Dewey Defeats Truman

On this day in 1948, in what to that moment was the greatest upset in presidential election history, Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman defeats his Republican challenger, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, by just over two million popular votes. In the days preceding the vote, political analysts and polls were so behind Dewey that on election night, long before all the votes were counted, the Chicago Tribune published an early edition with the banner headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.”

Three years earlier, in April 1945, FDR had suddenly expired 82-days into his fourth term, leaving the neophyte Truman largely unprepared. Notwithstanding,Truman successfully concluded the war against Germany, brought the United States into the United Nations, and engineered the surrender of Japan through the deployment of the atomic weapon. As his term progressed, however, his popularity diminished, as did that of the Democratic Party, and by the time the 1948 election was on the horizon, he was about the only politician in the United States who thought he had a chance to win election. The Republicans had triumphed in the congressional elections of 1946, running against Truman as the symbol of the New Deal.

As things stood after the conventions, Truman’s star remained tarnished, the Republicans reissued NY Gov. Thomas Dewey, adopting a platform highly similar to the Democrats, and the Dems themselves were cleaved in two, with South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond leading the racist Dixiecrats on a third-party ticket. Truman’s table was set for disaster.

The Chicago Tribune, which had once referred to Truman as a “nincompoop,” was a famously Republican-leaning paper. In a retrospective article over half a century later about the newspaper’s most famous and embarrassing headline, the Tribune wrote that Truman “had as low an opinion of the Tribune as it did of him.”

Truman, as it turned out, won the electoral vote by a 303–189–39 majority over Dewey and Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond, though a swing of less than one percent of the popular vote in Ohio, Illinois, and California would have produced a Dewey victory. Instead of a Republican sweep of the White House and retention of both houses of Congress, the Democrats not only won the Presidency, but also took control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

And it is here for our students Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and Tulsi Gabbard that we point out many doors indeed swing both ways, often with horrific consequences; that lesson endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.