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

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

Richard Moe

Language: English

Pages: 0

ISBN: 1522669663

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


"In Roosevelt's Second Act Richard Moe has shown in superb fashion that what might seem to have been an inevitable decision of comparatively little interest was far from it." ―David McCullough

On August 31, 1939, nearing the end of his second and presumably final term in office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was working in the Oval Office and contemplating construction of his presidential library and planning retirement. The next day German tanks had crossed the Polish border; Britain and France had declared war. Overnight the world had changed, and FDR found himself being forced to consider a dramatically different set of circumstances. In Roosevelt's Second Act, Richard Moe focuses on a turning point in American political history: FDR's decision to seek a third term. Often overlooked between the passage and implementation of the New Deal and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that decision was far from inevitable. As the election loomed, he refused to comment, confiding in no one, scrambling the politics of his own party; but after the Republicans surprisingly nominated Wendell Willkie in July 1940, FDR became convinced that no other Democrat could both maintain the legitimacy of the New Deal and mobilize the nation for war. With Hitler on the verge of conquering Europe, Roosevelt, still hedging, began to maneuver his way to the center of the political stage. Moe offers a brilliant depiction of the duality that was FDR: The bold, perceptive, prescient and moral statesman who set lofty and principled goals, and the sometimes cautious, ambitious, arrogant and manipulative politician in pursuit of them. Immersive, insightful and written with an inside understanding of the presidency, this book challenges and illuminates our understanding of FDR and this pivotal moment in American history.

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advocate for adoption of the proposed League of Nations, first at Versailles with other heads of government and then back in the United States, he became the first president to challenge directly the assumptions underlying the policy. “The isolation of the United States is at an end,” Wilson argued in 1919, “not because we chose to go into the politics of the world, but because by the sheer genius of this American people and the growth of our power we have become a determining factor in the

Again Roosevelt returned to sleep, but after just a few minutes he was awakened once more with a call from Joseph P. Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador in London. Kennedy, who was close to Chamberlain’s government and a supporter of its appeasement policy, had been arguing that Poland should make concessions to Germany to avoid armed conflict. With that armed conflict now a reality, he was convinced that Britain would declare war. This, the despondent ambassador told the president, meant “the end of

worse.9 A few days later Farley met in New York with Cardinal George William Mundelein of Chicago, at the cardinal’s request. FDR had assiduously courted Mundelein over the years, and the cardinal could be counted among the president’s strongest allies—within the appropriate confines of the Church, of course. The cardinal said he had just spent two hours with Roosevelt and regarded him as “truly a great man.” “I think it is most fortunate that he is where he is and I hope he remains,” the

Ickes he wanted, as well as other convention arrangements. On June 4, during the same lunch with Ickes at which they had discussed the destroyers issue, the president was still expansive when the subject turned to politics. FDR asked his companion who he thought the Democratic nominee would be, and Ickes recorded the exchange in his diary the next day. “‘I know, and if you don’t know, someday I will come in and tell you.’ He grinned and said, ‘Well, there may be a surprise; it may surprise even

issues with the president. When Ickes asked Roosevelt straight out whether those of his supporters going to Chicago “were to have neither a leader nor a plan,” FDR replied that he had nothing to suggest. Robert Jackson picked up the theme and asked the president “whom Paul McNutt would suggest that we consult if he were the candidate.” Roosevelt responded, “Jimmy Byrnes.” Another participant began to ask a question, but FDR waved him aside: “I haven’t anything to say.” Roosevelt had settled on

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