TRUMAN, Harry S. Typed letter signed ("Harry"), as President, to J. F. T. O'Connor, Washington 12 [and 13] April 1945, WITH THREE-LINE AUTOGRAPH POSTSCRIPT. 1 page, 4to, on Vice-presidential stationery, age toned, and with a three-line typewritten caption added along bottom edge, traces of old mount on verso.
"THE WORLD ALMOST FELL ON TOP OF ME LAST NIGHT AND I HAVEN'T QUITE RECOVERED YET"
BEFORE AND AFTER: TRUMAN REACTS TO THE DEATH OF ROOSEVELT AND HIS ASSUMPTION OF THE PRESIDENCY. A simple letter to an old friend turns into a dramatic piece of evidence about Truman's state of mind upon taking over the Presidency. Sometime before 5 p.m. on 12 April, Truman dictates this letter to O'Connor, a California judge and former minor New Deal official, then heads off to Sam Rayburn's office for a whiskey with his old Congressional cronies: "Certainly appreciated your note about the Buffalo speech. I had a nice meeting there and enjoyed it much...I had a nice visit with your nephew in New York the other day. He and a couple of Naval lieutenants had dinner with Mrs. Truman, Margaret and myself." But the letter was not finished. Just after reaching Rayburn's office he received a call from the White House that changed the letter, his life, and the course of American history. Press secretary Steve Early told Truman in urgent tones to come to the White House immediately. He didn't say why. "Jesus Christ and General Jackson," Truman muttered as he put down the phone. After running to his office to get his hat, and making the short drive from the Capitol, he walked into the family quarters on the second floor of the White House where Mrs. Roosevelt met him along with her daughter Anna, son-in-law John Boettiger, and Early. "Harry," said Mrs. Roosevelt, "the President is dead." By 7 p.m., all the Cabinet and Congressional leaders, along with Bess and Margaret Truman, were assembled and Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone administered the oath of office to a still stunned Harry Truman.
The next day when he turns his attention back to this letter to O'Connor, he signs it and adds a postscript: "The world almost fell on top of me last night and I haven't quite recovered yet." (The caption that O'Connor felt compelled to type at the bottom of the document reminds us all that FDR died on 12 April 1945; that the Vice-president then became the President; and that the reference to "last night" in the postscript means it was written on 13 April.) The world falling imagery that Truman uses here was still on his mind when he met with reporters that afternoon and said: "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know if 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." He made no effort to hide that feeling from anybody that day. Not to the Cabinet officials whom he asked to stay on and help him (many of whom saw him as unfit to replace the great FDR). Not to the Congressional leaders with whom he had lunch. And not J. F. T. O'Connor. "He felt overwhelmed," biographer David McCullough wrote, "and he didn't mind saying so." Provenance:: J. F. T. O'Connor (sale, Sotheby's, 30 October 1990, lot 96).
Only one other letter of Truman dated 12 April 1945 has come to auction in the last 30 years, also part of the Forbes Collection (sale, Christie's, 9 October 2002, lot 198, $89,625).