Hello and welcome back to another edition of the presidential election series as I’ll be going over the election of 1944, it’s the first presidential election since 1916 that sees a major war taking place in the background and Franklin Roosevelt is looking to make some history once again… It’s World War II.
The United States Enters World War II
As you may recall from the previous article on the 1940 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term to remain, President of the United States, while also campaigning on the promise that he wouldn’t get the country involved in World War II… but those plans changed following the events of December 7th 1941.
On this day, the Empire of Japan launched kamikaze attacks on the U.S. Naval base, Pearl Harbor on the island of Hawaii with around 2,400 dead, thousands more injured and numerous navy ships destroyed. The attacks took many Americans by surprise and this led the incumbent president, Franklin D. Roosevelt to take two swift actions that would defy his and America’s legacy.
One of these actions saw Roosevelt sign Executive Order 9066 on February 19th 1942 which called for the capture of all Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps or relocation centres out of fear that these people may support Japan’s cause for attack and sabotage against the U.S.
Hundreds of Japanese Americans were held in these relocation centres for many years but it wasn’t January 2nd 1945 when these internment camps were shut down and many Japanese Americans struggled with their lives after the camps as many of their belongs were either sold, confiscated or destroyed and many of them weren’t properly compensated… As you can imagine this is not only a black eye in America’s history but it’s also seen as the lowest point in the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, even though many Americans at the time supported the camps.
The other action FDR took was to deliver a speech to Congress the following the tragedy where he proclaimed December 7th 1941 as “A Date that will live in Infany.” before asking Congress to declare war against the Empire of Japan which Congress overwhelmingly approved.
A few days following this, Germany and Italy would declare war on the United States, further signalling America’s involvement in World War II and FDR decided to do the unthinkable again and ran for a fourth term in office, however, Roosevelt’s reasoning for running again justifiable as the war was still going on and FDR believed it wouldn’t make much sense to change presidents in the midst of this global conflict and many agreed with him, so he decided to run again although there are a few problems FDR is facing going into this election.
The President’s Health and Vice President Wallace
One of the big problems FDR is dealing with in this election is his health as the incumbent president was only 62 years old when he decided to run for a fourth term and considering how tiresome the job of being commander and chief can be to those who only served two terms, you only imagine how much exhaustion and stress Roosevelt was feeling as a three-term president in the midst of a world war and the great depression.
Nevertheless, Roosevelt decides to run a vigorous campaign in the final few months of the election, where he would appear to the people and give a few speeches in order to dismay any rumours about his ill health.
In addition to his health and the ongoing war world, FDR also has to deal with the victory of many Southern Democrats who are looking to split away from the party over issues regarding the amount of influence the New Deal had in the country and how much control the federal government had as a result. While a number of Democrats ruan to get the party’s nomination, many of them didn’t even stand a chance against the popular wartime president.
However, many Southern Democrats establishment were not keen on the idea of Vice President, Henry A. Wallace getting renominated as many were horrified of Wallace becoming president if Roosevelt died as Wallace was a major supporter of granting civil rights to African Americans and supported Labor Unions which were things that many Southern politicians despised with a burning passion.
Despite the fact that 65% of people wanted Wallace to remain on the ticket according to a Gallup poll that was conducted, by the time of the Democratic National Convention a few names were brought up to be FDR’s new running mate:
- William O. Douglas- Supreme Court Justice from Minnesota
- Alben Barkley- Senator from Kentucky
- John Bankhead II- Senator from Alabama
- Sam Ryburn- A House Speaker from Texas
The thing is though, many of these candidates didn’t stand a chance as many Wallace supporters attempted to block their nomination but their support wasn’t strong enough to get Wallace back on the ticket and thus a fight for the most delegates to become VP ensued at the convention.
One name that many Democrats proposed as a possible running mate for FDR was Harry S. Truman the Senator from Missouri and chairman of the Senate Committee investigating fraud and wasteful spending during the war effort.
While Truman himself repeatedly told everyone he didn’t want to Vice President, many within the party pushed for him to be on the ticket as he felt like a safe choice compared to Wallace and as the convention persisted, more and more delegates were being presuaded to support Truman which ultimately led to Missouri Senator getting the votes needed to replace Henry Wallace on the ticket.
Choosing the GOP Nominee
Much like the previous election, the Republican Party had many candidates trying to get the nomination:
- Thomas Dewey- The Governor of New York
- Wendell Willkie- Bussinessman & the 1940 GOP Nominee for President
- Harold Stassen- The Former Governor of Minnesota who was serving as a navy officer during the war
- John Bricker-The Governor of Ohio
- Everett Dirksen- U.S. Representative from Illnois
- Earl Warren-The Governor of California
Another name that was mentioned in the running for the nomination was General Douglas MacArthur who was the Allied Commander leading troops in the Pacific theater in the war. After Ohio Senator, Robert Taft announced that he wouldn’t seek the nomination this time around, many Conservative Republicans shifted their support to MacArthur, however due to being engulfed in the conflict known as World War II, both Stassen and MacArthur were unable to properly fight for the nomination.
Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey were then the odds on favorite to win the nomination but many in Dewey’s campaign and fellow members of the GOP tried their best to prevent Willkie from getting the nomination a second time and after doing poorly in the Wisconsin primary, Willkie would drop out of the race and refused to endorse the winner before eventually dying months later from a heart attack on October 8th 1944.
With Willkie dropping out of the race and MacArthur busying fighting in WWII, Dewey was easily able to defeat the rest of his opponents in order to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.
Dewey’s initially wanted Earl Warren as his running mate but instead chose Bricker in order to make the conservatives in the Republican Party happy. Now that we’ve gone over the background info and discussed the candidates for each political party, it’s time to talk about the campaigns.
Governor Dewey campaigns on the idea of shrinking the government and easing regulations on the economy as the war was reaching it’s conclusion. Not only that, but Dewey is also making claims of corruption and communist ties to the Democrats while also mentioning how FDR is too old to be the running the country for another four years.
The Republicans are continuing their attacks on the New Deal and they even bringing up claims about Harry Truman being a member of the KKK back in the 1920’s, which is a strategy that’s going to backfire as this is going to hurt Dewey’s chances of winning any Southern states that might have considered voting against FDR.
Towards the final few months of the election, FDR is making speeches and appearing in front of many people while also running again on his record as commander and chief as well as the major successes the Allie Forces were able to make against the Axis in places like France and the Philippines.
Roosevelt also is making it clear that the war is going well for the United States and the Allie Forces up to this point and now is not the time to hand over the reigns of power to what he calls “inexperience and immature hands”.
Another claim that the GOP is going to make against Roosevelt in this election is that the president sent a naval ship to rescue his Scottish Terriar named ‘Fala’ from a previous destination and he did so under the use of tax payer dollars.
In perhaps the most famous moment of the entire election, FDR is seen at the giving speech where he rebukes the claims regarding his dog being rescued at tax payers expense while also making funny of the GOP in the process; In the speech Roosevelt says:
“These Republicans leaders have not been content, with attacks on me or of my wife or of my sons…no, not content with that… they now include my little dog, Fala.
Well of course I don’t resent attacks…and my family don’t resent attacks…but Fala does resent attacks! You know, You Know Fala is a Scot and being a Scotty, as soon he heard the Republican fiction writers… in congress and out, concocted a story that I left him behind on the Aleutian islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him, at a cost to the tax payer of one or two or eight or twelve million dollars…His Scot soul was furious! I think I have a right to resent, to object to liable statements about my dog.”
So that’s the campaign tactics of FDR and Dewey going into the election and now it’s time to see which one was superior by looking at the results.
The Results and Aftermath
Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily won re-election, becoming the first and only president in U.S. History to be elected for a fourth term with 432 electoral votes and 53.4% of the popular vote, which was actually his “worse performance” yet out of all of his four presidential elections where he ran for president.
This election much like 1940, made Franklin Roosevelt the first president since Woodrow Wilson to be re-elected with less of the electoral and popular vote compared to the previous election.
Governor Thomas Dewey received 99 electoral votes and 45.9% of the popular vote, which was the highest for any GOP candidate running against FDR for president.
Tragically, Franklin D. Roosevelt would die from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12th 1945 at the age of 63 just mere months into his fourth term.
As a result of this, Harry S. Truman become the 33rd President of the United States and eventually an amendment was made in the U.S. constitution known as “The 22rd Amendment” which prevented future presidents from ever serving more than two terms, making FDR’s record for the most number of terms in office untouchable.
In closing, that was the election of 1944 FDR got another term and a new vice president to boot, but now that his gone it’s up to Harry Truman to finish this war as the new commander and chief…Can he get it down successfully and what will the political landscape look like going in the next election?