The Second World War ended with the surrender of Japan in August nineteen forty-five. Americans looked to their new president, Harry Truman, to lead them into a new time of peace.
Truman was vice president until President Franklin Roosevelt died suddenly in the closing months of the war.
Almost no one expected President Truman to be as strong a leader as Roosevelt had been. And, at first, they were right. Truman had one problem after another during his first months in the White House.
Truman’s first big problem was the economy. Almost two million Americans lost their jobs as factories ended wartime production. Americans everywhere worried about what would happen next. Only a few years before, the nation had suffered through the worst economic crisis in its history. No one wanted to return to the closed banks, hungry children and other sad memories of the Great Depression.
In some ways, the economy did better after the war than many experts had predicted.
Many Americans still had money that they saved during the war. And Congress passed a law designed to help people keep their jobs. The situation could have been much worse than it was.
However, the economy could also have been better. Much better. Almost overnight, the price of almost everything began to rise.
President Truman tried to stop the increases through a special price control agency that had been created during the war. However, thousands of business people refused to follow the government price control rules. Instead, they set their own prices for goods.
Store owners would tell government officials that they were obeying the price controls. But often they charged whatever they wanted for the goods they sold.
Businesses were not the only ones who were refusing to obey government price controls. Organized labor did the same thing.
President Truman had always been a friend of labor unions. But during the first months of his administration, he became involved in a fierce struggle with coal miners and railroad workers.
The first sign of trouble came in September nineteen forty-five. A group of auto workers closed down factories at the Ford Motor Company. Then, workers at General Motors went on strike. Soon there were strikes everywhere – the oil industry, the clothing industry, the electrical industry and more.
The strikes made Truman angry. He believed the striking workers were threatening the economy and security of the United States. He became even angrier when union representatives came to the White House and refused to accept a compromise wage offer.
Truman ordered the Army to take over the railroads and the coal mines. Within a short time, the striking coal miners returned to work. However, the president had less success with the railroad workers. He became so angry with the unions representing them that he asked Congress to give him the power to draft all striking railroad workers into the armed forces.
The rail strike finally ended. But millions of Americans lost faith in Truman’s ability to lead the country and to bring people together.
By late nineteen forty-six, most Americans believed that the man in the White House did not know what he was doing. Truman seemed weak and unable to control events.
Union members disliked him because of his strong opposition to the coal and rail strikes. Farmers opposed Truman because of the administration’s effort to keep meat prices low. Conservatives did not trust the reforms that Truman promised in his speeches.