Cover image for Truman and Pendergast
Truman and Pendergast
Ferrell, Robert H.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 162 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E814 .F483 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



No portion of the political career of Harry S. Truman was more fraught with drama than his relationship with Thomas J. Pendergast. In one of their earliest meetings, the two men were momentarily at odds after Truman, who was then presiding judge of Jackson County, gave a $400,000 road contract to a construction company in South Dakota, and Pendergast, the boss of Kansas City, wasn't very happy about it. He had someone else in mind for the contract. Their association thus had its disagreements, but their common interest in politics was enough to establish a long-lasting relationship.

In 1934, after considering fourteen other men, Pendergast sponsored Truman for the Senate. Although Truman had often cooperated with Pendergast on patronage issues, he had never involved himself in the illegalities that would eventually destroy the Pendergast machine. In fact, Truman had no idea how deeply the Boss had engaged in corruption in his personal affairs, as well as in managing the government of Kansas City. When the Boss was sent to Leavenworth for tax evasion in 1939, Truman was astonished.

Despite Truman's honesty, his relationship with Pendergast almost caused his defeat during the Missouri senatorial primary in August 1940. The main challenger for Truman's Senate seat was the ambitious governor of Missouri, Lloyd C. Stark, who after destroying Truman's sponsor, the Pendergast machine, denounced Truman as "the Pendergast senator." Behind the governor was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Stark turned against Truman. Roosevelt wanted Missouri's electoral votes in his forthcoming bid for a third term, and he believed that Stark could give them to him.

Because of the stigma of Truman's Pendergast connection, the 1940 Democratic primary was the tightest election in his entire political career. He won by fewer than eight thousand votes. In Truman and Pendergast, Robert H. Ferrell masterfully presents Truman's struggle to keep his Senate seat without the aid of Pendergast and despite Stark's enlistment of Roosevelt against him. Ferrell shows that Truman won the election in his typical fashion--going directly to the people, speaking honestly and like one of them.

Author Notes

Robert Hugh Ferrell was born in Cleveland, Ohio on May 8, 1921. He studied music and education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, but his education was interrupted by World War II. He served as a chaplain's assistant in the Army Air Forces before being promoted to staff sergeant. After the war, he received a B.S. in education from Bowling Green State University and a master's degree and a Ph.D. in history from Yale University. He taught at Indiana University in Bloomington from 1953 until his retirement in 1988.

He expanded his dissertation into a book, Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was published in 1952 and won the American Historical Association's George Louis Beer Prize. He wrote or edited more than 60 books including Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman; Harry S. Truman: A Life; The Eisenhower Diaries; Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921; American Diplomacy: The Twentieth Century; The Strange Deaths of President Harding; Five Days in October: The Lost Battalion of World War I; and Argonne Days in World War I. He died on August 8, 2018 at the age of 97.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readers suffering scandal withdrawal could do worse than sample the goodies Ferrell, an emeritus history professor from Indiana University, Bloomington, has dug up on the collapse of the Pendergast machine in Kansas City in the late '30s and the difficult campaign Harry Truman faced in 1940, trying to keep the Senate seat that ultimately led him to the White House. The subject of Truman and Pendergast has been covered in the late president's biographies. In this narrower study, Ferrell concentrates on Truman's working relationship with Pendergast and on the difficult 1940 senatorial primary. Drawing on the Truman Library and oral histories of many of the people involved, Ferrell brings to life the political battles of another era and adds nuance to the portrait of the redoubtable Harry Truman. The "new news" here is the Hartmann volume: the report that agent Hartmann submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. in 1942, which lay unnoticed in the voluminous Morgenthau papers for more than 50 years. Hartmann's report describes the nature of Pendergast's rule and the corruption that sent him to jail (kickbacks on the settlement of a dispute involving fire insurance premiums); readers may be most interested in its tale of the process by which investigators circled Pendergast, gathering evidence against associates before closing in on the key operator. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Harry S. Truman and Thomas J. Pendergast met in 1927, when Truman was a Missouri judge with political ambitions and Pendergast was the boss of a powerful political machine in Kansas City. Over the years, Boss Tom would help Truman achieve many of his political goals. But as Truman rose to national prominence, his association with the corrupt Pendergast machine threatened to end his political career. FDR even made moves to have Truman defeated in his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1940. Ferrell (history, emeritus, Indiana Univ.; The Dying President: Franklin D. Roosevelt 1944-1945, LJ 3/1/98) sorts through the complex relationship between these men and demonstrates how Truman had both to live down and rise above his association with Boss Pendergast. This fine work sheds light on a part of Truman's past full of conflict and contradictions. A valuable addition to the literature on Truman the man and the politician.ÄMichael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ferrell, a leading Truman scholar and biographer, has written a brief study of the Truman-Pendergast relationship and the almost devastating results of that relationship for Truman. In this tightly organized account Ferrell shows how, with the support of "Boss" Pendergast's machine, Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934. Ferrell then describes the demise of the Pendergast organization because of its widespread corruption. Truman was identified with Pendergast but had to overcome this association to be reelected in 1940. The final portion of the book deals in detail with how Truman overcame the challenges of Maurice Milligan and Missouri Governor Lloyd Stark for the Democratic nomination. Stark, who had taken credit for destroying the Pendergast machine, was the far greater threat of the two for Truman. Ferrell persuasively argues that Truman was substantially aided by three factors in his primary victory: the prominent position he held from his six years in the Senate and the support of Missouri's other senator, Bennett "Champ" Clark; the poor campaign of his opponents; and alliances in Missouri politics. In the end Truman's primary victory allowed him to be reelected to his Senate Seat. The rest is history. All levels. A. Yarnell; Montana State University