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  • 206. The Political Education of Harry Truman - Campaign Headquarters

    If you’re in the right place, you’re looking at an empty lot. Out of all the buildings related to Truman’s early political years, this is the only one that’s gone now. This vacant lot is where Truman's headquarters was during his 1922 campaign for eastern district judge. This would have been the first political campaign he ever ran. The building was torn down around 1973, and it’s really too bad, too, because this is where Harry Truman started on the path that led him to the White House. Edgar Hinde, a member of the Harpie Club and later postmaster of Independence, recalled Harry Truman coming to him one day with kind of a little grin on his face, asking what Hinde would think if Truman decided to run for county judge. Hinde told him he would think he was crazy. “Well,” Truman responded, “I got to eat.” See, Edgar Hinde knew what politics were like in Jackson County. When Harry got involved in politics, he was worried about his reputation, but there was a lot more than his reputation in danger sometimes. Politics in Kansas City during the 1920s could be a violent business. Out in Independence, things weren’t so bad, but Kansas City was rough. We’re talking about things like unlicensed cars filled with armed thugs cruising the streets looking for opposition targets. One election day, a pack of hoodlums jumped an opposition candidate for city council, and his bodyguard, and a Kansas City Star reporter, and they beat all of them up. The reporter got away and there was a big car chase all the way back to the front door of the newspaper building. Another gang came in a voting place, apparently looking to beat up one of the election judges; another judge whipped out a revolver, so they shot and killed him instead. Other thugs set out to kill a deputy sheriff who was on the other side. There was a shootout, the deputy and one of the mobsters were mortally wounded, and an innocent bystander was killed instantly. And, even though most of this was going on in over in Kansas City, Harry Truman and his family were sometimes personally in danger, too. For example, when Margaret was in first grade, there was a kidnapping attempt on her. The next day was election day, and Harry had Margaret and Bess locked up in a hotel room over in Kansas City with a couple of armed guards at the door. In 1933, Harry wrote to Bess, “Please be careful about eating anything that comes in the mail.” Not really sure what that was all about, but it sounds like he was worried someone might try to poison them. This was a dangerous time to be in politics, and Truman knew that when he went into it. But professionally, he had finally found his niche. He found the kind of job that he was really good at. He was 38 years old. He didn’t know it then, but he was going to end up doing this for the rest of his life. This kind of stuff was just the price that he had to pay. Once he was elected, he moved into an office in the county courthouse. Walk across the street to the south entrance door. That’s the one directly across the street that’s facing Lexington Street.