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FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944

David M. Jordan

Publication Year: 2011

Although the presidential election of 1944 placed FDR in the White House for an unprecedented fourth term, historical memory of the election itself has been overshadowed by the war, Roosevelt's health and his death the following April, Truman's ascendancy, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb. Today most people assume that FDR's reelection was assured. Yet, as David M. Jordan's engrossing account reveals, neither the outcome of the campaign nor even the choice of candidates was assured. Just a week before Election Day, pollster George Gallup thought a small shift in votes in a few key states would award the election to Thomas E. Dewey. Though the Democrats urged voters not to "change horses in midstream," the Republicans countered that the war would be won "quicker with Dewey and Bricker." With its insider tales and accounts of party politics, and campaigning for votes in the shadow of war and an uncertain future, FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 makes for a fascinating chapter in American political history.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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Preface & Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

When people think of the 1944 presidential election, they usually think two things: that everybody knew Franklin D. Roosevelt was dying; and that victory was a given for FDR. The thing they usually don’t know, or can’t quite remember, is who the Republican candidate was. Walter Trohan, the longtime Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, ...

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Prologue: An Evening at the Statler

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pp. 1-6

The night was clear and cool, a lovely early autumn Saturday evening, as the leaders of the Teamsters Union gathered at the Statler Hotel in Washington for their annual dinner. They looked forward to this gathering each year, but they especially anticipated this one. The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was coming. ...

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1: A Nation at War

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pp. 7-14

1944 was an election year in the United States. For the first time in eighty years, the country would go through the whole presidential electoral process while in the midst of a war. ...

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2: Politics in Midwar

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pp. 15-21

The midterm elections, in 1942, had not gone well for FDR and his party. In October, the President sent Congress a message asking that the draft age be reduced to cover 18-year-olds. In normal times Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn would have sat on such a politically risky proposal until the election was safely past, but he knew that the military exigencies ...

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3: The Republicans

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pp. 22-41

Harry Luce and Life magazine were not the only ones who felt that 1944 could be a Republican year. Homer E. Capehart, president of the Packard Company, spoke in early January to a luncheon of business executives at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York and said “any good Republican” could defeat Roosevelt. “The American people,” pronounced ...

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4: The Democrats

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pp. 42-58

For the Democrats, the problems for 1944 were of a different magnitude than were those of the Republicans. They knew who their presidential candidate would be—who it had to be—but he was taking his time agreeing to run. The Republicans gave next to no thought to a vice presidential candidate—the second spot on their ticket would most likely be ...

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5: Willkie Pushes Hard

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pp. 59-64

While the polls and their own investigations told the leaders of the GOP that Governor Dewey was safely ahead in the race for the presidential nomination, their fears in the night still spelled out the name W-I-L-L-K-I-E. They had been burned badly in 1940, when the Hoosier utility magnate came seemingly out of nowhere to sweep away the party’s nomination, and they worried ...

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6: President and Congress

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pp. 65-76

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the 78th Congress were not functioning on the same wavelength. Although the Congress was nominally controlled by Democrats, it was actually run by a coalition of conservative Southern Democrats and conservative Northern Republicans. Committee chairmanships were held by Democrats, but because so many of the southerners served year after ...

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7: Wendell in Wonderland

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pp. 77-91

In the second week of January 1944, the Republican National Committee and numerous Republican state chairmen and vice chairmen met at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, ostensibly to select the site of their national convention but also to talk politics among themselves, to gear up for a very political year, and, perhaps, to enjoy Chicago. ...

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8: The Bandwagon Rolling

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pp. 92-100

There were all the expected reactions to Willkie’s withdrawal. Robert Taft exulted that “Mr. Willkie has apparently recognized the inevitable.” His fellow Ohioan, John Bricker, was a bit more gracious, calling the withdrawal “an unselfish and patriotic act.” Senator Warren Austin of Vermont, an internationalist, said, “I hope there will be someone who ...

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9: It Looks Like Dewey

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pp. 101-109

While the Dewey forces worked on accumulating delegate commitments, and John Bricker’s people did what they could to put together an anti-Dewey bloc, the national party officers worked on making sure that the national convention itself unrolled smoothly and as planned. Harrison Spangler, the Republican national chairman, got together his ...

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10: The Republican Convention

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pp. 110-121

As the delegates rose for breakfast on Monday morning the 26th of June, before their trek to Chicago Stadium, they were greeted with an editorial in the Chicago Tribune calling upon them to remember “how they were tricked and humiliated in 1940,” in what the editorial called “the Crime of Philadelphia.” “This convention must be sternly American,” it thundered. ...

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11: Meanwhile, the Democrats

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pp. 122-127

For the Democrats, their concern began and pretty much ended with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They felt fairly confident of victory if FDR headed their ticket in 1944, and they hated to think of what would happen if he did not. ...

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12: The Ailing President

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pp. 128-135

Franklin Roosevelt was not well over the winter of 1943–1944. He had come back from the Big Three conference at Teheran in December 1943 looking to concentrate his energies on the war effort, only to find domestic affairs occupying far too much of his time and mind, including a recalcitrant Congress and a threatened railroad strike. He contracted a rather severe case of influenza, called ...

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13: Will Roosevelt Run?

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pp. 136-140

As the Democrats worked toward their Chicago convention, their unsettled picture was confused in several ways. The first big question was whether Franklin D. Roosevelt would again be their candidate for president; a negative answer to this one, they knew, would be devastating to the party’s chances in 1944. The other question was that of his running ...

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14: Who Runs with Roosevelt?

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pp. 141-152

For some time Roosevelt had been feeling much pressure from various parts of the Democratic Party concerning his choice for the vice presidential nomination. The CIO-PAC’s Sidney Hillman met with him on November 8, 1943, for forty minutes, telling him that labor was losing confidence in the conduct of domestic policy as part of the war effort and ...

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15: The Democrats Arrive in Chicago

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pp. 153-162

Though the Democratic National Convention was scheduled to open on Wednesday, July 19, Chicago was abuzz with it for days in advance, as the pundits and politicos made their way to the Windy City on the banks of Lake Michigan. And, with the question of the presidential nomination taken off the table by FDR’s announcement of July 11, most of the ...

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16: Democrats in Convention

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pp. 163-177

On Wednesday, July 19, at four minutes past noon, Robert Hannegan banged his gavel and called the 1944 Democratic convention to order. The temperature in Chicago Stadium was in the low 80s, still warm but far more comfortable than the 100-degree heat that the Republicans had to contend with in the same building. The seats were about half filled ...


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pp. 178-199

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17: Campaign on the High Seas

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pp. 200-208

Life magazine commented that the Democrats, even with one eye on the war, still put on “one of their rousing, old-fashioned political jamborees, complete with parades, mobs, wirepulling and loud, irritable bickerings.” It was, the writer continued, “unlike the Republican convention where harmony and dullness prevailed.” Everybody was heard: “labor ...

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18: The Republicans Go to Work

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pp. 209-222

While the Democratic leaders met in convention, nominated their candidates, and then worried about repercussions from the Bremerton address, the Republicans were not idle. On June 29, the day after Governor Dewey’s nomination, he had breakfast in Chicago with John Bricker, held a press conference, and then attended a series of meetings with Republican National Committee ...

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19: Dewey Heads West

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pp. 223-233

On September 7, Governor Dewey headed to Philadelphia, and his first major campaign swing of 1944 was under way. With sixty-five representatives of the press and radio chains and thirty-three Dewey staffers in the eleven-car special train, it presented itself as quite a caravan. ...

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20: The Battle Is On

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pp. 234-242

Franklin Roosevelt’s speech at the Statler in Washington on September 23 heartened the leaders of the Democratic Party as they recognized that “the Champ,” as they liked to think of FDR, was in the fray at last. The same speech infuriated Thomas E. Dewey, when he got to read the text of it, after being frustrated in trying to hear the President on his radio. ...

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21: The October Campaign Kicks In

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pp. 243-254

With Dewey back from the West Coast and Roosevelt officially in the campaign after his speech to the Teamsters dinner, the 1944 presidential race was on, even though Life called “the most striking thing about this election . . . the seeming apathy of the voters.” The reason for this supposed apathy, of course, was that people’s attention was focused on the war. ...

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22: Death in October

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pp. 255-260

There occurred within the space of five days early in the month of October the deaths of two American political icons. Whether this brace of departures, both taking place in New York City, would affect the presidential race quickly became a matter of speculation. Most likely one death would have no effect but the other probably would. ...

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23: Dewey on the Offensive

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pp. 261-271

Governor Dewey got back from Charleston in time to be an honored guest at New York City’s Pulaski Day Parade, on October 8. The parade had been designated by the committee running it as a protest against unfair treatment of Poland by her allies in the war against Hitler. And Tom Dewey was happy to accommodate himself to that protest. ...

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24: FDR Strikes Back

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pp. 272-278

The Democratic strategists had decided that, since Roosevelt was going to New York City, they would schedule a motorcade for him, all through the town, so that the maximum number of people could get a look at the President in person, watching him wave and smile. It was exactly the opposite of the way Tom Dewey campaigned; he did not care to be ...

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25: Down to the Wire

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pp. 279-292

Governor Dewey had a big day in Wisconsin on his way to Chicago. In Milwaukee he spoke from an automobile in front of the Pfister Hotel to a crowd estimated at eight thousand persons, telling them that he would restore harmony between the Executive and Congress and would get rid of “the quarrelsome, wasteful, bungling” bureaucrats. Dewey urged the re-election of Governor Walter S. Goodland and Alexander Wiley, the ...

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26: Bricker’s Campaign

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pp. 293-297

While most of the attention of the media and the people around the country was fixed upon Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey, their travels, what they had to say, and what they said about each other, there was in fact a much broader campaign in process. Along with the wide-scale radio advertising described earlier, both parties sponsored ...

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27: The Man from Missouri

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pp. 298-305

Harry Truman knew from the start that his would be the main job of speaking for the Democratic ticket, and he handled the task with competence. His emphasis was always on the record of Franklin Roosevelt, the successful course of the war, and the necessity of experienced hands to put in place the peace to follow. He taunted Thomas Dewey on the Republican ...

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28: The Last Days

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pp. 306-316

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plans for the last few days of the 1944 election campaign were fairly clear. He was to make a radio broadcast from the White House on Thursday, November 2, and he had a trip to New England lined up, with a speech in Boston on Saturday night the 4th. Party leaders hoped for a quick trip to Cleveland, to help bring in Ohio’s twenty-five electoral ...

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29: Election Day

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pp. 317-320

The polls were open for seventeen hours on November 7, starting at 6 a.m. Eastern War Time and closing long afterward on the West Coast, with cloudy weather in the Eastern part of the country and clearing skies by midmorning. Thirty-one states were selecting governors, with nineteen of them presently Republican. Thirty-five Senate seats, twenty-two held by Democrats, were up before the electorate. And 432 House seats ...

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30: Summing Up

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pp. 321-329

So what happened when the American citizens went to the polls on November 7, 1944? The totals are easy to summarize. There were 47,977,063 votes cast for presidential candidates; Franklin Roosevelt received 25,612,916 of them, and Thomas E. Dewey got 22,017,929. Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist candidate, received 79,017 votes, while Prohibitionist Claude Watson picked up 74,758. Finally, the slate ...

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Epilogue: The Fourth Term

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pp. 330-333

The “horses in midstream” campaign, of course, became suddenly meaningless when Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, on the eighty-third day of his fourth term as president. His new vice president, Harry Truman, whom Roosevelt had not bothered to bring into the mainstream of information or policy making, was thrust into the top job. It was not until after Truman was sworn ...


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pp. 335-358


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pp. 359-370


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pp. 371-386

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780253005625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356833

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1944.
  • Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
  • Dewey, Thomas E. (Thomas Edmund), 1902-1971.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1933-1945.
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