Thomas Edmund Dewey (March 24, 1902 – March 16, 1971) was the 47th Governor of New York (1943–1954). In 1944, he was the Republican candidate for President, but lost to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the closest of Roosevelt's four presidential elections. He was again the Republican candidate in 1948, but lost to President Harry S. Truman in one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history.
As a New York City prosecutor early in his career, Dewey was relentless in his effort to curb the power of the American Mafia and of organized crime in general. Most famously, he successfully prosecuted Mafioso kingpin Charles "Lucky" Luciano on charges of compulsory prostitution in 1936. Luciano was given a thirty-year prison sentence. Dewey almost succeeded in apprehending Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz as well, but not before Schultz was murdered in 1935 in a hit ordered by The Commission itself.
Dewey led the moderate or progressive faction of the Republican Party, in which he fought conservative Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft. Dewey was an advocate for the professional and business community of the northeastern United States, which would later be called the "Eastern Establishment". This group consisted of internationalists who were in favor of the United Nations and the Cold War fight against communism and the Soviet Union, and it supported most of the New Deal social-welfare reforms enacted during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In addition he played a large part in the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as President in 1952. Dewey's successor as leader of the progressive Republicans was Nelson Rockefeller, who became governor of New York in 1959. The New York State Thruway is named in Dewey's honor.
Early life and family
Dewey was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan, where his father, George Martin Dewey, owned, edited, and published the local newspaper, the Owosso Times. His mother, Annie (Thomas), whom he called "Mater", bequeathed her son "a healthy respect for common sense and the average man or woman who possessed it. She also left a headstrong assertiveness that many took for conceit, a set of small-town values never entirely erased by exposure to the sophisticated East, and a sense of proportion that moderated triumph and eased defeat." One journalist noted that "[as a boy] he did show leadership and ambition above the average; by the time he was thirteen, he had a crew of nine other youngsters working for him" selling magazines in Owosso. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923, and from Columbia Law School in 1925. While at the University of Michigan, he joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a national fraternity for men of music, and was a member of the Men's Glee Club. 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.
On June 16, 1928, Dewey married Frances Eileen Hutt. A native of Sherman, Texas, she was a stage actress; after their marriage she dropped her acting career. They had two sons, Thomas E. Dewey Jr. and John Martin Dewey. Although Dewey served as a prosecutor and District Attorney in New York City for many years, his home from 1939 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, 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." In 1945, Dewey told a reporter that "my farm is my roots ... the heart of this nation is the rural small town." 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 an active, lifelong member of the Episcopal Church.
Dewey first served as a federal prosecutor, then started a lucrative private practice on Wall Street; however, he left his practice for an appointment as special prosecutor to look into corruption in New York City—with the official title of Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It was in this role that he first achieved headlines in the early 1930s, when he prosecuted bootlegger Waxey Gordon.
Dewey had used his excellent recall of details of crimes to trip up witnesses as a federal prosecutor; as a state prosecutor, he used telephone taps (which were perfectly legal at the time) to gather evidence, with the ultimate goal of bringing down entire criminal organizations. On that account, Dewey successfully lobbied for an overhaul in New York's criminal procedure law, which at that time required separate trials for each count of an indictment. Dewey's thoroughness and attention to detail became legendary; for one case he and his staff sifted "through 100,000 telephone slips to convict a Prohibition-era bootlegger".
Dewey rocketed to fame in 1935, when he was appointed special prosecutor in New York County (Manhattan) by Governor Herbert H. Lehman. A "runaway grand jury" had publicly complained that William C. Dodge, the District Attorney, was not aggressively pursuing the mob and political corruption. Lehman, to avoid charges of partisanship, asked four prominent Republicans to serve as special prosecutor. All four refused and recommended Dewey.
Dewey moved ahead vigorously. He recruited a staff of over 60 assistants, investigators, process servers, stenographers, and clerks. New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia assigned a picked squad of 63 police officers to Dewey's office. One writer stated that "Dewey ... put on a very impressive show. All the paraphernalia, the hideouts and tapped telephones and so on, became famous. More than any other American of his generation except [Charles] Lindbergh, Dewey became a creature of folklore and a national hero. What he appealed to most was the great American love of results. People were much more interested in his ends than in his means. Another key to all this may be expressed in a single word: honesty. Dewey was honest."
Dewey's targets were organized racketeering: the large-scale criminal enterprises, especially extortion, the "numbers game" and prostitution. He pursued Tammany Hall political leaders known for their ties to gangsters, such as James Joseph Hines.
One of his biggest prizes was gangster Dutch Schultz, whom he had battled as both a federal and state prosecutor. Schultz's first trial ended in a deadlock; prior to his second trial, Schultz had the venue moved to Malone, New York, then moved there and garnered the sympathy of the townspeople through charitable acts so that when it came time for his trial, the jury found him innocent, liking him too much to convict him.
Dewey and La Guardia threatened Schultz with instant arrest and further charges. Schultz now proposed to murder Dewey. Dewey would be killed while he made his daily morning call to his office from a pay phone near his home. However, New York crime boss Lucky Luciano and the "Mafia Commission" decided that Dewey's murder would provoke an all-out crackdown. Instead they had Schultz killed. Schultz was shot to death in the restroom of a bar in Newark.
Dewey next turned his attention to Luciano. Dewey raided 80 houses of prostitution in the New York City area and arrested hundreds of prostitutes and "madams". Many of the prostitutes – some of whom told of being beaten and abused by Mafia thugs – were willing to testify to avoid prison time. Three implicated Luciano as controller of organized prostitution in the New York/New Jersey area – one of the largest prostitution rings in American history. In the greatest victory of his legal career, Dewey won the conviction of Luciano for the prostitution racket, with a sentence of 30 to 50 years.
However, Dewey did more than simply prosecute gangsters. In 1936, Dewey helped indict and convict Richard Whitney, the former president of the New York Stock Exchange, for embezzlement. Dewey also led efforts to protect dockworkers and poultry farmers and workers from racketeering in New York. In 1936 Dewey received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York". In 1939, Dewey prosecuted American Nazi leader Fritz Julius Kuhn for embezzlement, crippling Kuhn's organization and limiting its ability to support Nazi Germany in World War II.
Manhattan District Attorney
In 1937 Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan), defeating the Democratic nominee after Dodge decided not to run for re-election. Dewey was such a popular candidate for District Attorney that "election officials in Brooklyn posted large signs at polling places reading 'Dewey Isn't Running in This County'." By the late 1930s 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", was used for the popular 1930s Gang Busters radio series based on his fight against the mob. Hollywood film studios made several movies inspired by his exploits; Marked Woman starred Humphrey Bogart as a Dewey-like DA and Bette Davis as a "party girl" whose testimony helps convict the gang boss. A popular story from the time, possibly apocryphal, featured a young girl who told her father that she wanted to sue God to stop a prolonged spell of rain. When her father replied "you can't sue God and win", the girl said "I can if Dewey is my lawyer."
Governor of New York
In 1938 Edwin Jaeckle, the New York Republican Party Chairman, selected Dewey to run for Governor of New York against the popular Democratic incumbent Herbert H. Lehman. Dewey was only 36 years of age. He based his campaign on his record as a famous prosecutor of organized-crime figures in New York City. Although he was defeated, Dewey's surprisingly strong showing against Lehman (he lost by only 1.4%) brought him national political attention and made him a front runner for the 1940 Republican presidential nomination. Jaeckle was one of Dewey's top advisors and mentors for the remainder of his political career.
In 1942 Dewey ran for governor again, and won with a large plurality over Democrat John J. Bennett Jr. Bennett was not endorsed by the American Labor Party, whose candidate drew almost 10%. The ALP did endorse incumbent Lieutenant Governor Charles Poletti who lost narrowly to Dewey's running mate Thomas W. Wallace. In 1946, Dewey was re-elected by the greatest margin in state history to that point, almost 700,000 votes. In 1950, he was elected to a third term by 572,000 votes.
Usually regarded as an honest and highly effective governor, Dewey doubled state aid to education; increased salaries for state employees; and still reduced the state's debt by over $100 million. He referred to his program as "pay-as-you-go liberalism ... government can be progressive and solvent at the same time." Additionally he put through the first state law in the country that prohibited racial discrimination in employment. As governor, Dewey signed legislation that created the State University of New York. He played a leading role in securing support and funding for the New York State Thruway, which was eventually named in his honor. Dewey also streamlined and consolidated many state agencies to make them more efficient. During the Second World War construction in New York was limited, which allowed Dewey to create a $623 million budget surplus, which he placed into his "Postwar Reconstruction Fund." The fund would eventually create 14,000 new beds in the state's mental health system, provide public housing for 30,000 families, allow for the reforestation of 34 million trees, create a water pollution program, provide slum clearance, and pay for a "model veterans' program." Shortly after becoming governor in 1943, Dewey learned that some state workers and teachers were being paid only $900 a year, leading him to give "hefty raises, some as high as 150%" to state workers and teachers. His governorship was also "friendlier by far than his [Democratic] predecessors to the private sector", as Dewey created a state Department of Commerce to "lure new businesses and tourists to the Empire State, ease the shift from wartime boom, and steer small businessmen, in particular, through the maze of federal regulation and restriction." Between 1945 and 1948, 135,000 new businesses were started in New York.
One criticism that was made of Dewey as governor lay in his treatment of New York legislators and political opponents. Dewey "cracked the whip ruthlessly on (Republican) legislators who strayed from the party fold. Assemblymen have found themselves under investigation by the State Tax Department after opposing the Governor over an insurance regulation bill. Others discover job-rich construction projects, state buildings, even highways, directed to friendlier [legislators]." Dewey "forced the legislature his own party dominates to reform its comfortable ways of payroll padding. Now legislative workers must verify in writing every two weeks what they have been doing to earn their salary; every state senator and assemblyman must verify that [they] are telling the truth. All this has occasioned more than grumbling. Some Assemblymen have quit in protest. Others have been denied renomination by Dewey's formidable political organization. Reporters mutter among themselves about government by blackmail." However, Dewey did receive positive publicity for his reputation for honesty and integrity, as he "insisted on having every prospective holder of a job paying $2,500 or more rigorously probed by state police...[Dewey] accepted no anonymous campaign contributions, and had every large contributor not known personally to him investigated for motive", and, when he signed autographs, he would date them so that no one could imply a closer relationship than actually existed.
The journalists Neal Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom summarized Dewey's governorship by writing that "for sheer administrative talent, it is difficult to think of a twentieth-century governor who has excelled Thomas E. Dewey ... hundreds of thousands of New York youngsters owe Dewey thanks for his leadership in creating a state university ... a vigorous health-department program virtually eradicated tuberculosis in New York, highway building was pushed forward, and the state's mental hygiene program was thoroughly reorganized." With Jaeckle's help, Dewey also created a powerful political organization that allowed him to dominate New York state politics and influence national politics.
During his governorship, one writer observed that "A blunt fact about Mr. Dewey should be faced: it is that many people do not like him. He is, unfortunately, one of the least seductive personalities in public life. That he has made an excellent record as governor is indisputable. Even so, people resent what they call his vindictiveness, the 'metallic' nature of his efficiency, his cockiness (which actually conceals a nature basically shy), and his suspiciousness. People say ... that he is as devoid of charm as a rivet or a lump of stone."
He also strongly supported the death penalty. During his 12 years as governor, over 90 people were electrocuted under New York authority. Among these were several of the mob-affiliated hitmen belonging to the murder-for-hire group Murder, Inc., which was headed up by major mob leaders Louis "Lepke" Buchalter and Albert Anastasia. Lepke himself went to the chair in 1944.
Dewey sought the 1940 Republican presidential nomination. He was considered the early favorite for the nomination, but his support ebbed in the late spring of 1940, as World War II suddenly became much more dangerous for America.
Some Republican leaders considered Dewey to be too young (he was only 38, just three years above the minimum age required by the US Constitution) and too inexperienced to lead the nation in wartime. Furthermore, Dewey's non-interventionist stance became problematic when Germany quickly conquered France, and seemed poised to invade Britain. As a result, many Republicans switched to Wendell Willkie, who was a decade older and supported aid to the Allies fighting Germany. Willkie lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.
Dewey's foreign-policy position evolved during the 1940s; by 1944 he was considered an internationalist and a supporter of projects such as the United Nations. It was in 1940 that Dewey first clashed with Taft. Taft—who maintained his non-interventionist views and economic conservatism to his death—became Dewey's great rival for control of the Republican Party in the 1940s and early 1950s. Dewey became the leader of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, who were based in the northeastern, Pacific Coast and western states, while Taft became the leader of conservative Republicans who dominated most of the Midwest and parts of the South.
Dewey's biographer Richard Norton Smith wrote, "For fifteen years ... these two combatants waged political warfare. Their dispute pitted East against Midwest, city against countryside, internationalist against isolationist, pragmatic liberals against principled conservatives. Each man thought himself the genuine spokesman of the future; each denounced the other as a political heretic." In a 1949 speech, Dewey criticized Taft and his followers by saying that "we have in our party some fine, high-minded patriotic people who honestly oppose farm price supports, unemployment insurance, old age benefits, slum clearance, and other social programs ... these people believe in a laissez-faire society and look back wistfully to the miscalled 'good old days' of the nineteenth century ... if such efforts to turn back the clock are actually pursued, you can bury the Republican Party as the deadest pigeon in the country." He added that people who opposed such social programs should "go out and try to get elected in a typical American community and see what happens to them. But they ought not to do it as Republicans."
However, in the speech Dewey added that the Republican Party believed in social progress "under a flourishing, competitive system of private enterprise where every human right is expanded ... we are opposed to delivering the nation into the hands of any group who will have the power to tell the American people whether they may have food or fuel, shelter or jobs." Dewey believed in what he called "compassionate capitalism", and argued that "in the modern age, man's needs include as much economic security as is consistent with individual freedom." When Taft and his supporters criticized Dewey's policies as liberal "me-tooism", or "aping the New Deal in a vain attempt to outbid Roosevelt's heirs", Dewey responded that he was following in the tradition of Republicans such as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, and that "it was conservative reforms like anti-trust laws and federal regulation of railroads ... that retained the allegiance of the people for a capitalist system combining private incentive and public conscience."
Dewey was the frontrunner for the 1944 Republican nomination. In April 1944 he won the key Wisconsin primary, where he defeated Wendell Willkie, former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, and General Douglas MacArthur. Willkie's poor showing in Wisconsin forced him to quit the race. At the 1944 Republican Convention, Dewey's chief rivals—Stassen and Ohio Governor John W. Bricker—both withdrew and Dewey was nominated almost unanimously. Dewey then made Bricker (who was supported by Taft) his running mate. This made Dewey the first presidential candidate to be born in the 20th century. As of 2016, he was also the youngest Republican presidential nominee.
In the general election campaign, Dewey crusaded against the alleged inefficiencies, corruption and Communist influences in incumbent President Roosevelt's New Deal programs, but avoided military and foreign policy debates.
Dewey lost the election on November 7, 1944 to President Roosevelt. However, he polled 45.9% of the popular vote compared to Roosevelt's 53.4%, a stronger showing against FDR than any previous Republican opponent. However, Dewey received slightly fewer votes (22 million to FDR's 25 million) in total than Willkie did four years before. In the Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Dewey by a margin of 432 to 99.
Dewey nearly included, in his campaign, claims that Roosevelt knew ahead of time about the attack on Pearl Harbor; Dewey added, "and instead of being re-elected he should be impeached." The U.S. military was extremely worried because that would let the Japanese know that the U.S. had broken the Purple code. Army General George C. Marshall made a persistent effort to persuade Dewey not to touch this topic; Dewey eventually yielded.
Dewey 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. His running mate was California governor Earl Warren. The Chicago Daily Tribune printed "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" as its post-election headline, issuing 150,000 copies before the returns showed 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 to win was to avoid making any major mistakes, 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.
Part of the reason Dewey ran such a cautious, vague campaign came from his experience as a presidential candidate in 1944. In that election, Dewey felt that he had allowed 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. Near the end of the campaign, Dewey considered adopting a more aggressive style and responding directly to Truman's criticisms, going so far as to tell his aides one evening that he wanted to "tear to shreds" a speech draft and make it more critical of the Democratic ticket. However, nearly all of his major advisors – including Edwin Jaeckle, Press Secretary James Hagerty, and aide Paul Lockwood – insisted that it would be a mistake to change tactics. Dewey's wife Frances strongly opposed her husband changing tactics, telling him, "If I have to stay up all night to see that you don't tear up that speech [draft], I will." Dewey relented and continued to ignore Truman's attacks and to focus on positive generalities instead of issue specifics.
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 Taft and his conservatives for the nomination at the Republican Convention. Taft had remained a non-interventionist 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". Dewey has been the only Republican to be nominated for President twice and lose both times.
Dewey did not run for President in 1952, but he played a major role in securing the Republican nomination for General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 1952 campaign culminated in a climactic moment in the fierce rivalry between Dewey and Taft for control of the Republican Party.
Dewey played a key role in convincing Eisenhower to run against Taft. When Eisenhower became a candidate Dewey used his powerful political machine to win Eisenhower the support of delegates in New York and elsewhere.
Taft was an announced candidate and, given his age, he freely admitted 1952 would be his last chance to win the presidency. At the Republican Convention, pro-Taft delegates and speakers verbally attacked Dewey as the real power behind Eisenhower, but Dewey had the satisfaction of seeing Eisenhower win the nomination and end Taft's presidential hopes for the last time.
Dewey 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 became leading figures in the Eisenhower Administration. Among them were Herbert Brownell, who would become Eisenhower's Attorney General, James Hagerty, who would become White House Press Secretary, and John Foster Dulles, who would become Eisenhower's Secretary of State.
Dewey's third term as governor of New York expired at the end of 1954, 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; Eisenhower 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 Eisenhower 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 ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign against Democrat John F. Kennedy.
By the 1960s, as the conservative wing assumed more and more power within the Republican Party, 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 GOP Convention in San Francisco; it was the first Republican Convention he had missed since 1936. President Lyndon Johnson offered Dewey a number of positions on several blue ribbon commissions, as well as a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, but Dewey declined them all, for he preferred to remain in political retirement and concentrate on his highly profitable law firm. By the early 1960s Dewey's law practice had made him into a multimillionaire.
Although closely identified with the Republican Party for virtually his entire adult life, Dewey was a close friend of Democratic Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, and Dewey aided Humphrey in being named as the Democratic nominee for vice-president in 1964, advising Lyndon Johnson on ways to block efforts at the party convention by Kennedy loyalists to stampede Robert Kennedy onto the ticket as Johnson's running mate.
Dewey's wife Frances died in the summer of 1970, after battling breast cancer for six years. Later in 1970 Dewey began to date actress Kitty Carlisle, and there was talk of marriage between them. However, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack on March 16, 1971, while vacationing with friend Dwayne Andreas in Miami, Florida, following a round of golf with Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski. He was 68 years old, dying eight days before his 69th birthday. Following a public memorial service at Saint James' Episcopal Church in New York City, which was attended by President Richard Nixon, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and other prominent politicians, Dewey was buried next to his wife Frances 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.
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. 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."
Generally Dewey received varied reactions from the public, most praising his good intentions, honesty, administrative talents, and vague yet inspiring speeches, but most also criticizing his perceived stiffness, coldness, and aggressiveness in public. One of his biographers wrote that he had "a personality that attracted contempt and adulation in equal proportion." His friend and neighbor Lowell Thomas believed that Dewey was "an authentic colossus" whose "appetite for excellence [tended] to frighten less obsessive types", and his 1948 running mate, California governor and future Chief Justice Earl Warren, "professed little personal affection for Dewey, but [believed] him a born executive who would make a great president." On the other hand, President Franklin D. Roosevelt privately called Dewey "the little man" and a "son of a bitch", and to Robert Taft and other conservative Republicans Dewey "became synonymous with ... New York newspapers, New York banks, New York arrogance – the very city Taft's America loves to hate." A Taft supporter once referred to Dewey as "that snooty little governor of New York."
Dewey alienated former Republican president Herbert Hoover, who confided to a friend "Dewey has no inner reservoir of knowledge on which to draw for his thinking," elaborating that "A man couldn't wear a mustache like that without having it affect his mind." However, the famed newspaper editor William Allen White praised Dewey as "an honest cop with the mind of an honest cop" and the pollster George Gallup once stated that Dewey was "the ablest public figure of his lifetime ... the most misunderstood man in recent American history."
His presidential campaigns were hampered by Dewey's habit of making overly vague statements, defining his strategy as not being "prematurely specific" on controversial issues. In 1948, President Truman poked fun at Dewey's vague campaign by joking that the GOP (Republican Party) actually stood for "grand old platitudes." Dewey's frequent refusal to discuss specific issues and proposals in his campaigns was based partly on his belief in public opinion polls; one biographer claimed that he "had an almost religious belief in the revolutionary science of public-opinion sampling." He was the first presidential candidate to employ his own team of pollsters, and when a worried businessman told Dewey in the 1948 presidential campaign that he was losing ground to Truman and urged him to "talk specifics in his closing speeches", Dewey and his aide Paul Lockwood displayed polling data that showed Dewey still well ahead of Truman, and Dewey told the businessman "when you're leading, don't talk."
In 1940, Walter Lippman regarded him as an opportunist, who "changes his views from hour to hour… always more concerned with taking the popular position than he is in dealing with the real issues." The journalist John Gunther wrote that "There are plenty of vain and ambitious and uncharming politicians. This would not be enough to cause Dewey's lack of popularity. What counts more is that so many people think of him as opportunistic. Dewey seldom goes out on a limb by taking a personal position which may be unpopular ... every step is carefully calculated and prepared." Adding to that, he had a tendency towards pomposity and was considered stiff and unapproachable in public, with his aide Ruth McCormick Simms once describing him as "cold, cold as a February iceberg". She however added that "he was brilliant and thoroughly honest." Leo O'Brien, a reporter for the United Press International (UPI), recalled Dewey in an interview by saying that "I hated his guts when he first came to Albany, and I loved him by the time he left. It was almost tragic – how he put on a pose that alienated people. Behind a pretty thin veneer he was a wonderful guy." John Gunther wrote in 1947 that some "people may not "like" Dewey, but (a) an inner core of advisers and friends, including some extremely distinguished people, have a loyalty to him little short of idolatrous, and (b) he is one of the greatest vote-getters in the history of the nation."
Journalist Irwin Ross summed up the contradictions in Dewey's personality by noting that "more than most politicians, he displayed an enormous gap between his private and his public manner. To friends and colleagues he was warm and gracious, considerate of others' views… He could tell a joke and was not dismayed by an off-color story. In public, however, he tended to freeze up, either out of diffidence or too stern a sense of the dignity of office. The smiles would seem forced… the glad-handing gesture awkward."
In 1964, the New York State legislature officially renamed the New York State Thruway in honor of Dewey. Signs on Interstate 95 between the end of the Bruckner Expressway (in the Bronx) and the Connecticut state line, as well as on the Thruway mainline (Interstate 87 between the Bronx-Westchester line and Albany, and Interstate 90 between Albany and the New York-Pennsylvania line) designate the name as Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway, though this official designation is rarely used in reference to these roads.
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 & LeBoeuf 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.
In May 2012, Dewey & LeBoeuf (the successor firm to Dewey Ballantine) filed for bankruptcy.
- The Case Against the New Deal (1940) Harper & Bros., New York
- Journey to the Far Pacific (1952) Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY.
- Twenty Against the Underworld (1974) Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY