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Battleground 1948

Truman, Stevenson, Douglas, and the Most Surprising Election in Illinois History

Robert E. Hartley

Publication Year: 2013

The election year of 1948 remains to this day one of the most astonishing in U.S. political history. During this first general election after World War II, Americans looked to their governments for change. As the battle for the nation’s highest office came to a head in Illinois, the state was embroiled in its own partisan showdowns—elections that would prove critical in the course of state and national history.


In Battleground 1948, Robert E. Hartley offers the first comprehensive chronicle of this historic election year and its consequences, which still resonate today. Focusing on the races that ushered Adlai Stevenson, Paul Douglas, and Harry Truman into office—the last by the slimmest of margins—Battleground 1948 details the pivotal events that played out in the state of Illinois, from the newspaper wars in Chicago to tragedy in the mine at Centralia.


In addition to in-depth revelations on the saga of the American election machine in 1948, Hartley probes the dark underbelly of Illinois politics in the 1930s and 1940s to set the stage, spotlight key party players, and expose the behind-the-scenes influences of media, money, corruption, and crime. In doing so, he draws powerful parallels between the politics of the past and those of the present. Above all, Battleground 1948 tells the story of grassroots change writ large on the American political landscape—change that helped a nation move past an era of conflict and depression, and forever transformed Illinois and the U.S. government.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-1


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pp. 2-4

Title Page

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pp. 5-5


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pp. 6-8


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pp. 9-10

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pp. ix-xii

...As most people understand, elections happen often at the local, county, state, and national levels. At times it seems there is one continuous election campaign under way with no relief in sight. Consequently, we tend to grow weary, and there is a higher level of apathy when some elections seem less important than others. With so many opportunities...

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pp. xiii-xvi

...Hardly anyone who played a prominent role in the Illinois elections of 1948 is around to voice opinions and offer reflections. Fortunately, some wrote and spoke about their participation before historians took over. We have the autobiography of Paul Douglas, the oral history of Robert Howard, the unpublished memoir of Senator Scott W. Lucas, and ...

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1. The Democrats Disintegrate

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pp. 1-31

...The election of 1948 in Illinois was more than the sum of many parts. While it is essentially a story based on details of the 1930s and 1940s, it echoes into the twenty-first century, suggesting something of greater importance to the state than a recorded election upset. Woven throughout the two decades is a tale of raw politics manifested in development and domination by competing political machines...

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2. 1947: A Year of Decisions

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pp. 32-65

...A case can be made that Democrats and Republicans alike were caught flat-footed at the end of World War II. Democrats, who had no better ideas than New Deal retreads, held fast to prewar concepts. Republicans, who prospered politically during the war, assumed that their anti–New Deal position and their policies of no foreign entanglements and less regulation would continue to attract voters...

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3. Opening Blows

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pp. 66-96

...In the opening days of January 1948, ten months before the general election in November, both major political parties had finished their slates. According to the unofficial rules of Illinois political engagement, that should have been the final word, but it wasn’t. Even though the slates were fixed—if not permanently, at least firmly—quarrels in private and in public meant party leaders had more work to do...

Gallery of Illustrations

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pp. 115-122

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4. A Time for Ceremonies

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pp. 97-128

...April was the first of four consecutive months that could be called ceremonial in terms of formal political activity: in April came the primary election; in May, the state party conventions; and in June and July, the two national political conventions. Most eyes were on the national conventions, where both parties promised fireworks and intrigue...

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5. Beginning of the End

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pp. 129-164

...St. Louis newspapers from the 1920s to 1950 developed strong reputations for aggressive investigations of crime and corruption in the city and nearby regions, including Illinois. Fueled by frequent probes, editorial pages alerted readers to ongoing illegal activities and pleaded with prosecutors to take action, especially when it came to gambling. In terms of reducing crime and punishing criminals, results were slim and, except for an occasional localized outcome, had little impact on statewide elections and public policy...

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6. The Curtain Falls

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pp. 165-193

...You could tell October had arrived. All candidates for state offices hit the downstate roads for the first couple of weeks and then switched to campaign in Chicago and Cook County. Plans were firm for Truman and Dewey to appear in Chicago back-to-back in the last week of the month. Most newspapers unveiled their endorsements for top offices, with a few surprises. And Jack Arvey cranked up the Democratic faithful by calling on them to vote a straight ticket...

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pp. 194-208

...President Truman ended his campaign in Kansas City on 1 November as the nation’s citizens prepared to vote. Not even the closest of Truman’s associates believed he would win. However, from the earliest election returns, it could be seen that Thomas Dewey was not doing well, especially in traditional Republican states. That did not convince editors...


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pp. 209-230


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pp. 231-236


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pp. 237-240

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Author Biography

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pp. 240-240

...Robert E. Hartley, an independent historian, has specialized in writing books about Illinois history and politics. His subjects include Charles Percy, James R. Thompson, Paul Powell, Lewis and Clark in Illinois, all U.S. senators from the state, the Centralia and West Frankfort mine disasters, and Paul Simon. Four of his books have received achievement awards from the Illinois State Historical Society...

Back Cover

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pp. 241-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332687
E-ISBN-10: 080933268X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332663
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332663

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 14
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 856870651
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Battleground 1948

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Subject Headings

  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1948
  • Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.
  • Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965.
  • Douglas, Paul, 1892-1976.
  • Elections -- Illinois -- History -- 20th century.
  • Illinois -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
  • Democratic Party (Ill.) -- History -- 20th century.
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