Franklin Roosevelt’s tortured decision to run for an unprecedented third term, analyzed in terms of the president’s complicated personality and strategies.
A senior staffer in the Carter administration and longtime head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (1993–2010), Moe (Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl, 1997, etc.) takes a different approach from the numerous other recent works dealing with the lead-up to the U.S. election of 1940 and war in Europe—e.g., Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days and Michael Fullilove's Rendezvous with Destiny. Moe aims to get inside FDR's head and delineate the president's decision-making process step by step. From “shifting gears” from trying to jump-start the crippled economy in his first term to focusing on German aggression and bolstering England in his second, Roosevelt never let himself be pinned down. He made Sphinx-like pronouncements regarding his post–White House plans as the 1940 Democratic Convention approached; relations with Vice President John Nance Garner had soured, and it seemed he might anoint a successor in either Harry Hopkins or Cordell Hull, both valued subordinates. Yet letters poured in urging FDR to run, political gadflies prodded him, and the increasingly dire international situation cried out for continuity in leadership as France fell and the British were left to stand alone against Germany’s onslaught. In the face of Wendell Willkie’s GOP candidacy, Roosevelt came to accept that no other Democrat could keep the White House, and no other leader could stand up to Hitler as effectively. The secretive president kept his own counsel outside a circle of trusted advisers, however, intensely aware of the tradition that limited a president to two terms. He wanted “the call” to come from “the people through the American method of a free election,” and once he made up his mind to ask for another term, their response was decisive.
A carefully focused and researched analysis that adds considerably to the historical record.