Wendell Willkie

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Wendell L. Willkie
Wendell L. Willkie

Wendell Lewis Willkie (February 18, 1892October 8, 1944) was a lawyer, born in Elwood, Indiana, the only native of Indiana to be nominated as the presidential candidate for a national party, having never held any sort of high elected office. In 1940 he was the Republican nominee for the 1940 presidential election. Willkie lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Political life

After fighting in World War I, Willkie moved to Akron, Ohio and soon gained status in the local Democratic Party. In 1929, Willkie became a legal counsel for the New York-based Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, the country's largest electric utility holding company. He rose through the ranks of the company, and became president in 1933. He had been an active campaigner at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, and might have seemed an unlikely candidate to challenge either Roosevelt or one of the president's favorite New Deal programs. He had backed another man, Newton Baker, in 1932, but once FDR captured the nomination, Willkie supported him and contributed to his campaign.

Soon after the election, Roosevelt proposed legislation creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, an organization with far-reaching influence that promised to bring flood control and cheap electricity to the extremely poor Tennessee Valley. However, this organization would compete with existing power companies in the area, including Commonwealh & Southern. This prompted Willkie to become an active critic of the New Deal, especially the TVA. Willkie had stated publicly since 1930 that it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to enter the utility business, and now this was quickly becoming reality. In April of 1933, Willkie testified against the TVA legislation before the House of Representatives. His testimony compelled the House to limit the TVA's ability to build transmission lines that would compete with existing utility companies (including C & S). However, FDR got the Senate to remove those restrictions and the resulting law gave the TVA extremely broad power. Because the government-run TVA could borrow unlimited funds at low interest rates, C & S was unable to compete, and Willkie was forced to sell C & S to the TVA in 1939 for $78.6 million. Willkie formally switched parties in 1939 on a platform of opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal. Willkie campaigned against the New Deal and the government's lack of military preparedness. During the election, Roosevelt preempted the military issue by expanding military contracts and instituting a military draft. Willkie supported a military draft but then reversed his approach and accused FDR of warmongering. On election day Roosevelt received 27 million votes to Willkie's 22 million, and in the U.S. Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Willkie 449 to 82.

After the election, Willkie became one of Roosevelt's most unlikely allies. To the chagrin of many in his party, Willkie called for greater national support for controversial Roosevelt initiatives such as the Lend-Lease Act and embarked on a new campaign to awaken America from its isolationist slumber. On July 23, 1941, he urged unlimited aid to the United Kingdom in its struggle against Nazi Germany. That same year he traveled to Britain and the Middle East as Roosevelt's personal representative, and in 1942 visited the USSR and China in the same capacity. In 1943, Willkie wrote One World, a plea for international peacekeeping after the war. Extremely popular, millions of copies of the book sold. The book further reduced the appeal of isolationism in the U.S. Also in 1943, together with Eleanor Roosevelt and other Americans concerned about the mounting threats to peace and democracy, Willkie helped to establish Freedom House.

In the 1944 presidential election Willkie once again sought the Republican nomination, choosing his wife's hometown, Rushville, Indiana, as his campaign headquarters. But his liberal progressive views gained little support due to the rightward shift of the Republican Party. Willkie did not support the eventual 1944 Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey. Willkie began working with the new Liberal Party of New York to launch a new national party, but his unexpected death ended that movement.

After surviving several heart attacks, Willkie finally succumbed, dying on October 8, 1944 at age fifty-two. 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. Eleanor Roosevelt in her October 12, 1944 My Day column eulogized Willkie as a "man of courage.... (whose) outspoken opinions on race relations were among his great contributions to the thinking of the world." She concluded, "Americans tend to forget the names of the men who lost their bid for the presidency. Willkie proved the exception to this rule." (1)

Willkie is buried in East Hill Cemetery, Rushville Indiana.

External Links

An excellent biography of Willkie which includes pages about each period of his life (http://www.usfamily.net/web/timwalker/index.html)

Willkie's Legacy

Willkie's name was prominently mentioned by keynote speaker Zell Miller at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Miller, in speech approved by key aides to President Bush, praised Willkie's support of President Roosevelt's creation of a military draft, and chided John Kerry for being critical of President Bush's foreign policy. Miller's speech was followed by the renewal of the military draft becoming a key campaign issue, with President Bush repeatedly denying Senator Kerry's charge that he intended to renew the draft if re-elected and with the House of Representatives voting 402-2 against a bill - introduced by New York Democrat Rep. Charles B. Rangel - to renew the draft.


  1. Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day." October 12, 1944.


As of this writing (January 20, 2003), most of the text of this article was copied from the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/elro/glossary/wilkie-wendell.htm) operated by the National Parks Service (http://www.nps.gov) and placed into the public domain (http://www.nps.gov/disclaimer.htm). The original authors cite the following sources:

Kavanagh, Dennis. ed. A Dictionary of Political Biography: Who's Who in Twentieth Century World Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 505.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. "My Day." October 12, 1944.
Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, 724.

Preceded by:
Alf Landon
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1940 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Thomas Dewey

Template:End boxpl:Wendell Willkie ja:ウェンデル・L・ウィルキー


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