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Why FDR Decided to Run for a Fourth Term Despite Ill Health

March 12, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

When he sought a fourth term at age 62, FDR’s doctor had issued a dire prognosis.

At the outset of 1944, , he was also desperate to avoid the fate of Woodrow Wilson, another president who had seen his country through a global conflict only to see his idealistic plans for lasting peace founder in the post-war years.

Now, Roosevelt believed he had to personally appeal to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in order to ensure Soviet cooperation in both the war against Japan, and in the founding of a new international organization: the United Nations. Only a solid relationship between the world’s two greatest powers, he was convinced, would effectively keep global peace.

America 101: Why Do We Have Presidential Term Limits? (TV-PG; 1:26)

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FDR’s Careful VP Pick

Concerns about Roosevelt’s health among other Democratic leaders turned the question of his running mate in 1944 into a matter of much debate. Before accepting the nomination, Roosevelt decided to drop his vice-president, Henry Wallace, whom many saw as too left-wing and eccentric, from the ticket in favor of a Missouri senator, Harry S. Truman.

Though his Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, undoubtedly benefited from widespread speculation about Roosevelt’s illness, Roosevelt managed to show enough stamina before the election to convince voters of his viability. In particular, he won points for a feisty speech about his dog, Fala, and toured New York City in an open car in the rain several weeks before Election Day. In November, he defeated Dewey handily, although by a closer margin in the popular vote than any of his previous wins.

FDR’s Final Weeks

President Franklin D. Roosevelt arriving at the Capitol for his speech to the assembled members of Congress on March 1, 1945.

In January 1945, Roosevelt traveled some 14,000 miles to the Yalta Conference, where he and Winston Churchill clashed bitterly with Stalin over the Soviet domination of Poland, among other issues. On March 1, a day after completing the arduous journey back to Washington, Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress to report on the conference. For the first time in his presidency, he appeared in public in his wheelchair.

After apologizing for delivering his speech from a seated position, he said he felt “refreshed and inspired,” and insisted that while Yalta was a good start, Congress and the …read more