Term Paper: Cold War, the President

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[. . .] He remains remembered for this and for instituting the Hawley-Smoot tariff, which severely restricted imports and exports. By pursuing a protectionist tariff, he is thought to have exacerbated the effects of the Great Depression, which hit its lowest point at the conclusion of his presidency in 1932.

Despite his popularity among a group of voters known as the 'Roosevelt Coalition' of Democrats, labor, and urban areas, Franklin Delano Roosevelt remains one of the most controversial Presidents of the 20th century. Among his first actions as President were to declare a bank holiday and to lift liquor restrictions. Although the latter was seen as almost an inevitability, the former required powers that were not formerly vested in the executive by the Constitution and required an act of congress. Franklin Delano Roosevelt barred the private ownership of gold independent of jewelry, and raised taxes on the highest income bracket to over 70% and then to over 90%.

Many of Roosevelt's actions as President would best be characterized as socialist, although unlike European socialists in the 40's and 50's, Roosevelt did not plan to engage in the large-scale nationalization of industry. Roosevelt wished to communicate directly with the American people, and did so using the radio, something that had only been introduced in the United States in the 1920's. Americans were heartened by this President's personal conviction was that he could end the great recession, although historians argue to this day over whether or not he was a great success. FDR initiated many new government programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Citizen's Conservation Corps, Social Security, and the Works Project Administration. HL Mencken, the most prominent newspaper editor of the early 20th century, was one of Roosevelt's most vocal critics and claimed that Roosevelt's success was owed to what he called "the insatiable American appetite for nonsense and gaudy sham."

Roosevelt's legislature was compliant with his economic schemes, which are believed by conservatives to have lengthened the Great Depression. He should be remembered for introducing the with-holding tax which drastically expanded the number of Americans paying income tax; a number that had been limited to a small number of wealthy individuals prior to 1940. Roosevelt also failed to eradicate border controls set up under Harding despite a brooding humanitarian crisis in Europe. However, it was probably thanks to the provocation of the Axis through Roosevelt's foreign policy initiatives (such as the lend-lease act and tariffs) that Japan declared war on the United States. As a rhetorical leader during the conflict, Roosevelt conducted himself with aplomb, remaining a beacon of moral strength to the American republic as it fought alongside the Allies to conquer the Axis.

Truman was among the least educated modern American Presidents, having never attended a college or university. He also entered a presidency that had grown enormously: the wartime economy had been placed almost at the sole discretion of the executive. Taxes on individuals earning more than 25 thousand dollars had peaked at 96%, and all citizens regularly used coupon rations to buy needed goods and services. Truman, considered among the most honest presidents, faced one of the greatest humanitarian decisions ever presented a Commander-in-Chief during wartime: whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was estimated by the military to have spared the lives of one million American soldiers who it was estimated would have died in the invasion of the home islands of Japan. In the mind of the American public, communism exploded into a singular monster while Truman was in office; by 1950, communists had gained control of the governments of Eastern Europe, seized China, and in Russia developed the atomic bomb. A policy of containment compelled Truman to invade Korea but to forsake the further tactical use of the atomic bomb against mainland China. Truman's administration devised the Bretton Woods global trade system, which relied on fixing currencies to the dollar, and the Marshall Plan, which was to rebuild Europe. Eisenhower is best remembered for developing the national highway system and for federally enforcing court-mandated desegregation.

Kennedy was one of the nation's better rhetorical leaders and was best known for his role in the Cuban missile crisis. However, he also significantly lowered taxes, which were still particularly high as the military-industrial complex continued to encourage deficit spending. Kennedy also wished to abandon the Federal Reserve System; he eliminated the minting of silver coins and issued a 'greenback' currency for a brief period of time. However, Kennedy died rather early in his tenure as President; many believe that his ameliorative tax policies would have changed the nature of the Democratic Party.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texan, was considered by many to be one of our worst presidents. Although he was elected to office after painting his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater out to be a warmonger whose election would have resulted in nuclear oblivion, he embroiled America in one of the most unpopular wars of its history. Another war lost by LBJ was the "War on Poverty": his legacy includes a failed welfare system that institutionalized 'cradle to grave' Aid to Families with Dependent Children and engaged in 'urban renewal' projects designed to re-locate traditional black populations into hideous cinderblock apartment complexes. These exacerbated the problem of segregation, resulting in riots. However, the civil rights movement during his Presidency was able to win a certain measure of equality for impoverished blacks. His administration also loosened barriers to immigration, which had been high since the 1920's.

Two influences were catalytic in the way the President's role changed over these hundred years. First, social services and behavioral restrictions, a main concern of the Progressives, were able to give the executive a great degree of power. By the 1960's, executive agencies were responsible for the provision of welfare, the regulation of agriculture, and the administration of the pension system. In addition, the federal government insured that its citizens were not communists, drug users, gold bullion hoarders, illegal immigrants, or members of criminal organizations. The second influence was the nature in which warfare changed: by 1969, the President had the ability to fight a war with a series of buttons, codes and briefcases, that if fought, could hypothetically end life as we know it. Of these Presidents, all faced critical decisions that didn't result in the collapse of the country, and in that, all can be said to have been successful. Personal favorites among them, however, remain Truman and Silent Cal, although they don't share a party and their convictions were dissimilar. Truman was able to use overwhelming force when it was essential, but was circumspect enough to forsake the use of this force when it was merely advantageous. Coolidge never saw a need for action, and despite being a man of few words, was frank enough to admit it.

Herman Belz; Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism and Equal Rights during the Civil War Era. Fordham University Press, 1997

Arthur Walworth. Woodrow Wilson. Longman, 1958

William B. Hesseltine. Ulysses S. Grant, Politician. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1935 www.whitehouse.gov

Alonzo L. Hamby, Liberalism and Its Challengers.


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