Freemason Wisdom: Harry Truman On Power

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
Michael Shirley

Harry S. Truman enjoying a walk in retirement (age 86)
Harry Truman, long after he had been President of the United States, said, “If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it’s only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks that he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination.” 

Truman’s admiration for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman who answered the call to save the Republic, reflects his own clear understanding of the limits of power. Cincinnatus, an aristocrat and consul, was pushed out of power and forced to live and work on his small farm. When Rome was threatened, he was invited to be dictator. He accepted the invitation, saved Rome, and gave up his power to return to his farm. 

Truman’s exit from the presidency was not so dramatic, but he never confused the presidency’s power with his own. When his term of office ended, so did his power, as he knew it should. His thoroughly clear sense of self, and his humility, made it impossible for him to believe otherwise. 

When he returned to his home in Independence, an ex-president, a reporter asked him what he had done first. “Carried the grips up to the attic,” he said. Cincinnatus might have said the same thing.


W.B. Michael H. Shirley is Past Master of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. He's also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. He's also a member of the newly-chartered, Illini High Twelve No. 768 in Urbana-Champaign. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.


  1. I googled this quote up to figure out what the heck "grips" in an attic might be.

    You know, I hadn't known Cincinnatus was an aristocrat or had been in power earlier - and was thinking today I ought read a good bio or history of him

  2. Who was the photographer of Truman "enjoying a walk..."?

  3. Who was the photographer of Truman "enjoying a walk..."?


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