The presidential election of 1940 took place during the Great Depression, while Europe was engaged in World War II. The United States had not yet entered the war, and that was the issue at the forefront of the 1940 campaign. Incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented third presidential term against Republican Wendell Willkie of New York. Roosevelt won the election, becoming the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms.
Roosevelt was the first sitting president ever to seek a third term, though two former presidents (Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt) had unsuccessfully attempted a nonconsecutive third term. Early on in the election season, Franklin D. Roosevelt remained ambiguous about whether he would seek reelection. Following developments in World War II, he decided he needed to continue to lead the United States through the war. Roosevelt easily took his party’s nomination at the 1940 Democratic National Convention. Roosevelt chose Henry A. Wallace to be his new running mate, after disputes between Roosevelt and his former vice president, John Nance Garner, who was more conservative than Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s decision to run for a third term was controversial, even to some of his supporters. Though a two-term limit for presidents was not explicitly stated in the Constitution, George Washington set a precedent that had been followed ever since, following a belief that more than two terms would give one person too much control.
The Republican National Convention was a race between conservative isolationists and interventionists. Isolationists supported Robert Taft, a Senator from Ohio, who opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and the war. Thomas E. Dewey was also an early frontrunner, but both Taft and Dewey lost a lot of support when Nazi Germany became an increased threat, because of their inexperience and lack of knowledge about foreign policy. Wendell Willkie, a businessman from New York, represented the interventionist voters who wanted to assist the United Kingdom and join the allies to stop Germany. Republican interventionist support began to stream in for Willkie, who had previously supported Roosevelt, and in a surprising shift, Willkie emerged from relative obscurity to take the Republican nomination. Charles L. McNary was chosen as his running mate, despite opposing Willkie on many issues.
Willkie’s campaign focused on the war and the bad economy, and he claimed that Roosevelt was too eager to go to war and had been unsuccessful in bringing the country out of the Great Depression. However, Willkie had never run for office before and he represented businessmen and Wall Street, who much of the population blamed for the Great Depression. While he had the support of rural areas in the Midwest and Northeast, Roosevelt had the rest of the country, especially the big cities and the South.
The 1940 election resulted in a strong win for Roosevelt, who received 449 electoral votes to Willkie’s 82. Roosevelt became the first and only U.S. president to serve more than two terms. The Twenty-second Amendment was later passed in response to this election, setting an official two-term limit for presidents.
|Presidential Candidate||Home State||Party||Electoral Votes||Running Mate|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||New York||Democratic||449||Henry A. Wallace|
|Wendell L Willkie||New York/ Indiana||Republican||82||Charles L. McNary|
|Norman Thomas||New York||Socialist||0||Maynard C. Krueger|
|Roger Babson||Massachusetts||Prohibition||0||Edgar Moorman|