Franklin D. Roosevelt became a very popular president as he led the American public through the Great Depression years of the 1930s. In fact, he was so popular that he easily won four terms in the White House. That would not be possible today, as the rules have been changed to where a sitting president can only serve two four-year terms in office.

Harry S Truman was a U.S. Senator during those years and was not exactly enthusiastic about being a heart beat away from the top position when he was pegged as Roosevelt's vice presidential running mate as the creator of the famous “fireside chats” mounted his fourth campaign for the Oval Office. However, with a little arm twisting and gentle persuasion, Truman had a change of heart and agreed to be Roosevelt's running mate.

Sure enough, much to Truman's surprise, about four month's after their inauguration ceremony, Roosevelt's heart did indeed quit beating, and as vice president, Truman was thrust into the Oval Office.

The White House secretarial staff hurriedly rounded up an old inaugural bible used by previous presidents for the swearing-in ceremony and made the other necessary preparations.

I guess you could say that Harry Truman was inaugurated president two different times. He placed his left hand on that old inaugural Bible for his first oath taking ceremony, April 12, 1945, upon the death of President Roosevelt. Following that ceremony, Truman finished out all but four months of Roosevelt's fourth term. Then, following that prestigious assignment, and a hard fought campaign, the “Man from Independence” placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath for his own rightfully elected position as president.

There were actually two Bibles involved, the first being that old White House inaugural Bible which was used for Truman's first oath-taking ceremony in 1945. The other is a facsimile copy of the Gutenberg Bible, with an ornate outside binding, purchased by the citizens of Independence, which was used at the Jan. 20, 1949, inauguration for Truman's own four-year term.

The Gutenberg Bible is in two volumes, an Old Testament and New Testament, which was purchased by the Independence Chamber of Commerce with $5,000 contributed by area residents as a memorial to Harry Truman's mother, Mrs. Martha Truman (who died in 1947).

The Chamber of Commerce sent two personal envoys, Homer M. Clements and Frank Rucker of The Examiner, to Washington in 1949 as custodians of the Gutenberg Bible, which after the oath-taking ceremony was returned to Independence. It was, at that time, placed in the custody of the Jackson County Public Library for storage and safe keeping.

Independence was very proud of the fact that one of their own was “Leader of the Free World.” and a large delegation, including Mayor Roger T. Sermon and many other citizens, to attend the 1949 inauguration of their hometown neighbor.

Both the original inaugural Bible and the Gutenberg Bible were used by President Truman in his 1949 inaugural. The smaller White House Bible rested on the Old Testament of the Gutenberg Bible. The President placed his left hand on the Gutenberg Bible at the Ten Commandments and on the smaller Bible at the Beatitudes and raised his right hand to take the oath.

Today, both of those Bibles on which Harry S Truman took the oaths of office as President of the United States are in the possession of, and on display at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence.

Mr. Truman has written on the Gutenberg Bible, “I placed my left hand on this 30th Chapter of Exodus, January 30, 1949, when I took the oath of office.”

Reference: Files of The Examiner.

Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.

-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to or call him at 816-896-3592.