The end of World War II brought a series of challenges to Harry Truman. The entire economy had to be converted from a wartime economy to a consumer economy. Strikes that had been delayed during the war erupted with a frenzy across America. Inflation threatened as millions of Americans planned to spend wealth they had not enjoyed since 1929. As the soldiers returned home, they wanted their old jobs back, creating a huge labor surplus. Truman, distracted by new threats overseas, was faced with additional crises at home.
To provide relief for the veterans of World War II, and to diminish the labor surplus, Congress passed the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944. Known as the GI Bill of Rights, this law granted government loans to veterans who wished to start a new business or build a home. It also provided money for veterans to attend school or college. Thousands took advantage, and Americans enjoyed the double bonus of relieving unemployment and investing in a more educated workforce.
Although Truman maintained wartime price controls for over a year after the war, he was pressured to end them by the Republican Congress in 1947. Inflation skyrocketed and workers immediately demanded pay increases. Strikes soon spread across America involving millions of American workers.
Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which allowed the President to declare a "cooling-off" period if a strike were to erupt. Union leaders became liable for damages in lawsuits and were required to sign noncommunist oaths. The ability of unions to contribute to political campaigns was limited. Truman vetoed this measure, but it was passed by the Congress nonetheless.
Serious issues remained. Now that nuclear power was a reality, who would control the fissionable materials? In August 1946, Truman signed the Atomic Energy Act, which gave the government a monopoly over all nuclear material. Five civilians would head the Atomic Energy Commission. They directed the peaceful uses of the atom. The President was vested with exclusive authority to launch a nuclear strike. The military was also reorganized.
The War Department was eliminated and a new Defense Department was created. The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force were subordinate to the new Secretary of Defense. The National Security Council was created to coordinate the Departments of State and Defense. Finally, a Central Intelligence Agency was established to monitor espionage activities around the globe.
In 1948, Harry Truman faced reelection. Almost every political spin-doctor in the nation predicted a victory by the Republican Governor of New York, Thomas Dewey. The Democratic Party was split three ways. In addition to Truman, Henry Wallace represented the liberal wing on the Progressive Party ticket. J. Strom Thurmond ran as a "Dixiecrat" Southern candidate who thought Truman too liberal on civil rights.
Truman ran a whistle-stop train campaign across the land, hoping to win by holding onto the Solid South and retaining the support of organized labor. He also became the first candidate to campaign openly for the African American vote. Against everyone's predictions but his own, Truman prevailed on election day. He had hoped to enact a socially expansive Fair Deal, much along the lines of the New Deal of FDR, but conservative Democrats and Republicans in the Congress blocked most of his initiatives.Of the Presidency Truman wrote, "The President — whoever he is — has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job."