The Truman Fabrication
The Hell You Say, Harry.
The FPA [Former Presidents Act] came into being because former president Harry Truman made a series of representations to both Congress and the public regarding the supposedly problematic financial situation he faced, during the five and half years that passed between the end of his presidency and the statute’s enactment. These representations provided the purported factual basis for enacting the statute in the first place; furthermore, these financial difficulties continue to be cited whenever the fact that taxpayers provide millions of dollars per year to ex-presidents becomes a matter of public attention and comment. Indeed, more than 60 years after the FPA’s enactment, Truman’s financial struggles remain essentially the only justification that is ever put forward, in either the academic or popular literature, for the existence of the extremely generous benefits package all former presidents continue to enjoy.
As we shall see, the supposedly difficult post-presidential economic situation faced by Harry Truman was a complete fabrication, created by Truman himself via what can only be characterized as a series of shockingly dishonest and radically misleading statements to Congress and the public. Drawing on recently released documents from Bess Truman’s personal files, this Article demonstrates that, contrary to the claims of all his major biographers11 – who seem to have relied exclusively on Truman’s own representations regarding his financial situation when evaluating it — Harry Truman was in fact a very wealthy man on the day he left the White House. Part of the reason he was so wealthy is that, during his elected term, he misappropriated essentially all of a government expense account worth $2.2 million in 2021 dollars. He then became much wealthier shortly afterwards, by cannily exploiting his status as a former president to greatly increase his already great wealth.
This is from Paul Campos, “The Truman Show: The Fraudulent Origins of the Former Presidents Act.” It was published on July 28 and revised today.
Campos is a law professor who understands the importance of adjusting for inflation. He lays out how Truman biographer David McCullough and many others were bamboozled by Truman’s sob story.
Read the whole thing.
I’ve always thought the the huge payments to past presidents were and are obscene. The one justification always given, as Campos notes above, was the “Truman was poor” justification. Not even close. Even before the 1958 law, he was a multimillionaire in today’s dollars.