Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. History Dept.


Robert S. Weisbrot


In the early Cold War arena, international pressure on the United States to live according to its ideological rhetoric enabled the Truman Administration to set a precedent for federal engagement in domestic civil rights reform. As the United States led the march to institutionalise human rights as the standard of moral legitimacy in the global arena, the country’s grisly record of racial oppression and violence invited foreign and domestic criticism alike. This paper intends to prove five discrete points. First: Cold War tensions brought questions of moral legitimacy to the forefront of the U.S. national agenda. Second: during the Truman presidency, the country’s ability to export democracy came to depend largely on its human rights record. Third: due to their belief in the principles of freedom and equality, President Harry S. Truman and his advisors at least tacitly supported legal and economic desegregation (though perhaps not social.) Fourth: foreign pressure on the United States to live according to its ideological rhetoric gave the Truman Administration the incentive to take action on an issue they were already rhetorically committed to. Finally, I argue that although most of the steps taken towards civil rights during the Truman presidency were more symbolic than substantive, the administration set a precedent for federal engagement with race discrimination that would continue throughout the twentieth century, and ultimately destroy the Jim Crow legal system and other institutions of racial oppression.


Race Relations; Civil Rights; United States of America; Federal Government; Harry S. Truman; Department of State; Cold War; International Pressure

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