Alonzo Hamby, Ohio University
April 17, 2004

For all his accomplishments as president of the United States, Harry Truman is often remembered primarily as a quintessential American democrat, a “man of the people. ” Truman was undeniably a common person who made his way to the White House through the difficult and insecure path of professional politics. Along the way, his conception of “the people, ” defined as the legitimate elements of the American population, steadily enlarged as he moved from rural county politics to the national stage. And, how did the people react to Truman? Measurements of public opinion during his presidency suggest that ordinary Americans may value the leadership of one of their own more in retrospect than in contemporary fact.

Alonzo L. Hamby is Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio University, where he teaches twentieth-century United States history. He was president of the Ohio Academy of History, 1989-90. He has written two books on Harry Truman, Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism (1973), winner of the David D. Lloyd Prize, the Phi Alpha Theta First Book Award, and the Ohio Academy of History Book Award, and Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman (1995), winner of the Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover book prizes. His most recent book is For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s.

Session One

Topic: Domestic Issues and Politics

Focus: What do these readings tell us about Truman as a man and a politician?

As president, Truman promoted a liberal agenda, which he came to call the “Fair Deal.” How did the “liberalism” of that day differ from the liberalism of today? How do you explain his general lack of success? Why does civil rights suddenly emerge as a cutting-edge civil rights issue in the years after World War II? How does this development change American politics? Why was a freshly reelected president with a partisan majority in Congress unable to get his domestic program enacted? What difference did the Korean War make in the management of domestic issues? What do we make of “the Truman scandals”? How could McCarthyism damage a strongly anti-Communist president? Can we count Truman a success as a domestic leader?

Readings:

  • Alonzo Hamby, Man of the People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), Chapters 21, 26, 28, 31
  • HST, Memorandum Regarding Relations with Pendergast Machine, January 10, 1952 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 228-232.
  • HST, Letter to Ernest Roberts Regarding Civil Rights August 18, 1948 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 146-147.
  • “Whistle-stop” campaign remarks in Marietta, Oklahoma, September 28, 1948 in Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1948 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 599-601.
  • Address in Harlem, October 29, 1948 in Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1948 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 923-25.
  • Campaign speech in St. Louis, October 30, 1948 in Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1948 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 934-39.
  • HST, Diary Regarding Presidency, February 18, 1952 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 239.

Session Two

Topic: Foreign Policy and Politics

Focus: How do we explain the use of the atomic bombs against Japan? Were they justified? How (if at all) did the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War interact with each other? How does one explain the deterioration of relations with the Soviet Union during the first two years after the end of the war? Explain the “Truman Doctrine.” What does the term mean to you? Why did it precipitate a revolt from the left wing of the Democratic party? Why was much of that wing satisfied with the Marshall Plan? What was the difference between the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan? (Could we as easily have had the Marshall Doctrine and the Truman Plan?) Should the United States have intervened in Korea when the North attacked the South? Was there a persuasive justification? If so, why did things go wrong? Should Truman have taken alternative paths? How did foreign policy affect domestic politics during the Truman presidency?

Was Truman a “great” president? What does this term mean to you?

Readings:

  • Alonzo Hamby, Man of the People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), Chapters 19, 22, 30, Epilogue
  • HST, Letter to James Byrnes, January 5, 1946 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 79-80.
  • “Truman Doctrine” Message to Congress, March 12, 1947 in Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1947 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 176-180.
  • HST to Eleanor Roosevelt, March 16, 1948 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 125-26.
  • Press Conference, June 29, 1950 in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1950 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 502-06.
  • Radio and television address on the situation in Korea, July 19, 1950 in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1950 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 537-42.
  • HST, Diary Regarding October 15 Meeting with MacArthur November 25, 1950 in Off the Record, ed. Robert Ferrell (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1980.) pp. 200.
  • Farewell Address to the American People, January 15, 1953 in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1952-53 (Washington: United States Government Printing office, 1961.) pp. 1197-1202.