Wendell Willkie, the last liberal Republican Presidential nominee
- Wendell Lewis Willkie (February 18, 1892 October 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.
1 Political life
2 External Links
3 Willkie's Legacy
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 helped to bring the
U.S. out its isolationist slumber. Also in 1943, together with
Eleanor Roosevelt and other Americans concerned about the mounting
threats to peace and democracy, Willkie helped to establish Freedom
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
Willkie is buried in East Hill Cemetery, Rushville Indiana.
An Excellent biography of Willkie which includes pages about each
period of his life (http://www.usfamily.net/web/timwalker/index.html)
Willkie's name was prominently metioned 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
Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day." October 12, 1944.
It's difficult to nail down the correct spelling of "Willkie". A very
common spelling is "Wilkie", used by the Library of Congress and
other authoritative sources. However, campaign buttons and other
material originating from Willkie or his campaign spell it "Willkie",
along with a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating Willkie.
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.
- I looked up information on Newton Baker, the man that Wilkie supported
in 1932, and here's what I found:
Who's Who: Newton Baker
Updated - Saturday, 17 April, 2004
Newton Diehl Baker (1871-1937) Served as U.S. President Woodrow
Wilson's Secretary of War from March 1916.
Born in West Virginia in 1871, Baker studied law at John Hopkins
University before entering legal practice in Cleveland in 1892.
Baker, a reformist Democratic, was elected mayor of Cleveland from
1912, a position he held until 1916 when, in early March, he accepted
Wilson's invitation to become his Secretary of War. His appointment
came as something of a surprise to many given Baker's earlier
professed pacifist beliefs. Such views were not forgotten however by
his right-wing opponents.
Wilson however had deliberately determined to replace Baker's
aggressive predecessor, Lindley Garrison, with someone of markedly
less bellicose, even pacifist, inclinations. Baker had earlier turned
down, in 1913, Wilson's invitation to become interior secretary.
Baker's first task as Secretary of War was to authorise and oversee
the construction of a punitive expedition to Mexico. In agreement with
Wilson he also supervised America's 'limited preparedness' for war as
head of the new Council for National Defense in August 1916.
It was Baker who, in 1917, appointed 'Black Jack' Pershing as
Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), a
decision that sparked the ire of Wilson's Republican nemesis Henry
Cabot Lodge, who had championed the cause of Leonard Wood (removed
from field command under the direction of Wilson). Cabot Lodge
remained deeply suspicious of Baker's pacifist background.
While Secretary of War Baker drew up plans for compulsory military
conscription of up to four million men, although performing (along
with his president) a volte face as their plans drew sustained
He gave Pershing consistent backing in the former's desire to maintain
U.S. independence of frontline command, as well as in supporting
Pershing's estimate of the men and materials he would need to bring
with him to France.
Following the armistice Baker travelled to Paris as a member of the
U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Along with
Wilson he helped engineer the League of Nations; ironically U.S.
participation was eventually vetoed by Congress (once again led by
With war over and a Republican returned to the White House, Baker
returned to his legal practice in 1920. Eight years later he joined
the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. A year later, in
1929, Herbert Hoover appointed Baker to the Law Enforcement Commission.
In retirement Baker wrote Why We Went To War (1936). He died the
following year on Christmas Day 1937 at the age of 66.