Wendell Lewis Willkie (born Lewis Wendell Willkie; February 18, 1892
– October 8, 1944) was an American lawyer and corporate executive,
and the 1940 Republican nominee for President. Willkie appealed to
many convention delegates as the Republican field's only
interventionist: although the U.S. remained neutral prior to Pearl
Harbor, he favored greater U.S. involvement in
World War II
World War II to support
Britain and other Allies. His Democratic opponent, incumbent President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, won the 1940 election with about 55% of the
popular vote and took the electoral college vote by a wide margin.
Willkie was born in
Elwood, Indiana in 1892; both his parents were
lawyers, and he also became one. He served in World War I but was not
sent to France until the final days of the war, and saw no action.
Willkie settled in Akron, Ohio, where he was initially employed by
Firestone, but left for a law firm, becoming one of the leaders of the
Akron bar. Much of his work was representing electric utilities, and
in 1929 Willkie accepted a job in
New York City
New York City as counsel for
Commonwealth & Southern Corporation (C&S), a utility holding
company. He was rapidly promoted, and became corporate president in
1933. Roosevelt was sworn in as U.S. president soon after Willkie
became head of C&S, and announced plans for a Tennessee Valley
Authority (TVA) that would supply power in competition with C&S.
Between 1933 and 1939, Willkie fought against the TVA before Congress,
in the courts, and before the public. He was ultimately unsuccessful,
but sold C&S's property for a good price, and gained public
A longtime Democratic activist, Willkie changed his party registration
to Republican in late 1939. He did not run in the 1940 presidential
primaries, but positioned himself as an acceptable choice for a
deadlocked convention. He sought backing from uncommitted delegates,
while his supporters – many youthful – enthusiastically promoted
his candidacy. As German forces under
Hitler rampaged through western
Europe in 1940, many Republicans did not wish to nominate an
isolationist like Thomas E. Dewey, and turned to Willkie, who was
nominated on the sixth ballot over
Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft.
Willkie's support for aid to Britain removed it as a major factor in
his race against Roosevelt, and Willkie also backed the president on a
peacetime draft. Both men took more isolationist positions towards the
end of the race. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term, taking 38
of the 48 states.
After the election, Willkie made two wartime foreign trips as
Roosevelt's informal envoy, and as nominal leader of the Republican
Party gave the president his full support. This angered many
conservatives, especially as Willkie increasingly advocated liberal or
internationalist causes. Willkie ran for the Republican nomination in
1944, but bowed out after a disastrous showing in the Wisconsin
primary in April. He and Roosevelt discussed the possibility of
forming, after the war, a liberal political party, but Willkie died in
October 1944 before the idea could bear fruit. Willkie is remembered
for giving Roosevelt vital political assistance in 1940, which allowed
the president to aid Britain in its time of crisis.
1 Youth, education and World War I service
2 Lawyer and executive (1919–39)
2.1 Akron attorney and activist
2.2 Commonwealth & Southern executive
2.3 TVA battle
3 1940 presidential election
3.1 Dark horse candidate
3.3 General election campaign
4 Activist and statesman (1940–43)
4.1 Visit to the United Kingdom
4.2 Wartime advocate
4.3 Civil rights activism
5 1944 campaign
6 Final months and death
7 Legacy and remembrance
8 See also
12 External links
Youth, education and World War I service
Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood, Indiana, on February 18,
1892, the son of Henrietta (Trisch) and Herman Francis Willkie.
Both of his parents were lawyers, his mother being one of the first
women admitted to the Indiana bar. His father was born in Germany
and his mother was born in Indiana, to German parents; his
grandparents were involved in the unsuccessful 1848 revolutions in
Germany. The Trisches initially settled in
Kansas Territory but, as
they were abolitionists, moved to Indiana after the territory was
opened to slavery in the mid-1850s. Willkie was the fourth of six
children, all intelligent, and learned skills during the nightly
debates around the dinner table that would later serve him well.
Although given the first name Lewis, Willkie was known from childhood
by his middle name. Herman Willkie, who had come from Prussia with
his parents at age four, was intensely involved in progressive
politics, and in 1896 took his sons to a torchlight procession for
Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who had come
to Elwood during his campaign. The Willkie boys had a sidewalk fight
with Republican youths, and though the Willkies won their battle,
Bryan did not, defeated by former
Ohio governor William McKinley. When
Bryan ran again in 1900, he stayed overnight at the Willkie home, and
the Democratic candidate for president became the first political hero
for the boy who would later seek that office.
By the time Willkie reached age 14 and enrolled in Elwood High School,
his parents were concerned about a lack of discipline and a slight
stoop, and they sent him to
Culver Military Academy
Culver Military Academy for a summer in an
attempt to correct both. Willkie began to shine as a student in high
school, inspired by his English teacher; one classmate said that
Philip "Pat" Bing "fixed that boy up. He started preaching to Wendell
to get to work and that kid went to town." Faced with a set of
athletic brothers—Edward became an Olympic wrestler—Willkie joined
the football team but had little success; he enjoyed the debate team
more, but was several times disciplined for arguing with teachers. He
was class president his final year, and president of the most
prominent fraternity, but resigned from the latter when a sorority
blackballed his girlfriend, Gwyneth Harry, as the daughter of
During Willkie's summer vacations from high school, he worked, often
far from home. In 1909, aged 17, his journey took him from Aberdeen,
South Dakota, where he rose from dishwasher to co-owner of a
flophouse, to Yellowstone National Park, where he was fired after
losing control of the horses drawing a tourist stagecoach. Back in
Elwood, Herman Willkie was representing striking workers at the local
tin plate factory, and in August journeyed with Wendell to Chicago in
an attempt to get liberal attorney
Clarence Darrow to take over the
representation. They found Darrow willing, but at too high a price for
the union to meet; Darrow told Wendell Willkie, "there is nothing
unethical in being adequately compensated for advocating a cause in
which you deeply believe."
After graduation from Elwood High in January 1910, Willkie enrolled at
Indiana University in Bloomington. There, he became a student
rebel, chewing tobacco, reading Marx, and petitioning the faculty to
add a course on socialism to the curriculum. He also involved
himself in campus politics, successfully managing the campaign of
future Indiana governor
Paul McNutt for student office, but when
Willkie ran himself, he was defeated. He graduated in June 1913, and
to earn money for law school, taught high school history in
Coffeyville, Kansas, coaching debaters and several sports teams. In
November 1914, he left his job there for one as a lab assistant in
Puerto Rico arranged by his brother Fred. Wendell Willkie's commitment
to social justice was deepened by the sight of workers suffering abuse
Willkie enrolled at Indiana School of Law in late 1915. He was a top
student, and graduated with high honors in 1916. At the commencement
ceremony, with the state supreme court present, he gave a provocative
speech criticizing his school. The faculty withheld his degree, but
granted it after two days of intense debate. Willkie joined his
parents' law firm, but volunteered for the
United States Army
United States Army on April
2, 1917, the day President
Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a
declaration of war against Germany. An army clerk transposed his first
two names; with Willkie unwilling to invest the time to have the
bureaucracy correct it, he kept his name as Wendell Lewis Willkie.
Commissioned as a first lieutenant, Willkie was sent for artillery
training, meaning he did not embark for France until September 1918.
In January of that year, he married Edith Wilk, a librarian from
Rushville, Indiana; the couple had one son, Philip. The war ended
before Willkie reached the front, and he spent his time defending
soldiers who had slipped away for time in Paris against orders. He was
recommended for promotion to captain, but was discharged in early 1919
before the paperwork went through.
Lawyer and executive (1919–39)
Akron attorney and activist
Discharged from the army, Willkie returned to Elwood. He considered a
run for Congress as a Democrat, but was advised that the district was
so Republican he would be unlikely to keep the seat even if he could
win it, and his chances might be better in a more urban area. Herman
Willkie wanted Wendell and Robert to rejoin the family law firm, but
Henrietta was opposed, feeling that opportunities in Elwood were too
limited for her sons. She got her way, and in May 1919 Wendell Willkie
successfully applied for a job with the Firestone Tire and Rubber
Akron, Ohio as head of the legal office that advised
workers on wills and other personal matters. He was soon bored there,
and on the advice of his wife, left for a law firm despite an offer
Harvey Firestone to double his salary. Firestone told the
departing lawyer that he would never amount to anything because he was
Willkie became active in the Akron Democratic Party, becoming
prominent enough while still with Firestone to introduce the
Democratic presidential nominee,
Ohio Governor James M. Cox, when he
came to town during the 1920 campaign. He was a delegate to the 1924
Democratic National Convention, and supported New York Governor Al
Smith through the record 103 ballots, when the nomination fell to
former West Virginia congressman John W. Davis. More important to
Willkie, though, was a fight against the Ku Klux Klan, which had
become powerful in much of the nation and in the Democratic Party, but
he and other delegates were unsuccessful in their attempt to include a
plank in the party platform condemning the Klan. He also backed a
proposed plank in support of the
League of Nations
League of Nations that ultimately
failed. In 1925, Willkie led a successful effort to oust Klan members
on the Akron school board.
After leaving Firestone in 1920, Willkie joined leading Akron law firm
Mather & Nesbitt, which represented several local public
utilities. Although he quickly gained a reputation as a leading trial
lawyer, he was especially noted for presenting utility cases before
Ohio Public Utilities Commission. In 1925, he became president of
the Akron Bar Association. One of Willkie's clients,
Ohio Power &
Light, was owned by New York-based Commonwealth & Southern
Corporation (C&S), whose chairman, B.C. Cobb, noticed him. Cobb
wrote to the senior partner of Willkie's firm, "I think he is a comer
and we should keep an eye on him." In 1929, Cobb offered Willkie a
salary of $36,000 to be corporate counsel to C&S, a job which
would involve a move to New York, and Willkie accepted.
Commonwealth & Southern executive
Wendell and Edith Willkie moved to New York in October 1929, only
weeks before the
Wall Street Crash of 1929, and found an apartment
overlooking Central Park. Initially intimidated by the size and
anonymity of the big city,
Wendell Willkie soon learned to love it. He
attended the Broadway theatre, and read through ten newspapers each
day. Willkie and his wife had little in common, and grew apart
through the 1930s. He acquired a social life, and met Irita Van
Doren, the book review editor of the
New York Herald Tribune
New York Herald Tribune who
became a friend, and later his lover. Cultured, brilliant and well
connected, Van Doren introduced him to new books, new ideas, and new
circles of friends. Unlike Van Doren, Willkie was indiscreet about
their relationship, and their affair was well known to the reporters
covering him during his 1940 presidential campaign. None of them
printed a word.
At C&S, Willkie rose rapidly under the eye of Cobb, impressing his
superiors. Much of his work was outside New York City; Willkie was
brought in to help try important cases or aid in the preparation of
major legal briefs. Cobb, a pioneer in the electricity transmission
business, had presided over the 1929 merger of 165 utilities that made
C&S the largest electric utility holding company in the country.
He promoted Willkie over 50 junior executives, designating the younger
man as his successor. In January 1933, Willkie became president of
Willkie maintained his interest in politics, and was a delegate to the
1932 Democratic National Convention. Since the incumbent Republican
president, Herbert Hoover, was widely blamed for the Depression that
had followed the stock market crash, the nominee would have a good
chance of becoming president. The major candidates were Smith (the
1928 nominee), Smith's successor as New York's governor, Franklin D.
Roosevelt, Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, and former
Secretary of War
Newton D. Baker
Newton D. Baker sought the nomination. Willkie backed
Baker, and was an assistant floor manager for his campaign. With a
two-thirds majority needed to gain the Democratic presidential
nomination, Willkie and others tried to deadlock the convention in the
hope that it would turn to Baker. Roosevelt was willing to swing his
votes to Baker in the event of a stalemate, but this did not occur, as
Governor Roosevelt gained the nomination on the fourth ballot.
Willkie, although disappointed, backed Roosevelt, and donated $150 to
his successful campaign.
Soon after taking office, President Roosevelt proposed legislation
Tennessee Valley Authority
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a government agency
with far-reaching influence that promised to bring flood control and
cheap electricity to the impoverished Tennessee Valley. However, the
TVA would compete with existing private power companies in the area,
including C&S subsidiaries. Willkie appeared before the House
Military Affairs Committee on April 14, 1933. He approved of the ideas
for development of the Tennessee Valley, but felt that the government
role should be limited to selling power generated by dams. Although
the House of Representatives passed a bill limiting the TVA's powers,
the Senate took the opposite stance, and the latter position
Willkie (right) and David E. Lilienthal
Negotiations took place through the remainder of 1933 for C&S to
sell assets, including a transmission line, to allow the TVA to
distribute energy to retail customers, leading to an agreement on
January 4, 1934. TVA head
David Lilienthal was impressed by
Willkie, who left him "somewhat overwhelmed" and "pretty badly
scared". C&S agreed to sell some of its properties in part of
the Tennessee Valley, and the government agreed that the TVA would not
compete with C&S in many areas. In October 1934, holders of
securities issued by a C&S subsidiary filed suit to block the
transfer. Willkie angrily denied that he had prompted the lawsuit,
though plaintiffs' counsel proved later to have been paid by the
Edison Electric Institute, of which Willkie was a board member.
Willkie warned that New York capital might avoid Tennessee if the TVA
experiment continued, and when Roosevelt gave a speech in praise of
the agency, issued a statement rebutting him. By 1934, Willkie had
become the spokesman for the private electric power industry.
Amid this tension, Willkie and Roosevelt met for the first time, at
the White House on December 13, 1934. The meeting was outwardly
cordial, but each man told his own version of what occurred: the
president boasted of having outtalked Willkie, while the executive
sent a soon-to-be-famous telegram to his wife: "CHARM
OVERRATED ... I DIDNT TELL HIM WHAT YOU THINK OF HIM"
Roosevelt decided that the utility holding companies had to be broken
up, stated so in his 1935
State of the Union address
State of the Union address and met with
Willkie later in January to inform him of his intent. In the
meantime, the companies did their best to sabotage the TVA; farmers
were told by corporate representatives that lines from the new Norris
Dam could not carry enough power to make a light bulb glow, and the
company ran "spite lines" that might not even carry power in an effort
to invoke the non-compete agreement over broad areas.
Willkie testifying before a congressional committee, 1939
Through 1935, as the breakup legislation wound through Congress, and
litigation through the courts, Willkie was the industry's chief
spokesman and lobbyist. When the Senate narrowly passed a bill for the
breakup, Willkie made a series of speeches asking the public to oppose
the legislation, and a storm of letters to congressmen followed. After
the House of Representatives defeated the breakup clause,
investigation proved that many of these communications were funded by
the electric companies, signed with names taken from the telephone
book, though Willkie was not implicated. Amid public anger, Roosevelt
pressured Congress to pass a bill requiring the breakup to take place
within three years.
In September 1936, Roosevelt and Willkie met again at the White House,
and a truce followed as both sides waited to see if Roosevelt would be
re-elected over the Republican, Kansas Governor Alf Landon. Willkie,
who voted for Landon, expected a narrow victory for the Republican,
but Roosevelt won an overwhelming landslide as Landon won only Maine
and Vermont. In December, a federal district court judge granted
the C&S companies an injunction against the TVA, and negotiations
broke off by Roosevelt's order as the litigation continued. Willkie
took his case to the people, writing columns for major publications,
and proposing terms for an agreement that
The New York Times
The New York Times described
as "sensible and realistic". He received favorable press, and many
invitations to speak.
The January 1938 Supreme Court ruling in Alabama Power Co. v. Ickes,
resolving the 1934 case, and the lifting of the injunction by an
appeals court, sent the parties back to the negotiating table.
Willkie kept the public pressure on: like most corporate executives,
he had not spoken out against Roosevelt's
New Deal policies, but in
January stated in a radio debate that anti-utility policies were
depressing share prices, making it hard to attract investment that
would help America to recover. "For several years now, we have been
listening to a bedtime story, telling us that the men who hold office
in Washington are, by their very positions, endowed with a special
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post dubbed Willkie "the man who
Willkie and Lilienthal negotiated for a year, with Willkie wanting $88
million for C&S's properties in and around the Tennessee Valley,
and the TVA offering $55 million. After a final, January 1939, legal
defeat for C&S in the Supreme Court, the pace of the talks
quickened, and on February 1, 1939, C&S sold the assets to the TVA
for $78.6 million.
Securities and Exchange Commission
Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William
O. Douglas deemed Willkie to have outsmarted Lilienthal. Though
defeated in the courts, Willkie had gained national stature for
driving a hard bargain for his shareholders, and was seen by some
as a potential presidential candidate in 1940.
1940 presidential election
Main article: United States presidential election, 1940
Dark horse candidate
The 1940 presidential campaign was conducted against the backdrop of
World War II. Although the United States remained neutral, the
nation—and especially the Republican Party—was deeply divided
between isolationists, who felt the nation should avoid any steps that
could lead America into the war, and interventionists, who felt that
America's survival depended upon helping the Allies defeat Nazi
Germany. The three leading candidates for the 1940 Republican
nomination were all isolationists to varying degrees: Senators Robert
A. Taft of
Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and Thomas E.
Dewey, the young (38), "gangbusting" Manhattan District Attorney.
Roosevelt's popularity had declined since the 1936 landslide, but many
still hoped he would run for an unprecedented third term. He had long
contemplated one, but made no announcement. Roosevelt's
decision-making on this point is uncertain: as late as April 1940, he
may have been thinking of retirement. If he stepped aside, possible
candidates included Vice President Garner, Secretary of State Cordell
Hull and Postmaster General James A. Farley.
Willkie on the cover of Time magazine, July 31, 1939
On the assumption Roosevelt would not seek a third term, Willkie had
been spoken of as a possible Democratic presidential candidate as
early as 1937. He raised his stock considerably when on January 3,
1938, he debated
Assistant Attorney General
Assistant Attorney General
Robert H. Jackson
Robert H. Jackson on the
radio show, Town Meeting of the Air. With the topic of the debate
being the cooperation between the public and private sectors, Willkie
came across as a businessman with a heart, while Jackson appeared
dull. A stream of positive press mentions for Willkie continued
through 1938 and into 1939, culminating with a favorable cover story
in Time magazine in July 1939. Willkie was initially dismissive of
the many letters he received urging him to run for president, but soon
changed his mind. Van Doren thought Willkie could be president, and
worked to persuade her contacts. After hosting the Willkies for a
weekend, Fortune magazine managing editor
Russell Davenport became
Wendell Willkie had presidential timber; he devoted the
magazine's April 1940 issue to Willkie, and later served as his
campaign manager. In that issue, Willkie wrote an article, "We The
People: A Foundation for a Political Platform for Recovery," urging
both major parties to omit anti-business policies from their party
platforms, protect individual rights, and oppose foreign aggression
while supporting world trade. This piece won him applause and
supporters from the press.
Willkie never had any doubt that Roosevelt would run for a third term,
and that his route to the White House would have to be through the
Republican Party. In late 1939 he changed his registration from
Democratic to Republican, and early in 1940 announced that he would
accept the Republican nomination if it were offered to him. He
blamed his allegiance shift on the Roosevelt policies that he deemed
anti-business. He had voted for Landon in 1936, he said, and he
felt that the Democrats no longer represented the values he advocated.
As he later characterized it, "I did not leave my party. My party left
The start of the war in September 1939 alarmed many Americans, but the
majority thought the U.S. should not get involved. Willkie spoke often
about the threat to America and the need to aid Britain and other
Allies. Willkie biographer Steve Neal wrote that the war "transformed
Willkie from a big-business critic of the
New Deal into a champion of
freedom. And it gave his candidacy new purpose." Despite the
chatter about Willkie, there were many who were skeptical about his
chances should he seek the nomination. Kenneth F. Simpson,
Republican National Committeeman from New York, initially thought the
idea of a Willkie run to be silly. Indiana Senator James Watson
stated that he did not mind if "the town whore" joined the church, but
she should not lead the choir the first week. Willkie did not enter
the Republican primaries, placing his hope in a deadlocked convention.
His campaign was composed mostly of political amateurs. New York
lawyer Orem Root, Jr. (grandnephew of former Secretary of State Elihu
Root) formed a network of local Willkie Clubs, which attracted a large
membership among Republicans discontented with their leadership and
seeking a new figure who might beat Roosevelt. He especially appealed
Eastern Establishment Republicans who saw none of the
declared candidates to their liking. His rumpled suits, country-style
haircut, and Indiana twang were reminiscent of ordinary midwesterners,
which led to some derision as the efforts to nominate him became more
obvious. Interior Secretary
Harold L. Ickes
Harold L. Ickes mocked Willkie as "a
Wall Street lawyer". Alice Roosevelt Longworth
stated that the Willkie campaign came "from the grass roots of ten
thousand country clubs".
His failure to enter primaries did not greatly disadvantage Willkie
because most were "beauty contests" serving only to show voter
preferences and not to elect delegates. The primaries were governed by
a complex set of unwritten rules about who would enter which primary
and Taft ran only in his native Ohio, where Dewey did not enter his
name. Most delegates pledged to support a candidate were not strongly
committed: what was important to most Republicans was to field a
nominee who could beat Roosevelt. The run-up to the June convention in
Philadelphia coincided with Hitler's advance in Western Europe, and
delegates had second thoughts about running an isolationist, let alone
a young one without national experience such as Dewey. Willkie, who
had spoken out against isolationism, and who was a successful
executive, was an attractive possibility. Willkie made speeches
widely, including in a tour of
New England that paid off with promises
of support, though delegates might first support a favorite son
candidate for a ballot or two. Important converts to Willkie's cause
included Minnesota Governor
Harold Stassen and Massachusetts Governor
Leverett Saltonstall. The move to Willkie was reflected in polls;
he went from 3 to 29 percent in the seven weeks before the convention,
while Dewey, the frontrunner, fell from 67 to 47 percent.
For further information on the procedures of American political
conventions, see United States presidential nominating convention.
1940 Republican National Convention
1940 Republican National Convention opened at the Philadelphia
Civic Center[a] on June 24, 1940. As the delegates assembled, they
discussed the war, the candidates, and Roosevelt's appointment of two
Republican interventionists to his cabinet four days before the
convention. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under President Taft
and Secretary of State under Hoover, was restored to the War position,
and Landon's 1936 running mate, Frank Knox, was appointed Navy
Secretary. The cabinet appointments divided the Republicans, who
accused Roosevelt of dirty politics.
Willkie arrived by train in
Philadelphia on June 22, two days before
the convention, and immediately attracted attention by walking from
30th Street Station
30th Street Station to his hotel, answering questions from reporters
and anyone else who could get close enough to be heard. Dewey,
Vandenberg and Taft had large public headquarters, but Willkie's
campaign was run from clandestine rooms at the Benjamin Franklin
Hotel. Root's Willkie Clubs and other supporters bombarded the
delegates with telegrams urging support for their candidate, to the
annoyance of some. Key convention officials were Willkie supporters;
House Minority Leader
House Minority Leader Joe Martin, Massachusetts'
favorite son and permanent chairman of the convention. When the head
of the Committee on Arrangements, Ralph Williams (deemed likely to
support Taft) died just before the convention, he was succeeded by the
vice chairman, Sam Pryor, a firm Willkie backer. This placed a Willkie
supporter in charge of tickets for the public galleries.
The opening night of the convention saw the keynote speech by Governor
Stassen;[b] he subsequently announced his support for Willkie and
became one of the candidate's floor managers. The second night
featured a speech by the only living former president, Herbert Hoover,
who hoped to stampede the convention to a third nomination. His
address went almost unheard in the hall because of problems with the
sound system. In the meantime, the Dewey campaign, faced with the
German announcement that with France taken, Hitler's forces would sail
on Britain, did its best to stem the flow of delegates to Willkie.
Negotiations among Dewey, Taft, and Vandenberg came to nothing because
none would accept less than the presidential nomination. A blaze of
publicity followed Willkie wherever he went, as he caucused with
delegates and appeared at press conferences with supporters, including
the entire Connecticut delegation. A strong minority of African
Americans still supported the Republicans, and Willkie met with a
group of them, urging those delegates to visit him in the White House
Charles Halleck gave the nominating speech for
Willkie on the evening of June 26, arguing that Willkie's recent
conversion to the Republican Party was no reason not to nominate him,
"is the Republican Party a closed corporation? Do you have to be born
into it?" When Halleck mentioned Willkie's name, there were
initially boos from some delegates, but they were quickly drowned out
by those in the public balconies, who thunderously chanted, "We want
Willkie!". Pryor had cut ticket allocations to delegations that
were not for Willkie, and distributed thousands of standing room
passes to Willkie partisans. The vocal support for Willkie among
spectators led to complaints that other campaigns had been shorted in
the distribution of tickets, but provided one of the convention's
most dramatic moments.
Dewey had predicted he would have 400 of the 501 votes needed to be
nominated on the first ballot and he kept nothing in reserve so
that he might show momentum in future ballots. When delegates first
balloted on the afternoon of June 27, he had only 360 to 189 for Taft,
105 for Willkie, and 76 for Vandenberg. On the second ballot, Dewey
began to slip, falling to 338 to Taft's 203 and 171 for Willkie.
The losses greatly damaged Dewey's campaign, because other than the
trivial losses suffered in the early rounds of balloting by Warren G.
Harding in 1920, no Republican candidate had ever lost support from
the previous ballot and won the nomination. Dewey came under
pressure from his advisors to withdraw during the dinner break that
followed the second ballot, and when the convention resumed to chants
of "We want Willkie!" from the packed galleries, Dewey continued to
slip as the convention became a two-horse race between Taft and
Willkie. Listening by radio from his hotel room, Willkie refused to
make a deal to get support from Taft delegates in exchange for making
the Ohioan his running mate, and became convinced he would lose on the
fifth ballot. Dewey had planned to go to the convention and withdraw,
hoping to stop Willkie by endorsing Taft, but by the time he decided
this, the fifth ballot was about to begin and he could not get to the
Civic Center in time. Willkie led with 429 delegates after the fifth
ballot, while Taft held 377 and Dewey only 57. The large states whose
votes still were not committed to one of the two leaders were
Pennsylvania (Governor Arthur James was the favorite son) and
Michigan, most of whose delegates stayed with Senator Vandenberg.
Although Willkie had thus far refrained from making deals, to get
Michigan he agreed to allow the Republican organization there to pick
that state's federal judges. The sixth ballot, held at 12:20 am on
June 28, saw Taft, then Willkie take the lead. As those in the gallery
continued to call for Willkie, Vandenberg released his delegates, most
of whom went to Willkie. Pennsylvania also broke for him, making
Willkie the Republican nominee for president on a vote that was made
Willkie (right) with running mate Charles McNary
Willkie had offered the vice presidential nomination to Connecticut
Governor Raymond Baldwin, a key supporter, but scuttled those plans
after his advisors and Republican officials felt that a New
York-Connecticut ticket would not give sufficient geographic balance.
They urged Willkie to select the Senate Minority Leader, Oregon's
Charles McNary. A lawyer, advocate of public power, and farmer, McNary
was popular and respected in the West. Willkie agreed, and got Baldwin
to withdraw as others persuaded McNary, who had called Willkie a tool
Wall Street after arriving in Philadelphia. The convention
dutifully nominated McNary. Before departing Philadelphia, Willkie
went to the Civic Center to appear before the delegates who had chosen
him, becoming the first Republican nominee to speak to the convention
after gaining its endorsement:
Democracy and our way of life is facing the most crucial test it has
ever faced in all its long history; and we here are not Republicans,
alone, but Americans, to dedicate ourselves to the democratic way of
life in the United States because here stands the last firm, untouched
foothold of freedom in all the world.
General election campaign
Willkie formally accepts his nomination at a ceremony in Elwood,
Indiana August 17, 1940
After the convention, Willkie returned to New York. When he went to
the movies, he received a standing ovation, as he did when he went to
see the play Life With Father. He resigned from C&S on July 8,
1940, confident that even if he lost his presidential bid, he would
not lack for work. He had
Republican National Committee
Republican National Committee (RNC)
chairman John Hamilton dismissed on the advice of some of his
advisors, who felt Hamilton was too conservative and isolationist,
though the former chairman was given the post of executive director
with partial responsibility for the Willkie campaign. Congressman
Martin became RNC chair. At a time when little campaigning was done
until after Labor Day, Willkie left on a five-week working vacation to
The Broadmoor, a resort in Colorado Springs, but found neither peace
Roosevelt had been surprised by the outcome of the Republican
convention, having expected to oppose a conservative isolationist. The
polls showed Willkie behind by only six points, and the president
expected this to be a more difficult race than he had faced in his
defeats of Hoover and Landon. Roosevelt felt that Willkie's nomination
would remove the war issue from the campaign. Roosevelt was
nominated by the Democratic convention in Chicago in July, though he
stated that because of the world crisis, he would not actively
campaign, leaving that to surrogates. The fact that both
major-party presidential candidates favored intervention frustrated
isolationists, who considered wooing
Charles Lindbergh as a third
Willkie formally accepted the nomination at Elwood on August 17 before
a crowd of at least 150,000, the largest political gathering in U.S.
history to that point. It was an extremely hot day, and Willkie, who
tried to read his speech from a typed manuscript without enlargement,
failed to ignite the crowd. He remained in Rushville, where he owned
farmland, over the next month, trying to become more associated with
his native state than with Wall Street. He gave interviews to
reporters there, and his firm support of Roosevelt's aid to the Allies
led Congressman Martin and Senator McNary to support a peacetime draft
despite the strident objections of many Republicans and some
Democrats. Roosevelt contacted Willkie through intermediaries to
ensure the Republican candidate would not make a political issue out
of the Destroyers for Bases Agreement; Willkie was supportive of the
transfer, though he felt Congress should act, and opposed Roosevelt
sending armaments to Britain by executive order.
"Willkie for President" poster
Conservatives and isolationists had little enthusiasm for the Willkie
campaign, and the moderates wanted to see stronger positions on
progressive issues and foreign policy. Publisher
Henry Luce decried
both Roosevelt and Willkie for failing to be honest with the American
people, "America will never be ready for any war until she makes her
mind up there is going to be a war." (italics in original) Despite
his pledge not to campaign, Roosevelt made inspection tours to
military installations, well covered by the press. The president did
not mention Willkie by name, seeking to avoid giving him publicity.
According to Susan Dunn in her book in the 1940 campaign, this forced
Willkie "to box against a phantom opponent and carry on a one-sided
partisan debate ... Even in Willkie's speeches, Roosevelt
occupied center stage". Willkie promised to keep
New Deal social
welfare programs intact, expand Social Security, and provide full
employment, a job for everyone: "I pledge a new world".
On September 12, Willkie began a whistle-stop tour by train, and
between then and November 2, he reached 31 of the 48 states. He did
not visit the Solid South, though he spoke in Texas, hoping to win it
as Hoover had in 1928. Willkie filled the
Los Angeles Coliseum
Los Angeles Coliseum with
70,000 middle-class supporters, but reporters saw few working-class
people at his rallies, and he cancelled some appearances at auto
plants in the Midwest. Other people in working-class areas booed the
candidate, held up signs in support of Roosevelt, or pelted his
motorcade with overripe fruit. Although Edith Willkie accompanied
her husband on his tour (he had little time for contact with Van
Doren), she disliked the media attention and did not give interviews,
completing the campaign without ever giving a speech. On one occasion,
she looked at her husband and stated, "Politics makes strange
bedfellows". The Democrats knew of Willkie's affair with Van
Doren, but the Republicans had letters from Henry A. Wallace, the
Democratic vice presidential nominee, to his former guru, Russian
mystic Nicholas Roerich, and neither issue became a factor in the
With polls released on October 6 showing Roosevelt well ahead, Willkie
began to sound an isolationist theme, accusing Roosevelt of being a
warmonger. Many of Willkie's speeches to that point had been on
domestic issues, but he had been advised by Martin, Hamilton, and
other advisors that the war was the issue the voters really cared
about. Willkie began to argue that Roosevelt would not keep the U.S.
out of war, but that he would. He was given room to make this argument
by the United Kingdom's increasing success in the Battle of Britain,
as it was clear a German invasion was not imminent. The polls showed
voters responding positively to this new tack, and Willkie kept on
this course for the remainder of the campaign. Roosevelt reacted by
scheduling five speeches for the final days, in which he proposed to
rebut Willkie's "falsifications". The president stated, "I have
said again and again and again that your boys are not going to be sent
into any foreign wars." Willkie was prone to ad lib remarks, which
sometimes led to gaffes: addressing steelworkers, he pledged to
appoint a new Secretary of Labor, "and it will not be a woman
either". This allusion to Secretary Frances Perkins, the only
woman to hold a cabinet position in American history to that point,
did not aid him among female voters.
The results of the election, with those states taken by Willkie in red
Willkie concluded his campaign on November 2 with a large rally at New
York's Madison Square Garden. Polls showed him four points behind
Roosevelt, but with a trend towards the Republicans. Many pundits
expected a tight race. On Election Day, November 5, 1940, the returns
were initially encouraging, but quickly turned against Willkie. By
11 pm, radio commentators were reporting that Roosevelt had won a
third term. Willkie received 45 percent of the popular vote to
Roosevelt's 55 percent. The president received 27.2 million votes
to Willkie's 22.3 million, and won 449 to 82 in the Electoral
College. Willkie won 10 states to the president's 38 though he did
better than Hoover and Landon had against Roosevelt. Willkie's popular
vote total of 22,348,480 set a record for a Republican not broken
until Eisenhower in 1952.
The endorsement of CIO head
John L. Lewis
John L. Lewis probably gave Willkie
Michigan, and he gained ground in the suburbs and rural areas, but
Roosevelt consolidated his 1936 coalition of working-class Americans,
minorities, and Southerners to take the election. On the evening
of November 11, Willkie gave a nationwide radio address, urging those
who had voted for him not to oppose Roosevelt on all issues, but to
give support where it was called for. In late November, Willkie
interrupted a Florida vacation for a speech he concluded by offering a
toast "to the health and happiness of the President of the United
States"; Roosevelt confided to his son James: "I'm happy I've won, but
I'm sorry Wendell lost".
Activist and statesman (1940–43)
Visit to the United Kingdom
Roosevelt asked Willkie to serve as his informal envoy in Britain.
Although defeated in the election, Willkie had become a major figure
on the public scene, and at age 48, was deemed likely to remain one
for years to come. Landon had received some 6,000 letters
commiserating with him in his defeat; Willkie received over 100,000.
Financially independent, he was in no hurry to decide among the many
offers of employment from top law firms and major corporations. He
resumed his affair with Van Doren.
While on vacation, Willkie decided his next cause should be military
aid to embattled Britain, and announced support of the president's
Lend-Lease program on January 13, 1941. Lend-Lease was highly
unpopular in the Republican Party, and Willkie's announcement created
a firestorm, with Landon and Taft decrying his actions. Former RNC
chairman Hamilton wrote that of the almost 200 Republican members of
the House and Senate, "Willkie couldn't dig up ten friends if his life
depended on it."
Roosevelt, both appreciating Willkie's talents, and seeking to divide
and conquer his opposition, had been mulling over ways his former
opponent might be of use. The president's onetime advisor, Justice
Felix Frankfurter, had suggested to Van Doren on New Year's Eve that
Willkie should travel across the Atlantic to demonstrate bipartisan
support of Britain. Willkie had already been planning a visit in
support for Britain. Roosevelt believed that the visit of the nominal
head of the opposition party would be far more effective in
demonstrating American support than sending one of his advisors.
Willkie visited the president at the White House for the first time as
an ally on January 19, 1941, the evening before Roosevelt's third
swearing-in. The president asked Willkie to be his informal personal
representative to Britain, and Willkie accepted. Eleanor Roosevelt
recorded that family members and White House staff found excuses to
observe Willkie, and she would have done so herself had she been aware
of the visit as it was happening. Roosevelt urged Willkie to see W.
Averell Harriman and Harry Hopkins, both in London on missions from
Roosevelt, and gave his former rival a letter to be hand-delivered to
the British prime minister, Winston Churchill. At this time it was not
routine for politicians to travel abroad; McNary, with considerable
influence in foreign affairs, had never left North America. Thus,
there was much public attention to Willkie's mission. He departed from
New York Municipal Field for London on January 22.
Upon arrival, Willkie told the press, "I want to do all I can to get
the United States to give England the utmost aid possible in her
struggle". Willkie saw the damage Nazi bombing had inflicted on
Britain, visiting bombed-out sites in London, Birmingham, Coventry,
Manchester and Liverpool. In London during the Blitz, he walked
the streets at night without helmet or gas mask (until Churchill gave
him some), visiting bomb shelters. Churchill hosted Willkie at an
official luncheon at
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street and had him as a guest at
Chequers. In his writings, Churchill recalled "a long talk with this
most able and forceful man".
Although it was cut short by Roosevelt's desire to have him testify
before Congress on Lend-Lease, Willkie's visit to Britain was deemed a
triumph. Willkie also went to Ireland, hoping to persuade Éamon de
Valera to abandon neutrality, but his urging was unavailing. Willkie
left London for Washington on February 5; because of the risk of being
shot down by Nazi aircraft, the roundabout journey home took four
days. He testified before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senate Foreign Relations Committee on
February 11, and his support was key to passing Lend-Lease.
Willkie's Senate testimony made him the leading interventionist
outside the government, with Lindbergh (who had testified against
Lend-Lease) the leading isolationist, and they debated in the pages of
magazines. Roosevelt weighed in, backing his former opponent in a
radio address on March 29. "The leader of the Republican Party
himself—Mr. Wendell Willkie—in word and in action is showing what
patriotic Americans mean by rising above partisanship and rallying to
the common cause." That same month, a Gallup poll showed that 60
percent of Americans believed Willkie would have made a good
In April 1941, Willkie joined the New York law firm of Miller, Boston,
and Owen as a senior partner, with the firm changing its name to
Willkie, Owen, Otis, Farr, and Gallagher. Two months later, he
agreed to represent motion picture producers before a Senate
subcommittee which was investigating claims that Hollywood was
producing pro-war propaganda. Willkie defended the rights of the
studios to make films that reflected their views, and warned, "the
rights of the individuals mean nothing if freedom of speech and
freedom of the press are destroyed." Congress took no further
In late 1941, Willkie fought for the repeal of the Neutrality Act. In
September, Lindbergh accused American
Jews of "agitating for war";
Willkie responded that the aviator's speech was "the most un-American
made in my time". Willkie lobbied Republican congressmen to repeal
the act. The measure passed Congress with the aid of Republican votes,
though most of that party voted against it. Roosevelt invited Willkie
to dedicate Mount Rushmore, but because of other commitments, Willkie
could not. Roosevelt also sought to have Willkie join his
administration, which the Republican was reluctant to do, wishing to
preserve independence of word and action.
Willkie with Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, Alexandria, Egypt
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Willkie offered his full
support to Roosevelt. Willkie was interested in the post of war
production czar, but that position went to Donald M. Nelson. Labor
Secretary Perkins offered to have Willkie arbitrate between management
and labor in war industries, but Willkie declined after White House
officials informed the press. In early 1942, Willkie considered a run
for Governor of New York. He later stated that Roosevelt had been
willing to endorse him, but Willkie ultimately concluded that the
Dewey forces were too strong and a defeat might eliminate him from a
possible run for president in 1944. In July, Willkie proposed to
Roosevelt that he go on another foreign mission, and the following
month Willkie announced that he would be visiting the Soviet Union,
China, and the Middle East. Dewey wrote, "I hear he is going to Russia
before the Republican [state] convention, so he will be where he
belongs and I hope he stays there until Christmas".
According to Dunn, Willkie's mission was to be Roosevelt's personal
representative, "demonstrating American unity, gathering information,
and discussing with key heads of state plans for the postwar
future". After leaving the U.S. on August 26, Willkie's first stop
was in North Africa, where he met General Montgomery and toured the
front at El Alamein. In Beirut, he stayed with General de Gaulle,
leader of the Free French. In Jerusalem, Willkie met with
Arabs, told the British rulers of Palestine that both peoples should
be brought into the government, and he later wrote that the conflict
there was so ancient, it was unrealistic to think that it could "be
solved by good will and simple honesty". Willkie had been moved
to add the Soviet Union to his itinerary when three Western reporters
there urged him by telegram to do so. There, he met with Stalin,
and upon his return he advocated more liberal Lend-Lease terms for the
USSR. In China, Willkie was hosted by
Chiang Kai-shek and was
fascinated by Madame Chiang. Willkie was taken to the front in order
to observe the Chinese military forces in their fight against the
Japanese, and he spoke out against colonialism, in China and
elsewhere. His statements were reported widely in Britain, angering
Churchill, who responded by saying, "We mean to hold our own. I have
not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the
liquidation of the British Empire."
We both came in amity,
Wartime allies of the KMT
While you were feted at the seat of honor
I was fettered in this penal horror.
Diplomatic affections may run hot and cold,
Such is the way of the world,
Or as the French say, C'est la vie,
All waters flow down to the sea.
Ho Chi Minh, "On Reading of Wendell Willkie's Reception in China"
While in the USSR, Willkie urged the opening of a second front against
the Germans; when reporters asked Roosevelt about those comments, the
president responded flippantly by saying that he had read the
headlines but had not considered the speculative comments worth the
reading. This angered Willkie, and on his return from his 49-day trip,
he confronted Roosevelt about it when making his report at the White
On October 26, 1942, Willkie made a "Report to the People", telling
Americans about his trip in a radio speech heard by about 36 million
people. The following April, he published One World, a book Van Doren
edited, in which he recounted his travels and urged America to join a
supernational global organization after the war was successfully
concluded. The book was an immediate bestseller, selling a
million copies in its first month. It was especially influential
because Willkie was seen by many as having transcended partisan
Civil rights activism
During his 1940 campaign, Willkie had pledged to integrate the civil
service and armed forces, and proudly pointed to what he deemed the
strongest civil rights plank in history in the Republican platform. He
also promised to end racial segregation in Washington, D.C. He gained
the endorsements of the two largest African American newspapers, the
Pittsburgh Courier and the Baltimore Afro-American. With Willkie
running to the left of Roosevelt on civil rights, Roosevelt feared
that blacks would return to their traditional home in the Republican
Party, and he secured several prominent promotions or hirings of
African Americans. Roosevelt was successful in keeping the majority of
the black vote. After the election, Willkie promised to keep fighting
for civil rights.
Willkie warned Republicans that only a full commitment to equal rights
for minorities would woo African Americans back to the party, and he
criticized Roosevelt for yielding to Southern racists among the
Democrats. Willkie addressed a convention of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1942, one
of the most prominent politicians to do so up to that point. He urged
integration of the armed forces, and when a violent race riot broke
out in Detroit in June 1943, he went on national radio in order to
criticize both parties for ignoring racial issues. When the movie
hearings of 1941 ended without further action, Willkie had been made
chairman of the board of Twentieth-Century Fox. In 1943, he worked
with Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, to try to
convince Hollywood to give blacks better treatment in films. Movie
moguls promised changes, and some films featured blacks in major
roles, but faced with objections from white Southerners, they reverted
to giving blacks stereotyped roles after Willkie's death in 1944, such
as servants. After his death, the NAACP named its headquarters
Wendell Willkie Memorial Building.
On November 9, 1942, soon after making his reports to Roosevelt and
the American people, Willkie argued the case of Schneiderman v. United
States before the Supreme Court. William Schneiderman, secretary of
the California Communist Party, was a naturalized American until the
government revoked his citizenship, stating that he had concealed his
membership on his application for naturalization in 1927. Two lower
federal courts upheld the denaturalization. Representing a communist,
even in wartime, did nothing to shore up Willkie's diminishing support
in the Republican Party, but he wrote to a friend saying, "I am sure I
am right in representing Schneiderman. Of all the times when civil
liberties should be defended, it is now." In his argument Willkie
quoted Lincoln and Jefferson by saying that the people could, if they
deemed it necessary, remake the government, and he stated that Marx's
view of revolution was mild by comparison. In 1943, the Supreme Court
ruled for Schneiderman, 5—3, restoring his citizenship. Although
Willkie refrained from criticizing Roosevelt's internment of Japanese
Americans, he stated in a speech that war was no excuse for depriving
groups of people of their rights. He spoke out against those who
Jews for the war, warning against "witch-hanging and
mob-baiting". For his activities, he received the American Hebrew
Medal for 1942.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1944
Willkie spent much of 1943 preparing for a second presidential run,
addressing Republican and nonpartisan groups. He did not meet
with Roosevelt; with the presidential election approaching and with
both men likely to run in it as candidates, their continued
association would have been awkward. Although they differed with
him on many issues, Republican leaders recognized Willkie's appeal and
they had wanted him to campaign for the party in the 1942 midterm
elections, but he went around the world instead. The huge
publicity received by the titular head of the Republican Party as an
emissary for a Democratic president frustrated leading
Republicans. In spite of this, the Republicans gained seats in
both the House and the Senate, though they still remained in the
minority. Few Republican members of Congress were by then willing to
support Willkie, and he dropped to second place behind General Douglas
MacArthur in polls of likely voters in the party's 1944 presidential
primaries. By 1943, even liberal Democrats did not doubt
Willkie's progressive credentials. He spoke of appointing an African
American to either the cabinet or the Supreme Court, and he warned
California's Republican committee that the
New Deal was irreversible
and he stated that all they would get by opposing it was
Willkie made his candidacy clear in an interview with Look magazine in
early October 1943, arguing that a return to isolationism would lead
the party to disaster. He decided to enter several presidential
primaries in order to demonstrate his public support of the party, and
he chose Wisconsin, with a primary on April 4, 1944, as the first
major test. Willkie had not taken Wisconsin's electoral votes in 1940,
though he had won in all parts of the state except Milwaukee. His
advisors feared the large German-American vote in Wisconsin, which had
contributed to the state being firmly isolationist until Pearl Harbor.
None of the other major candidates—Dewey, Stassen, MacArthur and
Ohio Governor John Bricker—spoke in Wisconsin; MacArthur and Stassen
were on active duty and could not do so. Willkie stated that if he did
badly in Wisconsin, he would end his campaign.
New Hampshire primary had not taken on the significance it later
would, and Willkie won it on March 14, taking six out of eleven
delegates with him. This was deemed a disappointment because he had
spoken there many times since 1940, and was expected to do better. In
Wisconsin, Willkie ran a slate of delegates led by future governor
Vernon W. Thomson, and he devoted two weeks to campaigning there. He
was endorsed by most newspapers, but polls showed him well behind
Dewey both in the state and nationwide.
On March 16, his first day of campaigning in Wisconsin, Willkie made
eight speeches, and the pace took a toll on his voice. The weather did
not cooperate, and he travelled 200 miles (320 km) through a
blizzard to reach a rally in the northern part of the state. Willkie
attracted large crowds in most places, and he told them that the
Republican party would fail unless it accepted the
New Deal and
recognized the need for the U.S. to remain active in the world after
the war. The Democrats, he alleged, had been in office too long and
they did not have the vision that was needed in the postwar
world. Willkie's speech in
Milwaukee attracted 4,000 people to a
hall that could hold 6,000, and he left the state on the 29th for
Nebraska, where he had also entered the primary. Once he was gone,
Dewey's backers, including most of the
leadership, flooded the state with billboard advertisements and radio
commercials. On April 4, Dewey gained 17 of Wisconsin's 24
delegates, Stassen 4, and MacArthur 3. Willkie's delegates ran
last in every district. The following night, after giving his
speech in Omaha, Willkie addressed the crowd:
I quite deliberately entered the
Wisconsin primary to test whether the
Republican voters of that state would support me ... It is
obvious now that I cannot be nominated. I therefore am asking my
friends to desist from any activity toward that end and not to present
my name at the convention. I earnestly hope that the Republican
convention will nominate a candidate and write a platform that really
represents the views which I have advocated and which I believe are
shared by millions of Americans. I shall continue to work for these
principles and policies for which I have fought during the last five
Final months and death
Willkie's home in Rushville, added to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1993
Defeated in his second bid for the White House, Willkie announced that
he was returning to the practice of law, but his friends doubted that
he would be content there. Roosevelt was anxious to dump Vice
President Wallace from the ticket in his bid for a fourth term, and he
had an intermediary sound out Willkie about running in Wallace's
place. Willkie was reluctant even to respond, knowing that Roosevelt
had made promises to potential running mates which he did not follow
through on. There were further discussions between Willkie and the
White House, of which third parties were aware though the details are
not known; the vice presidential nomination went to Harry S Truman.
Willkie got Roosevelt interested in a new liberal party which would be
formed once peace came that would combine the left of the two existing
major parties, but Willkie broke off contact with the White House
after there were leaks of this to the press, because he felt that
Roosevelt had used him for political gain. Roosevelt sent a letter
expressing his regret for the leak, but that too was printed in the
papers, and Willkie stated, "I've been lied to for the last
In spite of their breach, Roosevelt continued to try to conciliate
Willkie. Roosevelt's son Elliott later stated that his father hoped to
have Willkie be the first Secretary General of the United Nations, and
the two men agreed to meet later in the year. Willkie had not
been invited to speak at the
1944 Republican National Convention
1944 Republican National Convention in
Chicago that nominated Dewey for president, and he declined a pass as
an "honored guest". Dewey hoped to get Willkie's endorsement, and
he sent his foreign policy advisor, John Foster Dulles, to see
Willkie. The former candidate refused to be drawn, and he made no
endorsement before he died. Willkie wrote two articles for Collier's,
one urging an internationalist foreign policy, and the other demanding
advances in civil rights for African Americans. He also explored
becoming a newspaper publisher.
Willkie had long been neglectful of his health and diet, smoking
heavily, and rarely exercising. His heavy drinking had charmed
the reporters in
Philadelphia in 1940, but by 1944 it was becoming a
problem. In August 1944, Willkie felt weak while traveling by train
to his Rushville home. There, he suffered a heart attack, but he had
to be persuaded to see a doctor and he refused to be admitted to a
Willkie's condition only worsened as the weeks went on. He went to New
York by rail in mid-September, but on the trip he was stricken with
another heart attack. Although his advisors told him to seek treatment
and abandon the trip, Willkie pressed on. When he arrived in New York,
Willkie was in great pain and his press secretary called an ambulance
to take him to Lenox Hill Hospital. He recovered to some extent,
enough so that his friends expected him to be discharged. He spent
time working on the galleys of his second book, An American Program,
and planned future projects. On October 4, Willkie caught a throat
infection, which was treated with penicillin. As he was recovering,
Willkie's now chronic heart attacks struck again and he suffered three
more attacks on October 7. The hospital, which had been issuing
reassuring bulletins to the public, was now forced to inform the
public that Willkie's condition had worsened and that he was
critically ill. The next morning, Willkie suffered one last attack
which proved fatal. From the time he checked into Lenox Hill Hospital,
he was said to have suffered over a dozen heart attacks.
Roosevelt released a statement applauding Willkie's "tremendous
courage" which "prompted him more than once to stand alone ... In
this hour of grave crisis the nation loses a great citizen." War
Secretary Stimson offered to have Willkie buried in Arlington National
Cemetery, but Edith Willkie wanted her husband to be buried in his
native Indiana, at Rushville. His casket was placed in the center
aisle of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church; 60,000 people filed by
his casket, and 35,000 crowded around the church during the service,
including many blacks—as,
Eleanor Roosevelt noted in her column, was
fitting. Wendell and Edith Willkie rest together in Rushville's East
Hill Cemetery, the gravesite was marked by a cross, and a book was
carved in stone, designed by sculptor Malvina Hoffman, and inscribed
with quotations from One World.:11
Legacy and remembrance
Plaque dedicated to Willkie outside the main branch of the New York
Soon after the 1940 convention, Roosevelt described Willkie's
nomination as a "Godsend to our country", because it ensured that the
presidential race would not turn on the issue of aid to Britain.
Walter Lippmann believed Willkie's nomination to have been crucial to
Britain's survival, "second only to the Battle of Britain, the sudden
rise and nomination of Willkie was the decisive event, perhaps
providential, which made it possible to rally the free world when
[Britain] was almost conquered. Under any other leadership but his the
Republican party in 1940 would have turned its back on Great Britain,
causing all who resisted
Hitler to feel abandoned". Charles
Peters wrote that "it is arguable that [Willkie's] impact on [the
United States] and the world was greater than that of most men who
actually held the office [of president]. At a crucial moment in
history, he stood for the right things at the right time." When
Georgia Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat, gave the keynote address at
the 2004 Republican National Convention, he urged unity instead of
partisan strife in the War on Terror, and recalled Willkie's actions,
"He gave Roosevelt the critical support he needed for a peacetime
draft, an unpopular idea at the time. And he made it clear that he
would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan
Historian Hugh Ross argued that in gaining the nomination, Willkie
"gave exceptional promise of being a winner. There were ample
precedents from American political history in which a minority party,
queasy over prospects for survival, bypassed professional leadership
in order to entrust its political fortunes to a man without political
experience. In most of the previous instances, the nomination had gone
to a military man. In 1940, it went to a businessman." Richard
Moe, in his book on the 1940 election, suggested that the nomination
of Willkie left long-lasting scars on the Republican Party, with
conservatives angered by the success of its Eastern Establishment
wing; "whatever else it did,
Philadelphia gave birth to the bitter
proprietary division within the Republican Party, one accentuated by
ideology and geography, that would define the party for decades to
come." Among those converted from isolationism by Willkie's
oratory, and who worked intensely on the Willkie campaign in Michigan,
was Gerald R. Ford, who wrote many years later in his memoirs, "I now
realize that my participation did not make much difference at all to
the political fate of Wendell Willkie. But it made a lot of difference
Correspondent and author Warren Moscow wrote that after 1940, Willkie
helped Roosevelt, who was always careful not to go too far in front of
public opinion, "as a pace-setter with the President's blessing".
Willkie's global trip and the publication of One World increased
public support for the idea that the United States should remain
active internationally once the war was won, and should not withdraw
into a new isolationism.
Indiana University president Herman B
Wells noted that One World "has had such a profound influence on the
thinking of Americans". Zipp noted, "He launched the most
successful and unprecedented challenge to conventional nationalism in
modern American history ... He urged [Americans] to imagine and
feel a new form of reciprocity with the world, one that millions of
Americans responded to with unprecedented urgency."
His advocacy came at a cost to his standing in the Republican Party.
According to Moscow, "his appeal for the party to be the party of the
Loyal Opposition, supporting the President, was treason to the
diehards; his trip around the world marked him as a Presidential agent
seeking to infiltrate the Republican Party". This decline was
accelerated as it became apparent that Willkie was a liberal, standing
to the left of Roosevelt and proposing even higher taxes than the
president was willing to stomach.
Indiana University completed Willkie Quadrangle, a 11-story
undergraduate residence hall, on the Bloomington campus that was named
In 1992, the
United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service marked the centennial of
Willkie's birth with a 75-cent stamp in the Great Americans
series. Dunn concluded that Willkie "died as he had lived, an
idealist, a humanitarian—and a lone wolf". Willkie's
biographer, Neal, wrote of him,
Though he never became President, he had won something much more
important, a lasting place in American history. Along with Henry Clay,
William Jennings Bryan, and Hubert Humphrey, he was the also-ran who
would be long remembered. "He was a born leader," wrote historian
Allan Nevins, "and he stepped to leadership at just the moment when
the world needed him." Shortly before his death, Willkie told a
friend, "If I could write my own epitaph and if I had to choose
between saying, 'Here lies an unimportant President', or, 'Here lies
one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril', I
would prefer the latter."
State of the Union, play believed to be based on Willkie's
^ At the time, more commonly known as Convention Hall
^ Stassen was then deemed the "Boy Wonder" of the Republican Party; at
age 33, he was constitutionally too young to seek the presidency. Age
would not in future restrain him from running for president; he would
seek the Republican nomination so many times and with so little hope
of winning that he became a national joke. See Peters, p. 75
^ Ellsworth, Barnard (1966). Wendell Willkie, Fighter for Freedom.
University of Massachusetts. p. 8. ISBN 0-87023-088-3.
^ a b c d e f g Madison, James H. (February 2000l). "Willkie, Wendell
Lewis". American National Biography. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
^ Peters, p. 25.
^ Neal, p. 2.
^ Neal, p. 3.
^ a b Neal, pp. 4–5.
^ Neal, pp. 6–7.
^ Neal, p. 7.
^ Peters, pp. 26–27.
^ Neal, pp. 8–12.
^ Neal, p. 13.
^ Neal, pp. 17–19.
^ Neal, pp. 17–18.
^ Peters, p. 30.
^ a b Peters, pp. 30–31.
^ Neal, p. 25.
^ Neal, pp. 37–39.
^ Neal, pp. 39–44.
^ Neal, pp. 26–28.
^ Neal, p. 27.
^ a b Bennett, pp. 388–390.
^ Neal, pp. 28–29.
^ Neal, p. 29.
^ a b Bennett, pp. 390–391.
^ Neal, pp. 30–31.
^ Bennett, pp. 391–393.
^ Neal, pp. 31–32.
^ Neal, p. 33.
^ Neal, p. 34.
^ Moe, p. 154.
^ Bennett, p. 395.
^ a b c Shlaes, Amity (May 25, 2009). "The man who talked back".
^ Neal, p. 36.
^ Peters, pp. 14–18, 123–124.
^ Peters, pp. 22–24.
^ Zipp, p. 34.
^ Moe, pp. 154–156.
^ Neal, pp. 52–56.
^ "One World or No World: The Vision of
Wendell Willkie (unsigned
editorial)". Journal of Public Health Policy. 8 (2): 144. Summer 1987.
^ Leff, Mark H. (1992). "Strange Bedfellows: The Utility Magnate as
Politician". In Madison, James H. Wendell Willkie: Hoosier
Indiana University Press. p. 24.
^ Neal, pp. 51–52.
^ a b Neal, pp. 52–54.
^ Moe, pp. 155–157.
^ Neal, p. 99.
^ Ross, pp. 79–98.
^ Peters, p. 51.
^ Peters, pp. 158–162.
^ Moscow, pp. 65–70.
^ Peters, p. 60.
^ Peters, pp. 76–86.
^ Moscow, p. 93.
^ Peters, p. 94.
^ a b Neal, pp. 105–107.
^ Peters, pp. 96–97.
^ Neal, p. 109.
^ Dunn, pp. 112–113.
^ Neal, p. 110.
^ Neal, pp. 109–116.
^ Peters, pp. 110–111.
^ Neal, pp. 118–121.
^ Peters, pp. 119–121.
^ Neal, pp. 126–127.
^ Moe, pp. 170–171.
^ Dunn, pp. 142, 189.
^ Dunn, p. 150.
^ Neal, pp. 132–139.
^ Dunn, pp. 164–165.
^ Dunn, pp. 192–193.
^ Neal, pp. 153–154.
^ Dunn, pp. 193–196.
^ Neal, pp. 143–144.
^ Neal, pp. 144–145.
^ Moe, pp. 283–287.
^ a b c Peters, p. 178.
^ Neal, pp. 172–175.
^ Neal, pp. 175.
^ Moe, p. 314.
^ Neal, p. 177.
^ Moscow, pp. 293–294.
^ Neal, pp. 179–180.
^ Neal, pp. 181–182.
^ Neal, pp. 192–193.
^ Neal, p. 186.
^ a b Moe, p. 322.
^ Neal, pp. 188–189.
^ a b Dunn, p. 278.
^ Neal, pp. 191–193.
^ a b Dunn, p. 279.
^ Neal, pp. 195–196.
^ Peters, pp. 191–192.
^ Neal, p. 211.
^ a b Dunn, p. 289.
^ Neal, pp. 210–211.
^ Dunn, pp. 297–298.
^ a b Sitkoff, p. 134.
^ Neal, pp. 212–213.
^ Neal, pp. 214–216.
^ Neal, pp. 217–230.
^ Dunn, p. 314.
^ Neal, pp. 231–241.
^ Zipp, p. 488.
^ Neal, pp. 242–257.
^ Neal, pp. 248, 253, 259–260.
^ Neal, pp. 260–263.
^ Zipp, pp. 488–489.
^ Zipp, p. 491.
^ Sitkoff, p. 133.
^ Sitkoff, pp. 139–140.
^ a b Neal, pp. 274–276.
^ Sitkoff, p. 129.
^ Sitkoff, pp. 133–135.
^ Neal, pp. 267–273.
^ Sitkoff, pp. 136–137.
^ Sitkoff, p. 137.
^ Jordan, pp. 60–61.
^ a b Moscow, p. 208.
^ Snyder, p. 36.
^ Jordan, p. 41.
^ Snyder, pp. 35–36.
^ Neal, p. 288.
^ Snyder, pp. 36–37.
^ Jordan, p. 85.
^ Jordan, p. 82.
^ Neal, pp. 207–209.
^ Snyder, pp. 37–38.
^ Jordan, pp. 87–89.
^ Jordan, pp. 90–91.
^ Snyder, p. 39.
^ Snyder, pp. 39–40.
^ Jordan, p. 91.
^ Neal, pp. 308–318.
^ a b Neal, pp. 318–320.
^ Snyder, p. 40.
^ Neal, p. 321.
^ a b Neal, pp. 321–323.
^ a b Dunn, p. 317.
^ a b Neal, p. 323.
^ "Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research
Database (SHAARD)" (Searchable database). Department of Natural
Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.
Retrieved 2016-06-01. Note: This includes Glory-June Greiff
(September 2013). "
National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places Inventory
Nomination Form: East Hill Cemetery" (PDF). Retrieved June 1,
2016. and accompanying photographs.
^ Peters, p. 171.
^ Peters, p. 194.
^ Peters, p. 195.
^ "Excerpt from keynote speech". The New York Times. September 2,
^ Ross, p. 100.
^ Moe, p. 169.
^ Syers, pp. 127–130.
^ Moscow, pp. 206–207.
^ Zipp, pp. 484–485.
^ Wells, Herman B (1992). "Forward". In Madison, James H. Wendell
Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist.
Indiana University Press.
p. ix. ISBN 0-253-20689-8.
^ Zipp, pp. 504–505.
^ Peters, pp. 204–205.
^ "I.U. To Name Buildings For Four Alumni". The Indianapolis Star.
November 22, 1963. p. 12 – via Newspapers.com. (Subscription
required (help)). The
Indiana University Board of Trustees has
announced the naming of buildings on the Bloomington campus for four
distinguished alumni Paul V. McNutt, Dean William A. Rawles, Wendell
L. Willkie and Prof. James A. Woodburn... Willkie Quadrangle will be
the tallest residence group on campus with two 11-story buildings,
with quarters for 589 men and 577 women. The women's unit will be
ready for occupancy next fall and the men's unit in January,
^ "IU expanding regional campuses". The Kokomo Morning Times. August
17, 1965. p. 32 – via Newspapers.com. (Subscription required
^ "Wendell Willkie". Mystic Stamp Company. Retrieved December 13,
^ Neal, p. 324.
Bennett, James D. (Winter 1969). "Roosevelt, Willkie, and the TVA".
Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 28 (4): 388–396.
Dunn, Susan (2013). 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the
Election Amid the Storm. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Jordan, David M. (2011). FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944.
Indiana University Press.
Moe, Richard (2013). Roosevelt's Second Act. Oxford: Oxford University
Press. ISBN 978-0-19-998191-5.
Moscow, Warren (1968). Roosevelt & Willkie. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, Inc. OCLC 441820.
Neal, Steve (1984). Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-18439-5.
Peters, Charles (2006). Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We
Want Willkie" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the
Western World. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-450-8.
Ross, Hugh (June 1962). "Was the nomination of
Wendell Willkie a
political miracle?". Indiana Magazine of History. 58 (2): 79–100.
Sitkoff, Harvard (2010). Toward Freedom Land: The Long Struggle for
Racial Equality in America. University Press of Kentucky.
JSTOR j.ctt2jcgvk.10. (subscription required)
Snyder, Roland H. (Autumn 2004). "
Wisconsin ends the political career
of Wendell Willkie". The
Wisconsin Magazine of History. 88 (1):
30–41. JSTOR 4637111.
Syers, William A. (Winter 1990). "The political beginnings of Gerald
R. Ford: Anti-bossism, internationalism, and the congressional
campaign of 1948". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 20 (1): 127–142.
Zipp, Samuel (Fall 2014). "When
Wendell Willkie went visiting: between
interdependency and exceptionalism in the public feeling for One
World". American Literary History. 26 (3): 484–510.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wendell Willkie.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Wendell Willkie
Biography from the
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
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Wendell Lewis Willkie at Find a Grave
"Wendell Willkie, Presidential Contender" from C-SPAN's The Contenders
An Exhibit: Wendell Lewis Willkie The
Lilly Library Bloomington, IN
"Wendell Willkie: The Dark Horse," Indiana Historical Bureau
Newspaper clippings about
Wendell Willkie in the 20th Century Press
Archives of the
German National Library of Economics
German National Library of Economics (ZBW).
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