Harry S. Truman
1884 - 1972
Harry S. Human,
33rd president of the United States (1945-1953). Truman initiated the foreign
policy of containing Communism, a policy that was the hallmark of the Cold War.
He continued the welfare policies established under his predecessor, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman helped to centralize power in the executive
branch, a trend begun under Roosevelt. Truman’s willingness to accept
responsibility for difficult decisions made him one of the most controversial of
presidents. Throughout his administration, Truman failed to rally congressional
support for most of his program of domestic legislation, called the Fair Deal.
However, he did secure sufficient legislative backing to produce an outstanding
record in foreign affairs, especially in meeting what most Americans felt was
the challenge posed by the rising power of the Communist bloc. During Truman’s
administration the United States became a charter member of the United Nations
(UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); sponsored important
foreign policy initiatives known as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and
Point Four Program; and assumed a leading role in the fighting in the Korean War
ability to face situations squarely was well illustrated on November 1, 1950.
Two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate him at Blair House, his
temporary residence during renovations at the White House. Truman’s comment:
“A president has to expect those things.”
S. Truman, the oldest of three children born to Martha Ellen Young Truman and
John Anderson Truman, was born in his family’s small frame house in Lamar,
Missouri, in 1884. Truman had no middle name; his parents apparently gave him
the middle initial S. to appease two family relatives whose names started with
When Truman was
six years old, his family moved to Independence, Missouri, where he attended the
Presbyterian Church Sunday school. There he met five-year-old Elizabeth Virginia
(“Bess”) Wallace, with whom he was later to fall in love. Truman did not
begin regular school until he was eight, and by then he was wearing thick
glasses to correct extreme nearsightedness. His poor eyesight did not interfere
with his two interests, music and reading. He got up each day at 5 AM to
practice the piano, and until he was 15, he went to the local music teacher
twice a week. He read four or five histories or biographies a week and acquired
an exhaustive knowledge of great military battles and of the lives of the
world’s greatest leaders.
In 1901, when
Truman graduated from high school, his future was uncertain. College had been
ruled out by his family’s financial situation, and appointment to the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point was eliminated by his poor eyesight. He began
work as a timekeeper for the Santa Fe Railroad at $35 per month, and in his
spare time he read histories and encyclopedias. He later moved to Kansas City,
where he worked as a mail clerk for the Kansas City Star, then as a clerk for
the National Bank of Commerce, and finally as a bookkeeper for the Union
National Bank. In 1906 he was called home to help his parents run the large farm
of Mrs. Truman’s widowed mother in Grandview, Missouri.
For the next
ten years, Truman was a successful farmer. He joined Mike Pendergast’s Kansas
City Tenth Ward Democratic Club, the local Democratic Party organization, and on
his father’s death in 1914 he succeeded him as road overseer. An argument soon
ended the job, but Truman became the Grandview postmaster. In 1915 he invested
in lead mines in Missouri, lost his money, and then turned to the oil fields of
Oklahoma. Two years later, just before the United States entered World War I, he
sold his share in the oil business and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He trained at
Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but returned to Missouri to help recruit others. He was
elected first lieutenant by the men of Missouri’s Second Field Artillery.
World War I
World War I
began in 1914 as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, when
Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary, was
assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. Though U.S. President Woodrow Wilson
tried to remain neutral, the United States was drawn into the war in April 1917.
for France on March 30, 1918, and as a recently promoted captain was given
command of Battery D, a rowdy and unmanageable group known as the Dizzy D.
Truman succeeded in taming his unit, and the Dizzy D distinguished itself in the
battles of Saint-Mihiel and Argonne. In April 1919 Truman, then a major,
returned home, and on June 28 he married Bess Wallace.
November, Truman and Eddie Jacobson opened a men’s clothing store in Kansas
City. With the Dizzy D veterans as customers the store did a booming business,
but in 1920, farm prices fell sharply and the business failed. In the winter of
1922 the store finally closed, but Truman refused to declare bankruptcy and
eventually repaid his debts.
to the Pendergasts for help. Jim Pendergast, Mike’s son, persuaded his father
to give Truman permission to enter a four-way Democratic primary for an eastern
Jackson County judgeship, which was actually a job to supervise county roads and
buildings. Mike refused to support Truman. In addition, one of the other
candidates was supported by the Ku Klux Klan, a semi-secret, often violent
organization that championed white supremacy. Truman was advised to join the
Klan, but when he objected to its discriminatory policies against blacks, Jews,
and Roman Catholics, his entrance fee was returned. Nonetheless, by campaigning
on his war record and Missouri background, Truman won the primary and in the
general election. In January 1923 he was sworn into his first public office. A
year later the Trumans’ only child, Mary Margaret, was born.
As one of three
county judges, Truman had little authority to repair the bad roads, the
crumbling public buildings, or the depleted county treasury. Nevertheless, he
reduced his inherited debt of more than $1,000,000 by $600,000, and he improved
some of the roads. In his spare time he enrolled in the Kansas City Law School,
participated in the local Masonic Lodge, and maintained his interest in the
National Guard, eventually becoming a colonel.
his two-year term drew to a close, Truman stood for renomination in the
Democratic primary. By this time, however, the party was badly split, and the Ku
Klux Klan helped bring about his only election defeat. For the next two years he
sold automobile club memberships and ventured into the banking business.
machines, such as the Pendergast organization, were common to both parties in
the 1920s. They were based on the spoils system, in which winning politicians
gave government jobs to those loyal party members who had helped them get
elected. Using government jobs as rewards, politicians created efficient (and
often almost unstoppable) vote-getting “machines,” in which party loyalty
was often more important than doing any work. Without local machine support a
political career was extremely difficult. Political machines were especially
powerful in Missouri. In 1926 Tom Pendergast, Mike’s other son, supported
Truman for a four-year term as presiding judge of the county with full authority
over county roads, buildings, and taxes. Although the Pendergast machine was
strong, with his characteristic bluntness, Truman told Pendergast he would fire
any man who failed to do an honest job. Finding the road system a shambles, the
courthouse in ruins, and tax money in the pockets of Pendergast supporters,
Truman began wholesale firings. He appointed an independent road commission,
hired reputable workers, secured out-of-state bank loans at low interest rates,
and ended graft in building contracts. He toured the country to find the
best-designed courthouse. He found it in Shreveport, Louisiana, hired its
architect, and floated a successful bond issue to pay for a similar building in
Kansas City. In 1929 Mike Pendergast died, and his two sons replaced him.
Truman’s influence was enhanced, and he was reelected to a second four-year
term as presiding county judge.
By 1934 the
Pendergast machine was the tool of gangsters who promoted gambling, vice rings,
bootlegging, police bribes, and murder. Truman, plodding along on his honest
road program and courthouse project, earned the respect of his constituents, who
may have been impressed by the novelty of an honest official. However, a
presiding judge was traditionally limited to two terms, and Truman appeared to
have no hope of a political future until Tom Pendergast asked Truman to run for
the U.S. Senate.
After a long,
hard battle, Truman soundly defeated his Republican opponent. Truman capitalized
on the popularity of the New Deal, Democratic President Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s innovative domestic legislation to counteract the effects of the
Great Depression. On January 3, 1935, Truman was sworn in as the junior senator
arrival in Washington was met with disdain. His colleagues regarded him as a
tool of the Pendergast machine, which the White House was already investigating.
Roosevelt believed that Truman would probably be implicated. Fortunately,
Truman’s common sense and knowledge of government and history impressed two of
the Senate’s most influential men. One was vice president John Nance Garner,
and the other was Arthur H. Vandenberg, Republican senator from Michigan. With
their aid, Truman was named to two important committees, the Appropriations
Committee and the Interstate Commerce Committee. Working on a subcommittee of
the latter with Senator Warren Austin, he wrote the Truman-Austin bill that
created the Civil Aeronautics Board.
joined the subcommittee on railroads, becoming vice-chairman and, later, acting
chairman. Steeping himself in the history of the industry, he conducted hearings
until early 1939. Despite pressures from powerful railroad companies, including
the Missouri Pacific Railroad, he recommended major regulatory changes that were
embodied in the Transportation Act of 1940.
Because he was
a consistent New Deal senator whom Roosevelt did not have to coerce and because
the Pendergast investigation was not completed, Truman was ignored by the White
House. When the investigation ended, it disclosed widespread corruption and
brutality, but it failed to reveal a single act of wrongdoing in Truman’s
career. In the light of Roosevelt’s hatred of Pendergast, Truman could have
seriously damaged his career when, learning of Pendergast’s indictment, he
told a reporter, “Tom Pendergast has always been my friend, and I don’t
desert a sinking ship.”
To no one’s
surprise, the two Missouri Democrats who brought about Pendergast’s downfall
challenged Truman for his Senate seat in the primary. One was Governor Lloyd
Stark, whom Roosevelt supported, and the other was Maurice Milligan, whose
nomination for a second term as U.S. district attorney Truman had opposed in the
Senate. Truman began his primary fight with no political backing, no money, and
two popular reformers as opponents. He traveled the state, making speeches about
his record in short, simple language. He won the primary, and despite his
Pendergast association, mentioned frequently by his Republican opponent, he won
in November. His reelection was so unexpected that when he returned to the
Senate, his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.
In 1941 the
United States government was preparing for World War II, a conflict that had
begun in Europe in 1939. The government was building army camps and issuing
defense contracts. Even before his second term began, Truman’s constituents
had written him about waste and confusion in the defense program. Truman toured
the camps and defense plants and discovered appalling conditions. Back in the
new Senate he denounced the defense program, demanded an investigation, and was
named the head of the investigating committee.
During the next
two years the Truman committee produced detailed reports on the defense
programs. Committee members frequently visited defense installations to
substantiate the testimony of contractors, engineers, and army and government
personnel. Truman’s success in uncovering fraud and waste led the Senate in
1942 to give the committee $100,000, an increase of $85,000 over the first year.
It was estimated that the Truman committee saved the country $15 billion and
spent only $400,000.
also put Truman on the national stage. With increasing frequency, leading
Democrats mentioned Harry S. Truman as a potential 1944 vice-presidential
of the United States
Democratic National Convention opened in July 1944, it was assumed that
Roosevelt would run for a fourth term, but his health became a matter of great
concern to party leaders, whose most difficult task was to name his running
mate. The current vice president was Henry A. Wallace, a strong proponent of
using the federal government to regulate big businesses, protect the civil
rights of minorities, and encourage labor unions. Wallace’s liberal views
offended many of the more conservative leaders of the Democratic Party, and they
encouraged Roosevelt to find someone more appealing to mainstream voters. Among
the leading contenders were Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and
Senators Alben W. Barkley, James F. Byrnes, and Truman. Truman was nominated on
the second ballot. After a whirlwind campaign and overwhelming victory, Truman
took the oath of office as vice president on January 20, 1945.
engineered the Senate confirmation of Roosevelt’s appointment of Henry Wallace
as secretary of commerce and Federal loan administrator, attended the funeral of
Tom Pendergast despite wide criticism, and cast the tie-breaking Senate vote
that ensured that the United States would continue delivering supplies to U.S.
allies after the war was over. However, he saw very little of the president.
Soon after the inauguration, Roosevelt left Washington for the month-long Yalta
Conference, where the Allies discussed military strategy and political problems,
including plans for governing Germany after the war.
returned in March, he met with Truman in two short meetings. When Roosevelt left
for Warm Springs, Georgia, on March 30, Roosevelt had still not informed his
vice president about the conduct of the war or the plans for peace. Thirteen
days later, Truman was summoned to the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt told
him, “Harry, the president is dead.”
the United States
At 7:09 PM on
April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman, who had been vice president of the United
States for just 82 days, was sworn in as president by Chief Justice Harlan F.
first month in office was largely devoted to briefings by Roosevelt’s aides.
He asked the founding conference of the United Nations to meet in San Francisco
on April 25, as had been planned before Roosevelt’s death. When victory in
Europe seemed certain, he insisted on unconditional German surrender, and on May
8, 1945, his 61st birthday, he proclaimed Victory-In-Europe Day (V-E Day).
convinced the San Francisco conference delegation of the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics (USSR) that the general assembly of the new world peace
organization should have free discussions and should make recommendations to the
security council. On June 26 he addressed the final conference session, and six
days later he presented the United Nations Charter to the Senate for
From July 17 to
August 2, 1945, Truman attended the Potsdam Conference in Germany, meeting with
Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and
Clement Attlee, Churchill’s successor as British prime minister. The
conference discussed how to implement the decisions reached at the Yalta
Conference. As presiding officer, Truman proposed the establishment of the
council of foreign ministers to aid in peace negotiations, settlement of
reparations claims, and conduct of war crimes trials. He also gained Stalin’s
promise to enter the war against Japan. In this first meeting with the other
Allied leaders, Truman confirmed his earlier favorable impression of Churchill,
while he called the Soviets, in one of his typically blunt statements,
On July 26,
Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for Japan’s unconditional
surrender and listed peace terms. He had already been informed of the successful
detonation of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico, ten days earlier.
Military advisers had told Truman that a potential loss of about 500,000
American soldiers could be avoided if the bomb were used against Japan. When
Japan rejected the ultimatum, Truman authorized use of the bomb. On August 6,
1945, at 9:15 AM Tokyo time, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, virtually
destroying the city. The Supreme Allied Headquarters reported that 129,558
people were killed, injured, or missing and 176,987 made homeless. Stalin sent
troops into Manchuria and Korea on August 8, and the following day a second bomb
was dropped on Nagasaki. About one-third of the city was destroyed, and about
66,000 people were killed or injured. Japan sued for peace on August 14. The
official Japanese surrender took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S.
Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay.
With the war
ended, Truman turned to the problem of reconverting the country to peacetime
production without causing the inflation and unemployment that followed World
War I. His message to the Congress of the United States on September 6, 1945,
requested a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission to aid blacks; wage,
price, and rent controls to slow inflation; extended old-age benefits; public
housing; a national health insurance program; and a higher minimum wage. His
program was met with bitter opposition by congressional leaders who felt he
wanted to move too far and too fast.
price control bill was so weak that on June 19, 1946, Truman vetoed it, saying
it gave a choice “between inflation with a statute and inflation without
one.” When he finally signed a bill the following month, prices had already
risen 25 percent, and basic commodities had risen 35 percent.
had proceeded smoothly, but increased prices led to strikes for higher wages,
particularly in basic industries. Truman had always been on the side of labor,
but he would not allow strikes to paralyze the nation. He used executive orders
and court injunctions to end the strikes, offending labor unions in the process.
was the central figure in three controversial issues concerning the military.
First, he insisted on transferring control and development of nuclear energy
from the military to the civilian Atomic Energy Commission and on placing
authority to use the bomb solely with the president. Second, he persuaded
Congress to unify the armed forces under a civilian secretary of defense. Third,
Truman ordered the armed forces of the United States desegregated after Congress
refused to do so. This decision, plus the military requirements of the Korean
War, ended most discrimination in the U.S. Army and gave black men an
opportunity for economic advancement denied them in many other areas.
Truman had at
first retained Roosevelt’s Cabinet, but he soon felt uncomfortable with it. By
September 1946 only Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal remained. New Deal
supporters particularly objected to the removal of Secretary of Commerce Henry
A. Wallace, although he had publicly criticized Truman’s foreign policy,
including its increasingly hostile attitude toward the USSR.
Election of 1946
congressional campaigns began, even Democrats were divorcing themselves from
Truman’s programs. By using the Democratic discontent and the issues of rising
inflation, scarcity of meat, and labor unrest, the Republicans scored a
resounding victory, capturing both houses of Congress.
In his 1947
State of the Union message, Truman requested a law to strengthen the Department
of Labor, establish a labor-management relations commission, and end
jurisdictional and secondary strikes. Instead, Congress presented him with its
Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act that greatly
weakened the position of labor unions. The act outlawed union-only workplaces;
prohibited certain union tactics like secondary boycotts; forbade unions to
contribute to political campaigns; established loyalty oaths for union leaders;
and allowed court orders to halt strikes that could affect national health or
safety. Truman vetoed the bill, but on June 23, 1947, the bill was passed over
writing anti-inflation legislation, Congress voted a tax-cut bill giving 40
percent of the relief to those with incomes in excess of $5000. The bill became
law over Truman’s veto. The president once again failed to gather support for
his employment, national health, or social security measures.
United States and the USSR had been allies against Germany during the war, this
alliance began to dissolve after the end of the war, when Stalin, seeking Soviet
security, began using the Soviet Army to control much of Eastern Europe. Truman
opposed Stalin’s moves. Mistrust grew as both sides broke wartime agreements.
Stalin failed to honor pledges to hold free elections in Eastern Europe. Truman
refused to honor promises to send reparations from the defeated Germany to help
rebuild the war-devastated USSR. This hostility became known as the Cold War.
In 1947 British
Prime Minister Attlee told Truman that a British financial crisis was forcing
Great Britain to end its aid to Greece. At the time the USSR was demanding naval
stations on the Bosporus from Turkey, and Greece was engaged in a civil war with
Communist-dominated rebels. The president proposed what was called the Truman
Doctrine, which had two objectives: to send U.S. aid to anti-Communist forces in
Greece and Turkey, and to create a public consensus so Americans would be
willing to fight the Cold War. Truman told Congress that “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.” Congress fulfilled
his request for $250 million for Greece and $150 million for Turkey.
to Potsdam and reports from former President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who
headed a postwar food commission, gave him an intimate knowledge of the problems
of war-torn Europe. With General George C. Marshall, who was now secretary of
state, Truman drew up the European Recovery Plan for the economic rehabilitation
of free Europe. This act, also known as the Marshall Plan, was designed to
rebuild the European market, which would benefit U.S. trade, and to strengthen
democratic governments in Western Europe. The United States wanted to counter
the influence of the USSR, which it was beginning to see as its main rival. The
U.S. government also believed that West Germany, the zone occupied by U.S.,
British, and French forces, would have to be rebuilt and integrated into a
planning, Marshall announced in June 1947 that if Europe devised a cooperative,
long-term rebuilding program, the United States would provide funds. When the
USSR learned that the United States insisted on Soviet cooperation with the
capitalist societies of Western Europe and an open accounting of how funds were
used, the USSR established its own plan to integrate Communist states in Eastern
Europe. Under the Marshall Plan, the United States spent more than $12.5 billion
over a four-year period.
Plan and the amazing postwar recovery of West Germany highlighted the Soviet
Union’s failure to stabilize the economy of the zone it occupied, East
Germany. To embarrass the Allies the Soviets closed off all Allied access to the
city of Berlin, which was surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany but the
western part of which was under Allied control. Truman recognized that an
accessible Berlin was vital for European confidence in the United States. On
June 26, 1948, he ordered a full-scale airlift of essential products into the
city that continued until May 12, 1949, when the blockade was lifted.
Since his early
days in the White House, Truman supported the British Balfour Declaration of
1917, which had promised the Jews support for a national homeland in Palestine.
He sympathized with the Jewish survivors of Nazi Germany, and in November 1947
he supported the UN plan to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab
states. In the face of sustained pressure from pro-Arab delegations and from
those who feared the loss of Arabian oil, Truman recognized the State of Israel
on May 14, 1948.
Election of 1948
decided to run for a full term, he was faced with a major split in the
Democratic Party. In 1948 Truman had asked for an end to Jim Crow laws, which
maintained segregation in the South. He also proposed laws to punish those
responsible for the hanging of blacks without trials, called lynching; laws to
protect the voting rights of blacks; and a fair employment practices commission
to end job discrimination. All of these angered Southern Democrats. When
Northern Democrats inserted these positions into the 1948 Democratic Party
platform, a group of Southerners led by Governor J. Strom Thurmond of South
Carolina left the party and formed the States’ Rights Democrats, or Dixiecrats.
Henry Wallace and his supporters had also left to form the Progressive Party,
and in addition, some influential Democrats thought victory would be possible
only if the popular General Dwight D. Eisenhower could be drafted. The prospects
were dim as Truman and his running mate, Senator Alben W. Barkley, set out on
the Democratic Party nomination, and in his acceptance speech, he told the
convention he would reconvene Congress on July 26 to give the Republicans a
chance to carry out their party’s platform pledges. When the special session
ended without passing any important legislation, Truman had his campaign weapon.
He embarked on a cross-country whistle-stop tour, defending his record and
blasting the “do-nothing Republican 80th Congress.” No one knows who first
shouted, “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” but the phrase became the campaign slogan
publicly and privately conceded the election to the Republican candidate, New
York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Truman continued to campaign, making as many as
16 speeches in one day. A few hours after the polls closed on November 2, the
Chicago Tribune issued an early edition with the headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN,
but when the ballots were counted, Truman beat Dewey by more than 2 million
Second Term as
inaugural address proposed four points of action. The first was support of the
United Nations, the second was a continuation of the Marshall Plan, the third
was collective defense against Communist aggression, and the fourth was aid to
third point was developed into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a
regional defense alliance, created by the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April
4, 1949. NATO’s purpose was to enhance the stability, well-being, and freedom
of its members by means of a system of collective security. The defense plan was
greeted warmly by Western Europe, which saw Stalin tighten the USSR’s grip on
the countries of Eastern Europe and threaten the rest of Europe. The Senate
ratified the treaty, but only after debating it at length. Truman then placed
Eisenhower in command of the defense organization.
At the end of
World War II Korea was divided, and a Communist regime was established in North
Korea and an anti-Communist one in the South. Considerable civil strife in the
South and growing opposition to South Korea’s president, Syngman Rhee,
persuaded the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, that he would be welcomed by
many South Koreans as a liberator intent on reuniting the two Koreas. At the
same time, Kim would also undermine ongoing opposition to his own regime in
A war began on
June 25, 1950, when the North Korean army, equipped mainly by the USSR, crossed
the border and invaded South Korea. The United States immediately sent supplies
to Korea and quickly broadened its commitment in the conflict. On June 27 the UN
Security Council, with the Soviet Union voluntarily absent, passed a resolution
sponsored by the United States calling for military sanctions against North
Korea. Three days later, President Truman ordered U.S. troops stationed in Japan
to Korea. American forces, those of South Korea, and, ultimately, combat
contingents from 15 other nations were placed under United Nations command. The
action was unique because neither the UN, nor its predecessor, the League of
Nations, had ever used military measures to repel an aggressor. The UN forces
were commanded by the U.S. commander in chief in East Asia, General Douglas
official policy of the United States and the United Nations was to limit the war
to Korea to prevent the entrance of the USSR, early successes persuaded Truman
to move troops into North Korea. As UN soldiers approached the Chinese border,
however, China, after several warnings to the United States, crossed into North
Korea and began driving UN forces back toward the South. In response, MacArthur
publicly requested an extension of the war into Communist China itself, but now
Truman abandoned the idea of reunifying Korea by force and returned to the
original goal of stopping the invasion of South Korea. When MacArthur then
publicly attacked this policy, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command in April
1951 and replaced him with Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway. Until July 1953
UN forces mostly engaged in a series of probing actions known as the active
Point Four—aid to underdeveloped countries—stemmed from his belief “that
we should make available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of our store of
technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better
life.” Congress debated Point Four for nearly 18 months before approving it on
June 5, 1950. By offering technical and scientific aid to those who requested
it, Point Four helped reduce famine, disease, and the economic hardships of 35
African and Asian nations by 1953.
Although he had
a Democratic Congress, Truman’s Fair Deal domestic program again met stiff
opposition. Congress approved his public housing bill, expanded social security
coverage, increased minimum wages and passed stronger farm price support bills,
as well as flood-control, rural electrification, and public power measures.
However, the legislators rejected his request to have the Taft-Hartley Act
repealed, his plans for agricultural stabilization, for construction of the
Saint Lawrence Seaway, and for the creation of public hydroelectric companies in
the Missouri Valley and Columbia Valley. They also rejected his civil rights
proposals. However, he strengthened the civil rights section of the Justice
Department by executive orders, and he appointed blacks to a few high offices.
Cold War at
There was also
a Cold War at home. Some of Truman’s opponents considered MacArthur’s
removal to be evidence that the administration was lenient on Communism. This
was despite the fact that Truman had begun investigating applicants for
government jobs in 1946; that he had led the fight to aid Greece and Turkey when
the British could no longer do so; and that Truman had used that issue to create
new security and intelligence agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency
and the National Security Council.
Republicans nevertheless believed that Truman had not done enough. In 1948
American writer and editor Whittaker Chambers testified before Representative
Richard Nixon and the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he had been
a Communist in the 1920s and 1930s and a courier in transmitting secret
information to Soviet agents. He charged that State Department member Alger Hiss
was also a Communist, and that he had turned classified documents over to
Chambers to be sent to the Soviet Union. Hiss denied the charges but Chambers
produced microfilm copies of documents that were later identified as classified
papers belonging to the Departments of State, Navy, and War, some apparently
annotated by Hiss in his own handwriting. The Department of Justice conducted
its own investigation, and Hiss was indicted for perjury, or lying under oath.
The jury failed to reach a verdict, but Hiss was convicted after a second trial
in January 1950 (see Hiss Case).
In China the
Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, which had been supported by the
United States, was unable to withstand the advance of Communist forces under Mao
Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). By the end of 1949 government troops had been
overwhelmingly defeated, and Chiang led his forces into exile on Taiwan. The
triumphant Mao formed the People’s Republic of China. Truman critics charged
that the administration had failed to support Chiang Kai-shek against the
Communists. Many people were also alarmed in September 1949, when Truman
announced that the USSR had developed an atomic bomb.
1950 Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charged in a speech in Wheeling, West
Virginia, that the State Department knowingly employed 205 Communists. He later
reduced the number to 57, and after an investigation all of the charges were
found to be false. McCarthy continued to accuse other officials of Communist
sympathies. Without any evidence, he was eventually discredited, and the word
McCarthyism came to refer to accusations of subversive activities without any
and others convinced Congress to pass the Internal Security Act of 1950, called
the McCarran Act, over Truman’s veto. The act forced the registration of all
Communist organizations, allowed the government to intern Communists during any
national emergencies, and prohibited Communists from doing any defense work. The
act also prohibited the entrance into the United States of anyone who was a
member of a “totalitarian” organization.
Seizure of the
administration’s efforts to prevent a strike that would close the country’s
steel mills, a strike date was set for early April 9, 1952. Just hours before
the scheduled strike, before a nationwide radio audience, Truman directed
Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to seize the mills to ensure their
production to support the war efforts. However, on June 2, 1952, the Supreme
Court of the United States in a 6 to 3 decision on Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co.
v. Sawyer declared the seizure unconstitutional. The Court held that Truman
could have used the Taft-Hartley Act to delay the strike, but Truman disliked
the law too much to use it.
In March 1952,
Truman declared he would not seek reelection. He supported the candidacy of
Adlai E. Stevenson, governor of Illinois, who was defeated by General
to his home in Independence, Missouri, at the age of 67. He remained active in
politics but found that he was no longer a dominant force in his party’s
affairs. Although his personal choices were not nominated at the Democratic
national conventions in 1956 and 1960, he loyally supported the nominees and
campaigned throughout the country for Democrats seeking state and federal
Truman’s proudest moments came in July 1957, when he dedicated the Harry S.
Truman Library in Independence, where he maintained his office. His two-volume
Memoirs, Year of Decisions (1955) and Years of Trial and Hope, 1946-1952 (1956),
recorded the events of his presidency. He explained the major events of his
administration before a national television audience in the series
“Decision—The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman” in 1964. In 1960 his account
of his retirement years was published in Mr. Citizen. He also toured the
nation’s colleges and universities giving lectures on American government.
Some of his addresses were published in Freedom and Equality (1960), Truman
Speaks (1960), and Free World and Free Trade (1963).
Truman maintained his habit of taking brisk morning walks, and spoke with reporters who could keep pace with him. In 1965 he was the recipient of the Freedom Award. Truman died in 1972 and is buried on the grounds of the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.