Right now you ought to be standing in front of Harry Truman’s statue. There’s nothing unusual about towns erecting statues to their favorite sons and Independence is no exception. It usually happens after they’re dead. Harry Truman said, “A statesman is a politician who’s been dead 10 or 15 years.” It must be tough being a politician. No matter what they do, somebody’s not going to like it. With all the criticism they get, you’d think that, sooner or later, they must ask themselves if it’s really all worth it.
That question—Is it worth it?—is a question everyone has to ask themselves once in a while.
At what point to we realize a price is too high to pay in order to get something we want? Whatever we gain comes at a price, whether it’s the price of a new car, or how much time we’re willing to commit to getting an education. Or, sometimes, the question is about an exchange of personal standards for what we consider to be a greater good. That’s a tricky one. This is the question Harry Truman had to ask himself when he decided to get into politics.
The 1920s and ‘30s, when Truman got into the job, were a time when machine bosses controlled politics in all large cities. In Jackson County, which included both Independence and Kansas City, Boss Tom Pendergast ran the Democratic machine, and one had to be associated with his organization in order to be in politics at all.
Harry Truman needed to be able to work with a corrupt machine without being corrupted by it himself. Anybody hoping to do that was going to have to be both politically astute and realistic about human nature.
Harry Truman seemed to be both, and he showed a willingness to work within certain parameters in order to accomplish what he considered to be a greater good.
It is possible that Harry Truman’s success was due to his ability to balance an idealistic nature with pragmatic common sense. Whatever it was, Harry Truman received a political education here in Independence that, when combined with his temperament and personality, and the right circumstances, of course, was enough to get him to the White House. Fortunately, for those who are interested, there is tangible evidence of that education still in existence.
Although the uses have changed, almost all the buildings where important events happened are still standing, and this tour will take you to some of them.
Let’s start with the place where Harry Truman had his first job, the first place he learned his first lesson about politics. It’s right across the street on the corner of Maple and Main. Walk over to stop 201.