Election 1940: Willkie Hits Defense Plan As Political (9-13-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 13, 1940)



Says He Would Never Ask Americans to Fight in Foreign War

Chicago, Sept. 13 (UP) –

Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie went among stock handlers, steel peddlers and factory hands today to lash the Roosevelt Administration’s defense program as political and to promise security from dictators and unemployment if he is elected President in November.

The candidate’s formal schedule of four speeches and short personal appearances turned into a relay of punchy extemporaneous talks as Mr. Willkie pushed back his hat and talked whenever the crowd surrounded him and yelled, “Speech, speech.”

Mr. Willkie hammered home his points in the language of his listeners and tossed in slang and mild profanity. The crowd for the most part seemed to like it.

A few hecklers jibed at his stand in favor of conscription and at the Western Electric Plant. Mr. Willkie tilted verbally with a heckler who shouted, “Such as Commonwealth & Southern?” after Mr. Willkie had identified himself as a man who has been building things all his life.

Ten minutes off his special train, Mr. Willkie was making his first speech to 5,000 persons at the Union Station. He struck at the Kelly-Nash Democratic organization which had been rumored planning to heckle him.

At the Stockyards, he clambered up on a hay wagon and with frequently interjected “damns” told an audience of cow handlers, farmers and stock buyers he would make America too strong for any dictator to attack, never would send American troops aboard to fight in a foreign war and would produce jobs for the unemployed.

At the Western Electric Plant, Mr. Willkie made his charge of politics in the national defense.

Referring to the appointment of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York to the Canadian-American Defense Board and Mr. LaGuardia’s subsequent espousal of President Roosevelt’s third term aspirations, Mr. Willkie demanded:

Do any of you doubt that the defense program will be in the hands of politicians?

Appealing directly to the sombrero-wearing cow hands perched on empty cattle pens near the hay wagon, Mr. Willkie said earnestly:

I have worked as hard as any guy in this crowd.

He said he would need help to “clean out the mess of the last seven years.”

It will take several shovels.

Replies to Roosevelt

Describing himself as “just an ordinary raiser of hogs,” he turned to President Roosevelt’s radio talk Wednesday night which he said was “promises and more promises.”

Is there anyone so dumb who does not realize that the tax burden must be paid out of your wages?

I predict that if Franklin Roosevelt is re-elected, the public debt after the next four years will be between $75 billion and $100 billion.

If I am elected, I promise you jobs. I promise honest work and honest wages. The only jobs now are made by the defense program.

Hitler is requiring us to do that. Why has Hitler struck France and England? Because they were weak and economically unsound.

Promises Jobs

I stand for the doctrine of private industry and will find work for men. I do not promise the moon – but jobs.

In an address before he left Rushville last night, he linked President Roosevelt – he called it “the other side of this fight” – to:

…the most ruthless gang of political corruptionists – Boss Hague, the Kelly-Nash machine and Boss Flynn – who combine together to corrupt and buy the votes of our great cities.

Mr. Willkie denounced “an entrenched bureaucracy” in the federal government which he said had “billions to spend to influence elections.”

Coffeyville, Kansas, where Mr. Willkie taught high school history in 1913 and 1914, will be the formal campaign opener, and that address will be broadcast nationally.


One prescient point from Willkie was the growing power of “an entrenched bureaucracy” as Congress was increasingly delegating duties to permanent Executive branch officials. To a farmer born in 1890, the New Deal would have looked like a soft revolution, one as sweeping as the implementation of the Constitution.