Harry S. Truman had to be happy to leave behind the White House that he sometimes referred to as his “jail.” Unpopular and weary from the Korean War, Missouri’s sole president declined to run for re-election in 1952 and came back home to Independence, where he would live out his final two decades.
Today there is a renewed push to return Truman to Washington, D.C. — this time permanently, in the form of a statue to be installed in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. It would join the existing figure of Thomas Hart Benton (the 19th century abolitionist statesman, not the famed Missouri painter of the same name) and take the place of Union General Francis Preston Blair. Both sculptures date to 1899.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri has led the campaign to honor Truman in the hall since 2015. In June, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill joined Cleaver in hosting a Washington reception to close the gap on the fundraising goal of $350,000 needed to design and create the statue.
It would be a fitting honor for a president whose legacy continues to shape the geopolitical landscape today. “Your new president is taking office in quite different circumstances than when I became president eight years ago,” Truman told the nation in his farewell address. He was known for understatement — often to comedic effect — but he had never spoken words more serious.
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When he was thrust into power upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, turmoil reigned across the globe. As the Soviet Union pressed forward on its offensive to take Berlin, Japan remained defiant in the face of the Allies. The first atom bomb had not yet been successfully detonated, and the resolution of World War II was uncertain.
But Truman was exiting an altogether different world stage by the end of his presidency. He had made the agonizing decision to drop two “most terrible” nuclear weapons on Japan, killing scores of thousands in the hopes of saving millions. After the fighting ceased, he devised the interventionist Truman Doctrine to contain the Soviets in the early days of the Cold War and appointed Secretary of State George C. Marshall as architect of the Marshall Plan to reshape a ravaged Europe. He joined the United Nations in adopting its charter devoted to international peace and security.
Truman issued the first international recognition of the State of Israel. He authorized the creation of the National Security Agency and even proposed an ill-fated nationalized health insurance program.
Reflections of Harry S. Truman’s vision and actions are evident in the international order of 2017. There is no Missourian more worthy of a spot in the National Statuary Hall.