Quotations by Truman, Harry S


My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
(Attributed)

Widely quoted in respectable biographies of Truman, but unsourced. Sometimes paraphrased: "Being a politician is like being a piano player in a whorehouse."
Added on 23-Sep-11 | Last updated 23-Sep-11
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It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Maturity is knowing that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean he’s a horse’s ass.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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To be President of the United States is to be lonely, very lonely at times of great decisions.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Memoirs: Year of Decisions, Preface (1955)
Added on 31-Jul-09 | Last updated 31-Jul-09
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Within the first few months I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep riding or be swallowed. The fantastically crowded nine months of 1945 taught me that a President either is constantly on top of events or, if he hesitates, events will soon be on top of him. I never felt I could let up for a single moment.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Memoirs: Years of Trial and Hope, Opening Words (1956)
Added on 14-Jun-12 | Last updated 14-Jun-12
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We have gone a long way toward civilization and religious tolerance, and we have a good example in this country. Here the many Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church do not seek to destroy one another in physical violence just because they do not interpret every verse of the Bible in exactly the same way. Here we now have the freedom of all religions, and I hope that never again will we have a repetition of religious bigotry, as we have had in certain periods of our own history. There is no room for that kind of foolishness here.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Mr. Citizen (1960)
Added on 15-Mar-06 | Last updated 15-Mar-06
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There has been a lot of talk lately about the burdens of the Presidency. Decisions that the President has to make often affect the lives of tens of millions of people around the world, but that does not mean that they should take longer to make. Some men can make decisions and some cannot. Some men fret and delay under criticism. I used to have a saying that applies here, and I note that some people have picked it up, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Mr. Citizen (1960)
Added on 28-Oct-11 | Last updated 28-Oct-11
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I have tried my best to give the nation everything I had in me. There are probably a million people who could have done the job better than I did it, but I had the job and I had to do it, and I always quote an epitaph on a tombstone in Tombstone, Ariz.: “Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest.”

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Time, “The Presidency: The Answer Man” (28 Apr. 1952)

Speaking in Winslow, AZ (15 Jun 1948), Truman said, "You know, the greatest epitaph in the country is here in Arizona. It’s in Tombstone, Ariz., and this epitaph says, 'Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damndest.' I think that is the greatest epitaph a man could have."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-Jun-16
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I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Address, Americans for Democratic Action Convention (17 May 1952)

Full text.

Added on 3-Nov-10 | Last updated 25-Jul-11
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He’ll sit right here and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that!” And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the army. He’ll find it very frustrating.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Comment (Summer 1952)

On presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower.
Added on 6-Sep-12 | Last updated 6-Sep-12
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I’m going to make a common-sense, intellectually honest campaign. It will be a novelty and it will win.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Diary (16 Jul 1948)

Quoted in W. Hillman, Mr. President, Part III, ch. 2 (1952)

Added on 22-Jul-09 | Last updated 22-Jul-09
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Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, or Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Diary (21 Jul 1947)

Full text.

Added on 16-Aug-07 | Last updated 25-Jul-11
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To hell with them. When history is written they will be the sons of bitches — not I.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Diary (6 Dec 1952)


On criticism from the "sabotage press." Full text.

Added on 12-Mar-04 | Last updated 25-Jul-11
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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.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
In Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974)

On removing General Douglas MacArthur from command on April 11, 1951.
Added on 7-Oct-11 | Last updated 7-Oct-11
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The only thing I learned out of the whole MacArthur deal is that when you feel there’s something you have to do and you know in your gut you have to do it, the sooner you get it over with, the better off everybody is.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
In Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974)
Added on 14-Oct-11 | Last updated 14-Oct-11
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When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
In Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman, ch. 15 (1973)
Added on 31-May-16 | Last updated 31-May-16
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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.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Interview with Edward R. Murrow on CBS (27 May 1955)
Added on 26-Aug-11 | Last updated 26-Aug-11
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Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Lecture at Columbia University (28 April 1959)
Added on 9-Sep-11 | Last updated 9-Sep-11
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I don’t believe in anti-anything. A man has to have a program; you have to be for something, otherwise you will never get anywhere.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Lecture, Columbia University (28 Apr 1959)
Added on 16-Sep-11 | Last updated 16-Sep-11
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The people can never understand why the President does not use his powers to make them behave. Well 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.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Letter to Mary Jane Truman (14 Nov 1947)
Added on 12-Aug-11 | Last updated 12-Aug-11
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To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority, because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Message to the House of Representatives, veto of McCarran Act (22-Sep-1950)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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I am the President of the most powerful nation in the world. I take orders from nobody, except photographers.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Remark to foreign dignitaries

In David Binder, "George Tames, Photographer, Dies at 75," New York Times (24 Feb 1994)
Added on 27-Jan-12 | Last updated 27-Jan-12
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Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me. I’ve got the most terribly responsible job a man ever had.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Remark to reporters (13 Apr 1945)

On having become president the previous day, upon Franklin Roosevelt's death.
Added on 29-Jul-11 | Last updated 29-Jul-11
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Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Special Message to Congress on the Internal Security of the United States (8 Aug 1950)

Full text.
Added on 30-Sep-11 | Last updated 30-Sep-11
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Do you know what makes a leader? It’s the man or woman who can persuade people to do what they ought to do — and which they sometimes don’t do — without being persuaded. They must also have the ability to persuade people to do what they do not want to do and like it.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Annapolis (24 May 1952)
    (Source)

Truman used this phrase multiple times in his speech and writing:
  • Common paraphrase: "You know what makes leadership? It is the ability to get men to do what they don't want to do and like it."
  • "I could see that history had some extremely valuable lessons to teach. I learned from it that a leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do, and like it." -- Memoirs, Book 1 (1955)]
  • "My definition of a leader in a free country is a man who can persuade people to do what they don't want to do, or do what they're too lazy to do, and like it." -- Where the Buck Stops (1990) [ed. M. Truman]
Added on 4-Jan-16 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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All of you, I am sure, have heard many cries about Government interference with business and about “creeping socialism.” I should like to remind the gentlemen who make these complaints that if events had been allowed to continue as they were going prior to March 4, 1933, most of them would have no businesses left for the Government or for anyone else to interfere with — and almost surely we would have socialism in this country, real socialism.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Detroid (15 May 1950)
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No government is perfect. One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Joint Session of the US Congress (12 Mar 1947)
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The Wall Street reactionaries are not satisfied with being rich. They want to increase their power and privileges, regardless of what happens to the other fellow. They are gluttons of privilege.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, National Plowing Match, Dexter, Iowa (18 Sep 1948)
    (Source)
Added on 14-Oct-14 | Last updated 14-Oct-14
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The legislative job of the President is especially important to the people who have no special representatives to plead their cause before Congress — and that includes the great majority. The President is the only lobbyist that 150 million Americans have. The other 20 million are able to employ people to represent them — and that’s all right, it’s the exercise of the right of petition — but someone has to look after the interests of the 150 million that are left.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Press and Union Club, San Francisco (25 Oct 1956)
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I’m proud that I’m a politician. 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.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Reciprocity Club, Washington (11 Apr 1958)

See Thomas Reed.
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The reactionaries hold that government policies should be designed for the special benefit of small groups of people who occupy positions of wealth and influence. Their theory seems to be that if these groups are prosperous, they will pass along some of their prosperity to the rest of us. This can be described as the “trickle down theory.”

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, St Paul (3 Nov 1949)
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Whenever the press quits abusing me I know I’m in the wrong pew. I don’t mind it because when they throw bricks at me — I’m a pretty good shot myself and I usually throw ’em back at ’em.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Washington (22 Feb 1958)

The speech was held at a dinner in his honor. Text quoted in the New York Times (23 Feb 1958)
Added on 21-Oct-11 | Last updated 21-Oct-11
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Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
State of the Union Message (5 Jan 1949)
Added on 20-Jan-09 | Last updated 20-Jan-09
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