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U.S. presidential election, 1948

Presidential CandidateElectoral Vote Popular Vote Pct Party Running Mate
(Electoral Votes)
Harry S Truman of Missouri (W) 303 24,105,695 49.7 Democrat Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky (303)
Thomas E. Dewey of New York 189 21,969,170 45.3 Republican Earl Warren of California (189)
J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina 39 1,169,021 2.4 Dixiecrat Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi (39)
Henry A. Wallace of Iowa 0 1,157,172 2.4 Progressive Glen Taylor of Idaho (0)
Norman Thomas of New York 0 139,578 0.3 Socialist Tucker P. Smith of New York
Total 100.0%
Other elections: 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960
Source: U.S. Office of the Federal Register

Table of contents
1 Democrats and Republicans
2 Progressive Party
3 Dixiecrats
4 Election Day
5 External link
6 Sources

Democrats and Republicans

In gearing up for the election of '48, both major parties courted General Dwight Eisenhower, a popular war hero and political moderate who could carry a large number of votes on the back of his military record alone. However, Eisenhower refused, so the Democrats settled for the incumbent, and the Republicans chose Thomas Dewey, the Governor of New York, and veteran of the campaign trail (having lost to Roosevelt in 1944).

Given Truman's sinking popularity, Dewey seemed unstoppable. The Republicans figured that all they had to do was avoid screwing up, and as such, Dewey didn't take risks. He spoke in platitudes, trying to transcend politics. Speech after speech was filled with empty statements of the obvious, such as the famous quote: "You know that your future is still ahead of you". An editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal summed it up best: "No presidential candidate in the future will be so inept that four of his major speeches can be boiled down to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. Our future lies ahead." [1]

Truman, on the other hand, decided to pull the gloves off, targeting the Republican-controlled 80th Congress. The 80th Congress, lead by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, was much more conservative than Dewey, and was fixated on rolling back FDR's New Deal. However, under Dewey's leadership, the Republicans enacted a platform at the 1948 convention which called for expanding social security, more funding for public housing, civil rights legislation, and promotion of health and education by the federal government.

Truman exploited that rift in the party by calling a special session on "Turnip Day" (referring to an old Missouri folklore about planting turnips in late July) to enact legislation consistent with the Republican party's platform. The 80th Congress played right into Truman's hands, delivering very little in the way of substantive legislation during this time. From then on, Truman dubbed them the "Do-Nothing Congress". Truman was able to ignore the fact that Dewey's policies were downright liberal, and ran against the conservative tendencies of the 80th Congress.

Truman toured the nation with this fiery rhetoric, playing to large, enthusiastic crowds at every stop along the way. "Give 'em hell, Harry" was a popular slogan shouted out at every stop along the tour. However, the polls and the pundits all thought that Truman's efforts were for naught, and pulled back from reporting on the already-decided election.

Progressive Party

The Progressive Party reinvented itself in 1948 with the nomination of Henry Wallace, a former secretary of agriculture and vice president under Franklin Roosevelt. Briefly Harry Truman's secretary of commerce, he was fired for opposing Truman's firm stand against the Soviet Union. Wallace's 1948 platform opposed the Cold War, the Marshall Plan and big business. He also campaigned to end discrimination against blacks and women, backed a minimum wage and called for the elimination of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His failure to repudiate the U.S. Communist Party, which had endorsed him, undermined his popularity and he wound up with just over 2.4 percent of the popular vote.


The same percentage was obtained by the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party, led by South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond, who also won the electoral votes of four states of the US South. Like the Progressives, the Dixiecrats broke away from the Democrats in 1948. Their opposition, however, stemmed not from Truman's Cold War policies, but his civil rights platform. Although defined in terms of "states rights," the party's main goal was continuing racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws which sustained it.

Election Day

Thurmond's Dixiecrat party took away much of the Democratic Party's traditional base in the South, while Wallace wooed away voters from the left wing of the Democratic Party. Truman's win on November 2 despite this significant split in the Democratic base was a surprise to many observers at the time. The Chicago Tribune had gone so far as to print "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" on election night as its headline for the following day. There is a famous photograph of Truman grinning and holding up a copy of the newspaper with the erronious headline.

See also: President of the United States, U.S. presidential election, 1948, History of the United States (1945-1964)

External link


[1] Donaldson, Gary A, Truman Defeats Dewey (p. 173). The University Press of Kentucky, 1999. Quoting the Louisville Courier Journal, November 18, 1948.