Objective Student will be able to discuss postwar economics, politics and culture of the 1950s.
4. Postwar Years at Home Now that the United States had won WW2, they faced problems not only in foreign relations, but in domestic affairs as well. After World War 2, the three main domestic questions were: (1) How does the US switch from a wartime to a peacetime economy? (2)What role does the government play in postwar America?
(3) How does the US respond to the threat a new Red Scare? Harry Truman and the US Congress have to answer these questions now that the war is over.
4.1 From War to Peace When the US returned from World War 2, the government had three points to address: (1) The size of the military decreased after the end of WW2. (2) The economy went from depression to overproduction-now it must return to peacetime standards. (3) Now that the Depression is over-how does the government handle labor?
Question 1 What issues did the US government have to deal with in regards to the post-WW2 economy?
The End of the War Now the re-adjustment begins……..
One of the first tasks of the government is to cut the size of the armed forces. The US Army after the end of World War 2 had nearly eight million men. By the time the Korean War starts in 1950, the number of men in the US military had shrunk to 600,000 men. The reduction of the military is tied to the 1944 G-I Bill. This bill granted government money for education, business or vocational (job) training.
The GI Bill of 1944 Passed in 1944, returning veterans received money for college, business or vocational training.
Question 2 What did the GI Bill provide?
The United States also had to change industry over to peacetime production. To do this, the United States Government sold many of its war plants to private companies. Factories that were making military supplies returned to producing consumer goods. By the end of 1945, nearly 93% of all war plants had been closed or shut down.
Question 3 What steps did the government take to change the economy over to peacetime conditions?
One problem the United States faced after World War 2 is inflation. By the end of WW2, the US had saved over $130 billion dollars and were eager to spend the money. After the war, goods were scarce and prices rose despite government regulating prices. Truman kept controls on the prices after the war, but in 1946, after political pressure, he lifted the controls.
Once he lifted the government controls, the prices of goods rose even higher. The problem was wages did not go up and this led to an increase in the costs of living in the United States.
Question 4 What economic problem developed after WW2?
Rising prices led to demands by labor for higher wages. After the war, the number of strikes increased. In these strikes, the companies met the demands of their labor unions, but to cover wages, the companies raised prices on goods. This led to an increase in the standard of living and more demands for higher wages.
The companies now demanded the government to impose stringer controls over labor. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed. This act: (1) Outlawed the closed shop-forcing men to join unions before they were hired. (2) Allowed the President to have an 80-day cooling-off period when a strike threatened the economy.
(3) Unions were now prohibited from giving money to political campaigns. The act alarmed many labor unions because it made it harder for them to attract new members. Even with the Taft-Hartley Act, union membership grew to 15,000,000 members by 1950.
Question 5 Why did a large number of labor strikes take place after WW2?
Taft-Hartley Act The original copy of the act, seen here, is on display at Harry Truman’s Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri.
4.2 Postwar Politics When Truman took office after the death of FDR, he wanted to continue the policies of the New Deal. However, the feelings of the American people were changing away from the idea of a big government that they had under the New Deal. In 1946, Truman watched as the Republicans won back the US House and Senate. This made it hard for Truman to pass his policies.
As the election of 1948 grew near, the Republicans grew more confident that they would win back the White House for the first time in 20 years. The Democrats were not unified behind President Truman. (1) Southern Democrats were not behind the Democratic stance on civil rights, so they supported Governor Strom Thurmond for President. (2) Liberal Democrats created the Progressive Party and supported Henry Wallace
With no chance of winning, Truman refused to admit defeat. He traveled thousands of miles and gave thousands of speeches. The Republicans chose Governor Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York. In the election of 1948, Truman defeated Dewey, but some newspapers had it wrong.
Dewey Defeats Truman Given no chance of winning, Harry Truman pulled a giant upset when he wins the Election of 1948 against Thomas Dewey and Strom Thurmond. Thomas Dewey Strom Thurmond
Question 6 Who was favored to win the election of 1948? Who won?
After his victory, Truman set a new plan of reform, known as the Fair Deal off to the US Congress. The Fair Deal was, in part, a continuation of the New Deal established by FDR. It called for new programs in education, health care, housing . Truman wanted to extend social security and end discrimination.
Republicans and southern Democrats united to kill most of Truman’s programs in the Fair Deal. The two pieces of the Fair Deal accepted by the US Congress were the National Housing Act which built more public housing and the extension of social security to 10,000,000 workers. With problems at home and in Korea, Truman did not run for President in 1952
Question 7 What was the Fair Deal?
Question 8 Why did Harry Truman not run for President in 1952?
In March 1952, Truman decided not to run for President. The Democrats nominated Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois and the Republicans nominated World War 2 General Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower wins the Election of 1952. He receives 442 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 89. Eisenhower also receives some 34 million popular votes to Stevenson’s 28 million. The Republicans take back the White House for the first time since 1928.
The Election of 1952 Eisenhower wins the Election of 1952 in a landslide against Adlai Stevenson. This gives the Republicans the White House for the 1st time since 1928.
Question 9 Who won the Election of 1952?
4.3 Fear of Communism at Home As Eisenhower assumed the Presidency, a new fear of communism was sweeping the United States. Since the end of WW2, the United States had watched the Soviet Union take over Eastern Europe, did nothing to prevent the Communists from controlling China, allowed for other nations to receive our atomic secrets (including the Soviets) and arrested the Rosenbergs who gave the secrets to them.
Threats Against Democracy Since 1945 The Soviets began liberating Eastern Europe in 1945. They promised free elections but installed Communist governments. This was the first breaking of the Allied powers alliance of WW2. In 1947, the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin. To aid the citizens of Berlin, Truman began the Berlin Airlift, in which the US/UK/ French flew supplies into Berlin.
In 1949, the Soviet Union was able to receive secrets from Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. This upped the ante of the Cold War. The Rosenbergs were American citizens. China became a communist nation in 1949 and formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. They, too, would also detonate an atomic weapon after the Soviets. The Korean War starts in 1950. This made Americans fearful.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg American citizens who spied for the Soviet Union. They were accused, tried, convicted and then executed for selling our atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union used their secrets to detonate their first atomic bomb in 1949.
Question 10 What events caused some Americans to begin questioning the loyalty of other Americans?
To stop the spread of communism, the US Government passed laws to defend itself. The nation was split over these laws. Some people were put at ease by the measures, however, others felt these laws to violate their civil liberties. The Smith Act (1940) made it illegal to support any group that wanted to overthrow the government. The McCarren Act (1950) forced Communist groups to register with the Attorney General.
The McCarren Act also stopped Communists from entering the United States. The McCarren Act also gave the President the right to jail Communist subversives (people who work to overthrow the government) in an national emergency. The McCarren-Walter Act (1952) allowed the Attorney General to deport people whose actions were thought to be against the interests of the United States. The Communist Control Act (1954) banned the Communist Party in the US.
Senator Pat McCarran (D-NV) One of the Senators who backed the US Government in their attempts to stop the spread of Communism in the United States. Responsible for the McCarran Act, as well as the McCarran-Walter Act.
FDR, Truman and Eisenhower all screened government workers to see if they were Communists. The big step towards a Red Scare came in 1954, when Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin accused people of being communists in the State Department and in the army. McCarthy formed a Senate committee was formed to see if there were communists in the army.
As millions of Americans watched the hearings on television, many were fearful of the accusations. However, McCarthy was criticized for his way of treating witnesses. He also lost a majority of support when his charges were clearly false. The US Senate then condemned McCarthy for his actions.
The McCarthy Hearings Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) Senator Millard Tydings who tried to stop McCarthy. He and his committee proved that McCarthy’s charges were a “hoax”. McCarthy was seen as a fraud and was laughed at by his fellow Senators.
The View of McCarthyism After the failure of McCarthy to prove his point regarding the allegations of Communists in the State Department, McCarthyism seems to be a particular issue that the Republican Party is not going to endorse, as illustrated by the GOP elephant refusing to move towards McCarthy.
Criticized by the US Press Edward R. Murrow, CBS Newscaster was responsible for turning the American press and public opinion against McCarthy between 1953-1954. “ His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. [...] This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent--or for those who approve...We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom--what's left of it--but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.'[ ”
Censured by the US Senate Senator Ralph Flanders (R/VT) Senator Arthur Watkins (R/UT)
Question 11 What did Senator Joseph McCarthy do?
4.4 The Eisenhower Approach During his eight years in office, Eisenhower’s presidency has been characterized as “middle of the road”. What that meant was that Eisenhower, at times, came to agreement with some Democratic ideas and bills, angering members of his party. Instead of finally ending New Deal programs, Eisenhower kept social security and low-cost housing programs. He did eliminate the government in business and favored private enterprise.
Eisenhower did get the Congress to help pass his Federal Highway Aid Act in 1956. This act set up a federal program of highway construction that would link the major cities of the United States. When it was completed in the 1990s, the US had constructed some 42,000 miles of highways. Many of the roads in and around NYC are built during this period of time.