Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Living History

Presidential electioneering in its modern form began with Harry Truman who, in 1948, toured the United States on a private train in order to cover as many of the key states as possible and rally support for his campaign.

I recently learned that my father was present at one such "whistle stop" when Vice-President Truman appeared at Union Station in downtown Toledo, Ohio, in the autumn of 1948. Aged 21, and an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Illinois, my father was part of a crowd of a few hundred mostly sympathetic listeners who heard Harry Truman deliver a speech from the back of his chartered train.

Apparently, the event was open to the general public (unlike the stage-managed "public" events of current elections) and involved virtually no visible security presence.

Truman had a reputation for earthy speech - the joke was that President Roosevelt spoke for the common man and that Truman (his VP) was the common man.

During the short rally, a member of the crowd shouted "Give 'em hell, Harry!" Which of course he did, defeating Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey, despite a three-way split in the Democratic party between Truman, Strom Thurmond of the pro-segregation Southern Democrats and Progressive Party candidate Henry A. Wallace, who had served as Roosevelt's Vice-President in his previous term of office.

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