- Tanner Wadsworth, Rising 2L at Columbia Law School
This Day in History: September 27, 1948: President Harry Truman's Whistle Stop Speech in Fort Worth
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
On his way to one of the greatest election upsets in American history, Harry Truman stopped for a few hours in Fort Worth on this day in 1948. Despite having steered America through the final years of the second world war, including the history-altering decision to drop the atomic bomb, Truman had never actually been elected president.
His accession to the presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt was the final step in a long and improbable rise from poverty. Born on a humble Missouri farm, he became a successful state official despite having never graduated from college. The boss of the powerful Kansas City Democratic machine helped elect him to the U.S. senate, where Truman oversaw a commission designed to cut waste and eliminate corruption in military manufacturing during the war.
When President Roosevelt ran for his third term, his advisors recommended Truman as a vice-president. Despite barely knowing each other, the two men appeared together on the ticket and won. Now, after Roosevelt’s death, the final battles of the war, the atomic bomb, the Potsdam conference and the Berlin Airlift, Truman had to try to win the presidency in his own right.
It wasn’t easy.
Truman’s popularity numbers had been low throughout his presidency. His party had lost both the Senate and the House in the previous election. Thomas Dewey, the candidate he was facing, was well-funded and popular. In order to overcome the long odds against his reelection, Truman had to find a new gear—and he did. He made an ambitious, exhaustive whistle stop tour across the entire country, stopping to make high-energy speeches in hundreds of cities, towns and villages.
Texas was important to Truman not just for its electoral votes, but because it was home to powerful political allies like Sam Rayburn, Tom Connally, and even young congressman Lyndon B. Johnson.
Fort Worth at the time was a bustling cowtown filled with soldiers returning from the war. Truman’s train pulled into the Texas & Pacific Station downtown, next to a specially-built platform decked out in patriotic bunting. He addressed a huge crowd, accompanied by Tom Clark, his attorney general, and Creekmore Fath, an influential Texas lawyer.
Truman’s gamble on the whistle stop tour paid off. With Texans’ support, he cruised to a stunning upset victory, defeating Dewey by a significant margin, despite a famous headline stating the contrary.
Fort Worth continues to play a significant role in America’s politics, hosting presidential candidates almost every election. The stately T&P station where Truman gave his speech still stands today, a monument to Fort Worth’s heritage as a cattletown and pivotal connection point between Texas and the great plains. As the part of the downtown area’s continuing evolution into a stylish urban showpiece, the station has since been converted into apartments—one of many new and attractive apartment complexes in Fort Worth.
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