Franklin D. Roosevelt

World War II Begins Across the Seas

As Britain and France finally declared war on Germany and Italy over the invasion of Poland, Roosevelt continued to push for American aid to Britain while trying to keep the country out of war. In this precarious time, he kept mum on the subject of whether or not he would run for a third term, to keep him from entering the lame-duck period of his second term in office. In addition to wanting to keep power in his hands while the country was facing the imminent threat of war, Roosevelt had yet to find a liberal candidate for the Presidency who satisfied him and whom he could groom as a successor.

On April 9, 1940, the Germans overran Denmark and assaulted Norway without formally declaring war. Defeating these countries quickly, the Germans made their way towards Paris. The real threat of Nazi triumph chilled isolationist fervor all over the nation. Roosevelt took this opportunity to push legislation through Congress that would further fortify the American military. On June 10, the President, upon hearing that the French Army had collapsed to the German and Italian army, delivered a momentous speech at the University of Virginia's Commencement exercises. The speech marked a turning point in his attitude to the nation and to the war. It revealed his commitment to everything but war, including unrestricted material aid to the Allies.

Roosevelt also decided to run for a third term, believing that the country needed leadership continuity to face what might become its second great crisis in less than three decades. His decision to run was greeted with a mixture of delight and consternation in Washington because of his momentous break with Washington's two-term tradition. For fear of seeming to force the nomination, FDR did not appear at the Chicago nomination, but was nominated to loud cheers (that he orchestrated with his political cohorts) nevertheless. However, Roosevelt's choice of a running mate, Henry Wallace, a radical and a mystic, was not supported. His Republican opposition was Wendell Wilkie, a successful business tycoon who was a recent convert to the Republican Party. Wilkie had voted for Roosevelt in the election of 1932, but criticized the New Deal and switched parties because of the program's high levels of government intervention.

Wilkie was decried as the rich man's Roosevelt. Indeed, Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist candidate for President, said of him, "He agreed with Mr. Roosevelt's entire program of social reform and said it is leading to disaster." In his speeches Wilkie represented Roosevelt as a warmonger, although privately he too was a strong supporter of aid to Britain. However, even FDR ultimately caved to the pressure of gaining the worried mothers' vote. He promised in his campaign, "your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars. They are going into training to form a force so strong that by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war away from our shores." Wilkie's charges that the New Deal had failed to end unemployment were proven unfounded, as the burgeoning munitions industries slowly absorbed increased numbers of workers–a prelude to the end of the Depression that the war would bring. Roosevelt again prevailed overwhelmingly in the election, defeating Wilkie 449–82 in the electoral college.

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