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Truman, Bacall, and That Photograph

By Jim Worsham

Harry S. Truman had been Vice President of the United States for only a few weeks when he showed up on February 10, 1945, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

He had agreed to take part in a show for some 800 servicemen. For his part of the show, Truman sat down at an upright piano to demonstrate his talent at the keyboard.

Soon, he was joined by the popular 20-year-old actress Lauren Bacall, who was there as part of a Hollywood contingent taking part in the show. She perched herself atop the piano, Hollywood-style. (Today, we call these photo-ops or publicity stunts.)

Lauren Bacall on Piano with Vice President Harry S. Truman, February 10, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

Lauren Bacall on Piano with Vice President Harry S. Truman, February 10, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

The crowd cheered. Cameras clicked away. The photos (there were a number of different poses) appeared everywhere.

“I was just a kid. My press agent made me do it,” Bacall, who died this week at age 89, said later of her Hollywood publicists.

Truman, however, appeared to be enjoying it, “which he was,” writes David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the nation’s 33rd President.

But Truman might have thought differently about it later.

Why? Mrs. Truman, often referred to by Truman as “the Boss,” was not amused.  McCullough writes: “Bess was furious. She told him he should play the piano in public no more.” (Of course, he did play in public from time to time.)

A postscript.

A few months later, Bacall would marry Humphrey Bogart in one of Hollywood’s most famous couplings, and Truman would become President of the United States for nearly eight years. Truman and Bacall never performed together again.


Featured Document: Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying a draft of the Bill of Rights from August 12 to September 11, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery.

During the 1787–1788 Constitutional ratification process, opponents criticized the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights. They argued that the Constitution should include one, because without it a strong central government would trample individuals’ liberties and freedoms.

As states debated whether to ratify the Constitution or not, two kinds of amendments emerged: rights-related amendments (amendments intended to protect individuals) and structural amendments (amendments intended to fundamentally alter the structure of the new government).

In the end, enough states supported the Constitution without amendments that it was ratified without changes. However, the effort to amend the Constitution carried over into the first Federal elections. Anti-Federalists—those who opposed the Constitution—pushed to elect pro-amendment members to the First Federal Congress.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

This was especially true in Virginia, a state whose ratification convention proposed 20 amendments and a separate bill of rights to the Constitution.

In one Virginia House race, James Madison—who opposed amendments—faced James Monroe—who supported them. Because Virginia had such strong anti-Federalist sentiments, Madison softened his stand against Constitutional amendments, which helped him win the election.

As the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison had a vested interest in protecting the Constitution from drastic alterations. When the First Congress convened in 1789, Madison, who originally opposed altering the Constitution, became the leading proponent of a bill of rights, thus allowing him to guide the drafting of new amendments.

That June, Madison proposed a series of amendments to the newly ratified Constitution. Most of Madison’s amendments were rights-related, and he chose to insert them directly into the Constitution’s existing text.

In the summer of 1789 the House of Representatives debated Madison’s proposals and made several changes.

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 3, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 3, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 2, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 2, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

During the debate, Roger Sherman of Connecticut made one notable suggestion: adding the amendments to the end of the Constitution, rather than working them into the existing text. The House agreed and made the change, resulting in the enumerated list of amendments we are familiar with today.

On August 24 the House passed 17 articles of amendment, and then the Senate took up the matter, making several alterations and consolidations of their own.

The Senate’s changes included removing text prohibiting Congress from infringing on the rights of conscience, exempting those who are religiously scrupulous from military service, forbidding states from infringing on certain rights, and declaring separation of powers a principle in the Constitution.

Ultimately, Congress forwarded to the states 12 articles of amendment. Ten of them—articles 3 through 12—were subsequently ratified and became the Bill of Rights in 1791.

For more information on the 225th anniversary of the First Congress visit the Tumblr page Congress in the Archives or Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.


“I have never been a quitter . . .”

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. August 8 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. 

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. The aftermath brought the first resignation of a sitting President, a pardon, and a national uproar.

The story of Watergate and the Nixon administration’s involvement has become synonymous with government scandal. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, we take a moment to reflect on that period in our history.

Section 4 of Article II of the United States Constitution states, “The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Until 1974, Congress had only once attempted to impeach the President—Andrew Johnson in 1868. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the President be impeached. Facing certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon decided to resign.

President Richard Nixon's Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

President Richard Nixon’s Resignation Speech, August 8, 1974. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library, National Archives)

On the night of August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation to the American people live via television and radio. To an anxious public, President Nixon explained, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first.” He then announced, “I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

Richard M. Nixon's Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974. (National Archives Identifier 302035)

Richard M. Nixon’s Resignation Letter, 08/09/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 302035)

The next day, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon sent his resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

The story of Nixon’s resignation may have ended there, but on September 8, 1974, newly sworn-in President R. Gerald Ford opened a new chapter when he issued a highly controversial Proclamation Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon.

In the proclamation, President Ford cited the “tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks”—Nixon’s resignation—“could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States.”

Ford wholeheartedly believed that a trial would only bring more division as well as “exposing to further punishment and degradation of a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

Nixon’s letter of resignation and Ford’s subsequent pardon are among the holdings of the National Archives. They are on display in the in the East Rotunda Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, from August 8 to 11, 2014. 

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon., 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 299996)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974. (National Archives Identifier 7140608)

Photograph of President Gerald Ford Announcing His Decision to Grant a Pardon to Former President Richard Nixon, 09/08/1974.
(National Archives Identifier 7140608)

 


Harry Truman and The Bomb

Today’s post is from Lee Lacy, an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

When Harry S. Truman was told on April 12, 1945, by Eleanor Roosevelt that her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was dead, Truman reacted true to form.

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

He asked if there was anything he could do. Her famous reply: “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

Trouble indeed. Truman would soon learn just how much FDR did not tell him about the status of the war effort.

Moments after Truman’s hastily-called swearing in ceremony, Secretary of War Henry Stimson lingered to speak with him about an “immense project.” Stimson briefly told Truman about the Manhattan Project, but Truman deferred an in-depth discussion to a later date.

The nation was in shock over the death of FDR, the only President many Americans had ever known, and World War II raged on. Germany was close to collapse, but it appeared that the war against Japan might go to the Japanese mainland and drag out into 1946. Amidst these troubles, Truman had to learn all the things FDR did not tell his newly-elected Vice President, in office only 82 days.

The issue of the “immense project”—the atomic bomb—re-surfaced April 24 when Stimson pressed for an appointment. Truman met with him the next day. The President listened intently. He already knew some sketchy details from his days in the Senate when he discovered secret War Department spending. Stimson advised Truman to appoint a committee to study the use of atomic weapons, which Truman took under consideration.

For the moment, any decisions regarding the use of the atomic bomb were put off. Elsewhere, plans for the invasion of Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most province, proceeded in earnest. Truman remained hopeful Japan might surrender, given the great damage inflicted by strategic bombing.

Truman's handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb, July 19, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

Truman’s handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb, July 19, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

In May 1945, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew spoke to Truman about a plan to get Japan to surrender. Truman gave his support and presented it to the Joint Chiefs. The use of atomic weapons remained under consideration and no final decision was made. Truman sought the advice and opinions of others. He prepared himself and read voraciously.

As the Allied Powers prepared to meet in Potsdam, Germany, Truman wanted to release another surrender ultimatum at the meeting. He hoped the ultimatum would coincide with a successful test of the atomic bomb to demonstrate the resolve of the Allies to Japan.

Still, early in July 1945, no final decision was made about the bomb, but Truman knew it was a viable option and he continued to gather information. The committee formed to study this new weapon met and advised Truman to use it immediately—and without warning. No demonstration as a warning was recommended. Truman consulted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who concurred.

No doubt the weight of the world was on Truman’s shoulders, and the final decision was not easy.Finally, he concluded it was his decision, alone, if, when, and where to use the bomb. On July 24, 1945, the order was issued to U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces with operational control delegated to its commander, General Carl Spaatz.

If the recent invasion of Okinawa was any predictor, an amphibious invasion of the Japanese mainland was unthinkable. Neither were the estimated millions of American lives that would be lost if mainland Japan was invaded.

This, in part, prompted Truman to give Japan one more chance to surrender. Another warning was issued to the Japanese on July 26 from the Potsdam conference. On July 28, Japan announced its intention to continue the war. There was no alternative—Truman had to take action to end the war.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson's cable to President Truman regarding the atomic bomb, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s cable to President Truman regarding the atomic bomb, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

Truman's handwritten reply to Stimson's cable, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier  200665)

Truman’s handwritten reply to Stimson’s cable, 07/30/1945. (National Archives Identifier 200665)

 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed on August 6 and August 9, respectively, and the war came to a dramatic end a few days later.

President Truman announces Japan's surrender, August 14, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 520054)

President Truman announces Japan’s surrender, August 14, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 520054)

For his part, Truman never regretted his decision—nor did he ever gloat, even in the face of decades of second-guessing by those who disagreed with him.

Truman made the decision, and, as he was fond of saying, “that’s all there was to it.”

Professor Lacy drew this account from Truman’s memoirs and from the archives of the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO. Dr. Lacy can be contacted at lee.o.lacy.civ@mail.mil.

To view original documents relating to the use of the A-bomb, visit the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum’s website.


Loan to Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax

Today’s post comes from James Zeender, Senior Registrar. 
Last week, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax opened the exhibition “Prize and Prejudice: Nova Scotia’s War of 1812.”   It is a companion to the War of 1812 exhibit organized by the Canadian War Museum.  “Prize and Prejudice” features two letters on loan from the National Archives.  They were written by Black escaped slaves who were among the 3400 slaves who fled from the Chesapeake region during the war.  Most of them resettled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Trinidad.  The letters were among many from the US-Canadian Boundary Commission records (RG 76) that scholar Dr. Alan Taylor cites in his recent work “Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772 – 1832: The Internal Enemy.”
In December 1816, just about a year after the war’s end, young William Whiddington sent this moving letter to his “dear honored mother.”
National Archives Identifier: 27487.

National Archives Identifier: 27487.

 
I have often wished it was in my power to let you hear from me, as, I dare say, you have thought I was long ago dead. but Thanks be to God, I arriv’d in this place safe – and have had no cause to repent coming away – though I was very sorry to leave you, and all my relations. but though I may never see any of you again, my dear Mother, yet I shall always think of you and love you.  and I hope,  I shall act so honestly and soberly in this World that when I die I may meet all my Friends in a happy state of Eternity….I am a sober well-behaved Lad. I get six Dollars a month and am now comfortably cloathed, and live well. Nice Leech and his two children came away. 
 
National Archives Identifier: 27487

National Archives Identifier: 27487

 

 

 

Later, in the same letter, Whiddington writes:

I pray and beseech you to let me hear from you and not only tell me how you and my Father, and Brothers, and Sisters all are, but I wish also to hear how my Master and Mistress – and my young Masters are -  particularly, Master Clement. and I beg you will remember me to them all, and to all enquiring Friends. I wish to know where Mr. Clement is and how he does, for I feel a great love for him.

Display case with Black refugee letters and the panel entitled "The Power of the Written Word." Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

Display case with Black refugee letters and the panel entitled “The Power of the Written Word.” Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

 

Using the Whiddington letter as an example, Taylor finds “the letters reveal the great emotional complexity to the master-slave experience.  While proud of their accomplishments in freedom, some writrs missed their personal relationship with a former master.”  

Writing in May 1820, Bartlet Shanklyn writes with obvious emotion, perhaps anger, to his former owner, Abraham Hooe.
National Archives Identifier: 27485

National Archives Identifier: 27485

I take this opportunity of writing these lines to inform you how I am situated hear. I have [a] Shop & Set of Tools of my own and am doing very well when I was with you [you] treated me very ill and for that reason i take the liberty of informing you that i am doing as well as you if not better. When i was with you I worked very hard and you neither g[ave] me money nor any Satisfaction but sin[ce] I have been hear I am able to [make] Gold and Silver as well as you. The night that Cokely Stoped me he was very Strong but I shewed him that Subtilty Was far preferable to Strength and brought away others with me who thank God are all doing well.
Left edge of case next to panel reading "Black Refugees in Nova Scotia." Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

Left edge of case next to panel reading “Black Refugees in Nova Scotia.” Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of Nova Scotia.

 
A similar exodus of Black Refugees from Britain’s former colonies to Canada occurred earlier during the American Revolution. Those persons too are documented here in the National Archives on inspection rolls kept at General George Washington’s order so that American owners could later make claims for their lost “property”.  Such removals were prohibited under the terms of the recently signed Preliminary Articles of Peace at Paris.  The British Commander, Guy Carlton, however refused to return any of the refugees to slavery.  At least one of  the slaves recorded on the rolls escaped from Washington’s own Mount Vernon plantation seven years earlier.
National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

National Archives Identifier: 13935

For more information about the War of 1812 exhibition, see https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/what-see-do/war-1812-exhibits .