Willkie, Wendell Lewis

Willkie, Wendell Lewis, 1892–1944, American industrialist and political leader, b. Elwood, Ind. After graduating from Indiana Univ. law school (1916), he practiced law in Ohio and then New York (1923–33) before he became president (1933) of the Commonwealth and Southern Corp., a giant utility holding company. Although a Democrat, Willkie became a leading spokesman of business interests, his pro-business and libertarian sympathies causing him to oppose the New Deal. He finally registered as a Republican in 1940 and that year was nominated by the Republican party for the presidency. In his campaign he endorsed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's policies abroad but attacked the New Deal at home. Although defeated in the election, he polled more than 22 million votes (the largest popular vote received by a defeated candidate up to that time). He later (1941–42) visited England, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and China as Roosevelt's personal representative. He led the fight (1942–44) to liberalize the Republican party, mainly attacking isolationism. Willkie was also a prominent supporter of African-American civil rights, and fought for fairer practices in the hiring of black workers, particularly, as chairman of Twentieth Century Fox's board of directors, in the film industry. He wrote One World (1943) and An American Program (1944). In 1944 he failed to obtain the Republican nomination for president, largely because of his promise to appoint an African American to his cabinet or Supreme Court and his pledge to raise taxes; he did not endorse Dewey.

See biographies by W. Severn (1967), S. Neal (1984), and D. L. Lewis (2018); study by W. Moscow (1968).

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