Lewis Wendell Willkie
February 18, 1892
Elwood, Madison County
October 8, 1944
New York, New York
|Resting place||East Hill Cemetery in Rushville, Indiana|
|Political party||Democratic Party (1920s), Republican Party (1930s onward)|
|Spouse(s)||Edith Wilk Willkie|
|Alma mater||Indiana University (B.A., LL.B.)|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||ca. 1917–1919|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Wendell Lewis Willkie (; February 18, 1892 – October 8, 1944) was a corporate lawyer in the United States and a dark horse who became the Republican Party nominee for president in 1940. A member of the liberal wing of the party, he crusaded against those domestic policies of the New Deal that he thought were inefficient and anti-business. Willkie, an internationalist, needed the votes of the large isolationist element, so he waffled on the bitterly debated issue of America's role in World War II, losing support from both sides. His opponent Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 election with 55% of the popular vote and 85% of the electoral vote.
Afterward, Roosevelt found Willkie to be compatible politically with his plans and brought him aboard as an informal ambassador-at-large. Willkie criss-crossed the globe on the former army bomber The Gulliver, bringing home a vision of "One World" freed from imperialism and colonialism. Following his journeys, Willkie wrote One World; a bestselling account of his travels and meetings with the Allied heads of state, as well as ordinary citizens and soldiers in regions such as Russia and Iran. His liberalism lost him supporters in the GOP and he dropped out of the 1944 race, then several months later died of a heart attack. He was the last nominee of either of the two major U.S. political parties to have never held elected or appointed office.
Early life 1
- Education and early career 1.1
- Business and politics 1.2
- Fights TVA 1.3
1940 presidential election 2
- Republican nomination 2.1
- Republican convention 2.2
General election 3
- The Election 3.1
Post-election life 4
- Civil rights activist 4.1
- 1944 Republican primaries 4.2
- Business 4.3
- Death 5
- Legacies 6
- Publications 7
- Foundations 8
- Electoral history 9
- References 10
- Further reading 11
- External links 12
Education and early career
Willkie was born and raised in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman Willkie, a German immigrant from Aschersleben in the Prussian Province of Saxony, whose family name originally was "Willcke", and his wife Henrietta Trisch. Both of his parents were lawyers in Elwood, his mother being one of the first women admitted to the bar in Indiana. He was named Lewis Wendell Willkie, but among his friends and family he was called by his middle name, Wendell.
Willkie graduated from Elwood High School, and four years later in 1913, earned a BA from Indiana University, where he belonged to Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He taught history for a year in Coffeyville, Kansas, then entered the Indiana University School of Law, receiving his LLB in 1916.
The following year, when the U.S. entered World War I, Willkie enlisted in the Army. An Army clerk accidentally transposed his first and middle names, and Willkie did not correct it, thereafter calling himself Wendell Lewis Willkie. He received a commission as a First Lieutenant and trained to be an artillery officer. However, he arrived in France just as the war ended. Since he was a lawyer, he was assigned to the American headquarters in Paris to assist in military trials.
After his discharge, Willkie worked as a corporate lawyer for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. He became active in the Akron Democratic Party, and was a delegate to the 1924 Democratic National Convention. In 1919 Willkie married Edith Wilk (no relation), a librarian from Rushville, Indiana. They had one son, Philip.
Business and politics
In 1929, Willkie became a legal counsel for the New York-based Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, which provided electrical power to customers in eleven states. Four years later, he became the company's president. Willkie was a delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention. He initially backed former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker for the presidential nomination, but when Franklin D. Roosevelt was chosen, Willkie supported him and contributed money to his campaign.
In 1933, President Roosevelt proposed legislation creating the
|Party political offices|
Republican presidential nominee
Thomas E. Dewey
- Biography from the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
- Willkie Farr & Gallagher website
- Academic-style website on Willkie
- Freedom House
- Wendell Willkie at Find a Grave
- "Wendell Willkie, Presidential Contender" from C-SPAN's The Contenders
- An Exhibit: Wendell Lewis Wilkie The Lilly Library Bloomington, IN
- Lash, Joseph (1971). Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W. W. Norton.
- Barnard, Ellsworth (1966). Wendell Willkie: Fighter for Freedom. Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan University Press.
- Madison, ed., James H. (1992). Wendell Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Madison, James H. "Willkie, Wendell Lewis"; American National Biography Online (2000).
- Manchester, William (1974). The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932–1972. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
- Parmet, Herbert S.; Hecht, Marie B. (1968). Never Again: A President Runs for a Third Term. New York: Macmillan Publishers (United States).
- 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.
- "Willkie, Wendell", in Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1960), Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
- James H. Madison, ed. Wendell Willkie: Hoosier internationalist (1992).
- Barnouw, Erik (1968). A History of broadcasting in the United States. ([Verschiedene Aufl.] ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 181.
- James D. Bennett, "Roosevelt, Willkie, and the TVA," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Dec 1969, Vol. 28 Issue 4, pp 388–396.
- Amity Shlaes. The Forgotten Man Harper Collins (2007) p. 182.
- Steve Neal. Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie p. 154.
- Parmet 1968, p. 122.
- Peters 2006.
- Material on the notification ceremony may be found in the Indiana State Library's John Rugenstein Collection on Wendell Willkie, described at http://www.in.gov/library/fa_index/fa_by_letter/w/l300.html
- Joe Martin to Robert J. Donovan, My First Fifty Years in Politics (New York City: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1960), p. 113.
- Quotes in Stefan Lorant, The presidency (1951) p 641
- Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (1980), p. 386.
- Parmet 1968.
- Lash 1971, p. 629.
- Manchester 1974, p. 226.
- Philip Beidler, "Remembering Wendell Willkie's One World," Canadian Review of American Studies, 1994, Vol. 24 Issue 2, pp. 87–104.
- The New York Times, April 1, 1944
- Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U. S. elections. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc. 1985. p. 404.
- Washington Post, April 6, 1944
- Obituary Variety, October 11, 1944, page 46.
- David M. Jordan, FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 (Blomington: Indiana University Press, 2011, pp. 165, 167, ISBN 978-0-253-35683-3
- "Text Of Zell Miller's RNC Speech". CBS News. September 1, 2004.
- Rukeyser, Muriel (11957). One Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- "Our Campaigns – US President – R Primaries Race – Feb 01, 1940". Ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
- "Our Campaigns – US President – R Convention Race – Jul 24, 1940". Ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
- "Our Campaigns – US President – R Primaries Race – Feb 01, 1944". Ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
Wendell Willkie electoral history
1940 Republican presidential primaries
1940 Republican National Convention (Presidential tally):
Sixth ballot (before shifts):
Sixth ballot (after shifts):
- This Is Wendell Willkie (1940)
and a published collection of his speeches and writings:
- One World (1943)
- An American Program (1944)
Willkie was the author of two books:
The Liberty ship SS Wendell L. Willkie was named for him. It was laid down November 8, 1944, just one month after his death, commissioned December 9, and served with the United States Maritime Commission until scrapped in 1970.
In an alternative history novel by Robert Silverberg is another alternative history example of the same scenario.
In a humorous reference in the Bugs Bunny animated cartoon Falling Hare, Bugs is pestered by a gremlin while trying to fly a World War II bomber. When Bugs realizes what the gremlin is, he timidly asks, "Could that have been a [whispering] gremlin?" In a Yiddish accent, the gremlin shouts in Bugs' ear, "It ain't Vendell Villkie!" This recalls an incident at the 1940 Republican National Convention when the head of a state delegation from the Midwest announced "two votes for Villkie" in a Scandinavian accent. This sound bite, broadcast on nationwide radio, enjoyed a brief vogue as a humorous catchphrase.
A large dorm complex at Indiana University Bloomington is named after him, and for several decades was home to the Willkie Co-op, an experimental housing cooperative that emphasized student operation of dormitory service.
The experimental biography One Life, by the contemporary American poet Muriel Rukeyser, explores Wilkie's life as a public figure and his web of relations with F.D.R, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-Shek as well as the anonymous figures of the working class and poor of the first World War and the Great Depression. Rukeyser calls this biography both a "story and a song," and reads Wilkie as an important figure of the American imagination.
Wendell Willkie is interred at East Hill Cemetery in Rushville, Indiana. In his honor, the Bar of the Summit County Courthouse erected a brass bas relief which is prominently displayed in its main hall.
LegaciesZell Miller at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Miller praised Willkie as a politician who embodied a non-partisan spirit of co-operation during wartime and praised his support of President Roosevelt's creation of a military draft. Miller spoke of Willkie saying,
"Shortly before Willkie died, he told a friend, that if he could write his own epitaph and had to choose between 'here lies a president' or 'here lies one who contributed to saving freedom,' he would prefer the latter."Miller compared State of the Union, a 1945 play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, about a fictional Republican presidential candidate, was reportedly loosely inspired by Willkie and his alleged mistress Irita Bradford Van Doren. (The play was made into a movie in 1948.)
Though he had been in ill health for a month prior to his passing, Willkie appeared a picture of robust health and was the dominant figure among internationalists within the Republican Party. At the time of his death, both Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey had been hoping for Willkie's support, which may have been worth several million votes from the undecided ranks.
In October 1944, Willkie was on a Pennsylvania Railroad train traveling from Indianapolis to New York City when he was stricken with a major heart attack somewhere in Ohio. Other passengers implored him to get off the train at Pittsburgh and go to a hospital there to seek treatment. Willkie, who had a history of cardiovascular issues prior to this sudden attack, chose to proceed on to his destination as he preferred to be treated by his own physician in New York and decided to wait until he got there to seek treatment for his worsening condition. He arrived safely at Pennsylvania Station in New York on October 6, 1944, but suffered a coronary thrombosis two days later and died in Lenox Hill Hospital, aged 52. Willkie's running mate, Senator McNary, died in February 1944 at the age of 69 from terminal brain cancer, marking the first time a major party's complete ticket died during the presidential term in which they would have served if elected.
In April 1941, Willkie joined the law firm of Miller, Boston, and Owen in New York City, and shortly thereafter the firm changed its name to Willkie, Owen, Otis, Farr, and Gallagher. It is now Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.
By the time of his sudden death in October 1944, Willkie had not endorsed either Dewey or Roosevelt. He had begun working with the Liberal Party of New York to launch a new national party, but his death ended that effort.
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 years.
Willkie finished a distant fourth in Wisconsin, behind Dewey, General Douglas MacArthur, and Harold Stassen. Willkie received only 4.6 percent of the primary ballots. Following this crushing loss Willkie withdrew from the race.
Having won a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary, Willkie seemed at first a strong candidate in Wisconsin as well. However, a January 1944 poll in Wisconsin suddenly showed Dewey, the favorite of party regulars, leading Willkie by a two-to-one margin. The New York Times hailed the Willkie candidacy: "Win, lose or draw next Tuesday, Willkie will have made a campaign that reflects the sincerity of his convictions and the high quality of his leadership."
In the 1944 presidential election, Willkie again sought the Republican nomination, choosing his wife's hometown, Rushville, Indiana, as his campaign headquarters. However, his progressive and internationalist views gained little support because of the rightward shift of the party and Republican rank-and-file resentment over Willkie's close collaboration with Roosevelt.
1944 Republican primaries
Willkie spoke often of the need to uplift blacks and 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 time. When a violent race riot broke out in Detroit on June 20, 1943, Willkie went on national radio to criticize Republicans and Democrats for ignoring "the Negro question." He said, "The desire to deprive some of our citizens of their rights — economic, civic or political — has the same basic motivation as actuates the Fascist mind when it seeks to dominate whole peoples and nations. It is essential that we eliminate it at home as well as abroad." During this time, Willkie also worked with Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, to try to convince Hollywood to change its portrayal of blacks in the movies.
Civil rights activist
In 1943, Willkie published One World, a book for popular audiences in which he recounted his world travels on the Gulliver and urged that America accept some form of "world government" after the war. One World was a best-seller that marked his transformation into a major spokesman for internationalism and made him a controversial figure within the Roosevelt administration and among his Republican colleagues, but it helped move public opinion from isolationism to internationalism. Its publication also extended Willkie's contacts with the world of literary critics and film executives.
After the election, Willkie became a fervent internationalist and an unlikely ally of Roosevelt. To the chagrin of many Republicans, Willkie spoke out for controversial Roosevelt initiatives such as Lend-Lease, and campaigned against isolationism. In 1941, Willkie joined with Eleanor Roosevelt to found Freedom House. On July 23, 1941, he urged unlimited aid to Britain. As Roosevelt's personal representative, he traveled to Britain and the Middle East in late 1941, and to the Soviet Union and China in 1942.
Willkie received 22.3 million votes (more than any previous Republican candidate), but was outpolled by Roosevelt with 27.3 million. Roosevelt won the electoral vote to 449 to 82. Willkie carried ten states: Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. However, Willkie did draw 5.8 million votes more than Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican candidate, and he ran strong in the rural Midwest, taking 57% of the farm vote. Roosevelt, meanwhile, carried every city in the nation with a population of more than 400,000, except for Cincinnati. Willkie was the only major-party nominee for President who never held major elected or appointive office or high military rank.
Eleanor Roosevelt's biographer and very close personal friend Joseph Lash wrote "The anti-Roosevelt underground campaign in 1940 was venomous, and (Democratic National Chairman) Flynn accused the Republicans of conducting the 'most vicious, most shameful campaign since the time of Lincoln.' Much of the abuse centered on Eleanor and the Roosevelt family." However, the abuse went both ways, as historian William Manchester noted: "above all, he [Willkie] should never have been subjected to the accusation of Henry Wallace, FDR's new vice-presidential candidate, that Willkie was the Nazis' choice."
Late in the campaign, the Republicans obtained letters written by Henry A. Wallace, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, to controversial Russian mystic Nicholas Roerich, who had invented an eclectic religion based on Tibetan Buddhism. Wallace addressed Roerich as "Dear Guru", and signed his own name as "G" for Galahad — a name Roerich assigned Wallace in his religion — and showed his complete adherence to Roerich's doctrines. Democratic leaders feared that if the letters were published, Wallace's exotic religious beliefs would alienate many voters. Republicans did plan to publish the Wallace letters, but the Democrats threatened to release information about Willkie's rumored extramarital affair with writer Irita Van Doren, resulting in a stalemate.
However, these first two themes did not catch the public's attention, and as Willkie's support sagged, he turned to criticism of Roosevelt's lack of preparedness in military matters. However, during the campaign, Roosevelt preempted the military issue by expanding military contracts and instituting a military draft. Although Willkie had initially supported the draft, he waffled and reversed his stance when polls showed that opposition to entering another world war was a popular issue for the Republicans. Willkie then began to claim that Roosevelt was secretly planning to take the U.S. into the European war against Germany. With this claim, his campaign attracted isolationists and managed to regain some of its momentum.
Willkie relied heavily on radio to broadcast his message to the people. Joe Martin writes that he could "hardly find enough money to buy him all the time he wanted on the networks."
Willkie centered his presidential campaign on three major themes: the alleged inefficiency and corruption of Roosevelt's New Deal programs; Roosevelt's attempt to win an unprecedented third term as President; and the government's alleged lack of military preparedness. Willkie claimed that he would keep most of FDR's New Deal welfare and regulatory programs, but that he would make them more efficient and effective, and that he would work more closely with business leaders to end the  FDR's attempt to break the "two-term" tradition had also earned criticism from some conservative Democrats (such as John Nance Garner), and Willkie hoped to win their support.
Convention chairman Joe Martin went to Elwood, Indiana, to inform Willkie officially of the nomination, as was then the custom. In giving his acceptance speech, Willkie used a full text of the speech which was typewritten with double spacing in ordinary pica type, whereas experienced politicians used triple space in large letters as notes for giving speeches. Martin writes in his memoirs, "As I feared, Willkie had difficulty reading the speech from the small type. His performance was flat. Then the crowning blunder came at the end of the speech when the Willkie clubs, without my knowledge, piped in an appeal for funds to the tremendous radio audience. If ever such an appeal was out of place, it was in a high-minded notification ceremony...
Willkie left the selection of the candidate for Vice President to convention chairman Joseph W. Martin, Jr., who suggested Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary of Oregon. Despite the fact that McNary had spearheaded a "Stop Willkie" campaign late in the balloting, Willkie selected McNary, who was nominated by acclamation. Willkie asked Martin to take on the task of Republican National Committee chairman, a post that Martin held simultaneously with his House leadership role from 1940–1942. Martin found the party without adequate finances after Willkie's defeat and unable to raise needed funds for the 1942 congressional elections.
Dewey led the first ballot, but was far short of a majority; Taft was second, and Willkie was a surprisingly strong third. On the second and third ballots Dewey's support dwindled, as his delegates went to either Taft or Willkie, with most favoring Willkie. Meanwhile, Willkie's supporters in the galleries chanted "We Want Willkie" over and over. On the fourth ballot Willkie surged into first place, with Taft close behind; other candidates began to drop out in favor of the two frontrunners. As the delegates belonging to "favorite son" candidates were released by their original candidates, Willkie steadily gained more of them than Taft. Finally, on the sixth ballot, Willkie received a majority of the ballots cast and won the nomination. His victory is still considered by most political historians to be one of the most dramatic moments in the history of American presidential conventions.
Hundreds of thousands of telegrams urging support for Willkie poured in, many from "Willkie Clubs" that had sprung up across the country. Millions more citizens signed petitions circulating throughout the country. At the convention, Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota, the keynote speaker, announced for Willkie and became his official floor manager. Hundreds of vocal Willkie supporters packed the upper galleries of the convention hall. Willkie's amateur status and fresh face appealed to delegates as well as voters. The delegates were selected not by primaries but by party organizations in each state, and as political veterans, they had a keen sense of how fast public opinion was changing. This change was also reflected in a later poll taken by Gallup but not reported till after the convention: Willkie had pulled ahead among Republican voters by 44% to only 29% for the collapsing Dewey.
As the convention opened in Philadelphia on June 24, Gallup reported that in a poll taken a few days earlier, Willkie had moved up to 29%, Dewey had slipped 5% to 47%, and Taft, Vandenberg, and former President Hoover trailed at 8%, 8%, and 6% respectively. With the surrender of France to Germany on June 25, 1940, and the belief that Britain was under imminent threat of a Nazi invasion, the convention opened in an atmosphere of great excitement and national stress; this is believed to have boosted Willkie's chances even further.
While Taft stressed that America needed to prevent the New Deal from using the international crisis to extend socialism and dictatorship at home, the German blitzkrieg that quickly defeated France shook public opinion. Sympathy for the embattled British was mounting. In mid-June, little over one week before the convention opened, Gallup reported that Willkie had surged to second place with 17%, and that Dewey was slipping. Willkie stumped the country, seeking the support of liberal and East Coast Republicans worried by German victories.
Willkie tried to appeal to the powerful isolationist wing of the Republican Party by saying: "no man has the right to use the great powers of the Presidency to lead the people, indirectly, into war." However, Willkie's greatest support came from the party's internationalist wing, which wanted the US to provide all the aid possible to the Allies (especially Britain), short of a formal declaration of war. Willkie consistently spoke of the need to aid Britain against Germany; this contrasted with his main rivals Taft, Dewey, and Vandenberg, who were isolationists.
Willkie seemed an unlikely candidate as he was a former Democrat and Wall Street industrialist who had never before run for public office. He had backing from some major media magnates: Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune, Roy W. Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, and John Cowles and Gardner Cowles, publishers of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, the Des Moines Register, and Look magazine. Willkie's supporters established a national grassroots network, but his support was thin. A May 8 Gallup poll showed Dewey at 67% support among Republicans, followed by Vandenberg and Taft, with Willkie at a mere 3%.
The 1940 presidential campaign was conducted against the backdrop of World War II. Although the United States was still 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 Ohio, Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and Thomas E. Dewey, the "gangbusting" District Attorney from New York. These three men had campaigned vigorously, but only 300 of the 1,000 convention delegates were pledged to a candidate before the convention. This left an opening for a dark horse candidate to emerge.
1940 presidential election
However, Roosevelt persuaded the Senate to remove the restrictions and the resulting law gave the TVA extremely broad powers. The TVA could borrow unlimited funds at low interest rates, and Willkie's Commonwealth & Southern was unable to compete. In 1939, Commonwealth & Southern was forced to sell its property in the Tennessee Valley to the TVA for $78.6 million. Willkie formally switched political parties that year and began making speeches opposing the New Deal. Willkie did not condemn all New Deal programs. He supported New Deal programs that dealt with problems he felt could not be solved better by private enterprise, including Social Security, the Wagner Labor Relations Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. He maintained that since the government had unfair advantages over private businesses, it should avoid competing directly against them. On January 6, 1938 Willkie made a highly publicized appearance on the popular Town Hall nationwide radio program, where he debated the merits of the private-enterprise system with Robert H. Jackson. Jackson was Roosevelt's Solicitor General and a possible 1940 Democratic presidential candidate. Most listeners felt that Willkie won the debate, and many liberal Republicans began to view him as a possible presidential candidate.
In April 1933, Willkie testified against the TVA legislation before the Military Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives. He said the TVA's supplanting of Commonwealth & Southern could threaten $400 million in investors' equity, thereby convincing the House to limit the TVA's ability to build transmission lines that competed with those of existing private companies.