The Election of 1948


Harry Truman (303 Electoral Votes)
Thomas Dewey (189 Electoral Votes)
Strom Thurmond (39 Electoral Votes)

World War II ended just a few months after Harry Truman assumed the presidency on the death of Franklin Roosevelt.  Few presidents, however, have faced more economic, diplomatic, and political problems than Truman.  Pent-up consumer demand produced double-digit inflation.  Pent-up wage demand provoked a series of major strikes.  The wartime alliance of communist and capitalist to defeat fascism deteriorated into crisis and “Cold War.”  The opposition party won control of Congress for the first time in years.  And just to top things off, the Democratic Party suffered defections from the left and the right when Truman sought election in his own right in 1948.  Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party candidacy drew away some liberal votes from the Democratic candidate.  More serious was the walkout of the young — only 45!! — Strom Thurmond and the Southern “Dixiecrats” over the strong civil rights plank adopted in the party platform.  Thurmond’s walkout, and his 39 electoral votes in the general election, foreshadowed the mass withdrawal of white southerners from the party over civil rights twenty years later.  With one national campaign under his belt (the respectable showing against Roosevelt in 1944), Republican nominee Thomas Dewey seemed a shoe-in.  Instead, he wrote the political playbook on how to blow a big lead, while Truman became the hero of every politician trailing in the polls.  The result was a newspaper photo that our descendants may still be marveling at when Truman’s presidency is as remote as the Roman Empire is to us.  Truman’s problems, however, certainly did not end with his victory.  His next term in office featured the first Soviet test of an atomic bomb, the Korean War, and a national steel strike in the middle of the war.   He retired in 1953 to become the hero of every president leaving office with low approval ratings in the polls.

Leave a Reply