INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — This week’s inauguration in Washington is stirring up memories at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence.
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd U.S. President to be inaugurated, but his ceremony introduced several key inaugural elements that are still part of the tradition today.
Moments after Eleanor Roosevelt told Truman that her husband, Franklin had died, shaken and distressed, Truman raised his right hand to take the Presidential Oath of Office.
He entered the office amidst a global crisis with newly realized nuclear weapons at his disposal and the imminent responsibility of using them to end World War Two.
Joe Biden also enters the highest office in the land with a worldwide health pandemic raging around him and the death toll climbing.
The Director of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum Kurt Graham says, there are plenty of similarities between the two Democratic Presidents.
“They are both sort of marked by this notion that they are crisis presidents. They need to respond immediately to a crisis,” Graham said.
Truman’s first formal inauguration actually came four years after he took office. He had just won the seat in his own right, defeating Republican Thomas Dewey.
The celebration made history as the first inauguration broadcast on live television. The event reached an estimated 10 million viewers.
In both Truman and Biden’s inauguration speeches they pled for the nation to unify.
“What’s striking about the comparison between the two speeches is the humility with which they approach the subject,” Graham said. “And also, their desire to be the president of all people. They say, ‘I can’t do this without all of you.'”
And the topic of a peaceful transfer of power was at the forefront of both administration’s agendas.
Truman and President-elect Eisenhower had a rocky relationship leading up to Ike’s inauguration. So frigid in fact that Eisenhower didn’t show up for a pre-inaugural breakfast Harry and Bess Truman hosted for the Eisenhower’s at the White House.
Even after the snub, Truman attended Ike’s inauguration. He believed in the symbol of a unified front.
During Truman’s hasty swearing in four years prior, he was largely uninformed of military secrets and FDR’s plans for ending the war in the Pacific.
He knew an incoming President at the dawn of the nuclear age would benefit from a face-to-face transfer of information, secrets and power. So, despite their differences, Truman offered to make the process easier for Eisenhower.
Director Kurt Graham reads from the actual invitation extended from Truman to Ike:
“I invite you there for to meet with me at the White House at your earliest convenience to discuss the problem of this transition. so that it may be clear to all the world that this nation is united in its struggle for freedom and peace”
Biden must have realized the similarities between his inauguration and the one that took place generations before he came to hold the office of President.
Biden has placed a bust of Harry S. Truman in his newly redecorated Oval Office just behind the Resolute desk and just over President Biden’s shoulder.
A reminder of what the Director of the Truman Presidential Library says was a truly great leader.