FDR Became The First And Only President To Serve More Than Two Terms

69 years ago in 1940, America’s 32nd president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated for an unprecedented third term. FDR was a member of the Democratic Party and was first elected to the Oval Office in 1933, during the midst of the the Great Depression.

Portrait of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945), 1940s. An American flag is in the background.
PhotoQuest/Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on to graduate from Harvard College and Columbia Law School before practicing law in New York City. In 1910, he was elected to the New York State Senate, privately encouraged by his cousin and the U.S.’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, despite their differences in partisan affiliation. During World War I, FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under then-President Woodrow Wilson. In 1921, he contracted a paralytic illness that left him permanently paralyzed. Despite being unable to walk unaided, he became the Governor of New York in 1928.

In 1932, FDR defeated Herbert Hoover in the presidential election for the first time. During his first term, Roosevelt enacted a set of social programs called the New Deal that would help America pull itself out of the Great Depression. Programs under the New Deal provided relief to farmers and the unemployed, while Roosevelt enacted other reforms to finance, communications, labor and effectively ended the Prohibition. FDR also became the first televised president and used the radio to speak directly to the American people in his “fireside chat” series. The economy greatly improved by 1936, which resulted in Roosevelt’s landslide re-election for a second term.

At the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1940, Roosevelt was nominated for a third term. Many were critical of his nomination, due to the unwritten rule in American politics that U.S. presidents should serve no more than two terms after George Washington declined a third term in 1796. But at the time, Nazi Germany was on the rise in Europe and FDR felt it was his duty to lead the U.S. through World War II. Roosevelt went on to serve his third term and was re-elected again in 1944, but didn’t finish the term. He passed away due to health problems in 1945 and was succeeded by Vice President Harry S. Truman.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first and only president in American history to serve more than two terms. In 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution that stated no one could be elected president more than twice.