History Podcasts

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.

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.

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.

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.


Wendell Willkie: A forgotten maker of history

Late in the Second World War, Franklin D. Roosevelt sharply rebuked an aide for making a derogatory quip about Wendell Willkie, Roosevelt’s Republican challenger in the 1940 election. “Don’t you ever say anything like that around here again,” the president snapped. “Don’t even think it. He was a godsend to this country when we needed him most.” Coming from Roosevelt, never known for magnanimity to his foes, this was a remarkable statement. It was also true.

The 1940 presidential campaign coincided with one of the most perilous times in world history. Hitler’s Germany had just conquered most of western Europe, and Britain, which now stood alone against the Nazis, knew that its only hope for survival was aid from a then-neutral America. Although Roosevelt wanted to help, he was in the midst of seeking an unprecedented and controversial third term, and was wary of the political fallout in a country deeply divided over possible American involvement in the war.

Most Republican members of Congress were die-hard isolationists who, keenly aware of Roosevelt’s political vulnerability, opposed his cautious, halting efforts to aid the British. But their presidential candidate did not follow their lead. Where the war was concerned, Wendell Willkie told the 1940 Republican convention, “we here are not Republicans alone, but Americans.” To the fury of his party’s leadership, he turned those words into action.

David Levering Lewis’s book, The Improbable Wendell Willkie, is aptly titled. Like a shooting star, Willkie burned brightly, if briefly, over this country’s political landscape, leaving behind an astonishing legacy of bipartisanship that had an outsize impact on the outcome of the war. Lewis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois, offers an insightful, compelling portrait of this political neophyte from the Midwest — a registered Democrat until 1939 — who stunned his newly adopted party and the nation by snatching the nomination away from the front-runners Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft and then sabotaged his own campaign by putting country above party.

The rumpled, ebullient Willkie first burst onto the national scene in 1933, when as head of one of the biggest electric power utilities in the country, he fought the Roosevelt administration over its plans to replace his company’s monopoly in much of the South with a bold new federal programme called the Tennessee Valley Authority. He lost that fight but emerged from it a respected national figure, a voice for moderate, middle-class Americans, notably businessmen, who felt that the federal government had grown too big, powerful and disdainful of private enterprise.

At the same time, Willkie criticised big business’s shortcomings and supported a number of New Deal reforms, including a minimum wage, a limit on workers’ hours, unemployment insurance and collective bargaining. When the Second World War began in 1939, he warned about the dangers that a German-controlled Europe would pose for America and in 1940 called for aid to Britain.

Although Willkie’s positions were anathema to most party regulars, they appealed to a small but influential group of moderate, internationalist Republicans, many of them from the Northeast. They included Wall Street lawyers and financiers, heads of major media companies and a sprinkling of party officials and political strategists. Alarmed by the strident isolationism of the leading presidential candidates, they reached out to Willkie as an alternative.

Lewis is particularly good at showing how Willkie’s implausible victory at the 1940 convention, often described as “the miracle of Philadelphia,” was in fact a carefully planned and skillfully organised stealth offensive by his well-connected supporters. While political types worked behind the scenes to organise a huge grass-roots campaign, newspaper and magazine publishers — particularly Henry Luce, owner of Life and Time — ran adulatory pieces about Willkie, calling on their readers to bypass the Republican bosses and make him the nominee.

Lewis astutely notes the fact that although Willkie was still regarded as a dark horse when he arrived in Philadelphia, “the entire convention machinery belonged to the Willkie team.” On the convention’s final night, after more than eight nail-biting hours of voting, he emerged the winner.

In February 1941, Willkie went before Congress to champion Roosevelt’s proposed Lend-Lease programme, which would provide military aid to Britain and other countries fighting Germany. His support helped sway public and congressional opinion, and the controversial bill was approved. Like the draft, Lend-Lease ended up playing a crucial role in the Allies’ ultimate victory. Willkie’s stand on Lend-Lease was the last straw for the party bosses, who had long regarded him as a “Republican Quisling” and a stooge for Roosevelt. His political career was over. Less than four years later, on October 8, 1944, he died of a heart attack at 52.

Over the last seven decades, Willkie has largely disappeared into the mists of history, recalled, if at all, merely as one of Roosevelt’s defeated rivals. As Lewis makes clear, he deserves so much more, not only for his crucial contributions to American unity in the Second World War but also for his lifelong commitment to civil rights and intense opposition to racism. In our own polarised age, Wendell Willkie serves as a poignant reminder of what can happen when a political leader steps up to do what is right, defying his party and putting the interests of his country and its people ahead of ambition and partisan advantage.

–New York Times News Service

–New York Times News Service

Lynne Olson’s latest book, Code Name Hedgehog: The Spies Who Helped Defeat Hitler and the Extraordinary Woman Who Led Them, will be published next May.


Bibliography of Indiana University History

Gregory, Ross. "Politics in an Age of Crisis: America, and Indiana, in the Election of 1940." Indiana Magazine of History 86, no. 3 (1990): 247-80.

Barnard, Ellsworth. Wendell Willkie: Fighter for Freedom. Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan University Press, 1966.

Dunn, Susan. 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler―the Election Amid the Storm. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Lewis, David Levering. The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order. New York City: Liveright, 2018.

Madison, James H. Wendell Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992. Neal, Steve. Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie. New York City: Doubleday, 1984.

Peters, Charles. Five Days In Philadelphia: 1940, Wendell Willkie, FDR, and the Political Convention that Freed FDR to Win World War II. New York City: Public Affairs, 2009.

Severn, Bill. Toward One World: The Life of Wendell Willkie. Washburn, 1967.


A Brief History…

I have finished my third book about Wendel Willkie. I got interested in him for two reasons. I read Amity Schlaes’ book The Forgotten Man, an economic history of the Great Depression. I wrote a review of the book on Amazon. Ms. Schlaes describes the battle between private utilities, led by Willkie, a lawyer and later president of Commonwealth and Southern, a large utility, and David Lilienthal who was appointed by Roosevelt to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority as a monopoly in the South. Willkie eventually lost his battle and was forced to sell the private utility to TVA but he did get a decent price for his shareholders. The contest between Willkie and Roosevelt made him famous. He was a long time Democrat but, by 1939, Republicans who despaired of the isolationist Republican Party had convinced him to switch his registration and to consider a run for the presidency in 1940.

The second book, Five Days in Philadelphia, describes the Republican convention of 1940 where the dark horse Willkie, who had never run for office and who had not entered any primaries, won the Republican nomination, defeating Robert Taft and Thomas Dewey, among others. I have written a review of that book, as well.

I just finished the third book, Dark Horse, which is a full biography. He was an amazing man and one that the Republican party could use today. He had an incredible touch with people. Present day students of politics might be surprised to see the support he had from union leaders like David Dubinsky, founder of the garment workers union.

Dubinsky had hopes of launching a national liberal party, headed by Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate for President in 1940 who had soured on the Republican Party after his defeat in the primaries in 1944. He proposed that Willkie begin by running for Mayor of New York City in 1945 Willkie, however, died before the plan could get off the ground.

Willkie received more votes in 1940 than any Republican would get until Eisenhower in 1952. He lost by a large majority in the electoral college but a switch of as few as 600,000 votes could have swung enough states for him to win.

After the election, he agreed to undertake a fact-finding mission to Britain at the height of the Blitz. He refused to be coddled and walked the streets of London during the bombing, visiting air raid shelters that held as many as 10,000 people. He became a familiar and beloved figure to the Londoners, especially after Churchill convinced him to wear a white helmet during air raids.

He cut short his trip to return to testify before Congress, and hostile members of his own party, in favor of Lend Lease. Roosevelt credited him with the easy passage of the bill. He conducted a series of debates with Charles Lindberg before huge audiences and urged preparedness. The final debate was canceled by Pearl Harbor.

Once the war had begun, he agreed to undertake another mission for Roosevelt and traveled around the world, visiting Egypt just before the battle of El Alamein. General Montgomery allowed him to tour the battlefield and visit the “Tommies” in their camps. He met King Farouk and concluded that he was a weak sybarite but others impressed him and he came to the conclusion that the colonies of Britain would have to be allowed independence after the war. This led to a clash with Churchill but Willkie’s popularity in Britain was undiminished and he reinforced Roosevelt’s belief that the colonial era would end once the war was over.

Willkie met with the Shah of Iran and leaders of Iraq and Syria. He refused to stay in the palace the French had arranged for him and nearly precipitated an international incident over his desire to keep in touch with the local people and not the colonial overseers. He went on to the Soviet Union and had several very interesting meetings with Stalin. One incident, similar to a fictional incident in Herman Wouk’s novel, The Winds of War, involved a mild confrontation with Stalin in which Stalin good naturedly gave way. Many of the travels of Captain Victor Henry, Wouk’s hero of the two novels, Winds of War and War and Remembrance, seem to based on Willkie’s trips. Willkie even visited with Red Army troops facing the Germans and was once admonished by a Soviet general when he mentioned that the Red Army was defending. The general insisted that was wrong they were attacking.

From Moscow, Willkie, like the fictional Captain Henry, flew east to China, were he spent time with Chiang Kai Shek and was entranced by Madame Chiang to the point where there was concern about a romance. He continued on around the world and, after his return, wrote a hugely influential book titled One World, which unexpectedly sold 2 1/2 million copies in a few months.

By 1943, Willkie had returned to law practice the major New York law firm who recruited him changed its name to list him first as a partner. He continued to speak out on the war and his concerns about the world after the war ended. He was interested in another try at the presidency in 1944 but the Republican Party, with stupidity that boggles the mind, rejected him and chose Thomas Dewey, who was easily dispatched by the ailing Roosevelt.

Roosevelt actually considered asking Willkie to take the Vice-Presidential nomination on a unity ticket since he was dumping Henry Wallace at the insistence of the party. The consequences of that possibility are enormous. Willkie was (rightly) suspicious of Roosevelt and did not encourage such speculation so Roosevelt chose Senator Harry Truman. Willkie was interested in founding a third party for 1948, which would exclude the southern segregationists of the Democrats and the isolationist-protectionist wing of the Republicans. Willkie was powerfully involved in Civil Rights, was a close friend of Walter White, president of the NAACP and a major figure in early civil rights action. By the way, the use of the term “Liberal” in 1944 had little to do with the term as currently understood. Willkie, for example was a free trader in an era of high tariffs, a position that aggravated his problems with the Republican Party. Republicans, having passed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which helped so much to bring on the Great Depression, had learned nothing since and were as protectionist as in 1929.

Unfortunately, Willkie, who was a chain smoker and had gained 40 pounds since his 1940 nomination, died of a heart attack in the summer of 1944. With him died the potential for a modern political party and an end to racial segregation 20 years before those things came to be. He was a towering figure who should be better known. He also makes a contrast with the present presumed Democratic nominee who, superficially, has a similar dark horse persona.

My next book about him will be his “One World,” which is described as very readable and not dated in style. I will report after finishing it.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 at 6:34 pm and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


Wendell Willkie: The “Miracle Man” of 1940

As the familiar figure strode to the dais, the convention delegates rose in a thunderous ovation of cheers that went on and on. The figure was former President of the United States Herbert Hoover, and he had been chosen by Republican Party leaders to deliver one of the most important speeches of the 1940 convention. It was their hope that his speech would galvanize the party faithful behind the convention’s still unchosen candidate to unseat the reigning White House occupant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

However, when the roar of the convention crowd subsided and Mr. Hoover began his much anticipated speech, his voice could not be heard. His microphone mysteriously didn’t work. It was a humiliating experience for the ex-president and a disaster for this crucial party gathering in Philadelphia during the hot, steamy June of 1940.

Time magazine, reflecting the spin of much of the major media of the time, blamed Hoover’s inadequacy as a speaker for the speech failure. In its serial coverage of the convention in June 1940, Time reported:

Even now the delegates came with solemn hope they would get a chance to tear up their chairs and set fire to their hats. They were more than willing to give him the benefit of all their doubts they were eager to hear him demolish the New Deal they were even more eager to cheer some challenging declaration of faith. But inflexible Mr. Hoover mushmouthed his delivery the clear, hot words of his finest address got lost (as always) deep in his bulldog chops. He stood there awkwardly, a near-great man whose fate has been to cast his mother-of-pearl words before mobs who, whether friendly or bitter, always yell “Louder!”

This standard account of the Hoover speech debacle was reinforced with the publication in 2005 of Charles Peters’ Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing “We Want Willkie!” Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World. The major reviews of the Peters book tended toward the glowing side, and those that mentioned the Hoover speech incident tended to adopt the now commonly held view that Hoover blew it.

However, historian Thomas E. Mahl, in his important 1998 book, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944, finds that the Hoover speech fiasco was only one of a series of “inside job” incidents orchestrated at the convention by Sam Pryor, the Pan American Airways executive, close friend of the Rockefeller family, and OSS/CIA operative. By the death of Ralph E. Williams a couple weeks before the Philadelphia gathering, Pryor had gained control of the convention floor, as chairman of the committee on arrangements. Williams had been a “Taftie,” a supporter of presidential aspirant Senator Robert Taft Pryor was a Willkie insider. The shift from Williams to Pryor — and the powerful unseen forces behind him — proved to be momentous. Among other things, says Mahl, Pryor’s new position enabled him to “take over the convention and the allocation of essential credentials. Pryor reduced the ticket allotments to delegations committed to other candidates. Delegations committed to Willkie got their full allotment. Finally, as Pryor told it years later, he printed a duplicate set of tickets and opened up the galleries to Willkie supporters, who responded with the ‘We Want Willkie’ chant so embossed on the memories of participants.”

In Desperate Deception, Mahl writes:

Pryor ordered one other small job for which there is sworn testimony. Former President Herbert Hoover wanted to stay aloof from the war in Europe. He had worked on his isolationist speech for weeks, and those who read it thought it the best speech of his career. When he marched to the podium a great roar erupted from the fifteen thousand as they stood and cheered, in expectation, for seven minutes.

Sam Pryor, or someone advising him, had foreseen this embarrassing situation. An enthusiastic response from the delegates to an isolationist speech would have set entirely the wrong tone. There was no great response in fact, the delegates could not hear the speech. Pryor had had a faulty microphone installed for the ex-president’s speech, and years later Hoover obtained a deposition to this effect.

“Strangely,” notes Mahl, “Hoover also had difficulty making himself heard at his convention press conference at the Bellevue Hotel, because a drum corps happened to march into the lobby as he was speaking.” Yes, a great many strange quirks just seemed to “happen” at Philadelphia, culminating in the “miraculous” choice of Wendell Willkie, a virtual unknown — and a life-long Democrat who mirrored FDR’s positions on most important issues — to be the Republican standard-bearer.

The “Miracle” in Philadelphia

The 1940 presidential election was one of the most critical in American history. The dark clouds of war were looming in Europe and the Pacific. With the carnage of World War I still vivid in the memory of millions, America was overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. involvement in any foreign war. President Roosevelt, despite signing the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937, and despite his many public promises to do everything within his power to keep us out of war, had been moving us steadily closer to war. And, as the diplomatic history of the period and the documents, notes, and diaries of FDR and Washington insiders later proved, the president had been striving mightily to find an incident that would drag America into the war. While most of his schemes remained hidden, his efforts had become sufficiently transparent that millions of voters, including many in his own party, were becoming convinced that FDR’s non-interventionist rhetoric masked a pro-war agenda.

In addition, Roosevelt’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term alienated many in both parties, providing confirmation of his imperial ambitions. Not only did this violate the sacrosanct two-term limit that had been observed by every president since George Washington, it upset the plans of other Democratic leaders who had presidential plans of their own. Moreover, many of FDR’s former supporters were still heated up over his flagrant scheme to pack the Supreme Court, his wild deficit spending, and his massive expansion of the federal bureaucracy.

Roosevelt knew he would be facing a battle royal in the 1940 race — if, that is, the Republican Party fielded a credible candidate. The leading contenders — Senator Robert Taft of Ohio (the son of President William H. Taft), Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey — were all non-interventionists who could be expected to give him a tough run on both his domestic and foreign-policy records. These seasoned frontrunners, however, were upstaged by an unknown dark-horse candidate who, previously, had never even run for any public office.

Wendell Willkie’s capture of the Republican nomination, commonly referred to as “The Miracle in Philadelphia,” has achieved near mythic status in U.S. political history. The acerbic journalist/commentator H.L. Mencken, who attended the convention, was quoted as saying: “I am thoroughly convinced that the nomination of Willkie was managed by the Holy Ghost in Person.” Mencken, an agnostic and an opponent of interventionism and New Dealism, was, most likely, being facetious.

As we’ve already noted, it was Sam Pryor, not the Holy Ghost, who stage-managed the convention outcome. “Pan Am Sam” was indeed fronting for higher powers, but not the heavenly kind. Here is Time’s description of the events as they unfolded at the convention:

With the third day came something like panic. Suddenly the newspapers, even their home-town papers, were black with tall headlines, homemade advertisements, home-grown editorials, all shrieking “We Want Willkie!” The delegates couldn’t understand it. The big bear-man’s face, life, family swiftly became oppressively familiar. Most of the delegates wanted to be let alone, to go about their ancient business in the ancient way. But rabid strangers, unlike any political heelers they had ever seen, surrounded them on the street, gripped their lapels, argued bitterly, demanded (not begged) their vote for this man Willkie. In this urgent, crusading atmosphere the delegates were increasingly uncomfortable. They could no longer read the newspapers with any enjoyment for all the important political columnists were daily comparing the nomination of anyone but Willkie to the Fall of France…. From the first night the galleries had shouted “We Want Willkie” over & over like a college yell. Delegates could hardly get into their rooms past the bundles of pro-Willkie telegrams from back home. Their suits came back from the hotel valet with Willkie buttons pinned on. Long-distance calls came from their wives, pastors, bankers, luncheon clubs, saying with one voice: “Willkie!”

This tremendous outpouring of support, said the Willkie supporters (and still say political commentators), was proof positive that the “Willkie phenomenon” sprang from the grass-roots. In truth, the Willkie Clubs that had sprouted shortly before the convention and that directed the continuous avalanche of telegrams and telephone calls to convention delegates, were the creation of Oren Root, grandnephew of the famous senator and Secretary of War Elihu Root. Like his great uncle, Oren Root was closely tied to the powerful banking dynasty of J.P. Morgan, as a member of the Morgan law firm of Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardner, & Reed.

Oren Root represented just the tip of the Morgan iceberg lurking beneath the folksy surface of Willkie, the “Midwesterner.” Although he had been born and raised in Indiana, Willkie had gone to New York City in 1929 to be legal counsel to Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, the nation’s largest electric utility holding company. By 1933, he was president of the company and a major supporter of FDR in the Democratic Party. Among Willkie’s close friends was the very wealthy Thomas W. Lamont, chairman of the board of J.P. Morgan & Co. Mr. Lamont, like Elihu Root and Oren Root, was a leading light in the Council on Foreign Relations, the private behind-the-scenes presidium that has dominated both the Republican and Democratic parties for most of the past century.

Not-so-divine Intervention

The Willkie campaign is the textbook case of the premier denizens of Wall Street palming off one of their agents as the quintessential “Main Street, USA” everyman. The Willkie faux miracle was in reality a successful hijacking of the GOP convention. Rather than a dark horse, Willkie turned out to be a stalking horse for powerful interests who were so intent on keeping Roosevelt in office for a third term that they did not flinch at a campaign of actions that ranged from immoral to illegal to treasonous. Who were those powerful interests? In short, they comprised a triumvirate of three houses: the White House, Pratt House, and Chatham House.

The White House, of course, is familiar to everyone, outside of those few souls dwelling in the deepest rain forests. Mention of the other two houses, on the other hand, draws a blank stare, even from the politically savvy. Pratt House is the New York City headquarters of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Chatham House is the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), the CFR’s elder sister, and the recognized front of the power behind the throne in Britain.

The Willkie nomination, one of many successful covert operations masterminded by this troika, was carried out through the joint efforts of British intelligence and its fledgling American counterpart, what would become the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and, later, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Key high-level operatives in this intelligence operation were Sam Pryor, Oren Root, Thomas Lamont, media magnate Henry Luce, Willkie’s campaign manager (and Luce’s managing editor at Fortune magazine) Russell Davenport, and British Ambassador Lord Lothian.

The man who headed up British intelligence in the United States during this period was Sir William S. Stephenson, a wealthy industrialist and highly decorated World War I flying ace. Using his business dealings as a cover, Stephenson came to the United States in 1940 with the primary assignment of bringing America into the war on Britain’s side. Code-named “Intrepid,” Stephenson represented Britain’s domestic Security Service (MI-5) and its foreign Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). He established his headquarters in New York City at the luxurious Rockefeller Center, occupying the 36th and 37th floors. His main office was Room 3603. The Rockefeller family, key movers and shakers in the Pratt House-Chatham House network, generously “rented” him this prime office space for a penny per year. Nelson Rockefeller (CFR), later to become vice president of the United States, was in charge of the British intelligence operation known as the Office of Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs.

The top-secret Stephenson-run agency, known as the British Security Coordination (BSC), was the progenitor of the American OSS and CIA. The Director of OSS, General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (CFR), once said: “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” Unfortunately, much of the tradecraft that the Brit spy master and his cohorts taught their American protégés involved activities that had little or nothing to do with protecting the United States against foreign and domestic enemies, but a great deal to do with subverting our most cherished freedoms and our constitutional checks against despotic power.

Ernest Cuneo, code-named “Crusader,” was the top American liaison between BSC, FDR, OSS, the State Department, the Treasury, and the Justice Department. In a CIA file that was brought to light by Prof. Mahl, Cuneo acknowledged that the BSC “went beyond the legal, the ethical, and the proper.” Cuneo then further detailed the nature of some of the unethical and criminal offenses: “Throughout the neutral Americas, and especially in the U.S., it ran espionage agents, tampered with the mails, tapped telephones, smuggled propaganda into the country, disrupted public gatherings, covertly subsidized newspapers, radios, and organizations, perpetrated forgeries — even palming one off on the President of the United States — violated the aliens registration act, shanghaied sailors numerous times, and possibly murdered one or more persons in this country.”

Cuneo’s admission fits with the testimony of British agent Bickham Escott, who said that when he was recruited he was told: “If you join us, you mustn’t be afraid of forgery, and you mustn’t be afraid of murder.” In light of these admissions, is it outlandish to ask if some of the unexplained and “convenient” deaths of the period may have been “assisted” by the BSC’s operatives? In the context of the Willkie nomination, the sudden death of convention manager Ralph Williams (a Taft man) and his replacement by Sam Pryor (a Willkie-Rockefeller-FDR-BSC man) now looks suspiciously propitious. Wild speculation? Perhaps. But, perhaps not.

“Clearly,” writes Prof. Mahl, in Desperate Deception, “the major purpose of BSC was to conduct aggressive offensive operations against those it saw as enemies of Britain.” However, he notes, this “included not only Hitler’s agents in the United States, but those who simply wished to remain uninvolved in the European war.” That included American citizens, especially prominent politicians, who were tagged with the pejorative label of “isolationist.” This false label grotesquely implied that Americans who adhered to the traditional view of our Founding Fathers against foreign intervention and entanglement were somehow trying to retreat into a fantasy world in which our country would be sealed off from all intercourse with foreign nations. Even worse, the BSC cabal did everything possible to associate the isolationist tag with Naziism and fascism.

“Isolationist” politicians targeted for BSC/OSS dirty-tricks campaigns included New York Congressman Hamilton Fish, Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, North Dakota Senator Gerald P. Nye, California Senator Hiram Johnson, and Ohio Senator Robert Taft. In Desperate Deception, Dr. Mahl takes one chapter each to detail the two very different lines of attack — the carrot vs. the stick — adopted by BSC to deal with different personality types, as typified by Arthur Vandenberg and Hamilton Fish.

Sen. Vandenberg, a well-known womanizer, was a relatively easy mark for compromise by BSC “carrots” Mitzi Sims, Elizabeth Thorpe Pack, and Eveline Patterson Cotter. He was gradually seduced (and perhaps blackmailed) by these femme fatales to convert from isolationist to internationalist.

The stalwart Rep. Fish, who was a popular incumbent in a safely Republican district, was not as easily disposed of. He was relentlessly assaulted with an endless smear campaign of false charges: abuse of the congressional franking privilege, being anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler, tax evasion, etc. He successfully refuted all of the accusations. The anti-Semite charges, for instance, were easily disposed of, as he had been the author of the Zionist Resolution for a Homeland for the Jewish People that passed Congress in 1923 and had always had strong support among his Jewish constituents. Four years of constant media attacks did gradually whittle down his once-overwhelming support among voters, but it took the redrawing of his district to oust him.

The BSC/CFR media elite — Drew Pearson, Walter Lippman, George Backer, Joseph Alsop, Ogden Reid, A. H. Sulzberger, George Gallup, Henry Luce — who led the smear attacks on the “isolationists” were also the same coterie that transformed Willkie into the instant GOP sensation at Philadelphia. However, after securing Willkie’s nomination, they dropped him like the proverbial hot potato, abandoning his campaign to founder so that Roosevelt would be assured of another victory. But don’t worry that poor Wendell might have been heartbroken by the election loss within a matter of months he was happily back in the Democratic Party and (at the suggestion of agent Intrepid) serving as FDR’s personal emissary to Britain. In 1943 he published One World, an early propaganda volley for world government and the as-yet still unformed United Nations organization. His media patrons quickly and enthusiastically boosted it to bestseller status. And the following year they were back brazenly and enthusiastically boosting him once again as the Republican candidate for president in 1944. Unfortunately, for their plans, Wendell “One World” Willkie wasn’t able to assist them this time around he had already passed on to his eternal reward.

This article originally appeared in the February 5, 2007 print edition of The New American.


Lessons Donald Trump Can Learn from Wendell Willkie

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne is a historian in Albany, NY. SUNY Press published his book The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History in 2015.

Donald Trump won't be the first businessman to snatch the Republican presidential nomination away from seasoned party professionals. That distinction belongs to Wendell Willkie, the party's 1940 nominee.

Willkie and Trump have some things in common.

Both were former Democrats. Trump was a Democrat from 2001 to 2009. Willkie was a delegate to the 1924 Democratic convention and gave $150 to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential campaign in 1932. He switched party affiliations in 1939. "I didn't leave my party, my party left me," he insisted, explaining that the Democrats had become too supportive of big government.

Both were successful businessmen. Trump is a real estate developer. Willkie was president of the electric utility conglomerate, Commonwealth and Southern, from 1933 to 1940. He expanded service and lowered rates. When the Roosevelt administration proposed the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 to promote flood control and economic development and generate electricity, Willkie opposed it as unfair government-subsidized competition with private business. He testified against it in Congress and fought it in court. He lost but, always a shrewd businessman, in 1939 sold Commonwealth and Southern's regional facilities to the TVA for $78,600,000, a hefty sum.

Both benefitted from the media. Trump is the author of about 20 books. Willkie had the support of wealthy businessmen and media moguls including Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune, and other publishers with a large audience. His backers wrote many laudatory articles about Willkie's leadership and Willkie himself also wrote several influential pieces, including "We the People" in the March issue of Fortune, which supported some New Deal programs but criticized Franklin Roosevelt for hostility to business, excessive taxation, and a muddled foreign policy. Trump hosted the reality TV show The Apprentice for 14 seasons. Willkie was something of a radio personality. In January 1938, he debated Assistant Attorney General Robert Jackson on NBC's Town Meeting of the Air, articulating why government should support business. In April 1940, not long before the Republican convention, he appeared on the NBC radio quiz show Information Please, answering questions with knowledge and humor ranging from Matthew Arnold to Nicholas Nickelby to the presidential use of the pocket veto.

Both Trump and Willkie bested the Republican Party establishment and seasoned politicians, but in much different ways. Trump beat all his rivals in the primaries to secure the nomination. There were few Republican primaries in 1940. Willkie stayed out of them and came to the convention in Philadelphia in June as a declared candidate and well-known, highly respected business leader and public figure. The three top contenders for the nomination -- New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey and U.S. Senators Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenberg -- split the committed delegates. None had enough to be nominated. All had negatives -- Dewey was cold and inexperienced, Taft was dull and dogmatic, and Vandenberg thought he should be nominated without actually campaigning. They fought each other at the convention and connived at political deals. For instance, Dewey offered both Taft and Vandenberg the vice presidential nomination in return for their support for him for president both spurned the deal.

In the weeks before the nomination, the media controlled by Luce and other publishers heaped praise on Willkie. A Gallup Poll just before the convention showed his popularity surging. The convention's arrangements chairman, a Willkie supporter, packed the galleries with Willkie supporters who shouted "We Want Willkie!" on cue. Willkie favored aid to Britain and France in their struggle against Germany while his opponents were isolationists. In a stroke of fortuitous timing for Willkie, Hitler conquered France as the convention opened, giving credence to Willkie’s internationalist stance. Delegates were inundated with thousands of letters and telegrams urging support for their candidate. Many were later shown to be bogus, some generated from phone book names by "Willkie Clubs" across the nation.

Willkie's supporters argued that only their candidate, a fresh personality with new ideas, could defeat the seemingly invincible FDR, whom the Democrats were posed to nominate for a third term. Willkie got the nomination on the sixth ballot.

He had dramatically mastered the Republican Party. Franklin D. Roosevelt confided to an aide that Willkie had strong political appeal and could win. The Democrats mounted an ambitious, well-organized campaign, capitalizing on the president's popularity and his leadership during the Depression and in building up national defense. In November, FDR triumphed, receiving 27,313,945 votes to Willkie's 22,347,744, carrying 38 out of the 48 states, and winning in the electoral college by 449 to 82. Roosevelt carried the traditionally Democratic southern states, urban and industrial areas, and did well among lower and moderate-income voters. It was a decisive victory, but not the landslides FDR had received in 1932 and 1936. A switch of about 5 million votes would have given the maverick Willkie the popular majority.

What could Willkie have done better? His campaign offers five caveats for Trump.

Lesson # 1: Campaign Aggressively

Willkie emerged from his triumph at the Republican convention with high popular interest and support. But instead of capitalizing on his momentum, the candidate relaxed, taking a 5-week vacation in Colorado.

Willkie had spent his early years in Indiana but had been living for some time in an apartment New York's Fifth Avenue in before his nomination in 1940. After his vacation, though, his handlers tried to present him as a small-town Indiana rustic. He delivered a long, rambling formal acceptance speech at his hometown of Elwood, Indiana, on August 17, and then lounged at his Indiana farm for another month before beginning his campaign in earnest. His staff arranged so many informal interviews with reporters that his farm manager quipped, "It's getting so every time the cameraman shows up, the hogs run right over and strike a pose." But the candidate refused to play along, appearing in dark business suits rather than overalls, and one day admitting that "I have never done a stroke of work on a farm in my life and I hope I never have to." Image-makers presented him as a devout churchgoer but one day he admitted to reporters, "I usually sleep on Sundays."

Supporters were dismayed. Henry Luce urged him to "stop this cracker-barrel dawdling" and get on with the campaign.

When Willkie finally got going in September, his campaign was disorganized. Staff on his crowded campaign train, the Willkie Special, was often at loose ends. Willkie was indecisive and his directions often unclear. The candidate travelled thousands of miles on the train, giving speeches along the way, but failed to connect with local issues. Alighting from the train in Cicero, Ill., he began his speech with an attack on Chicago political bosses and, reminded that he was in Cicero, he blurted out "Well, then, to hell with Chicago!" which cost him Illinois votes.

Willkie's speeches were often poorly drafted and unenthusiastically delivered. His voice often became scratchy from too many speeches. His off-the-cuff comments and wisecracks to reporters often revealed inconsistencies or positions at odds with his formal campaign documents.

Lesson # 2: Cultivate Republican Leaders

Trump, like Willkie, has surprised and out-maneuvered the Republican establishment. When he gets the nomination, if Willkie's experience is a guide, Trump needs to repair those relationships.

Willkie slipped and referred to "you Republicans" in his acceptance speech and in campaign speeches called his nomination a "people's movement," implying it was liberation from the party's political bosses. He sometimes referred to himself as a "liberal Democrat." After promising to retain the long-time Republican National Committee Chair, John Hamilton, he reversed himself and replaced Hamilton with House minority leader Joseph Martin, then chastened Martin for telling a colleague that he was headed for defeat.

His campaign manager, Russell Davenport, a former Fortune editor, and staff worked separately from Martin and the Republican National Committee. Willkie contemptuously spurned campaign advice from seasoned party leaders. He disliked schmoozing with local party bosses and sometimes had the Willkie Special parked on railroad sidings outside of cities overnight to avoid having to meet and be photographed with them. In an unguarded moment, he called Republican leaders "boll weevils."

National Republican leaders supported him, but many unenthusiastically. Many state and local leaders, lukewarm at best about the Democrat-turned-Republican at the head of their ticket, worked hard for local candidates but gave limited effort for Willkie.

Lesson # 3: Keep Your Message Consistent

Donald Trump needs a clearer and more consistent message on key issues. Wendell Willkie waffled, and it cost him many votes.

Willkie assailed FDR for breaking the tradition of no third terms for presidents, but in a 1940 article in Look magazine he had written that if the founding fathers had intended that proscription they would have written it into the Constitution. Democrats assailed him with the chant "Better a Third Termer Than a Third Rater!"

Willkie promised to "talk in simple, direct Indiana speech" but often came across more like a dissembling Wall Street lawyer.

He attacked the administration for hostility to business and excessive spending, but weakened his position by endorsing much of FDR's New Deal, including Social Security. He was vague about the policies a Willkie administration would pursue. A political observer noted of one speech: "He agreed with Mr. Roosevelt's entire program of social reform and said it was leading to disaster."

Willkie supported FDR's initiative to begin a military draft in the summer of 1940 and gave tacit approval to the president's deal with Britain to exchange U.S. destroyers for British bases in the Western hemisphere. But toward the end of the campaign, desperate for votes, he flip-flopped on foreign policy, aping the isolationists he had formerly opposed, criticizing the president for signing the destroyers-for-bases deal without Congressional authorization, and asserting FDR was leading the nation into war. Many voters concluded Willkie was an unprincipled opportunist, changing his message to garner support.

Lesson # 4: Keep Your Secrets

Donald Trump's comments about women are already a prominent feature in the campaign. That was not an issue in 1940. But Willkie had been estranged from his wife Edith for years but persuaded her to accompany him on the campaign train and pose with him for photos at campaign rallies. Willkie had a long-running romantic affair with Irita Van Doren, an editor at the New York Herald Tribune. The two remained apart during the campaign but Willkie called or telegraphed her every day. Democrats got wind of the affair and considered exposing Willkie. But Republicans had gotten hold of their own juicy secret -- Democratic vice presidential candidate Henry Wallace had written potentially embarrassing letters to an eccentric religious mystic, whom he addressed as "Guru." Through backroom negotiations between staff of the two parties, both secrets were kept out of the campaign.

Meanwhile, FDR's estrangement from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and his extra-marital affairs, continued to be well-kept secrets.

Lesson # 5: Do Not Underestimate Your Opponent

Donald Trump should not underestimate Hillary Clinton's campaign prowess, particularly after she secures the nomination at the convention and can concentrate full-time on articulating her positions and attack Trump full-time.

Trump can learn from Willkie's 1940 experience. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a consumate politician and shrewd campaigner. He looked "presidential" and an able Commander in Chief by touring military bases and defense plants. A few days before the Republican convention, he suddenly named two prominent Republicans to his cabinet, as the secretaries of War and the Navy, siphoning public attention from Willkie's nomination and making the case that he was building a bipartisan administration to strengthen the nation's military defenses.

He refused to debate, citing his pressing presidential duties.In a late October speech, Roosevelt declared that "We will not participate in any foreign wars," a promise he knew he probably could not keep, but one that effectively undercut Willkie's late-campaign isolationist tilt.

In another speech, Roosevelt pilloried conservative Republican Congressmen Joseph Martin (the new chair of the RNC), Bruce Barton, and Hamilton Fish for opposing New Deal reform measures and voting against much-needed defense appropriations. Democrats took up the euphonious, rollicking taunt of "Martin, Barton, and Fish!" "When I heard the President hang the isolationist votes of Martin, Barton, and Fish on me, and get away with it, I knew I was licked," Willkie said later.

Of course, Donald Trump and Wendell Willkie are much different personalities. So far, Trump seems mostly inclined toward attack and divisiveness, while Willkie was more of a conciliator and unifier. The issues are much different from those of 1940.

But, as is so often the case, history offers guidance, caveats, and insights.


The Postwar Global Order That Never Happened

This year, as we remember the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end, we should also remember the road not taken for U.S. foreign affairs. An alternative vision for global order was developed during the war but lost during its aftermath. Although this view of world affairs—call it the “one world” vision—never cohered around a single set of precepts and never became official policy, many thousands of Americans rallied around its iconoclastic brand of popular internationalism.

The lead exponent of the one-world idea was Wendell Willkie, a charismatic speaker, business lawyer, world traveler, and bestselling author who had been the surprise Republican nominee for president in 1940. Little remembered beyond his ill-fated presidential run, Willkie should be recalled now for the picture of the world that he gave the country in 1942 and ’43, during the darkest months of World War II. His one-world ideals captured public imagination, only to be scorned as not tough-minded enough for the incipient Cold War. Recalling them now might help us unlock new ways to see our current global crisis and find responses equal to the complex interdependency that imperils the world today.

This year, as we remember the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end, we should also remember the road not taken for U.S. foreign affairs. An alternative vision for global order was developed during the war but lost during its aftermath. Although this view of world affairs—call it the “one world” vision—never cohered around a single set of precepts and never became official policy, many thousands of Americans rallied around its iconoclastic brand of popular internationalism.

The lead exponent of the one-world idea was Wendell Willkie, a charismatic speaker, business lawyer, world traveler, and bestselling author who had been the surprise Republican nominee for president in 1940. Little remembered beyond his ill-fated presidential run, Willkie should be recalled now for the picture of the world that he gave the country in 1942 and ’43, during the darkest months of World War II. His one-world ideals captured public imagination, only to be scorned as not tough-minded enough for the incipient Cold War. Recalling them now might help us unlock new ways to see our current global crisis and find responses equal to the complex interdependency that imperils the world today.

In late 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Willkie to serve as his emissary on a world tour, carrying a message of American unity to unsure Allies and neutrals. Forced to avoid occupied Europe, Willkie toured Africa, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and China, meeting with everyday people but also with luminaries like Bernard Montgomery, Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek. Willkie discovered that people everywhere were restive and unsatisfied. They hoped the war might mean a new world order, one in which Western empire no longer shaped the fate of the globe. Like Willkie, they had thrilled to Woodrow Wilson’s message of world freedom a generation before, only to find their hopes crushed when the mandate system erected by his League of Nations perpetuated European imperial power.

They had been newly encouraged in 1941, when Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s Atlantic Charter seemed to resuscitate those hopes, promising freedom and self-determination to all as the fruits of Allied victory. Soon after, however, Churchill had backtracked, and Roosevelt had gone silent, putting off all talk of postwar planning. From Cairo to Baghdad to Chongqing, no question mattered more to a whole generation of anti-colonial activists.

Moved by this global surge in idealism, Willkie looked to bring it home. In One World, the bestseller he wrote about his trip, he told Americans he was “passing on an invitation” from “the peoples of the East.” People everywhere were “no longer willing to be Eastern slaves for Western profits.” They recognized that the world was growing ever more interdependent, creating a world society with no place for imperialism.

The global “war of liberation,” as Willkie called it, left the United States with a choice. The country could go one of three ways. “Narrow nationalism” meant the equivalent of prewar isolationism—and ultimately a limited prospect for postwar American life. Continued “international imperialism” meant refusing to welcome the very sort of freedom dreams that floated American independence in the first place. The only way forward was a just world order based on the fact of global interconnection. Realizing the full possibilities of interdependence meant recognizing independence everywhere. It required “the creation of a world in which there shall be an equality of opportunity for every race and nation.”

But the greatest challenge to realizing this equitable global society lay elsewhere. During his visit to Moscow, Willkie saw that easing tensions between the United States and Soviet Union was the only way to stave off another age of great-power rivalry. In his talks with Stalin, he tried to woo the Soviet leader, looking for a way to assure him that the two wary allies could cooperate in the world beyond the war. For Willkie, this was the linchpin of his strategic vision. Contrary to later detractors who dismissed him as a naive utopian, his interest in U.S.-Soviet cooperation anchored a geopolitical analysis of the world to come. The best postwar plan, Willkie felt, was clear-eyed cooperation with the Soviets, equal partnership with the Chinese, and a push to get the British and other European allies to commit to decolonization. Avoiding the standoff that would come to be called the Cold War was the way to found a new global society, as well as true peace and national security for the United States.

Willkie’s vision found a ready and eager audience. Over 36 million people listened to the live radio report he delivered on all the major networks after his trip. More than 4 million bought One World—the fastest-selling book in American history, according to some experts—and many millions more encountered his ideas in his editorials, magazine pieces, and speeches. In the summer of 1943, as his book broke sales records, he gave a July Fourth radio address calling for the United States to add a “declaration of interdependence among the nations of this one world” to its own Declaration of Independence.

No such document was forthcoming, of course. Over the coming years, mutual suspicion between the Americans and Soviets would narrow the terms of debate over foreign affairs—pushing independent national interests above interdependence. Willkie spent the last act of his life—he succumbed to heart disease in October 1944 at 52, after another failed run for the presidency—arguing for a more democratic shape for what would become the United Nations. But FDR’s vision was less democratic. He wanted a world body controlled by “Four Policemen”—the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. Smaller nations would advise, discuss, petition, and “blow off steam.” The final form of the Security Council—which added France to FDR’s original four powers and gave each member a veto over majority-approved resolutions—would find itself hamstrung by the growing U.S.-Soviet conflict.

With the rise of the Cold War, a new consensus took hold, consigning Willkie’s vision to the dustbin of history. One-world internationalism was naive, nascent Cold Warriors argued. So-called “globaloney,” former Willkie ally and member of Congress Clare Boothe Luce sneered, was too trusting in good will between people and not hardheaded enough for a world carved up by sharp ideological divides.

One-worldism was no panacea, to be sure. As its detractors noticed, it tended to mistake the technical facts of world connection for the existence of global community or the possibility of world political union. In fact, even Willkie, had he lived, may have ended up as a more or less conventional Cold War liberal. (He was, near the end of his life, expressing dismay at Stalin’s attitude toward Eastern Europe.)

But the eclipse of one-world strategy by hardheaded Cold War thinking (extended by the global war on terrorism) has obscured what Willkie discovered as the great problem of the postwar period: that the United States inherited a hierarchical interdependent world made by European empire. The United States confronted a choice: continue the imperial great-power politics that had thrown the planet into two successive global conflicts or found something new. Conventional wisdom holds that the country chose the latter, noble path. The truth is less heroic. It split the difference.

The United States set out to renovate that imperial structure for a new national challenge: assuming responsibility for the global capitalist system once overseen by the British Empire. It was this new empire of influence, markets, and far-flung military power that the United States defended against the Soviet Union in the Cold War and protected by bankrolling a host of new international organizations, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The result was a paternalistic mix of benevolence and coercion. Strategic favor went to Western Europe and Japan. Some decolonizing nations were greeted with aid and loans for economic development, others with napalm or covert action.

We have long lived in the complex, interdependent world that Willkie discovered in 1942 and 1943. But for decades now, our conventional responses to globalization have been mired in Cold War-style thinking: A “narrow nationalism” that sees American world leadership as indispensable fuels a modified form of “international imperialism” concerned to preserve U.S. power abroad. The country has accepted the rewards of globalization—low prices on consumer goods and financial returns for the elite—but only the responsibilities that tend to redouble those rewards. And it has driven the benefits of globalization to the few and forced the many to shoulder its liabilities.

No wonder then that the early stages of America’s post-imperial decline have played out as cascading fragmentation amped up by a reckless chief executive and a disastrous response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, the idea of “one world” mostly lives on as a kind of cliché, in “We Are the World”-style sentiment. Take, for instance, the recent One World: Together at Home virtual concert, put on by the NGO Global Citizen, where one could log on to hear Billie Eilish or Alicia Keys play their hits from lockdown and exhort us to “wash your damn hands” or “take care of one another.”

It’s easy to sneer at this sort of thing as Bono-politics, the celebritification of global aid, or just more “globaloney.” But events like this raise millions of dollars for the global health response—for WHO, in this case—and one might argue that they reflect the actual shape of the world today better than the usual invocations of lost U.S. world leadership. For all their easy sentiment, they suggest how we are all dependent on each other—and they tap into widely held feelings that could be harnessed for deeper political cooperation.

The coronavirus shows us that Willkie’s challenge remains ours today. Some Americans, those who bought One World or logged on for One World: Together at Home or went to work for WHO or organizations like it, have long sensed this dilemma. Recognizing complex global interdependency requires building a world system in which the United States must cooperate rather than dictate.

New faith in interdependent, democratic global institutions could take many forms: for example, giving the U.N. General Assembly greater leverage over the Security Council or even expanding and reforming the Security Council altogether to reduce its power over the world body. For the United States, it would mean returning to global climate talks and committing to a just transition from fossil fuels, as well as restoring funding to WHO and investing in robust interchange between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and global health officials to improve WHO’s performance. Most of all, it would mean creating a truly multilateral world bank based in multiple reserve currencies (not just the U.S. dollar) and dedicated to relieving debt crises across the globe. But any efforts should take Willkie’s lesson to heart. Just as he urged Americans to listen to anti-imperial insurgents during World War II, true interdependence now means hearing the voices and demands of those in the global south who stand to lose the most from the further erosion of global cooperation on a warming, fragmented planet.

Skeptics will object that Russian and Chinese authoritarianism will go unchecked in a world without vigorous U.S. leadership. Those are real threats, but thinking that only America can tame them would be as shortsighted as dismissing one-world ideals was in 1945. American power is in its twilight years—the strife in the country’s hospitals and streets makes that clear. Propping up old notions of American indispensability ensures that we are fighting yesterday’s battles.

The deeper challenges unite Russia, China, and the United States alike in shared peril. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the last 75 years has been the absolute determination of the United States to lead the rest of the capitalist world in the global capture and exploitation of the world’s natural resources. That is the one world we live with today—a planet inescapably joined in a web of commodity chains, petroleum pipelines, greenhouse gases, and the terror of this and future zoonotic diseases gone pandemic. The sooner we admit this reality the sooner we can build the global, interdependent response our shared crisis demands.

Samuel Zipp is a cultural and intellectual historian at Brown University. His latest book is The Idealist: Wendell Willkie’s Wartime Quest to Build One World.


Wendell Willkie—the President Who Might Have Been—and the Jews

As the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, Wendell Willkie opposed the isolationist stance that dominated both parties at the time. Willkie lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who then made him a sort of informal ambassador at large. In this capacity he visited Palestine, met with Jewish and Arab leaders, and criticized the British government there. Reviewing a new biography of Willkie by David Levering Lewis, Elliot Jager considers this now-forgotten statesman’s attitude toward Jews and Zionism and wonders what a Willkie presidency would have meant for Jewish history:

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One World

Why Wendell Willkie, and why now? At first glance, the failed 1940 Republican presidential aspirant, corporate lawyer, and advocate of “one world” appears to have left only a glancing trace on the 20th century. Conventional wisdom sees him as an accessory to history, a courageous also-ran, and a fortuitous ally for his 1940 Democratic opponent, then-two-term president Franklin Roosevelt. Willkie is praised as a poignant reminder of a long-lost liberal Republicanism, a great bipartisan spirit who helped banish the party’s so-called “isolationism.” Jousting in the press with Charles Lindbergh’s America First Committee and offering critical support for Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program, which provided crucial aid to Britain, Willkie gave the canny operator in the White House the political cover to lead the country into war.

Books in Review

The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order

This take, cribbed from the “team of rivals” school of political history, arrives prepackaged with a built-in appeal, a familiar story of national sacrifice for the “good war.” Walter Lippmann, the ultimate keeper of conventional wisdom, first floated it back in 1944, just after Willkie’s untimely death: “Under any other leadership but his, the Republican party would have turned its back on Great Britain, causing all who still resisted Hitler to feel that they were abandoned.” Willkie had served his purpose, the story went, helping the Allies to defeat fascism and doing his bit to propel the indispensable nation to its rightful role as leader of the free world, and then left the scene. From there, the postwar consensus was all but a fait accompli. The businessman turned politician, as David Levering Lewis puts it in his rousing new biography, The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order, “save[d] the GOP to save freedom.”

Thankfully, Lewis’s book allows readers to glimpse a more complicated and less predictable Willkie, an “improbable” figure whose ideas laid the foundation for a road not taken in American politics. Best known for his two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, Lewis is well-placed to offer a fresh view of one of the 20th century’s more neglected figures. His dignified, agreeable, and sometimes ramshackle tome—reminiscent of its subject himself as it tumbles along in high spirits, throwing off insight and wisdom—reveals Willkie as a charismatic and iconoclastic champion of civil rights, free speech, and internationalism.

And yet Lewis also underplays Willkie’s most important intervention, hailing him as Roosevelt’s partner in building an American-led “new world order” rather than seeing him for what he was: the largely forgotten but indispensable tribune of an alternative internationalism that did not seek to supplant Old World imperialism with its New World counterpart. With his spectacular, globe-girdling flight in 1942 and his subsequent best-selling book, One World, Willkie urged Americans to transcend their “narrow nationalism” and avoid “international imperialism.” Welcoming the surge of anti-colonial opinion coursing across the globe, Willkie gave his fellow citizens a vision of an American internationalism in which the United States would put its power to work arranging a wary rapprochement with the Soviet Union, championing multilateral efforts to end European empire, and erecting a postwar world organization granting an equal role for smaller, decolonizing nations. In the end, Willkie’s greatest contribution to history came in service not just to his country, but to the internationalist vision he discovered on his journey around the world.

B orn in 1892 in Indiana to a family of longtime Democrats, Willkie traveled an unlikely path to global prominence. Raised with five siblings by freethinking parents—his father was the town’s preeminent populist attorney and his mother one of the first women to be admitted to the Indiana bar—Willkie enjoyed a knockabout boyhood in Elwood, an industrial boomtown on the edge of a fading frontier. In his “Tom Sawyer teens,” Willkie jumped in mudholes behind factories, launched a failed skiff expedition to the Mississippi River, worked in a tin mill, and tramped around out West, taking odd jobs. Meanwhile, his parents kept a library of some 6,000 volumes, and Wendell’s father, Herman, roused his children from sleep every morning by bellowing inspirational quotes up the stairs.

Young Wendell learned politics at the family dinner table, where the Willkie kids had to take and defend a position on the issues of the day: imperialism, race relations, labor and capital, and populist challenges to the bankers. The family backed William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and even hosted him in their home during one of his campaign swings through the state.

When Willkie arrived at Indiana University, he was one part iconoclast, one part hail-fellow-well-met glad-hander. He campaigned for a course on Marx and denounced the university’s nativist fraternities he also masterminded several successful bids for class office and eventually joined a fraternity himself. After stints as a high-school teacher in Kansas and a lab assistant for a sugar company in Puerto Rico, where he witnessed firsthand the brutality of US rule over the island, he returned to Bloomington in 1915 to attend law school. Newly committed to his studies, Willkie rose to the top of his class and was elected speaker at his graduation. His commencement address, a rousing brief in defense of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom,” advocated a host of reforms for Indiana’s courts, state constitution, and laissez-faire banking and business statutes. It was “the most radical speech you ever heard,” the university’s president later remembered, and while the brouhaha kept Willkie from receiving his diploma for several days, the lasting effect was merely to confirm what Lewis calls his subject’s “lifelong susceptibility to principled pugnacity.”

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Service in an artillery unit on the Western Front during World War I followed law school, but Willkie saw no combat, arriving in France shortly after the Armistice. Willkie found his battles elsewhere, primarily in the courtroom: In the 1920s, he rose to regional prominence as a liberal lawyer in Toledo and also served as a delegate to the 1924 Democratic convention, where he worked futilely to see the party back Wilson’s League of Nations and campaigned against the influence that the Ku Klux Klan had over the party. Legal work for power companies brought Willkie to Manhattan, and his obvious abilities in both the courtroom and the boardroom lifted him into the executive ranks of Commonwealth & Southern, an electrical-industry holding company.

By 1934, Willkie was the chief executive of C&S, a position that would challenge his commitment to the Democratic Party when President Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority launched years of public confrontation between the New Deal and the power industry. Since C&S oversaw many of the power companies that the Roosevelt administration hoped to put out of business, the TVA hearings brought Willkie to a national audience as a high-spirited critic of government “overreach.” By the end of the decade, he had failed to stop the TVA—or convince most Americans that the corrupt power industry had their best interests at heart. But he had found widespread acclaim and a reputation as a smart, genial freethinker who was at home in front of a microphone.

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Willkie’s performance as the public face of anti–New Deal sentiment also attracted influential admirers. An internationalist from the farm belt who defended “free enterprise” with a brio and verve unavailable to the dour and rigid “economic royalists” that Roosevelt taunted, Willkie found himself in conversation with a coterie of northeastern Republicans. Publishers like Time’s Henry Luce, Fortune’s Russell Davenport, and Look’s Gardner Cowles, along with governors and congressmen from New England and lesser-known lever pullers like the bankers Frank Altschul and Thomas Lamont, wanted Willkie as the face of their insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination in 1940. With war brewing in Europe, these internationalists hoped that he could drive the insular nationalism that everyone called “isolationism” from the cockpit of the Republican Party. Willkie was then still a Democrat, but he relished the idea of a one-on-one debate with Roosevelt over the future of the country.

Willkie still needed a push, however, so his new friends launched a public-relations campaign on his behalf in newspapers and national magazines. A group of young Ivy League graduates started a set of Willkie Clubs across the country and soon had 200,000 names on a nomination petition. By the time Willkie switched parties and declared his candidacy in June of 1940, he had touched off a civil war inside the GOP. Lewis shows in incisive detail how Willkie’s sudden appearance heightened the long-standing tensions between the Wall Street–Rockefeller Center bloc gathered around now-forgotten New England politicians like Connecticut Governor Raymond Baldwin, and the “Old Guard”—isolationist congressmen like Hamilton Fish and Robert Taft, backed by oil and chemical money: the DuPont family, Edgar Queeny of Monsanto, and Pennsylvania oil baron Joseph Pew, the Charles Koch of his day.

The first round went to the internationalists. Willkie’s upstart bid looked dubious heading into the Republican convention, but his popular appeal and some backroom shenanigans by his people put him over the top: Amid deafening cheers of “We want Willkie!” from the balconies, he won the nomination in a floor fight on the sixth ballot. The general election was less dramatic Willkie’s support was broad but not deep. He appealed to many middle-class Americans, an independent-minded slice of the old WASP elite, and many African Americans, who favored his forthright support for civil rights over Roosevelt’s equivocation in the face of the Southern segregationists in his party. But he lagged with many white working-class voters, and he labored to distinguish himself from Roosevelt on foreign policy—in fact, he backed the president’s preparedness measures, angering many in his own party. Also, given the nature of his chief supporters, Willkie’s homespun charisma and farmer-made-good image, which the newspapers liked to play up, seemed contrived to many, and therefore put off some voters. He was, the New Dealer Harold Ickes cracked, the “barefoot boy from Wall Street.”

Willkie hoped to win over independents leery of a third term for Roosevelt, but his attacks on “dictatorial” executive power never quite took. A last-minute capitulation to the isolationists—in the final month, he began warning crowds that with FDR, “your boys will be sent overseas” to fight—gave him a bump in the polls but dismayed his most ardent supporters. The final tally wasn’t as close as it had looked in the remaining weeks: Roosevelt won 38 states, Willkie only 10. But it was a respectable loss for the Hoosier, who wound up with more than 22 million votes out of the almost 50 million cast.

T he 1940 election unfolded against the grim spectacle of war in Europe, including the blitzkrieg, the fall of France, and the first sorties in the Battle of Britain. The United States was tearing itself apart trying to somehow stay out of the war while also helping the Allies. In the year between his defeat and Pearl Harbor, Willkie found his politics and his public persona reinvented one more time. As Roosevelt’s onetime rival, he now staked out a role as the leader of the loyal opposition, supporting FDR’s attempts to ease the country into the war and jousting with the aggrieved nationalist forces to his right, the most recalcitrant of which had gathered around Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee. Some of them wanted the United States to let the European powers destroy themselves others were corrupted by anti-Semitism and the lure of fascism’s dreams of order and wanted to see Germany rule the world. Breaking with most of his party, Willkie testified before Congress in favor of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program to send war materiel to the Allies, ruining much of his already tarnished reputation in the GOP. Isolationism would die with the Japanese attack, but Willkie’s renewed commitment to civil rights, internationalism, and labor rights during the war sealed his political fate with the Republican Party. In 1944, when he tried again for the GOP’s presidential nomination, he didn’t get very far, and, when later that year he died suddenly, only a few in the party mourned his loss.

Willkie’s greatest legacy, however, would lie in a more nebulous realm. A fervent believer in the vision of Wilsonian internationalism since his teens, in late 1942 he found a way to renew his advocacy when he made a planet-circling trip to visit neutral nations and the battlefronts in Russia and China. Billed—and too often remembered—as a mere fact-finding and morale-boosting mission carried out on behalf of Roosevelt, the trip was actually Willkie’s idea. And it soon became much more than the stagy demonstration of American unity and resolve that the president had imagined. Greeted with intense fervor at home and abroad, Willkie made the trip a campaign for a fully democratic and global war effort—a plea that Americans see the truly international nature of the struggle against fascism and militarism.

Forced to avoid occupied Europe, Willkie flew south to the Caribbean and Brazil, and then across the Atlantic to Africa and the Middle East. There, he encountered a rising tide of nationalist movements seeking to liberate their countries from European empire and its racial hierarchies. From there he went to Moscow, where he met Stalin and tried to keep the Soviet leader committed to the Allies beyond the war. His last major stop was China and a week’s worth of calculated hospitality served up by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party. Willkie embraced a complacent view of Chiang’s corrupt and ill-fated regime, but he nonetheless found a spirit of expansive, anti-colonial internationalism in East Asia as well, one that reflected his own desire to see the imperial world order brought to an end. In Chongqing, the Nationalists’ wartime capital, Willkie broadcast a speech declaring that the end of the Second World War had to also “mean an end to the empire of nations over other nations.”

Upon his return to the United States, Willkie wrote One World, the travelogue-cum-manifesto that became the publishing sensation of the war years. Hailed as the fastest-selling book in history when it arrived in the spring of 1943, One World presented the planet as increasingly unified by the technologies of air travel and communications and yet divided by imperial forms of subjugation. The book also included his argument that the war was a chance not only to defeat fascism, but also to banish colonialism from the global stage. With its publication, Willkie made himself a conduit for the anti-imperialist vision that he had encountered abroad and pushed Americans to recognize as one of the true stakes of the war.

Interdependency, Willkie argued, was the governing fact of modern life. Thus, the Allies had to plan—during the war—for a new world body to replace the League of Nations. Here, Willkie did finally distinguish himself from Roosevelt, who favored a limited procedural role for most countries in what would become the United Nations. Smaller nations could “blow off steam” in a legislative assembly, Roosevelt once commented, while the “Four Policemen”—the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China—would run things from an executive body.

Willkie, on the other hand, tried to persuade Americans to accept a more egalitarian international body with the power to curb national sovereignty, not just a debating society run by the great powers. A world body dominated by nationalism, Willkie argued in a 1944 Foreign Affairs article, actually endangered American sovereignty: It would allow “other nations to make decisions affecting vital American interests at their convenience and when they choose.”

In the end, Roosevelt’s vision won out. The United Nations was shaped to fit American, British, and Soviet strategic demands. The members of the Security Council, as the executive body came to be called after France was added to the ranks of FDR’s policemen, enjoyed a veto over any initiatives that endangered their interests. Smaller nations looked on from the General Assembly, while the UN had no international police powers that might infringe upon national sovereignty. It would oversee the gradual progress of some colonies toward self-determination, but many others would be left to the whims of their prewar masters.

W ith the onset of the “great twilight struggle” against the Soviet Union, Willkie-style internationalism went into full retreat, scorned as naive about the strategic realities in a world of competition among nation-states. The United States helped establish a multilateral “rules based order” designed to contain communism and allow the European powers to fortify their colonial holdings—a decision that would end in tears in Vietnam. Willkie himself was all but forgotten, recalled as a colorful bit player in the drama of American ascendance. Gone altogether was his vision of an American internationalism, one in solidarity with an anti-imperialism from below that demanded greater equality between nations. Gone as well was the idea that the United States might have served as midwife for that more expansive view of freedom rather than simply as the triumphalist “leader of the free world.”

These days, “one world” may sound like a particularly callow brand of universalism—just another version of globalization hype. And the Willkie show was always something of a high-wire act: As an anti-imperialist who assumed that America’s own empire was likely to simply fade away, he struggled to balance his advocacy for “free enterprise” and “free trade” with his support for political freedom from colonialism. Willkie’s early death preempted any reckoning with the contradictions that postwar history would have presented to his evolving liberalism and residual American nationalism.

Nonetheless, Willkie still has much to teach us, particularly now, when Donald Trump’s presidency has birthed an agitated spate of hand-wringing over his threat to the liberal world order. Trump and his Twitter account threaten to end more than just a half-century of US-led peace and prosperity, the solons of the Global North lament: All the institutions of multilateral, rules-based internationalism created in the wake of World War II, from NATO to the United Nations, teeter on the brink, pushed to the very edge by Trump’s return to an America First nationalism. Of course, that world order was always premised on the United States’ own complacency about American supremacy. Willkie imagined a different path forward, one that might have averted the weak foundations of the neoliberal global compact and the “Washington consensus” that helped give rise to Trump’s presidency. We may not like where Trump wants to take us—his is a dark and vicious view of the world—but those who lament the waning status quo also cloud our ability to understand the true history or possible future of America’s role in the world.

First, of course, the US-led liberal order was always, in the eyes of many around the world, simply US imperialism. And American hegemony—designed to win the Cold War as much as to ensure global comity—has been coming apart, in fits and starts, since the Vietnam War and the economic crises of the 1970s. The long-term question is not how to shore up the old world order—whatever its faults and virtues—but how to use the uncertain moment of Trumpian disruption to rethink it altogether.

On the American left, anti-imperial memory often only goes back to the 1960s. But Willkie gives us a chance to remember the 1940s, when dreams of global freedom commanded the attention of a broad swath of the American public. These days, as many Americans retreat into Trump’s insular and aggressive nationalism, and the heirs of Walter Lippmann fret that America’s decline will unleash the barbarian hordes—witness the title of Robert Kagan’s The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World—we would do well to recall how Wendell Willkie warned us away from that brand of race-tinged fearmongering and called us toward a vision of the United States at home in the world, with no need to dominate or control it.

Samuel Zipp teaches American Studies and Urban Studies at Brown University and is the author of The Idealist: Wendell Willkie’s Wartime Quest to Build One World.


Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood, Indiana, in 1892. He attended Indiana University and graduated in 1913, earning a B.A. He later went on to earn a law degree. After Willkie earned his degree in 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. He entered the Army as an officer and rose to the rank of captain during his service. During his time in the Army he did not participate in any battle. When Willkie left the service, he went to Ohio to begin a law practice. While in Ohio, he met Edith Wilk of Rushville, Indiana, and after a short courtship, they wed. Following that time in Ohio, the couple moved to New York City where he continued to practice law. In 1933, Willkie became the president of the nation`s largest utilities holding company, the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation. He held that position until 1940. Originally a member of the Democratic Party, Willkie was nevertheless a strong opponent of much of President Franklin D. Roosevelt`s New Deal. He also was strongly against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the vast project that eventually brought electricity to thousands of people, controlled the Tennessee River flood waters, improved navigation, and introduced modern agricultural techniques. Given his adamant feelings about the New Deal and the TVA, Willkie eventually decided to become a Republican. In the years after that decision, he rose in the ranks to become an influential member of the party. In 1940, the Republican Party chose Willkie over Thomas E. Dewey as their presidential candidate. To capitalize on strong isolationist sentiment in the country, Willkie`s principal campaign theme was opposition to U.S. involvement in World War II. It was a delicate balancing act, since at the time popular support for the European democracies was rising. Willkie tried to take the position that the defense of overseas democracies was in American interests but gratuitously offending the dictators and provoking them was not. It was a difficult line to explain. Another of his major campaign strategies was to attack the New Deal, arguing that it was inefficient and wasteful. In the end, however, the president beat Willkie. The votes were 27,244,160 for Roosevelt and 22,305,198 for Willkie. Although Roosevelt was victorious, he still expressed much respect for his former opponent. Willkie was actually an idealistic internationalist. After the Pearl Harbor Attack of December 1941 Roosevelt appointed Willkie to be a special representative for the United States. He made around-the-world visits to soldiers on the fronts and also played an active role in the American committee for Russian War Relief. During the summer of 1942, Willkie left on a world tour that would carry him to the Middle East, the Soviet Union and China. On his return, he gave a radio address that was so well received, he produced a book on the same themes, which he entitled, One World. After describing the thirteen countries he had visited and the reception he had received, he wrote:


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