Mr. Truman as a Senator

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One and a half class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Using primary sources from the Harry Truman Library, the students will develop an understanding of some of the requests made of a United States Senator and how the senator and his staff handle these requests.
  • Using primary sources from the Harry Truman Library, the students will develop an understanding of some of the requests made of a United States Senator and how the senator and his staff handle these requests.
  • The students will be divided into three groups. Each group will be given a set of letters between Senator Truman and various constituents and political figures. They are all asking for Senator Truman's assistance with an issue.
  • The students will read the letters and debate whether Mr. Truman's actions were correct. Each group will then report on their letters and Mr. Truman's actions.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)
  • To develop the student's ability to read and analyze primary sources
  • To demonstrate some of the requests made to a United States Senator and what they do about these requests
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Demonstrate the ability to analyze primary sources
  • Evaluate the performance of Mr. Truman regarding constituent and party officials request
  • Develop critical reading, thinking, and writing skills
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Read and analyze primary sources
  • Read, think, and write critical
  • Critique historical figures performance
  • Understand the concept of realpolitik


 2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)



Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

1. (K) explains why the United States emerged as a superpower as the result of World War II.

2.(A) analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, Iron Curtain).

3. (A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin Blockade, Korean War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

5. (A) analyzes domestic life in the United States during the Cold War era (e.g., McCarthyism, federal aid to education, interstate highway system, space as the New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • PBS video on Mr. Truman
  • Newspaper article regarding Mr. Truman’s anti-Semitic writings
  • Pickwick Paper transcription
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Before doing this, the students would have watched part of the PBS Truman video and I would have discussed his role in the Pendergast machine and as a senator
  • Divide the students into three groups.
  • Group 1 would get the letters between Mr. Truman and James Farley and Julien Friant. They will read them, discuss what patronage is and how it is used by politicians and debate Mr. Truman’s actions
  • Group 2 would get the letters between Mr. Truman and Tom Pendergast as well as the Pickwick papers reading. They will read the letters, discuss Mr. Truman’s role with Pendergast, how that would impact his decisions and debate his actions
  • Group 3 would get the letters between Mr. Truman and Samuel Honaker and the reading about Mr. Truman’s anti-Semitism. They will discuss and debate Mr. Truman’s actions on this constituent request.
  • I would go from group to group providing some background and asking them additional questions

such as, Did Mr. Truman owe Tom Pendergast? Might that impact his decision? Would the rise of Nazism influence his actions regarding the rabbi for a congregation in Missouri?


Each group will report to the entire class and discussion would follow

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • As a homework assignment, each student would write a letter to Senator Truman with a request similar to the one that that group performed.
  • These letters would be written in the same time period
  • They will be graded on a scale of 1-10 based upon the written expression of each student.