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Truman and the Democratic Party

Truman and the Democratic Party

Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Truman and the Democratic Party
    Book Description:

    What best defines a Democrat in the American political arena -- idealistic reformer or pragmatic politician? Harry Truman adopted both roles and in so doing defined the nature of his presidency.

    Truman and the Democratic Partyis the first book to deal exclusively with the president's relationship with the Democratic party and his status as party leader. Sean J. Savage addresses Truman's twin roles of party regular and liberal reformer, examining the tension that arose from this duality and the consequences of that tension for Truman's political career.

    Truman saw the Democratic party change during his lifetime from a rural-dominated minority party often lacking a unifying agenda to an urban-dominated majority party with strong liberal policy objectives. A seasoned politician who valued party loyalty and recognized the value of political patronage, Truman was also attracted to a liberal ideology that threatened party unity by alienating southern Democrats. By the time he succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, the diversity of opinions and demands among party members led Truman to alternate between two personas: the reformer committed to liberal policy goal -- civil rights, national health insurance, federal aid to education -- and the party regular who sought greater harmony among fellow Democrats.

    Drawing on personal interview with former Truman administration members and party officials and on archival materials -- most notably papers of the Democratic National Committee at the Harry S. Truman Library -- Savage has produced a fresh perspective that is both shrewd and insightful. This book offers historians and political scientists a new way of looking at the Truman administration and its impact on key public policies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4922-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: A Reformer and a Regular
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Truman and his Party
    (pp. 1-24)

    Harry S. Truman’s identification and prepresidential involvement with the Democratic party were shaped by two often conflicting value systems: his ethos as a party regular and his ethos as a liberal reformer. The ethical, attitudinal, and behavioral compromises that Truman made to reconcile these two conflicting value systems enabled him to satisfy his political ambition and advance his career. These compromises and self-imposed internal changes by Truman sometimes manifested themselves through severe headaches, nervous exhaustion, and penitent letters to his wife in the short term.¹ But such stress induced Truman to eventually adapt his political character and behavior to changes...

  5. 2 Truman and the Machine Bosses
    (pp. 25-56)

    As a young Democratic politician, Franklin D. Roosevelt had entered politics as an antimachine progressive crusader with a rural orientation in his policy emphasis. But as a president and party leader, Roosevelt developed symbiotic political and programmatic relationships with the Democratic mayors of major cities.¹ By the end of his presidency, it was clear that nationally prominent Democratic machine bosses and their working-class constituents were the most loyal and politically effective supporters of the type of liberal, inclusive, pluralistic, electorally successful Democratic party that Roosevelt sought to develop. The voting results of the 1932 and 1944 presidential elections revealed that...

  6. 3 Truman and the Democratic National Committee
    (pp. 57-90)

    Columnist Drew Pearson had a conversation with former President Harry Truman in 1959 in which Truman told Pearson that he had recently reprimanded DNC Chairman Paul Butler. According to Pearson, Truman stated that he told Butler that the DNC chairman’s job is “to keep the party together, not stir up trouble. The party platform is adopted at each convention and it’s the job of the chairman to carry it out.… I told him that it’s up to the chairman to see that there is harmony in the party.”¹ More specifically, the former president had scolded Butler for his publicized comments...

  7. 4 Had Enough? Republican Resurgence, 1946-1948
    (pp. 91-110)

    On April 13, 1945, the day after Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Harry S. Truman became president, Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan wrote that Truman’s presidency, unlike Roosevelt’s, would mean “that the days of executive contempt for Congress are ended; that we are returning to a government in which Congress will take its rightful place.”¹ A few days later, Republican Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, a stridently anti-New Deal conservative and de facto spokesman for Senate Republicans, expressed his assumption that, if the Democratic party divides, then Truman “will go with the conservative side.”² Also, on April...

  8. 5 Maintaining the Majority Party, 1948
    (pp. 111-143)

    Two days after the 1948 election, White House aide Eben A. Ayers wrote in his diary that, because of Harry Truman’s unexpected electoral victory, he “owes no one anything and is in the position of being perhaps the most independent president elected in many years.”¹ Historian Donald R. McCoy and journalist Jules Abels both referred to Truman’s electoral success as a “personal triumph.”² Columnist Arthur Krock likewise described it as a “miracle of electioneering” by Truman.³

    Truman himself was modest and more accurate. Instead of referring to the 1948 electoral results as a personal victory, he described his victory and...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 6 The Fair Deal and the Democratic Party
    (pp. 144-164)

    A few weeks before the 1948 election, Harry Truman wrote to his sister Mary Jane. Win or lose, he said, “people will know where I stand and a record will be made for future action by the Democratic Party.”¹ In his Twenty-one Point Plan, announced on September 6, 1945, his advocacy of the Employment Act of 1946, his various other domestic policy proposals, and his campaign speeches of 1948, Truman had committed himself and his party to protecting and expanding such New Deal policies as the minimum wage, Social Security benefits, public power and reclamation projects, and union rights. By...

  11. 7 Democratic Dissensus, 1950-1952
    (pp. 165-202)

    On November 1, 1949, Harry Truman wrote the following entry in his diary to express his frustration and irritation with the Democratically controlled Eighty-first Congress as it neared the end of its first session, “Trying to make the 81st Congress perform is and has been worse than cussing the 80th.… I’ve kissed and petted more consarned S.O.B. so-called Democrats and left wing Republicans than all the Presidents put together. I have very few people fighting my battles in Congress as I fought F.D.R.’s.”¹

    Franklin D. Roosevelt had succeeded in stimulating a programmatic consensus within the Democratic party during his first...

  12. Epilogue: Truman’s Legacy in the Democratic Party
    (pp. 203-205)

    A few months after he became president, a Gallup poll recorded Harry Truman’s public approval rating at 87 percent.¹ As Truman prepared to leave the White House in December 1952, a Gallup poll recorded his public approval rating at 31 percent.² For the first time in twenty-four years, the Republicans won control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. With the highest rate of voter turnout for a twentieth-century presidential election, a substantial minority of Democratic voters split their ballots and provided a wide margin of victory for the Republican nominee.³ Even Truman’s home state of Missouri gave Eisenhower...

  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 206-206)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 207-247)
  15. Index
    (pp. 248-259)