Harry S. Truman - Key Events
President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies in Warm Spring, Georgia; Harry S. Truman becomes the thirty-third President of the United States.
Germany surrenders, ending World War II in Europe.
Representatives from the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union attend the Potsdam Conference.
The United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki three days later. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Japanese, primarily civilians, were killed in the two bombings. Following the second bombing, the Japanese requested an armistice agreeing to the Allied terms of surrender on August 15; the Empire of Japan formally surrendered in a ceremony on September 2. World War II was over, brought to a close with a weapon Truman had called “the most terrible bomb in the history of the world.”
Truman first learned of the program to develop an atomic bomb, known as the Manhattan Project, shortly after becoming President in April 1945. He expressed his support for the program but continued with plans to invade Japan to force surrender. It was estimated that an Allied invasion of Japan would prolong the war for at least another year and cost an estimated 200,000 additional casualties.
While at the Potsdam Conference in Germany, the President received word of the successful test of the bomb, including details of the massive damage the detonation had wrought. Truman was told that the bomb could be ready to be dropped by early August. In a statement that became known as the Potsdam Declaration, the United States, Britain, and China called for Japan to surrender unconditionally or face “prompt and utter destruction.” This was the only warning the Japanese received before the dropping of the first bomb.
Truman was at sea returning from Germany when he received news of the successful bombing of Hiroshima. The following morning, Truman announced the bombing to the American people and again warned Japan of the destruction they would face if they did not surrender. After the United States dropped the second bomb, Japan surrendered.
The use of the atomic bomb was extremely popular, and ending the war without losing additional America lives bolstered the President's popularity. Still, the effects of the atomic bomb left some Americans, including Truman, with a feeling of horror.
The United States drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
Japan surrenders, ending World War II in Asia.
Truman presents Congress with his 21-point plan for Reconversion.
Truman signs the Employment Act of 1946, placing increased responsibility for economic stability on the federal government.
State Department official George Kennan, serving in the Soviet Union, sends his “Long Telegram,” in which he analyzes the sources of Soviet conduct and Moscow's geopolitical intentions, and suggests American responses.
Winston Churchill delivers his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, condemning the Soviet Union’s policies of expansion and calling for strengthening the U.S-Britain alliance.
Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace criticizes U.S. foreign policy in a speech in New York City.
Truman asks for, and receives, Wallace's resignation.
In the midterm elections, the Republican Party wins control of Congress.
Truman delivers his “Truman Doctrine” speech to Congress, asking for a $400 million appropriation to fight the spread of Communism in Greece and Turkey.
Truman Doctrine Announced
On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress to request military aid for the countries of Greece and Turkey. During the course of his remarks, Truman described the United States as engaged in an ideological conflict with the forces of totalitarianism-a thinly veiled reference to the Soviet Union. The President observed that every nation had to choose between a way of life “based upon the will of the majority,” and a way of life “based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority.” Setting America on a new course in world affairs, Truman proclaimed that “it must be the policy of the United State to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The United States would thenceforth provide aid to countries fighting the forces of Communism. Truman did not advocate sending troops around the world to fight against Communist insurgents, however. Instead, starting with Greece and Turkey, he asked Congress for financial aid to support those nations facing Communist threats.
Truman's aid request did not mark a dramatic shift in the policies of his administration. The President's advisers on foreign policy had long advocated that Truman adopt a tougher stance against the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the address did signify a shift in how Truman characterized the Soviet Union and the menace it represented to the American public. In framing the issues as a conflict between two irreconcilable ideologies, Truman sharpened the tone of his rhetoric, asking for a global commitment to contain a ruthless foe.
Truman's speech prompted criticism from both the left and right of the American political spectrum. Liberals, such as Henry Wallace, continued to call for cooperation with the Soviet Union. Conservatives, including powerful Republican Senator Robert Taft, spoke out against further American involvement in Europe. The administration, however, was able to mobilize support from moderates in both parties who recognized in Communism a threat of increasing proportions. Congress passed Truman's aid package to Greece and Turkey in May 1947 with clear majorities in both the House and the Senate.
To read President Truman's entire speech, click here.
Truman creates the Federal Employee Loyalty Program, known as the “Loyalty Order,” via Executive Order 9835. This order’s purpose was to ensure loyalty against communism in the federal government.
Jackie Robinson plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and integrates major league baseball.
Truman signs the “Truman Doctrine” appropriation approved by Congress for Greece and Turkey.
Secretary of State George Marshall proposes economic aid to Europe in an address at Harvard University. Officially titled the European Recovery Program, the package aids Western Europe in rebuilding their economies, and becomes known as the “Marshall Plan.”
Marshall Plan Announced
On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a plan to provide economic assistance to the devastated nations of Europe after World War II. He presented what became known as the Marshall Plan during a commencement speech at Harvard University. The administration of President Harry S. Truman hoped the plan would encourage both political and economic stability in Europe and help reduce the attraction of Communism to Europe's suffering populations.
In his speech, Secretary Marshall implied that funding would be available for all of Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union refused to participate. Administration officials recognized that Soviet rejection of aid would likely solidify the emerging division of the continent and were eager to pin the blame for that development on Moscow. Had the Soviets agreed to participate in the plan, its passage through Congress would have been much more difficult. The likelihood of Soviet participation, however, was slim. Marshall had made disbursal of American funds contingent upon European nations presenting a coordinated proposal to the United States, an approach designed to encourage greater cooperation among countries in Europe.
In July, representatives from sixteen European nations attended a conference in Paris, France, to draw up a proposal for U.S. aid. The Soviets had sent a delegation to an initial meeting, but it soon departed under orders from Moscow. And despite the interest expressed by Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania in the aid plan, no East European nation was a recipient of American funds. In August 1947, representatives from the European nations presented a proposal for more than $20 billion of aid over four years. The Truman administration trimmed the amount to $17.8 billion before sending it Congress as the European Recovery Plan (ERP). President Truman insisted on associating the plan with Secretary Marshall not only because he believed Marshall deserved the credit, but because, given his political difficulties with Congress, he wanted to distance himself from the plan. The Marshall Plan's enormous cost led to opposition in Congress, but Stalin's aggressive actions in Eastern Europe, particularly in Czechosvakia, helped secure the first appropriation of $6.8 million in April 1948. By the time the Marshall Plan had come to an end in 1952, it had provided more than $13 billion in aid to Western Europe.
Some historians have criticized the plan for increasing tension with the Soviet Union or as a program designed to create markets for American goods in Europe. Despite these negative connotations, the Marshall Plan provided financial and humanitarian aid which fostered economic growth and political stability for the peoples of Western Europe.
Truman vetoes the Taft-Hartley Act.
Congress overrides Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Truman addresses the NAACP, the first President to do so.
The National Security Act passes Congress, creating the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Resources Board.
Truman sends a message to Congress asking for legislation to secure the civil rights of the nation's minorities.
Congress passes the European Recovery Program (the “Marshall Plan”).
The United States recognizes the state of Israel.
Governor Thomas Dewey of New York accepts the Republican Party nomination for President.
The Soviet Union blockades the overland access routes to West Berlin.
Soviets Begin Berlin Blockade
On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union halted all transportation by road and rail into the areas of Berlin controlled by the United States, Britain, and France. The American and British forces immediately initiated an airlift of supplies to relieve the western-controlled portions of the city. After 321 days and 272,000 flights, the airlift succeeded when the Soviets reopened the borders on March 12, 1949.
After World War II, Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union had partitioned Germany and its capital city of Berlin. The city lay entirely within the Soviet zone of Eastern Germany but was still divided between the four allies. In June 1948, the Western powers introduced new currency into their occupation zones, initiating the formation of a self-governing Germany.
After the Soviets began the blockade of Berlin, President Harry S. Truman made the decision that the United States would “stay in Berlin” and not concede the city as part of the Soviet sphere of influence. He rejected, however, proposals to send a military convoy through the Soviet zone to Berlin, which would have most likely led to war. Instead, he chose to maintain the airlift. Some advisers doubted that an airlift would succeed in supplying the people of West Berlin with food and fuel, but Truman risked both his foreign policy objectives and his political future on supplying the city without initiating war. From the perspective of the Truman administration, losing Berlin would have undermined U.S. credibility around the world.
The crisis over Berlin demonstrated a high point in the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the airlift garnered wide public support in the United States, allowing Truman to emphasize his administration's anti-Soviet credentials during the 1948 presidential campaign. By this point, the Cold War had become a major issue both internationally and in the domestic political arena.
In conjunction with the British, Truman orders the airlifting of supplies into West Berlin.
Truman accepts the Democratic Party nomination for President and calls for a special session of Congress.
At the opening of a special session of the 80th Congress, Truman asks for legislation on housing, civil rights, and price controls. The same day, the President signs Executive Order 9981, which desegregates the Armed Forces.
Truman Orders Desegregation of Armed Forces
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order to desegregate the armed forces. Executive Order 9981 created the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.
There was great resistance to this order among Army officers. Army chief of staff Omar Bradley declared that “the Army is not out to make any social reform.” It was Bradley's contention that the Army “will not put men of different races in the same companies.” The armed forces did not seriously implement Truman's order until the Korean War began in 1950, and desegregation of the Army was not completed until 1954. Even then, however, the Army's officer corps remained predominantly white.
In 1946, Truman first attempted to create a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which had originally formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After this proposal failed, the President appointed a committee to advise him on civil rights. In February 1948, he demonstrated his support for the committee's proposals by sending a message to Congress calling for measures such as anti-lynching laws and legislation to end poll taxes and discrimination in interstate travel. He also pledged to issue executive orders to end discrimination in the armed forces and civil service.
Still, Truman remained cautious in supporting civil rights as there was considerable opposition within his own party. At the July 1948 Democratic Convention, liberals challenged the party's vague civil rights platform, replacing it with a more activist program. This led delegates from Alabama and Mississippi to walk out of the convention and form the States' Rights Democratic or “Dixiecrat” party. After the convention, Truman issued the executive orders desegregating the armed forces and the civil service, his strongest actions in support of civil rights.
There was good political reason for Truman to desegregate the armed forces: he needed black votes to win reelection in November. As the Dixiecrat revolt demonstrated, there were also political risks involved in his support of civil rights. Truman's actions, while minor in light of the broad-based oppression suffered by African Americans, amounted to an important symbolic endorsement of civil rights and helped secure the allegiance of black Americans to the Democratic Party-a process begun during the presidency of Truman's predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Truman campaigns for the presidency throughout the nation (except for the South) and attacks the record of the “do nothing” Republican-controlled Congress.
Truman is elected President. The Democratic Party retakes both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Truman proposes the “Fair Deal” in his State of the Union address.
Truman Announces Fair Deal Program
On January 5, 1949, just weeks before the start of his second term as President, Harry S. Truman delivered his State of the Union Address. The speech contained a series of measures that Truman recommended for congressional action. Truman closed his address by citing the philosophy behind this domestic program. “Every segment of our population and every individual,” he explained, “has a right to expect from our government a fair deal.” His list of demands thus became known as the “Fair Deal,” an attempt by Truman to augment Roosevelt's New Deal. Nevertheless, where Roosevelt had met with great success in implementing his proposals, Truman struggled to pass his program. Of all the goals he presented, only three-increasing public housing programs, raising the minimum wage, and expanding Social Security-were fulfilled by the end of the congressional session in 1950.
Truman's Fair Deal included a wide ranging group of proposals: economic controls to halt inflation, a more progressive tax structure, the raising of the minimum wage, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, agricultural reform, resource development and public power, national medical insurance, expansion of Social Security, federal housing programs, aid to education, and civil rights protections. The President, however, faced numerous difficulties in passing his liberal legislative program. Despite the election of Democratic majorities to both the House and the Senate, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from the South continued to dominate both chambers of Congress. For example, Truman proposed cloture reform-reducing the number of votes necessary to end a filibuster in the Senate-to facilitate the passage of civil rights legislation. Conservative Senators narrowly defeated this proposal, shutting down the possibility of more liberal legislation. Other aspects of Truman's program met with opposition from powerful interest groups. The administration's agricultural reform bill was defeated through the influence of the Farm Bureau Federation; likewise, the American Medical Association lobbied against national healthcare. These forces limited Congress's ability to pass substantial parts of the Fair Deal.
Those programs that were enacted barely made it through Congress. Even with the support of conservative Senator Robert Taft, the Housing Act of 1949 passed an important vote in the House by a margin of only five representatives; the act was weakened version of the public housing bill the President proposed, but it still promised to build 810,000 housing units over the next six years. Congress also raised the minimum wage in 1949 from 40 to 75 cents. Finally, the Social Security Act of 1950 expanded significantly the coverage offered in the original 1935 act. While Truman failed to implement most of his Fair Deal, the passage of these three acts and other smaller pieces of legislation were significant victories for the President and liberals in Congress.
Twelve nations from Europe and North America sign the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Soviet Union lifts the Berlin blockade.
Truman signs the Housing Act, establishing a national housing agency and providing federal aid to slum clearance programs and low-cost housing projects.
The State Department issues its “White Paper” on China, justifying America’s Chinese foreign policy and its failures to stop the spread of communism in China.
Truman announces that the Soviet Union has detonated an atomic bomb.
Mao Zedong announces the establishment of the communist People's Republic of China.
Congress raises the minimum wage from forty cents to seventy-five cents an hour.
Truman announces that the United States will develop a hydrogen bomb.
Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) speaks in Wheeling, West Virginia, and charges that the State Department employs 205 known Communists. A term, McCarthyism, later develops to describe the practice of making false accusations of treason or disloyalty without proper evidence.
Mao and Stalin sign the Sino-Soviet alliance.
The National Security Council presents NSC-68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security to Truman.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of married women who work outside the home has increased by 90 percent over the previous ten years.
North Korea invades South Korea.
Truman announces that he has ordered American ground forces stationed in Japan to Korea. General Douglas MacArthur commands the U.S. (and United Nations) troops.
Truman signs the 1950 Social Security Amendments, expanding coverage and increasing benefits.
United States military forces successfully spearhead a counterattack at Inchon, South Korea.
Truman vetoes the Internal Security Act.
Truman signs the Revenue Act of 1950, increasing corporation and income taxes.
Congress passes the Internal Security Act over Truman's veto.
Truman meets with MacArthur on Wake Island to discuss America's Far East policy.
Republicans make significant gains in congressional mid-term elections.
China launches a massive counteroffensive against American advances in North Korea.
Truman declares a state of national emergency and imposes wage and price controls.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death following their convictions on conspiring to provide secret information to the Soviet Union.
Truman relieves General Douglas MacArthur of his command of both U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea.
Truman Dismisses General MacArthur
On April 11, 1951, President Harry Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur, one of the most well known and respected officers in the Army, as commander of the U.S. forces in the Korean War.
MacArthur had graduated first in his class from West Point in 1903 and served with distinction in the World War I. In World War II, he was commander of U.S. forces in Asia, coordinating the island-hoping campaign against the Japanese. After the war, he remained in Japan as head of the occupation forces. When the invasion of South Korea began, MacArthur quickly requested permission from Truman to intervene. The President agreed, and MacArthur became commander of the U.S. forces in Korea, masterminding the successful landing at Inchon.
MacArthur, aware of his heroic reputation, created many difficulties for the Truman administration. Despite orders that all his public comments had to be approved, he frequently made statements to the press undermining Truman's foreign policy. MacArthur often ignored suggestions made by his superiors on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While MacArthur was told to use caution in approaching the Yalu River, he instead quickly advanced toward the Chinese border. In December, while the Truman administration attempted to maintain a limited conflict, MacArthur recommended military action against China including a blockade and large-scale bombings.
The General's greatest infractions, however, occurred in March 1951. When Truman informed MacArthur that he would seek a negotiated settlement of the Korean conflict, MacArthur chose to make his own offer to meet with the Chinese. If this was not enough, MacArthur sent a letter to Republican Congressman Joseph Martin, criticizing Truman's decision to try to end the war. This was the last straw. Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur, and General Matthew Ridgeway became commander of the U.S. troops in Korea.
Upon his return to the United States, MacArthur received a hero's welcome. He addressed a joint session of Congress to a standing ovation and was greeted by a ticker tape parade in New York City. Despite this excitement, much of the press, many congressmen, and large segments of the public agreed with Truman's actions. Truman had upheld the constitutional supremacy of elected officials over the military and had maintained the strategy of limited war.
The first color television program is broadcast, but no color sets are available for sale.
Truman campaigns on behalf of Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson.
Truman signs the Mutual Security Act, authorizing more than $7 billion for foreign economic, military, and technical aid.
Truman declares that he will not be a candidate for re-election.
Truman signs an Executive Order directing the Secretary of Commerce to seize steel mills in order to prevent a strike by steel workers.
Truman Seizes Control of Steel Industry
On April 8, 1952, President Harry Truman seized control of steel industry, allowing the federal government to administer and oversee the industry. The seizure resulted after the steel producers and steel workers had been unable to reach agreement on a new contract. Truman justified this action under his authority as President but it resulted in a stunning rebuke for him.
On December 31, 1951, the contract between the nation's steel producers and the United Steelworkers Union expired. Weeks of negotiations had failed to produce an acceptable agreement. Since Truman had created a new bureaucracy to manage the economy during the Korean War, both the union and management looked to these agencies to provide a solution. Truman referred the dispute to Wage Stabilization Board (WSB) and requested that both sides continue production until the board made a decision. In March 1952, the WSB voted to give labor a raise of 26 cents an hour. To pay for this increase in wages, the steel manufacturers appealed to the Office of Price Stabilization (OPS) to raise the price of steel but the OPS rejected the request. The administration again attempted to negotiate a compromise, but the steel companies refused to accept the price increases offered by the government, and the union would only accept the raise promised by the WSB. With negotiations at an impasse, a strike appeared inevitable.
Throughout the ordeal, Truman's objectives were to avert a strike, maintain steel production, and stay on good terms with labor, an important Democratic constituency. Viewing steel as necessary to the war effort, he could not allow a strike to begin. Yet, he refrained from using his powers to force the union back to work under the Taft-Hartley Act. He believed that to do so would be to punish labor for management's intransigence and strengthen the political position of the Republican Party. So instead he issued Executive Order 10340 to have the secretary of commerce seize control of the steel industry.
Both the courts and public opinion opposed Truman's action. According to a Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans disapproved of the seizures. In April, a federal district court found Truman's actions unconstitutional. Two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding in a 6 to 3 decision.
With control of the steel plants back in private hands, a fifty-three day strike ensued. In July, the President was finally able to get both sides to agree to terms similar to those on the table at the start of the year. Truman had risked much of his political capital on a strike that, in the end, had minimal effect on the Korean War. The choices he made in this incident increased the unpopularity of an already embattled President.
The Supreme Court declares the seizure of steel mills unconstitutional in a six-to-three vote.
Truman vetoes the McCarran-Walter Immigration Bill.
The House of Representatives and the Senate override Truman's veto of the McCarran-Walter Act.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower receives the Republican nomination for President.
Governor Adlai Stevenson (IL) receives the Democratic nomination for President.
The United States detonates the first hydrogen bomb.
Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected President.