Harry S. Truman: The “Neighborly” President

Once upon a time I was studying U.S. History in high school, and I was reading a biography about President Harry S. Truman. While I came to the conclusion that I didn’t agree with everything he did, I decided that if I could’ve picked a historical president to be my next-door neighbor it would’ve been Mr. Truman. (After-all, Andrew Jackson would’ve been fighting duels at all hours, Teddy Roosevelt had a zoo of pets, and George Washington might chop down my cherry tree…)

My favorite story about Truman took place after his presidency. He’d moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and every day he would walk to his presidential library and volunteer! One morning he arrived especially early and answered the telephone saying, “Good morning, this is the old man himself.”

So meet our U.S. President of the week: Harry Truman!


Highlights of Truman’s Presidency

There’s a lot we could discuss here. I’m just going to mention the highlights, and if any readers want to add more in the comments, please go ahead.

As World War II was drawing to a close, Truman became president in 1945, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Weeks into his presidency, Truman made the hard and controversial decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

After the end of World War II, Truman was instrumental in establishing the United Nations. For better or for worse, America would now take an extremely active and leading role in international affairs. He also oversaw the enforcement of the GI Bills as the American servicemen came home and re-entered civilian life.

The Soviet Union refused to give up the European Territory it had captured in the last weeks of World War II. Communism became America’s new enemy, and the Cold War began. Truman introduced the Truman Doctrine, which basically stated that the United States would use resources (economic and military) to prevent the overthrow of democracy in free nations threatened by Communism. The Truman Doctrine was an important precedent during the Cold War.

Truman was president during the Korean War (1950-1953).

Harry Truman’s Legacy

I believe the Truman Doctrine is one of the most lasting precedents from his presidency. It firmly established the American stand against communism and a willingness to combat it economically and militarily. While its interpretation may have caused trouble farther down the road, the precedent and decisive action was good.

Two of Truman’s best character qualities were decisiveness and humility. He could make a decision, follow through with action, and defend his choice. On Truman’s desk in the Oval Office was a sign which read “The Buck Stops Here.” He was the president; he could and would make decisions. He was humble. He wasn’t looking for glory. He could make fun of himself and had a pretty good sense of humor.

The Buck Stops Here Sign, Harry Truman

Inspirational (& Humorous) Quotes by Truman

“Some of my best friends never agree with me politically.” (Harry S. Truman, 1947)

“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.” (Harry S. Truman, 1947 – part of the Truman Doctrine)

Regarding the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which limited the terms of a president: “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 —- 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 . . . “ (Harry S. Truman, 1958)

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” (Harry S. Truman)

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” (Harry S. Truman)

Why I Like Harry Truman

He was a president who could make hard decisions and get things accomplished. He took responsibility. He was humble. He was “down-to-earth.” He loved his family. He liked to play the piano while his daughter sang.

I like Harry Truman because of his humility and his “common American” attitude. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Harry Truman seems like a person who you’d want as your next-door neighbor.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. Truman. I just baked some oatmeal cookies. Are you and Mrs. Truman at home? Could I bring some over? Could we discuss current politics and foreign affairs? I know, we kind of got into an argument last time, but I still respect your opinion.  Sure, I’d be happy to play the piano too. Okay, I’ll be over in a second. Bye…”

Well, Mr. Truman is not alive any longer, so I will never have him as my “presidential next door neighbor.” But it does make me consider: what type of person (neighbor) do I want to be? I’d say we Americans have a pretty good example in the unpretentious, patriotic, humble, and humorous character of Harry Truman.

Happy Belated Presidents’ Day, Harry S. Truman!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Which U.S. President would you want as a next-door neighbor?






The Texas President

You’re probably making a list that has names like Johnson and Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. on it? Well, they were United States presidents from Texas. But tonight (today) we’re talking about an actual presidents of Texas – the Republic of Texas to be precise.

The Republic of Texas existed between 1836 and 1846, and they had presidents and vice presidents.

Last week we discussed Jefferson Davis, president of the American states which had seceded during the American Civil War. Now, we’ll talk about another American who was president of a separate nation which later became part of the United States. The most influential president of Texas was Samuel Houston.

Samuel Houston  (Portrait from Public Domain)

Samuel Houston
(Portrait from Public Domain)

We’re going to do this “fast-facts” style tonight, so here’s your 12 facts on Sam Houston, a president of the Republic of Texas:

  1. Sam Houston was born in Virginia in 1793 and moved to the Tennessee frontier when he was 13.
  2. He ran away from home, lived with a band of Cherokee, and was formally adopted into the tribe.
  3. Sam Houston fought under Andrew Jackson (later the 7th U.S. President) during the war with the Creek Indians.
  4. After studying law and serving as district attorney for Nashville, he was elected to Congress in 1823.
  5. In 1827, Houston became governor of Tennessee.
  6. When his social and family life took a turn for the worse, Sam Houston headed west, settling the Texas area.
  7. The American settlers in the Texas area had some major conflicts with the Mexican army and government. Sam Houston became the military commander for the American side.
  8. He won several military victories against the Mexican army. The capture of the Mexican commander led to the formal recognition of the Republic of Texas.
  9. Houston was president of the Republic of Texas from 1836-1838 and again from 1841-1844. He was the first elected president of the republic.
  10. He worked to have Texas admitted as a state into the United States of America and, after this success in 1845, Houston served as state senator from 1846-1859.
  11. Sam Houston did not support Southern secession. He was actually governor of Texas in 1861, but because he refused to take Texas out of the Union, Confederate supporters removed him from office.
  12. Disagreeing with the new political movement, Sam Houston retired from public life. He died in 1863.

Sam Houston is another example of leader who knew what he believed. He worked for the good of his country/state and served in many offices: general, president, senator, governor. He was willing to work hard, learn, and lead.

I admire his understanding that for the good of his republic (Texas) it had to join the United States as a state. He could have selfishly kept Texas on its own and played “president or king” for the rest of his life, but, rather, he advocated strongly for Texas to join the United States.

He was an ideal American, valuing the principles of self-government.

So, Happy Belated Presidents’ Day to Sam Houston, an American president of the Republic of Texas!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Your thoughts on this president of Texas?

And don’t forget…we’re posting about “Presidents’ Pets” on Gazette665 Facebook. Come join the fun and learn about some of the unique animals that have lived in the White House!

The “Other” President: 1861-1865

Q: Who was the American president during the Civil War years (1861-1865)?

A: Lincoln, right?


Oh, wait you mean there was another. Huh? I thought Lincoln was assassinated after the war ended.

You’re correct. But think…Confederacy, South, Montgomery, Richmond… Do you know the answer yet?

A: Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis…who’s he? (That’s why I’m writing this blog post, which is a bonus post in our Presidents’ Month.)

Jefferson Davis was one of the few Americans who was president of a separate nation on former or future United States land. (We’ll talk about the other man next week).

Jefferson Davis (c. 1860) Public Domain

Jefferson Davis (c. 1860)
Public Domain

Jeff Davis was President of the Confederate States of America. Yes, he was on the side opposing Lincoln. No, he was not an evil man. I suppose I could write a book on Jeff Davis (maybe I will, someday), but not today. Today, I thought I’d share some basic information and my thoughts about Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

Before The War Between The States

Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1807 or 1808; there’s a debate on which year is correct! He lived in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi in his youth. He attended West Point during 1824-1828, graduated 23rd in a class of 33, and played a minor role in the Black Hawk War.

Jeff fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor (daughter of General Zachary Taylor; Z. Taylor was later a U.S. President); Mr. Davis and Miss Taylor were married after he resigned from the army in 1835. Weeks later, Sarah Taylor Davis died of malaria or yellow fever, leaving a broken hearted husband, who retreated to his plantation and a life of solitude.

Five years later Jeff Davis entered politics with the Democratic party (note: at the time, the Democratic party was politically conservative). In 1845, he married Miss Varina Howell; their marriage would last 44 years, and they would have 6 children. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Jeff Davis served with the United States Army; after the war, he represented Mississippi in the House of Representatives, and, later, the Senate. He was secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce.

Reluctant President

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.” ~ Jefferson Davis

When Mississippi – his home-state – seceded, Jefferson Davis made a farewell speech in the Senate, and, then, taking his family, returned to his home. He hoped to receive a military commission from the Confederate government and planned to wait at home until summoned.

Elsewhere, leaders of the new, loose-union of Southern states were looking for a leader: a president. Perhaps it is easily to appoint or nominate someone not present to reject the position. Perhaps his political leadership skills had impressed the assembled gentlemen. Perhaps none of them wanted the job of trying to bring order to a fledging nation. Whatever the reasoning, the out-come was decisive: Jefferson Davis was appointed President of the Confederacy.

When the message with the news arrived at the Davis home, Jeff was not excited. According to Mrs. Varina Davis, her husband appeared “so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family.” Though clearly concerned about the new position and disappointed to not have a military field command, Jefferson Davis accepted the appointment and went to serve the Southern states.

And so, the long four years began with the inaugural ceremony on February 18, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Troubles and thorns innumerable”

After his inauguration, Jefferson Davis wrote that despite the excitement of the people, he saw the future roads of his life and the Confederacy covered with “troubles and thorns innumerable.” Sadly, he was right.

A divisive vice-president and cabinet, military set-backs, argumentative generals, European powers unwilling to recognize the Confederacy, critical press, rioting citizens, currency inflation, limited supplies, cramped resources, family grief, poor health…troubles and thorns, indeed.

Still, Jefferson Davis never gave up his beliefs, his hope, his faith, or his courage.

Unfailing Courage

Despite all the troubles surrounding the Confederacy, President Davis’s courage never failed. He was always looking for the next plan, the next victory.

It would be wrong to not mention the support and encouragement he received from his wife and family. The Davis family remained at the White House in Richmond (the capital had been moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, in 1861) for most of the war years. Mrs. Davis was an excellent hostess, acknowledged for her grace and kindness. The children usually had freedom to roam the executive mansion, peering in on important war councils and meetings.

In the end, the Confederate troops were out-numbered, Richmond was captured, and the president and his family were forced to flee. Always hopeful, Jefferson Davis planned to escape toward Mexico. Unfortunately, he was captured and forced to spend several years in prison, while government leaders of the United States awkwardly tried to decided what to do with the Confederate president.

Eventually, partly through the efforts of his wife, Jefferson Davis was released from prison. He was never brought to trial. Until his death in 1889, Jeff Davis endured harsh criticism for being “the other president.”

Jefferson Davis portrait, 1874 (Public Domain)

Jefferson Davis portrait, 1874 (Public Domain)

My Thoughts

Dear reader, I don’t know what your thoughts and feelings are about the South and the Confederacy during the War Between The States. But, I’m asking you to lay aside the politics, and remember a forgotten president.

No, he wasn’t a president of the United States. He was the President of the Confederate States of America.

He was an American, who believe in the principles of self-government and state’s rights. He was a leader who laid aside his personal preferences and served where he was most needed. That’s a legacy to remember…and it should inspire us!

Happy President’s Day, Jeff Davis!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’d like to hear your thoughts… Did you know who “the other president” was?

Want more about the Davis Family? Leave a comment and let me know…then check here for information about The Confederate White House Living History.