Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America's Soul

Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America's Soul

by A. J. Baime


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From the New York Times best-selling author of The Accidental President comes the thrilling story of the 1948 presidential election, one of the greatest election stories of all time, as Truman mounted a history-making comeback and staked a claim for a new course for America.

On the eve of the 1948 election, America was a fractured country. Racism was rampant, foreign relations were fraught, and political parties were more divided than ever. Americans were certain that President Harry S. Truman’s political career was over. “The ballots haven’t been counted,” noted political columnist Fred Othman, “but there seems to be no further need for holding up an affectional farewell to Harry Truman.” Truman’s own staff did not believe he could win. Nor did his wife, Bess. The only man in the world confident that Truman would win was Mr. Truman himself. And win he did. 

1948 was a fight for the soul of a nation. In Dewey Defeats Truman, A. J. Baime sheds light on one of the most action-packed six months in American history, as Truman not only triumphs, but oversees watershed events—the passing of the Marshall plan, the acknowledgement of Israel as a new state, the careful attention to the origins of the Cold War, and the first desegregation of the military. 

Not only did Truman win the election, he succeeded in guiding his country forward at a critical time with high stakes and haunting parallels to the modern day.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Journalist Baime, who chronicled Harry Truman’s first four months as chief executive following FDR’s death in The Accidental President (2017), delivers a spirited rundown of Truman’s come-from-behind 1948 victory over Republican challenger Thomas Dewey to win his first full term in office. Neither the media, nor pollsters, nor Truman’s own wife, Bess, thought he could win, according to Baime, who details internal divisions within the Democratic Party between Truman and “Dixiecrat” Strom Thurmond over civil rights programs and notes the electoral threat posed by Progressive party candidate Henry Wallace. Baime also details outside pressures on the campaign, including the Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin and turmoil in the Middle East over the creation of a “Jewish homeland in Palestine.” Undertaking a “whistle-stop” train tour across America, Truman delivered unrehearsed, plainspoken addresses to growing crowds of voters, and turned Republican opposition to his “Fair Deal” programs, including a national health-care program and the repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, into a winning strategy. Readers looking for parallels to the current political climate will find plenty, including Baime’s contention that Republicans, Democrats, and the FBI all suspected Russia of attempting to influence the 1948 election, but by-and-large he treads familiar ground. Nevertheless, political history buffs will enjoy this colorful treatment of an oft-told story. (July)

Library Journal


Baime (The Accidental President) examines the 1948 election, which was, in his words, "a fight for the very soul of American government." As Baime demonstrates, the contest between Thomas E. Dewey and Harry S. Truman, who mostly agreed on Cold War foreign policy, may have been less significant ideologically than the conflict over the New Deal and the rise of segregationist Strom Thurmond, who sought the nomination on behalf of the Dixiecrat Party. Baime explains that the differences between mainline Democrats and Republicans were primarily focused on U.S. social policies, along with the role of the federal government toward the needs of African Americans and the growing middle class. In comparing the unexpected results of the 1948 and 2016 elections, Baime explores the significance of new media, as well as party presumption and personality differences. Notably, he explains how Truman won in 1948, despite the reach of early TV and newspaper endorsements of Dewey. That several books have been written on the 1948 election, including Truman's Triumphs (2012) by Andrew Busch, is a testament to the interest in the quintessentially direct Truman overcoming a rather austere Dewey. VERDICT A valuable addition to reflections on Truman and the factors that motivate voters.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

Kirkus Reviews

An absorbing chronicle of the months leading up to the extraordinary 1948 presidential election.

In this insightful look at the players and issues that dominated the campaign, Baime, whose previous book was The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World (2017), focuses on the years following Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945, leading to Truman’s surprising triumph in the 1948 election. Without downplaying the seriousness of the postwar problems confronting the new president, the author pays particular attention to how they affected his chances for election given his opponents on both the left and the right. These included Henry Wallace, FDR’s one-time vice president, who ran as a Progressive candidate in the 1948 election; Strom Thurmond, founder of the States’ Rights Democratic Party (popularly known as the Dixiecrats); and Thomas Dewey, the popular New York governor and Truman’s main rival. Truman had some unfortunate stumbles in his first years as president, and seemingly everyone—including his wife and daughter—believed that he could never actually win a presidential election. “To err is Truman” was a “popular quip” at the beginning of his presidency. Compounding his woes, Republicans won both houses in the 1946 midterms by a landslide. However, despite his hostility to what he called the “Do-Nothing Congress,” he passed major bills like the Marshall Plan and championed civil rights legislation, which so infuriated the South that many switched allegiance to the Dixiecrats. In 1948, Truman’s name was purposely left off the ballot in Alabama. Baime engagingly chronicles how Truman campaigned vigorously and creatively. Each speech on his whistle-stop tours was tailored to his audience; a documentary, The Truman Story, and a comic-book version of his biography were released in October 1948; and Eleanor Roosevelt gave a stump speech that was broadcast on radio to the entire nation. There were TV and newspaper ads as well.

Even readers familiar with Truman’s presidency will be engaged by the story of the campaign that came before.

From the Publisher

Few elections have been more dramatic and decisive than Truman vs. Dewey in 1948. And few have found a more able historian than A. J. Baime, who recounts this crucial moment with compelling verve and subtle insight.”
—H. W. Brands, New York Times best-selling author of Dreams of El Dorado and Heirs of the Founders

“A. J. Baime has written an illuminating book about one of our most mystifying presidential elections. He’s written an enchanting book, with his trademark riveting storytelling. And he’s written a hopeful book at a moment when that’s needed, showing that facts can matter and the good guy sometimes wins.”
 —Larry Tye, New York Times best-selling author of Bobby
“The 20th century’s most exciting presidential campaign finally gets its due, and with it, A. J. Baime ascends to the pinnacle of Truman biographers. One knows how the story will end from the moment reading begins, yet Baime’s ability to paint an historical canvas shows in new and vivid details why this greatest election surprise in our nation’s history still captivates, resonating today with new insights into our own political divisions. This is the way history should be written.”
—Jeffrey Engel, author of When the World Seemed New
“Intimate, propulsive and eye-opening. A. J. Baime’s account of Harry Truman’s battle for the White House sweeps you up in its impeccably researched drama. A thrilling read.”
—Stephan Talty, author of The Black Hand and The Good Assassin

“An absorbing chronicle of the months leading up to the extraordinary 1948 presidential election . . . Insightful . . . Even readers familiar with Truman’s presidency will be engaged by the story of the campaign that came before.”
Kirkus Reviews

"A spirited rundown of Truman’s come-from-behind 1948 victory over Republican challenger Thomas Dewey to win his first full term in office . . .  Readers looking for parallels to the current political climate will find plenty . . . Political history buffs will enjoy this colorful treatment."
Publishers Weekly

"In this presidential election year, historian and journalist A.J. Baime has given America a winner."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The 1948 presidential campaign is like a great opera. The themes, characters and scenes are so compelling that they resonate again and again . . . Remarkably, many of the issues stoking this year’s febrile presidential campaign were already in play seven decades ago when radio and newspapers ruled the media and candidates courted voters from the rear platforms of railcars. There was even talk that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election . . . [Baime] brings the epic [campaign] back on stage with 'Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America’s Soul,' a straightforward narrative studded with evocative detail and surprising factoids.”
Wall Street Journal

"Well-paced . . . Baime skillfully leads readers to conclude what he surely had in mind from the outset: In an election, substance matters, as does courage and decency, and Truman displayed them all in 1948."
Boston Globe

“Dewey Defeats Truman, A. J. Baime’s lively and insightful account of the second-most shocking presidential upset in modern history, delivers the best-reasoned and most revealing examination to date of that memorable mid-century election.”
New York Journal of Books

"I thought the stakes had never been higher for Americans than this November – until I read A.J. Baime’s astonishing ‘Dewey Defeats Truman.’ . . . The parallels between 1948 and 2020 are staggering . . . This is a classic underdog story that works brilliantly regardless of any nods to the present day. And even though its end is known, Baime still manages to create superb tension as Truman takes his message to the American public . . . Someone buy those screen rights."


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328585066
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 07/07/2020
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 38,566
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Customer Reviews