FDR Nominated for Third Term

FDR Nominated for Third Term

On July 18, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America’s 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedented third term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms.

READ MORE: How FDR Served Four Terms as U.S. President

Roosevelt was born January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to serve as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, assistant secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920 and governor of New York from 1929 to 1932. In 1932, he defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover to be elected president for the first time. During his first term, Roosevelt enacted his New Deal social programs, which were aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression. In 1936, he won his second term in office by defeating Kansas governor Alf Landon in a landslide.

On July 18, 1940, Roosevelt was nominated for a third presidential term at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago. The president received some criticism for running again because there was an unwritten rule in American politics that no U.S. president should serve more than two terms. The custom dated back to the country’s first president, George Washington, who in 1796 declined to run for a third term in office. Nevertheless, Roosevelt believed it was his duty to continue serving and lead his country through the mounting crisis in Europe, where Hitler’s Nazi Germany was on the rise. The president went on to defeat Republican Wendell Wilkie in the general election, and his third term in office was dominated by America’s involvement in World War II.

READ MORE: FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

In 1944, with the war still in progress, Roosevelt defeated New York governor Thomas Dewey for a fourth term in office. However, the president was unable to complete the full term. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt, who had suffered from various health problems for years, died at age 63 in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was succeeded by Vice President Harry S. Truman. On March 21, 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated that no person could be elected to the office of president more than twice. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states in 1951.

FDR Nominated for Third Term - HISTORY

“Happy Days are Here Again,” announced Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s song. as he took over the presidency and the Great Depression. Immediately, Roosevelt rolled up his figurative sleeves and went to work, drafting his New Deal legislation to help the unemployed find work, the working to unionize for better conditions, and everyone, regardless of creed or color, benefit from his Social Security program – and that was just his first two terms. As the Nazis were gaining power in Germany, FDR started making the case that the circumstances of the world were so extraordinary as to dictate a third term.

On this day, July 18, in 1940, the Democratic party nominated Roosevelt for a third term, the first — and only — time in history such an event occurred. No president, not even George Washington, who was publicly enjoined to run for a third term, served more than two yet no constitutional amendment existed yet to bar it.

Roosevelt argued only he had the requisite experience to deal with the Nazi menace, but even many of his supporters disagreed with his decision to run. His opponent in the general election Wendell Wilkie made much of the third-term run, but ultimately lost the vote to FDR 54% to 44%.


On July 18 in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America’s 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedented third term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms.

Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to serve as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, assistant secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920 and governor of New York from 1929 to 1932. In 1932, he defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover to be elected president for the first time. During his first term, Roosevelt enacted his New Deal social programs, which were aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression. In 1936, he won his second term in office by defeating Kansas governor Alf Landon in a landslide.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term and the voice from the sewer

In the first half of 1940 only one question mattered in American politics. Would Franklin D. Roosevelt break with tradition and run for a third term as President of the United States? The New York Times proclaimed it as ‘the all-absorbing political riddle’.

Roosevelt kept the country guessing right up until the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in July 1940. On the second day of the convention, a message from FDR was read out.

It announced that the President had no desire to continue in office or to be nominated for election. It produced a stunned and shocked silence.

Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by a voice thundering over the loudspeakers.

But did the President want a third term?

Breaking the example of the Cincinnatus of the West

In March 1797, George Washington left the President’s House in Philadelphia. He had completed his second term in office and was retiring to his beloved Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

The first President of the United States was so popular he could have held the office for life.

Instead, he became the Cincinnatus of the West. Like his Roman precursor, Washington voluntarily gave up powerful military commands and political prizes and became a role model for the fledgling republic.

A precedent was set. Presidents would limit themselves to two terms in office. It was a powerful tradition and its power helps to explains the contortions that Roosevelt and the Democratic Party went through in 1940 as they prepared to break it.

Roosevelt was first elected to the White House in 1932. His second term was won in the Presidential election of 1936. By 1940, he had served two terms. So, what would FDR do next?

The world wants Roosevelt

He had never seen so many people in a single place. He’d been told that there would be more than twenty thousand attending the convention. That was more than the entire population of his home town. Hell, it was more than the entire population of the county.

Chicago didn’t phase him – he’d spent plenty of time in New York City. But this crowd, well, that was something else.

Wherever he looked, there was a mass of people. Row upon row of tiered seating ringed the convention floor, rising steeply towards a ceiling decked with the stars and stripes and patriotic bunting. Each of the balconies was dressed, so that continuous ribbons of red, white and blue stretched around the stadium.

He stood with his state delegation, clustered around the simple white placard that announced NEW YORK. Thrust into the air on a black pole, it joined the 47 other state banners that waved and jostled in a curious continental joust.

There was only one thing that people were talking about. Would he run for a third term? Around him, he heard passionate arguments in favour of Roosevelt and the occasional denunciation of FDR.

But they hadn’t heard anything from the man himself.

He’d heard rumours that the President didn’t want the nomination. Some said that he was tired, others that he was ill. Some suggested that he wouldn’t dare break the tradition set by the great George Washington.

But would he really leave office in the middle of such a crisis?

Europe’s war was coming closer to home. The Atlantic didn’t seem nearly wide enough with Hitler in control of so much the other side of the Pond. He had spent much of the overnight train journey over engrossed in newspaper reports of the fall of France and the air war with England.

Chicago had seemed muted. There was far less of the razzmatazz that he’d expected from the Democratic National Convention.

The sombre atmosphere continued inside. After the first day, the local newspaper had written that the delegates were drafting Roosevelt with all of the enthusiasm of a chain gang.

By the time he had found a place on the floor, the hall was waiting for the next speaker. Senator Barkley delivered a barnstorming speech that sent a shiver of pride down his spine. All around him, delegates stomped their feed and cheered. A passing mention of the President’s name sent the crowd into a frenzy. For almost an hour, the delegates shouted, screamed and roared, leaving his ears ringing and his senses reeling.

The Kentucky Senator finally quietened the room by announcing that he had a message to deliver from the President. By the time he reached his conclusion, many delegates were already slumped in their seats:

The President has never had, and has not today, any desire or purpose to continue in the office of President, to be a candidate for that office, or to be nominated by the convention for that office. He wishes in earnestness and sincerity to make it clear that all of the delegates in this convention are free to vote for any candidate.

The stunned crowd met the conclusion of his speech with a tense silence. No one quite knew what to do next. Before anyone had a chance to speak or move, a booming voice bellowed over the loudspeakers.

“We Want Roosevelt, We Want Roosevelt”

The voice rang from every speaker, echoing around the cavernous hall.

Soon, the chant was taken up by delegates across the floor. Subdued silence was replaced with ecstatic shouts.

He found himself joining in, leading a chant of “New York wants Roosevelt”. The state delegation was on its feet and gathering around the Empire State’s standard. He linked arms with people he had never met before, and they began to march, demanding a third term for their president.

For the next hour, the convention was a blur of yells, movement and music. Every state, every city and even the world wanted Roosevelt. Shouts would go up and be passed around the convention floor. The state standards bopped up and down as delegates marched around the convention.

The convention became a carnival as the Chicago Police band marched in playing Roosevelt’s anthem “Happy Days Are Here Again”. They competed with the city’s fire department who belted out “Franklin D Roosevelt Jones”. Soon, the stadium’s giant electric organ joined in, and the President’s campaign tunes rang out throughout the hall.

He found himself talking manically, smiling and even dancing.

He had never been swept up in something so completely, so unexpectedly, as that day in Chicago.

But, by the close of proceedings, there was still no official word from the President.

The nomination was his for the taking. But did Roosevelt want to take it?

The riddle of the Sphinx

Was there really ever any doubt that Roosevelt would seek a third term?

At the beginning of 1940, the President suggested that he did not want to remain in the White House for another four years.

On 24 January 1940, hetold Henry Morgenthau that ‘he didn’t want to run unless “things get very, very much worse in Europe”’. He elaborated on this feeling in a discussion with the president of the Teamsters union, Daniel Tobin, citing his failing health:

No, Dan, I just can’t do it. I am tired. I really am. I can’t be president again. I have to get over this sinus. I have to rest. No, I just can’t do it.

In February, he vented his frustrations to George Norris, who had visited to urge Roosevelt to run for a third term:

I am chained to this chair from morning till night … I am tied down to this chair day after day, week after week, and month after month. And I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t go on with it.

There were also more concrete signs of plans for a post-presidential life. Roosevelt’s private retreat, Top Cottage, was completed at the end of 1939. At the nearby Springwood estate in Hyde Park, designs were being laid for his official library.

There was even talk of buying one of the Florida Keys and developing it as FDR’s fishing retreat.

But, as it turned out, things did get very, very much worse in Europe. By the time of the Democratic National Convention, Nazi Germany held sway over much of continental Europe.

Just days before Chicago Stadium welcomed delegates, the Battle of Britain began. This furious clash of aeronautical power emphasised the precarious situation for freedom and democracy in the West.

Meanwhile, pro-Roosevelt tickets were sweeping the Democratic primaries and caucuses. The President neither campaigned nor publicly endorse these slates.

When is a campaign not a campaign?

So, did Roosevelt ever really plan to retire in 1940? Or were his announcements and deals part of an elaborate plan to maintain an aura of reluctance and humility?

As Ted Morgan notes in FDR: A Biography:

a third term movement would make him vulnerable to attacks that everything he had done was to serve his ambition.

I think it is more likely that Roosevelt saw his presidency as being instrumental to defeating Hitler and Nazism.

Whatever the truth, any doubt in the President’s mind seems to have been dispelled by the time of the convention.

The New York Times reported on 13 July 1940 that ‘the Democratic Convention of 1940 will go into the records as one of the most completely regulated and the most willingly controlled meetings in the history of the present Presidential nominating system’.

Anything other than a nomination for Roosevelt would have been ‘a surprise for which the assembling delegates, or the country … are distinctly unprepared’.

A wild, shifting mass of screaming, standard-waving humanity

Roosevelt did send a messenger to formally turn down a third nomination. The New York Times’s correspondent, Sidney M. Shalett, described Senator Alben Barkley’s speech heightening the tensions in the hall. When Roosevelt’s name was finally mentioned, for ‘twenty-five minutes the stadium was a wild, shifting mass of screaming, standard-waving humanity’.

Conrad Black relates the next minutes in his book Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom:

There was complete silence for a few moments. Then the Chicago Democratic machine took over the convention. From the basement a mighty voice bellowed into a microphone connected to all the loudspeakers in the convention hall: “We Want Roosevelt!” This chant was repeated endlessly every state and city, sequentially, wanted Roosevelt: “Chicago wants Roosevelt!” “New York wants Roosevelt” etc., peaking every couple of minutes with “The World Wants Roosevelt!”

In the New York Times, Sidney M. Shallot described the ‘screaming, shouting, yelling in complete abandon’.

Jean Edward Smith describes the pure pandemonium of the convention in his bookFDR, and goes on to note that:

through it all that deep penetrating voice could be heard above the noise that filled the arena: “We want Roosevelt”, “Everybody wants Roosevelt”.

This voice was later identified as belonging to Thomas D. Garry. At the time, he was serving as Superintendent of Chicago’s Department of Sanitation. His intervention would become famous, or infamous, as the Voice from the Sewers.

Taking over the microphones was only one part of the plan. Chicago’s Democratic mayor, Ed Kelly, had planted hundreds of Roosevelt supporters around the stadium. They took up the chant, which spread to the delegates. They had created an unstoppable momentum.

A virtually unanimous nomination

Was anyone really surprised at this turn of events? The New York Times’s James A Hagerty didn’t think so. In his view, the President’s message to the convention ‘was taken as the basis on which to accord the President a virtually unanimous nomination later, and an implicit promise on his part that he would accept renomination if drafted by a united convention’.

The next day, the delegates cast their ballots. Whether planned or not, Roosevelt received 946 votes against 72 for Farley, 61 for Garner and 5 for Hull and 9 for Millard Tydings. It was a crushing landslide that strengthened FDR’s grip on the Democratic Party.

Roosevelt went on to win the Presidential election in November of 1940. He served a full third term and then won the next presidential election in 1944. His fourth term was cut short when he died in April 1945.

Roosevelt’s 13-year occupancy of the White House remains unique in the nation’s history. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, limiting future presidents to two consecutive terms.

So, what if Roosevelt had decided that enough was enough and that he wasn’t going to run? With the United States teetering on the brink of participation in the Second World War, whoever entered the White House in 1941 would have been tested to the core.

It remains one of the most fascinating counterfactuals with potentially profound implications for the conduct and course of the war.

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Why (and How) FDR Ran for His Third Term

Richard Moe was chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale and a senior advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. His new book, "Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War," will be published in September by Oxford University Press.

Credit: Flickr.

Throughout American history presidents have brought very different decision-making styles to the White House. George W. Bush once said he was not a “textbook player” when it came to decisions but rather a “gut player,” while Barack Obama has said he makes decisions “based on information and not emotion.” One observer has described our current president’s style as “defiantly deliberative, methodical and measured.” But Franklin D. Roosevelt was in another class altogether when it came to decision-making, and never was this more evident than when the famously social but obsessively secretive president considered whether to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940.

Many close observers believed at the time that FDR had long before decided to run again it was obvious, they concluded, that this man of outsized ambition would find a way to remain in the job he loved. Many historians and biographers have concluded as well that the decision was inevitable. The only thing we know for sure about FDR, Roosevelt scholar William Leuchtenburg has said, is that he never left the presidency voluntarily.

But in fact the decision was far from inevitable. President Roosevelt never challenged the wisdom of the sacrosanct two-term tradition. On the contrary, as his second term wound down, he made specific plans to retire to his beloved Hyde Park in January of 1941. He had already designed and begun construction on his presidential library there to serve as his retirement headquarters, and he had built a small private retreat not far away. Every time he returned to Hyde Park during the spring of 1940, he brought boxes of papers and artifacts for the library. Colliers magazine had persuaded him to sign a lucrative three-year contract to write regular articles, and FDR had in turn persuaded two of his closest aides, Harry Hopkins and Sam Rosenman, to move to Hyde Park to help him with that task as well as with his memoirs. Roosevelt strongly felt the need to replenish the family finances and to recover his health. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, he had suffered a mild heart attack in February, and the sedentary life required of a polio victim had taken a huge, but largely unseen, toll. As he told a number of visitors, he was tired and he wanted to enjoy what time he had left.

When war began to loom, however, FDR began to hedge on the issue: he would only consider running for another term, he told a few confidantes, if Nazi aggression in Europe exploded into a major shooting war and if there was no one else who could step in. This became his caveat, his qualifier, although he never stated it publicly. In fact, during the second half of 1939 right up until the Democratic convention in July 1940 he said nothing publicly on the matter. Whenever a reporter tried to question him on his intentions, Roosevelt told him to put on a dunce cap and stand in the corner or he found another way to laugh off or ignore the question. Journalists and cartoonists began depicting him as a “sphinx” who wouldn’t reveal his secrets.

FDR’s method of making decisions, especially large and difficult decisions, was to put off making them as long as possible. Sometimes, he found, the issue would solve itself and disappear. Even if it didn’t, he would almost certainly have more information on which to base his decision if he waited, and in any case the longer he waited the longer he would control the situation. In this case there was an even more compelling reason to remain mute. If he announced he intended to retire, he would immediately become a lame-duck whom foreign and congressional leaders could ignore with impunity at his core FDR was a man of action and he abhorred the idea of irrelevance. And if he said he was open to a third term, he would be denounced as a “dictator,” a term that was already in the air, and everything he said or did would be seen through a political prism. So he remained silent.

Although early on he had encouraged others to seek the Democratic nomination -- Harry Hopkins and Secretary of State Cordell Hull chief among them -- Roosevelt’s “sphinx” stance inevitable discouraged others from getting into the race because they didn’t know what he would ultimately do. He thus effectively froze the field and in the end presented Democrats with a Hobson’s choice: they could choose anyone they wanted, as long as it was Franklin Roosevelt.

The other chief aspect of FDR’s decision making was its solitary nature. There is no evidence that he spoke candidly with another soul, not even his wife Eleanor, about the third-term question he knew she wanted him to retire, and she didn’t believe that her personal views should matter on a question of such huge importance to the country. He had no real confidantes, she wrote later, not even her.

In the end he was persuaded to run again when Hitler launched his blitzkrieg on the Low Countries and France, and he couldn’t find another Democrat who both supported his policies and who could win the election. It was not until four days before delegates convened in Chicago to nominate their candidate that Roosevelt laid it all out to someone he trusted. He called Felix Frankfurter down from the Supreme Court for a two-hour conversation on whether he was justified in seeking a third term. In the face of the “unprecedented conditions” facing the country, Frankfurter assured him, he was not only justified in running but, as the most experienced and able person to see the country through the crisis, he had a duty to run.

And so, virtually alone and at the last minute, he made one of the most consequential presidential decisions of the twentieth century, if not in all of American history.


The two-term tradition had been an unwritten rule (until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment after Roosevelt's presidency) since George Washington declined to run for a third term in 1796. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt were attacked for trying to obtain a third non-consecutive term. Roosevelt systematically undercut prominent Democrats who were angling for the nomination, including Vice President John Nance Garner [1] and two cabinet members, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Postmaster General James Farley. Roosevelt moved the convention to Chicago where he had strong support from the city machine, which controlled the auditorium sound system. At the convention the opposition was poorly organized, but Farley had packed the galleries. Roosevelt sent a message saying that he would not run unless he was drafted, and that the delegates were free to vote for anyone. The delegates were stunned then the loudspeaker screamed "We want Roosevelt. The world wants Roosevelt!" The delegates went wild and he was nominated by 946 to 147 on the first ballot. The tactic employed by Roosevelt was not entirely successful, as his goal had been to be drafted by acclamation. [2] At Roosevelt's request, the convention nominated Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace for vice president. Democratic party leaders disliked Wallace, a former Republican who strongly supported the New Deal, but were unable to prevent his nomination. [3]

World War II shook up the Republican field, possibly preventing the nomination of isolationist congressional leaders like Taft or Vandenberg. The 1940 Republican National Convention instead nominated Wendell Willkie, the first major party nominee who had never held public office. A well-known corporate attorney and executive, Willkie rose to public notice through his criticism of the New Deal and his clashes with the TVA. Unlike his isolationist rivals for the Republican nomination, Willkie favored Britain in the war, and he was backed by internationalist Republicans like Henry Luce the publisher of influential magazines like TIME. Willkie's internationalist views initially prevented disputes over foreign policy from dominating the campaign, helping to allow for the Destroyers for Bases Agreement and the establishment of a peacetime draft. [4]

FDR was in a fighting mood, as he called out to an enthusiastic audience in Brooklyn:

I am only fighting for a free America – for a country in which all men and women have equal rights to liberty and justice. I'm fighting against the revival of government by special privilege. I am fighting, as I always have fought, for the rights of the little man as well as the big man. I'm fighting to keep this nation prosperous and at peace. I'm fighting to keep our people out of foreign wars, and to keep foreign conceptions of government out of our own United States. I'm fighting for these great and good causes. [5]

As the campaign drew to a close, Willkie warned that Roosevelt's re-election would lead to the deployment of American soldiers abroad. In response, Roosevelt promised that, "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." [6] Roosevelt won the 1940 election with 55% of the popular vote and almost 85% of the electoral vote (449 to 82). [7] Willkie won ten states: strongly Republican states of Vermont and Maine, and eight isolationist states in the Midwest. [8] The Democrats retained their congressional majorities, but the conservative coalition largely controlled domestic legislation and remained "leery of presidential extensions of executive power through social programs." [9]

Executive branch Edit

The Roosevelt Cabinet
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt1933–1945
Vice PresidentJohn Nance Garner1933–1941
Henry A. Wallace1941–1945
Harry S. Truman1945
Secretary of StateCordell Hull1933–1944
Edward Stettinius Jr.1944–1945
Secretary of the TreasuryWilliam H. Woodin1933
Henry Morgenthau Jr.1934–1945
Secretary of WarGeorge Dern1933–1936
Harry Hines Woodring1936–1940
Henry L. Stimson1940–1945
Attorney GeneralHomer Stille Cummings1933–1939
Frank Murphy1939–1940
Robert H. Jackson1940–1941
Francis Biddle1941–1945
Postmaster GeneralJames Farley1933–1940
Frank C. Walker1940–1945
Secretary of the NavyClaude A. Swanson1933–1939
Charles Edison1939–1940
Frank Knox1940–1944
James Forrestal1944–1945
Secretary of the InteriorHarold L. Ickes1933–1945
Secretary of AgricultureHenry A. Wallace1933–1940
Claude R. Wickard1940–1945
Secretary of CommerceDaniel C. Roper1933–1938
Harry Hopkins1938–1940
Jesse H. Jones1940–1945
Henry A. Wallace1945
Secretary of LaborFrances Perkins1933–1945

As World War II approached, Roosevelt brought in a new cohort of top leaders, including conservative Republicans to top Pentagon roles. Frank Knox, the 1936 Republican vice presidential nominee, became Secretary of the Navy while former Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson became Secretary of War. Roosevelt began convening a "war cabinet" consisting of Hull, Stimson, Knox, Chief of Naval Operations Harold Rainsford Stark, and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. [10] In 1942 Roosevelt set up a new military command structure with Admiral Ernest J. King (Stark's successor) as in complete control of the Navy and Marines. Marshall was in charge of the Army and nominally led the Air Force, which in practice was nearly independent and was commanded by General Hap Arnold. Roosevelt formed a new body, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which made the final decisions on American military strategy. [11] The Joint Chiefs was a White House agency and was chaired by his old friend Admiral William D. Leahy. The Joint Chiefs worked closely with their British counterparts and formed the Combined Chiefs of Staff. [12] [13] Unlike Stalin, Churchill and Hitler, Roosevelt rarely overrode his military advisors. His civilian appointees handled the draft and procurement of men and equipment, but no civilians – not even the secretaries of War or Navy, had a voice in strategy. Roosevelt avoided the State Department and conducted high level diplomacy through his aides, especially Harry Hopkins. Since Hopkins also controlled $40 billion in Lend-Lease funds given to the Allies, they paid attention to him. [14] Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. played an increasingly central role in foreign policy, especially regarding China. [15]

Judicial appointments Edit

Due to the retirements of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Associate Justice James Clark McReynolds, Roosevelt filled three Supreme Court vacancies in 1941. He elevated Harlan F. Stone, a Republican appointed to the Court by Coolidge, to chief justice and then appointed two Democrats. Senator James F. Byrnes of South Carolina and Attorney General Robert H. Jackson became associate justices. The combination of the liberal Jackson, centrist Stone, and conservative Byrnes helped ensure the Senate confirmation of all three justices. Byrnes disliked serving on the Court, and he resigned to take a top position in the Roosevelt administration in 1942. [16] He was replaced by Wiley Blount Rutledge, a liberal federal appellate judge who would serve on the Supreme Court for just seven years. [17] By the end of 1941, Roosevelt had appointed Stone, Hugo Black, Stanley Forman Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy, Byrnes, Jackson, and Rutledge, making Owen Roberts the lone Supreme Court justice whom Roosevelt had not appointed to the Court or elevated to Chief Justice. [18] Roosevelt's appointees upheld his policies, [19] but often disagreed in other areas, especially after Roosevelt's death. [ citation needed ] William O. Douglas and Black served until the 1970s and joined or wrote many of the major decisions of the Warren Court, while Jackson and Frankfurter advocated judicial restraint and deference to elected officials. [20] [21]

Britain and Germany 1941 Edit

After his victory over Wendell Willkie in the 1940 election, Roosevelt embarked on a public campaign to win congressional support for aid to the British. In December 1940, Roosevelt received an appeal from Churchill explaining London could not finance the “cash and carry” provision of the Neutrality Act. With British forces deeply committed to fighting Germany, Churchill asked Washington to provide loans and shipping for American goods. [22] Roosevelt agreed and delivered a speech in which he called for the United States to serve as the "Arsenal of Democracy," supplying aid to those resisting Germany and other aggressors. [23] He stated, "if Great Britain goes down, the Axis Powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas–and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere." [24]

In his January 1941 Four Freedoms speech, Roosevelt laid out the case for an American defense of basic rights throughout the world. [25] In that same speech, Roosevelt asked Congress to approve a Lend-Lease program designed to provide military aid to Britain. The cover story was that the supplies were only being lent and would be returned after the war. [26] With the backing of Willkie, the Lend-Lease bill passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress, with most of the opposition coming from Midwestern Republicans. Isolationists did, however, prevent the U.S. from providing naval escorts to merchant ships heading to Britain. Roosevelt also requested, and Congress granted, a massive boost in military expenditures. Military facilities, shipyards and munitions plants were built across the country (especially in the South) and the unemployment rate dropped below ten percent for the first time in over a decade. To oversee mobilization efforts, Roosevelt created the Office of Production Management, the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, and the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board. [27]

In late 1940, Admiral Stark had sent Roosevelt the Plan Dog memo, which set forth four possible strategic war plans for fighting an anticipated two-front war against Japan and Germany. Of the four strategies, Stark advocated for the so-called "Plan Dog," which contemplated a Europe first strategy and the avoidance of conflict with Japan for as long as possible. A key part of this strategy was to ensure that Britain remained in the fight against Germany until the United States, potentially with the aid of other countries, could launch a land offensive into Europe. Roosevelt did not publicly commit to Plan Dog, but it motivated him to launch talks between American and British military staff, codenamed "ABC–1." In early 1941, American and British military planners jointly agreed to pursue a Europe first strategy. [28] In July 1941, Roosevelt ordered Secretary of War Stimson to begin planning for total American military involvement. The resulting "Victory Program" provided the army's estimates of the mobilization of manpower, industry, and logistics necessary to defeat Germany and Japan. The program planned to dramatically increase aid to the Allied nations and to prepare a force of ten million men in arms, half of whom would be ready for deployment abroad in 1943. [29]

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt extended Lend-Lease to Moscow. Thus, Roosevelt had committed the American economy to the Allied cause with a policy of "all aid short of war." [29] Some Americans were reluctant to aid the Soviet Union, but Roosevelt believed that the Soviets would be indispensable in the defeat of Germany. [30] Execution of the aid fell victim to foot-dragging in the administration, so FDR appointed a special assistant, Wayne Coy, to expedite matters. [31]

Battle of the Atlantic 1941 Edit

In February 1941, Hitler refocused the war against Britain from air raids to naval operations, specifically U-boat (German submarine) raids against convoys of food and munitions headed to Britain. Canada and Britain provided naval escorts but Churchill needed more and asked Roosevelt. Roosevelt said no--he was still reluctant to challenge anti-war sentiment. [32] In May, German submarines sank the SS Robin Moor, an American freighter, but Roosevelt decided not to use the incident as a pretext to increase the navy's role in the Atlantic. [33] Meanwhile, Germany celebrated victories against Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, and the British forces in the Mediterranean. [34]

In August 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met secretly in Argentia, Newfoundland. This meeting produced the Atlantic Charter, which conceptually outlined global wartime and postwar goals. [35] Each leader pledged to support democracy, self-determination, free trade, and principles of non-aggression. [36] Less than a month after Roosevelt and Churchill met at Argentia, a German submarine fired on the U.S. destroyer Greer, but the torpedo missed. In response, Roosevelt announced a new policy in which the U.S. would attack German U-boats that entered U.S. naval zones. [37] This "shoot on sight" policy effectively declared naval war on Germany and was approved by Americans in polls by a margin of 2-to-1. [38] The Roosevelt administration also took control over Greenland and Iceland, which provided useful naval bases in the northern Atlantic Ocean.

Seeking to bolster U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and eliminate German influence, the Roosevelt administration increased military, commercial, and cultural engagement with Latin America. Nelson Rockefeller played a major role. The FBI trained the secret police of friendly nations. German sales to military forces was displaced by American aid. Pro-German newspapers and radio stations were blacklisted. Government censorship was encouraged, while Latin America was blanketed with pro-American propaganda. [39] Hitler did not aggressively respond to U.S. actions, as he wanted to avoid any incident that would bring the U.S. into the war prior to the defeat of the Soviet Union. [40]

In October 1941, the USS Kearny, along with other warships, engaged a number of U-boats south of Iceland the Kearny took fire and lost eleven crewmen. [41] Following the attack, Congress amended the Neutrality Act to allow U.S. ships to transport material to Britain, effectively repealing the last provision of the cash and carry policy. [42] However, neither the Kearny incident nor an attack on the USS Reuben James changed public opinion as much as Roosevelt hoped they might. [43] [44]

Tensions with Japan Edit

By 1940, Japan had conquered much of the Chinese coast and major river valleys, but had been unable to defeat either the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek or the Communist forces under Mao Zedong. Though Japan's government was nominally led by the civilian government of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye, Minister of War Hideki Tojo and other military leaders controlled the Japanese government. [45] Tojo sent his military to take control of lightly-defended French colonies in Indochina, which provided important resources as well as a conduit of supply to Chinese forces. When Japan occupied northern French Indochina in late 1940, Roosevelt authorized increased aid to the Republic of China, a policy that won widespread popular support. [46] He also implemented a partial embargo on Japan, preventing the export of iron and steel. Over the next year, the Roosevelt administration debated imposing an embargo on oil, the key American export to Japan. Though some in the administration wanted to do everything possible to prevent Japanese expansion, Secretary of State Hull feared that cutting off trade would encourage the Japanese to meet its needs for natural resources through the conquest of the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, British Burma, or the American Philippines. [47]

With Roosevelt's attention focused on Europe, Hull took the lead in setting Asian policy and negotiating with Japan. [47] Beginning in March 1941, Hull and Japanese ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura sought to reach an accommodation between their respective governments. As the U.S. was not willing to accept the Japanese occupation of China, and Japan was not willing to withdraw from that country, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. After Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Japanese declined to attack Soviet forces in Siberia, ending a long-running internal debate over the best target for Japanese expansion. In July, Japan took control of southern French Indochina, which provided a potential staging ground for an attack on British Burma and Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. [48] In response, the U.S. cut off the sale of oil to Japan, which thus lost more than 95 percent of its oil supply. [46]

Following the American embargo, Japanese leaders turned their attention to the conquest of the Dutch East Indies, which had a large supply of oil. In order to consolidate control of the Dutch East Indies, Japanese military planners believed that they needed to capture the Philippines and the British base at Singapore, and defeat the United States Pacific Fleet, which was stationed at the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. No Japanese leader saw the total defeat of the United States as a feasible outcome, but many hoped that a decisive naval victory would convince the Americans to leave control of the western Pacific to Japan. Prime Minister Konoye sought a summit with Roosevelt in order to negotiate a deal, but Roosevelt insisted the Japanese withdrawal from China first. Tojo succeeded Konoye as prime minister in October, and the Japanese began preparations for an attack on the United States. In November, Nomura made a final offer, asking for reopened trade and acceptance of the Japanese campaign in China in return for Japan's pledge not to attack Southeast Asia. In part because the U.S. feared that Japan would attack the Soviet Union after conquering China, Roosevelt declined the offer, and negotiations collapsed on November 26. [49]

Entrance into the war Edit

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor with a surprise attack, knocking out the main American battleship fleet and killing 2,403 American servicemen and civilians. [50] Scholars have all rejected the conspiracy thesis that Roosevelt, or any other high government officials, knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had kept their secrets closely guarded, and while senior American officials were aware that war was imminent, they did not expect an attack on Pearl Harbor. [51] [52] [10]

After Pearl Harbor, antiwar sentiment in the United States evaporated overnight. For the first time since the early 19th century, foreign policy became the top priority for the American public. [53] Roosevelt called for war in his famous "Infamy Speech" to Congress, in which he said: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." On December 8, Congress voted almost unanimously to declare war against Japan. [54] On December 11, 1941, Germany declared war on the United States, which responded in kind. [55]

Roosevelt portrayed the war as a crusade against the aggressive dictatorships that threatened peace and democracy throughout the world. [56] He and his military advisers implemented a Europe-first strategy with the objectives of halting the German advances in the Soviet Union and in North Africa launching an invasion of western Europe with the aim of crushing Nazi Germany between two fronts and saving China and defeating Japan. Public opinion, however, gave priority to the destruction of Japan. In any case, Japan was attacking the American Philippines and so in practice the Pacific had priority in 1942. [57] Japan bombed American air bases in the Philippines just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor and destroyed the B-17 fleet parked on the ground. [58] By the end of the month, the Japanese had invaded the Philippines. General Douglas MacArthur led American resistance in the Philippines until March 1942, when Roosevelt ordered him to evacuate to Australia, which became the forward American base. [59] American forces in the Philippines surrendered in May 1942, leaving Japan with approximately ten thousand American prisoners. While it was subduing the Philippines, Japan also conquered Malaya, Singapore, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies. [60]

In his role as the leader of the United States before and during World War II, Roosevelt tried to avoid repeating what he saw as Woodrow Wilson's mistakes in World War I. [61] He often made exactly the opposite decision. Wilson called for neutrality in thought and deed, while Roosevelt made it clear his administration strongly favored Britain and China. Unlike the loans in World War I, the United States made large-scale grants of military and economic aid to the Allies through Lend-Lease, with little expectation of repayment. Wilson did not greatly expand war production before the declaration of war Roosevelt did. Wilson waited for the declaration to begin a draft Roosevelt started one in 1940. Wilson never made the United States an official ally but Roosevelt did. Wilson never met with the top Allied leaders but Roosevelt did. Wilson proclaimed independent policy, as seen in the 14 Points, while Roosevelt sought a collaborative policy with the Allies. In 1917, the United States declared war on Germany in 1941, Roosevelt waited until the enemy attacked at Pearl Harbor. Wilson refused to collaborate with the Republicans Roosevelt named leading Republicans to head the War Department and the Navy Department. Wilson let General George Pershing make the major military decisions Roosevelt made the major decisions in his war including the "Europe first" strategy. He rejected the idea of an armistice and demanded unconditional surrender. Roosevelt often mentioned his role as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration, but added that he had profited more from Wilson's errors than from his successes. [62] [63] [64] [65] Robert E. Sherwood argues:

Roosevelt could never forget Wilson's mistakes. there was no motivating force in all of Roosevelt's wartime political policy stronger than the determination to prevent repetition of the same mistakes. [66]

Four Policemen Edit

In late December 1941 Churchill and Roosevelt met at the Arcadia Conference, which established a joint strategy between the U.S. and Britain. Both agreed on a Europe first strategy that would prioritize the defeat of Germany before Japan. [67] With British forces focused on the war in Europe, and with the Soviet Union not at war with Japan, the United States would take the lead in the Pacific War despite its own focus on Germany. [68] The U.S. and Britain established the Combined Chiefs of Staff to coordinate military policy and the Combined Munitions Assignments Board to coordinate the allocation of supplies. [67] An agreement was also reached to establish a centralized command in the Pacific theater called ABDA, named for the American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces in the theater. [69] On January 1, 1942, the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and twenty-two other countries issued the Declaration by United Nations, in which each nation pledged to defeat the Axis powers. These countries opposed to the Axis would be known as the Allied Powers. [70]

Roosevelt coined the term "Four Policemen" to refer to the "Big Four" Allied powers of World War II: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. Roosevelt, Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek cooperated informally on a plan in which American and British troops concentrated in the West, Soviet troops fought on the Eastern front, and Chinese, British, and American troops fought in Asia and the Pacific. The Allies formulated strategy in a series of high-profile conferences as well as contact through diplomatic and military channels. [71] Roosevelt had a close relationship with Churchill, but he and his advisers quickly lost respect for Chiang's government, viewing it as hopelessly corrupt. [72] General Joseph Stilwell, who was assigned to lead U.S. forces in the China Burma India Theater, came to believe that Chiang was more concerned with defeating Mao's Communists than with defeating the Japanese. [73] U.S. and Soviet leaders distrusted each other throughout the war, and relations further suffered after 1943 as both sides supported sympathetic governments in liberated territories. [74]

Other allies Edit

By the end of the war, several states, including all of Latin America, had joined the Allies. [75] Roosevelt's appointment of young Nelson Rockefeller to head the new, well-funded Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs provided energetic leadership. [76] Under Rockefeller's leadership, the U.S. spent millions on radio broadcasts, motion pictures, and other anti-fascist propaganda. American advertising techniques generated a push back in Mexico especially, where well-informed locals resisted heavy-handed American influence. [77] Nevertheless, Mexico was a valuable ally in the war. A deal was reached whereby 250,000 Mexican citizens living in the United States served in the American forces over 1000 were killed in combat. [78] In addition to propaganda, large sums were allocated for economic support and development. On the whole the Roosevelt policy in Latin America was a political success, except in Argentina, which tolerated German influence and refused to follow Washington's lead until the war was practically over. [79] [80] Outside of Latin America, the U.S. paid particularly close attention to its oil-rich allies in the Middle East, marking the start of sustained American engagement in the region. [81]

Lend-Lease and economic warfare Edit

The main American role in the war, beyond the military mission itself, was financing the war and providing large quantities of munitions and civilian goods. Lend-Lease, as passed by Congress in 1941, was a declaration of economic warfare, and that economic warfare continued after the attack on Pearl Harbor. [82] Roosevelt believed that the financing of World War I through loans to the Allies, with the demand for repayment after the war, had been a mistake. He set up the Lend-Lease system as a war program, financed through the military budget as soon as the war with Japan ended, it was terminated. [83] The president chose the leadership—Hopkins and Edward Stettinius Jr. played major roles—and exercised close oversight and control. [84] One problem that bedeviled the program in 1942 was the strictly-limited supply of munitions that had to be divided between Lend-Lease and American forces. Roosevelt insisted to the military that Russia was to get all the supplies he had promised it. [85] Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union declined somewhat in mid-1942 after the United States began to prepare for military operations in North Africa. [86]

The U.S. spent about $40 billion on Lend-Lease aid to the British Empire, the Soviet Union, France, China, and some smaller countries. That amounted to about 11% of the cost of the war to the U.S. It received back about $7.8 billion in goods and services provided by the recipients to the United States, especially the cost of food and rent for American installations abroad. [87] Britain received $30 billion, Russia received $10.7 billion, and all other countries $2.9 billion. [88] When the question of repayment arose, Roosevelt insisted the United States did not want a postwar debt problem of the sort that had troubled relations after the first world war. The recipients provided bases and supplies to American forces on their own soil this was referred informally as "Reverse Lend-Lease," and the combined total of this aid came to approximately $7.8 billion overall. [89] In the end, none of the Allied Powers paid for the goods received during the war, although they did pay for goods in transit that were received after the program ended. Roosevelt told Congress in June 1942: [90]

The real costs of the war cannot be measured, nor compared, nor paid for in money. They must and are being met in blood and toil. If each country devotes roughly the same fraction of its national production to the war, then the financial burden of war is distributed equally among the United Nations in accordance with their ability to pay.

A major issue in the economic war was the transportation of supplies. After Germany declared war on the United States, Hitler removed all restrictions on the German submarine fleet. German submarines ravaged Allied shipping in the Atlantic, with many of the attacks taking place within ten miles of the East Coast of the United States in early 1942. [91] The U.S. Navy faced difficulties in simultaneously protecting Atlantic shipping while also prosecuting the war against Japan, and over one millions tons of Allied shipping was lost in 1942. [92] The cracking of the German Enigma code, along with the construction and deployment of American naval escorts and maritime patrol aircraft helped give the Allied Powers the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic after 1942. After the Allies sank dozens of U-boats in early 1943, most German submarines were withdrawn from the North Atlantic. [93]

The United States began a strategic bombing campaign against Axis forces in Europe in mid-1942. Attacks initially targeted locations in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands U.S. bombers launched their first attack against a target in Germany in January 1943. [94] In an attempt to destroy Germany's industrial capacity, Allied bombers struck targets such as oil refineries and ball-bearing factories. After taking heavy losses in Operation Tidal Wave and the Second Raid on Schweinfurt, the U.S. significantly scaled back the strategic bombing of Germany. [95] General Carl Andrew Spaatz redirected U.S. strategic bombing efforts to focus on German aircraft production facilities, and the Allies enjoyed air superiority in Europe after February 1944. [96] Allied strategic bombing escalated in late 1944, with an emphasis placed on Germany's transportation infrastructure and oil resources. [97] With the goal of forcing a quick German surrender, in 1945 the Allies launched attacks on Berlin and Dresden that killed tens of thousands of civilians. [98]

Reaction to the Holocaust Edit

After Kristallnacht in 1938, Roosevelt helped expedite Jewish immigration from Germany and allowed Austrian and German citizens already in the United States to stay indefinitely. He was prevented from accepting more Jewish immigrants by the prevalence of nativism and antisemitism among voters and members of Congress, resistance in the American Jewish community to the acceptance of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. [99] The Immigration Act of 1924 allowed only 150,000 immigrants to the United States per year and set firm quotas for each country, and in the midst of the Great Depression there was little popular support for revisions to the law that would have allowed for a more liberal immigration policy. [100] Roosevelt pushed the limits of his executive authority where possible, which allowed for several Austrian and German Jews, including Albert Einstein, to escape from Europe or remain in the United States past their visa expirations. [101]

Hitler chose to implement the "Final Solution"–the extermination of the European Jewish population–by January 1942, and American officials learned of the scale of the Nazi extermination campaign in the following months. Against the objections of the State Department, Roosevelt convinced the other Allied leaders to jointly issue the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, which condemned the ongoing Holocaust and promised to try its perpetrators as war criminals. In January 1944, Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board to aid Jews and other victims of Axis atrocities. Aside from these actions, Roosevelt believed that the best way to help the persecuted populations of Europe was to end the war as quickly as possible. Top military leaders and War Department leaders rejected any campaign to bomb the extermination camps or the rail lines leading to the camps, fearing it would be a diversion from the war effort. According to biographer Jean Edward Smith, there is no evidence that anyone ever proposed such a campaign to Roosevelt himself. [102]

Relations with Congress Edit

Up until Pearl Harbor, Congress played a very active role in foreign and military policy, dealing with neutrality laws, the draft, and Lend Lease. As with the general public, congressional sentiment was very hostile toward Germany and Japan, favorable toward China, and somewhat less favorable toward Britain. Congressmen with strong German, Irish Catholic, or Scandinavian constituencies generally supported isolationist policies. After Pearl Harbor, isolationism disappeared in Congress and was not a factor in the 1942 or 1944 elections. Some leading Republican isolationists, most notably Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, Senator Warren Austin of Vermont, and Congressman Everett Dirksen of Illinois, became leading internationalists. [103] [104] Republican Senator Robert A. Taft stayed quiet on foreign and defense issues, while many of the energetic isolationists of the 1930s, including Hiram Johnson and William Borah, were in poor health or had seen their influence decline. During the war, there were no secret briefings, and members of Congress were often no better informed than the average newspaper reader. Congressman did pay attention to military installations in their district, but rarely raised issues of broader military or diplomatic scope, with the partial exception of postwar plans. [105] Congress also established the Truman Committee, which investigated wartime profiteering and other defects in war production. [106] Debates on domestic policy were as heated as ever, and the major Republican gains in Congress in 1938 and 1942 gave the Conservative Coalition the dominant voice on most domestic issues. [107] [108]

Domestic legislation Edit

The home front was subject to dynamic social changes throughout the war, though domestic issues were no longer Roosevelt's most urgent policy concern. The military buildup spurred economic growth. Unemployment fell in half from 7.7 million in early 1940 to 3.4 million in late 1941, and fell in half again to 1.5 million in late 1942, out of a labor force of 54 million. [a] To pay for increased government spending, in 1941 Roosevelt proposed that Congress enact an income tax rate of 99.5% on all income over $100,000 when the proposal failed, he issued an executive order imposing an income tax of 100% on income over $25,000, which Congress rescinded. The Revenue Act of 1942 instituted top tax rates as high as 94% (after accounting for the excess profits tax) and instituted the first federal withholding tax. It also greatly increased the tax base only four million Americans paid the federal income taxes before the war, while by the end of the war over 40 million Americans paid federal income taxes. [110] [111] In 1944, Roosevelt requested that Congress enact legislation which would tax all "unreasonable" profits, both corporate and individual, and thereby support his declared need for over $10 billion in revenue for the war and other government measures. Congress overrode Roosevelt's veto to pass a smaller revenue bill raising $2 billion. [112] Congress also abolished several New Deal agencies, including the CCC and the WPA. [113]

Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address advocated a set of basic economic rights Roosevelt dubbed as the Second Bill of Rights. [114] In the most ambitious domestic proposal of the era, veterans groups led by the American Legion secured the G.I. Bill, which created a massive benefits program for almost all men and women who served. Roosevelt had wanted a narrower bill focused more on poor people, but he was out-maneuvered by those on both his right and his left who, each for their own reasons, favored a blanket approach. Comprehensive coverage, regardless of income or combat experience, would avoid the prolonged disputes in the 1920s and 1930s over the aid to veterans. Benefits included a year of unemployment pay at $20 a week, tuition and living expense to attend high school or college, and low-cost loans to buy a home, farm or business. [115] Of the fifteen million Americans who served in World War II, more than half would benefit from the educational opportunities provided for in the G.I. Bill. [116]

War production Edit

To coordinate war production and other aspects of the home front, Roosevelt established the War Shipping Administration, the Office of Price Administration, the Board of Economic Warfare, and the War Labor Board. [117] The U.S. government generally relied on voluntary contracting to mobilize the production of war materials, but in rare cases the Roosevelt administration temporarily took control of industrial facilities. Congress also created tax incentives designed to encourage the shift to military production, while the Reconstruction Finance Corporation continued to offer loans to help expand industrial capacity. Despite efforts made by Congress to encourage contracting with smaller companies, most military contracts went to the largest corporations in the United States. [118] War production increased dramatically after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but that production fell short of the goals established by the president, due in part to manpower shortages. [119] The effort was also hindered by numerous strikes, especially among union workers in the coal mining and railroad industries, which lasted well into 1944. [120] [121] Mobilization was also affected by the military service of over 16 million individuals during the war approximately one-in-five families had at least one individual serve during the war. [122]

Despite various challenges, between 1941 and 1945, the United States produced 2.4 million trucks, 300,000 military aircraft, 88,400 tanks, and 40 billion rounds of ammunition. The production capacity of the United States dwarfed that of other countries for example, in 1944, the United States produced more military aircraft than the combined production of Germany, Japan, Britain, and the Soviet Union. [123] The United States suffered from inflation during the war, and the administration instituted price and wage controls. [124] In 1943, Roosevelt established the Office of War Mobilization (OWM) to oversee war production. The OWM was led by James F. Byrnes, who came to be known as the "assistant president" due to his influence. [125] As inflation continued to present a major challenge, the administration expanded a rationing program that covered an increasing number of consumer goods. [126]

Atomic bomb Edit

In August 1939, physicists Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein sent the Einstein–Szilárd letter to Roosevelt, warning of the possibility of a German project to develop an atomic bomb (now called a "nuclear weapon".) [127] The thought of Germany to build a bomb first was terrifying. Roosevelt authorized preliminary research. [b] After Pearl Harbor, a few top Congressional leaders secretly gave the administration the necessary money. General Leslie Groves, the Army's engineer who built the Pentagon, took charge of the Manhattan Project. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to jointly pursue the project with the Quebec Agreement allowing American scientists to cooperate with their British counterparts, including at least one spy who provided Moscow with the top secret details. [129] The Manhattan Project cost more than $2 billion, employed 150,000 individuals, and required the construction of massive facilities at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and other parts of the country. [130]

African Americans during the war Edit

In 1941, A. Philip Randolph and other African-American leaders planned a march on Washington to protest segregation in the military and the defense industry. [131] In response, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial and religious discrimination in employment among defense contractors. Randolph then cancelled the march on Washington. [132] Roosevelt also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to enforce Executive Order 8802. The FEPC was the first national program directed against employment discrimination, and it played a major role in opening up new employment opportunities to non-white workers. [133] During the war, the number of African Americans employed in the defense industry increased dramatically, primarily outside the South. Likewise, there was rapid growth in the number of African Americans employed by the federal government in segregated roles. Many African Americans were drafted into the Army. Military units remained segregated and most blacks were assigned to non-combat roles. [134] The NAACP grew dramatically during the war, buoyed in part by Randolph's role in convincing Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802. [135] The war also saw the acceleration of the Great Migration, as African Americans moved from rural Southern areas to manufacturing centers outside of the South. [136] Roosevelt encouraged employers to hire African Americans, as well as women and ethnics workers, to meet the needs of the wartime labor shortage. [137]

Civil liberties Edit

Roosevelt had cultivated a friendly relationship with the domestic press throughout his presidency, and his good relations with the press helped ensure favorable coverage of his war-time policies without resorting to heavy-handed censorship. During World War I, the U.S. had passed acts such as the Sedition Act of 1918 to crack down on dissent, but Roosevelt largely avoided such harsh measures. He did order FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to increase its investigations of dissidents and signed the Smith Act, which made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the federal government. [138] The trials against antiwar spokesmen on the far left and far right collapsed in failure. [139]

The attack on Pearl Harbor raised concerns in the public regarding the possibility of sabotage by Japanese Americans. This suspicion was fed by long-standing racism against Japanese immigrants, as well as the findings of the Roberts Commission, which concluded that the attack on Pearl Harbor had been assisted by Japanese spies. [140] The size of the Japanese population in Hawaii precluded mass internment in that territory, but there was strong popular support for the removal of Japanese from the West Coast. [141] In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which provided for the relocation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-American citizens and immigrants from the West Coast. [142] They were forced to liquidate their properties and businesses and interned in hastily built camps in interior, harsh locations. Distracted by other issues, Roosevelt had delegated the decision for internment to Secretary of War Stimson, who in turn relied on the judgment of Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the executive order in the 1944 case of Korematsu v. United States. [140] The internment order was rescinded shortly after the Korematsu decision, and Japanese-Americans were allowed to return to the West Coast. [143] Many German and Italian citizens were also arrested or placed into internment camps. [144]

Mediterranean and European theater Edit

The Soviets urged an Anglo-American invasion of German-occupied France in order to divert troops from the Eastern front. [145] Churchill in particular was reluctant to commit troops in Europe in 1942, and strongly favored launching a campaign designed to expel the Axis Powers from North Africa and to consolidate Allied power in the Mediterranean. [146] General Marshall and Admiral King opposed the decision to prioritize North Africa, which they saw as relatively unimportant to the overall war. Roosevelt overrode their objections, as he wanted the U.S. to commit ground forces in the European theater, in 1942, and with British cooperation. [147]

The Allies invaded French North Africa in November 1942, securing the quick surrender of local Vichy French forces. [148] That surrender was arranged through a deal between General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied invasion of North Africa, and Vichy Admiral François Darlan. The cooperation with Darlan allowed the Allies to quickly gain control of much of North Africa, but it also alienated Free French leader Charles de Gaulle and other opponents of the Vichy regime. Darlan was assassinated in December 1942, while Vichy France broke relations with the United States and requested that German forces prevent the Allies from gaining control of French Tunisia. The experience with de Gaulle, Darlan, and another French leader, Henri Giraud, convinced Roosevelt of the necessity to avoid becoming closely associated with any French faction for the remainder of the war. [149] In the Tunisian Campaign, Eisenhower initially faced great difficulties in leading his inexperienced force to success, but Allied forces eventually gained the upper hand. 250,000 Axis soldiers surrendered in May 1943, bringing an end to the North African Campaign. [150]

At the January 1943 Casablanca Conference, the U.S. and Britain agreed to defeat Axis forces in North Africa and then launch an invasion of Sicily after the North African campaign, with an attack on France to follow in 1944. At the conference, Roosevelt also announced that he would only accept the unconditional surrender of Germany, Japan, and Italy. [151] The demand for unconditional surrender was calculated to reassure the Soviets, who were still insisting on an immediate attack on German-occupied France, that the United States would not seek a negotiated peace with Germany. [152] In February 1943, the Soviet Union turned the tide on the eastern front by winning a decisive victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The Allies launched an invasion of Sicily in July 1943, capturing the island by the end of the following month. [125] During the campaign in Sicily, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy arrested Mussolini and replaced him with Pietro Badoglio, who secretly negotiated a surrender with the Allies. Despite his earlier insistence on unconditional surrender, Roosevelt accepted armistice terms that allowed Badoglio to remain in power. [153] Germany quickly restored Mussolini to power and set up a puppet state in northern Italy. [125] The Allied invasion of mainland Italy commenced in September 1943, but the Italian Campaign moved slowly until 1945. [154] Roosevelt consented to the campaign only on the condition that the British commit to an invasion of France in mid-1944, and the Allied Powers began to build up a force for that operation, diverting soldiers from the Italian Campaign. [153]

To command the invasion of France, Roosevelt passed over Marshall and in favor of General Eisenhower. [155] Roosevelt had originally wanted to appoint Marshall to the command, but top military leaders argued that Marshall was indispensable in his role in Washington. [156] While building up forces in Britain, the Allied Powers engaged in Operation Bodyguard, an elaborate campaign designed to mask where the Allies would land in Northwestern Europe. [157] Eisenhower launched Operation Overlord, a landing in the Northern French region of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. Supported by 12,000 aircraft that provided complete control of the air, and the largest naval force ever assembled, the Allies successfully established a beachhead in Normandy and then advanced further into France. [158] Though reluctant to back an unelected government, Roosevelt recognized Charles de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic as the de facto government of France in July 1944. [159]

After the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the Allies pushed Axis forces back towards Germany, capturing Paris in August 1944. That same month, the Allies launched Operation Dragoon, an invasion of Southern France. [160] Facing logistical issues, Allied forces attempted to secure the Belgian port of Antwerp before moving on Germany's Ruhr region, but the failure of Operation Market Garden delayed the Allied invasion of Germany. [161] In late 1944, Hitler began to amass forces for a major offensive designed to convince the United States and Britain to seek a negotiated peace. A surprise German attack in December 1944 marked the start of the Battle of the Bulge, but the Allies were able to beat back the attack in the following weeks. [162] The Allies advanced across the Rhine River in March 1945, and took control of the Ruhr and the Saarland, another key industrial region. [163] By April 1945, Nazi resistance was crumbling in the face of advances by both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. [164]

Pacific theater Edit

After sweeping across Maritime Southeast Asia in the months following Pearl Harbor, Japan looked to further expand its territory, taking control of the Solomon Islands and parts of New Guinea. In May 1942, American and Australian forces defeated the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea, prompting a Japanese land campaign across the island of New Guinea. [165] Seeking to seize control of a strategically-placed island and destroy the U.S. fleet in the Pacific, Japan also launched an attack on the American-held Midway Atoll. [166] With the assistance of the Magic cryptanalysis project, Admiral Chester Nimitz led an American force that defeated the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway resulted in the Japanese fleet's loss of four crucial aircraft carriers, and the battle marked a major reversal of fortune in the Pacific War. [167] In August 1942, the United States launched an invasion of the Japanese-held South Pacific island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands Japanese and American forces contested control of Guadalcanal until February 1943. [168] After the Battle of Guadalcanal, the U.S. adopted an island hopping strategy in order to avoid entrenched Japanese garrisons. By early 1944, Allied forces had established control over much of New Guinea and had landed on the adjacent island of New Britain. [169]

While the campaign in the Southwest Pacific continued, U.S. forces launched an offensive in the Central Pacific, beginning with the November 1943 Battle of Tarawa. [170] The U.S. next captured Japanese positions in the Marshall Islands and the Caroline Islands. [171] In June 1944, the U.S. launched an attack on Saipan, in the Mariana Islands, gaining control of the island in early July at the cost of fourteen thousand casualties. [172] As the Battle of Saipan continued, the U.S. won a major naval victory in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, sinking three Japanese aircraft carriers. [173] In July 1944, Roosevelt met with Nimitz and MacArthur, where he authorized the continuation of the campaigns in the Southwest Pacific and the Central Pacific. MacArthur's force would continue its advance towards the Philippines, while the Central Pacific campaign would work its way towards Japan. [174] The U.S. landed on the Philippine island of Leyte in October 1944, provoking a Japanese naval response, as the Philippine Islands maintained a critical position on the Japanese oil supply route from the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese navy was decimated in the resulting Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is sometimes claimed to be the "largest naval battle in history." MacArthur's forces secured control of Leyte in December and had largely re-taken control of the Philippines by March 1945. [175]

The U.S. began launching strategic bombing raids on Japan from the Mariana Islands in November 1944, but Japan still controlled several islands that provided defense for the Japanese archipelago. In February 1945, the U.S. launched an invasion of the well-defended island of Iwo Jima, taking control of that island the following month. [176] On April 1, the U.S. landed on Okinawa Island, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands. The Japanese allowed the Americans to land on the island before launching a fierce attack that included kamikaze suicide attacks by Japanese aircraft. Japanese forces on Okinawa held out until June 1945 U.S. forces suffered over 60,000 casualties during the operation. [177]

In late 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed to meet to discuss strategy and post-war plans at the Tehran Conference, which marked Roosevelt's first face-to-face meeting with Stalin. [178] At the conference, Britain and the United States committed to opening a second front against Germany in 1944, while Stalin committed to entering the war against Japan at an unspecified date. [179] Roosevelt also privately indicated acceptance of Soviet control of the Baltic states and Soviet plans to shift Poland's borders to the west. [180] Stalin, meanwhile, committed to joining the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany. [181]

Post-war plans increasingly came to the fore as the Allies won several major victories in 1944. The wartime economic boom and the experience of the Great Depression convinced many Americans of the need to lower trade barriers. Lend-Lease agreements included provisions for eliminating tariffs, and the U.S. especially desired the dismantlement of the British Imperial Preference system. At the Bretton Woods Conference, the Allies agreed to the creation of the International Monetary Fund, which would provide for currency stabilization, and the World Bank, which would fund post-war rebuilding. Taking up the Wilsonian mantle, Roosevelt also pushed for the establishment of the United Nations, a permanent intergovernmental organization that would succeed the League of Nations. [182]

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met for a second time at the February 1945 Yalta Conference. With the end of the war in Europe approaching, Roosevelt's primary focus was on convincing Stalin to enter the war against Japan the Joint Chiefs had estimated that an American invasion of Japan would cause as many as one million American casualties. In return for the Soviet Union's entrance into the war against Japan, the Soviet Union was promised control of Asian territories such as Sakhalin Island. [183] With the Soviet Union in control of much of Eastern Europe by early 1945, Roosevelt had little leverage over Soviet actions in Eastern Europe. [184] He did not push for the immediate evacuation of Soviet soldiers from Poland, but he did win the issuance of the Declaration on Liberated Europe, which promised free elections in countries that had been occupied by Germany. [183] Against Soviet pressure, Roosevelt and Churchill refused to consent to imposing huge reparations and deindustrialization on Germany after the war. [185] Roosevelt's role in the Yalta Conference has been controversial critics charge that he naively trusted the Soviet Union to allow free elections in Eastern Europe, while supporters argue that there was little more that Roosevelt could have done for the Eastern European countries given the Soviet occupation and the need for cooperation with the Soviet Union during and after the war. [186] [187] [188]

Founding the United Nations Edit

At the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed to the establishment of the United Nations, as well as the structure of the United Nations Security Council, which would be charged with ensuring international peace and security. [183] The participants at Yalta also agreed that the United Nations would convene for the first time in San Francisco in April 1945 in the United Nations Conference on International Organization. [189] Roosevelt considered the United Nations to be his most important legacy. He provided continuous backstage political support inside the United States, and with Churchill and Stalin abroad. He made sure that leading Republicans were on board, especially Senators Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, [190] and Warren Austin of Vermont. [191] The Allies had agreed to the basic structure of the new body at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in 1944. [179] The Big Four of the United States, Britain, Soviet Union and China would make the major decisions, with France added later to provide permanent members of the all-powerful Security Council. Each had a veto power, thus avoiding the fatal weakness of the League of Nations, which had theoretically been able order its members to act in defiance of their own parliaments. [192] [ page needed ]

Anti-imperialism Edit

British, French, and Dutch leaders all hoped to retain or reclaim their colonial possessions after the war. The U.S. was committed to granting independence to the Philippines following the end of the war, and Roosevelt frequently pressured Churchill to similarly commit to the independence of India, Burma, Malaya, and Hong Kong. [193] His motives included principled opposition to colonialism, practical concern for the outcome of the war, and the need to build support for the U.S. in a future independent India. Churchill was deeply committed to imperialism and pushed back hard. Because the U.S. needed British cooperation in India to support China, Roosevelt had to draw back on his anti-colonialism. [194] That annoyed Indian nationalist leaders, though most of those leaders were in British prisons for the duration because they would not support the war against Japan. [195] [ page needed ] [196] Roosevelt also promised to return Chinese territories seized by Japan since 1895, and ended the practice of American special rights in China. [197]

Unlike 1940, Roosevelt openly sought re-election in 1944, and he faced little opposition for the Democratic nomination. [198] Roosevelt favored Henry Wallace or James Byrnes as his running mate in 1944, but Wallace was unpopular among conservatives in the party, while Byrnes was opposed by liberals and Catholics (Byrnes was an ex-Catholic). At the behest of party leaders, Roosevelt accepted Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, who was acceptable to all factions of the party. Truman was best known for his battle against corruption and inefficiency in wartime spending as the head of the Truman Committee. [199]

Thomas E. Dewey, the Governor of New York and an internationalist, was the odds-on favorite and easily won the nomination at the 1944 Republican National Convention. The GOP lambasted FDR and his administration for domestic corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, tolerance of Communism, and military blunders. Dewey largely avoided foreign policy issues because of the deep split in his party between internationalists and isolationists. Labor unions threw their all-out support behind Roosevelt. Roosevelt won the 1944 election by a comfortable margin with 53.4% of the popular vote and 432 out of the 531 electoral votes. [200] [201]

After returning to the United States from the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt addressed Congress on March 1, [202] and many were shocked to see how old, thin and frail he looked. He spoke while seated in the well of the House, an unprecedented concession to his physical incapacity. Still in full command mentally, he firmly stated his primary commitment to a powerful United Nations:

The Crimean Conference [Yalta] ought to spell the end of a system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries—and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join. [203]

Roosevelt had been in declining health since at least 1940, and by 1944 he was noticeably fatigued. In March 1944, shortly after his 62nd birthday, he underwent testing and was found to have high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease. His heart was failing and there was no cure. On April 12, 1945, he died from a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). [204]

Less than a month after his death, on May 8, the war in Europe ended. Harry Truman, who had become president upon Roosevelt's death, dedicated Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt's memory. Truman kept the flags across the U.S. at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period, saying that his only wish was "that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day." [205] As the Japanese remained in the war, Truman considered authorizing an invasion of the Japanese island of Kyushu, but instead ordered the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after being informed that the Manhattan Project had successfully developed nuclear weapons. The Russians then invaded as they had promised. The helpless Japanese surrendered on the terms that the emperor would remain. [206]

The rapid expansion of government programs that occurred during Roosevelt's term redefined the role of the government in the United States, and Roosevelt's advocacy of government social programs was instrumental in redefining liberalism for coming generations. [207] Roosevelt's direct appeals to the public, legislative leadership, and executive reorganization dramatically changed the powers and responsibilities of the president. [208] The New Deal Coalition that he established transformed national politics, ushering in the Fifth Party System. [209] Through his actions before and during World War II, Roosevelt firmly established a leadership role for the United States on the world stage. His isolationist critics faded away, and even the Republicans joined in his overall policies. [210]

Both during and after his terms, critics of Roosevelt questioned not only his policies and positions, but even more so the consolidation of power in the White House at a time when dictators were taking over Europe and Asia. [211] Many of the New Deal programs were abolished during the war by FDR's opponents. The powerful new wartime agencies were set up to be temporary and expire at war's end. [212] The internment of Japanese-Americans is frequently criticized as a major stain on Roosevelt's record. [213]

After Roosevelt's death, his widow continued to be a forceful presence in U.S. and world politics, serving as delegate to the conference which established the United Nations and championing civil rights and liberalism generally. Truman replaced the Roosevelt cabinet members but the New Deal coalition persisted into the 1960s. Young New Dealer Lyndon B. Johnson as president in 1964-1966 revived the energy and liberalism of the mid 1930s. [214]

In polls of historians and political scientists, Roosevelt is consistently ranked as one of the three greatest presidents alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. [215] [216] [217] Summing up Roosevelt's impact, historian William E. Leuchtenburg writes:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as President from March 1933 to April 1945, the longest tenure in American history. He may have done more during those twelve years to change American society and politics than any of his predecessors in the White House, save Abraham Lincoln. Of course, some of this was the product of circumstances the Great Depression and the rise of Germany and Japan were beyond FDR's control. But his responses to the challenges he faced made him a defining figure in American history. [208]

3 Answers 3


We can't be sure when FDR decided to stand for a third term but the evidence suggests it was not long before the Democratic National Convention (15th to 18th July 1940).

Concerning breaking tradition by running for a 3rd term, reaction from his opponents was vociferous but from the country at large it was mostly fairly muted.


In early July 1940, with the Democratic National Convention scheduled to convene in less than two weeks, the president was moving towards a decision. He likely saw it as perhaps the most important decision of his presidency to date, perhaps even of lifetime. We will never know how he saw it because he faced it alone

Thus we can't be sure. FDR's

practice of solitary decision making. continued through his youth and early adulthood until it became deeply ingrained.

Jean Edward Smith, in FDR, cites Eleanor Roosevelt as also being unsure as to husband's intentions:

"I think my husband was torn" said Eleanor years later. "He would often talk about the reasons against a third term, but there was a great sense of responsibility for what was happening."

However, on July 3rd (12 days before the Democratic National Convention) the then Secretary of State Cordell Hull lunched with FDR. During the course of the meal, he came to the conclusion the President had likely already made up his mind. Hull relates that at a previous meeting 10 days before, FDR had advocated his (Hull's) candidacy, but that at the July 3rd meeting FDR was listing reasons why Hull should not be the candidate. Thus, if Hull read the situation correctly, FDR made up his mind sometime during the ten days before July 3rd.

Many close observers believed at the time that FDR had long before decided to run again it was obvious, they concluded, that this man of outsized ambition would find a way to remain in the job he loved. Many historians and biographers have concluded as well that the decision was inevitable.

. in fact the decision was far from inevitable. President Roosevelt never challenged the wisdom of the sacrosanct two-term tradition. On the contrary, as his second term wound down, he made specific plans to retire to his beloved Hyde Park in January of 1941. Colliers magazine had persuaded him to sign a lucrative three-year contract to write regular articles

(The contract with Collier's was signed in January 1940.) Smith concurs with Moe that FDR's decision was not inevitable Roosevelt was concerned about his health, was already transferring papers to his library and his retirement home was nearing completion. FDR also stated he didn't want to run unless "things get very, very much worse in Europe."

According to both Smith and Moe, FDR did not take the decision to run for an unprecedented 3rd term lightly but was swayed by the situation in Europe the collapse of France in June 1940 left Britain as the only European power still resisting Hitler. Roosevelt felt that he was the only one with the experience to deal with the situation.

The Democratic Party wanted FDR to run as they felt that none of the other prospective candidates would be able to defeat the strong (though politically inexperienced) Republican candidate, Wendell Willkie. The decision of his vice-President, John Garner, to seek the Democratic nomination stemmed at least partly from strong disagreements with the President on some key policies how much he was influenced by his reading of FDR's intentions is hard to tell. For the record, Roosevelt made his decision public on the 11th of July 1940.

On the reaction to FDR's decision, fdrlibrary says

The 1940 election was the most challenging and divisive of FDR’s political career. The President’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term inflamed his opponents—and some former supporters—who charged he wanted to become a dictator. And his efforts to aid countries fighting the Axis Powers led to charges he would drag America into war.

The Republicans certainly made much of the 3rd term, and they were joined by some democrats, even though there was at that time no bar in the constitution. Teddy Roosevelt (as noted by Pieter Geerkens in his comment) regretted his comment about two terms being enough, and Ulysses S. Grant had wanted a third term but lacked the support of his party. However, the weakness of Vice-President Garner's candidacy and FDR's economic record were enough to get him the nomination and win the election. Some of the badges below, though, give a good idea as to how Republicans - and some democrats - felt about a third term.

As you noted in your question, Willkie's criticism was somewhat muted, and he wasn't much of a campaigner:

Willkie proved lackluster on the stump and he seemed to agree with much of FDR's domestic and foreign agenda. In late September, though, Willkie began to tighten the race, largely by charging that if FDR won a third term, "you may expect that we will be at war." Roosevelt countered that he would not send Americans to fight in "any foreign war." Over its last month, the campaign degenerated into a series of outrageous accusations and mud-slinging, if not by the two candidates themselves then by their respective parties.

Wilkie, in fact, worked with FDR after the election, sharing the President's concern about the situation in Europe (and certainly a proportion of the electorate shared that concern, even if not a majority).

Despite the noise made by FDR's opponents, a majority of the electorate did not in fact favour limiting a president to two terms if a Gallup poll conducted in 1939 is to be believed. According to this poll, 37% were in favour of a two-term limit while 51% were against such a limit (12% no opinion). Interestingly, George Gallup was a republican and Roosevelt suspected that Gallups polls in the lead up to the election would do him no favours - this poll, though, did.

Analysis of polls conducted on issues relating to American policy on Europe indicate that America was not as isolationist as many believe. Bear F. Braumoeller, then Assistant Professor at Harvard University, has labelled it a 'myth'. In his article The Myth of American Isolationism, his abstract states:

American policy in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor was in fact quite responsive to events on the European continent. Isolationists did exist, of course, but they never came close to constituting a majority. In short, American isolationism is a myth.

Perhaps 'myth' is a little strong for polling shows that there certainly were millions of Americans who wanted to keep their country out of the European conflict. The America First Committee had 800,000 members at its peak and congress was strongly isolationist throughout the 1930s. Nonetheless, as Braumoeller states later in his article,

The events of May and June 1940, especially the surrender of France on June 22, produced a drastic change in American perceptions of the European balance.

Even so, newspaper headlines such the one below (on July 11, the day Roosevelt formally announced his intention to run) show that opposition to entering the war was still vociferous in some quarters.

Polling data indicates that two months before the election on November 5th, around 50% of Americans favoured helping Britain, and this figure continued to rise. Berinsky et al in Revisiting Public Opinion in the 1930s and 1940s write that

Majority support for the policy of helping England, even at the risk of war with Germany, was attained during the 1940 election

Another poll found that, even in September 1939, 38% of Americans thought the US should Help Allies with Food and Materials, as opposed to 36% who thought the US should sell food to anyone and 21% who favoured strict neutrality. By March 1940, around 65% of Americans felt that the help given to Britain and France by the then current Cash and carry policy was 'about right'.

Roosevelt was avid follower of polls (though he distrusted Gallup in particular) and would have been aware of the general direction in which American public opinion was going, even though early polling data was far from reliable. His political instincts weren't wrong by October 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor, support for helping England had already reached 70%.

Steven Casey, Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War against Nazi Germany

When did FDR announce he was running for a third term and was their any outrage.

There appears to be a lack of serious or strong criticism and I'm trying to understand why. It appears people trusted FDR for a war, and yet America was supposedly very isolationist, so I am having trouble why most Americans would vote for FDR when he appears, to me, very vulnerable to these criticism.

Review of Richard Moe's "Roosevelt's Second Act"

Can anything new be written about Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Yes, most certainly.

Ever since I can remember, presidential candidates have called the upcoming vote “the most important election of our lives.” The phrase has become a staple of political rhetoric. In an extraordinary new book, Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War, Richard Moe convincingly demonstrated why the contest that elected FDR to a third term might well have been the most important election in American history, rivaling that of 1864.

The author of several books, Moe served as Vice President Walter Mondale’s chief of staff and as a senior advisor to President Jimmy Carter and later served for 17 years as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Moe’s government experience is a tremendous asset, as the author displays a highly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the many forces at work behind the curtain in the Roosevelt Administration. He writes with real insight about the key players of the time, and helps the reader to understand the competing forces at play in the political process.

The 1940 campaign is fascinating on many levels, not least the fact that 1940 would be not only the first, but also the last time, due to the 22 nd Amendment (proposed in 1947 and ratified in 1951), that a candidate would be nominated for a third term. Moe has chosen a truly unique moment in American history, one that will never be repeated again. Surprisingly, FDR’s decision is the subject of little scholarship.

Woven throughout is how Roosevelt kept one eye on developments overseas in Europe and the other on the 1940 election, and his commitment both to stopping the spread of fascism abroad and preserving his reform programs at home. Neither was a given. In fact, each of FDR’s desires faced tough odds: America did not have the military means to enforce the former, and a slew of conservative opposition among not only Republicans but also among Democrats threatened the legacy of the New Deal.

The challenges FDR faced were many: the 1935 Neutrality Act getting the blame for the recession following his 1936 reelection and the lingering anger towards Roosevelt for both his court packing attempt and his effort in 1938 to rid the Democratic Party of conservatives opposed to his reforms. Above all, FDR was an internationalist in a traditionally isolationist nation. Moe shows how visionary Roosevelt was in warning of the fascist menace of world domination. In his January 1939 annual address to Congress, FDR called Hitler a threat to “religion, democracy, and international good faith” (44). Moe’s writing is filled with wonderful turn of phrases, such as “Roosevelt was learning how to shift policy gears from domestic to foreign, much as he had learned how to shift gears on the hand-operated car that he had designed himself and which he used at Hyde Park” (30).

Moe offers engaging and vivid portraits of a wide range of figures: Eleanor Roosevelt Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, FDR’s secretary isolationist Charles Lindbergh, who along with Roosevelt, were “the two best-known and most-admired people in America” (13) Joseph Kennedy, the Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and the animosity the two had for each other the possible successors to Roosevelt and his complicated relationships with them: Vice President John Nance Garner WPA administer Harry L. Hopkins (“the new Louis Howe” (145)) Secretary of State Cordell Hull DNC Chairman Jim Farley Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes Assistant Attorney General Robert H. Jackson and Henry A. Wallace, a Republican from Iowa and a cabinet member since 1932. Other figures in the drama include Senator William E. Borah, the government’s leading isolationist the complicated Roosevelt/Churchill relationship and, of course, Republican nominee Wendell Wilkie. Moe also offers a fascinating history of the two term tradition in American politics, with illuminating observations on Washington, Jefferson, Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. The book is especially insightful in describing Roosevelt’s speech-writing process and the astonishing synchronicity FDR shared with Sam Rosenman, his principle writer.

Roosevelt’s Second Act convincingly challenges the notion that Roosevelt had long wanted a third term. In fact, Roosevelt was eager to retire to Hyde Park, for a variety of personal and financial reasons. He had already broken ground for his presidential library. “Retirement was on Roosevelt’s mind, and he enjoyed anticipating it” (15). In February 1940 FDR complained: “I am tied down to this chair day after day, week after week, and month after month. And I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t go on with it” (96). The main reason for even considering a third term was the threat of war. Moe argues that in early 1940, “there is nothing in the written record to suggest that he had made a decision” to run or not (97). As FDR told Henry Morganthau, “I do not want to run unless between now and the [July] convention things get very, very much worse in Europe” (109).

Moe concludes that were he to choose to run, “it would be more the result of duty than of desire” and, most of all, due to “his supreme confidence in his own capacity to lead the country facing a dire emergency” (120). Yet Roosevelt showed no signs of wanting to. A White House cook and housekeeper recalled that at the time “we were clearing out storerooms … in fact, the Roosevelts were closing up” (173). Furthermore, Roosevelt’s health was uncertain, and his family was nearly unanimous in wanting him to leave office.

Why delay the decision? One reason was that FDR did not want to appear as a lame duck and face the resulting political consequences. Furthermore, Roosevelt realized that Hitler was well aware of the limits the president faced at home should he announce his retirement from politics.

FDR faced a tough test. “My problem is to get the American people to think of conceivable consequences without scaring the American people into thinking that they are going to get dragged into this war,” he wrote in early 1940 (104). Isolationist sentiment was overwhelming: a mere 8% of Americans wanted the Nation to enter the war in 1940. America’s military preparedness was almost laughable.

It was under these circumstances that FDR chose the risky path of arming Britain, “one of the great gambles of history” (139). Military leaders were against it. Arms captured by Germany could be used against the United States. It would not be a stretch, Moe reminds us, to conceive of Roosevelt’s actions leading to impeachment. In many respects, FDR faced many of the same trials as that of Lincoln. Roosevelt’s challenge was making sure he did not get ahead of public opinion. As Lincoln famously uttered in 1858, “Public sentiment is everything” (328).

Moe’s understanding of the intricacies involved in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of politics provides for a rollicking account of the June 1940 Republican convention in Philadelphia, held just 10 days after France fell. Wilkie, until recently a Democrat, upset Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, New Yorker Thomas E. Dewey, and Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft—FDR’s predicted pick to be the G.O.P. nominee. Roosevelt was not the only candidate forced to juggle: though Wilkie opposed the regulations of the New Deal, he “unabashedly supported all-out aid to Britain and France” (158).

The wheeling and dealing at the convention—one candidate offering another a coin flip to decide who would be the head and who would be the vice presidential member of the ticket the struggle over the wording of the party platform the horse-trading needed to secure the nomination—makes for riveting reading. And in a line that could not more accurately describe today’s current fights in Washington, Moe writes of the “hard-core conservatives who left Philadelphia deeply resentful that the GOP had been captured by … the ‘establishment’” (169).

What would FDR decide to do? He speculated that if the war in Europe ended before Election Day, Wilkie would emerge victorious. Farley and Garner revved up their efforts to secure the nomination. The president spoke of being “forced to run for a third term” (188). In Moe’s analysis, FDR’s decision to seek reelection “was indeed justified … by the unprecedented danger confronting the nation and the world. Events had thrust this role upon him” (194). Roosevelt’s choice not to retire changed the very nature of the presidency. He broke tradition in other ways, too, such as by personally choosing his vice president, Wallace (who was not FDR’s first choice).

The chaotic Democratic convention in Chicago would see Democrats struggle with the content of their platform, among other concerns. As FDR remained holed up in Hyde Park, confusion reigned in the city where the President had accepted his party’s nomination in 1932. To complicate matters further, Moe describes FDR’s “threat to reject his own nomination if Wallace wasn’t selected as his running mate” (233). Between games of solitaire, FDR wrote out in longhand a speech declining the nomination. Here we see “the paradox that was Roosevelt at times:” the president “was willing to gamble everything to have his way,” to make sure Democrats “were the party of liberalism and … the party of internationalism.” To Moe, Roosevelt’s “stubbornness bordered on arrogance, and the arrogance sometimes on hubris” (236). But the remarkable speech he wrote that evening, of course never delivered, captured FDR’s vision of the “soul” of the Democratic Party as perhaps no other speech he gave.

Moe is at his best describing the inner workings of Congress in getting Churchill much needed military equipment, in the period following the convention, through the destroyer deal. Here we see Roosevelt playing a game of international-relations-chess at the level of a Grandmaster, causing one to question the first part of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous statement about FDR, for Roosevelt clearly had a first class intellect, too. FDR not only got the needed supplies to Churchill, but politically boxed in Wilkie, too, setting the stage for the president’s reelection. “Roosevelt is not running against Wendell Wilkie,” one wise Republican noted. “He’s running against Adolf Hitler” (p. 276).

Despite FDR’s wide lead in the polls that fall, Moe’s account still reads like a thriller as he describes the many hurdles in Roosevelt’s way: the CIO’s John Lewis’ endorsement of Wilkie Lindbergh’s continued popularity the lingering fear that FDR would send American boys into war and the threat of an “October Surprise” (long before that term was coined) in the form of a last-minute Kennedy endorsement for Wilkie. (Moe’s depiction of the hatred between FDR and Kennedy leads one to wonder how JFK in 1960 ever managed to escape his Father’s dark shadow.) Moe captures perfectly the tension in the room in Hyde Park as Roosevelt waited for the election returns, writing with enormous sensitivity and insight and with the dramatic flair of a novelist. That scene alone is worth the price of this book.

Roosevelt’s Second Act ends with a splendid discussion of the Four Freedoms and the struggle to pass the Lend-Lease Act. “Although execution of the decision to run for a third term was often messy, unattractive, and laced with arrogance,” Moe concludes, “its essence came from Roosevelt’s moral core” (327). Had FDR not been elected, “it is anyone’s guess what the outcomes would have been, but they would not have been the same” (329).

Moe’s study reveals the essential character traits of FDR: calm, steadfast, and supremely confident of his own abilities, and yet at the same time secretive, manipulative, and needing to be in control.

But FDR also remains a paradox: a loner and a solitary figure, almost unknowable, yet a man who also had the need to be surrounded by people. Often a pragmatist, Roosevelt also emerges in these pages as an idealist of the utmost order. Moe’s interpretation reminds one of why Frances Perkins, in her 1946 book The Roosevelt I Knew, called FDR “the most complicated human being I ever knew.”

Above all, FDR showed political instincts of the highest degree: among his more successful moves in the 1940 campaign was his decision, announced days before the Republican convention, to bring into his cabinet as secretary of war and the navy Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox, “two of the most prominent and respected Republicans in the country” (159).

Indeed, what is striking about the era Moe recounts is that, for all its rancor, there existed an extraordinarily high level of bipartisanship, or at least fluidity among party identification. Wilkie and Wallace had each very recently switched political parties. And Knox had been the 1936 Republican vice presidential candidate. It is impossible to imagine either Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan assisting President Obama in any fashion whatsoever as Knox did by sending a Republican New Deal critic, William J. Donovan—“Wild Bill”—on a secret mission to England. Moe also writes of the genuine friendship that FDR and Wilkie developed after the election, again something completely foreign to our era, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, though that relationship developed a good fifteen years after their 1992 contest, not a mere few months, as in 1941.

The book occasionally suffers from excessive repetition. There are too frequent reminders of the failed 1937 court packing plan. When Moe writes that, “The most compelling issue moving Roosevelt toward running, however, was the war” (177), by that point in the text such an assertion has already been made obvious. And the rather detailed chapter on the Democrat’s Chicago Convention reads a little too much “Inside-baseball.”

But these are minor quibbles. Most of all, the topics raised by the book remain highly current.

Many of the attacks on Obama—and, for that matter, on George W. Bush and Clinton—seem tame by comparison to 1940. We forget how truly polarizing a figure FDR was. And today’s media would have had a field day with the tension between Roosevelt and his vice president, John Garner, whom the president “had come to detest” (84). The book is also a useful reminder of how hard it is, as John Kerry found out in 2004, to unseat a sitting president in time of war.

And then there is 2016. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton today has effectively “frozen the field.” The Nation eagerly awaits her decision whether or not to seek the presidency, and to a potential Third Term, of sorts, for Bill Clinton. Waiting in the wings, of course, is also Jeb Bush, who harbors dreams of a different type of Third Term for the Bush family. Should either (or both) run for the presidency, many of the same issues and concerns that first arose in 1940 will be in the public arena again.

When Theodore Roosevelt considered running in 1912, he said that Americans “were ‘sick and tired’ of the Roosevelts.” FDR shared the same concern in late 1939 (94). Recently, Barbara Bush echoed these sentiments regarding her family, as have, of course, critics of the Clintons. Will we see in a few years a return of much of the same rhetoric from 1940?

Roosevelt’s Second Act is a spellbinding read and a deeply impressive achievement, remarkably detailed and thoroughly researched. Moe makes both Roosevelt’s decision to run as well as the 1940 election incredibly suspenseful, even though both outcomes are known. This reader hopes that Moe himself has a second act within him to showcase his many gifts as an historian: perhaps another book, on the election of 1944?

Roosevelt 1932

The long presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt covered a crucial and historical time in America. From the day his first campaign began until his death in 1945, FDR led a nation through perilous and defining times the Great Depression and World War II brought challenges that no other president had faced then or since. Although history will continue to identify the advances and accomplishments of his terms in office, the following timeline represents important events occurring during the years of 1932-1934, 1936-1937 and 1944-1945, the most formative years of the Roosevelt presidency.

  • June 22 - July 2, 1932: Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt received the Democratic nomination for the presidency in a four-ballot runoff against former New York Governor Al Smith.
  • July 3 - November 8, 1932: Roosevelt ran on a platform of reducing federal spending, repealing prohibition and a New Deal for the American people. He won with 57% of the popular vote and 89% of the electoral votes.
  • March 4, 1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inauguration as the 32nd President. Appointed Francis Perkins Secretary of Labor, the first woman to be a cabinet member.
  • March 5, 1933: President Roosevelt declared a four-day bank holiday to stop the banking collapse resulting from people removing deposits for fear of losing their money.
  • March 9, 1933: Congress, in a special session, passed the Emergency Banking Act to allow only solvent banks to reopen, which immediately stopped the banking crises and restored public confidence.
  • March 12, 1933: President Roosevelt broadcasted his first "fireside chat," one of several that served as a direct line of communication with the American people.
  • March 31, 1933: The Reforestation Relief Act passed by Congress formed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) providing immediate work for 250,000 young men it eventually employed several million.
  • April 5 -19, 1933: On April 5, FDR issued Executive Order 6102 requiring that all gold held by individuals be returned to the federal government in exchange for paper currency. On April 19, he issued a presidential proclamation eliminating the gold standard to make more money available to stimulate the economy.
  • May 12, 1933: The Federal Emergency Relief Act is passed, providing states grant money instead of federal loans to hire unemployed workers for state construction projects. On the same day, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration was formed to limit crop production and to pay farmers subsidies for not farming.
  • May 18, 1933: The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is formed to provide jobs, control flooding and to make electricity available in remote regions of the Tennessee Valley. It became one of FDR's most successful social projects during his administration.
  • May 27, 1933: The Federal Securities Act is passed requiring that all stocks and bonds issued be approved and registered by the U.S. government.
  • June 16, 1933 (Last day of FDR's 100 days): The National Industry Recovery Act to revitalize industry was passed. The establishment of the Public Works Administration (PWA) occurred to provide construction jobs for federal projects, and the National Recovery Administration was formed to help consumers and producers through production limits and price controls. Congress also passed the Banking Act of 1933 which created both the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect bank deposits and the Farm Credit Act to provide short and long-term credit to farmers.
  • August 5, 1933: Franklin Roosevelt formed the National Labor Board to enforce the collective bargaining rights of unions, which was a drastic change in the way the federal government viewed labor.
  • November 8, 1933: FDR issued an executive order to establish the Civil Works Administration (CWA) for the purpose of hiring the unemployed for federal work.
  • January 30, 1934: The Gold Reserve Act is passed by Congress giving the president authority over the value of the U.S. dollar.
  • January 31, 1934: FDR signed the Farm Mortgage Refinancing Act to help farmers refinance mortgages on better credit terms.
  • April 28, 1934: President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Home Owners Loan Act to promote home construction and provide jobs for the unemployed.
  • June 6, 1934: The Securities Exchange Act is signed by FDR to create the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) responsible for overseeing stocks.
  • June 7, 1934: Congress passed the Corporate Bankruptcy Act to allow corporations to reorganize before declaring bankruptcy in an effort to prevent another depression.
  • June 28, 1934: FDR signs bills creating the Federal Farm Bankruptcy Act to stop farm foreclosures and the Federal Housing Administration to promote homebuilding.
  • January 4, 1935: In his State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt discusses the second phase of his New Deal, which will focus on long-term issues, such as improved housing, changing them from a temporary to a sustained measure to protect the vulnerable citizens.
  • April 8, 1935: The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act is passed by Congress which will help rural and urban families move to productive regions of the U.S.
  • May 6, 1935: FDR issues as executive order establishing the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide federal and state work for the employed.
  • May 11, 1935: Roosevelt establishes the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to loan money for the building of power plants and installation of power lines to rural areas.
  • August 14, 1935: The Social Security Act is signed by President Roosevelt guaranteeing citizens over the age of 65 as well as dependent children and the blind a form of income and financial security.
  • June 27, 1936: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated for his second presidential term.
  • November 3, 1936: President Franklin Roosevelt is elected to his second term by defeating Alf Landon. FDR won 61% of the popular vote and 99% of the electoral votes.
  • January 20, 1937: Franklin Roosevelt is inaugurated for his second term, promising to continue restoring the economy of America through more New Deal programs.
  • July 22, 1937: Congress passes legislation forming the Farm Securities Administration (FSA) to provide low-cost loans to farmers.
  • September 2, 1937: Congress passed legislation that formed the U.S. Housing Authority to administer financing for rural home construction.
  • January 3, 1938: FDR uses his State of the Union Address to speak about self-defense and building up the U.S. military forces, a precursor to entering World War II, while continuing to address economic recovery and social changes.
  • June 25, 1938: The Fair Labor Standards Act is signed into law establishing the forty-hour work week and raising the minimum wage, which is limited to business dealing in interstate commerce.
  • July 14-26, 1939: President Roosevelt asked Congress to revise laws and cancel trade agreements with Axis countries in the likelihood that the U.S. will enter the war.
  • September 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland - World War II begins.
  • September 3, 1939: FDR declares U.S. neutrality in the war.
  • October 18, 1939: President Roosevelt closes all waters and ports in the U.S. to Axis countries, particularly submarines.
  • May 10, 1940: Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain and sent FDR the first of several telegrams requesting American participation and aid in the war.
  • May 25, 1940: FDR founded the Office for Emergency Management in support of his belief that entrance into the war will come for the U.S.
  • June 10, 1940: President Roosevelt announced that the U.S. will support the Allies in the war without actually engaging in warfare.
  • June - July, 1940: Roosevelt is nominated for a third term running against Wendell L. Willkie, a Republican.
  • June 28, 1940: Congress passed the Alien Registration Act requiring all aliens to register with the government. The bill also made it illegal to advocate an overthrow of the U.S. government through force.
  • September 16, 1940: FDR signed the Selective Training and Service Act which allowed for the first peace-time military draft it required all men from twenty-one to thirty-five to register for military training and possible drafting.
  • November 5, 1940: In a close election, FDR is elected to an unprecedented third presidential term.
  • January 6, 1941: President Roosevelt asked Congress to support his desire to help the Allies in defense of the "four freedoms." This State of the Union Address became known as "The Four Freedoms" speech, a motto for the military in all subsequent wars.
  • January 20, 1941: President Roosevelt is inaugurated for a third term.
  • March 11, 1941: FDR signed the Lend-Lease Act, allowing the U.S. to lend arms and war materials to the Allies without officially declaring war against the Axis.
  • June 25, 1941: The Fair Employment Practices Committee is formed by FDR's executive order for the purpose of preventing discrimination in the growing defense industry. This action permitted women to enter the workforce in large numbers, changing the role of women in the workplace forever.
  • September 11, 1941: Because of attacks on U.S. ships, FDR ordered Navy planes to shoot any Axis ships operating in U.S. defensive water.
  • December 7, 1941: Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the morning and declared war on the U.S. that evening.
  • December 8, 1941: In a special session of Congress, FDR said the bombing of Pearl Harbor was "a date which will live in infamy" and asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Congress complied that same day.
  • December 11, 1941: Congress declared war on Germany and Italy in response to those countries having declared war on the U.S.
  • February 20, 1942: FDR authorized a program to move Japanese-Americans to internment camps to prevent them from providing any sort of aid to the enemy.
  • May 15, 1942: The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAC) and WAVES (for the Navy) are formed to support the men during wartime. Gasoline rationing begins in seventeen states.
  • January 27, 1943: FDR approved an all-American bombing raid on Germany.
  • March 1, 1943: Food rationing began in the U.S. starting with canned goods and extending to all food. Rationing coupons were issued to buy such food.
  • April 8, 1943: In order to curb inflation, FDR froze salaries, wages and prices.
  • June 22, 1944: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act providing financial aid to military veterans for housing, education and other services is signed by President Roosevelt. This Act would eventually become known as the G. I. Bill.
  • July 1 - 22, 1944: Forty-four nations hold a conference on monetary and financial matters. The World Bank was formed to oversee international policies regarding the global economy and an international money fund to regulate currency values in a balanced way.
  • July 19 - 21, 1944: The Democratic Party nominated Franklin Roosevelt for his fourth term as president in spite of concern for FDR's declining health.
  • August 21 - October 7, 1944: FDR and his representatives participated in a conference with Britain, the U.S.S.R. and China to formulate plans for the United Nations to promote peace through legal solutions to global problems.
  • November 7, 1944: Franklin Roosevelt won his fourth election over Thomas Dewey with 54% of the popular vote and 432 electoral votes. His message and platform centered on world peace and the position of the U.S. to lead the change.
  • January 20, 1945: President Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated for a fourth and final term. Due to security concerns, food rationing and a general shortage of supplies, the inauguration was held at the White House without a parade or any celebrations.
  • February 4-11, 1945: FDR, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin attend the Yalta Conference to plan the last assault on Germany and democratic forms of government for all European countries following the end of the war.
  • April 12, 1945: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia. Vice President Harry S. Truman is sworn in as the new president.
  • April 15, 1945: FDR is buried at his lifelong home, Springwood, in Hyde Park, New York.

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The Great Depression

The Depression worsened in the months preceding Roosevelt's inauguration, March 4, 1933. Factory closings, farm foreclosures, and bank failures increased, while unemployment soared. Roosevelt faced the greatest crisis in American history since the Civil War. He undertook immediate actions to initiate his New Deal programs. To halt depositor panics, he closed the banks temporarily. Then he worked with a special session of Congress during the first "100 days" to pass recovery legislation which set up alphabet agencies such as the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) to support farm prices and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to employ young men. Other agencies assisted business and labor, insured bank deposits, regulated the stock market, subsidized home and farm mortgage payments, and aided the unemployed. These measures revived confidence in the economy. Banks reopened and direct relief saved millions from starvation. But the New Deal measures also involved government directly in areas of social and economic life as never before and resulted in greatly increased spending and unbalanced budgets which led to criticisms of Roosevelt's programs. However, the nation-at-large supported Roosevelt, and elected additional Democrats to state legislatures and governorships in the mid-term elections.

Another flurry of New Deal legislation followed in 1935 including the establishment of the Works Projects Administration (WPA) which provided jobs not only for laborers but also artists, writers, musicians, and authors, and the Social Security act which provided unemployment compensation and a program of old-age and survivors' benefits.

Roosevelt easily defeated Alfred M. Landon in 1936 and went on to defeat by lesser margins, Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas E. Dewey in 1944. He thus became the only American president to serve more than two terms.

After his overwhelming victory in 1936, Roosevelt took on the critics of the New Deal, namely, the Supreme Court, which had declared various legislation unconstitutional, and members of his own party. In 1937 he proposed to add new justices to the Supreme Court, but critics said he was "packing" the Court and undermining the separation of powers. His proposal was defeated, but the Court began to decide in favor of New Deal legislation. During the 1938 election he campaigned against many Democratic opponents, but this backfired when most were reelected to Congress. These setbacks, coupled with the recession that occurred midway through his second term, represented the low-point in Roosevelt's presidential career.

What if FDR Had Not Run for a Third Term?

In January 1940, president Franklin D. Roosevelt is one year from completing his second term in office. While there is no constitutional prohibition against seeking a third term—and will not be until the 22nd Amendment is ratified in 1951—no previous president has defied the precedent established by George Washington in 1796 that two terms is enough. One prominent Republican growls that for a president to hold office for 12 years would be a long step toward totalitarianism.

But FDR doesn’t appear to be headed in that direction. On New Year’s Day, the Chicago Tribune reports that if FDR seeks a third term it will divide the Democratic Party, set the stage for a floor fight at the Democratic National Convention when it meets in July, and open the door to a Republican victory in the general election that November. For these reasons, the paper says that FDR “has abandoned any notion of seeking a third term and will back Secretary of State Cordell Hull for the nomination.”

FDR’s private actions and conversations support that report. On January 20 he signs a three-year contract with Collier’s magazine to write 26 articles for a commission of $1.2 million per year (at present-day values). Four days later he tells a cabinet member, “I do not want to run unless between now and the convention things get very, very much worse in Europe.” He speaks with enthusiasm about the imminent removal of his public papers to a new presidential library in Hyde Park, New York. And in February he complains of being chained to the presidential chair “from morning till night…. And I can’t stand it any longer.”

Of course, FDR is a famously canny, sometimes devious politician. It cannot be ruled out that secretly he hopes for a third term. Observers note that he does little to groom a successor for the presidency. His refusal to firmly declare that he will or will not be a candidate makes it impossible for other Democratic aspirants to campaign openly for the nomination. In any event, the shocking defeat of France in June 1940 assuredly means that things in Europe have gotten “very, very much worse.” FDR announces that while he will not campaign for the nomination, if he is drafted to run at the convention, he will do so.

The gambit backfires. Jim Farley, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, visits FDR at the president’s private home in Hyde Park to urge him against even a tacit run for a third term. When this fails, Farley allows supporters to place his own name in nomination. Newspaper editorials across the country blast FDR as disingenuous. Despite initial support from numerous state delegations, the “Draft FDR” movement collapses. But so does the convention, for the delegates cannot agree upon a candidate to rally behind. After numerous ballots it settles, in a spirit of exhaustion rather than enthusiasm, upon the candidate to whom FDR has given his support: 69-year-old Cordell Hull.

The ensuing campaign is a disaster for the Democrats and an unexpected triumph for the Republicans. Hull shows scant aptitude for the campaign trail. The GOP, on the other hand, has nominated an unlikely but charismatic 48-year-old candidate, Wendell Willkie. The president of a major utilities holding company, Willkie has never run for public office. But he has extensive experience in politics and proves an adept and vigorous candidate. Crisscrossing the country in a 16-car train dubbed the “Willkie Special,” he racks up 18,789 miles through 31 states, stopping to make 560 speeches.

A Democrat until January 1940, Willkie is what will one day be described as a “modern Republican.” He accepts most aspects of the New Deal and is critical mainly of the way FDR has administered its programs. A liberal on civil rights, he does much to bring the black vote back to “the party of Lincoln.” He does surprisingly well in courting the labor vote and gains the endorsement of several prominent labor organizers. And unlike many Republicans, Willkie is an internationalist, meaning that he rejects isolationist policies and favors a foreign policy that supports the foes of Nazi, Fascist, and Japanese aggression. In November, he soundly defeats Cordell Hull.

The above scenario is historically accurate in every detail, save that the “Draft FDR” gambit worked and Roosevelt defeated Willkie for the presidency in 1940. Roosevelt’s reluctance to run for a third term is a matter of record, as is Farley’s strident opposition to such a run and the misgivings of several prominent newspapers about the propriety of his doing so. The story of Willkie’s astonishing campaign is also factually correct. Willkie lost to FDR by 5 million votes, amassing more votes than any Republican nominee between 1928 and 1952.

But what if Willkie had become president in 1940? His subsequent career pro vides numerous clues as to the policies he would have pursued. During the 1940 campaign, Willkie supported FDR’s decision to give 50 World War I destroyers to Great Britain in exchange for basing rights in the Caribbean. He also supported passage of the 1940 Selective Service Act, the first peacetime draft in American history, as well as the Lend-Lease Act. In February 1941 he made a goodwill trip to Great Britain that underscored America’s commitment to that embattled nation. A round-the-world tour followed the next year and, in 1943, he published an inter nationalist manifesto that criticized European colonialism, looked to China as a rising power, and favored the creation of international institutions similar to the eventual United Nations. All this indicates that as president, Willkie would have pursued policies similar to Roosevelt’s.

The record suggests that he might have differed with FDR in only two important respects. Although he refrained from direct criticism of the Japanese American relocation program, his public remarks imply that he regarded it as unnecessary and unjust. And during a visit to Moscow in 1942, he went on record as favoring “a real second front in western Europe at the earliest possible moment our military leaders will approve.” Since American military planners strongly favored an early cross-Channel attack, it is possible that President Willkie would have eschewed Operation Torch—the invasion of west ern North Africa—in favor of Operation Roundup, the American plan for a 1943 cross-Channel attack. Had he done so— and had the Americans succeeded in persuading their reluctant British allies—it is likely that the attempt would have achieved at best a limited foothold on the Continent. It might even have failed altogether, and possibly prolonged the war.

Two other important issues remain, of necessity, imponderable. Could Willkie, as a first-term president without previous experience in public office, have been as effective a commander in chief as Franklin D. Roosevelt? Probably not. But as an inexperienced though intelligent first-term president, he would likely have accepted the counsel of the highly competent American senior command even more readily than did FDR. Second, Willkie died of a massive heart attack in October 1944. Given the stresses of the office, one must assume that he would have met the same fate had he been elected president. And since his running mate, Sen. Charles McNary of Oregon, died even sooner—in February 1944—Willkie would have had to nominate someone to replace McNary as vice president. That raises an even greater unknown: Who then would have been president in 1945, faced with the awesome decision to use the atomic bomb?

Originally published in the September 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.

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