ON March 29, 1952, 16 years and two days before Lyndon Johnson served his notice of noncandidacy, Harry S. Truman appeared at Washington's National Guard Armory, where some 6,000 Democrats had collected for a ritual $100-a-plate Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. For months, the nation had been speculating about whether Truman, at 67, would run for re-election to a second full term, and as the President launched into a give-'em-hell harangue, partisans at the dinner smiled that Old Harry was off and running again.

Like Johnson, Truman was mischievously delighted by his own surprises. Not...

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