Truman Resist Forces Of Intolerance In United States Society Essay, Research Paper
During Truman’s presidency he was faced with forces of intolerance within United States society. These were principally the “Red scares” of the 1950’s, hostile attitudes towards Trade Unions and racism, particularly in the South. These forces of intolerance were motivated by both Truman himself and the Republican party for political reasons, but for different aims. Truman’s intolerance could be seen as positive, while the Republican’s intolerance was more extreme and motivated for party advantage.
The intolerance of the “Red scares” was perpetrated by the Republican party and in particular, Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy made claims that there were communists “known to the Secretary of State” working and making policy within the state department. This was politically motivated because McCarthy was trying to further his own political career. It was uncertain whether he would maintain his seat in Congress in the 1950 mid-term elections, so he needed a strong issue to campaign on. He had witnessed Richard Nixon become a household name in the United States, when he successfully prosecuted Algar Hiss, who was accused of passing government papers to the Soviets. McCarthy desired a national reputation and the Republican party used McCarthy to play on the fears that already existed in society about a communist threat to the United States to damage Truman’s administration.
It is not enough to simply blame the Republicans for the “Red scares”. There was nothing new about a fear of communism. There had been “Red scares” in the 1920’s, and the House of un-American Activities Committee was set up in 1938, which contained files of premature anti-fascists. This fear of communism is almost inevitable as communism poses a threat to the American ethos of free market capitalism. There was a communist threat to the United States in the 1950’s, all though it was not as great as was suggested at the time. This was shown by the defection of Igor Gouzenko, cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa and the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for passing secrets to the Soviets.
Truman created the environment from which McCarthy could arise by being intolerant to communists himself. In 1947 he set up a Federal Loyalty program, to prevent people working for the government who belonged to “any banned organisation”, which included the communist party. This was because of the aforementioned leaks in state security. Truman also played on the fears of society for political motives. He realised that the United States could not revert to her former policy of isolationism if the freedom she had fought for in the war was to be maintained. The European countries were devastated by the war and were not able to take on this responsibility. Britain, in particular could not afford to carry on supporting the Greeks in their civil war against the communists, so Britain looked to the United States. Truman wanted to help the Greeks and he also wanted to give aid to the devastated European countries, because support for communism is greater when the economy of a country is weaker. But the United States President is not all powerful and he has to go through Congress. Truman was trapped throughout most of his presidency by a Republican Congress, and therefore was opposed to foreign involvement and high spending, but very anti-Communist. Truman made an issue out of the communist threat to America so that Congress would provide him with the money he needed. He also needed to take the American public with him, if he was to be re-elected, so he played on their fears of communism by stating that communism doesn’t just threaten Greeks, but Greeks and Americans.
All though Truman may have created the environment for McCarthy to arise, he didn’t approve of McCarthy and opposed him bitterly. But he was limited in his resistance by a Republican Congress and the fears of the American public. Truman vetoed the McCarren Internal Security plan, a Republican plan that set up detainment camps in case a state of emergency was declared. But Congress passed the plan over his veto. He tried to prevent anti-communism from going too far, but he was unable to resist effectively.
Truman showed his intolerance towards the unions by refusing the rail workers the right to strike. The rail workers were striking because they wanted to protest about not receiving any wage increases. Truman took over the railroads by an executive order and he wanted to conscript the workers and have the army run the railroads. Then the workers would have had to obey orders, but the strike was resolved. The Republicans, particularly Taft, recognised the party advantages of this situation, and showed their intolerance towards Truman by attacking him because they wanted to damage him: “Strikes cannot be prohibited without interfering with the basic freedoms essential to our form of government.” The trade union problem was very much linked to the “Red scares” because the strike leader, John Lewis, was a very left-wing radical and unions had always been thought of as being left-wing.
Again, Truman creates the environment with his intolerance, but then tries to resist when the Republicans push their intolerance too far. The Republicans showed their true hypocritical colours when they introduced the Taft-Hartley act, which placed further restrictions on strikes and required trade union leaders to swear that they were not communists. This was passed through Congress, despite Truman’s opposition to the Act. The Republicans were prepared to use any situation to damage Truman, but he was not able to resist that intolerance.
There were two forces of intolerance within American society; Truman himself and the Republican party. But Truman’s intolerance could be seen as positive. He was being intolerant to preserve democracy and the American economy. If Truman had allowed the strike to go ahead it would have paralysed America, which was why he reacted as he did. He was being intolerant for the good of America. But the Republican’s intolerance was more extreme and opportunist. Their intolerance was aimed at damaging Truman and his administration, so Truman’s resistance of their intolerance could be simply seen as self-defence.
Truman felt a strong sense of injustice over the force of racism in American society, which he resisted even at a cost to his own political career. There was a culture of racism in American society, the South in particular, ever since the days of slavery. The South was controlled by the racist, conservative dixie-land Democrats, who vehemently opposed any introduction of civil rights. Black people, with the introduction of organisations like NAACP, were campaigning for better rights and Truman supported them. However, because of the Republican Congress, he wasn’t able to change very much, but he did bring the issue to the front of United States politics. His commitment to anti-racism was shown by his resisting in areas in which he had control over. He ended racism in the armed forces by an executive order and he appointed the first black Judge. Truman resisted the force of racism as much as he was able to.
Truman’s resistance to racism could not be seen as self-defence because it was politically damaging to himself. He found it difficult being re-nominated as the Democrat Party candidate for the 1948 Presidential elections and even though he succeeded he had to run against two other candidates from his own party as well as a Republican. He wasn’t expected to win the election, and even though he did win, he only won by a small majority. Truman was trying to resist racism effectively. He wanted to bring together people into the Democrat Party, who wanted change and he may have had long term aims of realigning the politics of the Democratic party and United States.
Truman made efforts to resist intolerance in the United States society, but he was unable to resist effectively. This was largely because from 1946 he was trapped with a Republican Congress that restricted what he could do. His attempts to interest the American public in foreign affairs had created the circumstances for McCarthy’s intolerance and his intolerance toward the unions had created the circumstances for the Republican’s intolerance. He then had to resist the intolerance to prevent it becoming too extreme. The difference was that Truman was intolerant for altruistic reasons, whereas the Republicans were intolerant for personal advantage. Truman’s intolerance had a reasoning behind it, whereas the Republicans used every situation to try and damage Truman. Truman did try to resist racism, but he couldn’t achieve much because of the Republican Congress. But he did make race an issue within American politics and make his views known. In conclusion, Truman did not resist the forces of intolerance in American society very successfully, but this was due to factors outside his control, rather than his personal beliefs.
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