Presidency of Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman
Presidency of Harry S. Truman
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
CabinetSee list
PartyDemocratic
Election1948
SeatWhite House

Seal of the President of the United States (1945–59).png

Seal of the President
(1945–1959)
Library website

Harry S. Truman's tenure as the 33rd president of the United States began on April 12, 1945, when Truman became president on his predecessor's death, and ended on January 20, 1953. He had been vice president for only 82 days when he succeeded to the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A Democrat from Missouri, he ran for and won a full four–year term in the 1948 election. Although exempted from the newly ratified Twenty-second Amendment, Truman did not run again in the 1952 election because of his low popularity. He was succeeded by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower who had attacked Truman's failures.

Truman's presidency was a turning point in foreign affairs, as the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy and renounced isolationism. During his first year in office, Truman approved the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequently accepted the surrender of Japan, which marked the end of World War II. In the aftermath of World War II, he helped establish the United Nations and other post-war institutions. Relations with the Soviet Union declined after 1945, and by 1947 the two countries had entered a long period of tension and war preparation known as the Cold War, during which a hot fighting war with Moscow was avoided. Truman broke with Roosevelt's Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who called for friendship with Moscow. Wallace was the third-party presidential candidate of the far left in 1948. In 1947, Truman promulgated the Truman Doctrine, which called for the United States to prevent the spread of Communism through foreign aid to Greece and Turkey. In 1948 the Republican-controlled Congress approved the Marshall Plan, a massive financial aid package designed to rebuild Western Europe. In 1949, the Truman administration designed and presided over the creation of NATO, a military alliance of Western countries designed to prevent the further westward expansion of Soviet power.

Truman proposed an ambitious domestic liberal agenda known as the Fair Deal. However nearly all his initiatives were blocked by the conservative coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats. Republicans took control of Congress in the 1946 elections after the strike wave of 1945–46. Truman suffered another major defeat by the conservative coalition when the 80th Congress passed the Taft–Hartley Act into law over his veto. It reversed some of the pro-labor union legislation that was central to the New Deal. When Robert A. Taft, the conservative Republican senator, unexpectedly supported the Housing Act of 1949, Truman achieved one new liberal program. Truman took a strong stance on civil rights, ordering equal rights in the military to the disgust of the white politicians in the Deep South. They supported a "Dixiecrat" third-party candidate, Strom Thurmond, in 1948. Truman later pushed for the integration of the military in the 1950s. During his presidency, fears of Soviet espionage led to a Red Scare; Truman denounced those who made unfounded accusations of Soviet sympathies, but also purged left-wing federal employees who refused to disavow Communism.

When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman sent U.S. troops to prevent the fall of South Korea. After initial successes, however, the war settled into a stalemate that lasted throughout the final years of Truman's presidency. Truman left office as one of the most unpopular presidents of the twentieth century, mainly due to the Korean War and his then controversial decision to dismiss General Douglas MacArthur, resulting in a huge loss of support. In the 1952 election Eisenhower successfully campaigned against what he denounced as Truman's failures: "Korea, Communism and Corruption". Nonetheless, Truman retained a strong reputation among scholars, and his public reputation eventually recovered in the 1960s. In polls of historians and political scientists, Truman is generally ranked as one of the ten greatest presidents.


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