1940 Republican Convention - History

1940 Republican Convention - History

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1940 republican Convention

Cleveland Ohio

June 24 to 28, 1940

Nominated: Wendell L Willkie for President

Nominated: Charles L McNary of Oregon for Vice President

The Republican convention of 1940 resulted in one of the largest upsets in convention history. In early 1940 the leading candidates for the nominations were Senator Robert Taft and Thomas E Dewey the New York District Attorney. As the international situation became worse with the fall of France- both Taft and Dewey were considered by many as too isolationist. Wendell Wilkie who was best known a utility executive who had opposed Roosevelt's TVA. Wilkie was an outspoken supporter of American support for the Allies. When the time came for the balloting- Dewey led on the first three ballots, but the galleries demanded Wilkie. On the fourth ballot Wilkie took the lead and clinched the nomination on the fourth ballot.

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1940s 1940 REPUBLICAN.

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How Nazis Tried to Steer U.S. Politics

One day in June 1940, with much of Europe under the Nazi boot and Britain ready to fight to the death, a German diplomat in Washington wired Berlin on how to keep the United States out of the war by giving money to American politicians.

The timing was both auspicious and delicate for Germany, Hans Thomsen, the charge d�ires at the German Embassy here, argued in his June 12 message to the Foreign Ministry. True, German troops seemed invincible, but their victories were stirring ''intervention hysteria'' in the United States.

So, Mr. Thomsen said, 'ɺ well-camouflaged lightning propaganda campaign might well prove useful'' at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia two weeks later. He asked Berlin for $3,000 to help a Republican Congressman take about 50 isolationist members of his party to Philadelphia to push for an antiwar platform.

What is more, Mr. Thomsen said, the Congressman, who was never named, was forming a committee that would publish full-page newspaper advertisements during the convention bearing the message ''Keep America Out of War.'' The advertisements would cost $60,000 to $80,000, Mr. Thomsen said. (That would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in today's money.)

With Washington today caught up in Senate hearings into possible efforts by China to buy influence in American political affairs, Mr. Thomsen's words from long ago are haunting. They tell of an elaborate scheme to interfere in the American political system.

''It was at the time the most extensive foreign intervention -- direct intervention -- ever into an American election campaign,'' said Gerhard L. Weinberg, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina who fled Germany with his family just before World War II. Professor Weinberg has written extensively about the war and is one of the few who have studied Mr. Thomsen's dispatches.

The communiques of Hans Thomsen and other officials were among thousands of German Government documents seized by the Allies at the end of World War II and translated into English by the State Department and the British Foreign Office. For a half-century, they have sat in select libraries, including that of Georgetown University here, attracting little attention.

Laws were different then, and American politicians who accepted foreign money would not necessarily have committed a crime. But the stakes for the country, and the world, could hardly have been higher.

Germany knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was committed to helping Britain and sensed that he was girding the American people for war. If Germany had to go to war with the United States one day, Professor Weinberg said, it wanted do so when its own Navy had been built up and while the United States Navy was weak. Those factors made Roosevelt, who had been Assistant Navy Secretary, the wrong President from the German perspective.

Even if Roosevelt could not be beaten in the 1940 election, he might have been hamstrung if the Democratic Party adopted a peace platform, or if the Republicans recaptured Congress. Isolationist fervor was generally stronger in the Republican Party than among Democrats.

Unlike the Germans, the British stayed out of American politics, Professor Weinberg said. They dearly wanted Roosevelt to win in 1940, but they feared that even a hint of meddling would further arouse the isolationists, who tended to blame Britain for involving the United States in the First World War. The British were also leery of stirring resentment among big-city Irish politicians whose support Roosevelt counted on.

Realizing that he was asking for a lot of money in that June 12, 1940, communique, Mr. Thomsen assured his Foreign Ministry that half the money the Congressman needed for the newspaper advertisements ''will, in all probability, be borne by his Republican friends.''

On June 25, 1940, during the Republican Convention, full-page newspaper advertisements urged delegates to adopt an antiwar platform. The advertisements were sponsored by the National Committee to Keep America Out of Foreign Wars, whose chairman was Representative Hamilton Fish, a Republican from upstate New York who detested Roosevelt personally and politically.

Other committee members were Representative Harold Knutson, Republican of Minnesota, and former Representatives Samuel B. Pettingill of Indiana and John J. Oɼonnor of New York, both Democrats.

Pettingill had been elected in 1930 and had chosen not to run again in 1938. Oɼonnor had been head of the House Rules Committee and had done his best to block New Deal legislation until Roosevelt helped to engineer his defeat in 1938.

As it turned out, the Republican convention nominated Wendell L. Willkie, a former utility executive, for President. Willkie was no isolationist, but his running mate, Senator Charles L. McNary of Oregon, was. And the party platform, while calling for ''preparedness,'' opposed American involvement in foreign wars.

Germany also tried to interfere in the Democratic National Convention in July. A German envoy in Mexico City wired Berlin on July 8, 1940, that '➫out $160,000'' had been funneled to someone in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party for 'ɻuying the approximately 40 Pennsylvania delegates to vote against Roosevelt'' at the Chicago convention. The money was also intended to help defeat Senator Joseph F. Guffey, a Pennsylvania Democrat the Germans considered hostile to their interests.

Senator Guffey was re-elected anyhow. Roosevelt was renominated by near acclamation after coyly feigning disinterest in a third term. He had already confounded the Republicans by shrewdly naming two prominent ones to his Administration: Henry L. Stimson as Secretary of War and Frank Knox as Navy Secretary. Both leaned toward intervention in the war.

The Pennsylvania delegates (there were 72, not about 40) voted for the President. But isolationist Democrats, led by Senators Burton K. Wheeler of Montana and David Walsh of Massachusetts, successfully pushed for a plank pledging to keep the United States out of overseas conflicts 'ɾxcept in case of attack,'' the latter phrase added at Roosevelt's insistence.

Riveting as they are, the German communiques must be read with several caveats. The American isolationists were not so much pro-Nazi as antiwar (Hamilton Fish had fought with distinction in World War I), and if it is clear now that they were on the wrong side of history it was less so then.

It is not known how much money Berlin actually sent to the United States, or what was done with it. Nor is it known whether Mr. Thomsen was exaggerating when he boasted of his contacts among journalists and politicians.

Moreover, in 1940 it was not illegal per se, as it is today, for American politicians to accept foreign money, said Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and an expert on campaign finance. (But a 1938 law demanded that anyone accepting foreign money for propaganda in the United States register with the State Department.)

''Who knows who was getting what,'' Mr. Potter said, noting that then as now there were plenty of ways for ''soft money'' to find its way to a candidate, perhaps without his knowing its precise source.

Mr. Thomsen certainly knew the value of discretion. One message to Berlin emphasized that payments for propaganda were ''through trusted go-betweens.'' Nevertheless, he feared that disclosure of the payments ''would mean political ruin and have other grave consequences for our political friends.'' So he asked that the embassy be allowed to dispense with record-keeping.

On June 19, 1940, Mr. Thomsen assured his Berlin handlers that the embassy press aide was constantly in touch with cooperative American lawmakers to help them get good publicity. ''In this manner,'' he wrote, ''German influence is not visible to the outside and, thanks to the privilege of free postage enjoyed by American Congressmen, the cost of this large-scale propaganda can be kept disproportionately low.''

Senator Gerald P. Nye, a fervent isolationist Republican from North Dakota, is mentioned in a July 18, 1940, top-secret dispatch by Mr. Thomsen. The Senator had spoken favorably in the Senate about an antiwar book of the time -- so favorably that excerpts from the Congressional Record were being sent by isolationist groups to some 200,000 ''specially selected persons.''

''This undertaking is not altogether easy and is particularly delicate,'' Mr. Thomsen wrote, ''since Senator Nye, as a political opponent of the President, is under the careful observation of the secret state police here.''

Senator Rush Holt, an isolationist Democrat from West Virginia, was mentioned in a good light, having delivered a speech against 'ɻritish propaganda'' in the summer of 1940.

About 100,000 ''interested persons'' got copies of Holt's speech through the Congressional Record, Mr. Thomsen said, and the Senator had let it be known that he could arrange to have an additional 250,000 copies printed.

'ɿor this operation we would have to contribute $3,000,'' Mr. Thomsen told Berlin, adding, ''Holt is also being subsidized from another direction.''

After Roosevelt was re-elected, Mr. Thomsen told Berlin that the President would continue to play ''on the easily excitable character of the American people.'' He added, presciently, ''The supreme law of his actions -- and we shall have to adapt ourselves to that during the coming four years -- is his irreconcilable hostility to the totalitarian powers.''

The New Democrat

People even if they've ever heard of Wendell Willkie ( and I would be impressed if they did ) might ask why blog about Wendell Willkie who was a Liberal Republican back in the 1940s who advocated for civil rights, civil liberties, the Constitution, limited government, and a strong but limited national defense, especially since his Republican politics no longer exists except for perhaps a few exceptions. People like former Governor Bill Weld, Senator Susan Collins and perhaps a few other Republican in Congress today. Well, for me that's exactly why I at least who is a strong admirer of Wendell and consider him to be one of my political heroes blogs about Wendell Willkie.

I don't want to make this a partisan post other than to say that the Republican Party today whether you want to define it as a Nationalist party or a Christian-Right party looked nothing like they did up until really the late 1980s, or early 1990s. Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Conservative Republicans were people like Barry Goldwater, not Ann Coulter or Steve King or anyone else who is part of the New-Right today that are supposed to be the Conservatives.

Back in 1940, Wendell Willkie was to the left of President Franklin Roosevelt on civil rights, civil liberties, and even personal freedom. Imagine that for a moment: a Republican who is to the left of a Democrat on civil rights, civil liberties, and personal freedom. But Wendell was to the Right of FDR on economic policy. Wendell believed in the public safety net, but didn't want a socialist welfare state where welfare benefits would be universal, which is what FDR was pushing for by 1944 with his so-called Economic Bill of Rights.

Wendell Willkie, represents the Grand Ole Party where you could have both Liberals and Conservatives in it. as well as Progressives but where they could all function together in this national grand party, because they shared similar values that at least Classical Liberals, Conservatives, and Progressives believe in. Like equal rights, equal justice, civil liberties, property rights, personal freedom.

The GOP was a party that could nominate Wendell Willkie, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Barry Goldwater, because back then Liberals, Conservatives, and Progressives weren't like apples and oranges, they weren't the complete opposites of each other and shared similar values and objectives, but had different approaches in how to defend those values and accomplish those objectives.

Back in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, liberal wasn't another word for hippie or hipster. It had real meaning and instead being a Liberal meant you were someone who not only believed in liberal democracy, but that liberal democracy needed to be defended and you had to confront authoritarian states when they threaten you or your allies, or threatened your liberal values. Like Communist Russia, to use as an example.

Which is how someone like a Wendell Willkie, Tom Dewey, Ike Eisenhower, could not only do well in the Republican Party politically, but win the Republican nomination for President, because they believed in those liberal values because they were Republican values. That is how much the Republican Party has changed today, because that wing of the party is almost extinct with the Far-Right now looking so mainstream inside that party.

Willkie emerges as a dark horse

A Wall Street-based industrialist named Wendell Willkie, who had never before run for public office, emerged as the unlikely nominee. Willkie, a former Democrat who had been a pro-Roosevelt delegate at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, 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 and Southern power company, and he opposed the federal government's attempts to compete with private enterprise, claiming that the government had unfair advantages over private companies. Willkie did not dismiss all Roosevelt's social welfare programs, and in fact supported those he believed free enterprise could not do better.

Furthermore, unlike the leading Republican candidates, Willkie was a forceful and outspoken advocate of aid to the Allies, especially the United Kingdom. His support of giving all aid to the British "short of declaring war" won him the support of many Republicans on the East Coast of the United States, 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 blitzkrieg 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 the United Kingdom 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.

Vice Presidential vote
McNary 848
Short 108
Bridges 2

Television coverage

The 1940 Republican Convention was the first national party convention shown on live television, and was seen in three cities on "pioneer stations". It was broadcast in New York by NBC on W2XBS (now WNBC), in Philadelphia by W2XE (now KYW-TV), and in Schenectady on W2XB (now WRGB). The convention was also shown on television screens in the exhibition hall of the Commercial Museum of Philadelphia, next door to the Convention Hall, for "overflow" crowds. Local newspapers predicted that two thousand people would view the convention from the museum, and estimates range as high as 6,000 total television viewers in all three cities. [8]

Bomb discoveries

During the convention, two dynamite bombs were discovered outside of the hall a total of seven bombs were discovered in the greater Philadelphia area during the convention. The discoveries of the bombs were inadvertently released to the public by an emotional New York City police commissioner Lewis J. Valentine while discussing the New York World's Fair bombing that killed two police officers. [9]

British interference

In 1999, declassifications by the British Secret Intelligence Service revealed the extent of British involvement in the nominating campaign, among other efforts to elect pro-intervention candidates and destroy the reputations of American isolationists. Working through a covert organization known as British Security Co-ordination, British intelligence agent Sanford Griffith published polls during and before the convention suggesting that a majority of Republicans supported American aid to Britain. These polls were then reported in the pro-Allied press to show support for Willkie. Direct co-ordination between a BSC-funded group of businessmen and journalists, the Century Group, and the Willkie campaign positions commenced after he won the nomination. [10]

'Ballad For Americans' Sent 'Message Of Unity' In 1940 Presidential Race

Delegates gather for the 1940 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn.

Political campaigns today are choreographed down to songs played at campaign stops.

Sometimes those songs can be controversial: Republicans Ronald Reagan and Chris Christie both used Bruce Springsteen anthems, and "The Boss" himself objected.

But in the presidential campaign of 1940, one song reached across party lines and had everyone cheering. It was unlikely hit: "The Ballad for Americans" was an operatic folk cantata that ran 10 minutes.

Use the audio player above to hear the full story.

This story was produced by Ben Shapiro and edited by Deborah George, with help from Joe Richman, Sarah Kate Kramer, and Nellie Gilles of Radio Diaries. You can find more of their stories on the Radio Diaries Podcast, which is part of Radiotopia from PRX.

Political campaigns today are choreographed down to the songs played at campaign stops. Sometimes the songs get politicians in trouble. Ronald Reagan and Chris Christie both used Springsteen anthems. The boss himself objected. But in the presidential campaign of 1940, one song reached across party lines and was an unlikely hit - an operatic folk cantata that ran 10 minutes. The song debuted 76 years ago today - from producer Ben Shapiro and Radio Diaries, the story of "Ballad For Americans."

FRAN NATHAN: My name is Fran Nathan (ph). I was 11, and I was growing up in Tulsa, Okla.

JACK TULL: My name is Jack Tull (ph). I grew up in Southern Michigan, a little town - Jonesville. It was a pretty small world with bigoted attitudes about, for example, people from Ohio and Indiana.

NATHAN: I remembered hearing "Ballad For Americans" at my aunt and uncle's.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The Columbia Broadcasting System presents.

NATHAN: We were all gathered. It was a big moment that we were going to hear this. That's why I remember it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: One aim of this program is to discover and perform new American music. Today, we offer our first effort in that direction, "Ballad For Americans" and the singer Paul Robeson.

PAUL ROBESON: (Singing) In '76, the sky was red, thunder rumbling overhead. That King George couldn't sleep in his bed. And on that stormy morn, old Uncle Sam was born.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Some birthday.

LISA BARG: My name is Lisa Barg. I teach music history at McGill University. "Ballad For Americans" is sort of a musical pageant of American history. There's an ominous narrator sung by Paul Robeson, and the chorus is always asking, who are you, Mister?


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: Hey. Would you please tell us who you are?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What's your name, buddy?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Where you going?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Who are you?

ROBESON: Well, I'm everybody who's nobody. I'm the nobody who's everybody.

NATHAN: I think he was talking about the little person, the guy in the street, the social worker, the guy who pushed the pushcart.


ROBESON: (Singing) I'm just an Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, French and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Scotch, Hungarian, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian, Greek and Turk and Czech and double-Czech American.

MORRIS DICKSTEIN: My name is Morris Dickstein. My most recent book is a cultural history of the 1930s called "Dancing In The Dark." "Ballad For Americans" presented a kind of overview of American society at a time when there were serious problems, such as lynching and racial segregation and anti-immigrant feeling.


ROBESON: (Singing) Out of the cheating, out of the shouting, out of the murders and lynching.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Well, it was different from "America The Beautiful." It was different from "The Star-Spangled Banner."


ROBESON: (Singing) Our marching song will come again.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It felt very good that somebody was talking about all of America and not just a few people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And then in the final passage of the piece, he reveals his true identity.


ROBESON: (Singing) And you know who I am.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: The people stamped and whistled and shouted bravo. And the telephone switchboards were jammed, and bales of lettuce came in.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.

DICKSTEIN: The song went into orbit and, by the following year, was a very popular concert item.

BARG: We would say today the work went viral.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Welcome to the thousands of people here gathered in the auditorium of Hunter College in the city of New York. We open with a work which, in one short year, has been accepted as the musical expression of America and the American way of life.

BARG: Other artists recorded it, the most popular of which - Bing Crosby covered it, and he was the most popular recording artist at this time. I mean, no one could touch him.


BING CROSBY: (Singing) I'm just an Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, French and English, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian, Greek and Turk and Czech and double-Czech American.

DICKSTEIN: Well, you have to remember that between the time that "Ballad For Americans" was put on the radio in November 1939 and the spring of 1940, there was a tremendous change in world history.

SUSAN DUNN: My name is Susan Dunn, and I'm the author of "1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler - The Election Amid The Storm." On June 22, France surrenders to Nazi Germany. It was a difficult time, and "Ballad For Americans" had a message of unity a time when the nation desperately needs unity to face this Nazi menace.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And 1940 was the year of the national elections.

DICKSTEIN: "Ballad For Americans" was sung at the various political conventions of that year, including, very famously, the Communist convention.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: From Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Communist Party nominating convention is now in session.

DICKSTEIN: . As well as the Republican convention.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: We will now hear a musical selection for this evening's session.

DICKSTEIN: The vague patriotism and Americanism of the song was appealing across the political spectrum.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: A song which has created a sensation since it was first heard over the radio just a few months ago, "Ballad For Americans."

DUNN: One of FDR's final campaign speeches in 1940 was at Boston, and this is what he said. In our own American community, we have sought to submerge all the old hatreds, all the old fears of the old world.


FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: . Of the old world. We are Anglo-Saxon and Latin. We're Irish and Teuton and.

DUNN: His speechwriters weren't afraid to borrow from pop culture.


ROOSEVELT: We are Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #10: "Ballad For Americans" had quite an extensive life until the postwar period when people like Robeson were blacklisted and treated as being subversive.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: It was literally ripped out from the school music books because of the blacklist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #10: And this was pretty much the end of the popularity of the song.

NATHAN: Well, looking back, it spoke to everybody and anybody who was anybody. I think that's even in the lyrics. I don't think it's that way anymore. But I have gone around singing the first few lines to my kids since they were born. When we would have thunderstorms, I would - my kids would get nervous. I'd sing, (singing) in '76, the sky was red. Thunder rumbled overhead. And they would get hysterical laughing. But they weren't afraid of thunder after that.


ROBESON: (Singing) In '76 the sky was red, thunder rumbling overhead.

SIEGEL: Thanks to Rita Post, Rita Post and the late Norman Corwin who produced the original broadcast of "Ballad For Americans." Our story was produced by Ben Shapiro and edited by Deborah George for the series Radio Diaries. You can hear more of their stories on the Radio Diaries podcast.

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Republican Philadelphia

In a stunning coup, the city captured both major party conventions and the third-party convention of former vice president Henry A. Wallace's Progressive Party. An aggressive bipartisan committee wooed and won both major parties with donations of $200,000 each plus $50,000 each for entertainment.

However, many delegates returned home vowing never again to meet in the Quaker City. Indeed, both parties shunned the city for the next 52 years. Finally, the GOP is returning for its 2000 convention.

There were problems in 1948. For starters, there were not enough hotel rooms and greedy hotel owner were accused of price gouging. About half of the visitors were forced to take accommodations in college dormitories, rooms in private houses, and entire Main Line mansions were rented by conventionaires. Many commuted from Trenton or Atlantic City hotels aboard special trains.

The housing problem could be overcome, but there was nothing to remedy the stifling heat inside Convention Hall. The Republicans Convention began June 21 and delegates sweated it out in shirt sleeves with the help of 60 large fans.

When the Democrats arrived in mid-July, the city was hit by scorching heat wave that made the Hall an unbearable pressure cooker. The first aid station treated 108 victims of heat prostration. People collapsed in the aisles during those impromptu snake dances.

Air conditioning was an option during construction in the early 1930s, but City Council was put off by the $300,000 cost. A primitive "icing" system involved shelping 50-pound blocks of ice to the roof where fans blew across them. The system utterly failed and was soon abandoned. The ice had to be hauled manually up six flights and melted immediately. The building superintendent said it would take 40 tons of ice an hour make a difference, and hauling up even close to that amount was impossible.

These were the first truly televised conventions, and the heat inside Convention Hall was intensified by the use of huge television lights. If the heat wasn't bad enough, dive-bombing pigeons invaded the Hall and some delegates sat with a protective layers of newspapers on their noggins.

The Republicans arrived in Philadelphia up-beat and confident that after 16 years they would retake the White House. The war was over, FDR was dead and his successor, Harry S. Truman, seemed weak and vulnerable. Plus, the Democrats were abandoned by both their left and right wings. Wallace marched off with the ultra-liberals and J. Strom Thurman deserted the party with his Dixiecrats over black civil rights.

The cast of players at the 1948 GOP convention had changed little since 1940. Thomas E. Dewey, now governor of New York, was a favorite in 1940, won the nomination in 1944, lost to Roosevelt and was again the front-runner. Again, Dewey's chief rival was Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft. Young Harold Stassen of Minnesota was running hard. Michigan Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg, a major player in foreign affairs, was seen as the choice if Dewey and Taft deadlocked.

There was a grassroots movement for Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his name was put into nomination by Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, hero of Battan and Corregidor.

Other dark horses included House Speaker John Martin Ohio Sen. John W. Bricker and Massachusetts Sen. Leveritt Saltonstall. Influential columnist Drew Pearson declared that if the Republicans were wise and wanted to capture labor votes, then the GOP should nominate California Gov. Earl Warren.

The key to gaining the nomination was several "favorite son" candidates. Pennsylvania's "favorite son" Sen. Edward Martin, for example, controlled 73 big votes. If a leading candidate wanted those delegates, he would have to deal.

All the possibilities, the suspense and intrigue, all the "backroom dealing" in "smoke-filled rooms" was delicious fodder for the press. Few conventions generated more "ink." Television came into its own and astute observers quickly realized its power. Four networks carried the proceedings to 13 eastern seaboard states. Only a small percentage owned televisions, but owners invited friends and neighbors into their living rooms, so an estimated 10 million may have watched on TV. Six-thousand people could watch TV at the adjoining Commercial Museum on competing brands of television sets.

Life Magazine and NBC teamed up on TV coverage. Their full-page newspaper advertisement declared a "history-making presentation" and announced convention telecasts from 10:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. again from 4:30 to 7:40 p.m. and once again from 8:45 p.m. to midnight. Communism was already the great national bogeyman, and all the speakers hit the theme hard: Roosevelt and Truman had been duped by Stalin. Communist had infiltrated government and the universities. The party platform promised to "expose the treasonable activities of Communists and defeat their objective of establishing here a godless dictatorship controlled from abroad." There was wonderful, crazy hoopla during the convention. Taft people paraded a baby elephant through hotel lobbies. Stassen wooed the undecided with 1,200 pounds of Wisconsin cheese. Everyone sported political buttons and silly hats and cheered like maniacs when their favorite candidate was mentioned.

Americans watching television saw the demonstrations and silliness for the first time. "Many viewers indicated that they found the recurrent carnival spirit not in keeping with the dignity they felt should prevail in the business of selecting a presidential nominee," wrote a New York Times columnist. He predicted that TV coverage would force politicians to "pare away bombast and high jinks associated up to now with [conventions]."

Major speakers at the convention included Clare Booth Luce and Herbert Hoover, the only living ex-president.

When the first vote was counted, the 46-year-old Dewey was in the lead with 434 votes to Taft's 224 and Stassen's 157. On a second roll call, Dewey got even closer with 515 votes. Dewey's opponents hoping to put together a coalition, requested and got a recess. But the stop-Dewey forces failed to form a common front. On the third ballot, the other hopefuls withdrew, and Dewey received all 1,094 delegate votes.

On the fifth and final day of the convention, Dewey selected Earl Warren as his running mate.

The popular Californian was nominated by acclamation. The ticket pleased the more liberal international wing of the party. Writer Carl McCardle of the Bulletin called the "hands across the nation ticket, a triumph for the liberal, progressive element of the GOP in foreign as well as domestic affairs."

Despite such an attractive Republican ticket and polls showing Truman well behind, 1948 went down in history as the year all the pollster and pundits fell on their faces.

Wendell Willkie: The “Miracle Man” of 1940

As the familiar figure strode to the dais, the convention delegates rose in a thunderous ovation of cheers that went on and on. The figure was former President of the United States Herbert Hoover, and he had been chosen by Republican Party leaders to deliver one of the most important speeches of the 1940 convention. It was their hope that his speech would galvanize the party faithful behind the convention’s still unchosen candidate to unseat the reigning White House occupant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

However, when the roar of the convention crowd subsided and Mr. Hoover began his much anticipated speech, his voice could not be heard. His microphone mysteriously didn’t work. It was a humiliating experience for the ex-president and a disaster for this crucial party gathering in Philadelphia during the hot, steamy June of 1940.

Time magazine, reflecting the spin of much of the major media of the time, blamed Hoover’s inadequacy as a speaker for the speech failure. In its serial coverage of the convention in June 1940, Time reported:

Even now the delegates came with solemn hope they would get a chance to tear up their chairs and set fire to their hats. They were more than willing to give him the benefit of all their doubts they were eager to hear him demolish the New Deal they were even more eager to cheer some challenging declaration of faith. But inflexible Mr. Hoover mushmouthed his delivery the clear, hot words of his finest address got lost (as always) deep in his bulldog chops. He stood there awkwardly, a near-great man whose fate has been to cast his mother-of-pearl words before mobs who, whether friendly or bitter, always yell “Louder!”

This standard account of the Hoover speech debacle was reinforced with the publication in 2005 of Charles Peters’ Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing “We Want Willkie!” Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World. The major reviews of the Peters book tended toward the glowing side, and those that mentioned the Hoover speech incident tended to adopt the now commonly held view that Hoover blew it.

However, historian Thomas E. Mahl, in his important 1998 book, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944, finds that the Hoover speech fiasco was only one of a series of “inside job” incidents orchestrated at the convention by Sam Pryor, the Pan American Airways executive, close friend of the Rockefeller family, and OSS/CIA operative. By the death of Ralph E. Williams a couple weeks before the Philadelphia gathering, Pryor had gained control of the convention floor, as chairman of the committee on arrangements. Williams had been a “Taftie,” a supporter of presidential aspirant Senator Robert Taft Pryor was a Willkie insider. The shift from Williams to Pryor — and the powerful unseen forces behind him — proved to be momentous. Among other things, says Mahl, Pryor’s new position enabled him to “take over the convention and the allocation of essential credentials. Pryor reduced the ticket allotments to delegations committed to other candidates. Delegations committed to Willkie got their full allotment. Finally, as Pryor told it years later, he printed a duplicate set of tickets and opened up the galleries to Willkie supporters, who responded with the ‘We Want Willkie’ chant so embossed on the memories of participants.”

In Desperate Deception, Mahl writes:

Pryor ordered one other small job for which there is sworn testimony. Former President Herbert Hoover wanted to stay aloof from the war in Europe. He had worked on his isolationist speech for weeks, and those who read it thought it the best speech of his career. When he marched to the podium a great roar erupted from the fifteen thousand as they stood and cheered, in expectation, for seven minutes.

Sam Pryor, or someone advising him, had foreseen this embarrassing situation. An enthusiastic response from the delegates to an isolationist speech would have set entirely the wrong tone. There was no great response in fact, the delegates could not hear the speech. Pryor had had a faulty microphone installed for the ex-president’s speech, and years later Hoover obtained a deposition to this effect.

“Strangely,” notes Mahl, “Hoover also had difficulty making himself heard at his convention press conference at the Bellevue Hotel, because a drum corps happened to march into the lobby as he was speaking.” Yes, a great many strange quirks just seemed to “happen” at Philadelphia, culminating in the “miraculous” choice of Wendell Willkie, a virtual unknown — and a life-long Democrat who mirrored FDR’s positions on most important issues — to be the Republican standard-bearer.

The “Miracle” in Philadelphia

The 1940 presidential election was one of the most critical in American history. The dark clouds of war were looming in Europe and the Pacific. With the carnage of World War I still vivid in the memory of millions, America was overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. involvement in any foreign war. President Roosevelt, despite signing the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937, and despite his many public promises to do everything within his power to keep us out of war, had been moving us steadily closer to war. And, as the diplomatic history of the period and the documents, notes, and diaries of FDR and Washington insiders later proved, the president had been striving mightily to find an incident that would drag America into the war. While most of his schemes remained hidden, his efforts had become sufficiently transparent that millions of voters, including many in his own party, were becoming convinced that FDR’s non-interventionist rhetoric masked a pro-war agenda.

In addition, Roosevelt’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term alienated many in both parties, providing confirmation of his imperial ambitions. Not only did this violate the sacrosanct two-term limit that had been observed by every president since George Washington, it upset the plans of other Democratic leaders who had presidential plans of their own. Moreover, many of FDR’s former supporters were still heated up over his flagrant scheme to pack the Supreme Court, his wild deficit spending, and his massive expansion of the federal bureaucracy.

Roosevelt knew he would be facing a battle royal in the 1940 race — if, that is, the Republican Party fielded a credible candidate. The leading contenders — Senator Robert Taft of Ohio (the son of President William H. Taft), Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey — were all non-interventionists who could be expected to give him a tough run on both his domestic and foreign-policy records. These seasoned frontrunners, however, were upstaged by an unknown dark-horse candidate who, previously, had never even run for any public office.

Wendell Willkie’s capture of the Republican nomination, commonly referred to as “The Miracle in Philadelphia,” has achieved near mythic status in U.S. political history. The acerbic journalist/commentator H.L. Mencken, who attended the convention, was quoted as saying: “I am thoroughly convinced that the nomination of Willkie was managed by the Holy Ghost in Person.” Mencken, an agnostic and an opponent of interventionism and New Dealism, was, most likely, being facetious.

As we’ve already noted, it was Sam Pryor, not the Holy Ghost, who stage-managed the convention outcome. “Pan Am Sam” was indeed fronting for higher powers, but not the heavenly kind. Here is Time’s description of the events as they unfolded at the convention:

With the third day came something like panic. Suddenly the newspapers, even their home-town papers, were black with tall headlines, homemade advertisements, home-grown editorials, all shrieking “We Want Willkie!” The delegates couldn’t understand it. The big bear-man’s face, life, family swiftly became oppressively familiar. Most of the delegates wanted to be let alone, to go about their ancient business in the ancient way. But rabid strangers, unlike any political heelers they had ever seen, surrounded them on the street, gripped their lapels, argued bitterly, demanded (not begged) their vote for this man Willkie. In this urgent, crusading atmosphere the delegates were increasingly uncomfortable. They could no longer read the newspapers with any enjoyment for all the important political columnists were daily comparing the nomination of anyone but Willkie to the Fall of France…. From the first night the galleries had shouted “We Want Willkie” over & over like a college yell. Delegates could hardly get into their rooms past the bundles of pro-Willkie telegrams from back home. Their suits came back from the hotel valet with Willkie buttons pinned on. Long-distance calls came from their wives, pastors, bankers, luncheon clubs, saying with one voice: “Willkie!”

This tremendous outpouring of support, said the Willkie supporters (and still say political commentators), was proof positive that the “Willkie phenomenon” sprang from the grass-roots. In truth, the Willkie Clubs that had sprouted shortly before the convention and that directed the continuous avalanche of telegrams and telephone calls to convention delegates, were the creation of Oren Root, grandnephew of the famous senator and Secretary of War Elihu Root. Like his great uncle, Oren Root was closely tied to the powerful banking dynasty of J.P. Morgan, as a member of the Morgan law firm of Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardner, & Reed.

Oren Root represented just the tip of the Morgan iceberg lurking beneath the folksy surface of Willkie, the “Midwesterner.” Although he had been born and raised in Indiana, Willkie had gone to New York City in 1929 to be legal counsel to Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, the nation’s largest electric utility holding company. By 1933, he was president of the company and a major supporter of FDR in the Democratic Party. Among Willkie’s close friends was the very wealthy Thomas W. Lamont, chairman of the board of J.P. Morgan & Co. Mr. Lamont, like Elihu Root and Oren Root, was a leading light in the Council on Foreign Relations, the private behind-the-scenes presidium that has dominated both the Republican and Democratic parties for most of the past century.

Not-so-divine Intervention

The Willkie campaign is the textbook case of the premier denizens of Wall Street palming off one of their agents as the quintessential “Main Street, USA” everyman. The Willkie faux miracle was in reality a successful hijacking of the GOP convention. Rather than a dark horse, Willkie turned out to be a stalking horse for powerful interests who were so intent on keeping Roosevelt in office for a third term that they did not flinch at a campaign of actions that ranged from immoral to illegal to treasonous. Who were those powerful interests? In short, they comprised a triumvirate of three houses: the White House, Pratt House, and Chatham House.

The White House, of course, is familiar to everyone, outside of those few souls dwelling in the deepest rain forests. Mention of the other two houses, on the other hand, draws a blank stare, even from the politically savvy. Pratt House is the New York City headquarters of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Chatham House is the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), the CFR’s elder sister, and the recognized front of the power behind the throne in Britain.

The Willkie nomination, one of many successful covert operations masterminded by this troika, was carried out through the joint efforts of British intelligence and its fledgling American counterpart, what would become the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and, later, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Key high-level operatives in this intelligence operation were Sam Pryor, Oren Root, Thomas Lamont, media magnate Henry Luce, Willkie’s campaign manager (and Luce’s managing editor at Fortune magazine) Russell Davenport, and British Ambassador Lord Lothian.

The man who headed up British intelligence in the United States during this period was Sir William S. Stephenson, a wealthy industrialist and highly decorated World War I flying ace. Using his business dealings as a cover, Stephenson came to the United States in 1940 with the primary assignment of bringing America into the war on Britain’s side. Code-named “Intrepid,” Stephenson represented Britain’s domestic Security Service (MI-5) and its foreign Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). He established his headquarters in New York City at the luxurious Rockefeller Center, occupying the 36th and 37th floors. His main office was Room 3603. The Rockefeller family, key movers and shakers in the Pratt House-Chatham House network, generously “rented” him this prime office space for a penny per year. Nelson Rockefeller (CFR), later to become vice president of the United States, was in charge of the British intelligence operation known as the Office of Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs.

The top-secret Stephenson-run agency, known as the British Security Coordination (BSC), was the progenitor of the American OSS and CIA. The Director of OSS, General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (CFR), once said: “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” Unfortunately, much of the tradecraft that the Brit spy master and his cohorts taught their American protégés involved activities that had little or nothing to do with protecting the United States against foreign and domestic enemies, but a great deal to do with subverting our most cherished freedoms and our constitutional checks against despotic power.

Ernest Cuneo, code-named “Crusader,” was the top American liaison between BSC, FDR, OSS, the State Department, the Treasury, and the Justice Department. In a CIA file that was brought to light by Prof. Mahl, Cuneo acknowledged that the BSC “went beyond the legal, the ethical, and the proper.” Cuneo then further detailed the nature of some of the unethical and criminal offenses: “Throughout the neutral Americas, and especially in the U.S., it ran espionage agents, tampered with the mails, tapped telephones, smuggled propaganda into the country, disrupted public gatherings, covertly subsidized newspapers, radios, and organizations, perpetrated forgeries — even palming one off on the President of the United States — violated the aliens registration act, shanghaied sailors numerous times, and possibly murdered one or more persons in this country.”

Cuneo’s admission fits with the testimony of British agent Bickham Escott, who said that when he was recruited he was told: “If you join us, you mustn’t be afraid of forgery, and you mustn’t be afraid of murder.” In light of these admissions, is it outlandish to ask if some of the unexplained and “convenient” deaths of the period may have been “assisted” by the BSC’s operatives? In the context of the Willkie nomination, the sudden death of convention manager Ralph Williams (a Taft man) and his replacement by Sam Pryor (a Willkie-Rockefeller-FDR-BSC man) now looks suspiciously propitious. Wild speculation? Perhaps. But, perhaps not.

“Clearly,” writes Prof. Mahl, in Desperate Deception, “the major purpose of BSC was to conduct aggressive offensive operations against those it saw as enemies of Britain.” However, he notes, this “included not only Hitler’s agents in the United States, but those who simply wished to remain uninvolved in the European war.” That included American citizens, especially prominent politicians, who were tagged with the pejorative label of “isolationist.” This false label grotesquely implied that Americans who adhered to the traditional view of our Founding Fathers against foreign intervention and entanglement were somehow trying to retreat into a fantasy world in which our country would be sealed off from all intercourse with foreign nations. Even worse, the BSC cabal did everything possible to associate the isolationist tag with Naziism and fascism.

“Isolationist” politicians targeted for BSC/OSS dirty-tricks campaigns included New York Congressman Hamilton Fish, Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, North Dakota Senator Gerald P. Nye, California Senator Hiram Johnson, and Ohio Senator Robert Taft. In Desperate Deception, Dr. Mahl takes one chapter each to detail the two very different lines of attack — the carrot vs. the stick — adopted by BSC to deal with different personality types, as typified by Arthur Vandenberg and Hamilton Fish.

Sen. Vandenberg, a well-known womanizer, was a relatively easy mark for compromise by BSC “carrots” Mitzi Sims, Elizabeth Thorpe Pack, and Eveline Patterson Cotter. He was gradually seduced (and perhaps blackmailed) by these femme fatales to convert from isolationist to internationalist.

The stalwart Rep. Fish, who was a popular incumbent in a safely Republican district, was not as easily disposed of. He was relentlessly assaulted with an endless smear campaign of false charges: abuse of the congressional franking privilege, being anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler, tax evasion, etc. He successfully refuted all of the accusations. The anti-Semite charges, for instance, were easily disposed of, as he had been the author of the Zionist Resolution for a Homeland for the Jewish People that passed Congress in 1923 and had always had strong support among his Jewish constituents. Four years of constant media attacks did gradually whittle down his once-overwhelming support among voters, but it took the redrawing of his district to oust him.

The BSC/CFR media elite — Drew Pearson, Walter Lippman, George Backer, Joseph Alsop, Ogden Reid, A. H. Sulzberger, George Gallup, Henry Luce — who led the smear attacks on the “isolationists” were also the same coterie that transformed Willkie into the instant GOP sensation at Philadelphia. However, after securing Willkie’s nomination, they dropped him like the proverbial hot potato, abandoning his campaign to founder so that Roosevelt would be assured of another victory. But don’t worry that poor Wendell might have been heartbroken by the election loss within a matter of months he was happily back in the Democratic Party and (at the suggestion of agent Intrepid) serving as FDR’s personal emissary to Britain. In 1943 he published One World, an early propaganda volley for world government and the as-yet still unformed United Nations organization. His media patrons quickly and enthusiastically boosted it to bestseller status. And the following year they were back brazenly and enthusiastically boosting him once again as the Republican candidate for president in 1944. Unfortunately, for their plans, Wendell “One World” Willkie wasn’t able to assist them this time around he had already passed on to his eternal reward.

This article originally appeared in the February 5, 2007 print edition of The New American.

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