Log In

Thomas Edmund Dewey Edit Profile

Lawyer , politician , Prosecutor

Thomas Dewey was a vigorous American prosecuting attorney whose successful racket-busting career won him three terms as governor of New York (1943–55). A longtime Republican leader, he was his party’s presidential nominee in 1944 and 1948 but lost in both elections.


Dewey was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan, where his father, George Martin Dewey, owned, edited, and published the local newspaper, the Owosso Times.


Dewey graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923 and received a law degree from Columbia University in 1925.


Dewey was admitted to the New York bar in 1926 and began practicing law in New York City. In January 1931 he was appointed chief assistant to George Z. Medalie, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. For the next two years he prosecuted rackets. Upon the retirement of Medalie in the fall of 1933 Dewey succeeded to his position and continued his successful prosecution of racketeers, among them several notorious beer runners who, during the prohibition era, had risen to positions of power in the underworld. Because of the difficulty of obtaining acceptable legal evidence of law violation and racketeering, often the only means of obtaining conviction was through trial for income-tax evasion. Dewey returned briefly to his private law practice in 1934, but in 1935 he was appointed special prosecutor for a two-year investigation of organized crime and soon gained a national reputation for his successful campaigns against narcotics and vice racketeers.

In 1937 Dewey was elected district attorney of New York County, and in 1938 made his first race for governor of New York, losing by only 64,000 votes in a total of 5,000,000 cast. In 1940 he was a candidate for the presidential nomination, but lost to Wendell L. Willkie. In 1942 he was elected governor of New York. He made a creditable record for economy and efficiency in the state administration. In 1944 Dewey received the Republican presidential nomination and ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was seeking a fourth term. Dewey lost to Roosevelt, but received the largest popular vote cast for a Republican presidential candidate in 16 years. In 1946 and again in 1950 he was re-elected governor of New York.

Dewey was again nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in 1948 to run against President Harry S. Truman. He made an energetic campaign, visiting and speaking in all parts of the country, but did not come out forcibly either for or against the important issues. Although many had predicted that he would win, Dewey received only 189 electoral votes to Truman's 303. Before his re-election as governor of New York State in 1950, Dewey disclaimed any presidential aspirations for 1952. He recommended the Republican nomination of Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom he actively campaigned in 1952. Declining to seek reelection as governor in 1954, Dewey entered private law practice in New York City. In 1969 he declined President Richard M. Nixon's offer to appoint him chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Dewey first came to nationwide attention as the "gangbuster", becoming a household name in the U.S. 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 with the war in Europe intensifying, he was widely considered too young and inexperienced for the presidency and lost the nomination to Wendell Willkie. His visibility propelled him to the governorship in 1942 and the 1944 Republican presidential nomination. Dewey was a forceful and inspiring speaker, traveling the whole country during his presidential campaigns and attracting uncommonly huge crowds.

During the 1944 election campaign, Dewey suffered an unexpected blow when a remark attributed to 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. Several commentators and analysts in 1948 attributed the falloff in Dewey's popularity late in his presidential campaign, in part, to his distinctive mustache and resemblance to actor Clark Gable, which was said to raise doubts with voters as to the seriousness of Dewey as prospective leader of the Free World.[89] Roger Masters, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, wrote: "The shaved face has become a reflection of the Protestant ethic. Politicians are supposed to control nature in some sense, so beards and mustaches, which imply a reluctance to control nature, are now reserved for artisans or academics."[89][b] Dewey grew his mustache when he was dating Frances, and because "she liked it, the mustache stayed, to delight cartoonists and dismay political advisers for twenty years."


Frances Eileen Hutt


  • Thomas E. Dewey and His Times This is the first full-scale biography of Thomas E. Dewey - the famous gangbuster of the thirties, twice candidate for president, a maker of the modern Republican party, the key behind-the-scenes strategist of both Dwight Eisenhower's and Richard Nixon's Presidential nominations. On whatever level he acted, Thomas Dewey made government work, as he made the judicial system work when, as the famous New York district attorney, he rounded up the city's most powerful and infamous gangsters. He was ruthless as well as imaginative, ambitious as well as able. Dewey's record deserves to be known and his personality explored. Richard N. Smith has done both, against the backdrop of the political and economic desperation that launched Dewey to national prominence while he was still in his early thirties. Thomas E. Dewey and His Times profiles the system as well as a man who worked within it. Dewey was a creative adapter and his achievements and his failures say a great deal about the appeal of men "who get things done."