President Harry S. Truman's Domestic Policy

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the domestic policies of President Harry S. Truman. We will discover what his policies were regarding economic issues and examine his stance on civil rights.

Harry Truman: A Surprisingly Dynamic President

President Harry Truman was surprising on so many levels. To begin with, he wasn't elected president, at least not when he first assumed the office. See, Harry Truman was Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president. When FDR unexpectedly died in the spring of 1945, Truman became president.

Another big surprise came when Truman won reelection in 1948. He wasn't expected to win. In fact, there is a famous photograph that shows him holding up a newspaper with the erroneous headline ''Dewey Defeats Truman''. That's because the editors of the paper were so sure that Truman's Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, would win that they printed the paper ahead of time.

Truman won a surprise victory over Republican challenger Thomas Dewey in the election of 1948.
dewey truman

Considering he was an underdog of sorts, Truman was pretty dynamic. A lot of really important, pivotal things took place under his administration. Let's take as our first example the foreign policy named after him: the Truman Doctrine. Also, NATO (which should ring a bell) was formed during his administration. And then there was the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan. Oh yeah, there was also a war: the Korean War.

It's not hard to see why we associate Truman's presidency with historic foreign affairs, but what about his domestic policies? That is the subject of this lesson. Let's examine what happened in the United States under President Truman.

The Domestic Agenda: Economics and Business

As a senator and later vice president, Truman had supported FDR's New Deal, a progressive and wide-ranging government initiative to combat the Great Depression. As a Democrat, Truman believed the government had an important role in regulating the economy and providing well-being to citizens.

He signed the Employment Act of 1946, which basically gave the federal government the responsibility of fighting unemployment. Under this act, the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) was created. This council provided the president with insights into economic trends and conditions.

Borrowing from FDR's ''New Deal'' terminology, Truman came up with program of his own called the ''Fair Deal''. The Fair Deal consisted of a national healthcare program, federal aid for education, a raised minimum wage, public housing projects, progressive taxation, and other initiatives in-line with liberal politics. Most of the Fair Deal was rejected by Congress. The only part of it that became law was the Housing Act of 1949, which increased the construction of public housing and government involvement in the mortgage process.

Truman's ''Fair Deal'', though not fully implemented, helped provide inspiration for President Lyndon B. Johnson's ''Great Society.''

Although it was passed in 1944, the G.I. Bill was implemented in numerous capacities throughout the Truman Administration. The bill provided a wide range of benefits for soldiers returning home from World War II. Among other benefits, it provided free tuition for college, low mortgage payments, and unemployment benefits. The G.I. Bill was a popular government intervention that helped millions of World War II veterans reintegrate into American society and pursue the ''American Dream'' that was so characteristic of the 1950s.

Although enacted under President Roosevelt as seen above, the G.I. Bill was widely implemented throughout the Truman Years.
GI Bill

Civil Rights

Truman took a strong stance in favor of civil rights. In 1947, his administration produced a detailed report calling for civil rights reform. He set up committees to investigate racial discrimination and develop solutions to long-standing racial issues. There was one problem, however: many Southern Democrats did not support civil rights.

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