Quotations….by Harry Truman & Others

In a little back bedroom of a boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theater Abraham Lincoln drew his last breath. Those dignitaries present on the morning of April 15, 1865 turned to Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, for a final word. Stanton stood still, sobbing, and then said simply, “Now he belongs to the ages.” This is probably the most famous epitaph, placing our 16th President in the pages of history where he rightfully belongs. But wait, some historians give a different account of the deathbed scene. It has been reported that when no one dared to speak, Stanton broke the silence with “Now he belongs to the angels.” Does Lincoln’s afterlife lie in Heaven or in History? Does he belong to the ages or the angels? To be historically correct there can only be one epitaph. This discrepancy has been debated by Lincoln scholars for decades and will probably continue for many more. If we had been in that crowded bedroom the morning Lincoln died, we might not have heard what Stanton said. All we would have remembered was that everyone was weeping.
Before the invention of voice recorders there have been differences of opinion as to what some important person said or did not say. Historians have depended on journals and letters of eye-witnesses or on the shorthand notes taken by newspaper reporters. In the case of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address we have a copy of the speech written by the President himself, however, the wording does not match newspaper accounts of his speech. It is possible that Lincoln uncharacteristically departed from his written text in several instances.
There is this story of two Galilean men standing at the outer fringes of the crowd as Jesus was delivering his Sermon on the Mount. One turned to the other and asked, “What did he say?” The other replied, “He said ‘
blessed are the cheese makers’.” Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear. In the case above, the other Galilean was probably an owner of a herd of goats and sold goat cheese.
How often have we heard politicians deny they made a remark reported by the press? They will say they were misquoted, the quote was taken out of context, or in rare instances, the quote wasn’t what they wanted to say and it just came out that way. My mother had a quotation she often repeated. “
Don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see.” That is pretty sound advice and I might add, “…and nothing you hear from television commentators.
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Harry Truman was summoned to Eleanor Roosevelt’s study. She said quietly, “The President is dead.” Harry’s first words were, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To which Eleanor replied: “Is there anything we can do for you. You are the one in trouble now.” That evening Truman was solemnly sworn into the Presidency. The next day, at a press conference, this down-to-earth man said seriously to the gathered newsmen, “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but yesterday….I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” President Truman is best known for the quotation “
The Buck Stops Here,” meaning his desk in the Oval Office.