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Truman’s Gift to Democracy—Free Choice in ’52

THE WITHDRAWAL of Harry S. Truman from the 1952 election race greatly increases the chances of the Democratic Party to win. With more than three months to go before the national nominating convention, the Democrats have ample time in which to weigh the available candidates and decide upon their strongest slate. In Gov. Adlai Stevenson and Sen. Estes Kefauver, the Democratic Party has two men fully acceptable as liberal standard bearers. Both of them represent the philosophy of the New Deal and the Fair Deal and either is capable of conducting a campaign which would clarify the basic issues between the major parties. 

With Kefauver, Georgia Sen. Richard B. Russell and Oklahoma Sen. Robert S. Kerr announced candidates, Stevenson available for draft. Vice President Barkley and House Speaker Sam Rayburn possible entries. Sen. Paul H. Douglas and Justice William O. Douglas, avowed non-combatants but still actively supported by some, the way is open for innumerable combinations and deals.

Prior to President Truman’s announcement that he will not be a candidate, experts were estimating that Senator Russell would come to the convention with between 250 and 300 delegate votes and that Senator Kefauver would win approximately the same number for himself on the first ballot through the Presidential primaries in which he is entered, giving Kefauver and Russell together close to one-half of the total delegate strength of 1,230.

THE POTENT DELEGATIONS from the populous Northern industrial states which have been the core of Fair Deal strength are as yet not organized around any one candidate, but it is widely assumed that if Governor Stevenson gives the word, the party organizations in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as Illinois, would rally around him, giving him in the neighborhood of 400 votes—not enough for nomination, but depending on how many of the potential candidates actually continue in the race until the balloting begins, within reach of it. Combined, the delegate strength behind Kefauver and Stevenson, if he enters, would almost certainly be a majority, the question is how to concentrate the liberal force that would be led into the convention under these two banners.

The Dixiecrat strategists have laid their plans to take advantage of a failure of the Fair Deal element to achieve unity. Their first hope is to deadlock the convention by backing splinter candidates and then force agreement on the “compromise” candidate of their choice, Senator Kerr—in reality the man for whom Senator Russell is serving as stalking horse. Failing that, the block of votes in Russell’s hands would be offered in return for concessions in the party platform and perhaps second place on the ticket. Would-be king-makers in Washington were pushing a Stevenson-Russell ticket hard, even before Truman’s announcement, and some “practical” liberals were noticeably listening. The Southerners will continue their seductive offers. A first necessity is to seal liberal ears against the siren call. Neither Kerr nor Russell has any right to a place on a Democratic Party ticket which stands for the policies of Roosevelt and Truman, and such a suggestion should not even be entertained.

The complicated circumstances surrounding Governor Stevenson will necessarily create difficulties. A part of Stevenson’s genuine reluctance thus far to enter the Presidential race has stemmed from unwillingness to be put forward as Truman’s candidate, feeling, probably wisely, that to stand as a hand-picked successor would be a handicap in the final campaign. That problem is now resolved, and the coming weeks will almost certainly see the emergence of the desired alternative, a pre-convention “draft” movement on his behalf by organization leaders. Illinois’ Democratic National Committeeman Jacob Arvey paved the way for this in highly charged hotel room caucuses in the 48 hours following the President’s surprise statement. 

But Stevenson’s situation remains difficult. His concern for the continuity of reforms he has begun in the state government of Illinois is deeply sincere, and he is determined to do nothing that might destroy what he has already accomplished. To devote more of the three months between the April 8 Illinois primary and the July convention to national politicking than to his duties as Governor and to campaigning against his Republican opposition would, Stevenson is said to feel, be negligent of his responsibility. But if others can perform the usual candidate tasks for him and bring about his nomination, there is no basis for doubt that he will then willingly run for President and arrange for an orderly succession in Illinois.

Meanwhile Estes Kefauver will be vigorously pursuing delegates through the popular primaries and in many places winning the liberal support which he has earned by his record. On May 16, Kefauver and Stevenson will go before the voters of Oregon in the only primary election in which both are entered. Kefauver will stump that state thoroughly; as of now, Stevenson plans no campaign. Both men, we are glad to say, are restraining their supporters from attacks on each other. This spirit, if it can be maintained up to July, will afford the Democratic Party a free convention choice, unhampered by bitterness on the progressive side, an advantage no Republican candidate can enjoy this year.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN has acted in the best interests of his party and his own place in history in stepping aside for new leadership. He will be a useful force in the campaign in reminding the party and the candidate how to fight. The admonition with which he dosed his address of March 29 is the first advice for the Party:

We must always remember the things the Democratic Party has done and the high ideals that have made it great. We must be true to its principles and keep it foremost in service to the people.
If we do that, we can take our case to the American people in 1952 with full confidence in their judgment—and in the ultimate judgment of history.