"David M. Jordan tells the story of the 1944 presidential election, and he tells it very well. In a clearly written, well-researched narrative he describes the various contenders for the Republican nomination, which eventually went to Thomas E. Dewey." —Journal of American History
FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944by David M. Jordan
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
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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.
"All presidential elections are important—and interesting. The 1944 election is no exception. It's a good story and Jordan tells it well." —Gary Donaldson, author of Truman Defeats Dewey
"A fast-moving, blow-by-blow account of the often neglected wartime campaign that pitted Franklin Delano Roosevelt against Republican Thomas E. Dewey, with pollsters divided to the very end. For political junkies there is suspense, backroom dealing, and surprises about both presidential and vice-presidential nominations, as well as where the parties would stand on the future both at home and abroad. And while today we worry about partisan extremism, in 1944 a sitting commander-in-chief and his administration were accused not only of domestic corruption but of military blunders that cost American lives, all while leading the country toward communism or monarchy." —Roger Lane, author of Murder in America: A History
"David Jordan has produced a lucid, highly engrossing account of a fateful but little chronicled episode in American presidential politics. His narrative of the 1944 election campaign—written with savvy and encyclopedic range and featuring a large cast of personalities rendered in deft cameos—deserves a place alongside Theodore White's histories of how high and low character, fierce ambition, and dumb luck play their part in the nation’s choice of its chief executive." —Richard Kluger, Pulitzer Prize-winning social historian
"This is a fun volume on an often overlooked presidential contest.... This book is worth it for the political junkie who wants to check the 1944 election off their list." —Karl Rove
"[T]his book is informative, interesting (especially for the political history geek) and suspenseful in spite of the fact that we all know how the story is going to end." —bookish.livejournal.com
"This book alone proves Jordan has what it takes to allow the reader to check out of present day and visit a time period like no other in history. I commend him for that because he allowed me to do so.
"[Jordan's] writing style is superb. He has a sense of narrative cadence and a dramatic rhythm reminiscent of an earlier chronicler of presidential campaigns, Theodore White.... Jordan exudes a gift for characterization and an eye for a quotation." —Intl Social Science Review
"Jordan provides a detailed account of the 'infighting and horse-trading' of this hard-fought, wartime campaign." —Survival
"[T]his book is informative, interesting (especially for the political history geek) and suspenseful in spite of the fact that we all know how the story is going to end." bookish.livejournal.com
"Jordan provides a detailed account of the 'infighting and horse-trading' of this hard-fought, wartime campaign." Survival
"[Jordan's] writing style is superb. He has a sense of narrative cadence and a dramatic rhythm reminiscent of an earlier chronicler of presidential campaigns, Theodore White.... Jordan exudes a gift for characterization and an eye for a quotation." Intl Social Science Review
"This book alone proves Jordan has what it takes to allow the reader to check out of present day and visit a time period like no other in history. I commend him for that because he allowed me to do so.
"David Jordan has produced a lucid, highly engrossing account of a fateful but little chronicled episode in American presidential politics. His narrative of the 1944 election campaignwritten with savvy and encyclopedic range and featuring a large cast of personalities rendered in deft cameosdeserves a place alongside Theodore White's histories of how high and low character, fierce ambition, and dumb luck play their part in the nation’s choice of its chief executive." Richard Kluger, Pulitzer Prize-winning social historian
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FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944
By David M. Jordan
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2011 David M. Jordan
All rights reserved.
A Nation at War
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.
In 1864, incumbent president Abraham Lincoln outpolled the Democrats, defeatism, and General George B. McClellan to win election to a second term, but it was no sure thing for old Abe until Sherman's capture of Atlanta early in September 1864.
In 1944, it was the Democrats who were in power, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nearing the end of his unprecedented third term. As 1943 came to a close, the American war effort appeared to be going well, but there was still much hard fighting ahead against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan. Eleven years of a turbulent presidency had generated considerable opposition to Roosevelt and his New Deal, while recent elections and public opinion polls seemed to indicate a nationwide swing toward the conservative Republicans. Leo Crowley, high in the administration and in the Democratic Party, told Harold Ickes, Roosevelt's Interior secretary, he believed "the political situation, as it affects the President, to be very gloomy indeed." The 1944 election, the shape of which was very clouded as 1943 drew to a close, was up in the air.
Much had happened since Roosevelt shattered the two-term tradition with his victory over Wendell L. Willkie in 1940. The undeclared war in the North Atlantic, American destroyers playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game with German submarines, was ended by the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and the subsequent round of declarations of war.
The mobilization of America, which had slowly been taking place before the start of the war, sped up. On December 29, 1940, Roosevelt had called upon his country to become "the great arsenal of democracy." Industrial conversion to the manufacture of tanks, guns, ships, airplanes, and the multitude of other implements of modern warfare became more pressing, as did the efforts to get much larger numbers of American men (and women) into military uniforms. Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had a scare in September 1941, when the Selective Service Act—the conscription law—was nearly defeated, extended for another year in the House of Representatives by the margin of a single vote. Once the war began, of course, there was no longer any question of opposition to the draft.
Restructuring the government for handling the war effort presented numerous challenges, especially with a slow and lumbering Congress increasingly suspicious of Roosevelt, who often found it necessary to bypass Congress in setting up agencies to deal with pressing needs. FDR's particular administrative peculiarities and his oft-noted disinclination to dismiss functionaries who were not performing well posed further difficulties. The combination of these factors produced a spate of ad hoc agencies, usually created by executive order, to deal in many cases with specific problem areas. Frequently these units were succeeded by new agencies called into being to handle the same or similar problems but to do it better. Things were working, problems were in fact being solved, but bureaucratic confusion was rampant as well.
Republicans and anti-Roosevelt Democrats, who were none too happy to see a great augmentation of the President's powers in wartime, attempted to rouse the citizenry against the growing multitude of administrators, ignoring the fact that the munitions were being produced, synthetic rubber and penicillin and sulfa drugs were being developed, and the American armies and navies around the world, as well as those of our allies, were being supplied. Nevertheless, the American voter could easily be confounded by the profusion of brand-new bureaus, agencies, committees, and commissions and led to believe FDR's opponents who portrayed these as just more New Deal-type bureaucracies.
The National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC) was followed by the Office of Production Management (OPM), which gave way to the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board (SPAB) and later to the War Production Board (WPB). The Smaller War Plants Corporation (SWPC), the Office of Price Administration (OPA), the Office of War Information (OWI), the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT), and the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW) each had its own area of operation, sometimes encroaching upon others, sometimes being encroached upon. And there were many other agencies—each with its own set of initials—handling specific needs.
The Office of Price Administration—the OPA—was a particular target of anyone who had any kind of gripe about wartime conditions. Controlling the prices of or even rationing consumer items had an impact on everyone, and OPA Administrator Leon Henderson found himself the constant recipient of the barbs of discontent, justified or not. One historian has said, "As the war drew on, nearly every item Americans ate, wore, used or lived in was rationed or otherwise regulated. It was the most concerted attack on wartime inflation and scarcity in the nation's history, and by and large it worked." That is not to say that people were happy with how it worked. In 1944, Henderson's successor, Chester Bowles, declined to take any part in FDR's campaign, fearing the reaction if the OPA chief got involved "in politics." He had problems enough without that.
The administration turned to businessmen, many of them Republicans, who came to be called "dollar-a-year" men, to make it a bipartisan war effort. The businessmen, some of the great industrialists of the nation, responded splendidly on the whole. The United States became the arsenal for the free world that Roosevelt had envisioned.
As the country developed rapidly into an industrial giant at home, it turned more slowly into a military giant as well. The string of horrors of December 1941 and early 1942—Pearl Harbor, Guam, Bataan, Corregidor, Wake Island, and the vast destruction of shipping off the Atlantic coast by German U-boats—gradually turned into victories at Midway, the Coral Sea, and Guadalcanal. The debacle of an untried U.S. Army at Kasserine Pass was followed by the successful eviction of the German army from Tunisia and Sicily, the invasion of Italy, and the removal of Italy as a belligerent power. Roosevelt agreed with Winston Churchill that overall strategy required defeating Germany first, with Japan to be dealt with later, but the American public did not always favor this strategy.
The Russian army had broken the back of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad and won a great tank victory at Kursk, but Kesselring's troopers that the American Fifth and the British Eighth armies fought up the boot of Italy were still battle hardened and tough. The Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, whose bloodied nation knew the full meaning of "total war," demanded the opening of a full-fledged "second front" in the west, but the Western Allies could not conceive of a cross-Channel invasion in 1943, despite Stalin.
On the home front, Americans coped with the war—with shortages of items they were used to having in plentiful supply, with ration books, 35-mile-an-hour speed limits, gasoline rationing, draft boards, Victory gardens, gold-star flags, air-raid wardens, war bonds, with uprootings and displacements and massive changes in ordinary life. Coffee, sugar, shoes, typewriters, whiskey, alarm clocks, and domestic servants became hard to find. Any complaint about conditions—about just about anything—was met with the universal response: "Don't you know there's a war on?"
An example of a restriction surprisingly well accepted was gasoline rationing. A serious rubber shortage made it imperative to ration gasoline, thus preserving automobile tires, and nationwide rationing went into effect on December 1, 1942. The initial protests from the citizenry soon disappeared.
Meat rationing, on the other hand, was poorly handled by the OPA, which issued a flood of sometimes-nonsensical regulations—on constantly changing ration point values, on how butchers should cut meats, on what meatpackers could charge. Housewives raised a steady howl of protest. In some parts of the country, horse, rabbit, and muskrat were sold as substitutes for beef and pork, and black marketeering of meat became widespread.
On the home front there was more money around than Americans had seen in some time—the nagging memories of the Depression started to fade—but all too little to spend it on. The magazines—Life, Look, Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post—were full of two-page, brightly-colored ads showing many of the consumer items that would be available soon after the war ended, but these things were not for sale now.
Many people were vaguely aware that there had been some sort of problem on the West Coast with the Japanese who lived there, but it had been taken care of and dropped out of newspaper reports. Few Americans realized that the displacement and internment of Japanese Americans, citizens and non-citizens alike, with no evidence of sabotage or imminent danger, constituted one of the most flagrant mass abuses of civil rights in the nation's history. The Japanese internment became a dark stain on the historical reputations of California Attorney General Earl Warren, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, Henry Stimson, and Franklin Roosevelt. The army was opposed to the evacuation, but the civilian leadership of the War Department, particularly McCloy, pushed hard for it.
Popular culture thrived during World War II. Early in the war Roosevelt wrote what was called the "green light letter" to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, advising that big-league baseball should be kept going in wartime, for morale purposes, even though subject to similar restrictions as everyone else.
This green light seemed to apply to other forms of entertainment and culture as well. Clark Gable and James Stewart and Henry Fonda went to war, but Bing Crosby carried on and Gregory Peck, Sonny Tufts, and Van Johnson became bright new stars. Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Bob Feller went into the service, while old-timers like Mel Ott, Eddie Mayo, and Joe Medwick drew fans to the ballparks, and a left-handed pitcher named Hal Newhouser, with a heart murmur that frustrated his efforts to enlist, became the top hurler of wartime baseball—and of a few years afterward.
Early in the war, Americans watched films like Mrs. Miniver, about the heroic English, and Casablanca, about coping with the Vichy French. Soon enough Hollywood began pumping out plenty of movies about the American war. "The wartime function of the movies ...," pronounced the Hollywood Writers Mobilization for Defense, "is to build morale." In 1943, fully one-third of American movies dealt with the war, either directly or indirectly.
So Americans watched such films as Brian Donlevy's Wake Island, Action in the North Atlantic with Humphrey Bogart, and Tyrone Power's Crash Dive. Moviegoers made a hit of Madame Curie, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (with small roles for Van Johnson and cute little Margaret O'Brien), and Coney Island featuring Betty Grable, who was voted by movie-theatre owners the top star of 1943. They followed Saturday-afternoon serials like Don Winslow of the Navy and Walt Disney sagas like Dumbo, about an elephant whose ears were so big he could use them to fly. Alfred Hitchcock's fans loved the famous director's Saboteur, whose villain got his comeuppance in a spectacular fall from the top of the Statue of Liberty.
Radio, over the three national networks, CBS, NBC, and the Blue, was still the medium of choice for wartime Americans, who sat around their living rooms by the millions to listen to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Your Hit Parade, One Man's Family, and dozens of daytime soap operas. There were quiz shows, amateur hours, baseball games, even boxing matches, to while away the spare hours of radio listeners, as well as newscasts, both regular and those interrupting programs with "fast-breaking news." The names and voices of newsmen became familiar to American listeners—William L. Shirer, Edward R. Murrow, Gabriel Heatter, and Eric Sevareid, among many others.
And, of course, there was music—hours and hours of music. From Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony of the Air, the New York Philharmonic, and Texaco's Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera to the half-hour shows of big bands like those of HarryJames and Fred Waring and the contributions of disc jockeys around the country, music filled the airwaves.
A number of the big bands broke up soon after the coming of the war, but others continued. What was new was the proliferation of single singers. In the thirties there were a few stars like Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo, and Rudy Vallee, but most popular singers were connected with the big bands. When Frank Sinatra left Tommy Dorsey's band to go out on his own and quickly became 1943's biggest star, with teenage girls called "bobby-soxers" "swooning" at his well-modulated tones, a new paradigm was established. America's wartime pop music ranged from such combat-inspired classics as "You Can't Say 'No' to a Soldier," Frank Loesser's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," and "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," to the more standard "Blues in the Night," Xavier Cugat's "Brazil," "Mairzy Doats," and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," introduced by Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn.
In April 1943, a new show by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II opened in New York, and the Broadway musical would never be the same again. With its catchy songs and its exuberant choreography set in turn-of-the-century frontier life, Oklahoma was about as far away from midwar America as it could be, but it enchanted people around the country. When Alfred Drake as Curly McLain wrapped his baritone voice around "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'!" all America gasped with pleasure.
With all that music playing, it was only natural that there was a great increase in dancing. Especially near army bases, there were many recreational facilities for off- duty soldiers, offered by the USO, local churches, YMCAS, teen canteens, and dance halls. It was considered "patriotic" for young ladies to provide entertainment in such milieus for lonely GIs, and thousands of them did so, often with all-too-predictable results. The strenuous "jitterbug" boomed during the war, particularly with youngsters, while older dancers preferred the fox-trot and its varieties.
With gasoline rationing encouraging Americans to stay at home, it was not surprising that book buying increased. Shirer's Berlin Diary was at the top of the best-seller lists when the war began, and it was no surprise that war-oriented books sold well, including See Here, Private Hargrove, a story of a citizen-soldier trying to adapt to the military, William L. White's PT boat saga, They Were Expendable, Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis, and Wendell Willkie's One World, recounting the author's journey around the world on a presidential mission.
So the people of the United States had much with which to divert themselves from the news coming from overseas and the discomforts of wartime living. Joe Louis and Billy Conn, the kings of the boxing world, were both in the army, but Count Fleet won the Triple Crown of racing in 1943, and he was as fast as any pre-war thoroughbred. Dinah Shore sang "I'll Walk Alone," and millions of bereft young ladies sighed with her, while Vaughn Monroe sang wistfully of a time "When the Lights Go On Again," all over the world.
Christmas 1943 seemed more somber than usual, with so many empty chairs at Yuletide dining tables and with shortages of such holiday staples as candy and liquor. Major labor troubles loomed as well, on the railroads and in the steel mills, and indeed the President had to step in a few days after Christmas and seize the railroads to head off a threatened major strike.
Excerpted from FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 by David M. Jordan. Copyright © 2011 David M. Jordan. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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David M. Jordan is author of Roscoe Conkling of New York: Voice in the Senate; Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier's Life (IUP, 1988); "Happiness Is Not My Companion": The Life of General G. K. Warren (IUP, 2001); and Occasional Glory: A History of the Philadelphia Phillies.
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