In American history there has always been the presence of a third party (in many cases a fourth, fifth or even sixth party). But in 1948, the presence of a third party in the form of The Progressive Party and the prospect of Henry A. Wallace, a popular former vice-President under FDR, whose ideas were more in line with FDR’s than with the then-current scheme of things, seemed to pose a real threat to the election of Harry Truman, or to those who were tacit supporters of GOP candidate Thomas E. Dewey.
Wallace was widely favored by the Youth Vote. He represented fresh and progressive ideas and was an unspoken opponent of the status quo in Washington and the fear of Free-Enterprise-run-amok and ruining the economy. He was opposed to unchecked military spending and was in favor of education, adequate housing and fighting poverty. And he railed against the prevailing powers in Washington, where there were the unending attempts at dismantling many of the programs set up during the FDR years by lobbies and interests no in keeping with those of the American people.
Wallace was considered plain-speaking, and his opponents considered him to be a radical and with a party laced with Communist influences. We were deep in the middle of the Red Scare years, and so any inference to Communists, or left leaning, or Red or even Pink, brought disdain from the mainstream, and this was used to great advantage during the 1948 Presidential campaign.
And even then, it was feared a vote for Wallace was a vote for the opposition – meaning, if you voted Progressive, you took away votes from Democrats – and if you were part of the Liberal wing of the GOP, your progressive vote took away votes from Dewey.
So much was done, via the mainstream news media, to marginalize the campaign of Henry Wallace and to portray the Progressive Party as a gathering place for kooks and conspiracy theorists.
So, one of the rare instances of media coverage, came by way of early television in this (audio only) half-hour snapshot of the 1948 Progressive Party Convention.
It’s interesting how history repeats and how often it repeats. That we find ourselves, even in 2016, going back and forth over the merits and detriments of a third party candidate. It is however, perfectly legal and is encouraged and has been since the earliest days of our Democracy. No getting around it.
This is what it sounded like in 1948.