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FDRs Running For a third Term

When you first start thinking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt you might think of the New Deal, fireside chats, or possibly the United States role in World War II. Throughout Roosevelt’s Rein as president, he has had to make many decisions possible more than any other president before or after him. Simply because no other president has been in office for more than two terms, except of course for FDR. He was elected for an unprecedented four terms.

He was first elected as president in 1932 beating Herbert Hoover by an electoral vote of 472 to 59 and a popular vote of 22,809,638 to 15,758,901. In his second election in 1936 he won by an even greater margin defeating Alfred Landon and grabbing 523 of the electoral votes as compared to Landon’s meager 8 electoral votes. The 1940 election was much closer, than the pervious two elections. Roosevelt does win over Wendell Willkie, but the election marks the first and only time in United States history that an president decides to run for a third term.

Although there were no legal restriction on how many terms a president might serve none of the previous 31 presidents had ever attempted to run for a third term. “The Constitutional congress of 1787 did not place any limits on the number of terms a president might serve, rejecting proposals for a single six year term. George Washington began the two-term tradition, but Thomas Jefferson, who in 1809 announced that ‘rotation in the office’ was his reason for leaving the White House after two terms, first expressed its principles.

Jefferson felt strongly that his precedent would prevent the danger of a president being re-elected for life. The Democratic – Republican presidents who followed him (James Madison and James Monroe) also limited themselves to two terms, and their Democratic Party successors also bound themselves to the tradition. ” (Pious,148) Yes Roosevelt was aloud to run, but soon after his death in 1945 the Twenty-Second Amendment put an end to presidents attempting to run for more than two terms. On February 27, 1951, a Republican Congress was able to ratify the Amendment.

Along with prohibiting a president from running for more than two terms, it also stated that any vice president that comes in and serves, as president for two or more years may not run for re-election more than once. With such a tradition, one could wonder why would Roosevelt decided to run for more than two terms? Roosevelt, like any other man, had personnel ambitions, which may have played a role in his run for a third term. He had made a New Deal with American people. Much of this was incomplete by his standards as second term grew to an end.

Even with some New Deal legislation enacted the Great Depression was still quite prevalent, and the economy was still at a stand still. Roosevelt felt strongly that there was a need to continue his push for New Deal policy in order to gain a sense of stability for the nation. Another reason for FDR to run was World War II. He felt that it was possible that the United States was going to be drawn into the war, and that this would be the worst time for poor leadership. Roosevelt started off as a strong party leader.

During his first term he became very popular with the people. In the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt was making changes to help reestablish confidence in America. The 1934 congressional elections demonstrated how influential FDR’s New Deal was. In this election, several new dealers were elected into office solely on the popularity of the president. Yet, being a strong leader would not be good enough for FDR to solve many of the problems of the times. Soon problems would arise for FDR. Roosevelt used tactics that fought against the framework of the Constitution.

All Presidents try to invent a number of political devices to over come the separation of powers. Some are better than others, and their ultimate goal is to lead Congress. No one President will ever be fully successful in their efforts to lead Congress, because separation of powers will always reassert itself. Congress will be the one to frustrate Presidents and reassert the separation of powers by arguing over budget issues, specific process of legislation, refusal of presidential nominations, and investigation. FDR was too ambitious and trusted that Congress would follow his every lead.

To complicate matters Roosevelt introduced his “Court packing” plan. Never taking the time to consult Democratic leaders, him jumped right in. The plan was aimed at unseating Supreme Court justices that had been against the New Deal. This plan would have given the president the right to appoint one new justice for each justice who refused to retire with in six months of reaching the age of seventy. FDR’s plan could aloud for up to fifteen new judges to be replaced during his presidency. At the time, it seemed like no one liked the idea except for Roosevelt.

He already been losing support and the “Court packing” plan seemed to be the straw that broke the camels back. What now was FDR to do? He had been pushing and pushing for New Deal to work. He could not simply pack it in he had to keep fighting, and try and muster support for “Court packing” and New Deal legislation. “The trouble was that Roosevelt had assumed his role as party or majority leader not as part of deliberation, planned political strategy but in response to a conjunction of immediate developments. As a majority leader, he relied on his personal popularity, on his charisma or warm emotional appeal.

He did not try to build up a solid, organized mass base for the extended New Deal that he projected in his inaugural speech of 1937. Lacking such a mass base, he could not establish a rank-and-file majority group in congress to push through his programs. Hence the court fight ended as a congressional fight in which the president had too few reserve forces to throw into battle. ” (Burns, 376) In the 1938 Congressional elections, FDR traveled across the nation trying to unseat those in Congress that were unwilling to back his ideas. The attempt failed and the Republicans gained seventy-five seats in the house and seven in the Senate.

As a result of this seeming loss of FDR political power, the opportunity to spark the economy with his New Deal legislation was not accomplished during his first two terms, which left Roosevelt bitter. He had unfinished business to take care of and wanted to either find someone to be his successor or run for reelection himself. The problem of finding and agreeing on a successor for Roosevelt was crucial for the liberals, and no New Dealer could hope to win the party’s nomination without a considerable build up which would have to include the backing of the President.

It soon became obvious that there was no New Dealer that could fit the mold of FDR and win the nomination of the Democrats. So Roosevelt took his fate into his own hands and did not allow anyone else in the party to achieve sufficient prominence as a presidential possibility. He was able to accomplish this by overshadowing everyone in his party and destroying anyone who appeared to be a potential rival, he made sure that he was the only possible nominee in 1940 with a chance of winning. Yet was FDR really willing to run for a third term? Knowing that no President before him had ever even tired to run for more than two terms.

Would he be willing to face all those who were opposed to the idea of running again? We must not forget the fear of too much presidential power. “The examples of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were especially grim warnings against one-man rule just at that time. Even the liberal national editorialized: ‘there is only one thing for Mr. Roosevelt to do. He must unqualified and finally announce that he will not be a candidate in 1940 to succeed himself. ‘” (Donahoe, 14-15) There was still not an overwhelming vote of confidence in the President’s ability to control his own party in the future.

As one might expect, the sharpest criticism of a possible third term came from conservative, anti New Deal Democrats. As a result of their opposition was the defeat of the President’s programs in congress as part of effort to discredit Roosevelt. The Conservatives in the Democratic Party were able to do this to a point, but there was some territory that was just to far and the American people would simply not buy into. What eventually pushed Roosevelt into to making up his mind about running was World War II.

He was riding a fine line between weather to run again or not, and when he realized that the United States could no longer stay out of the war he decide to run again. He felt that with out someone with experience of the workings of the executive branch and the people would have serious difficulties gathering support for the war, among the people of US. Possible he also realized the harsh fact that regardless of the horror of war itself it would still help to stimulate our struggling economy and once and for all Bring America out of the Great Depression.

In my own opinion FDR ran for a third and fourth term for two main reasons. First reason is because he knew he could win. He was smart and knew that there would be no point in running if he couldn’t win the election. Second Reason is that no one had ever done it before. I don’t really believe that the reason no other president ever tried to run again was because of the precedent set by our fore fathers. I think if any one of those presidents thought they could win in a third election and weren’t burnt out from already serving eight years then they wouldn’t even hesitate.

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