Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, third and fourth terms


The third presidential term of Franklin D. Roosevelt began on January 20, 1941, when he was once again inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States, and the fourth term of his presidency ended with his death on April 12, 1945. Roosevelt won a third term by defeating Republican nominee Wendell Willkie in the 1940 United States presidential election. He remains the only president to serve for more than two terms. Unlike his first two terms, Roosevelt’s third and fourth terms were dominated by foreign policy concerns, as the United States became a belligerent in World War II in December 1941. 

After defeating Willkie, Roosevelt won congressional approval of the Lend-Lease program, which was designed to aid the United Kingdom in its war against Nazi Germany. After Germany began war against the Soviet Union, Roosevelt extended Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union as well. In Asia, Roosevelt provided aid to the Republic of China, which was resisting an invasion by the Empire of Japan. In response to the July 1941 Japanese occupation of French Indochina, Roosevelt expanded a trade embargo on Japan to cut off oil that Japan urgently needed for its fleet. After attempting to re-open oil exports, Japan launched an attack on the U.S. fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. In response, Congress declared war on Japan and, a few days later, on Germany and Italy. Along with Britain and the Soviet Union, the United States became a leading member of the Allied Powers. The U.S. funded much of the war efforts of the other allies, and supplied munitions, food and oil. In consultation his Army and Navy officials and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Roosevelt decided on a Europe first strategy, which focused on defeating Germany before Japan. In practice, however, in 1942 and 1943 the U.S. focused on fighting Japan.

In late 1942 U.S. began its ground campaign against Germany with an invasion of North Africa. The German and Italian forces surrendered in May 1943, opening the way for the invasions of Sicily and Italy. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy won a decisive victory over Japan in the Battle of Midway and began a campaign of island hopping in the Pacific. In 1943, the Allies launched an invasion of Italy and continued to pursue the island hopping strategy. The top Allied leaders met at the Tehran Conference in 1943, where they began to discuss post-war plans. Among the concepts discussed was the United Nations, an intergovernmental organization championed by Roosevelt that would replace the League of Nations after the war. In 1944, the U.S. launched a successful invasion of northern France and won a decisive naval victory over Japan in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. By the time of Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, the U.S. had occupied portions of Germany and was in the process of capturing Okinawa. Germany and Japan surrendered in May-August 1945 during the administration of Roosevelt’s successor Vice President Harry S. Truman.

Though foreign affairs dominated Roosevelt’s third and fourth terms, important developments also took place on the home front. The military buildup spurred economic growth, and unemployment fell precipitously. The United States excelled at war production; in 1944, it produced more military aircraft than the combined output of Germany, Japan, Britain, and the Soviet Union. The United States also established the Manhattan Project to produce the world’s first nuclear weapons. As in Roosevelt’s second term, the conservative coalition prevented Roosevelt from passing major domestic legislation, though it did increase taxes to help pay for the war. Congress also passed the G.I. Bill, which provided several benefits to World War II veterans. Roosevelt avoided imposing heavy-handed censorship or harsh crackdowns on war-time dissent, but his administration relocated and interned over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans. Roosevelt also prohibited religious and racial discrimination in the defense industry and established the Fair Employment Practice Committee, the first national program designed to prevent employment discrimination. Scholars, historians, and the public typically rank Roosevelt alongside Abraham Lincoln and George Washington as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.

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