO LOSE. Everybody felt this way: the politicians, the press, the pollsters, the piccolo players, Peter Piper, everybody. The Republicans were so confident that they nominated an individual named Thomas Dewey, whose lone accomplishment was inventing the decimal system. Truman campaigned doggedly around the nation, but his cause appeared to be hopeless. A Dewey victory seemed so inevitable that on election night, the Chicago Tribune printed the famous front-page headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. This was because Dewey had defeated Truman, who immediately threatened to drop an atomic bomb on Chicago, so everybody went ha-ha-ha-ha, just kidding, and wisely elected to have the feisty ex-haberdasher have another term.
    • Dave Barry, Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States (1989), p. 131
  • ... at 10:30 a.m. on October 25, 1945, Oppenheimer was ushered into the Oval Office. President Truman was naturally curious to meet the celebrated physicist, whom he knew by reputation to be an eloquent and charismatic figure. ... At one point in their conversation, Truman suddenly asked him to guess when the Russians would develop their own atomic bomb. When Oppie replied that he did not know, Truman confidently said he knew the answer: "Never."
    For Oppenheimer, such foolishness was proof of Truman's limitations. The "incomprehension it showed just knocked the heart out of him," recalled Willie Higinbotham.
  • Every man who's had to command troops in combat has had to look at the big picture. When Harry Truman made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, he didn't do that assuming he wasn't going to be criticized for it. He was looking at ending the war and saving a million American lives. He provided vision for the nation in spite of the fact that many criticized him then and even more do now. And what about Winston Churchill? He let the Germans bomb the British city of Coventry to protect the fact that the Allies had broken the Germans' code. He allowed the Germans to bomb Coventry because he was looking strategically at ending the war. And he knew if he let it be known that he was reading the Germans' mail, they would immediately change their code. That's thinking strategically versus at the tactical situation. I think everybody who's ever commanded troops has had to look at circumstances strategically. And that amounts to having vision.
    • William G. Boykin, Man to Man: Rediscovering Masculinity in a Challenging World (2020), p. 29
  • Wake up, America. Your liberties are being stolen before your very eyes. What Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln fought for, Truman, Acheson, and McGrath are striving desperately to nullify. Wake up, Americans, and dare to think and say and do. Dare to cry: No More War!
    • The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (1968)
  • It's not that Jackson had a "dark side," as his apologists rationalize and which all human beings have, but rather that Jackson was the Dark Knight in the formation of the United States as a colonialist, imperialist democracy, a dynamic formation that continues to constitute the core of US patriotism. The most revered presidents-Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Obama-have each advanced populist imperialism while gradually increasing inclusion of other groups beyond the core of descendants of old settlers into the ruling mythology. All the presidents after Jackson march in his footsteps. Consciously or not, they refer back to him on what is acceptable, how to reconcile democracy and genocide and characterize it as freedom for the people.
  • By the time I prepared to enter college, I was beginning to see myself, as I did for many years afterward, as a Truman Democrat: a liberal Cold Warrior, pro-labor and anti-Communist, like Senators Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson and like my Detroit hero Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers. I admired Truman’s action in sending bombers filled with coal and food instead of weapons to resupply the people in Berlin during the Soviet blockade that began the month of my high school graduation. I supported his response two years later to naked Communist aggression in Korea. And I especially appreciated his decision to keep Korea a limited, conventional war, rejecting General Douglas MacArthur’s recommendations to expand the war to China and to use nuclear weapons. Believing in the policy, I was prepared to go to Korea myself, though I had no eagerness for it. After accepting student deferments until I finished Harvard and then for a year’s graduate fellowship at Cambridge University, I felt an obligation to take the place that others had filled for me. On my return from Cambridge, I volunteered for officer candidate school in the Marine Corps in the fall of 1953; the first opening was the following spring.
    • Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions from a Nuclear War Planner (2017)
  • Tell him anything so long as it's the truth.
    • William D. Leahy, in a reply to George Elsey when the latter asked the former about Truman. As quoted by Henry H. Adams in Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 334
  • The President's party arrived in three planes with thirty-five reporters and photographers. As I shook hands with Mr. Truman, he remarked, "I've been a long time meeting you, General." I replied, "I hope it won't be so long next time." But there was never to be a next time.
  • I had been warned about Mr. Truman's quick and violent temper and prejudices, but he radiated nothing but courtesy and good humor during our meeting. He has an engaging personality, a quick and witty tongue, and I liked him from the start. At the conference itself, he seemed to take great pride in his historical knowledge, but, it seemed to me that in spite of his having read much, it was of a superficial character, encompassing facts without the logic and reasoning dictating those facts. Of the Far East he knew little, presenting a strange combination of distorted history and vague hopes that somehow, some way, we could do something to help those struggling against Communism.
  • Initially the Truman administration perceived events in Vietnam as a colonial war in which France was trying to reassert its sovereignty. But because France might undermine the containment policy in Europe if the Americans refused to help it in China, the U.S. supported the war effort even though many officials understood that the vast majority of Vietnamese favored Ho and that his movement contained both Communists and non-Communists. After the Korean war erupted, the U.S. commitment to France intensified, since the Indochinese and Korean battlefields seemed to be essential to stopping Chinese communism.
    • Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, and William B. Feis, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States From 1607 to 2012 (2012), p. 511
  • On our return from the Brenner Pass, we learned that President Roosevelt had died. We were all depressed and saddened by the loss of our Commander in Chief. None of us had heard much about Harry S. Truman, our new president and Commander in Chief. As in his choices of Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower, FDR picked the best man in choosing Truman as his successor.
    • Ernie Neal, Memoirs of a Combat Airman (1980), p. 53
  • We had been frightened of atomic weapons since 1945. In those days I became convinced — and remain convinced now — that, after Hitler, Truman was the greatest murderer in the world.
    • Martin Niemöller, On his movement toward pacifism and becoming an activist against nuclear weaponry, as quoted in Martin Niemöller, 1892-1984 (1984) by James Bentley, p. 213
  • These cables to Churchill and Stalin point in the same direction: Roosevelt was still determined to keep the alliance intact, even if that meant gliding over issues of disagreement. Perhaps his policy would have shifted after the United Nations was safely launched, but there would still have been other pressing reasons for avoiding a total breach with the Soviet Union. Significantly, Harry Truman pursued essentially the same policy on Poland as his predecessor. Although on April 23 he told Molotov repeatedly in a brusque meeting that he expected the Soviets to honor the Yalta agreements, this did not mark a new hard line. Within weeks he (and Byrnes) realized that those agreements were more ambiguous than had been presented to the American public after the conference, and at the end of May Truman sent the ailing Hopkins to Moscow to stitch up a compromise. Hopkins’ instructions, the president wrote in his diary, were to make clear to Stalin that "Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Czeckosovakia [sic], Austria, Yugo-Slavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia et al made no difference to U.S. interests only so far as World Peace is concerned. That Poland ought to have 'free elections,' at least as free as [Frank] Hague, Tom Pendergast, Joe Martin or [Robert] Taft would allow in their respective bailiwicks . . . Uncle Joe should make some sort of gesture— whether he means it or not to keep it [ — ] before our public that he intends to keep his word. Any smart political boss will do that." Truman’s language reveals his assumption that Stalin operated like an American machine politician and that this was acceptable as long as he made the necessary genuflections to democratic pieties over Poland. FDR would not have put the point so crudely, but his successor was working on essentially Rooseveltian lines.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings That Changed the World (2007), pp. 152-153
  • At the end of July the Big Three met for a final time at Potsdam, on the edge of Berlin, but this was a very different summit from Yalta. Roosevelt was dead and Churchill was voted out of office during the conference, being replaced by the new Labour leader, Clement Attlee, whose contribution was limited. Byrnes, now Truman’s secretary of state, fixed up a deal—despite British objections— by which the Soviets got their way on the western border of Poland (following the Oder and Western Neisse). But, in return, the Western powers refused to set a total figure for what the Soviets would receive in reparations from Germany. Instead each ally would take what it wanted in equipment, food and raw materials from its zone of occupation and the Soviets would also receive some transfers from the western zones. This deal on reparations did more than the decisions at Yalta to divide Soviet-controlled eastern Germany from the west.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings That Changed the World (2007), pp. 152-153
  • The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a cold, calculated experiment carried out to demonstrate America's power. At the time, President Truman described it as "the greatest thing in history."
  • Ike's problem, Dad declared, was that he had fallen into the hands of the "Republican snollygosters." Dad fellin love with this wonderful word during his campaign. For those who don't know the political slang of the early 1900's, a snollygoster is a politician who is all words and very little action. Dad had a lot of fun making Ike squirm over things that he had said in earlier years. One of his favorite quotes, which Dad repeated at numerous whistle-stops, was Ike's 1945 statement withdrawing himself from the presidential race: "Nothing in the international or domestic situation especially qualifies for the most important office in the world a man whose adult years have been spent in the country's military forces. At least, this is true in my case." Dad wold add with a grin, "It was true then. It is true now."
    • Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1972), p. 547
  • Dad had even more fun with another Eisenhower gaffe. Ike was fond of calling his campaign a crusade, and at one point he declared that his model was Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads. Dad quickly pointed out, "Oliver Cromwell may have had his points, but his crusade, as I recall it, was one that started out as a matter of principle and finished up by destroying parliamentary government and butchering women and children. God save us from a crusade like that."
    • Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1972), p. 547
  • But when my father talked about Ike and General Marshall, his tone grew harsh. "If there is one man to whom the Republican candidate owes a great debt of loyalty and gratitude, it is George Catlett Marshall." He would then condemn without reservation Ike's support of Joe McCarthy and William Jenner. "Don't let anybody tell you that every Presidential candidate has to do that- that it is just part of politics. Franklin Roosevelt did not endorse every Democrat, and neither did Harry Truman. Governor Dewey in 1948 did not endorse Republicans who had disgraced the Republican label. But the Republican candidate this year did, with the same betrayal of principle he has shown throughout his campaign."
    • Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1972), p. 547
  • During most of the campaign, Dad had very little to say about General Eisenhower's running mate, Senator Richard M. Nixon of California. He made no comment on Mr. Nixon's "Checkers" speech, where he discussed the virtues of his cocker spaniel to exonerate himself from implications of corruption arising from some $18,000 given to him by a "millionaire's club" of wealthy Republicans. Several times Dad refused to say whether he thought this fund was ethical or not. He took the position that this was something the public could decide for themselves. Following the Biblical injunction to "judge not," Dad always hesitated to take ethical stands on the actions of his fellow politicians. Privately, however, Dad made it clear that the fund confirmed his longstanding opinion of Mr. Nixon- that he was a spokesman for special interests.
    • Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1972), p. 547-548
  • Harry Truman launched the Marshall Plan, stood up to the Communists in Korea and fired General MacArthur, all of which made the president, as commander in chief, an even more impressive figure. Truman, as one joke about the plain man from Missouri would have it, proved that anyone could be president, and the remark was not without point; the office was believed in his time to confer something of its majesty mysteriously upon the man. Above all, however, Harry Truman dropped the Bomb- and the president became forever the man with his finger on the button, the one American who could destroy an enemy, perhaps the world, with a single order.
    • Tom Wicker, One Of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (1991), p. 676

See also

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