Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The 1948 Democratic Party Convention and
the Civil Rights Plank: July 14–15, 1948

Everybody knows that I recommended to the [Eightieth] Congress the civil rights program. I did that because I believed it to be my duty under the Constitution.

—HST, July 15, 1948

As President Harry Truman prepared for the National Democratic Party Convention in July 1948, he looked forward to its rough-and-tumble environment, an environment in which he hoped and expected to be nominated for the first time as the party's national standard-bearer.

Just four years earlier, Senator Harry Truman had been extremely reluctant to give up his enhanced leadership position in the Senate for his party's vice presidential nomination. During his ten years in the Senate, Truman had earned the high regard of his congressional colleagues, as well as a growing national reputation, for cracking down on waste and corruption in the nation's industrial wartime effort. Truman's reluctance in the summer of 1944 to be drafted by FDR and a group of party bosses to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on the Democratic ticket was described by Justice Tom Clark in a 1972 oral history. Clark, who was Truman's close friend and appointee, as well as a devoted friend of the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, a fellow Texan, recalled the events of the 1944 convention when Senator Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency. “Here [Truman] was a man that had been in the Senate—he had not had any on the job training, other than as a County Judge which didn't amount to too much; of course, he was the head of a fiscal agency of Jackson County, but that was just one small county, and as you say, it was really a rural community. Here he was catapulted into the Presidency; and didn't want it, didn't want it.

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