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

Overview

"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 ...

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

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Overview

"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 insider's understanding of the presidency, this book challenges and illuminates our understanding of FDR and this pivotal moment in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher
"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. But then what could possibly be predictable or uninteresting about such a famously unfathomable protagonist? And what a cast of characters! Moe's long, personal experience in Washington politics, combined with his marked skill as an historian, make this a consistently illuminating reminder that history is above all human, and seldom more so than behind the scenes at a turning point of such importance. " —David McCullough

"Richard Moe's excellent book reminds us of what great leadership looks like. His beautifully written account of FDR's run for a third term and America's decisive move toward involvement in World War II will stand as the definitive study of this landmark election and a turning point in the country's history." —Robert Dallek

"Trying to understand and explain the complexities of Franklin D. Roosevelt's mind is a daunting task for any historian. Richard Moe is clearly up to the challenge in his fascinating, revelatory account of FDR's fateful decision to run for a third term in 1940, in the midst of the greatest crisis the world has ever faced. Filled with drama and excitement, Roosevelt's Second Act is particularly compelling in its depiction of how two women — Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins — rescued the president from a political fiasco that could have irrevocably altered history." —Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London and Those Angry Days

"A carefully focused and researched analysis that adds considerably to the historical record." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Roosevelt's Second Act tells the story of a weary president's fateful decision to heed the call of duty in our nation's — and the world's — most perilous hour. Richard Moe's take on an epic tale is deftly-crafted, persuasive in analyzing people and power, and highly relevant to the struggles of our own era; a superb work of living history." —Madeleine
Albright

"Most accounts of the Age of Franklin Delano Roosevelt halt with the erosion of the New Deal in 1938 and then lurch forward after Pearl Harbor in 1941. One moment the reader is immersed in Harry Hopkins, the next in Winston Churchill three years later. In this lively, fast-paced tale of the 1940 campaign when FDR sought to break the taboo against serving more than two terms, Richard Moe invites his readers to reflect on a seminal year when the two periods merged. That year, he shows lucidly, America crossed the divide from isolation to irrevocable international commitment, and magnified the authority of the president, then and ever more, in his new role as commander-in-chief of the most powerful empire on earth." —William E. Leuchtenburg, author of In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Barack Obama

"[Roosevelt's Second Act] tells us as much about the American system of politics as any book I've ever read . . . [a] masterful account of why and how FDR overcame his reluctance to seek reelection." —Huffington Post

"[A] compelling read. Roosevelt's Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War is a superbly reconstructed chronology of the 1940 campaign." —Washington Monthly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199981915
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/9/2013
  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History Series
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 346,468
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Moe

Richard Moe was president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 1993-2010, chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale, and served on President Jimmy Carter's senior staff. His books include The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers and Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl. He lives in Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Table of Contents

Note to the Paperback Edition
Introduction - History Repeating Itself
Chapter 1 - Prelude to War
Chapter 2 - Succession
Chapter 3 - Methods Short of War
Chapter 4 - Redefining Neutrality
Chapter 5 - The Sphinx
Chapter 6 - A Year of Consequence
Chapter 7 - A Hurricane of Events
Chapter 8 - The Republicans
Chapter 9 - The Decision
Chapter 10 - Preparing for the Showdown
Chapter 11 - Chicago - Following the Script
Chapter 12 - Chicago - Unscripted
Chapter 13 - Drafts and Destroyers
Chapter 14 - The Pivot
Chapter 15 - To the Finish Line
Epilogue - The Mandate

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