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Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie

American businessman

Wendell Lewis Willkie (born Lewis Wendell Willkie; February 18, 1892 – October 8, 1944) was an American lawyer, 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 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 Association. Much of his work was representing electric utilities, and in 1929 Willkie accepted a job in 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 esteem.

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 advanced 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 a liberal political party after the war, but Willkie died in October 1944 before the idea could bear fruit. Willkie is remembered for giving Roosevelt vital political assistance in 1941, which helped the president to pass Lend-Lease to send supplies to the United Kingdom and other Allied nations.

Timeline

February 18, 1892
Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood.

Patents

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

"The political beginnings of Gerald R. Ford: Anti-bossism, internationalism, and the congressional campaign of 1948".

Syers, William A

1990

FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944

Jordan, David M.

2011

Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Willkie" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World

Peters, Charles

2006

"Roosevelt, Willkie, and the TVA".

Bennett, James D.

1969

"Was the nomination of Wendell Willkie a political miracle?". In

Ross, Hugh

1962

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