Until Donald Trump pulled his big upset in 2016, Harry Truman’s victory was the bigging political upset in American history. Truman entered the race down in the polls and things only get worse from there.
Truman was one of the first modern presidents to really push hard to civil rights. That ticked off the southern wing of the Democrat Party. The appearance of this button is boring, but it is quite scarce. It’s one of the few campaign items that mentions Truman’s positions on civil rights, including desegregating the military. That’s why I paid a high price (for a fairly new button) for this piece.
At the Democratic Party convention, Strom Thurmond made a big deal out of waking out of the convention because of Truman’s civil rights policies. He formed an insurgent southern Democrat Party and got on the ballots of many states. He picked Mississippi Governor, Fielding Wright, as his running mate. I like jugate buttons that show pictures of the presidential and vice presidential candidates together, but it takes big bucks to get that for the “Dixie-crats.” There are less than 10 known examples of the Thurmond – Wright jugate, so I satisfied my interests with this postcard. It is interesting to note that George Wallace was the treasurer of the Thurmond - Wright campaign.
On Truman’s left, Henry Wallace was angry after he was dumped from the FDR ticket in 1944. Truman took him into his cabinet, but fired him after he made disparaging about the President. Wallace saw himself has the heir to the FDR legacy as noted by this classic button. Wallace also got his name on many state ballots.
Wallace was terribly naïve about Joseph Stalin and the intentions of the Soviet Union. He once compared the Russian communists to the “young Christians.”
Now the Democratic Party was spit three ways. How could Truman win?
On the Republican side, Thomas Dewey, who had run and lost badly to FDR in 1944 outdistanced Harold Stassen. This was the same Harold Stassen who run for President repeatedly over the decades. This button summed up the Republican’s attitude about the election in 1948.
Dewey “played it safe.” He stayed away from controversial statements and campaigned leisurely. The polls showed him far ahead. But it the words of the late sportscaster and commentator, Howard Cosell, in sports when you “play not to lose,” you often lose
Truman was so far down in the polls, some reporters stopped covering him. He campaign was often short of cash and had to “pass the hat around” just to keep going on several occasions. That is why all 1848 Truman buttons are scarce to rare. Here is the most attractive Truman jugate in my opinion. His running mate was Alban Barkley, a former Kentucky senator.
Here is the corresponding Dewey – Warren button. And yes, Dewey’s running mate was Earl Warren who would later be the famous liberal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was the sitting Governor of California.
Here is one of Dewey’s campaign buttons.
Truman didn’t listen to polls. He campaigned hard and “Gave 'em hell!” He hopped on a train, living on a luxury armored parlor car, the Ferdinand Magellan, and campaigned off the back porch of the vehicle. In one speech he accused the Republicans of sticking a pitchfork in the backs of farmers. The reporters who were with Truman saw something strange. The crowds who came to see him were large and enthusiastic. Some of them got up at 4 and 5 in the morning to see the president. Truman made many stops, including the small towns in middle America. Here is the most common Truman button.
In the meantime Henry Wallace was discovering that he had few supporters outside of Manhattan. He could fill Madison Square Garden, but no where else.
On Election night, many people figured it was over. Dewey would be elected President by morning. One Chicago newspaper printed the presumed results early. Truman took pride in holding it up for the public to see after the results were known.
Here is the election map from Wikipedia. Thurmond carried a lot of the formerly Democratic “Solid South.” It would mark the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party’s control of the region. Wallace didn’t win any states, but he many have drawn enough votes from Truman to cost him New York.
Until 2016, this was the most stunning political reversal in American history.