When looking at the presidents that have shaped America’s history, many don’t think of President Harry S Truman. His face doesn’t appear on Mount Rushmore or on any American currency*, he wasn’t a Founding Father or Revolutionary War hero, and he didn’t get America out of the Great Depression. While he tends to rank well in scholar surveys, he doesn’t rank as high as he should in popular opinion polls. Truman always seems to rank 7th or 8th, just behind Founding Father types, the Roosevelts, and Abraham Lincoln.
I understand—the previous president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, cast a large shadow. Roosevelt got America out of the Great Depression (with the New Deal), and he led America into World War II. When the war ended, majorly due to Truman’s dropping the atomic bombs—a task which some believe was both a triumph and failure—America was left in a quandary—unemployment sky rocketed, the economy began to plummet, and American citizens were extremely concerned with USSR and what would become the events that triggered the Cold War.
With World War II over, millions of American war workers and soldiers became unemployed. Furthermore, those in congress did not know whether Truman would be capable of keeping the course with Roosevelt’s domestic and international policies. The progressive liberals were focused on having better relations with USSR, and they didn’t believe that Truman was the man to put America on the right path.
Further alienating himself with part of the nation—but to his credit—Truman made a major push for civil rights. On July 26, 1948, Truman issued Executive Order 9981. This order abolished racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces. While this order did not affect the majority of African-Americans, the black community saw it as a step towards progress. The Chicago Defender hailed it as an order “unprecedented since the time of Lincoln.”
Unfortunately, after the end of his presidency, he wasn’t thought of fondly. Partly because Eisenhower campaigned against Truman, portraying him as a president whose time in the White House was greatly overshadowed by “Korea, Communism, and Corruption.”
Furthermore, after losing the election, Samuel Lubell published The Future of American Politics, which portrayed Truman is a very unpopular light:
“[A]fter seven years of Truman’s hectic, even furious, activity the nation seemed to be about on the same general spot as when he first came to office … Nowhere in the whole Truman record can one point to a single, decisive break-through … All his skills and energies—and he was among our hardest-working Presidents—were directed to standing still.”
For decades, President Harry Truman’s policies weren’t seen for what they were. It wasn’t until the end of the Cold War that America saw how Truman had kept the United States from further nuclear conflict. Truman’s biographer, Robert Dallek, believed:
“His contribution to victory in the cold war without a devastating nuclear conflict elevated him to the stature of a great or near-great president.”
Truman pulled a feat that many others couldn’t; he has almost the highest approval rating and the lowest approval rating. To me, he will always be in my top 5 list. From civil right to the Cold War, Truman put America on a path that would help preserve both the nation and worldwide democracy.
*Well, it didn’t until today. Effective today, February 5th, 2015, the United States Mint will make available Harry S. Truman 2015 One Dollar Coins as part of the Presidential $1 Coin Program (You can start placing orders on February 26th).