1948 Election

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One 60-minute class period
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will work with the party platforms for the four major parties participating in the Election of 1948 (Democratic, Republican, States' Rights Democratic, and Progressive parties).

In this lesson, students will work with the party platforms for the four major parties participating in the Election of 1948 (Democratic, Republican, States’ Rights Democratic, and Progressive parties).  The students will use questions to determine the position each party took on a variety of issues, and then compare and contrast the platforms to come to an understanding of the issues facing the United States in this pivotal election.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

In each presidential election year, political parties determine their platforms and disseminate them to the public to present the party’s vision of what the United States should become.  By analyzing the platforms from the Election of 1948, the students will be able to draw conclusions about how the party platforms shaped the events of the early Cold War period.  This, in turn, should make the students more comfortable in critically analyzing today’s party platforms in order to become informed citizens and voters.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • critically analyze one of the four party platforms used during the Election of 1948.
  • compare and contrast the four party platforms in a group discussion.
  • draw conclusions about the purpose and goals behind each party platform to discern each party’s ultimate goal in the Election of 1948.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards  – U.S. History, Benchmark 3, Indicator 3 (High School)
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – U.S. History, Benchmark 3, Indicator 5 (High School)
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – U.S. History, Benchmark 5, Indicator 3 (High School)
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – Civics & Government, Benchmark 4, Indicator 1 (High School)

Missouri Standards 

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Survey U.S. History II – The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century (McDougal Littell), Chapter 18, Section 1 “Origins of the Cold War” (pp. 602-608) and Chapter 19, Section 1 “Postwar America” (pp. 634-639)
  • AP U.S. History II – The American Nation: A History of the United States, 11th edition (Longman), Chapter 29 “The American Century” (pp. 761-772)
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Party platforms for each of the four parties fielding a major candidate in the Election of 1948 – The platforms for the Democratic, Republican and States’ Rights Democratic parties can be obtained online at the website of The American Presidency Project (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/).  Click on the  “Documents” link at the top right of the home page, and then click on “Party Platforms” under the Document Archive section on the left side of the webpage.  The platform of the Progressive party has been attached to this lesson plan.  It was excerpted from the New York Times publication of the Progressive Party platform on July 25, 1948.

Technology Required

Whiteboard and markers

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  1. This lesson fits in the middle of the unit on the early Cold War.  The students will have already discussed the post-World War II economic situation in the United States and will have also studied the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine.
  2. For homework the night before, the students will review the information in Chapter 18, Section 1 and Chapter 19, Section 1 (for Survey U.S. History) or for Chapter 29, pp. 761-772 (AP U.S. History).
  3. Randomly distribute the platforms of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Progressive Party.  Have the students form groups based upon which platform they hold.  Give each group time to read their assigned platform.  Then, as a group, have the students answer the following questions:
    1. How does this party address the issue of civil rights?  Give 2 examples.
    2. What foreign policy issues are important to this party?  Give 4 examples.
    3. What domestic policy issues are important to this party?  Give 4 examples.
    4. How does this party respond to communism?  Give 2 examples.
  4. Each group should select 2 members to place their answers to the questions on the whiteboard.  Once the details of each platform have been placed on the board, lead the students in a discussion comparing and contrasting the three platforms.  Encourage the students to look for similarities and differences, especially with regard to civil rights and communism.
  5. Once the class has adequately compared the 3 platforms, distribute one copy of the States’ Rights Democratic Party platform to each student.  Read the platform together, as it is significantly shorter than the other platforms.  Together, discuss the four questions mentioned above, and compare this platform with the other three.
  6. Ask the class to think about the following questions: “What role did each party expect to play in the Election of 1948?  Did the party expect to win or was their primary role that of a spoiler?  How do you know this?”  Allow for discussion on these questions.
  7. For AP U.S. History: Follow all of the above steps, except for the beginning of step 3.  I will distribute all four platforms to my AP students 2-3 days ahead of time, and expect each student to have read each platform before class.  They should be prepared to discuss all 4 platforms in detail.  When the students arrive in class, they will be divided into 4 groups and immediately address the 4 questions mentioned in step 3 above.


Excerpt from the Progressive Party Platform – Election of 1948 

Source:  “Text of the Platform as Approved for Adoption Today by the Progressive Party,” New York Times, July 25, 1948

Peace, Freedom and Abundance Preamble

Three years after the end of the second World War the drums are beating for a third.  Civil liberties are being destroyed.  Millions cry out for relief from unbearably high prices.  The American way of life is in danger.

The root cause of this crisis is big business control of our economy and government.

With toil and enterprise the American people have created from their rich resources the world’s greatest productive machine.  This machine no longer belongs to the people.

Never before have so few owned so much at the expense of so many.

Ten years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned: The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state.  That, in its essence, is fascism.

Today that private power has constituted itself an invisible government which pulls the strings of its puppet Republican and Democratic parties.  Two sets of candidates compete for votes under the outworn emblems of the old parties.  But both represent a single program – a program of monopoly profits through war preparations, lower living standards and suppression of dissent.

Leaders of the Past Invoked

For generations the common man of America has resisted this concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few.  The greatest of America’s political leaders have led the people into battle against the money power, the railroads, the tr