Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Comparing Campaign Speeches Given in Salt Lake City during the 1948 Presidential Campaign
Author:
John Kerr
Course:
US History
Time Frame:
• An hour of homework time, followed by 30 minutes of sharing during the subsequent class.
Grade Levels:
8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • As a homework assignment, students will read campaign speeches given by Truman and Dewey in September, 1948, in Salt Lake City, and then compare the two by filling out a checklist of typical campaign speech characteristics.

Rationale:
  • To help students understand the different approaches Truman and Dewey took when giving campaign speeches during the 1948 Presidential campaign.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


  • UCLA Department of History, National Center for History in the Schools, Historical Analysis and Interpretation, Historical Thinking Standard 3: Students engage in historical analysis and interpretation.

 

(1)  Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.

(2)  Consider multiple perspectives of various people by demonstrating their different motives, beliefs, interests, hopes and fears.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
Full description of activity or assignment.
  • In September, 1948, President Truman and New York Governor Dewey, the candidates for the two main parties in the presidential election, spoke in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The greater Salt Lake City area, an arid inter-mountain region, was settled by Mormons in the 1840s.  Most Mormons were originally farmers, and the dry environment made agriculture challenging.  From day one, water rights, irrigation, soil conversation and fertilizer availability were important local issues.  Later, the availability of hydro-electricity became another major issue.
  • After discussing the election of 1948 in class, the instructor will explain that although the two major candidates both crisscrossed the country by train, they conducted very dissimilar campaigns. 
  • The instructor will then discuss the content of typical campaign speeches in which the candidate will usually (1) tailor the speech to his audience, citing issues of local interest, (2) denounce the other party and his opponent for what they have or haven’t done in regard to the issues, (3) suggest that his opponent and his party will continue this same approach to the issues if they attain/remain in power, (4) point out what he and his party have done in regard to the issues and how their actions have benefited the community, (5) explain how he and his party will continue to pursue policies and take actions that will benefit the community, and (6) ask for the support of the community at the polls.
  • The instructor will explain bullet point number one above and then pass out copies of the two speeches, along with the attached checklist, and assign students the task of reading both speeches and comparing them—using the checklist—for that day’s homework.
  • The next day, an in-class discussion will be held during which the instructor will seek specific input from students concerning their comparison of the speeches.  Students will conclude that Truman gave “a typical campaign speech,” while Dewey did not.  The instructor will point out that these two speeches were typical of the campaign speeches given by each candidate during the 1948 campaign, and then ask why Dewey didn’t follow the format of traditional campaign speeches.  This will lead to the conclusion that Dewey expected to win and didn’t want to create controversy or make any mistakes, and consequently offered very little of substance in his speeches, while Truman, behind in the polls, had little to lose by going on the attack.  

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • This assignment will not be assessed individually, but as part of the unit exam.  The short answer/essay question will read:  “Explain how and why the campaign speeches given by President Truman and Governor Dewey at Salt Lake City in September, 1948, were vastly different.”  To receive full credit, students will have to explain that Dewey, who was far ahead in the polls, sought to make no mistakes and to avoid controversy, failed to address the real issues and refrained attacking Truman or the Democrats, while Truman, who had little to lose, confronted the issues and attacked the Republicans—especially the 80th Congress, in which the Republicans held a majority—at every opportunity.