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Whistle Stop
How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman
Philip White

2014 • 332 pp. 20 illus. 6 x 9"
20th Century U.S. History / Biography - Political / Political Process - Elections

$22.95 Paperback, 978-1-61168-824-5
$17.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-649-4

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“A far more compelling account of just how Harry gave ’em hell—the campaign’s war cry—than the gauzy version that has hardened into legend.”—Wall Street Journal

How Harry S. Truman overcame the doubters, the haters, and the do-nothing congress to recapture the presidency and save America

President Harry Truman was a disappointment to the Democrats, and a godsend to the Republicans. Every attempt to paint Truman with the grace, charm, and grandeur of Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been a dismal failure: Truman’s virtues were simpler, plainer, more direct. The challenges he faced—stirrings of civil rights and southern resentment at home, and communist aggression and brinkmanship abroad—could not have been more critical. By the summer of 1948 the prospects of a second term for Truman looked bleak. Newspapers and popular opinion nationwide had all but anointed as president Thomas Dewey, the Republican New York Governor. Truman could not even be certain of his own party’s nomination: the Democrats, still in mourning for FDR, were deeply riven, with Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond leading breakaway Progressive and Dixiecrat factions.

Finally, with ingenuity born of desperation, Truman’s aides hit upon a plan: get the president in front of as many regular voters as possible, preferably in intimate settings, all across the country. To the surprise of everyone but Harry Truman, it worked. Whistle Stop is the first book of its kind: a micro-history of the summer and fall of 1948 when Truman took to the rails, crisscrossing the country from June right up to Election Day in November. The tour and the campaign culminated with the iconic image of a grinning, victorious Truman holding aloft the famous Chicago Tribune headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

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Reviews / Endorsements

“An intimate and richly detailed view of one of the most colorful presidential campaign tours in American history.”—Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic

Whistle Stop tells in masterful fashion the story of the election that the smart money said Harry S. Truman would lose.”—Paul Reid, author of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm

“[T]his reportage and analysis has much to commend Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Travel, 352 Speeches and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman. [It] is a dramatic page-turner. It is a worthy addition to the many books written about Harry S. Truman as well as an excellent addition to the growing body of work about presidential campaigns.”—The Missourian

“A fascinating page-turner.”—Matthew Algeo, author of Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure

From the Book:

Introduction: The Election of 1948

Harry Truman was never supposed to be President of the United States. Born in humble circumstances to farmers in Lamar, Missouri – pronounced “Missoura” by its residents – he didn’t go to college, but instead tilled the land like his father and worked as a speculator, a bank clerk, and the co-proprietor of a men’s clothing store. These jobs came either side of a formative stint serving as a Captain of artillery in the fields of France during World War I, where Truman impressed his artillery company friends with his calm demeanor and refusal to join their flight from heavy enemy fire.
Truman survived his military service with nary a scratch, but like his father, he was not so lucky in business. His Kansas City haberdashery fell victim to the economic tremor of 1920-21 that preceded the 1929 fiscal earthquake, and his mine investment and attempts to save the family farm fared little better.
As he struggled to make headway in his professional life, Truman turned to a vocation that had fascinated him since he saw William Jennings Bryan deliver an impassioned speech at the 1900 Democratic National Convention in Kansas City: politics. With close friends staffing his campaigns, Truman was elected as Jackson County judge (in this case, more of an administrative position than a judicial one) in 1933, and with the backing of influential Kansas City boss Tom Pendergast, as a US Senator in 1935. After a moderately successful though not outstanding first term, Truman won reelection to the Senate by just over 8,000 votes in a bitterly contested 1940 contest. He then made his mark by chairing what soon became known as the “Truman Committee,” which saved the government billions by eliminating inefficient wartime contracts and minimizing profiteering.
It was Truman’s performance in this role that led to the unlikeliest political event of 1944: this short, fiery, Midwest farm boy who loved to play the piano almost as much as he loved to read, which was almost as much as he liked to talk, found himself as the replacement for Henry Wallace on the Democratic Presidential ticket. When Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated his Republican challenger, Thomas E. Dewey, to secure a record fourth term, Truman became Vice President.
Just five months after this election, FDR, who had been President for 12 years, had ushered in the New Deal to try to pull the country out of the Great Depression and had brought the United States into World War Two after Japan and Germany gave him little choice in the matter, was gone, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. There was a cadre of Ivy League-educated, Capitol Hill-tested veterans who wanted to succeed him, including Dean Acheson, Burton Wheeler, John Nance Gardner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who had all wanted to be FDR’s Vice President.
Yet, despite the ambitions of these capable suitors, it was Harry Truman, invented middle “S” initial and all, who took Roosevelt’s place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in April 1945. The Missourian’s learning curve promised to be especially steep, as he had been vice president for just 82 days before taking on this monumental challenge and the mantle of the titan of the age whom he succeeded. When Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt if there was anything he could do for her on the day FDR passed away, she replied, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

PHILIP WHITE is a guest lecturer at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. He is the author of Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:07:57 -0500