Category Archives: Harry Truman

Trivia Questions About the First Ladies by Gregory Hilton

1) Which brilliant First Lady used her own money to send 46 disadvantaged young people to college? The press never knew of her generosity and neither did her husband. He only discovered what she had done after her death. Continue reading

Back by Popular Demand: More Presidential Trivia by Gregory Hilton

1) A woman taking a tour of the White House was unexpectedly introduced to the President. He asked her to stay for tea and proposed marriage two months later. Who was her husband?

2) Why did Secret Service agents always want to avoid shopping trips with Mamie Eisenhower? For the same reason they did not want to accept gifts from Mrs. Eisenhower. They were not reluctant to watch her favorite soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” and to tell her about the plot when she was called away.

3) Why did Lynda and Luci Johnson carry flashlights in their bathrobes? Luci converted to the Roman Catholic faith while she was in the White House. Lynda had the first White House wedding in 53 years.

4) During her time as First Lady, how many states west of the Potomac River were visited by Jacqueline Kennedy?

5) Why did President Johnson’s 1965 party in honor of the U.S. Congress, which included several Hollywood stars, begin at 2 am?

6) Vice President Alben Barkley was elected in 1948 but he was not President Harry Truman’s first choice. Who was originally asked to be Truman’s running mate?

7) White House servants noted several significant differences between Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Can you name one of them? It had nothing to do with FDR’s disability.

8) Which President attended 6 Inaugural Balls, but despite pleas from the crowd never danced at any of them? He is the only President who always visited the basement level kitchen after formal events to thank the staff. The answer is not FDR who was unable to dance.

9) Which President never joined any church until after his election? He later said many important decisions were made “on his knees,” and in recent years he has been criticized for combining church and state.

10) President and Mrs. James Monroe enjoyed entertaining and there were frequent Wednesday evening parties at the White House. How did they avoid party crashers?

11) Dwight Eisenhower had never heard of Mrs. Thomas Preston when she was seated next to him at a dinner party. They discussed life in DC and he asked her where she had lived in the nation’s capitol. Mrs. Preston was a resident of the White House for 8 years when she was First Lady. Who was her husband?

12) Why was Ronald Reagan sworn in as Governor of California at midnight?
1) Woodrow Wilson. The first Mrs. Wilson died in 1914 and he was introduced to Edith Bolling Galt when she was taking a tour of the family quarters in 1915. She was waiting by the elevator when the President emerged after his tennis game. The second Mrs. Wilson died on the morning of December 28, 1961 at the age of 89. It was the day she was scheduled to officially open the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River.
2) Mrs. Eisenhower always asked her agents to buy presents for their wives when she was shopping. She could be rather insistent, and she wanted to see what they had purchased. Her gifts were often intended for their wives, and she frequently asked the agents to buy something that would go with it. For example, she would give the agent a bracelet and ask him to buy his wife a ring to accompany her gift. It was expensive for the agents to provide security for Mamie Eisenhower!
3) The Johnson girls carried flashlights because their father insisted on keeping all the overhead lights turned off. It was part of his economy drive, but household costs still increased significantly under LBJ. The big factor was that the White House was no longer able to use bootleg liquor. This was liquor which has been confiscated by the federal government.
4) Mrs. Kennedy frequently took a White House helicopter to her rented “Glen Ora” estate in northern Virginia for horseback riding in 1961. The family built their own estate, “Wexford,” in 1962, but President Kennedy only visited his home on three weekends. He preferred Camp David.
Ironically, Ronald Reagan spent more time at Wexford than John Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy also visited nearby Middleburg and other Virginia hunt country destinations. Until she left for Dallas in 1963, those were the only times she crossed the Potomac River. She never ventured west of northern Virginia prior to that fateful day.
5) The party started late because Congress was in session and LBJ did not want to begin until the House had passed the Lady Bird Johnson Highway Beautification Act which banned billboards on interstate highways.
6) Truman’s first choice for Vice President was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who turned him down because he thought the President would lose the 1948 election. Douglas had also been FDR’s first choice in 1944.
7) The Truman’s not only remembered names of all the servants but they insisted on introducing the staff to all of their guests. When the waiter brought tea to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, he was introduced to the royal couple. The Truman’s dined together and were often in the same room in the evening hours. That does not appear unusual, but no one could remember Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt being in the same room.
8) Richard Nixon. He did dance at his daughter’s wedding.
9) Dwight Eisenhower, who was responsible for adding “In God We Trust” to the currency.
10) A party crasher would not have had a problem in meeting President Monroe. The butler’s were told to admit anyone who was suitably dressed.
11) The first husband of Mrs. Thomas Preston was President Grover Cleveland. The dinner is described in “At Ease: Stories I Tell to My Friends” by Dwight Eisenhower.
12) Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer, Joan of San Francisco, said midnight would be the best time for an Inauguration.
13) This 1927 photo was taken during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

Bringing Down the Deficit: Can We Follow the Marshall Plan Formula? by Gregory Hilton

The U.S. Congress is entering a highly partisan election year and it is not expected to compile an impressive track record in 2010. Deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility will almost certainly be key themes in President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union Address, and my hope is that progress on spending cuts will not be delayed until next year.
The President and GOP leaders will both call attention to the soaring federal budget deficit and the spiraling national debt. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the public debt is dangerously high (84%) and the interest costs are exorbitant. About $3.5 trillion in American debt is held by foreigners and nearly $800 billion of that is held by the People’s Republic of China.
If nothing changes, ten years from now the federal budget will double. Between 1776 and 2008 the US government accumulated roughly $11 trillion in federal debt; the next ten years alone should bring an additional $9 trillion in burdens. Some analysts believe federal debt will reach $50 trillion by 2030.
Several lawmakers are recommending the establishment of a bipartisan commission to provide recommendations which will stabilize the federal debt at no more than 60 percent of GDP by 2018. This is an excellent idea which has been used successfully several times in the past.
The most notable was when a GOP Congress supported a Democratic president by enacting the Marshall Plan and backing the Truman Doctrine, with its pledge of military help to any free people threatened by Communist aggression.
The U.S. spent an unprecedented $13.6 billion in four years on the Marshall Plan. The money was used to underwrite the economic, social and political recovery of war-torn Western Europe. It never would have been enacted without the close working relationship between Truman’s Secretary of State, General George Marshall, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Vandenberg’s bipartisan cooperation led some conservatives to refer to him as “a Benedict Arnold,” and it ruined his chances of winning the 1948 GOP presidential nomination. The Senator could truly say he would rather be right than president. His attitude was “We have won the war. Now let us work together to win the peace.” The Michigan Senator said he was a loyal Republican, but he was also a loyal American. He told his critics bipartisanship “does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity.”
General Marshall announced the plan during a commencement speech at Harvard University in June of 1947. He said, “I need not tell you, gentlemen, that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people.” Then Marshall sketched Europe’s devastation and economic disruption: “The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer . . . People in the cities are short of food and fuel. . . The division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.” Europe was shattered, broke and facing economic collapse.
Vandenberg’s proposal was accepted by Truman and a bipartisan 16-person committee was established. It was comprised of leading figures from American life. They worked on outlining a long-term aid program and their recommendations were unanimous.
Vandenberg and the committee insisted that the Marshall Plan be different from any foreign aid program of the past. They wanted it to be administered like a business enterprise, with a clear, discernible strategy and goals. The Truman Administration agreed to the recommendation regarding an administrator of the Marshall Plan. They selected Paul Hoffman, the Republican president of the Studebaker Corporation, who instantly became the centerpiece in the Democratic administration’s foreign policy.
The European Recovery Act was signed on April 3, 1948. Two weeks later the freighter John H. Quick left Galveston, Texas, with 9,000 tons of wheat for France. This was the beginning of the most effective peace-time American foreign policy program in U.S. history. The Marshall Plan worked faster than anyone had thought possible. By 1951, Western Europe’s industrial production had soared by 40%. By 1952 as the funding ended, the economy of every participant nation had surpassed pre-war levels. Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity.

Ten Presidential Trivia Questions by Gregory Hilton

1) Which President was able to secretly leave the White House over 20 times without the knowledge of the Secret Service?
2) Which First Family visited the National Gallery of Art and departed with 64 valuable paintings? The same president later visited the Gallery early one morning and was so impressed that he brought his family back after closing time that evening.
3) When Queen Elizabeth II enters Buckingham Palace the Royal Standard is immediately raised, and it is lowered right away when she departs. The same procedure is followed for French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace. Why is this policy not instituted at the White House?
4) Which President received 99% of the vote in South Carolina, 97% in Mississippi but only 51% in Massachusetts?
5) Which First Lady wrote, “Was I the best wife for him, probably not.”
6) Who was our first Roman Catholic First Lady? Her husband was the father of 15 children.
7) Which future president was 32 years old when he proposed marriage to a 15 year old girl? She accepted at first but later broke the engagement.
8) Which two future presidents both proposed marriage to their future wives on the first date?
9) Which future president wrote a letter declaring his absolute refusal to participate in politics? He met secretly with the man who would be his future primary opponent. He planned to give the letter to him, but changed his mind when his opponent would not budge from his isolationist viewpoint.
10) Which First Lady said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” (Editorial note: She should have added, “and really small minds compile presidential trivia!”)


1) For President Calvin Coolidge avoiding the Secret Service was a game, and he frequently explored the White House to discover new ways to sneak out. When he avoided his security detail he often went for a walk, and it was usually along busy F Street. All of the guards were alerted to the President’s hobby and many times they were able to catch up to him before he had gone too far. The story is told in Starling of the White House by Colonel Edmond Starling.
2) President Harry Truman needed art work in 1945 because the White House walls on the second and third floors were practically bare when the Roosevelt’s moved out after 13 years. Truman’s next visit to the National Gallery was in 1948 to see a special collection of art work which had been initially seized by Nazi Germany.
3) The United States always had the same policy as the UK and France, but this practice was suspended at the outset of WW II when FDR did not want to call attention to his whereabouts. The policy was not resumed when the war ended.
4) Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. It is interesting to note that the cotton South was completely Democratic while Massachusetts came close to being in the Republican column. Gov. Alf Landon (R-KS), the GOP candidate opposing FDR, received only 8 electoral votes, and won just two states, Maine and Vermont. New York had 45 Congressional Districts in those days and Florida had only five seats.
5) Eleanor Roosevelt from her “My Day” newspaper column which appeared just a week after her husband’s death. It is quoted in Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972) by Joseph Lash.
6) Julia Gardiner Tyler, the wife of President John Tyler, converted to the Catholic faith after she left the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy is the only First Lady who was Catholic during her tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania. She was married a second time to a divorced man in a ceremony of his Greek Orthodox faith, thus breaking her faith’s tenets. However, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis did not convert and was buried with full rites of the Catholic Church.
7) Future President James Madison, 32, proposed to 15 year old Catherine “Kitty” Floyd. Her father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Madison was frequently a guest at their New York plantation. The engagement was called off in the summer of 1783. Madison never again talked of the failed romance and all references to it in past letters to Thomas Jefferson were erased.
8) Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Nixon had a long courtship with Pat Ryan before she agreed to marry him.
9) Dwight Eisenhower was prepared to walk away from the 1952 GOP nomination, but changed his mind when he discovered that Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) was a vigorous opponent of NATO and the Marshall Plan. The story is told in Eisenhower’s At Ease: Stories I Tell to my Friends.
10) Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Party Crashing in DC: The Salahis Were Not the First by Gregory Hilton

Tareq and Michaele Salahi today canceled their joint appearance on Monday’s Larry King Live as well as a “press junket.” The junket was organized by public relations spokesman Mahogany Jones, and it is term usually reserved for top Hollywood stars on the day a new movie is released. It involves back to back interviews with prominent print and broadcast news outlets in the same location.
We do not know what will happen to the Salahis, but they have already been inducted into the media hall of fame. The news media has been staked out at the bottom of their driveway for the past 48 hours. They are now one of only a handful of couples to be the focus of major front page stories in The New York Times and Washington Post for two days in a row. They are also the first couple in history to attend a White House State Dinner without an invitation, but they are not the first to crash an exclusive DC event.
I have some perspective on this because of my development work for various non-profit organizations. An unexpected interloper does increase your overhead costs, but many organizations are more concerned about offending some big wig.
A few major donors and prominent government officials do not RSVP or they decide to attend at the last moment. You do not want them turned away at the door, and I have seen guards chastised for denying entry to our local potentates, even though their names were not on the guest list. I have also seen the same party crashers at numerous events. It must be a hobby for them.
I do not want to embarrass anyone so the stories I will relay are from the distant past. Then Congressman Robert Hanrahan (R-IL) crashed a 1974 dinner at the British Embassy in honor of HRH Prince Philip. Only top members of the foreign policy establishment were invited, and the attendees included Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Hanrahan thought the UK Ambassador would be reluctant to toss out a Member of Congress, and he was correct.
The Truman White House had a frequent uninvited guest during his first term. Her name was often not on the list of attendees, but the Secret Service always granted access to Perle Mesta, who was known to be a good friend of the First Family. The Chief Usher mentioned the problem to Mrs. Truman, and was assured he had made the right decision.
The satirical Broadway musical “Call Me Madam” (1950) by Irving Berlin was inspired by Perle Mesta’s life. The play staring Ethel Merman won four Tony Awards, and it was made into a 1953 movie with Merman once again in the lead.
A wealthy widow with no children, she moved to Washington, D.C. in 1940 and quickly attracted attention with elaborate parties. Her spectacular soirées became popular with DC’s power crowd.
Press reports indicate that Harry Truman played the piano at one event, and Dwight Eisenhower sang at another. When asked by the Washington Post to explain her social success, Mrs. Mesta replied, “Just have a $1 million house and hang a lamb chop in the window.”
The phrase “Hostess with the Mostes” from the play was most frequently used to describe Mrs. Mesta. She made the cover of Time magazine where she was identified as a “Washington Hostess.”
Mrs. Mesta was Co-Chairman of Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Ball, and that same year he appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg. This was only the third time a woman was given a foreign diplomatic post.
She returned to DC after Eisenhower’s election and quickly became an intimate of the GOP administration. Few people today have her skill in transcending party lines, and she was able to accomplish this because her gatherings were rarely partisan. The parties stopped in 1956 when she sold her magnificent Spring Valley home (The Elms) to Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX). LBJ was still residing at The Elms when he became President, and the home is now owned by the Syrian Ambassador.