Why FDR Decided to Run for a Fourth Term Despite Ill Health

In early 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered his 12th year as President of the United States.

The popular Democratic leader had led his country through the Great Depression with his revolutionary New Deal programs, and had won an unprecedented third term with a margin of some 5 million votes in 1940. Now, at the dawn of a Another election year, Roosevelt faced another monumental challenge: defeating Germany and Japan to win World War II and negotiating with the Soviet Union to build lasting peace after the war.

Just as he did, however, his health was deteriorating. Shortly after his return from Conference in Tehran, Roosevelt developed a violent cough, started to lose weight and was constantly tired. His daughter Anna was worried enough to urge Roosevelt’s personal doctor, Dr. Ross McIntire, who arranged for the president to consult Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, cardiologist at Bethesda Medical Naval Hospital, for a checkup on March 28, 1944 .

According to Bruenn’s medical notes, which he released later, he diagnosed Roosevelt, 62, with reduced lung capacity, hypertension (or high blood pressure), acute bronchitis, and – more severely – acute congestive heart failure.

The grim prognosis of the FDR

At the time, no medication had yet been developed to manage hypertension and the only treatment was to regulate the patient’s lifestyle. In addition to a course in digitalis, a herbal drug extracted from the leaves of the digitalis flower, Bruenn prescribed the President a restricted diet, reduced consumption of alcohol and tobacco and increased rest. This meant that in May 1944, a month before D-Day: the daily program of the American president included only four hours of work per day.

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