Fair Deal

The Fair Deal was a package of economic and social reforms put forward by President Harry Truman, with the stated purpose of giving all Americans access to education, healthcare, and good jobs.

Truman began talking about reform almost as soon as he came into office. In 1945, he asked Congress to create legislation that would expand social security, create new public housing, and enact civil rights legislation, including a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act. Congress did pass an Employment Act, which made it the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans could find work. But Truman’s other reforms didn’t get any traction.

In 1949, fresh after winning re-election, Truman made the Fair Deal the focus of his State of the Union address.  “Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal,” Truman told Congress. He named his proposal the “fair deal” in a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; Truman’s proposal was intended to take the New Deal into the present.  His goal was to increase the nation’s prosperity and to spread out the wealth, since, he said, we “cannot maintain prosperity unless we have a fair distribution of opportunity and a widespread consumption of the products of our factories and farms.” 

Truman told Congress:

We must spare no effort to raise the general level of health in this country. In a nation as rich as ours, it is a shocking fact that tens of millions lack adequate medical care. We are short of doctors, hospitals, nurses. We must remedy these shortages. Moreover, we need–and we must have without further delay–a system of prepaid medical insurance which will enable every American to afford good medical care.

It is equally shocking that millions of our children are not receiving a good education. Millions of them are in overcrowded, obsolete buildings. We are short of teachers, because teachers’ salaries are too low to attract new teachers, or to hold the ones we have. All these school problems will become much more acute as a result of the tremendous increase in the enrollment in our elementary schools in the next few years. I cannot repeat too strongly my desire for prompt Federal financial aid to the States to help them operate and maintain their school systems.

However, the United States had moved to the right since the period of the Great Depression, when FDR’s New Deal passed through Congress. Truman turned out to have a greater hurdle to clear than his predecessor had; the president had misjudged the direction the country was taking. His Fair Deal was popular with liberals in Congress, but it ran into stiff opposition from conservative Democrats and Republicans. Southern Democrats carried out a filibuster and blocked Truman’s civil rights legislation. An agricultural program geared at family farmers also failed. Congress did, however, pass legislation to increase the minimum wage, and it established a Housing Act to create new houses for the poor. Congress also expanded social security benefits.