The Truman Doctrine, which granted aid to Greece and Turkey and promised assistance to other nations threatened “by armed minorities or by outside pressure”; the Marshall Plan, which used American economic resources to stimulate the recovery of European economies outside the Soviet sphere; the Berlin airlift, designed to maintain the Western presence in that city, which was surrounded by the Russian-occupied zone of Germany; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the nation’s first peacetime military alliance. Truman’s Point Four program helped new nations develop economically.
These steps, which added up to a policy of “containment” of communism, constituted unprecedented U.S. involvement in Europe during peacetime. Truman not only made the decisions but also used all his power to get the policies accepted. His success also owed much to a bipartisan group in which a Republican, Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg (Mich.), played a key role.
Truman accomplished less in domestic affairs, in part because he was so busy with international concerns. Beginning in September 1945, he fought to continue and expand the New Deal, soon labeling his program the Fair Deal. He encountered the same coalition of conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats that had frustrated Roosevelt frequently after 1936. This coalition effectively opposed Truman when the Democrats dominated congress (1945-1946 and 1949-1956) as well as when the Republicans were in control (1947-1948). One of his few domestic victories was the passage of the Housing Act of 1949, which included a provision for public housing.
In another area in which Truman made important contributions–civil rights–he had to rely chiefly on executive action, publicizing the question and desegregating the armed forces. But he failed to obtain passage of law assuring equal job opportunities for blacks and ending poll taxes, lynching, and discrimination on public transportation. His personal concern about the problems of black Americans, as well as his quest for the black vote, and his worry about the damage that American racial practices did to the nation’s image in the world moved him to act. Nearly all Southerners opposed him, however, and Southern senators filibustered effectively against his legislative proposals.
In 1947, Congress overrode Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Act, which Truman said unfairly weakened the bargaining power of unions. Truman’s frequent interventions in labor-management disputes were significant, because they expanded the role of the president in this area. The railroad and coal industries provided major occasions for action in 1946. Steel did in 1952. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that the president has inherent powers to seize firms in emergencies. Faced with a steel strike during the Korean War, Truman had seized steel mills to keep them operating.