I read with great interest Bernard Weisberger’s article “The Abominable No. 2 Man” (September), which drew on historical precedent to suggest the unlikelihood of Dan Quayle’s being removed from the ticket. But if Bush does want to engineer the removal of his Vice President next year while publicly appearing to support him, he need not look any further than the example set by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.
Henry Wallace, like Quayle, did not command a great deal of respect or power in the Senate. But also like Quayle Wallace had been a loyal Vice President for four years and the President and his wife liked him. FDR was a politician first, however, and despite the fact that his chances for re-election to a fourth term were excellent, victory was a relative term for him. He made a career out of winning big and he wanted to win big again.
FDR’s actions in this matter are still confusing historians. In his 1990 biography, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous With Destiny , Frank Freidel speculates that Roosevelt’s strategy was to encourage many vice-presidential candidates, so that when he made up his mind at a late stage none of the others would have gathered the depth of support necessary to overtake his final choice. Close aides of the President knew that Wallace was out (unlike Wallace himself, whom FDR had strung along until the end). During the summer before the convention, FDR actively encouraged several to run for the second spot.
Besides Wallace and James Byrnes, he sent signals to Scott Lucas, a senator from Illinois. One week before the convention, he told two aides that William O. Douglas should run with him. FDR did not mention Truman’s name until the day after that at a meeting with various political leaders, when he wrote a letter to the convention stating that he would be happy to run with Truman or Douglas. But he also wrote a letter to be read at the convention saying that if he were a delegate, he would vote for Wallace. At the same time, he was telling Wallace supporters that while he supported Wallace, he could not publicly say so.
Two days before the convention, he privately pledged his support to Byrnes. A day later, he put the word out that he was for Truman. Confusion reigned at the convention as FDR’s supporters, not really knowing whom the President wanted, pushed for Wallace. Only at the end of the convention did the wily President finally pull the strings and get Truman elected on the second ballot. In the smoke screen, FDR managed to dump his Vice President, win the election, and all the while retain his popularity.