Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


UPSET OF THE CENTURY

In early 1948, Harry Truman prepared to run for President in his own right. Few people gave him any chance of reaching his goal. The economic difficulties of reconversion and popular perceptions of him as unrefined and blunt had hurt his popularity. His inconsistencies on the Palestine issue contributed to a sense that he wasn't up to his job. The Republican Congress had rejected almost all of his proposals for domestic reform. And it wasn't yet clear that his foreign policy initiatives in Europe would succeed.

To make matters worse, support within his own party was disintegrating. Southern Democrats became enraged when he began supporting civil rights for African Americans. Led by South Carolina governor (and later U.S. Senator) Strom Thurmond, the Southerners broke away and established the States' Rights Party, also known as the "Dixiecrat" faction. Truman was attacked by the left wing of his party because of his policy towards the Soviets, which they regarded as aggressive and provocative. Franklin Roosevelt's former Vice President Henry Wallace and his followers established the Progressive Party.

PartySplitDown in the polls and under fire within his own party, Truman alone remained confident of his victory. On the morning after the election, Americans rose to news of the most surprising comeback in presidential election history. In Missouri, Truman learned of his victory at 4:00am, when a Secret Service agent woke him. Later that day 40,000 people jammed the town square in Independence to salute their native son.

How did he do it? The election was a cliffhanger; the President won without getting a majority of the popular vote, pulling together just enough of the old New Deal coalition to squeak through. His civil rights program attracted black and liberal voters. Farmers rewarded his backing of price supports and other benefits. Labor backed his attacks on the Republican's anti-union record. Urban machines delivered the cities. And despite the defection of the "Dixiecrats," he still held on to several Southern states. Truman's upset was the highlight of a Democratic sweep, as the party won back control of Congress as well.

In this display is an alcove with a large copy of the famous political cartoon with Truman standing on a donkey that is split in half, highlighting the splitting of the Democratic Party during the 1948 election.

Whistlestop Campaign mapThe campaign itself is the focus of the end of this section. It features a large, light-animated map of the United States with individual lights pointing out each stop Truman made during his 1948 "Whistle-stop Tour" of the nation. Pictures from the campaign surround the map, and 75 of the stopping points are keyed with a number.

Using individual soundsticks, visitors can select any one of these numbers to enter on a keypad and will be able to hear excerpts from Truman's speech at the town or city selected. On the wall opposite this map/audio program is a large exhibition case housing a variety of campaign-related items, including posters and a selection of gifts given to Truman by residents of different towns in which he spoke.

To the left of this case is a vertical drawer containing small campaign ephemera (campaign buttons, ribbons, badges, etc.), and visitors can pull this drawer out of the wall to examine its contents. Also on display in this area is the Norman Rockwell painting "Family Squabble," which features a husband and wife arguing at the breakfast table about the presidential election as their child sits crying on the floor in front of them. As visitors leave the area, there is a model of the rear platform of the "Ferdinand Magellan," the train car used often by President Truman on his whistlestop campaign. The back side of this train car houses a monitor on which runs a video featuring a portion of Truman's post-election speech at a victory banquet.


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