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1950 Congressional Election

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Three class periods research and one night to write up report
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will analyze results of the 1950 congressional elections to determine how/why the Democrats lost enough seats to cause President Truman to lose a working majority in Congress.

Students will analyze results of the 1950 congressional elections to determine how/why the Democrats lost enough seats to cause President Truman to lose a working majority in Congress. The President (ME!) wants to know "why" the Democrats did so badly. Mr. Truman assigns his staffers (The Students) to examine each of five major campaign issues.  Students will break off into small groups with each group examining ONE of the following major topics.

A) Korean War B) Subversion-Red Scare C) Economy D) "Loss" of China to Communism E) Corruption within Truman Adm.

Each of the five groups of three/four students will spend three class periods in the Library researching their topic. The students will also consult the Republican "Statement of Principles", issued in early 1950, and set the stage for their attempt to regain power. The group will write up a two page paper (done for homework)  explaining how their topic influenced the outcome of the election. Each group will then choose a spokesman to meet with the President to explain (in front of the class) "what" went wrong.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

The President wanted to learn why the Democrats did so badly in 1950. This assignment will give students a chance to analyze both a successful Republican strategy, as well as (seemingly) a failed Democrat strategy. Or, was there nothing that could have changed the results?

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Analyze the causes of the Republican gains in 1950. As said , each group will have a different topic/issue for the election
  • Using an electoral map, determine in which parts of the nation the Republicans made gains, and which ones the Democrats held.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Grade 11/12 standards for the state of Rhode Island ( Social Studies) specifically in the areas of US and World History, with a focus  on the 20th century

 Missouri Standards

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)


Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

5. (A) analyzes domestic life in the United States during the Cold War era (e.g., McCarthyism, federal aid to education, interstate highway system, space as the New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Gosnell, Harold F., Truman ’s Crisis.A Political Biography of Harry S. Truman, 1980
  • The Harry S. Truman Encylopedia, "Election of 1948", Election of 1950"
  • Donaldson, Gary, Truman Defeats Dewey, UKY Press, 1999
  • books
  • politics
  • Any other biography of Truman by Farrell, Hamby, etc. would also be valuable
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • A copy of the 1950 "Statement of Principles" issued by the Republican Party after the failed 1948 election
  • Editorials of newspapers following the elections of 1948 and 1950
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

The students will first look at  the Election of 1948 to see the Democrats great victory not only in the White House, but also in the Congress. The students will then read the Republican "Statement of Principles" issued in early 1950, which stated the GOP’s strategies for the off year elections that November. The students will briefly, in their own words, explain what this statement said.  Next, each student will be assigned to a group of three students to examine on of five issues which would dominate the 1950 elections.

A) Korean War B) Corruption Allegations in the Truman Adm.C) "Loss" of China to Communism D) Subversion/ "Red Scare" E) Economy.

Each group will determine how their issue influenced the 1950 Congressional election outcome. They will write up a two page paper, then choose a spokesman to meet with me (Truman) to explain how/why each issue effected the election. Each student must also pass in to me all individual notes on information taken during the research time.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

A) Explanation of the issue

B) Analysis of the issue’s importance in the 1950 elections

C) Explanation of 1950 Republican "Statement"

D) Individual work

E) Quality of written report