Harry S. Truman photo

Address at the University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, Illinois

September 30, 1948

Mr. Mayor, distinguished guests, fellow Democrats:

I feel that I must talk to you today without mincing words about the danger of reaction that confronts this country.

You are faced this coming election day with a fundamental decision that will affect you every year and every day for the rest of your lives.

You are about to choose not merely between the Democratic and Republican Parties, but between two different kinds of government.

Now, you have had an ample demonstration of what those two kinds of government are, and I am going to expound on them a little bit. The Democrats are for the people. The Republicans are for special interests. And that is the basis of this campaign. This Republican "do-nothing" 80th Congress amply demonstrated that they are a special interest Congress, and I want to urge you with everything I have to send Paul Douglas to the Senate, and Kent Keller to the House. If you do that, this special interest program of the Republican Party will have a terrible blow.

We are hearing a lot of propaganda these days to the effect that there is no real difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

That is a malicious untruth, to put it mildly.

When you elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, you found out what a difference there is between Democratic and Republican administrations.

The very course of your lives was changed. The dark Republican days of discouragement and fear gave way to new hope and revived energy, as the Democratic administration went to work for the people. That's the difference. The Democratic administration went to work for the people. Just as soon as these Republicans got control of this Congress, they went to work for the special interests.

We, the Democrats, have been working for all the people for the past 16 years.

You remember how the Democratic administration aided the farmer, until now farm income is ten times what it was in 1932.

You remember how we saved millions of homeowners and farmowners from foreclosure and eviction.

You remember how we rescued the banking system, brought truth into the sale of securities, and established the Federal deposit insurance law.

Because of these safeguards, there has not been a single bank failure in the United States in 3 years.

We established social security. The sweatshop and child labor were abolished. Respect for human rights was written into the statutes of the American Government by the Democratic Party.

We wrote into law for the first time the collective bargaining principle in labor relations, which protects the entire Nation.

We enacted a minimum-wage law and started a program for slum-clearance and low-rent housing.

We began the great multipurpose operations in river valleys, which have brought irrigation, electric power, navigation, and flood control to vast areas of the United States.

Under the Democratic administration, employment has risen to record-breaking heights. And the profits of business are larger than ever before.

Despite the obstructionists and the isolationists, we prepared our country against danger from abroad. Under Democratic leadership, the people gained an overwhelming victory in war against the forces of tyranny abroad.

And while we were making the greatest of all military efforts, at the same time, the American people maintained their liberties, their living standards, and their social gains. We also continued the fight to expand our civil liberties by new measures against discrimination.

After V-J Day, a Democratic Congress and a Democratic administration, working together, set out upon the great tasks remaining before us. We accomplished swift reconversion. We avoided a postwar recession, and reached a peak of more jobs, higher civilian production, and better standards of living than ever before.

There is nothing like that in the history of the world after a great war. Bear that in mind. That is an accomplishment that nobody can appreciate. Not very much has been said about that, but we had no riots and no bloodshed. We didn't have people crying for jobs. We didn't have the farmers marching on Washington. We didn't have returning soldiers marching on Washington, because we took care of them in educational institutions and absorbing them back into the economy of the country without a debacle.

We enacted the Employment Act of 1946, pledging all our resources and efforts to the maintenance of prosperity.

We brought the United States to a position of unquestioned leadership in world affairs. Don't let anybody tell you anything different.

I repeat--for 16 years the Democratic administration has been working in the interest of all the people.

For 14 of the 16 years, the Democratic president was supported by a Democratic Congress. We were able to go steadily forward in fulfilling our pledges to the people.

And then--and then!--in 1946, something happened--something bad and dangerous to the country.

That was the year of the congressional elections, when most of the people stayed home and failed to vote.

Those who did vote gave you a Republican Congress--that notorious Republican 80th "do-nothing" Congress. There are a lot of good men in the Congress. There are 531 Members in the Congress, but when we speak of a Congress, we speak of its control and its leadership. Its control and its leadership are doing their best to turn the clock back. They are trying to go back to the 1920's, or even as far back as 1898, some of them would like Congress to. The Congress that has done its best to put an end to Democratic progress is the 80th Congress.

This Congress proved quickly that the Republican Party had learned nothing from experience. The Republican leadership set out to follow the same disastrous policies they had followed under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.

The first bill that was introduced in the 80th Congress was the rich man's tax bill sponsored by the Republican leadership. It was a bill for the benefit of wealth and privilege at the expense of the people and the financial stability of this whole Nation. I vetoed it. In fact, they had to study that bill three times, because I vetoed it three times. They finally passed a modified version, which was not quite so bad, although bad enough, as the first one they sent to me.

That was only the beginning. At every point, that Republican-dominated Congress has shown itself to be the legislative puppet of the most reactionary forces in American life, the puppet of big business, the puppet of the special lobbies--the real estate lobby, the power lobby, the grain speculators' lobby, and many others I could name.

There have been more lobbies in Congress in the last 2 years than were altogether there in the whole history of the Congress before that time, and they spent money like water to get what they wanted.

Some Republican newspapers have reproached me for speaking this out in public. They would like me to be more polite. They would like me to conduct this campaign so as not to hurt anybody's feelings. They think I am being rude. All I am doing is telling you the facts for your benefit and welfare.

There has been growing in this country a deeper understanding of the rights and needs of the workers in industry. The Democratic Party led the way to give workers a voice in their own destiny. The Wagner Act of 1935 was passed for that purpose.

What did this puppet Congress do? They passed the reactionary Taft-Hartley Act. Instead of improving the Wagner Act as I recommended, they cut and hacked away at the workers' newly-won rights. The Taft, Hartley Act is the way backward, not forward. It's the Republican way.

Take another example. With the great growth of population in this country in recent years, we've begun to burst at the seams in our schools. That situation endangers the education of your children. We urgently need a national program to aid the States in meeting the present shortage of teachers and schools.

The Democratic Party has such a program.

But the Republican Party, as usual, can't see the need for this forward step. In spite of the pleading of parents and teachers and school administrators all over the country, this puppet 80th Congress refused to pass the aid to education bill. As a result, millions of American children are failing to get the good education that is their birthright here in the United States. The Republicans want to go backward, instead of forward. That's the Republican way.

The big business Republicans have set an economic trap for the American consumer. They have baited that trap with glib assurances that everything will be all right, if you just let nature take its course, everything will be taken care of. And when they say nature, they mean themselves.

The people have been fooled before by that bait. I hope we are not nibbling at it again. We nibbled at it under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. You know what happened to us under that circumstance.

At every point the Republicans have shown plainly that they are trying to turn back the clock to the 1920's.

They don't want the Government to do anything about housing, about high prices, about social security and education and conservation. They don't want the Government to work constructively in the interest of the farmers and the workers and the small businessman. They are interested in but one thing--the profits of big business.

Where is the Republican Party getting the millions of dollars it is pouring into this campaign? From big business, who know that if the Republicans win, they will get their money back many times over--until the crash comes.

Today big business is rubbing its hands in the hope of having another boom-and-bust spree under a Republican administration.

They are in the same greedy state of mind that brought about the crash of 1929 and the Hoover depression.

Then Wall Street had the spree, and the people had the headache that lasted for several years afterwards.

Are we going to let that happen again? No one can look at the record of the past 2 years without realizing that the Republican 80th Congress has started down the same path as the Republican administrations of the 1920'S.

They have sent out their best orators to make high sounding speeches and to make big promises. But the road down which they are trying to lead you is the same road that nearly led us to ruin in 1930.

You cannot afford to let these reactionaries have their way. Already, the big business Republicans have begun to nail the American consumer to the wall with the spikes of greed.

Are you going to let them get away with it?

There is one way to stop them.

And that is to get out on election day and vote. And make every vote count.

This election concerns the security of your homes and your lives and your jobs next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

Search your minds and your hearts. Is it to be another era of fear under the Republican reactionaries, or another era of hope under liberal Democratic administrations?

On November 2d, you can decide. You can decide to send me back to the Presidency, you can elect such men as Paul Douglas, and Kent Keller--and I sincerely hope the whole Illinois delegation will be Democratic this time, and you can avoid these things. You can avoid the situation with which we are faced. This is one of the most crucial elections which you have ever faced. I have been making a crusade across this continent, trying to wake the people up to the seriousness of the situation. I am telling you that I am succeeding. Now it is for you and for all the people of this Nation to choose.

Note: The president spoke at 10:15 a.m. in the auditorium of the University of Southern Illinois. His opening words "Mr. Mayor" referred to John I. Wright, Mayor of Carbondale. Later he referred to Paul H. Douglas, Democratic candidate for Senator, and Kent Keller, Democratic candidate for Representative from the 26th District, both of Illinois.

Harry S Truman, Address at the University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233265

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