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The President’s popularity was waning, and he was facing an able Republican as well as two rebels from his own party. At hand was the with the nation in peril at home and abroad. Then Harry S.Truman set out to give ’em hell.
June 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 4
While Stassen, Taft, Vandenberg, and the others bickered among themselves, Dewey’s emissaries went forth to the headquarters of uncommitted delegations, wheedling, cajoling, and promising—or at least seeming to promise. Rumors swept through the delegates’ ranks that the Dewey forces had mortgaged the Vice Presidency to one influential figure or another in return for his support. One state after another wavered and then, fearful of being bypassed by the Dewey bandwagon, panicked and climbed aboard.
On the first ballot Dewey had 434 votes, just 114 short of the needed majority. Taft had 224 votes and Stassen 157, with the rest scattered among half a doxen favorite sons. Then came the crucial second round. To maintain the psychological pressure, Dewcy’s lead would have to grow; it did, to 515 votes, only 33 short of nomination.
While the convention recessed, Taft put through a desperate phone call to Stassen. The only chance to stop Dewey, Taft argued, was for Stasscn to release his delegates to Taft. No, said Stassen, not until the fourth ballot. But Taft now knew there would be no fourth ballot. Connecticut and California were both ready to switch to Dewey, and that would be more than enough to put him over the top. Wearily, Taft scribbled a few lines and put through another phone call, this time to Ohio’s other senator, John Brickcr, who had placed Taft’s name in nomination (and who had been Dewey’s running’ mate in 1944). Just before the third ballot began, Bricker read Taft’s message to the convention: “Dewey is a great Republican, and he will make a great Republican President.”
A tremendous roar greeted the announcement, and within a few minutes the other candidates also bowed out. On the third ballot Dewcy became his party’s unanimous choice.
To the wild cheers of the delegates, Dewey entered the hall and began his brief acceptance speech with a statement that nearly rocked some of his listeners out of their seats. “I come to you,” Dewey declared, “unfettered by a single obligation or promise to any living person.”
The delegates who had been privy to the intensive preballoting bargaining conducted by Dewey’s lieutenants found it hard to reconcile what they had witnessed with what they now heard. But it was soon clear that Dewey meant exactly what he said, at least when it came to the Vice Presidency. Whatever promises his aides might have made or implied would not be binding on him.
Dewey did confer for several hours witli the leaders of his party on vice-presidential possibilities. Not until the meeting was over did the candidate register his view, which turned out to be the only one that counted. At 4 A.M. , he summoned Earl Warren to his hotel and offered him the Vice Presidency. In 1944 Dewey had made the same offer, but Warren, who cherished his own presidential ambitions for 1948, had turned him down. Now the circumstances were far different. Warren could not again turn Dewey down and still retain standing in his party. After receiving Dewey’s promise to invest the Vice Presidency with meaningful responsibility, Warren agreed to run.
The Republicans thus offered the electorate the governors of the two richest and most populous states, men whose achievements commanded the respect of voters in both parties. The ticket spanned the nation from coast to coast, and along with geographic balance, presented a fortunate combination of personalities. Warren’s good-natured warmth nicely complemented Dcwey’s brisk, chilly manner. All things considered, it seemed that the Republicans had come up with their strongest possible ticket.
Its potency only reinforced the general opinion among politicians that the Democratic cause was hopeless. Truman, who in March had publicly announced that he would seek to succeed himself, vigorously disagreed, but most observers concluded that the President was simply out of touch with reality.
Typical was the view expressed by Ernest K. Lindley, Newsweek ’s Washington columnist, shortly before (lie Democratic convention. “The cold facts of the political situation are in many ways unjust to Harry Truman,” Lindley wrote, “but they cannot be removed by wishful thinking or personal pluck. The most popular, and probably the best, service that Truman could render to his party now is to step aside and … to assist in vesting the party leadership in younger hands.”
Truman had no intention of doing any such thing. He had, he liked to point out, waged uphill fights before. Back in 1940, as his first term in the Senate drew to a close, he had been faced with political extinction. The Pcndergast machine in Kansas City, which had launched him into politics as a county judge (an administrative, not judicial, position) in 1922 and which had helped send him to the U. S. Senate in 1934, had been wrecked by federal tax investigators. Its leader, Tom Pendergast, had been jailed for income-tax evasion. Truman, loyal to Boss Tom until the end, found himself discredited and with no other political base. Truman was advised to withdraw from the contest for the Democratic senatorial nomination and to accept an appointment to the Interstate Commerce Commission tendered by Franklin Roosevelt. Truman indignantly refused the offer and hurled himself into a bitter primary campaign. With the last-minute help of the railroad unions, grateful for his work on railroad labor legislation, Truman squeaked through to victory in the primary and then handily defeated the Republicans in November.