Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Presidential Showdown: FDR vs Truman

Over the past few months, I've read two biographies back-to-back. One, Traitor to His Class by H.W. Brands. Two, Truman by David McCullough. About the American Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman respectively, it got me to thinking about which of them would be considered the greater president by our day's standards (by which you can read: my own). A naturally objective topic, needless to say that this is my own opinion and I do not force that opinion upon anyone.

Before beginning the debate, I want to explain how I'm going to judge them and why I thought this would be an interesting, balanced faceoff. Both presidents entered into office during extremely difficult time periods and both presidents left office (or died) during a similarly stressful time. Yet they were both radically different types of people from very different backgrounds, and handled the office of presidency in very different ways.

Given these intriguing similarities and contrasts, I'm going to be analyzing them based on three factors.


Personality is an excellent characteristic to look at, particularly in how each of their personalities affected the decisions they made in office, how they treated their cabinets, and how they approached people in general. In the United States, we tend to view the ideal president as a man (or woman) who can get things done, be charismatic and yet humble at the same time. We want to see a president who we feel is one of us, or at the very least we feel we can empathize with. Personality is a decisive factor in we elect our politicians, and thus warrants our attention in how we regard the effectiveness of presidents Roosevelt and Truman.


Every president has made decisions and policy that has affected the nation for years to come. Through this category, I'll be looking at things that each president did that had positive ramifications for both their administration and the future of America. Domestic and foreign policy wll be handled evenly, which should be fair given the fact that both presidents had major domestic concerns along with intense foreign challenges.

Controversies and Failures

Yet each president created policies or executed orders that proved to be controversial or poor decisions viewed in hindsight. Each major controversy/failure will be looked at in an effort to see who handled theirs better than the other.

Now that we have the three categories of personality, accomplishments, and controversies I will write out a brief assessment of each president, some facts, and the specific successes and failures that will be looked out in posts to come. I figure that to give each president a fair amount of detail each president will be covered in their own separate blog post, with one final one deciding on who was the better president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR entered into office at the height of the Great Depression.
+ Created the New Deal to bring America out of the Depression.
+ Prepared the nation industrially and economically for World War II.
+ Led the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany in the War itself.
- Rapidly expanded government powers as no other president had done before.
- Attempted to pass legislation to pack the Supreme Court in his favor.
- Passed the executive order to intern Japanese during the war.

Harry S. Truman

Truman entered into office near the end of World War II and near the beginning of the Cold War.
+ Brought a fragile peacetime economy back into full gear.
+ Dealt with Soviet Russia in a way that avoided direct conflict during the Cold War.
+ Did major work on expanding civil rights.
- Authorized use of the Atomic Bomb on Japan.
- Entered America into the Korean War.
- Failed to take decisive action against the threat of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.

As we can see, each president had major successes and failures on the domestic and foreign level, warranting an even competition between the two. Now to see who will win...

On to Roosevelt!


  1. apples_are_orangesJune 24, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    You forgot to mention FDR's biggest mistake: he basically handed Stalin the keys to the Eastern Europe.

    As for Truman, he successfully brought WW2 to the closure; his lack of attack against Soviet Union was probably his biggest mistake, which resulted in more than 40 years of Cold War; and it wasn't Truman who started the Korean War, it was Kim Il Sung after he received Stalin's approval. Truman was just defending his allies.

  2. @apples_are_oranges
    "Truman was just defending his allies"

    You forget that the Korean peninsula was outside the area in which America saw as its south Pacific defensive perimeter and had begun the process of withdrawing troops from South Korea

    FDR did not "hand the keys to Eastern Europe" it was the art of compromise for it was promised that elections were to be held... while they were not held, FDR did not give Stalin Eastern Europe, save his sector of Germany and Berlin.

  3. All other factors aside, good or bad, there is only one that effectively changed the world forever, and not in a good way. The Bomb. The Japanese were effectively in the process of surrender, they were already done yet Truman dropped the bombs anyway. Truman was incompetent and failed to convey to Japan that they could keep their Emperor upon surrender which would have ended the war long before the airplane even left the ground with the bomb. This effectively changed most of the world view of us as the imperialist empire. In the process of dropping the bombs, Truman welched on promises made to the Soviet Union by FDR, and that is what truly started the cold war, and the nuclear arms race. All of the high ranking generals were against use of the bomb. Although Stimson wasn't the Vice-President, he is the precursor to the likes of Dick Cheney as the one behind the scenes whispering in the President's ear and really pulling the strings.