On Nov. 2, 1948, the buck didn’t stop here, but it did sleep in Excelsior Springs

By Linda Emley

Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. So why is it always on a Tuesday? It was originally created so no one would need to travel or vote on a Sunday. This was necessary because some times people had to travel many miles to reach their polling location.

The first presidential election was on Jan. 7, 1789 and was the only presidential election to take place in a year that was not a multiple of four. In this first election, each member of the Electoral College got two votes and voted for who they wanted to be president. No one voted for a vice president because the candidate with the most votes was president and the person with the second most votes became vice president. This was changed in 1804 with the ratification of the 12th Amendment.

Today, in order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538. I’m one of those people who doesn‘t like the fact that “we the people” don’t really get to elect our president. It’s a strange concept that the “Electoral College” gets to take our votes and cast them how they feel is best, but it’s claimed that 99 percent of the time the Electoral College votes how the actual voters did. This system isn’t fool-proof, however, as was witnessed in the president elections of 1878, 1888 and 2000, where we elected a president that didn’t get the most actual votes.

In the early elections, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. In 1869, the 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to black men. Women were the next to get the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was added in 1920. Most native Americans didn’t get the right to vote until 1924.

Ray County set up four voting precincts in 1821 and then reduced it to just two townships before the election of 1822. On the first Monday in August 1822, an election was held at the homes of Andrew Turpin and John Shields. It was a common practice to hold elections in a home, bar or some other local gathering location. In Camden, a garment factory was once used for a election.

In 1823, an Irishman named Patrick Darcey became the first naturalized U.S. citizen in Ray County to get the right to vote. According to the 1881 Ray County History book, “And so, an ‘exile of Erin’ was the first foreigner to become a naturalized citizen of Ray. We presume he made a worthy citizen, and a useful member of society. If a true representative of the Emerald Isle, we know he paid his debts and his taxes, and was brave, generous, and unselfish.”

Darcey was later appointed road overseer, and in 1831 he served as county collector.

One of my favorite elections was held on Nov. 2, 1948, when America cast its votes and elected Harry Truman president. He had been serving in this office since April 12, 1945 due to Rossevelt’s death. Harry covered many miles before he left the oval office on Jan. 20, 1953.

The Chicago Daily Tribune headline on Nov. 3, 1948 jumped the gun by announced “Dewey Defeats Truman,” but the Richmond News headline had it right: “TRUMAN IN AS PRESIDENT – SMITH VICTOR.

“The man from Missouri, who was almost not nominated at the Democratic convention, won the race by himself, fighting for victory when all the experts laughed at his efforts to do the impossible. Control of both the Senate and the House went to the Democrats.”

In Ray County’s 24 precincts, Truman carried 4,627 votes and Dewey got 2,089 votes. On the local front, Ray County voted 1,837 to 1,635 to separate the offices of circuit clerk and recorder of deeds.

Did you ever wonder what Truman did on the night before his election? Well, according the Richmond News he spoke at a Shriner’s convention in Kansas City. “Thirteen Ray Countians went to Kansas City Monday, where they were initiated into the Shrine organization. Following the ceremony they heard an address by President Harry S. Truman. The following men from Ray County were in a class of over 750 initiates: Roscoe Taylor, James Manley, Clifford Mohn, Eugene Harrison, William Shiner, Charles Woods, Jack Macey, Earl Keyes, Harold Whitmer, Verne Wilson and David Thompson of Richmond, William Strother of Rayville and John Wright of Hardin.”

Harry Truman didn’t spend election night in Independence. He got out of the city and went to Excelsior Springs and got a room at the Elms Hotel. The Truman Library Web site has a story that tells it as follows: “On the afternoon of election day, Nov. 2, 1948, President Truman slipped away from his home in Independence in a Secret Service car and went to the Elms Hotel. He checked into room 300. He had a ham and cheese sandwich in his room and went to bed at 9 o’clock. He told the Secret Service to wake him up if anything important happened. Almost everyone expected Thomas Dewey to be elected President that night. But at about 4 a.m., the Secret Service got Truman up and told him that, according to reports on the radio, he was winning. “We’ve got ’em beat,” Truman said. (David McCullough, author of the biography “Truman,” drew the comment from an interview with Secret Service Agent Jim Rowley.)

Once Truman realized that he had won the election, he went to Kansas City, where the now famous picture was taken of him holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune that proclaimed Dewey the winner.

An important piece of Truman history has been loaned to the Ray County Museum and will be on display in our showcase at the Ray County Courthouse starting Nov. 1. We are excited to share the U.S. flag that was flying over the Elms Hotel on Nov. 2, 1948 as Harry S. Truman slept in room 300. Coming next is the story about this flag and some other related items on display in the showcase.

You’ll also hear the story about the political rally that was held at our courthouse on Monday evening Nov. 1, 1948. It’s a story like no other because of an earth-shattering event that took place as a crowd of several hundred people gathered to support the future governor, Forrest Smith.

With only a few days left before our next election, I’d like to take a minute and encourage everyone to vote and be a part of the election process. We need to vote wisely for the person that will represent us the best as they take on the duty of serving the people.

As Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

We need to start working together so we can once again become one nation under God and not let political party differences affect our future.


Have a story or some historical memorabilia to share with Linda? You can contact her at or see her in person at Ray County Museum during business hours.


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