Harry S. Truman
The Foremost Freemason of the Twentieth Century
Allen E. Roberts
"I wish that it might be possible for my long-deceased father, a 59-year Mason at his death to be able to read this remarkable biography," reads a letter I recently received concerning Brother Truman.
The letter continued: "My Dad, always a staunch Republican, never could imagine anything good about Harry S. Truman. Dad always said that Truman proved that even a 'common' man could be President, and Truman was the most common. At the risk of being struck down by the apparition of my late father, after reading your book, I consider that statement as a compliment, rather than the derision in which it was originally meant."
Truman was really an uncommon man and he was an uncommon youngster. While children his age were playing games, he was studying. He believed that before he reached the age of twelve he had read every book in the public library of Independence, Missouri.
He was particularly interested in biographies and history, all which helped him in later years. Referring to Andrew Johnson, the Mason from Tennessee, and his being thrust into the Presidency of the United States, Truman said: "When the same thing happened to me, I knew just how Johnson had coped with his problems, and I did not make the mistakes he made."
And Truman didn't. From the moment he took the oath of office as President of the United States he assumed the full responsibility and authority of the position. In doing so he shocked of politicians, businessmen, detractors, and especially media. The latter, for the most part, never forgave him for proving it was wrong.
Actually, there should have been no surprise about the leader-ship abilities of Truman. It began with his service in the National Guard and continued during his tour of duty in France during World War I. There he took over a battery of mostly IrishCatholics that had destroyed the careers of four former commanding officers. Captain Truman turned it into the best battery in France. He continually bragged about its accomplishments, and the men raved about their commander. They never forgot him and supported him throughout his political career.
Truman's leadership ability continued after his election as a judge in 1922, although the media and his detractors would continually claim falsely he was a bankrupt haberdasher from Missouri. During his term as judge he traveled throughout his county at his own expense becoming familiar with every road, building and institution in it. After he was elected presiding judge he again traveled, at his own expense, throughout the country to find ways to improve his county. He found poor roads, public buildings and a huge debt.
So well did Truman do his job he was re-elected in 1930 by an overwhelming majority for another term. When he left, office buildings, institutions and roads had been rebuilt and the debt had been dissolved. His county was one of the few in the state that was solvent.
Yet, while he was doing a monumental job in public office he always found time to work for Freemasonry. In 1924 he was appointed District Deputy Grand Master and District Lecturer. He had been an excellent ritualist almost from the day he became a Master Mason on March 18, 1909, in Belton Lodge No. 540. In 1910 he was appointed Charter Master of Grandview Lodge, later to become No. 618. While he courted the "girl with the golden curls" he kept her fully informed about what he was doing as a Master Mason.
In 1930, the year he was reelected presiding judge, the incoming Grand Master, a Republican, considered Harry Truman for appointment to the bottom of the Grand Lodge line. He consulted two other Republicans, one of them Ray V. Denslow, the in-coming Deputy Grand Master. They were unanimous in the decision to appoint Harry S. Truman, a Democrat. The Pendergast machine was discarded as a factor; they knew Truman was his own man and had proven conclusively that he lived by the principles of Freemasonry that he taught others.
Ironically, Truman almost didn't become Grand Master of Masons in Missouri. In the same year, 1940, he had to fight two battles, one for the United States Senate, to which he had first been elected in 1933, the other to become Grand Master. To his credit, he did not use either to benefit the other.
On election to his first term as a Senator, the lies of Truman's opponents were apparent. He had no money — he never would have — but he was accused of lining his pockets with graft. As William R. Denslow noted, Truman "was not only poor, but in debt. Before he left for Washington, a number of his friends, both political and fraternal, bought him a new Buick."
His first term earned Truman the respect of the members of the upper house. So much so that after he had won his hardfought battle for reelection, his colleagues gave him a standing ovation when he entered the chamber.
Throughout his first term as Senator, Truman continued to work for Freemasonry, and not only in Missouri. Yet, the opposition to him for the first elective office in the line, that of Junior Grand Warden, was so strong he won by only 53 votes. He considered quitting the line because he thought too highly of Freemasonry to let the opposition experienced destroy it. His friends, fortunately, stopped that notion. Then, because the Deputy Grand Master resigned in 1939, Truman had two major battles in 1940, for the Senate and Grand Master. He won them both.
As Senator and Chairman of the Special Services Committee Truman had argued for, he was responsible for saving the lives of countless numbers of servicemen and women. The committee found graft, incompetence, and cheating throughout business and labor unions. This was stopped wherever it was found. The little businessman and the people were the beneficiaries of the committee's "watchdog" tactics.
In spite of his back-breaking schedule in the Senate, the Grand Master from Missouri found time to work with and for Freemasonry. He added credence to the almost defunct Masonic Service Association with speeches for and about it, and by traveling to open service centers for the Armed Forces. And he did not let down the Freemasons of Missouri who had given him "the highest honor that has ever come to me, or that can ever come to me in my life, is to be Grand Master of the State of Missouri." That statement he would make many times, even after he became President of the United States.
Truman didn't want to be Vice President of the United States, but he reluctantly agreed to run when Franklin Roosevelt, the Mason from New York, said he would be breaking up the Democratic Party if he didn't. After his election to a job he considered "as useless as the fifth teat on a cow," he planned on changing the image. There wasn't time. Eighty-three days later Roosevelt died and Truman was sworn in as President of the United States.
It was typical of the man that in spite of his sorrow and the decisions he knew he had to make on that April 12, 1945, he remembered his Masonic obligations. The son of a Past Master of Grandview Lodge was to be balloted on in AlexandriaWashington Lodge that evening; Truman had planned to speak for him. Truman's new national obligations prevented him from going to the lodge. But he sent three members of Congress to do it for him.
Roosevelt had not confided in his Vice President, so Truman found his childhood habits of study came in handy. He surrounded himself with the best men he could find, and informed them he wanted no "yes men." It wasn't easy, but he brought the war in Europe to a successful conclusion. Then he concentrated on the Pacific. When the Japanese Empire gave no signs of surrendering, he gambled and ordered an atom bomb dropped on a likely target. When this didn't work, the second and only other such bomb in existence, was ordered to be dropped.
Each year the controversy over this action grows more bitter. For those of us fighting that war, Truman was a hero. Dropping the bomb worked. Millions of Japanese and American lives, and those of America's allies were saved. Perhaps Truman's most important achievements was in keeping the Soviet vultures from feasting on the remains.
The American citizens were better off economically and many other ways than ever before in 1948, but the man in the White House had to fight for his political life. The Democratic Party was severely split; the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, a Freemason from New York, was a ten to one favorite to win the Presidency. The odds would remain the same until the voters had spoken.
Truman, the candidate, the Freemason, did many remarkable things during that trying campaign. Among them was proving again what an uncommon man he was. Although he didn't have the time, he took it to attend little Beech Grove Lodge No. 694 in Indiana. Why? Because he learned one of the sailors aboard the Presidential Yacht Williamsburg was going to be raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on October 15, 1948. The sailor was Donald Earl Bauermeister. And the man who insisted on being received not as President of the United States, but as a Past Grand Master of Masons in Missouri, witnessed the degree. He then presented the candidate with a Masonic ring from his parents.
Mary Conclave of the Red Cross of Constantine held a reception for its most famous member on November 1, 1948. Truman told its members that he wasn't a wagering man, but if they wanted to make some easy money to bet on him to win the election. Then, after making a non-political radio address the evening of the election he went to bed while reporters, supporters, and opponents stayed up all night expecting him to lose.
At 6 a.m. on November 3, Truman joined the weary and bleary-eyed folks at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. At 10:14 Dewey conceded. The whistles blew and the bells rang for the home town boy who had pulled off the upset of the century!
As he had during his first term, the President continued to work for his country and its people. And he continued to work for Freemasonry and its principles.
His one major goal after he had returned to private life was to build a library and museum. He wanted this in Grandview, but Independence was the more likely place. His efforts, his writings, his speeches were all aimed at that one goal. The money he received went into that project. He could have obtained it easily by exploiting the office of the Presidency, but that he refused to prostitute.
The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum was built. And Truman repeated as he had many times before: "This library will belong to the people of the United States. My papers will be the property of the people and be accessible to them. And this is as it should be. The papers of the Presidents are among the most valuable sources of material for history. They ought to be preserved and they ought to be used."
In my book Brother Truman, I ended by asking: "How much of an influence did Freemasonry have on the life of Harry S. Truman?" He answered this on many occasions, even after his election as President of the United States:
"The greatest honor that has ever come to me, and that can ever come to me in my life, is to be Grand Master of Masons in Missouri."