Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumbTruman was well-known for his desk sign, “The Buck Stops Here.” But the relatively inexperienced haberdasher turned politician from Missouri. He was elected as vice-president in the 1944 election with FDR. With the war approaching completion in Europe, FDR left Truman out of the “loop.” When FDR died suddenly, Truman was thrust upon the world scene to negotiate with the experienced world leader, Churchill and Stalin. He is outmatched, but being from Missouri, he rises to the occasion to hold his own.

In the post-war turmoil with Stalin occupying eastern Europe and spreading his communist doctrine, Truman put forward a number of diplomatic initiatives to help Europe get through those trying times. He put forward the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, implemented the Berlin Airlift to help the West Berliners survive Stalin’s blockade, and supported the United Nations. But it was on the home from where he probably made the greatest difference.


Truman put forth his 21 Points for the reshaping America to become more equitable and provide civil rights to all. While he could not get most of these points through the very conservative, contrary Congress, he created the Marines and Air Force as separate services within the military. More importantly, he ordered the desegregation of the military; the entire country would not realize the benefits of desegregation until the mid-1960s under LBJ’s Great Society. His Fair Deal program of social reforms was an attempt to carry on the New Deal started by FDR and would reach realization under the Great Society of LBJ.

This post is an attempt to tie together these programs of social reform over the span of three democratic administrations. These programs obtained some success that survived the attack of conservative republican administrations that worked to undo those changes that did not require changes in major laws. They were more or less picked apart. Once again, the Obama administration is attempting to finish the reform job, at least on universal health care. This is a goal that has eluded many, many administrations over the last century!

So, let’s get on with our exploration of Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal” program of social reforms. It will be up to the reader to read the details of these reforms due to space limitations… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4215 Words ]


Quotations Related to Harry S. Truman:


“A President cannot always be popular.”
— Harry S. Truman

“The President is always abused. If he isn’t, he isn’t doing anything.”
— Harry S. Truman

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”
— Harry S. Truman

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.”
— Harry S. Truman

“You know that being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.”
— Harry S. Truman

“You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one. I don’t believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can’t possibly foresee now.”
— Harry S. Truman

“The human animal cannot be trusted for anything good except en masse. The combined thought and action of the whole people of any race, creed or nationality, will always point in the right direction.”
— Harry S. Truman

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
— Harry S. Truman


Harry S. Truman: "Fair Deal" Proposed in State of the Union, 1949…


Harry Truman_WH PortraitHarry S. Truman
(May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953). As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States (1945), he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his unprecedented fourth term.

During World War I, Truman served in combat in France as an artillery officer in his National Guard unit. After the war, he joined the Democratic Party political machine of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City, Missouri. He was elected a county official and in 1934 United States senator. After he had gained national prominence as head of the wartime Truman Committee, Truman replaced vice president Henry A. Wallace as Roosevelt’s running mate in 1944.

Truman faced many challenges in domestic affairs. The disorderly postwar reconversion of the economy of the United States was marked by severe shortages, numerous strikes, and the passage of the Taft–Hartley Act over his veto. He confounded all predictions to win election in 1948, helped by his famous Whistle Stop Tour of rural America. After his election, he passed only one of the proposals in his liberal Fair Deal program. He used executive orders to end racial discrimination in the armed forces and created loyalty checks that dismissed thousands of communist supporters from office.

Truman, in sharp contrast to the imperious Roosevelt who kept personal control of all major decisions, was a folksy, unassuming president who relied on his cabinet. He popularized such phrases as "The buck stops here" and "If you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen.” His approval ratings in the polls started out very high, then steadily sank until he was one of the most unpopular men to leave the White House. Popular and scholarly assessments of his presidency eventually became more positive after his retirement from politics. Truman’s legendary upset victory in 1948 over Thomas E. Dewey is routinely invoked by underdog presidential candidates.


The Fair Deal was the term given to an ambitious set of proposals put forward by United States President Harry S. Truman to the United States Congress in his January 1949 State of the Union address. The term, however, has also been used to describe the domestic reform agenda of the Truman Administration, which governed the United States from 1945 to 1953. It marked a new stage in the history of Modern liberalism in the United States, but with the Conservative Coalition dominant in Congress, the major initiatives did not become law unless they had GOP support. As Neustadt concludes, the most important proposals were aid to education, universal health insurance, FEPC and repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. They were all debated at length, then voted down. Nevertheless, enough smaller and less controversial (but still important) items passed that liberals could claim some success.


James Whitmore as Harry Truman: Give ’em Hell, Harry! Final…  (8:24)





A liberal Democrat of the Midwestern Populist tradition, Truman was determined to both continue the legacy of the New Deal and to make Franklin Roosevelt’s proposed Economic Bill of Rights a reality, while making his own mark in social policy.

Hamby argued that the Fair Deal reflected the "vital center" approach to liberalism which rejected totalitarianism, was suspicious of excessive concentrations of government power, and honored the New Deal as an effort to achieve a progressive capitalist system. Solidly based upon the New Deal tradition in its advocacy of wide-ranging social legislation, the Fair Deal differed enough to claim a separate identity. The Depression did not return after the war and the Fair Deal had to content with prosperity and an optimistic future. The Fair Dealers thought in terms of abundance rather than depression scarcity. Economist Leon Keyserling argued that the liberal task was to spread the benefits of abundance throughout society by stimulating economic growth. Agriculture Secretary Charles F. Brannan wanted to unleash the benefits of agricultural abundance and to encourage the development of an urban-rural Democratic coalition. However the Brannan Plan was defeated by strong conservative opposition in Congress and by his unrealistic confidence in the possibility uniting urban labor and farm owners who distrusted rural insurgency. The Korean War made military spending the nation’s priority and killed almost the whole Fair Deal but did encourage the pursuit of economic growth.

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The New Deal

NewDealThe New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt’s responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the "3 Rs": Relief, Recovery, and Reform. That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. The New Deal produced a political realignment, making the Democratic Party the majority (as well as the party which held the White House for seven out of nine Presidential terms from 1933 to 1969), with its base in liberal ideas, big city machines, and newly empowered labor unions, ethnic minorities, and the white South. The Republicans were split, either opposing the entire New Deal as an enemy of business and growth, or accepting some of it and promising to make it more efficient. The realignment crystallized into the New Deal Coalition that dominated most American elections into the 1960s, while the opposition Conservative Coalition largely controlled Congress from 1938 to 1964.

Historians distinguish a "First New Deal" (1933) and a "Second New Deal" (1934–36). Some programs were declared unconstitutional, and others were repealed during World War II. The "First New Deal" (1933) dealt with diverse groups, from banking and railroads to industry and farming, all of which demanded help for economic recovery. A "Second New Deal" in 1934–36 included the Wagner Act to promote labor unions, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief program, the Social Security Act, and new programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers. The final major items of New Deal legislation were the creation of the United States Housing Authority and Farm Security Administration, both in 1937, then the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of workers and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938.

Despite Roosevelt campaigning heavily against anti-New Deal Republicans and anti-New Deal Democrats, Republicans gained many seats in Congress in the 1938 midterm elections and the Democrats opponents of the New Deal retained their seats, resulting in the WPA, CCC and other relief programs being shut down during World War II by the Conservative Coalition (i.e., the opponents of the New Deal in Congress); they argued the return of full employment made them superfluous. As a Republican President in the 1950s, Dwight D. Eisenhower left the New Deal largely intact. In the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society took New Deal policies further. After 1974, laissez faire views grew in support, calling for deregulation of the economy and ending New Deal regulation of transportation, banking and communications in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Several New Deal programs remain active, with some still operating under the original names, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The largest programs still in existence today are the Social Security System and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin-rooseveltFranklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States (1933–1945) and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war. The only American president elected to more than two terms, he facilitated a durable coalition that realigned American politics for decades. With the bouncy popular song "Happy Days Are Here Again" as his campaign theme, FDR defeated incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover in November 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression. FDR’s persistent optimism and activism contributed to a renewal of the national spirit, reflecting his victory over paralytic illness to become the longest serving president in U.S. history. He worked closely with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in leading the Allies against Germany and Japan in World War II, but died just as victory was in sight.

In his first hundred days in office, which began March 4, 1933, Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, but then relapsed into a deep recession. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented his packing the Supreme Court or passing any considerable legislation; it abolished many of the relief programs when unemployment diminished during World War II. Most of the regulations on business were ended about 1975–85, except for the regulation of Wall Street by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which still exists. Along with several smaller programs, major surviving programs include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was created in 1933, and Social Security, which Congress passed in 1935.

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The Great Society

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Medicare_bill,_with_Harry_Truman,_July_30,_1965The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States promoted by President Lyndon B. Johnson and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s. Two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but differed sharply in types of programs enacted.

Some Great Society proposals were stalled initiatives from John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. Johnson’s success depended on his skills of persuasion, coupled with the Democratic landslide in the 1964 election that brought in many new liberals to Congress, making the House of Representatives in 1965 the most liberal House since 1938. Anti-war Democrats complained that spending on the Vietnam War choked off the Great Society. While some of the programs have been eliminated or had their funding reduced, many of them, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society’s programs expanded under the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

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Lyndon Baines Johnson

Lyndon_Johnson_3x4Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973), often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States (1963–1969), a position he assumed after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States (1961–1963). He is one of only four people who served in all four elected federal offices of the United States: Representative, Senator, Vice President and President.

Johnson, a Democrat, served as a United States Representative from Texas, from 1937–1949 and as United States Senator from 1949–1961, including six years as United States Senate Majority Leader, two as Senate Minority Leader and two as Senate Majority Whip. After campaigning unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1960, Johnson was asked by John F. Kennedy to be his running mate for the 1960 presidential election.

Johnson succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, completed Kennedy’s term and was elected President in his own right, winning by a large margin in the 1964 Presidential election. Johnson was greatly supported by the Democratic Party and, as President, was responsible for designing the "Great Society" legislation that included laws that upheld civil rights, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, and his "War on Poverty." He was renowned for his domineering personality and the "Johnson treatment," his coercion of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation.

Johnson escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War, from 16,000 American advisors/soldiers in 1963 to 550,000 combat troops in early 1968, as American casualties soared and the peace process bogged down. The involvement stimulated a large angry antiwar movement based especially on university campuses in the U.S. and abroad. Summer riots broke out in most major cities after 1965, and crime rates soared, as his opponents raised demands for "law and order" policies. The Democratic Party split in multiple feuding factions, and after Johnson did poorly in the 1968 New Hampshire primary he ended his bid for reelection. Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected to replace him. Historians argue that his presidency marked the peak of Modern liberalism in the United States after the New Deal era.

Johnson is ranked favorably by some historians because of his domestic policies.

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The Fair Deal Program

21 Points

In September 1945, Truman addressed Congress and presented a 21 point program of domestic legislation outlining a series of proposed actions in the fields of economic development and social welfare.

The measures that Truman proposed to Congress included:

  1. Major improvements in the coverage and adequacy of the unemployment compensation system.
  2. Substantial increases in the minimum wage, together with broader coverage.
  3. The maintenance and extension of price controls to keep down the cost of living in the transition to a peacetime economy.
  4. A pragmatic approach towards drafting legislation eliminating wartime agencies and wartime controls, taking legal difficulties into account.
  5. Legislation to ensure full employment.
  6. Legislation to make the Fair Employment Practice Committee permanent.
  7. The maintenance of sound industrial relations.
  8. The extension of the United States Employment Service to provide jobs for demobilized military personnel.
  9. Increased aid to farmers.
  10. The removal of the restrictions on eligibility for voluntary enlistment and allowing the armed forces to enlist a greater number of volunteers.
  11. The enactment of broad and comprehensive housing legislation.
  12. The establishment of a single Federal research agency.
  13. A major revision of the taxation system.
  14. The encouragement of surplus-property disposal.
  15. Greater levels of assistance to small businesses.
  16. Improvements in federal aid to war veterans.
  17. A major expansion of public works, conserving and building up natural resources.
  18. The encouragement of post-war reconstruction and settling the obligations of the Lend-Lease Act.
  19. The introduction of a decent pay scale for all Federal Government employees–executive, legislative, and judicial.
  20. The promotion of the sale of ships to remove the uncertainty regarding the disposal of America’s large surplus tonnage following the end of hostilities.
  21. Legislation to bring about the acquisition and retention of stock piles of materials necessary for meeting the defense needs of the nation.

Truman_signing_National_Security_Act_Amendment_of_1949Signing the National Security Act of 1949

Truman did not send proposed legislation to Congress; he expected Congress to draft the bills. Many of these proposed reforms, however, were never realized due the opposition of the conservative majority in Congress. Despite these setbacks, Truman’s proposals to Congress became more and more abundant over the course of his presidency, and by 1948 a legislative program that was more comprehensive came to be known as the "Fair Deal". In his 1949 State of the Union address to Congress on January 5, 1949, Truman stated that "Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal." Amongst the proposed measures included federal aid to education, a large tax cut for low-income earners, the abolition of poll taxes, an anti-lynching law, a permanent FEPC, a farm aid program, increased public housing, an immigration bill, new TVA-style public works projects, the establishment of a new Department of Welfare, the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, an increase in the minimum wage from 40 to 75 cents an hour, national health insurance, expanded Social Security coverage, and a $4 billion tax increase to reduce the national debt and finance these programs.

Despite a mixed record of legislative success, the Fair Deal remains significant in establishing the call for universal health care as a rallying cry for the Democratic Party. Lyndon B. Johnson credited Truman’s unfulfilled program as influencing Great Society measures such as Medicare that Johnson successfully enacted during the 1960s. The Fair Deal faced much opposition from the many conservative politicians who wanted a reduced role of the federal government. The series of domestic reforms was a major push to transform the United States from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. In a context of postwar reconstruction and entering the era of the Cold war, the Fair Deal sought to preserve and extend the liberal tradition of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. During this post-WWII time, people were growing more conservative as they were ready to enjoy the prosperity not seen since before The Great Depression. The Fair Deal faced opposition by a coalition of conservative Republicans and predominantly southern conservative Democrats. However, despite strong opposition, there were elements of Truman’s agenda that did win congressional approval, such as the public housing subsidies cosponsored by Republican Robert A. Taft under the 1949 National Housing Act, which funded slum clearance and the construction of 810,000 units of low-income housing over a period of six years.

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Medicare_bill,_with_Harry_Truman,_July_30,_1965Truman (seated right) and his wife Bess (behind him)
attend the signing of the Medicare Bill on July 30, 1965,
by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Although Truman was unable to implement his Fair Deal program, a great deal of social and economic progress took place in the late Forties and early Fifties. A Census report confirmed that gains in housing, education, living standards, and income under the Truman administration were unparalleled in American history. By 1953, 62 million Americans had jobs, a gain of 11 million in seven years, while unemployment had all but vanished. Farm income, dividends, and corporate income were at all-time highs, and there had not been a failure of an insured bank in nearly nine years. The minimum wage had also been increased while Social Security benefits had been doubled, and 8 million veterans had attended college by the end of the Truman administration as a result of the G.I. Bill, which subsidized the businesses, training, education, and housing of millions of returning veterans.

Millions of homes had been financed through previous government programs, and a start was made in slum clearance. Poverty was also significantly reduced, with one estimate suggesting that the percentage of Americans living in poverty had fallen from 33% of the population in 1949 to 28% by 1952. Incomes had risen faster than prices, which meant that real living standards were considerably higher than seven years earlier. Progress had also been made in civil rights, with the desegregation of both the federal civil Service and the armed forces and the creation of the Commission on Civil Rights. In fact, according to one historian, Truman had “done more than any President since Lincoln to awaken American conscience to the issues of civil rights".

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Truman’s Legacy…  (13:56)


Harry S. Truman: President of the United States – Biography…  (21:07)



Please take time to further explore more about Fair Deal, Harry S. Truman, Economic Bill of Rights, Taft-Hartley Act, Universal Health Care in the United States, Medicare (United_States), New Deal, Great Society, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…





Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1781…
    A British force led by Benedict Arnold burns Richmond, Virginia.

  • In 1914…
    Henry Ford, head of the Ford Motor Company, introduces a wage of five dollars a day in his automotive factories.

  • In 1925…
    Nellie T. Ross becomes the first woman governor when she succeeds her late husband as governor of Wyoming.

  • In 1933…
    Construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, a 4,200-foot suspension bridge that will span the San Francisco Bay, connecting southern Marin County with the city. Designed by Joseph Strauss, Irving Morrow and Charles Alton Ellis, the bridge will open to traffic in May 1937.

  • In 1949…
    In his State of the Union address, President Harry S. Truman presents his plan for a “Fair Deal,” a program of domestic reforms including housing improvement, antidiscrimination policies and Social Security benefits.

  • In 1980…
    The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes the first hip-hop song to reach the Billboard Top 40 chart, marking the beginning of the genre’s commercial success.


Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Fair Deal…

Wikipedia: Harry S. Truman…

Wikipedia: Economic Bill of Rights…

Wikipedia: Taft-Hartley Act…

Wikipedia: Universal Health Care in the United States…

Wikipedia: Medicare (United_States)…

Wikipedia: New Deal…

Wikipedia: Great Society…

Wikipedia: Franklin D. Roosevelt…

Wikipedia: Lyndon B. Johnson…

Brainy Quote: Harry S. Truman Quotes…


Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Harry S. Truman: Moments in History…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Limitation of Presidential Election Polls: Truman vs Dewey, 1948…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: President Truman: Ending the Segregated Military…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency — The Wartime Years (1941-1945)…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Lyndon B. Johnson Launches “The Great Society"…