Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 13. Segment 5
Truman versus Dewey

In 1948, some Democrats think the President is too hard on Communism. Those Democrats, who want more reforms at home, form their own party, the Progressive Party. And in the South, where no state has voted for a Republican for president since before the Civil War, many Democrats are furious because of Truman's civil rights proposals. They aren't quite ready to turn Republican, but they are certainly against Harry. So they form still another party—the Dixiecrats. When a candidate splits his own party in three, he is in trouble. In 1948, Truman and the Democrats are in big trouble. Clare Booth Luce, a prominent Republican, sums up the opinion of many when she says, Hear It Now - Clare Booth Luce "Mr. Truman's time is short; his situation is hopeless. Frankly, he's a gone goose."

The Republicans choose Thomas E. Dewey as their candidate See It Now - Dewey Campaigning. Dewey is governor of New York. He is dignified. He doesn't say much. He doesn't campaign hard. He just begins to act as if he were president, because everyone knows he is going to win. Except Harry Truman. He gets on the presidential train and begins to campaign See It Now - 1948 Whistlestop.

He crosses the country twice. When the train pulls into a city, or town, or hamlet, the President stands on the back platform and speaks to anyone who comes to the station to hear him Check The Source - Truman Speaks About Republicans. He lashes out at the Republican-controlled Congress (which isn't passing the bills he wants) and attacks those who ask for special government favors. His fans call out, See It Now - Harry S. Truman Campaigning "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" Still, it seems hopeless. Newsweek Magazine asks fifty leading journalists—people whose business it is to know politics—who will win. All fifty say Truman will lose. And every leading poll shows a Dewey landslide.

On November 2, 1948, the American people vote. Dewey's supporters crowd into the ballroom of New York's Hotel Roosevelt. They are there to celebrate. Men wear tuxedos and women wear gowns. Reporters file articles congratulating the new president even before the returns come in. At the Chicago Tribune, the morning's headline is set in type: "Dewey Defeats Truman" See It Now - "Dewey Wins" Headline.

As night arrives, the counting begins. The election results are being broadcast on television for the first time. But few people have tv sets. Even the President doesn't have one. Truman goes to bed early, but leaves the radio on. At midnight he wakes up and listens to an NBC commentator named H.V. Kaltenborn. Not long afterwards he will mock what he heard that night. He says: "At long about 12 o'clock I happened to wake up for some reason, and the radio was turned on and Mr. Kaltenborn was saying, 'Well the president is a million votes ahead in the popular vote ... and we are very sure that when the country vote comes in Mr. Truman will be defeated by an overwhelming majority.' And I went back to bed and went to sleep."

At dawn on the day after Election Day, the President gets up. H. V. Kaltenborn is still on the radio. Now he is saying the election is very close—but Dewey will win. By mid-morning it is clear: All the experts were wrong! Truman is no accidental president. He has won the job on his own Check The Source - Clark Clifford on Why Truman was Elected President.

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