Excerpted from Harry S. Truman’s diary, entry date July 1954


Most men when they reach the age to begin to think, that is from 17 to 24, want to come to an immediate conclusion as to their future place in the world. Some have been good students of history and biography— most have not. Some accept the “get by” theory, a great many honestly want to make good on merit and ability. Some become great financiers and big business men by sharp practice, some work through the great professions, medicine and law, by the same methods.

The future President, aged 27, working the family farm;
he will one day transform his country into a nuclear superpower …

But there are honorable men in all walks of life; in fact honest men far outnumber the men of sharp practice. Honest men in the legal and medical professions have arranged a code of ethics which, if followed, there would be no sharp practice in either of those professions.

In politics, which is the science of government, men have been dis­cussing right and wrong and the rights of the individual since the time of the great Babylonian law giver Hammurabi; Moses, the great law-giver of the Hebrews; Aristotle, whose essay on politics has scarcely been equaled; Saint Paul and the Gospels; Saint Thomas Aquinas; Marcus Aurelius; Antoninus; Justinian; Machiavelli; the origins of the British Common Law; and the Code Napoleon.

There has been much chaff and a lot of gobbledygook written and discussed about the ethics of a politician. If the young man chooses politics as a profession he’ll find it to his advantage to study the lives of all the great leaders throughout history starting with Greece and the great leaders of the city republics and the great leaders of the heyday of the Roman Republic. He should study carefully and thoroughly the rise and the leaders of the American Government from 1776 to date.

He should carefully study the lives of the leaders of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and he should know the lives and motives of every President of the United States. Congressional lead­ers in every Presidential Administration should be carefully studied along with their ethics and their motives. Then he should know his state history from its colonial or territorial beginnings, as well as his county history. If he lives in a town or city he should know his city government and its workings just as he should know how his county government works.


Truman’s store failed after two years;
he learnt much from the hardship of running a business…

It takes seven years of hard study and an equal number of practice to make a doctor. Then he must have the desire to be one – equally as much time is required to make a good lawyer. Some doctors and a great many lawyers never get out of the mediocre class.

It takes a lifetime of the hardest kind of work and study to become a successful politician. A great doctor is known by the size of his practice and his ability as a diagnostician. A great lawyer is known by his knowl­edge of the law and his ability to win cases and properly advise his clients. A great financier is known by the money he controls.

A great politician is known for the service he renders. He doesn’t have to become President or Governor or the head of his city or county to be a great politician. There are mayors of villages, county attorneys, county commissioners or supervisors who render just as great service locally as do the heads of the government.

No young man should go into politics if he wants to get rich or if he expects an adequate reward for his services. An honest public servant can’t become rich in politics. He can only attain greatness and satisfac­tion by service.


[Truman immediately goes on to survey his own political development]


My Political Career


I would much rather be an honorable public servant and known as such than to be the richest man in the world.


I had studied history, read everything I could get my hands on, in­cluding some of the encyclopedias in the Independence Library. I was particularly interested in the individuals who had made the history that the professional historians wrote and distorted to suit their own views.


A disciplined pianist …

If all the historians of the past wrote as Henry Adams and old man Beard and his wife did in modern times, there is very little of past history to be believed from Thucydides, Herodotus, Tacitus to Greene and Guizot. But when the lives of great men are studied from the records they leave [behind], some real idea of what happened.

My mother bought a four volume set when I was about ten years old called Great Men and Famous Women. That book with Abbott’s Lives of Great Men and the Encyclopedias gave me some idea of how men at­tained places in history.

In reading the lives of American Presidents, Generals and Legisla­tors I attained knowledge of how they rose to the top. It seemed to me that farmers, military men, financiers, lawyers and school teachers usu­ally began at the bottom, did good jobs in whatever they undertook and finally reached the top.

As soon as I was twenty-one I joined the militia. I was working in a bank, studying finance at the time I became a member of Battery B of the Missouri National Guard.

After three years in the bank at the bottom of the ladder the family moved back to the 600 acre farm which belonged to my grandmother on my mother’s side. I joined the family on the farm in 1906 and with my father and brother helped to run the farm. My father was always inter­ested in local politics wherever he happened to be.

He was appointed road overseer in a large district which included the small village of Grandview. In helping him on the road between farm work I became acquainted with everyone in the Township. In 1908 my father was reappointed a Judge of Election in Grandview Precinct and I became the Democratic Clerk. There were about 150 to 200 votes in the precinct at that time and all the judges and the two clerks knew every one of the voters. I served as clerk and my father as judge of election until his death in 1915. Then I succeeded him as road overseer. I became interested in a mining deal along with a neighbor and a promoter from Harrisonville. I learned a lot about hard rock mining and received a lot [of] experience but made no money.

In the meantime my brother had married and moved [to] another farm and I continued to run the home farm by hiring a couple of men.


With Churchill on way to Fulton, MO
to give the “iron curtain” speech, 1946

In 1917 President Wilson was forced into the war by the German submarine policy. I had been very much interested in his nomination in 1912 and became one of his great admirers. All of us in the Democratic line-up were very highly pleased with his re-election in 1916.

When the war came, due to my 12 years [of] experience in Battery B, I pitched in and helped to expand Batteries B and C into a regiment. I had hoped to become a sergeant in one of the new batteries but became a 1st Lieutenant in Battery F, went through [a] strenuous training period at Fort Sill School of Fire and Battery Administration at Camp Doniphan at the same time. [I] was examined for promotion in March and sent overseas on March 30th, 1917, to another School of Fire. When that was finished I became a Captain and Bn. [Battalion] Adjutant and then Bty. [Battery] Commander and [Battalion] instructor in firing.

After some three months on the front the Armistice came and in February we were moved to Brest as a Port of Embarkation for home. Arrived at Camp Funston, Kansas, May 5th and was discharged May 6th, 1919.

Returned to the farm but could not settle down on it. Opened a fur­nishing goods store in Kansas City which was prosperous for two years and failed in 1922.

That year I ran for a County Court place and won it. In a five man race for the nomination I out campaigned the other four and became the Judge of the County Court for the Eastern District of Jackson County. Learned an immense amount about public administration in two years and was defeated for re-election in 1924 because of a split in the Demo­cratic Party.

In 1926 was elected Presiding Judge of Jackson County’s Court and took over the running of the administrative end of the County Govern­ment. I became thoroughly informed on every phase of County adminis­tration, suggested reforms on procedure which were not adopted, became acquainted with the Missouri Legislature and all the County Judges in the State. I caused the whole road system of the county to be rebuilt, rebuilt its public buildings and put it on a sound financial basis. I orga­nized a regional planning system for the metropolitan area which in­cluded three counties in Kansas and three in Missouri.

In 1934 I became a candidate for the Senate. Carried on the same kind of campaign I had for Eastern Judge and won the nomination. I knew all County Judges and County Clerks in the State, had been very active in State Legion affairs and was on my way up in the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Missouri.

Was elected in the fall of 1934 and went to Washington in December to be sworn in as the Junior U.S. Senator from Missouri.

I became a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Interstate Commerce Committee, and the Public Buildings and Grounds Commit­tee. I worked my best in all of them, carrying documents and bills home with me to work on.


With no one else in sight, the former President crosses a street,
alone and quite happy about it.

In Appropriations I became acquainted with every phase of the im­mense structure of the Federal Government. In Interstate Commerce I became familiar with every phase of transportation. On Public Buildings and Grounds I learned about Government buildings and their upkeep.

In 1940 I had the primary fight of my life against the Governor and the brother of one of my opponents in 1934. I made a strenuous campaign and won.

In 1941 I organized an investigating committee to watch expenditure of the military after the draft act was passed. That committee made a good reputation and is credited with saving the taxpayers fifteen billion dollars.

In 1941 I was nominated at Chicago by the Democrats for Vice Presi­dent. I was elected with Franklin Roosevelt on a platform I helped to write. I was sworn in as Vice President January 20, 1945 on the south portico of the White House. On April 12th, 1945, President Roosevelt died and I became President of the United States.

In all this long career I had certain rules which I followed win, lose or draw. I refused to handle any political money in any way whatever. I engaged in no private interests whatever that could be helped by local, state or national governments. I refused presents, hotel accommodations or trips which were paid for by private parties.

There were opportunities by the wholesale for making immense amounts of money at the county level and also in the Senate. I lived on the salary I was legally entitled to and considered that I was employed by the taxpayers, and the people of my county, state and nation. I made no speeches for money or expenses while I was in the Senate, or as V.P. or as President.

I would much rather be an honorable public servant and known as such than to be the richest man in the world.


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  1. A.C. April 27, 2013 at 3:11 PM #

    I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve presented in your post….


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