It’s hard not to like Harry Truman, a man raised in a four-room house next to a small mule-barn. He worked on a farm, as an itinerant railway construction timer, and as a bank clerk, and became a combat artillery captain in World War I, later retiring as a colonel in the Army Reserves. He was co-owner of a haberdashery that failed in the postwar recession, worked for 14 years to retire all his debts, and took night courses in law while serving as a municipal judge (really a county commissioner—he wasn’t a trial judge). He was nominated and elected U.S. senator from Missouri in 1934 by a narrow margin, and in 1940—despite standing resolutely on President Franklin Roosevelt’s coattails as he sought a third term—Truman again was rather narrowly reelected. It was effectively a fluke that he was chosen as vice president by Roosevelt and a small group of party elders in 1944 when it was agreed that the incumbent vice president, Henry Wallace, was too far left and too erratic to be renominated.

There was practically no possibility that Roosevelt would not be reelected, taking Truman into office with him, after the president had led the country through the Great Depression, provided all the assistance necessary to keep Britain and Canada in the Second World War in 1940 and 1941, and led America back to the Philippines and almost to the Rhine less than three years after

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