Today in History: FDR nominated for unprecedented third term

July 18th, 2013

On July 18, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first, and only, president to be nominated for a third term in office at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The longstanding tradition of an unofficial two-term limit was tested in 1880 when Ulysses S. Grant unsuccessfully attempted to leave retirement and seek a return to the White House.

The threat of Nazi Germany’s spread throughout Europe made FDR’s decision to seek a third term politically viable, with Vice President James Farley the only Democratic rival of note. Ultimately, FDR’s popularity and strong alliances with labor unions and urban political machines enabled him to amass 946 voting delegates compared with Farley’s paltry 72.

After securing the Democratic nomination, FDR was pitted in a campaign against Republican businessman Wendell Willkie in the general election. Roosevelt’s decision to seek a third term angered conservatives, who argued that such an extended presidency was a threat to democracy. Campaign buttons crafted by Willkie’s campaign compared Roosevelt’s desire for a third term to dictatorship. “No Franklin The First” and “Third International, Third Reich, Third Term???” were popular campaign buttons of the era.

Despite the passionate opposition of Willkie, Roosevelt won a third term handily, securing 449 electoral votes and 54.7 percent of the popular vote. The ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951 prevented any future presidents from being elected more than two terms.

Read some famous speeches from FDR’s third term in office, including his “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” address following the attack on Pearl Harbor and his “D-Day Prayer”, delivered in the early hours of the battle.

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