Tags: Truman | Signature | Style | Presidential | Polls

Harry S. Truman's Signature Style Has Him Among America's Top Presidents, Polls Show

Image: Harry S. Truman's Signature Style Has Him Among America's Top Presidents, Polls Show
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By    |   Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 12:25 PM

Asked to name the greatest U.S. presidents, it's unlikely that an overwhelming number of Americans would place Harry Truman very high on their list.

Yet presidential historians consistently rate the 33rd president highly, and their assessment of his presidency has been improving over the years.

When Truman ran for president for the first time in 1948, he was considered an underdog to Republican Thomas Dewey even though he was the incumbent in the White House following Franklin D. Roosevelt's death. Dewey was considered such a sure thing that the Chicago Tribune jumped the gun and famously ran the headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman."

In an early poll of historians after Truman left office, conducted in 1962, he was ranked No. 9 out of 31 presidents.

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But that was the lowest ranking he ever achieved in a series of polls of historians over the years. By 1982, he was ranked No. 7 in a Siena College survey. And in a 1999 C-SPAN poll, Truman actually ranked at No. 5 out of 42 presidents, trailing only Abraham Lincoln, FDR, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt.

On average, he was ranked at No. 7 out of 43 presidents in the historian surveys.

Elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri in 1934, Truman rose to national prominence as head of the Truman Commission investigating corruption in military contracts prior to World War 11. FDR chose Truman as his vice presidential candidate heading into his fourth term.

When Truman was sworn in as president in April 1945 following FDR's death, the war with Japan was expected to last another year or more, and an invasion of the Japanese mainland was projected to result in 500,000 casualties. Truman approved the use of atomic weapons against Japan, forcing a surrender and sparing American lives.

Working with Congress, Truman assisted in the founding of the United Nations, issued the Truman Doctrine to contain communism, passed the $13 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and oversaw the Berlin airlift and the creation of NATO.

Domestically, he began racial integration of the military and federal agencies.

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After Truman's stunning election victory in 1948, North Korea invaded South Korea. Truman immediately sent in American troops and gained U.N. approval for the Korean War.

But his second term was marred by labor unrest, corruption charges against senior administration officials, and failure to achieve victory in Korea.

"Truman's first term was heroic, marked by saving Western civilization from the Soviets, poised menacingly on Western Europe's doorstep," said Robert W. Merry, author of "Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians."

"His second term was a disaster — a sputtering economy, a war in Korea that he couldn't win or abandon, and petty corruption. Voters chose him in 1948 based on his first-term record, then judged him ineligible for rehire in 1952. He got the message and didn't run."

When he left office in 1953, Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in history, with a job approval rating of just 22 percent.

But Truman's legacy "has become clearer and more impressive in the years since he left office," according to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. "Most scholars admit that the president faced enormous challenges domestically, internationally, and politically. While he occasionally failed to measure accurately the nation's political tenor and committed some significant policy blunders, Truman achieved notable successes."

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led Truman's supporters to claim vindication for his decisions in the postwar period. Truman biographer Robert Dallek wrote: "His contribution to victory in the Cold War without a devastating nuclear conflict elevated him to the stature of a great or near-great president."

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Asked to name the greatest U.S. presidents, it's unlikely that an overwhelming number of Americans would place Harry Truman very high on their list. Yet presidential historians consistently rate the 33rd president highly, and their assessment of his presidency has been improving over the years.
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2014-25-13
Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 12:25 PM
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