Typewriter of the moment: Mencken and the 1948 conventions



Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Photo from the collection of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at the Park Library, University of North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken at one of the 1948 political conventions (Thomas Dewey was the Republican nominee, Harry S. Truman was the Democratic nominee). Obviously the photo is a copy from the National Press Club Library. The Park Library site describes the photo and Mencken:

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was a familiar figure at many national political conventions. This photo, taken at the one in 1948, was his last political convention. He is well known for his attacks on American taste and culture, or the lack of same. His magnum opus, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, was first published in 1919 and remains a classic. From 1906 to 1941, he worked chiefly as a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Baltimore Sun. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Library.)

Assuming Mencken covered both conventions, this photo was taken at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in mid-July, 1948. We know it was taken in Philadelphia since both parties held their conventions there that year, the Republicans from June 21 to June 26, and the Democrats from July 12 to July 14.

Republicans nominated New York Gov. Thomas J. Dewey and California Gov. Earl Warren for president and vice president.

After a contentious convention that saw Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey propose a civil rights plank that got South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond to walk out of the convention and found his own States’ Rights (Dixiecrat) Party (with himself as the nominee for president), and former Vice President Henry Wallace walk out because the party platform was too conservative (Wallace ran on the Socialist Progressive Party ticket), Democrats nominated President Harry S Truman and Kentucky Sen. Alben W. Barkley for president and vice president. Truman narrowly defeated Georgia Sen. Richard B. Russell for the nomination. Had Thurmond not walked out, Truman may well have lost the nomination of his own party.

And the rest of the story?

  • Truman had a contentious second term, and was defeated in the New Hampshire primary in 1952 by Sen. Estes Kefauver; Truman ended his campaign for a second full term shortly after.
  • Earl Warren was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in late 1953. Warren is remembered for engineering the 9-0 decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education which ruled “separate but equal” school systems to violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause, and for his chairing the commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Hubert Humphrey moved on to the U.S. Senate, served as Vice President to Lyndon Johnson, and won the Democratic nomination for president in another contentious convention in 1968 in Chicago. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon, and returned to the U.S. Senate two years later.
  • Strom Thurmond won election to the U.S. Senate in 1954, switching parties to Republican in 1964, and serving until his death in 2003.
  • Russell, who had served as Georgia’s senator since 1933, continued to serve to his death on January 21, 1971; he was a key member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Russell Senate Office Building is named in his honor, the oldest of the three Senate office buildings.
  • Barkley was the oldest vice president ever inaugurated, aged 71. He remarried in his first year as vice president (his first wife died in 1947). Barkley’s nephew suggested that he should be called “the veep” because “Mr. Vice President” was too long. The title was seized up on by headline writers. Considered too old to run for the presidency in 1952, Barkley won a U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky in the 1954 elections, serving from 1955 to his death in 1956. Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River is named in his honor, as is the lake behind it, Lake Barkley.
  • Henry Wallace finished a distant fourth in the 1948 election, behind Dewey and Thurmond. His political career was essentially over due to his inability or unwillingness to disavow communist support. He achieved success as a chicken breeder. In a daramatic turnabout, he wrote a book, Where I Was Wrong, disavowing communism and critical of Joseph Stalin, and endorsed Republican candidates in 1956 and 1960. He died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1965.
  • Dewey returned to his law practice. In 1952, Dewey helped engineer the nomination of Eisenhower over his old political nemesis Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, pushed Richard Nixon as the Vice Presidential nominee, and in 1956 first convinced Ike to run again, and then to keep Nixon on the ticket. Dewey politely refused offers of offices, including refusing a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, sticking to his law practice which made him very wealthy. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1971, at age 68.
  • Mencken suffered a stroke later in 1948 that left him unable to speak, or read, or write for a time. He spent much of the rest of his life working to organize his papers, and died in 1956. His epitaph, on his tombstone and on a plaque in the lobby of the Baltimore Sun, reads: “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.”
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3 Responses to Typewriter of the moment: Mencken and the 1948 conventions

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    So, Kenny: More history, more politics, or more cigar-chomping guys with bad haircuts?

    Jonathan: Thanks. Fixed, I think.

    Like

  2. jd2718 says:

    Wallace ran on the Progressive Party ticket. Norman Thomas was the Socialist Party nominee.

    Jonathan

    Like

  3. Kenny says:

    The blog needs more posts like this one.

    Like

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