Election 1940: A Message from the Pittsburgh Press (10-7-40)


The Pittsburgh Press (October 7, 1940)


To urge an alleged indispensability of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a reason for breaking the no-third-term tradition tends, we think, toward an abject and dangerous betrayal of American democracy.

It suggests partial surrender to the very form of rabbity popular acquiescence that helped put one-man power in the driver’s seat elsewhere in the world.

For this nation to assume that it has only one man fit to be its President would be top declare a poverty of electoral competence contrary to fact and fatal to the democratic future.

It would be a first step toward inviting that self-perpetuation of personal government which has been the essence of black shirt and brown shirt regimentation.


This is not the first crisis the United States has had to meet. Nor is there any guarantee it will be the last. There is always a crisis.

If a third-term precedent were established, future crises, external or internal, actual or manufactured, would become pleas for continuing in office any president who chose to use, for self-perpetuation, the power, prestige and political patronage of the office.

The very nature of the present crisis – worldwide challenge to democracy – is the strongest of all reasons why American democracy should give resolute proof that it does not have to throw overboard one of the oldest of its traditions, thereby encouraging a world trend toward government by men instead of government by law.


If the experience gained by a President in two terms should become convincing argument for giving him a third, then the same argument would progressively grow stronger for a fourth term, a fifth – and presently for life. To get away from that, this nation was founded.

Nor does a President’s two-term experience ever eclipse the experience of other highly equipped Americans who have observed and studied the results of his policies and who may be more competent than he to hold American democracy to its true course.

Mr. Willkie’s speeches, we think, are now proving that.

We shall have more to say about the Roosevelt policies and their specific bearing on the third-term issue; also about staunch American opinion of the past, in which the no-third-term tradition is deeply rooted.

But, first of all, we believe voters should try to divest themselves of any idea that any President may become indispensable, that his experience may become transcendent, and that crisis ought to clinch his grip on the Presidency.

The third term is still the pitfall it has always been. Beware of letting crisis, fear, or confused thinking push us into it.