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The Truman Presidency

Module 26
Trumans Domestic Issues
Postwar America
- Following WWII many Americans feared a return to economic depression, but
incomes were up and many Americans had saved money due to rationing and
consumer spending exploded.
- American standard of living surged and by 1950 was the highest of any people in history.
- The GI Bill is passed in 1944 to help veterans transition back to civilian life.
- It provided government funding that paid for veterans to get a college education. More than 2
million vets took advantage and started a boom in higher education.
- The bill also provided money for low interest home and business loans.
- Leads to the growth of suburbs, car culture and increasingly racially divided inner cities.
- This focus on education and economic investment stimulated economic growth.
- The Baby Boom
- Confidence in the postwar economy leads to an explosion in marriages and births. Women
marry younger and have more children.
- These children will have a large impact on social institutions as they reach maturity.
Postwar Politics
- President Harry S. Truman will attempt to continue many of FDRs New Deal
programs, but will face significant conservative resistance.
- Employment Act of 1946 - Trumans attempt to continue full employment, but it is watered
down by a Republican controlled Congress.
- Truman will be the first modern president to use executive orders to challenge segregation.
- In 1948 Truman ordered the end of segregation of all government offices and the
- Republicans in Congress will successfully push for the addition of the 22nd amendment to the
Constitution which limits the president to two terms of office.
- The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 - passed over the veto of Truman, the
Taft-Hartley bill was pro-business and anti-union.
- Prohibited Closed Shops (workers being required to join a union before being hired) and
created Right to work (Workers were not forced to join a union once hired.)
- The legislation also greatly limited the ability of labor unions to strike and support workers from
other industries who were striking.
The Election of
- Republicans nominate George
Dewey, who is expected to win in
a landslide, but does little to
- Truman campaigned vigorously
against the do nothing
Congress, and successfully
defeats Dewey.
The Fair Deal
- After his election, Truman will pursue and aggressive progressive agenda.
- Included national health insurance, federal aid for education, civil rights legislation, funds for
public housing and a new farm program.
- Republicans in Congress will stymie virtually all of this legislation and only a
few portions, such as increased minimum wage will pass.
- This failure is the result of Trumans hostile relationship with Congress (and conservative in his
own party over issues of civil rights) and the pressing foreign policy issues resulting from the
Cold War.
Truman and the Cold War
The Origins of the Cold War
- The Cold War will dominate American foreign policy for the next 50 years.
- The Cold War refers to the intense rivalry between two nations (the United States and the
Soviet Union) and two economic systems (capitalism and communism).
- The war will be largely diplomatic, but the world will come dangerously close to nuclear war on
several occasions.
- US-Soviet relations were traditionally poor, however during WWII both nations
had set aside their differences and acted as allies against Nazi Germany.
- However, fractures emerged even before the end of the war. The Yalta and
Potsdam conferences showed that the two sides had very different views on
how the world should be set up.
Postwar Cooperation
- The United Nations is founded in 1945 to provide representation to all nations
of the world.
- The General Assembly dealt with matters and concerns of all nations.
- A 15 member security council would maintain world security. The United States, Soviet Union,
Britain, France and China were given permanent seats and veto authority.
- The Soviets rejected reconstruction funding however they did join the US in
operating the Nuremberg Trials - which held Nazi leaders responsible for
wartime atrocities.
- By 1946 cooperation begins to fail. The Soviets kept their armies in Eastern
Europe and while Stalin honored his promise to hold elections, the Soviets
manipulated them to ensure Communist leaders would come to power in
almost every Eastern Europeans nation.
- The Soviets argued that they needed these nations as a buffer against future aggression.
They Americans and British saw this as an act of betrayal and aggression by the Soviets.
- Germany and its capital Berlin were divided between the Soviets and the
Western Allies.
- It was meant to be temporary, however the Soviets wanted to ensure a weak Germany while
the US wanted to rebuild. The US viewed a strong Germany as essential to a stable Europe
(ie one that would not fall to Communism.)
The Iron Curtain
- A metaphor used to describe the
Communist bloc that extended
across the Soviet Satellite nations
of Eastern Europe.
- To an extent (in Berlin) this would
become an actual wall designed to keep
Soviet citizens in and westerners out.
Containment in Europe
- Containment will be Americas policy toward Communism and the Soviet
- The belief by the US was that for the Soviet Union to survive it needed to continuously
expand. If the US opposed its expansion eventually the Soviet Union would collapse.
- American leaders, fresh from the lesson of the Munich Accord (appeasement) felt that
Communism must be contested at every point.
The Truman Doctrine
- Established by Trumans actions in
Greece and Turkey.
- The United States will approve aid to any
free peoples who wished to fight
Communism in their own countries.
- This policy represented containment in
The Marshall Plan
- Europe is devastated in the aftermath of WWII. Discontent
amongst Europeans is a breeding ground for Communism.
- Truman is fearful that a miserable electorate may vote communists into
- His advisor, George Marshall, will create a plan to provide
economic aid to Europe to revive their economies. The money
will be used to rebuild industry and provide relief to
- The plan is a success and by the 1950s Western Europe is
economically self-sufficient. The communist threat is
eliminated and the US benefits from massively increased
imports to Europe.
- However, even though the plan was extended to the Soviets (who rejected
it) it will deepen divides between East and West.
The Berlin Airlift
- In response to the Marshall plan, the Soviet
Union cut off all access to Berlin (which was in
Eastern Germany).
- They expected that this would cause the US to give up
its claim to the western half of the city.
- Truman refused to surrender and ordered the
Air Force to resupply the city by air.
- He also shifts 60 nuclear armed bomber aircraft to
England. The world expects war, but Stalin backs down
and allows the airlift. The blockade is lifted after 11
- Germany is permanently divided into the Federal
Republic of Germany (West Germany, US ally) and the
German Democratic Republic (East Germany, Soviet
satellite state).
Containment in Asia
- The United States was far less successful containing Communism. Asian
nations were still deeply distrustful of westerners as a result of their
experience with their European colonizers.
- Japan will be the most substantial US success.
- Under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japan will try and execute its top
military leaders and will write a new Constitution that made Japan a parliamentary
democracy. They also renounced war and became reliant on the United States for its
The Chinese Revolution
- During WWII the United States had
supported both the Nationalists and
Communists in China against Japan.
- After the War, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist
revolutionaries expected the United States would support his
claim to be leader of China.
- However the US backs Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist
leader. Over $400 million in aid is not enough to save the
nationalists and China. The Communists take control and the
Nationalists retreat to Taiwan, which the US will recognize as
the legitimate government of China until 1979.
- China and the Soviet Union will sign the Sino-Soviet Pact.
Truman will take much of the blame for the Chinese failure.
The Korean War
- Korea was divided at the 38th
Parallel after WWII. After the US and
Soviets withdrew.
- North Korea invades the South in
June 1950 and initially successfully
drives a combined US/South Korean
force all the way to the tip of Korea.
- A surprise landing by US forces under
Douglas MacArthur allows the US to
destroy most of the North Korean Army
and push them all the way back to the
Chinese border.
- China warns the US it will intervene if the US continues closing on their
border. MacArthur fails to listen and in Nov. 1950, millions of Chinese soldiers
cross into North Korea, handing the US one of its worst military defeats in
- Eventually the fighting stabilizes at the 38th Parallel. MacArthur calls for
invasion of China, publically criticizing Trumans plan for limited war.
- Truman, with support of the Joint Chiefs, fires MacArthur.
Consequences of Korea
- Korea is proof that Trumans policy of containment works.
- However, failing to achieve total victory leads Republicans to criticize Truman
as being soft on Communism.
- Many Americans are alarmed at what they see as increasing success by the Soviet Union in
influencing world affairs.
The Second Red Scare
- Just as following WWI, Americans are
fearful of Communism. Many
Americans believed that Communists
had infiltrated our government.
- To pursue these allegation, Congress
created the House Un-American Activities
- They investigated politicians and
government employees, but also the
Boy Scouts and Hollywood - Many
actors and directors were called
before Congress to testify. Many
refused and were blacklisted from
working in Hollywood.
The Espionage Cases
- Alger Hiss - a high member of the State
department, Hiss is accused of passing
secret documents to a known Communist.
- Although there is little evidence, Hiss is convicted
and sent to prison. Many Americans wonder what
other high level members of government may be
secret communists.
- The Rosenberg Case - Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg are accused of helping smuggle
nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union - tried on
shaky evidence, but convicted and
- A senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy accuses
more than 250 government officials of being
communists. He takes advantage of anti-communist
hysteria to become one of the most powerful men in
- He constantly criticizes the Truman administration
- working class Americans love him because his
targets are often the rich and powerful.
- Eventually McCarthy goes to far. During a televised
Senate hearing on Communist infiltration of the army
McCarthy is seen by millions of Americans as a bully
and dishonest. Public support fails and the Senate will
move to censure him.