Joe Martin on Election Night, 1946

The United States elections of 1946 were quietly pivotal. In the first election after World War II, incumbent Democrats suffered large losses, losing the majority they had in both chambers of Congress since 1932. The Republican wave reflected the public backlash against President Truman for the post-war economic hardships. Notable newcomers to the Congress this year included two future presidents (Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy) and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Thomas Dewey’s re-election as Governor of New York would help him earn the 1948 Republican nomination for president.

A memorable photo of the election night ’46 was that of Joseph W. Martin, congressman from Massachusetts, who would become the Speaker if the Republicans were to retake the House in 1946. Life magazine photographer Allan Grant knew this, and carefully prepped a shot. When the call that the Republicans have retaken the congress came through to Martin in his newspaper office, the moment was captured by Grant in what many considered one of the finest political studies of all time. The “movie still” clarity and the Norman Rockwell style composition of the photograph were the results of Grant’s tenacious planning, lighting and arranging.

LIFE magazine was impressed and the picture was spread across two pages in the November 18, 1946 issue.  Within six weeks Allan Grant was made a permanent member of the prestigious LIFE photographic staff, a mere 18 months after Grant started photographing. 

Martin was the publisher of The Evening Chronicle in Massachusetts and served in the House of Representatives since 1925. He was a major opponent of FDR’s policies and was the Chairman of RNC during the war. He served in Congress for forty-two years and was twice Speaker of the House. Between 1931 – 1995, a period of sixty-four years, there was only one Republican Speaker: Joe Martin.

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