What Franklin Roosevelt & Harry Truman Thought of Each Other

Harry Truman meets with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House after being nominated as his Vice President in 1944.

Distracted by his efforts to finish World War II in victory, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt headed into his presidential campaign for an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, seemed especially indifferent to who would be his running mate. Everyone around him seemed worried about his failing health except F.D.R. who continued to give off a sense of self-invincibility. Roosevelt’s health had shockingly deteriorated. In fact, during the few campaign appearances he would make in 1944, his once clipped baritone voice had become labored and slurred. At fundraiser dinners, he no longer even made the effort to maintain the illusion he could walk, but rather just stayed seated at the table to give his speeches. At a Chicago stadium rally, his open car simply drove around the circle, stopped so a radio microphone could be brought to him and made his remarks seated in the car, which then drove him out. Here are clips of it:

An uncertain Truman drives with a confident Roosevelt through a rainstorm in 1944.

His current Vice President Henry Wallace was being pushed off the ticket for being too liberal. F.D.R.was leaning towards Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, but there was tremendous fighting and jockeying among party bosses with many pushing for the U.S. Senator from Missouri, Harry Truman, who they argued could retain support for F.D.R. among conservatives and southern Democrats.

F.D.R. finally responded to them in July of 1944, “Truman would make you boys happy, and you are the ones I am counting on to win this election.”

Tell  him to go to hell,” was Truman’s response through intermediaries, himself maintaining the guise of indifference.

The wearied Roosevelt had no time for games. Speaking to party operative Bob Hannegan loudly enough on the phone for other politicos gathered in a meeting room at the Democratic Convention in Chicago to hear, the President yelled back that he’d made a decision and Truman had no choice in the matter:  “If he wants to break up the Democratic Party in the middle of a war, and maybe lose that war, it’s up to him.”

The Roosevelt-Truman ticket of 1944.

Truman was nominated on the second ballot and accepted it.  After the convention, he had one meeting with Roosevelt at the White House – mostly for newsreel cameramen and photographers. The President  never told Truman about secret plans involving the atomic bomb as a potential weapon to end the war.

Throughout the campaign, the two men never conferred directly again, only taking a drive in an open-car during a pouring rainstorm.

After they were both sworn-in on Inauguration Day, January 20, 1945, Vice President Truman would have only two meetings alone with President Roosevelt. And Truman hated both meetings, snapping afterwards: “He does all the talking and he talks about what he wants to talk about, and he never talks about anything you want to talk about, so there isn’t much you can do.” Truman’s primary dislike of Roosevelt, he told a former Senate Republican colleague, was simple: “He lies.”

His wife Bess and daughter Margaret looking on, Harry Truman takes the oath of office as President, April 14, 1945.

Talking politics over tumblers of whiskey in the Congressional office of his old pal, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Vice President Truman was interrupted with a phone call from the White House on the afternoon of April 12, 1945.

Roosevelt had died in Georgia. Arrangements for a swearing-in ceremony were quickly made as Vice President Truman rushed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, where he soon took the oath of office as the new President.


Categories: Franklin D. Roosevelt, History, Presidents, Presidents on Presidents, The Trumans

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4 replies »

  1. So many of these snapshots from the 1940’s are such a contrast with the chipper win-the-war attitude which was such a big part of the films of the period: the people often look so grim. Margaret Truman certainly does here. Of course it’s a mere second in time and she may have grinned from ear to ear the next second. Reminds me of family photos of the time, which can leave me similarly wondering. Thanks for opening a window into this national transition period. Now I want to learn more!

    • Yes – as usual, as time passes, we all tend to streamline and view past tough times as a tidy story where all ends well. And a very wise observation. For many years I had seen a picture of one great-grandmother who always looked grim, very sad. And then suddenly, last year a distant cousin interested in genealogy sent me a picture of her – and she was smiling. I couldn’t believe. A picture may say a thousand words, but it only reveals a second of a life. Thanks again.

  2. I have always been amused by Dean Acheson’s comment that he preferred working for Truman because he found Roosevelt’s manner to be patronizing. I guess Grottie/Yale didn’t like being talked down to by Grottie/Harvard.

    • That’s likely a contributing reason. People really forget that these great minds were also human minds – with jealousy a part of it. FDR was a real piece of work, a man of many masks – but he was so effective in dealing with the Depression, preparing the nation for war and then entering the war, and never permitting his disability to get in the way.

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