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tv   Senator Harry Truman  CSPAN  February 20, 2022 1:30am-2:01am EST

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of your history that don't conform to those values you will never see and at the end the last chapter is actually called does history have a future and the question is will this kind of ehistory eventually lead to the end of history as we know it you can watch the full program at just search jason steinhauer or the title of his book history disrupted. welcome to whistle stops a special program series from the truman library institute. thank you for joining us today for our final trip down the tracks. i'm cassie perkarski director strategic initiatives and hosts for our journey through the all new permanent exhibition at the truman presidential library museum after spectacular 29 million dollar renovation at every stop along the route. this series has provided you a special access to the fasting galleries artifacts films and stories inside. now before i give the last all
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aboard, i'd like to give a quick. thank you to our generous whistle stop series sponsor black and beach. the privately funded truman library institute proudly supports harry truman's legacy and partnership with the truman presidential library and museum and a variety of impactful ways for more information about the important work. we do please visit truman library well, you're there you can watch all of the stops in the whistle stop series on the events recordings page of the website or on the institute's youtube channel there are guest conductors will guide you through the museum's immersive introduction film truman's formative years his journey to the western front of world war one his relationship with kansas city boss tom pendergast and his partnership with tom beach. today the train has gone quite the distance from independence to washington dc in the last room of the plata politics gallery visitors find truman in the nation's capital as a us senator. visitors can follow his evolution from the senator from
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pendergast in the letters. he wrote home to best and margaret to the truman committee exploring the group's efforts in an interactive puzzle alongside artifacts political cartoons and documents from truman's 10 happiest years in the senate. for today's journey. it's my honor to introduce you to our conductor who once held the same senate seat as harry truman. claire mccaskill grew up in a political family and public service has defined her adult life versus a lawmaker in the state of missouri than as a county prosecutor and missouri state auditor in 2006 claire became the first woman elected to the us senate from missouri today. she's a political analyst for msnbc and nbc a visiting fellow at the university of chicago institute of politics and a long-time supporter and dear friend of the truman library institute claire. the controls are all yours. nq cassie first, i've got to say i think this is one of the cruelest things that has ever
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been done to me because i have 30 minutes to talk about somebody in the senate who i know an awful lot about and who i am really kind of been a fan girls since i was in junior high and so this will be a little tough for me. i'm gonna look down not because i need my notes, but if i don't look down i'm afraid i'll go far and feel and start telling harry truman. and we won't get through the slides and the presentation about his years in the senate. you have to start with harry truman by admitting. he was really not a very good politician. and then you have to add into that the fact that he won when he wasn't supposed to he was always the underdog he was always considered the guy who wasn't gonna win. he never had a race of for the senate. he had two of them. that was easy.
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they were tough. and so this is a man who was used to being underestimated. and he was not very good orator. he wasn't flowery. he wasn't a backslapper, but he did do one thing. that served him so well throughout his career. he worked incredibly hard. so his first campaign for the senate he had been searching about after, you know, building a new courthouse and independence and building a new courthouse downtown in kansas city for jackson county as it was called the county judge his job is really accounting commissioner, and he was looking around what he was going to do. next best did not want him to run for congress he wanted to run for congress, but he was passed over by the pendergast machine for a congressional bid and so much to his surprise al-word and pendergast came to him and said we want you to run
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for the senate now. as usual area was not at the top of anybody's list. he was like the third or fourth person who was asked. to run for the senate everyone else had said no, but harry didn't have any money in fact, alward and pendergast each gave him 500 bucks within a few days of him agreeing to do this and so off he went in 1934 to run for the senate he had two opponents in that primary and they were both formidable one. they were both congressman sitting congressman one was in saint louis and had the backing of the st. louis political organizations. his name was milligan, and then there was a cochran who ran who was from richmond, missouri, and he was also was sitting congressman and harry truman was like nobody thought he had a chance but harry got his car. as he always did he loved his
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car he loved to drive and in a very hot, missouri summer. he went from county courthouse to county courthouse 15-hour days morning till night and the people who traveled with him and he had one man who traveled with him almost constantly were amazed at his stamina and how he seemed to really mean to him. it felt like a vacation. he said at the time he liked being on the road. he liked moving around and meeting people and the picture in the slide in front of you is frankly kind of representative of some of the crowds he had and some of the small counties around the state. we're just, you know, a few people would show up to here and speak but that didn't stop him and much to everyone's surprise. he won the race. he wanted by 40,000 votes. he split out state where he'd worked so hard to get the farmer vote since he thought he could relate to the farmers more so than the other it's he won by
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40,000 votes and he easily beat the incumbent in the general election in november. missouri was a very democratic state back in those days. he spent a whopping 12,286 on his primary. and he spent even more amazing some of 786 on the general election. he went off to washington and there for the day that he was sworn in. was pendergast and his wife and his daughter and as pendergast left him in washington after harry had taken the oath of office. he said the following work hard keep your mouth shut and answer your mail. so in washington harry truman decided that he would in fact keep his head down and be quiet. he wrote his wife on their 16th
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anniversary and he said the following he was lamenting the fact that he was never going to make any money and this is one of the ironies of harry truman being under a cloud during much of his political career because of his connections with people who were unsavory harry truman was so honest. he was always broke. and so in this letter, he is lamenting to best about that. he's not going to make a lot of money, but he's hoping to make a reputation as a senator but saying of course, i won't sell influence. i'm perfectly willing to be cussed if i'm right and he in fact was cussed many many times. your gas cloud um, this was a man who came to office because of his huge margin of victory in jackson county, which was a tribal to the political organization of tom pendergast. a lot has been written about what harry truman knew or didn't know and you had a whole session
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on pendergast so i won't go there but suffice to say even though he never was dishonest and there was never any inkling in any of the investigations that were done that he had done anything wrong. he stayed loyal to pendergast and it hurt him in the senate. he had an inferiority complex when he first got to the senate. he was known as cassie mentioned as a senator from pendergast. he remembered the people who were kind to him when he got to washington. in fact, he told a reporter that he asked to show him around he said to him i'm green is grass. i need your help and the reporter was startled because he wasn't used to senators admitting any kind of vulnerability or any kind of hesitancy about whether or not they belong there, but harry wasn't afraid to let people see that he was not a blow hard. he wasn't sure of himself. so what did he do? he once again just worked
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harder. harry would walk a couple of miles to the senate every morning and he walked at a brisk pace he would get to the senate no later than 7 am every single morning and in fact, he was so early that they finally gave him a pass key so he could let himself in the building. they had never before had a need to give a senator a passkey but there never been a senator who wanted to get to work. really is very truman did. he listened. he took his committee assignments very seriously. he studied the subject matter. he lamented that none of his fellow senators check library books out of the library of congress, but he did stacks of them when he was on the commerce committee. he would devour volumes about the railroads their management their business practices because he was investigating the railroads and what they were up to as part of his work on the commerce committee. for the first three years. he wasn't taken seriously, but
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everybody who did spend some time with him liked him. um, his likability was a huge weapon for harry truman in the united states senate he never gave a speech for the first two years. he was in the senate. in fact, he said very little. although he tried to be helpful to particularly his constituents. he answered his mail and to people at home. he finally began speaking. near the end of his second year in the senate. i was not a showy oratory. it was a boring speech full of facts and figures the classic truman speech was first in december of 37, and this is really when he began to make a mark. in fact, this speech was covered on the front page the new york times he went after the lawyers in the bankers. he went after those people who
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were privileged in the country. country. it really showed his hatred. of people that worshiped money and greed and it was it was for harry. it was quite a speech it. it really was the first memorable speech he gave he'd given one earlier that was full of facts and figures but this was the one that people remembered he also gave a speech in his first term. that really was a very dumb thing to do he gave a speech basically defending pendergast at one point and going after governor stark who then would turn out to be his opponent. and in the next election stark governor stark led to the downfall of pendergast along with us attorney and kansas city by the name of milligan. and the bottom line is that harry truman had kinderges as an
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anvil around his neck while he was a senator and he really only got free of that anvil in his second term. so let's talk a little bit about his second term. we can go on to the next slide in in his second term after beating the governor. and by the way, that was another election. let's let me not just gloss over the second election the toughest election of his career the second election. once again, he had two opponents, but this time one was the governor and this governor was full of himself and harry truman was confident that if he didn't attack this governor stark was his name. he was an apple farmer from northern, missouri that stark would be would frankly do do it himself. he would hurt himself by his ego and the way he handled himself. and in fact, that's exactly what
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happened. there were some things that that stark did that didn't sit well with most missourians like having the guy that drive his car salute him every time he walked by um, those were the kinds of things putting on errors that most missourians just didn't cotton to and certainly harry truman was not that guy. the other candidate was the same us attorney who actually prosecuted kindergast so he had two people going against him once again accusing him of being a pendergrass bellhop a pinterest. stuge not his own man accused him of being deceitful and once again harry truman just campaigned on loving roosevelt and the new deal and outworked him. he just simply outworked him and this time he won by a very very small margin only 6,000 votes. but he won.
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and once again it was against the odds. his second term is what would catapult him into national prominence? and it began very simply in very classic harry truman style. he liked facts. he liked figures he was not big on hyperbole. he was not big certainly on flowery speech. he was very plain spoken man. he got to the point and if the point he made you didn't like well just tough. and when he came back for his second term, first of all, he was celebrated many of the democratic senators had come out in campaigned for him, but he was considered dead man walking before that campaign began and once again, he showed people that he even though he wasn't a particularly skilled politician. he was good at winning and he i think enjoyed that he was the
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underdog what happened with the truman committee is his constituents some of his constituents contacted him and said they are wasting a lot of money building fort leonard wood and for those of you that aren't from missouri fort leonard wood remains one of a major army training base in the united states. it does have joint capabilities now, but it's was built as an army base and it is a place for many many of our military go for basic training as they join the military that was being built. as harry truman was campaigning for his second term and when he got in he got all these reports about waste. and what did harry truman do in classic harry truman style, which just makes my heart go pitter patter. he got in his car. and he drove himself. i think it was a dodge a 38 dodge. he loved his cars. he got in his car drove from washington all the way down to
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florida then back up through the midwest and then to michigan and the stops. he made along the way were to places that a lot of money was spent on our defense. and he was shocked and saddened by what he found. he found equipment laying around the ground in fort leonard wood that clearly was ruining and was wasted and he realized that something was terribly terribly wrong. so he then. went to the floor and said gave a speech. on february 10th of 1941 he gave a speech on the floor and he asked for a special committee to be created just to investigate. the defense industry as it relates to war profiteering it had a special name in the national committee on defense
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something something but nobody remembers the name of the committee because from the very day it began. it was known as the truman committee in the pictures of the slides in front of you. this is one of the first hearings that the committee had and this was actually in kansas city at the mailbox hotel. these are the senators. there were five democrats and two republicans and then they added a democrat later, so i'm not sure exactly who's in this picture, but that was the committee as it was gathering. just beginning hearing on a midwest transit defense transportation center, and you can see harry there actually touring that center with the committee on their work. um, one of the things they found which was fascinating to me when i first learned about this when i really dug into truman committee, was that what they had done in the effort to get things done quickly to build up
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the defense capabilities united states. as germany was rearing its ugly head and with a war over in europe. um, they harry found in the committee found that there were these cost plus contracts. and hi, this is personal to me because when i was campaigning for the senate for harry's seat. i certainly was aware of the truman committee in the work that had done and i was certainly aware that there was a lot of costly things going in iraq. imagine my surprise when i got to washington and i started digging in and i found that the biggest problem in iraq. cost plus contracting and basically what cost plus contracting does for defense companies? it says no matter what it costs you you get to add on a profit so the incentive of the company is to do more that's how we got
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monogrand hand towels in iraq, and that's why harry truman and his fellow members of his committee found so much waste and abuse in the run-up and the armament processed for world war two. the work was consequential that the committee did it was. uh, it was substantive and harry truman ran the committee, with a really iron hand he was not interested in people coming in front of the committee and scapegoating others. he was not interested in the military coming to the committee and saying well, but we wanted it quickly and we had to do it fast and blah blah blah. he just wanted the facts. he wanted to uncover what we were paying and for and why and what we were getting for the money. i could tell many specific
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examples of what the truman committee uncovered, but maybe one of the best ones is us steel now us steel obviously a very very powerful company in the united states if this period of time and somebody a company that the country really needed obviously steel was key for a lot of the work that needed to be done to get the weaponry that the united states army and navy and marines. we're going to need as as we began to participate in world war two. but us steel they discovered was actually providing substandard steel plates. for navy vessels and in fact some of these plates actually broke on a ship a navy ship. and they then began digging in and they discovered in the hearings that there was actually a ledger that was kept at the company and when the steel
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plates passed the specification it was written in a book in ink. and then when it didn't pass specification it was written in the same book and still delivered to the navy but it was written in pencil with the letter f and the truman committee was able to get the person who made those entries into the ledger to admit under oath that the word f stood for fake that they were actually providing steel plates to the navy that did not meet the specifications and obviously putting many lives at risk by providing some standard materials to the navy. that's example, there were many his hard work his love of the road. his penchant per fax and details. his refusal to grandstand but
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rather to really hitch his star to being hyper prepared. is how harry truman came to national prominence and the truman committee made big news as you can see in these cartoons. this is the truman committee report and this is clearing the way towards victory harry. truman was really seen as a hero. he was not seen as somebody who was trying to deny the military what they needed. he was seen as someone who was trying to give the military what they needed but deny the big companies war profiteering on the backs of the soldiers that were risking their lives and losing their lives in the name of freedom, and here is another cartoon of national hot on the trail with the truman committee going after a defense contractors and people who are building army camps. they're really two phases to it their investigation. the first part was investigating
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all the army camps that were being built and all the more profit hearing that went on there. and then they moved into the armament which was really much more complicated and much more politically risky because going after the people who were building the tanks and the guns and the ships, you know, you risk being seen as someone who is anti-military which obviously was was not something that would be politically advantageous especially for a senator from, missouri. so harry truman went from an accidental senator who got there only because of the help of a crooked political boss in kansas city. to beating the incumbent governor for his reelection to really taking a position of national prominence by working hard and doing the right thing when it came to war profiteering. the other thing that i want to point out is that harry truman's
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political uh norm did not change when it came time for the vice president being selected. there was a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes as harry truman was a senator he first was mentioned as a vice presidential candidate probably a year and a half before the convention. um and it meeting with it and by the way roosevelt wouldn't ever everybody who talked to roosevelt thought they knew what roosevelt was going to do clearly wallace thought he had roosevelt's support to be the vice president again, there were other candidates there were burned and barkley and all these others that were all circling trying to become the vice president clearly roosevelt while he wrote kind of a nandy pamby letter saying he liked wallace and if he were a delegate he would vote for wallace. it was pretty clear to the political heavyweights that he
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was really not pushing wallets and the way that harry truman emerged. the most unlikely in many ways person to get the nod was once again through the political strength of political organizers or in those days known as political bosses in major cities across the country and some of that was facilitated by pendergast and some of it was facilitated by a man named hannigan and others who worked flynn who worked to get carry the votes and so even though there was a sense that harry truman was never going to be the vice president going into the convention. once again, harry truman emerged as and by the way his acceptance speech was i think three sentences long three sentences long he looked awkward in front of the microphones and there was a little bit of worry that this
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plane spoken unassuming. guy from missouri. maybe not have been the right guy because there was no hours of oratory, but just three sentences and the last sentence he uttered to the convention after accepting the nomination of vice president was give me a chance. and of course the rest is history. i left a lot out about harry's time in the senate his ability to fight when he had to especially went under attack the friendships. he made how much he enjoyed the collegiality of the senate how he was never known to speak a harsh word to anyone including his staff. he was someone who was very respectful. he may have used a bad word now and then but never in the company of women, and of course i left out his adoration of his wife and his daughter and how hard it was for him to be alone
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in washington because best didn't like washington much. she didn't stay there a lot. and it was hard for him because he wanted to be with best and he wanted to be with margaret. they were a very close group that three and their social life was very modest. there were no big flashy parties for the truman family. so i hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about harry truman. i will tell you he had has been a really somebody that i have looked to throughout my career in public life because of his pension for saying something simply answering the question not being afraid of the consequences taking. unpopular positions and working hard. so what harry would do at the end of the day harry was very careful and didn't drink a lot, but he would take a stroll with his fellow senators down to her
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room many different hideaways in the senate where they would gather for a little bit of bourbon now, i will tell you i have got a glass here. of my favorite bourbon. it's not tom pendergast bourbon, but it's close. thank you so much claire. what a wonderful way to close out our whistle stop series. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including charter communications. broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions building infrastructure upgrading technology empowering opportunity in communities big and small charter is connecting us. charter communications along
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