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Harry S. Truman
33rd U.S. President
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States, an American politician of the Democratic Party.
Born: May 8, 1884, Lamar, MO
Died: December 26, 1972, Kansas City, MO
Succeeded by: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Presidential term: April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
Party: Democratic Party

Harry Truman (1884-1972), the 33rd U.S. president, assumed office following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945). In the White House from 1945 to 1953, Truman made the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan, helped rebuild postwar Europe, worked to contain communism and led the United States into the Korean War (1950-1953). A Missouri native, Truman assisted in running his family farm after high school and served in World War I (1914-1918). He began his political career in 1922 as a county judge in Missouri and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934. Three months after becoming vice president in 1945, the plain-spoken Truman ascended to the presidency. In 1948, he was reelected in an upset over Republican Thomas Dewey (1902-1971). After leaving office, Truman spent his remaining two decades in Independence, Missouri, where he established his presidential library.

Upon assuming the presidency, Harry Truman, who had met privately with Roosevelt only a few times before his death and had never been informed by the president about the construction of the atomic bomb, faced a series of monumental challenges and decisions. During Truman’s initial months in office, the war in Europe ended when the Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s surrender on May 8; the United Nations Charter was signed; and the president participated in the Potsdam Conference to discuss postwar treatment of Germany with Great Britain’s Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). To end the war in the Pacific and prevent the massive U.S. casualties that could result from an invasion of Japan, Truman approved the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (on August 6) and Nagasaki (on August 9). Japan’s surrender was announced on August 14, 1945; however, Truman’s use of the atomic bomb continues to be one of the most controversial decisions of any American president.

In the aftermath of the war, the Truman administration had to contend with deteriorating U.S.-Soviet relations and the start of the Cold War (1946-1991). The president adopted a policy of containment toward Soviet expansion and the spread of communism. In 1947, he introduced the Truman Doctrine to provide aid to Greece and Turkey to protect them from communist aggression. That same year, Truman also instituted the Marshall Plan, which gave billions of dollars in aid to help stimulate economic recovery in European nations. (The president defended the plan by stating that communism would thrive in economically depressed regions.) In 1948, Truman initiated an airlift of food and other supplies to the Western-held sectors of Berlin, Germany, that were blockaded by the Soviets. He also recognized the new state of Israel.

On the home front, Truman was faced with the challenge of transitioning America to a peacetime economy. Amid labor disputes, a shortage of consumer goods and a national railroad strike, he saw his approval ratings plummet. He ran for reelection in 1948 and was widely expected to lose to Republican challenger Thomas Dewey. However, Truman conducted a vigorous whistle-stop campaign in which he traveled by train around the country, giving hundreds of speeches. The president and his running mate Alben Barkley (1877-1956), a U.S. senator from Kentucky, won with 303 electoral votes and 49.6 percent of the popular vote while Dewey captured 189 electoral votes and 45.1 percent of the popular vote. Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond (1902-2003) earned 39 electoral votes and 2.4 percent of the popular vote. An iconic photograph from the day after the president’s upset victory shows him holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune featuring the inaccurate front page headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Harry Truman was sworn in for his second term in January 1949; his inauguration was the first to be nationally televised. The president set forth an ambitious social reform agenda, known as the Fair Deal, which included national medical insurance, federal housing programs, a higher minimum wage, assistance for farmers, repeal of the Taft-Hartley labor act, increases in Social Security and civil rights reforms. Truman’s proposals were largely blocked by conservatives in Congress; however, he had some legislative successes, such as the Housing Act of 1949, and also issued executive orders (at the end of his first term) to end segregation in the U.S. armed forces and to prohibit discrimination in federal government jobs.

The threat of communism continued to be a major focus of Truman’s second administration. The president supported the creation in 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of democratic nations, including the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and eight other countries, and appointed Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) as its first commander. Also that year, a revolution in China brought the Communists to power, and the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon. Additionally, during his second term Truman had to contend with unproven accusations made by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) of Wisconsin that the president’s administration and the U.S. State Department, among other organizations, had been infiltrated by communist spies.

In June 1950, when communist forces from North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman sent in U.S. planes, ships, and ground troops to aid the South Koreans. The conflict turned into a lengthy stalemate that left Americans frustrated and hurt Truman’s popularity; however, his decision to intervene ultimately preserved South Korea’s independence.

Although he was eligible to run for another presidential term, Truman announced in March 1952 that he would not do so. In that year’s general election, Democrat Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965), the governor of Illinois, was defeated by Republican Dwight Eisenhower.

After Eisenhower’s inauguration in January 1953, Harry and Bess Truman traveled by train from Washington to their home in Independence. There the former president penned his memoirs, met with visitors, continued his habit of brisk daily walks and raised funds for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, which opened in Independence in 1957.

Truman died at age 88 on December 26, 1972, in Kansas City, Missouri. He was buried in the courtyard of the Truman Library. His wife, who died at age 97 in 1982, was buried beside him.