THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
Presidential elections are exciting events in American politics. Few elections for the White House have been as exciting as the one in 1948. And few have had such surprising results.
Four candidates were nominated for president in the 1948 election. One was the man already in the White House, the candidate of the Democratic Party, President Harry Truman. Truman had been the party's successful vice presidential candidate in 1944. When President Franklin Roosevelt died a year later, Truman became president.
Truman did not do well during his first few months in office. He made several serious mistakes. He had trouble with the economy and organized labor. His party lost control of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the congressional elections of 1946.
Most Americans had little faith in Truman's ability as a leader. They expected that he would lose the presidential election in 1948 if he chose to be a candidate.
President Truman chose to run for another term in the White House. And he planned to win. In the months following the democratic defeat in the congressional election, he took several strong steps to show his leadership.
Truman called on the Congress to pass a number of laws to help black people. He took firm actions in his foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. And he began to speak out with much more strength to the American people.
Truman succeeded in winning the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. "I will win this election," Truman told the Democratic convention that nominated him. "And I will make the Republicans like it!"
The Republicans nominated New York state Governor Thomas Dewey.
Dewey was a wise and courageous man. He also was very serious. Truman campaigned by telling the voters that Dewey did not understand the needs of the average American. He called Dewey a candidate of rich people.
One day, Dewey got angry at a railroad engineer because his campaign train was late for a speech. Truman charged that this proved that Dewey did not understand the problems of railroad engineers and other working Americans. He tried to make the election a choice between hard-working Democrats and rich Republicans.
Two other men also were candidates for the presidency. Both were from newly created parties.
One was Strom Thurmond of the state of South Carolina. He was the candidate of the States Rights Democratic Party, also known as the Dixiecrat Party. Most of his supporters were white Americans from the southeastern part of the country. They opposed giving full rights to black people.
The other candidate was Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party. His supporters believed that Truman had turned away from the progressive ideas of Franklin Roosevelt.
Both Thurmond and Wallace had broken away from the Democratic Party. Most political experts believed those two candidates would take votes away from President Truman. They believed Republican candidate Dewey surely would win the election. This seemed especially true because President Truman did not have strong public support.
Harry Truman, however, was a fighter. He did not believe the election was lost. He took his campaign to the American people.
"I had always campaigned," said Mr. Truman, "by going around talking to people and meeting them. Running for president was no different.
"I just got on a train," Truman said, "and started across the country to tell people what was going on. I wanted to talk to them face to face. When you are standing there in front of them and talking to them, the people can tell whether you are telling them the facts or not."
Truman campaigned with great energy. He made hundreds of speeches as his train moved across the country. He spoke to farmers in Iowa. He visited a children's home in Texas. And he discussed issues with small groups of people who came to visit his train when it stopped in rural areas of Montana and Idaho.
Dewey and the Republicans laughed at Truman's campaign. They said it showed that Truman needed votes so badly that he had to spend his time looking for them in small villages. Truman said the criticism proved that Republicans did not care for the average American.
Dewey also campaigned across the country by train. But he showed little of the fire and emotion in his speeches that made Truman's campaign so exciting. A reporter wrote: "Governor Dewey is acting like a man who has already been elected and is only passing time, waiting to take office. "
Dewey had good reasons to feel so sure of being elected. Almost every political expert in the country said Truman had no chance to win. The Wall Street Journal newspaper, for example, printed a story about what Dewey would do in the White House after the election. And the New York Times said that Dewey would win the election by a large vote.
Truman refused to accept these views. Instead, he spoke with more and more emotion against Dewey. Most Americans still believed that Truman would lose. But they liked his courage in fighting until the end. At the end of one speech, a citizen shouted, "Give them hell, Harry! We will win!" And soon, Truman supporters across the country were shouting, "Give 'em hell, Harry!"
Truman campaigned until Election Day. He made a special appeal to working people, Jews, blacks, Catholics, and other traditional supporters of the Democratic Party. In his final radio speech, he promised to work for peace and a government that would help all people. Then he went to his home in the state of Missouri to wait with the rest of the country for the election results.
Republicans across the country greeted Election Day happily. They were sure that this was the day that the people would choose to send a Republican back to the White House after 16 years.
Some of the early voting results from the northeastern states showed Truman winning. But few Republicans worried. They were sure Dewey would be the winner when all the votes were counted.
The editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper also was sure Dewey would be the next president. He published a newspaper with a giant story that said "Dewey Defeats Truman."
The Chicago Tribune was wrong. Everyone was wrong. Everyone, that is, except Harry Truman and the Americans who gave him their votes. Truman went to bed on election night before all the votes were counted. He told his assistant that he would win.
Truman woke early the next morning to learn that he was right. Not only did he defeat Dewey, but he won by a good number of votes. And he helped many Democratic congressional candidates win as well. The Democrats captured both houses of Congress.
Harry Truman would go on to serve four more years in the White House. He would make many difficult decisions as America moved into the second half of the twentieth century.
Many of the decisions were necessary because of America's new responsibilities as leader of the Western world.
Mr. Truman would send American troops to South Korea to help the United Nations defend South Korea against aggression from North Korea. He would join other Western leaders in establishing a new alliance, NATO, to provide for the joint defense of Europe and North America. Mr. Truman and later presidents would make decisions to send economic and military aid, in huge amounts, to countries all around the world.
These worldwide responsibilities produced many changes in the United States, especially in the policies and actions of the United States government. But the system of the government did not change. It remained the same as that created by the Constitution in 1787. Only a few details were changed to better protect and represent the people of the United States.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators have been Harry Monroe and Rich Kleinfeldt. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.