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War!:  The Third Term Decision/1940 Election Campaign

The Third Term Decision

"This is no ordinary time, no time for weighing anything except what we can best do for the country as a whole."

     - Eleanor Roosevelt, Speech at the 1940 Democratic National Convention, July 18, 1940

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1940, while war raged in Europe, FDR refused to reveal whether he would run for a third term. When the Democratic Convention opened in Chicago in July delegates were in a sour mood as they waited for a sign. FDR insisted that the delegates "draft" him. He did not want to be seen as actively seeking to break the two-term tradition.

This standoff persisted until FDR's supporters stage-managed a dramatic "Draft Roosevelt" floor demonstration. The delegates quickly nominated the President. But they balked at FDR's choice for Vice President - the liberal Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. Seeking to break the deadlock, FDR asked Eleanor to fly to Chicago to address the convention - an unprecedented act for a First Lady. Speaking without notes, ER soothed the troubled delegates. Her remarkable speech ensured Wallace's nomination.

1940 Election Campaign

"The fact which dominates our world is the fact of armed aggression...aimed at the form of Government, the kind of society that we in the United States have chosen and established for ourselves."

     - Franklin Roosevelt, Radio Address to the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Nomination, July 19, 1940

The 1940 election was the most challenging and divisive of FDR's career. Two powerful issues dominated the campaign. Roosevelt's decision to seek a third term inflamed his opponents - and some former supporters - who charged he wanted to become a dictator. And the President's efforts to aid countries fighting the Axis Powers led to charges he would drag America into war.

FDR made two politically risky decisions during the campaign. Straining traditional notions of neutrality, he transferred 50 aged American destroyers to Britain in return for leases on British bases in the Atlantic. And he supported legislation instituting the nation's first peacetime draft.

Overseas events decisively influenced the election. Hitler's conquest of France in June heightened concern about Germany. Public opinion began turning in Roosevelt's direction and his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie backed the President's controversial decisions. In November, he was reelected.
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