Dear Margie,” the president wrote as the Berlin crisis was building. Margaret Truman was the sole child of Harry and Bess Truman, and to Margaret the president often confided opinions and sentiments he shared with no one else. The letters he sent her were usually short and topical; this one was long and biographical. “I’m going to give you a record for yourself regarding these times,” he explained. “You know of course what a terrible campaign the one of 1940 was. No one thought I could win, including the President.” But he had won, holding his Senate seat and shortly afterward sponsoring legislation that established the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. The Truman Committee, as it was labeled, uncovered corruption in war spending and earned its chairman a national reputation. “Then came 1944 and that terrible Chicago Convention,” Truman wrote to Margaret, referring to the national convention that nominated Franklin Roosevelt for a fourth term. The only drama involved who would be Roosevelt’s vice president. “I went there to nominate Byrnes. He’d told me that Roosevelt wanted him for Vice-President, and I thought he did.” But Roosevelt kept silent, and various bigwigs were skeptical about James Byrnes, currently director of war mobilization. Several said they wanted to retain Henry Wallace, the incumbent vice president, but if Wallace was unacceptable to the party—as he quickly proved to be, with Southern conservatives muttering seditiously against his unrelenting liberalism—then they backed Truman. “I said to all and sundry that I was not a candidate, would not be and that I was perfectly happy in the Senate,” Truman told Margaret.

But Roosevelt decided on Truman. “On Tuesday evening Bob Hannegan came to see me at the Stephens Hotel and told me that Roosevelt wanted me to be the V.P. candidate. I said ‘no’ point blank, and went on working for Byrnes.” For a time it seemed that Truman’s wishes would be honored. But after forty-eight hours things changed. “Roosevelt was nominated on Thursday and then the real pressure began hammering me to say yes. Finally Hannegan asked me to come over to the Blackstone and listen to a conversation he was to have with Roosevelt in San Diego.” Truman obliged. “Roosevelt’s first question of Hannegan was ‘well have you got that fellow from Missouri lined up?’ Bob said no he’s very contrary. Then the President said, ‘Well, you tell him if he wants to take the responsibility of breaking up the Party in the middle of the war to go ahead and do it.’ Well, that put a new face on things.”

Truman acceded, and Roosevelt was reelected. “As you know, I was Vice-President from Jan. 20 to April 12, 1945,” Truman continued. “I was at Cabinet meetings and saw Roosevelt once or twice in those months. But he never did talk to me confidentially about the war, or about foreign affairs or what he had in mind for the peace after the war.” Truman remembered in detail the day everything changed. “The catastrophe we all dreaded came on April 12 at 4:35 P.M. At 7:09 I was the President.” Roosevelt’s sudden death left Truman with a great deal of catching up to do. “I had to start reading memorandums, briefs, and volumes of correspondence on the world situation. Too bad I hadn’t been on the Foreign Affairs Committee or that F.D.R. hadn’t informed me on the situation. I had to find out about the Atlantic Charter, which by the way does not exist on paper, the Casablanca meeting, the Montreal meeting, Tehran meeting, Yalta, Hull’s trip to Moscow, Bretton Woods, and numerous other things too numerous to mention.”

The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War