The Truman Presidency

Teacher Guide by Richard Cleggett

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our US History Category.

Truman Presidency Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Truman Presidency Include:

In one of the most pivotal moments in history, Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as president following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on Air Force One. Following the footsteps of one of America’s most beloved leaders, a tall task was in order for President Truman.

The Truman Presidency Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Harry S. Truman: Cold War Policies

In this activity, students will be able to define and explain the major principles of containment, a foreign policy that lay at the heart of Truman’s doctrine and take on limiting Soviet influence. Students will center key terms around containment in a spider map, defining and explaining their meaning as well as their connection to the idea of containment.

This will allow students to connect ideas to not only what defines containment, but how containment was used to limit Soviet influence in America and around the globe. Suggested terms include base terms such as socialism, capitalism, democracy, communism, the “iron curtain”, and the Truman Doctrine (although teachers may pre-select any terms or ideas they would like to convey and connect to containment).

Example Spider Map on Containment

Communism Communism is the final stage of socialism. In a communist society, the proletariat, or working class, controls the government, factors of production, and everyone is grounded on an even playing field, economically and socially.
Capitalism Capitalism is a socio-economic theory in which factors of production are controlled by private businesses and individuals. Success and wealth is based of personal merit and skill. This institution contradicts the communal aspects of socialism and communism.
Socialism Socialism is a socio-economic theory in which the government controls all factors of production, as well as wealth. Citizens are considered equal, despite occupation and skill. This theory contradicts the privatized institution of capitalism.
Truman Doctrine The Truman Doctrine was the doctrine of United States President Harry S. Truman. In it, Truman laid out specific principles of containing, or not allowing the spread of, communist and socialist ideals. To the U.S., socialism threatened its capitalist institutions.
The ‘Iron Curtain’ The 'Iron Curtain' is a term coined by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It refers to the socialist nation-states surrounding Soviet Russia. The term 'Iron Curtain' refers to the geographical 'barrier' of communist nations centered around Soviet Russia.

Extended Activity

Have students use containment as a central term to history and current events today. Events or ideas could center around the United States attempts to contain terrorism, radical Islam, or even other hostile nations like North Korea and Russia. Students should continue to connect base terms and ideas to how containment is seen today.

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The Truman Doctrine: Document Analysis

In this activity, students will read and analyze excerpts taken from a series of President Truman’s principles known as the Truman Doctrine. This activity will allow students to read and break down Truman’s own words and principles in regards to how the President wanted to guide foreign policy in response to Soviet influence. Furthermore, this activity will allow students to synthesize and connect Truman’s words into their own. This will help promote a deeper understanding of how Truman conducted foreign policy, as well as better understand events that connect directly to Truman’s stated principles.

Example Responses

"It is of the utmost importance that we supervise the use of any funds made available to Greece; in such a manner that each dollar spent will count toward making Greece self-supporting, and will help to build an economy in which a healthy democracy can flourish."

My Analysis

President Truman is pleading for funds to help Greece recover from the war, as well as protect themselves against any foreign aggression, namely the Soviet Union. With American aid, they would be able to sustain themselves, and their freely chosen government.

"To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations...We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes."

My Analysis

Truman is acknowledging the United State's growing position as a world leader and member of the United Nations. As part of their joint efforts, the U.S. is looking to help any and every country maintain peace and prosperity against the threat of totalitarian regimes.

"The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive."

My Analysis

President Truman is noting that without American aid and containment of totalitarian regimes, free societies will perish and the people’s will to succeed will perish as well. With American aid to nations threatened by these regimes, Truman advises we can save the people of these nations.

Extended Activity

Have students read and analyze another president’s principles regarding foreign policy. Option and ideas are endless, however some key presidential principles that may be connected include President Bush’s statements post-9/11, as well as immediate presidential policies following Truman.

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Truman’s Policies in Action Timeline

To better understand Truman’s actions and policies, students will construct a timeline of events and policies in regards to attempts to contain the influence of communism and the Soviet Union. Students should include major events such as the statement of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, Berlin Airlift, the U.S. joining NATO, and the passage of the McCarren-Walter Act.

This timeline will allow students to explain and analyze actions take abroad, as well as domestically in response to the Soviet threat. Furthermore, it will allow students to be able to chronologically list and define the major events and policies that defined Truman’s policy in the early years of the Cold War.

Example Timeline for Truman Policies

1947 - The Truman Doctrine

In a speech to Congress in March of 1947, President Truman asks for support for fledgling nations who are threatened by totalitarian regimes. Congress approves, and over $400 million dollars are given to Turkey and Greece as aid.

1947 - The Marshall Plan

As Secretary of State, George C. Marshall unveils a plan for European nations to economically rebuild, as well as receive aid from the U.S. The plan falls in line with Truman's containment policy, as they hoped to influence and cement strong democracies.

1948 - The Berlin Airlift

With the blockage of democratic West Berlin by Soviet Territory, President Truman avoids military conflict by initiating the Berlin Airlift operations. By dropping much needed supplies cut off by the Soviets, the U.S. aids a struggling West Berlin.

1949 - The U.S. Joins NATO

In April of 1949, the U.S., along with several other nations, join N.A.T.O, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Within its principles, the treaty among these nations ensures collective security, or, an attack on one nation is an attack on all.

1952 - The McCarran-Walter Act

As an attempt to prevent domestic infiltration by communist radicals, the McCarran-Walter Act aimed to limit immigrants from communist nations. President Truman in fact vetoes this bill; however, his veto is overridden by Congress.

Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline for another Cold War president, as well as his policies and actions both abroad and at home. This will allow students to make connections and inferences as to how the Cold War developed and influenced American foreign and domestic policy post-Truman’s presidency.

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NATO 5 Ws Graphic Organizer

In this activity, students will create a 5 Ws spider map to explain the formation of NATO, as well as the United States’ role in it. By examining and explaining NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization), students will gain a deeper understanding to the formation of global alliances, as well as how these alliances played pivotal roles in the United States’ attempt to continue to contain ideas of communism, as well as its influence. Furthermore, this will allow students to understand the United State’s attempts at promoting ideas of democracy and capitalism. By analyzing and dissecting NATO, it will give depth to Truman’s foreign policy.

Example NATO 5 Ws

WHO Joined NATO?

Many nations joined NATO. The United States joined with other democratic nations including Canada, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, and several other nations.


NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was an alliance of democratic nations who promoted the idea of collective security. Essentially, its major principles included supporting democratic ideologies and protection of one another.

WHEN did the United States Join NATO?

The United States joined NATO in April of 1949. The U.S. remains in this alliance to this very day.


NATO nations span the globe, beginning with the U.S. and Canada here in North America. Also, many Western European nations join, including Britain and France, as well as countries like the Netherlands.

WHY did the United States Join NATO?

The United States joined NATO as part of their containment policies, as well as for the collective protection of democratic nations across the globe. Furthermore, it served as an economic alliance.

Extended Activity

Have students research and explain other world organizations that the U.S. is a part of, including NATO today, or another global organization such as the United Nations (also a product of post WWII global initiatives). This will help serve as a thematic connection to global organizations, American foreign policy, as well as how these organizations have helped serve as foundations to other American presidents foreign policy.

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Truman’s Domestic Policies: The Communist Threat At Home

In this activity, students will create a grid storyboard to show cause and effect. Students will explain policies and actions initiated domestically under Truman, as well as their effect on the American people and culture. This activity will allow students to see how President Truman went into action in terms of securing America at home, and attempting to protect American interests and people from the communist threat. This will also give a broader, expansive perspective as to how Truman handled ideas of containment at home.

Example of Domestic Policies: Cause and Effect

The Loyalty Program Under President Truman, the threat of Soviet spies and infiltration were feared. With this, Truman helped lead the Loyalty Program, where potential government employees were investigated and checked for Soviet ties. If dishonesty was detected, people were brought before the Loyalty Review Board. Under the Loyalty Program, several million employees were investigated. However, only a few hundred were actually removed. It did add a heightened climate of suspicion however, and further added to Truman's ideas of containing communist and socialist ideas.
Formation of HUAC Also under Truman, Congress formed HUAC, or the House of Un-American Activities Committee. This committee allowed Congress to investigate anyone, in particular filmmakers, on their history with identifying as communists. The committee aimed to prevent communist ideas being promoted in the arts. Although formed in 1938, HUAC took on a bigger meaning in America post WWII under Truman. Although many famous people fought against communist accusations, many also protested HUAC itself, saying it set a dangerous precedent. Still, HUAC helped play into many Americans fear of communist infiltration.
The McCarran-Walter Act The McCarran-Walter Act, proposed by U.S. Senator Pat McCarran, proposed to reaffirm quota systems for immigrants from nations formed before 1924. It discriminated against immigration, particularly from Asia and Southern/Central Europe. The McCarran-Walter Act was in fact vetoed by President Truman. In fact, Truman noted it as "one of the most un-American acts I have ever witnessed". Still, Truman's veto was overridden by Congress, and the Act was passed.

Extended Activity

Have students research the Patriot Act of 2001. Students should analyze and research components of this bill, passed post-9/11. Aiming at making America safer, the Patriot Act gave greater abilities for the federal government to investigate potential terrorist threats, a thematic idea that also exists in Truman’s domestic policies surrounding the communist threat that existed here immediately after WWII.

For more about the Cold War, don’t forget to check out our Cold War teacher guide.

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The Truman Presidency

Through strong leadership and technology, Truman and the United States ended World War II. The war was over. Peace was to ensue. Yet this ideal thought of a calmer sea was not to be true. Even before the war had ended, the United States had begun to prepare for what would be a struggle between the two remaining superpowers of the world: themselves and the Soviet Union.

Whereas one country celebrated and promoted ideas of democracy, capitalism, and individual liberties, the other sought to expand and spread ideas of socialism, true equality, and the final stage of socialism itself, communism. Both the United States and Soviet Union contradicted each other on nearly every reputable quality that defined both socio-economic institutions. More so, both nations found it within themselves to preserve and spread each institution in the post World War II world… at any cost.

Enter Harry S. Truman, whose foreign policy and actions will come to define the immediate post WWII world, as well as America’s policy and stance against communism. Truman will come to navigate the turbulent seas that define the early Cold War, and set in motion what will become a history-altering relationship well up until, and after, the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse in 1991.

Through this teacher guide, students will be able to analyze and explore the foreign policies of President Truman in regards to the early years of the Cold War. By researching and analyzing events and policies such as the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan, and Truman’s own doctrine, students will better gain an understanding just as to how the United States attempts to not only preserve its democratic ideals, but prevent the spread of communist influence itself. By understanding how America and President Truman begin to assess and solve a complex relationship such as theirs and the Soviet Union’s, students will have a more founded platform in understanding world events that continue to affect us today.

Essential Questions for The Truman Presidency

  1. What are the principles of communism? A Democratic-Republic? What conflict existed between these two ideologies?
  2. What major conflict lay between the United States and Soviet Union?
  3. How did President Truman attempt to contain communist influence? How did this influence his actions in terms of his foreign policy?
  4. How did the Truman Doctrine complement the policy of containment?
  5. How did Truman’s actions as president define the early years of the Cold War?

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