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Truman's Fair Deal & Economics After WWII

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  • 0:03 Trying to Fill FDR's Shoes
  • 0:59 U.S. Economy After WWII
  • 2:14 The Fair Deal
  • 3:37 Response to the Fair Deal
  • 4:44 Truman's Legacy
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Although Truman inherited FDR's presidency, he found himself living in a very different world than his predecessor. In this lesson, we'll explore Truman's Fair Deal and see how it reflected changes in postwar America.

Trying to Fill FDR's Shoes

When Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945, he had held the presidency longer than any person before him, enacted some of the broadest reforms in American history, and reinvented the role of the American government. In short, FDR left some pretty big shoes to fill. Who could live up to that legacy? It was up to FDR's former vice president, Harry Truman, to try.

Truman inherited not only FDR's power, but also the responsibility to cement his domestic reforms, oversee the end of the war, and rebuild America in peacetime. It was not an enviable position to be in. Truman tried to build upon FDR's reform program of the New Deal with his own set of domestic and foreign policies called the Fair Deal. Stepping into FDR's shoes, Truman knew this responsibility was a big deal.

U.S. Economy After WWII

To understand the Fair Deal, we need a basic overview of the American economy after WWII. America had entered the war in 1941, just as FDR's New Deal policies were finally starting to overcome the crisis of the Great Depression. However, it was the ramped up wartime production that ultimately solved unemployment and finally restored American economic strength. As the U.S.A. left the war in 1945, Truman had to oversee the national transition back into a peacetime economy. Congress had already begun preparing for this with the GI Bill of 1944 that granted free college or low-interest business loans to veterans as a way to integrate them into the new economy.

On the surface, things looked good as businesses started making commercial products again, consumers eagerly spent their money, and the economy grew. However, new technologies developed during the war also led to more mechanized production, eliminating many factory jobs. Labor unrest began to swell as more working class men and women found themselves out of work. This was a big deal to Truman, as FDR's New Deal programs and legacy were built on providing security to the working class first and foremost.

The Fair Deal

In 1948, Truman won reelection as president. Remember that his first term came with death of FDR, so this was the first time he'd actually been elected to the office. He moved to quickly to take a definitive stance regarding his term and on January 5th of 1949, delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress outlining an eight-point program of domestic and foreign policy. This was the Fair Deal.

The main focus of the Fair Deal was economic reform. Truman swore to continue the legacies of the New Deal by increasing minimum wage, expanding public housing, repealing laws that banned labor unions, promoting federal health insurance, building social security, and creating a Department of Welfare. Together these policies were meant to provide for the wellbeing of the working class and maintain the government's new role as an active provider of welfare. The other big issue that Truman began addressing with his Fair Deal was Civil Rights, or social and political equality, particularly for African Americans. It was Truman who finally desegregated the U.S. Military and he sought to further combat segregation by abolishing prejudicial laws, fighting lynching in the South, and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission to ensure equal employment opportunities in the federal government.

Response to the Fair Deal

When FDR was in office, his New Deal programs were embraced enthusiastically by most Americans. However, times change. By the late 1940s, the middle class was booming and the average American was wealthier than ever before. After 15 years of depression and wartime rationing, Americans didn't want to put their money into welfare programs. They wanted to spend it on luxuries they couldn't afford before, like televisions and cars.

The middle class wasn't the only group that was unwilling to foot the $4 billion bill that the Fair Deal would cost. Since the end of the war, Republicans had taken control of Congress. FDR promoted a stronger and more involved federal government than nearly any other president and the people allowed it because the depression demanded government regulation. After the war, however, Americans decided it was time for a less centralized government and Republicans were voted into many seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives. These Republicans opposed Truman's attempts to maintain a strong, centralized government, as well as the hefty cost of maintaining the welfare state.

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