THE PRESIDENCY: The Barnacle Scraper

Once a year, as directed by law, Harry Truman sends a committee of private citizens off to Philadelphia to visit the U.S. Mint to make sure it isn't cheating on the metal content of U.S. coins. Before the group's departure, he gravely signs ornate commissions for each. Afterward, he receives a solemn report which notes that the mint is making no wooden nickels, no nickel-plated dimes.

A man with Truman's interest in history might find all this musty rigmarole* fascinating enough—if he didn't have to cope with the same sort of...

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