Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence

By William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

21
Truman's Seizure of the Steel Mills as an Exercise of Active-Positive Combat

Frank Schwartz

When on April 8, 1952 President Truman was faced with the certainty of a strike in the steel industry the following day, he could have taken any of a number of possible courses of action. We all know that ultimately Truman chose to seize the steel mills pursuant to what he believed to be his inherent executive powers. In so doing, he precipitated a constitutional crisis, until on June 2, 1952 the Supreme Court declared the seizure to be unconstitutional. President Truman immediately returned the mills to their private owners, thereby ending the crisis. 1

While it is common knowledge as to what Truman did, it is not so well known why he did it. Most often his action is explained as a result of his general pro- labor stance and his antipathy toward the Taft-Hartley Act, which he vetoed in a strongly-worded message to Congress when it was presented to him for his signature in 1947. 2 However, I do not think either explanation is satisfactory. After careful analysis of the situation I do not see President Truman's actions as resulting from a disagreement with a particular act of Congress or his general pro-labor stance, but rather as stemming from his presidential character, described by James David Barber as one of Active-Positive Combat. 3 I believe Truman's personality, combined with the unique factual context confronting Truman during the steel dispute of 1952, best explains why he chose to seize the mills on April 8, 1952. This paper will present an argument for this thesis and hopefully add a better understanding of President Truman's motivations when he ordered the seizure.

Three important objectives will be realized by this research effort. First, Barber's paradigm for the prediction of presidential performance can be tested for its explanatory power in the present and in the future in as far as it can help to explain an instance of presidential behavior in the past. If presidential character is of no consequence in helping to explain past presidential practice, there is

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