2. South Korea forms government, Syngman Rhee becomes first president on Aug. 15, 1948

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2. South Korea forms government, Syngman Rhee becomes first president on Aug. 15, 1948


1.Korea becomes an independent nation on Aug. 15, 1948. The scene in downtown Seoul shows a crowded roadway leading up to the capital to celebrate the inauguration of the new Korean government. Present on this momentous occasion was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of Allied Powers in the Far East: 2.Syngman Rhee (seated fourth from the left), first president of Korea, is seated with members of the cabinet which he had appointed at the capitol building: 3.Gen. Douglas MacArthur (left), and Syngman Rhee, converse during a ceremony marking the inauguration of the government of South Korea and the third anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan. General MacArthur made his first visit to Korea, with Mrs. MacArthur, at the invitation of President Rhee: 4.An image of Kim Koo, leader of the Independent Party in Korea, is carried by mourners on a two-mile-long procession. Kim was slain by a lieutenant in the Korean Army on June 26, 1949.

It took a little over three months, from May 10 until Aug. 15 in 1948, to lay the foundation of the Republic of Korea. The country had its first National Assembly election on May 10 and 21 days later opened the first Assembly. The very first Assembly wrote the Constitution on July 17 (hence the name Constitutional Assembly) and elected Syngman Rhee as the country’s first president through an indirect presidential election with 198 members of the Assembly.

All of these pivotal moments in national history took place over 90 days. Some call the pace at which these developments unfolded a “miracle.” Decision makers were responsible for daunting tasks, such as determining the official name of the state and which political system, either presidential or parliamentary, should be adopted.

Three months were far short of the required time to settle critical issues. It was Rhee’s strong resolve that made such a rapid pace possible.

On Aug.15, ceremonies marking the inauguration of the Republic of Korea were held at the now-dismantled capitol building in central Seoul with the first President Rhee and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied Powers, in attendance. The inauguration of Korea also marked the third anniversary of independence from the 36-year Japanese colonial rule. Events marking the meaningful day took place throughout the country.

But not everyone was happy about the inauguration. Flyers opposing the formation of the South-only government were distributed nationwide.

Discord between the Rhee government and a faction led by Kim Koo continued well past the inauguration. Less than a year after the inauguration, Kim, a revered independence fighter against Japanese colonial rule, was assassinated by an Army official on June 26, 1949.

By Bae Young-dae, Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

*Ko Ji-hoon, a researcher at the National Institute of Korean History, contributed to the article.
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