Truman served in the Missouri Army National Guard from 1905-1911 and reenlisted when America entered World War I. As a battery commander, he honed his leadership skills while leading an unruly artillery regiment in France. He was mustered out as a colonel with his military experience paving the way for a political career. After several appointments in Missouri, Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 with the backing of Jackson County, Missouri, political boss Tom Pendergast; a fact looked down upon by many of his colleagues. As a freshman senator, Truman served on the Interstate Commerce Committee and led an investigation into the American transportation system culminating in the Wheeler-Truman Transportation Act of 1940, which established federal standards for trucking, shipping and railroad transportation and was the legislative highpoint of the freshman senator’s first term. By the time Truman ran for reelection, his patron Pendergast had been imprisoned for corruption by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau – a conviction that Truman resolved would not interfere with his re-election bid. He sought President Roosevelt’s support but “Roosevelt gave no endorsement or even encouragement, no help at all except to let the senator know in a roundabout fashion that he would be glad to appoint him to a well-paid job on the Interstate Commerce Commission. ‘Tell him to go to hell,’ Harry responded. If he couldn’t come back as a senator, he didn’t want to come back at all,” (Truman, McCullough). Truman beat the odds and won reelection in 1940.
At the start of his second term in 1941, he began investigating complaints from constituents about “gross extravagance and profiteering in the construction of Fort Leonard Wood, a new camp for draftees in south-central Missouri, concerned also that his home state was not getting its share of defense contracts, he decided on ‘a little investigation of his own,’” (Truman, McCullough). Truman drove from Washington to Florida and then westward visiting military installations and defense manufacturers, uncovering mismanagement, waste and profiteering. Upon his return to Washington, he presented his findings to President Roosevelt and, “on Monday, February 10, 1941, Truman stepped into the well of the Senate to describe the problem as he saw it and to propose the establishment of a special committee to look into the awarding of defense contracts. It was his own idea, his own moment. His obscurity in national life, and in the course of the war, was about to end—and it was of his own doing,” (ibid.). By March he was heading the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which became known as the Truman Committee. Ultimately, the committee saved an estimated $10-15 billion in excess military spending. Truman continued serving in the Senate until 1945, when he became Roosevelt’s vice president, and was sworn in as president upon FDR’s death on April 12, 1945.
Our letter regards an editorial in the April 15, 1941 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled “Hard Task: The Truman Inquiry Begins.”
Folded with one small stain not affecting the text; otherwise in fine condition.