Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood, Indiana, in 1892. After graduating from Indiana University in 1913 he practised law in Ohio (1914-23) and New York City (1923-33).

In 1933 Willkie became president of the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation, a huge utilities holding company. Willkie was originally a member of the Democratic Party but was a strong opponent of some aspects of the New Deal. He was especially hostile to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), that once established, would be a major competitor to companies such as Commonwealth and Southern Corporation. When the TVA scheme went ahead Willkie joined the Republican Party.

At Philadelphia in 1940 the Republican Party chose Willkie rather than Thomas Dewey as their presidential candidate. During the campaign Willkie attacked the New Deal as being inefficient and wasteful. Although he did better than expected, Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Willkie by 27,244,160 votes to 22,305,198.

Willkie was an idealistic internationalist and was a strong opponent of American isolationism. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a great deal of respect for Willkie and in 1941 appointed him as his special representative. During the Second World War he visited England and the Far East.

Willkie played an active role in the American Committee for Russian War Relief. Along with Fiorello La Guardia, Charlie Chaplin, Vito Marcantonio, Orson Welles, Rockwell Kent and Pearl Buck, Willkie also campaigned during the summer of 1942 for the opening of a second-front in Europe.

In 1943 Willkie published his book One World where he called for a post-war world which was a union of free nations. The book, which was a best seller, laid the groundwork for the United Nations. He followed this with An American Program (1944). Wendell Willkie died of a coronary thrombosis, on 8th October, 1944.

Primary Sources

(1) Wendell Willkie, speech in Elwood, Indiana (17th August, 1940)

We must honestly face our relationship with Great Britain. We must admit that the loss of the British Fleet would greatly weaken our defense. This is because the British Fleet has for years controlled the Atlantic, leaving us free to concentrate in the Pacific. If the British Fleet were lost or captured, the Atlantic might be dominated by Germany, a power hostile to our way of life, controlling in that event most of the ships and shipbuilding facilities of Europe.

This would be calamity for us. We might be exposed to attack on the Atlantic. Our defense would be weakened until we could build a navy and air force strong enough to defend both coasts. Also, our foreign trade would be profoundly affected. That trade is vital to our prosperity. But if we had to trade with a Europe dominated by the present German trade policies, we might have to change our methods to some totalitarian form. This is a prospect that any lover of democracy must view with consternation.

We must face a brutal, perhaps, a terrible fact. Our way of life is in competition with Hitler's way of life. This competition is not merely one of armaments. It is a competition of energy against energy, production against production, brains against brains, salesmanship against salesmanship. In facing it we should have no fear. History shows that our way of life is the stronger way. From it has come more wealth, more industry, more happiness, more human enlightenment than from any other way. Free men are the strongest men.

But we cannot just take this historical fact for granted. We must make it live. If we are to outdistance the totalitarian powers, we must arise to a new life of adventure and discovery. We must make a wider horizon for the human race. It is to that new life that I pledge myself. I promise, by returning to those same American principles that overcame German autocracy once before, both in business and in war, to outdistance Hitler in any contest he chooses in 1940 or after. And I promise that when we beat him, we shall beat him on our own terms, in our own American way.

(2) Wendell Willkie, Saturday Evening Post (27th June, 1942)

Today we are living once more in a period that is psychologically susceptible to witch hanging and mob baiting. And each of us, if not alert, may find himself the unconscious carrier of the germ that will destroy our freedom. For each of us has within himself the inheritances of age-long hatreds, of racial and religious differences, and everyone has a tendency to find the cause for his own failures in some conspiracy of evil. It is, therefore, essential that we guard our own thinking and not be among those who cry out against prejudices applicable to themselves, while busy spawning intolerances for others.

In addition, as citizens, we must fight in their incipient stages all movements by government or party or pressure groups

that seek to limit the legitimate liberties of any of our fellow citizens. For government, which should be the very guardian

of these liberties, is frequently, through excess zeal or desire for quick accomplishment of a purpose, the oppressor. And political parties, overanxious for vote catching, become tolerant to intolerant groups. I have noticed, with much distress, the excessive wartime activity of the investigating bureaus of Congress and the administration, with their impertinent and indecent searching out of the private lives and the past political beliefs of individuals. Such methods, of course, are employed with the excuse of protecting the nation from subversive activities. So are those of the Gestapo. I have been appalled at the callous indifference of high officers of the navy to the obvious and undemocratic discrimination against Negroes, and disturbed to find similar discrimination too often in the ranks of industry and labor. I have been shocked to read that the Department of Justice seeks to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens suspected of foreign allegiance, rather than forthrightly to prosecute such persons for whatever crime they may be guilty of. The course it is pursuing casts doubt on the rights of all naturalized citizens to the same treatment before the law as is enjoyed by their fellows who were born here. I have been sickened to see political parties flirting with remnants of anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klanism and hesitating to denounce the anti-Semitism of Coughlinites and others.

For now more than ever, we must keep in the forefront of our minds the fact that whenever we take away the liberties of

those we hate, we are opening the way to loss of liberty for those we love. Our way of living together in America is a strong but delicate fabric. It is made up of many threads. It has been woven over many centuries by the patience and sacrifice of countless liberty-loving men and women. It serves as a cloak for the protection of poor and rich, of black and

white, of Jew and gentile, of foreign - and native-born. For God's sake, let us not tear it asunder. For no man knows, once it is destroyed, where or when man will find its protective warmth again.

(3) Wendell Willkie, One World (1943)

A true world outlook is incompatible with a foreign imperialism, no matter how high-minded the governing country. It is

equally incompatible with the kind of imperialism which can develop inside any nation. Freedom is an indivisible word. If we want to enjoy it, and fight for it, we must be prepared to extend it to everyone, whether they are rich or poor, whether they agree with us or not, no matter what their race or the color of their skin. We cannot, with good conscience, expect the British to set up an orderly schedule for the liberation of India before we have decided for ourselves to make all who live in America free.

It has been a long while since the United States had any imperialistic designs toward the outside world. But we have practised within our own boundaries something that amounts to race imperialism. The attitude of the white citizens of this country toward the Negroes has undeniably had some of the unlovely characteristics of an alien imperialism - a smug racial superiority, a willingness to exploit an unprotected people. We have justified it by telling ourselves that its end is benevolent. And sometimes it has been. But so sometimes have been the ends of imperialism. And the moral atmosphere in which it has existed is identical with that in which men - well-meaning men - talk of "the white man's burden."

But that atmosphere is changing. Today it is becoming increasingly apparent to thoughtful Americans that we cannot fight the forces and ideas of imperialism abroad and maintain any form of imperialism at home. The war has done this to our thinking. Emancipation came to the colored race in America as a war measure. It was an act of military necessity. Manifestly it would have come without war, in the slower process of humanitarian reform and social enlightenment. But it required a disastrous, internecine war to bring this question of human freedom to a crisis, and the process of striking the shackles from the slave was accomplished in a single hour. We are finding under the pressures of this present conflict that long-standing barriers and prejudices are breaking down. The defense of our democracy against the forces that threaten it from without has made some of its failures to function at home glaringly apparent.

Our very proclamations of what we are fighting for have rendered our own inequities self-evident. When we talk of freedom and opportunity for all nations, the mocking paradoxes in our own society become so clear they can no longer be ignored. If we want to talk about freedom, we must mean freedom for others as well as ourselves, and we must mean freedom for everyone inside our frontiers as well as outside.