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Truman Defeats Dewey

Truman Defeats Dewey

Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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    Truman Defeats Dewey
    Book Description:

    Fifty years ago Harry S. Truman pulled off the greatest upset in U.S. political history. With his party split on both the left and the right, and facing a formidable Republican opponent in New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, the Missourian was thought to have little chance of remaining in the White House. But politics in the postwar years were changing dramatically. Truman and his advisers successfully read those changes: their strategy focused on building a coalition of organized labor, African Americans in large northern cities, and traditional liberals--and ignoring protests from the conservative South. Donaldson argues that Dewey did nearly as much to lose the election as Truman did to win it. Dewey entered the campaign so overconfident that he refused to confront Truman on the issues. The Republicans, certain of a mandate from the public after the midterm elections of 1946, prepared to disassemble the New Deal. Yet they suffered from even more severe internal division than the Democrats. The 1948 presidential campaign was a watershed event in the history of American politics. It encompassed Truman's rousing "Give 'em Hell Harry" speeches and intriguing behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. It was the first election after Roosevelt's death and the last before the advent of television. It marked the new political prominence of African American voters and organized labor, as well as the South's declining influence over the Democratic Party.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4923-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Every four years at election time the image of Harry Truman is trotted out by the popular press, and comparisons are made between today’s candidates and the no-nonsense president from Independence, the man who pulled off the greatest of election upsets against all the odds and against the predictions of all the pundits and pollsters. The nation’s interest in the election is understandable. The election of 1948 was a spectacular upset and a great victory for Truman and the Democrats. It was also, in many ways, the beginning of a new, modern political era in American history. By election day,...

  5. 1 “Had Enough?” The Elections of 1946
    (pp. 5-19)

    If there is anything akin to a natural phenomenon in American political history it is that the minority party generally gains congressional seats in an off-year election. Some call it merely a swing of the pendulum, a natural cycle of events, but clearly American voters are prepared to register their disenchantment with the administration they elected two years earlier and to voice their dissatisfaction with the progress of their politicians’ programs and promises. It is always a strong signal to the embarrassed majority party: it must either alter course or expect more defeats in the general election, just two years...

  6. 2 Clark Clifford and Democratic Party Campaign Strategy
    (pp. 20-28)

    The 1946 election hit the Democrats hard. The message from the voters seemed clear: postwar America was moving to the right, the era of the New Deal was over, and if Truman and his administration had any chance of staying in office after 1948, they also would have to take big steps to the right. How could political pundits, strategists, and theorists think otherwise? Americans had not only given the Republicans a congressional majority, they had elected a large number of congressmen who sympathized wholeheartedly with the Republican Old Guard, several prewar isolationists, and not a few rabid anticommunists from...

  7. 3 The Eightieth Congress and the Question of Mandate
    (pp. 29-48)

    The love-hate relationship between President Truman and the Republicanled Eightieth Congress is legendary in America’s twentieth-century political history. On domestic matters, it was a bare-fisted affair with the president vetoing seventy-five bills in the two sessions, five of which were overridden. The 1946 elections had strengthened the Republican–southern Democrat coalition of conservatives, and that coalition generally overran Truman’s domestic initiatives. Consequently, very little was accomplished, giving the president an issue that set the tone of his 1948 campaign. On foreign affairs, however, the two parties generally worked together through much of both sessions establishing a bipartisan Cold War foreign...

  8. 4 Henry Wallace and the Split of the Democratic Left
    (pp. 49-60)

    In Philadelphia on July 24, 1948, Henry Wallace accepted the nomination of the Progressive party for the presidency of the United States. In his acceptance speech he told his supporters what they already knew, that in 1945 the war had ended and their leader, Franklin Roosevelt, was dead:

    And what followed was the great betrayal.

    Instead of the dream, we have inherited disillusion.

    Instead of the promised years of harvest, the years of the locust are upon us.

    In Hyde Park they buried our President and in Washington they buried our dreams.

    One day after Roosevelt died Harry Truman entered...

  9. 5 Truman Versus Organized Labor: The Origins of Conflict
    (pp. 61-79)

    When conservative forces in the Democratic party convinced President Roosevelt in the summer of 1944 that it would be Truman and not Henry Wallace on the Democratic ticket in the coming election, FDR told an aide: “Clear it with Sidney.” That was Sidney Hillman, one of the founders of the CIO in 1935 and since 1943 head of the CIO’s Political Action Committee. For Roosevelt, Hillman was the spokesman for labor in the 1940s. Despite his clout with Roosevelt, however, Hillman did not speak for all of labor. Philip Murray, then the president of the CIO, was much less enamored...

  10. 6 The ADA and the Splintering of Postwar Liberalism
    (pp. 80-90)

    In February 1948 the Americans for Democratic Action met to discuss the divisive state of American liberalism. It was an important meeting for the ADA. The organization was preparing for the upcoming national election, and one objective of the meeting was to produce a political platform, a statement of objectives for the campaigns. “The election of1948,” the platform statement began, “will fix the course of history for decades.”¹ The election came to fit that description, and the ADA had a great deal to do with making it one of the most important presidential elections of the twentieth century.

    The members...

  11. 7 The Loosening of Old Chains
    (pp. 91-111)

    By the time Harry Truman became president, the modem civil rights movement was already well under way. Much of the legal groundwork had been laid, protest tactics had been tested, and the economic and demographic forces were at work that would eventually remove many of the nation’s old laws and attitudes. African Americans were also beginning to make headway in the political arena. During the New Deal years blacks received some concessions, even though Roosevelt almost always deferred to the demands of powerful southern congressmen over any appeals for civil rights for African Americans. For nearly thirteen years, FDR successfully...

  12. 8 The End of Southern Dominance in the Democratic Party
    (pp. 112-122)

    It was understood well in the White House that the cause of the Democrats’ humiliating defeat in the 1946 congressional elections was the loss of millions of votes from the left, particularly from organized labor, from African Americans in the northern cities, and from traditional liberals. Most of these voters had stayed away from the polls out of sheer indifference toward the administration and its policies. As Henry Wallace began to move toward dividing the party from the left, the administration saw immediately that the threat he presented was crucial and countered with a liberal agenda designed to bring the...

  13. 9 The Eisenhower Phenomenon
    (pp. 123-135)

    The Republicans in 1948 were prepared to field several good candidates for president. Party leaders Taft, Dewey, and Vandenberg were joined by California governor Earl Warren and Minnesota governor Harold Stassen, plus several favorite sons. Despite the Republican party’s infighting, it was the conventional wisdom that the Republican nominee, to be chosen in Philadelphia in late June, would be the next president. While the Republicans sorted out their differences in several primary campaigns around the country, the Democrats seemed to divide their forces, and then divide again, as it became even clearer that Truman could not win the election—and...

  14. 10 The Democrats and the Eisenhower Diversion
    (pp. 136-144)

    The Republican plan to draft Eisenhower in 1948 had fizzled when the general made it clear in January that he had no intention of running for president. But Ike’s appeal as a possible presidential candidate sent the Democrats panting after him in the mistaken belief that he had turned down the Republicans because he was, in fact, a Democrat.

    Like the Republicans, the Democrats had been trying for some time to persuade Eisenhower to cast his lot with them, and he had refused just as he had refused the Republicans. But the Democrats had a bigger problem, or at least...

  15. 11 The Do-Nothing Eightieth Congress’s Second Session
    (pp. 145-149)

    By the time the second session of the Eightieth Congress met, it was clear to the Republicans that Truman was more intent on building a record against Congress than actually achieving any legislative results. The president’s State of the Union address in January 1948 was a primary indication of that strategy; it was also the first salvo launched by the administration in the 1948 presidential contest, and it was the president’s first move to put into action the strategy devised by Clifford, Rowe, and the Wardman Park group. The speech was a definite shift to the left by Truman, a...

  16. 12 The Republicans Nominate Dewey
    (pp. 150-156)

    The Republicans went to Philadelphia in a mood of exuberance; there seemed little doubt that they would nominate the next president of the United States.Lifemagazine pointed out the nation’s general mood: “If ever the Republicans had a mission to choose a candidate capable of carrying a mandate from the people into the White House, it is in 1948.”¹ Philadelphia prepared for the big bash. A rubber elephant (only occasionally fully inflated by a vacuum cleaner) adorned the top of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, the Republican National Committee headquarters. Flowers decorated the vicinity of the Convention Hall, pretty girls were...

  17. 13 The Democrats Nominate Truman
    (pp. 157-166)

    While the Republicans resurrected their victorious spirit in the City of Brotherly Love, Truman went on a “nonpolitical” trip to the West. Life magazine went to great lengths to show the president in an unflattering light, speaking to empty halls, marching with his “buddies” in parades in Kansas City, spending taxpayers’ money, and making mistakes in what was called his “new off-the-cuff style of speaking.”NewsweekandTime,however, noticed that the crowds increased as the president’s trip progressed, and in Los Angeles nearly one million people turned out to hear and see Truman.Newsweekalso noticed a new “human...

  18. 14 The Campaigns
    (pp. 167-183)

    The Democrats had begun their convention under a cloud of doom and gloom; the process seemed little more than a formality to precede their impending November defeat. But on July 18 theNew York Timesreported that the convention adjourned “with fire in its eye, in place of the glazed look of a week ago.” The reason for the abrupt change in attitude was a bombshell dropped by Truman in his acceptance speech delivered at 2 A.M. on July 15. He would call Congress back into summer session to make good, as he said, on the Republican campaign platform. “On...

  19. 15 The Democratic Party Factions and the Election
    (pp. 184-203)

    By election day, November 3, the Democratic coalition was in place. At best, it was a reluctant coalition; most of its parts finally supported Truman only because there was simply no place else to go.

    The southern dissidents (by now tagged the “Dixiecrats” by the press) went to Birmingham after the Democratic convention to form their own party.¹ The Birmingham convention, which convened on July 17, was a wild, raucous affair. Anyone could attend, and some six thousand “delegates” did. The only southern governor there was Mississippi’s Fielding Wright, and the only southern senators in attendance were Mississippi’s James Eastland...

  20. 16 Postelection Analysis
    (pp. 204-220)

    In the final analysis, Truman received 24,179,259 votes to Dewey’s 21,991,291.¹ That translated into a minority victory of 49.6 percent to Dewey’s 45.1 percent. In the electoral college, Truman carried twenty-eight states with 303 electoral votes, while Dewey carried only sixteen states and 189 votes. Thurmond took four southern states and 39 electoral votes. Henry Wallace's numbers had little impact, but he took enough votes from Truman in New York to give that state to Dewey; the same may have been true in Michigan and Maryland. Truman won 56 electoral votes from five states that Dewey had won in 1944:...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 221-253)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 254-262)
  23. Index
    (pp. 263-270)