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Sworn in as the 33rd president after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sudden death, Harry S. Truman presided over the end of WWII and dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
An inside look at the political relationship between Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Harry Truman came from modest beginnings and is the only 20th Century President to not have a college degree. Among his accomplishments as President were integrating the military, defeating Nazi Germany, and initiating the Berlin Airlift.
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When FDR had to choose a running mate for the 1944 presidential election, he deemed his acting vice president, Henry Wallace, unacceptable. Wallace was disliked by many of the senior democrats in Washington, and since it was apparent that Roosevelt might not survive his fourth term, the vice presidential pick was especially important. Truman’s popularity, as well as his reputation as a fiscally responsible man and a defender of citizens’ rights,
made him an attractive option. Truman was initially reluctant to accept, but once he received the nomination, he campaigned vigorously.
Roosevelt and Truman were elected in November of 1944, and Truman took the oath of office on January 20, 1945. He served as vice president just 82 days before Roosevelt died of a massive stroke, and he was sworn in as president on April 12, 1945.
With no prior experience in foreign policy, Truman was thrust into the role of commander in chief and charged with ending a world war. In the first six months of his term, he announced the Germans’ surrender, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—ending World War II—and signed the charter ratifying the United Nations.
In spite of these early successes, Truman’s diplomatic situation was beset with challenges. Although the Soviet Union had been a powerful ally to the United States during the war, international relations deteriorated quickly when it became apparent that the Soviets intended to remain in control of Eastern European nations that were expected to be reestablished according to their pre-Hitler governments. This, along with the exclusion of the Soviets from the reconstruction of Asia, began the Cold War.
Republicans won both houses of Congress in 1946, which was seen as a judgment of Truman’s policies, and polls indicated that reelection was all but impossible. So certain seemed the victory of New York Governor Thomas Dewey that the “Chicago Tribune” famously went to press with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” before many polling locations had released results. The final outcome was a win for Truman with 49.5 percent of the vote, compared with Dewey’s 45.1 percent, and was one of the greatest upsets in the history of American elections.
Truman’s challenges were not limited to international affairs. On the home front, he was struggling to manage a labor dispute between the United Steel Workers of America and the major steel mills. The union demanded a wage increase, but the mill owners refused to grant it unless the government allowed them to increase the prices of their consumer goods, which had been capped by the Wage Stabilization Board. Unable to broker an agreement and unwilling to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed in spite of his veto in 1947 and would have allowed him to seek an injunction that prevented the union from striking, Truman seized the steel mills in the name of the government.
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