So Great a People

At 5 P.M. on April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry Truman, wearied by his afternoon in the United States Senate ducked into Sam Rayburn’s private office in the Capitol. Someone mentioned to him that the White House had called. Harry picked up the phone and dialed the number, National 1414. Press Secretary Steve Early came on, voice tense, asking Truman to come to the White House “quickly and quietly.” He was to enter the main entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue.

Harry exited the room alone, then bevan racing through the ornate halls of the Capitol, shoes pounding marble. He jumped in his old Mercury and sped through the traffic. At 5:25, he pulled under the north portico. Two usherstoo his hat and escorted him to the small elevator. Waiting for him upstairs was Eleanor Roosevelt. “Harry,” she said, “the president is dead.”

Truman groped for words, “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked at length.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” Eleanor replied. “You are the one in trouble now.”

That night, Truman took the oath of office as president of the United States, his hand resting on an inexpensive Gideon Bible grabbed from the desk of the White House’s head usher. The following Monday, Truman addressed a joing session of Congress. His speech lasted but fifteen minutes. Most of it had been written by presidential speechwriters, but the conclusion he had added himself. The Congress was hushed and the nation spellbound by their radios as he said: At this moment I have in my heart a prayer. As I have assumed my duties, I humbly pray Almighty God, in the words of King Solomon: “Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge They people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?” I ask only to be a good and faithful servant of my Lord and my people.