April 17, 1961
Harry Truman Reading John Nicolay and John Hay on Abraham Lincoln, as He Tries to Write History of Presidency
The Trumans of Missouri hadn’t, historically, much use for Abe Lincoln. When President Truman told his aged mother that she would sleep in Lincoln’s bed when visiting the White House, she told him in no uncertain terms that she’d sleep on the floor instead. Truman, as a Southerner, said he came to appreciate Lincoln gradually, all on his own, by reading about him. In the fullness of time, he even identified with him, as having also risen, surprisingly, from obscurity to the pinnacle of power. For plain Harry Truman, plain Abraham Lincoln was the epitome of leadership: a decent, straightforward, and honest man, who was first and foremost himself. Which was why, perhaps, during his stand-off with General MacArthur, Truman sent to the Library of Congress for books about Lincoln’s firing of General McClellan. This letter finds Truman eight years out of office, writing “a history of the presidency,” still reading about Lincoln…
I’ll be glad to accept the set of the “Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln” by John G. Nicolay and John Hay. They will be exceedingly useful here for what we are trying to do, which is a history of the Presidency… I have all the other Lincoln biographies but this one.
Truman, incidentally, rated Lincoln a great president – 4th on his list, after (Southerners) Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.
Typed Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, with autograph addendum, on his personal letterhead, Independence, Missouri, April 17, 1961. To Paul Nachtman.
With franked typewritten envelope.