Historical Highlights

President Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal proposal to a Joint Session of Congress

January 05, 1949
President Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal proposal to a Joint Session of Congress Image courtesy of Library of Congress A Herblock cartoon from March 1949 depicts President Harry S. Truman and “John Q. Public” inspecting worm-ridden apples representing Truman’s Fair Deal proposals. The alliance of conservative southern Democrats and Republicans in Congress who blocked many of Truman’s initiatives is portrayed by the worm labeled “Coalition.”
On this date, President Harry S. Truman delivered his Fair Deal proposal to a Joint Session of Congress. Truman described the United States as a society that is “conservative about the values and principles which we cherish; but we are forward-looking in protecting those values and principles and in extending their benefits.” Truman stressed that the U.S. “cannot maintain prosperity unless we have a fair distribution of opportunity and a widespread consumption of the products of our factories and farms.” After outlining the challenges that the nation faced, Truman submitted an eight-point program to Congress. The President requested action on initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage, civil rights legislation, and national health care. Finally, he outlined a number of foreign policy initiatives. Although Truman received a warm reception, Democrats’ support for the broad package was mixed. John McMillan of South Carolina, an opponent of the civil rights initiatives, commented, “It looks like he will get what he wants. But I don’t see why he should try to tear the whole world apart just because he was reelected.” Republican Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania objected to the cost of the initiatives, “If Mr. Truman has his way, this will be known as the grab-bag-pay-off Congress.” By the end of the 81st Congress (1949–1951), three of Truman’s Fair Deal proposals became law: the Housing Act of 1949 (S. 1070-P.L. 171), which provided funding for localities to invest in blighted neighborhoods; the establishment of the National Science Foundation (S. 247-P.L. 507), an organization dedicated “to promote the progress of science”; and the Social Security Act Amendments of 1950 (H. R. 6000-P.L. 734), the first comprehensive Social Security overhaul since the program’s enactment in 1935.

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