Harry Truman: Lessons Learned Behind A Plow

by Midnight Freemasons contributor
Michael H. Shirley

Harry Truman behind the plow . . .
Harry Truman, after he entered political life, always described himself as a Missouri farmer, but he did not start out that way. He had been working at a bank in Kansas City, doing well and enjoying city life thoroughly, but he returned to the family farm at age twenty-two because his father needed help running it. And there he stayed for eleven years, rising at five, working alongside his father and brother, doing everything that needed doing, and working to improve production (being a perpetual reader, he devoured every bit of information he could about modern farming methods).

He also took the time to become active as a Mason, and found his time in the fields valuable for memorizing ritual, among other things. “Riding one of these plows all day, day after day, gives one time to think,” he would say later. “I’ve settled all the ills of mankind in one way or another while riding along.” 

He and others would credit his time as a farmer with giving him the habits of early rising and hard work. It also gave him another habit: enjoying himself when work ended. He took the time to court Bess Wallace, got involved in local politics, and generally had as much fun with his friends as he could in the little free time he had. He learned, while riding those plows, that work wasn’t all there was to life. “My favorite animal is the mule,” he said later. “He has more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating -- and he knows when to stop working.” A mule is apparently a pretty good teacher if you pay attention, and Harry Truman knew how to do that.

He was always a student, even when staring at the back end of a mule.


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.

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