Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Willkie pictured sitting in a chair in the 1940s.
Willkie pictured sitting in a chair in the 1940s.
Library of Congress
May 5, 2017

IN HISTORY: Wendell Willkie Speaks at Mount Rushmore

On May 2, 1943, Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie gave an impassioned speech at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Willkie spoke critically of individuals with a “get mine” attitude concerning U.S. involvement in World War II, as reported by the New York Times. Willkie probed the crowd:  “Do you allow the annoyance of a truculent and everspreading bureaucracy to deflect you from your own duty? Do you permit the resentment of some in high places to legitimate criticism to embitter you into sloth and inaction?”

Three years prior to his speech below Mount Rushmore, Willkie ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. A former Democrat who registered as a Republican shortly before the nomination, Willkie was an outsider to the GOP pool of presidential candidates. Republican Party leadership favored three other leading candidates: Senators Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan as well as Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey.

At the Republican Convention, Willkie drew broad support from the public, but much of the Republican Party cast an eye of doubt upon him and instead favored the more conventional candidates. While Dewey had anticipated winning enough votes for the nomination on the first ballot, he fell several votes short. As additional ballots were cast, Dewey’s margin continued to narrow while Willkie’s widened. In the fifth ballot, Willkie secured 429 total votes and went on to cinch the nomination in the sixth and final ballot.

While Willkie gained broad support in a number of hours at the convention, he was by no means as successful in the general election. Ultimately, Willkie received just 22 million votes to Roosevelt’s 27 million—and only 82 Electoral College votes to Roosevelt’s 449. Roosevelt had successfully secured an unprecedented third term in office.

Willkie made another presidential bid in 1944., but would not live to see the election. Willkie died in October 1944 of coronary thrombosis at the age of 52. 

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