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Thomas Edmund Dewey

In office
January 1, 1943 – December 31, 1954
Lieutenant Thomas W. Wallace (January-July 1943)
Joe R. Hanley (1943-1950)
Frank C. Moore (1950-1953)
Arthur H. Wicks (1953)
Walter J. Mahoney (1954)
Preceded by Charles Poletti
Succeeded by W. Averell Harriman

Born March 24, 1902(1902-03-24)
Owosso, Michigan
Died March 16, 1971 (aged 68)
Miami, Florida
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Frances Hutt (1928-1970)
Alma mater University of Michigan, Columbia Law School
Profession Politician
Religion Episcopalian

Thomas Edmund Dewey (March 24, 1902 – March 16, 1971) was the 47th Governor of New York (1943 – 1954). In 1944 and 1948, he was the Republican candidate for President, but lost both times. He led the liberal faction of the Republican Party, in which he fought conservative Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft. Dewey advocated for the professional and business community of the Northeastern United States, which would later be called the "Eastern Establishment." This organization accepted the majority of New Deal social-welfare reforms enacted after 1944. It consisted of internationalists who were in favor of the United Nations and the "Cold War" fought against communism and the Soviet Union. In addition, he played a large part in the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as President in 1952. Dewey's successor as leader of the liberal Republicans was Nelson Rockefeller, who became governor of New York in 1959. The New York State Thruway is named in Dewey's honor.


Early life and family

Dewey was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan, where his father owned, edited, and published the local newspaper, the Owosso Times. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923, and from Columbia Law School in 1925. While at the University of Michigan, he joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a national fraternity for men of music, and was a member of the Men's Glee Club. He was an excellent singer with a deep, baritone voice, and in 1923 he finished in third place in the National Singing Contest.[1] He briefly considered a career as a professional singer, but decided against it after a temporary throat ailment convinced him that such a career would be risky. He then decided to pursue a career as a lawyer.[2] He also wrote for The Michigan Daily, the university's student newspaper.

In 1928 Dewey married Frances Hutt. A native of Sherman, Texas, she had briefly been a stage actress; after their marriage she dropped her acting career.[3] They had two sons, Thomas E. Dewey, Jr. and John Dewey. Although Dewey served as a prosecutor and District Attorney in New York City for many years, his home from 1938 until his death was a large farm, called "Dapplemere", located near the town of Pawling some 65 miles (105 km) north of New York City. According to biographer Richard Norton Smith, Dewey "loved Dapplemere as [he did] no other place", and Dewey was once quoted as saying that "I work like a horse five days and five nights a week for the privilege of getting to the country on the weekend." Dapplemere was part of a tight-knit rural community called "Quaker Hill," which was known as a haven for the prominent and well-to-do. Among Dewey's neighbors on Quaker Hill were the famous reporter and radio broadcaster Lowell Thomas, the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, and the legendary CBS News journalist Edward R. Murrow. Dewey was a lifelong member of The Episcopal Church.[4]



Federal prosecutor

Dewey first served as a federal prosecutor, then started a lucrative private practice on Wall Street; however, he left his practice for an appointment as special prosecutor to look into corruption in New York City – with the official title of Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.[5] It was in this role that he first achieved headlines in the early 1930s, when he prosecuted bootlegger Waxey Gordon.

Dewey had used his excellent recall of details of crimes to trip up witnesses as a federal prosecutor; as a state prosecutor, he used telephone taps (which were perfectly legal at the time) to gather evidence, with the ultimate goal of bringing down entire criminal organizations.[5] On that account, Dewey successfully lobbied for an overhaul in New York's criminal procedure law, which at that time required separate trials for each count of an indictment.[5]

Special Prosecutor

Dewey rocketed to fame in 1935, when he was appointed special prosecutor in New York County (Manhattan) by Governor Herbert H. Lehman. A "runaway grand jury" had publicly complained that William C. Dodge, the District Attorney, was not aggressively pursuing the mob and political corruption. Lehman, to avoid charges of partisanship, asked four prominent Republicans to serve as special prosecutor. All four refused and recommended Dewey.[6]

Dewey moved ahead vigorously. He recruited a staff of over 60 assistants, investigators, process servers, stenographers, and clerks. New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia assigned a picked squad of 63 police officers to Dewey's office.

Dewey's targets were organized racketeering: the large-scale criminal enterprises, especially extortion, the "numbers" game, and prostitution. He pursued Tammany Hall leaders known for their ties to gangsters, such as James Joseph Hines.

One of his biggest prizes was gangster Dutch Schultz, who he had battled as both a federal and state prosecutor. Schultz's first trial ended in a deadlock; prior to his second trial, Schultz had the venue moved to Malone, New York, then moved there and garnered the sympathy of the townspeople through charitable acts so that when it came time for his trial, the jury found him innocent, liking him too much to convict him.[5]

Dewey and La Guardia threatened Schultz with instant arrest and further charges. Schultz now proposed to murder Dewey. Dewey would be killed while he made his daily morning call to his office from a pay phone near his home.[5] However, New York crime boss Lucky Luciano and the "Mafia Commission" decided that Dewey's murder would provoke an all-out crackdown. Instead they had Schultz killed.[5]

Dewey next turned his attention to Luciano. Dewey raided 80 houses of prostitution in the New York City area and arrested hundreds of prostitutes and "madams". Many of the prostitutes - some of whom told of being beaten and abused by Mafia thugs - were willing to testify to avoid prison time. Three implicated Luciano as controller of organized prostitution in the New York/New Jersey area - one of the largest prostitution rings in American history.[5] In the greatest victory of his legal career, Dewey won the conviction of Luciano for the prostitution racket, with a sentence of 30 to 50 years.[7]

However, Dewey did more than simply prosecute gangsters. In 1936 Dewey helped indict and convict Richard Whitney, the former president of the New York Stock Exchange, for embezzlement. Dewey also led efforts to protect dockworkers and poultry farmers and workers from racketeering in New York.[8] In 1936 Dewey received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York." In 1939 Dewey prosecuted American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn for embezzlement, crippling Kuhn's organization and limiting its ability to support Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

In 1937, Dewey was elected District Attorney himself, defeating Dodge.

Manhattan District Attorney

Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan) in 1937. By the late 1930s Dewey's successful efforts against organized crime – and especially his conviction of Lucky Luciano – had turned him into a national celebrity. His nickname, the "Gangbuster", became the name of a popular radio serial based on his fight against the mob. Hollywood film studios even made several movies inspired by his exploits; Marked Woman starred Humphrey Bogart as a Dewey-like DA and Bette Davis as a "party girl" whose testimony helps convict the gang boss.[9]

Governor of New York

In 1938, Edwin Jaeckle, the New York Republican Party Chairman, selected Dewey to run, unsuccessfully, for Governor of New York against the popular Democratic incumbent, Herbert H. Lehman. Dewey was only 36 years old at the time. He based his campaign on his record as a famous prosecutor of organized-crime figures in New York City. Although he was defeated, Dewey's surprisingly strong showing against Lehman (he lost by only 1.4%) brought him national political attention and made him a frontrunner for the 1940 Republican presidential nomination.[10] Jaeckle was one of Dewey's top advisors and mentors for the remainder of his political career.

In 1942, Dewey ran for governor again, and won with a large plurality over Democrat John J. Bennett, Jr.. Bennett was not endorsed by the American Labor Party, whose candidate drew almost 10%. The ALP did endorse incumbent Lieutenant Governor Charles Poletti who lost narrowly to Dewey's running mate Thomas W. Wallace. In 1946, Dewey was re-elected by the greatest margin in state history to that point, almost 700,000 votes.[11] Four years later, he was elected to a third term.

Usually regarded as an honest and highly effective governor, Dewey cut taxes; doubled state aid to education; increased salaries for state employees; and still reduced the state's debt by over $100 million. Additionally, he put through the first state law in the country which prohibited racial discrimination in employment. As governor, Dewey also signed legislation that created the State University of New York. He played a major role in the creation of the New York State Thruway, which was eventually named in his honor. Dewey also streamlined and consolidated many state agencies to make them more efficient.[12] With Jaeckle's help, Dewey also created a powerful political organization that allowed him to dominate New York state politics and influence national politics.

He also strongly supported the death penalty. During his 12 years as Governor, over 90 people (including two women) were electrocuted under New York authority.

Presidential Elections


Dewey sought the 1940 Republican presidential nomination. He was considered the early favorite for the nomination, but his support ebbed in the late spring of 1940, as World War II suddenly became much more dangerous for America.

Some Republican leaders considered Dewey to be too young (he was only 38) and too inexperienced to lead the nation in wartime. Furthermore, Dewey's isolationist stance became problematic when Germany quickly conquered France, and seemed poised to conquer Britain. As a result, many Republicans switched to Wendell Willkie, who was a decade older and supported aid to the Allies fighting Germany. Willkie lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.[13]

Dewey's foreign-policy position evolved during the 1940s; by 1944 he was considered an internationalist and a supporter of projects such as the United Nations. It was in 1940 that Dewey first clashed with Taft. Taft - who maintained his isolationist views and economic conservatism to his death - became Dewey's great rival for control of the Republican Party in the 1940s and early 1950s. Dewey became the leader of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, who were based in the northeastern and Pacific Coast states, while Taft became the leader of conservative Republicans who dominated most of the Midwest and parts of the South.[14]


With Edwin Jaeckle leading his campaign, Dewey pursued the Republican nomination in 1944. At the 1944 Republican Convention, his chief rivals, Ohio governor John Bricker and former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen both withdrew and Dewey was nominated almost unanimously. Dewey then made Bricker (who was supported by Taft) his running mate.

In the general election campaign, Dewey crusaded against the alleged inefficiencies, corruption and Communist influences in incumbent President Roosevelt's New Deal programs, but avoided military and foreign policy debates.

Dewey lost the election to Roosevelt. However, Dewey polled 46% of the popular vote, a stronger showing against Roosevelt than any previous Republican opponent. Dewey was the first presidential candidate to be born in the twentieth century. As of 2009, he was also the youngest Republican presidential nominee.[15]

Dewey nearly committed a serious blunder when he prepared to include, in his campaign, charges that Roosevelt knew ahead of time about the attack on Pearl Harbor; Dewey added, "and instead of being reelected he should be impeached." The U. S. military was aghast at this notion, since it would tip the Japanese off that the United States had broken the Purple code. Army General George C. Marshall made a persistent effort to persuade Dewey not to touch this topic; Dewey yielded.[16]


He was the Republican candidate in the 1948 presidential election in which, in almost unanimous predictions by pollsters and the press, he was projected as the winner. The Chicago Daily Tribune printed "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" as its post-election headline, issuing a few hundred copies before the returns showed conclusively that the winner was Harry S. Truman, the incumbent.

Indeed, given Truman's sinking popularity and the Democratic Party's three-way split (between Truman, Henry A. Wallace, and Strom Thurmond), Dewey had seemed unstoppable. Republicans figured that all they had to do to win was to avoid making any major mistakes, and as such Dewey did not take any risks. He spoke in platitudes, trying to transcend politics. Speech after speech was filled with empty statements of the obvious, such as the famous quote: "You know that your future is still ahead of you." An editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal summed it up:

No presidential candidate in the future will be so inept that four of his major speeches can be boiled down to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. Our future lies ahead.[17]

Part of the reason Dewey ran such a cautious, vague campaign was because of his experiences as a presidential candidate in 1944. In that election Dewey felt that he had allowed Roosevelt to draw him into a partisan, verbal "mudslinging" match, and he believed that this had cost him votes. As such, Dewey was convinced in 1948 to appear as non-partisan as possible, and to emphasize the positive aspects of his campaign while ignoring his opponent. This strategy proved to be a major mistake, as it allowed Truman to repeatedly criticize and ridicule Dewey, while Dewey never answered any of Truman's criticisms.[18] Perhaps alone among all of Dewey's advisers, his 1944 campaign chairman, Edwin Jaeckle, admonished him to be aggressive on the campaign trail, advice Dewey rejected.

Dewey was not as conservative as the Republican-controlled 80th Congress, which also proved problematic for him. Truman tied Dewey to the "do-nothing" Congress. Indeed, Dewey had successfully battled Taft and his conservatives for the nomination at the Republican Convention. Taft had remained an isolationist even through the Second World War. Dewey, however, supported the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, recognition of Israel, and the Berlin airlift.[19]

Dewey was repeatedly urged by the right wing of his party to engage in red-baiting, but he refused. In a debate before the Oregon primary with Harold Stassen, Dewey argued against outlawing the Communist Party of the United States of America, saying "you can't shoot an idea with a gun." He later told Styles Bridges, the Republican national campaign manager, that he was not "going around looking under beds."[20] Dewey was the only Republican to be nominated for President twice and lose both times. He is also the last major-party presidential candidate to wear permanent facial hair, in his case a mustache.


Dewey did not run for President in 1952, but he did play a major role in securing the Republican nomination for General Dwight Eisenhower. The 1952 campaign was the climactic moment in the fierce rivalry between Dewey and Taft for control of the Republican Party. Taft was an announced candidate, and given his age he freely admitted that 1952 was his last chance to win the presidency. Dewey played a key role in convincing Eisenhower to run against Taft, and when Eisenhower became a candidate Dewey used his powerful political machine to win Eisenhower the support of delegates in New York and elsewhere. At the Republican Convention Dewey was verbally attacked by pro-Taft delegates and speakers as the real power behind Eisenhower, but he had the satisfaction of seeing Eisenhower win the nomination and end Taft's presidential hopes for the last time.[21] Dewey then played a major role in helping Californian Senator Richard Nixon become Eisenhower's running mate. When Eisenhower won the Presidency later that year, many of Dewey's closest aides and advisers would become leading figures in the Eisenhower Administration. Among them were Herbert Brownell, who would become Eisenhower's Attorney General, James Hagerty, who would become White House Press Secretary, and John Foster Dulles, who would become Ike's Secretary of State.

Later career

Former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey visitng David Ben Gurion. October, 1955

Dewey's third term as governor of New York expired in 1955, after which he retired from public service and returned to his law practice, Dewey Ballantine, although he remained a power broker behind the scenes in the Republican Party. In 1956, when Eisenhower mulled not running for a second term, he suggested Dewey as his choice as successor, but party leaders made it plain that they would not entrust the nomination to Dewey yet again, and ultimately Eisenhower decided to run for re-election. Dewey also played a major role that year in convincing Eisenhower to keep Nixon as his running mate; Ike had considered dropping Nixon from the Republican ticket and picking someone he felt would be less partisan and controversial. However, Dewey argued that dropping Nixon from the ticket would only anger Republican voters while winning Ike few votes from the Democrats. Dewey's arguments helped convince Eisenhower to keep Nixon on the ticket. In 1960 Dewey would strongly support Nixon's ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign against Democrat John F. Kennedy.[22]

By the 1960s, as the conservative wing assumed more and more power within the Republican Party, Dewey removed himself further and further from party matters. When the Republicans in 1964 gave Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Taft's successor as the conservative leader, their presidential nomination, Dewey declined to even attend the Convention; it was the first Republican Convention he had missed since 1936.[23] President Lyndon Johnson offered Dewey positions on several blue ribbon commissions, as well as a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, but Dewey politely declined them all, preferring to remain in political retirement and concentrate on his highly profitable law firm. By the early 1960s Dewey's law practice had made him into a multimillionaire.

In the late 1960s Dewey was saddened by the deaths of his best friends Pat and Marge Hogan, and by his wife's long, painful, and losing battle against cancer. Frances Dewey died in the summer of 1970 after battling cancer for more than three years.[24] In early 1971 Dewey began to date actress Kitty Carlisle Hart, and there was talk of marriage between them. However, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack on March 16, 1971, while vacationing with friends in Miami, Florida. He was 68 years old.[25] Both he and his wife are buried in the town cemetery of Pawling, New York; after his death his farm of Dapplemere was sold and renamed "Dewey Lane Farm" in his honor.[26]

Public perception

Dewey first came to nationwide attention as "Gangbuster", his became a household name in the US even before he entered presidential politics. At the age of 37, he was perceived as a rising star in the Republican Party and frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 1940. During that campaign, however, with the war in Europe intensifying, he was widely considered too young and inexperienced for the presidency and lost the nomination to Wendell Willkie, who strongly disliked him and considered endorsing Roosevelt against Dewey at the time of his death in 1944 [27]. Dewey was a forceful and inspiring speaker, traveling the whole country during his primary campaigns and attracting uncommonly huge crowds. [28]

During the 1944 election campaign, Dewey suffered an unexpected blow when socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth (daughter of Theodore Roosevelt) mocked Dewey as "the little man on the wedding cake" (alluding to his neat mustache and dapper dress). It was ridicule he could never shake.

All his presidential campaigns were hampered by Dewey's habit of making overly vague statements, defining his strategy as not being "prematurely specific" [29] on controversial issues. Truman joked that Republican Party (GOP) actually stood for "grand old platitudes". [30]. Walter Lippman, in 1940, regarded him as basically an opportunist, who "changes his views from hour to hour... always more concerned with taking the popular position than he is in dealing with the real issues" [31]. Adding to that, he had a tendency towards pomposity [32]and was considered stiff and inapproachable, with even his own aide Ruth McCormick Simms once describing him as "cold, cold as a February iceberg" [33].


In 1964, the New York State legislature officially renamed the New York State Thruway in honor of Dewey. Signs on Interstate 95 from the end of the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx to the Connecticut state line (and vice-versa) designate the name as Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway, though this official designation is rarely used in reference to the road. The naming was opposed by many Italian Americans, who are a relatively large and important demographic presence in the state.

Dewey's official papers from his years in politics and public life were given to the University of Rochester; they are housed in the university library and are available to historians and other writers.

In 2005, the New York City Bar Association named an award after Dewey. The Thomas E. Dewey Medal, sponsored by the law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, is awarded annually to one outstanding Assistant District Attorney in each of New York City's five counties (New York, Kings, Queens, Bronx, and Richmond). The Medal was first awarded on November 29, 2005.


  • Journey to the far Pacific (1952)


  • Divine, Robert A. "The Cold War and the Election of 1948," The Journal of American History, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jun., 1972), pp. 90–110 in JSTOR
  • Donaldson, Gary A. Truman Defeats Dewey (1999). University Press of Kentucky
  • Peters, Charles. Five Days in Philadelphia Public Affairs Books, New York (2006)
  • Smith, Richard Norton. Thomas E. Dewey and His Times. Simon & Schuster, New York (1982)

Further reading

Stolberg, Mary M. Fighting Organised Crime: Politics, Justice, and the Legacy of Thomas E. Dewey (1995)



  1. ^ Richard Norton Smith, Thomas E. Dewe..y and his Times, p. 25.
  2. ^ Smith, p. 86.
  3. ^ Smith, p. 103
  4. ^ Smith, p. 320-326.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g The Five Families. MacMillan. Retrieved 2008-06-22. 
  6. ^ Stolberg, Mary M. (1995). Fighting Organized Crime: Politics, Justice, and the Legacy of Thomas E. Dewey. Boston: Northeastern University Press. pp. 55–64. ISBN 1-55553-245-4. 
  7. ^ Smith, p. 181-206.
  8. ^ Smith, p. 249-250.
  9. ^ Smith, p. 250
  10. ^ Smith, p. 273-274.
  11. ^ Smith, p. 466.
  12. ^ Smith, p. 37-40.
  13. ^ Smith, p. 300-314.
  14. ^ Smith, p. 32-35.
  15. ^ Smith, p. 401-425.
  16. ^ Paul F. Boller, Jr., Presidential Campaigns, 1985.
  17. ^ Gary A. Donaldson, Truman Defeats Dewey (The University Press of Kentucky, 1999), p. 173, quoting the Louisville Courier Journal, November 18, 1948.
  18. ^ Smith, p. 524-529.
  19. ^ Smith, p. 512-514.
  20. ^ Halberstam, David (1993). The Fifties. Villard Books. pp. 7. 
  21. ^ Smith, p. 584-595.
  22. ^ Smith, p. 623-626.
  23. ^ Smith, p. 626-628.
  24. ^ Smith, p. 630-634.
  25. ^ Smith, p. 635-638.
  26. ^ Smith, p. 642.
  27. ^ Peters, p. 196
  28. ^ Peters, p. 18
  29. ^ Peters, p. 18
  30. ^ Dewey Defeats Truman? No Way. Truman "Gave 'em Hell" on His Whistle Stop Tour in 1948 US News, Jan 17th, 2008
  31. ^ Peters, p. 77
  32. ^ Dewey defeats Truman: Well, everyone makes mistakes. Chicago Tribune.,0,6484067.story
  33. ^ Smith, p. 298

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Poletti
Governor of New York
1943 – 1954
Succeeded by
W. Averell Harriman
Party political offices
Preceded by
William Bleakley
Republican Nominee for Governor of New York
1938, 1942, 1946, 1950
Succeeded by
Irving Ives
Preceded by
Wendell Willkie
Republican Party presidential candidate
1944, 1948
Succeeded by
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Legal offices
Preceded by
William C. Dodge
District Attorney - New York County, New York
1938 – 1941
Succeeded by
Frank S. Hogan


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