The 1948 presidential election and its lasting effect

By William Lewis

World War II was a time of unity in our country among various political factions. With the end of the war, political interest seemed to come to pass.

The presidential election of 1948 brought into play these various groups, all working toward obtaining the White House. In that year, the Democratic Party split into three groups. One saw Harry Truman running as a more mainstream Democratic candidate, Strom Thurmond running as a States Rights candidate, and Henry Wallace running as the Progressive Party candidate.

Prior to 1948, all three of these groups had displayed loyalty to the regular Democratic Party organization. However, in the 1948 convention held in Philadelphia, political interest came strongly into being. The States Rights Party candidate separated from the main party organization to run a separate slate led by Gov. Thurmond.

There was also Henry Wallace breaking off from the Democratic Party and forming the Progressive Party, which split the Democratic Party three ways. It looked bad for the incumbent, Truman, who had not been elected on his own, but had succeeded to the presidency after the death of President Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1948, the Republicans also held their convention in Philadelphia. There had been a series of primaries among Republicans seeking the presidential nomination. However when Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York won the Oregon primary, it seemed he had wrapped up the nomination.

As we look at the political situation as it existed then, it appeared to most political observers that Dewey would win the race easily since the Democratic Party was so widely split.

All the major polls seemed to indicate that Dewey would win. The campaign that year brought many surprises, including Thurmond and Wallace getting a very small percentage of the vote, less than six percent.

Truman received more than 24 million votes, while Dewey secured more than 21 million. Truman carried 28 states, Dewey carried 16 states, Thurmond carried four states, and Wallace didn’t carry any.

Truman waged a more comprehensive and all-out campaign than the other candidates combined. He had the advantage of directing the American foreign policy and taking hard stands against communist China and communist Russia. Additionally, there was a low turnout that year with most people believing that Dewey would win easily.

When we look at the election from the standpoint of election victories, Truman carried most of the western states, and won a decisive victory. Wallace had been Vice President of the United States and Secretary of Commerce, and preached liberal philosophy in dealing with America’s potential enemies abroad and encouraging changes in our social environment. It was an election for change in terms of organized labor, civil rights, and foreign policy.

Future presidential elections would base their actions on what happened in the 1948 presidential election.

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