Harry S. Truman Quotes

When they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.

13th April, 1945. To reporters the day after his accession to the presidency.

When Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over the water in the Arkansas River they don’t call out the National Guard in each state and go to war over it. They bring a suit in the Supreme Court of the United States and abide by the decision. There isn’t a reason in the world why we cannot do that internationally.

April, 1945. Speech in Kansas City.

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima … The force from which the sun draws it powers has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

6th August, 1945. Announcement of the first use of an Atomic bomb in warfare.

The release of atomic energy constitutes a new force too revolutionary to consider in the framework of old ideas.

3rd October, 1945. Message to Congress on atomic energy.

Means of destruction hitherto unknown, against which there can be no adequate military defense, and in the employment of which no single nation can in fact have a monopoly.

15th November, 1945. Declaration on Atomic Energy along with Prime Minister Clement Attlee of the UK and Prime Minister W. K. Mackenzie King of Canada.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

A saying.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

12th March, 1947. Address to Congress Joint Session.

All the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.

14th November, 1947. Letter to his sister.

The Government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional government thereof. The United States recognizes the provisional government of the de facto authority of the new state of Israel.

14th May, 1948. Statement.

Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal.

4th January, 1949. State of the Union Address.

I have just read your lousy review [of a concert by Truman’s daughter, Margaret] buried in the back pages. You sound like a frustrated old man who never made a success, an eight-ulcer man on a four-ulcer job, and all four ulcers working. I have never met you, but if I do you’ll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below.

6th December, 1950. Letter to Paul Hume.

Now they accuse me of going up and down the Nation on a whistlestop train, and the slogans that they hurl at me most of the time are ‘‘Give ’em hell, Harry.’’ That reputation I did not earn. All I do is to tell them [the Republicans] the truth, and that hurts a lot worse than giving them hell.

4th October, 1952. Address to Palace Hotel, San Francisco.

Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.

15th December, 1952. Address at Washington D.C. National Archives.

I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want, and then advise them to do it.

27th May, 1955. TV interview with Edward R. Murrow (CBS).

Once a decision was made, I did not worry about it afterward.

1955. Memoirs. Vol. 2, Ch. 1.

The Marshall Plan will go down in history as one of America’s greatest contributions to the peace of the world.

1955. Memoirs. Vol. 2, Ch. 8.

To me, party platforms are contracts with the people.

1955. Memoirs. Vol. 2, Ch. 13.

If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military.

1955. Memoirs. Vol. 2, Ch. 19.

There is a right kind and wrong kind of victory, just as there are wars for the right thing and wars that are wrong from every standpoint. … The kind of victory MacArthur had in mind – victory by the bombing of Chinese cities, victory by expanding the conflict to all of China – would have been the wrong kind of victory.

1955. Memoirs. Vol. 2, Ch. 8.

I never give them [the public] hell. I just tell the truth, and they think it is hell.

3rd April 1956, ‘Look’.

A politician is a man who understands government, and it takes a politician to run a government. A statesman is a politician who’s been dead 10 or 15 years.

12th April 1958, ‘New York World Telegram and Sun’

It’s a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.

13th April 1958, ‘Observer’.

Wherever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.

28th April 1959, Columbia University Lecture.

The buck stops here.

A sign on Truman’s desk while he was President. Source: Alfred Steinberg, The Man from Missouri [1962]

I didn’t fire him [General MacArthur] because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

Quoted by Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman [1974]. Ch. 23.

The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.

Quoted by Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman [1974]. Ch. 23.

Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix.

Quoted by Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman [1974]. Ch. 35.

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. That’s the answer to that. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

Quoted by Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman. On Douglas MacArthur.

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Quoted in William Hillman, Mr. President (1952)