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Domestic Politics During World War II: The War Years (1941-1945)

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  • 0:03 Roosevelt's Third Term Agenda
  • 0:30 The Great Arsenal of Democracy
  • 1:43 The Election of 1944
  • 3:27 Harry S. Truman
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Korn

Ryan taught elementary school and holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

Even during wartime, democracy continues. In this lesson, we'll learn how politics affected President Roosevelt's war policies and about the 1944 election and its implications for the post-war world.

Roosevelt's Third Term Agenda

After being elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt was intent on one thing: supporting the Allied Powers, led by Great Britain, in their fight against the Axis Powers, led by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. He was also set on preparing the nation for war, should it come to that. As an interventionist, he strongly believed that if we didn't intervene to save Europe, we would be next.

The Great Arsenal of Democracy

However, he still faced many isolationists who wanted to stay out of the war altogether. Consequently, the president called upon the country to become an Arsenal of Democracy. In other words, he wanted the United States to produce a huge supply of weapons and other war materials for the Allies. In Roosevelt's words, these materials would include: planes, tanks, guns, freighters, fuses, bomb-packing crates, telescope mounts, shells, and pistols.

And over the course of 1941, Roosevelt found other roundabout ways to bolster the Allies and attack the Axis Powers without sending in the troops. He expanded earlier measures to grow and strengthen the armed forces. He ordered the navy to escort Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean to protect them from Germany. And he prohibited the sale of oil to Japan, which crippled their economy.

But after the shocking Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, support for isolationism quickly dissolved, and no more half measures were taken. The United States was at war. Virtually all domestic priorities were put on hold as the entire government, and indeed the entire population, dedicated itself to fighting, supporting, and winning it.

The Election of 1944

The war had gotten off to a shaky start after Pearl Harbor, but by 1944, the effort was going well. Combined with his continued popularity and having already broken the third-term precedent, Roosevelt sought a fourth term. He received the democratic nomination virtually unopposed.

The Republicans gave their nomination to Thomas Dewey. Dewey was a lawyer and prosecutor who rose to national fame and earned the nickname 'The Gangbuster' while prosecuting the mob and organized crime in New York City. In 1942, he was elected governor of New York, the same position Roosevelt had held before he became president. Like Roosevelt, he believed in interventionism and some of the New Deal's social programs, but he disagreed with him on policies he believed hurt businesses.

Rumors about Roosevelt's health spread amongst party leaders throughout the election. Indeed, he began to appear very old and frail. Fearing that Roosevelt might die in office, they insisted that he replace his vice-president, Henry Wallace, with a firmer hand. Wallace, they thought, was too extreme in his political views, too bizarre in his religious views, and too erratic a manager to handle the rigors of the presidency. They consequently recommended - and Roosevelt eventually approved - Senator Harry S. Truman as his new running mate.

With the end of the war upon them, Dewey and the Republicans returned to their usual campaign themes of rolling back the New Deal and rooting out government inefficiencies and corruption. Roosevelt, of course, campaigned on his war victories as well as participation in the future United Nations. The campaign was energetic and bitter, but with Roosevelt's continued popularity and the war nearly won, the election proved no contest yet again.

Harry S. Truman

The most notable figure to emerge in the 1944 election was Roosevelt's new vice-presidential candidate, Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman. (By the way, the 'S' didn't stand for a name. It was just a letter that was in both of his grandfathers' names. Isn't that something?) Anyway, Truman had been involved in local politics from a young age. After serving as an officer in World War I, he eventually rose to become a county judge and director of a local New Deal program.

By 1934, Truman was elected to the Senate as a supporter of the New Deal. After his reelection in 1940, he rose to greater prominence investigating corruption and waste in the war effort. However, when he was picked to be Roosevelt's new running mate, the public could hardly have cared. As far as they were concerned, they were voting for Roosevelt. Truman just happened to be on the ticket.

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