Harry S. Truman

Newly added to Digital Collections: Harry S. Truman Letters

A2019_001_016DS_webDid you know that President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was in correspondence with Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957), the head of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council during the 1940s and 1950s? A number of recently digitized letters, written from Truman to Johnson on White House stationery are available through the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. They reveal a friendly relationship, with President Truman beginning his letters to Johnson by addressing him "Dear Mel."

Truman became a Freemason in 1909. By 1940, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. In 1945, Truman was created a 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. That same year, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, awarded Truman its first Gourgas Medal, the Supreme Council's highest honor.

The letters in this collection include both those from Harry Truman as well as one written by his wife, Bess Truman (1885-1982). The majority of the correspondence in this collection consists of letters written by President Harry S. Truman to his friend and fellow Freemason, Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957). Johnson served as the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Sovereign Grand Commander from 1933 to 1953.

For more about the friendship between Truman and Johnson, have a look at one of our earlier blog posts, A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award.

There are now over 750 items in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Be sure to visit and check them all out!

Caption:
Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. SC069.


A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award

As a somber nation mourned the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April of 1945, Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, received this telegram message that resides in the Archives of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library:


Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to President Harry S. Truman
Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated].

President Harry S. Truman
Washington


The God of Truth and wisdom will be with you and you will succeed in the great task to which you have been called. I shall ask you for nothing except to be of service if and when I can be helpful in the least degree. 

Shall be back in Boston Monday. 

Melvin M. Johnson


For the past two years, Johnson, the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction  of the Scottish Rite and a Masonic brother of Truman, had sought to award him with the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s highest award, The Gourgas Medal, for Truman’s work leading the Truman Committee, a Congressional oversight body which oversaw the war effort by probing into charges of corruption. And while Truman had always been flattered by Johnson’s request, Truman's sense of duty to his country and to the Fraternity had led him to decline the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s most prestigious honor.

  Senator

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944.

 

“I think you are exactly right,” Senator Truman wrote Johnson on September 8, 1944, “about the postponement of the program so far as I am concerned. No matter how deserving it might be under the circumstances it would look exactly as if it were a political program.”

Now, in April of 1945, anxious to make Truman the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal, Johnson petitioned the busy President once more.

"I hope you may find it possible to attend a session of our Supreme Council on Tuesday, September 25, 1945, at 10 a.m., or the following day, in order that I may have the honor of making you the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal."

With the war concluded and the political battles of 1944 behind him, sometime during the spring of 1945 President Truman had a change of heart, which he expressed to Johnson from the White House on May 2, 1945.

“I hope it will be possible for me to attend the meeting to receive The Gourgas Medal," Truman wrote Johnson.

Johnson wrote back to the President in September of 1945, “If it is agreeable to you, I should like to make the presentation [of the Gourgas Medal] at The White House, or wherever else you may select. I hope, however, we can make arrangements far enough in advance so that invitations may be extended to the members of Congress who are also members of our Supreme Council . . . .”

On November 21, 1945, President Harry S. Truman received the Gourgas Medal for his service to country and humanity. After the ceremony on the White House lawn had concluded, a subdued President Truman led the delegation back to his office where the President “looking down at the medal” said quietly, “I appreciate this more than anything I have received.”

 

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°

Captions

Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, page 136. Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

References

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, April 26, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, September 19, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

 


A White House Foundation Stone

Init Eye White House At the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) became aware that the White House needed extensive repairs.  Plaster was cracked, floors were sagging and repeated coats of white paint had covered the decorative carving on the exterior.  Upon further examination, the conditions were discovered to be even worse than anticipated.  A refurbishment project for the White House was undertaken over several years: the interior was completely removed and the exterior walls were supported with stronger foundations.  A steel frame was built within the shell.

During an inspection of the construction, President Truman noticed carvings on some of the stones in the original White House walls.  These marks were “signatures” left by the eighteenth-century stonemasons who worked on the original construction.  President Truman, an active Freemason, arranged for many of these stones to be sent to Grand Lodges across the United States.

The stone pictured here was sent to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts in 1952 along with a letter signed by President Truman.  The president explained that “these evidences of the number of members of the Craft who built the President’s official residence so intimately aligns Freemasonry with the formation and founding of our Government that I believe your Grand Lodge will cherish this link between the Fraternity and the Government of the Nation, of which the White House is a symbol.”GL2004_0146S1 White House Stone

One of the White House foundation stones is on view as part of the National Heritage Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C."  The exhibition presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection. 

"The Initiated Eye" will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: Within These Walls, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: White House Foundation Stone, 1792-1800, American, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.0146.  Photograph by David Bohl.