U.S. Domestic Politics in the Early Cold War Era, 1947-1961


80th Congress—Party Alignment (1947-1949)

Senate:           Repub 51; Dems 45              

House:            Repub 246; Dems 188

Congress passes over President Truman’s veto the Taft-Hartley Act, which in part, restrains unions’ abilities to strike

Congress passes 22nd Amendment (limiting individuals to two terms as president); 36 states will need to ratify within 7 years.




The Political Conventions of 1948

1948 Democratic Convention

Chicago Stadium Chicago, Illinois Municipal Auditorium

July 12 to 14, 1948

Nominated:Harry S. Truman of Missouri of New York for President; Alben R Barkely for Vice President


The Democratic party was un-enthusiastic about nominating Truman in 1948 and some in the party attempted to get General Eisehower to agree to be drafted; when he refused, the party rallied around Truman. The most notable event at the convention was the controversy over states rights and integration. Southern delegates wanted a very strong platform in support of state rights.  Instead, the Democratic party endorses civil rights platform, prompting Southern delegates to walk out and form the States Rights Democratic Party (better known as the Dixiecrats), which nominated Strom Thurmond as presidential candidate.



photo by Lisa Larsen

Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, July 1948
Harry S. Truman (left) and Alben W. Barkley clasp hands as they are introduced to convention at 1:45 AM by Sam Rayburn, Permanent Convention Chairman. Truman and Barkley, the Democratic nominees, eventually won the presidency.


Television covered the 1948 convention for the first time:  politics2.jpg (16527 bytes)       poliltics1.jpg (16305 bytes)  [from:  http://www.personal.kent.edu/~glhanson/studyguides/sg_politics.htm]




1948 Republican Convention

Municipal Auditorium Philadelphia, PA

June 21 to 25, 1948

Nominated: Thomas E Dewey for President; Earl Warren of California for Vice President


In 1948 there were three serious candidates for the Republican nomination: Robert Taft, Harold Stassen, and Thomas Dewey. Stassen stumbled in a primary debate and when the convention opened only Taft and Dewey were serious contenders. Dewey won the nomination on the third ballot.


photo by Ralph Morse/LIFE

Republican National Convention, Philadelphia, June 1948
Marchers from Buffalo, New York, parade down the aisle in tall gray top hats, swallow-tail coats and striped pants to join a Dewey demonstration on the convention floor. Thomas E. Dewey and running mate Earl Warren won the Republican presidential nomination.


Press aboard campaign train.

Press aboard campaign train, 1948 (HST Library)


The Election of 1948


On Election Night, newspapers were ready to declare Dewey the winner. But Truman won an amazing upset victory. Thurmond's candidacy only hurt in states where state officials replaced Truman's name with Thurmond's. This occured in four states: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Every other Southern state went for Truman (Texas and Oklahoma were Truman's two best states; he was also helped by the fact that his running mate, Alben Barkley, was from Kentucky). In the North, Truman lost every state except Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where Catholics gave Truman an edge. Outside of the North, Dewey's support was increasingly small, losing loyal Republican states like Utah and Idaho.



Four Southern States:  Dixiecrat Party (part of conservative coalition)




“Dewey Defeats Truman” in the Paper HarryTruman.jpg



81st Congress—Party Alignment (1949-1951)

Senate:           Dems 54; Repub 42             

House:            Dems 263; Repub 171



82nd Congress—Party Alignment (1951-1953)

Senate:           Dems 49; Repub 47              

House:            Dems 235; Repub 199


The Political Conventions of 1952


Republican National Convention


Municipal Auditorium Philadelphia, PA

July 7 to 11, 1952

Nominated: Dwight D Eisenhower for President;  Richard M Nixon of California for Vice President

General Eisenhower had entered the Presidential race late. By the time he had Robert Taft had won many of the early primaries. Eisenhower rapidly came close to reaching parity with Taft in delegates. Taft delegates however, still outnumbered Eisenhower delegates, so Eisenshower’s campaign resorted to challenging the credentials of some of the delegates. They ran a public relations campaign whose theme was old politicians who made backroom deals with the new statesmanship of Eisenhower. The challenges succeeded and Eisenhower was only nine delegates short on the first vote. On the second vote Eisenhower won the nominations.

Richard Nixon goes on television with his “Checkers” speech and saves his nomination for vice-president.  (see Richard M. Nixon)


                        I Like Eisenhower and Nixon                    

George Skadding/LIFE

Dwight D. Eisenhower (left) and running mate Richard M. Nixon (right) celebrate their nomination with their wives, Mamie and Pat, at the 25th Republican convention.






"I Like Ike," Dwight D. Eisenhower campaign song

"I Like Ike" from the recording entitled Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, Folkways 45051, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1999. Used by permission.

Words and music: Irving Berlin/Irving Berlin Music Corp., ASCAP

… Irving Berlin’s rousing hit for the 1950 musical "Call Me Madam" made a perfect campaign song for both terms.

Partial lyrics:
"I Like Ike
I’ll shout it over a mike
Or a phone
Or from the highest steeple
I Like Ike
And Ike is easy to like
Stand’s alone
The choice of we the people …"

 [From:  http://historywired.si.edu/detail.cfm?ID=314 ]


Democratic National Convention, Chicago 1952


Having watched the Republicans on television, Democratic leaders made some scheduling changes in their convention to accommodate the new medium.  President Truman supported Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois for the Democratic nomination. At the Democratic convention in Chicago Stevenson was elected on the third ballot.  Although Stevenson did not seek the nomination, he was drafted as the Democratic presidential candidate.   Stevenson and Senator John J. Sparkman of Alabama, his vice presidential candidate, eventually lost the presidential run-off to Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.



photo by George Silk/LIFE

An Illinois delegate, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson contemplates the political turn of events during the keynote address.

Adlai E. Stevenson: Speech Accepting the Democratic Presidential Nomination delivered 26 July 1952 Chicago, IL:  http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/adlaistevenson.html



With Wisconsin Governor Kohler looking on, 1952 presidential candidate Eisenhower and Senator McCarthy shake hands in Milwaukee



September, 1952:  Nixon’s Checkers Speech  (see Richard M. Nixon for more detail and context)


See this link for the text and a portion of the broadcast:  http://www.watergate.info/nixon/checkers-speech.shtml

See this link for text and complete audio:  http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/richardnixoncheckers.html




The Election of 1952


Stevenson's liberal embrace of civil rights did not please Southern Democrats, and consequently the results in the South were closer than ever before, with the Republican ticket picking up Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee. Outside of the South, Stevenson won nothing, but he lost narrowly in Minnesota, Missouri, and Rhode Island, making for some close state results.






See also Mamie and Pat and Women in Politics in the 1950s


83rd Congress—Party Alignment (1953-1955)

Senate:           Repub 48; Dems 47; 1 independent [Note:  9 Senators died and one resigned during this congress.  By December 1955:  46 Repub; 47 Dems; 1 independent; one vacancy]

House:            Repub 221; Dems 213; 1 independent



84th Congress—Party Alignment (1955-1957)

Senate:           Dems 48; Repub 47 ; 1 independent

House:            Dems 232; Repub 203

The Democrats maintained control of both houses of Congress from 1955 until the 1980s.



The Political Conventions of 1956

“By 1956, both parties further amended their convention programs to better fit the demands of television coverage. Party officials condensed the length of the convention, created uniform campaign themes for each party, adorned convention halls with banners and patriotic decorations, placed television crews in positions with flattering views of the proceedings, dropped daytime sessions, limited welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization procedures, scheduled sessions to reach a maximum audience in prime time, and eliminated seconding speeches for vice presidential candidates. Additionally, the presence of television cameras encouraged parties to conceal intra-party battling and choose geographic host cities amenable to their party.”  [Museum of Broadcast Communications]



Democratic Convention Chicago, IL


August 13 to 17, 1956

Nominated:Adlai E Stevenson of Illinois for President; Estes Kefauver of Tennessee for Vice President

With President’s Eisenhower,’s popularity high there were few who wished to run as the Democratic nominee. Stevenson however, wanted another chance to run against the President. When Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and his health was in some doubt- Averall Hariman decided to challenge Stevenson. Despite support from Truman, Harriman was unable to mount a credible challenge and Stevenson was elected on the first ballot.

The real drama at the convention was the selection of a Vice Presidential nominee. Going into the convention there was talk of selecting Senator Kennedy as Stevenson’s running mate. Instead Stevenson decided to open the selection to the convention in an open vote. Kennedy came close but fell short in the first ballot in securing the nomination. Kefauver then came from behind won the prize.


Republican Convention San Francisco, CA



Prior to the convention, there was a movement among the more moderate Republicans to “dump Nixon.”  For an editorial on the decision to retain Nixon on the 1956 ticket, see The Nation  July 28, 1956:  http://www.nationarchive.com/Summaries/v183i0004_04.htm




August 20 to 23, 1956

Nominated: Dwight D Eisenhower for President; Richard M Nixon of California for Vice President

Eisnehower was renominated by acclamation.



Ed Clark/LIFE

August 1956  Human billboards parade in support of

Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The incumbent president was re-nominated unanimously

on the first convention ballot.



Frank Scherschel/LIFE

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) and running mate Richard M. Nixon celebrate with their wives after their nomination to run for a second term.






The Election of 1956


The Stevenson-Kefauver ticket became the last until 1972 where the homestates of both candidates went to the other ticket. The only state Stevenson gained was Missouri -- and by the narrowest of margins. Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia switched to Eisenhower. Tennessee remained competitive but other Eisenhower states in the South such as Florida and Texas were now giving Eisenhower 10%+ edges.





85th Congress—Party Alignment (1957-1959)

Senate:           Dems 49; Repub 47

House:            Dems 234; Repub 201



86th Congress—Party Alignment (1959-1961)

Senate:           Dems 65; Repub 35

House:            Dems 283; Repub 153



The Political Conventions of 1960


“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
who’s the fairest one of all?”

January 2, 1960

Image of Herblock's "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?"

1960 Democratic Convention

Los Angeles, California

July 11 to 15, 1960

Nominated:  John F Kennedy of Massachusetts for President; Lyndon B Johnson of Texas for Vice President


Senator Kennedy had worked tirelessly for the nomination since the 1956 election. Kennedy had won the majority of the primaries. Just before the convention Senator Johnson, the Majority Leader of the Senate, announced his intention to seek the nomination. Kennedy entered the convention with the majority of the delegates pledged to vote for him. Kennedy’s supporters worked tirelessly to ensure that the delegates stayed committed. Their hard work paid off and Kennedy won on the first ballot. Kennedy made a surprise selection of Johnson as his Vice Presidential running mate. 1960 represented the end of an era:  It was the last time that there was true drama in a Democratic convention. Since 1960 the outcomes of the convention have been well known in advance.

photo by Ralph Crane/LIFE

Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, July 1960
Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy’s forces nail down the victory for the presidential nomination. The Democratic civil rights plank was the party’s strongest to date.




1960 Republican Convention

Chicago, IL

July 25 to 28, 1960

Nominated: Richard M Nixon of California for President; Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts for Vice President

By the time the Republican convention opened, Richard Nixon had no opponents for the nomination. The highlight of the convention was the speech by Barry Goldwater removing himself from the race where he called on the Conservatives to take back the party.


Francis Miller/LIFE

Republican National Convention, Chicago, July 1960
Hand in hand and buoyant, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, greet a Chicago crowd. The first Republican vice president nominated for president by his party at the end of his term, Nixon eventually lost the presidential election to Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy.


First Televised Presidential Debates

1960 Debate                               


“The Great Debates marked television’s grand entrance into presidential politics. …

“In substance, the candidates were much more evenly matched. Indeed, those [70 million] who heard the first debate [Sept. 26] on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner. But the 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly [Nixon had been in the hospital for 2 weeks with a knee injury] and obviously discomforted by Kennedy’s smooth delivery and charisma. Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard. Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.” [Museum of Broadcast Communication]


[58k image]


"Buckle Down with Nixon," Richard M. Nixon campaign song

"Buckle Down With Nixon" from the recording entitled Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, Folkways 45051, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1999. Used by permission.

Parody based upon the original work "Buckle Down, Winsocki," R. Blane-H. Matin/Chappel & Co., ASCAP

Nixon’s adroit foreign policy was hailed in his campaign song, a "football-type" anthem written for the Broadway musical "One-Step Forward."

Partial lyrics:
"…He has friends everywhere
Over here, over there
What a president he’ll make for you and me
Buckle down with Nixon,
Buckle down
We can win with Nixon
If we buckle down
He has set the pace
We will win the race
Yes we’ll win the race
With a Nixon victory…"

(click)  Audio"Buckle Down with Nixon"
Richard M. Nixon campaign song
©Smithsonian Folkways Recordings


The final election was extremely close. Nixon believed that Illinois was stolen, but decided not to contest the results for the good of the nation. (His belief that the election was stolen may have played a part in his dirty tactics to secure a win in 1972 against George McGovern.) To this day, Nixon fans claim that Illinois was stolen, and even Texas, though Texas being stolen doesn't have as much weight as the Illinois claim.



The Election of 1960




87th Congress—Party Alignment (1961-1963)

Senate:           Dems 64; Repub 36

House:            Dems 263; Repub 174