By: Thomas H. Little, Ph.D.

On April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman, the failed haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, took the oath to become America’s 33rd President, replacing perhaps the most beloved President in U.S. history. Six months earlier, he had been the junior senator from Missouri, known primarily for his bowties and his work chairing the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. In the summer of 1944, he was chosen, to the surprise and consternation of many, to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on the 1944 Democratic ticket.(1)

A month after his nomination, Truman met with Roosevelt for lunch on the south lawn of the White House. After the lunch, Truman, visibly shaken, raised concerns about Roosevelt’s health, noting that his hand shook so when pouring his cream that he got more in his saucer than his cup. A month later, when he and a friend were leaving a White House meeting with the aging President, the friend told Truman to turn and look back because that is where he would be living before long. Truman responded, “I know and it scares the hell out of me.”(2)

In the three months between Truman’s swearing in as Vice-President and Roosevelt’s death in Warm Springs, Georgia, the two met in private just two times and Roosevelt did not share any of the major decisions or challenges facing him or the nation. So when Truman sat down at his desk in the Oval Office for the first time on April 13, 1945, he had no idea what he was facing. What he was facing was a series of critical decisions over the next four months that would forever change America and the world: 

  • Ending the War with Japan
  • Addressing Postwar Civil Rights in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Reacting to the Soviet Blockade of Berlin
  • Responding to the Communist Invasion of South Korea
  • Addressing the End of the British Mandate in Palestine

Have you ever wondered what you would do if faced with such significant and world altering decisions? Well, if you have, do we have an opportunity for you! On March 30-April 1, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation is hosting The Buck Stops Here: Leaders Make Hard Decisions at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri (twenty minutes outside of Kansas City). In addition to visiting the newly renovated  Truman Library (at a cost of $30 million) and visiting his home, you will participate in the White House Decision Making Center Program where you and your fellow attendees will, after reading all of the materials that would have been available to his cabinet members and advisors, recommend to the President the best plan of action regarding one of the five issues noted above. 

Do you end the war with Japan by unleashing the deadliest weapon in history? Do you try to break the Soviet blockade of Berlin or enter the U.S. in the Korean conflict and risk starting World War III? How about integrating the U.S. military and risk losing the 1948 election and writing off the southern United States for the Democratic party for decades to come? Do you recognize the newly created nation of Israel and perhaps initiate a Middle Eastern conflict that could expand across the region? You will decide which of these issues to address and then, along with your fellow participants, make a recommendation to the President. Once you have made your recommendation, one participant will be selected to play the role of President Truman and will hold a press conference to explain the decision to a skeptical press corps (you)! 

And if all that is not enough, you will also hear from author A.J. Baime, author of The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed The World,” and spend time with and hear from Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of Harry and Bess Truman, about what it was like growing up with his grandfather! You will not want to miss a minute of this program so if you have not already registered, sign up today. You won’t regret it!

(1) “Truman Nominated for the Vice Presidency,” National Politics, July 22, 1944
(2) The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World, A.J. Baime, 2017.