The subsequent passing of the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1947 renders this election the only occasion in American history in which a candidate has been elected for a third term as president (Roosevelt would subsequently be elected for a fourth term, although he died after only a few months in office).
Throughout the winter, spring, and summer of 1940 there was much speculation as to whether Roosevelt would break with long-standing tradition and run for an unprecedented third term. The "two-term" tradition, although not yet enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, had been established by President George Washington when he refused to run for a third term in 1796, and no President had ever been elected to a third term. Roosevelt, however, refused to give a definitive statement as to his willingness to be a candidate again, and he even indicated to some ambitious Democrats, such as James Farley, that he would not run for a third term and that they could seek the Democratic nomination. However, as Nazi Germany swept through Western Europe and menaced Britain in the spring and summer of 1940 Roosevelt decided that only he had the necessary experience and skills to see the nation safely through the Nazi threat. He was aided by the party's political bosses, who feared that no Democrat except Roosevelt could defeat the popular Willkie.
At the Democratic Convention Roosevelt easily swept aside challenges from Farley and John Nance Garner, his Vice-President. Garner was a Texas conservative who had turned against FDR in his second term due to his liberal economic and social policies. As a result, FDR decided to pick a new running mate; he chose Henry A. Wallace of Iowa, his Secretary of Agriculture and an outspoken liberal. Wallace was strenuously opposed by many of the party's conservatives, who felt that he was too radical and "eccentric" in his private life (he practiced New Age spiritual beliefs, and often consulted with a Russian spiritual guru named Nicholas Roerich) to be an effective running mate. However, FDR insisted that without him on the ticket he would decline renomination. Wallace won the vice-presidential nomination by a vote of 626 to 329 for House Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama.
|Presidential Ballot||Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||946||Henry A. Wallace||626|
|James A. Farley||72||William B. Bankhead||329|
|John Nance Garner||61||Paul V. McNutt||68|
|Millard E. Tydings||9||Alva B. Adams||11|
|Cordell Hull||5||James A. Farley||7|
|! Jesse H. Jones||5|
|! Joseph C. O'Mahoney||3|
|! Alben W. Barkley||2|
|! Prentiss M. Brown||1|
|! Louis A. Johnson||1|
|! Scott W. Lucas||1|
|! Bascomb Timmons||1|
|! David I. Walsh||0.5|
In the months leading up to the opening of the 1940 Republican National Convention, the GOP was deeply divided between the party's isolationists, who wanted to stay out of the war at all costs, and the party's interventionists, who felt that Britain and her allies needed to be given all aid short of war to prevent the Germans from conquering all of Europe. The three leading candidates for the GOP nomination were all isolationists to varying degrees. The three frontrunners were Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Taft was the leader of the GOP's conservative, isolationist wing, and his main strength was in his native Midwest and parts of the South. Dewey, the District Attorney for Manhattan, had risen to national fame as the "Gangbuster" prosecutor who had sent numerous infamous mafia figures to prison, most notably "Lucky" Luciano, the organized-crime boss of New York City. Dewey had won most of the presidential primaries in the spring of 1940, and he came into the GOP Convention in June with the largest number of delegate votes, although he was still well below the number needed to win. Vandenberg, the senior Republican in the Senate, was the "favorite son" candidate of the Michigan delegation and was considered a possible compromise candidate if Taft or Dewey faltered. However, each of these candidates had weaknesses which could be exploited. Taft's outspoken isolationism and opposition to any American involvement in the European war convinced many Republican leaders that he could not win a general election, particularly as France fell to the Nazis in May 1940 and Germany threatened Britain. Dewey's relative youth - he was only 38 in 1940 - and lack of any foreign-policy experience caused his candidacy to weaken as the Nazi military emerged as a fearsome threat. In 1940 Vandenberg was also an isolationist (he would change his foreign-policy stance during World War Two) and his lackadaisical, lethargic campaign never caught the voter's attention. This left an opening for a dark horse candidate to emerge.
A Wall Street-based industrialist named Wendell Willkie, who had never before run for public office, emerged as the unlikely nominee. Willkie, a native of Indiana and a former Democrat who had supported Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, was considered an improbable choice. Willkie had first come to public attention as an articulate critic of Roosevelt's attempt to break up electrical power monopolies. Willkie was the CEO of the Commonwealth & Southern corporation, which provided electrical power to customers in eleven states. In 1933 President Roosevelt had created the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, which promised to provide flood control and cheap electricity to the impoverished people of the Tennessee River Valley. However, the government-run TVA would compete with Willkie's Commonwealth & Southern, and this led Willkie to criticize and oppose the TVA's attempt to compete with private power companies. Willkie argued that the government had unfair advantages over private corporations, and should thus avoid competing directly against them. However, Willkie did not dismiss all of Roosevelt's social welfare programs, and in fact he supported those which he believed could not be managed any better by the free enterprise system. Furthermore, unlike the leading Republican candidates, Willkie was a forceful and outspoken advocate of aid to the Allies, especially Britain. His support of giving all aid to the British "short of declaring war" won him the support of many Republicans on the East Coast, who disagreed with their party's isolationist leaders in Congress. Willkie's persuasive arguments impressed these Republicans, who believed that he would be an attractive presidential candidate. Many of the leading press barons of the era, such as Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune, Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and John and Gardner Cowles, publishers of the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune, as well as the Des Moines Register and Look magazine, supported Willkie in their newspapers and magazines. Even so, Willkie remained a long-shot candidate; the May 8 Gallup Poll showed Dewey at 67% support among Republicans, followed by Vandenberg and Taft, with Willkie at only 3%.
The Nazi Army's rapid blitz into France in May 1940 shook American public opinion, even as Taft was telling a Kansas audience that America must concentrate on domestic issues to prevent Roosevelt from using the international crisis to extend socialism at home. Both Dewey and Vandenberg also continued to oppose any aid to Britain that might lead to war with Germany. Nevertheless, sympathy for the embattled British was mounting daily, and this aided Willkie's candidacy. By mid-June, little over one week before the Republican Convention opened, the Gallup poll reported that Willkie had moved into second place with 17%, and that Dewey was slipping. Fueled by his favorable media attention, Willkie's pro-British statements won over many of the delegates. As the delegates were arriving in Philadelphia, Gallup reported that Willkie had surged to 29%, Dewey had slipped 5 more points to 47%, and Taft, Vandenberg and former President Herbert Hoover trailed at 8%, 8%, and 6% respectively.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million, telegrams urging support for Willkie poured in, many from "Willkie Clubs" that had sprung up across the country. Millions more signed petitions circulating everywhere. At the 1940 Republican National Convention itself, keynote speaker Harold Stassen, the Governor of Minnesota, announced his support for Willkie and became his official floor manager. Hundreds of vocal Willkie supporters packed the upper galleries of the convention hall. Willkie's amateur status, his fresh face, appealed to delegates as well as voters. Most of the delegations were selected not by primaries but by party leaders in each state, and they had a keen sense of the fast-changing pulse of public opinion. Gallup found the same thing in polling data not reported until after the convention: Willkie had moved ahead among Republican voters by 44% to only 29% for the collapsing Dewey. As the pro-Willkie galleries repeatedly yelled "We Want Willkie", the delegates on the convention floor began their vote. Dewey led on the first ballot but steadily lost strength thereafter. Both Taft and Willkie gained in strength on each ballot, and by the fourth ballot it was obvious that either Willkie or Taft would be the nominee. The key moments came when the delegations of large states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York left Dewey and Vandenberg and switched to Willkie, giving him the victory on the sixth ballot. The voting went like this:
|Presidential Balloting, RNC 1940|
|ballot||1||2||3||4||5||6 before shifts||6 after shifts|
|Wendell L. Willkie||105||171||259||306||429||655||998|
|Robert A. Taft||189||203||212||254||377||318||--|
|Thomas E. Dewey||360||338||315||250||57||11||--|
|Arthur H. James||74||66||59||56||59||--||--|
|Joseph W. Martin||44||26||--||--||--||--||--|
|Frank E. Gannett||33||30||11||4||1||1||--|
|Scattering / Blank||40||29||11||11||11||5||2|
[Table source: Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records (1973), pp. 254-256.]
Willkie's nomination is still considered by historians to have been one of the most dramatic moments in any political convention. Having given little thought to who he would select as his vice-presidential nominee, Willkie left the decision to convention chairman and Massachusetts Congressman Joe Martin, the House Minority Leader, who suggested Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary of Oregon. Despite the fact that McNary had spearheaded a "Stop Willkie" campaign late in the balloting, the candidate picked him to be his running mate:
|Charles L. McNary||848|
Willkie crusaded against Roosevelt's attempt to break the two-term presidential tradition, arguing that "if one man is indispensable, then none of us is free." Even some Democrats who had supported Roosevelt in the past disapproved of FDR's attempt to win a third term, and Willkie hoped to win their votes. Willkie also criticized what he claimed was the incompetence and waste in Roosevelt's New Deal welfare programs; he stated that as President he would keep most of FDR's government programs but would make them more efficient. However, many Americans still blamed business leaders for the Great Depression, and the fact that Willkie symbolized "Big Business" hurt him with many working-class voters. Willkie was a fearless campaigner; he often visited industrial areas where Republicans were still blamed for causing the Great Depression and where FDR was highly popular. In these areas Willkie frequently had rotten fruit and produce thrown at him, and was heckled by crowds, yet he was unfazed. Willkie also accused Roosevelt of leaving the nation unprepared for war, but Roosevelt preempted the military issue by expanding military contracts and establishing the lend-lease program to supply the British with badly-needed weapons and warships. Willkie then reversed his approach and charged Roosevelt with secretly planning to take the nation into World War II. The accusation did cut into Roosevelt's support; in response FDR, in a pledge that he would later regret, promised that he would "not send American boys into any foreign wars." On election day - November 5 - Roosevelt received 27 million votes to Willkie's 22 million, and in the Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Willkie 449 to 82. Willkie did get over six million more votes than the GOP's 1936 nominee, Alfred M. Landon, and he ran strong in rural areas in the American Midwest, taking over 57% of the farm vote. Roosevelt, meanwhile, carried every American city with a population over 400,000 except for Cincinnati, Ohio.
Source (Popular Vote):
Source (Electoral Vote):
|Arkansas||9||158,622||79.0||9||42,121||21.0||-||not on ballot||200,743||AR|
|Florida||7||359,334||74.0||7||126,158||26.0||-||not on ballot||485,492||FL|
|Nebraska||7||263,677||42.8||-||352,201||57.2||7||not on ballot||615,878||NE|
|Nevada||3||31,945||60.1||3||21,229||39.9||-||not on ballot||53,174||NV|
|New Hampshire||4||125,292||53.2||4||110,127||46.8||-||not on ballot||235,419||NH|
|North Carolina||13||609,015||74.0||13||213,633||26.0||-||not on ballot||822,648||NC|
|Ohio||26||1,733,139||52.2||26||1,586,773||47.8||-||not on ballot||3,319,912||OH|
|South Dakota||4||131,362||42.6||-||177,065||57.4||4||not on ballot||308,427||SD|
|West Virginia||8||495,662||57.1||8||372,414||42.9||-||not on ballot||868,076||WV|