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This Month in Missouri History

Harry Truman holds up a newspaper with headline Dewey Defeats TrumanHarry Truman's Unexpected Win

Harry Truman had been president of the United States for about 3 years when he decided to run for the office for the first time. Having stepped up to the role after the passing of President Roosevelt in April 1945, Truman had been through much in his short presidency, including the end of WWII, labor union strikes, and the beginnings of the Cold War.

By the spring of 1948, Truman’s public approval rating was a low 36%, and many believed that he would not win the election. However, Truman did not hold that belief and instead went all in.

The Republican candidate was Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York. He was well-versed in the election process as he had run for president in 1940 and 1944, winning the nomination in 1944. He had high approval ratings and was believed to be a shoo-in to win the election. In fact, it was such a widely-held belief that he was advised to avoid risks as well as speaking about controversial issues to ensure no mistakes were made.

Truman on the other hand did not shy away from difficult topics. For his campaign, he took to the rails across the country giving speeches from the platform of the presidential train car, drawing in large crowds. He would often set aside his prepared notes and speak directly to the gathered crowds “of everything that [was] in [his] heart and soul.” (Bray)

The large crowds seemed to have been missed by the national press as they continually reported Dewey as the favored victor. Polling had stopped by October, so measurements of when Truman surpassed Dewey were not calculated. By election day the press still believed in Dewey’s victory and began printing the anticipated results before the ballots had been counted.

On election day, it was declared that Truman won with 303 electoral votes over Dewey’s 189. Truman was informed at 4 a.m. the next morning. On November 4, he stopped at Union Station in St. Louis on his way to Washington D.C. and happily posed with a preprinted newspaper announcing Dewey as the winner.

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Beyond the Stacks newsletter. View more "This Month in Missouri History" articles on our newsletter archive!