Truman Is Elected President Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Confounding all expectations, embattled president Harry S. Truman was elected to the position he had assumed upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. His administration oversaw the aftermath of World War II and sought to shield liberal social programs from the attacks of conservatives.

Summary of Event

When Harry S. Truman took the presidential oath of office in April, 1945, upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a great majority of the people in the United States rallied behind him. He seemed to be an ordinary man who was trying to do the best he could, and his simple humility evoked the sympathy of the citizens. That summer, he presided over the momentous decisions involved in ending World War II and adopted a tough stand toward the Soviet Union. On September 6, only four days after the formal surrender of Japan, Truman sent Congress a broad domestic program that revived the spirit of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Truman called for the expansion of Social Security, a higher minimum wage, full-employment legislation, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission to protect African American workers, public housing, and slum clearance. In a series of subsequent messages, he expanded his requests, but the Truman “honeymoon” was quickly over. Presidential elections, U.S.;1948 Presidency, U.S.;Harry S. Truman[Truman] [kw]Truman Is Elected President (Nov. 2, 1948) [kw]President, Truman Is Elected (Nov. 2, 1948) Presidential elections, U.S.;1948 Presidency, U.S.;Harry S. Truman[Truman] [g]North America;Nov. 2, 1948: Truman Is Elected President[02670] [g]United States;Nov. 2, 1948: Truman Is Elected President[02670] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 2, 1948: Truman Is Elected President[02670] Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;1948 presidential elections Barkley, Alben William Dewey, Thomas E. Warren, Earl Thurmond, Strom Wallace, Henry A. Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;New Deal

Harry S. Truman exultantly holds up a newspaper that prematurely announced Dewey as the winner of the 1948 presidential election.

(Library of Congress)

Congress, dominated by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats, enacted the truncated Employment Act of 1946 but little else that the president had requested. In the meantime, Truman bungled the task of reconverting the nation’s economy from war to peace. All the postwar uncertainties—inflation, strikes, shortages, price controls on food and products, problems with the Soviet Union, controversy over the use of atomic weapons—eroded his personal popularity and that of his party. “To err is Truman,” people joked; “I wonder what Truman would do if he were alive.”

By the fall of 1946, Republicans were asking, “Had enough?” The question caught the mood of the country. The Republicans swept the midterm elections, winning both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928. The size of the victory was the real surprise; their margin was 245 to 188 in the House of Representatives and 51 to 45 in the Senate. The new Eightieth Congress was even less receptive to Truman’s domestic proposals than the previous Congress had been.

As the 1948 election approached, Republicans Republican Party, U.S. seemed complacently certain of victory. When their national convention met, they passed over Robert A. Taft Taft, Robert A. , the conservative senator from Ohio, and again nominated New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. Earl Warren, the popular governor of California, received the vice presidential nomination.

The Democratic Party Democratic Party, U.S. seemed to disintegrate, losing first its left wing and then the South. In late 1947, Henry A. Wallace, recently expelled from Truman’s cabinet, announced that he would run on a third-party ticket. The dissident Northern liberals who supported him were dissatisfied with the slow pace of domestic reform, and they favored greater cooperation with the Soviet Union. Other Democrats sought a glamorous candidate to replace Truman. The first choice of the “dump Truman” movement was General Dwight D. Eisenhower Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;1948 presidential elections , whose party affiliation was not yet known. He was flattered but not interested. At Philadelphia, a gloomy convention accepted Truman for lack of any alternative; Senator Alben William Barkley was named as his running mate. When a liberal faction inserted a civil rights plank into the platform, Southern diehards bolted the party. Meeting at Birmingham, Alabama, they formed the States’ Rights Party States’ Rights Party, U.S.[States Rights Party, U.S.] (Dixiecrats), with Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as their candidate.

Confident that the prize would be his, Dewey campaigned as though he had already won. The polls showed him far ahead. His speeches were polished and statesmanlike, although he aroused little enthusiasm among the Republican rank and file. He accused the Truman administration of corruption, but he tacitly accepted the New Deal reforms and even promised to administer them more efficiently. In contrast, Truman entered the contest in a fighting mood. Ignoring Dewey, he lashed out at the “no-account, do nothing” Eightieth Congress and identified the Republican Party with selfish special interests. Hurling himself into strenuous whistle-stop tours that covered 31,700 miles and included 356 speeches, he took on the role of an indomitable fighter, a scrappy underdog making an uphill fight. His extemporaneous style of speaking captivated his audiences. “Give ’em hell, Harry,” voices called out.

To the consternation of almost everyone, on November 2, 1948, Truman defeated Dewey by 24,105,812 to 21,970,065 votes. The electoral score was Truman, 303; Dewey, 189; Thurmond, 39. Wallace and Thurmond each received about 1,150,000 votes, far below predictions. The Democrats also regained control of both houses of Congress. Truman had pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in the history of presidential politics.

Once he was president in his own right, Truman resumed the fight for his domestic program, incorporating the phrase “fair deal” in his state-of-the-union speech on January 4, 1949. Truman’s Fair Deal Fair Deal proposals were dedicated to increasing economic growth, redressing the problems of unequal wealth and opportunity, and providing abundance for all. Specifically, Truman wanted a more progressive tax structure; the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, which outlawed industrywide strikes, the closed shop, and mass picketing; higher wages; and subsidized farm prices. He also proposed the establishment of anti-inflation control measures; expanded resource development and public power programs; national health insurance; federal aid to education; and extensive housing and civil rights legislation.

Significance

At the end of his seven years in office, the tangible results of Truman’s efforts were slim: enactment of the National Housing Act of 1949; an increase in the minimum hourly wage to seventy-five cents; establishment of a Social Security law that boosted benefits and extended coverage to more people; and passage of more liberal immigration laws. Congress turned down Truman’s requests for civil rights legislation, national health insurance, a new system of agricultural subsidies, and federal aid to education.

The failure to obtain passage of most of the Fair Deal programs in Congress was primarily a result of perennial congressional factionalism that Truman could not control, even within his own party. Truman—noted for holding grudges against key congressional leaders and insulting others—was his own worst enemy in shepherding his legislation through Congress. More important, the public became increasingly conservative; they were more concerned with inflation, the war boom of the Korean War, and the rise of McCarthyism in the wake of the communist menaces of Russia and China.

Truman did succeed in accelerating the civil rights gains of African Americans. Although he failed to get a broad civil rights program through Congress, he used executive authority to desegregate the armed forces. His Justice Department participated in important civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. Under his direction, the Civil Service Commission eliminated discrimination in government agencies. Thus, Truman preserved New Deal reforms and modestly extended some of its programs. His best proposals constituted the unfinished business of U.S. reform for the next two decades. Presidential elections, U.S.;1948 Presidency, U.S.;Harry S. Truman[Truman]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ferrell, Robert H. Choosing Truman: The Democratic Convention of 1944. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994. Tells the unbelievable but true story of how Senator Harry Truman became the running mate of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. Fascinating political anecdotes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Harry S. Truman: A Life. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994. Chronicles Truman’s early life and how he rose to the presidency. Chapter 14 explores Truman’s Fair Deal and its importance to future generations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006. Attempts to rewrite history—again—resisting the revisionism of the previous generation of historians to restore what Ferrell sees as a proper understanding of the relationships among Truman, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamby, Alonzo L., ed. Harry S. Truman and the Fair Deal. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1974. Offers essays, pro and con, on the various programs of Truman’s Fair Deal. Also includes selected Truman speeches on civil rights and domestic reforms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCullough, David G. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Compelling story of Truman as an “ordinary” man who became an extraordinary president. Captures both the complex man and the times in which he lived.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Richard L. Truman: The Rise to Power. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986. Details Truman’s life up to the day he assumed the presidency in 1945; demonstrates how Truman’s character was formed. A gritty reinterpretation of Truman.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pemberton, William E. Harry S. Truman: Fair Dealer and Cold Warrior. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Sketches events after Truman assumed the presidency. Includes a helpful chronological outline of major events; lists more than four hundred manuscripts in the Truman Library collection.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Truman, Harry S. The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman. Edited by Robert H. Ferrell. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. Collection of Truman’s autobiographical writings produced between 1934 and 1972. Edited by one of the foremost Truman biographers and scholars. Bibliographic references and index.

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