Wendell Willkie: The Dark Horse

Wendell Willkie, circa 1941. Image courtesy of History.com.
Wendell Willkie, circa 1940. Image courtesy of History.com.

This blog post is an expanded version of Nicole Poletika’s original marker review essay, which can be viewed here.

The presidency of the United States is seen by many as the ultimate prize in American politics. It has been held by lawyers, philanthropists, and even actors. The State of Indiana has been at the center of presidential history, claiming Hoosier Presidents Benjamin Harrison and his grandfather, William Henry Harrison. However, one year sticks out more for what didn’t happen than what did: 1940.

That year, Hoosier natives Wendell Willkie and Paul V. McNutt, came very close to winning the presidency but ultimately lost, in their own ways, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). This is the first of two blogs dedicated to the Indiana men who ran for the highest office in America.

Wendell Willkie's childhood home in Elwood, Indiana. Image courtesy of Indiana Memory.
Wendell Willkie’s childhood home in Elwood, Indiana. Image courtesy of Indiana Memory.
The IU Debate Team, 1916. Willkie is front row, center. Image courtesy of Indiana University, Bloomington.
The IU Debate Team, 1916. Willkie is front row, center. Image courtesy of Indiana University, Bloomington.

Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Candidate for President, was born in 1892 in Elwood, Indiana. Willkie attended Indiana University, where he became friends with another budding young student, Paul V. McNutt. When McNutt was the President of the Student Union, Willkie was the President of the Jackson Club, a Democratic leaning political group. Their paths continued to cross throughout the rest of their lives. Willkie received his law degree from Indiana University in 1916. In 1929, after practicing law in Akron, Ohio for the Firestone Tire Co, he provided legal counsel for The Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, a large public utilities company, of which he later became president.

As company president, he fought against FDR’s federally funded New Deal program to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which intended to provide employment to the many jobless during the Great Depression. Willkie opposed the TVA because it would directly compete with The Commonwealth & Southern Corporation and because he opposed both governmental and private monopolies. While Willkie lost, he gained notoriety as “the most articulate, vigorous spokesman for the business community.”

Willkie, as president of Commonwealth and Southerm, receives a check from TVA aministrator David E. Lilienthal for the purchase of the Tennessee Electric Power Company. Image courtesy of Indiana State Library.
Willkie, as president of Commonwealth and Southerm, receives a check from TVA administrator David E. Lilienthal for the purchase of the Tennessee Electric Power Company. Image courtesy of Indiana State Library.

After gaining the attention of Republican politicians with his outspoken belief in free enterprise, Willkie was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate to run against FDR in 1940 in what was described by the Indianapolis News as “one of the most dramatic events in American political history.” Despite never holding political office, much like modern Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Willkie was nominated after the sixth ballot was taken at the Republican National Convention. He defeated well-known political figures such as Governor Thomas E. Dewey and Senator Robert A. Taft. It was here that he earned the campaign moniker of “Dark Horse,” since his candidacy was such a political upset. Republicans sought a fresh candidate to represent the party as World War II intensified abroad and Americans became more determined than ever to avoid war at home.

Around this same time, his IU colleague and friend Paul McNutt, dropped out of consideration for the Democratic nomination, giving in to Roosevelt’s desire for an unprecedented third term. Had McNutt been nominated, both major party candidates for President would have been from the State of Indiana.

The official notification ceremony of the Republican presidential nomination for Wendell Willkie, Elwood, Indiana, August 17, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The official notification ceremony of the Republican presidential nomination for Wendell Willkie, Elwood, Indiana, August 17, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Wendell Willkie at the notification ceremony for his presidential nomination, Elwood, Indiana, 1940. Image courtesy of Indiana Memory.
Wendell Willkie at the notification ceremony for his presidential nomination, Elwood, Indiana, 1940. Image courtesy of Indiana Memory.
"Wings for Willkie" campaign button, circa 1940s. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
“Wings for Willkie” campaign button, circa 1940s. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Despite a well-fought campaign, Willkie lost the election to Roosevelt in a landslide, earning only 82 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 449. He also lost the popular vote by nearly five million. Many commentators thought that his progressive position on civil rights and support of liberal internationalism alienated him from his party. Voters also struggled to identify his position on major causes because he covered a wide range of issues briefly.

Lard sculptures of Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in the Agriculture and Horticulture Building at the 1940 Indiana State Fair. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
Lard sculptures of Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in the Agriculture and Horticulture Building at the 1940 Indiana State Fair. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Even though he lost the presidential election in 1940, Willkie and FDR became friends and political allies, as they held similar views on foreign policy and civil rights. In particular, Willkie, both during and after the campaign, went against many in his party with his support of FDR’s policy to dispatch war aid to Britain in 1940, as opposed to fighting abroad or remaining isolated from the war. Historian Justin H. Libby describes Willkie’s support of war aid as the “forerunner of the bipartisan policy.”

Willkie’s support for aid eventually gained favor among the general public, allowing FDR to pass the Lend-Lease Bill in 1941, which postponed U.S. involvement in the war. He also served the President by traveling the globe as a U.S. emissary to observe the war abroad and meet with foreign leaders, reporting on his experiences. As an internationalist, Willkie worked for “world peace,” presenting a bipartisan resolution to the Republican National Committee in 1942 that was eventually passed.

African American veteran Isaac Woodard at the Wendell Willkie memorial building in New York, circa 1946. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
African American veteran Isaac Woodard at the Wendell Willkie memorial building in New York, circa 1946. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On the home front, Willkie avidly defended the rights of African Americans and publicly advocated for the improved housing, education and health of black citizens. He was widely concerned with the treatment of African Americans in the Armed Forces, arguing in various articles that they should be afforded the same freedom at home that they fought for abroad.

In his 1944 article “Citizens of Negro Blood” for Collier’s Magazine, Willkie stated that World War II “has made us conscious of the contradictions between our treatment of our Negro minority and the ideals for which we are fighting. The equitable treatment of racial minorities in America is basic to our chance for a just and lasting peace.” He appealed to political figures to strengthen anti-lynching measures and to eliminate state poll taxes that often prevented African Americans from voting. Willkie ultimately brought attention to the struggles of all minority citizens, arguing in the New York Times that they were “rich assets of democracy.”

One World by Wendell Willkie. Image courtesy of Doerbooks.com.
One World by Wendell Willkie. Image courtesy of Doerrbooks.com.

In 1943, Willkie wrote about his experiences traveling the globe in his best-selling book One World. He described his trip, in which he traveled with Army and Navy officials to over half a dozen countries. His observations, made during a period before the United States frequently worked and communicated with other countries, has been described as “extraordinarily perceptive and statesmanlike.” It spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list and was an influential text on the future United Nations.

Willkie sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1944, but dropped out of the race in April after a poor showing in the Wisconsin primaries. Constant comparisons to FDR, his liberal stance on civic and international issues, and general independence from other Republican members resulted in the loss of party support.

Wendell Willkie memorial at the Indiana State Capitol. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.
Wendell Willkie memorial at the Indiana State Capitol. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Willkie died October 8, 1944 and was buried in East Hill Cemetery in Rushville, Indiana. President Roosevelt issued a statement honoring Willkie as “one of the great men of our time.” In addition to the memorial erected at his gravesite, memorials to Willkie were dedicated in Elwood and in the State House Rotunda in Indianapolis. The Willkie Memorial Building, created to serve as a center for the Freedom House and other causes he supported, was dedicated in New York on the first anniversary of his death. Willkie, with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, helped established Freedom House in 1941 as an organization that could “strengthen human rights and civil liberties in the United States.” As of 2016, the Freedom House still advocates for human rights.

Wendell Willkie’s ambitions for the White House never materialized, but his influence on American politics can still be felt, especially in his stances on international relations, civil rights, business, and foreign policy. His friendship and support of Franklin Roosevelt, even after losing to him, benefited the country during wartime. Willkie was a results man; he believed deeply in the power of institutions and people to get the job done right, whether in politics or in business. His bipartisanship and amiable demeanor earned him respect from leaders all across the country. In the end, the “Dark Horse” became a statesman on par with almost any President.

Check back for Part 2 to learn about another prominent Hoosier who had his eyes set on the White House: Governor Paul V. McNutt.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Indiana

map to Lincoln
Map of the Funeral Train Route, Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives, http://www.lincoln-highway-museum.org/WHMC/WHMC-LFTR-01.html

On the evening of April 14, 1865, an assassin shot President Abraham Lincoln.  He died the next day at 7:22 a.m. While Union soldiers hunted the conspirators, the nation went into mourning. The funeral for the assassinated president took place April 19, 1865 at the White House.  The New York Times reported that “thousands wended their way up the capitol steps, into the grand rotunda, by the bier and coffin of the President… their homage was silent and tearful.”  On the morning of April 21, a military guard placed Lincoln’s casket in the ninth car of a funeral train which was draped in black. The casket of Lincoln’s son William who had died in 1862 was also aboard for the trip back to the Midwest.

markers
IHB state historical marker, learn more here.

The train, which also carried friends, family, high ranking officials, and a military guard, left Washington D.C. destined for Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, Illinois, on April 21. The War Department directed the procession which declared the tracks along the route to be “military roads.” On April 30 the Lincoln funeral train passed into Indiana where Lincoln spent much of his youth (1816-1830).  The War Department directed: “The route from Columbus to Indianapolis is via the Columbus and Indianapolis Railroad, and from Indianapolis to Chicago via Lafayette and Michigan Railroad.  In order to guard against accidents, trains will not run faster than twenty miles per hour.”

The train stopped in Richmond first, at 3 a.m., to the sound of tolling bells and a crowd of somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 people. Here, Governor Oliver P. Morton and almost 100 elected officials paid their respects. The governor and other several other high-ranking officials boarded the train for the trip to the state capital.

funeral march
Image courtesy of Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives, http://www.lincoln-highway-museum.org/WHMC/WHMC-LFTR-01.html

At 3:41 a.m. the train arrived in Centreville, home town of Congressmen George W. Julian, a steadfast abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights. Next it passed through Germantown and Cambridge City, home of Union General Solomon Meredith. As the train passed through Dublin at 4:27 a.m., almost the entire town was standing on the platform in the rain. Next the train stopped in Lewisville and afterwards it slowed as it passed through the small village of Charlottesville, where reportedly a large number of African Americans gathered in mourning. The train passed through Greenfield at 5:55 a.m. and then paused in Cumberland on the Hancock-Marion county border.

Penny St
Lincoln’s Funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue, April 19, 1865, Library of Congress Digital Collections, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003004934/PP/

The train reached Indianapolis on April 30 at 7 a.m. in the pouring rain. The city was decorated with arches, evergreens, and flags. The Indianapolis city band played the Lincoln Funeral March while soldiers moved the casket to the hearse. The hearse, which was an ornately decorated carriage drawn by six plumed white horses, delivered the casket from the train to the State House through streets lined with people. The Indianapolis Daily Gazette noted “the archways and mourning festoons across the streets, the public and private buildings draped in the habiliments of grief, the funeral procession, the solemn dirges, and, above all, the patient multitude that stood for hours in the drenching rain waiting an opportunity to look upon the earthly tenement so lately vacated by the spirit.”

sketch

The coffin was placed in the interior hall of the State House which was lined in black cloth.  The Indianapolis Guard of Honor protected the flower-surrounded coffin. The Indianapolis Daily Gazette estimated that 15,000 troops and 60,000 private citizens passed through the rotunda that day.  Rain prevented the elaborate ceremonial procession from the State House back to the train depot which had been planned for that evening.  Instead, the casket lay in state until 10 p.m., which was longer than planned, and then the hearse carried the casket directly back to the train depot.  Mourning Hoosiers followed the carriage and the train left Indianapolis at midnight.

It passed through Augusta, Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon, Hazelrigg, Thorntown, Colfax, and Stockwell, before reaching Lafayette. The New York Semi-Weekly Times reported on the trip through these towns: “These are small places, but it seems the inhabitants are on the roadside. Some of them hold torches in their hands, and the surroundings are solemnly lighted. Men stand with uncovered heads as the train hurries on its way.”  At Lebanon the residents “hung over the track, suspended from two uprights, a hundred variegated Chinese lanterns.”

The train reached Lafayette at 3:35 a.m. and the Indianapolis Daily Journal reported that in Lafayette “The houses on each side of the railroad is [sic] illuminated, and; as elsewhere, badges of mourning and draped flags are displayed; bonfires are blazing and bells tolling; mournful strains of music are heard, and the people are assembled at all the stations to view the train.” After leaving Lafayette, the train traveled through Tippecanoe Battle Ground, Brookston, Chalmers, Reynolds, Bradford, Francisville, Medaryville, Kankakee, La Crosse, Wanatha, Westville, and Lacroix.

cool color
S. M. Fassett, President Abraham Lincoln’s hearse, Springfield, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91732556/

The train reached Michigan City at 8:25 a.m.  The Indianapolis Daily Journal reported that it “stopped under a large and beautiful temporary structure, trimmed with black and white and ornamented with evergreens and choice flowers.”  The arches were decorated with black and white fabric, evergreens, and flowers. Over each arch were the words “Abraham Lincoln” and a motto.  These included, “Our guiding star has fallen” and “Though dead he yet speaketh.” Young women sang the hymn “Old Hundred.”  The Times reported, “Many persons are affected to tears.” The paper concluded its description of the Michigan City stop: “Meantime, guns are fired, and the subduing strains of music are heard. The scene is gilded by an unclouded sun.” The Chicago Tribune reported that the morning was “clear and beautiful.”

Finally, it had stopped raining.

Read about the train’s journey to Chicago and then to Lincoln’s home of Springfield, where the President was laid to rest, here.