No Minister

Newly discovered feet of clay

President Harry Truman still holds the record as the most unpopular President in modern history – which is to say the era where such things are polled – when he left office in January 1953.

Since then his stock has risen in the eyes of professional historians and many other people, although the former group should be discounted a little given their overwhelming ideological bias to the Left and their partisan bias to the Democrat Party that sees such groups regularly damning GOP Presidents and inflating Democrat ones.

One of the many things about Truman that gained him new-found respect was that he didn’t try to cash in on his name in a post-Presidential life:

Harry Truman had left the White House in such straitened circumstances that he and his wife Bess needed a bank loan to pay their bills.

Nonetheless, Truman insisted he would not cash in on his name and influence. As McCullough recounted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Truman’s only intention “was to do nothing — accept no position, lend his name to no organization or transaction — that would exploit or commercialize the prestige and dignity of the office of the President.”

It should be noted that President Eisenhower did not do this either, while LBJ was already rich via various government-private sector schemes he’d engineered before he became President. For obvious reasons neither Nixon nor JFK could cash in and for all his faults, Jimmy Carter has not appeared to have done so either.

So while admirable, Truman should never have been considered that unusual for that era. He looks good in comparison with recent decades when the Clinton clan started the gold rush. There’s also this:

Moved by Truman’s seeming financial distress, Congress eventually passed the Former Presidents Act, which provides former presidents with a lavish pension, furnished offices, and lucrative staff and travel allowances.

Truman lobbied hard for that and his circumstances added weight to the plea, including going on TV:

“The United States government turns its chief executives out to grass. They’re just allowed to starve.”

There’s just one problem.

It’s all bullshit!

Harry Truman was a very wealthy man, something that has only come to light as people dig through the personal papers of his wife, Bess, which were not made available until 2011:

In a bombshell article in New York Magazine, Campos shows that Truman lied shamelessly and repeatedly about the state of his finances in order to guilt-trip Congress into passing the Former Presidents Act, which would provide him with taxpayer-funded benefits for which he had no need.

The evidence for those jolting assertions comes from none other than Truman himself. In a will drafted in his own hand and kept with Bess Truman’s papers, Truman estimated that his net worth at the end of his presidency was $650,000 — a sum comprising $250,000 in savings bonds, $150,000 in cash, and land worth an estimated $250,000. Adjusted for inflation, $650,000 in 1953 is the equivalent of $6.6 million in 2021.

It also kept increasing:

Yet during those five years, Truman’s net worth soared. According to an accounting he made of his assets in January 1959, his wealth had climbed to $1.04 million ($9.7 million in 2021 dollars).

Aside from asset wealth he also did well on the income front:

Truman’s own private calculations show that his income was among the top 1 percent of American households. Which, in hindsight, makes sense: As president, he received one of the most generous salaries in America — in 1949, presidential pay was raised to $100,000 annually, an amount worth more than $1.1 million today.

Congress also authorized a $50,000 annual presidential expense account, on which Truman could draw at will, no questions asked. Truman stashed the money in “the little safe in the White House,” he acknowledged in the financial statement he wrote in 1953, then transferred it to a safety deposit box at the Columbia National Bank in Kansas City.

“The cash in the box . . . came out of the [yearly] $50,000 expense account that was not accountable for taxes,” Truman noted in his draft will.

Considering that today’s POTUS’s get paid $400,000 per year and that the expense account is still an inflation-shrunken $50,000 per year, it may be that US taxpayers have been too cheap in recent decades and poor old Bill Clinton and others have just been trying to close the gaps?

You can read the original New York Magazine article here: The Truman Show.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 31, 2021 at 12:16 pm

Posted in US Politics, USA

5 Responses

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  1. Hmmmmmmmm

    Any publication with the words ‘New York’ in its mast head is very very dubious

    adolffinkensen

    July 31, 2021 at 1:23 pm

  2. Tom … as one of your ‘other’ people (but not of the left) let me tell you why HST is one of my hero’s …

    #1 He had the balls to drop the bomb and never apologised for his decision … didn’t need to
    #2 He saw thru Stalin … something FDR never did.
    #3 He desegregated the military … pretty ballsy for someone from Missouri with Confederate family links.
    #4 He engineered the Marshall Plan facilitating the reconstruction of Europe
    #5 He won in 48 in the ‘Give them Hell Harry’ election when everyone had written him off
    #6 He brokered the Berlin airlift and stared down the Russians to defeat
    #7 He stood firm in Korea
    #8 He fired MacArthur and, in doing so, reasserted Presidential control of the military
    #9 He could cuss pretty well and called a spade a spade

    The Veteran

    August 1, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    • Agree with all of the above and he’s still near the top of my US Presidents.

      But it’s just interesting that he had this flaw or blindspot and even more interesting that it’s taken almost fifty years since his death to discover it. God knows why he went around crying poor but it was obviously something in his mind; perhaps just scars from his early, tough life that he couldn’t shake?

      Tom Hunter

      August 1, 2021 at 6:29 pm

  3. Has anyone bothered to wonder how a bankrupt haberdasher could secretly have become so wealthy before becoming Vice president?

    adolffinkensen

    August 1, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    • Read the linked article, Adolf. Nothing that happened in his Vice-Presidency or earlier (that was LBJ). All pretty straight-forward accumulation of Presidential salary, plus setting aside that untaxed $50,000 per year and investments in ordinary property. It’s not like he was a billionaire, even in today’s money, just an ordinary millionaire.

      But not poor.

      And these facts emerge from his own hand-written documents found in Bess’s papers.

      Why so shocked? It’s nowhere near the level of the grifting of Clinton and company, and not that much of moral and ethical strike against him, especially in light of all the good he did, hence my title.

      Tom Hunter

      August 1, 2021 at 10:26 pm


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