Truman wanted to extend Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. He drew up a program for reconstructing postwar America and presented it to Congress in September 1945. His requests included 1, extensive authority over the economy in the conversion from wartime to peacetime, 2, national health insurance, 3, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to protect minority rights, 4, the government aid for scientific research, and 5, public power projects on the Arkansas, Columbia, and Missouri rivers.
Crippling labor disputes and shortages of consumer goods helped the Republicans gain control of Congress in the 1946 elections. The Republicans blocked most of Truman’s domestic measures. Congress did approve Truman’s plan to unify the armed forces under a single secretary of defense. A commission was established to study ways of improving government efficiency, and Truman named former President Herbert Hoover to head it (Hoover Commission). In 1947, after a long fight, Congress passed the Labor-Management Relations Act, or the Taft-Hartley Act, over the President’s veto. The act placed numerous restrictions on labor unions.
The Truman Doctrine
Soon after World War II, the Cold War developed between the Soviet Union and its former allies. The Communists gained control over one nation after another in Eastern Europe. Truman realized that the United States would have to lead in the fight for freedom, spending as much as necessary to strengthen its war-torn allies. In 1946, Congress approved a $3,750,000,000 loan to Great Britain. Then, on March 12, 1947, Truman announced a doctrine of international resistance to communist aggression. The Truman Doctrine guaranteed American aid to free the nations resisting communist propaganda or sabotage.
The Marshall Plan, outlined by Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1947, extended the Truman Doctrine. It proposed that the war damaged nations of Europe join in a program of natural aid for economic recovery, assisted by grants from the United States. The Communist nations rejected the plan, but 18 other countries eventually accepted it.
The Election of 1948 seemed certain to bring victory to the Republicans. United and Confident, they faced a sharply divided Democratic Party. The Democratic National Convention nominated Truman on the first ballot and picked Senator Albert W. Barkley of Kentucky for Vice President. A group of liberal Democrats had already left the party and formed the Progressive Party.
The Progressives nominated former Vice President Wallace for President. Another group made up a Southern Democrats who opposed a strong civil rights program organized the Dixie Crat Party. They nominated Strom Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina. The Republicans again nominated Dewey for President and chose Governor Earl Warren of California as his running mate.
Every public opinion poll predicted that Dewey would win a landslide victory. But, with an extraordinary show of fighting spirit, Truman made the experts look ridiculous. He traveled 31,000 miles by train in a “whistle-stop” campaign and made more than 350 speeches. He attacked what he termed the “do nothing” Republican congress, calling it “the worst in my memory”. Truman received a warm response with his simple language, earthly humor, and pluck. He also appealed to the groups that had strongly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt, labor, farmers, liberals, minorities, and many middle-class consumers. In one of the biggest upsets in political history, Truman on 28 states. Dewey won 16 and Thurmond won 4, Truman won with less than 50 percent of the total popular vote.
Life in the White House
Early everyday often as early as 5:30 AM, Truman arose and went for a brisk walk, always accompanied by Secret Service agents and members of the media. At the White House, Truman often played the piano for visitors, and enjoyed the music of Chopin and Mozart. The Truman’s spent most evenings in a family living room upstairs.
The structural part of the White House had become dangerously weak, and the engineers had to make extensive repairs. The rebuilding began late in 1948, and the Truman’s moved to the Blair House. They lived there until March 1952.
On November 1st, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to invade the Blair House and assassinate the President. They killed one secret service guard and wounded another. One of the gunmen was killed and the other was captured.
Truman commented that “A President has to expect those things”. He kept all his appointments that day, and too his usual walk the next morning.
Second Administration (1949-1953)
In the Spring of 1949, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and eight other nations signed The North Atlantic Treaty, forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They agreed that an attack one member would be considered an attack on all. Other countries later joined NATO and helped group their armed forces to defend Western Europe. General Dwight D. Eisenhower served as the first supreme commander of NATO forces.
In his inaugural address, Truman called for “a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of under developed areas”.
In 1950, Congress approved $35 million for the first part of this Point Four Program. Late in 1951, Truman asked Congress to set up a new foreign aid program for Communist-threatened countries in Southeast Asia. Congress established the Mutual Security Administration to strengthen military defenses in many countries. Western Europe had recovered economically from the war, so Truman charged the emphasis of foreign aid from economic help to mutual security. He believed that if the nation’s allies were strong. American would be strengthened too.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the Communist forces from North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations demanded that North Korea withdraw. Truman decided to intervene to save South Korea’s independence. On June 27, he announced that he had sent US planes and ships to help South Korea. Congress cheered the announcement.
That same day, the UN approved sending troops of other nations to join South Korean and American units. Truman ordered ground forces to South Korea on June 30. He later said that sending US troops to South Korea and thus taking the risk of starting World War III was the hardest decision of his political career.
General Douglas MacArthur commanded all UN forces in Korea. His troops brought most of Korea under UN control by October 1950. But later that month, the Chinese Communist bases in Manchuria. But Truman believed that the fighting must be confined to Korea, and not be allowed to spread into a possible global war. MacArthur made several public statements criticizing this policy. In April 1951, Truman dismissed MacArthur, creating a nationwide furor.
Problems at home
The voters had elected a Democratic Congress in 1948. It soon proved almost as uncooperative in domestic affairs as the preceding Republican Congress had been. Truman waged an extensive reform program, which he called the “Fair Deal”. “Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our government a fair deal”. He declared. The program included 1. Civil Rights legislation, 2. repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, 3. a new farm program stressing high farm income and low consumer prices, 4. federal aid to education, 5. a federal housing program, and 6. increases in the social security program. The Southern Democrats joined the conservative Republicans to defeat most of the President’s domestic proposals. The Democrats lost strength in the 1950 congressional elections.
The changes of communist infiltration into the federal government added to the President’s concerns. Truman set up a federal board to investigate the loyalty of government employees, and the Department of Justice prosecuted leaders of the American Communist Party. A House Committee investigated charges that communists worked for the Department of State. The Trials of Alger Hiss, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg revealed that spies had stolen secret information and given it to the Soviet agents. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin also accused the Department of State of employing Communists. Truman strongly rejected McCarthy’s charges, and they were never proven.
Campaign of 1952
On March 29, 1952, Truman announced that he would not seek reelection “I have served my country long, and I think efficiently and honestly”, he said “I do not fell that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House”. Instead, he campaigned for the Democratic candidate, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, who lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Truman left office on January 20, 1953 and retired to his home in Independence. He published the two volumes of his memoirs, Year of Decisions in 1955 and Years of Trial and Hope in 1956. Truman also continued his active interest in politics and in the Democratic Party.
After Truman left the White House, his friends collected funds to build the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence. The library holds Truman’s papers and souvenirs. It opened in 1957.
Truman became ill in late 1972 and entered the hospital on December 5 with severe lung congestion. He died on December 26, 1972. He was buried in Independence in the Truman Library Courtyard.