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Turnip Day Session

The Turnip Day Session (or "Turnip Day" session) was a special session of the 80th United States Congress that began on July 26, 1948, and ran for two weeks to August 3, 1948.[1] President Harry Truman called Congress to convene on that date during his acceptance speech two weeks earlier during the 1948 Democratic National Convention. The name "Turnip Day" comes from Missouri folklore.


Harry S. Truman circa 1947

With fewer than four months remaining before the 1948 election, Truman's public approval rating stood at only 36 percent.[2] Two years earlier, Congress had come under Republican control for the first time in 15 years. His opponent, Thomas Dewey, seemed to be planning his own move to the White House.[2] In search of a bold political gesture, the president turned to Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution, which provides that the president "may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses [of Congress], or either of them." On rare occasions, presidents have called both houses into a special session to deal with urgent matters of war and economic crisis.

On July 15, several weeks after the Republican-controlled Congress had adjourned for the year leaving much business unfinished, Truman took the unprecedented step of using his presidential nomination acceptance speech to call both houses back into session. He delivered that speech under trying circumstances. With no air conditioning, delegates sweltered in the Philadelphia convention hall's oven-like atmosphere. By the time the president finally stepped before the cameras in the first televised Democratic convention in 1948, organizers had lost all hope of controlling the schedule.

At 01:45 A.M., speaking only from an outline, Truman quickly electrified the tired delegates. In announcing the special session, he challenged the Republican majority to live up to the pledges of their own recently concluded convention to pass laws to ensure civil rights, extend Social Security coverage, and establish a national health-care program. "They can do this job in fifteen days, if they want to do it." he challenged.[2] The two-week session would begin on July 26, 1948 on what is called "Turnip Day" in Missouri.


Republican senators reacted scornfully. To Arthur Vandenberg, it sounded like "a last hysterical gasp of an expiring administration." Yet, Vandenberg and other senior Senate Republicans urged action on a few measures to solidify certain vital voting blocs. Republican Policy Committee chairman Robert A. Taft exclaimed "No, we're not going to give that fellow anything!" Charging Truman with abuse of a presidential prerogative, Taft blocked all legislative action during the futile session. By doing this, Taft amplified Truman's case against the "Do-nothing Eightieth Congress" and arguably contributed to his November victory. Michael Straight of left-leaning The New Republic quoted Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey as calling Truman's special session "a frightful imposition," while himself calling it "a stroke of bold and liberal leadership and a confident reassertion of the Validity of American democracy." Straight cited three "key issues" on which the 80th Congress had "failed utterly": housing, inflation, and civil rights.[3] Right-leaning TIME (which had no bylines at that time) cast doubt on Truman by leading its coverage with the question "Was there really a pressing national emergency?" TIME also noted that no U.S. president had recalled Congress during an election year since 1856 (under Franklin Pierce). It quoted US Senator Styles Bridges as calling Truman a "petulant Ajax from the Ozarks."[4]


After eleven days, congress sent two bills to the president for signing. One bill was to curb inflation and the other to encourage housing starts. Truman signed both bills but called them "inadequate."[2] The challenge energized Truman's democratic supporters and put the Republican Party on the defensive. [5]


The name is taken from the old Missouri saying, "On the twenty-fifth of July, sow your turnips, wet or dry."[2] Harry Truman chose this name because he was a Missouri native.


  1. ^ Hamby, Alonzo L. "Harry S. Truman: Campaigns and Elections". University of Virginia - Miller Center. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e "U.S. Senate: "Turnip Day" Session". Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  3. ^ Straight, Michael (26 July 1948). "Turnip Day in Washington". The New Republic. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  4. ^ "National Affairs: The Turnip Day Session". Time. 26 July 1948. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Harry S. Truman: Campaigns and Elections | Miller Center". Retrieved 2017-07-05.

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