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"The Making of a President: Harry Truman's Third Term" by Eric Lipps

Author says: what if Harry Truman ran for re-election in 1952, and won muses Eric Lipps?. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

November 5th, 1952: at 3:15 A.M., incumbent Harry S. Truman is declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election, embarrassing, among others, the Chicago Tribune newspaper, which incredibly had repeated its humiliating blunder of 1948 by once again prematurely calling the race for Truman's opponent in print.

Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower, like Thomas E. Dewey four years earlier, is gracious in defeat, although the popular World War II general's running mate, Sen. Richard M. Nixon of California, is less so, hinting darkly of fraud to reporters.

Truman's victory is, if anything, an even more stunning surprise this time around than it had been in 1948. The President's popularity had improved somewhat since then, especially in the South, where his hints four years earlier that he favored desegregation of the armed forces had led to threats by Southerners to mount a third-party challenge. The President's decision to heed military advisers who had warned that desegregation would undermine "unit cohesion" at a time when it appeared the U.S. might, despite its nuclear monopoly, have to intervene militarily in several overseas trouble spots, had defused that threat, but his refusal to take a strong stand with segregationists against such civil-rights liberals as Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey had left lingering suspicions among Southern whites. On the other hand, his apparent unwillingness to take on the Dixiecrats had undermined black support for the Democratic Party. And the rise of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, whose charge of "twenty years of treason" on the part of the Democrats, worked against him as well: McCarthy blamed Truman for the Soviets' development of their own atomic bomb in 1949 and the "loss" of mainland China to the Communists that same year. To stem the slide, the President had resorted to steadily harsher anti-Communist rhetoric and had supported hard-line measures such as the National Security Act of 1950, which had declared the Communist Party an illegal foreign conspiracy and authorized the reactivation of six of the internment camps used to hold Japanese-Americans during World War II, this time to hold "Communists and Communist sympathizers" should the order for a roundup be given during a national emergency.

Arguably, it was the Republicans themselves who rescued Truman. Backbiting within the GOP between isolationists led by Sen. Robert A. Taft and interventionists, who favored Eisenhower, weakened partisan unity when Eisenhower received the party's nomination in exchange for agreeing to take the Taft faction's man, Nixon, as his VP. The uncomfortable relationship between the two men was worsened when, following the Republican convention, Sen. McCarthy expressed the view that Nixon himself--a vigorous McCarthy backer--would have been a better pick for the top spot.

In the end, it had come down to turnout, with Southern whites going narrowly for Truman, a Missouri native, over Eisenhower despite their reservations about the Democrat, while many Republicans dissatisfied with Ike, Nixon or both simply stayed home.

Ironically, Truman had almost decided not to run in '52, considering that his partial term as FDR's replacement after the latter's death in April 1945 meant that his re-election in 1952 would violate the two-term tradition. After FDR's three and a fraction terms, Truman had believed the country needed to resume the two-term rule to avoid a slide toward a banana-republic-style lifetime presidency. He had been persuaded to seek re-election only when advisers warned that if he did not, the nomination would likely go to a liberal such as Illinois' Adlai Stevenson, which would guarantee a Republican win.

A further irony was that although under the Twenty-second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, pushed through Congress and the state legislatures by Republicans in 1951, no one could seek more than two terms as president, the amendment was not retroactive, so that Truman was free to seek additional terms in the White House while Eisenhower, had he won, would have been limited to no more eight years in office. Once conservatives realized this, furious accusations would fly within the GOP and an "Amend the Amendment" drive would be organized by the Republican National Committee.

Eric Lipps

Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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