Thomas E. Dewey - The Man who brought Murder Inc. to its knees !
Early life and family
Dewey was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan, where his father owned, edited, and published the local newspaper. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923, and from the Columbia Law School in 1925. While at the University of Michigan, he joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a national fraternity for men of music. He was an excellent singer with a deep, baritone voice, and in 1923 he finished in third place in the National Singing Contest. 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. He also wrote for The Michigan Daily, the university's student newspaper club.
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. 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 in Thomas E. Dewey and His Times, 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.
New York prosecutor and District Attorney
During the 1930s, Dewey was a New York City prosecutor. He first achieved headlines in the early 1930s, when he prosecuted bootlegger Waxey Gordon while serving as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Additionally, he relentlessly pursued gangster Dutch Schultz, both as a federal and state prosecutor. Schultz's first trial ended in a deadlock; prior to his second trial, Schultz had the venue moved to Syracuse, then moved there and garnered the sympathy of the townspeople so that when it came time for his trial, the jury found him innocent, liking him too much to convict him. Following that trial, Dewey and Fiorello H. LaGuardia found grounds with which to try Schultz a third time, driving Schultz into hiding in Newark, New Jersey There, Schultz put into action a plan to assassinate Dewey. Crime boss Lucky Luciano, fearing that if Dewey was murdered, the FBI and federal government would wage all-out war on the Mafia, ordered that Schultz be killed before he had the chance to finalize his plans. Luciano's plan went accordingly, and before Schultz could finish organizing his plot to kill Dewey, Schultz was shot to death by a Mafia hitman in the restroom of a bar in Newark. Shortly thereafter, Dewey turned his attention to prosecuting Luciano. In the greatest victory of his legal career, he convinced a jury to convict Luciano of being a pimp who ran one of the largest prostitution rings in American history,
However, Dewey did more than simply prosecute famous Mafia figures. In 1936, while serving as special prosecutor in New York County, Dewey helped indict and convict Richard Whitney, the former president of the New York Stock Exchange, on charges of embezzlement. In the 1920's Whitney had been a prominent New York business tycoon and socialite. Dewey also led law-enforcement efforts to protect dockworkers and poultry farmers and workers from racketeering in New York. In 1936 Dewey received The Hundred Year Association of New Yorks 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.
Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan) in 1937. By the late 1930's 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 based on his exploits; one starred Humphrey Bogart as Lucky Luciano and Bette Davis as a call girl whose testimony helps to put him in prison.
Governor of New York
In 1938, at age 36, Dewey ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York against the popular Democratic incumbent, Herbert Lehman, Franklin Roosevelt's successor. He based his campaign on his record as a famous prosecutor of organized-crime figures in New York City. Although he lost, Dewey's strong showing against Lehman (he lost the election by only one percentage point), brought him national political attention and made him a frontrunner for the 1940 Republican presidential nomination. In 1942 he ran for Governor again, and was elected in a landslide. In 1946 he won a second term by the greatest margin in state history to that point, and in 1950 he was elected to a third term.
Dewey was regarded as an honest and highly effective governor. He cut taxes, doubled state aid to education, increased salaries for state employees, and 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 would eventually be named in his honor. He 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 were electrocuted (including two women) under New York authority.
Dewey ran for the 1940 Republican presidential nomination, but lost to Wendell Willkie, who went on to lose to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election. For most of the campaign Dewey was considered the favorite for the nomination, but his strength ebbed as Nazi Germany swept through Western Europe in the late spring of 1940. Some Republican leaders considered Dewey to be too young (he was only 38) and inexperienced to lead the nation through the Second World War. Furthermore, Dewey's isolationist stance became increasingly difficult for him to defend as the Nazis conquered Holland, Belgium, France, and threatened Britain. As a result, many Republicans switched to supporting Wendell Willkie, who was a decade older and an open advocate of aid to the Allies. Dewey's foreign-policy position evolved during the 1940s; by 1944 he was considered an internationalist and a supporter of groups such as the United Nations. It was in 1940 that Dewey first clashed with Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. Taft - who would maintain his isolationist views and economic conservatism to his death - would become Dewey's great rival for control of the Republican Party in the 1940's and early 1950's. Dewey would become the leader of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, who were based in the Northeastern and Pacific Coast states, while Taft would become the leader of conservative Republicans who dominated most of the Midwest and parts of the South.
Dewey won the Republican nomination in 1944 but was defeated in the election by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the incumbent. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt's daughter and a socialite well known for her wit, called Dewey, alluding to his pencil-thin moustache, "the little man on the wedding cake," a bit of ridicule he could not shake. At the 1944 Republican Convention Dewey easily defeated Ohio Governor John Bricker, who was supported by Taft; he then made Bricker his running mate in a bid to win the votes of conservative Republicans. In the general campaign in the fall Dewey crusaded against the alleged inefficiencies, corruption and Communist influences in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, but avoided military and foreign policy debates. Although he lost the election, Dewey did better against Roosevelt than any of his four Republican opponents. Dewey was the first presidential candidate to be born in the twentieth century; he is also the youngest man ever to win the Republican presidential nomination.
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. (Source: Presidential Campaigns (1985) by Paul F. Boller, Jr.)
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 DailyTribune 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 was to avoid destroying a certain election victory, 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.
At one campaign stop, Dewey saw a large number of children among the crowd. He addressed them and said they should be glad he got them a day off from school to see him. One kid hollered, "Today is Saturday!" The crowd laughed.
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 Franklin 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.
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 Ohio Senator Robert 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.
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. As a result of his defeat, Dewey became the only Republican to be nominated for President twice and lose both times. He is also the last presidential candidate to wear permanent facial hair, in his case a moustache.
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 most popular hero of the Second World War. The 1952 campaign was the climatic 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 "Ike" 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. Dewey then played a major role in helping California Senator Richard Nixon become Eisenhower's running mate. When Eisenhower won the Presidency later that year, many of Dewey's closest aides and advisors, such as Herbert Brownell, would become leading figures in the Eisenhower Administration.
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 losing presidential campaign against Democrat John F. Kennedy.
By the 1960s, as the conservative wing assumed more and more power within the GOP, 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. 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 1960's Dewey's law practice had made him into a multimillionaire.
In the late 1960's 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. 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 heart attack on March 16, 1971, while vacationing in Florida. He was 68 years old. 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.
In 1964, the New York State Legislature officially renamed the New York State Thruway in honor of Dewey. The official designation is, however, rarely used in reference to the road, and the naming was opposed by many Italian Americans, who are a relatively large and important demographic presence in the state. However, signs on Interstate 95 from the end of the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx to the Connecticut state line (and vice-versa) designate the Thruway as being the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway
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 Ballantine 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.