Harry S. Truman


Harry S. Truman

The Foremost Freemason of the Twentieth Century

by 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."