1940 Wendell Willkie Campaign Buttons
The 1940 election was the most challenging and divisive of FDR’s political career. The President’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term inflamed his opponents—and some former supporters—who charged he wanted to become a dictator. And his efforts to aid countries fighting the Axis Powers led to charges he would drag America into war.
These issues made the 1940 election a particularly colorful one for campaign memorabilia. FDR’s Republican opponent in 1940 was Wendell Willkie, a business leader with no experience in political office. Willkie and the Republicans focused considerable criticism on Roosevelt’s attempt to win a third term. While there was no constitutional barrier to a third term in 1940, no president had ever exceeded the two-term precedent established by George Washington. The fifteen Willkie campaign buttons seen above include many with a “third term” theme. There are also buttons aimed at Eleanor Roosevelt—reflecting the First Lady’s high profile in Washington.
Despite an often bruising campaign, Willkie and Roosevelt became allies after the election. A committed internationalist, Willkie supported FDR’s controversial efforts to aid the Allies and later traveled the globe on behalf of the President during World War II. He also worked with Eleanor as an advocate for human rights. Undeterred by this cordial relationship with the Roosevelts, Willkie ran a brief campaign in 1944, failing to obtain the Republican nomination. He died just a month before FDR was elected for a fourth term.
After President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Republicans mounted a campaign to pass an amendment to the Constitution placing a cap on the number of terms a president could serve. The 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms, was ratified in 1951.