April 13, 1951

President Harry Truman, Two Days After Unleashing a Tempest By Firing MacArthur, Cryptically Writes Newsman, Seemingly About the Response

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Merriman Smith was a reporter’s reporter, and so much a part of the White House Press Corps, from FDR on, that President Kennedy introduced his wife to him by saying “he comes with the place.” In Truman’s day, Smitty was a member of what he ruefully called “The Independence Early Rising and Walking Society” – the reporters who accompanied the President on his brisk daily constitutional around Washington.

Perhaps then it was in response to something Smith had said to the President, a prediction, seemingly, about the great news of the day – Truman’s firing of MacArthur two days before – that inspired this note, with which Truman apparently forwarded  “an interesting piece” he had run across in his home town paper.

"What did you say on the follow-up?” Truman asks, “It must have been interesting.” He continues, teasingly, about another White House newsman, “Tony” – most likely the Associated Press’ Tony Vaccaro or the New York Times’ Anthony Leviero - who “wrote a piece for the Kansas City Star and used a high school picture of himself to illustrate the article.” Truman suggests that Smith should have sent his picture to Truman’s “little home town paper with this prophecy. Then,” he says, Smitty could have joined the ranks of pollsters “Elmo Roper and Mr. Gallup.” The end result, though, was Truman’s congratulations: “Keep up the good work Smittie!”

Truman’s relieving General Douglas MacArthur of command in Korea for essentially failing to follow orders, was greeted on Capitol Hill and in much of the press as little short of treason. For this, Truman was threatened with impeachment, while still worse, MacArthur came home to a hero’s welcome.

“Quite an explosion. Was expected but I had to act. Telegrams and letters of abuse by the dozens,” Truman wrote in his diary after the firing. By refusing to extend the war from Korea to China and so risk another World War - as MacArthur was urging him to do - Truman as good as lost the presidency. He gained, albeit later rather the sooner, the approbation of history.

Autograph Note Signed (with initials), as President, 1 page, octavo, no place, Friday, April 13, no year [1951]. To Merriman Smith.

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Transcript

Friday, 13 April

Merriman: -

This is an interesting piece, which I ran across in my home town paper. What did you say on the follow-up?  It must have been interesting.

Tony wrote a piece for the Kansas City Star and used a high school picture of himself to illustrate the article.

You should have sent your picture to my little home town paper with this prophecy.

Then you could have joined Elmo Roper and Mr. Gallup.

Keep up the good work Smittie!

H.S.T.