1944: FDR’s Fourth Presidential Campaign

Thomas E. Dewey: Republican Candidate

Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey had gained fame in the mid-1930s as a  prosecutor of organized crime in New York City, working to curtail extortion, prostitution and racketeering.  Targeting criminals with  colorful names like Dutch Schulz and Lucky Luciano, he used whatever tactics it took, including wiretapping, to bring such men down.  Dewey went after wrongdoing wherever he found it, arresting an elite member of the New York Stock Exchange as well as Nazi sympathizers, and gained renown nationally as a “gangbuster.”  He was elected District Attorney of  New York County (Manhattan) in 1937 and ran for the governorship in 1938 against FDR’s successor, Herbert Lehman, and lost. He also lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940 but won the New York governorship in 1942, putting him in a stronger position for the 1944 presidential race. Nominated unanimously, he chose Ohio Governor John W. Bricker as his running mate. Dewey was considered a moderate among Republicans and supported the United Nations, U.S. engagement with international affairs, and much of FDR’s New Deal legislation. He was also constrained in criticizing the conduct of the war so as not to be accused of undermining morale.  He campaigned vigorously and late in the fall claimed there was Communist infiltration of the government; he also  carefully suggested that FDR was too tired and too old to go on.

FDR: A Fourth Term with Harry S. Truman

For Vice President, FDR replaced Henry Wallace, whom conservative Democrats viewed as too radical.  To hold the center of the party, and the South, FDR agreed to take Harry Truman as his new running mate.  Plucked from the Senate, where he had represented Missouri for a decade, Truman was a much more savvy and skilled politician than often portrayed. He had been a farmer and retailer, fought in France during World War I, and was elected a judge several times before winning his Senate seat in 1934. He made his name by chairing the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program whose goal was to make sure the government was not overcharged for war goods.

Roosevelt and Truman. 1944. (N-YHS)

Dewey and Bricker for Peacetime Jobs. 1944. (N-YHS)

Well, Dewey or Don’t We. 1944. (LC)

Although in poor health, FDR still had a fighting spirit and echoed Lincoln by asking Americans not to “change horses in mid-stream.”  Perhaps his most vibrant and entertaining broadcast speech – which of course had its serious moments when FDR discussed Republican attempts to suppress the votes of those on active duty and to deny that the Depression was caused by their party — was an after-dinner talk to the International Teamsters Union in Washington.  He humorously refuted Republican charges that he had left his beloved dog Fala, a Scotch Terrier, behind in Alaska:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or my sons. No, not content with that they now include my little dog Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent attacks…Being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out, had concocted the story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian Island, and had sent a destroyer to find him at a cost to the taxpayer of two, or three, or eight, or twenty million dollars, his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.

FDR faced a strong competitor in Dewey, reflected in the popular vote results – with FDR gaining 53% of the vote, 25 million votes, and Dewey 46%, 22 million, the closest of all his elections. However, FDR’s victory in the Electoral College, taking 432 votes to Dewey’s 99, again illustrated his national appeal. He was the first, and would be the last president, elected to four terms. In 1951, the 22nd amendment to the Constitution was ratified, limiting the presidency to two terms.

Ben Shahn.  OUR FRIEND. National Citizens Political Action Committee. 1944. (N-YHS)

Ben Shahn.  OUR FRIEND. National Citizens Political Action Committee. 1944. (N-YHS)

Artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969) migrated from Lithuania to New York as a child.  He first learned lithography and then studied at the Art Students League.  In the 1920s and 1930s he became known for his realistic depictions of urban life and engagement with political topics, including a series of paintings inspired by the Sacco-Vanzetti trial.  Shahn learned mural painting techniques by working with Mexican artist Diego Rivera on his famous – and soon to be destroyed – murals at Rockefeller Center.  During the Depression, Shahn found employment under several New Deal programs including the Federal Art Project (FAP) which commissioned a few mural projects from him.  His only surviving New York City murals can be seen today in at the former Bronx Central Post Office and in the much smaller postal facility in Woodhaven, Queens. The designs for his other commissions were too radical for FAP administrators; Shahn’s commitment to his political beliefs made them unacceptable.

During World War II, Shahn worked for a year at the Office of War Information before joining the Graphics Division of the new CIO-PAC (Congress of Industrial Organization-Political Action Committee), founded to support FDR’s fourth presidential campaign with a register-and-vote effort.

This poster was commissioned by the National Citizens Political Action Committee, a group allied with the CIO-PAC that sought progressive candidates for Congress and backed FDR’s re-election. Shahn depicted a diverse group of voters along with symbols of the working class: hats with union buttons and tickets representing the CIO, the National Farm Bureau, and the Grand Lodge Ancient Order of United Workmen of Washington. A soldier represents patriotism and holds aloft a young child, perhaps a symbol of the future.

James Montgomery Flagg. I Want You F.D.R. Stay and Finish the Job! 1944. (N-YHS)

James Montgomery Flagg. I Want You F.D.R. Stay and Finish the Job! 1944. (N-YHS)

James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) experienced commercial success as an artist and illustrator even before studying art in New York and Paris. He designed for magazines, books, and advertising, drew comic strips and painted well-regarded portraits.  His most famous work from World War I was a 1917 recruitment poster – adapted from a Flagg magazine cover – showing Uncle Sam, just like the one here, and the line “I Want You for U.S. Army.” Four million copies were printed.  He would do other posters for that war and also for World War II, adapting the same image for a new era and presenting a copy to President Roosevelt.  He supported the New Deal and had made a poster for the March of Dimes with FDR’s portrait, “Enlist With the President and Fight Infantile Paralysis” which he presented to the President, a fan of his work.  Hence it is not surprising that he would adapt his Uncle Sam  yet again for this 1944 campaign poster. The sponsor of the poster, the liberal Independent Voters’ Committee of the Arts and Sciences, was founded in 1944 to support FDR’s re-election and policies. The group’s chair was sculptor Jo Davidson who had done a portrait head of FDR in 1933 that was greatly admired by the Roosevelt family, and the two men became friends. Davidson said, “ President Roosevelt won me completely with his charm, his beautiful voice and his freedom from constraint. He had an unshakable faith in man…. In Roosevelt’s tremendous relief program, the artist too was included, and the influence of the WPA projects was tremendous.”  The 1933 head was much enlarged for installation at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City. 

Members of the Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Roosevelt visit FDR at the White House (October 1944). From left, Van Wyck Brooks, Hannah Dorner, Jo Davidson, Jan Kiepura, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Gish, and Dr. Harlow Shapley.



US Presidents 1960-2016