His four terms as chief executive changed the course of government as we know it, and the direction of world politics right up to the present day.
With his fireside chats and upbeat demeanor, he also had great rapport with the public.
Yet it doesn’t take very much effort to see that some of his actions could have led to his removal from office.
Only three Presidents have been subjected to impeachment proceedings in American history, and none were removed by them.
The fact that these three Presidents were subjected to challenge while Congress was held by the opposing party is not insignificant.
But the impeachable offenses of FDR are much more significant than lying about sex, audiotapes, or the meaning of the word “is.”
When the Court ruled that many of his New Deal programs were unconstitutional, FDR proposed to add six additional justices to stack the vote.
Naturally, FDR would nominate all six, thus ensuring that future rulings would be in his favor.
He abandoned the plan however, when both congress and the press expressed their outrage, “Shall the Supreme Court be turned into the personal instrument of the President?”
Roosevelt signed it into law, as he did with an even more restrictive Act in 1937.
But when Britain and Germany went to war in late 1939, Churchill and FDR secretly discussed ways to circumvent the Neutrality Acts.
Many small-scale deals gave way to larger ones, right up to the 1941 Lend-Lease Agreement that sent massive military aid first to Britain and then the Soviet Union.
While FDR’s behind the scene dealings have become celebrated in later years as ‘clever,’ he was in fact breaking the law; a law that he himself had created.
And without a declaration of war from Congress, FDR had begun a dangerous precedent of kingly behavior.
This infuriated many, and led to open suggestions for FDR’s impeachment.
As Democratic Senator Burton Wheeler put it:
“Never before has the Congress of the United States been asked by any President to violate international law. Never before has this nation resorted to duplicity in its foreign affairs. Never before has the United States given to one man the power to strip this nation of her defenses….”
In the long run, FDR was saved by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Germany’s declaration of war on the United States.
In addition to being a retroactive justification for his actions, the official declaration of war provided a distraction to keep FDR free from impeachment worries for years to come.
And it did.
That FDR wanted war was no secret, it was reported on the front page of the Chicago Tribune 3 days before Pearl Harbor.
And even then there were grumblings that FDR had purposely provoked Japan into attacking.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now have memoranda from FDR’s communications routing officer, Commander McCollum, outlining an 8-step plan that is summarized:
All 8 steps were enacted by FDR, some by executive order.
And again, Two weeks before Pearl Harbor, Secretary of Defense Henry Stimson wrote in his diary that FDR wished to be at war against Japan but that he “did not want it to appear that the United States fired the first shot.”
It was of course, poor form to criticize a President during time of war, but after the war was over, Congress had not forgotten the outrage.
So even though FDR had passed away, they impeached him anyways with the 23rd amendment, limiting Presidents to two terms in office.
Congress had seen the danger of a “popular” President overstepping his authority and acting as a king—so they put a term limit in place as protection against future abuses of power.
Well, that was the idea anyways.
It was a nice try.
Related Story: Roosevelt’s Infamy Revisited
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