Thursday, October 23, 2008

Harry Truman in October

President Harry S. Truman on the bark Eagle, at the Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, 20 September 1952. Photo at Truman Library.


Harry Truman's campaign for re-election in 1948 appeared to be doomed. The polls and the papers assumed that the Republican candidate, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey would be elected on November 2.

Truman took to the rails, with his famous whistle-stop campaign of 1948.

I was a small boy in elementary school in Waterford, Connecticut in October 1948 when we were organized into a field trip to our local city, New London to see Harry Truman when his train came through town.

Here is the speech I heard on that October 28, 1948, from the Public Papers of the President, online at the American Presidency Project.

President Harry S. Truman. NEW LONDON, CONNECTICUT. 28 October 1948. (Rear platform, 12:42 p.m.)

Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much. I'm very glad, my friends--very glad to be here in New London this afternoon. New London is world famous. The submarines that were built here were a vital power to the United States Navy during the war. The "Silent Service" never got the publicity that it deserved. But I know that the histories of this war will make it clear how great a part you people who built submarines, and the gallant submarine crews, had in winning the war.

The Coast Guard Academy here in New London and the Naval Base are important parts of our national defense. We intend to keep both the Academy and the Naval Base as strong and as active as possible.

Now, my friends, the real basis of our strength is a strong economy in this country. We are now enjoying a great prosperity, but a number of storm warnings have been hoisted. We are in a boom period that can turn into a bust period unless we are very, very careful. I have repeatedly warned the Congress and the country that we must take strong measures to prevent another depression. The Republican candidate for President says that I shouldn't even mention depression. He says I'm helping the Communists by talking about a depression. Talking about a depression won't help the Communists. What would help them would be to have a depression.

The only thing in the world which can endanger our leadership for peace would be a bust, brought on by failure to stop skyrocketing prices. The Republicans in Congress took the lead in killing price control 2 years ago. I have been urging Congress since then to pass price control laws. And I called the Republican 80th Congress back into special session twice for that very purpose.

The Republican 80th Congress made it perfectly clear that the Republican Party does not believe in doing anything about high prices. They prefer to let things run their course. The Republican candidate for Congress and the Republican candidate for President endorsed the 80th Congress. And he has made it perfectly clear that he does not want to help you in any way.

Now, I know what you are going to do, I think, on election day. I think you're going to make Chester Bowles Governor of Connecticut. I think you're going to make Mrs. Chase Going Woodhouse your representative in Congress again from this district. I think you are going to look after your own interests on election day, and when [p.895] you do that you can't do but one thing: that is to vote for yourselves. Go to the polls and vote the Democratic ticket straight, from top to bottom, and then you'll be on the right track because you will be voting in your own interests--you won't be voting for special interests. And your President then won't be troubled with the housing shortage like a lot of other people are--I'll still be in the White House another 4 years.

It was a beautiful fall day in October, sunny and crisp, and I vividly remember President Truman's zest and geniality, though as a small boy I was hardly familiar with the language of politics.

In an oral history at the Truman Library, Williams J. Bray, "Recollections of the 1948 Campaign" recalls

For the ride through Connecticut we were joined by a large delegation of high officials. The President made rear platform speeches at New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, South Norwalk to large crowds. We then proceeded into New York City, arriving there at 4 p.m.

Governor Dewey came through town the next day, and drew a crowd of 15,000; his train was headed for New York and a big speech he had scheduled there. I may have been in that audience, too, but my memory of it is so unclear that I may just be imagining it -- the tidy little figure of Dewey, a precise, small man with a little mustache. There was a famous cartoon of Dewey as the formal little groom on a wedding cake. The papers, including the New York Times, reported the day as a triumphal acknowledgment of the big win Dewey was everywhere expected to gain the next week. And then he lost.

For an account of the 1948 campaign from a rhetorical perspective, see Steven R. Goldzwig, Truman's Whistle-stop Campaign (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008).

Harry S. Truman text from John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters,The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California (hosted), Gerhard Peters (database). Available from World Wide Web:

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