After the Armistice and upon his return to the United States, Truman married Bess Wallace, a childhood sweetheart, on June 28, 1919. They had one daughter, Mary Margaret, born February 17, 1924. Unwilling to return to farming, Truman and an army associate, Eddie Jacobson, set up a haberdashery in Kansas City. The firm of "Truman and Jacobson" failed in the recession of 1922. He refused to file bankruptcy and spent the next 15 years repaying his creditors.
At about this time, Tom Pendergast asked Truman to run for public office. Pendergast was considered the boss of the Democratic machine that ruled politics in Kansas City, and later in western Missouri. Tom Pendergast's nephew, James, served as Truman's fellow officer in the 129th Field Artillery in World War I.
Pendergast was a shrewd assayer of the vote-getting potentialities of aspirants to public office. He regarded Truman's Baptist, Masonic, American Legion connections, and his war record as political assets. He asked Truman to run for the post of Western Judge for Jackson County. Truman was elected in 1922 to the job as one of three judges in an administrative rather than judicial position. He was defeated when he ran for a second term in 1924, but came back in 1926 and was elected presiding judge, a post he held until he became a U. S. Senator.
Truman was determined to measure up to his new title and although Missouri law would not require that a county judge be a qualified lawyer, he had studied law in a Kansas City night school from 1923 to 1925. During his eight years as presiding judge, he had the chief responsibility of expending $60,000,000 in tax funds and bond issues in Jackson County. He was noted for building a modern road system throughout the county.
Despite his association with the Pendergast political organization, whose dishonesty and corruption were recognized and part of the public record, Truman established a reputation for personal honesty that overcame the implications some saw in his association with what was commonly referred to as the "Pendergast machine".
|In 1934 Truman ran for Senator. Accounts differ as to how he was selected for this post. One version said he had asked Pendergast for a particular position that paid about $25,000 annually in fees. According to this story, the Missouri state boss demurred, offered him, instead, the candidacy for U.S. Senator, an office which paid $10,000 annually. More credible is the story that Truman was urged by friends to file for the campaign and that Pendergast, needing a respectable name on his own slate to defeat Senator Bennett Champ Clark's candidate, agreed to support Truman.|
Truman won in the primary by a plurality of about 40,000 votes. He later won the election. The machine support was extremely effective in both the primary and the final election.
Next: Surprise Victory