CRF Blog

Wendell Willkie: The Forgotten Maker of History

by Bill Hayes

In Wendell Willkie: The Forgotten Maker of History for the New York Times Book Review, Lynne Olson reviews The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order by David Levering Lewis.

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.

As shocking as this coup was, Willkie’s cooperation with Roosevelt just weeks after his nomination was even more staggering. In the summer of 1940, the White House was considering a plan to send 50 old destroyers to Britain to help protect its shipping from German submarines, but Roosevelt refused to sign off on it unless Willkie promised not to make it a campaign issue. Willkie agreed, setting off a Republican firestorm that escalated when, in his campaign kickoff speech, he pledged to support legislation to create America’s first peacetime draft. The bill was political dynamite: If Willkie had opposed it, it almost certainly would have failed. Thanks to its passage, some 1.65 million men were in uniform when America finally entered the war in December 1941. [more]