Thomas Edmund Dewey

Thomas Edmund Dewey (1902-1971) was governor of New York State from 1942 to 1954 and a Republican presidential candidate.

Thomas E. Dewey was born on March 24, 1902, at Owosso, Mich. In 1923 he received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan. After briefly studying music and law in Chicago, he entered Columbia University Law School. After his graduation in 1925, he toured England and France. Returning to New York, he entered the state bar, accepted a clerkship in a law office, and became active in the Young Republican Club. In 1928 Dewey married Frances E. Hutt; they had two children.

In 1931 the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York appointed Dewey his chief assistant. In addition to fundamental honesty and natural courage, Dewey possessed a capacity for careful and deliberate case preparation and an amazing self-control that enabled him to remain cool under pressure. With the resignation of the U.S. attorney in November 1933, Dewey took that position—at 31 the youngest U.S. attorney ever. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a Democrat to the position 5 weeks later, Dewey returned to private law practice. In 1935 he was appointed special prosecutor for the Investigation of Organized Crime in New York. His campaign against narcotics and vice racketeers obtained 72 convictions in 73 prosecutions. In 1937 he was elected district attorney for New York County.

In 1942 Dewey was elected governor of New York. He quickly established a reputation for political moderation and administrative efficiency, enjoying cordial relations with the legislature. Success as governor, added to his reputation in fighting New York racketeers, sent Dewey's political stature soaring. In 1944 he was the Republican party's presidential nominee. He ran well, despite Roosevelt's record as a war leader and Dewey's lack of experience in international affairs. Reelected governor of New York in 1946, he proceeded to ram a series of liberal laws through the legislature.

As the acknowledged front-runner in his second presidential campaign—against Democrat Harry Truman in 1948—Dewey refused to tax himself, made only a few speeches, avoided controversial issues, and scarcely recognized the opposition. He lost to Truman by a narrow margin. In 1950 he was elected to his third successive term as New York's governor.

At the suggestion of State Department adviser John Foster Dulles, Dewey visited 17 countries in the Pacific in 1951. In 1955 he reentered private practice with the New York firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer, and Wood. By 1957 Dewey had been awarded 16 honorary degrees. His books include The Case against the New Deal (1940), Journey to the Far Pacific (1952), and Thomas E. Dewey on the Two Party System (1966). He died on March 16, 1971, at Bal Harbour, Fla.

Further Reading on Thomas Edmund Dewey

Writings on Dewey remain limited. Stanley Walker, Dewey: An American of This Century (1944), was prepared for Dewey's first presidential campaign. Several good chapters on Dewey's race against Truman are in Irwin Ross, The Loneliest Campaign: The Truman Victory of 1948 (1968).

Additional Biography Sources

Beyer, Barry K., Thomas E. Dewey, 1937-1947: a study in political leadership, New York: Garland Pub., 1979.

Smith, Richard Norton, Thomas E. Dewey and his times, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

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