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Chapter Seven Senator from Pendergast When Truman ran for and received election as a United States senator from Missouri in the mid-1930s, he found himself an object of derision. People described him as the senator from Pendergast. Boss Tom himself may have inspired the remark; in an expansive moment Pendergast seems to have said that some senators represented oil and steel, others utilities and railroads, and he, the boss, had decided to send his own man. There were other gibes, such as the comment of the veteran head of the Missouri Farmers Association , William Hirth, who described the state's junior senator as a bellhop. The remark perhaps derived from the description of one of Truman's rivals in the primary, who had said that as senator the Jackson County judge would get "calluses on his ears listening on the long-distance telephone to the orders of his boss." And there was the episode early in 1938, when Truman passed through St. Louis and attended a gridiron dinner of the St. Louis Advertising Club; at the dinner, he watched a skit in which a character inquired of another, who looked like the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's dummy, Charlie McCarthy, "What is Senator Truman's relationship to Tom Pendergast?" The would-be Charlie replied, "You know my relationship to Edgar Bergenweell -" The audience roared with laughter) Truman could not do much about such ribbing, and for years he struggled to remove the stigma of Pendergast. Politicians and observers alike took the supposed relationship for granted. At the beginning of his first term the boss was such a fixture in Missouri politics that whatever independence Truman might have claimed, no one would have believed it. The connection became downright embarrassing a few years later, when it was discovered that Pendergast had accepted a massive bribe from fourteen fire insurance companies for arranging a favorable division of $9 million in premiums impounded by a federal court; after throwing himself on the mercy of the court, he went to jail. 124 125 / Senator from Pendergast 1 When Truman took the oath as senator on January 3, 1935, Tom Pendergast controlled the entire state of Missouri. It was not quite the apogee of his power: that came later in the year with appointment of his henchman, Matthew S. Murray, as state director of the Works Progress Administration, giving Pendergast control over tens of thousands of federal jobs. But by 1935 he controlled the state's entire delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives , both senators, together with the governor, Guy B. Park, and Park's principal assistants.2 During Pendergast's heyday the Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton undertook a large mural for the statehouse in Jefferson City and asked Boss Tom to pose for one of the figures, which the boss willingly did. The figure was of a burly man eating dinner. When the mural was unveiled, there was a considerable fuss. Unperturbed, Benton said he had included Pendergast because he was part of Missouri. It looked like the boss was running the state? Well, he was. The way in which Boss Tom came to control the Commonwealth of Missouri was thoroughly understandable in its particulars, even if the result was almost unbelievable. The principal moves had come in 1932, two years before Truman was elected to the Senate. At the outset of that presidential year the boss had announced for the former Missouri senator (and erstwhile mayor of Kansas City), James "Jim" Reed. The boss knew that Reed's presidential candidacy was impossible, for too many Missourians disliked him, and he had no national support. Nonetheless, the old man insisted on running , and Boss Tom obliged him. Pendergast cagily planned his strategyindeed , so cagily that years later, when he went to jail, people said it was because he had come out for Reed, and that Roosevelt had not forgotten it and hence encouraged the treasury department to investigate Pendergast's income taxes. Privately, however, he was behind Roosevelt from the beginning , and let the leading Democratic aspirant know that. He arranged for Missouri's delegates to desert Reed after the first ballot. He carefully failed to instruct the delegation to vote according to unit rule; this had the advantage of bringing in the state's support gradually, giving the appearance of reluctance . At that time the son of Champ Clark, Bennett C. Clark of St. Louis, was running for the Senate on an anti-Pendergast platform and did not understand what...


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