The Shadow of Truman
Truman was a mysterious figure, so much so that he himself once questioned to his wife, “Bess, why am I an enigma? I try to be just what I am and tell the truth about as much as the average person.”1 Many people view President Truman in a positive light, but Richard Lawrence Miller argues that Truman was just as politically corrupt as anyone, perhaps even to a certain extent, as Richard Nixon. In Miller’s book Truman, the Rise to Power, he introduces the belief that Truman isn’t a politician with invigorating honesty, but a man with a suspicious air about him, a machine politician that used interesting yet illegal tactics to take control of the political scene. Miller begins with Truman’s childhood all the way into his dealings with a variety of businesses, some profitable but most of them less so. Miller then covers Truman’s experiences in World War I and his experiences as an eastern judge, showing how these events led to the founding of a variety of his careers later on. Miller captures Truman’s actions while serving as a member of the United States Senate and the tendencies he developed to make a lasting impact on the nation. Concluding his book, Miller inputs that Truman had a reasonable amount of kick in the Roosevelt administration, and answers why Truman chose to become the vice president under Roosevelt; it was because of Roosevelt’s poor health. Truman knew he would obtain the presidency, the question was not a matter of how he was to obtain it, but it was a matter of when.
The genesis of Miller’s book wraps itself around Truman’s childhood, and how his background transformed Truman’s political career. From the very beginning, Truman was a shy child with rather poor eyesight, yet brilliant in just about every other way. He usually solved problems between the other kids in his neighborhood through logic, and he was respected for his natural ability to play the piano and to notice details that many others would not have observed. An old neighbor recalled that “Harry [went] home many a time with two or three books…and by Monday he had them all read.”2 Truman was far from an outgoing person, but in one way or another inspired his peers through his calm aura and his practical approaches to problems. It was also during this adolescent stage that Truman framed his plan that would guide him for the rest of his life, his plan to “learn farming, finance, and the military.”3 Showing his commitment early on, Truman was set on one day joining the military, and was dedicated to working with various businesses in the future. After Truman graduated from high school, financial troubles plagued his father, John’s, business, and Truman was forced to work in several different workplaces, including a bank and his family’s farm. Truman’s bosses were usually impressed with his work ethic and organizational abilities, for he consistently innovated new, organized, and efficient ways to get tasks done with sound proficiency and accuracy. Truman could've survived off his paycheck from the bank, but took over his family's farm after his father died. While running the farm, Truman taught himself how to manage the people that worked for him and introduced advanced techniques that made crop growing more profitable. Truman's involvement with business and his family farm built up his understanding of the world and morphed him into an independent person. By the end of his early years, Truman received the fundamental training necessary for success in business and in farming, but it was the years afterward that would put Truman’s will to the test.
Following Truman's early life, Miller focused on Truman's participation in the First World War along with several years after when he served as an eastern judge. Before World War I, Truman had financial trouble and partnered up with a man named Culbertson in a mining business. Culbertson promised Truman a shortcut to a life of luxury, yet Truman’s involvement with the company cost him $7,500. Culbertson later built another money making scheme that dealt with oil instead of mining, and Truman, perhaps out of desperation, joined forces with him again. Although many profitable paths were avoided, the oil business was a more successful venture. Through Culbertson, Truman came to the realization that he couldn’t trust people easily. At times, exploitation was necessary. Truman then decided to fight in the war, not only to escape some of the debt he owed but to achieve his personal goal of experiencing a military life. World War I had such a tremendous impact on Truman that he himself stated "My whole political career is based upon my war service..."4 While serving as a captain in the military, Truman grew as a leader and as a human being, and although his pathway was rough, Truman took from the war his experiences and morals that he carried with him into his political years. After life in the military, Truman went back to business, but his pursuits weren't very successful, for several events resulted in his canteen's breakdown. Old debts and lawsuits, though only a small parasite at first, haunted Truman's funds and finances. To escape away from the business scene he began to get into Pendergast politics. It was during the 1920s when Truman began associating himself with Boss Tom, the leader of the Pendergast organization. Miller declared that "Elections could be rigged...Truman and other Pendergast machine leaders derided opponents."5 The Pendergast Machine manipulated many, and if opponents persevered, threats were made and lives were lost. Eventually, Truman won appointment as an eastern judge and influenced some decisions that helped shape Jackson County. Several years later Truman ran for the U.S. Senate and won, relying heavily on the help of the Pendergast Machine. When Truman joined the United States Senate, he reached the height of his political ambition, and probably one of the highest points of his career as well.
After winning the Senate seat, Truman tried to get the support of citizens by speaking and arguing in favor of the New Deal. While watching Truman's maneuvers in politics pendergast operative George Collins observed, "If I had the money I could make you president easily."6 Truman was a strong writer, and his speeches encouraged people to support the president at the time, Roosevelt. Truman proved himself to be a tough willed supporter of the New Deal as not only observant but also as a quick thinker as well. While in the Senate, Truman took a stance on the plight of farmers and got involved with railroad investigations under Senator Wheeler. Truman researched the railroad cases heavily and formed what was a formidable situation in favor of Truman that would benefit him in the long run.
The events of the book culminate on the Pendergast investigation and thereafter Truman's vice presidential nomination. According to Miller, it was rather difficult for Truman to go through with the investigation, for he was a supporter of Pendergast. After Boss Tom went to jail, Truman ran for the Senate seat against Stark, and many predicted Truman's defeat because he was associated with the Pendergast machine operatives, most of whom were "either in jail or about to go there."7 Despite the odds turning against him, Truman won the Senate reelection in 1940 and made several impactful statements. Although somewhat of a racist, Truman believed that the "Negro people... [were] entitled to something better than this."8 Truman recognized that because the African American people were freemen, they had every right to reach out for happiness and social equality. During the final sections of his book, Miller recorded just how Truman obtained the vice presidency and thereafter the presidency itself. Truman actually didn't desire the vice president job, for "he could do more for the country as a senator than as a vice-president."9 In fact, Truman wanted the job, but not to be the president's understudy. He knew that Roosevelt's life was fading away and thirsted for the presidential seat. Truman was nominated as vice-president under Roosevelt and supported him fully, knowing that Roosevelt would collapse at some point. Surprisingly, Roosevelt's downfall came only several months after he was reelected, and with this Truman's rise to power was completed.
Before devoting his time to research, Miller believed Truman was an honest politician with a sense of pride about him. After extensive study however, Miller recognized that Truman was a "professional big-city politician, involved in shady and political dealings."9 However, Miller notes that Truman isn't completely contaminated, and makes sure to mention that Truman was different from his Pendergast organization friends; although Truman participated in several events that were against the law he didn't do it to enhance his own life. There was always a fine line between Truman's conscience and his corruption, and to the best of his ability, Miller argues, Truman worked for the benefit of the people. Truman's activities with the Pendergast organization were rather controversial, for even in his later elections "Truman was uneasy about an honest ballot count...perhaps fifty thousand of votes for him had been fraudulent."10 His corrupt way of dealing with political opponents and voters wasn't very obvious, as he mostly got away with it. Yet, Miller argues that it detracts from his perfect record to some measure. Although dishonest, Miller declared that Truman had a conscience and wished for the benefit of the nation, which supports Truman's support of the African right to reach for happiness and labor unions early on in his career.
Richard Lawrence Miller, an independent scholar who has researched a variety of topics including the Nazi era, communism, and American drug policy, covers the mid 20th century era thoroughly, and through his work the American people have gathered a more rounded understanding of the 1940s. Miller wished to offer a new perspective on the topics that he talked about, to show that he "was different from many of his colleagues."11 Growing up in the fifties, during the Cold War Era, it may have been natural for Miller to question how the Cold War began. Studying hundreds of state and federal law case reports, Miller's analysis of Truman's involvement in court cases and investigations proves rather insightful. Miller believes that in every piece of history there is some form of political corruption, and because of this he is extremely critical toward all of the politicians that he covers.
After Truman's presidential term and subsequent death many looked at Truman in a positive light. Many wrote about the life of Truman, in the eighties, to share his political struggles and foreign policy achievements with the public. Miller stated that these politicians "do both [Truman] and the nation a disservice."12 A majority of the historians, according to Miller, only wrote about the admirable aspects of Truman's life, and as such he needed to do Truman's life a service by revealing his true story. Truman was a man that had a prophecy for the future; he wanted the United States to transform into a utopia of justice and free will. Thus, Miller assures his readers that Truman surely meant well, but his methods in politics were a bit suspicious if anything.
Wilson D. Miscamble, from the University of Notre Dame, remarks that Miller "provides a more human and accurate portrait of Truman."13 In his review, Miscamble suggests that some parts of the book seem forced, such as when Miller stated that Truman tried to follow a plan he made for himself when he was a teenager, other parts of the book, such as comments about Truman's approach to politics and religious beliefs, are realistic. Notably, Miscamble also points out that Miller did not write Truman, The Rise to Power merely to "illuminate the 'dark side' of Harry Truman."14 but to reveal that he was different from many of the other presidents that preceded him. Although Truman participated in some of the illegal activities of the Pendergast machine, he never benefitted from said activities personally. Miscamble acknowledges Miller's research, and notes that Miller "[covered] his involvement in the government of Jackson County, Missouri...it is heavily documented."15 With over a hundred pages of notes, Miscamble ultimately respects Miller's research and different approach to an interesting president.
Another reviewer, James L. Jablonowski, claims that Miller's book "is a well-balanced, truthful recounting of a future president's life."16 In his review, James asserts that Miller's analysis of Truman's pre-presidential years, especially his dealings with the Pendergast, "has never been as fully researched as it is here"17 while stating that Miller gives Truman the darker side of the coin because it unveils the illegal events that Truman got himself into. A kirkus review remarked that Miller's writing "suffers from a writing style that's flatter than a Truman stump speech and from a frequently disorganized presentation."18 but deserves top marks in terms of research because most of the pages are filled with notes which back up Miller's thesis and argument. Miller pointed out that Truman wanted to leave a legacy behind him, and to make the world a more balanced and peaceful place to live in, but he couldn't do that without associating himself with the corrupt politicians that led him to his success. Miller's book offers a new point of view to the person that succeeded Roosevelt.
Miller's interpretation of the political career of Harry S. Truman proves rather surprising and refreshing. It is blessed with a vast amount of research, likely one of the most accurate accounts of Truman's life available. However, as a review points out, Miller's writing seems rather dry and his organization appears to be lacking. Miller's writing at times feels uninspired, such as when Miller wrote "Truman's phone calls to White House aides went unanswered."19 Miller not only uses a rudimentary style of writing, but at times inserted quotes when commentary might have been a more suitable choice. All of the facts appear to be accurate, yet the way Miller organizes the book is not compelling to his audience at all.
It is safe to say that Miller considers the forties to be a watershed in American history, for he spent a lot of his time investigating and writing the time. Miller believed that most of the world, in the forties, was battling against the rise of communism and corrupt politics. The United States became more involved in international affairs, and Miller used Truman, who said that people were "being herded like animals"20 to state that the United States was changing its foreign policy drastically, becoming more of an intruder rather a supportive ally along the way. Nevertheless, corrupt political practices rage rampant even in modern society, and Miller believed that the 1940s was a prime example of that.
Harry Truman was more than a president, he was a professional politician, who had an "ability for getting [himself] into things...and do not seem to see the consequences...until the conclusion comes."21 Truman's actions have inspired many people, his presidency ranks him among the great presidents, and his life and presidential term will remain in the hearts of Americans.
Author Biography: Richard Lawrence Miller graduated from William Jewell College in 1971 and trained as a radio broadcaster. During this time, Miller developed a passion for historical research. Truman: The Rise to Power is among his other works, which covers a variety of topics including Nazi law and even a multi volume account of President Lincoln's life. Word Count: 55
1: Miller, Richard. Truman: The Rise to Power. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1986.
2: Miller, Richard. 32.
3: Miller, Richard. 34.
4: Miller, Richard. 103.
5: Miller, Richard. 113.
6: Miller, Richard. 272.
7: Miller, Richard. 308.
8: Miller, Richard. 376.
9: Miller, Richard. 380.
10: Miller, Richard. 333.
11: Miller, Richard.
12: Miller, Richard.
13: Miscamble, Wilson. "Ohio History." 29 May 2013.
14: Miscamble, Wilson. "Ohio History." 29 May 2013.
15: Miscamble, Wilson. "Ohio History." 29 May 2013.
16: Jablonowski, James. "Book Review." 29 May 2013.
17: Jablonowski, James. "Book Review." 29 May 2013.
18: "TRUMAN: The Rise to Power." Kirkus Reviews. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.
19: Miller, Richard. Truman: The Rise to Power. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1986. 271.
20. Miller, Richard. 385.
21. Miller Richard. 149.