When Dewey Felt Bluey (And Harry Didn’t)
Guest Essay. By John Sarkis 2015 ©
November 3, 1948 – 67 years-ago today, President Harry Truman boards his train at St Louis Union Station, and is handed a copy of the Chicago Tribune, bearing the headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.
As the incumbent President, Truman covered more than 22,000 miles, making 271 speeches in his “whistle-stop” election campaign. But FDR’s previous Vice-President, Henry Wallace, had decided to enter the Presidential race on the Progressive ticket. And Democratic Governor, Strom Thurmond (SC), was running on the “State’s Rights” ticket, also known as the Dixiecrats. So with the party divided into factions, most polls and political pundits were predicting an easy Dewey victory. As a U.S. District Attorney, and later as special prosecutor, Dewey came to prominence by his pursuit of organized crime figures, Dutch Schultz and “Lucky” Luciano, as well as white-collar crime figures, including sending the former President of the New York Stock Exchange to prison. [editor’s note: Take that, current DOJ).
For those of us not alive at the time, it might be hard to understand, but Thomas Dewey was the American Hero of his day, considered second only to Charles Lindbergh in popularity. Several movies, and a top radio show of the day,”Gang Busters”, were modeled after his career. Having been the Governor of New York since 1943, he had been the Republican nominee in the previous election, which had been FDR’s narrowest victory.
After voting in the city of Independence, MO, the Truman family spent the night in Excelsior Springs, where Harry went to bed early. Based on the results available at that time, Truman assumed he would lose.
Editors of the Chicago Tribune assumed the same, and with their regular staff on strike, the first-edition deadline was even earlier. Managing editor J. Loy “Pat” Maloney had to make the headline call, and he relied on the record of Arthur Sears Henning, the paper’s longtime Washington correspondent. Henning said Dewey would win. When they realized their mistake, the papers were recalled, but it’s estimated 150,000 made it into circulation, including those headed to St Louis.
John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.
Editor’s further notes: I know about the fractured ticket, the Dixiecrats and Dewey’s “Rock Star” status. However, the strike at the “Trib” makes the story of the headline more understandable. — JG