The 1948 Presidential Election will be remembered for two things: being one of the biggest upsets in US political history and the famous photograph of incumbent President Harry S. Truman holding up a newspaper announcing his defeat during his victory speech.
Going into the election, it looked like the Democratic Party’s traditional voting base would be split three ways. Upset with the party’s Civil Rights platform, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond split with his party to run for President under the right-wing Dixiecrat banner while former Democratic Vice-President Henry A. Wallace challenged the Dems by running on the Progressive Party ticket.
It seemed like the incumbent Democrat was already in trouble. Republican challenger and sitting New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey even avoided mentioning Truman by name as much as possible.
Dewey’s most memorable campaign imagery had the slogan “Keep the Ass Off the White House Grass,, It’s All Dewey” and featured a drawing of the Democrat donkey grazing. While amusing, it cast the Democratic Party establishment as his opponent, rather than Truman and played not only to Republicans but former Democrats on the left and the right mad at party leadership.
On the other hand, Truman hit the ground running, inspiring many with his passionate campaign approach. Meanwhile, the Truman 1948 campaign imagery emphasized the candidate and staying the course, some of it used the slogan “To Secure the Peace“. Very much in line with what an incumbent would do. Except Truman wasn’t a typical incumbent, having ascended to the Presidency when Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away while in office. This was his first campaign for President.
It turned out that Truman’s approach worked, to the tune of 303 Electoral College votes and 49.6% of the popular vote. The third-party candidates didn’t even get 3% of the popular vote. History will remember this moment as one of the biggest political upsets in US history and also the time a newspaper editor got things so laughably wrong.
You can order 1948 Presidential Election campaign imagery (including the iconic Dewey Defeats Truman photo) printed on hats, t-shirts, mugs, magnets, pins and stickers from Political Retro.