The 1948 Presidential Election

The 1948 Presidential Election

The Presidential election of 1948 was an election with many firsts. It was not only the first Presidential election following the end of World War II, but also the first since the beginning of the Cold War. Democrats had been in office for sixteen years, and with the election of the 80th Congress going to the Republicans during the off year, it seemed that America wanted a change. Franklin D. Roosevelt had held office twelve of the past sixteen years. Roosevelt, who had led this country through the end of the Great Depression and most of World War II, died of a stroke on April 12, 1945, one month before the surrender of Germany. Roosevelt had just been re-elected to serve his fourth term as President. Now it was up to Harry Truman to finish out FDR's term.

Truman, who before becoming Vice President, was a farmer, a Missouri judge, then finally a United States Senator, had no diplomatic experience. This made cooperation between the Allied Nations and the United States rocky. Harry Truman however managed to secure a Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945 after a second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Other foreign affairs consisted of the Truman Doctrine[1] and the Marshall Plan[2]. Some of the domestic problems that Truman was dealing with were high taxes, the cost of living, labor strife's and corruption of government. Harry Truman considered some of Roosevelt's advisers to be "crackpots and the lunatic fringe" trying to continue Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policy[3]. Truman pushed most of them out (Faragher 941). Truman also fired Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace for advocating a more gratifying plan toward the Soviet Union. Henry A. Wallace did not back down and vowed to run against Truman for President.

Henry Wallace did run for President. One of the three splits in the Democratic Party, Wallace ran as a Progressive. Breathing new life into an old political party, Wallace was supported by other small parties and endorsed by the United States Communist Party. Wallace and his party advocated an end to segregation, full voting rights for blacks, and universal government health care insurance. Wallace and his fellow Progressives also opposed both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (Faragher 936-937). Wallace and his running mate received somewhere between 1,157,172 to 1,157,365 or 2.4% of the popular vote (Faragher 941). Unfortunately Wallace and the Progressive party received not one vote from the Electoral College. Thus being the end of the Progressive Party.

When liberal Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey addressed the Democratic National Convention in July, he made an effort to pass a piece of civil rights legislation that angered three dozen Southern Democrats whom walked out right then. Days later Major General Strom Thurmond was nominated to run representing the States Rights Democrats or Dixiecrats. The States Rights Democrats were opposed to racial integration, and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws[4] and also wanted white supremacy. The Dixiecrats not expecting to win the election hoped to gain enough votes to take the election to the House of Representatives, as long as Harry Truman did not win. Since the party was mostly in the South, Thurmond would take his personal car and visit people at their homes. Thurmond won around 1,169,063 to 1,176,125 or 2.4 percent of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes (Faragher 941). Thurmond carried Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina and had one vote from Tennessee (Faragher 941). As you can see from the election map (See Figure 1) this was the first time since the Lincoln Presidency that the South had not been solid.

Then you had the Republic ticket. It took three ballots to determine who would be the Presidential candidate. It came down to three men, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Minnesota Governor Harold E. Stassen, and Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft. Dewey was a quiet man who had at one time been a singer before becoming a lawyer. Running for President in 1944 Dewy lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt by a landslide with only 99 electoral votes to Roosevelt's 432 (Faragher 920). Harold E. Stassen was young and up and coming in the world of politics. He graduated high school at the age of 14 then went on to graduate from college in 1929. Stassen ran as a Republican nominee twelve times, his best chance was the election of 1948. One of the major prominent events in the election was the Dewey-Stassen Primary debate. This was the first live radio debate to be held between two candidates, it also focused on a single issue. "Shall the communist party be outlawed?" (Chronicler) The people believed that Dewey gave a much better position and came out with the win for the Republican nomination. Now he was on his way to becoming the President of the United States, or at least that is what the people thought.

Dewey made many mistakes in his campaign and speeches, and Truman used it against him. In one speech, Dewey noticed how there were so many kids who were in attendance and how it must have been nice to get out of school when one kid yelled out "It's Saturday". Dewey was just not aggressive enough with his campaigning. The 80th "do nothing" congress did not help either. The party's domestic platform was on reduction of public debt, extension of Social Security benefits, civil rights, and abolition of the poll tax. Their foreign policy was never clear and changed often. Dewey could just never deliver, so unfortunately for Dewey and the Republican Party he lost. Dewy received 21,970,065 to 21,991,291 or 45.1% of the popular votes and 189 electoral votes or 36% (Faragher 941).

Then you had the small town farmer, turned President, Harry Truman. Running for re-election Truman campaigned vigorously, overcoming tremendous odds against him. He was fighting off pollsters and the press, proving to them that he could and should win re-election. Truman was standing on the ground of the Democratic domestic platform of lower taxes, a national health care program, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, and ending discrimination. The foreign policy at the time was for world control between nations of atomic bombs. Truman was always behind in the polls, yet he never stopped campaigning. Always short of money Truman would be cut off in the middle of his campaign speeches, being aired over the radio, because the time period in which he had paid for ran out. The "Give 'Em Hell Harry" campaign started with Truman using the Pullman Company United States No.1 Presidential Rail Car, which Harry Truman used to give his 21,928 odyssey speeches. He would stand on the back of the train along the way and ask voters to vote for him.

When the first voter turnouts came in on Election Day, November 2, 1948, the turnout would be low with barely forty-nine million votes, cast just over 51 percent of eligible adults (Karabell pg.254), but Truman had a lead he would never lose. Radio broadcasts said that Dewey could come back with late voters, but he never did. When asked why he thinks he won the election, Truman stated "Labor did it". Truman's inauguration was the first ever to be nationally televised (Inauguration of the Presidents First and Facts). Truman won the election with 24,105,812 to 24,179,345 or 49.5 of the popular vote and 303 or 57% of the electoral vote (Faragher 941). Harry "Gave 'Em Hell". Democrats would serve for another four years.

Work Cited

Faragher, John. Out of Many A History of the American People. 5th AP edition. 1volume. Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education, 2006. Print.

Chronicler, "Dewey-Stassen Primary Debate. " Our Campaigns. - April 21, 2009. Web. 6 Dec 2009. <>.

Karabell, Zachary. The Last Campaign How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election. First edition. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2000. Print.

Boller, Paul. Presidential Campaigns. First Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Print.

Mason Skeistaitis

December 8, 2009

AP US History

[1] Doctrine pronounced in Truman's statement in 1947 that the United States should assist other nations that were facing external pressure or internal revolution.

[2] Secretary of State George C. Marshall's European Recovery Plan of June 5th, 1947 committing the United States to help with the rebuilding of post World War II Europe.

[3] Relief, recovery, and reform. Policies put into place by Roosevelt to help solve the economic problems created by the depression of the 1930's.

[4] Segregation laws that became wide spread in the South during the 1890's.

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