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  • 208. The Political Education of Harry Truman - Outside Truman

    This is the office where Harry Truman had to make those hard decisions about paying the price. Overall, Truman gave Pendergast an honest county administration that allowed Pendergast to solidify machine control over rural Jackson County, and thereby, all of Jackson County. Pendergast in return gave Truman a lot of freedom to do what he wanted—and the assistance of the machine’s electoral power. Truman, then also gave Pendergast patronage, but not graft—or at least, not much. There was at least one time, however, that Truman forced to compromise. He wrote out his frustrations about it in kind of a diary-like memo to himself at the time. In part, he wrote, “I had to compromise in order to get the voted road system carried out. I had to let a former saloonkeeper and murderer, a friend of the Boss’s, steal about $10,000 from the general revenues of the county to keep the crooks from getting a million or more out of the bond issue. Was I right or did I compound a felony? Anyway I’ve got the $6,500,000 worth of roads on the ground and at a figure that makes the crooks tear their hair. Am I an administrator or not? Or am I just a crook to compromise in order to get the job done?” He wondered is he might be better off to just quit and run a gas station. He wrote, “All this gives me headaches….” He suffered from headaches and stomach trouble, apparently brought on by the stress of trying to adapt to a system with which he was not in full agreement. He was willing to accept the “lesser evil” argument that sanctioned certain activities in order to keep the party in power, but it wasn’t easy for him. And it appears that Truman’s honesty eventually wore Pendergast’s patience kind of thin. It looks like Pendergast might have been ready to move Truman out when his terms as county judge were over. Pendergast didn’t seem to be too interested in getting Truman another job. It appears the only reason Truman was picked to run for the United States Senate is because Pendergast couldn’t find anyone else. Truman was his second or third choice; all the other guys had turned him down. Like all politicians, Truman had been criticized in the local press, but now that his power was potentially national in scope, he really learned how rough the press could be. For instance, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a cartoon that showed Truman as Edgar Bergen’s dummy Charlie McCarthy seated on the lap of Boss Pendergast. The caption read “Charlie McTruman does his stuff.” [News Media 14] Another one said that Truman’s nomination for Senator would bring “shrill rejoicing among all the forces of evil in Missouri.” [New Media 17] Truman learned to take it in stride, though. He said, “I don’t let these things bother me for the simple reason I know that I am trying to do the right thing, and eventually the facts will come out.”And I think it’s possible to point to the one moment, the one instance, that was probably more satisfying to him, professionally, than any other moment of his life.You can stand exactly where he stood when that moment happened. Try this: Go back to the south entrance of the courthouse – that’s the door you came in – and stand right inside the door – don’t exit the building yet – just stand right inside the door, and push 209 on your cell phone.