On 20 January 1945 Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for the fourth time as President of the United States. Though he was weak and tired and he had lost a great deal of his edge, it seemed as if he would be president forever.
He had less than three months to live.
The global conflict for which he is so closely associated was reaching its bloody end in Europe and the Pacific. The Germans had expended the last of their mobile reserves in the Ardennes; the Japanese had taken to crashing airplanes into ships. Yet, American factories kept grinding out the weapons of war, Britain and Russia eyed each other warily over the future of Europe, and in the New Mexico desert a handful of scientists had finally figured out how to make a series of explosive implosions that just might trigger an atomic bomb.
The conflict was ending, sooner or later, so what would peace look like? Would war crimes trials cause enough lingering resentment to derail any chance of a lasting peace? Would the nascent United Nations have enough power to prevent this global catastrophe from happening again? Would this new “television” threaten radio’s hold on popular entertainment? Would the Cubs do it this year?
So many questions greeted the new year and the new administration, but wiser heads already knew the answer to the question that no one dared ask: Who would be the next president, and when? Harry S Truman, the investigating senator from Missouri, had been chosen in 1944 to be the next vice-president, and almost anyone in FDR’s inner circle knew, watching him give his last inaugural address–his first from his chair for he was too weak to stand–that he would not last another summer, even if he lasted out the spring.