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Progressive Party, 1948


PROGRESSIVE PARTY, 1948, founded to oppose the Harry Truman administration's Cold War policies and a rapidly escalating red scare. Its presidential and vice presidential candidates were the former vice president Henry A. Wallace and the Idaho senator Glen Taylor. The party hoped to draw millions of voters away from the Truman ticket and reorient U.S. politics back to New Deal policies of domestic economic and social reform and toward postwar cooperation with the Soviet Union.

The Progressive Party candidates and campaign called for a complete end to segregation in the South and to all forms of social discrimination. In the South, the Progressives faced terroristic violence when they held integrated meetings. The party also raised issues of women's rights in the workplace and, in its commitment to functional representation for women and minorities in its organization and national convention, prefigured affirmative action.

While early optimistic polls showed the Progressive Party receiving as many as 8 million votes, and party leaders privately considered 4 million as necessary for success, the Truman administration's sharp shift to the Left during the campaign brought millions of working-class and liberal voters back to the Democrats by the election, leaving the Progressive Party with slightly more than a million votes. The Democratic Party campaign song, "Don't Let Them Take It Away," summed up the Truman campaign against the Progressive Party: a vote for Henry Wallace was a vote for Tom Dewey, the Republican candidate, who, as president, would complete the policy of dismantling the New Deal begun by the Republican Eightieth Congress.

The immediate effects of the Progressive Party campaign were devastating to the issues it sought to raise. Domestically, the red scare intensified as purges of trade unions and blacklists of radicals and noncommunist liberals in the arts, sciences, and professions were institutionalized, both by private bodies such as the Motion Picture Association and by state and federal laws, especially the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950. This domestic cold war peaked in the early 1950s, as Senator Joseph McCarthy both fomented and scavenged in an atmosphere of anticommunist political hysteria.

Internationally, the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that the Progressive Party challenged saw the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the nuclear arms race, and the Korean War, institutionalizing a global Cold War that would last for nearly half a century, destroy the Soviet Union, and cost the United States trillions of dollars. Many Progressive Party activists became special targets of domestic cold warriors. Henry Wallace retired. Senator Glen Taylor was driven out of Idaho politics largely by the actions of the state and national Democratic Party. However, the Progressive Party's militant articulation of both civil rights and women's rights issues, and its call for ending the Cold War through Soviet-American negotiations and international cooperation, raised issues that would eventually revive in the last decades of the twentieth century, often with the help of activists whose first experience in politics had been in the Progressive Party campaign.


Culver, John C. American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace. New York: Norton, 2000.

MacDougall, Curtis. Gideon's Army. 3 vols. New York: Marzani and Munsull, 1965.

Markowitz, Norman. The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism. New York: Free Press, 1973.


See alsoCold War ; New Deal ; Political Parties ; Third Parties .

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