TRUMAN, Harry, President (1884-1972). Typed letter signed ("Harry") with a 44-word autograph postscript, to James M. Pendergast, Washington, 12 and 13 April 1945. 1 page, 4to (10 7/16 x 8 in.), Office of the Vice President stationery, envelope, very minor stain in upper margin, otherwise in very fine condition.
"I FEEL AS IF THE WORLD AND A PLANET OR TWO HAD FALLEN ON ME": TRUMAN'S FAMOUS REACTION TO BECOMING PRESIDENT, WRITTEN ON HIS FIRST DAY AS PRESIDENT
At 4:45 P.M. on 12 April 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Truman was enjoying an afternoon libation in the office of Speaker of the House Sam Raeburn, when an urgent telephon call summoned him to the White House. When he arrived, was met by Eleanor Roosevelt who placed her hand on Truman's arm. "Harry," she told hom "the President is dead." The cabinet and key members of Congress were quickly summoned to an emergency meeting. The somber group gathered in the cabinet room, where Truman sat "in a brown leather chair, looking dreadful, 'absolutely dazed'." When the Vice President's family arrived, an inexpensive bible was found, and Truman took the oath of office at 7:09 PM with Chief Justice Harlan Stone officiating. He was now the 33rd President of the United States.(see McCullough, Truman, pp. 345-347).
Truman had only a high school degree and limited political experience and many questioned his ability to lead the nation. Apparently, Truman questioned it as well. The following morning, the new President made his way to the White House with Tony Vaccaro of the Associated Press. During the ride, Truman confided his doubts to Vaccaro: "There have been few men in all history the equal of the man into whose shoes I am stepping...I pray God I can measure up to the task" (McCullough, p. 352). Later in the day, speaking to a group of reporters, Truman captured the full essence of his concern: "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" (McCullough, p. 353).
Here, on a letter dictated on April 12 to Pendergast, nephew of the Kansas City ward boss who had overseen Truman's early political career, the new President adds a sobering, heartfelt autograph postcript on the 13th: "Jim, I'm really up against it now. Since this was dictated I'm Pres. of the U.S. I feel as if the world and a planet or two had fallen on me -- but I must carry the load. Pray for me with all you have." The contents of the dictated letter display the routine nature of the 12th before word of Roosevelt's death arrived: "We will go to work on the bottles and cartons appeal before the War Production Board and see what we can do. They are a contrary outfit, however, and have not been very nice to me lately. They were much more decent when I was Chairman of that Committee, but we will see what we can do right away. I am glad Catherine made the trip all right. I was afraid they might bump her off between here and home."
Truman's uncertainty was unwarranted as he proved a strong President who successfully brought World War II to a conclusion. Letters written by Truman on 12 or 13 April 1945 are exceedingly rare. Only one other example with a similar postscript has been sold at auction in the last twenty-five years (Truman TLS with autograph postscript to O'Connor, 12 and 13 April 1945, Sotheby's, 30 October 1990, lot 96, $22,000).