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Roosevelt's Second Act: The Election of 1940…

Roosevelt's Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War

by Richard Moe

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271620,251 (4.7)None
This book focuses on a turning point in American political history: FDR's decision to seek a third term. This decision was motivated by Germany's invasion of Poland, by fears that a Republican president would repeal many of FDR's New Deal programs, and that no other Democrat could both maintain the legitimacy of the New Deal and mobilize the nation for war.… (more)



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A really well written look at Franklin Roosevelt’s run for a third term as President in 1940 and the impending war that convinced him to stand for a third term. Richard Moe rivals David McCullough in being able to turn what could be a dry recitation of history into a real page turner. He does an excellent job weaving the events that would ultimately involve the United States into WWII with Roosevelt’s eventual decision to run again for President. Historical figures that don’t get much ink now such as Wendell Willkie, James Farley, and John Nance Garner are brought to life. A few things stood out for me.

First, despite his well deserved reputation as a master politician, Roosevelt often let pure stubbornness derail him. His misguided and arrogant effort to pack the supreme court hurt him with Congress and Democratic Party movers and shakers right up until the U.S. entered WWII. And his insistence that Henry Wallace be named his running mate almost caused the 1940 Democratic convention to end in chaos, to the point where FDR had actually drawn up a statement declining the nomination when it appeared the delegates would defy him and nominate Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama instead. Fortunately they did not, as Bankhead would die two months later. Only a last minute save engineered by Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt saved the day and Wallace was nominated.

Second, history has often glossed over the inner turmoil Roosevelt felt at running for a third term. Politicians are usually – and(not without some justification – viewed as only interested in a craven lust for power. That does not seem to be the case here. Roosevelt was very conflicted about the prospect of another term and seemed to genuinely wish to step down. Only the fact he could not identify a clear successor that would carry on the progressive policies he had started, and his desire to make sure the United States did not sit back as Naziism spread through Europe induced him to run for a third term.

Third was the closeness of the 1940 election. The Republicans nominated a very appealing candidate in Wendell Willkie. He was young, charismatic, an internationalist, and up to a year before the 1940 campaign a Democrat and New Deal supporter. As election day drew near it was clear the momentum was with Willkie, and many in the Democratic Party viewed a Roosevelt defeat as a distinct possibility. On election night, as the first returns came in Roosevelt himself believed he might be defeated. Moe really draws out the tension here. Even though I obviously knew what the outcome would be I still found myself getting drawn in by the uncertainty of it.

Lastly, even though I knew from the outset that this book was limited to the events surrounding the 1940 election and Roosevelt’s effort to prepare the country for the possibility that the country would be drawn into war, I was disappointed at the abrupt end of the book. I guess it is a testament to Moe’s ability as a writer that I felt this way, but it did feel incomplete to me.

There have been thousands of books written about Franklin Roosevelt, many of them very good. This book belongs in that category. If you have any interest in politics, FDR, or the events precipitating the U.S. entry into WWII this book is for you.

Highly Recommended! ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
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