When President Truman campaigned in Rochester en route to his upset win over NY Governor Thomas Dewey

When President Truman campaigned in Rochester en route to his upset win over NY Governor Thomas Dewey

In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series, on October 8th, 1948, President Harry Truman and Democratic nominee spoke at the New York Central Railroad Station.


Democrat and Chronicle, 9 Oct 1948, Sat, page 1

On October 8th, 1948, Rochester’s New York Central Railroad Station stop was Truman’s 12th of 13 that day:

ALBANY (Rear platform, 8:25 a.m); SCHENECTADY (10 a.m.); AMSTERDAM (Rear platform, 10:30 a.m.); LITTLE FALLS (Rear platform, 11:25 a.m.); UTICA (Rear platform, 12:10 p.m.); ROME (Rear platform, 12:43 p.m.); ONEIDA,  (Rear platform, 1:10 p.m.); SYRACUSE (1:50 p.m.); AUBURN (Rear platform, 3:21 p.m.); SENECA FALLS (Rear platform, 4:06 p.m.); GENEVA (Rear platform, 4:45 p.m.); ROCHESTER (6:40 p.m.); BATAVIA (Rear platform, 7:40 p.m.)

At each stop, Truman gave rear platform informal remarks, only barely tweaked for each city. In what was then considered the greatest general election upset in American history. Truman won a fifth consecutive Democratic term, only surpassed by the Republican reign from 1861 – 1885.*

* Michael Nighan correctly amends the “fact” I took from wikipedia:

In 1864 Lincoln did not run as a Republican for re-election. A new party, the National Union Party, was created to unify Republicans and pro-war Democrats under a neutral political banner. Although it can be argued that the NUP was simply the GOP with a fresh coat of paint, nevertheless it is technically correct to claim that Lincoln did NOT serve as a Republican during the 42 days of his second term. Consider this from Robert Jefferson Breckinridge of Kentucky, temporary chairman of the NUP nominating convention: “As a Union party I will follow you to the ends of the earth, and to the gates of death. But as an Abolition party, as a Republican party, as a Whig party, as a Democratic party, as an American [Know-Nothing] party, I will not follow you one foot.”

In addition to the above, Lincoln’s second VP, Andrew Johnson was a lifelong Democrat. He never became a Republican. Thus, during his term of office (April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869) it is incorrect to call him a Republican.


NYS Governor Dewey  — having lost to FDR in 1944 — would join William Jennings Bryan as a two consecutive presidential loser. Bryan would again lose in 1908; while Adlai Stevenson lost in ’52 and ’56 to Eisenhower. Along with Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and LBJ, Truman is one of four to run successfully for vice president (1944) and then four years later for President, and then not run for a second term. Roosevelt did run as the third party Bull Moose candidate in 1912.


Blue = Truman; Red = Dewey. Election of 1948


Harry Truman, left, holds up Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper from Nov. 3, 1948. Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

Dewey won New York State by less than 1% of the vote. A now iconic photograph shows Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune issue predicting his electoral defeat November 3, 1948

On a less grand scale, students at the Harley School would suffer a similar fate.


Democrat and Chronicle, 31 Oct, 1948, Sun, page 23


Democrat and Chronicle,1 Oct 1948 Fri

On the internet you can find a smattering of stories finding similarities between the elections of 1948 and 2016.

The comparisons are strained. 1948 matched a sitting president against a Governor of the largest state, both relative centrists within their respective parties. The only similarity would come if Trump wins another historic upset.  As of today, The Upshot gives Clinton an 82% likelihood of winning.

One similarity between 1948 and 2016 were the campaigns of Henry Wallace and Bernie Sanders. Having been dropped from the Vice Presidential ticket in 1944, in 1948 Wallace ran as the left wing Progressive Party candidate. Like Bernie Sanders in the primaries, Wallace pushed Truman to the left as Truman became increasing vocal in his critique of big business. Wallace won 2.4 % of the vote, about half of Truman’s eventual margin of victory over Dewey.


Democrat and Chronicle, 18 September, 1948

Wallace visited Rochester during the campaign. Apparently, Wallace’s stance on trade with the USSR provoked a letter writer to claim Wallace was ignorant about the gulag and the soviet police state.


Democrat and Chronicle, 20 Sep 1948

I discussed Wallace with local political observer Alex White.

Alex calls the backroom skullduggery used to drop Wallace from the 1944 ticket a classic case of “political monkey business.”

Had the monkey business failed, the popular left wing Wallace would have become President in 1945. Alex thinks Wallace would have easily defeated Dewey in 1948. Alex speculates a Wallace administration would have been successful. And Eisenhower would not have challenged Wallace in 1952 — or if Ike did challenge, he would run as a Democrat!  In this alternative history exercise, the Democrats win a sixth consecutive term.

One superficial similarity between 1948 and 2016 was a characterization by a D & C writer that Truman (Trump) was inept; while Dewey (Clinton) was cold.  The same article notes the positive reception Dewey’s running mate California Governor Earl Warren was receiving.

Warren’s visit to Rochester. Democrat and Chronicle, 28 Sep 1948 Tue

A little like Pence vs Kane, Warren out shown the Dems VP candidate Kentucky Senator Alben W. Barkely. Warren would go on to become a Supreme Court justice. Wither Pence?


Barkely’s visit to Rochester. Democrat and Chronicle, 29 Sep 1948 Wed, page 1

And Cleveland Indian fans hope 2016 is a repeat of 1948. On the day of Truman’s visit, the Indians beat the Boston Braves en route to a 4 games to 2 World Series championship.

Perhaps given Dewey’s popularity as Governor, the D & C treated his campaign favorably, reporting on Dewey’s visit to Rochester in more glowing terms than for President Truman.dewey-speech-democrat-and-chronicle-19-oct-1948-tue-page-1Dewey would leave his mark in New York (the Thruway) and in Rochester.  On October 27, 1950, Governor Thomas E. christened the Edgerton Model Railroad Room.  In addition, as described in Jim Mandelero’s “Dewey Papers bring past GOP conventions to life,” Dewey’s papers are held in the Rare Book Room of the UR’s Rush Rees Library.


The Edgerton Model Railroad Room was launched on October 27, 1950, when Governor Thomas E. Dewey officially opened the “Model Railroad Heaven” with a ceremony that included his driving a miniature “golden spike” into the exhibit’s track!


The Presidential Visits Series in its entirety: James Monroe to Donald Trump

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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