Thomas E. Dewey Biography

Thomas Edmund Dewey was a noted American lawyer, prosecutor, and politician. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family, personal life, achievements, and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: March 24, 1902

Nationality: American

Famous: Lawyers Political Leaders

Died At Age: 68

Sun Sign: Aries

Also Known As: Thomas Edmund Dewey

Born Country: United States

Born in: Owosso, Michigan, US

Famous as: Former Governor of New York


Spouse/Ex-: Frances Hutt

father: George Martin Dewey

mother: Annie (Thomas)

Died on: March 16, 1971

U.S. State: Michigan

More Facts

education: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (BA), Columbia University (JD)

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Thomas Edmund Dewey was a noted American lawyer, prosecutor, and politician. He served as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and as 33rd District Attorney of New York County. He gained nationwide attention for his relentless effort in prosecuting American Mafia and criminals. He prosecuted Mafioso kingpin Charles "Lucky" Luciano on forced prostitution charges. The latter was slapped with a thirty-year prison sentence. Dewey’s successful racket-busting career helped him win three terms as Governor of New York. A seasoned Republican Party member, Dewey was the party’s nominee for President in 1944 and 1948, but he lost on both occasions. He played instrumental role in getting Dwight D. Eisenhower the Republican presidential nomination in 1952, and also helped the latter in his landslide victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson II, thus ending a two decade long winning spree of the Democratic Party. Dewey remained a leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party.

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Childhood & Early Life
Career as Prosecutor
  • Initially Dewey worked as federal prosecutor and thereafter as private practice lawyer on Wall Street before being inducted as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Delegated to investigate corruption in New York, Dewey made headlines for the first time in the early 1930s when he prosecuted and convicted well-known American gangster, bootlegger and illegal gambler Waxey Gordon on tax evasion charges.
  • He rose to prominence after Governor Herbert H. Lehman made him special prosecutor in New York County (Manhattan) in 1935. Dewey forged ahead and targeted organised racketeering inducting over 60 personnel including investigators, assistants, clerks, process servers and stenographers for such endeavour.
  • He led two tax evasion trials against New York City-area mobster Dutch Schultz. Weakened by such moves, Schultz, whose rackets were also facing threats from mafioso kingpin Charles "Lucky" Luciano, sought permission from the governing body of the American Mafia to kill Dewey, but the Commission turned him down. Schultz was later shot to death by order of the Commission in October 1935 after he defied their orders and attempted to kill Dewey.
  • Dewey conducted years of investigation on Luciano, the notorious Italian-born mobster and founder of the first Commission who was regarded as father of modern organized crime in the US. Dewey prosecuted the latter in 1936 on charges of forced prostitution. Luciano was given a prison sentence of 30 years in what is considered the greatest feat of Dewey in his legal career.
  • Dewey and his team joined hands with New York City police and busted several rackets including poultry racket, restaurant racket and numbers racket conducting raids and arresting 65 leading racket operators of New York. His feats against organised crime garnered him spotlight as a national celebrity earning him the nickname “Gangbuster” while his remarkable contributions to the New York City led Dewey to receive Gold Medal Award from ‘The Hundred Year Association of New York’ in 1936.
  • He became 33rd District Attorney of New York County on January 1, 1938, and held office till December 31, 1941. He continued his crusade against organised crime in such new role and joined hands with his staff to form new bureaus for Juvenile Detention, Rackets and Frauds.
  • He succeeded in prosecuting and convicting American financier and former president of the New York Stock Exchange Richard Whitney for embezzlement; prosecuting James Joseph Hines, Democratic Party politician and Tammany Hall political boss on 13 counts of racketeering; and convicting Fritz Julius Kuhn, an American Nazi leader, for embezzlement.
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As 47th Governor of New York
  • Dewey was a member of the Republican Party all through his life. He remained a worker of the party in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s and was later elevated as Chair of the New York Young Republican Club. He became 47th Governor of New York on January 1, 1943, and was re-elected in 1946 and 1950. He held the post for over a decade till December 31, 1954.
  • Dewey was by far considered a highly effective governor, known for his honesty and integrity. As governor, Dewey took several initiatives including raising salary of state employees and doubling state aid for education while lowering debt of the state by more than $100 million thus proving his point that a progressive government can also be solvent. A state law forbidding racial bias in employment, the first of its kind in the country, was put into effect by him.
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  • He signed legislation and established the State University of New York in 1948. He was instrumental in garnering support and fund for the New York State Thruway. It was officially renamed by the New York State Legislature later in 1964 as the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway in his honour.
  • Dewey was strongly in favour of death penalty. His tenure as governor saw electrocution of over 90 people including many mob-affiliated hitmen from the Mafia hit squad Murder, Inc. Its head Louis "Lepke" Buchalter was also electrocuted using the Old Sparky electric chair.
Republican Presidential Nomination
  • A few months before opening of the 1940 Republican National Convention, Dewey was considered one of the three leading candidates for Republican presidential nomination. However as Second World War started posing threat for America in late spring that year, many Republicans withdrew support for Dewey’s candidature considering him too young and inexperienced and switched to Wendell Willkie. The latter however lost to incumbent Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election.
  • Dewey then thrived in becoming the Republican candidate during 1944 and 1948 presidential elections but lost to incumbent Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and incumbent Democratic President Harry S. Truman respectively.
  • In 1952, he played instrumental role in garnering General Dwight D. Eisenhower the Republican presidential nomination and in selection of California Senator Richard Nixon for Republican vice-presidential nomination. He also helped Eisenhower in winning the 1952 United States presidential election. After Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States, several close aides and advisors of Dewey including Herbert Brownell and John Foster Dulles were given prominent positions in the Eisenhower Administration.
Family & Personal Life
  • Dewey married stage actress Frances Eileen Hutt on June 16, 1928. Frances gave up her acting career after marriage and had two sons with Dewey, Thomas E. Dewey Jr. and John Martin Dewey.
  • Dewey had a large farm ‘Dapplemere,’ around 105 km away from New York City. He loved to live there, so much so that for years he would work vigorously for 5 days a week in New York City and travel to spend the weekends in Dapplemere. It remained his home from 1939 till his death.
  • He remained an active member of the Episcopal Church all through his life. He authored the books ‘The Case Against the New Deal’ (1940), ‘Journey to the Far Pacific’ (1952), and ‘Twenty Against the Underworld’ (published posthumously, 1974).
  • His wife succumbed to breast cancer in July 1970, and according to reports Dewey started dating actress Kitty Carlisle around autumn that year. They planned to get married, but before things could materialise, Dewey died of a massive heart attack on March 16, 1971, in Miami, Florida, US.
  • Dewey’s public memorial service was held at Saint James' Episcopal Church in New York City with imminent personalities, including the then US President Richard Nixon, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in attendance.
  • Dewey was interred beside his wife in the town cemetery of Pawling, New York.
  • Following his death, Dapplemere was sold. It was renamed as ‘Dewey Lane Farm’ after him. An award was named after him by the New York City Bar Association in 2005.

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