No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole
It was June 1940, and Chicago sweltered in the heat. The Democratic convention was at fever pitch—first about whether to give Franklin D. Roosevelt a try for a third term as President (setting a precedent), and then fighting over the long list of vice presidential candidates.
FDR did not attend the convention, keeping a low profile in Washington. But he let the convention know that he wanted Henry Wallace (his Secretary of Agriculture and the strongest supporter of FDR’s New Deal policies) as vice president. Conventioneers however did not want someone telling them which man to select, and factions were pushing their own candidates. FDR, determined to have Wallace, threatened to pull out if they did not approve Wallace for VP. There was pandemonium in the convention hall as names were proposed.
Eleanor, meanwhile, was having a quiet day in Hyde Park, New York, knitting peacefully at home with the radio tuned to the convention proceedings in Chicago. Then the phone rang, and FDR asked Eleanor to fly to Chicago to intercede on his behalf. She packed a small bag, flew to New York and then Chicago, and arrived as the convention was in full swing, with nominating speeches bringing delegates into the aisles yelling and screaming.
Just before the balloting for vice president was to begin, Mrs. Roosevelt stepped up to the rostrum, and the crowd fell silent—surely a sign of respect from the agitated delegates. She spoke with only her notes, and in the silence, she was heard by everyone in the crowd.
Any man who is in an office of great responsibility today faces a heavier responsibility, perhaps, than any man has ever faced before in this country. Therefore, to be a candidate of either great political party is a very serious and solemn thing. . .
When she ended, there was a short silence, as people reflected on her words, and then enthusiastic applause broke out through the entire room. When she returned to her seat, the balloting began, and by the end of that first ballot, Wallace had won the majority of the votes to become the vice-presidential nominee. Eleanor’s calming voice and her appeal to a higher cause, brought perspective, and they accepted her call to action: “You will have to rise above considerations which are narrow and partisan.”
Back in Washington, FDR phoned the convention and announced he would deliver his acceptance speech. He spoke via radio broadcast from Washington, DC at 1:20 AM, accepting their nomination and running for an unprecedented third term as President.
For more lessons from the remarkable Eleanor Roosevelt, let us bring a short program to your work team.