How Truman Became the Nominee for Vice President
Harry Truman did not want to be Vice President and he wasn’t shy about saying so to anyone who asked him, from his colleagues in the Senate to members of his family. “It is funny how some people would give a fortune to be as close as I am to it and I don’t want it,” he wrote to Margaret on July 9, 1944, just 12 days before he would ultimately accept the Democratic Party’s nomination.
In the days leading up to the Democratic National Convention, speculation grew over whose name would appear next to President Roosevelt’s on the ballot. Those aware of Roosevelt’s declining health understood that the stakes were high because the man he selected would likely ascend to the presidency before his term ended.
The incumbent, Henry Wallace, was seen by party leaders as too liberal and eccentric to be a viable candidate. They succeeded in convincing Roosevelt to be open to other possibilities, though he refused to officially endorse another candidate.
The list of Wallace’s potential replacements grew so long that reporters joked that it would be easier to list those who were not candidates. Truman’s name was on the list, along with Senators James Byrnes and Alben Barkley, Associate Justice William O. Douglas and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Byrnes seemed to be the obvious choice at first, enough so that Truman initially agreed to nominate him at the Convention.
Behind the scenes, however, the party leaders had made their choice. They wanted Truman. Byrnes was unpopular among black voters and the labor movement, Barkley was too old, and Douglas was too young. They took their choice to Roosevelt, and after making their case for Truman – and against the other candidates – he agreed that if he couldn’t have Wallace, he’d be satisfied with Truman or Douglas.
Now with Roosevelt’s blessing, the party leaders had to get Truman and a majority of delegates on board with their plan. They were precise in their political maneuvering. They edited the language Roosevelt used to discuss the candidates so that he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about Wallace or Byrnes. They released Roosevelt’s mild endorsement of Wallace, which was considered the “kiss of death” to his chances at the nomination. Then, they leaked that their support was behind Truman, who finally understood the seriousness with which he was being considered.
Still, Truman was hesitant to take on the job. Roosevelt was on the phone when Truman met with Bob Hannegan and the other party leaders to make his choice. When he asked Hannegan whether Truman had agreed yet, Hannegan said that Truman was “the contrariest goddamn mule from Missouri” he ever dealt with. Roosevelt’s response made Truman’s decision for him.
“Well, you tell the Senator that if he wants to break up the Democratic Party in the middle of the war, that’s his responsibility,” Roosevelt yelled into the phone, loud enough for Truman to hear from across the room. He agreed to the nomination, though he remained unsure that a majority of delegates would side with him over Wallace.
The start of the Convention in Chicago was hot and lively. Counterfeit tickets had been acquired by Wallace supporters, who made a great show of support when he made a surprise appearance on the Convention floor. The party leaders worried that their energy would sway delegates. With Roosevelt officially nominated for the fourth time, they were applying pressure wherever they could to ensure that Truman would get the votes he needed and that anyone with counterfeit tickets would be kept out.
When the first ballot for Vice President was taken on July 21, 16 candidates were in the running. This left no candidate with a majority of delegates, though Wallace still led Truman by over 100 votes.
The second vote looked close at first, with Truman only leading by five votes. However, the party leaders’ hard work came to fruition when John Bankhead, a candidate from Alabama, withdrew himself from the running and cast Alabama’s votes for Truman. Other states immediately followed their lead, including South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The final vote count had Truman with over 1000 votes, defeating Wallace by 926.
Truman accepted the nomination and gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches in American political history. While he won the majority of votes, many were exhausted by the nomination process and were unenthused with Truman, calling him “the Missouri compromise.”
Even so, Roosevelt and Truman were victorious in the general election. Truman had done what he had been so resistant to just months prior – become Vice President of the United States. However, as time would tell, Truman wouldn’t hold the job for long.
Denton Williams is a Public Programs / Public Relations intern at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the Truman Library Institute. He is receiving a Bachelor’s in Public Relations from Webster University.
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10 Things to See Before the Truman Library Closes for a Year
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum recently announced a significant renovation that will close the Library for a year. Though the closing date, July 22, is approaching, there are still opportunities for guests to step into Harry and Bess Truman’s world before the doors close.
History Happy Hour: Women at War with Natalie Walker
Friday, July 12, 2019 from 4:00-5:00 p.m.
3 Trails Brewing
111 N. Main St.
Independence, MO 64050
On Friday, July 12, the Truman Library is hosting a History Happy Hour event featuring Truman Library Institute Museum / Archives Technician Natalie Walker. This event takes place at 3 Trails Brewing in on the Independence Square and will feature Walker examining what followed President Truman’s landmark decision to sign the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (June 12, 1948). Walker will discuss the impact of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act through the fascinating story of Ernie Wagner, who served in the Air Force in the Korean War. Enjoy a behind-the-scenes look of the Truman Library’s extensive collection as Walker uses artifacts and photos from Wagner to tell her story.
History Happy Hour: World War I and its Aftermath with Garrett Peck
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Tom’s Town Distilling Company
On Thursday, June 6, the Truman Library is partnering with the National World War I Museum and Memorial for a History Happy Hour event featuring author and historian Garrett Peck. This special event takes place at Tom’s Town Distilling Company and will feature Peck discussing his latest book, The Great War in America: World War I and Its Aftermath, which examines the American experience during World War I and the unexpected changes that rocked the country in its immediate aftermath — the Red Scare, race riots, women’s suffrage and Prohibition, particularly timely on the centennial of the Armistice. Read More
On June 25, 1948, Harry S. Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. In its most basic sense, the act would assist in the resettlement of thousands of European refugees (largely through granting American visas) who had been displaced from their home countries due to World War II. Read More
The Courtship of Harry and Bess
Harry S. Truman and Bess Wallace carried on a nine-year courtship almost entirely through letters and some supervised visits. Harry first met Bess when they attended Sunday school together in 1890. Harry was six years old and Bess was five.
By 1910, Harry began what some call his longest “campaign” — the courtship of Bess Wallace. Nine years after sending his first letter, Harry and Bess married on June 28, 1919.
Below are a selection of letters, one from each year of their courtship, that give brief insights into Harry’s feelings for Bess and his determination to one day wed the “one girl in the world” for him.Read More
The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act
Of the many decisions, acts, policies and executive orders signed by former President Harry S. Truman, one of the most famous remains his decision to desegregate the military. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 (July 26, 1948) figures prominently in ongoing discussions on civil rights and equality today.
Yet while Executive Order 9981 is perhaps one of Truman’s most progressive pieces of legislation, his decision to sign the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in the same year suggests Truman recognized a need for even more equalizing change in the United States military. Read More
The Steel Strike of 1952 and Harry Truman’s Declaration of National Emergency
Using his executive powers, Harry S. Truman declared a “limited” National Emergency on December 16, 1950 under the perceived threat of communism spreading throughout the globe via North Korean forces.
Now, THEREFORE, I, HARRY S. TRUMAN, president of the United States of America, do proclaim the existence of a national emergency, which requires that the military, naval, air, and civilian defenses of this country be strengthened as speedily as possible to the end that we may be able to repel any and all threats against our national security and to fulfill our responsibilities in the efforts being made through the United Nations and otherwise to bring about lasting peace. Read More
President Harry S. Truman and President Lyndon B. Johnson enjoyed a friendship stemming from a shared belief in national healthcare, civil rights, and other policies that endured through Johnson’s presidency and beyond. Johnson attributed many of his successes to the early steps that Truman took on these important policies. “It was really Harry Truman of Missouri who planted the seeds of compassion and duty which today have flowered into care for the sick and serenity for the fearful,” Johnson said. Read More
A Note from Clifton Truman Daniel
Clifton Truman Daniel is the oldest grandson of President Truman and a former newspaper writer, editor and public relations professional. He lectures on his grandfather and plays President Truman in the one-man show, “Give ‘Em Hell Harry!,” the first time in history a U.S. president is being portrayed onstage by a descendant. In addition to his honorary chairmanship of the Truman Library Institute, Daniel is also board secretary of the Truman Scholarship Foundation.
He wrote the following reminiscing about a memorable holiday with this grandfather:
When I was five or six, my father took me to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I fell in love with the band uniforms – the buttons, the braid, the plumes on the helmets. Later, when Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “One of those.” Read More