A Third Term for FDR
The Election of 1940
John W. Jeffries
In 1940, for the first time since America’s founding, a sitting president sought a third term in office. But this was only one remarkable aspect of that year’s election, which was, as John Jeffries makes clear in his new book, one of the most interesting and important elections in American history.
Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Supreme Court had failed; in the wake of a recent recession, his New Deal had hardened support and opposition among both parties; and the German advance across Europe, along with Japanese aggression in Asia, was stirring fierce debate over America’s role in the world. Adding to the moment of profound uncertainty was FDR’s procrastination over whether to run again. Jeffries explores how these tensions played out and what they meant, not just for the presidential election but also for domestic politics and policy generally, and for state and local contests. In the context of the Roosevelt Coalition and the New Deal party system, he parses the debates and struggles within both the Democratic and Republican parties as Roosevelt deliberated over running and Wendell Wilkie, a businessman from Indiana and New York City, got the nod from Republicans over a field including the rising moderate Thomas E. Dewey, the conservative Michigan senator Arthur Vandenburg, and the isolationist Ohio senator Robert Taft.
“This concise yet remarkably comprehensive history of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s race for a historically unique third term can serve as a helpful primer for students, historians, or political scientists seeking introductions to the issues, personalities, political activities, and electorate behavior in one of the most consequential elections in United States, indeed world, history.”
“The contributions of A Third Term for FDR are not limited to FDR or the 1940 election. Jeffries’ attention to detail illustrates how volatile America was in the 1930s and also examines transitions that the country was experiencing.”
—Congress & The PresidencySee all reviews...
“A comprehensive, compelling, and concise narrative of the tumultuous 1940 presidential election cycle, mixing ideological clashes, personality conflicts, and voluminous electoral data. Jeffries’s book focuses attention on the domestic successes and intra-party corralling that enabled his unprecedented candidacy.”
“Has the right mix of interesting, often humorous stories, and academic and statistical analysis. Scholars, professional historians, and policy wonks will find it it be a great resource, and others, such as history buffs and political junkies, will appreciate its brisk pace, logical flow, and stunning relevancy to today's current events and political fights.”
—The Living New Deal
“John Jeffries has written an expert examination of one of the most significant and dramatic elections in American history. His analysis skillfully weaves together party politics, foreign events, the third-term issue, voting patterns, and the vigorous campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie.”
—Susan Dunn, author of 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm
“Some presidential elections change the nation—the election of 1940 changed the world.Its lasting impact deserves the careful reexamination that John W. Jeffries offers.”
—Donald A. Ritchie, author of Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932
“A Third Term for FDR is a first-rate account of the first—and only—time in the United States a sitting president ran for reelection for a third term. John W. Jeffries, an outstanding political historian, provides a penetrating account of the economic and diplomatic stress that destabilized America in 1940 and led Franklin D. Roosevelt to take the unprecedented step of seeking to remain in the White House. Looking at both the forces that created the Roosevelt coalition and the pressures that put the world at risk, he provides a thoughtful and lively assessment of the aims and actions of both political parties as he analyzes persuasively the elements that produced a third, even though smaller, victory for FDR.”
—Allan M. Winkler, University Distinguished Professor of History (Emeritus), Miami University of OhioSee fewer reviews...
A Third Term for FDR reveals how domestic policy more than international events influenced Roosevelt’s decision to run and his victory in November. A detailed analysis of the results offers insights into the impact of the year’s events on voting, and into the election’s long-term implications and ramifications—many of which continue to this day.