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Truman (1945)

The presidency of Harry S. Truman began on April 12, 1945, when "Harry S. Truman became "President of the United States upon the "death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and ended on January 20, 1953. He had been "Vice President of the United States for only 82 days when he succeeded to the presidency. A "Democrat, he ran for and won a full four–year term in the "1948 election. His victory in that election, over "Republican "Thomas E. Dewey, was one of the greatest upsets in presidential electoral history. Following the "1952 election, Truman was succeeded in office by Republican "Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Truman, the "33rd "United States president, presided over the final defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II, the launching of the "Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of Western Europe, the undertaking of the "Korean War, and the inception of the "Cold War against the "Soviet Union. In domestic affairs, his liberal proposals were a continuation of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, but the "Conservative Coalition-dominated Congress blocked most of them. He used presidential authority to mandate equal treatment for blacks in the military and put civil rights on the national political agenda.

Truman's presidency was a turning point in foreign affairs, as the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy and renounced isolationism. In mid-1945, Truman helped establish the "United Nations as Roosevelt had planned it. When relations with the Soviet Union turned hostile in 1947, he issued the "Truman Doctrine in 1947 to contain "Communism; it is often used to mark the start of the "Cold War. In 1948 he got the $13 billion "Marshall Plan enacted to rebuild Western Europe. Fears of Soviet espionage led to a "Red Scare and the rise of "McCarthyism. Truman oversaw the "Berlin Airlift of 1948 and the creation of "NATO in 1949. When communist "North Korea invaded "South Korea in 1950, he sent U.S. troops and gained UN approval for seizing North Korea in the "Korean War. After initial successes, however, American/UN forces were thrown back by Chinese intervention in late 1950. The bloody war was stalemated throughout the final years of Truman's presidency.

During his administration, the nation experienced an unexpected surge in prosperity as economic growth surged following many long years of depression and war. His "political coalition was based on the white South, labor unions, farmers, ethnic groups, and traditional Democrats across the North. Truman "rallied them to win election in his own right in 1948. His domestic agenda, known as the ""Fair Deal," was largely defeated by a "conservative Congress dominated by the Southern legislators. Despite wave after wave of strikes in 1946, he at times took a tough line against his labor union allies and successfully guided the American economy through the post-war economic challenges. He holds the record for vetoes at 180, and saw 12 overridden by Congress; Gerald Ford later tied that record.[1] Truman put civil rights on the national agenda as a moral priority in 1948. He made it a campaign issue, appointed study groups, and issued "Executive Orders to end racial discrimination in the military and federal agencies. Scholars typically "rank Truman's presidency about #7 from the top. His reputation in textbooks was favorable from the 1950s onward. However revisionist historians in the 1960s attacked his foreign policy as too hostile to Communism, and his domestic policy as too favorable toward business. That revisionism largely faded after the 1991 "dissolution of the Soviet Union.



Truman took the "presidential oath of office at 7:00 pm on April 12, 1945, in the "Cabinet Room at the "White House, in "Washington, D.C., just two hours after he received word of Roosevelt's death, which was caused by "cerebral stroke. "Chief Justice of the United States "Harlan Fiske Stone administered the oath.[2]

Truman had just adjourned a session of the "United States Senate and was on his way to share a drink with "Sam Rayburn, the "Speaker of the House of Representatives, when he was summoned to the White House. Upon his arrival, he was met by "Eleanor Roosevelt, who informed him that President Roosevelt was dead. Shocked, Truman asked Mrs. Roosevelt, "Is there anything I can do for you?", to which she replied: "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."[3]

The day after assuming office Truman spoke to reporters: "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."[4] Truman had been the vice president for just three months, during which time he rarely interacted with Roosevelt.[5]



The Truman Cabinet
Office Name Term
"President Harry S. Truman 1945–1953
"Vice President none 1945–1949
"Alben W. Barkley 1949–1953
"Secretary of State "Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. 1945
"James F. Byrnes 1945–1947
"George C. Marshall 1947–1949
"Dean G. Acheson 1949–1953
"Secretary of Treasury "Henry Morgenthau, Jr. 1945
"Fred M. Vinson 1945–1946
"John W. Snyder 1946–1953
"Secretary of War "Henry L. Stimson 1945
"Robert P. Patterson 1945–1947
"Kenneth C. Royall 1947
"Secretary of Defense "James V. Forrestal 1947–1949
"Louis A. Johnson 1949–1950
"George C. Marshall 1950–1951
"Robert A. Lovett 1951–1953
"Attorney General "Francis Biddle 1945
"Tom C. Clark 1945–1949
"J. Howard McGrath 1949–1952
"James P. McGranery 1952–1953
"Postmaster General "Frank C. Walker 1945
"Robert E. Hannegan 1945–1947
"Jesse M. Donaldson 1947–1953
"Secretary of the Navy "James V. Forrestal 1945–1947
"Secretary of the Interior "Harold L. Ickes 1945–1946
"Julius A. Krug 1946–1949
"Oscar L. Chapman 1949–1953
"Secretary of Agriculture "Claude R. Wickard 1945
"Clinton P. Anderson 1945–1948
"Charles F. Brannan 1948–1953
"Secretary of Commerce "Henry A. Wallace 1945–1946
"W. Averell Harriman 1946–1948
"Charles W. Sawyer 1948–1953
"Secretary of Labor "Frances Perkins 1945
"Lewis B. Schwellenbach 1945–1948
"Maurice J. Tobin 1948–1953

When he first took office, Truman asked all the members of Roosevelt's cabinet to remain in place for the time being, but by the end of 1946 only two remained. He replaced several of them with longtime personal friends, some of whom were appointed to high positions that seemed well beyond their competence, including his two secretaries of the treasury, "Fred M. Vinson and "John Snyder, and also his military aide "Harry H. Vaughan, who seemed to others like a huge joke.[6][7]

Truman's Cabinet, 1949


The office of vice president remained vacant during Truman's first (3 years, 253 days partial) term, as the Constitution then had no provision for filling it intra-term (prior to ratification of the "Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967). As such, the "President pro tempore of the Senate, initially "Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee, was next in line to the presidency.

"Alben Barkley served as Vice President during Truman's second term. Truman included him in Cabinet deliberations.[8]

New federal agencies[edit]

Judicial appointments[edit]

Truman made four appointments to the "United States Supreme Court while president:[9]

He also appointed 27 judges to the "courts of appeals, and 101 judges to "federal district courts.

End of World War II[edit]

""Three men in suits standing with several men in the background
"Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman, and "Winston Churchill in Potsdam, July 1945

The day after "assuming office on April 12, 1945, Truman spoke to reporters: "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."[4] Truman had been the vice president for just three months, during which time he rarely interacted with Roosevelt.[5] Though Roosevelt had been president since 1933, Truman had only joined the ticket in 1944 after Roosevelt's allies pressured him to dump "Henry Wallace as vice president.[10] He had long been a minor Missouri politician, but, as head of the "Truman Committee, he played a highly visible role in the wartime Senate attacking waste, fraud and corruption in the war program. Nevertheless, he paled in comparison with Roosevelt in terms of stature, charisma, and public-speaking skills.[11]

Truman was uninformed about major initiatives relating to the war, including the top-secret "Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world's first atomic bomb.[12] While Germany surrendered less than a month after Truman took office, Japan remained an adversary in the "Pacific War. Although Truman was told briefly on the afternoon of April 12 that the Allies had a new, highly destructive weapon, it was not until April 25 that Secretary of War "Henry Stimson told him the details of the atomic bomb, which was almost ready. Truman announced "victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, his 61st birthday.[13][14]

We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

— Harry Truman, writing about the atomic bomb in his diary[15]

With the end of the War drawing near, Truman flew to Berlin for the "Potsdam Conference, to meet with Stalin and Churchill regarding the "post-war order. Several major decisions were made at the Potsdam Conference: Germany would be divided into four occupation zones (among the three powers and "France), Germany's border was to be shifted West to the "Oder–Neisse line, a Soviet-backed "group was recognized as the legitimate government of Poland, and "Vietnam was to be partitioned at the 16th parallel.[16] While at the Potsdam Conference, Truman was informed that the "Trinity test of the first atomic bomb on July 16 had been successful. He hinted to "Joseph Stalin that the U.S. was about to use a new kind of weapon against the Japanese. Though this was the first time the Soviets had been officially given information about the atomic bomb, Stalin was already aware of the bomb project, having learned about it (through "espionage) long before Truman did.[17] Even so, the speedy success of the American project was a surprise to Stalin, and he reacted by urging his generals to "attack sooner in Manchuria, so that the Soviets could claim more territory after victory in the East.

Truman announces Japan's surrender. Washington, DC, August 14, 1945

In August, the Japanese government ignored surrender demands as specified in the "Potsdam Declaration. With the "invasion of mainland Japan imminent, Truman approved the schedule for dropping the two available bombs. Truman later said that attacking Japan with atomic bombs saved many lives on both sides; military estimates for the invasion of mainland Japan were that it could take a year and result in 250,000 to 500,000 American casualties. Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, and Nagasaki three days later, leaving 105,000 dead.[18] Japan "agreed to surrender the following day.[19][20] Rather than order the bombings directly, Truman merely allowed the project to move forward on its own, in the hands of the US military leaders. If he had not approved of dropping the atomic bombs, he would have ordered a halt to the program.[21] Truman later signed the "Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which determined how the United States would manage its nuclear arsenal.

Supporters of Truman's decision argue that, given the tenacious Japanese defense of the outlying islands, the bombings saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost invading mainland Japan.[22] Critics have argued that the use of nuclear weapons was unnecessary, given that conventional tactics such as firebombing and blockade might induce Japan's surrender without the need for such weapons.[23] Truman strongly defended himself in his memoirs in 1955–56, stating that many lives could have been lost had the U.S. invaded mainland Japan without the atomic bombs. In 1963, he stood by his decision, telling a journalist that "it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life."[24]

Foreign affairs[edit]

Major actions[edit]

United Nations founding[edit]

As a "Wilsonian internationalist, Truman strongly supported the creation of the "United Nations. Truman signed "United Nations Charter at the 1945 "United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. Truman did not repeat "Woodrow Wilson's partisan attempt to ratify the "Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Instead Truman won Senate ratification by cooperating closely with Republican leaders, especially "Arthur H. Vandenberg.[25][26] Construction of the "United Nations headquarters in New York City was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and completed in 1952.


In 1934, Congress had passed the "Reciprocal Tariff Act, giving the president an unprecedented amount of authority in setting "tariff rates. The Truman administration sought to further lower global tariff rates by engaging in multilateral, rather than bilateral, trade negotiations, and the State Department proposed the establishment of the "International Trade Organization (ITO). The ITO would be granted broad powers to regulate trade among the countries, and its charter was approved by the United Nations in 1948. However, the ITO's broad powers engendered opposition in Congress, and Truman declined to send the charter to the Senate for ratification. In the course of creating the ITO, the U.S. and 22 other countries signed the "General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a set of principles governing trade policy. Under the terms of the agreement, each country agreed to reduce overall tariff rates and to treat each co-signatory as a ""most favoured nation," meaning that no non-signatory country could benefit from more advantageous tariff rates. Due to a combination of the Reciprocal Tariff Act, the GATT, and inflation, U.S. tariff rates fell dramatically between the passage of the "Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 and the end of the Truman administration in 1953.[27]

Atomic energy control, refugees, immigration[edit]

Control of atomic energy[edit]

In March 1946 at an optimistic moment for postwar cooperation, the Administration released a Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, better known as the "Acheson-Lilienthal Report. It proposed that all nations voluntarily abstain from constructing nuclear weapons; as part of the proposal, the U.S. would dismantle its nuclear program once all other countries agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons. Fearing that Congress would reject the proposal, Truman turned to the well-connected "Bernard Baruch to represent the U.S. position to the United Nations. The "Baruch Plan, largely based on the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, was not adopted due to opposition from Congress and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union would "develop its own nuclear arsenal, testing a nuclear weapon for the first time in August 1949.[28]

The "United States Atomic Energy Commission, directed by "David E. Lilienthal until 1950, was in charge of designing and building nuclear weapons. The policy was 100% civilian control. The U.S. had only 9 atomic bombs in 1946; the stockpile grew to 650 by 1951.[29] The United States also developed "thermonuclear weapons, a more powerful version of atomic bombs, and the "first test was conducted in 1952.[30] Lilienthal wanted to give high priority to peaceful uses, especially nuclear power plants, but coal was cheap and the power industry was not interested. Construction of the first nuclear plant would not begin until the 1954.[31]


A major project for the United Nations in the late 1940s was dealing with millions of refugees in Europe. The United States helped fund temporary camps, and admitted large numbers as permanent residents. Truman strongly supported the program, and obtained ample funding from Congress for the "Displaced Persons Act of 1948.

At the end of World War II, "regular" immigration almost immediately increased under the official national origins quota system as refugees from war torn Europe began immigrating to the U.S. After the war, there were jobs for nearly everyone who wanted one, when most women employed during the war went back into the home. From 1941 to 1950, 1,035,000 people immigrated to the U.S., including 226,000 from Germany, 139,000 from the UK, 171,000 from Canada, 60,000 from Mexico and 57,000 from Italy.[32]

The "Displaced Persons Act of 1948 finally allowed some of the "displaced people of World War II to start immigrating.[33] Some 200,000 Europeans and 17,000 orphans displaced by the war were initially allowed to immigrate outside of the 1924 quotas. The first Displaced Persons (DP) act on June 25, 1948 allowed entry for 200,000 DPs, then followed with the more accommodating second DP act on June 16, 1950, allowing entry for another 200,000. This quota, including acceptance of 55,000 "Volksdeutschen, required sponsorship for all immigrants. The American program was the most notoriously bureaucratic of all the DP programs and much of the humanitarian effort was undertaken by charitable organizations, such as the "Lutheran World Federation as well as other ethnic groups. Along with an additional quota of 200,000 granted in 1953 and more in succeeding years, a total of nearly 600,000 refugees were allowed into the country outside the quota system, second only to Israel's 650,000.

Truman supported Jewish refugees in Palestine/Israel, but generally kept his actions quiet so as not to arouse anti-Semitism.[34] Historians Phil Orchard and Jamie Gillies hail Truman's "atypical leadership" in helping refugees.[35] The administration helped create a new category of refugee, the "escapee" at the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The American Escapee Program began in 1952 to help the flight and relocation of political refugees from communism in Eastern Europe. The motivation for the refugee and escapee programs was twofold: humanitarianism, and use as a political weapon against inhumane communism.[36]


Immigration was at a low level in the Great Depression and war years. It surged as the war ended, with the arrival of refugees and family members of citizens. The issue was not a high priority for the Administration, but there was great interest in Congress and among ethnic groups.[37] In 1945, the "War Brides Act allowed foreign-born wives of U.S. citizens who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces to immigrate to the United States. In 1946, the law was extended to include the fiancés of American soldiers. In 1946, the "Luce-Celler Act extended the right to become naturalized citizens to from the newly independent nation of "The Philippines and to Asian Indians. The immigration quota was set at 100 people per year.[38]

In 1952, the "McCarran Walter Immigration Act passed over Truman's veto. It kept the old 1924 quota system but added many new opportunities for immigration from Europe and elsewhere. In practice two-thirds of the new arrivals entered outside the old quota system. The immigration law was controlled by Congressman "Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who wanted to minimize immigration. After he died the laws were radically liberalized in 1966.[39]

Cold War[edit]


On taking office, Truman privately viewed the Soviet Union as a "police government pure and simple," but he was initially reluctant to take a hard-line towards the Soviet Union, as he hoped to work with the Soviets in the "aftermath of Second World War.[40] His suspicions deepened as the Soviets consolidated their "control in Eastern Europe throughout 1945, and the February 1946 announcement of the Soviet "five-year plan further strained relations as it called for the continuing build-up of the Soviet military.[41] Post-war tensions also "arose in Iran, which the Soviets had occupied during World War II, but pressure from the U.S. and the United Nations finally forced the withdrawal of Soviet soldiers.[42] Truman personally approved of Winston Churchill's March 1946 ""Iron Curtain" speech, which urged the United States to take the lead of an anti-Soviet alliance, but he did not publicly endorse it.[43] Wallace, Eleanor Roosevelt and several other prominent Americans continued to hope for cooperative relations with the Soviet Union, and Truman was reluctant to fully break with the Soviet Union.[43] Wallace, who had been appointed Secretary of Commerce after the 1944 election, resigned from the cabinet in September 1946 due to Truman's hardening stance towards the Soviet Union.[44] Truman adopted a policy of "containment, based on a "1946 cable by diplomat "George F. Kennan.[45] Containment, a policy of preventing the further expansion of Soviet influence, represented a middle-ground position between friendly "detente (as represented by Roosevelt and Wallace), and aggressive "rollback to regain territory already lost to Communism, as would be adopted in 1981 by "Ronald Reagan.[46]

Truman Doctrine[edit]

The U.S. had largely ignored Greece, which had an anti-communist government, because it was in the British sphere.[47] It did loan Greece $25 million on easy terms in 1946, but complained that its financial system was chaotic. The far left boycotted elections in March 1946; they were held under international supervision. Washington judged them fair and supported the new conservative government as it did the plebiscite that brought back King "George II. Behind the scenes American diplomats tried to convince the government to sharply reduce the level of corruption. Fighting broke out in 1946, with the communist element receiving arms and bases of support across the border in Yugoslavia. London secretly informed Washington in February 1947 that its funding would run out in a matter of weeks and pleaded for the U.S. to take charge.[48] A crisis was at hand and "Dean Acheson and top officials decided to act decisively, although "George Kennan was opposed.[49] Administration leaders believed the Eastern Mediterranean was ripe for an armed Communist takeover, now that Britain had to withdraw its forces and its money from Greece. In the "Greek Civil War communist partisans who had been organized originally to fight the Germans were by 1946 strongly supported by the Soviets, their puppet Bulgarians and Tito's Yugoslavia.[50] A communist victory in Greece would also endanger Turkey, which had a large but weak and antiquated army.

Truman won bipartisan support in March 1947 for the "Truman Doctrine, which gave $300 million in military and economic aid to Greece and $100 million to Turkey. These were grants not loans. Truman declared to Congress on March 12:

It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.[51]

In a larger sense, the Truman Doctrine formalized a policy of Soviet containment, in which the United States would oppose the further spread of Communism. The policy meant rejecting any "rollback strategy to actually end communist rule where it already existed.[52] The doctrine also represented a permanent break with the "isolationism that had characterized U.S. foreign policy prior to World War II.[53]

In the event Tito split with Stalin, and American aid helped the Greek government survive. American military and economic aid to Turkey also proved effective. Turkey did not have a civil war and was heavily funded well into the 1950s.[54][55]

Anticommunist liberalism[edit]

Historian "Melvyn P. Leffler argues that by 1947:

Truman was a straightforward man and saw things in black and white. What he saw now was the incipient rise of another totalitarian power with an expansionist ideology. He was motivated not by Stalin's brutality – indeed, he rarely talked about it – but by the challenge he saw to America's way of life. Our foreign policy, he said, "is the outward expression of the democratic state we profess."[56]

The left wing of the Democratic Party was in turmoil over foreign policy issues, especially the role of the Soviet Union and domestic communism. The powerful labor unions played a central role, including the strongly anti-communist "American Federation of Labor. The more liberal "Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), under the leadership of "Walter Reuther, purged the communist element that held powerful positions in numerous unions. If they could not be purged, unions were expelled from the CIO. The conservative big-city machines, likewise, expelled or minimized left-wing forces. Expelled leftists coalesced around "Henry A. Wallace, who ran an independent campaign for president in 1948. To Wallace's dismay, however, his own campaign was increasingly controlled by communist elements and he was left bitterly frustrated.[57][58] Truman himself ordered purges of left-wingers who refused to disavow communism through his "Executive Order 9835 issued in March 1947. It removed about 300 federal employees who currently were members of or associated with any organization identified by the Attorney General as communist, fascist, or totalitarian. Anti-communist liberals by 1947–48 thus played a central role in the Democratic Party, and enthusiastically supported Truman's anti-communist foreign policy.[59][60]

Marshall plan to rebuild Europe[edit]

With the goal of stemming the spread of Communism and increasing trade between the U.S. and Europe, Truman implemented the "Marshall Plan, which sought to rejuvenate the devastated economies of Western Europe.[61] The United States, France, and Britain also agreed to unite their occupation zones, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the state of "West Germany.[62] In three years the Marshall Plan gave away $12 billion, with an emphasis on improving efficiency along the lines of American industry, removing tariffs and trade barriers, and providing the cash to keep the pump flowing. Stalin vetoed participation by his satellites.[63][64][65]

Congress, under the control of conservative Republicans, agreed to the program itself and the funding for multiple reasons. The 20-member conservative isolationist wing of the party, based in the rural Midwest, was led by Senator "Kenneth S. Wherry and argued that it would be "a wasteful 'operation rat-hole'"; that it made no sense to oppose communism by supporting the socialist governments in Western Europe; and that American goods would reach Russia and increase its war potential. The opposition was outmaneuvered by the emerging internationalist wing, led by Senator "Arthur H. Vandenberg.[66] With support from Republican Senator "Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Vandenberg admitted there was no certainty that the plan would succeed, but said it would halt economic chaos sustain Western civilization, and stop further Soviet expansion. Senator "Robert A. Taft, The most prominent conservative, hedged on the issue. He said it was without economic justification; however it was "absolutely necessary" in "the world battle against communism." In the end only 17 senators voted against it on 13 March 1948[67] A bill granting an initial $5 billion passed Congress with strong bipartisan support. Congress would eventually allocate $12.4 billion in aid over the four years of the plan.[68]

Public opinion responded to the ideological argument that communism flourishes in poverty. Truman's own prestige and power had been greatly enhanced by his stunning victory in the 1948 election. Across America, multiple interest groups, including business, labor, farming, philanthropy, ethnic groups and religion, saw the Marshall plan as an inexpensive solution to a massive problem, noting it would also help American exports and stimulate the American economy as well. Major newspapers were highly supportive, including the conservative outlets which had powerful media publications like "Time Magazine. Vandenberg made sure of bipartisan support on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The very boldness of the plan, and its support by Truman, Secretary of State Marshall and Republican eminence "Henry L. Stimson. Regional attitudes played little role; the South was highly supportive, the upper Midwest was dubious, but heavily outnumbered. The appointment of the prominent businessman "Paul G. Hoffman as director reassured conservative businessmen that the gigantic sums of money would be handled efficiently.[69][70]

The Marshall Plan ended in 1951 and was followed by other foreign aid programs, including the "Mutual Defense Assistance Act and the "Mutual Security Act.

Military reorganization and spending[edit]

A major restructuring of the United States government's military and intelligence agencies occurred following passage of the "National Security Act of 1947, which combined and reorganized all military forces by merging the "Department of War and the "Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment (later the "Department of Defense). The law also created the "U.S. Air Force. The "Joint Chiefs of Staff took charge of all military action and the Secretary of Defense now became the chief advisor of military matters to the President. The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force dealt with budgets, purchases and non-military affairs. Also created as a result were the "Central Intelligence Agency and the "National Security Council, both of which were designed to be non-military, advisory bodies that would increase U.S. preparation against foreign threats without assuming the domestic functions of the "Federal Bureau of Investigation.[71] The act and its changes, along with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, were major components of the Truman administration's Cold War strategy. In 1952, Truman secretly consolidated and empowered the cryptologic elements of the United States by creating the "National Security Agency (NSA).[72]


Truman gave a low priority to defense budgets—it got whatever money was left over after domestic spending. From the beginning, he assumed that the American monopoly on the atomic bomb was adequate protection against any and all external threats.[73] Johnson's unwillingness to budget conventional readiness needs caused fierce controversies within the upper ranks of the armed forces. When Acheson took over the State Department in early 1949 he pressed for higher defense spending.[74] From fiscal year 1948 onwards, the defense department budget was capped at the amount set in FY 1947 - $14.4 billion, and was progressively reduced in succeeding fiscal years until January 1950, when it was reduced yet again to US $13.5 billion.[75]

The policy when the war ended in 1945 a year sooner than expected was to immediately cancel contracts, and bring servicemembers home as quickly as possible, using a point system that rewarded longevity. The draft continued to operate, so young men could more quickly replace men with years in uniform. Military spending plunged from 39% of GNP in 1945 to only 5.0% in 1948. but shot up again during the Korean war. The main cost was for the soldiers, sailor and airmen themselves—not so much their low wages, as their food, housing, uniforms and transportation.[76][77][78]

Year ending June 30 Military spending as % GNP
1945 38%
1946 21%
1948 5.0%
1950 4.6%
1952 13%
Source: Kirkendall Truman Encyclopedia p 237

A basic political problem was that the Secretary of Defense did not fully control the budgets of the three services. Each one worked with powerful Congressmen to enhance their budgets despite the White House determination to hold down spending. The crisis came in the 1948-49 ""Revolt of the Admirals", when a number of retired and active-duty admirals publicly disagreed with President Truman and his new Secretary of Defense "Louis A. Johnson in emphasizing less expensive "strategic atomic bombs delivered by the Air Force. Defense Secretary Forrestal had supported the Navy position and obtained funding for an aircraft carrier. Truman fired Forrestal in early 1949, and named Johnson, who cancelled the carrier and announced plans to move Marine Corps aviation out of the Navy and into the Air Force. During Congressional hearings public opinion shifted strongly against the Navy. In the end the Navy kept Marine aviation and eventually got its carrier, but its revolting admirals were punished and it lost control over strategic bombing. The Truman administration essentially defeated the Revolt, and civilian control over the military was reaffirmed. Military budgets following the hearings prioritized the development of Air Force heavy bomber designs, accumulating a combat ready force of over 1,000 long-range strategic bombers capable of supporting nuclear mission scenarios.[79]


Following the defeat of the Japanese Empire, "China descended into a "civil war. The civil war baffled Washington, as both the Nationalists under "Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists under "Mao Zedong had American advocates.[80] The American ambassador "Patrick J. Hurley resigned in November 1945, complaining that State Department officials disfavored the corrupt nationalist regime. Truman greatly trusted Army Chief of Staff "George Marshall, who had spent several years in 1920s commanding a small American unit in China. Truman sent Marshall to China in early 1946 to broker a compromise featuring a coalition government. The mission failed, as both sides felt the issue would be decided on the battlefield, not at a conference table. Marshall returned to Washington in December 1946, blaming extremist elements on both sides. He said the Communists were "irreconcilable," and the Nationalist were "reactionary."[81] In the Summer of 1947, Truman sent General "Albert Coady Wedemeyer to China to try again, but no progress was made.[82][83]

In February 1948, Secretary of State Marshall told Congress in secret session that he had realized from the start that the Nationalists could never defeat the Communists in the field, so some sort of negotiated settlement was necessary or else the United States would have to fight the war. Marshall warned that any propping up of Chiang's forces would drain American resources needed in Europe to deter the Soviets.[84] Marshall testified:

Any large-scale United States effort to assist the Chinese Government to oppose the Communists would most probably degenerate into a direct U.S. undertaking and responsibility, involving the commitment of sizable forces and resources over an indefinite period. Such a dissipation of US resources would inevitably play into the hands of the Russians, or would provoke a reaction which would possibly, even probably, lead to another Spanish-type of revolution or general hostilities....the costs of an all-out effort to see Communist forces resisted and destroyed in China... would clearly be out of all proportion to the results to be obtained.[85]

In 1949 "Mao Zedong and his Communists took control of the mainland of China, driving the Nationalists to "Taiwan and establishing the "People's Republic of China; Americans often called it 'Red China' until the 1970s. The United States had a new enemy in Asia, and Truman came under fire from conservatives for "losing" China.[84][86]["self-published source]

Truman would have been willing to maintain some relationship between the U.S. and the new government, but Mao was unwilling.[87] The U.S. refused to recognize Red China, and Chiang and his Kuomintang Party on Taiwan retained China's seat on the UN Security Council until 1971.[88][89][90]

On June 27, 1950, after the outbreak of fighting in Korea, Truman ordered the Navy's "Seventh Fleet into the "Taiwan Strait to prevent further conflict between the communist government on the China mainland and the "Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan.[91][92] The United States would eventually adopt a "policy of deliberate ambiguity as to whether it would defend Taiwan from an attack by the People's Republic of China.


In March 1948, in the midst of rising tensions between the Soviet Union and Western Europe, five Western European nations signed the "Brussels Pact, a defensive alliance.[93] Hoping to check the expansion of Soviet influence, Truman sought to join an expanded version of the Brussels Pact.[94] In 1949, the United States, Canada, and several European countries signed the "North Atlantic Treaty, creating a trans-Atlantic military alliance and committing the United States to its first permanent alliance since the "1778 Treaty of Alliance with France.[95] The treaty establishing NATO was widely popular and easily passed the Senate in 1949; Truman appointed General "Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander. NATO's goals were to contain Soviet expansion in Europe and to send a clear message to communist leaders that the world's democracies were willing and able to build new security structures in support of democratic ideals. The treaty also re-assured France that the United States would come to its defense, paving the way for continuing French cooperation in the re-establishment of an independent German state. The U.S., Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Iceland, and Canada were the original treaty signatories. The alliance resulted in the Soviets establishing a similar alliance, called the "Warsaw Pact.[96][97]

Berlin airlift[edit]

Fearing that the France, Britain, and the United States sought to re-establish a German state opposed to Soviet interests, the Soviets stopped cooperating with the Western powers in the occupation of Germany.[98] On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to the three "Western-held sectors of Berlin, which was jointly-occupied by the Western allies and the Soviets even though it was surrounded Soviet-occupied territory. The Allies had never negotiated a deal to guarantee supply of the sectors deep within the Soviet-occupied zone. The commander of the American occupation zone in Germany, General "Lucius D. Clay, proposed sending a large armored column across the Soviet zone to "West Berlin with instructions to defend itself if it were stopped or attacked. Truman believed this would entail an unacceptable risk of war. He approved "Ernest Bevin's plan to supply the blockaded city by air. On June 25, the Allies initiated the "Berlin Airlift, a campaign that delivered food and other supplies, such as coal, using military aircraft on a massive scale. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before, and no single nation had the capability, either logistically or materially, to have accomplished it. The airlift worked; ground access was again granted on May 11, 1949. Nevertheless, the airlift continued for several months after that. The Berlin Airlift was one of Truman's great foreign policy successes; it significantly aided his election campaign in 1948.[99]

Rolling back Communism[edit]

The Truman administration saw the Soviet Union as the main adversary, and began discussing how to launch coordinated political, non-military actions to "roll back its presence in Eastern Europe without a hot war.[100][101] The rollback policy failed. Historian Stephen Long argues that the key policy makers, especially the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, failed to devise a coherent strategy. Furthermore, Long blames the disordered bureaucracy that impaired and strategically dislocated the operations planned by the Office of Policy Coordination.[102]

Soviet espionage and McCarthyism[edit]

In August 1948, "Whittaker Chambers, a former spy for the Soviets and a senior editor at Time magazine, testified before the "House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He said that an underground communist network had been working within the U.S. government since the 1930s, of which Chambers had been a member, along with "Alger Hiss, until recently a senior State Department official. Although Hiss denied the allegations, he was convicted in January 1950 for perjury for his denials under oath. The Soviet Union's success in exploding an atomic weapon in 1949 and the fall of the nationalist Chinese the same year led many Americans to conclude that subversion by Soviet spies was responsible, and to demand that communists be rooted out from the government and other places of influence.[103][104] However, Truman did not fully share such opinions. He famously called the Hiss trial a "red herring," and the Justice Department was moving to indict Chambers instead of Hiss for perjury.[105]

Following Hiss' conviction, Secretary of State "Dean Acheson announced that he stood by him. This and other events, such as the revelation that British atomic bomb scientist "Klaus Fuchs was a spy, led current and former members of HUAC to decry the Truman administration, especially the State Department, as soft on communism. Republican Congressmen "Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota and "Richard Nixon of California emerged as particularly vocal and prominent critics on HUAC. Wisconsin Senator "Joseph McCarthy used a speech in West Virginia to accuse the State Department of harboring communists, and rode the controversy to political fame. In the following years, Republicans used Hiss' conviction to castigate the Democrats for harboring communists in government.[106]

Truman was reluctant to take a more radical stance because he feared that the full disclosure of the extent of the communist infiltration would reflect badly on the Democratic Party. It was a time of the "Red Scare. In 1949 Truman described American communist leaders, whom his administration "was prosecuting, as "traitors," but in 1950 he vetoed the "McCarran Internal Security Act. It was passed over his veto.[107] Truman would later state in private conversations with friends that his creation of a loyalty program had been a "terrible" mistake.[108]


Truman and Indian Prime Minister "Jawaharlal Nehru during Nehru's visit to the United States, October 1949

The escalation of the Cold War was highlighted by Truman's approval of "NSC-68, a secret statement of foreign policy. It called for tripling the defense budget, and the globalization and militarization of containment policy whereby the U.S. and its NATO allies would respond militarily to actual Soviet expansion. The document was drafted by "Paul Nitze, who consulted State and Defense officials; it was formally approved by President Truman as official national strategy after the war began in Korea. It called for partial mobilization of the U.S. economy to build armaments faster than the Soviets. The plan called for strengthening Europe, weakening the Soviet Union, and for building up the U.S. both militarily and economically.[109][110]

Recognition of Israel[edit]

President Truman in the Oval Office, receiving a "Hanukkah "Menorah from the Prime Minister of Israel, "David Ben-Gurion (center). To the right is "Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel to the U.S.

Truman had long taken an interest in the history of the Middle East, and was sympathetic to Jews who sought a homeland in "Mandatory Palestine. As a senator, he announced support for "Zionism; in 1943 he called for a homeland for those Jews who survived the Nazi regime. However, State Department officials were reluctant to offend the Arabs, who were opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state in the large region long populated and dominated culturally by Arabs. Secretary of Defense "James Forrestal warned Truman of the importance of "Saudi Arabian oil in another war; Truman replied that he would decide his policy on the basis of justice, not oil. American diplomats with experience in the region were opposed, but Truman told them he had few Arabs among his constituents.[111]

Palestine was secondary to the goal of protecting the "Northern Tier" of Greece, Turkey, and Iran from communism, as promised by the Truman Doctrine.[112] Weary of both the convoluted politics of the Middle East and pressures by Jewish leaders, Truman was undecided on his policy. He later cited as decisive in his recognition of the Jewish state the advice of his former business partner, Eddie Jacobson, a non-religious Jew whom Truman deeply trusted.[113] Truman decided to recognize Israel over the objections of Secretary of State Marshall, who feared it would hurt relations with the populous Arab states. Marshall believed the paramount threat to the U.S. was the Soviet Union and feared that Arab oil would be lost to the United States in the event of war; he warned Truman that U.S. was "playing with fire with nothing to put it out".[114] Truman recognized the "State of Israel on May 14, 1948, eleven minutes after "it declared itself a nation.[115]

Korean War[edit]

President Truman signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency and authorizing U.S. entry into the Korean War

Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union occupied "Korea, which had been a colony of the Japanese Empire. The Soviet Union, which occupied Korea north of the "38th parallel, established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ("North Korea) in 1948, while the United States established the Republic of Korea ("South Korea) that same year. In hopes of stemming the tide of communism, Truman provided financial support to the South Korean government, led by "Syngman Rhee.[116] Hoping to avoid a long-term military commitment, Truman withdrew U.S. soldiers from the Korean Peninsula in 1949.[117]

On June 25, 1950, "Kim Il-sung's "Korean People's Army invaded South Korea, starting the "Korean War. In the early weeks of the war, the North Koreans easily pushed back their southern counterparts.[118] Though Truman did not view Korea itself as a vital region in the Cold War, he believed that allowing a Western-aligned country to fall would embolden Communists around the world, and would also damage his standing at home. Truman turned to the United Nations to condemn the invasion. With the Soviet Union boycotting the "United Nations Security Council due to the UN's refusal to recognize the People's Republic of China, Truman won approval of "Resolution 84. The resolution denounced North Korea's actions and empowered other nations to defend South Korea, and Truman sent U.S. soldiers to the peninsula to defend South Korea. Rather than asking Congress for a "declaration of war, Truman argued that the UN Resolution provided the presidency the constitutional power to deploy soldiers as a ""police action" under the aegis of the UN.[119]

North Korean forces experienced early successes, "capturing the city of "Seoul on June 28. Fearing the fall of the entire peninsula, General "Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in Asia, won Truman's approval to land U.S. troops on the peninsula.[120] By August 1950, U.S. troops pouring into South Korea, along with American air strikes, stabilized the front around the "Pusan Perimeter.[121] Responding to criticism over unreadiness, Truman fired his Secretary of Defense, "Louis A. Johnson, replacing him with the George Marshall. With UN approval, Truman decided on a "rollback" policy—conquest of North Korea.[122] UN forces launched a counterattack, scoring a stunning surprise victory with an amphibious landing at the "Battle of Inchon that trapped most of the invaders. UN forces marched north, toward the "Yalu River boundary with China, with the goal of reuniting Korea under UN auspices.[123]

However, China surprised the UN forces with a large-scale invasion in November. The UN forces were forced back to below the 38th parallel, then recovered.[124] Fearing that the escalation of the war could spark a global conflict with the Soviet Union, Truman refused MacArthur's request to bomb Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu River.[125] By early 1951 the war became a fierce stalemate at about the 38th parallel where it had begun.[126] On April 5, House Minority Leader "Joseph Martin made public a letter from MacArthur that strongly criticized Truman's handling of the Korean War, and called for an expansion of the conflict against China.[127] Truman believed that MacArthur's recommendations were wrong, but more importantly, he believed that MacArthur had overstepped his bounds in trying to make foreign and military policy, potentially endangering the "civilian control of the military. After consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of Congress, Truman decided to relieve MacArthur of his command.[128]

The "dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur ignited a firestorm of outrage against Truman and support for MacArthur. Fierce criticism from virtually all quarters accused Truman of refusing to shoulder the blame for a war gone sour and blaming his generals instead. Others, including Eleanor Roosevelt, supported and applauded Truman's decision. MacArthur meanwhile returned to the U.S. to a hero's welcome, and addressed a joint session of Congress.[129] In part due to the dismissal of MacArthur, Truman's approval mark in February 1952 stood at 22% according to "Gallup polls, which was, until "George W. Bush in 2008, the all-time lowest approval mark for an active American president.[130]

The war remained a frustrating stalemate for two years. Throughout late 1951, Truman negotiated for a cease fire, but disputes over prisoner exchanges led to the collapse of the negotiations.[131] Of the 116,000 Chinese and Korean prisoners-of-war held by the United States, only 83,000 were willing to return to their home countries, and Truman was unwilling to forcibly return the prisoners.[132] Over 30,000 Americans died in the conflict, which ended with an "armistice in 1953 after Truman left office. The armistice divided North and South Korea along a border close to the 38th parallel.[133]

International trips[edit]

Truman made five international trips during his presidency:[134] His only trans-Atlantic trip was to participate in the 1945 "Potsdam Conference with British Prime Ministers Churchill and Attlee and Soviet Premier Stalin. He also visited neighboring Bermuda, Canada and Mexico, plus Brazil in "South America. Truman only left the "continental United States on two other occasions (to "Puerto Rico, the "Virgin Islands, "Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, February 20-March 5, 1948; and to "Wake Island, October 11–18, 1950) during his nearly eight years in office.[135]

Dates Country Locations Details
July 16 – August 2, 1945 ""WhiteFlag.png "Germany "Potsdam Attended "Potsdam Conference with British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and "Clement Attlee and Soviet dictator "Joseph Stalin.
August 2, 1945  "United Kingdom "Plymouth Informal meeting with King "George VI.
2 August 23–30, 1946  "Bermuda "Hamilton Informal visit. Met with Governor General "Ralph Leatham and inspected "U.S. military facilities.
3 March 3–6, 1947  "Mexico "Mexico, D.F. State visit. Met with President "Miguel Alemán Valdés.
4 June 10–12, 1947  "Canada "Ottawa Official visit. Met with Governor General "Harold Alexander and Prime Minister "Mackenzie King and addressed Parliament.
5 September 1–7, 1947  "Brazil "Rio de Janeiro State visit. Addressed "Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security and the Brazilian Congress.

Domestic affairs[edit]

Major actions[edit]

In his years as senator, Truman was a moderate supporter of the New Deal. He voted for the major relief and welfare measures, such as Social Security the housing act and the Public Works Administration, but he voted against liberal amendments to this legislation. Once they were on the books, Truman supported them. He felt relief and welfare should be handled at the local level, except for public housing. Truman and Robert Taft agreed that public housing for the poor was a federal responsibility. In terms of taxation, Truman wanted a balanced budget, with increased taxes to pay for the New Deal and wartime programs. He opposed the efforts of liberals to raise income taxes. Much of Truman's work in the Senate focused on corporate responsibilities. He was not a trust buster, but did favor government regulation of the economy, and often attacked Wall Street, especially bankers, and railroads.[136]

In 1945–46, liberals became his sharpest critics on domestic policy, blaming the failures of reform proposals on Truman's lack of leadership.[11] Liberals did applaud in 1947–48, when Truman vetoed the anti-labor union Taft-Hartley law, which passed anyway, and put civil rights on the national agenda. His whistle stop campaign in 1948 featured attacks on big business and Wall Street that attracted liberal supporters; they proved crucial to his reelection. In his second term Truman did propose a quite liberal agenda, the "Fair Deal." Except for public housing, which had Taft's support, his Fair Deal proposals were all defeated by the Conservative Coalition in Congress.[137] Truman twice vetoed bills to lower income tax rates in 1947. Although the initial vetoes were sustained, Congress overrode his veto of a tax cut bill in 1948. The parties did cooperate on some issues; Congress passed the "Presidential Succession Act of 1947, making the Speaker of the House rather than the Secretary of State next in line to the presidency after the vice president.[138]

GI Bill[edit]

Historians generally agree that the G.I. Bill of 1944, was one of the most important and successful government programs of the late 1940s. It was passed in 1944 by a conservative coalition that want to restrict benefits to "deserving" wartime veterans, as opposed to the Roosevelt administration that wanted a new welfare program that would reach everybody, including non-veterans.[139] The bill included aid to veterans who wanted to start a small business or farm, as well one year of "unemployment compensation.[140][141] The GI benefits were not legally restricted by gender or race, but in practice white men were by far the most active users of the program.[142]

The most famous component provided for free, collegiate, vocational and high school education for veterans – not only free tuition, but also full housing and subsistence allowances for the veterans and their families. There was a remarkable transformation of higher education, as 2.2 millions veterans paid $5.5 billion crowded into hastily built classrooms, showing a fierce determination to make up for lost time by maximizing their career opportunities. The faculty stood in awe of the best students they had ever taught.[143]

The second major component of the GI Bill had to do with housing. Very little new housing had been built during the Great Depression and World War, except for emergency quarters near war industries. Overcrowded and inadequate apartments was the common condition for veterans. The growth in suburbia depended on the availability of automobiles, highways, and inexpensive housing. The population had grown, and the stock of family savings had accumulated the money for down payments, automobiles and appliances. The product was a great housing boom. Whereas an average of 316,000 new housing nonfarm units had been constructed 1930s through 1945, there were 1,450,000 annually from 1946 through 1955.[144] The G.I. Bill guaranteed low cost loans for veterans, with very low down payments, and low interest rates. With 16 million eligible veterans, the opportunity to buy a house was suddenly at hand. In 1947 alone, 540,000 veterans bought one; their average price was $7300. The construction industry kept prices low by standardization – for example standardizing sizes for kitchen cabinets, refrigerators and stoves, allowed for mass production of kitchen furnishings. Developers purchased empty land just outside the city, installed tract houses based on a handful of designs, and provided streets and utilities, or local public officials raced to build schools.[145] The most famous development was "Levittown, in Long Island just east of New York City. It offered a new house for $1000 down, and $70 a month; it featured three bedrooms, fireplace, gas range and gas furnace, and a landscaped lot of 75 by 100 feet, all for a total price of $10,000. Veterans could get one with a much lower down payment.[146]

Reconversion, inflation, controls and labor strife[edit]

The major domestic issues in 1945-47 involved economics. How should Washington handle the rapid reconversion of the wartime economy to peacetime? How to reduce wartime taxes and start paying off the huge national debt. How to tame inflation caused by a very large wartime savings and shortages of housing and durable goods such as automobiles and refrigerators. Whether to repeal wartime controls on consumer prices, wholesale prices, and rental housing. And how to deal with large-scale labor union strike activity in heavy industry. Congress at all times was controlled by a conservative coalition in domestic policy, and when the Republicans took control of Congress in the 1946 elections, they had the two thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto.[147]

Rapid reconversion[edit]

there was widespread fear among the people at large and among experts that the economy would fall back into depression after the temporary wartime incentives had ended. Liberal New Dealers wanted an explicit commitment to "full employment" but they did not get it. Instead the "Employment Act of 1946 explicitly made it the responsibility of the federal government to maintain a healthy economy, with the federal government mandated to:

coordinate and utilize all its plans, functions, and foster and promote free competitive enterprise and the general welfare; conditions under which there will be afforded useful employment for those able, willing, and seeking to work; and to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.[148]

Despite the fears, there was a continuous upsurge in economic activity that was finally broken by a brief recession in 1958.


The government was faced with the reawakening of labor-management conflicts that had lain dormant during the war years, severe shortages in housing and consumer products, and widespread dissatisfaction with inflation, which at one point hit 6% in a single month.[149] For commodities where price controls remained, producers were often unwilling to sell at artificially low prices: farmers refused to sell grain for months in 1945 and 1946 until payments were significantly increased, even though grain was desperately needed, not only for domestic use, but to stave off starvation in Europe. When the price controls were lifted, wheat and corn flooded the markets. Likewise producers held meat off the market until price controls were lifted.[150][151]

Strike wave of 1945-46[edit]

Truman's response to inflation was generally ridiculed as ineffective.[152] A rapid increase in costs was fueled first by the end of rationing and then by the end of price controls. With the end of the war in August 1945 came a "wave of major strikes, mostly led by the CIO. In November, the UAW sent their 180,000 General Motors auto workers to the picket lines; they were joined in January 1946 by 800,000 steelworkers, as well as over 200,000 electrical workers and 150,000 packinghouse workers.

When a national rail strike threatened in May 1946, Truman seized the railroads. Two key railway unions struck anyway and the entire national railroad system was shut down—24,000 freight trains and 175,000 passenger trains a day stopped moving.[153] For two days public anger mounted and no one was angrier than Truman himself. He drafted a message to Congress that called on veterans to form a lynch mob and destroy the union leaders:

Every single one of the strikers and their demagogue leaders have been living in luxury. . . . Now I want you who are my comrades in arms . . . to come with me and eliminate the Lewises, the Whitneys, the Johnstons, the Communist Bridges [all important union officials] and the Russian Senators and Representatives . . . Let's put transportation and production back to work, hang a few traitors and make our own country safe for democracy.[154]

His staff was stunned; top aide "Clark Clifford rewrote and toned down the speech. Truman did go to Congress and he called for a new law to draft all the railroad strikers into the Army. As he was concluding his speech he read a message just handed to him that the strike was settled on presidential terms. Truman nevertheless finished the speech, and a few hours later the House voted to draft the strikers. Taft killed the bill in the Senate.[155][156]

Combined with many smaller strikes a new record of strike activity was set.[157] With the modified wartime rules still in effect, industry was allowed to raise wages, but it was not allowed to raise prices to cover those raises, on the theory that inflation is a grave danger. Historian "Barton Bernstein concludes:

Even the strongest and wisest of administrations would have encountered perils in charting a course through this period. But the Truman government, staffed largely by mediocre advisers and beset by factional disputes, with the President still uneasy in the exercise of power, was unable to formulate and implement a bold program....Defeated in the steel strike, the administration had suffered its first major loss in the battle against inflation. But in the next few months resistance of other interest groups would force the government to yield and jettison the anti-inflation program.[158]

The unions made some gains, but the economy continued to be disordered by the rapid termination of war contracts, the complex reconversion to peacetime production, the return to the labor force of 12 million servicemen, and the return home of millions of women workers. The conservative control of Congress blocked liberal legislation, and ""Operation Dixie", the CIO's efforts to expand massively into the South, failed.[159]

Taft-Hartley Act[edit]

The "Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, known as the Taft–Hartley Act, in 1947 revised the pro-union "Wagner Act (NLRA) of 1935 to include restrictions on unions as well as management. It was a response to public demands for action after the wartime coal strikes and the postwar strike wave. The Act was bitterly fought by unions, vetoed by Truman, and passed over his veto. Truman denounced the act as a "slave-labor bill" in his veto, but he used its emergency provisions a number of times to halt strikes and lockouts. Repeated union efforts to repeal or modify it always failed, and it remains in effect today.[160]

The Taft-Hartley amendments added a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions. The Wagner Act had previously prohibited only unfair labor practices committed by employers. The new law prohibited "jurisdictional strikes, in which a union strikes in order to pressure an employer to assign particular work to the employees that union represents, and "secondary boycotts and "common situs" picketing, in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business.[161]

The Act outlawed "closed shops, which were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only union members. "Union shops, in which new recruits must join the union within a certain amount of time, are permitted, but only as part of a "collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. All union officials were required to sign an affidavit that they were not Communists or else the union would lose its federal bargaining powers guaranteed by the "National Labor Relations Board.[162]

Historian "James T. Patterson concludes that:

By the 1950s most observers agreed that Taft-Hartley was no more disastrous for workers than the Wagner Act had been for employers. What ordinarily mattered most in labor relations was not government laws such as Taft-Hartley, but the relative power of unions and management in the economic marketplace. Where unions were strong they usually managed all right; when they were weak, new laws did them little additional harm.[163]

Failed seizure of steel mills[edit]

When a steel strike loomed in April 1952, Truman instructed his Secretary of Commerce "Charles W. Sawyer, to seize and continue operations of the nation's steel mills in April 1952. Truman cited his authority as Commander in Chief and the need to maintain an uninterrupted supply of steel for munitions to be used in the war in Korea. The Supreme Court found the seizure unconstitutional, and reversed the order in a major "separation-of-powers decision, "Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952). The 6–3 decision, which held that Truman's assertion of authority was too vague and was not rooted in any legislative action by Congress, was delivered by a Court composed entirely of Justices appointed by either Truman or Roosevelt. The high court's reversal of Truman's order was his most notable legal defeat.[164]

Civil rights[edit]

Truman sought to reduce "discrimination against "African-Americans, but due to the power of southern Congressmen, he was unable to advance any significant civil rights legislation through Congress and eventually turned to executive actions.[165] A 1947 report by the Truman administration titled To Secure These Rights presented a detailed ten-point agenda of civil rights reforms. In February 1948, the president submitted a civil rights agenda to Congress that proposed creating several federal offices devoted to issues such as "voting rights and "fair employment practices.[166] This provoked a storm of criticism from Southern Democrats in the runup to the national nominating convention, but Truman refused to compromise, saying: "My forebears were Confederates ... but my very stomach turned over when I had learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten."[167] Tales of the abuse, violence, and persecution suffered by many African American veterans upon their return from World War II infuriated Truman, and were a major factor in his decision to issue "Executive Order 9981, in July 1948, requiring equal opportunity in the Armed Forces.[168] After several years of planning, recommendations and revisions between Truman, the "Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity and the various branches of the military, military units started to be racially integrated in the early 1950s.[169] The 1948 "Women's Armed Services Integration Act allowed women to serve in the peacetime military.

Another executive order, also in 1948, made it illegal to discriminate against persons applying for civil service positions based on race. A third, in 1951, established the "Committee on Government Contract Compliance (CGCC). This committee ensured that defense contractors did not discriminate because of race.[170][171]

Historians Donald R. McCoy and Richard T. Ruetten argue that even if Truman:

left something to be desired, he was the first president to have a civil rights program, the first to try to come to grips with the basic problems of minorities, and the first to condemn, vigorously and consistently, the presence of discrimination and inequality in America.[172]

Fair Deal[edit]

As he readied for the 1948 election, Truman made clear his identity as a Democrat in the "New Deal tradition, advocating national health care, repeal of the Taft–Hartley Act, federal aid to education, expanded public housing programs, a higher minimum wage, more public power projects like the "Tennessee Valley Authority, and a more "progressive tax structure. Taken together, his proposals constituted a broad legislative agenda that came to be called the ""Fair Deal."[173] A major difference between the New Deal and the Fair Deal was that the latter included an aggressive civil rights program, which Truman termed a moral priority. Truman's proposals were not well received by Congress, even with renewed Democratic majorities in Congress after 1948. The Solid South rejected civil rights, as those states still enforced segregation. Only one of the major Fair Deal bills, the "Housing Act of 1949, was ever enacted.[174] On the other hand, the major New Deal programs still in operation were not repealed, and there were minor improvements and extensions in many of them.[175] The Fair Deal would also serve as an inspiration for many of the "Great Society programs passed during the "presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.[176]

Health insurance[edit]

"National health insurance had been on the table for decades but never gained much traction. Starting in the late 1930s hospitals promoted private insurance plans such as "Blue Cross.[177] Between 1940 and 1950, the percentage of Americans with health insurance rose from 9 percent to above 50 percent, as hospitals and doctors increasingly offered more healthcare services.[178] Truman proposed a national health insurance plan in November 1945 that had "American Federation of Labor (AFL) support but Senator Taft made sure it went nowhere. The "American Medical Association led by Dr. "Morris Fishbein rallied the medical community against it; the insurance industry was strongly opposed.[179] The business community overwhelmingly opposed national plans.[180] The most likely supporters were labor unions, but they discovered they could negotiate with business to obtain even better health benefits for their own members, so they focused increasingly on that goal.[181] The failure of Truman's healthcare plan solidified the status of private employers as the primary sponsors of "health insurance in the United States.[178]

Crime and corruption[edit]

Organized crime in major cities, most of which were Democratic Party strongholds, was a favorite attack theme of Republican politicians and the media. Petty crime rates went up after 1945, now that far more young men were back on the streets, and much more money was in circulation. Far more serious was organized crime run by professional criminal gangs. The Justice Department in 1947 organized a 'racket squad' to build evidence for grand jury investigations in several major cities. The income tax returns of gambling entrepreneurs and racketeers were audited. However, federal officials were reluctant to share their new information with local law enforcement. Truman and his Attorney General "J. Howard McGrath in February 1950, told local officials that they had to bear the chief burden in defeating organized crime. Senator "Estes Kefauver, a liberal Democrat from Tennessee, launched a major Senate investigation in 1950 as chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Kefauver, although only a freshman in the Senate, received large-scale national coverage and became a presidential contender. He defeated Truman in the first primary, that of New Hampshire in March 1952; Truman surprised everyone by dropping out of the presidential race. Kefauver remained visible and was the vice presidential nominee in 1956.[182]

Truman's long record of association with the Pendergast machine in Kansas City proved increasingly embarrassing, even though Pendergast himself had died a few months before Truman became president. The various scandals of organized crime did not directly touch Truman, but they highlighted and exacerbated his problems with scandals inside his administration, such as influence peddling. The Kefauver committee exposed numerous charges of corruption among senior administration officials, some of whom received expensive fur coats and deep freezers in exchange for favors. Senator "J. William Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas, reported that officials of the "Reconstruction Finance Corporation were illegally coordinating their work with the Democratic National Committee. Kefauver found that over 160 "Internal Revenue Service officials took bribes, use their offices to run private businesses, tolerated this behavior by their subordinates, or embezzled federal funds. When Attorney McGrath fired the special prosecutor in early 1952 for being too zealous, Truman fired McGrath.[183][184][185] General Eisenhower made "corruption" one of his three main attack points in the 1952 election, Along with Korea and communism.[186]

Constitutional amendments[edit]

For the first 150 years of the federal government's existence no person had been elected to the office of the President more than twice. Delegates to the "1787 Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered limiting the number of "terms a person could serve as president, but ultimately decided not to. "George Washington, however, established a "de facto "term limit by retiring after his second elected term. The sacrosanct "two-term tradition," "Thomas Jefferson and numerous other since have argued, serves as a check against any one person, or the presidency as a whole, accumulating too much power. Franklin D. Roosevelt broke that tradition when he won election to a third and then a fourth term. The "Twenty-second Amendment was clearly a pushback against him.[187] An amendment to the "Constitution setting a term limit for election and overall time of service to the office of President was approved by Congress on March 21, 1947, and submitted it to the "state legislatures for "ratification. By February 27, 1951 it had been ratified by the requisite 36 of the then-48 states to become a part of the Constitution.[188][189] Due to the "grandfather clause in Section 1 excluding the "incumbent president at the time of ratification from 2-term limit, Truman remained eligible for election to more than two terms.[190]


"Democratic seats in Congress
Congress Senate House
"79th 57 243
"80th 45 188
"81st 54 263
"82nd 48 234

1946 election[edit]

In the 1946 mid-term elections, Truman's Democrats suffered losses in both houses of Congress. Republicans, who had not controlled a chamber of Congress since the 1932 elections, took control of both the House and the Senate. Truman's party was hurt by a disappointing postwar economy.[191] The election was a major blow to Truman's hopes of passing his domestic policies.[192] However, Dallek points to the 1946 elections as the moment when Truman became more sure of himself as president, and stopped trying to appease all factions of the public.[193] Truman would strongly criticize the subsequent "80th United States Congress as a "Do Nothing Congress."[191]

Labor unions suffered heavy losses in the election, and responded afterwards by taking strong actions. The "Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) systematically purged communists and far-left sympathizers from leadership roles in its unions.[194] The CIO expelled some unions that resisted the purge, notably its third-largest affiliate the "United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and set up a new rival union to take away the UE membership.[195][196]

Meanwhile, the AFL set up its first explicitly political unit, Labor's League for Political Education. The AFL increasingly abandoned its historic tradition of nonpartisanship, since neutrality between the major parties was impossible. By 1952, the AFL had given up on decentralization, local autonomy, and non-partisanship, and had developed instead a new political approach marked by the same style of centralization, national coordination, and partisan alliances that characterized the CIO.[197] After these moves, the CIO and AFL were in a good position to fight off Henry Wallace in 1948 and work enthusiastically for Truman's reelection. The CIO and AFL no longer had major points of conflict, so they merged in amicably 1955 as the "AFL–CIO.[198]

1948 election[edit]

"Clifford K. Berryman's editorial cartoon of Oct. 19, 1948, shows the consensus of experts in mid-October

The "1948 presidential election is famous for Truman's stunning come-from-behind victory. In the spring of 1948, Truman's public approval rating stood at 36%, and the president was nearly universally regarded as incapable of winning reelection.[199] The "New Deal" loyalists within the party—including FDR's son "James—tried to swing the Democratic nomination to General "Dwight D. Eisenhower, a highly popular figure whose political views and party affiliation were totally unknown. Eisenhower emphatically refused to accept, and Truman outflanked opponents to his nomination.[200]

At the "1948 Democratic National Convention, Truman attempted to unify the Northern delegations with a vague civil rights plank in the party platform. He was upstaged by liberals. A sharp address given by Mayor "Hubert Humphrey of Minneapolis—as well as the local political interests of a number of urban bosses—convinced the Convention to adopt a stronger civil rights plank, which Truman accepted.[201] All of Alabama's delegates, and a portion of Mississippi's, walked out of the convention in protest. Unfazed, Truman delivered an aggressive acceptance speech attacking the 80th Congress, which Truman called the "Do Nothing Congress," and called it back into session to demonstrate its continuing failures.[202]

Within two weeks of the convention, Truman issued "Executive Order 9981, banning racial discrimination in the Armed Services[203][204] as well as Executive Order 9980 to integrate federal agencies. Truman took a political risk in backing civil rights, and many seasoned Democrats were concerned that the loss of "Dixiecrat support might destroy the Democratic Party in the South. South Carolina Governor "Strom Thurmond, a segregationist, declared his candidacy for the presidency on a Dixiecrat ticket and led a full-scale revolt of Southern ""states' rights" proponents. This rebellion on the right was matched by one on the left, led by Wallace on the "Progressive Party ticket. Immediately after its first post-FDR convention, the Democratic Party seemed to be disintegrating. Victory in November seemed unlikely as the party was not simply split but divided three ways.[205] For his running mate, Truman accepted Kentucky Senator "Alben W. Barkley, though he really wanted Justice "William O. Douglas, who turned down the nomination.[206]

Truman's political advisors described the political scene as "one unholy, confusing cacophony." They told Truman to speak directly to the people, in a personal way.[207] Campaign manager William J. Bray said Truman took this advice, and spoke personally and passionately, sometimes even setting aside his notes to talk to Americans "of everything that is in my heart and soul."[208]

The campaign was a 21,928-mile (35,290 km) presidential odyssey.[209] In a personal appeal to the nation, Truman crisscrossed the U.S. by train; his ""whistle stop" speeches from the rear platform of the "observation car, "Ferdinand Magellan, came to represent his campaign. His combative appearances, such as those at the town square of "Harrisburg, Illinois, captured the popular imagination and drew huge crowds. Six stops in "Michigan drew a combined half-million people;[210] a full million turned out for a New York City ticker-tape parade.[211]

1948 electoral vote results.

The large, mostly spontaneous gatherings at Truman's whistle stop events were an important sign of a change in momentum in the campaign, but this shift went virtually unnoticed by the national press corps. It continued reporting Republican [leads in polls that were increasingly out of date. Pollsters assumed few people changed their minds late in a campaign and did spot what was happening. The three major polling organizations stopped polling well before the November 2 election date—"Roper in September, and Crossley and "Gallup in October—thus failing to measure the period when Truman appears to have surged past Dewey.[212]

In the end, Truman held his progressive Midwestern base, won most of the Southern states despite the civil rights plank, and squeaked through with narrow victories in a few critical states, notably Ohio, California, and Illinois. He won over 50 percent of the popular vote and secured 303 electoral votes. Dewey received only 189 electoral votes; Thurmond garnered 39, and Henry Wallace none.[213] The Democrats also re-took control of the House and the Senate. The defining image of the campaign was a photograph snapped in the early morning hours of the day after the election, when an ecstatic Truman held aloft the erroneous front page of the "Chicago Tribune with a huge headline proclaiming ""Dewey Defeats Truman."[214]

1950 election[edit]

In Truman's second mid-term election, Republicans again picked up seats in both houses of Congress. However, unlike the 1946 elections, Democrats retained control of Congress. Republicans ran against Truman's proposed domestic policies and his handling of the Korean War.[215] Truman was particularly upset by the apparent success of those who campaigned on McCarthyism.[216]

1952 election[edit]

""Three men at a desk reviewing a document
From left: President Harry S. Truman, Vice Presidential nominee, "Alabama Senator "John J. Sparkman and presidential nominee, "Illinois Governor "Adlai Stevenson. "Oval Office, 1952

At the time of the 1952 New Hampshire primary, no candidate had won Truman's backing, and Truman had not stated whether he would seek re-election. Although a "Constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms had been ratified in 1951, Truman could run for another term due to a "grandfather clause in the amendment. Truman's first choice to succeed him, Chief Justice "Fred M. Vinson, had declined to run; Illinois Governor "Adlai Stevenson had also turned Truman down, Vice President Barkley was considered too old,[217] and Truman disliked Senator Kefauver, who had made a name for himself by his investigations of the Truman administration scandals. Accordingly, Truman let his name be entered in the "New Hampshire primary by supporters. The highly unpopular Truman was handily defeated by Kefauver; 18 days later the president announced he would not seek a second full term. Truman was eventually able to persuade Stevenson to run, and the governor gained the nomination at the "1952 Democratic National Convention.[218]

Eisenhower gained the Republican nomination, with Senator Nixon as his running mate, and campaigned against what he denounced as Truman's failures: "Korea, Communism and Corruption". He gained strong nationwide support by his pledges to clean up the "mess in Washington," and to "go to Korea."[219] He defeated Stevenson in a landslide in the "1952 election, ending 20 years of Democratic control of the presidency. Republicans also took control of the House and the Senate, giving them control of Congress and the presidency for the first time since 1931.

The once good Truman-Eisenhower relationship soured during the campaign. Truman was appalled when Eisenhower appeared on the same platform with Joseph McCarthy in Wisconsin, and failed to defend General George C. Marshall, who McCarthy had recently denounced as part of a Communist conspiracy.[220] Similarly, Eisenhower was outraged when Truman, who made a whistle-stop tour in support of Stevenson, accused the former general of disregarding "sinister forces ... Anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-foreignism" within the Republican Party.[221] Eisenhower was so outraged he threatened not to make the customary ride down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol with the departing president prior to the inauguration.[221]


""Man in suit sitting behind desk with sign that says "The buck stops here"
Truman poses in 1959 at the recreation of the Truman Oval Office at the Truman Library in 1959, with the famous ""The Buck Stops Here" sign on his desk.

Scholars have on average ranked Truman in the top ten American presidents, most often at #7. In 1962, a poll of 75 historians conducted by "Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. ranked Truman among the "near great" presidents. Truman's "ranking in polls of political scientists and historians, never fallen lower than ninth, and ranking as high as fifth in a "C-SPAN poll in 2009.[222]

When he left office in 1953, the American public saw Truman as one of the most unpopular chief executives in history. His job approval rating of 22% in the Gallup Poll of February 1952 was lower than Richard Nixon's 24% in August 1974, the month that Nixon resigned. Truman famously boasted "the buck stops here"—he took final responsibility for his administration. Journalist Samuel Lubell challenged the claim. Citing continuing divisions within the Democratic Party, the ongoing Cold War, and the boom and bust cycle, Lubell in 1952 stated that "after seven years of Truman's hectic, even furious, activity the nation seemed to be about on the same general spot as when he first came to office ... Nowhere in the whole Truman record can one point to a single, decisive break-through ... All his skills and energies—and he was among our hardest-working Presidents—were directed to standing still". Lubell (in 1952) said only the future will tell if his approach made for greatness or for failure.[223]

Truman's image in university textbooks was quite favorable in the 1950s.[224] During the years of campus unrest in the 1960s and 1970s revisionist historians on the left attacked his foreign policy as too hostile to Communism, and his domestic policy as too favorable toward business.[225] That revisionism was not accepted by more established scholars.[226] The harsh perspective faded with the decline in Communism's appeal after 1980, leading to a more balanced view.[227][228]

American public feeling towards Truman grew steadily warmer with the passing years. Truman died when the nation was consumed with crises in "Vietnam and "Watergate, and his death brought a new wave of attention to his political career.[229]["incomplete short citation] During this period, Truman captured the popular imagination, emerging as a kind of political folk hero, a president who was thought to exemplify an integrity and accountability many observers felt was lacking in "the Nixon White House. This public reassessment of Truman was aided by the popularity of a book of reminiscences which Truman had told to journalist "Merle Miller beginning in 1961, with the agreement that they would not be published until after Truman's death. Scholars who have compared the audio tapes with the published transcripts have concluded the Miller often distorted what Truman said or fabricated statements Truman never said.[230] Nevertheless, Truman continued to receive criticism. After a review of information available to Truman about the presence of espionage activities in the U.S. government, Democratic Senator "Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded that Truman was "almost willfully obtuse" concerning the danger of American communism.[231]["incomplete short citation] In 2002, historian "Alonzo Hamby concluded that "Harry Truman remains a controversial president."[232]

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused Truman advocates to claim vindication for Truman's decisions in the postwar period. According to Truman biographer Robert Dallek, "His contribution to victory in the cold war without a devastating nuclear conflict elevated him to the stature of a great or near-great president."[176] The 1992 publication of "David McCullough's favorable biography of Truman further cemented the view of Truman as a highly regarded Chief Executive.[176] According to historian Daniel R. McCoy in his book on the Truman presidency,

Harry Truman himself gave a strong and far-from-incorrect impression of being a tough, concerned and direct leader. He was occasionally vulgar, often partisan, and usually nationalistic ... On his own terms, Truman can be seen as having prevented the coming of a third world war and having preserved from Communist oppression much of what he called the free world. Yet clearly he largely failed to achieve his Wilsonian aim of securing perpetual peace, making the world safe for democracy, and advancing opportunities for individual development internationally.[233]


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  211. ^ McCullough 1992, p. 701.
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  222. ^ see Associated Press, "List of Presidential rankings" Feb. 16, 2009.
  223. ^ Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. pp. 9–10. 
  224. ^ Robert Griffith, "Truman and the Historians: The Reconstruction of Postwar American History." Wisconsin Magazine of History (1975): 20-47.
  225. ^ See Barton J. Bernstein, ed., Politics and Policies of the Truman Administration (1970) pp 3-14.
  226. ^ Richard S. Kirkendall, The Truman period as a research field (2nd ed. 1974) p 14.
  227. ^ Kim Hakjoon (2015). "A Review of Korean War Studies Since 1992-1994". In Matray, James I. Northeast Asia and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman: Japan, China, and the Two Koreas. p. 315. 
  228. ^ Kent M. Beck, "What was Liberalism in the 1950s?." Political Science Quarterly 102.2 (1987): 233-258 at p 237.
  229. ^ Time & December 3, 1973.
  230. ^ Robert H. Ferrell and Francis H. Heller, "Plain Faking?" American Heritage 46#3 pp. 21–33.
  231. ^ Moynihan 1997.
  232. ^ Alonzo Hamby, "How Do Historians Evaluate the Administration of Harry Truman?" July 8, 2002
  233. ^ McCoy 1984, pp. 318–19.

Further reading[edit]

Truman's roles, politics[edit]

Foreign and military policy[edit]


Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

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