by Becky Little
Franklin D. Roosevelt won elections for his first two presidential terms in landslides and went on to become the only U.S. president to win a third and fourth term. However, the Democratic president’s popularity was not universal—not within his party or even on his own presidential ticket. His first vice president, John Nance Garner III, was so fiercely opposed to FDR’s policies and his idea of running for an unprecedented third term that Garner entered the 1940 race to be Democratic nominee for president.
Though Garner had many supporters in the more conservative wing of the Democratic party, FDR was able to outmaneuver him, arranging for his own “spontaneous” nomination at the 1940 Democratic National Convention. FDR dumped Garner for a new running mate at the convention, and for the rest of FDR and Garner’s term together, the relationship between the two men remained decidedly cool.
Garner Broke With Presidential Agenda
Like many vice presidential candidates, Garner was one of the candidates in his party’s presidential primary the year that FDR tapped him to be his running mate. FDR’s first election took place in 1932, a period in which the Democratic Party’s base included both white conservatives in the south and Catholics and immigrants in the north and west. This was an awkward coalition, and tapping Garner—a conservative Democrat from Texas—helped FDR—who was then governor of New York—shore up support within his party.
Roosevelt and Garner won the 1932 election in a landslide, unseating incumbent president Herbert Hoover, who only carried six states. FDR immediately went to work designing legislation to address the Great Depression; and in so doing, took on a larger role in crafting legislation than any president before him. Garner, who’d served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years and had briefly been its Speaker, used his relationships with members of Congress to lobby in favor of this legislation. At least, for the first few years.