- HST: Memories of the Truman Years, and: Miracle of ’48: Harry Truman’s Major Campaign Speeches and Selected Whistle-Stops
The past decade or so has witnessed a veritable renaissance of scholarship and public interest focused on the presidency of Harry S. Truman. Led by David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize–winning Truman (Simon and Schuster, 1992) and Alonzo Hamby's critically acclaimed Man of the People (Oxford University Press, 1995), this resurgence has led to a more complete, more sophisticated, and more nuanced understanding of the Missourian.
Steve Neal's two recent works fall within this recent trend, extracting and compiling interesting primary materials to add texture to our insights into the plain-talking president. HST: Memories of the Truman Years features selections from the pioneering oral history project initiated by President Truman and [End Page 538] archived in the Truman Presidential Library. Neal's work provides engaging excerpts from 20 of the nearly 500 interviews constituting this project, representing "a diversity of voices: a renowned artist, two generals and a journalist, the president's best friend, senior White House assistants, and men who worked with Truman in changing the direction of the postwar world" (2). As the author points out in the introduction, complete transcripts are readily available from the Truman Library and many of the 20 interviews collected here are online in their original unabridged form. The Truman Library's oral history interviews, some contemporaneous and others conducted in the decades following the Truman presidency, represent a significant resource to scholars and have made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the period, enriching such insightful studies as McCullough's 1992 biography.
Besides highlighting only a relatively small number of the interviewees included in the Truman Oral History project, Neal has chosen to excerpt the interviews of the 20 persons chosen. For instance, political opponent, Supreme Court chief justice, and keynote speaker at the dedication of the Truman Presidential Library, Earl Warren's 65-page transcript is trimmed to 16 pages. In a similar vein, special counsel Clark Clifford's eight-day interview, culminating in a 483-page archival transcript, is reduced to 14 pages. Although offering no compelling rationale for these particular interviews or passages beyond the desire for "a diversity of voices," Neal does succeed in offering the reader substantial insight into our 33rd president and some of the men who directly worked with him during the 1930s and 1940s. Without an overarching narrative to provide a sense of meaning to the interviews, however, he leaves the reader alone to discover those insights from the transcripts.
In his second book, Miracle of '48, Neal showcases selected major addresses and whistle-stop remarks of Truman's 1948 presidential campaign. In an eight-page introduction written in language easily accessible to any interested reader, Neal glides through the context of the greatest presidential electoral upset in American history to broadly paint a significant archetypal rhetorical exigence. Running as an outsider against a Republican-dominated Congress that continued to block his initiatives, Truman focused his efforts on the key constituencies of farmers, organized labor, African Americans, and Jewish Americans (4). In providing this brief synopsis of the campaign challenges, however, the author spends very little effort in exploring the role of Truman's campaign speeches, the subject of the book, in overcoming these challenges.
From this collection of 43 speeches beginning with June 4 remarks in Crestline, Ohio, and culminating in his victory speech before a hometown crowd on November 3, we get a broad sample of Truman's extensive campaign repertoire, ranging in style and formality from his July 15 acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention through his prepared informal [End Page 539] September 18 address at the National Plowing Match in Dexter, Iowa, and even to rear-platform remarks delivered at 5:45 am that same day in Rock Island, Illinois. Although it would be...