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Highlights of Truman's Hidden Diary

Historians/History




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On July 10, 2003 the Truman Library revealed the discovery of a previously unknown Truman diary from 1947. The diary had been hidden in the back of a manual for the Real Estate Board of New York. Two entries attracted immediate attention. In an entry on July 25, 1947 Truman says that he had met with Dwight Eisenhower and offered to back him for the Democratic nomination in 1948 if MacArthur decided to run for the Republican nomination. (Truman later denied ever making the offer.) In an entry a few days earlier, on July 21, Truman denounced the Jews as "very, very selfish."

Below are highlights from the diary as compiled by the Truman Library.

January 3, 1947

Byrnes & I discussed General Marshall's last letter and decided to ask him to come home. Byrnes is going to quit on the tenth and I shall make Marshall Sec[retary] of State. Some of the crackpots will in all probability yell their heads off-but let 'em yell! Marshall is the ablest man in the whole gallery.

Mrs. Roosevelt came in at 3 P.M. to assure me that Jimmy & Elliott had nothing against me and intended no disparagement of me in their recent non-edited remarks. Said she was for me. Said she didn't like Byrnes and was sure he was not reporting Elliott correctly. Said Byrnes was always for Byrnes and no one else. I wonder! He's been loyal to me[.] In the Senate he gave me my first small appropriation, which started the Special Committee to investigate the National Defense Program on its way. He'd probably have done me a favor if he'd refused to give it.

Maybe there was something on both sides in this situation. It is a pity a great man has to have progeny! Look at Churchill's. Remember Lincoln's and Grant's. Even in collateral branches Washington's wasn't so good-and Teddy Roosevelt's are terrible.

January 6, 1947

The floors pop and crack all night long. Anyone with imagination can see old Jim Buchanan walking up and down worrying about conditions not of his making. Then there's Van Buren who inherited a terrible mess from his predecessor as did poor old James Madison. Of course Andrew Johnson was the worst mistreated of any of them. But they all walk up and down the halls of this place and moan about what they should have done and didn't. So-you see. I've only named a few. The ones who had Boswells and New England historians are too busy trying to control heaven and hell to come back here. So the tortured souls who were and are misrepresented in history are the ones who come back. It's a hell of a place.

Read my annual message. It was good if I do say it myself. Outlines by me to begin with, the cabinet, the little cabinet, Sam Rosenman, the Chief Justice all added criticisms. Clark Clifford did most of the work. He's a nice boy and will go places.

January 8, 1947

Marshall is, I think[,] the greatest man of the World War II. He managed to get along with Roosevelt, the Congress, Churchill, the Navy and the Joint Chief of Staff and he made a grand record in China.

When I asked him to take the extrovert Pat Hurley[']s place as my special envoy to China, he merely said "Yes, Mr. President I'll go." No argument only patriotic action. And if any man was entitled to balk and ask for a rest, he was. We'll have a real State Dep[artmen]t now.

January 16, 1947

Was sitting at my desk just before dinner tonight when [name of person and staff position restricted] came up and asked if he might speak to me. He was scared stiff and almost crying. Said he'd got his checks mixed up, had lied to the Secret Service and he wanted to tell me before his boss did. As usual I felt sorry for him and promised to help him out. I wonder why nearly everyone makes a father confessor out of me. I must look benevolent or else I'm a known easy mark. Well any way I like people and like to help 'em and keep 'em out of trouble when I can and help 'em out when they get into it.

The rule around here is that no one may speak to the President. I break it every day and make 'em speak to me. So-you see what I get. But I still want 'em to tell me.

March 7, 1947

Doc tell's [sic] me I have Cardiac Asthma! Ain[']t that hell.

Well it makes no diff[erence,] will go on as before. I've sworn him to secrecy! So What!

June 27, 1947

Called in Sec[retary] of State, Gen[eral] Marshall, Sec[retary] of War, Sec[retary of the] Navy, Gen[eral] Eisenhower, Adm[iral] Leahy, and Adm[iral] Nimitz along with Dr. Lillienthal to discuss new atomic bombs, and the advisability of testing them. Gen[eral] Marshall agreed that they should be tested but at a date beyond the Foreign Minister's meeting in Nov.-say from Feb[.] to April.

I appointed Patterson, Forestal [sic] and Dr. Lillienthal to work out details with Gen[eral] Eisenhower and Adm[iral] Nimitz as advisors. Gen[eral] Marshall & Adm[iral] Leahy to be consulted as developments proceed.

We must make the tests without insulting the Bolshies or our own Red helpers-headed by Wallace.

July 5, 1947

Spent a quiet pleasant day at Stanley Woodward's place.

It is ideal.

Haven't had a more pleasant week end since moving into the great white jail, known as the White House!

July 21, 1947

Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine [sic]. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it.

He'd no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs.

Henry brought a thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed. When the country went backward-and Republican in the election of 1946, this incident loomed large on the D[isplaced] P[ersons] program.

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on D[isplaced] P[ersons]-and they all come from D[isplaced] P[erson]s.

July 25, 1947

At 3:30 today had a very interesting conversation with Gen[eral] Eisenhower. Sent for him to discuss the new Sec[retary] for National Defense. Asked him if he could work with Forestal [sic]. He said he could. Told him that I would have given the job to Bob Patterson had he stayed on as Sec[retary] of War. I couldn't bring myself to force him to stay. He has three daughters comming [sic] on for education and I know what that means, having had only one. But she is in a class by herself and I shouldn't judge Patterson's three by her. No one ever had a daughter equal to mine!

After the discussion on Forestal [sic] was over Ike & I visited and talked politics. He is going to Columbia U[niversity] in NY as President. What a job he can do there. He'll do it too. We discussed MacArthur and his superiority complex.

When Ike went to the far east on an inspection tour in 1946 I asked him to tell Gen[eral] Marshall, then special envoy to China, if he'd accept appointment to Sec[retary] of State. Byrnes was tired, sick and wanted to quit. Ike, when he returned came in and said "Gen[eral] Marshall said yes." So when Byrnes quit I appointed Marshall and did not even ask him about it!

Ike & I think MacArthur expects to make a Roman Triumphal return to the U. S. a short time before the Republican Convention meets in Philadelphia. I told Ike that if he did that that he (Ike) should announce for the nomination for President on the Democratic ticket and that I'd be glad to be in second place, or Vice President. I like the Senate anyway. Ike & I could be elected and my family & myself would be happy outside this great white jail, known as the White House.

Ike won't quot [sic] me & I won't quote him.

July 26, 1947

At 1:30 Washington time recieved [sic] message my mother has passed on. Terrible shock. No one knew it.

Arrived in Grandview about 3:30 CST[,] went to the house and met sister & brother. Went to Belton with them and picked a casket. A terrible ordeal. Back to Grandview and then to Independence with Bess & Margie. They were at airport to meet me but stayed in Grandview while I went to Belton with Vivian & Mary.

Spent Sunday morning and afternoon at Grandview. Mamma had been placed in casket we had decided upon and returned to her cottage. I couldn't look at her dead. I wanted to remember [her] alive when she was at her best.

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Seth Cable Tubman - 12/29/2005

I'd say Johnson was the last President who said the truth instead of the politically expedient thing. But he was in the mold of Truman. Both good men.


leo solomon - 11/13/2004

Truman's hyperbolic rant against the Jews has its equivalent today .Many, porportedly, good hearted,humanistic groups and individuals have ,
among all the nations they might concievably find fault with,singled out Israel
for special attention ,approbrium and action.

someone once said that even in the warmest gentile heart there is a cold spot for the Jew.


Gregory Dehler - 7/19/2003

I still have trouble making my mind about Truman. Was he a third rate political hack in over his head, or one of our best presidents who walked a fine line between communism and extremism? These entries certainly incline towards the former!


AnotherNYGuy - 7/12/2003

People are very complex and multi-faceted. I don't think you could call Truman "anti-semetic" based on some diary scribblings. When under pressure, people sometimes say or write things which don't reflect their true feelings. In Truman's case, his actions speak louder than his words. He was a true friend of the Jewish people.
As an aside, however, I do feel that if Truman were a Republican, he probably would have been branded an "anti-semite," for the left loves to tar and feather anyone on the right. All they need is the "ammunition."


Steven Uanna - 7/11/2003

I find this fascinating! Ike as the Democratic candidate in 1948 with Harry Truman as Vice President! Would Strom Thurman have formed his Dixiecrats? And no wonder Truman was so disappointed in Ike in 1953 when Ike was silent while Senator Joseph McCarthy questioned Marshall's patriotism, Truman felt that Ike owed his career to Marshall. But Truamn's feelings about the Jews is nothing new. Similar sentiments are published in the biography "Truman". Harry Truman understood human nature and he knew anyone could and would kick the underdog once they got on top. He makes that clear in the notes just discovered. July 21, 1947- ...it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes". Yet President Truman is credited with being instrumental in the Jews getting their homeland in 1948, something that I understand almost came between him and Secretary of State Marshall. Truman did what he thought was right. We were lucky to have him as president for a second term. Eisenhower appears to be a chameleon. Ike a Democrat? His Presidential cabinet was referred to a Eight Millionaires and a plumber (the Secretary of Labor) who quit soon after he was appointed because he did not fit in. And Ike let the ultra right wing Dulles brother's dominate his covert and overt foreign policy.
Notice the mention of David Lilienthal, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Henry Waallace who Truman would seperate himself from soon after this. Wallace was far too liberal for Truman, whose FAIR DEAL was not nearly as radical as Roosevelt's wholesale revamping of the American system with FDR's "NEW DEAL"- implying a whole new hand of cards with a new deck. My father, William Lewis Uanna, thought Harry Truamn was "the greatest". My father served in the U.S. Government from the Roosevelt Administration into the Kennedy Administration. His amazing career and his mysterious death, (called murder in the movie ENOLA GAY) is highlighted in the web site http://www.securitysuperchief.com. If you like history and new discoveries I think you will find it interesting. Thank you, Steven Uanna


dpickens - 7/11/2003

HST was writing to himself, venting nonsense. He was noted for writing to reduce stress of politics. Compare his attitude with Richard Nixon's


Nancy Shakir - 7/11/2003


Your presentation of the Truman diary statement as being anti-Jewish was erroneous and hypercritical. Truman may have been anti-semitic, as he was said to be anti-black, but his statement shows only commentary on the selfishness of all people when they gain a position of power over other people. Palestine-Israel is certainly an example, as is Liberia. The hypersensitivity of any criticiam of Jews which is translated into antisemitism is stifling and dangerous in a democratic society.


Josh Pollack - 7/11/2003

The diary excerpts published here feature relatively little that appears to be substantively new about Truman's policies or opinions. Certainly Truman's tendency towards antisemitism, highlighted recently by Michael Beschloss, comes as no great revelation. But their stream-of-consciousness quality does seem to shed some light on related aspects of his psychology, particularly his well-known ambivalence about the postwar Jewish refugee question.

On Jan. 16, 1947, he writes about how benevolent and easygoing he is:

"I like people and like to help 'em and keep 'em out of trouble when I can and help 'em out when they get into it.

"The rule around here is that no one may speak to the President. I break it every day and make 'em speak to me. So-you see what I get. But I still want 'em to tell me."

This reflection doesn't hold up so well six months later, on July 21, when it came to a certain former Secretary of the Treasury, one of the more heroic figures of the 20th century:

"Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine [sic]. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it."

"He'd no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs."

The "Jewish ship in Palestine" was, of course, the Exodus-1947, captured at sea by British warships and steered into Haifa harbor. By July 21, the passengers on the ship, stateless survivors of the Holocaust, were being packed by British soldiers into prison ships for deportation en masse back to Europe. Morgenthau's alleged lack of a sense of proportion or judgment on world affairs, which Truman generously extends to Jews in general, seems to refer to the difficulties and friction that this particular incident, and the Palestine issue more generally, threatened to create between the U.S. and Britain, to say nothing of the Arabs.

Morgenthau's more substantive intervention on behalf of the Jews of Europe had been to persuade Truman's immediate predecessor, FDR, to establish the War Refugee Board in January 1944, near the depth of the Holocaust. Absent Morgenthau's persistence, FDR would have preferred to leave the Jews of Europe to their fate, probably fearing a domestic political backlash for any well-publicized actions on their behalf. (In any event, the War Refugee Board sponsored the well-known rescue activities of Raoul Wallenberg, which saved the lives of some 200,000 mostly Hungarian Jews.)

Truman then goes on to declare domestic politics more than international politics to the the source of his irritation, lashing out at Morgenthau for allegedly having cost the Democrats the 1946 election by bringing 1,000 other such displaced persons to New York. What a contrast from his famous October 1946 address to the UN, when he declared, "I intend to urge the Congress of the United States to authorize this country to do its full part, both in financial support of the International Refugee Organization and in joining with other nations to receive those refugees who do not wish to return to their former homes for reasons of political or religious belief."

Despite surface appearances, this complaint does not entirely contradict allegations that Truman favored the Jewish cause abroad for the sake of votes at home, if perhaps for a different reason than is usually alleged. Indeed, it suggests that British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin -- himself no friend of the Jews or the Zionist project -- may have been onto something when, in June 1946, he gibed that the Americans favored Jewish immigration into British Palestine because "they did not want too many of them in New York." That is to say, in the mid-to-late 1940s, not giving offense to antisemitic voters may have been just as important, if not more important, than courting Jewish voters in Truman's electoral calculus.

President Truman, still getting warmed up, waxes reflective on the selfishness of "the Jews," now a fully developed monolithic entity: "The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment."

Clearly, Truman was tired of hearing about the woes of the Jews. The striking obtuseness of this remark, in reference to a stateless population of some 100,000 people in the aftermath of the Holocaust, as Truman knew all too well, is only the more stunning in connection with Morgenthau. Morgenthau's father, at one point the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman empire, had documented the Armenian genocide in his memoirs, and later led the Greek Refugee Settlement Committee of the League of Nations.

But Morgenthau himself was probably no longer on Truman's mind by this point. Instead, attacking "the Jews" in the pages of his diary seems to have helped Truman assuage the guilt he understandably may have felt in response to his own feelings of resentment that welled up when he was called upon to provide still more assistance to these inconvenient people. Less than a decade ago, many Americans and Europeans seemed to have a similarly unworthy reaction to the plight of the Bosnian Muslims trapped by Serb and Croat militias in the "safe areas" of their own country, yet almost wholly dependent on the UN -- and ultimately the reluctant US -- for their physical survival.

Truman's outburst reaches fever pitch when he declares, "Yet when they [the Jews] have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog." This assertion, naturally, has no particular relevance to the situation of the Jews of Europe in the summer of 1947. It is simply an expression, in more or less traditional terms -- albeit in a particularly shocking formulation -- of the antisemitism so deeply rooted in Western society in the modern era.

At this point, Truman appears to realize that he has gone too far, and attempts to diffuse his own rancor by generalizing away from antisemitism in the direction of misanthropy, delivering a very familiar-sounding dictum (although I can't place where he might have said this publicly at just this moment): "Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes."

He concludes, "Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on D[isplaced] P[ersons]-and they all come from D[isplaced] P[erson]s." In other words, Truman is telling himself, these established men with such contempt for Jewish refugees are themselves descended from refugees (and here the vision of America as a haven for those fleeing religious persecution hovers in the background). They, the Congressmen, ought to know better. We might conclude that Truman was half-consciously rebuking himself for his own excess of just a moment before, or at a minimum distancing himself from it.


James Williams - 7/11/2003

Fancinating ruminations by a man of uncommon common sense. I want to read the whole thing.


James Williams - 7/11/2003

Fancinating ruminations by a man of uncommon common sense. I want to read the whole thing.


ommo - 7/10/2003

Is there any whatsoever story which would not have an anti-semitic sugestion? It seems to me, that without praising the Jews, there is no story? We have had in the past few "good" cults; Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Uncle Ho, Kim IM something. Is it a time to have the Era of Jews?
Should't we suppose to be multicultural or what? One may wonder.
OMMO


AlecPaulThompson - 7/10/2003

Your sensational headline quoting Truman on Jews was amateurish. I expect better from professional historians than tabloid headlines.
Your headline is also incrediably misleading. The headline falsely and maliciously suggests that Truman was anti-Semitic when a fair and complete reading of the diary entry clearly indicates that he was reflecting on the collective behavior of oppressed peoples when the social/economic/political power balance changes.
One can certainly disagree with his musings, but one is being incrediably biased to suggest through a headline anti-Semitism. You owe your readers, the Truman family and GMU an apology.


Vernon - 7/10/2003

Good thing he was a democrat, if he had been republican and said all those detrimental things about jews, negroes, etc., the liberal press would still be bringing it up to prove what heartless bastards republicans are. Truman was a great man and may have been the last president to actually speak his mind.