Midterm elections often fall into a pattern where the president’s party loses seats in the U.S. House and Senate. Sometimes the American people have a six-year itch, showing their objections to the president’s policies by voting against his party in the midterms.
The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 had reached its sixth year since his first election 1932. The Great Depression had so ravaged and decimated the Republican Party, that the Republicans had remained very weak in the midterm elections of Roosevelt’s first term. They’d lost nine seats in the House and nine in the Senate in 1934.
Midterms in his second term were a different story. Republicans picked up 71 seats in the U.S. House in 1938 and seven in the Senate, reinforcing the American people’s sixth year itch. A recent recession within the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s plans to alter the U.S. Supreme Court by forcing retirements and increasing the number of justices had played a role in his party’s congressional defeat. As large as these numbers were, the gains weren’t enough for the Republicans to regain control of either house.
Then the president threw a political curve ball. Doing what his cousin Theodore had dreamed but failed to do, Roosevelt broke the long-held tradition of confining his presidency to two terms. He ran and won the presidency two more times, in 1940 and 1944, making him the only U.S. president to be elected to four terms. The American people may have had a sixth year itch in 1938, but it wasn’t long lasting.