TRUMAN, Harry S. Typed letter signed ("Harry S Truman") as President, to Colorado State Senator Neal D. Bishop, Washington, 5 May 1949. 1 page, 4to (8 13/16 x 7 in.), White House stationery, integral blank, some discoloration in left and right margins and on integral leaf.
TRUMAN'S SPIRITED CRITICISM OF THE UNITED MINE WORKERS UNION PRESIDENT: "I WOULDN'T APPOINT JOHN L. LEWIS DOGCATCHER"
An excellent, well-known example of President Truman's outspoken witticism written in response to a mine workers' strike that crippled the nation's industry. On April 1, 1946, John Lewis, the President of the United Mine Workers, called for a nationwide coal strike following on the heels of a steel strike that had only recently been settled. The departure of hundreds of thousands of miners from the shafts which produced the fuel that drove America's industrial complex had an unavoidable impact upon the economy. Steel plants were forced to decrease production which in turn caused Ford and Chrysler to stop production entirely. Electrical output for the nation's major cities was decreased. As the situation grew worse, railroad workers threatened their own strike which would doubtless grind the nation's economy to a standstill.
President Truman appeared to handle the situation with a calm seriousness, despite a growing exasperation: "Inwardly Truman was an extremely frustrated, resentful, and angry man, worn thin by criticism, fed up with crises not of his making and with people who, as he saw it, cared nothing for their country, only their own selfish interests" (McCullough, Truman, p. 494). Truman had a particular distaste for Lewis, whose support of strikes during the war had infuriated him: "Privately, Truman thought Roosevelt would have been justified if he had had Lewis shot as a traitor" (Ibid, p. 493). Now, as the nation floundered in the turmoil of workers' protests and factory shutdowns, he watched Lewis steal the media spotlight with an evolving hostility. Ultimately, Truman assumed an unbending stance against the labor strikes, threatening a government takeover of the railroads and the declaration of a national emergency which would allow the nation to draft all of the striking workers. Reacting to Truman's threats, both the railroad and coal mine strikes were brought to an end. When Lewis attempted to call another coal strike in the Fall, Truman assured that Lewis was taken to court on grounds that he violated the Smith-Connally Act by striking against government facilities. When Lewis ignored a court injunction prohibiting the strike, he was held in contempt and the Mine Workers' Union was fined three million dollars while its president was personally fined $10,000.
Three years later, Truman responds to a suggestion that he appoint Lewis as Ambassador to Russia: "I appreciated very much your letter of April twenty-ninth, suggesting John L. Lewis as Ambassador to Russia. I've already appointed a good man to that post and for your information I wouldn't appoint John L. Lewis dogcatcher and, I think, you understand that is the case. I appreciate the good humor in your letter."
David McCullough suggests that this letter is an example of Truman's habit of letting his anger get the best of him when responding immediately to correspondance that struck a raw nerve. Other examples were an angry letter Truman sent to Bernard Baruch, a letter which called the marines "the Navy's police force," and the famous letter to music critic Paul Hume, which was sold at Christie's on March 27, 2002 in Part I of the Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents (lot 177, $193,000).