The Fair Deal
The Fair Deal was the term given to United States President Harry S. Truman's ambitious set of proposals to Congress that he introduced in his January 1949 State of the Union address. The term has also been used to describe the domestic reform agenda of the Truman Administration, which governed the United States from 1945 to 1953, and marked a new stage in modern liberalism in the United States. Because Congress was dominated by conservatives during the Truman administration, however, major Fair Deal initiatives did not become law.
The most important proposals of the Fair Deal were aid to education, universal health insurance, legislation on fair employment and repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. All were debated at length, but ultimately voted down. Nevertheless, some smaller and less controversial items passed. Additionally, Lyndon B. Johnson credited Truman's unfulfilled program as influencing Great Society measures such as Medicare, which Johnson successfully enacted during the 1960's.
Philosophies of the Fair Deal
A liberal Democrat, Truman was determined both to continue the legacy of the New Deal and make his own mark in social policy. The liberal task of the Fair Deal was to spread the abundant benefits throughout society by stimulating economic growth. In September 1945, Truman presented to Congress a 21 point program of domestic legislation that outlined a series of proposed actions involving economic development and social welfare.
The Fair Deal was greatly opposed by the many conservative politicians (Republicans and predominately Southern conservative Democrats) who wanted the federal government's role to be reduced. After World War II, Americans were steadily becoming more conservative, as they were eager to enjoy prosperity not seen in the country since before The Great Depression.
Therefore, many of Truman's proposed reforms were never realized. In the 1946 congressional elections, Republicans gained majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928, and set their sights on reversing the liberal direction of the Roosevelt years. Despite this major momentum shift for Republicans, Truman was not discouraged, and his proposals to Congress became more and more abundant over the course of his presidency. By 1948, his legislative program became known as the "Fair Deal".
Truman's Second Term
Truman sought re-election in 1948, even though polls indicated that he had little chance of succeeding. After a vigorous campaign, Truman scored one of the great upsets in the history of American politics, defeating Republican nominee Thomas Dewey. Reviving the old New Deal coalition, Truman held on to laborers, farmers and African-American voters.
In his 1949 State of the Union address, Truman stated that "every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal. " Truman's multitudinous proposed measures included federal aid to education, a large tax cut for low-income earners, the abolition of poll taxes, an anti-lynching law, a permanent FEPC, a farm aid program, increased public housing, an immigration bill, new TVA-style public works projects, the establishment of a new Department of Welfare, the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, an increase in the minimum wage from 40 to 75 cents an hour, national health insurance, expanded Social Security coverage and a $4 billion tax increase to reduce the national debt and finance these programs. However, most of the the major reforms did not pass due to opposition in Congress
Legacy of the Fair Deal
Although Truman was unable to implement his Fair Deal program, a great deal of social and economic progress took place during his second term. Improvements made in housing, education, living standards and income under the Truman administration were unparalleled up to that point in American history. Millions of homes had been financed through previous government programs, enabling the beginning of slum clearance. Poverty was also significantly reduced.
Civil Rights Achievements
Additionally, the desegregation of both the federal civil service and the armed forces, as well as the creation of the Commission on Civil Rights spurred momentous civil rights progress. In fact, according to one historian, Truman had "done more than any President since Lincoln to awaken American conscience to the issues of civil rights. "
Other Policy Areas
Under Truman, many improvements were also made to the social welfare system. Although he failed to accomplish some of his key aims, such as the extension of Social security coverage to 25 million Americans, the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and the implementation of a main program of universal health care, he did achieve a number of other social welfare successes. During the Truman years, the role of the federal government in the field of housing provision was extended. Additionally, the Housing Act of 1949 and 1950 was passed.