OTD in History… July 21, 1944, Democrats nominate President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a fourth term
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history July 21, 1944, The Democratic Party nominates Franklin D. Roosevelt for a history-making fourth term as president. With rumors that Roosevelt was in ill health, the Democrats nominating Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman as Vice President is even more significant. In the midst of World War II, the 1944 presidential campaign was first wartime presidential campaign since 1864 Americans wondered if there should even be a campaign with the ongoing war, and if elections should be suspended, however, democracy won out and the campaign continued. The Roosevelt-Truman ticket easily beat the Republicans, Thomas Dewey, and John Bricker. Roosevelt, however, would not live out the term; he died a mere three months after his fourth inauguration, leaving Truman to assume the presidency.
The Democrats nominated Roosevelt again easily at the national convention in Chicago, Illinois, held July 19 to 20, despite growing concern and opposition to his economic and social policies among conservatives in the party and in the South. The main issue at the convention became the choice of vice presidential nominee. Roosevelt’s declining health and suspicions of concealed health problems prompted the party’s conservatives to oppose the renomination of Roosevelt’s second Vice-President Henry Wallace. Wallace was never a party favorite but his left-wing positions and New Age spiritual beliefs concerned conservatives as they considered the vice president might have to assume the presidency because of Roosevelt’s health.
Party leaders told Roosevelt about their opposition to Wallace and they suggested Missouri Senator Harry Truman, a moderate and chairman of a “Senate wartime investigating committee.” Roosevelt refused to publicly support any of the Vice Presidential choices. Robert E. Hannegan, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee worked tiredly to ensure Truman was on the ticket. Roosevelt’s second choice was James F. Byrnes of South Carolina, however, he was conservative on race and labor issues. Sidney Hillman, chairman of the CIO’s Political Action Committee and Roosevelt campaign contributor opposed Byrnes’ nomination. Roosevelt accepted Truman as his running mate for party unity, Truman himself was reluctant to accept the nomination, calling it “the new Missouri Compromise.” Liberal delegates still supported Henry Wallace and he was in the lead in the first ballot. The Northern, Midwestern, and Southern state delegates supported Truman, and he was able to clinch the nomination on the second ballot after shifts.
Roosevelt accepted the Democratic presidential nomination with a speech on July 20. Roosevelt touted his presidential accomplishments, stating, “They will decide on the record — the record written on the seas, on the land, and in the skies. They will decide on the record of our domestic accomplishments in recovery and reform since March 4, 1933. And they will decide on the record of our war production and food production- unparalleled in all history, in spite of the doubts and sneers of those in high places who said it cannot be done. They will decide on the record of the International Food Conference, of U.N.R.R.A., of the International Labor Conference, of the International Education Conference, of the International Monetary Conference. And they will decide on the record written in the Atlantic Charter, at Casablanca, at Cairo, at Moscow, and at Teheran. We have made mistakes. Who has not? Things will not always be perfect. Are they ever perfect, in human affairs?”
Roosevelt refused to campaign and stump as the campaigned commenced wanted to focus on continuing his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief. Roosevelt became tired of the attacks on his health and in mid-September commenced stumping. He planned to give five speeches, to answer his criticism show he was physically up to the challenge. Roosevelt took to the stump September 23, 1944, his first of speeches answering his critics, was to the Teamsters Union in Washington, considered the best campaign speech of his career; Fala Speech: Speech carried on national radio in which he ridiculed Republican claims that his administration was corrupt and wasteful with tax money. He particularly ridiculed a GOP claim that he had sent a US Navy warship to pick up his Scottish terrier Fala in Alaska, noting that “Fala was furious” at such rumors. To quiet concern about his health, Roosevelt insisted on making a vigorous campaign swing in October to quell rumors about his health, and he rode in an open car through city streets.
Roosevelt made history winning decisively his fourth term victory, but it was the historic fight over the Democratic vice presidential nomination that determined the next president. Roosevelt died of cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1944, less than 4 months after taking the oath of office for the fourth time, and Truman became the nation’s 33rd President. Republicans in Congress made sure no president would ever run for more than two terms passing the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on March 21, 1947, and ratified in 1951.
SOURCES AND READ MORE
Boller, Paul F. Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.
Evans, Hugh E. The Hidden Campaign: FDR’s Health and the 1944 Election. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.