The 1948 presidential election was one of the most surprising elections in United States history. Harry S. Truman was the incumbent candidate. Yet he had never been elected to the office of the presidency. Instead, Truman entered the White House in 1945 as vice president to Franklin Roosevelt. Upon Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, Truman took over the Oval Office.
Truman was unpopular during his first, truncated term. Critics derided him for his inability to handle the growing discord in the labor industry. Hundreds of thousands of workers were striking across the country at the time, and Truman would neither speak out decisively enough to end the strikes nor help the strikers achieve their goals.
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By the spring of election year, Truman’s approval ratings had plummeted to only 36%. Understandably, many Democrats were wary of standing beside him. They even tried to nominate Dwight Eisenhower—who refused to accept the nomination.
Rival candidate Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York, and his Republican backers believed that he was a shoo-in. Dewey played it safe throughout the campaign, hoping to simply avoid mistakes or angering voters.
Truman, in response, attacked Dewey and Republicans in general, claiming that the Soviets were hoping for a GOP victory as it would trigger another Great Depression. Despite the energizing effect this rhetoric had on the campaign, Truman still lagged in the polls.
The press, Dewey, Democrats, and even Truman’s own wife were skeptical of a Truman win on election night. Yet by the early morning hours of November 3, 1948, it was clear that Truman had clinched the election. This was too late for the Chicago Daily Tribune to retract the early edition of its newspaper, which boldly declared Dewey’s triumph over Truman.
The newspaper remains infamous to this day thanks to the iconic photo of Truman holding it up and grinning at it, while telling reports “That ain’t the way I heard it!”
Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons