Presidency of Harry S. Truman
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. 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 collapse of the Soviet empire around 1990.
- 1 Major acts as president
- 2 Assumption of office and end of World War II
- 3 Personnel
- 4 Foreign policy
- 4.1 United Nations, atomic energy control, refugees, immigration
- 4.2 Cold War
- 4.3 Marshall plan to rebuild Europe
- 4.4 Military reorganization and spending
- 4.5 China
- 4.6 NATO
- 4.7 Soviet espionage and McCarthyism
- 4.8 NSC-68
- 4.9 Recognition of Israel
- 4.10 Korean War
- 4.11 International trips
- 5 Domestic policy
- 6 Elections
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Major acts as president
Assumption of office and end of World War II
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." Truman had been the vice president for just three months, during which time he rarely interacted with Roosevelt. 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. He had long been a minor Missouri politician, but 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.
Upon assuming the presidency, Truman asked all the members of FDR's cabinet to remain in place for the time being. He quickly replaced most of Roosevelt's top appointments, often with longtime personal friends such as Fred M. Vinson, a staunch conservative, who became Secretary of the Treasury 1945, and Chief Justice in 1946.
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. 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 benefited from a honeymoon period after Roosevelt's death, and from the Allies' success in Europe, wrapping up the war there. Truman was pleased to issue the proclamation of V-E Day on May 8, 1945, his 61st birthday.
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
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. 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.
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 always 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. Japan agreed to surrender the following day. 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. 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. 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."
Truman inherited Roosevelt's fourth-term Cabinet, but by the end of 1946, only two Roosevelt appointees were left. Truman surrounded himself with his old friends, and appointed several to high positions that seemed well beyond their competence, including his two secretaries of the treasury, Fred Vinson and John Snyder. His closest friend in the White House was his military aide Harry H. Vaughan, who seemed to others like a huge joke. The issue was now foreign policy. Forrestal took a strongly anti-Soviet position and was promoted. Wallace denounced anti-Soviet positions and was fired. The National Security Act of 1947 created a Secretary of Defense to oversee the entire military; Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was named to the job. There was no provision in the Constitution to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency so there was no vice president during Truman's first term. Senator Alben Barkley, the Democratic Senate leader from 1937 to 1948, was elected with Truman in the 1948 election; Truman included him in Cabinet deliberations.
Truman appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court:
- Harold Hitz Burton – 1945
- Fred M. Vinson (Chief Justice) – 1946
- Tom C. Clark – 1949
- Sherman Minton – 1949
The four justices appointed by Truman joined with Justices Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, and Stanley Reed to create a substantial seven-member conservative bloc on the Supreme Court. This returned the court for a time to the conservatism of the 1920s. However, Vinson, Minton, and Burton all left the court during the Eisenhower administration, paving the way for the more liberal Warren Court.
Truman's judicial appointments have been attacked by critics as the weakest aspect of Truman's presidency. The New York Times condemned the appointments of Tom C. Clark and Sherman Minton in particular as examples of cronyism and favoritism for unqualified candidates.
United Nations, atomic energy control, refugees, immigration
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. Vandenburg. Construction of the United Nations headquarters in New York City was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and completed in 1952.
Control of atomic energy
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 the United States offer to turn over its monopoly on nuclear weapons to an international agency, in return for a system of strict inspections and control of fissile materials. This position was highly controversial and collapsed in the face of growing tensions with the Stalin.
The United States Atomic Energy Commission, directed by David E. Lilienthal until 1950, had 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. Lilienthal wanted to give high priority to peaceful uses, especially nuclear power plants. However coal was cheap and the power industry was not interested. The first plant was begun under Eisenhower in 1954.
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.
The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 finally allowed some of the displaced people of World War II to start immigrating. 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. Historians Phil Orchard and Jamie Gillies hail Truman's "atypical leadership" in helping refugees. 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.
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 s high priority for the Administration, but there was great interest in Congress and among ethnic groups. 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.
In 1952, the McCarran Walter Immigration Act passed over Truman's veto. It kept the old 1924 quota system but added manhy 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.
With the Soviet Union expanding its sphere of influence through Eastern Europe, Truman, Byrnes, Acheson, Marshall and other foreign policy advisors took a hard line against the USSR. Former Vice President Henry A. Wallace was now the Commerce Secretary. He wanted a soft line toward Moscow, and was forced out of office. Truman followed public opinion, which came to view the Soviets as intent upon world domination.
The main strategy adopted by the Administration was containment, a policy of stopping further expansion of Soviet communism. This policy was a response in 1946-47 to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to increase communist influence in Eastern Europe. Containment 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 adopted in 1981 by a former Truman supporter Ronald Reagan. The basis of the containment doctrine was articulated in a 1946 cable by diplomat George F. Kennan. Kennan later moved away from his original proposals but the State Department and White House emphasized them more and more.
The U.S. had largely ignored Greece, because it was in the British sphere. 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. A crisis was at hand and Dean Acheson and top officials decided to act decisively, although George Kennan was opposed. Administration leaders believed he 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. If the Communists won then Turkey, with its large but weak and antiquated army, would be at very high risk.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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. 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.
Marshall plan to rebuild Europe
Truman abandoned Roosevelt's Morgenthau Plan, which had aimed to de-industrialize Germany, in favor of the Marshall Plan. In three years it gave away $12 billion to fund the rebuilding of postwar Western Europe, 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.
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. 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 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.
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.
Military reorganization and spending
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 CIA and the National Security Council. 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).
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. 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. 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.
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.
|Year ending June 30||Military spending as % GNP|
|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.
The civil war in China baffled Washington, as both the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists under Mao Zedong had American advocates. 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." In the Summer of 1947, Truman sent General Albert Coady Wedemeyer to China to try again, but no progress was made.
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. 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.
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.
Truman would have been willing to maintain some relationship between the U.S. and the new government, but Mao was unwilling. 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.
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.
The administration was a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which in 1949 established a formal peacetime military alliance with Canada and democratic European nations that had not fallen under Soviet control following World War II. The treaty establishing it was widely popular and easily passed the Senate in 1949; Truman appointed General 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 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.
On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin. 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.
Rolling back Communism
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. 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.
Soviet espionage and McCarthyism
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. 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.
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, including Congressman Nixon of California and Karl Mundt of South Dakota, to decry Truman and his administration, especially the State Department, as soft on communism. 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
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. Truman would later state in private conversations with friends that his creation of a loyalty program had been a "terrible" mistake.
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.
Recognition of Israel
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.
Palestine was secondary to the goal of protecting the "Northern Tier" of Greece, Turkey, and Iran from communism, as promised by the Truman Doctrine. 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. 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". Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.
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. Truman promptly urged the United Nations to intervene. With the USSR boycotting the UN, it did so and the war was officially operated by the UN. General Douglas MacArthur, based in Japan, led the U.S. forces
Truman decided that he did not need formal authorization from Congress, believing that most legislators supported his position. His decision haunted him later, when the war became exceedingly unpopular and was ridiculed as "Mr. Truman's War."
By August 1950, U.S. troops pouring into South Korea, along with American air strikes, stabilized the front around the Pusan Perimeter. Responding to criticism over unreadiness, Truman fired his Secretary of Defense, Louis A. Johnson, replacing him with the retired General Marshall. With UN approval, Truman decided on a "rollback" policy—conquest of North Korea. 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.
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. By early 1951 the war became a fierce stalemate at about the 38th parallel where it had begun. Truman rejected MacArthur's request to attack Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu, but MacArthur promoted his plan to Republican House leader Joseph Martin, who leaked it to the press. Truman was gravely concerned that further escalation of the war might lead to open conflict with the Soviet Union, which was already supplying weapons and providing warplanes (with Korean markings and Soviet aircrew). Therefore, on April 11, 1951, Truman fired MacArthur from his commands.
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.
The war remained a frustrating stalemate for two years, with over 30,000 Americans killed, until an armistice ended the fighting in 1953 after Truman left office. In February 1952, Truman's approval mark 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.
Truman made five international trips during his presidency: 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.
|July 16 – August 2, 1945||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.|
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.
In 1945–46, liberals became his sharpest critics on domestic policy, blaming the failures of reform proposals on Truman's lack of leadership. 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. 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.
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. The bill included aid to veterans who wanted to start a small business or farm, as well one year of unemployment compensation. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
Reconversion, inflation, controls and labor strife
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.
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 resources...to 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.
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. 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.
Strike wave of 1945-46
Truman's response to inflation was generally ridiculed as ineffective. 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. 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.
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.
Combined with many smaller strikes a new record of strike activity was set. 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.
The unions making 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Failed seizure of steel mills
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.
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. 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." 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. 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. 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.
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.
As he readied for the 1948 election, Truman made clear his identity as a Democrat in the New Deal tradition, advocating national health care, the repeal of the Taft–Hartley Act. Taken together, it constituted a broad legislative agenda that came to be called the "Fair Deal." 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. 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.
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, especially Blue Cross. Truman proposed a 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. The business community overwhelmingly opposed national plans. 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.
Crime and corruption
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.
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. General Eisenhower made "corruption" one of his three main attack points in the 1952 election, Along with Korea and communism.
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. The election was a major blow to Truman's hopes of passing his domestic policies. Truman strongly criticized the subsequent 80th United States Congress as a "Do Nothing Congress."
Labor unions lost heavily 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Within two weeks of the convention, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, banning racial discrimination in the Armed Services 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. For his running mate, Truman accepted Kentucky Senator Alben W. Barkley, though he really wanted Justice William O. Douglas, who turned down the nomination.
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. 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."
The campaign was a 21,928-mile (35,290 km) presidential odyssey. 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; a full million turned out for a New York City ticker-tape parade.
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.
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. The final tally showed that the president had secured 303 electoral votes, Dewey 189, Thurmond 39, and Henry Wallace 0. Truman's Democrats also re-took control of the House and the Senate. The defining image of the campaign came after Election Day, when an ecstatic Truman held aloft the erroneous front page of the Chicago Tribune with a huge headline proclaiming "Dewey Defeats Truman."[incomplete short citation]
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.
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, 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.
Harry S. Truman's speech on leaving office, and returning home to Independence, Missouri. (January 15, 1953)
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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." Eisenhower defeated Stevenson in a landslide in the 1952 election, ending 20 years of Democratic control of the presidency. While Truman and Eisenhower had previously been good friends, Truman felt betrayed that Eisenhower did not denounce Joseph McCarthy during the campaign.[incomplete short citation] Similarly, Eisenhower was outraged when Truman, who made a whistlestop tour in support of Stevenson, accused the former general of disregarding "sinister forces ... Anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-foreignism" within the Republican Party. Eisenhower was so outraged he threatened not to make the customary ride down Pennsylvania Avenue with the departing president before the inauguration, but to meet Truman at the steps to the Capitol, where the swearing-in takes place. Republicans also took control of the House and the Senate, giving them control of Congress and the presidency for the first time since the 1930 elections.
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.
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.
Truman's image in university textbooks was quite favorable in the 1950s. 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. That revisionism was not accepted by more established scholars. The harsh perspective faded with the decline in Communism's appeal after 1980, leading to a more balanced view.
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.[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. 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.[incomplete short citation] In 2002, historian Alonzo Hamby concluded that "Harry Truman remains a controversial president."
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." The 1992 publication of David McCullough's favorable biography of Truman further cemented the view of Truman as a highly regarded Chief Executive. 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.
- Richard Conley (2016). Presidential Relations with Congress. Transaction Publishers. pp. 35–.
- McCullough 1992, p. 436.
- Dallek 2008, p. 16.
- Dallek 2008, pp. 15–17.
- Miller Center, "Harry S. Truman: Domestic Affairs" (2012)
- Richard Hedlund, "Frederick M. Vinson and Harry S. Truman: A Personal Relationship," Filson Club History Quarterly. (2001) 75#3 pp 331-357.
- Barton J. Bernstein, "Roosevelt, Truman, and the atomic bomb, 1941-1945: a reinterpretation." Political Science Quarterly 90.1 (1975): 23-69.
- McCoy 1984, pp. 21–22.
- Dallek 2008, pp. 19–20.
- Paul Boyer (2009). When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. p. 116.
- Robert Cecil, "Potsdam and its Legends." International Affairs 46.3 (1970): 455-465.
- John Lewis Gaddis, "Intelligence, espionage, and Cold War origins." Diplomatic History 13.2 (1989): 191-212.
- The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- Miller 1974, pp. 227–31.
- Dallek 2008, pp. 24–28.
- For example, see Fussell, Paul (1988). "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb". Thank God for the Atomic Bomb and Other Essays. New York Summit Books.
- Kramer, Ronald C; Kauzlarich, David (2011), Rothe, Dawn; Mullins, Christopher W, eds., "Nuclear weapons, international law, and the normalization of state crime", State crime: Current perspectives, pp. 94–121, ISBN 978-0-8135-4901-9.
- Lambers, William (May 30, 2006). Nuclear Weapons. William K Lambers. p. 11. ISBN 0-9724629-4-5.
- McCullough 1992, p. 366.
- Alonso L. Hamby (1995). Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman. pp. 301–2, 472.
- Polly Ann Davis, "Alben W. Barkley: Vice President". The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (1978) 76#2 pp. 112-132 in JSTOR.
- Galloway, Jr., Russell (1 January 1982). "The Vinson Court: Polarization (1946-1949) and Conservative Dominance (1949-1953)". Santa Clara Law Review. 22 (2): 377, 388. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- Schwartz, Bernard (1996). The Warren Court: A Retrospective. Oxford University Press. p. 296. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
- Kim Isaac Eisler, A Justice for All: William J. Brennan, Jr., and the Decisions That Transformed America (1993) pp 75-76
- Federal Judicial Center.
- Alonzo L. Hamby, Man of the People: A life of Harry S' Truman (1995 p 310)
- Thomas Michael Hill, "Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, the Politics of Bipartisanship, and the Origins of Anti-Soviet Consensus, 1941-1946." World Affairs 138.3 (1975): 219-241 in JSTOR.
- Lawrence J. Haas, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World (2016)
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- Michael J. Hogan (1998). A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954. pp. 82–85.
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- Ernest R. May, "1947-48: When Marshall Kept the U.S. out of War in China." Journal of Military History (2002) 66#4: 1001-1010. online
- George Marshall testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 20 February 1948, in Sharon Ritenour Stevens and Mark A. Stoler, eds. (2012). The Papers of George Catlett Marshall: "The Whole World Hangs in the Balance," January 8, 1947–September 30, 1949. Johns Hopkins UP. p. 379.
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- Gregory Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin: America's strategy to subvert the Soviet bloc, 1947-1956 (Cornell UP, 2000).
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- View a contemporary newsreel report
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- John Acacia (2009). Clark Clifford: The Wise Man of Washington. p. 22.
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- A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, passed in 1959, tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further.
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- National Archives 1948.
- National Archives 1953.
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- For a narrative of all the scandals, see Robert J. Donovan, Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949-1953. Vol. 2 (1982) pp 114-18, 332-39, 372-81.
- William Howard Moore, The Kefauver Committee and the politics of crime, 1950-1952 (1974).
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- Harvey A. Levenstein, Communism, Anti-communism, and the CIO (Praeger, 1981).
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- John E. Mueller, "Presidential popularity from Truman to Johnson." American Political Science Review 64#1 (1970): 18-34. online
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- John L. Newby, "The Fight for the Right to Fight and the Forgotten Negro Protest Movement: The History of Executive Order 9981 and Its Effect upon Brown v. Board of Education and Beyond" Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights 10 (2004): 83+.
- See complete text
- McCoy 1984, pp. 153–158.
- Pietrusza 2011, pp. 226–232.
- "Footnotes on Political Battles of 1948". Truman's Libraray. Truman's Libraray. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
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- Time November 10, 2008.
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- see Associated Press, "List of Presidential rankings" Feb. 16, 2009.
- Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. pp. 9–10.
- Robert Griffith, "Truman and the Historians: The Reconstruction of Postwar American History." Wisconsin Magazine of History (1975): 20-47.
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- 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.
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Truman's roles, politics
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- Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (Oxford History of the United States) (1997) pp 3–260. surveys national history
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Foreign and military policy
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- Margolies, Daniel S. A Companion to Harry S. Truman (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). 632 pp. Comprehensive coverage in 27 chapters by experts excerpt; Contents
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- Acheson, Dean. Present at the creation: My years in the State Department (1987).
- Bernstein, Barton J. and Allen J. Matusow, eds. The Truman administration: A Documentary History (1966); 518 pp., chapters on A-Bomb; Inflation, and politics 1945-46; Fair Deal 1945-53, Cold War 1945-53, China Policy 1945-50; Loyalty and Security; Korean War.
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- Gallup, George H., ed. The Gallup Poll-Public Opinion-Volume One (1935-1948); (1972); The Gallup Poll-Public Opinion-Volume Two (1949-1958) (1972)
- Giglio, James N. (2001). Truman in cartoon and caricature. Kirksville: Truman State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8138-1806-1.
- Hamby, Alonzo L., ed. Harry S. Truman and the Fair Deal (1974); 223pp; short excerpts from primary sources and from experts.
- Martin, Joseph William (1960). My First Fifty Years in Politics as Told to Robert J. Donovan. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Leahy, William D. I was There: The Personal Story of the Chief of Staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, Based on His Notes and Diaries Made at the Time (1950).
- Merrill, Dennis, ed. Documentary history of the Truman presidency (University Publications of America, 2001).
- Miller, Merle (1974). Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman. New York: Putnam Publishing. ISBN 978-0-399-11261-4.. WARNING: 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 made. See Robert H. Ferrell and Francis H. Heller, "Plain Faking?" American Heritage 46#3 pp. 21–33.
- Mills, Walter, and E. S. Duffield, eds. The Forestall Diaries (1951).
- Truman, Harry S. Public papers of the presidents of the United States (8 vol. Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1946–53).
- Truman, Harry S., and Robert H. Ferrell, ed. Off the record: The private papers of Harry S. Truman (University of Missouri Press, 1997).
- Truman, Harry S. (1955). Memoirs: Year of Decisions. 1. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. online
- ——— (1956). Memoirs: Years of Trial and Hope. 2. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. online v 2
- Lyman Van Slyke, ed. The China White Paper: August 1949 (1967: 2 vol. Stanford U.P.); 1124pp; copy of official U.S. Department of State. China White Paper: 1949 vol 1 online at Google; online vol 1 pdf; vol 2 is not online; see library holdings via World Cat; excerpt are in Barton J. Bernstein, and Allen J. Matusow, eds. The Truman administration: A Documentary History (1966) pp 299–355.
- Vandenberg, Arthur Hendrick. The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg (1952), ed by Joe Alex Morris.
- The Documentary History of the Truman Presidency, edited by Dennis Merrill (35 vol. University Publications of America, 1996) table of contents
- Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
- Harry S. Truman: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- Essays on Harry S. Truman, each member of his cabinet and First Lady from the Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Newsreel May 23, 1946: Rail strike paralyzes the nation
- Newsreel May 29, 1946: End of coal strike
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