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lackadaisical

United States presidential election, 1940

The United States presidential election of 1940 was fought in the shadow of World War II as the United States was emerging from the Great Depression. Incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), a Democrat, broke with tradition and ran for a third term, which became a major issue. The surprise Republican candidate was maverick businessman Wendell Willkie, a dark horse who crusaded against Roosevelt's failure to end the Depression and eagerness for war. Roosevelt, aware of strong isolationist sentiment in the U.S., promised there would be no foreign wars if he were reelected. Willkie conducted an energetic campaign and managed to revive Republican strength in areas of the Midwest and Northeast. However, Roosevelt won a comfortable victory by building strong support from labor unions, big-city political machines, ethnic voters, and the traditionally Democratic Solid South.

The subsequent passing of the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1947 renders this election the only occasion in American history in which a candidate has been elected for a third term as president (Roosevelt would subsequently be elected for a fourth term, although he died after only a few months in office).

Nominations

Democratic Party Nomination

Democratic candidates

Throughout the winter, spring, and summer of 1940 there was much speculation as to whether Roosevelt would break with long-standing tradition and run for an unprecedented third term. The "two-term" tradition, although not yet enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, had been established by President George Washington when he refused to run for a third term in 1796, and no President had ever been elected to a third term. Roosevelt, however, refused to give a definitive statement as to his willingness to be a candidate again, and he even indicated to some ambitious Democrats, such as James Farley, that he would not run for a third term and that they could seek the Democratic nomination. However, as Nazi Germany swept through Western Europe and menaced Britain in the spring and summer of 1940 Roosevelt decided that only he had the necessary experience and skills to see the nation safely through the Nazi threat. He was aided by the party's political bosses, who feared that no Democrat except Roosevelt could defeat the popular Willkie.

At the Democratic Convention Roosevelt easily swept aside challenges from Farley and John Nance Garner, his Vice-President. Garner was a Texas conservative who had turned against FDR in his second term due to his liberal economic and social policies. As a result, FDR decided to pick a new running mate; he chose Henry A. Wallace of Iowa, his Secretary of Agriculture and an outspoken liberal. Wallace was strenuously opposed by many of the party's conservatives, who felt that he was too radical and "eccentric" in his private life (he practiced New Age spiritual beliefs, and often consulted with a Russian spiritual guru named Nicholas Roerich) to be an effective running mate. However, FDR insisted that without him on the ticket he would decline renomination. Wallace won the vice-presidential nomination by a vote of 626 to 329 for House Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama.

The Balloting
Presidential Ballot Vice Presidential Ballot
Franklin D. Roosevelt 946 Henry A. Wallace 626
James A. Farley 72 William B. Bankhead 329
John Nance Garner 61 Paul V. McNutt 68
Millard E. Tydings 9 Alva B. Adams 11
Cordell Hull 5 James A. Farley 7
! Jesse H. Jones 5
! Joseph C. O'Mahoney 3
! Alben W. Barkley 2
! Prentiss M. Brown 1
! Louis A. Johnson 1
! Scott W. Lucas 1
! Bascomb Timmons 1
! David I. Walsh 0.5

Republican Party nomination

Republican candidates:

In the months leading up to the opening of the 1940 Republican National Convention, the GOP was deeply divided between the party's isolationists, who wanted to stay out of the war at all costs, and the party's interventionists, who felt that Britain and her allies needed to be given all aid short of war to prevent the Germans from conquering all of Europe. The three leading candidates for the GOP nomination were all isolationists to varying degrees. The three frontrunners were Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Taft was the leader of the GOP's conservative, isolationist wing, and his main strength was in his native Midwest and parts of the South. Dewey, the District Attorney for Manhattan, had risen to national fame as the "Gangbuster" prosecutor who had sent numerous infamous mafia figures to prison, most notably "Lucky" Luciano, the organized-crime boss of New York City. Dewey had won most of the presidential primaries in the spring of 1940, and he came into the GOP Convention in June with the largest number of delegate votes, although he was still well below the number needed to win. Vandenberg, the senior Republican in the Senate, was the "favorite son" candidate of the Michigan delegation and was considered a possible compromise candidate if Taft or Dewey faltered. However, each of these candidates had weaknesses which could be exploited. Taft's outspoken isolationism and opposition to any American involvement in the European war convinced many Republican leaders that he could not win a general election, particularly as France fell to the Nazis in May 1940 and Germany threatened Britain. Dewey's relative youth - he was only 38 in 1940 - and lack of any foreign-policy experience caused his candidacy to weaken as the Nazi military emerged as a fearsome threat. In 1940 Vandenberg was also an isolationist (he would change his foreign-policy stance during World War Two) and his lackadaisical, lethargic campaign never caught the voter's attention. This left an opening for a dark horse candidate to emerge.

A Wall Street-based industrialist named Wendell Willkie, who had never before run for public office, emerged as the unlikely nominee. Willkie, a native of Indiana and a former Democrat who had supported Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, was considered an improbable choice. Willkie had first come to public attention as an articulate critic of Roosevelt's attempt to break up electrical power monopolies. Willkie was the CEO of the Commonwealth & Southern corporation, which provided electrical power to customers in eleven states. In 1933 President Roosevelt had created the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, which promised to provide flood control and cheap electricity to the impoverished people of the Tennessee River Valley. However, the government-run TVA would compete with Willkie's Commonwealth & Southern, and this led Willkie to criticize and oppose the TVA's attempt to compete with private power companies. Willkie argued that the government had unfair advantages over private corporations, and should thus avoid competing directly against them. However, Willkie did not dismiss all of Roosevelt's social welfare programs, and in fact he supported those which he believed could not be managed any better by the free enterprise system. Furthermore, unlike the leading Republican candidates, Willkie was a forceful and outspoken advocate of aid to the Allies, especially Britain. His support of giving all aid to the British "short of declaring war" won him the support of many Republicans on the East Coast, who disagreed with their party's isolationist leaders in Congress. Willkie's persuasive arguments impressed these Republicans, who believed that he would be an attractive presidential candidate. Many of the leading press barons of the era, such as Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune, Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and John and Gardner Cowles, publishers of the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune, as well as the Des Moines Register and Look magazine, supported Willkie in their newspapers and magazines. Even so, Willkie remained a long-shot candidate; the May 8 Gallup Poll showed Dewey at 67% support among Republicans, followed by Vandenberg and Taft, with Willkie at only 3%.

The Nazi Army's rapid blitz into France in May 1940 shook American public opinion, even as Taft was telling a Kansas audience that America must concentrate on domestic issues to prevent Roosevelt from using the international crisis to extend socialism at home. Both Dewey and Vandenberg also continued to oppose any aid to Britain that might lead to war with Germany. Nevertheless, sympathy for the embattled British was mounting daily, and this aided Willkie's candidacy. By mid-June, little over one week before the Republican Convention opened, the Gallup poll reported that Willkie had moved into second place with 17%, and that Dewey was slipping. Fueled by his favorable media attention, Willkie's pro-British statements won over many of the delegates. As the delegates were arriving in Philadelphia, Gallup reported that Willkie had surged to 29%, Dewey had slipped 5 more points to 47%, and Taft, Vandenberg and former President Herbert Hoover trailed at 8%, 8%, and 6% respectively.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million, telegrams urging support for Willkie poured in, many from "Willkie Clubs" that had sprung up across the country. Millions more signed petitions circulating everywhere. At the 1940 Republican National Convention itself, keynote speaker Harold Stassen, the Governor of Minnesota, announced his support for Willkie and became his official floor manager. Hundreds of vocal Willkie supporters packed the upper galleries of the convention hall. Willkie's amateur status, his fresh face, appealed to delegates as well as voters. Most of the delegations were selected not by primaries but by party leaders in each state, and they had a keen sense of the fast-changing pulse of public opinion. Gallup found the same thing in polling data not reported until after the convention: Willkie had moved ahead among Republican voters by 44% to only 29% for the collapsing Dewey. As the pro-Willkie galleries repeatedly yelled "We Want Willkie", the delegates on the convention floor began their vote. Dewey led on the first ballot but steadily lost strength thereafter. Both Taft and Willkie gained in strength on each ballot, and by the fourth ballot it was obvious that either Willkie or Taft would be the nominee. The key moments came when the delegations of large states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York left Dewey and Vandenberg and switched to Willkie, giving him the victory on the sixth ballot. The voting went like this:

Presidential Balloting, RNC 1940
ballot 1 2 3 4 5 6 before shifts 6 after shifts
Wendell L. Willkie 105 171 259 306 429 655 998
Robert A. Taft 189 203 212 254 377 318 --
Thomas E. Dewey 360 338 315 250 57 11 --
Arthur Vandenberg 76 73 72 61 42 -- --
Arthur H. James 74 66 59 56 59 -- --
Joseph W. Martin 44 26 -- -- -- -- --
Hanford MacNider 34 34 28 26 4 -- --
Frank E. Gannett 33 30 11 4 1 1 --
Herbert Hoover 17 21 32 31 20 10 --
Styles Bridges 28 9 1 1 -- -- --
Scattering / Blank 40 29 11 11 11 5 2

[Table source: Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records (1973), pp. 254-256.]

Willkie's nomination is still considered by historians to have been one of the most dramatic moments in any political convention. Having given little thought to who he would select as his vice-presidential nominee, Willkie left the decision to convention chairman and Massachusetts Congressman Joe Martin, the House Minority Leader, who suggested Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary of Oregon. Despite the fact that McNary had spearheaded a "Stop Willkie" campaign late in the balloting, the candidate picked him to be his running mate:

Vice Presidential vote
Charles L. McNary 848
Dewey Short 108
Styles Bridges 2

General election

The fall campaign

Willkie crusaded against Roosevelt's attempt to break the two-term presidential tradition, arguing that "if one man is indispensable, then none of us is free." Even some Democrats who had supported Roosevelt in the past disapproved of FDR's attempt to win a third term, and Willkie hoped to win their votes. Willkie also criticized what he claimed was the incompetence and waste in Roosevelt's New Deal welfare programs; he stated that as President he would keep most of FDR's government programs but would make them more efficient. However, many Americans still blamed business leaders for the Great Depression, and the fact that Willkie symbolized "Big Business" hurt him with many working-class voters. Willkie was a fearless campaigner; he often visited industrial areas where Republicans were still blamed for causing the Great Depression and where FDR was highly popular. In these areas Willkie frequently had rotten fruit and produce thrown at him, and was heckled by crowds, yet he was unfazed. Willkie also accused Roosevelt of leaving the nation unprepared for war, but Roosevelt preempted the military issue by expanding military contracts and establishing the lend-lease program to supply the British with badly-needed weapons and warships. Willkie then reversed his approach and charged Roosevelt with secretly planning to take the nation into World War II. The accusation did cut into Roosevelt's support; in response FDR, in a pledge that he would later regret, promised that he would "not send American boys into any foreign wars." On election day - November 5 - Roosevelt received 27 million votes to Willkie's 22 million, and in the Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Willkie 449 to 82. Willkie did get over six million more votes than the GOP's 1936 nominee, Alfred M. Landon, and he ran strong in rural areas in the American Midwest, taking over 57% of the farm vote. Roosevelt, meanwhile, carried every American city with a population over 400,000 except for Cincinnati, Ohio.

Results

Source (Popular Vote):

Source (Electoral Vote):

Close states (margin of victory less than 8%)

  1. Michigan, 0.33%
  2. Indiana, 1.42%
  3. Wisconsin, 1.82%
  4. Maine, 2.33%
  5. Illinois, 2.43%
  6. Colorado, 2.55%
  7. New York, 3.56%
  8. New Jersey, 3.62%
  9. Minnesota, 3.83%
  10. Iowa, 4.41%
  11. Ohio, 4.41%
  12. Missouri, 4.77%
  13. Wyoming, 5.93%
  14. New Hampshire, 6.44%
  15. Massachusetts, 6.75%
  16. Pennsylvania, 6.89%
  17. Connecticut, 7.14%

Results by state

>

Franklin Roosevelt

Democratic
Wendell Willkie

Republican
Other State Total
State electoral
votes
# % electoral
votes
# % electoral
votes
# % electoral
votes
#
Alabama 11 250,726 85.2 11 42,184 14.3 - 1,309 0.4 - 294,219 AL
Arizona 3 95,267 63.5 3 54,030 36.0 - 742 0.5 - 150,039 AZ
Arkansas 9 158,622 79.0 9 42,121 21.0 - not on ballot 200,743 AR
California 22 1,877,618 57.4 22 1,351,419 41.3 - 39,754 1.2 - 3,268,791 CA
Colorado 6 265,554 48.4 - 279,576 50.9 6 3,874 0.7 - 549,004 CO
Connecticut 8 417,621 53.4 8 361,819 46.3 - 2,062 0.3 - 781,502 CT
Delaware 3 74,599 54.7 3 61,440 45.1 - 335 0.3 - 136,374 DE
Florida 7 359,334 74.0 7 126,158 26.0 - not on ballot 485,492 FL
Georgia 12 265,194 84.9 12 46,360 14.8 - 997 0.3 - 312,551 GA
Idaho 4 127,842 54.4 4 106,553 45.3 - 773 0.3 - 235,168 ID
Illinois 29 2,149,934 51.0 29 2,047,240 48.5 - 20,761 0.5 - 4,217,935 IL
Indiana 14 874,063 49.0 - 899,466 50.5 14 9,218 0.5 - 1,782,747 IN
Iowa 11 578,800 47.6 - 632,370 52.0 11 4,260 0.4 - 1,215,430 IA
Kansas 9 364,725 42.4 - 489,169 56.7 9 6,403 0.7 - 860,297 KS
Kentucky 11 557,222 57.4 11 410,384 42.3 - 2,457 0.3 - 970,063 KY
Louisiana 10 319,751 85.9 10 52,446 14.1 - 108 0.0 - 372,305 LA
Maine 5 156,478 48.8 - 163,951 51.1 5 411 0.1 - 320,840 ME
Maryland 8 384,546 58.3 8 269,534 40.8 - 6,037 0.9 - 660,117 MD
Massachusetts 17 1,076,522 53.1 17 939,700 46.4 - 10,771 0.5 - 2,026,993 MA
Michigan 19 1,032,991 49.5 - 1,039,917 49.9 19 13,021 0.6 - 2,085,929 MI
Minnesota 11 644,196 51.4 11 596,274 47.7 - 10,718 0.9 - 1,251,188 MN
Mississippi 9 168,267 95.7 9 7,364 4.2 - 193 0.1 - 175,824 MS
Missouri 15 958,476 52.3 15 871,009 47.5 - 4,244 0.2 - 1,833,729 MO
Montana 4 145,698 58.8 4 99,579 40.2 - 2,596 1.1 - 247,873 MT
Nebraska 7 263,677 42.8 - 352,201 57.2 7 not on ballot 615,878 NE
Nevada 3 31,945 60.1 3 21,229 39.9 - not on ballot 53,174 NV
New Hampshire 4 125,292 53.2 4 110,127 46.8 - not on ballot 235,419 NH
New Jersey 16 1,016,404 51.5 16 944,876 47.9 - 12,934 0.7 - 1,974,214 NJ
New Mexico 3 103,699 56.6 3 79,315 43.3 - 244 0.1 - 183,258 NM
New York 47 3,251,918 51.6 47 3,027,478 48.0 - 22,200 0.4 - 6,301,596 NY
North Carolina 13 609,015 74.0 13 213,633 26.0 - not on ballot 822,648 NC
North Dakota 4 124,036 44.2 - 154,590 55.0 4 2,149 0.8 - 280,775 ND
Ohio 26 1,733,139 52.2 26 1,586,773 47.8 - not on ballot 3,319,912 OH
Oklahoma 11 474,313 57.4 11 348,872 42.2 - 3,027 0.4 - 826,212 OK
Oregon 5 258,415 53.7 5 219,555 45.6 - 3,270 0.7 - 481,240 OR
Pennsylvania 36 2,171,035 53.2 36 1,889,848 46.3 - 17,831 0.4 - 4,078,714 PA
Rhode Island 4 182,182 56.7 4 138,653 43.2 - 313 0.1 - 321,148 RI
South Carolina 8 95,470 95.6 8 4,360 4.4 - 2 0.0 - 99,832 SC
South Dakota 4 131,362 42.6 - 177,065 57.4 4 not on ballot 308,427 SD
Tennessee 11 351,601 67.3 11 169,153 32.4 - 2,069 0.4 - 522,823 TN
Texas 23 909,974 80.9 23 212,692 18.9 - 1,865 0.2 - 1,124,531 TX
Utah 4 154,277 62.3 4 93,151 37.6 - 391 0.2 - 247,819 UT
Vermont 3 64,269 44.9 - 78,371 54.8 3 422 0.3 - 143,062 VT
Virginia 11 235,961 68.1 11 109,363 31.6 - 1,283 0.4 - 346,607 VA
Washington 8 462,145 58.2 8 322,123 40.6 - 9,565 1.2 - 793,833 WA
West Virginia 8 495,662 57.1 8 372,414 42.9 - not on ballot 868,076 WV
Wisconsin 12 704,821 50.2 12 679,206 48.3 - 21,495 1.5 - 1,405,522 WI
Wyoming 3 59,287 52.8 3 52,633 46.9 - 320 0.3 - 112,240 WY
TOTALS: 531 27,313,945 54.7 449 22,347,744 44.8 82 240,424 0.5 - 49,902,113

TO WIN: 266

See also

Bibliography

  • James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956)
  • Ellsworth Barnard, Wendell Willkie: Fighter for Freedom (1966)
  • Cole, Wayne S. Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle against American Intervention in World War II (1974)
  • Cole, Wayne S. America First: The Battle against Intervention, 1940-41 (1953)
  • Doenecke, Justus D. The Battle Against Intervention, 1939-1941 (1997), includes short narrative and primary documents.
  • Doenecke, Justus D. Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941 (2000).
  • Henry O. Evjen, "The Willkie Campaign; An Unfortunate Chapter in Republican Leadership", Journal of Politics, 14 (May 1952), in JSTOR
  • S. Everett Gleason and William L. Langer; The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 1953 Policy toward war in Europe; pro FDR
  • Grant, Philip A., Jr. "The Presidential Election of 1940 in Missouri." Missouri Historical Review 1988 83(1): 1-16. ISSN 0026-6582 Abstract: Missouri serves as a good barometer of nationwide political sentiment; The two major political parties considered Missouri a key state in the 1940 presidential election. Wendell Willkie captured 64 of the state's 114 counties, but huge majorities in the urban counties carried the state for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Jonas, Manfred. Isolationism in America, 1935-1941 (1966).
  • Neal, Steve. Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie (1989)
  • Herbert S. Parmet and Marie B. Hecht; Never Again: A President Runs for a Third Term 1968. the major scholarly study
  • Peters, Charles. Five Days in Philadelphia: 1940, Wendell Willkie, and the Political Convention That Freed FDR to Win World War II (2006)
  • Ross, Hugh. "John L. Lewis and the Election of 1940." Labor History 1976 17(2): 160-189. ISSN 0023-656X Fulltext at Ebsco. Abstract: The breach between John L. Lewis and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 stemmed from domestic and foreign policy concerns. The struggle to organize the steel industry, and after 1938, business attempts to erode Walsh-Healy and the Fair Labor Standards Act provided the backdrop for the feud. But activities of Nazi agents, working through William Rhodes Davis, increased Lewis' suspicions of Roosevelt's interventionist foreign policy and were important in the decision to support Wendell Willkie.
  • Schneider, James C. Should America Go to War? The Debate over Foreign Policy in Chicago, 1939-1941 (1989)

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