The Powers of the Presidency

Presidency greatly increased under Roosevelt due to the Great Depression and the Second World War

1) Roosevelt became President - 25% of American workers were unemployed. Promised them a 'New Deal' to end the economic depression.

  • The conservative Supreme Court declared some of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation unconstitutional 
  • Public opinion and even some Democrats opposed Roosevelt's attempt to 'pack' the Supreme Court with sympathetic Justices
  • Congress grew reluctant to accept Roosevelt's propsed legislation

2) Roosevelt gained increased power when he led the USA through most of WW2

  • Head of state, he represented and embodied the nation in a time of great national peril 
  • As commander-in-chief, he chose where to deploy American forces and resources
  • As commander- in chief and head of state he negotiated with America's most important Allies, the SU and GB. This greatly affected the development of the post-war world 
1 of 22

The Main Political Parties

Roosevelt's Democrat Party was a loose coalition 

  • urban (mostly Catholic) ethnic voters in the North
  • workers and the unemployment across the nation
  • the 'Solid South' where whites traditionally voted Democrat due to Lincoln's republican party had ended slavery in the Civil WAr era. All southern memebers of congress were white because whites prevented black voting

Other main party was the Rupublican Party

  • was greatly influenced by big business and the rich
  • generally preferred an economy unregulated by the federal government 
  • hated Roosevelt's New Deal because it was pro-labour unions and used taxes on the wealthy to help poorer Americans
2 of 22

Post-war Prosperity

The US was the world's wealthiest nation in 1945

  •  it was rich in natural resources, e.g . coal, iron ore, oil minerals 
  • the war stimulated an economic boom as factories worked flat out to produce war material

Statics demonstarate the strength of the economy in 1949, when the USA:

  • had 7% of the world's population but 42% of its income
  • produced half the world's manufactured goods (57% of the steel, 62% of the oil and 80% of the cars)
  • had an average per capita income nearly twice that of the other most prosperous nations

1940s unemployment rose above 4% and the average American earned more in real money than previous generations. Greater disposable income led to a rise in consumer goods. Created more jobs and raised the purchased standard of living. It was easy to believe that hard work would bring even greater prosperity 

3 of 22

Regional Divisions

The South's white population kept black residents in a position of legal, economic, social and political inequality. The North had great cities containing manufacturing industries. West Coast cities had expanded thanks to wartime defence industries. Great Urban centres were more open to change than rural and 'small-town' Americans in regions such as the Midwest.

The war had decreased regionalism amongst America's 140 million people - by 1945:

  • over 10% had left their homes for training camps ( 75% of those then served overseas)
  • around 13% had changed their country of residence 
  • 8 million  had permanently located to a different state, 4 million to a different region 

The direction of this mass migration was from the agricultural South to the industrial North and from the South and East to West Coast cities that had attracted war industries 

4 of 22

Ethnic Divisions

  • The second world war helped decrease prejudice against different groups
  • However, ethnics, Catholics and Jews still suffered prejudice
  • Non-whites suffered the greatest discrimination
  • The inferior status of 14 million balck Americans - 10% of population and 1.2 million Hispanic  Americans was enshirned in law in the South (de jure segregation) and in fact (de facto segregation) in the rest of the country 
  • Black Americans, Hispanic Americans adn the 350,000 Native Americans had incomes way below the national average
5 of 22

Social Divisions

There were great variations in wealth in America :

  • excpetionally rich e.g. the Rockefeller oil dynasty
  • very rich e.g. the Roosevelts
  • reasonably comfortable e.g. Truman's in-laws
  • very poor e.g. black sharecroppers in the South

Tensions between rich and poor were demonstrated when 4.6 million workers went on strike during 1946. However, social mobility increased with the GI Bill of Rights in 1944 in order to aid returning military through free vocational training and higher education and low interest loans for home buying and new businesses

  • the number of Americans who had a college education and therefore greater economic opportunities rose from 10% in 1939 to 15% by 1948 
  • the number of homeowners rocketed 
  • belief in the American Dream was confirmed
6 of 22

Truman's Character and Policies

Truman was in many ways an admirable individual but possessed several characteristics that could be considered disadvantageous:

  • Roosevelt had excluded Truman from discussions of military and foreign affairs which made Truman feel he had to prove himself tough adn decisive 
  • Truman had a more combative personality than Roosevelt

Truman's most challenging post-war foreign policy issue was the USSR. The Soviet - American relationship has always been uneasy:

  • The SU was the world's first communist state. Soviet - American relations were tense throughout the 1920s because of different ideolgies. Communist expansion was feared in America
  • During WW2, the USA and USSR became allies and frequently co-operated, but major tensions. First, both countries promoted their own political and economic system in the countries they liberated from Nazi rule. The Soviets promoted Communism in Eastern Europe. Second, Soviet - American mistrust was demonstrated when the Americans and British tried to keep the development of the atomic bomb secret from Stalin
  • During 1945, Truman's policies became increasingly anti-Soviet
7 of 22

Post-war peace-making

The USA and its Soviet and British allies had discussed the post-war would during the war. July 1945, Truman, Stalin and Churchill met at Potsdam and reiterated that defeated Germany would be divided into four zones of occuptation (American, Soviet, British and French).

Berlin was inside the Soviet zone but the western half of the city would be under US/British/French control. Two great areas of tension:

1) They disagreed over Poland's political system 

2) The US atomic bomb was tested during Potsdam. This showed the Truman administration that the US did not need Soviet aid to defeat Japan as Roosevelt had once thought. Stalin recognised that the bomb had dramatically changed the world balance of power in America's favour. 

There was no post-war peace treaties as there had been after the First World War. The Council of the Foreign Ministers met in September 1945, December 1945, June 1946, and March 1947. They could not aree on a peace treaty for defeated Germany because of the developing Cold War between the USA and the USSR.

8 of 22

The Cold War

During 1946 several significant landmarks signalled the development of the Soviet- American Cold War

  • Stalin made a speech on the inevitable Communist- capatlist conflict (February) 
  • There were fierce Soviet- American disagreements over Germany (the soviets made their zone Communist whilst while democracy was developed in the 3 Western zones)
  • The Truman administration gave a sympathetic hearing to US diplomat George Kennan's 'Long Telegram', which urged US 'containment' of Soviet expansionism
9 of 22

The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan

March 1947 speech to Congress, Truman requested $400 million to assist Greece and Turkey because they were threatened by Communism. Truman said America should give economic and financial aid to those feeling threatened. Congress agreed.

Truman Doctrine was significant:

  • was a virtual American declaration of Cold War
  • aroused minimal criticism, although some considered it too simplistic because it failed to ask whether a threatened state was worth supporting and whether America had the capacity to support it
  • demonstrated that gaining public support often required excessive simplicity in US foreign policy 
  • affected and dominated US foreign policy for nearly 50 years

Truman and Marshall considered war-devastated Western Europe vulnerable to Communist insurgency or Soviet attack. Under the Marshall Plan (June 1947)

$13 billion aid was given to America's important trading partners and potential allies in Western Europe 

10 of 22

The Berlin Blockade

  • In June 1948, Stalin blocked Western access to Berlin
  • Truman airlifted vast quantities of supplies into West Berlin and in May 1949 Stalin conceded defeat and ended the blockade 
  • Berlin Blockade was a triumph for Truman and hastened the establishment of an American-led Western defensive military alliance (NATO)  in April 1949 and of a West German in May 1949
  • Truman's policies had contained the Soviet in Europe, but that continent was divided and tense
11 of 22

Truman's response to the rise of Communism in Asia

Autum 1949, China became communist nation under Mao Zedong. Republicans claimed Truman and the Democrats had 'lost' China because they had given insufficent aid to Mao's opponent the Chinese Nationalist. This encouraged Truman to extend his containment policy in Asia. 1950, he offered the French financial aid in their struggle against Communist nationalsit insurgents in the French colony of Vietnam, then led the US into the Korean War.

June, Kim II Sung's Communist North Korea staged a full-scale attack on South Korea. Truman felt he had to contain North Korea for a range of reasons:

  • Series of events during 1948-50 suggested Communism was dangerously expansionist
  • Truman thought it would encourage other agressors if the United Nations failed to support South Korea 
  • The American public was increasingly anxious about national safety due to Communist spy scandals and to Repulican McCarthy's accusation that Truman's State Department contained Communists 
  • Truman wanted to avoid Republican accusations that he had 'lost' Korea as well as China, espically with forthcoming congressional elections

America, UN and South Korea forces drove the North Koreans out of South Korea

12 of 22

The Economy

Truman feared rising unemployment when 12 million demobilised veterans returned and wartime production ceased but:

  • factories switched to consumer goods to meet the pent-up demand from veterans
  • Roosevelt's GI Bill of Rights of 1944 offered veterans 52 weeks unemployment pay and loans for education, homes or businesses (8 million benefited)
  • the post-war baby-boom increased demand for new homes and consumer goods

The combination of consumer goods shortages, federal government budget deficits, and the weakening of Roosevelt's Office of Price Administration. Truman's failure to win congressional support for the OPA led many to blame him for the 25% inflation in 1945-46.

Workers sought pay rise to combat inflation. Labour unions staged widespread strikes in 1946 e.g. 800,000 steelworkers struck in January. When railroad workers threatened a strike, Truman tried to mediate but union leaders said nobody paid much attention to this President. After another miners' strike in winter 1946, the Truman administration defeated the miners' union in court - a rare success.

13 of 22

The Economy

Determined to decrease union power, the Republican- controlled Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act 1947 which said:

  • unions were liable for breach of contract
  • joining a union could not be a condition of employment
  • the President could order an 80-day cooling off period before strikes

April 1952, in the midst of the Korean War, a threatened steelworkers' strike jeopardised munitions production. Truman believed this endangered national security, so he seized contole of the steel mills after lawyers and the Chief Justice assured him it was legal. The strike eventually ended. His attempts to steer a middle course between employers and unions had pleased no one.

14 of 22

Political Divisions and Domestic Problems

Truman asked Congress for reforming legislations such as:

  • free health care
  • full employment 
  • improvements in education
  • federally funded low-cost housing
  • higher and more widely avaliable Social Security payments
  • a higher minimum wage $0.40 to $0.75
  • susidies for agriculture 
  • public works programmes 
  • civil rights legislation

Truman obtained some legslative successes:

  • the Full Employment Act (1946)
  • Social Security was extended to 1 million more Americans (1950)
  • the minimum wage was raised to $0.75 per hour (1950)
  • the Housing Act (1949) promised 810,000 federally subsided public housing units for low income (156,000) were built by 1953)
15 of 22

Political Divisions and Domestic Problems

Congress rejected most of his proposed 'Fair Deal' legislations, he vetoed 250 congressional bills and Congress overrode 12 of his vetoes. Relations between Truman and Congress were poor because:

  • Congress felt Presidential power had increased dangerously under Roosevelt and sought to regain the initiaitve 
  • Congress, tired of expensive New Deal-style policies, resented Truman seeking even more power than Roosevelt when there was no national emergency 
  • in 1946, the Rupublicans took control of Congress for the first time since 1928
  • liberal Democrats criticised Truman's failure to get reforming legislation passed
  • conservative Southern Democrats considered Truman too liberal on unions and civil rights
16 of 22

The Rise of McCarthyism

The Red Scare was due to:

  • American hatred of the Communist ideology 
  • American fear of Soviet military strength and Communist expansionism 
  • Republican political ambition and Truman's reaction to it

The House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) had been set up in the 1930s to investigate ideloogical threats. It wsa made permanent and given increased power in 1945. In 1947, the Republican-dominated HUAC began a hysterical pursuit of Communists in the entertainment industry.

Truman contributed to and exacerbated the Red Scare when he:

  • 'scared the hell' out of American people with his Truman Doctrine Speech
  • ordered an investiagtion into the loyalty of federal employees in 1947 
  • allowed the Justice Department and J.Edgar Hoover's FBI to investigate hundereds of thousands of suspected Communists
17 of 22

Why did McCarthy have such an impact?

  • The Red Scare was already underway 
  • The Soviet atomic bomb test and the fall of China to Communism in late 1949 made Americans even more fearful
  • There were several high-profile spy scandals in early 1950- scientist Klaus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of communicating top secret American information to the Soviets 
  • Other Republicans supported him because accusing the Democrats of laxity and/or failure on national security was a vote-winner
  • McCarthy's accusations about Communists in the State Department seemed believable after Alger Hiss
  • McCarthy's accusations were vague, exaggerated and hard to disprove
  • Democrats were slow to defend each other lest they too were attacked
  • McCarthy had a good relationship with the press
  • McCarthy chaired a Senate invetigatory committee
18 of 22

McCarthy's Impact

  • McCarthyism destroyed several politicains e.g.faked photograph of Senator Millard Tydings with Communist Party leader Earl Browder cost Tydings re-election
  • Several hundred people lost their job (600 teachers)
  • McCarthyism contributed to Truman's entry into the Korean War
  • McCarthyism made it harder to negotiate any easing of Cold War tensiosns
19 of 22

The Impact of the Second World War

The Second World War had a dramatic impact on black Americans:

  • Many migrated from the South to work in defence industries in the North and on the West Coast. Freed from de jure segregation snf concentrated in urban areas, they gained greater political power and community consciousness 
  • Many black veterans gained increased opportunities through the GI Bill of Rights
  • Blacks and whites had to live and work in closer proximity under pressure of war. This led to conflict and to greater black consciousness 
  • The greater black consciousness was demonstrated in increased black activism, espically in reaction to the expectation that black servicemen fight for democracy against fascism:
    • Membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had risen from 50,000 to 450,000 during the war
    • When black labour leader Randolph had threatened to bring Washington DC to a standstill unless President Roosevelt promoted greater eqaulity in the armed forces and the workplace, Roosevelt had repsonded with the Fair Employment Practices Commission
20 of 22

Campaigns for Civil Rights

Along with Randolph, other campaigners for civil rights in the Truman years included the following:

  • The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) established in 1942 by James Farmer. CORE oragnised wartime sit-ins in de facto segregated Chicago restutants and a 'Journey of Reconcliliation' in 1947 to test acceptance of the Supreme Court's Morgan v Virginia (1946) ruling against segregation on interstate transport
  • The NAACP which focused on litigation to erode Plessy v Ferguson. In 1950 the NAACP won Supreme Court victories against segregation on railroad dining cars and segregated universities 
21 of 22

The Responses of the Federal and State Authorities

President Truman put civil rights on the national political agenda. He:

  • repeatedly if unsuccessfully requested civil rights legislation from Congress 
  • estbalished the liberal commitee on civil rights whose 1947 report called for the federal government to end segreagtion, lynching and the poll tax and to monitor civil rights
  • issued executive orders in 1948 to end disrmination in the armed forces and to guarantee fair employment in the federal bureaucracy 
  • established the Commitee on Government Contract Compliance (1951) which pressured companies with federal contracts to end discrimination

The Supreme court helped black americans through ruling that eroded the constitutional foundations of Jim Crow, but the court had no powers of enforcement and Congress refused to help make the ruling a reality

State and local government proved helpful or unhelpful, depending upon location and local circumstances (only 5 states retained the poll tax, 11 states and 20 cities had fair employment laws. and 19 states had legislation against some form of racial discrimination) Deep South States remained adamantly opposed to improvements in black lives

22 of 22


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all America - 19th and 20th century resources »