Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Truman's Committee on Civil Rights:
December 5, 1946

The Federal Government is hampered by inadequate civil rights statutes. The protection of our democratic institutions and the enjoyment by the people of their rights under the Constitution require that these weak and inadequate statutes should be expanded and improved. —HST, December 5, 1946

In the fall of 1946, President Harry Truman's popularity had sunk to the low thirties, making him a serious liability for Democratic congressional candidates who steadfastly avoided campaign contact with the Democratic incumbent in the White House. Not surprising to most political pundits of the day, the Democrats were soundly trounced during the midterm elections in November 1946, when the Republicans gained overwhelming control of both houses of Congress. 1 In the House, the GOP enjoyed a staggering fifty-seven-vote advantage, and a six-vote margin of Republicans dominated the Senate. As a former senator, Truman knew all too well that the GOP majority in the Senate would be bolstered by Southern Democratic senators any time the contentious civil rights issue was raised in the Congress. 2 Despite his party's overwhelming rejection by American voters—tired of meat shortages, labor strikes, and inadequate housing—Truman determined just weeks after the political humiliation of the 1946 election to pick up where Lincoln left off and embark on a predictably unpopular moral crusade—civil rights reform in a racist America.


THE COMMITTEE'S PRESIDENTIAL MANDATE

On December 5, 1946, in a chaotic postwar environment, while the Truman administration was addressing a growing Soviet menace abroad and significant

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