United States Elections: Presidential Elections (1948)


Figure 1.--Franklin Roosevelt was a hard act for Vice President Truman to follow. The wrenching problems followinjg World war II were enormous. Most Americans by 1947 concluded that Harry Truman was not up to the job. His popularity steadily declined. He took on Labor in an effort to hold diown inflatiion. And his civil rights policies alienated the South. Labor and the South were twin pillars of the Democratic Party. Political pundits concluded that there was no way that President Truman could actually win an election. This wire service photograph shows the President in one of his first public appearances since the death of his mother. He is meeting with a delegation of members of the American Legion sponsored boys Forum of National Government. The photograph was datred, August 5, 1947.

Vice-president Truman inherited the presidency from Presidnt Roosevelt in 1945. This left Tuman as president to deal with Stalin at Yalta and to conclude the Pacific War with Japan. He decided to use the atomic bomb. This is controversial today, it was not at the time. The problems of adjusting to peace caused many economic dislocations. Truman became very unpopular and many Americans blamed him for those probems. The campaign was fought at a time that the Cold War emerged as a result of Soviet imposition of Communist dictaorships in Eastern Rurope and the Presidents efforts to save Berlin with an Airlift. The Republicans renominated the urbane Govenor of New York--Tom Dewey. He had run a surprisingly strong campaign against President Roosevelt in 1944. Most delegates thought that they were nominating the next president. President Truman, despite the adverse polls, was determned to win the office on his own in 1948. The Democratic Convention in sharp contrast to the Republicans was listless. Few delegates thought President Truman could win reelection. Both the liberals led by former Vice-President Henry Wallace and the Dixiecrats led by South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond walked out on Truman and the Democratic Party. Walace despite the aggressive Soviet actions, argued for cooperation. Thurmond was outraged by Truman's Civil Rights Bill. After his nomination, Truman in the early morning hours gave a stem-widing acceptance speech. He surprised the delegates by calling a special session of Congress and dared the Republicans to enact the proposals they made in theor convention platform. The Republicans smelled victory, no longer having to face Roosevelt. They renominated Governor Thomas E. Dewey. There seemed to be no way that the embattled President could win the election. All the pundits were convinced Truman would lose, most thought it would be a landslide for Dewey. THe Republicans counted on the traditionally Republican farm vote in the Mid-West for victory. President Truman took his campsaign into the Republican hearland and addressed their problems. He managed to win over many farmers in his feisty campaign. Dewey essenially ignored this Republican stronghold. Truman's success in the Mid-West enabled him to win the most stunning political upset in American history. And the Democrats not only won at the top of the ticket. The Democrats gained 75 House sears abnd 7 Senate seats and control of both Houses. While Republicans would win the White House in some years after 1948, the Democrats would dominate Congress until the Ginrich 1994 Revolution.

President Truman's First Term

Vice-president Harry Truman inherited the presidency from Presidnt Roosevelt (April 1945). The nation was shocked and Vice-President Truman was unprepared. The two had not been confidents. President Roosevelt only served 1 month of his fourt term. Truman was not briefed on the progress of the War secrets like the atomic bomb until after he becanme president. Roosevelt's death left an unprepared Tuman as president to deal with Stalin at Yalta and to conclude the Pacific War with Japan. He decided to use the atomic bomb. This is controversial today, it was not at the time. After the Japanese surrender, the problems of adjusting to peace caused many economic dislocations. Roosevelt was a hard act to follow. Truman became blamed for many of the probems following the War and he steadily declined in popularity as his term progressed. .

The Cold War

The Soviet Union was a major factor in the World war II defeat of NAZI Germany. American media forgot the fact that the Soviets were a NAZI ally (1939-41) and concentrated on the valliat Soviet resistance to the German invasion. Americans after the War wanted a rapid return to peacetime and were not prepared for another mah=jor effirt against what many saw as a war-time ally. In addition, forner Vice-President Wllace abd his Progressives saw much ti admire in the Siviet Union. (Fo the most part this was because they were poorly binformed, but their idological proclivities did not incourage them to ask obc=vious questions. The 1948 campaign was fought at a time that the Cold War was emerging in the nbational conciousness. Churchill canme to Fulton, Missoure to deliver hus famous Iron Curtain speech. The Soviet imposition of Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe was becioming increaingly obvious, especially with the Communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia. The Soviets blockaded Berlin (June 24). The Presidents efforts to save Berlin with an Airlift was in many ways a turning point in the Cold War, making it a major national concern. Americans were imoressed with the President's handling of the Berlin Criisis, resisting the Soviets, but avoilding war. Soviet actions in Berlin undercut Henry Wallace's Progressive stance.

Tumultous Year

America was not only being rocked by the Cold war. A range of other issues were at play. Domestic Communism had become an issue. Liberals commonly refer to it as an antti-Communist hysteria, ignoring the operations of Soviet spy rings. In the Middle East, Israel declared its independence and the Arabs invaded, kaunching the First Arab-Isreali War. And Civil Rights forthefirstv time began to become an important issue.

Republican Convention

There were several Republican candidates vying for the nomination, New York Governor Tom Dewey who got the nomination in 1944 was again running. The young Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen attracted attention. Senator Robert Taft was supportd by the Party's conservative base. And General MacArthur while aging, was still hopeful. The Republicans renominated the urbane Govenor of New York--Tom Dewey. He had run a surprisingly strong campaign against President Roosevelt in 1944. Most delegates thought that they were nominating the next president. The Republicans smelled victory, no longer having to face Roosevelt. They renominated Governor Thomas E. Dewey.

Democratic Convention

President Truman, despite the adverse polls, was determned to win the office on his own in 1948. The Democratic Convention in sharp contrast to the enthusiastic Republicans was notably listless. Few delegates thought President Truman could win reelection. In fact, here was high drama at play--a struggle for the soul of the Party. [Pietrusza] The liberals led by former Vice-President Henry Wallace favored a softer approch toward the Soviet Union. The Dixiecrats led by the youthful South Carolina Governor, Strom Thurmond, were determined to oppose the growing demand for civil rights. Thurmond was outraged by Truman's Civil Rights Bill. After the young MJinneapolis mayor, Hubert Humphrey, delivered an impassioned speech endorsing the bill, the Dixiecrats walked out on Truman and the Democratic Party. Since the Civil War, the South was the base of any sucessfuul presidential candidate's elelection victory. Walace despite the aggressive Soviet actions, argued for cooperation. After his nomination, Truman in the early morning hours gave a stem-windng acceptance speech. He surprised the delegates by calling a special session of Congress and dared the Republicans to enact the proposals they made in their convention platform.

Campaign

There seemed to be no way, especially wihout the South, that the embattled President could win the election. All the pundits were convinced Truman would lose, most thought it would be a landslide for Dewey. THe Republicans counted on the traditionally Republican farm vote in the Mid-West for victory. President Truman took his campaign into the Republican heartland and addressed their problems. He railed againdt the 'Do Nothing' Congress. One historian writes, "Once in the course of the campaign, Truman listened to a recording to one of his own speeces. 'What demagogu!' he exclaimed. to speechwriter David Lloyd. 'Why did I say that?' Then he laughed. 'Demagoguery --that's part of the game.' No one knew if Truman's strategy was suceeding. Stony silence greeted Truman's 'gluttons of privilege'in Dexter, Iowa. Ckarl Cliffiord and White House physician Waklace Graham often found it necessary ti wadee into crowds to spur applause .... Yet the crowds Harry Truman attracted were immense -- far larger than Dewey's -- and seemingly griwing larger with each stop along the riute." [Pietrusza] Truman managed to win over many farmers in his feisty campaign. Dewey essenially ignored this Republican stronghold.

Election Results

Truman's success in the Mid-West enabled him to win the most stunning political upset in American history. And the Democrats not only won at the top of the ticket. The Democrats gained 75 House sears abnd 7 Senate seats and control of both Houses. While Republicans would win the White House in some years after 1948, the Democrats would dominate Congress until the Ginrich 1994 Revolution.

Splinter Parties

The Civil Rights movemrnt in mny ways began with the 1949 election. Mulualkeee mayor HubertvHumphrey delivered call to action at the Democratic Convention,promting the Dixiecrats to walkout. Weaknes in tge Solid South usually meant defeaf for a Democrtic cabndidate. Wallace's progressives attacked the President from the right, claiming that the Soviet Union was not a threat to either liberty or America. President Truman somehow manahed to marginakize the extremist splinter parties, both the extremist Democratic splinters, Thurmond;s Dixiecrats and Wallace's Progressives. As the ca,paign progressed a national consensus began to emerge on these divisive issues. mericans found that they for the most part agreed with Truman on civil rights, the Ne Seal's welfare state reforms (especially Social Security), and Cold War policies confronting Soviet expansion.

Sources

Pietrusza, David. 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (2012).






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Created: 9:12 AM 9/14/2011
Last updated: 12:54 AM 6/16/2013