Who was President During World War II?

Franklin D. Roosevelt with his dog.
Franklin D. Roosevelt with his dog.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman both served as president during World War II, but Roosevelt spent the majority of time in office.
  • Roosevelt is the only US president to have successfully served more than two terms.
  • Although Roosevelt was a successful leader, new legislation was put in place to prevent tyrannical rule in Washington limiting president rule to two terms following his death.

World War II was just six years long but surprisingly, it had two presidents ruling the United States during its course. The Second World War began in 1939 and lasted through to 1945. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president of the United States for the majority of this time, from 1933 to 1945. He died of a brain hemorrhage on April 12,1945. This happened just months before the war ended, which meant the sitting vice president at the time, Harry Truman, took over as president of the country during the final months of the Second World War. 

German forces surrendered unconditionally on what we now call V-E Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8, 1945 but it was not until September 2, when Japan also surrendered, that the war officially came to an end.

A Distinctive Leader

Roosevelt is a unique president in American history not only because he did the very difficult grunt work of helping lead the allies to victory in war, but because he was the longest-serving president the country is likely to ever see. Today, American presidents are restricted to serving just two terms in office, for a total of about eight years as president. Most presidents are elected twice and do serve their two terms. Just ten of all 45 US presidents so far have served only one term at the top because of failing to win re-election. Roosevelt, however, outranks them all. As a welcome powerhouse at the time, he was elected in 1933 and won four terms running as president.  

Franklin Roosevelt, left, receiving official notification of his Democratic Vice Presidential nomination. July 17, 1920. Image credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

How did he achieve this? When Franklin D. Roosevelt, a democrat, was elected as president in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression, he won two-thirds of the popular vote. This vast support made it relatively easy for him to be re-elected for a second term in 1937. 

In 1940, he was elected for a third time as the world led itself into the beginnings of World War II and the country sought stability in its leadership. He was then elected a fourth time in 1944, while the country was in the final throes of the war, but he died before the end of this final term.

The New Deal and Other Reforms

Roosevelt is widely known for implementing the New Deal, which was formed of key pieces of legislation that helped the country crawl out of the depression. Many of them are still with America today. These included the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Programs that provided economic relief for farmers and unemployed workers were also established, as well as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) along with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). These last two both work to protect the public’s money deposited in banks, and at play on the stock exchange. This was to prevent the economic abuses that resulted in the enormous stock market crash of 1929 from happening again. 

The Social Security Act also came out of the New Deal. In this way, great good came from very hard times. 

Harry Truman

Harry Truman was also a sitting US president during the Second World War, albeit only for a handful of months. He became president in the spring of 1945 and was re-elected in 1948, to serve a second full term in office. Truman is known for making the decision to release the atomic bomb on Japan, which remains controversial. He also helped rebuild postwar Europe through the Marshall Plan, worked against communism, and created the groundwork for the US to be part of the Korean War in 1950. 

Bronze bust of Harry Tuman. Image credit: Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

Truman came from humble beginnings on a farm in Missouri and was known for speaking in simple terms. He graduated high school in 1901 and went on to work as a bank clerk, and held an assortment of other jobs, including acting as a manager of his father’s 600-acre farm. Truman served as part of the National Guard and fought in France during World War I, and became elected as district judge of Jackson County, Missouri in 1922. He then went on to become a US senator in 1934 before becoming vice president.  

Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were important presidents in US history who helped the country navigate through war and difficult economic times. Both men established new federal regulations in many sectors that have helped streamline how money is used by the federal government. And both faced formidable challenges while in office and helped the US become the country that it is today. 


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