Wendell Lewis Willkie: an American, a lawyer and corporate executive, and the 1940 Republican nominee for President. Willkie appealed to many delegates as the Republican field’s only interventionist. Even when the U.S. remained neutral prior to Pearl Harbor, he favored greater U.S. involvement in World War II. The goal, to support Britain and other Allies. His Democratic opponent Franklin D. Roosevelt, won the 1940 election with about 55% of the popular vote. Roosevelt took the electoral college vote by large margin.
After Pearl Harbor, Willkie offered his full support to Roosevelt. Willkie’s mission was to be Roosevelt’s personal representative. After leaving the U.S. on August 26, Willkie’s first stop was in North Africa. Willkie met General Montgomery and toured the front at El Alamein. In Beirut, he stayed with General de Gaulle. In Jerusalem, Willkie met with Jews and Arabs. He also told the British rulers of Palestine that both peoples should be brought into the government.
Willkie later noted that the conflict there was so ancient, it was unrealistic to think that it could “be solved by good will and simple honesty”.
Willkie had been moved to add the Soviet Union to his itinerary when three Western reporters there urged him by telegram to do so There, he met with Stalin, and upon his return he advocated more liberal Lend-Lease terms for the USSR.
“He was a born leader and he stepped to leadership at just the moment when the world needed him.” Allan Nevins, historian, wrote of Willkie.
Even though Mr. Willkie never reached the presidency, his legacy is perhaps more important than any specific title in that his name will always be remembered as part of American history.
During his 1940 campaign, Willkie had pledged to integrate the civil service and armed forces, and proudly pointed to what he deemed the strongest civil rights plank in history in the Republican platform. He also promised to end racial segregation in Washington, D.C.
Shortly before his death, Willkie told a friend, “If I could write my own epitaph and if I had to choose between saying, ‘Here lies an unimportant President’, or, ‘Here lies one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril’, I would prefer the latter.”